New Orleans Day 5: Bams! Bloo Bloos and A Tale of Two Diners without Having Flashing My Man Boobs.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…bloo bloo bloo bloo bloo bloo bloo.  Remembering anything after the first line of A Tale of Two Cities, the famous Dickens novel, reminds me of Dr. Evil trying to remember the lyrics to  Joan Osborne’s “One of Us”.

My last few days in New Orleans still involved a few mandatory pit stops.  From a celebrity chef perspective, I still hadn’t travelled down the road to Emeril’s and I still had a few DDD to conquer to meet my predefined quota of 6 for the trip. I also wanted to swing by the Sazarac bar in the Famous Roosevelt hotel for the namesake cocktail.

Honestly, I didn’t have Emeril’s on my mandatory list but I certainly didn’t turn down the chance when I got invited to lunch.  I figured it would be best to sample a bit of classic Cajun cuisine with a bit of  fancy in the form of soup and salad (more specifically gumbo and lobster salad).  The dishes couldn’t have been different.  The gumbo was rich and thick and full of regional flavours and flare. The salad was crisp and refreshing.  I was pleasantly surprised by both and quickly forgot the annoying Bams! that made me angry for years before.  I did, however, read that the Bams! were a way to keep his staff awake.  While filming his show, we would do at least half a dozen  back to back in only a few hours and needed to scare his staff into staying attentive. The service was above average..for New Orleans anyway.

Emeril's New Orleans Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

After the conference sessions of the day were over, I became an aristocrat for 45 minutes and sipped a sazarac in the bar at the historic Roosevelt hotel.  Once a cognac based drink (in fact it still can be), since the 1870’s it has been more commonly served with rye whisky due to the fact the phylloxera epidemic in Europe devastated the vineyards of France and made cognac an endangered species.  Foodies probably also appreciate the fact that the sazarac starts with a herbsaint rinse.  Herbsaint is a locally produced anise-flavoured liquor which replaced absinthe when it was banned in the early 19th century due to its potential hallucinogenic properties.  The substitution may also be one of the first documented examples of locavorism. God bless America.

roosevelt-sazarac
Sazarac

For dinner I hit the French quarter to try the old coffeepot restaurant which could be the oldest restaurants on the illustrious and lengthy diner drive-in and dive list.  Established in the 1894, it didn’t take me long to realize that it likely still served some of the original patrons in 2016.  The decor was a cross between a museum and nursing home cafeteria.  Keeping in mind it was a Monday night, I didn’t think it would be packed but the huge space had only two occupied tables which soon became one when the one couple got tired of waiting for the rather apathetic waiter to make his rounds.  One thing I did appreciate was the Triple D combo, which allowed me to sample everything Guy had on the show in one dish. Although I knew this was going to be my order, I asked the waiter what he recommended and he nonchalantly told me he hasn’t tried anything on the menu. The danger with a preset Triple D menu that it usually allows the restaurant to inflate the price for the convenience and this was no exception.  Twenty-five bucks got me  jambalaya, green bean casserole, and fleur de lis chicken (with crab meat stuffing and topped with gulf shrimp) slopped onto a plate and garnished with a bit of parsley and paprika. It wasn’t the worse thing I have ever eaten but it seemed to be reheated as opposed to made to order.

coffee-pot-triple-d
Old Coffee Pot Triple D combo $25

As far as Triple Ds go, this one is among my least favorites.  I guess the Old Coffee pot restaurant is a bit synonymous with a good part of the French Quarter; tired and touristy.  The decor is desperate to reminisce on the glory days of the big easy and  the laissez-faire attitude of the staff  tainted the experience further. Finish it off with average food and I’m afraid the pot’s coffee left a bitter taste in my mouth.

