This is a lazy one. I wrote this review on Yelp! last summer and I’m doing a cut and paste with a few additions.
Sip & Bite is a true diner located in the vicinity of downtown Baltimore since 1948. It has evolved into an iconic joint which now ships it’s crab cakes, mugs and T-shirts nationwide.
When I entered, the first thing I saw were three or four cooks busy on the grill cooking eggs, breakfast meats and potatoes. It was a divine sight. They had a synchronicity reminiscent of a team event at the Olympic games.
Although I didn’t meet the owner, I met Deena, one of the waitresses and she was terrific. When I ordered the DDD platter, ( famous crab cake and spanakopita) she told me to order the Greek salad and not the sides since the intense flavours of the sides would interfere with the crab cake. I smiled, nodded and agreed. She was right. The greek salad had the best feta I have ever tasted. Deena proudly told me it was barrel-aged imported feta and I believed her. The crab cake was amazing…great texture, great taste and a great commitment to the crab and not breadcrumbs or other fillers. The spanakopita was good as well. It was full of spinach flavours and tasted fresh. The pastry was a tad too crispy.
Between greeting regulars and telling me stories of defunct GPS units, I thoroughly enjoyed my experience with Deena at the helm.
Speaking of old fashioned service, Sofia, the owner, responded my yelp post with the following:
Thank you for taking the time to write us such an excellent review! Dina really is terrific, she has so many regular customers coming in for her its insane!! Very glad you enjoyed everything, please stop in again whenever you are in town, and hopefully this time we can have the pleasure of meeting! Enjoy the rest of your summer!
Sip and Bite has been around this long because they care about the right things, the food and the service. It is welcoming from the minute you walk to the minute you leave. It’s not phony or staged or deliberate. It just is. As I said on yelp, I would return here in a second. No blackboard menus or plaid-wearing abecrombie models serving you. Just old-fashioned food with old fashioned service.
If i an offer one line of advice…. Ask if Deena is in (I’m hoping she is) and order a crab cake. If you do, you will give this dive a five……
The mustache is a noble feature. Some of the most famous and notorious people in history including Charlie Chaplin, Adolf Hitler, Tom Selleck and even Nintendo’s Mario have all been somewhat defined by their mustache. They are a trend right now, appearing on everything from girl’s sweaters to keychains to taxis (yes there is a cab company called Mustache rides in Indianapolis). The mustache has even become the focal point of Movember, when men who have no business growing facial hair can get away with it for a month a year.
The Toronto culinary scene has it’s own famous mustache; celebrity chef Massimo Copra. Fifteen years ago he opened Mistura which redefined Italian food in Toronto. He has taken his innovation beyond facial hair and has expanded into one of the most under serviced areas in the restaurant business…the airport.
Historically, Toronto airport fare could best be defined as mass-produced, overpriced, cafeteria food which needs to be cut with dull utensils. More recently, popular chain restaurants such as Weber’s and Casey’s have emerged as alternate and slightly better choices. As of 2013, Chef Copra has raised the bar by opening Boccone, the first in what promises to be a slew of celebrity chef inspired restaurants in what should be a perfect dining market; travelers with expense accounts and good taste contained in a glass bubble with time to kill. Even if there isn’t a lot of time, Baccone offers a 10-minute guarantee to ensure one doesn’t miss their flight or has time for a pre-flight manicure.
Located in terminal one, Baccone is a modest eatery offering an array of standard Italian foods including pizza, pasta and sandwiches. A gluten free menu is featured predominately at the entrance featuring things like corn pasta.
They also have a mid-size drink list which offers a few classics. I opted for a Baccone’s Blood Orange gin cocktail for a reasonable $10. It was a refreshing, somewhat sophisticated drink but with an orange garnish the size of the glass it managed to maintain a bit of the cheesiness of an old school airport cocktail.
