If You're Hip Read This Because This Restaurant Just Might Become One of Yer Favorites

I’m a big Tragically Hip fan. In fact, I recently was informed by spotify that I was one of the top 1% fans worldwide so I figured it was time to write about them. I spent many university days spinning Road Apples, Fully Completely and Day for Night over and over while doing everything from drinking to…ummm….studying. The release of their greatest hits album, “Yer Favorites” solidified the age old argument of whether the slang for yes should use the letter “e” or “u”. Yep..I was right all along.

North of the border, they have had countless cult and commercial hits. Many tell stories of Canadiana or human struggle (which in many cases seem synonymous) . Others are poetic recounts of important historical moments. People like Tom Thomson, Jacques Cartier and Bill Barilko became household names because we sung them out loud while reciting songs like Three Pistols and Fifty Mission Cap while trying not to fuck with the 401.

During their farewell tour, CBC ran a poll to determine the favorite hip songs of Canadians. Not surprising, many of the mainstream classics topped the list including Fully Completely’s Locked in the Trunk of a Car, Courage and the number one fan favorite Wheat Kings, a haunting ballad about the false conviction of David Milgaard. It also cited Day for Night’s Grace, Too and Nautical Disaster which were the songs they performed during their only SNL appearance in 1995. Also on the list was Ahead by a Century which was later resurrected as the theme song to CBC’s Anne with an E.

Instead of reiterating the obvious, I thought I would focus on my favorite but less mainstream Hip songs (you can’t become top 1% in the world only listening to New Orleans is Sinking). Here are my top 10 lesser known buy favorite tracks (in chronological order):

10. Cordelia- Road Apples

It starts with Angst on the planks, spittin’ from a bridge…Just to see how far down it really is. ..a vision that brings me back to days when I would guesstimate height using my own saliva at various Sudbury landmarks. It’s a little angry with fantastic sound and was often overshadowed by more pop-like and popular songs like Little Bones and Twist my Arm.

9. Put if Off- Trouble at the Henhouse

While many default to Gift Shop and Springtime in Vienna, this is one of my favorites. In fact, I usually listen to this album backward, not for satanic purposes but it makes Put it Off the lead track. This song speaks of many dichotomies in which I can relate given my documented and less than adorable moodiness. I often either hum the mantra Put it on or Put it off depending on my state of mind at the time.

8. Emperor Penguin- Phantom Power

I never understood why this song isn’t more popular. It pops into my head constantly, especially when I’m watching Atypical because of Sam’s love for Antarctica and penguins in particular. Plus, given the devotion to the egg, it reaffirms that the fact that not all males in a given species are complete assholes.

7. Sharks- Music@Work

Sharks don’t attack the Irish, It’s mostly Australians. Whew, I’m safe. I just love Gord’s mumbling chorus in sync with the brilliant guitar.

6. The Dire Wolf- In Violet Light

I had no idea who Tallulah Bankhead and Canada Lee were before this song but their story of strong friendship in an era of racially motivated social nonacceptance was impressive and inspiring. They costarred in the 1944 Alfred Hitchcock movie Lifeboat. This song is another example of excellent songwriting with a great story.

5. The Dark Canuck- In Violet Light

If this song came out before my kids were born, it might have considered naming them apple, zippo or metronome. I love the rather radical change in tempo partway through this song. It goes from a classic Hip ballad to a uptempo and haunting tune reminiscent of Nautical Disaster or Locked in the Trunk of a Car.

4. World Container- World Container

The poetic lyrics of this song combined with the crescendo of angst in Downie’s voice makes for a great listen. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought “How’d it get so late so early?'” in my own life so I karaoke that lyric in the car every time I listen to the song.

3. Last Night I Dreamed you Didn’t Love Me Anymore- World Container

This is a song about an exaggerated paranoia about falling out of love which can also serve as a great breakup song. Gord’s singing which escalates from frustration to desperation as the song progresses gets me every time.

2. The Depression Suite- We are the Same

This song reminds me of a Day in the Life by the Beatles and Scenes from an Italian Restaurant by Billy Joel. Sure, it doesn’t tell a story quite the same but does give one a rather decent lesson in geography and is a near 10 min experience with a few different and equally enjoyable melodies.

  1. Queen of the Furrows- We are the Same

This is just a good old farming song with a great beat and a signature Hip sound with nothing so deep that it’s meaningless. There’s even mention of a toasted Western..can you ever go wrong with a toasted Western.

