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The P & L Burger: Recognizing Big Boy as the Original Hipster

Parts and Labour’s offspring, P &L burger, was in part due to its performance on Burger Wars, in which it beat out rivals Burger’s Priest and Dangerous Dan’s to claim supremacy.  It opened its doors recently near Queen and Spadina, only a few doors down from Burger’s Priest and in an  area with an ever increasing number of fast/snack food options. Upon entry, I was greeted by a young lady with modern enthusiasm who quickly took my order. Fifteen minutes later, almost to the second, my number was called and I proceeded to the counter.  The cook was as cool as his facial hair and engaged me in a very pleasant conversation about the weather, cycling and growing up in Windsor, Ontario…a far cry from the less than enjoyable service I often receive from other places in the area.

Let’s do a quick historical recount of the evolution of the burger culture in the United States. It would be hard to argue that the Big Mac is not one of the most iconic and recognizable food on earth.  In fact, economic models use the cost of a Big Mac to standardize the state of the economy across the globe.  The brilliance of the Big Mac lies partially in the use of a secret sauce to add some tanginess to the other layers of flavours one would associate with a burger.  The Big Mac was “invented” by a Pittsburgh franchisee in 1967 who developed it to compete with the Big Boy (developed circa 1937), the flagship burger of the restaurant of the same name. The Big Boy is a three layered burger, served on a sesame bun with all the fixing including a special sauce (sound familiar?).  Once a presence throughout the United States, Big Boy still exists although primarily within the state lines of Michigan although a few still exist in Ohio and California.

What struck me the minute I tried the deluxe was the fact that I was eating a hipster Big Mac. It had most of the components with an extra emphasis on the the huge beef patty, which was cooked a juicy medium-well.  The P&L sauce was an excellent condiment and resembled the special sauce that made the Big Mac famous.  The cheese was melted nicely and crispy bacon pieces lined the thick patty.  It was a big, sloppy and delicious mess.  Consuming it did make me wonder why too many other burger places haven’t made an effort to mimic one of America’s favorite and most recognizable foodstuffs.  As far as the sides, I found the fries rather soggy and the slaw unappealing in both colour and taste.

The Deluxe $9

The Deluxe $9 (aka The Hipster Big Mac)

 

Somewhat Soggy Fries

Somewhat Soggy Fries (plus $3 with drink)

 

P & L Slaw

P & L Slaw ($3)

My Take

Not only did Big Boy invent the saucy burger, I argue they invented the hipster.  I mean, look at the mascot:

1. He wears checkered clothing.

2. He has a clean side part and a a flip in the front.

3. He is wearing light blue shoes.

4. He has that “I’m cool because I’m about to eat a burger” look on his face.

Big Boy- The Original Hipster

Big Boy- The Original Hipster

Now McDonald’s stole the Big Mac concept but  alienated the hipster concept and instead introduced Ronald McDonald in 1963.  The famous clown (which apparently has 96% recognition in the USA), was created by Willard Scott (yes…the same Willard Scott who gained fame as a Today show weatherman).  Since then, there have been eight actors who have portrayed the famous clown and none of them have worn, plaid, plastic rimmed glasses or parted their hair to the side.

Willard Scott as the original Ronald McDonald- This would be enough to make me a vegetarian

Willard Scott as the original Ronald McDonald- This would be enough to make me a vegetarian

P&L has created a DELICIOUS burger which competes for the best under $10 in Toronto.  The sauce is the key, adding a tangy cut through the richness of the thick beef patty and accompanying melted Amercian cheese and bacon.  The bun is terrific and the condiments are as harmonious are the Big Mac song itself.  The fries were soggy and the slaw was unremarkable.  You’re likely in for about a 15 minute wait but I think it’s worth it (after all some people in Toronto have no issue waiting hours for a stool tucked in the corner of a popular snack bar). Now that I’ve read a bit about burger history I realize that in fact the classic sandwich is the perfect food for the modern day hipster; you can dress like Big Boy and act like a clown.

 

The P & L Burger on Urbanspoon

 

 

Bro, After Getting Me to the Greek in Nashville I had Happy Days at Arnold’s

The plan for day 3 was to hit a few diners, drive-ins and dives in Nashville.  The breakfast plan was Athens family restaurant which was the only DDD open for breakfast. Guy’s visit focused more on the traditional greek entrees but I find breakfast still gives you a good idea of a restaurant as a whole.