I decided on pasta for lunch and ordered the $16 Gamberetti spaghetti; a simple olive oil based dish with shrimp, tomato and zucchini. As promised, the dish came out in the 10th minute and was served hot. The pasta was a perfect al dente, the large shrimp were cooked to maintain their moistness and was seasoned well. The “airport” in this dish was the grated Parmesan served in a white, ribbed ramekin…classic.
Unable to pass on dessert, I was torn between a half dozen classic offerings. I settled for the frittelle, an Italian style donut served with chocolate and whipped cream. Eight glazed timbit sized morsels arrived warm and served in a newspaper-like liner. Three were plenty because they were sweeter than a purring kitten wearing a gondolier hat while paddling through the canals of Venice. The chocolate and whipped cream intensified the sweetness. I’m glad I ordered a coffee as well since the bitterness was able to create a bit of a balance.
The stash has made a splash with the opening of a high quality restaurant in the normally mundane airport market. The decor is bright and fun and the variety of the food is great, including a modest list of gluten free options. The friendly service was prompt and they kept to the 10 minute promise. This is an ideal stop for the traveler searching for quick and decent food that stays within the expense budget.
Although I did see him buzzing around the restaurant, I didn’t get a chance to speak to Massimo himself…nor did I get a picture. If anything, at the advice of my son, I was dying to say to him “I mustache you a question…..” . Sigh…I guess I’ll have to shave it for later.
I’m a sucker for a good gimmick, especially if it’s done right. I’m not talking being served by a pirate or a creepy clown making balloon animals for whiny kids. I’m talking a good, simple concept that defines a restaurant, one that draws people in from miles away.
The Blue Water Seafood Market Grill fits the bill. It’s easy the longest wait I have had at any Triple D, even though I went around 4 pm. I had a 5 or 10 minute outside, standing behind two old ladies (who reminded me of the female version of Statler and Waldorf from the muppet show) bitching about the number of people since “that man from that show came”. I nodded in agreement and looked to the sky while whistling in hopes that my pasty white complexion wouldn’t give me away.
Once inside, I realized I was still in for a wait which in the end was a bit shy of an hour. During this hour, a number of cool and/or amusing things happened:
1. I continued to be exposed to the banter of the local gossip club talking about everything from annoying tourists to the destruction of the San Diego water front.
2. I was able to choose from any of the numerous cuts of beautiful, fresh fish cooked in a your choice marinade and served on a sandwich, salad, plate or taco. The pacific halibut was calling my name so I had it thrown on a salad.
3. I was offered a local craft beer for a few bucks in line while I waited (which I believe lead to a stunk-eye or two from the Waldorf). There is something liberating about sucking back a pint under the watchful eye of a swordfish.
4. I enjoyed watching people trying to violate the “you can’t sit until you get your food” policy. Staff patrol the grounds like parking attendants looking for violators. If necessary, they will make a scene similar to that of an embarrassing “Happy Birthday” serenade. It seems like a stupid policy until I paid, turned around and… like clockwork; a window seat magically appeared…and it was nowhere near the muppets.
For some reason, I’m missing the picture of the halibut itself but the freshness of the fish and the care in preparation was evident. It was perfectly cooked and a good portion size for the price.
They stick to what they do best…fish. A dozen oysters for $15? Shrimp Ceviche for $5.25 (with El Indio chips from next door)? A bowl of clam chowder for $4? Even today (I went a couple of years ago), the menu still offers fresh fish at great prices.
Here’s a Statler and Waldorf quote which I think is quite relevant in this context.
Statler: [Up in the balcony, Statler and Waldorf make fun of Pepe’s bad jokes] Hey, the shrimp’s floundering!
[Statler and Waldorf both laugh] Pepe the Prawn: You shut-up okay? Statler: He told us to clam up! Waldorf: What’s he want to do? Mussle us?
[Both laugh again] Pepe the Prawn: Don’t get me steamed okay! Statler: Steamed shrimp! Waldorf: Oh, pass the cocktail sauce!
[Both laugh] Pepe the Prawn: That’s it. I’m coming up there!
