Paying Homage to the Hip an Inch an Hour While There’s Still Trouble at the Henhouse

Like most people, I have to adapt to the new reality. I opened up this blog for the first time in quite a while and realized the last time I posted was about a week after the shit hit the fan with Covid-19. At the time, I thought it would be a hiccup in my continued efforts to conquest restaurants across Canada and the US. More than 4 months later, I have yet to sit inside a restaurant, stay in a hotel or travel much further than an hour’s radius for purposes other than either golf or picking up my son from university. I went through the same adaptive mechanisms as many others…I made sourdough, hunted for flour, read online cooking tutorials, gained 10 pounds and likely became an alcoholic. The latter evolved from home consumption of beer and cheap wine to cocktails and more expensive vinos ( I could justify the fact that I no longer spend 75 bucks on a bottle in a restaurant so I could drop $40 at the LCBO). Now, I relish a trip to the LCBO to invest in yet another bottle of something to patch the void once filled with $20 creative concoctions at a hipster Toronto watering hole. I’m now a member of Amazon Prime (yes…2018 called) and have made frivolous purchases including a cocktail shaker kit as well as highball and stemless martini glasses to prepare and vessel the results of my alcoholic alchemy.

I’ve also worn my dog’s nails down walking her while listening to hours of Spotify. One thing that hasn’t changed is my affinity for the Tragically Hip. Regrettably, one of the first causalities of covid for me was the Gord Sinclair concert scheduled at Massey Hall in April. Thankfully, I was able to listen Taxi Dancers on repeat for a few weeks to ease the pain.

Collectively, all of these factors got me thinking. While walking the dog yet again, I started thinking of the titles of Tragically Hip songs and realized many of them would make great cocktail names and my growing arsenal of potent potables would give me the ammunition needed to pay homage to my favorite band. With something like 150 songs to inspire me, we may have a vaccine well before I dream up all my namesake drinks and whittle my stash down to a trunk full of 20 cent returns. Let’s get started…..

If You're Hip Read This Because This Restaurant Just Might Become One of Yer Favorites

I’m a big Tragically Hip fan. In fact, I recently was informed by spotify that I was one of the top 1% fans worldwide so I figured it was time to write about them. I spent many university days spinning Road Apples, Fully Completely and Day for Night over and over while doing everything from drinking to…ummm….studying. The release of their greatest hits album, “Yer Favorites” solidified the age old argument of whether the slang for yes should use the letter “e” or “u”. Yep..I was right all along.

North of the border, they have had countless cult and commercial hits. Many tell stories of Canadiana or human struggle (which in many cases seem synonymous) . Others are poetic recounts of important historical moments. People like Tom Thomson, Jacques Cartier and Bill Barilko became household names because we sung them out loud while reciting songs like Three Pistols and Fifty Mission Cap while trying not to fuck with the 401.

During their farewell tour, CBC ran a poll to determine the favorite hip songs of Canadians. Not surprising, many of the mainstream classics topped the list including Fully Completely’s Locked in the Trunk of a Car, Courage and the number one fan favorite Wheat Kings, a haunting ballad about the false conviction of David Milgaard. It also cited Day for Night’s Grace, Too and Nautical Disaster which were the songs they performed during their only SNL appearance in 1995. Also on the list was Ahead by a Century which was later resurrected as the theme song to CBC’s Anne with an E.

Instead of reiterating the obvious, I thought I would focus on my favorite but less mainstream Hip songs (you can’t become top 1% in the world only listening to New Orleans is Sinking). Here are my top 10 lesser known buy favorite tracks (in chronological order):

10. Cordelia- Road Apples

It starts with Angst on the planks, spittin’ from a bridge…Just to see how far down it really is. ..a vision that brings me back to days when I would guesstimate height using my own saliva at various Sudbury landmarks. It’s a little angry with fantastic sound and was often overshadowed by more pop-like and popular songs like Little Bones and Twist my Arm.

9. Put if Off- Trouble at the Henhouse

While many default to Gift Shop and Springtime in Vienna, this is one of my favorites. In fact, I usually listen to this album backward, not for satanic purposes but it makes Put it Off the lead track. This song speaks of many dichotomies in which I can relate given my documented and less than adorable moodiness. I often either hum the mantra Put it on or Put it off depending on my state of mind at the time.

8. Emperor Penguin- Phantom Power

I never understood why this song isn’t more popular. It pops into my head constantly, especially when I’m watching Atypical because of Sam’s love for Antarctica and penguins in particular. Plus, given the devotion to the egg, it reaffirms that the fact that not all males in a given species are complete assholes.

7. Sharks- Music@Work

Sharks don’t attack the Irish, It’s mostly Australians. Whew, I’m safe. I just love Gord’s mumbling chorus in sync with the brilliant guitar.

6. The Dire Wolf- In Violet Light

I had no idea who Tallulah Bankhead and Canada Lee were before this song but their story of strong friendship in an era of racially motivated social nonacceptance was impressive and inspiring. They costarred in the 1944 Alfred Hitchcock movie Lifeboat. This song is another example of excellent songwriting with a great story.

5. The Dark Canuck- In Violet Light

If this song came out before my kids were born, it might have considered naming them apple, zippo or metronome. I love the rather radical change in tempo partway through this song. It goes from a classic Hip ballad to a uptempo and haunting tune reminiscent of Nautical Disaster or Locked in the Trunk of a Car.

4. World Container- World Container

The poetic lyrics of this song combined with the crescendo of angst in Downie’s voice makes for a great listen. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought “How’d it get so late so early?'” in my own life so I karaoke that lyric in the car every time I listen to the song.

3. Last Night I Dreamed you Didn’t Love Me Anymore- World Container

This is a song about an exaggerated paranoia about falling out of love which can also serve as a great breakup song. Gord’s singing which escalates from frustration to desperation as the song progresses gets me every time.

