Hey Hipsters: Give the Ice Cream Back to the Kids for Sweet Jesus Sakes

Ice cream used to be a kid’s food.  As a child I would eagerly await the warm weather so that we could make the pilgrimage to one of the Dairy Queens in Sudbury (which at the time were nothing more than stands and were only open in the summer).  Otherwise, I would store change under the mattress in the event that the Dickie Dee ice cream bike decided to grace our street with it’s presence.  My mother didn’t necessarily approve (perhaps because there was a good chance the driver was a pedophile) so I was careful not to order the phantom because the carcinogenic purple dye stuck on my tongue would be a dead give away when I got home again. The rare time I traveled past the Hungry Bear in French River or the Espanola turnoff (depending if I was heading south or west) there was an off chance we would stop but  was usually few and far between and usually centred around my mother’s craving for a scoop of Tiger Tail.

Dickie_Dee
And who said diversity wasn’t prevalent in the 80’s?

Unfortunately, in a manner synonymous with walkers infiltrating cities across America, hipsters have decided that ice cream in now in their wheel house.  Maybe it started earlier than I thought.  Years ago, Dennis the Menace was scrapped as Dairy Queen’s “spokesperson” and replaced by savvy commercials and sultry lips beckoning those with the wallets to come and bring the kids if you want.   A bigger testament to this theory is what has happened in Toronto.  Grown adults are now forfeiting coffee houses and Netflix marathons to stand in line for hours to pay asinine amounts for ice cream.  In most cases, kids are nowhere to be found.  Take Bang Bang Ice cream for example.  In addition to the possible sexual connotations of the name, I previously blogged that was there one night I got in line only to find soft-core cartoon porn projected onto the wall while a hipster dad in front me in line (who presumably only went to grab the kids an ice cream sandwich) had to cover his hipster kid’s eyes.  In other words, their ice cream came with a side of ass.  A second example was a recent trip to Sweet Jesus, the newish soft serve joint.  Shunned by some zealots for its anti-Christ antics like an emblem featuring an upside-down cross or a website that ironically features satanic looking children with tattoos, pet monkeys and gold chains, a key characteristic of this place is a disgruntled and tattooed ice cream artist taking your order instead of a 16 year kid who has their first job and splotches of melted product all over their shirt.  The flagship location is a few blocks away from the Rogers Centre and I sat watching the parade of people waiting to score a treat.  From the other direction a dad and his daughter (who was maybe 12) arrived.  The look of befuddlement on the dad’s face was priceless.  I could read his mind as he looked down at his daughter’s equally puzzled face.  Essentially he was thinking that all he wanted to do is get his daughter a cone after the game and the limiting factor was an hour wait because of a bunch or grown adults were waiting in line.  I’m sure if the girl was confused or upset or both but they quietly departed perhaps in search of another post-game treats that wouldn’t be impaired by Toronto’s urban “walkers”.  Maybe these places should have a kid’s express lane where parents can bring their kids for a quick and porn-free ice cream experience.  Trust me…the hipsters don’t mind waiting….it makes them cooler and gives them opportunities to discuss their social angst, explain their tattoos and show off their baggy jean shorts.

For Adults Only...at $6.50 a pop too
For Adults Only…at $6.50 a pop too

 

 

I fully acknowledge that this is likely another trend that the hipsters have plowed through similar to tacos, burgers and anything with kale but I’m hoping it is short lived.  We have already removed a good portion of our children’s ability to be kids with social media stimulation and fears to let them explore their own neighbourhoods.  Let’s give them their ice cream back for Sweet Jesus sakes.

La Carnita: Hanging with Abercrombie Smurfs While Seeking Solice From Seniors and Evil Wizards

I’ve had La Carnita on my list for a while but the dinner only hours and location has made it a bit difficult so I was happy to hear that a location opened at the more convenient intersection of King and John and that it was actually open for lunch. I made my way over shortly after not realizing it had just opened the Saturday before.

The layout is quite impressive.  The two-floor trendy and nicely decorated interior offers a bar area on both levels and abundant seating.  Unlike other snack bars, there is a good amount of breathing room so those with varied degrees of claustrophobia or agoraphobia can rest a little easier.  I was quickly seated at the bar and handed a menu.  Normally there is a good draft selection but since the place had just opened the taps were not working properly so I ordered the “Who shot ya?” cocktail instead. At this point I had no idea that this was the La Carnita signature cocktail which was developed by a bartender at the original location and has survived the test of time.  A twist on a bourbon sour, it was a simple offering with great contrasting flavours including a stinging ginger and a sweet/sour pomegranate syrup.

Who Shot ya? Signature cocktail
Who Shot ya? Signature cocktail

I should back up a little and let you know that this story was told to me by what I assumed was either the manager or owner of La Carnita. What I found fascinating was the fact he had a hipster look despite the fact he had to be older than 30 and lacked complete self-absorption.  Although I have equated hipsters to zombies in the past, this got me thinking that maybe they are more like smurfs, especially if we consider the fact that the majority would be either Vanity, Greedy or the tattooed Hefty. If so, I had just found Papa. He directed the staff (many of which I swear I’ve seen on the side of an Abercrombie bag) with kind authority much the same way Papa Smurf would with his clueless blue minions whenever their rather sterile environment was threatened with things like cats, birds or other natural predators.

