Review Toronto:Queen East: Leslieville Pumps

The last thing I want to do when driving anywhere in Toronto is get gas, especially if I can’t use one of the five reward points cards I have. However, if there was a solid sandwich waiting for me , would I reconsider?

I visited Leslieville Pumps to answer this question. Located on Queen St. near Carlaw, I would not consider it the most convenient place to gas up.  It has a  small menu with 4 sandwiches choices, a few sides and a couple of snacks. The woman at the counter was very friendly but seemed a bit overwhelmed when I asked her what the best things on the menu were. She recommended everything.  It was interesting to sit at one of the few tables and read old paper clippings from 1942 through the glass.  Also interesting was looking around to the small selection of normal gas station snacks, beverages  and  ping pong balls. A one stop party shop.

Must

The corn fritters were dreamy. Crusty, moist and filled with roasted corn, it was served in a small bag which made me crave Swedish Berries and Sour Keys.  It came with a unique, spicy and very flavorful creole dipping sauce as opposed to the normal trend of adding chipolte to ranch dressing and calling it Southwest Sauce.

Corn Fritters with Brisket Sandwich and Slaw

 

I must say the service was very good. I was impressed to see a delivery man drop off some fresh produce and the owner (I presume he is the owner) offer him a cold water. Very classy.

 

Maybe

The brisket sandwich was ok. It had a nice flavour but  I did get some very gritty pieces.  I wasn’t fond of the bun. It was dry and too big for the sandwich. The veginator was similarly flimsy although we were offered more of the other vegetables when no mushrooms were requested. In both cases, some optional condiments to boost the sandwich might of helped.  In fact, I put some of the creole sauce on the brisket to add another dimension of flavour.

The slaw was decent, fresh and flavorful.

Mundane

The sandwiches were almost $8 with no sides. I would either up the sandwich filling a bit or offer a cheaper side option (an individual portion of slaw for a buck) so I could get a meal for under $10.

My Take

I didn’t try many of the menu items including the corn salad, fries, beans and fried pickles.  The quality of the fritters make me want to come back.   I do like the thought of having a fresh, hot option (although it may not be a sandwich) instead of the packaged cheeseburger or a twinkie,  both with an expiry date sometime in 2019.  However, with no Aeroplan, Air Miles or Petro points card and an awkward location to fill up, I think I’ll only be leaving with one kind of gas.

 

Leslieville Pumps on Urbanspoon

Arguing with Venti Caffiends

It has been said that there are two things even friends shouldn’t discuss; religion and politics.  I would like to propose a third…coffee.

Coffee is the probably the world’s most acceptable drug and is available to anybody who wants it, even if they are self-proclaimed addicts. Baristas, uniformed teens and crotchety old waitresses alike have license to brew and dose and distribute the goods to any caffiend, day or night. The unword dictionary (www.unwords.com) defines a caffiend as follows:

Caffiend

(kă’fēnd)

1. (n.) One who is obsessed with consuming caffeine. Often surpasses caffeinatics in quantities of caffeine in the blood stream and in level of addiction.

I have witnessed many passionate arguments about coffee among caffiends. It seems a large proportion of the population pledges allegiance to a certain consumption camp and there is very little tolerance for those who subscribe to a different philosophy.

The Tim Horton’s caffiend (THC) is the lowest on the totem pole among coffee consuming peers.  They are drawn to  the functional aspect of the beverage and  seemingly sacrifice richness and taste for convenience and the ability to win a barbeque or a car twice a year. Terminology includes” Large Double Double”. They justify their habit by stressing that they pay less then two dollars for a coffee they need two hands to carry and that they can get a sour cream glazed donut or a yogurt parfait at the same time.