2. The Depression Suite- We are the Same

This song reminds me of a Day in the Life by the Beatles and Scenes from an Italian Restaurant by Billy Joel. Sure, it doesn’t tell a story quite the same but does give one a rather decent lesson in geography and is a near 10 min experience with a few different and equally enjoyable melodies.

  1. Queen of the Furrows- We are the Same

This is just a good old farming song with a great beat and a signature Hip sound with nothing so deep that it’s meaningless. There’s even mention of a toasted Western..can you ever go wrong with a toasted Western.

Favorites is a newish Thai BBQ joint which opened on the Ossington stretch. It’s secretly tucked behind a Sam James coffee bar. Once you enter, you are brought into a surprisingly spacious area with a variety of seating options. It’s unique among many Thai places in Toronto for a couple of reasons: first it focuses more on grilled items versus standard noodle rice dishes or spring rolls and second it suggests wine as the main alcoholic companion to the food as opposed to Singha beer or cocktails. According to the restaurant, the key is smart whites and lighter, chilled reds to compliment but not drown to the more intense Thai flavours. We complimented our meal with la Cuvee du Chat, a fantastic French Gamay which makes me want to head to the SAQ in Quebec to grab a few bottles.

La Cuvee Du Chat

Food wise, we selected a variety of dishes from each section, all of which was served sharing style of course. First was the Betel leaf wraps (nope..not shrimp fresh rolls) with smoke trout, roe and galangal caramel. The edible leaf housed a variety of flavours and textures which will well rounded and a great indicator of what was to come.

Betel Leaves with Trout

Next we had the octopus salad complemented with pomelo and banana blossoms. The octopus, although hidden under a copious amount of greenery, was well prepared and the flavours once again were bursting with classic Thai sweet and salty notes.

Octopus Salad

Since the whole concept of favorites is Thai BBQ, we ordered a trio of options from the grilled menu which included Chiang Mai style pork sausage, Hen of the Woods Mushrooms and grilled duck. The mushrooms were the star, full of smokiness and subtle heat from the BBQ and chili vinegar respectively. The raw cabbage leaves, which were served with all these items, best complimented this dish the best, both in flavour and texture. The duck was nicely rendered and served a stunning medium rare which was nicely complimented with classic thai flavours in the form of a tamarind dip. The sausage was decent but the least thrilling of the three. I just didn’t find it as abstract and entertaining as the other grilled dishes.

The last dish, the curried prawn pineapple fried rice, was the most recognizable dish on the menu by traditional Thai restaurant standards. It was as good as the others I have had at places like Pai but after the rest of the dishes I had, maybe a little too normal.

Curried Pineapple Rice with Prawn

The dessert choices were small but still represented a return to the bold, vibrant and unique flavours of the rest of the menu featuring a passionfruit and chocolate parfait as well as coconut pannacotta. Thankfully, neither were extreme on sweetness but both were bold on contrasting textures and flavours.

Coconut Pannacotta and Passionfruit and Chocolate Parfait

My Take

I’ve always thought if I ever open a restaurant I might name it “Whatever” or “Not Sure” since that’s the answer I usually get when I ask the family where they want to go. That’s why I like the name of this place. If a friend comes up to me and asks where I want to go I can simply say one of my favorites. It deviates from the noodle heavy tendencies of most Thai joints and offers the same balanced flavours in the form of more protein heavy BBQ choices. Even the wine and desserts, two aspects normally less anticipated in Thai cuisine were some of my favorites, much like listening to songs like Sharks or the Depression Suite on the same playlist as New Orleans is Sinking.

Astronomy vs Astrology: A Story of Getting Lucky with Mira and Dasha..Two Urban Dictionary Sweethearts

I like astronomy. In fact, it was my favorite elective and turned out to be my best mark in university. It’s a fun combination of three of my favorite things; math, science and trivia. I still remember the order of the stars (OBAFGKM) and my facial haired professor’s challenge to deviate from the sexist “Oh be a fine girl, kiss me” and come up with a more politically correct mnemonic. Mine was “Only Bearded Astronomers Feel Good Knowing Mars”. Not sure he was impressed.

Astrology, on the other hand, is less about science and more about entertainment. I certainly don’t believe in the validity of horoscopes beyond coincidence but it’s at times refreshing to attribute your issues and actions to planetary alignment. That said, it’s really easy to pin my sometimes ridiculous stubbornness on the fact I’m a Taurus and not just an Irish asshole.

The name Mira has a number of meanings and is common in Latin and Slavic cultures, usually meaning admirable, wondrous or related to peace. Urban dictionary calls Mira a extremely lovable girl. Miras are usually the smartest in their class and will go to extreme lengths to show it. Mira’s are loyal people and when given a chance, could grow to be your bff. Mira is also a red giant star in the constellation Cetus and is sometimes visible to the naked eye. In astrology, some cite Cetus as the 14th zodiac sign.

Mira is one of the handful of new Peruvian restaurants which has popped up in the GTA over the last couple of years. Located in an alley between King and Wellington and only identified by a small, worn metal plate, it can be a little tricky to find. Once inside, it opens up into a busy space highlighted by an open kitchen above and a large bar within a narrow space below filled with murals, mirrors and funky flooring.

Drinkwise, I started with the El Manana cocktail, a bourbon based “booze forward” spin on an old fashioned flavored with honey, mint and lime (not pictured). From there it was wine. Truth told it was tough to find a great selection at a price point that less than three digits. First, we decided on a rather disappointing Andover Pinot for $80 followed by a more adventurous and better Portuguese Uivo Vinhas Velhas blend for the same price.