Upon arrival, it had all the hallmarks of a tradional greek diner:

1.  Blue and white decor in an otherwise sterile environment.

2.  An aged sign with character including missing letters on the letter board.

2. A moderately pleasant waitress with an accent.

3. A massive menu.

4. A spattering of regulars sucking back copious amounts of coffee while reading the newspaper.

5.  A reminder that Greece is not known for coffee.

 

Athens was featured on DNERS DRVE NS DIVES

Athens was featured on DNERS DRVE NS DIVES

Since we arrived prior to 10am, the choices were limited to breakfast which was a bit of blessing given the huge amount of choice.  The downside was an inability to try any of the traditional dishes that attracted Guy here in the first place.  That said, I believe the ability to execute a terrific breakfast is indicative of the rest of the menu, especially when ordering the Achilles’ (pardon the pun)  heel of many morning joints; eggs Benedict. Perfect poached eggs with tangy and creamy hollandaise atop ample meat is an art. My two daughters had a case of “I lack any sort of ambition prior to high noon”, so they opted for a simple breakfast special. None had a particularly exciting presentation but was reflective of the restaurant’s concept in general.  After all, not everybody garnishes their dishes at home with parsley sprigs or drizzled sauces in shape of the Parthenon.

The Eggs Benedict ($12) was delicious.  Nicely cooked poached eggs sat atop a thick slice of  in-house smoked ham. The Hollandaise sauce was delicate and flavorful.  I ordered it with fruit and was reminded that strawberries are delicious when they don’t have to travel clear across a continent to get to your table. It wasn’t the prettiest plate but was quite easy to devour.

Eggs Benny $12

Eggs Benny $12

My Take

Athens’ is stereotypical greek family restaurant. I can only comment on breakfast but it was a tasty way to start a day in Nashville.  The breakfast specials were a good value (around $6 each).  Predictably, the coffee was bad and food was good.  It lacks any significant vibe but they don’t claim they have one either. It’s a pleasant boring. Hmmmm…sounds like a Russell Brand movie.

Food: 4 Guyz

Service: 3.5 Guyz

Vibe: 3.5 Guyz

Total: 11/15 Guyz

 

Athens Family Restaurant on Urbanspoon

 

Afterwards, I embarked on a walking tour on the two most expensive universities in Tennessee. Vanderbilt tops $40000 per year while Belmont comes in a little under $30000.  Both campuses were beautiful.  They are also very big.  My daughters were less than impressed with the half marathon I brought them on.  The advantage was I was able to work up an appetite to tackle Arnold’s country kitchen, one of the most iconic eateries in Nashville. Promising one of the best “meat and three” meals in Tennessee, Arnold’s offers authentic southern food at decent prices.  Normally I attempt to avoid lunch rushes, but I didn’t want to test my luck against two mercurial teenage girls.  As expected, the place was packed. The diversity of patrons ranged  from young children to business professionals.   As I stood in line I noticed the James Beard medals and numerous celebrity endorsements which lined the walls.  Despite the length of the line, things moved quickly and we had food on our trays within 15 minutes. For me, it was roast beef, creamed corn, mac and cheese and turnip greens.  The girls split fried chicken, green salad, cole slaw and mac and cheese.  For dessert, we had spicy chocolate and strawberry pie respectively. With drinks (ice tea of course), the final tally was less than $30. To this my daughter’s comment was the fact that the entire meal was the same price as the plate of southern vegetables at Husk the night before. I see an economics major in somebody’s future.

What $30 gets you at Arnold's Country Kitchen.

What $30 gets you at Arnold’s Country Kitchen.

Simply put, this place is worth the hype.  Each component of the meal was among the best I’ve had. The roast beef was a perfect medium rare.  The mac and cheese and creamed corn were like a young hollywood starlet: rich but not overly heavy.  The bitterness of the tender  greens were evident but dulled by vibrant seasoning, creating a perfect balance.  The chocolate pie was divine; the bittersweet of the chocolate combined with the subtle heat of the peppers created a trinity of taste sensations more divine that of a French or Louisiana mirepoix. The girls’ fired chicken was equally fantastic.

Roast Beef, Mac and Cheese, Turnip Greens, Creamed Corn and Hot Pepper Chocolate Pie.

Roast Beef, Mac and Cheese, Turnip Greens, Creamed Corn and Hot Pepper Chocolate Pie.

