Why the Mug Proves that Springfield May Actually be Greenfield

During the Simpsons’ long run, there have been numerous questions and speculations about what state Springfield is in. A few years back, creator Matt Groening revealed that Homer’s hometown was inspired by Springfield, Oregon, a city about 100 miles south of Groening’s hometown of Portland.   There are, however, a number of references in the show to suggest that this iconic town could in fact be anywhere in the continental U.S. For this reason, I may push the envelope even further and suggest that Springfield may not even been a Springfield and may, in fact, be Greenfield, Indiana.  Although I don’t have a lot of evidence to back this claim, note the following:

  • The words Springfield and Greenfield could easily be mistaken for each other in a conversation
  • In the show, Shelbyville is Springfield’s hated neighbour.  There is a Shelbyville 18 miles south of Greenfield.
  •  In the Simpsons movie, Homer befriends a pig which assumes the personas of both Spider Pig and Harry Plopper.  There is also an iconic pig in Greenfield.  Although I’m not sure of its name, it graces the sign of “The Mug”, a roadside drive-in restaurant on Apple Street.

On my way from Cincinnati to Indianapolis I stopped in Greenfield to try out the Mug. A few years back, it replaced the Frosted Mug, a family business around for 5 decades. The change in ownership maintained the small town feel complete with a drive-in option and plenty of outside seating. The difference now is what the owners call farm to curb; meaning most of the meat is single sourced from the Tyner Pond farm and anything else comes from local sources.

At the request of my daughter, we drove into the parking lot and awaited the car side service.  A few minutes later a friendly guy showed up and took our order.  Shortly after, he apologized and said he’d be back in a minute.  He proceeded to run into the restaurant, came out with a bag, hopped in a car and sped down the street, presumably to do a delivery.  This action was reminiscent of Homer screeching away in a car in the background after forgetting a birthday, once again reminding me that my hunch may be right. A few minutes later, a different staff member arrived with the grub.

The Drive-in Menu

I went with the original burger for just shy of $5 and teamed it up with some fries in a combo.  I finished it off with a brewed root beer. The burger was simple and a reminder that things were good long before the days of patties being slathered in aioli or topped with pulled pork or dare I say it…..a fried egg.

As part of the order we also had the mac and cheese ($1.25), coleslaw ($1.50) and the bacon and sweet bowl for $2.50.  The first two are self-explanatory.  The last is a bacon topped bowl of corn salad flavoured with a bit of leek.  It’s one of the few instances in my mid-west dining experiences  where I can honestly say the portion size was small (thus the equally small prices).  That said, it was more than enough and pretty decent.  Although not the best mac and cheese I have had, it held its own.  The slaw was good but the corn salad stood out as the winner.  Maybe it was the nostalgia of eating corn in Indiana couple with the fine pork of Tyner Pond that made it even better.

Original Burger $5 plus an array of sides

Speaking of sweet corn, I had a chat with the incredible staff after and was tempted with their famous 16% milk fat ice cream.  The richness of the fat combined with the sweetness of the corn was plain addictive and an ideal finish to a roadside experience.

Corn Ice Cream and a Facebook Acknowledgement

My Take

In the farm to table concept, simplicity is sometimes lost among the pickled ramps and broiled beef cheeks.  The farm to curb concept of the mug maintains the commitment to proximal provisions without the convolution of the latest food trends.  Single source meat and local dairy highlight a menu that demonstrates that simple and classic can be just as exciting as trendy.  Add the old school car side service  and it makes for a good outing. Between the delivery guy’s screeching tires and a possible Harry Plopper sighting you may buy into my theory that Green/Springfield may be smack dab in America’s heartland.

The Mug Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato





Sweet Jesus: Stupid Conservatives and Singing Brewer and Shipley to Deal with Food Paparazzi and Grade School Art Projects

When it comes to the latest trends in the food world, dessert is never left out.  In fact, it seems to turn over more quickly than vegetables like kale and cauliflower.  In the past few years alone, for example, we have seen the peak and trough of cupcakes and donuts.  With the emergence of any of these trends, you can count on three things; a flurry of such shop openings on every street corner, a simultaneous spike in prices and people lining up to hop on the bandwagon.

The newest dessert trend is ice cream.  Despite the fact it doesn’t travel really well, people are flocking to dairy bars across the city looking for the latest spin on the simple treat.  The latest to throw their cone in the vat is Sweet Jesus. Located at King and John, this small space offers coffee and churros all day (I tried these as well and must say both the coffee and  churros with cajeta was more than acceptable)  and at noon the ice cream insanity begins.  The crowd arrives and cramps into the small space while snapping pictures like they are stalking celebrities on the red carpet at the Bell Lightbox around the corner.  I guess one cannot have too many photos of coffee bags and neon signs.

Americano ($3) and Churros ($4)
Americano ($3) and Churros ($4)

In order to calm my nerves in the midst of selfie sticks and indecisive foodies, I started humming  Brewer and Shipley’s “One Toke Over the Line” in my head. This 1971 song cracked the top 10 in the US and Canada and was deemed a gospel song by Lawrence Welk despite the fact vice-president at the time Spiro Agnew called the duo subversive to the youth of America in another example of classic conservative naivety, stupidity and confusion. Regardless…it has a nice melody so I went to my happy place signing “It’s a joke that I am in line at Sweet Jesus” over and over again in my head amidst the chaos.