As expected, the menu is a smorgasbord of all sorts of proteins in the form of ceviches, anticuchos and larger mains. From a seafood perspective, the octopus, accompanied with aji and potato, although well prepared, was a bit of a flimsy starter at $22. The tostada morado ($18) was clever collection of classic tuna and central American flavors (corn, avocado and cilantro). The tiradito hiramasa ($21) was the best of the smaller seafood dishes we sampled…fresh kampachi marinated in citrusy tiger’s milk and topped with sweet chili jam. The last fish dish was a fantastic whole branzino ($46) topped with a rich sauce which enhanced the subtle of the fish quickly nicely.

Land anticuchos included costilla (short rib $19) and cordero (lamb $17). The fatty short rib was balanced with sweet, spice and earthy truffle. Admittedly, I’m not a lamb fan so I wasn’t surprised to find the cordero rather unremarkable. In my opinion, the pollo inchacapi ($28) was the STAR of the night. The hen was covered in colourful sauces and garnishes with peanut, chili and tamarind notes which added visual appealing in additional to the incredible flavors. The side corn dish mimicked the flavours of the other dishes and was a nice colourful addition to whole spread.

Dasha is a girl’s Russian name meaning “god’s gift”. According to urban dictionary, Dasha is the sweetest girl in the universe. If u mess with her friends u will have 2 deal with her. She is caring, funny and very talanted. She will always be there 4 u when ur in trouble. If u meet a Dasha, ur life will change and u will always have a smile on ur face. In astrology, Dasha is a Hindi term used to indicate planetary periods. Vimshottari dasha  assumes that the maximum duration of life of an individual human being is 120 years which is the aggregate duration of all nine planetary periods reminding us that Betty White still has a while to go.

Dasha is the newest project of esteemed chef Akira Back and features classic and upscale Chinese food along with traditional karaoke rooms available upstairs. Like Mira, finding it is not intuitive..it a bit off the beaten path tucked down an alley off of King street. It also features a larger bar and an open kitchen. The interior can be described as Chinese market meets the standard Toronto industrial look.

There is a mystic component to the drink menu. I ordered the Iron Fist, Dasha’s take on an old fashioned which pours from a kettle amidst a cloud of dry ice. It was slick and smooth and booze forward of course.

Iron Fist Cocktail

Food wise, we started with a couple of small plates including chicken balls ($9) and wasabi prawns ($14), the latter at the recommendation of the waitstaff. The chicken balls were pretty standard and a lot less bulky than the ones which normally headline your local joint’s family dinner combo and the dipping sauce lacked the fluorescence of the standard sweet and sour sauce but that was made up with the bright green wasabi shrimp which glowed in the surrounding dim light. The crunchy shrimp was surprisingly balanced with sweet accents and heat typical of horseradish.

Next were the dasha fried noodles ($12) and steamed har gow dim sum (which I’m told is a traditional way to celebrate Chinese new year) for $14. Neither dish was overly memorable…the noodles were pretty generic and the dim sum was a bit disappointing. Also, I was with a Chinese colleague who literally cringed at the har gow’s price point which she deemed almost insulting given the same offering usually goes for 1/3-1/2 the price at any other dim sum house and one might argue those ones taste even better.

We finished the dinner with the black cod, black truffle duck ($49) and side miso eggplant ($13) both in which I thoroughly enjoyed. The cod and duck was masterfully prepared and presented. The shaved black truffle was delightful. The eggplant was also flavourful and nicely highlighted the proteins with the unami flavour of both the eggplant itself and the miso seasoning.

I’m also reluctant to go too crazy with dessert at most Chinese restaurants because I honestly can’t recall any Asian dessert topping my list of best of all time sweets. Regardless, we tried the banana spring roll with strawberry ice cream as well as the with green tea ice cream. Let’s just say neither cracks the list. The ice cream was quite good but the accompanying pastries were average at best.

My Take

Despite being very nice ladies according to urban dictionary, Mira and Dasha are also two new and highly sought eateries with many similarities. Both are located in hidden spots off of King street west. Both have busy and vibrant interiors with open kitchens and disproportionately large bars. Both offer exciting cocktails and nicely represent their respective culture through traditional yet clever food. You will pay for the ambiance however and may even overpay, especially if you want mediocre wine, dim sum or dessert.

Despite this adventure, I have to admit I’m still a bigger fan of astronomy than astrology. I much prefer red giants and white dwarfs to mercury retrogrades and horoscopes. That said, perhaps my old scientific and stubborn Taurean mind could be changed to better appreciate astrological intervention, especially if my Dasha fortune cookie ever rings true. Where’s Mira and Dasha when you need them.

My Dasha Fortune Cookie

SOS: Pasta, Palindromes and Growing Up with ABBA

A few days ago, number nerds across the earth ignored the annoying celebration of #okboomers worshiping portending rodents and instead praised palindrome day (02022020). This year’s focus on palindromes have also brought back childhood memories. Growing up, I’ll REFER to the time I spent at my grandparent’s house. My grandmother was an avid reader and I dedicated a good amount of time to flipping through the pages of novels and scaring the shit out of myself by reading a few pages of Stephen King or Dean Koontz when nobody was looking. The other thing I loved was their eight track player. Their music collection made me realize a few things; I was never a fan of country music and I loved Roy Orbison and yes…I also loved ABBA.

ABBA was a universal phenomenon in the 70s and were on LEVEL with the disco craze in terms of popularity. To me, ABBA was the transition from kiddie music to the real stuff. The catchy beats and simple lyrics made it easy to follow along at a time when I was still uninhibited by grown-up social standards. I thought Chiquitita was a song about bananas and Waterloo was about the city my uncle lived in.

Getting back to 02/02/2020, I made sure I opened my spotify account so I could pay homage to the ultimate pop culture palindrome…SOS by ABBA. This song is the only hot 100 single to date in which both the title, the credited act and the musical genre are all palindromes. Plus, I have to admit it is still catchy as hell.

