Reciting the Litany of the Saints along Elvis Presley Boulevard- A Trip to Marlowe’s

My trip down the music highway ended in downtown Memphis. After hitting the hotel and checking in, I decided on dinner along Elvis Presley Blvd to familiarize myself with the strip in anticipation of my visit to Graceland the next day. Running on fumes, the valet parking guy assured me there were plenty of gas stations along the strip. Despite my basic competence and ability to read google maps, I took a wrong turn to make things exciting. Once I found my bearings, I watched the gas gauge countdown…15 km…10km….5 km….0 km. The Jetta is a bit forgiving and it certainly wasn’t the first time I needed to pray to St. Frances of Rome, the patron saint of travelers (who was said to have an angel light her path with a lantern and protect her from hazards,  for assistance).  In fact, I was so desperate I even sent a prayer or two to St. Elvis Aaron Presley himself.

My prayers seemed to work because on the horizon I could see a gas station with the words “diesel” written across the sign.  A closer inspection of the property quickly shifted my  beseeching to St. Christopher, the patron saint of protection against muggers.  I reluctantly pulled in despite seeing a rather well lit and clean gas station across the street that may or may not have had diesel so I couldn’t risk it.  I went in, slid my credit card  through the hole in the Plexiglas to the apathetic attendant and scurried out.  I pumped and got out of dodge.

A couple of miles down the road I saw Marlowe’s, my destination for the evening.  Featured on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, it’s known more for a wide array of paraphernalia dedicated to the king.  For example, it runs a free pink Cadillac shuttle from local hotels.  The interior is filled with hundreds of tributes to Elvis…there are pictures, a barber chair, his karate outfit and a looping video of his greatest live performances. My fear was that this was a typical tourist trap and that more effort was put into the decor than the food. I have faith in St. Guy Fieri, however, and that troth was confirmed when I saw the majestic smoker that sat beside the gift shop.

Marlowe's Smoker
Marlowe’s Smoker
Marlowe's Interior
Marlowe’s Interior

It goes without saying that I had every intention of raiding the smoker.  So, I conspired with my daughters to maximize my exposure to the various proteins.  They split a BBQ combo which included 2 entrees and 2 sides ($22.95).  Not to get into the nature versus nurture discussion but the fact that my youngest daughter’s love for slaw parallels mine would make for a good case study.  With her slaw she ordered the  brisket, ribs and fries. The meat was tender and full of smoky flavour despite efforts to douce them with copious amounts of sauce. Not that the BBQ sauce wassn’t good; there was just a lot of it.  My daughter gave the slaw two thumbs up.

Slaw and Fries
Slaw and Fries

 

Beef Brisket and Ribs $22.95
Beef Brisket and Ribs $22.95

 

I decided on the BBQ spaghetti so I could indulge on the BBQ pork and experience what the menu calls “Italian Food-Memphis Style”.  In keeping with the Tennessee tradition of serving sides as big as the mains, the spaghetti came with a good size bowl of beans and mac and cheese.  Once again, the predominate flavour was the delicious BBQ sauce which doused the spaghetti. The pork was delicious and matched the ribs and brisket in rich, smoky flavour.  The mac and cheese and beans were  good B-sides to the proteins.

BBQ Pasta $13.95
BBQ Pasta $11.95
Mac and Cheese and side of beans
Mac and Cheese and  beans

My Take

Marlowe’s succeeds in that it puts the food before the fact that it located only minutes from Graceland.  Sure, you are inundated with all things Elvis including a pink limo, but the commitment to good food is evident, highlighted by the very impressive smoker  which “graces” the busy interior.  The smoked meats were delicious even though they were heavily sauced in the traditional Memphis “wet” style.  Like I mentioned, the B-sides made for good eating as well.

