King Street 2.0: Barhop

I’ve realized that I have done a number of second visits to restaurants along King street so far this year.  Since it has been some time since I’ve been to or reviewed these places, I figured it would be prudent to update my experiences.  Let’s start with Barhop.

Both the staff and many of the patrons at Barhop are what I refer to as “hopsters”.  Hopsters fall under the same genus as hipsters but they differ in order in that their angst is geared toward those who don’t appreciate the fine art of brewing. My first experience with hopsters was almost 20 years ago at C’est What?, a brewpub on Front Street.  I remember watching people come in and order a Canadian or a Blue only to be scoffed at by the staff followed by a stern lecture pointing out that you can’t order a macrobrew here. At the time, I thought it was quiet humourous and chuckled under my breath at the unsuspecting fools.

Barhop has carried on the hopster tradition but has adapted it to 2015.  Even with a decent knowledge of beer, there is no guarantee you will receive prompt and/or courteous service. I dropped in one night only to sit there for 10 minutes without so much as an acknowledgment so I left.  I returned a second time and it was equally as busy but this time I got a rail seat and at least an offer of a drink.  It goes without saying that the beer selection is amazing.  Most of the draft choices are local brews including side launch, KLB, Amsterdam, Indie Ale House, Sawdust city etc. They also have a few of their own branded pints including a very good nitro ESB.  They also have rare brews, table bottles and all sorts of other delights.

From a food perspective, the menu is exactly what you would expect; bar food with a gastropub twist. I only had a few snacks since I was grabbing dinner later.  These pictures are brutal but I wanted to minimize the use of the flash so as not to disturb the hopsters as they began their nocturnal ritual.  The olives and marinated cheese ($13) were served with grilled bread. I thought the cheese was a clever dish and a bit of a deviation from the normal cheese plates served in the area.  The homemade jerky ($9) was served with a bourbon bacon jam.  I must say this the first time I’ve ever eaten jerky with jam.  I won’t say there was synergy in the combined flavours but I think the jam made the jerky, which was quite dry (as is meant to be) a little easier to chew.  The fried pickles served with ranch ($9) hit the mark and were comparable to other places from both a taste and price perspective.

My Take

The original microbrew movement was somewhat quashed by the realization of international conglomerates that microbrews  posed a threat to their bottom line. This resulted in the purchase and/or suppression of many a fine beer.  Creemore, for example, was purchased by Molson (who is owned by Coors’) in 2005 and to this day has been disguised as a microbrewery.  Both Alexander Keith’s and Rickard’s stay at arms length from their owners (Anheuser-Busch and  Molson Coors Brewing respectively) and promote family values, tradition and other moral lessons.

Luckily, this decade has seen a return to the art of authentic craft brewing. Barhop was one of the first restaurants to jump on the resurgence of the true microbrewery movement in Ontario.  With it comes the hopster attitude and a menu which tries to match the needs of their beer swilling patrons.  It’s crowded, they don’t take reservations and the service can be inconsistent but if you want a good pint in the entertainment district, this is your best bet….just don’t order a bud.

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McRamyun (or Ramyun?) : There’s a Good Chance Ronald Showed up with a Louisville Slugger

I was on a lunch break recently and decided to check out Baldwin village for lunch.  Although I was still lamenting the closure of Yakitori Bar (i still swear they had some of the best soup going), I was intrigued to try McRamyun, the new ramen bar that occupied the space.

I knew little of the place when I walked in but appreciated the fact that a ramen bar exists which doesn’t involve the hot, tight quarters that exist with similar eateries elsewhere in the city. It has maintained the interior of Yakitori bar complete with a large bar and spacious tables.

At first glance it was clear the menu offers one of the largest variety of ramen (almost 20) in the city. In addition, you can choose your own adventure by adding your choice of toppings unlike other places tend to dictate the condiments of each bowl. Usually I order dumplings and soup as a benchmark in ramen joints, so i killed two birds with one stone and ordered the mandu ramen which offered the dumplings right in the soup. As I was waiting, I went to the washroom located in the old Odd Seoul space next door.  That’s when I made afrightening discovery.  The room was filled with skids of packaged ramen noodles.  I felt like I was in a university dorm room.  When I returned to the table (the washrooms were quite nice by the way) the soup arrived.  The broth was thin and spicy and the noodles originated from one of the packages in the back room.  The mandu were deep fried prior to being thrown in the soup which I found odd from a texture perspective.  They did not have remarkable flavour. The broth lacked the complexity of other places and was seasoned primarily by salt and heat. The egg (available for an additional  $0.50 per half..I got a whole egg) was cooked nicely and was the best part of the dish. They forgot the slices of pork belly I ordered so I can’t comment. It would have been and extra $2.49 which would have made the total price of the ramen bowl a staggering $12.50, a price which would make David Chang shake his head.