In commemoration of palindrome day from a culinary perspective, it made sense to check out SOS (although pronounced sauce), a casual pasta joint on John Street that’s been on my RADAR for a while. Their sign encourages you to change your past(a) which isn’t hard because my historically my Irish MOM was hardly creative with Italian food…except for the fact she adds carrots to spaghetti sauce. The concept is simple…you can choose a house made short or long pasta with a preferred sauce and optional toppings. Alternatively, you can opt for one of their daily specials. If gnocchi or ravioli is your vice instead, you can go that route as well. They also offer gluten friendly and vegan options as well.

Since I wanted the full experience on visit one, I went with the surf and turf which was a busy mix of crab and lobster ravioli topped with a wine alfredo/ragu sauce accompanied with a couple of shrimp and meatballs. I’ll admit, it was a little over the top but gave me a great opportunity to experience the diversity of the menu all in one dish. The pasta was cooked perfectly and the sauces were robust with flavour. The alfredo was drenched in garlic and the ragu was brimming with tender chunks of braised beef. Both the meatballs and the shrimp were nicely seasoned. Since the pasta is made to order, it’s not RACECAR fast but is quick enough the visit over the the NOON hour and still get back to work on time.

SOS Surf and Turf Pasta $18

My Take

The last time we had a palindrome day, Henry V was the King of Germany and the Holy Roman Emperor of Italy. I hardly think the Italians celebrated by eating surf and turf pasta so times have changed. I celebrated 02/02/2020 by listening to ABBA and eating ravioli. I need to reiterate that although I have an emotional attachment to the Swedish quartet, my regular playlist usually focuses on music influenced by my DAD including Beatles songs and great Gilmour guitar SOLOS. In the end, SOS is a quick and relatively inexpensive choice if you are craving pasta and if your lunch partner is craving charcuterie instead, you can just tell them it’s 2020, so GO HANG A SALAMI, I’M A LASAGNA HOG.

My NFC Divisional Round Cook-Off: Seattle vs Green Bay

I think the excitement in this match stemmed from a few things:

  1. Rodgers vs Wilson- Both QBs are former Super Bowl champions and definite Hall of Fame candidates. Part of their legacy, however, may involve losing the big game as well.
  2. Under most circumstances, Seattle would be overjoyed to add the 12th man to a divisional playoff game but if the regular season was any indication, you could argue that Seattle would have preferred to be on the road given their 7-1 away record. That said, Green Bay’s domination at Lambeau continued this season and they boasted the identical record at home.
  3. With the return of Marshawn Lynch, it would be interesting to see if he even sniffed of his old self and if Pete Carroll would even dream of doing anything other than handing him the ball anytime the Hawks were inside the opposition’s 5 yard line.

With the Seattle hot dog used for the wild card game, I had to renege on a previous post when I stated that I wouldn’t resort to the use of little neck clams to represent Seattle cuisine given my location and questionable freshness. I didn’t mind because I still reminisce about sucking back steamers steps from the Pike market in Seattle. With a quick trip to my local RCSS, I was set although I did cringe a little at the price tag which is always the case when buying seafood in a landlocked city. The advantage of littleneck clams is the simplicity of preparation; you simply soak them in some salt water for a while, steam them up and serve with a little melted butter and a bowl of the juice from the pot which adds a little salt and helps cleans the clam of any residual sand. The physiology of the clam itself even allows for easy dipping….it almost has a natural handle. The only downfall is the tendency for the bivalues to retain sand in all their nooks and crannies despite a good soak and stir.

Littleneck Clams

Green bay is certainly not known for exquisite cuisine. Cheese, brats and fish fries are often on the city’s menu. However, when i did a little digging I discovered the story of booyah, a slow-cooked stew which has become synonymous with Wisconsin tailgating. The story is that a local minister was looking to raise funds for his church and solicited donations from local farmers. Using beef and chicken he received as the protein, he added whatever vegetables he had around, threw it all in a large cauldron and let it simmer for a few days. The result is a thick, hearty soup thickened by the gelatin from the beef bones. Afterwards, when a local reporter asked what it was called, he was told it was bouillon (a traditional Belgian stew) but heard it as “booyah’ and the rest is history. My version did not take a couple of days (I wasn’t feeding the masses after all) but it did require a good part of the day in order to maximize the effect of the beef bones. In addition to the shredded chicken, I threw some rutabaga, potato, cabbage, carrot, peas and a can of tomatoes. The result was excellent and I could see why it would be so sought after on a cold Sunday afternoon in Green Bay.

My Take

The game was one of the more exciting in this year’s post-season docket and unlike most of the other games, relied mainly on a pass and catch strategy between each QB and his favorite receiver while the rest of the team generally spectated. Marshawn Lynch did run for 2 TDs (I guess Carroll learned that regardless of the outcome he had to give Lynch the ball to avoid embarrassment) but only had 26 total yards in total rushing. In the end, Rodgers emerged victorious and removed some of the stigma regarding losing the big game. Honestly, despite my respect for Russell Wilson, I was just happy because the Seattle loss means I don’t have to witness Pete’s buffoonery again until next year. Booyah!

My AFC Divisional Round Cook-off: Tennessee vs Baltimore

In the case of this match-up, I think I was more excited about the cooking than I was about the actual game. Maybe Baltimore is not the most sought culinary destination in the US but it is famous for Old Bay spice and the iconic crab cake. It’s also home to Chap’s Pit Beef (the sandwich stop in the parking lot of an LGBTQ strip club) and Sip and Bite (the greek diner with some of the best feta cheese I’ve ever had) which rank number 8 and 13 on my DDD list respectively.

Nashville, on the other hand, is one of the more popular foodie stops which offers a blend of old school southern food outlets and chic eateries. I have had the pleasure of dining at Husk in the Sean Brock days and to this day Arnold’s Country Kitchen and its meat and three remains at the top on my list of all time Diners, Drive-ins and Dives.

