Ironic eating as I Tip my Chapeau to the Big Ham (aka Le Gros Jambon)

I love breakfast places.  I don’t mean places that serve an array of croissants, scones and in-house baked goods.  I’m referring to a place that serves hardcore, greasy spoon type petit dejeuner  which push beyond the boundaries of eggs and bacon.  I was on a recent trip to Montreal and during one of the boring sessions I was watching I started to flip through urbanspoon and yelp looking for an escape from the monotony of the day.  I narrowed down the list before consulting with my buddy who lived  in town about where to go.  When he mentioned Le Gros Jambon, I quickly agreed and was on my way.  The website didn’t rock my world  by any stretch.  It’s simply a freckled-face kid drinking a glass of milk with a link to a menu.  However, it has  great reviews and it was close so it made sense.

I enjoyed the Sunday morning walk through Old Montreal.  A mosaic of pedestrians littered the street.  After dodging clueless cell phone users and many spaced out shutterbugs, I arrived at the doors of this breakfast and lunch nook.  It was bustling with people cramming in and slipping out but I managed to weasel my way in the front door.  There were a couple of stools at the counter, so I was seated immediately.  A look around told me this was my kind of place.  It was set up like a 50’s soda shop that had been remade by somebody with a basement full of nostalgia including  posters, retro advertisements  and a mosiac of  licence plates.   Within a minute a pleasant waitress with no bias against anglophones came over and poured me a decaf. I gandered at the menu, skipped the burgers and sandwiches and went right to brunch.  There were typical items like eggs Benedict and french toast as well as trendy  items like huveros  rancheros and fried chicken and waffles.  In particular, I was interested in the mushroom toast which was described as “creamy mushroom sauce with smoked meat, two fried eggs served on toasted rye” which sounded perfect given it sounded like a nasty mess inspired by local flare. By sitting at the counter facing the open kitchen, I got to watch the meticulous and fluid construction of this interesting dish. First, the jalapeno-potato hash brown thing was dropped in the oil.  Next, the eggs were cracked onto the flat top.  The smoked meat and rye bread joined the party.  Then, within seconds of each other, the bread, meat, egg and mushroom gravy were piled precisely on the  pig shaped plate along with the aforementioned potato and a side of baked beans.  It wasn’t the prettiest dish on earth but my taste buds didn’t care. Although a tad more gravy would have been sloppy fun , it was delicious.

Mushroom Toast $12
Mushroom Toast $12

My Take

When it comes to breakfast, I’m in for either a cheap diner-style spread or something a little more creative and unique.  Le Gros Jambon is the latter.   Instead of  sipping French press coffee and biting  into flaky pastries, devouring the mushroom toast with pictures of  Mickey Mouse and a creepy freckled kid watching over me along the cobblestone streets of Old Montreal was as ironic as not eating a stitch of pork off a pig-shaped plate in a place named “big ham”.  More so, the service was not at all pretentious, busting  apart any stereotypes an anglophone in Montreal might have. In fact, it was as genuine as Mabel at the Streamside Diner speaking of her cat’s latest adventure with a ball or yarn or stories of her daughter’s success as the local hairdresser.

In the end, le Gros Jambon is a destination for foodies and which was built by smart culinary minds and those with a knack for interior design inspired by an outdated man cave.  It’s has a  busy, yet pleasant vibe complete with the ability to watch the cooks construct plate after plate in a melodic and methodological manner. For that I tip my chapeau to the big cheese, or maybe in this case, the big ham.

 

Le Gros Jambon on Urbanspoon

Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives: I Met a Hottie at Dottie’s

I must confess that I didn’t do a lot of research prior to showing up at Dottie’s true blue cafe . Knowing it was a triple D and within walking distance of my hotel in San Francisco, I took a quick look at the menu and thought it was a typical breakfast/lunch cafe known for corn bread and jalapeno jelly.  My first hint that I had misjudged things is when I showed up at 9:15 on Thursday and there was a line.  I figured what the hell, I stood in line at State Bird Provisions the night before for 45 minutes with great results, so a short wait for breakfast in another odd neighbourhood couldn’t be that bad, even among the numerous schizophrenic homeless people who walked by looking to teach me a life lesson.   Since I was single, I managed to skip in front of 4 or 5 waiting couples and get a seat along the rail in less than 10 minutes. I felt pretty lucky having secured a second spot with a kitchen view in 2 days.

