Ghost Hunters: Five Doors North and why Chris De Burgh Might be Wrong

Ghost hunters has been a show that has been on the air since 2004. Hosted by paranormal experts Jason Hawes and Grant Wilson who are two plumbers who set out to find things more ghastly than clogged sewer pipes.  They have filmed over 200 episodes of the show and have had a number of guest hosts with a calibre that rivals that of Dancing with the Stars including professional wrestlers Kofi Kingston (of New Day Fame), the Miz and CM punk, sci-fi idols and Canadians Colin Ferguson and Amanda Tapping and music umm…superstar Meatloaf.

I don’t claim to be an expert in area of ghosts but I’ve wondered why, with the technology available to us today, we can’t get a better picture or recording of some of our friends from beyond the grave.  I mean, google earth can take a picture of my licence plate from space so would think we could snap a clear picture of at least one ghost.  Beats headphones can pick up Kenny G breathing on a quarter rest during Silhouette but we can’t get an audible account of Father Gus and his unfortunate demise in a church fire.

Anybody with kids know they like to jump on various things to the point of obsession.  Both my youngest son and daughter got a little ghost crazy over the summer.  For my son, it was youtube ghost stories whereas my daughter was keen to explore haunted relics in the hopes of getting spooked by something more than a Tuesday night horror movie with her friends at the theatre.  So on the way down to Allentown to see some family over the summer, I decided to make a pit stop at Andy Gavin’s pub  in Scranton, PA.  According to stories, a resident ghost named George periodically reeks some fun havoc on the place by flipping the lights off and flushing the toilets.

I had some nachos, wings and a few cheap pints of Miller Lite.  The latter was probably the most ghastly thing I experienced that afternoon but for $2.50, I couldn’t complain.  My kids swore they may have heard some high pitched screaming upstairs so I’ll let them believe what they want.

 

From there we proceeded down the road to the Houdini museum which is also rumoured to be haunted. It was quite enjoyable;a makeshift shrine complete with a live show by Dorothy Dietrich who, often called the female Houdini, did the Jinxed Bullet Catch Stunt which was the act that Houdini backed away from.  It is also filled with paraphernalia including posters and pictures honouring the famed escape artist.

Recently, I needed a location to meet a customer outside the downtown core  with good Italian food and ample parking. Based on the reviews,  Five Doors North seemed a good choice.  It is a well established Italian eatery located on Yonge street between Davisville and Eglington.  Although the website is quite primitive, they do take online reservations so I promptly booked a table.

In keeping with the ghost hunter theme, I’m not sure if the true origin of the restaurant’s name. I mean, it could be the fact that it is north of the city and there are five coloured doors on the restaurant’s facade but I think it may actually be a code for a  map to a ghastly burial ground five doors south.

Both the interior and exterior decor is quirky but casual.  There are tiled floors, wooden tables with glass tops protecting random pictures and foodie magazine covers (very reminiscent of the Houdini museum and the first clue that something was amiss) and brick walls showing blackboards containing the day’s specials.  It has a cozy aura and comes without the automatic pretension of some of the downtown enotecas such as  Terroni and Pizza Libretto.

Both the wine and food menus are handwritten on a standard 8.5 x 11 sheet of white paper.  The wine choice was not extensive but offered some off the cuff choices that seemed to fit the casual, quirky theme of the restaurant. We opted for a I Muri Primitivo for a respectable $45 which I thought was a fun  and rather preternatural wine to drink.

The menu is a bit all over the place, offering traditional  Italian dishes as well as a few less orthodox choices like ribs with matchstick potatoes.  Every night they feature a long and short pasta as well.  On this evening, I went with the former which was a pasta primavera which was a perfect al dente, heavy on the garlic and not overly greasy.   For the main, I ordered the branzino special which was served with a hodgepodge of vegetables including a paranormal corn, asparagus, lima beans and a red pepper puree. Although  I found the combination a bit aberrant, the fish was nicely prepared and it worked.  I also ordered the green salad which was very green and even a little purple.

five salad
Green Salad $5
five pasta
Pasta Primavera $9.95
five fish
Branzino $28.95