Mandu Ramyun $8.95 plus $1.00 for egg (pork belly missing)
Mandu Ramyun $8.95 plus $1.00 for egg (pork belly missing)

My Take

Burgers and ramen are probably the two hottest trends in the Toronto right now.  The burgers range from patties smashed on the flattop to those stuffed with short rib and are price accordingly.  Until now, most ramen has been prepared according to traditional recipes complete with homemade noodles and thick pork broth which has simmered for hours.  Sure, I’ve made all kinds of ramen; from following an old school recipe to cracking open a dried package after a drunken night out in university but I never thought I’d see the latter served in a restaurant.

Then it made sense. I should have clued in that the name McRamyun said it all.  This was fast food…the McDonald’s version of ramen.  What confused me, however, was the fact that prices were not much lower that traditional ramen.  I mean a quarter pounder isn’t $20, right?

I looked at the table tent on the table, saw the following sign and laughed.  How do they get away with this?

Clear copyright infringement
Clear copyright infringement

A Sapporo pitcher and McChicken wings for $24.95?  McChicken? The signage outside, the menu, the packaged food..everything made me think that at any minute Ronald McDonald would show up with a Louisville Slugger ready to kick ass and take names later. Interestingly enough, there was a profile picture update on the restaurant’s webpage two weeks ago which displayed their new logo which simply said  Ramyun.  I wondering if that change was proactive of may have had something to do with a few broken windows and a pissed off clown.
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Everything I Know About Hipsters I Learned from Watching the Walking Dead

I have recently jumped on the Walking Dead bandwagon.  For the past month or so I have religiously hooked up Netflix and plowed through episode after episode, taking periodic breaks to sulk whenever a major character gets killed off.  The show has taught me a few things.  First, it convinced me that in the midst of a zombie apocalypse humanity would not unify to preserve its existence.  Instead, the balance of power would become crucial and opposing human survivors with a functional capacity greater than that of a newborn would be more of a threat than a drooling pack of the undead. Second, the more I watched the show the more it made me understand hipsters.  I have struggled with the concept for a number of years but watching the show has brought a much needed clarity that allows me to comprehend and somewhat accept, if not empathize with, the hipster lifestyle.

  1. Both zombies and hipsters travel in packs

Zombies wander aimlessly through forests and streets with one purpose; to eat. Hipsters travel for the same reason.   They walk  urban streets  like amoeba through a digestive tract,  weaving around sidewalks and down alleyways in search of sustenance . In doing so, they remain rather unaware of their surroundings which in some cases includes moving motor vehicles, puppies and non-hipsters.  The latter can take advantage of this phemonemon by setting hipster traps. Whereas a zombie can easily be corralled  using a large pit or a wall of sharpened sticks, the hipster can either be distracted by noise (see below) or other strategies. For example, having a member of your party slow down in front the oblivious pack allows your friends to rush to the door of the destination and scoop the last table well before the hipsters can get there.  Such a strategy was employed by some of my family members outside of Beast  in Toronto during brunch and it worked like a charm.

  1. Both zombies and hipsters are attracted to noise

Anybody who watches the show knows that zombies are attracted to noise.  Packs of them have been known to veer completely in the other direction with anything from the clinking of pots, the rattling of a fence or jumping up and down repeatedly  and screaming “over here!”  The same rings true of the hipster.  Although the noise does not need to be of an auditory nature, it needs to satisfy the impulsive nature of the hipster and may include things like a semi-lit neon sign, a sandwich board advertising a happy hour or the promise of a 45  minute wait in order to eat a beef cheek taco.