Rail view of kitchen
Rail view of kitchen

Shorty after, the seat became me became vacant and a woman I recognized from the line outside was seated beside me.  It was clear she was a regular when half the restaurant said hi to her when she sat down.  We quickly engaged in a conversation and I was able to get the following facts out of her:

  • The busy cook was the owner. He didn’t look like a Dottie.
  • The only time you can avoid a line is if you come during the week before 9 am.  If you come on it weekend, count on it being a day trip.
  • The old style brick walls at Dottie’s are somewhat unique to San Francisco and were not damaged during the 1989 earthquake.  I guess the three little pigs fable did have some scientific merit.
  • Dottie’s is known for it’s excellent baked goods (see sign below).  I was told that a gentleman comes in every morning and makes them in-house.  She pointed to a counter beside the kitchen where one could get any of the delightful treats to go.

The menu is large, especially when you consider the fact there is a blackboard full of daily specials including specialty sandwiches, frittatas, omelettes, french toast etc.  With all the temptation, I stuck to my general triple D philosophy which inlcudes trying their signature item/dish coupled with something I really like.  In this case, it was the louisiana hot link wth eggs served any style showcasing the grilled chili-cheddar corn bread and homefries with the jalapeno jelly of course.

It is very easy to destroy corn bread  and this was probably the best I’ve had including restaurants in Tennessee.  The jalapeno jelly was food crack (just to clarify..this was the hottie I met at Dottie’s and the not the aforementioned regular who was sweet but not my type).  Even the homefries rivaled some of the nest I’ve had.  They were tender and seasoned beautifully as also gave me a reason to use more jalapeno jelly.  The sausage was middle of the pack but didn’t impair my enjoyment of the dish as a whole. Some of the best breakfasts I’ve had have been from recommendations of Guy Fieri. Dottie’s is right up there with the likes of Lucky’s cafe in Cleveland and Honey’s Sit and Eat in Philadelphia.

Louisiana Hot Link with eggs any style $9.50
Louisiana Hot Link with eggs any style $9.50 served with chili-cheddar corn bread and jalapeno jelly

Following such a delicious breakfast, my eyes averted to the baked goods.  I already knew a jar of jelly was coming home with me so I supplemented it with a coconut chocolate chip muffin ($3) and a Dottie’s peanut butter bar($5) as a snack for the hotel room later. They were neatly wrapped in foil grandma-style which made me think of Dottie since it’s such a grandma name.  When taking pictures of these beasts, I put a fork beside them just  to demonstrate just how big they were.  Tastewise, they were delicious. The muffin was moist and abundent with coconut and the tasty base of the bar was covered in  with marshmallows and just the right amount of buttescotch chips.  I was thinking of inviting the whole floor over since I would have had enough for all of them.

Dottie's Chipotle Pepper Jelly $9
Dottie’s Chipotle Pepper Jelly $9..a buck an ounce…cheaper than crack.
Coconut Chocolate Muffin $3
Coconut Chocolate Muffin $3
Peanut Butter bar $5
Dottie’s Peanut Butter bar $5

My Take

I think the foundation of a successful breakfast/lunch spot is to offer a normal menu and jazz it up with either a signature item/dish, amazing baked goods  and/or a day to day menu highlighting whimsical ideas by the chef based on available ingredients.  Dottie’s does all three.  The corn bread and jelly was phemonemal, the baked goods sublime and the board was “chalked” full of inventive dishes. San Francsicans love their lines, but they also love their food. The service was as friendly as the diners who frequent the place. The vibe was busy, fun and friendly. Based on past breakfast expereinces, I was convinced I would name my next pet Lucky or Honey but after eating here I may need to put the name Dottie in the mix as well.