It goes to show that flashy gimmicks can exist in conjunction with big taste and flavour. Despite the need to pray to St. Frances and St. Christopher to get to Marlowe’s, there was no need to extend invocation to St Lawrence, the patron saint of restaurateurs. I explored the origin of St. Lawrence.  Such namesakes  include the Laurentian mountains and the gulf of St. Lawrence,  one of Canada’s most important waterways.  What’s more interesting is the morbid reason he is associated with restaurants.  Without going into detail, he was martyred by fire. In fact, many depictions have him holding a grid iron (see below).  Ribs anyone?

 

Statue of St. Lawrence beside the namesake river
Statue of St. Lawrence beside the namesake river

 

Food: 4 Guyz

Service: 3.5 Guyz

Vibe: 4.5

Total:12/15 Guyz

 

Marlowe's Ribs & Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Rose City Kitchen: Correcting Gertrude Stein While Humming Bret Michaels

“A rose is a rose is a rose”.

-Gertrude Stein

This famous line is said to refer to the fact that things are as they are.  The rose is also a symbol of love (just think of the inflated prices circa February 14th) and even victory.  The Kentucky Derby (aka Run for Roses), for example, drapes a garland of the red flowers over the winning horse. Rose City Kitchen is the newest addition to the bouquet of eateries which  Rose and Sons, Rosewater and the Rosedale diner. These restaurants are not related in any other way but the origin of their names are more obvious than this one. Rose City is a small town in Michigan (pop. 653)  Given the middle eastern influence of RCK and the fact that Rose City, MI is 97% Caucasian, I quickly eliminated that connection.  Portland, Oregon is nicknamed the Rose City. I figured there might have been a connection given the snacky, trendy nature of the place, but I quickly figured that was a stretch.  A little more digging (well, I just read their about page) led me to the Jordanian town of Petra, a historical city known for the rose-coloured stone in which it is carved (this would likely explain other middle-eastern bakeries in Ontario with the same name).

The concept of Rose City Kitchen is brilliant.  It takes the bold flavours of the middle east and serves them street style in handheld pitas that resemble tacos in both size and price.  Representation includes Egyptian, Moroccan, Lebanese, Greek and the RCK original.  The promise is that each is stuffed with ingredients (eg. couscous, dates, apricots, almonds and haloumi cheese) respective of their homeland.

After a period of indecisiveness I ordered the original with a chicken and a kale salad to go.  I watched as a pita was warmed in the oven in front of me and  I anticipated the bold flavors that would fill the awaiting pocket.  I received the sandwiches and took a few bites.  I waited for a climax that never came.  The promised flavours were absolutely void.  Minuscule, overcooked pieces of chicken were hidden among a garden of lettuce and carrot.  The home fries were few and far between.  The promised flavour from the humus and garlic oil were underwhelming and the harissa dressing seemed  an afterthought which added sub par heat and flavour to the sandwich.

 

RCK Original with chicken $4
RCK Original with chicken $4

The kale salad with falafel ($7)  offered a little redemption. Three pucks of falafel were hidden among the jungle of  crisp and fresh greens.  The addition of the tomato and onion broke the monotony a bit and the tangy dressing was a nice blast of flavour.

 

Kale Salad with Falafel $7
Kale Salad with Falafel $7

My Take

Rose City Kitchen has emerged in a crowded street food market offering something unique; a  snack sized pita stuffed with bold Mediterranean flavours and priced under 5 bucks.  I try to give the benefit of the doubt and look at new restaurants through rose-coloured glasses except the above claim is as deceitful as Pete Rose himself. The flavours fell well short of expectations. I’d much rather grab a messy taco for the same price or a  sloppy shawarma for a buck more. The kale salad was fresh and well dressed but the three average tasting falafel disks were barely more than garnish.

The concept of RCK sounds as melodic as  Joni Mitchell’s “For the Roses”.

The kale salad reminds me of  Guns N’ Roses “Welcome to the Jungle”.

In the end, I’m left humming Poison’s “Every Rose has It’s Thorn”…..with the thorn being execution.

I guess Gertrude was wrong.

 

Rose City Kitchen on Urbanspoon

My Annual Pilgrimage to Richmond Station with an RSV.

