Symon Says if You Don’t Eat yer Meat you Can’t Have Any Pudding While Waters’ Version of Meat is a Pig named Donald Trump

I’m going to take take advantage of any rock music reference I can make when I’m anywhere in the vicinity of Cleveland. Rest assured, the reference will likely not include the likes of Bon Jovi, Def Leppard or the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Pink Floyd, on the other hand, is worth discussing. With a father and uncles who grew up in this era, I was constantly exposed to second hand Floyd mixed among some of the other compounds circulating the air at the time. As a result, I’ve come to appreciate the impact this band (and their individuals) have had on musical progression, politics and my ear drums. Inducted into the hall in 1996, their rather subdued and almost somber performance of “Wish you Were Here” with Billy Corgan made you wish Rogers Waters was there (he refused due to long standing tension between band members).

Waters’ tumultuous personality continues to shine (on you crazy diamond). Since the advent of the Trump administration, he has targeted the POTUS more cynically than Alec Baldwin on SNL. I mean you have to respect a guy who can piss off Trump so supporters so bad that they storm out of the venue after paying a few hundred dollars for a ticket. Just watch the near 11 minute updated video for Pigs (Three Different Ones) to see what I mean.

Day two entailed a lot of walking through the wide streets of downtown Cleveland. Once a victim of a slowing of American industrialism and one of the primary members of the Amercian “Rustbelt”, Cleveland’s recent reinvigoration was due in part to a major investment in the city’s downtown prior to the 2016 Republican National Convention in which Donnie J was elected king of the castle. In addition, there are other city landmarks of note including the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Progressive Field (which had just hosted the 2019 MLB all-star game), a waterfront on the south side of Lake Erie which was home to the tall ship festival and downtown’s Soldier’s and Sailor’s monument designed by Levi Scofield (spoiler alert….Mr. Scofield will come up again in the next post). There were also a number of musical venues such at House of Blues ( with Carly Rae Jepsen playing that night) and Sunday Reggae at the Music Box.

Another popular spot in Cleveland is East 4th street in the heart of downtown. Called a shopping and dining experience, this pedestrian way houses the likes of the aforementioned House of Blues as well as celebrity chef and Cleveland native Michael Symon’s flagship restaurant Lola and her sister Mabel’s. I opted for the latter for two reasons; a more casual experience and a huge bourbon list. Living in Ontario, the LCBO tends to strangle imports such as fine American Whiskeys and Mabel’s offers a wide array ranging from a few dollars to a few hundred dollars including private barrel selections. I went for a $16 New Riff 4 year old CBC (Cleveland Bourbon Club) #26 a which was a little smoky a little sweet and a little smooth.

Mabel’s is called Cleveland barbeque, meshing American smoking with Eastern European influences including kielbasa, sauerkraut and spaetzle. At the time of my visit, the website boasted a Sunday happy hour but this has recently changed to Monday-Friday and wasn’t updated so I was stuck ordering wings and cracklings (puffy pig skin) at full price. I threw a half pound of smoke turkey and some baked beans into the mix which arrived on a metal tray along with pickles, rye bread and chip dip. I felt the four choices were like the cardinal directions on Mabel’s map representing a bit of everything BBQ. In particular, the turkey was a far cry from the normally dry holiday mess and was full of subtle smoky flavour. Personally. the chip dip was unnecessary and the bread was a slightly dry and unneeded touch that weren’t as appreciated as the rest of the condiments. The banana pudding for dessert was spot on but I’m also highly biased based on my unnatural love for nilla wafers. Looking back, Nilla would have been a cool name for my daughter but I would never her tell her she was named after a cookie or that her name was short for vanilla although it may be a compliment given the fact the vanilla bean seems to be the frankincense or myrrh of this millennium.

Now that I think about, Cleveland has become a Mecca for both governmental and musical politics. It did host the nomination of the most controversial president in US history and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has no shortage of politics itself whether it’s the inductees (ie. Bon Jovi), the no shows (Sex Pistols, Thom Yorke) or the numerous failed attempts at reunions between jaded ex-band members (ie. Dire Straits/CCR etc). That said, Pink Floyd’s famous lyrics ” if you don’t eat yer meat you can’t have any pudding” continue to resonate a life time changing from a literal meaning as a child to a figurative one as a adult. Perhaps Trump just sees it as another brick in the wall.