[Leaves the stage to go to the balcony] Statler: Whoooaaa… I’m shaking! Waldorf: You’re always shaking.
[He laughs and Statler grumbles]
In the end, like the muppets, Blue Water is a gimmick that works. If you have an hour to kill, don’t see it as a long line but instead as an experience and enjoy; the fish is well worth the wait.
Guild is a cool and near forgotten word in the English language. It was once a medieval term used to describe a a pseudo-union of artisan specialists who unified to protect their trade. Secrecy was a prominent component necessary to protect things like unique trade secrets. Since then, the word has become a bit dormant. Today, we do see it used in Hollywood. The Screen Actor’s Guild, a group formed in the 1930s to combat deplorable working conditions in the film industry and has now evolved to over 105000 thousand numbers when it merged to form SAG-AFTRA a few years back. The modern quilt guild (MQG) is another organization which uses this term. With over 150 worldwide chapters devoted to the art of making quilts, it appears to be a bit more than it seems. A quick check of their blog (http://themodernquiltguild.wordpress.com/) shows members sporting bad ass tattoos and racy pictures from the Quiltcon conference’s 80’s night. It makes you think they might do more than make pretty blankets. Needless to say, I was intrigued when a somewhat secretive restaurant aptly named “The Guild” opened its doors recent in the Dundas/Davenport area. I guess my question was “Would this eatery be like every other trendy restaurant or might it have some unique attributes like cool menu items you could only consume if you executed a secret handshake that you learned from a MQG creation? Let’s start with the set. It’s a large space with a window front which opens to the street and an open kitchen in the back. There are centrepieces on the solid wood tables, funky hippie murals painted on the walls and shiny gold ceilings. Think of it as Casino Royale meets Austin Power’s shag pad. There is a large bar stocking all sorts of sinful potables. There is an abundant drink list with everything from the standards (eg. old-fashioned) to funkier choices (e.g. cider sours) to non-alcoholic shakes made from almond milk. The cider sour was a special drink they made for a private function the week before and it stayed on the secret menu. It was tasty although I would have liked it a little more sour. The shake was refreshing as well; a good example of a grown-up non-alcoholic cocktail other than a virgin daiquiri.
The staff seem to be made up of SAG actors themselves, sporting nice coifs and good looks. They knew their lines as well, reciting the menu with expertise and confidence. In fact, my waiter looked like Zachary Quinto. Even the kitchen staff look the part, wearing mechanic uniforms in the garage-like open kitchen and moving fluidly while adding pinches of salt during food preparation. There is a bit of secrecy around the menu. The website posts a sample menu but it changes frequently given the availability of local ingredients. The bits and bites menu is like a series of movie trailers. It offers a morsel of entertainment instead of a whole dish for just a couple of bucks. I opted for a trailer trio; the white cheddar croquette, the guanciale wrapped cherries and rabbit haunches (a secret menu item available to members of the guild). The cherry was a delectable little treat and the croquette was ok. The rabbit, which I equate to a dark meat version of a chicken wing, was spiced nicely and cooked well.
With the trailers consumed, it was time for feature presentation: . The beet salad was kind of like Scream 5… pretty predictable. Despite the use of the trendy sous vide cooking method , it was a nicely dressed but still a standard salad.
The local mushrooms, pine nut puree and egg emulsion was like a remake of a classic flick. It was a twist on a classic mushroom omelette except it was deconstructed so that the mushroom was the prominent ingredient. It was a pleasant starter as it strongly resembled the taste of the original it was based on.
Unfortunately, the octopus was sold out (kind of like trying to get a ticket for a marvel comic film on opening night), so I opted for the quail and scallop dish. It was a tale of two proteins. The scallops were cooked wonderfully and seasoned well. The quail, on the other hand, was overcooked and rather dry. I’d equate it to seeing a movie with a great and no so great actor (eg. any Lethal Weapon, Good Will Hunting or Rush Hour).
