I’ll Be Frank..I was Disgracefully Slumming it Up on Bloor West

I recently took a road trip to check out the University of Toronto campus with my son.  Part of the plan was to hit up a brunch spot and introduce him to some of the joints he would likely frequent during his post-secondary experience. We came through Bloor West, past High Park and eventually parked around Ossington in search of a brunch spot.  The initial thought was to walk a few blocks and hit Insomnia to choose from their array of eggs benedict but I called an audible when I walked by Disgraceland and faintly remembered reading something about it having the best something in Toronto. Plus, I could envision my son being more likely to frequent a seedy bar than a place that serves martinis called snowball and diva.

The brunch menu is as no nonsense as the restaurant itself. The tables are dingy and the walls are still sweating booze from the night before.  A picture of the man in black reminds you that they are “cash only” and points you in the direction of a historic ATM which comes with a $1.50 service charge.

The service was prompt and friendly and we quickly ordered the heart attack benny and the hangover helper (both $11) with a couple of refreshingly plain coffees.  It was a standard benny with the addition of cheddar and tomato (the latter I omitted because I don’t think tomatoes belong on most things let alone eggs benedict).  The muffin was a bit chewy and the eggs a few seconds overcooked but the hollandaise did its job unifying everything. The brekkie potatoes were crispy and delicious. All in all, not bad.

Heart Attack Benny $11
Heart Attack Benny $11

My son’s hangover helper was an elixir of nastiness which included eggs, bacon and hollandaise on top of a standard poutine.  With those ingredients, I think it would be harder to screw it up than it would be to nail it and my son certainly had no complaints.

Hangover Helper $11
Hangover Helper $11

After a walk down the street and a pit stop at Long and McQuade  (in which I took the opportunity to explain the importance of a good education as he strummed a $2000 Gibson) we crossed the street to “You Gotta Eat Here” alumni Fancy Franks to grab some lunch for later.  If burgers are Batman, then hot dogs are Robin and a number of tube steak eateries have opened in the past months.  Fancy Franks offers dogs topped with anything from peanut butter to kimchi (most in the $7-9 range) along with other pop culture eats such as poutine ($6-12) and made to order mini donuts for $4-5/dozen. We ordered Franks got Seoul (short rib, kimchi, sesame seeds and scallions) and Franks Coney Island (chili, onions and mustard). The dogs are the snappy type and the toppings are rather abundant. My son (who works at Five Guys burgers and fries) was impressed with condiment bar which even offered a mayo dispenser if one is so inclined.  They were tasty (although they start to get quite greasy when they cool down a bit) but I was left wondering what justified the steep price.  Maybe I’m a bit biased knowing I can head to Detroit and grab the same Coney dog Anthony Bourdain raved about for $1.50 or head to any street vendor and grab some street meat with half a dozen toppings including sauerkraut, fried onions and corn relish for $3.50 but $8 for a hot dog makes a vendor at the Rogers Centre scratch his head. I wish I could report on the donuts but apparently the machine is quite volatile and was misbehaving on this day so I was out of luck.

Franks Got Seoul $7.50 or so
Franks Got Seoul $7.50 or so

My Take

I think our expedition to Toronto taught my son a few things:

  1. The University of Toronto campus is massive.
  2. Carry cash so you don’t get slapped with ATM service charges from places who actually profit from your inconvenience given the fact they only take cash.
  3. Gravy and hollandaise are like him and his sister..they are good together in moderation but I wouldn’t do it too often.
  4. If his ultimate goal is saving up for a Gibson, then eating at Fancy Franks frequently won’t help.

These eateries reflect two of the biggest culinary trends to hit Toronto streets in the past couple of years: brunch and burgers. As I’ve said before, brunch may be a french word for “overpriced breakfast” and  Disgraceland succeeds in offering choices that moderately fit this theme.  When I say burgers I’m generically referring to trend that has opened the door for establishments which focus on handheld foods which represent “North Amerciana”, I’m sure one can blame the escalating price of beef (Frank’s dogs are 100% beef) for the inflated prices but I’d lean more toward the social phenomenon which suggests that people will pay more for something trendy and an $8 hot dog sounds mighty trendy.  So, unless I’m watching R.A. Dickey throwing knuckleballs I’ll stick to street vendors.  Even better, maybe I’ll drive to Detroit and watch Verlander pitch on television and eat a Coney dog for every strikeout he gets…it would still be cheaper than a couple of dogs at Franks.