Before getting into the showdown, a few comments about the game:

  1. I was surprised to see that Ryan Tannehill was only 31 so I can’t use my “Lamar Jackson got his ass kicked by his dad” joke…maybe more like his older brother although I often equate QB years to be more like dog vs human. I think it was important for Jackson to taste defeat so he can bounce back in a Patrick Mahomes vs RG III fashion. That said, it should be pointed out that Tannehill only threw for 88 yards with no picks whereas Jackson tossed for 365 but with 2 INTs so it’s hard to say that Ryan was the better QB in the end.
  2. I think the irony is the fact that Baltimore got beat by using the same blueprint that won them Superbowl XLVII…a moderately talented QB and good defense vs a flashy offence lead by a run/pass threat. Similar to this game, Flacco manged to avoid interceptions whereas Kapernick’s balanced offence numbers (including 62 rushing yards himself) was tainted by a pick and a sub 100 QB rating.
  3. Everything said, I can’t get excited about Tennessee. Sure, watching Henry run for almost 200 yards and average 6.5 per carry is somewhat exciting but I can’t help but remember every week of this year’s football pool when I cringed while being forced to choose a winner in any of the painful AFC South interdivisional game.

For the cook-off, I went with the aforementioned crab cake versus Nashville hot chicken. There are hundreds of crab cake concoctions out there but I opted for Andrew Zimmerman’s recipe which is definitely crab forward and uses saltine crackers as its binder. I did take the liberty of throwing in a pinch of Old Bay Seasoning for good measure. They fried up beautifully and really only need a bit of lemon as an accent.

My Tennessee choice was Nashville Hot Chicken, a signature item in many Tennessee eateries including Hattie B’s. Fried chicken is ubiquitous in the US but the uniqueness of this dish is the basting sauce which is a combination of fat, cayenne pepper and sugar. The result is extreme sweet/heat. I used a whole chicken which I cut into 8 pieces instead of quarters allowing for a reasonable frying time of 15 minutes or so. I tempered the heat with a tangy side of slaw, some homemade bread and some lakeside pickles which worked really well.

My Take

Unlike the game, when it came to the cook-off there was no clear winner . I mean choosing between a crab cake and fried chicken is a dubious task especially when the chosen recipes are spot on. Honestly, I think fried chicken holds it own without the Nashville cayenne/sugar topping and I guess I can handle a good crab cake without an aioli although I won’t omit the Old Bay seasoning under any circumstances.

I think Lamar Jackson needs an ass kicking to remind him he’s not quite prime time yet (6 of their games were against Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Cincinnati after all). Next year we will see whether he takes the path of Pat Mahomes or rides (or kneels) away in the sunset like Colin Kapernik. With Marcos Mariota in his prime, I wouldn’t be surprised if Ryan Tannehill ends up following in the footsteps of the likes of other past and present 30 plusers like Joe Flacco/Peyton Manning and Kirk Cousins/Brett Favre by joining a retirement team such as Denver or Minnesota.

My NFC Wild Card Cook-Off: Philadelphia vs. Seattle

I have had the privilege of visiting both of these American cities during my travels. From a triple DDD perspective, Philadelphia eateries (Honey’s Sit and Eat and Silk City Diner) are in my top 5 whereas my favorite Seattle spot (Voula’s Offshore Cafe) clocks in at a respectable 15th. Philadelphia also historically has a number of celebrity chefs outputs including Morimoto, Jose Garces and Eric Ripert. Seattle, of course, has the original Starbucks and the Pike Market which make it a very competitive culinary destination among many foodies whether Pearl Jam fans or otherwise.

From a pop culture perspective, I think an accurate way to illustrate the differences between these two cities are reflected by the shows “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” and “Frasier”… or in other words…rough and tumble versus plaid wearing pretension. This concept even extends to football; half of NFL watchers can’t even name the Eagles head coach whereas Pete “Peacock” Carroll struts around looking like an emaciated version of the most interesting man in the world.

Regarding the game, I think the writing was on the wall almost from the start. As soon as Carson Wentz went down early it was over. I mean, Philidelphia being forced to rely on long time and boring back-up QB Josh McCown to fill in as their potential savior was like adding Nick Tortelli to Frasier to increase ratings. A couple of additional observations:

  1. Pete Carroll is annoying. Watching him coach is like watching a teacher who should have retired 5 years ago trying to herd a group of whiny kindergarten children in from recess. I think if it was wasn’t for the professional nature and skill of Russell Wilson, Carroll would have been looking for a new gig years ago. To this day, he has continued to demonstrate the inability to harness clowns like Sherman and Lynch because all he needed to do was lean on guys like Wilson and Thomas to save his sorry ass.
  2. Philadelphia is one of the most boring teams in football. The only reason they were in the playoffs was because the rest of the NFC east is awful. I think you could even hear the announcer’s voices waiver when they tried to amplify the fortitude of the Eagles while clearly thinking they had no business being there in the first place.
  3. Two games at 17-9 within few weeks of each other? These teams should not be allowed to play each other again for a while if ever again.

For the cook-off, instead of a full menu, I focused on a street food battle for this match-up. Honestly, i was hoping to be able to steam up some clams to pay homage to the Seahawks but living in London, Ontario doesn’t give me the best access to fresh seafood. Instead, I focused on North America’s most ubiquitous street meat to represent Seattle..the hot dog. Allegedly, the concept stemmed from a rogue bagel vendor who thought slathering cream cheese (hopefully not Philadelphia brand of course because that would be weird) and fried onions on a hot dog would be a good idea. In this case, in addition to the cream cheese and onions, other acceptable toppings include jalapenos, sauerkraut and mustard. I opted for everything minus mustard for this battle.