My Take

There is always the fear that restaurants with as much hype as Arnold’s country kitchen will be a let down. From the first bite it was evident that the medals, endorsements and accolades were all well deserved. Tender roast beef, fried chicken that could easily be the envy of Colonel Sanders and his army of Kentuckians, delicious sides and incredible desserts highlight a simple and authentic southern menu.  I understand why they call it soul food…because eats like these hit some kind of sensory receptors on the soul itself.  I honestly pondered getting in line again for another round but after two university campus tours and a rather lengthy walk downtown, the anticipated angst of my two daughters outweighed my desire for a collective meat and six.

Taste: 5/5 Guyz

Service: 4/5 Guyz

Vibe-5/5 Guyz

Total : 14/15 Guyz

 

 

Arnold's Country Kitchen on Urbanspoon

The afternoon involved driving west down the music highway to Memphis but not before a stop at Bro’s Cajun cuisine on the way out.  It took me a few tries to find it.  Perched up a hill on Charlotte street, the best identifier is a white boat in a parking lot with the name of the restaurant written in red across the side.  After a small jaunt up the hill, I walked into the place.  The interior was a cross between a beach house, a bus station and a butcher shop.  We were quickly greeted by a trio of characters I later identified as the chef, the waitress and some dude who hangs out like Norm Peterson or a similar sitcom character.  We ordered takeout and had a seat at a table while waiting.  Norm started up a conversation which included but was not limited to “Where y’all from?” “Is it cold in Canada? I heard it’s nice up there!” and “Make sure you put a tack on the map board over there.” Shortly after he got scolded by the waitress for not doing anything to help  around the restaurant.  When I mentioned we were on our way to Memphis and asked what’s fun to do there, her response was “Well, I don’t know. I’ve never been to Memphis”.

I order a triad of Cajun mainstays; gumbo, rice and beans and jambalaya.  In all three dishes, the sausage was the dominant player.  Although this created a bit of monotony throughout the meal, in the end the dishes delivered on the promise of bold flavours. Since I haven’t been to Louisiana,  I can’t comment on the authenticity but I imagine given what I know about Cajun cooking it would safe to say it’s a true representation. The prices were fantastic and the portions were huge.

Gumbo ($5.25), Jambalaya   ($4.95) and Rice and Beans ($4.95)

Gumbo ($5.25), Jambalaya ($4.95) and Rice and Beans ($4.95)

My Take

For those who can’t make it to Louisiana, I’m confident that Bro’s would be an adequate fill-in for a Cajun craving.  The food is delicious although a little monotonous.  When you enter, you feel like family but maybe too much so as you thrown into a bit of a sitcom situation and can’t help wondering if there’s a camera running somewhere.  I mean, would it really be out of the question?  A Louisiana clan moves north to Tennessee to make it big in Music city by converting people from fried chicken to gumbo.  Maybe they would call it “Bro Goes Country” or “North of 35″.

Food: 4/5 Guyz

Service:3.5/5 Guyz

Vibe: 3.5/5 Guyz

Total: 11/15 Guyz

Bro's Cajun Cuisine on Urbanspoon

So, it was off to Memphis for a little Elvis, blues and more culinary quests, of course.

 

 

 

Brekkie at Bar Buca: Beyond Bacon and Bad Brew

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Bar Buca comes for a pedigree that has gained the attention of the likes of Jamie Oliver among others.  So far, so good for the offspring. It has escaped the mercurial grasp of the Globe and Mail’s Chris Nuttall-Smith as well as gaining praise from seasoned critic Joanne Kates (who I’m convinced is Carmen Sandiego) who recently called it the best thing to open in a year.

In one sense it’s following the lead of the snack bar swing which has taken Toronto by storm.  In another it ups the ante by offerings goods all day including a coffee and breakfast bar as early as 7 am.   The quiet exterior on Portland hides a deceivingly large area with high ceilings, seating which includes wooden high tables, an open kitchen and a coffee/booze bar right inside the entrance. In the morning, each table is equipped with sugar as well as a sugar/espresso paste in a jar which offers an extra kick to the morning coffee. Speaking of which, there are couple of dozen espresso/latte combinations to choose from. After careful deliberation I opted for a Latte Canadese latte style ($5.50). The foundation was maple and brown butter.  Although the size would barely compete with a Starbucks tall, the flavour was far superior.  Not for everybody, it was a bit like drinking melted fudge but the bitterness of the coffee bean balanced it to a degree.

