Doomie’s: Hollywood Lands in Toronto with the Samuel L. Jackson of Vegan Food

It’s stretch to say that Los Angeles and Toronto has too much in common.  Sure, because of a weak Canadian dollar and the continued escalation of TIFF to entertainment elitism, Toronto could be considered the Hollywood of Canada. In addition, Canada, in particular Toronto, have exported numerous television and movie commodities to the City of Angels.  Regarding  food, there have been hints of an affair between California and Toronto cuisine in the last couple of years.  First, there is California sandwiches, the very successful  Toronto sandwich chain which, come to think of it, seemingly has nothing to do with the Golden state.  Next there was Monticito, the Jonathan Waxman/Ivan Reitman partnership which fuses West Coast cuisine with science fiction comedies. The latest Cali spinoff in the Six is Doomie’s, the popular LA joint which didn’t have to claim a single animal product for inspection when crossing the border earlier this year.  Doomie’s, unlike some of the other vegetarian or vegan places in town, doesn’t claim that their products are healthy. In fact, they boast about not offering salads on the menu.  Instead, the theme centres around caloric-laden junk food including the flagship vegan Big Mac which mysteriously does not appear on the menu but is available (likely due to the carnivorous lawyers representing Ronald McDonald et al.).

It has a very modest storefront and a long narrow and equally modest interior.  There are a number of seats at the bar and since I was solo (and the fact there wasn’t an available table in sight), I was seated there.  The waitress was very pleasant and cordial and didn’t grill me about my normal food preferences.  She wore her heart on her sleeve; actually it was a tattoo which may or may not have been a heart.  I was driving so I stuck with pint-size pop but I was easier talked into the aforementioned sandwich.  I was also coaxed into a upgrade of the side of fries to nacho fries which came complete with fake meat, fake cheese and real vegetables….a combo which ran me $20. I was pleasantly surprised. I’m not sure if the picture does it justice but the burger was probably twice the size of a normal Big Mac. The fake meat was far from extraordinary but the combination of ingredients (especially in the cheese sauce but keep in mind I have a strong affinity for fake cheese) certainly gave you that Big Mac feeling. It was like completing a chemistry lesson and then eating it. It was as messy too…on numerous occasions I felt like a two year old trying to eat that thing. The fries were those crispy coated ones but the added toppings made for a delicious side. I was lucky to get through half the offering.

doomies
The Doomie’s Big Mac with Extreme Nacho Fries $20

My Take

I’m sure there is a laundry list of reasons why people choose to become vegan which may include the following:

  1. A recognition that meat production and consumption destroys the carbon footprint quicker than a Nascar race.
  2. Bambi is cute.
  3. Their satiety comes from peace in the soul as opposed to peace on the tongue.
  4. It’s the easiest way to fit into a size 0 set of Lulus.
  5. A past, existing of fear of a future health scare.
  6. In the case of a guy, he wants to get laid.

Doomie’s could address most of these (except 4 and maybe 5) but I saw 6 first hand when the guy beside me openly admitted he only came to impress his girl who came all the way from Kincardine to try the fare.  Bravo buddy!

My experience at Doomie’s taught me a couple of things.  First, vegan food does not always have to served with a side of political strife or judgement.  A carnivorous fat dude can walk into this place and actually be encouraged to add fake sour cream to their fries.  Second, there is a market for this stuff.  It was 5 when I went and the place was packed and at $20 a for a burger platter the profits can roll in.  Maybe I’ll jump on the entrepreneurial bandwagon and open a PETA pit and use my son’s chemistry kit to dream up dairy products that don’t taste like shit.

In Hollywood terms, Doomie’s would be like a Samuel L. Jackson movie (even the name sounds like a movie he could star in..and you can add a $20 burger to the $5 milkshake).  It’s nasty, filthy and sometimes a bit confusing but makes a tonne of money in the theatre.  This would be in direct contrast to the numerous Meryl Streep movies which get critical acclaim and win awards but are sleepy and boring and nobody other than Hollywood gives a shit.  Once again, maybe my concept would work.  The PETA pit could offer middle of the road food with a little edge and some odd humour. I wonder if Jason Bateman is around?

Doomie's Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Fring’s: Let’s Just Say I Wasn’t Yelling HYFR Afterwards

Susur Lee has continued to expand his mini empire by securing the old Crush wine bar space.  Instead of opening another Asian-themed eatery, he has teamed up with entertainment icon and fellow sixite Drake to try and bring high end comfort food to the city’s streets.

