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Hey Hipsters: Give the Ice Cream Back to the Kids for Sweet Jesus Sakes

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Ice cream used to be a kid’s food.  As a child I would eagerly await the warm weather so that we could make the pilgrimage to one of the Dairy Queens in Sudbury (which at the time were nothing more than stands and were only open in the summer).  Otherwise, I would store change under the mattress in the event that the Dickie Dee ice cream bike decided to grace our street with it’s presence.  My mother didn’t necessarily approve (perhaps because there was a good chance the driver was a pedophile) so I was careful not to order the phantom because the carcinogenic purple dye stuck on my tongue would be a dead give away when I got home again. The rare time I traveled past the Hungry Bear in French River or the Espanola turnoff (depending if I was heading south or west) there was an off chance we would stop but  was usually few and far between and usually centred around my mother’s craving for a scoop of Tiger Tail.

Dickie_Dee

And who said diversity wasn’t prevalent in the 80’s?

Unfortunately, in a manner synonymous with walkers infiltrating cities across America, hipsters have decided that ice cream in now in their wheel house.  Maybe it started earlier than I thought.  Years ago, Dennis the Menace was scrapped as Dairy Queen’s “spokesperson” and replaced by savvy commercials and sultry lips beckoning those with the wallets to come and bring the kids if you want.   A bigger testament to this theory is what has happened in Toronto.  Grown adults are now forfeiting coffee houses and Netflix marathons to stand in line for hours to pay asinine amounts for ice cream.  In most cases, kids are nowhere to be found.  Take Bang Bang Ice cream for example.  In addition to the possible sexual connotations of the name, I previously blogged that was there one night I got in line only to find soft-core cartoon porn projected onto the wall while a hipster dad in front me in line (who presumably only went to grab the kids an ice cream sandwich) had to cover his hipster kid’s eyes.  In other words, their ice cream came with a side of ass.  A second example was a recent trip to Sweet Jesus, the newish soft serve joint.  Shunned by some zealots for its anti-Christ antics like an emblem featuring an upside-down cross or a website that ironically features satanic looking children with tattoos, pet monkeys and gold chains, a key characteristic of this place is a disgruntled and tattooed ice cream artist taking your order instead of a 16 year kid who has their first job and splotches of melted product all over their shirt.  The flagship location is a few blocks away from the Rogers Centre and I sat watching the parade of people waiting to score a treat.  From the other direction a dad and his daughter (who was maybe 12) arrived.  The look of befuddlement on the dad’s face was priceless.  I could read his mind as he looked down at his daughter’s equally puzzled face.  Essentially he was thinking that all he wanted to do is get his daughter a cone after the game and the limiting factor was an hour wait because of a bunch or grown adults were waiting in line.  I’m sure if the girl was confused or upset or both but they quietly departed perhaps in search of another post-game treats that wouldn’t be impaired by Toronto’s urban “walkers”.  Maybe these places should have a kid’s express lane where parents can bring their kids for a quick and porn-free ice cream experience.  Trust me…the hipsters don’t mind waiting….it makes them cooler and gives them opportunities to discuss their social angst, explain their tattoos and show off their baggy jean shorts.

For Adults Only...at $6.50 a pop too

For Adults Only…at $6.50 a pop too

 

 

I fully acknowledge that this is likely another trend that the hipsters have plowed through similar to tacos, burgers and anything with kale but I’m hoping it is short lived.  We have already removed a good portion of our children’s ability to be kids with social media stimulation and fears to let them explore their own neighbourhoods.  Let’s give them their ice cream back for Sweet Jesus sakes.