Latte Canadese $5.50

Latte Canadese $5.50

The breakfast menu features everything from savory egg dishes to sweet pastries.   Sensing my indecision, the waiter (yes, I may have forgotten to mention you sit down and they take your coffee order at the table) recommended pane and ricotta; fresh ciabatta bread lathered with fresh ricotta cheese and topped with pear marmalade (honey was an option as well) for $3.50.  There was no shortage of fresh cheese.  The bread was fresh and the marmalade added the contrast of  sweet and clove.

Pane and Ricotta $3.50

Pane and Ricotta $3.50

 

My Take

Chef Rob Gentile has not only jumped on the snack food bandwagon, he’s added horsepower and a fresh coat of paint.  The deviation from  dinner only hours provides the opportunity to snack on an array of goods anytime of day.  A smart breakfast menu with both sweet and savory items which fills the huge gap between greasy spoons and coffee shop pastries  is sheer genius.  The diversity and quality of caffeinated options rivals any other coffeehouse in the area.  I have every intention of indulging on cicchettis, spuntinis and schiacciatas sometime soon but thankfully I have 15 hours a day and 7 days a week to do so.

 

Bar Buca on Urbanspoon

Hintonburger: Better than Dirty Bird, Grown Ups 2 and Donnie’s Thespianism

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Sometimes naming a restaurant takes days or weeks of careful deliberation.  Sometimes a name is just obvious.  I mean, if you want to open a burger place in the Ottawa neighbourhood of Hintonburg, you really only have one choice; Hintonburger.  Now this makes me wonder what other burgers concepts would have obvious names:

1. Spielburgers- Splashy burgers with great stories and specials effects including the Jaws, Ketchup Me if you Can, the Hamistad and the Empire of the Bun.

2. Samburgers- Featuring the Cloudy with a Chance of Meatball Sub and the Brooklyn Nine-Nine (the traditional burger for under $10).  Noticeable absence of any reference on the menu to “That’s my Boy” or “Grown-ups 2″.

3. Wahlburgers- The Wahlburg brothers  make even more money by creating a Boston burger empire complete with a reality show featuring Mark’s abs and Donnie’s…..intellect (complete with that pensive look he gets when he’s trying to  crack a case on Blue Bloods).  Oh wait, that’s been done already.

Hintonburger is housed in an old Kentucky Fried Chicken (in the days before it was shortened to KFC, the Colonel was not a cartoon character and Taco Bell was nowhere in sight). I opened the gold coloured door with the faded handle and entered the small quarters, noticing the only relic of KFC was a crudely painted picture of a red and white bucket sunk halfway in the ground on the far wall.  I walked straight ahead to the tiny square hallow which  served as the order window.   It only made sense to order the Hintonburger combo, complete with fries and a drink for $11.75.  The signature burger is 6 oz of meat served with bacon, cheese and signature BBQ sauce and was served with fresh cut fries.

It was pretty busy but we managed to get a seat while we waited the 15 minutes for the food to arrive.  In the meantime, I couldn’t help but people watch.  The place contained everything from a group of hipsters (what are they called anyway?  A herd? hover? A host? A harrass? A hedge? A horde?)*.   There was also an old couple that I thought I saw on a grey power commercial once and a table of four guys  on lunch break who wore matching uniforms with the reflective outdoor jackets and whose combined weight was slightly more than a Fiat 500.

*- The group terms refer to antelopes/bison, trout, sparrows, horses, herons and gnats respectively.  A horde of hipsters…I kinda like that.

The burger arrived in the standard red and white checkered paper.  The bacon was abundant, the cheese was melted and the burger was a nice, consistent thickness.  It was a wonderful crust which not only flavoured the patty but protected the moisture of the inside.  The BBQ sauce was tasty and not overbearing, a cardinal sin of many burgers.  The bun had a hard time keeping this messy concoction together. I enjoyed the fries.  They were thick and crunchy although a few were a little overdone.

 

Hintonburger Combo (water not shown) $11.75

Hintonburger Combo (water not shown) $11.75

My Take

Hintonburger has all the hallmarks of a modern burger bar; cramped quarters, a wait time indicative of a made-to-order burger, a rainbow of patrons and tasty fresh cut fries. It also adds a number of other menu items for non-burger aficionados including pogos, chicken strips, hot dogs and even a couple of vegetarian items. In the end, it’s middle of the pack (or kettle or troubling or parliament) in both taste, price and value which still means it’s pretty good. It sure as hell beats a brood of dirty bird from Scott’s Chicken Villa.