I’m not sure why this new enterprise has been named Fring’s.  I’m pretty sure it has nothing to do with Torsten Frings, the German midfileder who played 33 games and scoring 2 goals with the Toronto FC only to retire after requiring surgery and returning to Europe to coach in his home country.  Perhaps it’s an homage to the trademarked side available at Harvey’s, Canada’s own fast food restaurant.  A combination of about 3 onion rings and six or so fries, it is the ideal accompaniment for the indecisive.  Maybe it’s the name is a term coined by Champagne Papi to describe the merging of two fundamental components of Drake’s brand, friends and bling, into one happy milieu.

The decor is also a milieu; in this case a trendy industrial style mixed with a cheesy VIP lounge.  Brick walls and wooden window panels combined with fuzzy if not hairy lounge seats with marble tables means both a downtown ambiance and  a nightclub aura.

After being seated, we were greeted by our waiter. The slick hair, glasses and demeanor screamed hipster but I questioned his authenticity as he was trying way to hard.  Like most other restaurants, he gave us the recited speech explaining the proper process for ordering off a sharing menu.  His entire demeanor seemed scripted as well, especially when we heard him deliver the exact same speech, in exactly the same way, to the table beside us.

I’ll admit part of the reason I came here was to have the ability to report back to my daughter who is a massive Drake fan.  So, it goes without saying that my first question to the waiter was “What would Drake drink?”.  He quickly answered that his the pop icon’s favorite drink was the Tom Skudra ($18), a rum based cocktail with a mix of juices, mint and raspberries. I’ve taken to doing google searches on cocktail names and found that Tom Skudra was a Canadian photojournalist who passed in 2007  and best known for TV series called Programme X in 1970. That said, the drink also went along with the ongoing joke that, whether I try or not, I usually end up ordering the girliest looking  which is usually pink (mostly the result of my affinity for Campari) and this was no exception.  Unlike a Campari drink, however, it was exceptionally sweet and somewhat resembled a daiquiri. I was left wondering whether the waiter was lying through his teeth or Drake has a reeeealllll sweet side I don’t know about.

frings drink
Tom Skudra $14

Nothing says comfort food like toast so what better to start with than some homemade ricotta with jalapeno plum jam and pomegranate ($10). It was presented nicely and in Susur fashion, was an explosive blend of flavours and textures.

frings ricotta
Ricotta Toast $10

Next was the steak tartare ($20).  I was expecting a bit more of the aforementioned taste and flavour explosion but it fell a little flat.  The presentation, usually rather extravagant  on a plate that anything to do with Chef Lee, was uninspiring.  Plus, if they put egg on the octopus dish; why not a little on the tartare!

frings tartare
Steak Tartare $20

The southern spicy maple fried chicken ($26) seems all the rave by reviewers across the board but then again, any fried chicken seems to be.  Some will argue that the art of perfecting this comfort food is an intricate as a souffle while others say it’s pretty freaking hard to mess it up since it involves deep frying something.  I adhere to the latter.  I’ve made a few batches in my day and although some have been better than others, none have really been bad.  There was nothing wrong with the chicken at all.  It was crispy on the outside, moist and the middle and adequately seasoned. The sauce was good as well.   All I’m saying is I can get a bucket of KFC with 8 pieces, popcorn chicken, fries, gravy and two salads for about the same price.  Am I saying that KFC is a good as Susur’s fried fowl?  Not at all.  I’m just trying to point out that I might expect a little more for $26.

frings chicken
Southern Spicy Maple Fried Chicken $26

I find a burger an excellent benchmark of a restaurant.  The burger is a canvas for creativity, the variations are endless and the price point can range from a few dollars to a few hundred.  The Susur burger, served with JK fries, comes in at a hefty $24, which is more than other iconic burgers in the city including Richmond station ($21), Marben ($19) and Harbord Room ($19) and wasn’t anyway close to as good.

frings burger
Susur Burger with JK Fries $24

At this point, I begged the waiter for a drink a little more manly than the Tom Skudra  and preferably not as pink.  He suggested the Waste Man ($18), a cocktail with brandy, chamomile bitters and peach.  Although one might expect it to be sleepy (get it?..chamomile) this was a good strong drink more reflective of the 6God’s brand.

frings drink2
Waste Man $18

 

For dessert, I went with the waiter’s recommendation for the overpriced warm plum tart served with creme fraiche and almonds ($14). It was a bit chic and a bit homey, both of which aligned with the general theme of the place but otherwise was average and contained a whole lot of pastry and not enough plum.

