DDD: Showdogs, Show dogs and Why I’m Boycotting Wendy’s

Like most people,  I can get easily irritated.  Right now, I’m boycotting Wendy’s because of the ridiculous commercials which spoof  70’s and 80’s tunes while skinny Wendy (aka Red) dresses up like thw singers and makes out with a pretzel bun. When I posted this on facebook, one of my good friends asked me why I would go to Wendy’s anyway. Good point.

 

Another thing that bugs me are dog shows.  Before I go on, I’m not claiming for a second that my complete annoyance by things like this are normal.  I think it’s like a phobia;  I have a physical reaction to these types of things.  The thought of an arena filled with people who pay to watch others dress up like turn of the century debutantes and walk dogs among fake grass turns my stomach.  They give the dogs  ridiculous names like Roundtown Mercedes of Maryscot (aka: “Sadie”) and make the audience watch as their pooches get dental exams, enemas and other invasive medical procedures. Personally, I’d rather watch a dog chase his tail or stick his nose up another’s ass in a thirty second youtube clip while sitting in my underwear.

Showdogs in San Francisco couldn’t be further from the Westminster Kennel dog show.  Suits and ties are replaced by piercings, jeans and tees.  Fake grass is replaced with, based on my observations of the some of the staff and clientele, real grass that just might happen to be rolled into a small white paper. Canine conversations are no longer about four-legged friends but about the rest of America’s obesssion…the hotdog.  It is estimated that Amercians eat 20 billion hot dogs a year.  It is also estimated that there are about 83 million owned dogs in the USA.  What isn’t known is how many of the 20 billion hot dogs are eaten by the 83 million dogs in a given year.  That said, it makes perfect sense to focus a restaurant on the beloved frank.

The menu at Showdogs is simple.  In addition to a small breakfast menu, there are a number of renditions of the American favorite as well as a few classic American sandwiches like the burger and fried chicken.  In addition, there are all the words foodies wanna see in a menu including organic, house made,hand dipped and special sauce.  My trigger words include “sharp cheddar” and “chili” so I had to try the chili cheese dog ($10).  I asked the guy behind the counter what should complement the dog and without hesitation he recommended the onion rings for $5. Along with it, there is a good selection of local brews which, when you drink enough, can almost make a dog show tolerable.  In particular , the  Hell or High Watermelon from the 21st Amendment brewery was memorable ( I later drank a six-pack with my uncle in Pennsylvania).  The food was equally as memorable.  I mean, a hot dog and onion rings has boundries regarding creative licence but it still has to be tasty.  The think and crunchy onion rings were among the best I’ve had especially when eaten with any of the house made sauces available.

Chili Cheese Dog ($10), onion rings ($5) and a Happy hour $4 pint
Chili Cheese Dog ($10), onion rings ($5) and a Happy hour $4 pint

 

My Take

My mom used to boil hot dogs until they split, throw them on a bun and yes, they tasted like lips and assholes.  Since then, the hot dog has evolved beyond the ball diamond and street corner cart and  have become the focal point of many menus across North America. In fact, a hot dog by Dougie Dog in Vancouver is served topped with Kobe beef and Lobster and soaked in 100 year old Louis XIII cognac has just attained the Guinness nod for the world’s most expensive hot dog with an estimated value of $2300.

World's Most Expensive Hot Dog $2300
World’s Most Expensive Hot Dog $2300

 

Showdogs has embraced the dog and elevated it to a decent meal.  The vibe, service and experience was the complete package in this establishment that definitely qualifies as a dive. S0 while skinny Wendy is making out with a pretzel bun while singing an Eric Carmen ballad and people jam into Madison Square Garden wearing  their Sunday best to watch dogs walk their owners,  I’d  rather grab a pint, listen to Pearl Jam in the background and eat a dog instead of watching them.

Show Dogs on Urbanspoon

Home of the Brave: A Celebration of the American Culinary Trinity of Cheese, Gravy and Sauce

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.

Tater Tots
Tater Tots $7

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.

Home of the Brave Tex-Mex Mole Wings $12
Tex-Mex Mole Wings $12

 

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”.

Asparagus with cheese and gravy
Asparagus with cheese and gravy $7

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.

 

My Take 

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.