Hintonburger on Urbanspoon

Suzie Q, Baby I Love You

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“Suzie Q”

Oh, Susie Q, Oh, Susie Q
Oh, Susie Q, Baby I love you, Susie Q
You are well worth the walk,
You deserve all the  talk
You are well worth the walk, you deserve all the talk, Susie Q
Well, say that icing is blue
well, say that icing is blue,
Well, say that you use fruit loops and icing that’s blue, Susie Q
Well, say that’s tart kaffir lime,
well, say that’s tart kaffir lime,
Well, say that’s coconut, served with tart kaffir lime, Susie Q
Oh Susie Q, Oh Susie Q
Oh Susie Q, Baby I love you, Susie QI like all your donuts in stock
And that you’re open until 7 o’clock
You give Tim Horton’s a knock , your specials are written in chalk, Susie Q.O Susie Q, Oh susie Q
Oh Susie Q, Baby I love you, Susie Q

My Take

Many new doughnut shops have opened in an effort to have people pay two or three times as much for one as they would at Timmy’s or some other generic bakeshop.  In many cases, they fall flat…literally.  They are often dense, cakey, sickly-sweet and offer little taste benefit over their cheaper competitors.  In other words, sprinkling a bit of balsamic on a half-ass doughnut doesn’t make it worth three bucks.

Suzie Q reintroduces the lost art of the yeast doughnut (not donut) back into fashion.  They are light, doughy, nicely leavened and not overly sweet.  In fact, you can taste the yeast in the dough.  As far as designer doughnuts go, they are well worth the $2/each or the $10/6 price tag.

 

Blue Vanilla Froot Loop and Coconut with Kaffir Lime $2/each

Coconut with Kaffir Lime Blue Vanilla Froot Loop $2/each

A Real Yeast Donut

A Real Yeast Donut

Yes, Suzie Q, I love you!

 

SuzyQ on Urbanspoon

Two Six {Ate}! Who do we appreciate?: Gaining Respect in Little Italy

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I took another trip to Ottawa recently. It’s becoming progressively more difficult to choose places to dine given the huge explosion of interesting destinations all over the city. Take two six {ate} in Little Italy  for example. It has all the foundations of a foodie haven:

1.  It’s named after its address.

2.  They use cliche words like “nose-to-tail” and “snack foods made with local, fresh sustainable products” on their about us page.

3. They are closed Tuesdays.

4.  Decor includes a stash house rusticness and clever, tongue and cheek depictions  of Darth Vader, Uncle Sam, Mickey Mouse and Beethoven.

5.  Uses small letters and punctuation in name  {in this case brackets I forget the significance of}.

That said, Ottawa waitstaff and barkeeps rarely adhere to the Toronto rule that you have to be a pompous ass since you know how to measure an ounce and a half of bourbon using a shot glass. Maybe it’s the fact that any restaurant in Little Italy adheres to some kind of Godfather or Sopranos code of respect.  I was immediately greeted by a pleasant duo who sat me at the bar.  I was given a quick description of the menus which includes a daily sandwich and pasta special.  In this case it was beef tongue and goose confit ravioli respectively.

I went on the heels of  FreBREWary, an exciting promotion by Beau’s in Ottawa which involves the near weekly release of of an innovative beer  surrounded with exciting hoopla.  Since two six {ate} was a participant, I was looking forward to a pint of Wag the Wolf, a heavily hopped wheat beer which was due to be released that day. It was a tad delayed, so I was treated to an Beau’s  Ellsmere’s Regret instead.  It was an absolutely delicious chocolate-marshmallow hemp stout.  It was served on a warped Beau’s promotional  wooden coaster {a FeBREWary promotional flaw which was the result of not letting the wood dry before final production}.

I started with an order of the shrimp and pork pogos {$10} which sound more Asian/American than something from the 1Italian Motherland.  Served on a bed of crisp and delicious slaw with the faint heat of a chili gastrique, I can best describe them as deep fried Dim Sum.  They were nicely seasoned and the flavours of the filling burst in my mouth.  I’m not convinced the batter enhanced the taste of the dish {not to mention the fact the batter pretty much seperated from the filling at the first bite} but it certainly was  a merry concept.