Mabel's BBQ Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Day 2 and 3 in Halifax: Stealing Bikes, Nauseous Bus Rides and Bonehead Lumbersexuals

I woke up the next morning with two items left on my list:  to have a lobster roll and hit a “You gotta eat here”.   The weather had changed from an east coast storm to a cold, still day.  Some of my colleagues who got in earlier in the week had gone to dinner at the Bicycle Thief (which promises offers North American food with an Italian soul) and raved about the experience.  I checked out the website and was pleased to see a lobster roll featured prominently on their high gear menu. I also recalled a friend of mine fondly reminding me that the best calamari she ever had was on a Halifax pier and since this restaurant overlooked the water and featured flash fried squid as an appetizer, all was good.  I’m not sure of the origin of the name of the restaurant but I suspect it may be a reference to a 1949 Italian movie of the same name which scores a impressive 98% on rotten tomatoes.  Or maybe people just like stealing bikes along the pier.

I skipped out at lunch and took the 5 minute walk to Bishop’s landing and was seated near the window overlooking the harbour.  I gave the menu a quick glance already knowing what I was going to order.  Shortly after, a slightly awkward waiter arrived and took my order.  The two-minute flash fried calamari ($9) arrived a lot longer than two minutes later.  It’s appearance was a bit anemic and it’s taste was the same. Even with the aioli, it lacked punch and the promised garlic was a little underwhelming.  The squid itself was surprisingly chewy given the short fry time but this was likely due to the thinness of the cut.

Calamari $9
Calamari $9

The lobster roll ($19) was delivered shortly after on a plate which had the name the of the restaurant proudly displayed on the rim (which as I mentioned in a previous blog seemed to be a Halifax thing).  The roll itself had that  pleasant and nasty wonder bread taste which was generously stuffed with the sweet, sour and crunchy lobster mix.  The fries and salad were sleepy sides which did very little to enhance the plate as a whole.

Lobster Roll $19
Lobster Roll $19

Later that night I attended a group dinner that was part of the conference.  On the map, the Royal Nova Scotia Yacht Club seemed like a short jaunt but the need to navigate the Halifax peninsula turned it into somewhat of an adventure.  The driver got lost and it took nearly 30 minutes to get there.  The God awful temperature in the bus when combined with the winding roads lead a bunch of nurses I was on the bus with  refer to the vehicle as the “menopause bus”.  As a result of the travel induced hot flashes, most of us were ready to vomit by the time the doors opened and I had a new appreciation for the trails of tribulations of a 50 plus year old woman.

Those with no familiarity with the Maritimes would picture the Royal Nova Scotia Yacht Club as a posh hamlet with a snooty clientele donning ascots and smoking jackets.  This couldn’t be further from the truth. Instead, it was more like a rustic clubhouse that smelled a little like gramma’s house. This was one of those dinners where you pick your entree in advance and  have the choice between  fish, beef or chicken.  Although haddock is a bit of a poor man’s fish which is often used a as cheaper alternative to cod or halibut in fish and chips, I was told to always order fish on the coast since cows and chickens tend to avoid the ocean.  The fish arrived hugging 3 or 4 ounces of fresh lobster including a claw.  I can’t imagine anywhere else on the planet where this would simply be called “haddock”.  In the eyes of a Maritimer, lobster is simply “the other white meat”.

After a double hit of lobster and a good night’s sleep, my only objective on day three was to hit a “You Gotta Eat Here”. A quick look at the map indicated that Bonehead’s BBQ was only a few blocks away.  I walked over, knowing  I was getting close when I could smell the air filled with the sultry scent of smoked swine.  It was a small place with a few tables and a takeout counter which overlooks a small kitchen.  The staff appeared to be lumbersexuals; a term to describe those with a  rural, rugged look yet (usually sporting a beard) but at the same time adhere to a urban lifestyle. I ordered the white trash fries ($6.99) which were fresh cut fries topped with thick sausage gravy. Lumbersexual number two threw down a pan and made the gravy to order which I found most impressive.  They were nasty and I mean that in the sense of feeling like you’re doing something wrong but it seems so right.  I would have preferred a crumbled sausage instead of the kielbasa style pieces used in the gravy but it had all the elements of a good, greasy and naughty experience.

I also ordered a brisket sandwich ($6.99) and a side of mac and cheese ($3.50).  The brisket itself was not mind blowing but still had was reminiscent of  some of the good, southern smokehouses.  Mac and cheese is like a banana; it has the ideal consumption window of a few minutes. As much as I like a good pot of Kraft Dinner, I fail to be impressed when it falls below a tongue burning temperature. Like the white trash fries, the mac and cheese was made to order so it arrived and stayed hot, keeping its flavour which I would probably put in the top third of mac and cheese that I’ve had.

For dessert I grabbed a banana pudding ($4.25) that was nicely packaged in a plastic take out container and complimented with nilla wafers. Honestly, it tasted like something made from a hand mixer and an endorsement from Bill Cosby (before he went from Cliff Huxtable to America’s not so friendly sweater wearing dad and possible dirty old man).