Despite all the eateries in Toronto, I have to visit Richmond Station at least once a year.  In fact, I like to brag about it so I usually bring a RSV (that would be a Richmond Station Virgin) to try things out.  On this occasion, it was a lunch visit with a colleague of mine from Alberta who was in town for the weekend.

There are a couple of things I’ve concluded about Richmond station. First, I don’t like sitting in the bottom part. It’s a little too congested, you get the constant aggravation of people coming and going and I’d much rather watch the performance in the kitchen versus that of the bar. Second,  I always get excited about the chalk board specials which are daily whimsical creations from the creative mind of Carl Heinrich. They have a small but solid menu which regularly changes but always includes oysters and the Stn. Burger.

We got there on the heels of the lunch rush so we still could benefit from the $19 prix fixe menu, featuring  a lobster bisque as the starter and  a braised veal sandwich. I’ve had the bisque here before so I highly recommended it to my lunch mate.  As for myself,  I had my eye on the burger and matched his bisque with the mushroom consomme.  Served with a soft boiled egg and seasoned with sesame.   I might almost suggest it was undersalted but this is coming from a guy whose definition of consomme for 20 years was something that came out of a red and white can. Piercing the egg to release the saltiness of the yolk helped.

Mushroom Consomme (Lunch Size)
Mushroom Consomme (Lunch Size)

The stn. burger remains one of Toronto’s best (as well as one of the more expensive). The patty is designed for medium-rare to medium which allows for great moisture and flavour.  Without the need to mask the meat with an abundance of toppings, the burger is simply served with  aged cheddar and a few other fixings beside a heap of delicious fries and a ramekin of aioli (I’m not an aioli guy so I’ll take the fifth). I don’t get the beet chutney which is served more like a garnish than a palate pleasing partner. Nonetheless, it’s a delicious burger that remains in the conversation for best in the city.

Stn. Burger $20
Stn. Burger $20

At Richmond station, dessert is not an afterthought. Available as a $5 add-on to the prix fixe menu, it evolves with as much as a cutting edge mentality as the menu itself.   Take “movie snacks” for example.  If memory serves, it’s a combination of chocolate cake, almond brittle, cola wafers,  popcorn ice cream and twizzler puree (a clever mix of cranberry and Pernod). Smart, stunning and delicious.

Movie Snacks ($5 add-on to $19 lunch prix fixe menu)
Movie Snacks ($5 add-on to $19 lunch prix fixe menu)

 

My Take

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed Richmond station since it opened shortly after Carl Heinrich won Top Chef Canada 2.  The convenient location (unless you’re trying to park),   casual environment, great service (including the fact they take reservations) and  a small but relevant menu (enhanced by daily inspired chalk board creations) makes for a great dining experience.  The biggest issue may be the fact that your favorite dishes disappear and get replaced by a sunchoke, a chestnut or whatever new culinary trend that emerged.  That said, I don’t doubt that anything new would be as tasty as it’s predecessors.  Don’t take it from me… at time of posting it was  number 1 on tripadvisor. I guess I’m not the only one deflowering RSVs.

 

Richmond Station on Urbanspoon

East Thirty-Six: Breaking Down the Yonge Street Wall

A riddle…

Q. Why did the foodie cross the road?

A. He didn’t.

This is a dumb joke but one that reigns true when we speak of Canada’s longest street. Yonge street is a bit like the Berlin wall. On the west side a vibrant dining scene.  Queen, King, College and Dundas are lined with dozens of hipster havens.  The east side, however, consists of  a bunch of restaurants  compartmentalized into chains, fine dining and student friendly venues.  It’s like there’s a force field of some kind which repels plastic-rimmed glasses.   There are a few hipster oases in the otherwise barren east but for the most part there’s work to be done before the wall is torn down.