The menu is pretty simple.  There are 4 kinds of soft serve available (marshmallow, vanilla, chocolate and raspberry lemonade) available for $3.75 in which you can have dipped for a dollar.  There are also a dozen or so jacked-up, fancy cones for $6.  You can also get a $4 Mexican popsicle if so inclined.   I went with the lemon coconut cream pie which is exactly like it sounds.  You order, give your name, pay (cash, debit or credit) and wait in the mob until your name is called. Each cone (the base being the old school cones you would get at any parlour) is carefully constructed like a school art project using squirt bottles (eg. for the lemon curd) and plastic containers (eg. for the coconut). In other cases, marshmallows are hand placed on the ice cream tower like Christmas decorations on a tree.  It’s horribly inefficient and time consuming but I suppose it rumbles up the same internal thrill as watching Giuseppe make you a table side Caesar salad at a outdated  Italian joint.  The product itself was acceptable but far from mind-blowing and six bucks is way too much despite the American-like  portion size.  The soft serve itself was more icy than creamy and the toppings became monotonous quickly.

Lemon Coconut Cream Pie Cone ($6)
Lemon Coconut Cream Pie Cone ($6)

My Take

I don’t know why I partake in standing in line for food.  I think it’s an attempt to try and understand the psyche of a foodie.  I would love to do a brain scan to assess the part of the brain that glows red while one is standing in line waiting for the latest trend.  I have never been a lover of crowds.  Sweaty bars and mosh pits make me cringe as much as selfie sticks.  I suppose if there is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow as a result it would be worth it but I couldn’t say that somebody’s B minus art project fits into that category.  In the end, Sweet Jesus was not worth the hassle.  The line was long, the setup was inefficient and the product wasn’t mind-blowing.  The staff were nice though and I commend them for continuing to smile while the food paparazzi  made ordering ice cream seem like a Drake sighting.  For now, I’ll leave the soft serve to Costco and the art to my grade school son.

Sweet Jesus Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Bang Bang Ice Cream: The New Hipster Apocolypse Serving Up Soft Porn Instead of Soft Serve

As I’ve stated before, the hipster movement is a bit like the Walking Dead.  At first you’d see the odd zombie roaming around and next you know you have an apocalypse on your hands. Part of this mass transformation has meant the expansion of  foodstuffs which have undergone hipster domination.  It started with coffee shops and quickly progressed to tacos and burgers.  They have laid claim to kale and cauiflower.  I think what I find most disturbing, however, is their latest attempt at beatnik tyranny; ice cream.  No, the centrefold of the Toronto Life a few months did not show Norm Kelly and Drake in a Yonge 6 Gods gangster embrace but instead summarized a number of ice cream cones available across the city.  It was at this point I knew that  the hipster infection had spread into the medium of one of any person’s fondest childhood memories. The ritual of popping down to a parlour with the fam and watching a disgruntled 16 year old serve my mom tiger tail for the 15th time (I swear she was only person in Sudbury who ate it) while I stood indecisive until a got a good kick in the arse was in jeopardy. I should have seen it coming. It does, after all, involve long lines and serving food out a crawl space which are both predictors of a hipster breeding ground.  It also allows for a more justified use of the cash only policy and certainly would never require a reservation.  Plus, you also don’t have open in the mornings.

I was in the Ossington area and decided to pop in to Bang Bang. It was a Wednesday night around 7:30 pm so the line wasn’t too bad.  Predictably, it looked like a garage.  The line swung around to a counter housing 4 or 5 types of cookies which seemed to be the most popular vessel for the twenty or so flavours of ice cream which were displayed on shelves in a David’s tea store. Against the far wall is a iron which feverishly works to pump out thin Hong Kong waffles which are subsequently folded into cones and stuffed with ice cream.

I wasn’t surprised to see an array of clientele waiting.  In particular, a hipster dad had his hipster kids with him.  Since the line moves at a snail’s pace despite their “one sample only” policy, they have a screen on the wall projecting some sort of video.  In this case, it was some cartoon I didn’t recognize but I thought it would keep the kids occupied for the long haul through the ice cream line. It looked pretty benign until things got heated.  For whatever reason a woman was suddenly naked in the middle of a forest and was greeted by a near naked and very built man.  Soon, enough, he had his large hands nicely positioned on her rather voluptuous ass and soft core animated sex followed.  Daddy hipster was shocked and quickly put his hands over the eyes of his baby hipsters and looked around feverishly hoping that he didn’t have friends or families in the vicinity to witness such an atrocity.  I was going to joke with him and  tell him that it was part of the Ontario government’s new sex ed curriculum but I figure that might resulted in a good shin kick or having my hair pulled really hard.

Soft Porn Instead of Soft Serve
Soft Porn Instead of Soft Serve

There are many choices including scoops (even an adult snack size for those who normally go for the kiddy cone), the aforementioned cookie sandwiches and Hong Kong waffles as well as macaron sandwiches and ice cream puffs.    When I finally got to the front of the line, I decided on banana ice cream in the waffle cone for $8.  I was told that because of the Hong Kong I could have 2 flavours instead of one so I also ordered Froot Loop as well. Since they are “made to order” there was some wait time involved.  It reminded me of the countless number of Hampton Inn buffets I’ve been to in which the wait for the waffle iron could go into the early afternoon.  It didn’t help when the guy behind the counter looked like he was having more trouble with the waffle iron than I would  trying to assemble an IKEA desk.  I finally got the cone and the waffle was still warm which was a nice contrast to the ice cream.  I’ve made banana ice cream at home and Bang Bang’s was almost the same.  It had a rich custard base and the bananas were quite ripe tasting.  There’s that magic moment when you first combine froot loops and milk.  Not only is the milk still super cold but the flavours of the cereal haven’t yet combined meaning you get two distinct tastes before they become uniform.  The ice cream recreated that magic moment.  Despite the warm waffle, the ice cream did not melt at too rapid rate and it wasn’t overly messy but there was no way I could finish it all.