frings dessert
Plum Tart $14

My Take

From a pop culture perspective, the marriage of Drake and Susur Lee makes perfect sense.   Much like Chef Lee’s fusion cooking, bringing two variant entities together often results in spawn which are both unique and exciting. Unfortunately, this was not the case with Fring’s.  Instead of being an innovator, it seems like Chef Lee is following trends which include cheese topped toasts , burgers  and comfort foods like fried chicken.  Not only are they average from a taste and presentation perspective, they are astronomically priced. The cocktails, steak tartare, fried chicken and burger are at least $4-5 higher than similar drinks and dishes at comparable Toronto eateries. The service was robotic.

In the end, I just expected two of the most innovative minds in Toronto to dream up something a little more exciting.  The cocktail list is overly fruity and juicy and the drinks have boring names.  I mean, any Drake song would make a cool cocktail name.  Take “Teach U a Lesson”‘ “Worst Behavior” (come Drake..you’re Canadian…add a u) and “Star67″ for example . The food is uninspired.”Big Rings” would be like a great side to a burger that can be bigger, better and cheaper.  Even some “Pound Cake” for dessert would work. There’s no tellin’ what the future holds for Fring’s but it’s too expensive and may get boring really fast. After all, I sure as hell didn’t leave yelling HYFR down King street after I left.

Fring's Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Bareburger: A Haven for Hipbillys and Hippysters Alike

There was a degree of fanfare with the opening of Bareburger, the small New York based chain which offers organic and healthier options to the slew of greasy options which fill the streets of every town and city in North America. One of those cities is now Toronto, more specifically the intersection of Bay and Dundas.

The theme is hipster meets hippy meets hillbilly.  The hipster is the fact that there are usually line-ups at mealtimes and the staff is a mix of lumbersexuals, plastic spectacle wearing stylists and guys with man buns as big as those on the burgers. The hippy is the zen focus on clean eating such as vegetarian and vegan burgers, organic pasture-raised, no hormone meats, non-GMO/pesticide free produce and fair trade purchasing practices to appease the moral consciousness of the anti-capitalists.  The hillbilly comes from unique meat choices including duck, wild boar, bison and elk along with the use of recycled barns and wood for the roof and floor respectively no to mention the bear heads (although not real) hanging on the wall.

The drink list offers a select list of microbrews, wines and spirits but what be more unique are the non-alcoholic drinks such as homemade unsweetened ice teas and 10 different sodas including a traditional cola and not so traditional blueberry .  I was on the clock so I opted for the white peach ice tea ($3.25) served a glass which looked like a billboard for clean eating. It was quite refreshing.

White Peach Ice Tea ($3.25)
White Peach Ice Tea ($3.25)

I started with a jar of spicy pickles which is supposedly a 100 year old family recipe.  They had great spice and flavour and were served in the quintessential  hillbilly/hispter glassware…the mason jar.

The burgers are the main event but Bareburgers offers other sandwiches and salads as well.  You have the choice of building your own or trusting the chefs who have devised 14 different choices using a variety of meat, buns and toppings.  I opted for the blue elk ($13.65) which was elk topped with elk, amish blue, back bacon, stout onions and tomato fig jam all served on a sprout bun.  The meat was cooked perfectly but the taste was hidden a little by the intense flavour of the jam and the bun.  All in all, it was a good burger and clearly unique from most of the others in the area and despite the richness of some of the ingredients, didn’t leave that gross feeling in my stomach despite the side of fries and onion rings ($5.70) which I split with my table mate who also ordered the buttermilk buffalo ($10.90).  It was buffalo fried chicken, amish blue, buttermilk ranch, green leaf and a brioche bun. I snuck a piece and was thoroughly impressed.The sauce was not your typical frank’s red.  It was much deeper in flavour.  The chicken itself was moist and delicious and complemented well with the cheese and sauce. The fries were quite good and the rings were among some of the best I’ve had; crispy and well seasoned versus greasy and salty.  Special mention goes to the Sir Kensington’s ketchup available at the table which was much fresher than the Heinz which typically graces the tables of every other burger joint in town.