Despite the pleasant service, funky wine and good food, I had  a vibe that something was amiss beyond the funkiness of the place .  I brushed it off until I went to the washroom.  I did my business and went to wash my hands in the small sink.  I looked in the mirror and an apparition appeared.  At first I was shocked. She was blond and wore red so I immediately dubbed her the “lady in red”. When I got my wits back, I reached for my phone in the hopes I could snap a picture, worried that the quality of my camera was too good to snap a picture of a ghost since the only pictures ever captured have been grainy pictures in bad light. That said,  as demonstrated by my blog posts,  I’m often criticized that I have no understanding of basics of photography such as focusing,  lighting or positioning  so I thought it would be ok.  Although my hands were trembling, I managed to secure the shot.  I tried asking her what she wanted but all she did was smile.  She was holding something white.  At first I thought it was a cloud or a ghost baby but a closer inspection showed me it was Cottonelle toilet paper.   Between her smile and the silent promise of soft hygienic products I was almost lured into the cottony abyss but I managed to break the spell and quickly escape the chasm of temptation which was the men’s washroom.  I returned to my seat likely as red in the face as her shirt and asked for the bill.

five ghost
The Lady in Red

My Take

Ghost hunters has been on the air since 2004 and has hundreds if not thousands of followers.  I have a science background and have always been taught to adhere to an evidence based model which means there should be sufficient and  irrefutable proof that a concept is true before I believe it.  I’ll be honest, despite my children’s insistence that they heard screaming at Andy Gavin’s, I was reluctant to believe.  My experience at Five Doors North may have changed that.  I think I will email the show and maybe they can ask  Bear Grylls to co-host and demonstrate some urban paranormal survival skills.

Until then, if you are looking for an Italian eatery outside of the downtown core with a funky environment, decent menu and friendly family service you should consider  Five Doors North.  If you’re walking, however, hit the audio record button on your cell as you approach (let’s say around 5 doors away)  in the event you can detect some electronic voice phenomenon.  One last word of advice, despite the words of Chris Issak, beware the lady in red.

 

Disclaimer:  I do not believe that the woman in the mirror was an apparition. Although odd, I’m quite sure it was advertisement in which a young, happy woman watched me urinate and then offered me some soft toilet paper. The author of this blog does not accept responsibility for consequences of eating at this restaurant including but not limited to hauntings, garlic breath or leaving really full.  

Five Doors North Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Review:Toronto:George

The name George has been able to withstand the test of time.   A popular name in the first half of the 20th century, it has still remained popular post world war II and even in the last 5 years, at a time in which names like Apple, Bacon, North and Wisdom reign the headlines. Even William and Kate named the future aire to the British Throne George (although I am convinced Elizabeth will live to 200 and shut out three generations of potentials kings).

There have been a number of influential and important George’s in history:

  • George Washington was the first president of the United States of America.
  • George Orwell was one of the most prolific writers of the 20th century.
  • George Carlin was a visionary in stand-up comedy.
  • George Harrison was a Beatle.
  • George was the star of a short lived early 70’s series about a loveable St. Bernard.
  • George Lucas created Star Wars.

Even in the world of food, the name has been synonymous with success:

  • George Washington Carver was considered a pioneer in the development of a number of food related products.
  • George Weston became one of the most successful food entrepreneurs in Canadian history.
  • George Foreman turned starving students into gourmet chefs.

So, any restaurant that calls itself  George has some big boots, or pans to fill.  First, it doesn’t hurt that it has a number of awards and accolades from Zagat, open table and numerous Toronto magazines.   Second, chef Lorenzo Loseto uses words like “émigré traditions” in his bio on the about page of the website, so it’s gotta be good.

I had two opportunities to eat there in the span of a couple of weeks.  The first was a small planning dinner and second was a group dinner with about 30 people. I apologize in advance for the qualities of the pics during the group dinner.  The use of flash photography is not recommended when somebody is doing trying to explain the nuances of bone metabolism.

As far as drinks go, George has a fantastic wine list with a heavy focus on France and Italy.  In particular, they had a special  feature in which 4 unique Beaujolais wines were offered by the glass.  In addition, they offer a number of artisanal and traditional cocktails.  I opted for the George and Tonic.  It was served with a cute side bottle of Fever Tree tonic water (a premium UK brand which beat’s the hell out of Schwepp’s). The main flavours were grapefruit and lemongrass.  In fact, it was recommended that I chomp on the lemongrass after each sip to enhance the taste of the gin.  Although I felt a bit like a panda bear, it was one of the better gin and tonics I have had.