Hong Kong Waffle with Banana and Froot Loop Ice Cream
Hong Kong Waffle with Banana and Froot Loop Ice Cream

My Take

Bang Bang Ice cream adds hipster to the old ice cream parlor.  Instead of a “Hi!” from Bill behind the counter at the family owned ice cream joint, you get to stand in line in a garage for a long time, watch porn and surround yourself with hipster angst not often associated with this classic summer dessert.  At least they take credit cards. In the end, if you can get over the slow service and prefer soft porn over soft serve (I was wondering why they called it Bang Bang) then drop on by. Good thing they have takeout pints because you might wanna leave the kids at home.

Bang Bang Ice Cream Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Day 1 in Halifax: Hitting 60% of my Maritime Wish List at the Famous Pizza Corner in February

I just attended a conference in Halifax.  I only had a few days so I wanted to make sure I hit the laundry list of things I wanted to do in the Maritimes in the middle of February:

  • Drink local beer
  • Eat a donair
  • Visit pizza corner
  • Have a lobster roll
  • Hit at least one restaurant from “You gotta eat here”.

The first interesting thing about Halifax is the fact that the airport is 45 km away from the city.  Between these points is an abundance of land which could easily accommodate a hundred airports.  One explanation from a cab driver (who had a strong resemblance to Burton Cummings) for keeping the airport well away from the coast is the tendency for sea birds to fly into windshields or engines of incoming planes. Regardless, any cabbie probably won’t complain given it’s a sixty dollar cab ride for a one way trip downtown.

I arrived at the Westin which looked like a cross between an apartment building and an old hospital but was reasonably nice on the inside.  After checking in, I grabbed my toque and scarf and headed out to brave what Halifax had to offer.  I was looking to watch the second half of a soccer game, so a quick search of urbanspoon identified Maxwell’s Plum as a pub with a large number of local beer and football on the tube.  On the way, I looked like Q-Bert as I tried to navigate around the poorly maintained sidewalks in between snowbanks that were higher than  my waist while a mix of ice and snow pelted my face. After walking about a kilometer,  I trekked up the last hill which had to be at least a 60 degree angle and arrived at my destination.  I sat at a small table near the bar with a good view of the game and an equally good view of the clientele which looked like the same as what you would see at a Tim Horton’s in Ontario. The crowd was young and old but all glowed with that down home aura. Discussions included hockey, knitting and the weather.  The Thursday frosty glass special was Hell Bay English Ale from Liverpool, NS, so I ordered it thinking it was a fitting start given I was watching a team with the same name on the tele. The glass was certainly frosty and contained a beer with a nice balance of bitter and carmel flavours.

I went with the burger special for $6.99 and added an egg for $2 which I later realized was kind of ridiculous.  The platter arrived, which brings me to my second interesting observation about Halifax; the restaurants seem to like using dishes with their names chiseled or painted on them.  The burger and fry platter (on the aforementioned  plate which looked that something from Maximilian II and not Maxwell’s Plum) was decent, falling somewhere in the middle of the best and worst I have ever had.

$6.99 Burger Platter with a $2 egg
$6.99 Burger Platter with a $2 egg

I also ordered a sampler of Spruce beer, an organic brewery from Cape Breton which included  Bitter Get’er India Black IPA, Kitchen Party Pale Ale, Cereal Killer Oatmeal Stout and Ready Yer Knot Regatta Red Ale.  In addition to the ingenious names, they carried some ingenious flavour.  In particular, I enjoyed the Bitter Get’er and the Kitchen Party for their complex and crisp, fresh flavours respectively (far and middle right).

Spruce Brewery Sampler $12.95
Spruce Brewery Sampler $12.95

Afterwards, I donned the water garb again and headed down the road a block to the famous pizza corner.  I mean, there’s a big difference between this late night party zone at 3 am on a Saturday night in July versus a frigid afternoon in February but I needed to see what the hype was about.  Not surprisingly, the intersection was barren of all activity except for blowing snow.  There was a big red DO AIR sign (the N was burnt out) on the storefront  across from my next destination, the Sicilian. Known for it’s big slice, which surely appeals to the post-bar Halifax drunkards, they also offer a donair.  A donair is a Canadain twist on a Doner, a turkish dish made of a combination of meat cooked by rotisserie.  The Canadian version is slathered with a sweet sauce and served in a warm pita. Being a bit of a traditionalist, I would have liked to go to the site of the first Canadian donair, but the King of Donair left the pizza corner a few years back and my already frozen face wouldn’t have been able to handle the walk to their new location.  I carried them back to the hotel and on the way noticed a couple of things.  First, like other local food destinations whose their foundations lay in mom and pop establishments,the pizza corner is starting to be infiltrated by the tentacles of half-ass cookie cutter chain restaurants. I mean, there are still the small, locally owned joints like a Filipino restaurant with a sign on the door saying we are getting out of dodge until the end of February, but the familiar logos of Smoke’s poutinerie and Subway are creeping closer. Second,  I appreciated getting the heads up about the possibility of falling ice outside a burrito restaurant just down the road.  I normally tend to pay little attention to my surroundings but was grateful for the warning when I looked up and saw this:

Beware of Falling Ice
Beware of Falling Ice

After another tumultuous walk, this time back to my hotel, I tore into my pizza corner treasures. The Sicilian’s version of the Halifax doniar ( I got mine minus tomato but with onion) was delicious and as sinful as Lucky Luciano himself.  There was enough sweet in the sauce and spice in the meat to please all “corners” of my mouth. The BBQ chicken pizza wasn’t bad either.  Mission accomplished for day one.