 

Home of the Brave on Urbanspoon

Chicago:Day 5: Nana-nana-nana..I was bopping and hopping all night long

Stop 1– Nana’s

Day 5 was a triple hit of triple D.  After a subway up to Wrigley field a few days earlier, I figured I’d venture past US Cellular field to at least lay eyes on the White Sox home field.  That, and it was on the way to another DDD that was a cab ride from the conference centre.  I shyed  away from hitting up Nana’s on Sunday in an effort to avoid the brunch crowd so I figured a late breakfast/early lunch on Monday would be safer.  It’s a clean breakfast and lunch nook with an open kitchen, small tables and a bar to sit at. I had a chance to talk to the owner who told me the restaurant is dedicated to his mom who, after being diagnosed with diabetes, made radical diet and lifestyle changes which got her off of medications and made her diabetes manageable. The premise is fresh and organic foods served with a Mexican flare.

There are two things which definitely draw me to a dish: I’m always intrigued by traditional dishes which are given a twist and anything that is local and in season.  Today was no exception.  Instead of my normal tendency to fill my veins with sausage and pork gravy, I was drawn to the nanadict, an interesting version of classic eggs benny.  The english muffin is replaced with pupusas, the ham with chorizo and the hollandaise with a poblano cream sauce. The pupusa was a bit bricky and the eggs were poached American style (meaning a little too long). I loved the chorizo, especially with the poblano cream, which was rich and had a fresh flavour with a subtle bite.  A little cilantro on top would have been great, The earthy potatoes and acidic greens added a nice balance to the dish.

Nana's Nanadict
Nana’s Nanadict

The local/seasonal draw was the garlic whistles which were served with a sprinkle of fried cheese. They were tender and delicious. The cheese, a  shot of hot sauce and a squeeze of lemon recommended by the owner blended nicely with the garlic flavour. A great side dish!

Garlic Whistles
Garlic Whistles

My Take

Nana’s is a cute nook featuring breakfast, lunch and dinner rooted in family values and giving back.  They sponsor the Benton House, a local agency  dedicated to reducing hunger in Chicago through diner donations.  The owner is present and proud. The menu has lots of choices, many with Mexican/South American influence  and all based on local and in-house ingredients whenever possible. It’s a feel good place although I imagine too much poblano cream or chorizo may not leave you feeling too good the next day.

Verdict: 4 Guyz

Nana on Urbanspoon


Stop 2– bopNgrill

I got out the cab with a couple of colleagues only to avoid a summertime monsoon by seconds.  With wind blowing and stop signs rattling, I was happy to be in the safe confines of bopNgrill, a DDD featuring burgers and bop plates.  When I watched the show, I could almost smell the sizzling mushrooms through the television screen as Will Song meticulously created Americana with Asian influence.  I was drawn to the umami burger that  was featured on DDD and looked absolutely delicious.  The Philly Bulkogi egg rolls featured on the show are only available on weekends, so that wasn’t an option.   We also split the kimchi burger which featured my fave…a fried egg with bacon, cheese and kimchi. My sense of Smellivision was correct. The delicious smell of earthy mushrooms and truffles in the umami burger radiated throught the air. The burgers were cooked a perfect medium and had a dripiness which required a napkin run or two. They were well balanced and extremely flavourful.   As a matter of fact, after one bite the clouds parted and the weather seemed to clear up.  A coincidence??? I think not.

Kimchi and Umami Burgers
Kimchi and Umami Burgers

Verdict: 5 Guyz

bopNgrill on Urbanspoon

Stop 3- Hopleaf Bar

After bopNgrill, I hopped in a cab and faced a dilemma. I had hopleaf, another DDD pegged for a visit, yet it was game 6 of the Stanley Cup finals in the city poised to win.  Did I want to venture to a place with a ridiculous choice of beer or did I want to settle for bud light and a crowd of drunkards cheering for the Hawks?  Actually, it wasn’t really a dilemma. The day before, the barkeep at Haymarket raved about this place and hell, there may be a TV at Hopleaf so we could at least keep an eye on things.