I’m always intrigued as to whether or not a place with a small menu can accommodate various food requirements including vegetarian options. In this case, a “not on the menu” gnocchi with a tomato sauce was the offering. Like the beet salad, it was fairly routine and fairly predictable but tasty nonetheless.
The dessert menu offers a half dozen reasonable priced options. I opted for the bruleed fennel, rum kumquat ice cream and coffee panna cotta. I expected the brulee to be a fennel flavored custard, but instead it was a knife and fork requiring caramelized piece of fennel . The apple and chocolate accompaniments were perfect although the kumquat was a bit odd. The oddity of the kumquat continued in its matching with the rum in the main flavouring of the ice cream which in itself had a great texture. The coffee panna cotta had an intense, almost overwhelming flavour that was somewhat offset by the condensed milk ice cream. The hazelnut crumble was pretty chewy and a bit too sticky, making for difficult eating from a dental perspective.
My Take The Guild follows most of the rules, but offers some uniqueness in the bits and bites and relatively inexpensive dessert menu. There is a good, diverse cocktail menu and the decor is funky and current. In general, the food is predictable and gets one thumb up and one thumb down. It’s still early in production, but I can see the potential of this place. Fixing the simple problems, removing their infatuation of kumquats and promoting their uniqueness will no doubt make me a guild member moving forward. Speaking of guilds…I think I’ll approach SAG with an idea. I’m going to propose a spinoff called “Daughters of Anarchy” starring Charlize Theron. The premise is that the MQG is no doubt a secret organization with the intention of sending messages on behalf of the Illuminati via the fabrication of Hello Kitty and Holly Hobbie quilts. In episode one, Toronto calls on the Cleveland MQG chapter to complete the patch over of rival quilters the Sassy Scarborough Stitchers, lead by Mabel MacKinnon (played by Betty White). After succeeding, the group is on “pins and needles” and must devise a “cover-up” to stay out of the limelight. Then again, maybe I’ll just stick to stuffing my face and blogging about it.
Driving down a highway, I see deer jumping, wild turkeys frolicking in farmer’s field’s and large billboards features perfectly constructed burgers which are attractively stacked like luxury seafront condos. Succumbing to temptation, I will on occasion pull over and roll the dice on the possibility that some burger, somewhere will even slightly resemble the imagery posted roadside. Instead, I feel like William D-FENS Foster (played by Michael Douglas in the 1993 movie Falling Down) in the fictional Whammy Burger:
“See, this is what I’m talkin’ about. Turn around. Look at that. Do you see what I mean. It’s, it’s plump, it’s juicy, it’s three inches thick. Now, look at this sorry, miserable, squashed thing. Can anybody tell me what’s wrong with this picture? Anybody? Anybody at all.”
The only difference is I’m not carrying a gun or wearing a short sleeve shirt and tie.
I had expected to be fooled by the propaganda of Tomahawk BBQ, which has been featured on both Diners, Drive-ins and Dives and You Gotta Eat Here. Around since the 20’s, it promises meat as organic and the leaping deer themselves. It features big breakfasts and great burgers. After what was a hellish cab ride over the wrong Vancouver bridge, I arrived and was seated at the bar (picture an old school diner with round stools and formica counters). I turned around to see two gents eating a breakfast (which I later determined to be the mixed grill-Nine generous slices of Yukon style bacon, two country fresh eggs, fried or scrambled, two slices of Klondike toast, organic hamburger patty, aged cheddar cheese, wiener, onions and fresh sautéed mushrooms) served on a plate the size of a hubcap. Despite this temptation, I had to have a burger.
It was difficult choosing from the 15 choices, but I settled on the Skookum Chief Burger (Onions, lettuce, organic ground beef patty, Yukon bacon, egg, aged cheddar cheese, wiener, tomato, and Tomahawk special sauce). I prepared myself for internal rage as I patiently waited for the arrival of another substandard burger. I was, however, occupied by the “It’s B.C For Me” fact-filled placemat complete with sketches of Canadian legends, facts and stories including bears, igloos and whales living in Hudson bay.