Blows to Canadiana Which Depress me More than a Polar Bear from Central Park

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As I sit here on Canada day weekend listening to fireworks exploding in the distance I figure there was no better time to pay  homage to Gord Downie. His tragic diagnosis of terminal brain cancer is no secret and the outpourings have been coming in ever since. I can attempt to recreate these glowing tributes but instead I think I will focus on how the Hip have influenced me since the late eighties:

  1. Food-They taught me to eat my chicken slow and, as a Christian, to be wary of coconut cream.
  2. Relationships-I’d like to meet a Thompson girl (even if she doesn’t give a fuck about hockey) and bring her down the highway to balmy Bobcaygeon for some Willie Nelson and wine.
  3. Fashion-Even if you loathe the leafs, it’s still OK to wear a 50 mission cap (which I willingly did as part of my university years).
  4. Geography– Give me a map and I can point out the 100th Meridian, dot a map at Chagrin Falls and tell you what’s in Sarnia.
  5. Travel- My ultimate goal on most road trips is taking the last American exit while looking for a place to happen and making stops (usually at triple Ds, James Beard winners or iconic eateries) along the way.
  6. Writing–  The hip allowed me to feel fully and completely comfortable about using two synonymic adverbs in the same sentence even in the midst of less than anti-social poets.
  7. History- I learned about both the heroic trek of Jacques Cartier and the travesty of David Milgaard on the same album at a time where eating gluten was still cool.
  8. Zoology– I’ve long to become lionized by using my pigeon camera (or maybe my iphone) to take a picture in Central Park of an emperor (or at least a king or chinstrap) penguin  or the ghost of Gus the Prozac prescribed polar bear.

Speaking of Canadiana, it is currently one of the hottest food trends in the GTA.  Aside from the expansion of popular Western Chains into the east, there is a smattering of  restaurants which serve fare reflective of our country’s expansive geography. Originally, I was going to summarize an eatery which fell along the foodie tundra which exists on King between John and Blue Jays Way.  Parlor, which opened in late 2014, had an ironically American name, most likely due to the fact a speakeasy with the Canadian spelling exists a mere 300 metres away.  Otherwise, it aimed to be as Canadian as the Hip themselves.  I went a couple of times and was treated to one of my favorite cocktails in Toronto…their smoked maple manhattan.  Alas, when I went to pull up the restaurant’s menu on the website to write this blog, it was nothing but a blank page.  When I checked opentable it reported the restaurant as permanently closed. A phone call answered by a befuddled voice on the other end confirmed the closure and left me wondering if Ry Cooder was invited to sing their euology.

Like the Tragically Hip, I guess good things need to come to an end and although my perfect segway was ruined by the closure of Parlor,  I suppose I could use this blog to set up my recent trip to New Orleans which reminds me I should start writing it before my memory gets muddy.

 

This is a Blog as Lame as the Service at Kwan Dim Sum and Chinese Cuisine

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It is 1051 pm and I realized I have not yet blogged in June.  Not doing so would end my streak of writing at least one blog a month since June 2012.  So, a few months back I went to Kwan Dim Sum and Chinese cuisine at Yonge and St. Clair for lunch. I was a little worried because I used to work with a guy with a last name Kwan who was rather annoying.  I arrived around 1145 to a rather empty restaurant.  I looked around and admired the decor which was full of shelves and jugs. I’m sure lucky I booked early because by 1215 it was jam packed. Whew!

We ordered an array of dim sum including steamed dumplings (Har Gow), Sui Mai, deep fried shrimp dumplings, savory crepes and soup for $5-8.  Retrospectively, it wasn’t that original of an order but a good representation of a dim sum lunch. The food was well executed and well presented.

 

Unfortunately, the service was slow and a little rude.  Getting a glass of water was hard and getting tea was even harder.

My Take

This is the most boring blog I have ever written but the clock is ticking and I need to keep the streak alive.  I liked the decor at Kwan.  The dim sum was quite good.  The service, however, was unenthusiatic. It’s a safe and pretty place for those who enjoy dumplings et al. and don’t want to worry about whether the shady signs and run down decor of other dim sum restaurants in the area translate into either bad or overly “authentic” food. In the end, it’s very CaucASIAN.