The cab dropped us at the front door.  After paying the fare, we were stopped by a gent who demanded ID.  My dad and I have a running joke.  He was asked for ID at 42 and I said I’d beat him.  I’m not 42 yet but that fact I was asked on this occasion says I still have a chance.  That said, it’s pretty standard practice in Illinois to ID everybody.  Hopleaf is considered a tavern so nobody under 21 is even allowed in the place.  We seated ourselves in the bar area and examined the multi-page beer menu. . As for a TV…not a chance.  The bar staff looked like the Grateful Dead and the patrons had anything but hockey on their mind.

The beer selection is extensive, ranging from breweries down to the road to hot spots across the USA.  There is also an extensive selection of Belgian and Belgian style brews as well as a few European stragglers as well.

The Snaggletooth Bandana is a great Illinois IPA from Naperville combining a hoppy punch with strong tropical fruit flavours.  I was fortunate to try a Troublesome Gose from Off Color, a Chicago start-up brewery which had it’s official launch at Hopleaf that night. It was a classic wheat beer with medium spice and a refreshing finish.  One can’t go to Chicago without sucking back a Goose Island offering.  In this regard, I opted for a cumbersome pils which hit the spot. With three of us there, there was lots of sipping and sharing but be assured there is not shortage of choices.  The staff are very helpful as well, quick to offer advice, good or bad, regarding any of the pints.  For example, I ordered a pint of a cucumber beer and, at the advise of the bartender,  was offered a sample first and quickly realized a pint was just not feasible.

As for the food, the menu is a concoction of dishes with most made in-house. Since I was already pretty stuffed with the combination of bopNgrill and beer, we ordered a few things to split and stuck with the signatures; mussels with frites ($13), charcuterie trio  (headlined by house made head cheese) ($14) and the the brisket sandwich ($13). As a result of a camera malfunction I don’t have pictures but I can say that each dish was terrific.  The mussels were classically done.  The charcuterie plate was well executed and well thought out. A minor fight between the four os us almost broke out for the last smear of rilette.  I was a bit reluctant about the brisket.  It’s a tough cut to perfect and the fact it wasn’t a smokehouse left me a little suspicious.  My opinion changed with the first bite.  It was delicate and tender and competitive with some of the best briskets I’ve had.

My Take

Great  beer and great food make this a great place despite the lack on television and a less than cozy atmosphere.  The bar has a bit of staleness but doesn’t translate to the food and drink.  The mussels, brisket and charcuterie were amazing. The service is great from a beer recommendation perspective.  Otherwise, you’re on your own.  The bar area doesn’t doesn’t even have a waitress. Plus, you gotta leave the kids at home and bring you ID because if you don’t have it you might as well be 12 because you’re not getting in.  Despite the lack of a TV, two loud waves of screams a minute apart from a sports bar next door told us everything we needed to know.  The Hawks scored twice in the last two minutes to secure the Stanley cup and the party began….

Verdict- 5 Guyz

Hopleaf on Urbanspoon

Chicago:Day 4:Part 1: A Medieval Feast at the Purple Pig

Stop #1– The Purple Pig

I happened to be staying across from the Purple Pig, the now iconic tapas style restaurant on the Magnificant Mile.  It has a large menu featuring a variety of animals  in different shapes and sizes.  It is a collaboration of chefs Scott Harris, Tony Mantuano, Jimmy Bannos and JImmy Bannos Jr. and promises cheese, swine and wine…but not beer.

We were seated outside without much delay on a high table set up in communal fashion.  They was plenty of room and were shortly joined by three girls who sounded like the Chipettes. I even named them Brittany, Jeanette and and Elenor while I was waiting for my food and moved over a little in case Alvin, Simon and Theodore dropped by too.

The waiter came quickly and was happy to boast the fact the focus on the menu was Mediterranean food.  He spouted off the predictable verbatim used at almost every tapas or small plate restaurant in North America in a manner synonymous with a stewardess’ safety banter on an outgoing flight….

“Let me take a minute to explain the menu. This is a small plate restaurant meant for sharing so we don’t recommend you order individual dishes but instead order dishes to share as a table.   The menu is constructed from light to heavy.  We recommend 2-3 dishes per person.  Personally, I like the asparagus as a starter and the pork belly for something a little richer, but be sure to save room for our award winning house made dessert..haha!”