Fancy Franks Gourmet Hot Dogs on Urbanspoon

Disgraceland on Urbanspoon

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Bro, After Getting Me to the Greek in Nashville I had Happy Days at Arnold’s

The plan for day 3 was to hit a few diners, drive-ins and dives in Nashville.  The breakfast plan was Athens family restaurant which was the only DDD open for breakfast. Guy’s visit focused more on the traditional greek entrees but I find breakfast still gives you a good idea of a restaurant as a whole.

Upon arrival, it had all the hallmarks of a tradional greek diner:

1.  Blue and white decor in an otherwise sterile environment.

2.  An aged sign with character including missing letters on the letter board.

2. A moderately pleasant waitress with an accent.

3. A massive menu.

4. A spattering of regulars sucking back copious amounts of coffee while reading the newspaper.

5.  A reminder that Greece is not known for coffee.

 

Athens was featured on DNERS DRVE NS DIVES
Athens was featured on DNERS DRVE NS DIVES

Since we arrived prior to 10am, the choices were limited to breakfast which was a bit of blessing given the huge amount of choice.  The downside was an inability to try any of the traditional dishes that attracted Guy here in the first place.  That said, I believe the ability to execute a terrific breakfast is indicative of the rest of the menu, especially when ordering the Achilles’ (pardon the pun)  heel of many morning joints; eggs Benedict. Perfect poached eggs with tangy and creamy hollandaise atop ample meat is an art. My two daughters had a case of “I lack any sort of ambition prior to high noon”, so they opted for a simple breakfast special. None had a particularly exciting presentation but was reflective of the restaurant’s concept in general.  After all, not everybody garnishes their dishes at home with parsley sprigs or drizzled sauces in shape of the Parthenon.

The Eggs Benedict ($12) was delicious.  Nicely cooked poached eggs sat atop a thick slice of  in-house smoked ham. The Hollandaise sauce was delicate and flavorful.  I ordered it with fruit and was reminded that strawberries are delicious when they don’t have to travel clear across a continent to get to your table. It wasn’t the prettiest plate but was quite easy to devour.

Eggs Benny $12
Eggs Benny $12

My Take

Athens’ is stereotypical greek family restaurant. I can only comment on breakfast but it was a tasty way to start a day in Nashville.  The breakfast specials were a good value (around $6 each).  Predictably, the coffee was bad and food was good.  It lacks any significant vibe but they don’t claim they have one either. It’s a pleasant boring. Hmmmm…sounds like a Russell Brand movie.

Food: 4 Guyz

Service: 3.5 Guyz

Vibe: 3.5 Guyz

Total: 11/15 Guyz

 

Athens Family Restaurant on Urbanspoon

 

Afterwards, I embarked on a walking tour on the two most expensive universities in Tennessee. Vanderbilt tops $40000 per year while Belmont comes in a little under $30000.  Both campuses were beautiful.  They are also very big.  My daughters were less than impressed with the half marathon I brought them on.  The advantage was I was able to work up an appetite to tackle Arnold’s country kitchen, one of the most iconic eateries in Nashville. Promising one of the best “meat and three” meals in Tennessee, Arnold’s offers authentic southern food at decent prices.  Normally I attempt to avoid lunch rushes, but I didn’t want to test my luck against two mercurial teenage girls.  As expected, the place was packed. The diversity of patrons ranged  from young children to business professionals.   As I stood in line I noticed the James Beard medals and numerous celebrity endorsements which lined the walls.  Despite the length of the line, things moved quickly and we had food on our trays within 15 minutes. For me, it was roast beef, creamed corn, mac and cheese and turnip greens.  The girls split fried chicken, green salad, cole slaw and mac and cheese.  For dessert, we had spicy chocolate and strawberry pie respectively. With drinks (ice tea of course), the final tally was less than $30. To this my daughter’s comment was the fact that the entire meal was the same price as the plate of southern vegetables at Husk the night before. I see an economics major in somebody’s future.

