City Bites

FOOD TRUCK FEVER: There’s only one LeRoy. He’s back with grandma’s soul food recipes — and his face on the side of a Purolator truck

LeRoy Walden is keeping Soul Food in the capital, this time on wheels...and on a stick.

While out for coffee, Ottawa’s self-proclaimed Soul Food King, LeRoy Walden spotted his former neighbour. After a big hug, he shared the news that he closed his restaurant and is about to launch a food truck this spring. The first question out of her mouth was: “You’re still going to make fried chicken, right?”

Was there any doubt? LeRoy’s name is synonymous with fried chicken in these parts. And he likes it that way. My question is: What took him so long?

Back in 2008, I directed Ottawa Magazine readers to a little place I’d found called Jean Albert’s. It was a cottage off the highway in the quiet rural Ontario town of Hallville where — lo and behold — Walden, a Detroit record producer, was serving up his grandma’s super-succulent crispy batter-fried chicken and other comfort food recipes with tall glasses of fresh lemonade and sweet tea at picnic tables in his wife’s hometown.

It’s safe to say, it was the first authentic American Soul Food restaurant in the national capital region.

For people who were less familiar with the hearty home cooking of the American south, it was the first chance to try things like sweet corn pancakes, fried catfish, collard greens, and black-eyed peas. But as it turns out, soul food is easy to love. Jean Albert’s soon moved to the city to be closer to its fans and had a second life in a little house on Somerset street.

Now, nearly five years later, personal matters have put Walden in the position of starting again. “It’s a new beginning,” he says. This week he travelled to Mississauga to pick up the 14-foot Purolator truck that symbolizes his future. He won one of the City’s new food truck licenses; his spot is on Courtwood Crescent near the Maitland exit of of the 417.

After chatting with him a few times over the years, I can’t imagine anyone who seems better suited to the food truck scene. For one thing, he adores unapologetic decadent eating—his bacon-wrapped chicken ‘n’ waffles on a stick is ready for its close-up on the Food Network.

He says, “I’ll be the truck that people will almost feel guilty about, but then they’re like: who gives a ___?”

Secondly, he’s got the larger-than-life personality. It’s no surprise that Walden’s face will appear on the side of the truck. He’ll be inside, smiling and daring customers to try the deep-fried, marshmallow-stuffed sweet potato balls drenched in syrup.

“My mother always told me, I am the entertainer,” he says.

LeRoy’s Detroit-style Soul Food. Look for the truck later in May on Courtwood Crescent near Woodward Drive (off Maitland Ave./417 Exit).