Jack Tripper’s Closet, George Carlin’s Arrest and Flocking Good Chicken

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Swearing is an interesting means of communication.  When used properly, it makes things funnier. I was watching John Oliver rant about the atrocities of the democratic and republican primaries last week and tipped my hat to his strategic use of the word “fuck” a handful of times. Personally,my swearing is catalyzed by two things: golf and drinking. A near perfect drive followed by a 10 foot flub is enough to put me over the edge and I swear a bottle of homemade wine shuts off whatever language etiquette  I may have.

Many marketing campaigns have been developed around altering the english language slightly to insinuate the use of at least some of Carlin’s list of seven words you can never say on television. In 1972, Carlin was arrested for muttering those same words (see below) during a Milwaukee comedy show.  Surprising enough, despite the increased acceptance of steamy sex scenes and extreme violence in the past decade or two, most of the words are still not allowed, at least on network TV. Luckily, the same does not apply to bloggers or other angstful social media zealots.

The use of manipulated swearing in marketing campaigns is as classic as a misunderstanding on Three’s Company.  I remember many instances in which Jack Tripper’s words and antics  were misconstrued by Mr. Roper and subsequently Mr. Furley. Today, it is an interesting observation to watch the stereotypes of almost 40 years ago.  Janet was the sensible, party-pooping and moderately attractive brunette and Chrissy was the bubble-headed blond.  Jack had to pretend he was gay in order to remain the girl’s roommate given the fact that multigender living arrangements (at least in the eyes of both Mr. Roper and Mr. Furley) were as controversial then as transgendered bathrooms are now.   Whether or not this was the first instance in television’s journey in the recognition and acceptance of gays remains a debate but an article I read while researching this blog (see link below) provides an interesting perspective.  Among other things, it suggests that the irony of Jack’s need to closet his heterosexuality against his landlord (ie. the man) was a direct reflection of the same struggle that homosexuals in the same era were living. The author also notes that the thought of even discussing homosexuality on television was absent in the seventies and really only erupted years later with the introduction of shows like Will and Grace and teasers like Rosanne Barr’s “bisexual moment”.

http://soref.tv/jack-tripper-good-for-the-gays/

What does all this banter have to do with a food blog? I remember going to a place called Fricker’s in Ohio in which you could order a “fricken big beer”.  Ok…friggin’ is not quite a Carlin no-no but I think it illustrates the concept well. Plus, I’m sure there is somewhere in the world where you can cleverly order an “I don’t give a duck sandwich” or something similar.

Enter Flock, a rather new chicken restaurant in Toronto.  It currently has a brood of 3 locations with a fourth which is almost hatched.  The Harbord street location (at the old THR and Co. spot) has a larger sit down area complete with “flocktails” and other bar service.  Otherwise, the other two are no booze take out joints with a bit of seating. The premise is simply chicken and greens.  One can opt for rotisserie or fried chicken complete with a variety of sides and/or a choice of five super salads with all sorts of toppings. In addition to all of that, there are endless possibilities when it comes to the use of the restaurant’s name in everyday speak.  Would it be flocking good or a flocking nightmare? Ha!Much like the sexual innuendos of Three’s Company, it never gets old.

My first experience was a take out lunch from the Harbord location for an office.  I grabbed some Flock Stock (ie soup) ($7) and a few salads including the power flock salad (Chicken, Romaine Hearts, Shaved Brussels Sprouts, Pickled Onions, Marinated Black Beans, Daikon Soy Beans, Cilantro, Goji Berries, Crispy Chick Peas, Sunflower Seeds With Carrot/Ginger/SoyBean/White Miso Dressing) ($11.50 for full). Both were delicious and fresh. The salad was far from overdressed which maintained the crispy integrity of the ingredients.  The soup was herby and fragrant and highlighted by chucks of rotisserie chicken swimming throughout.