Sicilian Pizza and a Halifax Donair
Sicilian Pizza and a Halifax Donair

My Take

Although hardly under ideal circumstances, I began my quick trip to Halifax by knocking three of the five musts off my list.  I weathered an east coast storm, drank some delicious local brews, hit pizza corner, avoided an icicle avalanche and dripped a sloppy donair all over my hotel desk.  I love the east coast philosophy of screwing roll up the rim after 5 pm  and communicating over a beer instead of coffee  whether you are a wannabe hipster named  Evan, a hockey fan named Peter or a gramma named Mabel.  I also love their ability to recognize that you are a tourist and then kindly tell you to “come back when the weather’s better now”.  Before I went to bed I took one last look over the pier from my hotel window and thought “ya…I  bitter get’er done”.

Maxwell's Plum on Urbanspoon

Sicilian Pizza Donairs & Subs on Urbanspoon

Review: Breaking Bad at Carbon Bar

I finally got Netflix a few weeks ago. Part of the reason was to finally remove myself from the list of the 25 people who haven’t watched Breaking Bad. After watching a few episodes and watching it win at the Golden Globes, maybe I should pay homAge to the show that made chemistry cool again. Whether it’s the structural changes needed to denature the protein in an egg or the intangible spark which may exist with two people sitting across each other at a table, chemistry is an ingredient you can’t pull off the shelf. It can, however, be captured in those who understand and can embody the variables which may result in the sought outcome.  Just ask Walter White.

Carbon (the foundation of organic chemistry) is a new restaurant/lounge that has opened at the corner of Queen and Church. Owned by the Note Bene group, the website describes it as a place “where fun-loving aficionado’s, gourmands and bon vivants meet to share un-pretentious snacks, plates and platters delivered with impeccable hospitality in a space inspired by the storied pAst of a rock’n’roll discotheque, an upstart TV station and a media giant’s studio”. When you walk in, you’re not sure if you’re entering a dance club or a Moxie’s.  Smiling woman greet  you and offer to take your coat.  When you climb the few stairs and turn the corner you walk into “the space”.  It has dimensions that could double as Walter’s meth lab. It’s a roomy, square dining area with a big bar, an open kitchen and a combination of booths and tables. The ceilings are high and it’s decorated in a simple but attractive fashion.

From the bar, there’s a decent cocKtail list, a nice array of wine and a somewhat unimpressive list of cliche Beer.  I started with the Smokin’ Manhattan ($14), made with tobacco-infused Maker’s MArk, bitters and a couple of booze soaked cherries.  It was well made but the price put it on the upper limit of acceptable.

Smokin' Manhattan $14
Smokin’ Manhattan $14

The second drink was the Carbon bar Caesar ($16), made with tequila, chiLi, lime, clamato and a 37 spice rim.  It was surPrisingly unremarkable and nowhere worth the price.

Carbon Bar Caesar $16
Carbon Bar Caesar $16

The hit of the night seemed to be the Volstead which a few of my friends at the table ordered. Made with gin and Montenegro and flavoured with lemon, orange bitters and Cucumber, it’s a perfect summer drink that still holds it own during the winter months.

I ended with a Kensington brewing company Augusta ale which was one of the only draught beer worth drinking.

The menu is small plate and mainly focuses on the trenDy cuisine of the southern US with a spattering of favorites from other parts of the earth.  It’s always interesting going out to a restaurant with the concept of sharing when you’re with “peskies” (a generic term which includes the likes of  peScatarians, those with gluten intolerences and pescatarians with gluten intolerences).  The waiter was excellent.  He knew the menu cold.  For example, he identified there would be gluten in the soy sauce of the jerk cornish hen and in the sugar coating of the pecans in the celery, apple salad.

We sampled a number of dishes so I’ll be short but sweet:

Hot Mess ($11)-sweet Potato, cheese curds, Crema, pickled jalapeño, chopped brisket

It tastes like it sounds.  A well executed and modern Version of Canada’s iconic poutine.  Delicious.

Hot Mess $11
Hot Mess $11

Raw Salad ($12)– avocado, pear, radish, sHaved coconut,corn nuts, coriander, lime viNaigrette

Fresh, acidic and pRetty.  Definitely a sharable because it starts Snappy but can a bit boring after a Few bites.

Raw Salad $12
Raw Salad $12

Quezo de Cabeza ($13)- Fried suckling pig, pork ‘n’ beans, Hen’s egg, pickled Beets.

The perfectly cooked egg sat atop this childhood favorite.  It had great flavour although I wished the pork was fried a little more and was a little less fatty.

Quezo de Cabeza $13

Blackened Sea Bass ($22)– yuCa, chili, lime, coriander, tomAtillo chutney

The tender bass was complimented with an array of flavours but the highlight was the tomatillo chutney.  A well balanced dish.

