East Side Social: A Lesson in the Evolution of My Homophobia

I think I’m still homophobic.

Before you cast stones and banish me to hell, let me explain.  I believe there has been an evolution in the definition of homophobia over the past two or three decades.  As a high school student at an all guys school in Sudbury, Ontario in the late eighties, I sat around the lunch table with a bunch of social rednecks and laughed at  gay jokes like the rest of them.  I had little regard for the struggles associated with homosexuality. First, I naively thought that none of my friends could possibly be gay.  Secondly, I believed that in fact nobody in Sudbury was gay and that the whole movement was a trendy urban phenomenon.

After high school, I was keen to get out of Sudbury (much like my gay friends it turns out)  and I pursued my post-secondary education  at the University of Guelph.  Guelph was interesting in the sense that it was quite dichotomous; one one side were flocks of macho agricultural students and on the other were the advocates for social justice in which gay and lesbian rights lead the charge.  Add the learnings from my first year sociology course, and I grew to realize that I needed to tolerate people who were different than me in whatever way that was.  Still, I was leery to full embrace the movement because, while I was being taught the need for tolerance in order to live in a utopia, my science courses challenged me to believe that everything, whether it was faith in God or same sex attraction, required a biological rationale.  If you could show me that brain size or the expression of a specific gene could explain why I don’t steal or why I would prefer men over women then I would be much more accepting.  I never found definitive evidence which continued to allow me to live in a bubble and live with the mentality that,although I was in the midst of gays and lesbians, I still really didn’t know many so I really need to understand.

Years later, with the advent of social media and other means of communication, I learned that many of my schoolmates and,  in fact, a few of my  closer high school friends were now overtly gay. It was a bit of an epiphany and really the first time when I truly understood my self-righteous nature.

There is no question that in the past few years, gay rights have been at the forefront.  The explosion of the pride movement and changing legislature catalyzed by a proactive federal and provincial government have set the stage for mass social acceptance of anybody regardless of gender, race, age and, of course, sexual orientation.  During this movement, I have further evolved along my homophobic spectrum to a point where I think I finally get it.

So, why am I still homophobic and why the hell am I writing this stuff on a food blog?  It’s simple; I had a dining experience which put things into perspective.  I met a couple of work colleagues for dinner at Eastside social.  Located in mercurial Leslieville, Eastside offers a seafood heavy menu in the trendy prohibition decor. Since it was still summery outside, we opted for the quaint back patio and were introduced (or at least playfully warned) about our waiter for evening.  Eccentric to say he least, we was a 53 yo gay guy who hails from…yes….Sudbury, Ontario.  I relayed that this was my hometown and for the remainder of the night we had conversations about our native neighborhoods, porchetta bingos at the Beef ‘n Bird, Tarini’s meat shop and why we both got the hell out.

Fighting the desire to order off the small but impressive cocktail menu, we each ordered a pint each from the small draught menu (I went with the Junction Conductor’s ale). His passion for life mimicked his passion for the food.  He quickly agreed when we suggested the sardine crostini to start.  For the main, he proudly boasted that there wasn’t a bad offering but in particular recommended the fish tacos and octopus. We agreed and also added the crab stuffed leeks to the mix. One of my colleagues had a seafood allergy, so, although there was an arctic char special, it was suggested that he stick to land dwelling protein for safety purposes.  When he asked about the hanger steak, the waiter explained it was quite good, especially since it was seasoned with a rub and that he likes anything which involves rubbing meat.  My normal reply would have been “Why do you think I’m ordering the char?” but a total lack of confidence in the given situation killed it and I simply laughed.  This is why I think I’m still homophobic; my phobia lies in my confidence about being straight. For some reason I have it in my head that I should be apologetic about liking woman; a philosophy which upon reflection is simply ridiculous.