Blue Elk Burger ($13.85) and Spicy Pickles ($3.85)
Blue Elk Burger ($13.65) and Spicy Pickles ($3.85)
Buttermilk Buffalo ($10.90) and Side Fries/Rings ($5.70)
Buttermilk Buffalo ($10.90) and Side Fries/Rings ($5.70)
Cooked to a Sweet Medium
Cooked to a Sweet Medium

My Take

What do you call a hillybilly, hipster and hippy all in one?  A hillster? Hipbilly? Hiphilly? Hippyster?  Regardless, Bareburger would make any combination of the three feel at home.  The rustic decor, organic meat choices and man buns would appeal to all of their desires at the same time.  I’m not sure if it is the best burger I’ve ever had but it is certainly one of the more unique.  The meat was cooked beautifully and the toppings, although a bit overwhelming resulted in one of the more unique burgers I’ve had, probably because it relied on fresh ingredients instead of grease and salt as the primary means of flavour.  The chicken sandwich was a step above many (I’d put that shit on everything), especially those which usually play second fiddle in a typical burger joint.  The fries held their own (especially with Sir Kensington’s help) and the rings were divine. When all is said and done a burger, fries and drink will run you $20 which can buy you a whole lotta karma, a cocktail at a hipster haven or an official duck commander quack pack duck call so I’ll let you decide.

Bareburger on Urbanspoon

Korean Cowboy: Fried Spaghetti Westerns and a Mad Hatter Menu

Cowboys have always been a focal point in pop culture.   Bon Jovi is a cowboy…on a steel horse he rides.   Paula Cole asked us where have all the cowboys gone? after she does all the laundry.  Jon Favreau reminded us why Olivia Wilde should stick to television and Daniel Craig to James Bond when he directed Cowboys and Aliens (which only received 44% on rotten tomatoes).  Whether you watch American Idol or read Louis L’Amour, the cowboy is one of the quintessential symbols of Americana.

Korea on the other hand, elicits another series of thoughts and feelings.  Political pundits will cite the lovable Ban Ki-Moon of South Korea or the infamous Kim Jong-un of  the North.  Youtube junkies have hummed and danced to  Psy’s Gangnam Style behind closed doors since 2012.  Foodies hear Korean and think about  bibimbap, bulgogi and hot pots.

So, when thinking of a Korean Cowboy, any number of images come to mind. One may think of Glenn Rhee swapping out his ball cap for a Stetson in the Walking Dead or the purposely annoying Ken Jeong following the gang to the Alamo in the Hangover 15.  Regardless, I suspect the vision of such a cowboy would be more in line with wackiness and fun as opposed to a cameo in a somber scene from the Unforgiven. When looking at the rather insane offerings at Korean Cowboy in advance, I was reminded of the phrase mad hatter which originated from the overt symptoms hatters use to exhibit due to mercury poisoning from the felt used inside of hats and wondered if this menu was a side effect. However, when the website explained  that Koreans are fun people who enjoy lots of booze, fun food and general goofiness,  I figured the menu was a reflection of the fact that this establishment promised  a forum for all three.

Located on Yonge just north of Eglinton, Korean Cowboy had an exciting buzz from the minute I entered. I was greeted by a bubbly waitress and seated at a table with a good view of televisions and saloon-like surroundings. The bar was reminiscent of a scene from an old spaghetti western and offered craft beer, soju and a decent rail of spirits.   The name of the restaurant is painted across mirrors situated behind the shelved booze.  Speaking of spaghetti, I was intrigued by the first of many anju dishes available on the menu; fried spaghetti.  Anju, as I learned from the website, is a generic term given to snacks which are usually served and  enjoyed in the presence of alcohol. This fried spaghetti was not the traditional throw leftovers it in a pan and heat up type.  It was fried in its dry state, creating an odd but intriguing nibble.  For a buck, you can’t go wrong.

Fried Spaghetti $1
Fried Spaghetti $1

It was a Wednesday which happened to be oyster night, meaning you could get a dozen for $12. Instead of the traditional hot sauce and horseradish, they were served with a carousel of unique toppings which included among others Korean tabasco, chili vinegar, sesame, coffee and soju.  Each put a fun and unique spin on eating a plate full of the molluscs. The coffee was probably the most unique and the chili vinegar was one of the best.

Oyster Condiments
Oyster Condiments
Wednesday Night Oysters  12/$12
Wednesday Night Oysters 12/$12

There are no apologies on the menu for the lack of fine food.  Instead, the menu items looked like the product of an episode of Chopped held in a dorm room.  Take the hot dog stir fry ($3.99)for example.  The simple combination of chopped wieners, vegetables and a ketchup sauce result in a dish you want to hate but can’t. It’s tangy and sweet and something you would crave on a street corner after a few pints and allow you to go to bed confident that you’d wake up fine the next morning.