Food: 5/5 Guyz

Service: 4/5 Guyz

Vibe: 4.5/5 Guyz

Total: 13.5/15 Guyz

For a complete list of my favorite diners, drive-ins and dives, please click this link:

https://fareeatales.com/2012/12/22/diners-drives-ins-and-divesthe-list/
Dottie's True Blue Cafe on Urbanspoon

Review:Toronto:Little Italy/Portugal Village:The Guild

Guild is a cool and near forgotten word in the English language. It was once a medieval term used  to describe a a pseudo-union of artisan specialists who unified to protect their trade. Secrecy was a prominent component  necessary to protect things like unique trade secrets.  Since then, the word has become a bit dormant. Today, we do see it used in Hollywood. The Screen Actor’s Guild, a group formed in the 1930s to combat deplorable working conditions in the film industry and  has now evolved to over 105000 thousand numbers when it merged to form SAG-AFTRA a few years back. The modern quilt guild (MQG)  is another organization which uses this term. With over 150 worldwide chapters devoted  to the art of making quilts, it appears to be a bit more than it seems.  A  quick check of their blog (http://themodernquiltguild.wordpress.com/) shows members sporting bad ass tattoos and racy pictures from the Quiltcon conference’s 80’s night. It  makes you think they might do more than make pretty blankets. Needless to say, I was intrigued when a somewhat secretive restaurant aptly named “The Guild” opened its doors recent in the Dundas/Davenport area. I guess my question was “Would this eatery be like every other trendy restaurant or might it have some unique attributes like cool menu items you could only consume  if you executed a secret handshake that you learned  from a MQG creation? Let’s start with the set.  It’s a large space with a window front which opens to the street and an open kitchen in the back.  There are centrepieces on the solid wood tables, funky hippie murals painted on the walls and shiny gold ceilings. Think of it as Casino Royale  meets Austin Power’s shag pad.  There is a large bar stocking all sorts of sinful potables. There is an abundant drink list with everything from the standards (eg. old-fashioned) to funkier choices (e.g. cider sours) to non-alcoholic shakes made from almond milk. The cider sour was a special drink they made for a private function the week before and it stayed on the secret menu.  It was tasty although I would have liked it a little more sour.  The shake was refreshing as well; a good example of a grown-up non-alcoholic cocktail other than a virgin daiquiri.

Cider Sour and Chocolate Mint Almond MIlk Shake
Cider Sour and Chocolate Mint Almond Milk Shake

The staff seem to be made up of SAG actors themselves,  sporting nice coifs and good looks.  They knew their lines as well, reciting the menu with expertise and confidence. In fact, my waiter looked like Zachary Quinto.  Even the kitchen staff look the part, wearing mechanic uniforms in the garage-like open kitchen and moving fluidly while adding pinches of salt during food preparation. There is a bit of secrecy around the menu.  The website posts a sample menu but it changes frequently given the availability of local ingredients. The bits and bites menu is like a series of movie trailers.  It offers a morsel of entertainment instead of a whole dish  for just a couple of bucks. guild menu bits I opted for a trailer trio; the white cheddar croquette, the guanciale wrapped cherries and rabbit haunches (a secret menu item available to members of the guild).  The cherry was a delectable little treat and the croquette was ok. The rabbit, which I equate to a dark meat version of a chicken wing, was spiced nicely and cooked well.

Bits and Bites $2
Bits and Bites $2

With the trailers consumed, it was time for feature presentation: guild menu main . The beet salad was kind of like Scream 5… pretty predictable.  Despite the use of the trendy sous vide cooking method , it was a nicely dressed but still a standard salad.

Beet Salad $7
Beet Salad $7

The local mushrooms, pine nut puree and egg emulsion was like a remake of a classic flick. It was a twist on a classic mushroom omelette except it was deconstructed so that the mushroom was the prominent ingredient. It was a pleasant starter as it strongly resembled  the taste of the original it was based on.

Local mushrooms, pine put puree and egg emulsion-$9
Local mushrooms, pine put puree and egg emulsion-$9

Unfortunately, the octopus was sold out (kind of like trying to get a ticket for a marvel comic film on opening night), so I opted for the quail and scallop dish.  It was a tale of two proteins.  The scallops were cooked wonderfully and seasoned well.  The quail, on the other hand, was overcooked and rather dry. I’d equate it to seeing a movie with a great and no so great actor (eg. any Lethal Weapon, Good Will Hunting  or Rush Hour).

Quail and Scallops $19
Quail and Scallops $19

I’m always intrigued as to whether or not a place with a small menu can accommodate various food requirements including vegetarian options.  In this case, a “not on the menu” gnocchi with a tomato sauce was the offering.  Like the beet salad, it was fairly routine and fairly predictable but tasty nonetheless.