An example of a hipster distraction tool
An example of a hipster distraction tool
  1. Skin blemishes are key characteristics of both zombies and hipsters

Skin blemishes are a key identifier of both groups.  The presence of decay and discolouration, usually the result of partial death and the lack  of SPF 30,  is a sure fire way to pick out a zombie.  For a hipster, look for colourful sleeve tattoos, quotations or foreign language mantras peppered somewhere on the surface area of the skin.  This is not to say that these blemishes can’t become a clandestine feature of either group.  A good makeup job, some body spray and a little human love was enough to disguise a zombie in the motion picture “Warm Bodies” while a donning long sleeved plaid shirt nicely hides the floral arrangements and depictions of exotic woman on the forearm of a hipster. Unfortunately, all the Drakkar Noir and Abercrombie and Fitch in the world can’t camouflage the obnoxious behavior exhibited by each  which means an astute observer can easily see through the façade.

  1. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts

Although each zombie in a pack is a unique individual, little regard is given to that individuality of the zombie by outside observers. They all have distant looks on their faces. People tend not to discern between the old and young, male and female or still human like versus quite decayed.  A zombie is a zombie.  Hipsters are much the same. They all have looks of angst on their face. Externals do not differentiate hipsters based on the size of their ear spacers, their sleeve tattoos, what side of their head their hair is parted on or the colour of plaid shirt they are wearing. A hipster is a hipster.  To be fair, there is a subtle difference between the two groups in this regard.  Zombies don’t KNOW they are zombies and hipsters don’t THINK they are hipsters.

A Pack of Zombies
A Pack of Zombies with distant looks
A Pack of Hipsters
A Pack of Hipsters with looks of angst
  1. Both zombies and hipsters relish the “nose to tail” concept

Although they do it for different reasons, both zombies and hipsters adopt a nose to tail philosophy when it comes to eating.  Zombies are not particularly fussy in regarding their diet and will consume anything  they can get their hands on.  The hipster is slightly more discerning but will often include foodstuffs such as  jowls,  liver pates, animal glands and heart tartare. I suppose the difference is that a zombie takes little pride in consuming an entire organism while the hipster will tweet, facebook, yelp, zomato snapchat, Instagram or tumble such milestones not to mention the likelihood of a “Keep Calm and Eat Sweetbreads” shirt surfacing somewhere in their wardrobe.

  1. Both zombies and hipsters are primarily nocturnal

The walking dead zombies are a bit atypical from those depicted in other television shows and movies in that they are not overly adverse to light.  That, said, one can argue that they prefer the evening hours for feeding.  This is true of the hipster.  Feeding hours usually begin after dusk and will proceed until the wee hours of the morning.  This is not to suggest that hipsters, like zombies, are adverse to eating during the day.  There is a ritual in which hipsters do hunt and feast outside of the dusk to dawn hours…it’s called brunch.

  1. You don’t mind watching them from a distance but you sure as hell don’t want to be there.

While watching a walking dead marathon, it quickly comes apparent that there is no rest for the human characters.  Just when you think Rick and the gang are safe, a hole in the fence or an evil human henchman foils the plan for long term safety, forcing the protagonists to flee and the cycle continues.  I sit there watching, grateful that I don’t have to spend my life, like an antelope,  looking over  my shoulder wondering if I’m about to get eaten. It is extremely uncomfortable but I can’t get enough.  I have the same feeling when I see a pack of hipsters.  There are fun to watch from a distance, but the thought of actually being involved in the dynamic is as frightening as an encounter with a walker.  Sure the smell of hair gel and musky cologne  may be slightly better than that of decaying flesh, but the same lack of personal space and relentless monotony of behavior  would simply be unbearable for any extended period of time, let alone 5 seasons.

  1. You can get rid of them by messing with their brains

Any object inserted in the right part of a zombie’s head  is enough to curtail any immediate threat .  Swords, shovels, sticks and arrows are all effective tools in this regard.  For a hipster, the use of such weapons would be illegal and unnecessarily cruel.  Instead, aiming your assault at their mental acuity is much acceptable. Engaging in general trivia including references to key historical events or geography  outside the hipster universe (such as areas in Ontario outside Parkdale) works nicely.  Also, referring  to the evening hours in military time (ie. Hey, it’s 2100 hours..don’t you think you should go home now?) or  listing menu items that include cents (ie $17.00 vs 17) may be enough to clear a room of hipsters with relative ease.

I think we are in the midst of a hipster apocalypse.  Although I wish Max Brooks would release a hipster version  as a sequel to his best selling “ The Zombie Survival Guide” , I think the walking dead has taught me enough about hipsters so that, if was cornered in a room with the last crawfish beignet on earth, I could survive the onslaught and live to see another industrial night.

How to survive a zombie apocolypse...a good disguise!
How to survive a zombie apocolypse…a good disguise!