George and Tonic $9 (Half Size)
George and Tonic $9 (Half Size)

I would define the waitstaff as modestly pretentious which doesn’t surprise me given the clientele and vibe of the restaurant itself.  The waiter we had the first night seemed quite impatient and unimpressed by our speed in ordering and remained stonefaced throughout the evening. Even the  bartender and hostess on night one seemed to be trying hard to fit the mold of a George Segal sculpture. The service for the group dinner was much better.

George Segal's The Diner (and some waitstaff)
George Segal’s The Diner (which is eerily to  some of the waitstaff at George)

At both dinners I had a starter salad. The first was a spring mix with grilled peaches.  I chose this since it was the beginning of season and I don’t think anything beats a fresh Ontario peach.  The dressing was abundant (maybe too abundant)  and had a distinct acidity.  Although the pine nuts were abundant, I was a bit disappointed to only find two small peach slices amongst the jungle of greens on the plate, The boccachini cheese was also scarce but didn’t make much sense in the salad to begin with.

George Salad $10
George Salad $10

The second salad had the same greens, the same dressing but this time had avocado and quinoa. Although it was a little heavy on the ginger, the taste and texture of each component blended to create a surprisingly hearty starter (no pic).

The first plate courses included the soft shell crab with watermelon and avocado quinoa and black cod with a cashew crust and roasted beets.  Each were executed well. The crab maintained it’s moisture but I thought the coating was pretty average. There is a notion right now that watermelon goes with everything but I’m not sure it worked on this plate.  It was sweet on sweet, so the dish just didn’t have enough contrast.

Soft Shell Crab $24
Soft Shell Crab $24

The black cod, on the other hand, was divine.  The fish itself could not have been cooked better. It had a delicate, buttery taste that was complemented by the nuttiness of the cashews.  The roasted beets contained enough earthiness to offset the sweetness so the dish worked well.

Black Cod (bad pic) Part of Group Meal
Black Cod (bad pic) Part of Group Meal

Mains included the wild boar with almond potato croquettes and veg plus beef tenderloin with mushrooms and sweet potatoes.  The boar was incredible.  It was grilled to the perfect doneness and was served on a bed of fantastic vegetables which included pearled carrots and some tender legumes.  I was like inhaling and swallowing the savannah winds themselves. If necessary, I would have wrestled a lion  over this chop but would have been happy with the vegetables in the event he won.

Wild Boar $29
Wild Boar $29

The tenderloin was pretty standard, complemented with mushroom and sweet potato.  The meat was not nearly as succulent as the cod or boar but it was a noble attempt in an effort to feed 30 people at once. It had a subtle anise or fennel flavour in the vegetables which, depending on your taste, could be a good or bad thing.

Beef Tenderloin (really bad pic). Part of group dinner
Beef Tenderloin (really bad pic). Part of group dinner

Desserts were a coconut custard and blueberry cheesecake.  Although the custard was beautifully presented, it wasn’t as mind blowing as it looked.  It’s sort of like that guy or girl you like to look at until they open their mouth and start talking.  I could say the same about the cheesecake.  I just didn’t want to lick either one all over when all was said and done.

Coconut Custard
Coconut Custard $14
Blueberry Cheesecake (Group Dinner)
Blueberry Cheesecake (Group Dinner)

My Take

One might suggest that George could be a namesake for a number of famous Georges, past or present.  The innovative food preparation techniques and drink menu is reminiscent of a modern day George Washington Carver.  The lovely appearance of each dish  could be synonymous with the face of George Clooney.  On that note, even the prettiest stars don’t always make great movies.  The black cod and the boar were like the descendants, the Ides of March, Three Kings  or even Dusk Till Dawn (yes, I love that movie), while the tenderloin and the desserts are a bit more like  Out of Sight, Spy Kids 3: Game Over, Solaris or Return of the Killer Tomatoes.   The salads were like Batman and Robin, decent but nowhere near  the best in the series.

George is current  and innovative and understands the importance of visually appealing food. The dishes look like Georges Seurat paintings. However, some of the waitstaff are as friendly as Georges St. Pierre during a pre-match weigh-in.   Like a stunning work of art, an MMA pay per view fight or a good movie, you want to get what you pay for.  If you follow their suggestions and go with the tasting menu or the three courses, plus dessert and a cocktail or glass of wine, your George Costanza wallet better be stuffed because it will run you over $100, but you will be treated to at least one or two memorable and stunning  dishes, both from a visual and taste perspective. So pony up because after all….

“There is no sincerer love than the love of food”

George Bernard Shaw- Man and Superman (1903)

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