Another great thing is pointing out an intolerance or allergy after the recital is over. For example, asking  “Does the pork shank have any garlic or onions, leads to  a perplexed and slightly pained face and  the standard line “I don’t believe so but I’ll check with the chef”.

After the speech, he asked if we wanted a drink.  Our group are beer drinkers, so I politely asked if they had any local beer.  He looked astonished.  Instead of the simple answer of “No”, I got the “this is a Mediterranean restaurant so we only serve beer from that region” in the same tone and manner one would proclaim that San Marzano tomatoes are the only tomatoes  you can use in Italian cooking . Fair enough, but heaven forbid I ask if they have a beer or two from one of the most vibrant microbrew regions in North America. Better yet, the menu features such favorites as Brasserie Dupont “Saison Dupont” from BELGIUM and Belhaven “Scottish Stout” from SCOTLAND.  I’m not a geography expert, but I don’t think ships cruising the Mediterranean make port stops in Brussels or Glasgow.

One of the appeals of the purple pig is the huge menu, although it can be a bit burdensome when trying to decide amongst 4 people an appropriate “course” of action.  After a lengthy discussion, they all  looked at me and said “Well, you just order!”. So I did…

Pig’s Ear with Crispy Kale, Pickled Cherry Peppers & Fried Egg- Not the best I’ve had but the egg was cooked perfectly. The pig’s ear lacked a little integrity.

Pig Ear Salad
Pig Ear Salad $9

House Cured Lardo Iberico- Don’t mistake it for cheese! This salume was very pleasant with a subtle saltiness and silky texture.

Lardo Iberico
Lardo Iberico $8

Greek Yogurt with Mango Chutney- Arguably one of the best dishes I had on this day.  The yogurt was thick and rich and seasoned wonderfully, The chutney had enough acid to cut through the intense creaminess of this oil laden spreadable delight.

Greek Yogurt with Rhubarb Chutney
Greek Yogurt with Rhubarb Chutney $11

Octopus with Green Beans, Fingerling Potatoes & Salsa Verde- Octopus was cooked well and worked with the beans.  A little oily however.

Octopus
Octopus $16

Wagyu Sirloin Tip with Fingerling Potatoes, Cippolini Onions, Olives & Bone Marrow Vinaigrette- Cooked just to medium rare, the meat was tender and the potatoes were crisp and delicious. A safe dish for those not invested in snouts, jowls or tails although they do manage to sneak in a bit of bone marrow.

Waygu Steak Tips
Waygu Steak Tips $19

Mussels with Pancetta, Crème Fraîche & Marjoram- Decent but by no means the best mussels I’ve ever had.

Mussels
Mussels $12

Meatball Slider with Parmesan & Arugula- Moist, tangy and salty, it was a blissful few bites.  Really messy to eat given the meat to bun ratio!

Meatball Slider
Meatball Slider $6

Pork Secreto with Roasted Red Pepper, Leeks & Pickled Watermelon Rind- This was another divine dish.  This amazing cut of  pork had an incredible sear and maintained it’s moistness.

Pork Secreto
Pork Secreto $14

There was too much food so dessert was not an option.

My Take

The purple pig is a Chicago icon, a magical creation of a handful of some of Chicago’s most prominent chefs.  It’s a true nose to tail, small plate menu.  The outdoor seating area is nice but be prepared to seat communally with all sorts of folks (maybe you’ll get lucky and have Fred and Daphne from Mystery Inc. show up). Inside, it’s loud and crowded and getting into the small washroom can be as difficult as getting into the restaurant itself. The menu is large and diverse but don’t go with indecisive people because it might be as painful as watching my dad try to pick out a birthday card.  My choice of the various fare had some good and some not so good but the highlights were definitely the pork secreto and the Greek yogurt with rhubarb chutney although the lardo and steak tips also get honorable mention. That said, there’s at least another 20 things on the menu (including dessert) I’d want to try.

The only question that remains is “Can one have a medieval feast at a Mediterranean restaurant?” Based on the waiter’s logic, the answer is a resounding yes! After all, I can order a Scottish stout or a Belgian beer.  Hell, maybe Game of Throne’s Winterfell may have been saved and the Red Wedding massacre may have been prevented if they knew an attack through the Mediterranean was a possibility. Damn beer drinkers.

The Purple Pig on Urbanspoon