As for the meal, the sardine crostini was brilliant in its simplicity and presentation.  The crab stuffed leeks were quite interesting in that they were almost a modern spin on the famed Crab Louis salad.  The fish tacos were smartly served on corn tortillas and gently breaded so the flaky fish instead of everything else was the star.  The octopus was charred a little more than I prefer but still very tender and seasoned beautifully with olive oil and citrus (personally it’s nice to see a generous portion of octopus minus the potato and/or olive which seems to grace most of the other menus in town).  Each of the dishes, however, was served with the waiter’s confidence which almost forced me to agree that the meal was great and maybe even better than it actually was.

As mentioned, the whole experience got me thinking.  The biggest barrier I had in the past was the need to believe that people needed to make decisions for reasons which are rooted in science or logic or whatever you want to call it and that by making decisions outside of norms will draw attention so a person needs to consider this when deciding what to say or do.  That couldn’t be further from the truth. Some people seem to think that our forefathers fought for the freedom of our country with some sort of stipulations. I don’t think even the most conservative veterans put their lives on the line for some Canadians..they did it for all Canadians.  They were protecting the freedom and liberty of us all and last time I checked, this meant making whatever decisions we want.  If someone wants to wear pajamas to Walmart, so be it.  If sometime was to tattoo their mother’s name on their shoulder or the first letter of Paul to Corinthians on their forearm then so what.  If a little girl decides she’s going to escape poverty and blow the world away, she has the ability to do so.  What took me years to understand was whether a person chooses to be gay or is biologically gay is a moot point..the fact is they are gay and have a right to be.  In saying that I came to realize that I can be confident and proud about the fact that I’m straight in the same way I’m proud to be of Irish or English descent.

In the end, confidence is a virtue, whether it is expressed as an establishment or as a person. Claims  such as “The Best Wings in Town” or “Sudbury’s Best Fries” have been effective and primarily unproven claims of restaurants for years because they are rooted in confidence.  Despite the aforementioned waiter, an experienced owner and a swanky decor designed by celebrity stylist Cherie Stinson, perhaps the biggest swagger Eastside Social has is setting up with some success within the boundries of the stubborn Leslieville scene.

On a personal note,  I can get up in front of a group of 200 and speak.  I can lead a team building discussion with ease.  So why can’t I declare my frank heterosexuality in the midst of a confident gay man?  Maybe it’s because I’m still homophobic. In this regard, next time I come here I’ll confidently order the char and better yet, switch to the chicken shortly after.

Eastside Social Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Advertisements

Review:Toronto:Leslieville:Lady Marmalade

Hey hipster, go hipster, soul hipster, go hipster
Hey hipster, go hipster, soul hipster, go hipster

He went Marmalade down in old Leslieville
Struttin’ his stuff on the street
She said, “Hello, gimme some  Joe
And maybe an order of french toast”

Mmm, fruity fruity ya ya da da
Coulis coulis  ya ya here
Mocha latte  ya ya
Here at  Lady Marmalade

Voulez-vous manger avec moi, ce soir?
Voulez-vous manger avec moi?

He savored his coffee whch she freshed up
Cuz he couldn’t get a beer or wine.
On the formica table tops where
He started to eat.

Tofu tofu ya ya da da
Lots of veggies options here
All day breakfast ya ya
Here at  Lady Marmalade

Voulez-vous manger avec moi, ce soir?
Voulez-vous manger avec moi?

Seeing the hollandiase sauce silky smooth
Along with a cafe au lait
One bite of the eggs bennie inside
Makes you wanna cry, “More, more, more”

It’s only open from 8 to 4
And 8 to 3 weekends (and holidays)
But when he sits down to eat
He wants to order more, more, more

Mexi mexi ya ya  da da da
Tortita-gordita ya ya here
Six dollar smoothies ya ya
at the trendy Lady Marmalade.

Voulez-vous manger avec moi, ce soir?
Voulez-vous manger avec moi?
Voulez-vous manger avec moi, ce soir?
Voulez-vous manger avec moi?