Food- 2.5/5 Guyz

Decor- 3/5 Guyz

Vibe-2/5 Guyz

Total: 7.5/15 Guyz

The Old Coffeepot Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

I could have called it a night at this point but I had an ashtray I had to get rid of. I’m a sucker for a good gimmick and the Rivershack Tavern in Jefferson was right up my alley.  It’s tag line is “Home of the Tacky Ashtray”.  Essentially, if you bring in an ugly ashtray you get a free drink. In the past, I figure I’ve had to work a lot harder for a complementary beverage so I dropped by my local Value Village on my way to Detroit to find the perfect  mantelpiece for a bar 1645 km away.  After perusing through the shelves of donated knick-knacks, I laid my eyes on the prize…a rather ugly homemade chunk of ceramic which faintly resembled an ashtray.

A colleague and myself grabbed an uber and took the rather long drive out of New Orleans to the suburb of Jefferson.  We were quite entertained by the driver who told us story after story about her trails and tribulations about being a female driver in New Orleans while complaining about  the slew of WWE fans who poured into the streets outside the Superdome after the end of Monday Night Raw.

It was quite late when we arrived so it was far from busy but we were greeted by a friendly bartender.  We pulled up to the bar and sat on another of the bar’s gimmicks; the Bar Legs stools.  These homemade works of art have been part of the Rivershack’s decor since 1992.

Luckily, the kitchen was still open and offered bar food and burgers.  We ordered mushrooms and onion rings ($6.75 each) and a burger with jack cheese for $9.75 which were the perfect accompaniments to my free pint.  The food was far from gourmet (I did find it odd that the cheese on the burger wasn’t melted) but the batter on the snacks was seasoned nicely and the price was right for what you got.  While sitting on somebody else’s legs, I imagined if I lived in the area I would use my own legs to stroll down the road and catch a band at this rural eatery on a regular basis.

Although my visit was a little artificial given it was late on a Monday night, I did like the waiter and the gimmicks at the Rivershack.  The food was decent as well.  Plus, I can’t help feeling oddly proud about the fact that a little ceramic ashtray which was destined to collect dust on a Value Village knick-knack shelf in London is now permanently enshrined in the “Home of the Tacky Ashtray”.  It almost brings a tear to my eye.

Food-3.5/5 Guyz

Service-4/5 Guyz

Vibe-4/5 Guyz

Total- 11.5/15 Guyz

Rivershack Tavern Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

My Take

My last day in New Orleans was a food network extravaganza highlighted by lunch at one of the pioneers of celebrity chefdom’s establishments  and visits to two very polar Diners, Drive-ins and Dives.  It did remind me a bit of a Tale of Two Cities but instead of peasantry vs aristocracy ( I feel I experienced both in 12 hours), my tale is one which parallels the tired tourism of New Orleans with a shack on a rural road where one can come and hang with the locals, ashtray in hand, and get a free beer without having to expose his man boobs as a consequence.

Bareburger: A Haven for Hipbillys and Hippysters Alike

There was a degree of fanfare with the opening of Bareburger, the small New York based chain which offers organic and healthier options to the slew of greasy options which fill the streets of every town and city in North America. One of those cities is now Toronto, more specifically the intersection of Bay and Dundas.

The theme is hipster meets hippy meets hillbilly.  The hipster is the fact that there are usually line-ups at mealtimes and the staff is a mix of lumbersexuals, plastic spectacle wearing stylists and guys with man buns as big as those on the burgers. The hippy is the zen focus on clean eating such as vegetarian and vegan burgers, organic pasture-raised, no hormone meats, non-GMO/pesticide free produce and fair trade purchasing practices to appease the moral consciousness of the anti-capitalists.  The hillbilly comes from unique meat choices including duck, wild boar, bison and elk along with the use of recycled barns and wood for the roof and floor respectively no to mention the bear heads (although not real) hanging on the wall.

The drink list offers a select list of microbrews, wines and spirits but what be more unique are the non-alcoholic drinks such as homemade unsweetened ice teas and 10 different sodas including a traditional cola and not so traditional blueberry .  I was on the clock so I opted for the white peach ice tea ($3.25) served a glass which looked like a billboard for clean eating. It was quite refreshing.

White Peach Ice Tea ($3.25)
White Peach Ice Tea ($3.25)

I started with a jar of spicy pickles which is supposedly a 100 year old family recipe.  They had great spice and flavour and were served in the quintessential  hillbilly/hispter glassware…the mason jar.