Mac and Cheese ($3.50), Brisket Sandwich $6.99), Banana Pudding ($4.25) and White Trah Fries ($6.25)
Bonehead’s Mac and Cheese ($3.50), Brisket Sandwich $6.99), Banana Pudding ($4.25) and White Trash Fries ($6.99)

 My Take

I was successful in my attempt to complete my bucket list during my short visit to Halifax.  Day two involved a lobster roll with awkward service at a place named after a 16 year old bully and a sickening bus ride to gramma’s house to eat unadvertised lobster hidden under a slab of haddock.  Day three involved eating southern food in the east prepared made to order by friendly lumbersexuals who know less about wood than Bill Cosby.

Halifax is a quintessential Canadian city with amazing people, a small town mentality, branded plates and an attitude which shines despite bombardment by east coast weather, economic woes and bad curling teams.  Although it’s food will not likely top the national ranks, it has great local pints, pays respect to the almighty lobster, owns the Canadian donair and makes eating pizza on a street corner a drunkard’s after hours tradition . Does it git any better?

The Bicycle Thief on Urbanspoon

Boneheads BBQ on Urbanspoon

 

 

Review:Toronto:Food Trucks:Urban Smoke

Not since the days of Shaggy, Scooby-Doo and  the Mystery Machine have mobile smokehouses been so mainstream.  Case and point, I was at a fundraiser a while back and the line for Urban Smoke was twice that of any other truck that was onsite.  Parked comfortably within the confines of a private parking lot (so as not to add to further Toronto city hall controversies) , the staff were busy dishing out some traditional and not so traditional fare. Ten bucks got you one of four choices so I picked up some lunch for myself and a colleague.

Urban Smoke Menu
Urban Smoke Menu

Must

The ability to get a hearty soup is a rarity in most restaurants let alone a food truck. The split pea soup was reminiscent of something your French-Canadian uncle J.P. may spend hours in the kitchen whipping up in a magical cauldron. It was thick and savory and filled  with chunks of delicious double smoked ham while resisting  the temptation to over-salt, a common transgression of many an eatery.

Perfecting the grilled cheese seems a easy trick but its simplicity is often its quandary. Urban Smoke offered two sandwiches; a standard grilled cheese and one featuring nutella and mascarpone cheese as a dessert. Magic is grilling the bread to golden brown while melting the ample filling, a feat that everyone from top chefs to 15 year old latchkey kids have spent generations trying to perfect.  Urban Smoke comes close. The secret could very well be seasoning the bread with just a small amount of salt on the outside before grilling the abundant contents within. Simple but extremely satisfying.

Pea Soup, Grilled Cheese and Banana Pudding
Spilt Pea and Ham Soup, Grilled Cheese and Banana Pudding

Marscapone and Nutella Grilled Cheese
Mascarpone and Nutella Grilled Cheese

Maybe

The pulled pork was average which is still a compliment considering the number of food trucks, burger joints and smoke houses who lay  their foundation on good pulled pork.  The meat was tender, partnered with piquant seasonings and the bread was soft and proportional to the filling. The “magic fries” provided a poof that could certainly help Penn and Teller make a rabbit appear but maybe not enough to make David Copperfield’s convertible materialize out of the blue.  The slaw added a delicious, tangy crunch.

Pulled Pork with Magic Fries
Pulled Pork with Magic Fries

Mundane

I took a chance and opted to skip the magic fries in favour of the banana pudding (see picture above).   It had a decent flavour but I felt a bit ripped off by the size and the fact it was starting to separate a bit, leaving a bit of an oily pool in the bottom of the glass.  It was about the size of  a jello shooter and in the end about as exciting as the never-ending handkerchief trick.

Part of the appeal of a food truck should be a quick meal to avoid having to sit down, order, eat and wait for the bill. Although almost inevitable, especially during high volume events such as fundraisers and other events,  long waits continue to be an issue with wheel-bearing establishments and Urban Smoke was no exception.

My Take

Urban Smoke is a bit of a traveling roadshow, bringing a kind of magic show to each and every parking lot or street side it inhabits. The  headliners include  a variety of southern BBQ foods including pulled pork and brisket partnered with a few other choices.  As a result, it draws big crowds which means big lines and  big waits.  The staff, however, are quite efficient and personable and maintain a decent flow. If the truck is around (check out torontofoodtrucks.ca for schedules),  I would definitely consider a trip for lunch  if you have the time and desire to break up a hectic day. After all, after a busy adventure unmasking criminals, I’m sure Shag and Scoob would have been happy to fill up on a few grilled cheese  sandwiches following an equally smoky visit to the Mystery Machine.

Mulling Moment- Please Comment!

Urban Smoke Fusion BBQ on Urbanspoon