flock salad

The second time I grabbed dinner for myself from the Adelaide location.  This time I ordered a half chicken (with Caribbean pepper sauce)  with green beans on the side.  Once again I had no complaints.  The chicken was moist, the beans were cooked but firm and the crispy onions and kimchi were great compliments. I quite enjoyed the sauce.  It was bright with a good flavour and hear;a far cry from Swiss Chalet’s odd and confusingly beloved dishwater dipping sauce.

flock chicken

Half Chicken $9,50 with Carribean Sauce and a Side of Green Beans $5

My Take

Quick and healthy lunch choices can be difficult in a city filled with burger joints and taquerias on every corner, especially if you believe that Subway is nothing more than disguised junk food.  Flock fills this gap by offering food in which the flavour is achieved by spices and freshness as opposed to sodium and fat.

Much like Jack Tripper represented the evolution of the sitcom and George Carlin did the same for comedy, perhaps Flock presents the future of lunch in Toronto. After all, it’s flocking good chicken.  Shit….here come the cops.

Flock Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

 

 

 

Why the Mug Proves that Springfield May Actually be Greenfield

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During the Simpsons’ long run, there have been numerous questions and speculations about what state Springfield is in. A few years back, creator Matt Groening revealed that Homer’s hometown was inspired by Springfield, Oregon, a city about 100 miles south of Groening’s hometown of Portland.   There are, however, a number of references in the show to suggest that this iconic town could in fact be anywhere in the continental U.S. For this reason, I may push the envelope even further and suggest that Springfield may not even been a Springfield and may, in fact, be Greenfield, Indiana.  Although I don’t have a lot of evidence to back this claim, note the following:

  • The words Springfield and Greenfield could easily be mistaken for each other in a conversation
  • In the show, Shelbyville is Springfield’s hated neighbour.  There is a Shelbyville 18 miles south of Greenfield.
  •  In the Simpsons movie, Homer befriends a pig which assumes the personas of both Spider Pig and Harry Plopper.  There is also an iconic pig in Greenfield.  Although I’m not sure of its name, it graces the sign of “The Mug”, a roadside drive-in restaurant on Apple Street.

On my way from Cincinnati to Indianapolis I stopped in Greenfield to try out the Mug. A few years back, it replaced the Frosted Mug, a family business around for 5 decades. The change in ownership maintained the small town feel complete with a drive-in option and plenty of outside seating. The difference now is what the owners call farm to curb; meaning most of the meat is single sourced from the Tyner Pond farm and anything else comes from local sources.

At the request of my daughter, we drove into the parking lot and awaited the car side service.  A few minutes later a friendly guy showed up and took our order.  Shortly after, he apologized and said he’d be back in a minute.  He proceeded to run into the restaurant, came out with a bag, hopped in a car and sped down the street, presumably to do a delivery.  This action was reminiscent of Homer screeching away in a car in the background after forgetting a birthday, once again reminding me that my hunch may be right. A few minutes later, a different staff member arrived with the grub.

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The Drive-in Menu

I went with the original burger for just shy of $5 and teamed it up with some fries in a combo.  I finished it off with a brewed root beer. The burger was simple and a reminder that things were good long before the days of patties being slathered in aioli or topped with pulled pork or dare I say it…..a fried egg.

As part of the order we also had the mac and cheese ($1.25), coleslaw ($1.50) and the bacon and sweet bowl for $2.50.  The first two are self-explanatory.  The last is a bacon topped bowl of corn salad flavoured with a bit of leek.  It’s one of the few instances in my mid-west dining experiences  where I can honestly say the portion size was small (thus the equally small prices).  That said, it was more than enough and pretty decent.  Although not the best mac and cheese I have had, it held its own.  The slaw was good but the corn salad stood out as the winner.  Maybe it was the nostalgia of eating corn in Indiana couple with the fine pork of Tyner Pond that made it even better.