Shrimp and Pork Pogos ($10)

Shrimp and Pork Pogos ($10)

 

The scallops {$16} were highly recommended by the waitstaff.  I didn’t need much convincing when I read the description.  I think brussel sprouts and seafood are terrific partners on a plate. Sweet/sulphur, soft/crispy and white/green coexist quite nicely.  I also love the thought of boozy raisins  sprinkled all over a nicely cooked scallop.  The dish was true to from. The aforementioned ingredients combined with silky sunchoke puree and crunchy pumpkin seeds mapped my taste buds  tongue-tickling  topography.

Scallops $16

Scallops $16

 

The pasta special of the evening was interesting.  I have to admit I have limited experience with goose. I’ve eaten a flock of ducks but not their larger cousin so much. The fact that it was stuffed in ravioli and topped with yellowfoot and hedgehog mushrooms sounded even better.  The goose filling was very gamy which was was oddly coupled with by the strong earthiness of the mushroom medley.   The pasta was a little thick.  I think a blast of sweet or acid {other than the spray of pomegranate seeds I seem to remember} might have helped.   In the end, it was a pleasant dish.

Goose Ravioli

Goose Ravioli {$15}

During the meal I also had a Broadhead Wild Card, a subtle pale ale from Ottawa and another example that the craft beer movement is alive and well in Eastern Ontario.  It was very well balanced with a subtle but cogent  hoppy blast.

For dessert I seemed to have no choice. As far as hype, online comments have elevated the fried p b and j {$9} to the status of Pulp Fiction or Breaking Bad. The question was whether it was worth it. It took two hands to lift each half given the incredible density. It had a soft, creamy centre and a crispy crust on the outside.  It was not overly sweet, even with the aggressive dusting of powered sugar and sweet ice cream next door.  It was more like a good brunch item rather than a dessert.  In fact, I took half home for breakfast the next day.

My Take

Most Ottawa residents are blissful over the recent emergence of high quality and trendy restaurants congruent to those in nearby Toronto and Montreal. Two six {ate} is one of these.  It has many of the fundamental features of a hipster haven {see above} with the additional of friendly, authentic service.  The food is solid although the presentation is a bit monotonous. Two six {ate} has a code. You leave feeling like a dinner guest of Tony Soprano or Vito Corleone. In fact, Tony may have stated  it best when he said …{“Those who want respect, give respect”.} The food is respected. The drink is respected. You are respected.

 

Two Six {Ate} on Urbanspoon

 

I Decided to Pukka Place off the Beaten Path

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Pukka opened last year along the relative foodie-free St. Clair West area.  Until then, I’ve always associated the word Pukka with something that happens after a few too many pints or the name of a popular pie advertised at football matches across England. It’s real definition is “genuine”.  Pukka touts itself as being the “best modern Indian restaurant in Toronto”. To date, most Indian restaurants in Toronto have been either small, family run hole-in-the-wall cubbies, extravagantly decorated upscale chains such as the Host or all you can eat buffets which dull down flavours to appease the boring palates of Caucasians who just looovvvveee Indian food. Pukka takes a page from Vancouver’s Vikram Vij, an international celebrity chef who gained fame by introducing Indian flavours into mainstream dishes in a stunning environment with excellent service.

Unlike Vij’s, Pukka takes reservations, so that’s a great start.  I booked a table to have dinner with some colleagues.  The decor mimics numerous other Toronto dinner hot spots. It’s cozy and noisy with a huge bar and colourful art all over the walls. The staff were courteous, dapper and as I would find out later, very knowledgeable.

First off was the drink order.  Choices include wine, martinis, a small beer selection and traditional cocktails such as mojitos and old fashioneds. I was intrigued by the Chai town ($8.40), a clever mix of bourbon, chai tea, pomegranate liqueur and bitters.   It tasted a bit like a Negroni’s younger brother.  It had a pleasant sweetness coupled with the subtle tickling of chai on the tongue.

Chai Town $8.40

Chai Town $8.40

 

The menu is divided into snacks, eats and sides as well as bread and rice.  We got the normal banter of how many  dishes four grown men should order to ensure they leave happy. From the list of snacks, we ordered vegetable string chaat, tandoori chicken tikka and gunpowder prawns.