The Starbucks caffiend (SBC) is the mortal enemy of the group above. Seen a pretentious and snobby by the THC, they are often identified by Lululemon yoga pants, sandals or laptops. The terminology is more advanced and expansive with terms such as “Grande extra hot no foam unsweetened decaf mocha with room for dairy for Jenifer with one n”.  They react to trends such as matcha powder and green coffee extract and couple it with cake pops or butter chicken wraps.  Their justification is you get what you pay for and drinking Starbucks is just more morally and socially responsible. They also think the emblem isn’t creepy.

The independent coffeehouse caffiend  (ICC) is a smaller but loyal group.  Entry into this group simply involves ignoring the 5 Starbucks (with an optional eye roll) you pass on the way to a quirky establishment.  Not fond of Timbucktoos (my term used to describe those who frequent Tim Horton’s or Starbucks), they think the clean spoon/dirty spoon bins are good for the environment and often ask for fair trade coffee and agave nectar although they don’t know what either one is.  They are not as concerned about the food available since they are “there for the coffee”; although a locally sourced sandwich may convince them otherwise.

Sit three guys at a Tim’s and bring up SBCs (or the weather) and an immediate brotherhood is formed. Meanwhile, at Starbucks the mere mention of the fact that Tim Horton’s coffee tastes like an ashtray unite old and young together some lemon poppy seed cake or samples of the cookies and cream frappuccino.  Meanwhile, the ICCs sit oblivious to the world around them  in mismatched chairs and admire the melancholic art on the wall while serenaded by an acoustic guitar. Mix these crowds, however, and you ignite fireworks similar to that of a Catholic vs Protestant or Democrat vs Republican.  I would expect the coffee to fly if I wasn’t for the fact that it is..well….coffee.

I suppose I’m an ICC but I prefer to not judge others.  I think coffee is under appreciated,  I don’t need room for dairy and I do enjoy the uniqueness of stand alone coffee shops.  I have learned more from them than I ever have from a Starbucks or Timmy’s (see my Te Aro blog post…..coming soon).  So lets all get along, sip our brew and make fun of those who don’t drink coffee at all.  A good friend of mine once said to me “Why would I take a perfectly good glass of water and run it through dirt?” Those are fighting words, buddy.

Review:Toronto: Queen East: Paulette’s Original Doughnuts and Chicken

Perhaps it’s the fact that NHL expansion did not occur in the Southern states until after the reign of Harland Sanders that  somebody didn’t dream up combining fried chicken and doughnuts. I mean, a chance meeting with Tim Horton might have changed history.

Fried chicken and doughnuts have one thing in common…a deep-fryer. Other than that, it’s an odd combo. Then again, being situated beside a pulled pork serving gas station on Queen East makes it a little less strange.

It  seems Paulette had a vision to not only combine but modernize these two classics.   There is little “original” about either the doughnuts or the fried chicken. Sure you walk in to an environment with an  old school feel characterized  by a walls painted with a seemingly discontinued paint colour and very pleasant employees dressed  in dapper whites reminiscent of the colonel himself , but one look at the offerings transports you into the present. I don’t remember Raspberry Rose or Mojito doughnuts displayed in between the Boston creams and Dutchies in the old smoke filled Timmy’s.

Must

The doughnuts are good.  It seems like all of the doughnuts have the same moist, rich white cake as a base but the icing pushes the limits of sour, sweet and savory with a delicate balance. I liked the sourness of the blueberry balsamic and mojito doughnuts although preference would be based on individual taste.

The hot sauce was a pleasant surprise, filled with flavour and balance. Ironically, I can think of 20 other things I’d use it for other than fried chicken but it hits the mark.

 

Maybe

The fried chicken  may not be for everybody.  It is crispy and not greasy. The pieces are smallish.   It’s fried in sort of a confit style so the skin and not only the batter accounts for the texture. It bordered on dry which I’m not sure is due to the cooking style or the fact that it was served out of a heating cart and not directly from the fryer.  

Fried chicken with hot sauce and side of mac and cheese.

 

 

The Mac and cheese is a decent side dish. Not the best I’ve ever had, but it was tasty with a subtle kick .