Wellington road east is proxy to a number of upscale condos which have tenants who prefer suits to plaid.  It is also within walking distance of venues such as the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts. As a result, bahn mi sandwiches and pulled pork tacos aren’t an automatic go-to.  Instead, restaurants in this area need to offer refined yet current fare or offer a unique enough concept whereas to not be a dreadful bore and keep people coming back. Places like Trevor Bar and Kitchen and C’est What have had longevity whereas Lucien and the Olde Towne Bistro and Oyster bar had shorter lives.

East Thirty-Six now occupies the old quarters of the above mentioned restaurants.  It’s first plan of action was to name itself after its address, a witty move employed by numerous others recently. The second was to adopt a menu which focuses on innovative cocktails and small plates as opposed to the traditional three course meals the east side aristocrats are accustomed to. The focal point of the interior is a large bar which is stocked with a variety of alcohol (including house-made varieties) larger than Lindsay Lohan’s minibar.  Otherwise, it is a classy and well designed east side bar and bistro.

In addition to a panoply of the most current  wines (New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs, German Rieslings etc.) Eat Thirty Six boasts an impressive cocktail list with emphasis on and fruit and  fruit-infused liquors ranging from $12-14.  I had read about the high touted E36 smoked Boulevardier, a spin on the classic yet rather unknown cocktail from the 20s.  Called a cousin of the Negroni, E36’s version includes a bit of Lillet Blanc and some smoke tincture.  The solution is allowed to conflate  for a number of weeks to create an elixir which is as smooth as a gossamer.  Frankly, it’s  the best cocktail I’ve had this year. I’d equate to it any dish which is allowed to sit and marinate versus being callously put together and served immediately.  There is no rawness or disjointed flavour..just a general smoothness enhanced with ethereal undertones.

E36Smoked Boulevardier $14
E36 Smoked Boulevardier $14

To date, the menu has been classified as french tapas.  I asked the owner about this and he said this wasn’t intentional.  A small plate concept was definitely the intent, but the influence of chef Brent Maxwell resulted in a seeping of French influence into many of the dishes.  Take, for example, the pork caillettes. E36’s version of these sausages are bite-size morsels stuffed with among other things  pork and liver.  Served like a hors d’oeuvre,  each well seasoned bite was a pop of all things porcine. I also ordered some mixed pickles ($4) which made for a nice starter.

Pork Caillettes $9 (Note: Cameras don't work in the dark)
Pork Caillettes $9 (Note: Cameras don’t work in the dark)
Pickles $4
Mixed Pickles $4

The scallop crudo ($14) was little Italy meets Mexico. It takes the sweetness of scallop and the richness of lardo and  dresses it with tequila and lime.  The rather unorthodox addition of  celery added  a little texture and taste that worked. It didn’t present with the intensity of a ceviche but had enough of an acidity to cut through the lardo and  provide a nice reprieve from some of the heavier items on the menu.

Scallop Crudo $14
Scallop Crudo $14

 

Speaking of heavy, we went to the bottom of the menu for our  dishes.  My colleague and I decided on the short rib ($21), duck confit ($19) and boudin blanc ($18).  That said, all three dishes were delicious choices.  I think I can summarize them with one word: balance. The short rib was nicely accompanied with brussel sprouts, parmesan grits and horseradish.    The duck leg was rendered down nicely and served with egg, mushroom and semolina. If anything, I would have switched the starches because I think corn/duck and beef/wheat pair better together but that may be a bit of a moot point given both dishes were rather delicious. The boudin was an modish interpretation of the sausage in that it used elegant ingredients such fois gras and tarragon.  The additional of the apple and cabbage didn’t make it any less pedestrian.

 

Short Rib $21
Short Rib with Grits $21
Duck Confit $19
Duck Confit with Semolina $19
Boudin Blanc $18
Boudin Blanc with cabbage and apple  $18

For dessert I ordered the lemon custard with shortbread and macadamia ($8) while my colleague ordered another plate of caillettes.  The custard was nice and tart and was served with an impressive number of (hopefully foraged nuts… AND it was served in a mason jar.  Pure hipster bliss.

