My AFC Divisional Round Cook-off: Tennessee vs Baltimore

In the case of this match-up, I think I was more excited about the cooking than I was about the actual game. Maybe Baltimore is not the most sought culinary destination in the US but it is famous for Old Bay spice and the iconic crab cake. It’s also home to Chap’s Pit Beef (the sandwich stop in the parking lot of an LGBTQ strip club) and Sip and Bite (the greek diner with some of the best feta cheese I’ve ever had) which rank number 8 and 13 on my DDD list respectively.

Nashville, on the other hand, is one of the more popular foodie stops which offers a blend of old school southern food outlets and chic eateries. I have had the pleasure of dining at Husk in the Sean Brock days and to this day Arnold’s Country Kitchen and its meat and three remains at the top on my list of all time Diners, Drive-ins and Dives.

Before getting into the showdown, a few comments about the game:

  1. I was surprised to see that Ryan Tannehill was only 31 so I can’t use my “Lamar Jackson got his ass kicked by his dad” joke…maybe more like his older brother although I often equate QB years to be more like dog vs human. I think it was important for Jackson to taste defeat so he can bounce back in a Patrick Mahomes vs RG III fashion. That said, it should be pointed out that Tannehill only threw for 88 yards with no picks whereas Jackson tossed for 365 but with 2 INTs so it’s hard to say that Ryan was the better QB in the end.
  2. I think the irony is the fact that Baltimore got beat by using the same blueprint that won them Superbowl XLVII…a moderately talented QB and good defense vs a flashy offence lead by a run/pass threat. Similar to this game, Flacco manged to avoid interceptions whereas Kapernick’s balanced offence numbers (including 62 rushing yards himself) was tainted by a pick and a sub 100 QB rating.
  3. Everything said, I can’t get excited about Tennessee. Sure, watching Henry run for almost 200 yards and average 6.5 per carry is somewhat exciting but I can’t help but remember every week of this year’s football pool when I cringed while being forced to choose a winner in any of the painful AFC South interdivisional game.

For the cook-off, I went with the aforementioned crab cake versus Nashville hot chicken. There are hundreds of crab cake concoctions out there but I opted for Andrew Zimmerman’s recipe which is definitely crab forward and uses saltine crackers as its binder. I did take the liberty of throwing in a pinch of Old Bay Seasoning for good measure. They fried up beautifully and really only need a bit of lemon as an accent.

My Tennessee choice was Nashville Hot Chicken, a signature item in many Tennessee eateries including Hattie B’s. Fried chicken is ubiquitous in the US but the uniqueness of this dish is the basting sauce which is a combination of fat, cayenne pepper and sugar. The result is extreme sweet/heat. I used a whole chicken which I cut into 8 pieces instead of quarters allowing for a reasonable frying time of 15 minutes or so. I tempered the heat with a tangy side of slaw, some homemade bread and some lakeside pickles which worked really well.

My Take

Unlike the game, when it came to the cook-off there was no clear winner . I mean choosing between a crab cake and fried chicken is a dubious task especially when the chosen recipes are spot on. Honestly, I think fried chicken holds it own without the Nashville cayenne/sugar topping and I guess I can handle a good crab cake without an aioli although I won’t omit the Old Bay seasoning under any circumstances.

I think Lamar Jackson needs an ass kicking to remind him he’s not quite prime time yet (6 of their games were against Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Cincinnati after all). Next year we will see whether he takes the path of Pat Mahomes or rides (or kneels) away in the sunset like Colin Kapernik. With Marcos Mariota in his prime, I wouldn’t be surprised if Ryan Tannehill ends up following in the footsteps of the likes of other past and present 30 plusers like Joe Flacco/Peyton Manning and Kirk Cousins/Brett Favre by joining a retirement team such as Denver or Minnesota.


My NFC Wild Card Cook-Off: Philadelphia vs. Seattle

I have had the privilege of visiting both of these American cities during my travels. From a triple DDD perspective, Philadelphia eateries (Honey’s Sit and Eat and Silk City Diner) are in my top 5 whereas my favorite Seattle spot (Voula’s Offshore Cafe) clocks in at a respectable 15th. Philadelphia also historically has a number of celebrity chefs outputs including Morimoto, Jose Garces and Eric Ripert. Seattle, of course, has the original Starbucks and the Pike Market which make it a very competitive culinary destination among many foodies whether Pearl Jam fans or otherwise.