The burger arrived as a tower of truth. Each ingredient was evident and identifiable. Even the minor details, from the toasting of the homemade bun to the angles of the cheese to the liberal yet not overabundant use of sauce, made this a billboard burger which ended up tasting exactly like it looked.
Insanity dictated dessert, so I opted for banana cream pie. Was it as good as it looked? Pretty damn close.
The food lives up to the legend. The decor is a mix of aboriginal artifacts, a candy shop and mildly cheesy souvenir store. The service, at least the day I was there, was exactly what I expected; they weren’t wearing suits and shining bar glasses with sheepskin bar cloths but instead they were hard working people whose moods mirror the people sitting in front of them. I like sincere service in whatever form it comes in…just ask William D-FENS Foster:
“Why am I calling you by your first names? I don’t even know you. I still call my boss “Mister”, and I’ve been working for him for seven years, but all of a sudden I walk in here and I’m calling you Rick and Sheila like we’re in some kind of AA meeting… I don’t want to be your buddy, Rick. I just want some breakfast”.
Kensington is often a turnstile for what’s trendy. As a result, it’s not surprising that Seven Lives has opened in an attempt to follow the lead of tacocentric eateries such as Grand Electric and La Carnita. Sitting in the middle of this neighbourhood, it’s a small space with great music and seating for no more than a dozen people plus a small patio area in front. The menu consists primarily of tacos although one could get ceviche or fries as well.
In honour of the fact that seven lives has a logo which strongly resembles internet sensation grumpy cat, I’ve invited him along to assist in the review.
One of the features is three vats of juice (flavours rotate) sitting on the counter. You get a pint size serving for only $2. I opted for mango over tamarind and it was quite refreshing, which was a good thing since it killed the significant amount of time I had to wait. I managed to beat the crest of the the rush, which topped 30 or so people in line, but I still had to wait 20 minutes (or 3/4 of my mango juice) for my 3 tacos.
My definition of a good taco: one with moist, well seasoned fillings and abundant toppings.
I decided on the signature $5 Gobernador (stuffed with smoked marlin, shrimp and cheese). The taco was stuffed full and its flavour was dominated by plenty of smoky fish, which was slightly dry. The shrimp, cheese and other ingredients couldn’t compete with the intensity of the marlin in either texture or taste, so in the end it was quite monotone.
Taco number two was the $5 pulpo en mole verde (octopus with pumpkin seed mole). Unlike the Gobernador, the flavours were much more complex (as a mole should be), complete with a little sweet and a little spice. The condiments were also more abundant, so the flavours were more rounded. The pumpkin seeds added a nice crunch. The octopus was a bit chewy however.
The standard $4 carnita (pork) was taco number 3. It was topped with the standard guacamole, tomato and onion. I didn’t understand the huge chunks of pork which resulted in a dryer, less flavorful filling. It lacked much of the pizazz of other pork tacos I have had.
The Seven Lives’ salsas were well done. I tried both medium and hot, both of which were a nice balance of flavour and heat.
In a taco shop containing all things Mexican, Speedy Gonzalez wasn’t one of them. Even by beating the rush, I still had a 20 minute wait. Bring your pesos, because Seven Lives is CASH ONLY. For the most part the tacos are quantity versus quality. relying on copious amounts of overcooked and underseasoned meats at the expense of the delicate architecture which normally exists between shell, fillings and condiments. In the end, it was a bit of a disappointment.
I’ve had a few celebrity sightings in life. I remember seeing famed baseball pitcher Denis Martinez in a café after a Red Sox game back in the mid 90’s. I rode 7 floors on an elevator with Alicia Silverstone and her dog in Toronto hotel circa 2004.
Nothing, however, makes me as excited as meeting anybody who has anything to do with the food industry. I have had run-ins with icons Lynn Crawford and Mark McEwan. I’ve met top chef participants Jonathan Korecki, Carl Heinrich and Connie DeSousa through visits to their restaurants.