Lemon Custard $8
Lemon Custard with M academia nuts $8

 

My Take 

On the heels of the short lived Olde Towne Bistro and Oyster bar, E36 has moved into a tough spot with an attempt to fuse modern food and drink trends with the principles of upscale casual dining this area of town is accustomed to. It can best be described as small plate with french influence although there are a number of surprises on the menu.  I wasn’t able to try the bone marrow (served with chicken liver pate), razor clams, sweetbreads or octopus nor one of the other 10 interesting cocktails, many of which frolic with fruit  or tinker with tinctures.   The decor is clean and modern with a beautiful well-stocked bar as its centrepiece.   The service was great but it was a slow night so it would be interesting to see if the conversation and attention to detail continues with a busier assemblage.

East Thirty-Six has a name, a menu and a cocktail list that would appeal to any hipster. I mean, think about it.  Pickled cauliflower in a mason jar?  The dish alone contains three of the Huffington Post’s  22 essential hipster foods:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/04/15/hipster-food_n_5146632.html?utm_hp_ref=fb&src=sp&comm_ref=false

So, does this mean we finally have a place that would allow the tearing down of the Yonge street wall, finally allowing  the two sides to dine together in harmony while eating offal pork sausage and drinking bourbon concoctions?  Probably not. After all, there’s no need to worsen the carbon footprint  as long as there’s kimchi, kale and PBR on the west side I suppose.

 

East Thirty-Six on Urbanspoon

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

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

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

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

The Deluxe $9
The Deluxe $9 (aka The Hipster Big Mac)

 

Somewhat Soggy Fries
Somewhat Soggy Fries (plus $3 with drink)

 

P & L Slaw
P & L Slaw ($3)

My Take

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

1. He wears checkered clothing.

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

3. He is wearing light blue shoes.

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

Big Boy- The Original Hipster
Big Boy- The Original Hipster

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

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

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

 

The P & L Burger on Urbanspoon

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

2. A moderately pleasant waitress with an accent.

3. A massive menu.

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

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

 

Athens was featured on DNERS DRVE NS DIVES
Athens was featured on DNERS DRVE NS DIVES

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

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

Eggs Benny $12
Eggs Benny $12

My Take

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

Food: 4 Guyz

Service: 3.5 Guyz

Vibe: 3.5 Guyz

Total: 11/15 Guyz

 

Athens Family Restaurant on Urbanspoon

 

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

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

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

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

My Take

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

Taste: 5/5 Guyz

Service: 4/5 Guyz

Vibe-5/5 Guyz

Total : 14/15 Guyz

 

 

Arnold's Country Kitchen on Urbanspoon

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

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

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

My Take

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

Food: 4/5 Guyz

Service:3.5/5 Guyz

Vibe: 3.5/5 Guyz

Total: 11/15 Guyz

Bro's Cajun Cuisine on Urbanspoon

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

 

 

 

Brekkie at Bar Buca: Beyond Bacon and Bad Brew

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

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

Latte Canadese $5.50
Latte Canadese $5.50

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

Pane and Ricotta $3.50
Pane and Ricotta $3.50

 

My Take

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

 

Bar Buca on Urbanspoon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Hintonburger Combo (water not shown) $11.75
Hintonburger Combo (water not shown) $11.75

My Take

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

Hintonburger on Urbanspoon

Suzie Q, Baby I Love You

“Suzie Q”

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

My Take

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

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

 

Blue Vanilla Froot Loop and Coconut with Kaffir Lime $2/each
Coconut with Kaffir Lime Blue Vanilla Froot Loop $2/each
A Real Yeast Donut
A Real Yeast Donut

Yes, Suzie Q, I love you!

 

SuzyQ on Urbanspoon

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

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

1.  It’s named after its address.

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

3. They are closed Tuesdays.

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

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

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

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

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

Shrimp and Pork Pogos ($10)
Shrimp and Pork Pogos ($10)

 

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

Scallops $16
Scallops $16

 

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

Goose Ravioli
Goose Ravioli {$15}

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

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

My Take

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

 

Two Six {Ate} on Urbanspoon