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Original Burger $5 plus an array of sides

Speaking of sweet corn, I had a chat with the incredible staff after and was tempted with their famous 16% milk fat ice cream.  The richness of the fat combined with the sweetness of the corn was plain addictive and an ideal finish to a roadside experience.

mug

Corn Ice Cream and a Facebook Acknowledgement

My Take

In the farm to table concept, simplicity is sometimes lost among the pickled ramps and broiled beef cheeks.  The farm to curb concept of the mug maintains the commitment to proximal provisions without the convolution of the latest food trends.  Single source meat and local dairy highlight a menu that demonstrates that simple and classic can be just as exciting as trendy.  Add the old school car side service  and it makes for a good outing. Between the delivery guy’s screeching tires and a possible Harry Plopper sighting you may buy into my theory that Green/Springfield may be smack dab in America’s heartland.

The Mug Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

 

 

 

Ben Stiller, Tattoos and an Afternoon at the Museum

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Ben Stiller annoys a lot of people.  That said, he has a decent track record when it comes to box office grosses, primarily driven by three successful trilogies; the Fockers, Madagascar and the Museum movies. In addition, one cannot forget his washroom scene in the very successful “There’s Something About Mary”. Ironically, despite being cited as the leader of the brat pack, movies in which he has starred alongside his partners (Jack Black, Will Ferrell, Vince Vaughan, Owen and Luke Wilson and Steve Carell) have been less successful than other Stiller franchises although not total disasters.

The Night at the Museum film series had worldwide appeal. Based on a children’s book, the cast led by Stiller was multi-generational, ranging from the likes of Dick Van Dyke and Mickey Rooney to the late Robin Williams as Theodore Roosevelt right down to Rami Malek (now of the critically acclaimed Mr. Robot) and that creepy kid from the Vacation remake. The three movies over eight years produced diminishing returns despite bigger budgets although all three could still be considered good return on investments if you looks at the global ticket returns.

Speaking of museums, as anybody hailing from the Toronto knows, it is a city that will not be outdone. Instead of hoping for living reincarnations of a tattooed Atilla the Hun, local hipsters may be intrigued to drop in to the tattoo exhibit which is now showing at the Royal Ontario Museum.  I’m more into bourbon than body art, so after I finished up a conference along Bloor Street and had a couple of hours to kill before dinner so instead of the ROM, I visited another museum, in this case the tavern across the road to indulge in their advertised happy hour. In addition to buck a shuck oysters, one can indulge in a barrel aged cocktail for $11 vs the normal $15 charge ( although when I got the bill I was charged $15).

Choosing between a manhattan, old-fashioned, negroni and sazarac is like choosing which child I love the best.  Alright, maybe not quite but it’s a difficult task nonetheless.  In this case I opted for the first two.  A couple of ounces of both were smartly presented in a funky highball  which housed a thick base of ice instead of a floating ice cube.  The booze itself was smooth, sleek and balanced.

The oysters were fresh and served with a tasty mignonette which I downed them with the aforementioned  barrel aged  old fashioned.

museum oysters

Buck a Shuck Oysters

The Musuem tavern does represent a historical era in the fact that is has that speakeasy feel.  From the decor to the glassware, it screams the 1920s.  The menu is more modern pub fare with what appears to influenced  by a bit of everything.

Since I was grabbing dinner later, I stuck with starters and opted for the fried chicken ($14) and creole crab cakes ($16).  If my intent was to span the spectrum of available snacks I think I succeeded. The four pieces was a hearty serving of chicken which was crispier than greasy , well-seasoned and far from dry.  The crab cakes, on the other hand, can better be described at crab balls.  The dainty, bite sized morsels didn’t lack in flavour what they lacked in size.  Although they were moist, heavy on the crab and served with a decent remoulade., it hardly justified eight bucks a bite…even with pickled onions.