Hot Dog Stir Fry $3.99
Hot Dog Stir Fry $3.99

The cheesy spicy rice cakes were a cross between laffy taffy and ball game nachos with that repulsive yet delicious spicy cheese sauce. The chewy rice cakes may not appeal to everybody, but as a guy who loves tapioca and any kind of pudding I found the texture oddly appealing especially when hidden among the nostalgic stadium flavours. This dish was a home run.

Cheesy Spicy Rice Cakes $5.99
Cheesy Spicy Rice Cakes $5.99

The steamed bun burger ($3.99) was a decent attempt at this classic Asian snack.  The Korean spiced beef sat nicely in the white folded bun riddled with black sesame seeds.  Green onions and cucumbers finished it off. It was messy, wonder bread fun.

BBQ Beef Buns $3.99
BBQ Beef Bun $3.99

Strategies to get kids to eat vegetables usually involves dousing them in cheese, sauce and/or butter.  This is usually the case with brussel sprouts and broccoli but Korean Cowboy does it with corn.  It tasted like one of Gramma’s casseroles before anybody gave a shit about butter or fat.   It was ridiculously but regretfully good, much like a vat of movie popcorn or a slice of greasy, deep dish pizza.

Skillet Corn $5.99
Skillet Corn $5.99

I’m always interested in a good taco so I ordered one of each of the korean beef, spicy pork and chicken.  Each was filled with a cabbage salad and the aforementioned meats in a rather large flour tortilla.  They were decent but in a city in which tacos have become a foodie staple, they fell a little short.  The shell was too much and swallowed instead of housing the taste of the proteins.  Retrospectively, I should have ordered ssam (lettuce wraps) instead to allow the filling to shine a little more.

Tacos $10.99 for 3
Tacos $10.99 for 3

The wings were also a bit disappointing.  They were “cooked the Korean way” and bathed in your choice of a number of sauces. After the anju, I expected a wing with a compilation of crunch, succulent sweet and sinister spice. They weren’t as crunchy nor sweet or spicy enough.  They had the texture of a M and M breaded wing that had been baked in the oven for 20 minutes. The fries were fresh cut and tasted especially good when dipped  in the hot dog or rice cake sauce.

K-wings and Fries $14.99
K-wings and Fries $14.99

My Take

Korean cowboy is a playful addition to mid-town Toronto dining.  Whether it is the decent choice of craft beer, a glass of soju or a variety of anju, malarkey ensues the minute you sit down.  The food is a mix of dorm room creations and campfire provisions developed through the delirium of a culinary mad hatter who wants to fuse Korean fare with edible Americana. The tacos and wings were average.  Despite the fact I tore through a good part of the menu, there are still things like sawdust chicken,G-PO (file fish), kimchi fries and squid and pear salad not to mention a number of pork dishes including mocha pork belly and the King Koink platter.  Maybe next time I visit I’ll throw on a mercury-free fedora and hum Kid Rock’s “I’m a cowboy baby….I can smell a pig from a mile away” as I strut up Yonge street and sniff the air.

Korean Cowboy on Urbanspoon

The P & L Burger: Recognizing Big Boy as the Original Hipster

Parts and Labour’s offspring, P &L burger, was in part due to its performance on Burger Wars, in which it beat out rivals Burger’s Priest and Dangerous Dan’s to claim supremacy.  It opened its doors recently near Queen and Spadina, only a few doors down from Burger’s Priest and in an  area with an ever increasing number of fast/snack food options. Upon entry, I was greeted by a young lady with modern enthusiasm who quickly took my order. Fifteen minutes later, almost to the second, my number was called and I proceeded to the counter.  The cook was as cool as his facial hair and engaged me in a very pleasant conversation about the weather, cycling and growing up in Windsor, Ontario…a far cry from the less than enjoyable service I often receive from other places in the area.

Let’s do a quick historical recount of the evolution of the burger culture in the United States. It would be hard to argue that the Big Mac is not one of the most iconic and recognizable food on earth.  In fact, economic models use the cost of a Big Mac to standardize the state of the economy across the globe.  The brilliance of the Big Mac lies partially in the use of a secret sauce to add some tanginess to the other layers of flavours one would associate with a burger.  The Big Mac was “invented” by a Pittsburgh franchisee in 1967 who developed it to compete with the Big Boy (developed circa 1937), the flagship burger of the restaurant of the same name. The Big Boy is a three layered burger, served on a sesame bun with all the fixings including a special sauce (sound familiar?).  Once a presence throughout the United States, Big Boy still exists although primarily within the state lines of Michigan although a few still exist in Ohio and California.