The menu is taqueria style with a few apps thrown in.  The also feature a special of the day which was a chorizo/kale empanada.  I was all over it and I added a carnita and crispy cotija taco to the mix as well.  From a visual, taste and texture perspective they were all brilliant.  Punches of heat, sweet, crunchy and chewy were present in every bite and I was tempted to scoop up every morsel that fell into the tin tray. For example, the crispy cheese with the cauliflower and pinto beans garnished with a bit of pickled carrot was tastebud blowing and the pork confit in the carnita was melt in your mouth.  Not quite satisfied, I had to try the special taco of the day;chicken fried steak. The thought of stuffing this ridiculous southern delicacy into a taco shell was very appealing to me and it paid off.  The outside was crispy, and the inside was tender and still a bit pink. Once again, the accompaniments were a perfect balance of all things good…kind of like a good shot of Smurfberry juice while building a catapault. Other than forgetting the empananda the first time around,  the rest of the food was served within what seemed seconds after I ordered.

My Take

Despite the one service hiccup and the volatile beer taps, La Carnita was a slam dunk. The days of the stagnancy of King street eateries may be coming to an end.  No longer are the only choices those which require an invitation from a disgruntled maitre d’ standing on the sidewalk waving a 15 year old pre-theatre menu in your face.  Instead, La Carnita offers a welcoming environment with great booze, a cool modern vibe and terrific food served fast and fresh. Plus, you’ll never have to worry about hanging with seniors ordering off the modified menu before “Kinky Boots” and you’ll be good as gold if Gargamel ever shows up.

La Carnita Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Burma Superstar, Molly Shannon and High School Religion Classes

My last stop in the San Francisco area was at Burma Superstar, the iconic Richmond area eatery offering the mysterious food of Burma.  Although Burma is now technically Myanmar, I suppose not having to change the menu or threatening the near 25 year old brand is more important than geographical accuracy.  Plus, whenever I hear the name I think of two things; Molly Shannon and high school religion classes.  When Burma Superstar was only 7 years old, Molly Shannon and a much younger Will Farrell starred in Superstar which was based on the Saturday Night Live skit.  My daughter took quite a liking to the film and almost killed herself trying to do the razzle dazzle on a slippery hardwood floor.  On the positive side, it  opened up the door for me to add “don’t make out with trees” to the list of things to cover off in birds and bees talk we had later.  Regarding school, I had a Catholic education  and one thing you could count on was that once a year a teacher would forfeit the normal religion lesson to show the 1973 version of Jesus Christ Superstar right around the time of the Passion.

Based on the numerous web reviews, I knew a visit to Burma Superstar even early on a Saturday evening would mean a line and I was right. We were politely told that the wait would be somewhere in the area of 45 minutes to an hour. I made a note that our table would be right after a couple of sweet old ladies who signed in just before me.   We were offered B*Star, Burma Superstar’s sister restaurant as an alternative and, after careful deliberation, we opted for the original instead of the sequel and walked around the neighbourhood for a while.

We were seated in a little less than 45 minutes and, as anticipated, right behind the old ladies. It  was a crowded and tight place but we had some reprieve since we were sitting right by the window. We started the highly recommended signature tea leaf  salad.  It arrived to the table separated into the numerous ingredients (including tomatoes, jalapenos, beans, seeds, fried garlic and a fermented green tea paste) which were skillfully combined table side.  The magic in this salad lies in the tea paste for unami and the aromatic fried garlic which elevate the other ingredients.  The textural differences were appealing as well.

Another house favorite is the pumpkin pork stew.  This is a bit of a misnomer since it is technically made with kaboucha squash.  Also called Japanese pumpkin, this gourd is revered for its aphrodisiac qualities which, if I would have known at the time, I may have avoided given the long plane ride home given the fact I was planning to  change into jogging pants.  It all worked out though. The gross, crowded red-eye home quashed any chance of arousal at 35000 feet. The prominent flavour in the curry was ginger which was a refreshing compliment to the squash. Although I enjoyed the uniqueness of the dish, the kaboucha was very dominant and it’s slimy/starchy texture wouldn’t work for everybody.

Pork and Pumpkin Stew
Pork and Pumpkin Stew

I’ll stop here for a second to provide an update on the old ladies that were seated just before us. They were within eyesight and I was impressed by a couple of things.  First, they there using the napkins bib-style, meaning they were really getting down to business. Second, each had an Asian beer in the bottle (screw the glass), which they were sucking back rapidly in between bites.  Third, those dishes just didn’t stop.  One after another, what seemed like a significant part of the menu arrived at the table and yet they tackled them all in that graceful old lady manner.  I think I actually teared up and hoped that one day, in my elder years, I could bust into a restaurant and show a bunch of privileged hipsters how to strap on the feedbag.