My Take

Viewing history is no longer the exclusive role of a museum.  Many restaurants are now setting up shop with the promise of rewinding the clocks back to the days of prohibition.  The aptly named Museum tavern is no exception and comes complete with swanky decor and a old-school barrel aged cocktail list.  In the end, it had its stars and a decent plot….or at least the trailer (aka. happy hour) suggested so.  The question will be whether the theme resonates past Toronto’s prohibition phase or whether a day at this museum turns out like Ben’s Night at the Museum and overstays its welcome.

Museum Tavern Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Breaking the Monotony of Winterlicious with a Real Barn Burner

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With early April’s reminder that winter wasn’t quite over, it opened the door for me to rewind the clock a little and talk about Winterlicious. I’ve always been on the fence about this beloved annual event.  On one hand, it allows the masses to have a taste (literally) of one or more of the hundreds of restaurants that make up Toronto’s proud and diverse culinary culture.  On the other hand, it is a little artificial and contrived. Some the city’s restaurants stay at arms length from this festival and those that do participate often offer menus that are far from representative of their everyday vibe.

I figured I’d bring my dad out for dinner during Winterlicious.  I chose Barnsteiner’s ($35 set menu) for three reasons.  First, it’s located outside the downtown core. Two, it was relatively new on the scene. Thirdly, it actually had a menu that actually bordered on the side of creativity, offering both 5 appetizers and entrees as well as three desserts.  Barnsteiner’s is named after chef and owner Herbert Barnsteiner who, with his wife Michelle, ran the Corner House with great success for a decade and a half.  After a short break, they took over the old John and Sons’ oyster house just south of Yonge and St. Clair.

The vibe is a busy European bistro  feel.  The actual floor plan is a bit of a maze with lots of twists and turns and awkwardly placed tables.  Memories of the old oyster house exist, especially the ceiling mirrors which used to reflect visions of staff shucking oysters on the prep stations but now have benign angles that just miss most of the kitchen’s angles.

I started with a paper plane, a cocktail with  bourbon, montenegro, aperol and lemon. I’d put it at mid-range in terms of bourbon cocktails available throughout the city.

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Paper Plane Cocktail $12.5

Among the starters, we decided to split the smoked chicken salad with
grilled oyster mushrooms, arugula, fois gras croutons and finished with a raspberry-sherry dressing and the garlic and chili grill shrimps with crusty bread, and salsa verde.  The salad was a smart blend of colours, textures and flavours.  The sweet berries and dressing was dumbed down by the smoky chicken and the peppery arugula was a smart medium.  The shrimp were cooked to perfection and simply but nicely seasoned with the salsa verde.

From among the entrees, we opted for the  whole roasted black angus striploin with
crushed fingerling potatoes, crimini mushrooms, red-wine jus and the venison stew
braised in juniper red wine sauce with spaetzle and brussel sprouts. I don’t often order steak in a restaurant but I quite enjoy a good roast.  It was a simple dish but very well executed from the beef itself to the flavourful au jus.  The stew was the perfect winter dish; hearty yet refined.  The meat was super tender and the spaetzle was reminiscent of the chef’s proud German heritage.

For dessert, we chose from both ends of the spectrum, opting for the comforting apple and cranberry crumble and the more delicate lemon panacotta with toasted coconut. Once again, no complaints with either one as they were both well executed and exactly what I expected.

My Take

Although the Winterlicious experience is not always a fair representation of the essence of a restaurant, Barnsteiner’s succeeded in making me want to come back. There was good variety as far as a winterlicious menu goes and all the offerings I tried were well executed.  I plan to return to try one of the numerous menus offers such a the many flatbreads, seafood options and chef’s homeland dishes.  In fact, I was asked by a colleague for a last minute dinner suggestion for her team and I suggested here.  I called and they were able to accommodate 8 people with a little shuffling.  Although I didn’t go myself, the feedback from my colleague was a quick  twitterlike …”it was really good! And lots of fun.  Very good price wise.” I nodded in agreement as I thought $35 for a solid winterlicious meal wasn’t bad either.

Barnsteiner's Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

 

 

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