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Dining on the Ringling Brothers Pie Car – a Visual Feast

Submitted by on July 29, 2011 – 7:41 amNo Comment

Maggie, my 9-year old daughter, and I had the opportunity to dine on the “Pie Car” or dining car that is part of the Ringling Brothers Circus train. The Pie Car is like a mobile restaurant that serves the 270 members of the circus family who live and travel on the train.
This year’s circus is in the Dallas Ft. Worth area through August 14. The theme is Barnun’s Funundrum and they are celebrating the 200th Birthday of Barnum himself with lots of fun memories from circuses of old! Check their website for dates and times. We went to opening night at the American Airlines center and it was a blast. I love watching the kids laugh, shout and enjoy the experience every year. Also, check your local Metro PCS store as they are offering a buy one get one free ticket deal!
While we waited for the food to be prepared, we were able to visit with several members of the circus, including Andre McClain, America’s Favorite Cowboy and his fiance Danielle Diamboli, who is a dancer and a snake charmer originally from Brazil. They are pictured here with Maggie. We also met George Caceres of The Flying Caceres. He is a third generation performer and trapeze artist. Maggie was super excited to see and meet these people in person who she had seen perform the night before at the circus. When I asked them what their favorite part of the show was, they said the pre-show, the part of the event where families are down on the floor of the arena meeting the performers up close and personal. Andre McClain said this is when they can really see the reaction of people, feel how much fun they are having and even try out new acts to see what people think. It was clear that they all love what they do.

The inside of the dining car itself was beautifully decorated. The tables were elegantly set and looked like a formal restaurant. Chef Michael Vaughn shared that this room is like the “family room” on the train. People come to watch soccer games on televesion, visit with each other or celebrate birthdays.
The Ringling Brothers train is like a small town of it’s own with 270 people in residence, a nursery, a school and of course, a restaurant!  While the performers are able to do some cooking in their train cars when it is stationary, they cannot cook while it is moving so the dining car is open 24/7. In addition to meals, they sell snacks and sodas. They even have a sign that says “We proudly serve Starbucks coffee” hanging in the kitchen. See the sidebar with more fun facts about the Pie Car.
I had the chance to chat briefly with Chef Mike about his passion for cooking and enjoyed his story. Mike Vaughan grew up cooking at his grandmother’s side in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. She started off baking cakes and pies to make extra money. Her business expanded to include lunches and utlimately she opened her own restaurant. She would tell him he would be a chef when he grew up but he always told her he didn’t want to be a cook. He laughingly said that cooking kept calling to him until finally he committed to being a chef full time. The state-of-the-art Pie Car is his brain child. Chef Mike is a jovial man with a brilliant smile who clearly loves his job and can’t imagine being anywhere else. He has a staff of eight to help him manage and run the kitchen. His wife and 4-year old daughter travel with him on the train and are part of the circus family. His daughter attends the on-board preschool. Their are about 20 children of different ages living on the train.

Being the foodie that I am, I was impressed with the diversity of dishes prepared and cultures represented in the cuisine. Chef Mike’s love of Cajun cooking showed in the Crawfish fettucine, Jambalaya and Gumbo. The Gumbo was exceptional, like you rarely find outside of Louisiana. One of Mike’s staff is Vera Mehdizadeh. Vera is originally from Bulgaria and is a pastry chef. She made a Banitsa that was Maggie’s favorite dish. This is a traditional Bulgarian pastry made with fluffly layers of filo dough and filled with eggs and cheese. She also made a moussaka that was to die for! Moussaka is a baked casserole similar to Sheperd’s pie but covered in a béchamel sauce that is baked until it’s crispy.
We also sampled ceviche, a seafood dish of fish, shrimp and other seafood marinated in lime juice with avocadoes, cilantro, tomatoes and other spices. It was full of flavor and my favorite dish by far! The ceviche represented the cuisine of Mexico.
The final dish was a 32 oz. (no kidding, 32 oz.) Tomahak Steak that was perfectly grilled. Enormous is an understatement as is delicious. It was tender and flavorful. Maggie and I barely made a dent in ours!

Chef Mike says they spend time listenting to the performers and crew, asking about their favorite dishes and trying to cook a variety of foods that will appeal to all of the different cultures that live in this small town. While they offer more international foods, they also serve standard American fare like cheeseburgers and French fries.
It was fun to see the train parked, it did feel like a communnity. There were barbecues set up outside, kids bicycles neatly tucked beside the train and other signs of   life in a community.

Fun Facts About the Pie Car!
* The  brand new state-of-the-art Pie Car (dining car) boasts a custom built, all aluminum marine quality kitchen with induction cooking, slatted floors for steam cleaning, and high end freezer/refrigeration units.
* The Pie Car décor includes framed vintage circus poster images, and satellite TV.
* The Pie Car on the train and the Pie Car Jr., which serves meals at the arenas, prepares a combined total of 2500-3000 meals each week.
* On selected days, the Pie Car offers special dishes featuring favorite performer recipes representing the cuisine of the many foreign countries on the show.
* Whenever the train is moving, the Pie Car is open 24/7.


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