What struck me the minute I tried the deluxe was the fact that I was eating a hipster Big Mac. It had most of the components with an extra emphasis on the the huge beef patty, which was cooked a juicy medium-well.  The P&L sauce was an excellent condiment and resembled the special sauce that made the Big Mac famous.  The cheese was melted nicely and crispy bacon pieces lined the thick patty.  It was a big, sloppy and delicious mess.  Consuming it did make me wonder why too many other burger places haven’t made an effort to mimic one of America’s favorite and most recognizable foodstuffs.  As far as the sides, I found the fries rather soggy and the slaw unappealing in both colour and taste.

The Deluxe $9
The Deluxe $9 (aka The Hipster Big Mac)

 

Somewhat Soggy Fries
Somewhat Soggy Fries (plus $3 with drink)

 

P & L Slaw
P & L Slaw ($3)

My Take

Not only did Big Boy invent the saucy burger, I argue they invented the hipster.  I mean, look at the mascot:

1. He wears checkered clothing.

2. He has a clean side part and a a flip in the front.

3. He is wearing light blue shoes.

4. He has that “I’m cool because I’m about to eat a burger” look on his face.

Big Boy- The Original Hipster
Big Boy- The Original Hipster

Now McDonald’s stole the Big Mac concept but  alienated the hipster concept and instead introduced Ronald McDonald in 1963.  The famous clown (which apparently has 96% recognition in the USA), was created by Willard Scott (yes…the same Willard Scott who gained fame as a Today show weatherman).  Since then, there have been eight actors who have portrayed the famous clown and none of them have worn, plaid, plastic rimmed glasses or parted their hair to the side.

Willard Scott as the original Ronald McDonald- This would be enough to make me a vegetarian
Willard Scott as the original Ronald McDonald- This would be enough to make me a vegetarian

P&L has created a DELICIOUS burger which competes for the best under $10 in Toronto.  The sauce is the key, adding a tangy cut through the richness of the thick beef patty and accompanying melted Amercian cheese and bacon.  The bun is terrific and the condiments are as harmonious as the Big Mac song itself.  The fries were soggy and the slaw was unremarkable.  You’re likely in for about a 15 minute wait but I think it’s worth it (after all some people in Toronto have no issue waiting hours for a stool tucked in the corner of a popular snack bar). Now that I’ve read a bit about burger history I realize that in fact the classic sandwich is the perfect food for the modern day hipster; you can dress like Big Boy and act like a clown.

 

The P & L Burger on Urbanspoon

 

 

Review:Toronto:You Gotta Eat Here:Dr. Laffa

The recent surge in food with a middle eastern flare is evident. Shawarma stands and restaurants have popped up all over Ontario.  I don’t doubt that at some point a Shawma Wars show will appear on  CMT beside the battles between burgers, pizza and tacos. Until then. the battle for the best shawrma has to be left to the likes of  numerous Toronto blogs and celebrities like John Catucci.

So, when I was peckish for a pita, Dr. Laffa seemed a logical choice.  Although located in an industrial area around Dufferin and Lawrence (actually there is a second location on Bathurst located across from Harold the Jewelry Buyer of commercial fame), it is a bustling joint even on a Sunday. Dr. Laffa has been featured on You Gotta Eat Here and has been crowned with the title of Toronto’s best shawrma by BlogTo a few years back.

Upon entry, I was surrounded by smiling waitstaff and seated in the back corner.  I got there just prior to the lunch rush and narrowly avoided the arrival of a large birthday party which filled half of the seats in the modestly sized interior. The menu gives a loose description of the restaurant’s concept which essentially equates laffa bread with manna from heaven itself.  Baked fresh to order, It’s sort of a cross between pita and naan bread.  It is available with hummus orders as well as an option for any of the sandwiches.

Laffa Bread
Laffa Bread

We were immediately treated with a spread of condiments which included pickles, cabbage, corn salad and carrots.  My favourite was the cabbage although they were all pretty tasty.

Dr. Laffa "Starters"
Dr. Laffa “Starters”

Ordering turned out to be quite the ordeal.  The word “shawarma” on a menu can imply a number of different things.  Both myself and my daughter are fans but we both have an aversion for lamb.  I inquired into the content of the shawarma and after great deliberation by numerous members of the waitstaff, I was told it contained both lamb and chicken and it appeared there was no way to change this fact.  Both of us called an audible and ordered the falafel and chicken shish kabob sandwiches respectively.  I decided to break the bank and go for the laffa whereas my daughter played it safe with the pita.