Needless to say I was quite excited to meet Kevin Brauch during a recent visit to Harbord Room, a well established restaurant making good burgers and high end cocktails before burgers and high end cocktails were so cool. He came in toward the end of my Monday night meal and we had a chance to chat all things food, drink, Alton Brown and Iron Chef. Let me put it into perspective… I’d rather meet a guy who had built his career drinking all over the world and managing the egos of the likes of Bobby Flay than let’s say, Tom Cruise, whose definition of acting is trying to convince us that he could street fight guys half his age and twice his height.
Harbord room had a cool burger before having cool burgers was cool. Erring on the side of simplicity, it’s as well known as Mario Batali’s orange crocs and the burger praises are ubiquitous in every critic and blogger review. It’s a gem from the bun to the perfectly cooked beef to the fries.
The whitefish ceviche was a blackboard special that was fresh and clean with perfect tones of heat and acidity and a Morimotoish delicacy.
As charcuterie crests in popularity across the GTA, Harbord room keeps up with the times with a board full of carnivorous treats ranging from venison pepperoni to an airy chicken liver pate to a pleasant terrine that would make Marc Forgione’s hair stand on end (ok..bad example). There were house pickles, great crostini, homemade preserves and a fried egg round it all off.
Harbord room has also stayed current in the world of cocktails, likely in part to the fact about a third of the restaurant is taken up by the bar. High end liquors highlight a diverse drink menu which can get rather pricy. I indulged in “Liquid Swords”, a complex meczal based multi-ingredient drink with an execution as meticulous and passionate as a Michael Symon lamb chop.
Consideration toward a good side is like paying homage to a good sous chef. Let’s call the rapini the Anne Burell of sides. Bitter rapini, salty almonds, hot chili and sweet sultanas only make sense as it appeals to all senses.
There was a bit of Cornish hen controversy as our table was told it was not available due to a lack of greens. We asked for it anyway only to find out that it hadn’t been brined for the appropriate amount of time but they would serve it anyway. Despite the lack of bath time, the poultry was delicious and moist. If anything the sausage, the only thing on the plate not involved in the controversy, was as lackluster as an Iron Chef trying to make dessert.
I enjoy olive oil cake and I like Harbord’s spin. Priced in the single digits, it hit all the elements of a good dessert. The citrus and chocolate sides provided some variety to the neutral cake. The almond crunch added some needed texture.
Let’s call this a relative mundane list. Nothing at Harbord was bad per se, but the strength of the menu made some of the dessert seem a bit substandard. The Valrhona Dark Chocolate & Smoked Banana Terrine, Salted Caramel, Peanut Butter Mousse & Dehydrated Chocolate & Banana Chips was a bit confusing. A little too deconstructed, the flavours didn’t quite come together. The Fresh Ricotta Doughnuts
Espresso & Caramel Pot de Creme, Espresso Tapioca & Crumble Meringue Wafer were decent but a bit predictable. Although good and filled with diverse flavor, I don’t get the meringue wafer trend. A little too much sweet on sweet.
I realize sex sells, but really……
The constant rave about the burger is a bit of a disservice to Harbord room. The complex drinks, brilliant charcuterie and intuitive sides elevate it to iron chef caliber beyond it’s signature dish. In a highly competitive market, Harbord maintains a balance between what works and what might work.
In honour of Kevin Brauch, Harbord room is one of the iron chefs of the Toronto restaurant scene. Challengers emerge, claiming vivacious vibes and great burgers but Harbord has held the test of time against these admirable culinary opponents. It maintains tradition yet remains current in a manner synonymous with the likes of Geoffrey Zakarian. I’m looking forward to the new THR and Co. spin-off in May. Gotta run….I think Tom’s coming to kick my ass. I’d tell him to pick on somebody his own size, but my 13 year old daughter is not home right now.