Mundane

A doughnut is $2.75.  A small half chicken with a side is $15.  I wanted one of each donut and the modern colonel was quite pleased to tell me I didn’t have to pay tax since I bought 6.  Yes…but a half dozen still cost me  $16.50. That would buy me a lot of Dutchies.  Here’s a tip. If  you need to thank the government instead of your establishment for a discount, you may want to rethink things.  In general, things are overpriced.

My Take

It’s a unique concept with unique food done well. Price point is a bit high.  They should consider selling a half dozen variety pack for $12 or something in that range. As for the chicken, it’s not cheep..cheep…cheep.  I fear these doughnuts may go the way of the dinosaur or the cupcake. It  won’t be due to a meteorite but more likely a mass realization that overpriced baked good trends have a finite shelf life. Red velvet anyone?

Paulette's Original Donuts and Chicken on Urbanspoon

`Hangout with Anthony Bourdain: Great Quotes and Great Hair

Yesterday, I logged onto a Zagat/Google hangout with Anthony Bourdain. Anthony’s first book, Kitchen Confidential, was a tribute of all of us who ever worked in a kitchen. In fact, I’d consider it the “Fifty Shades of Grey” of culinary literature.

By self-admission, he is a true celebrity chef (which means he doesn’t cook).  He’s been  a welcome addition to the Top Chef series and he is well known for his show “No Reservations”. His candid opinions, and not his cooking, are his trademark. In short, he’s cool, has good hair and uses phrases like “9 1/2 weeks style szechuan hot pot”. He’s one of the original hipster chefs (along with Marco Pierre-White..who also has great hair), earning the respect he gets and not assuming he has it because he uses a checkered tea towel as a napkin in his restaurant.

I was intrigued and amused by this webcast. Nine people were selected to be featured across the bottom and ask a question to break up Anthony’s banter. Some of the questions were a bit silly (but who am I to argue with a guy wearing a chef’s coat while listening to a computer broadcast) , but some of the discussion is  worth sharing:

  • His choice for a death row dinner would be one piece of sea urchin sushi. He wouldn’t want to make a mess when he dies.
  • Deep dish pizza should be banned. Nothing beats a good margherita pizza.
  • If he was at a day camp and had to choose three chefs to join him, he would choose Mario Batali, David Chang and Eric Ripert.

He respectfully paid homage to Julia Child, who would of been 100 yesterday, telling us she brought multimedia cooking to America and was a pioneer in helping people live and eat better.  RIP Julia.

The Zagat/Google marriage (sounds nicer than takeover)  is a smart one and this is a good example. Anthony Bourdain is a culinary god.  As a guy who is adventurous in the kitchen but has no formal training, I liked one of his comments (I’m paraphrasing a bit):

“You gotta screw up to learn; burn your fingers before you understand how to apply heat to protein”.

God, I’m craving a pizza.

Review: Toronto: Queen West: The County General

Hidden on the corner of Queen West and Shaw, this place is easy to miss if you blink, sneeze or text. Once you find it, the decor could be described as a chic saloon and is reminiscent of a number of other emerging urban eateries.

It may take a minute to get recognized, but when your existence is noted, you have the option of a table, the bar or the outside area which gives you a front row view of the sidewalk sporting a cast of interesting wandering characters with CAMH (the large mental hospital) serving as a fitting backdrop.

After being seated and listening to one of the waitresses flirt with the guy sitting a few seats down, I felt like either a third wheel or an extra in a match.com ad. When MY waitress finally arrived, I asked for her cocktail recommendation. She suggested the “County Picnic” which was humourously a mix-up between the “Sunday Picnic” and the “County Drive In”. I opted for the latter which a smooth bourbon based drink with a bit of cream soda that got better with each sip.

County Drive In

Must

Gone is the standard potato salad….replaced here with the Warm Potato Salad Supreme, a visually appealing offering of tender potatoes laced with flavours of mustard, saltiness and a creamy base better than mayonnaise. Even better is the fact that I can order a perfectly cooked a la carte fried egg to blanket it (or with any dish for that matter). I would highly recommend it.