I started with the hummus masabaha (chickpeas and tahini).  It was a rather large portion served with one piece of laffa.  Creamier than most, it had a mild, pleasant flavour.  If you like an earthy, garlicky dip you may be a bit disappointed.   Be prepared to be left with a whole lot of hummus as well since the amount of bread is not nearly enough.

Hummus
Hummus Masabaha $7.99

I decided to take a stroll to the counter to check out the open kitchen.  It was at this point I realized that a chicken shawarma was possible (I had initially assumed that the lamb and chicken was stacked on the same stick).  I explained to the guy that we were told otherwise and asked if we can  switch.  He looked at me rather perplexed but reluctantly agreed….or so I thought.  Back at the table, I updated the waitress.  Sure enough, out come the kabab laffa with the explanation “well, it wasn’t in the computer and he didn’t know which one to switch”.  There was no offer to remedy.  Furthermore, she didn’t order the laffa to begin with! She was stuck with a laffa instead of a pita (for an extra $3 a pop for chicken laffa I’ll add). I would have almost forgiven the whole ordeal if the sandwich would have been mind blowing. The plaque on the wall boasting Dr. Laffa’s commitment to the importance of pickled turnips, hummus and hot sauce as a key component of a shawarma was  misleading because what was sitting in front of us was a sloppy mess of hummus-laden lettuce and huge chunks of onion overpowering the chicken and falafel.  Although the chicken wasn’t dry and the falafel was moist and nicely seasoned, the sourness of the pickle and heat of the sauce were near absent.

Falafel on Laffa $5.99
Falafel on Laffa $5.99

My son ordered fries for $4.99. They were fresh cut and ample ketchup was available so he was happy.

Fries $4.99
Fries $4.99

At this point the birthday party had pretty much arrived and we were left stranded for a while.  Eventually, we were asked if we wanted to take the sandwiches home and the waitress carefully wrapped them table side which was a nice touch. After another lengthy wait we were given the bill and navigated our way out.

My Take

Despite the dismal dining conditions that exist in London Ontario, there are many great middle eastern choices. I can grab a decent shawarma on almost every corner. If Dr. Laffa is the best shawarma in Toronto, then London wins hands down.   I don’t expect Michelin star service in places like this but I get rather annoyed when simple things go wrong.  The ability to provide a simple chicken shawarma on a pita to a 13 year old does not seem like an impossible feat but proved to be so on this day.  It lacked the fundamental elements of a good sandwich that I though would be automatic in a place raved about on You Gotta Eat Here and Blogto.  My falafel was decent but not heads and tails above others I have had. Some patrons have commented that the laffa should not be a dollar and a half  to three dollars more than the pita but I suspect it is bigger  in general given the amount of filling necessary to stuff the plate-sized bread (this is a theory  I never got to test out since I never got a pita to compare it to). Otherwise, the hummus was good and the starting “treats” were a nice touch.    Despite everything, the place was packed, so there appears to be no shortage of fans.   In the end, I went to the doctor but I didn’t leave laffing.

Dr. Laffa Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Review:Toronto:Roncesvalles:Barque

After walking up and down Roncesvalles during a festival, I looked at my phone and realized it was close to five.  Knowing that Barque opened then and they hold a percentage of the place for walk-ins, I grabbed the kids and trekked to the front doors. I felt like I was trying to get a wristband for the MMVAs.  It did change my assumption that the only people who eat at 5 pm are kids and senior citizens. I broke a mild sweat as the place  gradually filled.  When it got to my turn, I mustered up my request. She looked apologetic and informed me that the only seats left were those at the bar facing the kitchen.  I couldn’t stifle the smile and said  “Done!” as we were directed to our seats.

The decor strays  from the traditional smokehouse and resembles something you would expect in the west end of Toronto. I was a bit relieved to see a number of children peppered throughout the smallish venue and on the decent sized patio out back. As soon as we were seated, the show began.One of the sous chefs wheeled out about 150 lbs of brisket and methodically prepared it for the smoker.  He pulled out a chunk of brisket and infused each with a large syringe filled with some magic elixir and transferred it to a tray.  He looked like a cross between Bruce Lee and Dr. Frankenstein.  Upon completion, he set the smoker at 175F and threw it in. I was surprised at the low temperature and it made me think I could have thrown a brisket on my porch last week with this summer weather and had the same result.