From a pop culture perspective, I think an accurate way to illustrate the differences between these two cities are reflected by the shows “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” and “Frasier”… or in other words…rough and tumble versus plaid wearing pretension. This concept even extends to football; half of NFL watchers can’t even name the Eagles head coach whereas Pete “Peacock” Carroll struts around looking like an emaciated version of the most interesting man in the world.

Regarding the game, I think the writing was on the wall almost from the start. As soon as Carson Wentz went down early it was over. I mean, Philidelphia being forced to rely on long time and boring back-up QB Josh McCown to fill in as their potential savior was like adding Nick Tortelli to Frasier to increase ratings. A couple of additional observations:

  1. Pete Carroll is annoying. Watching him coach is like watching a teacher who should have retired 5 years ago trying to herd a group of whiny kindergarten children in from recess. I think if it was wasn’t for the professional nature and skill of Russell Wilson, Carroll would have been looking for a new gig years ago. To this day, he has continued to demonstrate the inability to harness clowns like Sherman and Lynch because all he needed to do was lean on guys like Wilson and Thomas to save his sorry ass.
  2. Philadelphia is one of the most boring teams in football. The only reason they were in the playoffs was because the rest of the NFC east is awful. I think you could even hear the announcer’s voices waiver when they tried to amplify the fortitude of the Eagles while clearly thinking they had no business being there in the first place.
  3. Two games at 17-9 within few weeks of each other? These teams should not be allowed to play each other again for a while if ever again.

For the cook-off, instead of a full menu, I focused on a street food battle for this match-up. Honestly, i was hoping to be able to steam up some clams to pay homage to the Seahawks but living in London, Ontario doesn’t give me the best access to fresh seafood. Instead, I focused on North America’s most ubiquitous street meat to represent Seattle..the hot dog. Allegedly, the concept stemmed from a rogue bagel vendor who thought slathering cream cheese (hopefully not Philadelphia brand of course because that would be weird) and fried onions on a hot dog would be a good idea. In this case, in addition to the cream cheese and onions, other acceptable toppings include jalapenos, sauerkraut and mustard. I opted for everything minus mustard for this battle.

I think when one thinks of Philadelphia street food, the cheese steak is a no brainer. What does require a bit of thought are the toppings. If one were to venture to Pat’s or Geno’s, “whiz” would be the cheese of choice but many hardcore cheese steak fans swear by more prestigious (or even real I suppose) cheeses such as provolone. To keep it cheesy, authentic and pedestrian, I used onions, peppers and whiz as my toppings. You still can’t go wrong…

Seattle Hot Dog vs Phili Cheese Steak

My Take

I’ve had many cheese steaks in my time including both Pat’s and Geno’s but I have never had a Seattle style hot dog as my time there was limited to DDD’s and the Pike market. Both are football worthy snacks accented by cheeses as questionable as Pete Carroll’s goal line decisions and Josh McCown’s playoff experience. As for the food, you can’t go wrong with meat (real or otherwise), cheese (real or otherwise) and onions (raw or cooked) on a bun…ever. I’d say the dog was better than I thought although I don’t think cream cheese will replace my tried and true toppings moving forward. As for the Philadelphia sandwich, whether whiz or provolone plus/minus peppers is your vice, it’s all covered beneath the cheese steak umbrella. The only thing cheesier than both sandwiches is Pete Carroll going Gangnam Style after every questionable call in his efforts to justify his over inflated reputation as a coach.

Review:Toronto:Downtown:Queen and Beaver Public House

When I think of a queen and a beaver, a few things come to mind:

1.  A nickel (they new scum of the earth currency since the penny disappeared).

2.  Something I saw on late night TV once.

3.  A cool English pub on Elm Street in downtown Toronto.

In North America, the word pub has evolved to mean ” a chain that serves stuff that once resembled English fare”.  Such establishments have popped up all over Ontario, promising fragrant curries and the best fish and chips in town wrapped in wax paper that looks like newspaper. The decor focuses on bar stools, big wooden bars, half a dozen “Drink Guinness” posters hanging beside the flashing Bud Light sign and your choice of three types of Johnnie Walker scotch.  A football is oval instead of round and Leafs nation rules.

