Perhaps it’s fitting I’m typing this as I fly over the Western plains toward San Francisco. Home of the Brave are the four words which tell you the Star-Spangled banner is over and is usually held for about 16 bars while some celebrity exercises their creative right to make the song their own. It is also the title of a 1988 Toto song, perhaps a patriotic attmept to recreate the success they had in the early 80’s with the Grammy winning album IV featuring the song of the year Rosanna as well as Africa. The phrase is synomonous with the USA, so it seems an appropriate name for a snack bar which celebrates Amercian culture and cuisine. Such a concept may be a daunting task however. There is nothing universally consistant with American food. Each region adheres to a philosophy and a stubbornness which is much an identity as an local accent. That said, gravy is pretty close.
Toronto’s homage to our southern neighbours sits hidden among King Street favourites Lou Dawg’s, Lee and Wurst. Relative to other eateries, it about the size of Vermont, boasting a reasonably sized bar, a number of tablesand booths and even a few “patio” seats which overlook the King Street scene. I was quickly greeting by the bartender who offered me a bar seat. I sat and looked around. A bustling open kitchen was nestled in the corner. The bar area was decorated with American paraphernalia including references to many of the urban centres which make the USA the diverse and interesting country it is. From a drink perspective, they adhere to the American way. They feature beer, wine and cocktails all produced or inspired by America. There are even a few cocktails created through feedback from the guestbook of American visitors. I was in the mood for a pint, so I opted for an $8 Sam Adam’s Boston lager which was frankly the only palatable beer on the draught list. They do carry a few bottles from the historic Anchor brewery in the city I was in flight towards. The vibrant beer scene in the USA is misunderstood by so many Canadians who simply say “All American beer is water” and HOTB reinforces this misconception by offering crap like Coors Light and Rolling Rock as essential American suds.
The menu is everything you would expect in a stereotypical American eatery, offering eats like Philly steak sandwiches, chicken and waffles and Maryland Crab Cakes. In addition, almost every dish, including vegetables, contains one of the three components of the America culinary trilogy: Gravy, sauce, cheese or a combination of two or three. In celebration of Napoleon Dynamite and his home state of Idaho, I was obliged to try the tater tots complete with the obligatory cheese AND gravy. They were nasty, delicious chunks of what seemed like deep fried mashed potatoes which sitting in a shallow pool of fat.
It was wing night (which means they serve wings…not the fact you get them for $0.36 each or whatever the going discount rate is) and I thought nothing could be more American than sucking back a pound of chicken parts. The flavour of the night was Tex-Mex mole, a celebration of the Mexican influence on United States cuisine. They came out quickly, doused in the promised spicy chocolate sauce and yes….topped with another sauce (sauce on sauce is Amercian food porn at its best). The taste was quite acceptable and manged to marry the two southern flavours quite effectively. My only issue was the heavy breading on the wings. Perhaps it’s a dedication to American art of deep frying everything, but I would have prefered the naked wing approach, especially with the rich flavour of the abundant sauce. My plasma might have been a little happier with me without the breading as well.
I was feeling a little guilty so decided to try and balance things out with a little dose of a vegetable. Asparagus was in season, so I got an order. Surprise… it was served with cheese and mushroom gravy. I can’t complain about the taste or the cook on the asparagus..both were terrific but my guilt was hardly stifled as the nutritional value of the green spears was negated by the other ingredients. The portion size, however, was not American because there was no way I could feed 4 people with this serving of “veggies”.
I passed on dessert even though two of my biggest vices were being offered; ice cream sandwiches and funnel cakes. I also passed on a very intriguing cobb salad served with a whole egg served in a half avocado, a concept I have since adopted into my homemade Cobb.
Despite horror stories I had heard about the service being similar to the treatment of a gay couple at a misguided and ignorant Rick Perry rally, I found the service prompt and friendly. The atmosphere was fun and vibrant and I loved the open kitchen concept. Given the shitty beer selection and the pledge of allegiance to cheese and gravy, I’m still trying to figure out if the owners intend HOTB to be an reasonable facsimile of the American eatery or a parody of the plated gluttony which plagues our neighbours to the south. If it’s the latter I think it’s a brilliant joke. If it’s the former, it’s a stereotype worse than Canadians living in igloos. I mean, not everybody in American puts added fat on everything, right? Sure, a rib-sucking Texan may cherish the menu but I’m sure a clean eating Californian would cringe at the fact that this place even manages to make asparagus unhealthy. In the end, Home of the Brave is a fun rendition of American food. I wouldn’t, however, bring your vegan sister, a skinny first date or your dad if he’s on a statin. I would, however, bring a good old Ontario health card just in case. I don’t think Obamacare is ready for this place.