Sea Bass $22
Blackened Sea Bass $22

Jerk Cornish HeN ($18)- black eyed peas, Coconut milk, mango & papaya salsa

Although the chicken was moist, the seasoning was a little lack lustre. The dish had a uNiformly smoky flavour which could not be overcome by the timid salsa.

Jerk Cornish Hen $18
Jerk Cornish Hen $18

Oak-Fired Octopus ($21)- okra, sAusage, hominy coRn & lobster gumbo

All the components of gumbo with the addition of tender pieces of Octopus.  It worked.

Oak -Fired Octopus $21
Oak -Fired Octopus $21

Porcini and Grits ($19)- grits, sautéed porcini mushrooms, deep fried egg Yolk, crisp kale, huitlacoche dust (a type of corn fungus)

The table consensus was this was the best dish of the night.  The flavour was incredible but very rich so definitely recommend as a shared plate. The crispy kale was a great touch. It could have used  more mushrooms.  Great for the pEskie at your table as well.

Porcini n Grits $19
Porcini n Grits $19

Pumpkin Pie Ice Cream ($9)- rice pudding, barberries, wild blueberries,candied sunflower and pumpkin seeds, spiked eggNog

Sparked a little controversy at the table.  The rice Pudding was average but the addition of the other ingredients pumped it up.  The ice cream was seasoned well with earthy spice and sweet pumpkin. I think warming the rice would have added to the overall experience.

Pumpkin Pie Ice Cream $9
Pumpkin Pie Ice Cream $9

Sorbets and Ice Creams ($3)– apple, lychee kombucha, buckthoRn, goat’s milk ice cream & Wild honey

A refreshing and delicious finish to the meal.  The buckthorn seemed to be the favorite. Was initially served with graham Crumbs but that didn’t work for the peskies so it was replaced quickly and without question.

Apple, lychee kombucha and buckthorn ($3 each)
Apple, lychee kombucha and buckthorn ($3 each)

My Take

Carbon is Note Bene’s response to the continued demand for casual eateries which serve good food instead of standard and water downed versions of foods that were popular two years ago. I think they succeeded. The cocktails are a bit pricy, especially the less than impressive caesar.  The beer selection is more trendy than it is good.  Otherwise, it’s a safe but well executed menu that was not shy on flavour.  The highlights were the porcini ‘n grits, octopus with gumbo and the sea bass (especially the tomatillo chutney). The service was incredible and environment (including the music) was current, hip and applicable to the diverse clientele scattered across the roomy  interior.  Like Breaking Bad, Carbon makes chemistry cool again. In this case, the chemistry is a mix of great food, courteous and intelligent service and a great environment.

The Carbon Bar on Urbanspoon

Review:Toronto:Entertainment District:JaBistro

Sushi is one of the more polar cuisines in Toronto.  One can opt for one of the hundreds of cheapish hole in the wall places which line the streets or Toronto or splurge on a handful of the more luxurious and expensive spots which are becoming more prevelant especially within the highly competitive downtown scene.

JaBistro has a mysterious store front highlighted by blackened windows and a picture of “An-Chan the footballfish” greeting you at the door. I wasn’t surprised to open it and find a pristine and well decorated sushi bar…brightly lit and accented with modern wooden panels. As expected, there is bar seating and a slew of tables lined up along the long but narrow confines.  A little less expected was the hostess, who was warm and friendly and had a strong resemblance to Gwen Stefani. We were seated along the wall and  quickly greeted by our waiter who startled me a bit as he appeared out of nowhere about an inch from my face.  He provided a very nice explanation of the types of sake available which ranged from junmai to junmai ginjo to junmai daijingo (which reflect the degree the rice is polished resulting in different flavors and cleanliness).  Since I was just finishing a conversation about scotch, the ryozeki yamahai ($36 for 10 oz), described as having a smoky flavour seemed the most appropriate.

I was told in advance to go for the tasting menu.  With 24 hrs notice, they will set you up with some of the best sashimi and sushi they have to offer and were more than happy to accomodate the garlic and onion restriction of my guest. Four courses are offered for $77 which left me thinking this better be hella good.

Course one was an array of sashimi.  Tuna cuts such as belly, roe,  Japanese octopus, sweet shrimp, urchin and sea bream graced the plate.  The sashimi was of excellent quality and variety and the presentation was extraordinary. Both a traditional and housemade soy sauce was offered, the latter a sweet escape from the traditional tang and saltiness of regular sauces.

First Course- Sashimi
First Course- Sashimi

Course one and a half was a lobster miso soup, complete with a large claw.  The addition of a hunk of lobster meat is never a bad thing so it was rather delicious.  The broth itself was delicate like spiderwebs, lacking the intense saltiness characteristic and fermented taste of the more generic soups served at other places.  That said, some might argue that underneath it all the broth lacked the expected intensity resulting in something more bland than complex.

Lobster Miso Soup
Lobster Miso Soup

Course two was a fried hamachi cheek coupled with strips of tender angus beef.  The cheek was an adventure, offering everything from crispy skin (although a bit crispier would have been better)  to tender meat nestled between the jawbone.   The beef was yummy, cooked to a perfect medium rare and seasoned nicely. The fact the two were served together was rather appealing as the contrasting tastes and textures made for an enjoyable course.

