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

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Sky Blue Sky: I’d Rather Hang out with Wilco Instead of Jared Any Day.

I was looking for a lunch spot and remember stumbling across Sky Blue Sky in my travels.  All I knew is that they supposedly had good sandwiches and made an appearance on You Gotta Eat Here.  I’ve been to quite a few restaurants dedicated to members of pop culture.  For example, I’ve been to Lisa Marie in Toronto (Lisa Marie Presley) and Marlowe’s Ribs and restaurant in Memphis (her sorta famous dad).  I’ve dined at  Montecito in Toronto (Ivan Reitman’s tribute to himself) and sipped on cocktails named after Seinfeld characters at Thoroughbred,  but I’ve never been to a place which has paid tribute to the American rock band Wilco.  I’m not talking a poster or album cover hanging on the wall kind of dedication; I mean every sandwich and even the name of the place itself seems to be a WIlco song or album name.

With two locations, I strolled into the one on College Street.  After taking a flight of stairs to get inside, I entered a very modest abode which resembled a deli.  Red and white checked tablecloths covered the spattering of tables and hints of pop cultures stuck on the walls.

The menu is simple.  There are a couple of daily soups and a whole lot of sandwiches including a nice selection of vegetarian ones.  I opted for the split pea with ham($3) and the “Dreamer in my Dreams”($6), described as “slices of roast beef topped with onions cooked in red wine vinegar, banana peppers, slices of tomato and some cheddar cheese.  We put this dream on our spicy jack bread with some mustard and mayonnaise and serve it to you well toasted.”  The soup was well seasoned and had an enjoyable spicy bite at the end. The sandwich arrived in paper sporting the same red and white design.  By well toasted they meant a trip to the panini press.  The bread was delicious and housed a good proportion of fillings.  The cheese was melted nicely and the red wine vinegar, despite it subtly, shone through nicely.

Split pea soup $3
Split pea soup $3
Dream of my Dreams $6
Dreamer in my Dreams $6

As  I was waiting, I saw an older gentleman hobble up the stairs.  He was greeted like Norm from cheers when he walked in.  Soon a student dropped in and got the same treatment.  The two guys working there were friendly, engaging and respectful. There was a sign reminding patrons that Styrofoam soup bowls are recyclable so please use the appropriate bin.   You pay on the way out and not when you order.  You are asked to grab whatever drink you want out of the cooler and leave it to you to let them know. That’s the mentality I like in a place.  Many establishments have forgotten the fact that if you treat customers with respect, they will give it right back to you.  As the for bill, my math might be off on the individual items because my soup, sandwich and Perrier came to a mere $10.54.

My Take

In a world trodden with Subway, Quizno’s, burger joints and overpriced business lunches a simple sandwich shop like Sky Blue Sky has appeal.  It was a bit of a hippy mentality without the flower power, tie dye or Joe Cocker.  Instead, the same “love not war” cordial nature was replaced by good food, a friendly environment and numerous tributes to Wilco. The staff are delightful and well…not Jared.  To paint another picture Sky Blue Sky may not be for everybody (maybe it’s not where all the cool foodies go), but like Wilco, has found success through loyal followers (I guess a couple of Grammy wins doesn’t hurt either).  Plus, I’d almost hang out there just to hear the neighbourhood priest come in andd confidently order a “Hell is Chrome” or maybe an old lady from the area (who would likely be a regular) come in and proclaim”I must be high!”  Either way, I think they’d get a good sandwich.

Sky Blue Sky Sandwich Co. on Urbanspoon

 

From Hippy to Hipster: The Rules Haven’t Changed

I remember listening to the song “Signs” by Five Man Electrical Band (and later Tesla) when growing up.  It speaks of the tribulations of a hippie trying to get a job or into a country club without a membership card. It was a scream at the state of society in the early 70s and reminds me of what it’s like trying to enjoy a meal in a restaurant in 2012.