The third was the Burmese chicken and shrimp casserole. My rationale for this dish was simple; cook anything in a clay pot and I’m happy.  In addition, anything with peas makes me happy.  I really enjoyed it.  The use of the bone-in chicken, the perfectly cooked shrimp and the fact the dish had the elements of both Thai and Indian cuisine were all positives.  It was like a jacked up Pad Thai married  with a chicken and shrimp biryani.

Chicken and Shrimp Casserole
Chicken and Shrimp Casserole

For dessert I had to try the black rice pudding which we split as a table. It looked like my son’s attempt at a creative bowl of cereal in the morning.  It was well balanced between sweet and savory which was catalyzed by the fresh fruit and the abundant use of sesame seeds and almonds.

Black Rice Pudding
Black Rice Pudding

To end everything off, I glanced over at the old ladies who were looking quite content as they finished off a dessert of their own and  tipped my hat to them out of a combination of sheer respect and an overwhelming feeling of  awe.

My Take  

Burma Superstar is listed as a San Francisco must in almost every magazine and website in existence. It’s success has resulted in the emergence of a number of Burmese eateries including B*Star by the same owners down the street  which offers many of the same dishes. The wait is inevitable and long, the quarters are cramped and the food is good. I got schooled by old ladies and was scared to change into my roots jogging pants. In the end, I didn’t want to sing “Hosanna!” from the mountaintops (or my desktop if I was still in high school) or break into the razzle dazzle but I would rate it much higher than 32% on rotten tomatoes.

Click to add a blog post for Burma Superstar on Zomato

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

 

 

Hintonburger: Better than Dirty Bird, Grown Ups 2 and Donnie’s Thespianism

Sometimes naming a restaurant takes days or weeks of careful deliberation.  Sometimes a name is just obvious.  I mean, if you want to open a burger place in the Ottawa neighbourhood of Hintonburg, you really only have one choice; Hintonburger.  Now this makes me wonder what other burgers concepts would have obvious names:

1. Spielburgers- Splashy burgers with great stories and specials effects including the Jaws, Ketchup Me if you Can, the Hamistad and the Empire of the Bun.

2. Samburgers- Featuring the Cloudy with a Chance of Meatball Sub and the Brooklyn Nine-Nine (the traditional burger for under $10).  Noticeable absence of any reference on the menu to “That’s my Boy” or “Grown-ups 2”.

3. Wahlburgers- The Wahlburg brothers  make even more money by creating a Boston burger empire complete with a reality show featuring Mark’s abs and Donnie’s…..intellect (complete with that pensive look he gets when he’s trying to  crack a case on Blue Bloods).  Oh wait, that’s been done already.

Hintonburger is housed in an old Kentucky Fried Chicken (in the days before it was shortened to KFC, the Colonel was not a cartoon character and Taco Bell was nowhere in sight). I opened the gold coloured door with the faded handle and entered the small quarters, noticing the only relic of KFC was a crudely painted picture of a red and white bucket sunk halfway in the ground on the far wall.  I walked straight ahead to the tiny square hallow which  served as the order window.   It only made sense to order the Hintonburger combo, complete with fries and a drink for $11.75.  The signature burger is 6 oz of meat served with bacon, cheese and signature BBQ sauce and was served with fresh cut fries.

It was pretty busy but we managed to get a seat while we waited the 15 minutes for the food to arrive.  In the meantime, I couldn’t help but people watch.  The place contained everything from a group of hipsters (what are they called anyway?  A herd? hover? A host? A harrass? A hedge? A horde?)*.   There was also an old couple that I thought I saw on a grey power commercial once and a table of four guys  on lunch break who wore matching uniforms with the reflective outdoor jackets and whose combined weight was slightly more than a Fiat 500.

*- The group terms refer to antelopes/bison, trout, sparrows, horses, herons and gnats respectively.  A horde of hipsters…I kinda like that.

The burger arrived in the standard red and white checkered paper.  The bacon was abundant, the cheese was melted and the burger was a nice, consistent thickness.  It was a wonderful crust which not only flavoured the patty but protected the moisture of the inside.  The BBQ sauce was tasty and not overbearing, a cardinal sin of many burgers.  The bun had a hard time keeping this messy concoction together. I enjoyed the fries.  They were thick and crunchy although a few were a little overdone.

 

Hintonburger Combo (water not shown) $11.75
Hintonburger Combo (water not shown) $11.75

My Take

Hintonburger has all the hallmarks of a modern burger bar; cramped quarters, a wait time indicative of a made-to-order burger, a rainbow of patrons and tasty fresh cut fries. It also adds a number of other menu items for non-burger aficionados including pogos, chicken strips, hot dogs and even a couple of vegetarian items. In the end, it’s middle of the pack (or kettle or troubling or parliament) in both taste, price and value which still means it’s pretty good. It sure as hell beats a brood of dirty bird from Scott’s Chicken Villa.

Hintonburger on Urbanspoon