Course 2- Hamachi Cheek  and Angus Beef
Course 2- Hamachi Cheek and Angus Beef

My interm review was  “So far, so pleased”. The third course was a quintet of regular and blowtorched sushi  including the one of the signature JaBistrolls.   Personally, I would have enjoyed a few more rolls instead of the sushi but that said, like the sashimi, it was fresh and delicious.

Thrid Course- Sushi Platter
Third Course- Sushi Platter

The fourth course was dessert. .  My one criticism of Japanese cuisine is the lacklustre desserts, so  I was quite excited to experience the pastry chef’s daily choice, hoping for more than a couple of frozen grapes or an orange slice. A duo of vanilla ice cream (complete with corn flakes) and a panna cotta type dessert were offered, both odd choices for an early winter night. Sigh.  Neither was memorable.  In fact, my colleague did not even finish the panna cotta, citing an off taste she wasn’t fond of.

Course 4- Dessert
Course 4- Dessert

My Take

JaBistro entered the higher end sushi market a year ago to no doubt throw come competition at the likes of Blowfish and Ki.  It has had a chance to settle down and become competitive.  It offers a bright, clean and non-pretentious envioronment (although I had to chuckle when the guy beside me asked for soy sauce for one of the dishes and the waiter tried to politely tell him the dish was good the way it was).  The sashimi  and sushi was fresh and the variety was exciting.  The hamachi cheek/angus beef combination was ingenous.  Don’t speak of the dessert however. The service was prompt and courteous and the meal flowed well.  The biggest question is whether the whole experience was worth the $77. When you add the 10 oz sake and a couple of $4 green teas, it’s a hefty bill.  For that price, I’m hope at least Gwen would at least show up with the Harajuku girls.

JaBistro on Urbanspoon

Review:Montreal:Old Montreal:Brit and Chips

I was in Montreal for a conference and had a bit of a lunch break.  I’m not much for the generic cafeteria food that fills the convention centre, so I decided to talk a stroll into old Montreal to see what kind of lunch options there were.  I had a few glasses of wine the night before, so some grease and a little hair of the dog was on the menu.

So I found it rather ironic when I stumbled across Brit and Chips. I mean, as an anglophone with a pedigree from the British Isles, I felt rather naughty seeking out such an ethnocentric joint in Old Montreal.  At the same time, I knew nothing would appease my needs better than a greasy piece of fish and some kind of ale to wash it down.

The place was  small and was extremely crowded although it was at the tail end of lunch hour (part of me highly suspects that lunch is rarely limited to only an hour in Quebec) but luckily there was a table available in the make shift patio which was set up outside the front door. I was quickly greeted by a server  was quick to take my beer order.  I opted for a Fuller’s London Pride ($7.50) to further flex my anglo chest muscles amongst those who may otherwise opt for a Kronenbourg or something like that.

The menu is simple.  You choose a fish and whether you want fries or not (all the choices are $10 and $12 respectively).  What’s interesting is that each fish is matched with a particular batter so it’s the first time I had to weigh the type of fish against the batter and decide which I wanted more.  I’m not sure to this day if you can mix and match, so maybe my dilemma was a moot point. I was torn between the cod and the maple syrup batter on the haddock.  In the end, I chose the latter and went with the batter.  For a downtown Montreal restaurant, it was pretty good…at least enough to forgive the fake newspaper which lined the serving vessel.  The batter was crisp enough  and was well proportioned to the moist fish within. I thought the tartar sauce, which is often overlooked, was a solid companion to the main.

Haddock and chips in maple syrup batter $12
Haddock and chips in maple syrup batter $12

Going along with the theme of the the British pub, there are also pasties, pies, sausage rolls and even some Indian influenced tandoori popcorn shrimp and curry fish cakes. I couldn’t help but order up a sausage roll and pork pie as my colleague shook his head at the amount of grease that was put in front of me.  Both the roll and pie were authentic, even down to the nasty (in a good way) mustard. I could only “mustard” up the courage to eat about a quarter each as my colleague watched in utter horror.

Sausage Roll $4
Sausage Roll $4
Pork Pie $6
Pork Pie $6

When I went inside to pay, I noticed a soft serve ice cream machine promising an authentic chunk of a Cadbury Flake if you ordered one.  I couldn’t resist and found it a nice end to a decent meal.

Ice Cream with Cadbury Flake $2.49
Ice Cream with Cadbury Flake $2.49

My Take 

If I ever chose to film “An Anglophone in Montreal”, I would definitely film a scene here.  The fish and chips and even the environment rival any chipper in English Canada. From the fish to the mustard to the greasy yet flaky crust of the pork pie, the place screams authentic even when they infuse a little maple syrup into the mix.  There is no shortage of chic cafes, adorable bistros and fine dining in this fantastic city but if you want to be a limey for an hour, this is the place to go. Not only is the food good, there is little risk of getting a sabot in the back of the head for ordering fish instead of poisson.

Brit & Chips on Urbanspoon

Review:Toronto:Entertainment District:Beverley Hotel

There has been much anticipation over the opening of The Beverley, a boutique hotel on Queen just west of university,   Ever since leaving Hawthorne earlier in the year, Chef Eric Wood’s twitter account has counted down to the opening of the inn which features a restaurant and rooftop patio.  I decided to give it a whirl despite the fact it still seems to be in the soft opening phase.