Not on the menu gnocchi $16
Not on the menu gnocchi $16

The dessert menu offers a half dozen reasonable priced options.  I opted for the bruleed fennel, rum kumquat ice cream and coffee panna cotta.  I expected the brulee to be a fennel flavored custard, but instead it was a knife and fork requiring  caramelized piece of fennel . The apple and chocolate accompaniments were perfect although the kumquat was a bit odd.  The oddity of the kumquat continued in its matching with the rum in the main flavouring of the ice cream which in itself had  a great texture. The coffee panna cotta had an intense, almost overwhelming flavour that was somewhat offset by the condensed milk  ice cream.  The hazelnut crumble was pretty chewy and a bit too sticky, making for difficult eating from a dental perspective.

Bruleed Fennel $6
Bruleed Fennel $6
Rum Kumquat Ice Cream $3
Rum Kumquat Ice Cream $3
Coffee Panna Cotta $6
Coffee Panna Cotta $6

My Take The Guild follows most of the rules, but offers some uniqueness in the bits and bites and relatively inexpensive dessert menu.  There is a good, diverse cocktail menu and the decor is funky and current.  In general, the food is predictable and gets one thumb up and one thumb down. It’s still early in production, but I can see the potential of this place.  Fixing the simple problems, removing their infatuation of kumquats and promoting their uniqueness will no doubt make me a guild member moving forward. Speaking of guilds…I think I’ll approach SAG with an idea.  I’m going to propose a spinoff called “Daughters of Anarchy” starring Charlize Theron.  The premise is that the MQG is no doubt a secret organization with the intention of sending messages on behalf of  the Illuminati via the fabrication of Hello Kitty and Holly Hobbie  quilts.  In episode one, Toronto calls on the Cleveland MQG chapter to complete the patch over of rival quilters the Sassy Scarborough Stitchers, lead by Mabel MacKinnon (played by Betty White). After succeeding, the group is on “pins and needles” and must devise a “cover-up” to stay out of the limelight. Then again, maybe I’ll just stick to stuffing my face and blogging about it. The Guild on Urbanspoon

Review:Toronto:Leslieville:Lady Marmalade

Hey hipster, go hipster, soul hipster, go hipster
Hey hipster, go hipster, soul hipster, go hipster

He went Marmalade down in old Leslieville
Struttin’ his stuff on the street
She said, “Hello, gimme some  Joe
And maybe an order of french toast”

Mmm, fruity fruity ya ya da da
Coulis coulis  ya ya here
Mocha latte  ya ya
Here at  Lady Marmalade

Voulez-vous manger avec moi, ce soir?
Voulez-vous manger avec moi?

He savored his coffee whch she freshed up
Cuz he couldn’t get a beer or wine.
On the formica table tops where
He started to eat.

Tofu tofu ya ya da da
Lots of veggies options here
All day breakfast ya ya
Here at  Lady Marmalade

Voulez-vous manger avec moi, ce soir?
Voulez-vous manger avec moi?

Seeing the hollandiase sauce silky smooth
Along with a cafe au lait
One bite of the eggs bennie inside
Makes you wanna cry, “More, more, more”

It’s only open from 8 to 4
And 8 to 3 weekends (and holidays)
But when he sits down to eat
He wants to order more, more, more

Mexi mexi ya ya  da da da
Tortita-gordita ya ya here
Six dollar smoothies ya ya
at the trendy Lady Marmalade.

Voulez-vous manger avec moi, ce soir?
Voulez-vous manger avec moi?
Voulez-vous manger avec moi, ce soir?
Voulez-vous manger avec moi?

Annoying annoying  ya ya da da da
Cash only ya ya here
No reservations either ya ya
Here at Lady Marmalade

Tomato and Basil Eggs Bennie with Potatoes and Salad
Tomato and Basil Eggs Bennie with Potatoes and Salad
Tortita-Gordita Dandwich with Soup
Tortita-Gordita sandwich with Soup

Translation

Pros– One of the best eggs bennie going. I think the hollandaise  sauce has nicotine or something addictive in it because on occasion  i wake up wanting it injected in my veins.  Great menu with lots of veggie options. Food is fresh and environment is buzzy and fun.

Cons– Cash only and no reservations and the whole party has to be there seat policy. Blah, blah, blah. Ugly walls. Hardy Boys (I was partial to Nancy Drew).

Lady Marmalade on Urbanspoon