Warm Potato Salad Supreme

Maybe

The fried calamari tacos were a bit Jeckyl and Hyde. Although nicely presented, the grilled radicchio was a bit too brown and soggy on the edges. I took those pieces off. On the other hand, the remaining components of the taco blended well together and the calamari was cooked well. I was warned about the heat of the accompanying scotch bonnet sauce that was offered but I’m glad I took the plunge as it offered a different spice and flavor typical of the normal cayenne based hot sauces served with these dishes. The price point is a bit high as well ($15 for two tacos). Other places are serving similar tacos for $3.50-$5.00 a piece.

Fried Calamari Tacos with Scotch Bonnet Sauce

The dessert choices were minimal but the chocolate mousse was very acceptable and nicely presented. The fresh, sweetened strawberries were a great contrast in flavour and texture and a nice twist on the traditional dessert.

Chocolate Mousse with Strawberries

Mundane

If you have good food, be proud of it. Don’t let the need to maintain the laissez-faire Queen West attitude impair the patron’s dining experience. It’s ok to smile, recommend your favorite choices and pronounce it scotch bonnet, not scotch bonn-A.

My Take

Good food, not so good service. This place has a chance, especially if they continue their attention to detail regarding the food. A seasonal and changing menu would keep me coming back out of curiosity. However, if I wanted to pay for the cold shoulder, I’d hit up a Jane and Finch McDonald’s and order a 7 dollar combo instead of dropping 60 bucks here.

The County General on Urbanspoon

Best Thing I Ever Ate: Breakfast

Eggs Benny-Brie, Avocado and Bacon.
Lady Marmalade, TORONTO ON 898 Queen St East

The incredible hollandaise sauce must contain something illegal because it is highly addictive. It’s one of those dishes you wake up craving the next morning. Have it with the potatoes or salad, both are great. The decor will make you think you’re at your hip grandma’s house, if your hip grandma made fantastic eggs benny.

Biscuits
Lucky’s Cafe, CLEVELAND OH, 777 Starkwater Ave.

Topped with sausage gravy and some of the fluffiest eggs I have ever had, the homemade biscuits made with scallions are delicate and an excellent base for this filling breakfast. The red grapes and potatoes are perfect companions to this magic meal.

Biscuits with eggs and sausage gravy.

Review: Toronto: Ossington Area: hawkerbar

hit it on a Thursday night around 7. had to sit at the bar for a few but was soon seated on a tree stump and was handed a cut-up wine box with a menu hand-written with a black sharpie. there was a nice buzz in the place with a diverse crowd…older, younger, daters and drinkers. Service was decent. he made recommendations when asked and explained the dishes he brought out.

must

the cucumber salad was the best thing on the menu. it was fresh, spicy and well-balanced.
the chili salt tofu was at the perfect temperature, had great contrast in both flavor and texture
the banana fritters are unorthadox but delicious.

Banana Fritter with Red Bean Ice Cream

maybe

the son-in-law eggs are a good idea, but i think you need to like their version of prik nam pla. i found it a bit too fishy which overpowered the egg. it may also be difficult for some with a mouth smaller than mine (which is very common) to follow the restaurant’s recommendation to eat the whole egg in one bite. cocktail and beer selection decent and an ok price.

mundane

i’m in agreement with a few other reviews of the laska soup. i found it one-dimensional and extremely rich. i can’t imgaine coming anywhere close to finishing the medium size i ordered.

my take

hawkerbar is a fresh, fun place along the same line as most of the new restaurant concepts in the area. many items succeed and they appear to be willing to try new things. laska should not be the signature dish. i would pop in but wouldn’t wait too long if there is a line. and be sure not to use captial letters or spaces or you may have to write out the new menu on a piece of cardboard 50 times after class.

Hawker Bar on Urbanspoon