I was greeted outside by a smiling young lady who asked if I wanted some lunch.  It was a little later in the day so seating was ample.  I was seated at a shaky table adjacent to the bar.  Almost immediately a friendly waitress dressed in black came by and asked me if I wanted a drink. There are choices from a snug list of new and traditional cocktails featuring no alcohol in particular.  There’s cognac, bourbon, rye, gin, vodka, tequila, rum and pimm’s. There’s even sangria. I went “Old School” with a Pimm’s cup 335 selling, like most of the other cocktails on the menu, for $12.  It was well done. As I was sipping away, it was apparent I was crashing  a meeting with many of the hotel’s stakeholders (no worries, I had no inclination to listen in and heard nothing other than the occasional bellow of laughter).  Shortly after, one of the gents got up and walked toward me in the bar area.  For a second I pictured a scene from the Sopranos and figured he may throw me out ass over tea kettle.  Well….not really. Instead, he gave me one of those “uncle Fred at Christmas” shots in the arm and said “get the burger”.  Shortly after well…I ordered the burger.

Pimm's Cup #335 $12
Pimm’s Cup #335 $12

Before the burger, however, I ordered the caesar salad which is something I rarely do. What intrigued me, however, was the fact it was made with dinosaur kale instead of romaine lettuce (although I suspect it was in fact baby kale).  It was a good size and served with asiago cheese, smoked tomato chips and rye croutons.  It like a traditional Caesar salad except was a little less crispy because of the kale.  That said, the flavour was better and the risk of sogginess was missing.  The tomato chips were amazing and adequately dobbleganged the traditional bacon.  One suggestion (in my best Obi Wan-Kenobi voice): USE THE LEMON. One squirt of the wedge gave it the acid needed  to cut through the sulphur of the kale.

Kale Caesar $9
Kale Caesar $9 (Dinosaur or baby?)

At first I misread the description of the burger to say “pickled watermelon” instead of “pickle and watermelon”.  One I noticed my error..well it didn’t matter because I ordered it anyway. I’ve told a few people since and they look at me like I’m a nuts. Well, it worked.  Unlike a lot of other burgers, the patty was seasoned very well.  It was a tad tough to eat given the large watermelon and pickle slices and the latter was the prominent taste,  What made the watermelon work was it’s contrast against the tangy cheese (Guernsey is great on a burger) in both taste and texture. In the end, I pictured it as a juicy monstrosity in which the act of biting  would squeeze Bordelaise sauce out of the patty like a sponge, forcing it to drip down my hands with mudpuddle messiness .   Instead, it was a bit overdone, so I missed out on the adventure although it tasted damn good, The fries made me wonder if Eric’s recent trip to the West Coast had an influence on the menu.  Kennebec fries are a staple out there and in my opinion, truly make the best fries.  They also had a shot of crispy garlic chips but surprisingly were not served with any sort of dipping sauce. A house ketchup is available with the starter order, so I’m not sure if the omission with the burger was an oversight or planned that way.  I actually think the house ketchup would have helped the burger too.  Hey, it makes me wonder if the Bordelaise sauce would of worked on the side as an au jus for the fries as well.

Beverley Burger $17
Beverley Burger $17

Dessert seems to be a work in progress. There is no menu as of yet, but the kind waitress provided me with three options: a choice of two homemade ice creams (orange szechuan and malted barley), a couple of in house popsicles (I think pineapple jalapeno was one) and a smores dessert.  With no concept of portion size or price, I asked if I could sample both types of ice cream. She said she would check with the kitchen.  A few minutes later she returned with a defeated look on her face and informed me it was not possible because the ice cream was proportioned when prepared.  A little perplexed, I opted for the orange Szechuan and realized I would have to satisfy my craving for malted barley over a pint later in the day. The ice cream was fantastic.  It had the texture of silk, a rich taste but not an overwhelming heaviness.  The brownie was decent but wasn’t needed because it wasn’t as good as the ice cream itself.

Orange Szechuan Ice Cream. $3.  Charge me $6 and give me two!
Orange Szechuan Ice Cream. $3. Charge me $6 and give me two!

My Take

Eric Wood is a chef who, in my opinion, is very friendly and open with his customers.  He comments on blogs, answers tweets and is not afraid to make recommendations for other restaurants among other things. His new endevour is a little boutique mixed with a hint of hipster, sprinkled with a bit of West coast and dusted  with a scent of his old gig at Hawthorne. It’s boutique in that it delves into cuisine which is veggie-centric and focuses on choices that include raw and gluten free dishes.  The kennebec fries are very west coast.  With his Hawthorne exodus, he brought the “4 Play for lunch” concept (app, salad, main, dessert) for $16.  Both the drink and food menus have no defined focus which I find highly acceptable in an environment which has been populated with ramen, snack food and  bourbon or tequila bars.  That said, it’s far from a traditional menu as indicated by a watermelon topped burger and steak and potatoes made with beef cheeks.  It will be interesting to see how this pans out.  Will the menu be sophisticated enough to attract a boutique hotel crowd and yet be hip enough to draw in the curmudgeon foodies, especially given the fact they tend to stray away from pretty decor and gravitate toward tiny rooms that look like their parent’s basement apartment or a janitor’s broom closet?  Maybe the rooftop will become the foodie haven as it appears to be focused on grilled meats a la izakaya (although it’s still Paleo I suppose). This paradox even resonates with the waitstaff.  I saw a couple of staff drop in with back-size tattoos, presumably only to jump into sheer black dresses and assume an old school service model free of angst and pretension. Bravo!