The chaat was one of my favorite dishes and certainly was the lightest. I’d best call it a bowl of Rice Krispies gone Bollywood.  Visually stunning, the flares of colour and flavour provided a different snap, crackle and pop to this vibrant dish.

Vegetable String Chaat $8.70

Vegetable String Chaat $8.70

The chicken tikki was another visually stunning dish.  More importantly, it maintained the moisture commonly lost when smaller pieces of chicken are overcooked.  The seasoning was subtle and authentic and the saffron butter sauce added brilliance to the dish.

Tandoori Chicken Tikka $12.8

Tandoori Chicken Tikka $12.8

The gunpowder shrimp with moong bean salad was twice the price of the other snacks.  Four hearty shrimp were presented atop of an earthy bed of beans.  They were well seasoned although maybe a tad overcooked.

Gunpowder Prawns $17.90

Gunpowder Prawns $17.90

For “eats”,  we ordered the boatman’s fish and prawn curry, the madras pepper steak and beef short ribs.   As one of the most expensive dishes on the menu ($25.80), I was hoping for a little more content.  Only a few prawns and a couple of chucks of fish swam in the thin but flavourful broth. One of the sides was Bhindi bhaji; tender okra which simply seasoned with onion, ginger and garlic. It was a fresh addition to the heavily sauced entrees which surrounded it.

Boatman's fish and prawn curry $25.80 Bhindi bhaji 8.7

Boatman’s fish and prawn curry $25.80
Bhindi bhaji $8.70

The pepper steak ($19.70) was a flat iron cut served in a fragrant sauce with pepper, onion and coconut.  Although it didn’t swell with Indian flavours, technically it beat others I’ve had from the likes of Ruby Watchco and Bestellen. The meat was tender and cooked beautifully, needing little more than weak pressure of a butter knife to get through. The side of green beans were jazzed up nicely with onions, tumeric and coconut.  They kind of reminded me of a  healthy version of pakoras.

Madras Pepper Steak ($19.70) and French Beans ($9.80)

Madras Pepper Steak ($19.70) and French Beans ($9.80)

The highlight of the night was the beef short rib ($22.40).  The cook on the meat was perfect….no grit, no string, no chewiness.  The sauce was an aggressive blend of traditional Indian flavours which enhanced the star of the plate instead of drowning it.

Beef Short Ribs $22.40

Beef Short Ribs $22.40

Naan ($2.70) and basmatic rice ($4.60) were offered as sides.  I swear Mason jars make everything just a little more expensive.

Naan Bread ($2.70)- Two Orders

Naan Bread ($2.70)- Two Orders

 

Saffron Rice $4.60

Saffron Rice $4.60

From the small dessert menu, I went for the sweet plate ($9.80) as I was intrigued by the marshmallows rolled in garam masala sugar.  The plate also came with a torte dipped in ginger and topped with whipped cream and tandoori pineapple.  The third was naan khatai, a traditional Indian sugar cookie.   The marshmallows were a tease and I easily would have traded the rest of the plate for four more.

Sweet Plate ($9.80)

Sweet Plate ($9.80)

My colleague ordered the toasted coconut panna cotta topped with lemon and tandoori pineapple.  I had a morsel which was quite brilliant.  It was a tad unorthodox, lacking the extreme sweetness of traditional Indian desserts.

Toasted Coconut Panna Cotta $8.50

Toasted Coconut Panna Cotta $8.50

 

My Take

Pukka could be the best modern Indian restaurant in Toronto.  It fuses traditional but subtle Indian flavours with a decor and vibe indicative of Toronto’s trendy dining scene although it’s in a bit of an odd location. The dishes avoid the salty/fatty flavours that have become the seasoning of choice for many other nightspots and replace them with vibrant flavours including a whole lotta coconut.

The staff were friendly and knowledgeable, replicating a passion that mimicked the flavours that radiated from the plate. The chaat was brilliant.  The meat dishes were executed to near perfection although the seafood was steeply priced and a little less impressive. The panna cotta and marshmallows were delicious.

If you’re looking for your taste buds to get slapped around by a dabba for a great price, one of the many mum and dad shops may serve your purpose.  If you’re looking to overindulge on limitless portions of curries, there’s many a buffet for that.  If, however, you want more subtle Indian flavours fused with trendy dishes at lofty prices in the context of a modern automat, Pukka is your place.

Pukka on Urbanspoon
 

 

 

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