 The rules have changed in food service and establishments since the Five Man Electrical Band but remain as outdated as they were back then. Currently, establishments will have you believe that their rules are not  an expression of pretension but in fact a matter of improving efficiency and adhering to good business practices. I call bull shit. Here are the some of the most ridiculous rules in food service today:

1.  No Reservations with No Regret

I question any establishment who informs me that at this time “we regret at this time we are unable to accept reservations”.  Open Table provides online reservations for over  25 000 restaurants across North America.  Each one of these restaurants is “able” to accept reservations. Last time I checked the combination of a phone number, a hostess and a paper calendar is another way to ensure that people reserve a seat.  I commend any restaurant whose success warrants an exclusion from the need to make a reservation, but it doesn’t help when meeting friends you haven’t seen in years or trying to impress a girlfriend, spouse or customer.  “Hey, honey, I knew you’d enjoy standing in line for 45 minutes for the privilege of eating here” sounds much more romantic rolling of the tongue  than “I knew you’d like this place so I made a reservation a month ago to make sure we could get in”.

As an example, the Mandarin, one of the busiest buffet restaurants in Ontario, willingly takes reservations although they don’t really need  to so you don’t have to leave Gramma standing in the front door waiting for her chicken balls.  

2.  “As a result of our policy, we won’t seat you until your entire party has arrived”. 

I’m puzzled by this one.  I recently went to a restaurant where I was  footing  the bill for 9 people who were in various meeting during the day.  I made a reservation (see it works!), let everybody know  and was informed at the door, despite 8 of the 9 of us arriving,  that we would not be seated until the whole party showed.  I suppose I understand the fact that it makes much more sense to clog the doorway with people waiting to eat than just sitting them down and letting them start on overpriced cocktails and appetizers.  I guess I could of loaded up the clown car and have us all roll in at the same time so as not to create any inconvenience for the restaurant.

3. “We can’t give you separate bills”

I challenge anybody to ask the poor waiter or waitress the reason for this policy.  I guarantee you will be 25 different answers ranging from “It’s just our policy” to “our system doesn’t allow us to separate the bills”. I can’t argue with the first one since the answer is so clear and logical. Policy is policy. The second is amusing.  I mean, you have a system that allows you to hit a computer screen with your finger and spit out a ticket to tell the kitchen that you want a medium well burger with extra pickle, no mayo and onion rings instead of fries but it can’t split a bill.  You are also suggesting that your system is unable to take a $180 bill among  6 people and split it evenly. I’m sure any ten-year old has this same question on a math test and can figure out using a  Texas Instruments calculator.

4.  Cash Only

I understand that credit card companies are greedy, money-grubbing scum but they’re damn convenient.  They let you spend what you want on a meal without having to do the calculations in your head based on the money in your pocket.  I’d hate to skip out on the key lime pie because I ordered a side of grits with my brisket  and only have 40 bucks in cash. There are surcharges that restaurants endure to carry Visa/MC/AMEX which increases business costs, but in many cases they are absorbed when pricing the menu.

I guess what I don’t understand is the fact that the “cash only” concept is now considered hip by some. I’ve been in a few restaurants where the server has proudly informed me of the  policy with or without  a phony apology. Others raise their eyebrows as passively stare at the “Cash only” written on the blackboard while clearing their throat.  Don’t  get me wrong, there are some helpful places.  Some are kind enough to install an ATM in the establishment so you can absorb all the costs including whatever service charge they program into the machine. Another was kind enough to tell me that I could order first and that the nearest bank machine was about 500 metres down the road. I left and it felt good. 

 Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not adverse to paying cash, especially at food trucks,  bars and hot dog carts. However, I don’t like being forced to do it, especially when I’m racking up a decent bill with drinks, entrees etc.  It’s not like I see a significant cost savings passed to me especially when I’m sitting in a near condemned house at a formica table with  mismatched chairs eating $14  eggs bennie off  corningware plates I saw at a yard sale last week. 

So, things really haven’t changed much since 1970.  Whereas then you had to have a tie and a membership card to get inside, today you just need patience, your whole group and a big wad of cash.