Oddly enough, they feature four or five beer from the McAuslan line which is a bit of an oddity considering the possibilities in the GTA alone.  Nonetheless, it’s a decent brewery to hang your hat on and I started with a pale ale.

The menu features standard starters and mains but also a number of sampler options, so there is a bit a science to ensuring you get the right amount of food. I was rather intrigued by the Barque plate, which is sample of some unique dishes made each evening.  On this day, it was a tagliatelle with bison meatballs, fried calamari, pulled pork tacos and crostini.  The highlight was the pasta. The rest was decent.   Ok…I confess, I didn’t inform the kids of the bison until afterwards  but they found the dish delicious.

Barque Sampler $16
Barque Plate $16

Next I opted for the Barque Sampler for 2 and chose ribs, brisket and sausage as the mains with caesar salad, slaw and fries as the sides. The brisket was the highlight, a testament to the meticulous process we witnessed earlier. It was crazy tender and seasoned well.  I’ll give props to the remainder of the platter as well. The ribs were well seasoned and the sausages were not dried out and had a good flavour. The asian slaw (which does not look like it’s on the menu anymore) was delicious.  I left  the caesar salad to my son who reported it was good although the bacon “tasted kind of different” perhaps because it’s not my standard practice to serve candied bacon at home.  My daughter’s report on the fries were a resounding thumbs up although she’s not a fan of dipping sauces in general.

Barque Sampler for 2 $35
Barque Sampler for 2 $35 (with 3 sides)
Fries with Aioli
Fries with Aioli
Asian Slaw
Asian Slaw

I have a hard time turning down smoked chicken (both from a taste and having to have the serving staff reassure me that pink chicken is cooked perspective) and this night was no exception. This time I went with the cuban corn and pickles  as the sides.  The chicken was smoky and tender and the corn, although a little overcooked, was spiced nicely. A decent array of pickles were presented which included beets, asparagus, cucumber, cauliflower and onion.I think pickles are a smart side to add a little acid and crunch to an otherwise rich and chewy meal.

Smoked Chicken and Cuban Corn $19
Smoked Chicken and Cuban Corn $19
Side of Pickles
Side of Pickles

Some smokehouses pride themselves on an array of sauces but Barque less so.  There are two offered in a ramekin with a sauce brush. One was a standard tangy red BBQ sauce and one a carolina style mustard sauce.  I found both tasty although I sort of forgot about them in the midst of everything else.

The dessert menu featured a few southern inspired sweets fused with a little Toronto trendiness. The key lime cheesecake was surprising light and laced with a subtle amount of cardamom that worked well. The mango was a bit irrelevant but added some nice colour. The gelato, coupled with a couple of homemade cookies, looked with a nouveau, deconstructed Neapolitan but with cappuccino replacing the chocolate.  I hated chocolate ice cream as a kid, so a dead give away of my freezer mischief was a container of Neapolitan with only the strawberry and vanilla missing. I was often caught pink and white handed.

Key Lime Cheesecake $9
Key Lime Cheesecake $9
Barque Gelato and Cookies $9
Barque and Gelato Cookies $9

My Take

Barque has succeeded in bringing the smokehouse into the Roncesvalles realm. It appeals to atmosphere seeking hipsters as much as it does those who crave carnivorous  delight.  The price point is decent although if you fall prey to the numerous choices, it can push up the final bill rather quickly. The highlight  is clearly the brisket (which was outstanding), followed by the ribs and chicken which would compete in any neighbourhood cook-off.  There’s the token fish and vegetarian dishes for the pescas and vegans respectively. The  barque plate (4 small bites for $16) is a smart idea but hinges on the creativity of the chef on a given night and on this night it was a bit boring.  I’ll give an A for the tagliatelle, a B for the pork belly tacos and maybe a C for the squid and crostini. The single line beer (McAuslan) is a bit confusing given the array of options that would fit with a smokehouse. There is ample wine and a few cocktails which, like Barque itself, are inspired not only by the south but by Toronto itself. There are a lot of smarts about the place including sampling platters to taste either the signatures or the daily inspirations of the chef  or the Sunday night feature which reintroduces the concept of sharing family style. In the end, Barque is a chic smokehouse with Toronto flair serving among many things candied bacon that may not meet the standards of a 10 year old pork traditionalist.

Barque Smokehouse on Urbanspoon