I think when one thinks of Philadelphia street food, the cheese steak is a no brainer. What does require a bit of thought are the toppings. If one were to venture to Pat’s or Geno’s, “whiz” would be the cheese of choice but many hardcore cheese steak fans swear by more prestigious (or even real I suppose) cheeses such as provolone. To keep it cheesy, authentic and pedestrian, I used onions, peppers and whiz as my toppings. You still can’t go wrong…

Seattle Hot Dog vs Phili Cheese Steak

My Take

I’ve had many cheese steaks in my time including both Pat’s and Geno’s but I have never had a Seattle style hot dog as my time there was limited to DDD’s and the Pike market. Both are football worthy snacks accented by cheeses as questionable as Pete Carroll’s goal line decisions and Josh McCown’s playoff experience. As for the food, you can’t go wrong with meat (real or otherwise), cheese (real or otherwise) and onions (raw or cooked) on a bun…ever. I’d say the dog was better than I thought although I don’t think cream cheese will replace my tried and true toppings moving forward. As for the Philadelphia sandwich, whether whiz or provolone plus/minus peppers is your vice, it’s all covered beneath the cheese steak umbrella. The only thing cheesier than both sandwiches is Pete Carroll going Gangnam Style after every questionable call in his efforts to justify his over inflated reputation as a coach.

My AFC Wild Card Cook-Off: Houston vs Buffalo

In celebration of the NFL playoffs this year, I have decided to pay homage for foods well known in the participating cities. Even if I haven’t been to some of the cities, it’s not hard to find a few culinary gems one can recreate in the comfort of their own kitchen.

After watching the game itself, I can draw a few conclusions:

  1. Buffalo is cursed. Josh Allen does appear to have the tools necessary to win a few games but he’s gotta learn how to use them. At 6’5″, he pitches the ball versus throws it which certainly isn’t helped by the fact, as an announcer put it, his receiving core are “smurfs”. His naivety was clear in the 4th quarter where he literally pulled his team out of field goal range and handed Houston the win.
  2. American announcers have a hard-on for JJ Watt. It became nauseating listening to those clowns suggest that JJ’s sack was the turning point in the game and that anybody who could even dream of returning from pectoral surgery so quickly is nothing short of a god. The man love was truly nauseating and a reminder of why I mute sports events at times, especially given the fact they mic’d him up and we all got to hear his Tony Robbins’ motivational crap all game.
  3. Watching DeShaun Watson it like watching a roulette wheel spin and you have the house on red. Events like his Houdini move in this game remind us he’s far from a sure thing and that JJ Watt probably had something to do with it anyway.

The food showdown involved a menu of items representative of the two cities. This one was a bit easy…ribs vs wings. In order to up the ante a bit I added a few other dishes; Texas Caviar and Western New York’s famed sandwich… the beef on weck. I haven’t been to Houston but it’s culinary scene seems to be improving. I also have a good friend there so it’s on my list for 2020. I have been to Buffalo numerous times (the last time to watch the Bills beat the Flaccoless Broncos) and have had the privilege of indulging in a Charlie the Butcher’s beef on weck. I have also dropped by the original Anchor bar to pig out on a platter of wings.

It started with making some Texas BBQ sauce. Although there are no shortage of online renditions of Lone Star sauces, there are a few commonalities which include a good amount of sugar and lots of apple cider vinegar. In the end, I opted for Aaron Franklin’s Masterclass recipe which in the end was a perky and more biting version of many of the sauces sold on store shelves. The back ribs were slowly cooked (275 degrees)for a few hours and the sauces was added for the last 30 and the temp upped a few degrees which resulted in a slight caramelization but a maintenance of the strong vinegar flavour.

Texas caviar is a side dish open to creative interpretation as well. Usually it consists of some combination of the following ingredients: black-eyed peas and/or black beans, peppers, jalapeno, tomato, onion and avocado. Then it is usually dressed with some kind of vinaigrette ranging from Italian dressing to an olive oil with red or white wine vinegar. I used all the above ingredients to maximize taste and texture and finished it with aforementioned olive oil/red wine vinegar combination. The subtle acid nicely cut the fattiness of the other dishes and provided a bit of refreshment similar to smart Josh Allen play in the second half if you happen to be a Bills’ fan.

Texas Caviar

I cook wings all the time and opted for a straight forward oven-baked version sauced with hot sauce and butter in typical buffalo style. When it comes to wings, there are no fancy sides necessary…celery and carrots with a tub of blue cheese works every time. I often go full out deep fry but I was kind of drunk and lazy by this point.

Wings…Carrots and Celery Missing..I was a little sauced myself.

Since wings are pretty easy I tackled the famed beef on weck as well. I seasoned up an outside round and threw in the oven for a few hours (at the same temperature as the ribs) until it was medium. After a rest, I sliced it up and through on some homemade Weck buns (ensuring to leave the polarizing caraway seeds off half the batch). I wasn’t the biggest fan of this recipe which called for almost 25 minutes of bake time at 425 which would have turned them into footballs even Tom Brady couldn’t deflate. They were a little dense for my liking but gives me something to work on for next year..just like Josh. In the end, it was no Charlie the butcher but made for a great pigskin snack.

For dessert I went with a dish from the eventual game winner; Texas bread pudding with a Whisky butter sauce. It was a pretty standard pudding using some old buns and brioche I had kicking around (I wouldn’t recommend the weck buns given the caraway!). I threw in some raisins and pecans for good measure. The whisky sauce called for 1/3 cup of bourbon which retrospectively was a bit much reminding that everything (including the risk of getting drunk off dessert) is in fact bigger in Texas.

Texas Bread Pudding with Whisky Butter Sauce

My Take

Although not a game for the Super Bowl, “wide right” may be tempered somewhat by “don’t get sacked when you’re in field goal range in overtime” or “I don’t give a shit if he’s Houdini…tackle him”. As for the food, both regions represent great party foods. The BBQ sauce was tangier than I’m used to buying and would almost pass as a good wing sauce as well. The Texas caviar would shut the pie holes of any vegan viewers (or you could just slap down some carrots and celery and keep the extra blue cheese for your wings). For dessert, I suspect many Bills fans would have ignored the pudding and lapped up the Whisky sauce as a new way to drown this decade’s new football sorrow.

