A Visit To The Ringling Bros & Barnum & Bailey Pie Car

Filed under: Orlando Events,Orlando Vacation Tips |

Sometimes we get the chance to do something really unique and yesterday was one of those days. Not many people have ever got the chance to go aboard the largest privately-owned train in the world, the Ringling Bros & Barnum & Bailey Blue Unit train, let alone experience the great food that is available to the circus performers, technicians and staff in the Pie Car.

The Blue Unit has approximately 300 members – including performers, cast, staff, train crew, pie car crew, animal crew, backstage departments and concessionaires. While some live and travel by trailer, the majority lives and travels on the circus train (about 270). There are over 100 performers, including a nine-member live band and the international cast and crew includes individuals from roughly 20-25 different countries including United States of America, Paraguay, Italy, Poland, Brazil, Japan, Mongolia, Hungary, Ukraine, Russia, Argentina, Cuba, France, Venezuela, Mexico, Uzbekistan, Peru, Ecuador, Kyrgyz Republic, Morocco, Kazakhstan, Bulgaria, Great Britain, and China.

As you can imagine, that’s a lot of mouths to feed and the state-of-the-art Pie Car (dining car) on the train and the Pie Car Jr., which serves meals at the arenas, prepares a combined total of 1,000-1,500 meals each week. The Pie 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 décor includes framed vintage circus poster images, as well as satellite TV.

The Pie Car is open daily from 6 a.m. -1 p.m, then reopens again at 6 p.m. for dinner service, which continues until one hour after the last bus returns from the arenas following the final performance of the day. Meals are also prepared at the Pie Car, then served to performers at the “Jr.” during rehearsals and performances. On selected days, the Pie Car offers special dishes featuring favorite performer recipes representing the cuisines of their native countries. Whenever the train is moving, the Pie Car is open 24/7.

Central Florida native Matt Loory is the Pie Car Manager for the Blue Unit and at age 23, he is one of the youngest PCM’s in Ringling Bros. history. Matt, who was born in Atlanta but really considers Longwood, Orlando, his home, freely admits that the craziest thing he ever did was running away to join the circus.

Matt applied to Ringling Bros. after learning about a job opening from Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Orlando, where he graduated with Honors in 2012. While traveling the U.S., in ways most of the world will never know, Matt enjoys finding great local restaurants in each city and sneaking off to local farmers’ markets to find ingredients for the Pie Car.

Matt has also prepared amazing cuisines for the Epcot Food and Wine Festival with Chef Christopher Prosperi of Metro Bis.

So, how did the Pie Car get its name? According to Matt, there are three versions behind it:

1) The old chow houses used to serve primarily meat pies due to their heartiness and low cost.
2) Old dining cars on trains used to just serve coffee and pie
3) The name comes from the car’s original designation: the “Privileged Individuals and Employee” car… P-I-E Privileged Individuals were those who had paid the show for some sort of concession rights. For example, someone was granted the “popcorn privilege,” or the “cotton candy privilege.”

It was interesting to see behind the scenes at one of the oldest businesses in the United States today. The circus was founded in 1884 by five of the seven Ringling brothers; Albert (1852–1916), August (1854–1907), Otto (1858–1911), Alfred T. (1862–1919), Charles (1863-1926), John (1866-1936) and Henry (1869–1918). In 1907 it acquired the Barnum & Bailey Circus,merging them in 1919 to become Ringling Brothers & Barnum & Bailey Circus, promoted as The Greatest Show on Earth.

While on the Pie Car we also got to enjoy some of the food. Matt and his sous-chef Steve had prepared some great dishes for us to try. First up was a Huevos Loco – motion (pictured above) which was basically Matt’s version of a tortilla with bell peppers, yellow onion, thin sliced Chorizo, a monterrey / cheddar cheese blend, pico di Gallo, apple cider vinegar, fresh cilantro, cumin and topped with an egg cooked to over medium. It was delicious!

Matt then followed that up with a truly excellent popcorn shrimp with chipotle mayo (pictured above) . Two succulent shrimp coated with corn starch and a secret recipe of spices that contained but was not limited to brown sugar, cumin, garlic powder, onion powder, cayenne pepper & old bay.

We then got to check out the chicken caprese roulade and asian meatloaf with wasabi mashed potatoes. The chicken roulade consisted of a boneless, skinless chicken breast that had been pounded flat and then had a herb cheese added before being rolled. It was then garnished superbly with a slice of tomato topped with a slice of fresh mozzarella and chopped basil with a drizzle of balsamic glaze poured over the top. The meatloaf saw a combination of eggs, bread, beef and onions coming together to form the traditional meatloaf that was then seasoned with ginger, garlic powder & salt and pepper that was kneeded into the loaf. It was garnished with a sweet chili sauce. Wrapping the plate off was a nice portion of wasabi mashed potatoes that saw a combination of mashed potato pearls come together with some wasabi powder.  Again, truly flavorful excellent dishes.

The sampling was then rounded off with a pineapple based desert. Unfortunately, I’m not a fan of pineapple but others who tasted the dish said it was very good!

The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus train that brings Legends to each city on tour has a total of 61 cars, and has a total length over a mile long. The cars on the Blue Unit Train include: 4 animal stock cars, 32 coaches for living, 2 concession storage cars, 19 flat bed equipment cars, 1 pie car (diner), 1 generator car, 1 shop car, and 1 auxiliary generator/shop car. The average distance the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey train travels between cities is 350 miles although the train will travel an average of 20,000 miles in one year going coast to coast.

The circus actually opens tonight at the Amway Center in Orlando and runs through Sunday. Tickets for the Legends performance start at $16 so make sure you go as it’s a great chance to see the 85 animals on tour with Legends which includes nine Asian elephants (Karen, Nichole, Bonnie, Juliette, Sara, Kelly Ann, Rudy, Sundara and April), nine Tigers, six African lions, one African Leopard, twenty horses and an assortment of dogs, pigs, goats, donkeys, llamas and kangaroos!

Performance Schedule:

Thursday, January 9 at 7:30 p.m.
Friday, January 10 at 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, January 11 at 11:30 a.m., 3:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
Sunday, January 12 at 1:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m.

Tickets are available at www.ringling.com or www.ticketmaster.com, at any Ticketmaster outlet, by calling 800-745-3000, or at the Amway Center box office (phone: 407-440-7900).

The circus is a great night out. Have fun!

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