So, it’s a bit refreshing to enter a pub with an allegiance to the motherland. The Queen and Beaver has a worn look, nestled among steak houses, Italian restaurants and a Firkin pub along Elm Street. The bottom floor is a humble dining room and a trip up the stairs brings you to a quaint area with a big screen tv, a long, threadbare bar and weary  chairs and chesterfields.  The choice of menu ranges from traditional bar snacks to larger plates featuring an array of almost every type of protein a limey would crave.

On this night, I climbed the stairs and sat at the bar.  An English football game was playing on the tele and I promptly ordered a cask ale, a rare finding in Toronto. Featured was an Arkell best bitter from the Wellington brewery in Guelph. I love a beer you have pull in order to pour.

For a starter, I ordered Wall Fish and marrow on toast for $11. The Wall fish, aka snails, were hidden beneath a sheath of arugula. Once removed, I had a feeling  of an 10 year old uncovering an army of gastropods after removing a log or bunch of vegetation.  The marrow offered a rich and salty accent similar to the garlic butter which drenches the escargot in the French dish. Delicious!

Wallfish and Marrow on Toast $11
Wallfish and Marrow on Toast $11

Wall Fish and Marrow on Toast Exposed
Wall Fish and Marrow on Toast Exposed

In the foodie world, you don’t discuss three things: politics, religion and burgers.  I’ve heard arguments erupt over which burger reigns supreme.  In many cases,  Marben vs Harbord Room enters the discussion.    A recent Burger Wars episode had a bunch of subway buskers crown Parts and Labour’s P and L burger  the champion by beating out the iconic Vatican from Burger’s Priest and the mercurial Dangerous Dan’s Coronary Burger. I humbly offer the Queen and Beaver’s hand chopped burger as a strong contender for the crown. Instead of the finally ground offerings of most burgers, this chunky patty allows for medium rare without contention and  was a thrill to eat, especially topped with aged cheddar and some english bacon and nestled in a sesame bun.  The side of fries were stellar and served with some homemade ketchup and a few pickled vegetables. It was also cool (yes cool is an acceptable term in England) that they ask about cheese and bacon without an addtional charge. It’s the little things.

Hand Chopped Burger and Chips $18
Hand Chopped Burger and Chips $18

The array of puddings were a spectrum of contemporary and classic.  Despite my strong affinity for the pineapple and marshmallows offered in the other desserts, I had to stick with the sticky toffee pudding.  I must admit, I had high expectations, especially after the burger and few pints.  It didn’t let me down.  It hit every note of the traditional pudding; spicy moist cake, rich sauce and ice cream to balance it all off.  The faint hint of treacle was evident in the sauce (which subsequently made me drive my car to the British store a few days later to buy a can).

Sticky Toffee Pudding $8
Sticky Toffee Pudding $8

Addendum: A couple of weeks after the initial visit I went back for some more pudding and a few bites of cheese (I subsequently bit the rest after taking the picture like Luis Suarez in a Chelsea game).  The Lord of Hundreds cheese was amazing and the Sticky Toffee pudding was as good as the first time.  I was rather touched to see the pudding served in the same bowl  my granny had years ago.  Although totally unintentional, it just added to my fondness for this place, despite the framed Ryan Giggs jersey hanging on the wall (this is coming from the mouth of a scouser).

Half-Eaten Lord of Hundreds Cheese $8
Half-Eaten Lord of Hundreds Cheese $8

Fully eaten Sticky Toffee Pudding in my Granny's bowl
Fully eaten Sticky Toffee Pudding in my Granny’s bowl

My Take

I wish there was some regulatory body which would regulate the use of the word “pub”.  Why not send Jeeves the Butler around with a checklist, ready to reprimand wannabees in a pretentious accent:

Lack of Neon Bud Signs….check

Cask Beer…check

Staff which a beer knowledge base greater than “Guiness is Irish”…check

Damn Good Food….check.

The Queen and Beaver would easily pass. Whether the name pays homage to Canada as a part of the commonwealth or if it’s a name intended to generate snickers from teenage boys and “Naked Gun” fans, it’s a classic pub in a city of replicas and imposters who count down the days to St. Patrick’s day in a feeble attempt to justify their authenticity….even if I have to look at a United jersey the whole time.

Queen and Beaver Public House on Urbanspoon