Annoying annoying  ya ya da da da
Cash only ya ya here
No reservations either ya ya
Here at Lady Marmalade

Tomato and Basil Eggs Bennie with Potatoes and Salad
Tomato and Basil Eggs Bennie with Potatoes and Salad
Tortita-Gordita Dandwich with Soup
Tortita-Gordita sandwich with Soup

Translation

Pros– One of the best eggs bennie going. I think the hollandaise  sauce has nicotine or something addictive in it because on occasion  i wake up wanting it injected in my veins.  Great menu with lots of veggie options. Food is fresh and environment is buzzy and fun.

Cons– Cash only and no reservations and the whole party has to be there seat policy. Blah, blah, blah. Ugly walls. Hardy Boys (I was partial to Nancy Drew).

Lady Marmalade on Urbanspoon

Review:Toronto:Leslievillle:Skin and Bones

Skin and Bones is the newest contribution on the outskirts of the expanding Leslieville dining scene. Quartered in an old warehouse on the outskirts of Queen East restaurant row, the venue is spacious and symmetrical with highlights including a long bar, open kitchen and 16 person communal  table.  Offering a tiny cocktail list and a few microbrews, the focus of the potent potables is the extensive wine list.  Most notable is the array of local and international wines  with equal pricing per ounce  regardless of whether you order the 3 or 6 oz glass. I was told that this was to encourage the enjoyment of multiple wine pairings throughout the meal.  The best I had was the  Pinot Gris François Lichtlé 2010, Alsace, France.  The menu is meant to be shared, set up in a not so unique three tier fashion; snacks, apps and mains.

Must

The celeriac gnocchi with uni bottarga was simple, delicious and well executed.  Straying from the ubiquitous potato pasta topped with the  sweet red or rich cream sauce, the earthy taste of the celery root coupled with the salty bottarga  was very prevalent but was complimented nicely by the acidic and chunky tomato “preserves”.

Celeriac Gnocchi
Celeriac Gnocchi

I have a bias for sticky pudding and S&B did not disappoint.   Moist cake with chunks of dates were smothered in a delicious bone marrow caramel and served with a dollop of Chantilly. It was a smallish portion but was quite  reasonably priced and was a fine finish to the meal.

Sticky Toffee Pudding
Sticky Toffee Pudding

Maybe

The burrata with crostini  ( see picture under pickled quail eggs) was a nice start.  The rich cheese atop the crispy bread had good mouth feel  and was balanced nicely by sweet and salty toppings.

I asked if the chicken tails were a play on words or actually chicken tails.  The waiter clarified the latter so I was quite intrigued.  I can best  describe the dish as fatty chunks of  popcorn chicken served on a bed of seasoned potatoes. They weren’t quite finger-licking good but they were pretty tasty. If anything the perfectly prepared potatoes stole the show.  It was quite heavy…so definitely share this one.

Chicken Tales
Chicken Tails

The highly touted beef tartare turned out to be a bit forgettable .  It was fresh and seasoned well, especially with the addition of the  monforte toscano cheese. Call me a traditionalist but maybe I’m a bit biased because it was missing the raw egg I normally adore with this dish.

Beef Tartare
Beef Tartare

Growing up in Northern Ontario, I relished smelt season in the spring  where I would stand in the cold streams wearing rubber boots in hunt of the tasty critters.  Success would mean a plate of crispy, deep-fried salty goodness.  Needless to say, I was excited to see the option of this childhood treat on the menu.   I loved the taste of the smelts  but would of  liked them served crispy (more than the scant amount of fried bone) to counter the  limp swiss chard below. Braised greens are a bit dangerous since they can be a bit soggy and bitter when cold and I found they were a little of both.  That being said, it was a nice balance of salt, sour and bitter flavours.

Smelt Escabeche
Smelt Escabeche

The chicken and wine main was a potato away from a must.  The deconstruction was visually appealing and the  chicken was cooked to perfection.  My only issue was lack of a supporting cast.  The rutabaga puree was delicious velvet and the celery provided an appealing crunch and earthiness  but in scarce amounts.   Increase the sides and throw a bunch of those potatoes in the mix and you have a winner.