In the end, I think the menu hiccups are growing pains associated with any new franchise.  A tweak of the burger, a little ketchup with the fries and an extra scoop of ice cream would make me a happy boy. I know I can say this knowing that next time I drop by, the shot in the arm won’t turn into a punch in the face from anybody from the board of directors, especially uncle Fred.

The Beverley Hotel on Urbanspoon


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

Fare..Eat..Ales Predictions of 2013 Food Trends.

Each year sees a shift in the direction of the restaurant industry.  I’m going to take a chance and speculate on what food trends will start or continue  in the Toronto dining scene  in 2013. Feel free to agree, disagree or suggest your own trends by commenting here, voting in the poll or tweeting #2013tofoodtrends.

1. Ramen Rage

Arguably the biggest craze in 2012, noodle houses will continue to appear like Starbucks and Subways in the coming months.  Given the versatility of this noodle dish, I suspect new variations will emerge and will not be limited to ramen restaurants  alone.  I expect the big chains and even the small fusion eateries and food trucks to join the ramen rage in some way, shape or form.

2. Offal Offerings

Black hoof has gained international exposure for its offal menu with thumbs up from celebrity chefs including Anthony Bourdain during his lay over visit and  Richard Blais’  endorsement on his list of favorite restaurants on Urbanspoon.  Adaptations of  the nose to tail concept have been adapted by many eateries, even including  a beginner’s lesson in offal  at Skin and Bones in Leslieville. This concept will continue to flourish given the surge in responsible eating as well as those seeking the adventure of multiple organ consumption.

3. In a Jar

I’m not referring to the traditional strawberry jam, pickled cucumber and mango chutney here.  In efforts to use more local ingredients throughout the year, preserving is gaining popularity.  Local and seasonal cranberries, tomatoes, peppers and tree fruit can be used year round when processed into sweet or savory condiments to compliment meats and even cocktails.  Savory and briny condiments are definitely in.  One of the best dishes I had in 2012 was a pickle tray at Sidedoor in Ottawa and it only makes sense that these creative, unique and in many cases  relatively inexpensive foods are housemade to complement  menus and blackboards in 2013.

4. Eat Street

Despite strict downtown by-laws and less than favourable year round weather, Toronto is catching up with other large metropolitan centres regarding  the presence of food trucks offering anything from smoked meats to tacos to cupcakes. More and more private businesses and fundraisers are seeing the potential in these nomadic sculleries as an awareness raising tactic. In addition,  the low overhead, creative license and geographical flexibility are appealing to restauranteurs, ensuring that the fleet of food trucks will continue to grow.

5. Carrying the Torch

The chef’s blowtorch is a cooking method which has typically been reserved for creme brulee and more recently sushi.  The ease of use and aesthetic properties of charred food could expand the use of this handy tool to other areas of food preparation.  Vegetables, cervices, meringues, terrines and even fois gras could be meliorated with a quick singe  of the blue flame.

6. Mexican Mania

Tacos were the rave of 2012 with the success of Grand Electric and  La Carnita taco-heavy menu. Burrito Boyz, Mucho Burrito and Burrito Bandidos are lunchtime and late night hotspots.  Baja fish tacos adorn almost every chain restaurant’s lunch and dinner menu.  Modernized twists on tasty tostadas, multifarious moles and piquant pozole will expand beyond the traditional taquerias, making Mexican fare one of the hot ethnic cuisines across the board in 2013.

7. Soul Train

Soul food has just gotten started.  The success of Barque, Stockyards and new additions such as AAA combined with the Hogtown and Urban Smoke food trucks have put pulled pork and brisket on the must eat food map.  Look for  southern food to dominate  in 2013 with the expansion of  southern-influenced mainstays such as shrimp and grits, collard/mustard greens, gumbos and maybe even a crayfish or two.

8.  Snack Time

Tastebud teasers  including  spiced nuts and other savory snacks have been a complimentary mainstay of bars and taverns for years.  It seems this concept has crossed into the dining room, with a snack menu available offering munchable morsels, such as warm olives at Patria and Campagnolo, even before the appetizers arrive.   In particular, popcorn is gaining popularity, providing a blank slate for various flavors including  truffle at Origin and chipotle-caramel at Cava,

9. Comfort Zone

It appears chefs have dusted off  their old copies of  “They Joy of Cooking” and “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”.  A return to comfort food is an emerging trend. In 2012,  coq au vin was a staple at Richmond Station and Trevor Kitchen. Chicken Pot Pies were  being baked up traditionally  at C5 and with fois gras gravy at Reds Wine Tavern.  Fried chicken is half the menu at Paulette’s and is available for two at County General.  Old school bourguignon and gamy stews are emerging elsewhere.  Expect a cornucopia of European inspired comfort food in 2013, complete with the use of fresh meats and seafood, rich sauces and homemade, flaky pastries.

10. Icy Indulgence

Frozen desserts have become a common default dessert item for many big name chefs, especically those with a aversion to baking.  Working on the notion that frozen sugar and milk fat make anything taste better,  unique flavours have been incorporated into ice creams, sorbets and gelatos alike.  Whether it be savory flavours such as thyme or balsamic vinegar, sweetness through the use of commercial sodas or fruit nectars or incorporation of tart flavours like yuzu, a good ice cream maker and imagination is all that’s needed for this trend to blow wide open.

What do you think?  Answer the poll and add your comments.  Multiple answers are acceptable!