Sandwiches: Not Only Damn Good but the Possible Key to Better Understanding the Generation Gap

More and more, the news is filled with stories of millennial opinion and influence. I recently read an article in Forbes magazine outlining the pending transfer of wealth from the boomers to the youngest generation and the disaster which may ensue. The #okboomer movement has been plastered all over social media and I even had to watch a news story about millennial preference for mayonnaise versus cranberries as an accompaniment for Christmas turkey. Things were further fueled by a recent discussion/argument I had with my son about the definition of a generation. I adhere to more of a biological definition whereas he looks at it more in a social context. According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, a generation is “a body of living beings constituting a single step in the line of descent from an ancestor” or “a group of individuals born and living contemporaneously” so by definition we are both correct. However, I find it hard to define a generation by an arbitrary range of years endorsed by Wikipedia. For example, I have a daughter born in 1995 and my aforementioned son was born in 1997. Depending on the day of the week, both exhibit varied levels of millennial qualities such as entitlement, cluelessness and a hands-off but highly opinionated concept of social justice. However, despite having the same parents and being born 2 years apart, the are supposedly of a different generation since the most agreed upon cut-off for Generation Y (aka. millennial, echo boomers) and Generation Z (who avidly insist they are NOT millennial) is 1996.

So instead of using the letters XYZ or trending hashtags to categorize generations and since this is a food blog, maybe I can explain my thoughts using an analogy more in my wheelhouse…the sandwich.

Boomers– Boomers are the upper part of the sandwich. Historically, they have protected the rest of the sandwich from things like aggressive cling wrap, flies and other sandwich predators and generally are seen as crusty. These days, many see the upper crust as unnecessary as indicated by preferences for open faced concepts like avocado toast or tuna melts.

Generation X- Gen Xs are the sandwich filling. They touch both the upper and lower parts of the sandwich and are the most necessary for the total functionality of the sandwich. Although sometimes feeling a bit smothered by the upper crust, there is a general appreciation of the role they play (and played). Tuna is tuna and turkey is turkey…there is much less of a need to acutely define themselves.

Millenials/Gen Y, YZ etc. aka Echo Boomers. The base of the sandwiches. Feel as if they are burdened by bearing the weight of anything above them. As a result, they probably eat Big Macs upside down (after ordering on Skip the Dishes) to feel a sense of entitlement. Unlike the boomers who admit they are simply bread, it is important for millennials to sub divide themselves into categories like gluten/dairy free, organic, thin, texas toast, spelt, 12 grain, brioche, rustic, artisan, olive, vegan, panetonne or sourdough.

Speaking of sandwiches, I’m a huge fan of sandwiches and figured this would be a good time to review some of the better ones I’ve had this year. First, a few observations:

  1. I sadly did not eat enough sandwiches last year. Lunch is a meal I’m often likely to skip so it usually means the chance at a good sandwich is sacrificed.
  2. In some situations, a sandwich can be enhanced with a good side, vibe or concept so I also take this into consideration.
  3. Tacos and burgers are not sandwiches….they are…well…tacos and burgers.

Charlie the Butcher– Buffalo

I love regional foods and Western New York’s Beef on Weck in one of the best. Charlie the Butcher in Buffalo offers one of the best. The combination of the salted bun, tender beef and quick dip in the au jus makes for a near perfect sandwich. In addition, the sides are incredible (try the slaw) and if you are lucky enough you might even see Charlie himself slaving away in the kitchen..hard hat and all.

Good Friend Sandwich Company-Brantford

I stumbled across this place after a quick google search and have been back a few times since. It is a house converted into a homey sandwich shop owned and operated by aboriginals. While waiting you can peruse the shelves and look at language books or have a fun conversation with the woman behind the counter who is super friendly. There are a dozen or so choices including an apple and brie cheese panini with an addictive caramel dipping sauce (pictured below), the bacon butty (bacon on buttered buttermilk bread) and classics like pulled pork and beef dips. A small handful of chips is mandatory with every sandwich based on the simple logic that you can’t have a sandwich without a simple side…works for me.

Good Friends Sandwich Company- Apple and Brie Cheese Panini

Larder– Cleveland

Larder comes with great fanfare as it was a James Beard semi-finalist for best new restaurant in 2019. Set up in an old firehall, the space is adorned with old stoves, shelves of pickles and elixirs. The pork shoulder Reuben was a solid sandwich and is available with plenty of deli sides and served by very pleasant staff.

Larder’s Pork Shoulder Reuben

Deli Board-San Francisco

San Francisco is a haven for overpriced but great food and Deli Board is no exception. You’ll pay close to $20 US for a sandwich but it’s well worth it. There is a core menu plus daily specials so there is no shortage of choice. I went with a special called the Bubba (roast beef, bacon, cheddar, provolone, cherry pepper, slaw and 1000 island) served on their garlic dutch crunch bread. The space is clean and the service is efficient but this sandwich was so good you could have served it out of a Coleman cooler on a street corner and I’d still be happy.

The Bubba

Loops-Columbus

The Italian beef sandwich at Loops in Columbus was memorable. One of Guy’s DDD choices, the star of this Chicago-style sandwich was the giardiniera which provided a tangy and spicy punch to otherwise normal roast beef.

Loops’ Italian Beef Sandwich

Mermaid Avenue Sandwich Factory– Kingston

Any place that hinges its entire concept around a music group is cool with me. In the case of Mermaid Avenue sandwich company it’s Wilco, the Chicago based alternative band. They have a nice variety of offerings and while you wait you can get your fill of all things Wilco. My choice was the “How to Fight Loneliness ( Deli chicken, honey mustard, apple slices, cheddar cheese & bacon). I’ll admit, the protein was a little scarce but overall it’s a fun place to pop into for a quick bite.