Half Chicken with Rutabaga Puree
Half Chicken with Rutabaga Puree

Mundane

The pickled quail eggs and vegetables were one of my most anticipated items and I was left disappointed.  The dish was underpickled and the eggs were inconsistently cooked.  The promised vegetables turned out to be a few cucumbers. The accompanying “white fluff” was almost flavourless and although appealing to the eye, added very little to complement the pickles.

Burrata Crostini and Pickled Quail Eggs
Burrata Crostini and Pickled Quail Eggs

Despite a small menu and a less than capacity crowd, we were told they had run out of the beef cheek bourguigon.  Worse than that, we were informed after we ordered it.  It kind of left a bad taste..actually no taste,  in my mouth.

Beef Cheek Bourguignon
Beef Cheek Bourguignon

My Take

Skin and bones is attempting to take the Queen East experience beyond Carlaw St. I’d summarize it as a introductory lesson for those interested in nose-to-tail dining, offering things like bone marrow hidden in caramel sauce,chicken tails coated  in crispy batter and beef cheeks cloaked in a  bourguignon sauce.  It has a decent wine list and  a safe but somewhat edgy menu with a few gems hidden within a bunch of maybes at a decent price point. The bigness of the restaurant itself  is a deviation from the quaint quarters of other eateries in the area which will  lead to either an astir ambiance with a big buzz or a  cloying cavern with a desolate demeanor. Time will tell but special events such as wine tastings possibly coupled with edgy prix fixe menus may be necessary to draw in the large crowds which will be needed  to fill the seats of this spacious sit-down.

 

Skin + Bones on Urbanspoon

Review Toronto:Queen East: Leslieville Pumps

The last thing I want to do when driving anywhere in Toronto is get gas, especially if I can’t use one of the five reward points cards I have. However, if there was a solid sandwich waiting for me , would I reconsider?

I visited Leslieville Pumps to answer this question. Located on Queen St. near Carlaw, I would not consider it the most convenient place to gas up.  It has a  small menu with 4 sandwiches choices, a few sides and a couple of snacks. The woman at the counter was very friendly but seemed a bit overwhelmed when I asked her what the best things on the menu were. She recommended everything.  It was interesting to sit at one of the few tables and read old paper clippings from 1942 through the glass.  Also interesting was looking around to the small selection of normal gas station snacks, beverages  and  ping pong balls. A one stop party shop.

Must

The corn fritters were dreamy. Crusty, moist and filled with roasted corn, it was served in a small bag which made me crave Swedish Berries and Sour Keys.  It came with a unique, spicy and very flavorful creole dipping sauce as opposed to the normal trend of adding chipolte to ranch dressing and calling it Southwest Sauce.

Corn Fritters with Brisket Sandwich and Slaw

 

I must say the service was very good. I was impressed to see a delivery man drop off some fresh produce and the owner (I presume he is the owner) offer him a cold water. Very classy.

 

Maybe

The brisket sandwich was ok. It had a nice flavour but  I did get some very gritty pieces.  I wasn’t fond of the bun. It was dry and too big for the sandwich. The veginator was similarly flimsy although we were offered more of the other vegetables when no mushrooms were requested. In both cases, some optional condiments to boost the sandwich might of helped.  In fact, I put some of the creole sauce on the brisket to add another dimension of flavour.

The slaw was decent, fresh and flavorful.

Mundane

The sandwiches were almost $8 with no sides. I would either up the sandwich filling a bit or offer a cheaper side option (an individual portion of slaw for a buck) so I could get a meal for under $10.

My Take

I didn’t try many of the menu items including the corn salad, fries, beans and fried pickles.  The quality of the fritters make me want to come back.   I do like the thought of having a fresh, hot option (although it may not be a sandwich) instead of the packaged cheeseburger or a twinkie,  both with an expiry date sometime in 2019.  However, with no Aeroplan, Air Miles or Petro points card and an awkward location to fill up, I think I’ll only be leaving with one kind of gas.

 

Leslieville Pumps on Urbanspoon