Favorites is a newish Thai BBQ joint which opened on the Ossington stretch. It’s secretly tucked behind a Sam James coffee bar. Once you enter, you are brought into a surprisingly spacious area with a variety of seating options. It’s unique among many Thai places in Toronto for a couple of reasons: first it focuses more on grilled items versus standard noodle rice dishes or spring rolls and second it suggests wine as the main alcoholic companion to the food as opposed to Singha beer or cocktails. According to the restaurant, the key is smart whites and lighter, chilled reds to compliment but not drown to the more intense Thai flavours. We complimented our meal with la Cuvee du Chat, a fantastic French Gamay which makes me want to head to the SAQ in Quebec to grab a few bottles.

La Cuvee Du Chat

Food wise, we selected a variety of dishes from each section, all of which was served sharing style of course. First was the Betel leaf wraps (nope..not shrimp fresh rolls) with smoke trout, roe and galangal caramel. The edible leaf housed a variety of flavours and textures which will well rounded and a great indicator of what was to come.

Betel Leaves with Trout

Next we had the octopus salad complemented with pomelo and banana blossoms. The octopus, although hidden under a copious amount of greenery, was well prepared and the flavours once again were bursting with classic Thai sweet and salty notes.

Octopus Salad

Since the whole concept of favorites is Thai BBQ, we ordered a trio of options from the grilled menu which included Chiang Mai style pork sausage, Hen of the Woods Mushrooms and grilled duck. The mushrooms were the star, full of smokiness and subtle heat from the BBQ and chili vinegar respectively. The raw cabbage leaves, which were served with all these items, best complimented this dish the best, both in flavour and texture. The duck was nicely rendered and served a stunning medium rare which was nicely complimented with classic thai flavours in the form of a tamarind dip. The sausage was decent but the least thrilling of the three. I just didn’t find it as abstract and entertaining as the other grilled dishes.

The last dish, the curried prawn pineapple fried rice, was the most recognizable dish on the menu by traditional Thai restaurant standards. It was as good as the others I have had at places like Pai but after the rest of the dishes I had, maybe a little too normal.

Curried Pineapple Rice with Prawn

The dessert choices were small but still represented a return to the bold, vibrant and unique flavours of the rest of the menu featuring a passionfruit and chocolate parfait as well as coconut pannacotta. Thankfully, neither were extreme on sweetness but both were bold on contrasting textures and flavours.

Coconut Pannacotta and Passionfruit and Chocolate Parfait

My Take

I’ve always thought if I ever open a restaurant I might name it “Whatever” or “Not Sure” since that’s the answer I usually get when I ask the family where they want to go. That’s why I like the name of this place. If a friend comes up to me and asks where I want to go I can simply say one of my favorites. It deviates from the noodle heavy tendencies of most Thai joints and offers the same balanced flavours in the form of more protein heavy BBQ choices. Even the wine and desserts, two aspects normally less anticipated in Thai cuisine were some of my favorites, much like listening to songs like Sharks or the Depression Suite on the same playlist as New Orleans is Sinking.

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

 

 

Nuts for Canada Cranberry Walnut Slaw

Canada Day is a great BBQ and slaw day!  If you are going to have the salads outside for a long period of time, avoid the heavy mayo slaws and use an oil and vinegar base instead.

I decided to try my own slaw as a tribute to Canada Day. I wanted to create a bit of the red and white colour and stay true to Canadian ingredients whenever I could.  Cranberries, maple syrup, apple cider and even walnuts are essential Canadian ingredients. The walnuts add a good mix of healthy fatty acids (omega-3), a breadth of vitamins and minerals (thiamin, folate, B6, manganese) and the cranberries add dietary fibre.

I suggest using any kind of cabbage but in the fall green cabbage will be in season and very flavourful.  If you don’t have walnut oil, substitute the oil you normally use for salads (olive, canola).

Ingredients:

Salad

1/2 small-medium cabbage (about 4 cups)- Use fresh Ontario green cabbage if you can.  Napa cabbage will also work

3/4 cup of dried cranberries

3/4 cup of chopped walnuts

Dressing:

1 tbsp of maple syrup

2 tbsp of apple cider vinegar

2 tbsp of walnut oil (or your favorite salad oil)

salt and pepper to taste

Directions

1. Mix cabbage, cranberries and walnuts in a medium bowl.

2.  In small bowl, whisk vingear, oil and maple syrup. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

3.  Add dressing to cabbage mixture. 

Chill for at least an hour if possible and enjoy with any BBQ food.