Cake and Loaf-Hamilton

This bakery usually puts out 1-2 sandwiches a day on rotation and it’s first come first serve. However, I did call in advance and they were able to hold me a couple for pick up. In particular, the chicken jalapeno in incredible as is the tuna melt. While there, the bakery itself is amazing as well. You can score everything from scones to a take home pulled pork and mac and cheese pie.

My Take

First, I think I need to eat a few more sandwiches because there is no shortage out there. Second, I think I will start to refer to generations in the context of foodstuffs especially since I’m convinced my generation is the exciting stuff. Soon enough things will change and the next generation can take over the filling and stress the keto, oceanwise, free range or whatever makes a good hashtag or social cause. In the meantime, wait for your #okboomer inheritance, #stayinyourlane and remember #cranberriesarebetterthanmayo.

Skippa’s Dippa or No Dippa..My Amazing Race to the Most Exciting Game Since Howie Mandel Called the Bank

I’m a big game show fan and I’ve certainly fallen under the spell of many gimmicky ones over the years. In my early years, I learned how to count on the Price is Right and had many arguments with my mom about the reasons why Bob Barker shouldn’t be a father figure (and for the record mom…both my dogs are spayed or neutered). I have had dreams about destroying the Clock Game in 14 seconds ($891..892..893…894) or purposely giving up the trip to Aruba to watch the hiker slip off the edge in Cliffhanger.

My obsession didn’t stop there. I tolerated Regis Philbin on Who wants to be a Millionaire and actually wore a monochrome dress shirt and tie on at least one occasion. I longed to be a game show masochist at the expense of Anne Robinson on the Weakest Link. I even tolerated Howie Mandel’s scrubbed down stand up as he demanded that a bunch of women a third his age “open the case” on Deal or no Deal.

Since Skippa has opened, it’s been on my list but I rarely have the fortitude to haul my ass all the way up to Harbord Street. The irony is when I finally did make the trek, I severely underestimated the restaurant’s distance from the subway. For some reason I assumed it would be in the cluster of other restaurants between Spadina and Bathurst. In fact, I had no idea that Harbord stretched all the way to Ossington so I felt like I was on the Amazing Race as I darted an extra 2 km with the clock ticking in order to get there within some acceptable proximity of my reserved time.

When I made the online reservation I had the choice of communal seating (nope..I’m antisocial), the bar (would be cool but I was meeting a few others) or a comfortable booth a few steps up and away from the kitchen…bingo! When I finally arrived after my trek we were quickly greeted by a very pleasant member of the waitstaff who politely explained the restaurant’s concept. Choice one is the “Trust Skippa” which is a $130 opportunity to sample the entire menu. The option was a la carte but within that list was a $45 today’s sushi option which allows one to sample of piece of each of the evening’s featured fish. The three of us decided to go for the sushi flight and share most of the remaining dishes on the menu.

After ordering some warm sake ( one of the first examples of attention to detail was having ability to choose your own sake glass from all sorts of shapes and sizes), the meal started with an unorthodox bread service featuring a seaweed sourdough accompanied but house made butter which had been fermented for 6 months. Brilliant.

Seaweed Sourdough Bread

You will rarely near me say that pictures speak louder than words, especially given my notorious reputation as a shitty shutterbug. That said, I think these pics are half decent and that said, they don’t have to be great to emit the quality of the offerings.

The opener was a clever amberjack sashimi dish garnished with kumquat and fresh wasabi. Beautifully balanced.

Amberjack and Kumquat

Immediately after finishing, our place settings were cleaned off and reset in anticipation of the next dishes; local shitaake mushroom and daikon in a soy milk bath BC scallops served with in shell and complemented with sunchoke.

Next was a kinoko salad made with maitake mushroom and seasoned with miso and topped with watermelon radish. I found it a little on the salty side but the texture of the mushroom and the contrast of the radish made me a little less salty about it.

The quail dish was accompanied with seasonal persimmons and citrus which put together was a nice contrast to the seafood. It was intense and hearty yet delicate at the same time.

Quail with Persimmon

Once again the dishes were cleared in preparation for the sushi course. Fresh ginger and a beautiful soy sauce were laid on the table but were instructed that the chef would indicate whether it was needed. To dip or not to dip?..that was the question. We waiting in anticipation for direction as each dish was presented:

Retrospectively, there was a bit of a code to the dip or no dip question. The tuna sushi tended to be left alone as as the whitefish that were already seasoned with other sauces. The rest were fair game for a soy dunk. Regardless, all were stellar. Nonetheless, it was a fun game with an anticipation reminiscent of finding out if somebody blew it on Deal or no Deal.

Given the quality the meal, there was no way I was declining dessert. I went with the oba, a simple yogurt based dessert flavored with meyer lemon, sorrel and pomegranate seed atop some crumble. The balance of tart, savory and sweet flavours was perfect but the contrasting textures and temperatures of the creamy yogurt, iced sorrel and crunchy base were even better. In fact, after finding some meyer lemons at Costco the next day, I’ve been searching the city (to no avail) for sorrel in an effort to recreate this dish at home…I may have to use mint or upland cress instead #firstworldproblems.

My Take

Skippa provided a spectacular dining experience and the “Dip or No Dip” game show was an added bonus. From the salads to the dessert, each dish was meticulously thought out and hinged on brilliant contrast in either temperature, texture or taste. The sushi was fresh and vibrant. The service was impeccable and the attention to detail was immaculate. Personally, I don’t think you need the whole $130 “Trust Skippa” menu..I was adequately satiated with the sushi flight and sharing the rest of the dishes with my table mates. Even then, compared to many other sushi joints, Skippa may be big bucks but I promise…no whammies.