What $30 gets you at Arnold's Country Kitchen.
What $30 gets you at Arnold’s Country Kitchen.

Simply put, this place is worth the hype.  Each component of the meal was among the best I’ve had. The roast beef was a perfect medium rare.  The mac and cheese and creamed corn were like a young hollywood starlet: rich but not overly heavy.  The bitterness of the tender  greens were evident but dulled by vibrant seasoning, creating a perfect balance.  The chocolate pie was divine; the bittersweet of the chocolate combined with the subtle heat of the peppers created a trinity of taste sensations more divine that of a French or Louisiana mirepoix. The girls’ fired chicken was equally fantastic.

Roast Beef, Mac and Cheese, Turnip Greens, Creamed Corn and Hot Pepper Chocolate Pie.
Roast Beef, Mac and Cheese, Turnip Greens, Creamed Corn and Hot Pepper Chocolate Pie.

My Take

There is always the fear that restaurants with as much hype as Arnold’s country kitchen will be a let down. From the first bite it was evident that the medals, endorsements and accolades were all well deserved. Tender roast beef, fried chicken that could easily be the envy of Colonel Sanders and his army of Kentuckians, delicious sides and incredible desserts highlight a simple and authentic southern menu.  I understand why they call it soul food…because eats like these hit some kind of sensory receptors on the soul itself.  I honestly pondered getting in line again for another round but after two university campus tours and a rather lengthy walk downtown, the anticipated angst of my two daughters outweighed my desire for a collective meat and six.

Taste: 5/5 Guyz

Service: 4/5 Guyz

Vibe-5/5 Guyz

Total : 14/15 Guyz

 

 

Arnold's Country Kitchen on Urbanspoon

The afternoon involved driving west down the music highway to Memphis but not before a stop at Bro’s Cajun cuisine on the way out.  It took me a few tries to find it.  Perched up a hill on Charlotte street, the best identifier is a white boat in a parking lot with the name of the restaurant written in red across the side.  After a small jaunt up the hill, I walked into the place.  The interior was a cross between a beach house, a bus station and a butcher shop.  We were quickly greeted by a trio of characters I later identified as the chef, the waitress and some dude who hangs out like Norm Peterson or a similar sitcom character.  We ordered takeout and had a seat at a table while waiting.  Norm started up a conversation which included but was not limited to “Where y’all from?” “Is it cold in Canada? I heard it’s nice up there!” and “Make sure you put a tack on the map board over there.” Shortly after he got scolded by the waitress for not doing anything to help  around the restaurant.  When I mentioned we were on our way to Memphis and asked what’s fun to do there, her response was “Well, I don’t know. I’ve never been to Memphis”.

I order a triad of Cajun mainstays; gumbo, rice and beans and jambalaya.  In all three dishes, the sausage was the dominant player.  Although this created a bit of monotony throughout the meal, in the end the dishes delivered on the promise of bold flavours. Since I haven’t been to Louisiana,  I can’t comment on the authenticity but I imagine given what I know about Cajun cooking it would safe to say it’s a true representation. The prices were fantastic and the portions were huge.

Gumbo ($5.25), Jambalaya   ($4.95) and Rice and Beans ($4.95)
Gumbo ($5.25), Jambalaya ($4.95) and Rice and Beans ($4.95)

My Take

For those who can’t make it to Louisiana, I’m confident that Bro’s would be an adequate fill-in for a Cajun craving.  The food is delicious although a little monotonous.  When you enter, you feel like family but maybe too much so as you thrown into a bit of a sitcom situation and can’t help wondering if there’s a camera running somewhere.  I mean, would it really be out of the question?  A Louisiana clan moves north to Tennessee to make it big in Music city by converting people from fried chicken to gumbo.  Maybe they would call it “Bro Goes Country” or “North of 35”.

Food: 4/5 Guyz

Service:3.5/5 Guyz

Vibe: 3.5/5 Guyz

Total: 11/15 Guyz

Bro's Cajun Cuisine on Urbanspoon

So, it was off to Memphis for a little Elvis, blues and more culinary quests, of course.