The burgers are the main event but Bareburgers offers other sandwiches and salads as well.  You have the choice of building your own or trusting the chefs who have devised 14 different choices using a variety of meat, buns and toppings.  I opted for the blue elk ($13.65) which was elk topped with elk, amish blue, back bacon, stout onions and tomato fig jam all served on a sprout bun.  The meat was cooked perfectly but the taste was hidden a little by the intense flavour of the jam and the bun.  All in all, it was a good burger and clearly unique from most of the others in the area and despite the richness of some of the ingredients, didn’t leave that gross feeling in my stomach despite the side of fries and onion rings ($5.70) which I split with my table mate who also ordered the buttermilk buffalo ($10.90).  It was buffalo fried chicken, amish blue, buttermilk ranch, green leaf and a brioche bun. I snuck a piece and was thoroughly impressed.The sauce was not your typical frank’s red.  It was much deeper in flavour.  The chicken itself was moist and delicious and complemented well with the cheese and sauce. The fries were quite good and the rings were among some of the best I’ve had; crispy and well seasoned versus greasy and salty.  Special mention goes to the Sir Kensington’s ketchup available at the table which was much fresher than the Heinz which typically graces the tables of every other burger joint in town.

Blue Elk Burger ($13.85) and Spicy Pickles ($3.85)
Blue Elk Burger ($13.65) and Spicy Pickles ($3.85)
Buttermilk Buffalo ($10.90) and Side Fries/Rings ($5.70)
Buttermilk Buffalo ($10.90) and Side Fries/Rings ($5.70)
Cooked to a Sweet Medium
Cooked to a Sweet Medium

My Take

What do you call a hillybilly, hipster and hippy all in one?  A hillster? Hipbilly? Hiphilly? Hippyster?  Regardless, Bareburger would make any combination of the three feel at home.  The rustic decor, organic meat choices and man buns would appeal to all of their desires at the same time.  I’m not sure if it is the best burger I’ve ever had but it is certainly one of the more unique.  The meat was cooked beautifully and the toppings, although a bit overwhelming resulted in one of the more unique burgers I’ve had, probably because it relied on fresh ingredients instead of grease and salt as the primary means of flavour.  The chicken sandwich was a step above many (I’d put that shit on everything), especially those which usually play second fiddle in a typical burger joint.  The fries held their own (especially with Sir Kensington’s help) and the rings were divine. When all is said and done a burger, fries and drink will run you $20 which can buy you a whole lotta karma, a cocktail at a hipster haven or an official duck commander quack pack duck call so I’ll let you decide.

Bareburger on Urbanspoon

DDD: Showdogs, Show dogs and Why I’m Boycotting Wendy’s

Like most people,  I can get easily irritated.  Right now, I’m boycotting Wendy’s because of the ridiculous commercials which spoof  70’s and 80’s tunes while skinny Wendy (aka Red) dresses up like thw singers and makes out with a pretzel bun. When I posted this on facebook, one of my good friends asked me why I would go to Wendy’s anyway. Good point.

 

Another thing that bugs me are dog shows.  Before I go on, I’m not claiming for a second that my complete annoyance by things like this are normal.  I think it’s like a phobia;  I have a physical reaction to these types of things.  The thought of an arena filled with people who pay to watch others dress up like turn of the century debutantes and walk dogs among fake grass turns my stomach.  They give the dogs  ridiculous names like Roundtown Mercedes of Maryscot (aka: “Sadie”) and make the audience watch as their pooches get dental exams, enemas and other invasive medical procedures. Personally, I’d rather watch a dog chase his tail or stick his nose up another’s ass in a thirty second youtube clip while sitting in my underwear.

Showdogs in San Francisco couldn’t be further from the Westminster Kennel dog show.  Suits and ties are replaced by piercings, jeans and tees.  Fake grass is replaced with, based on my observations of the some of the staff and clientele, real grass that just might happen to be rolled into a small white paper. Canine conversations are no longer about four-legged friends but about the rest of America’s obesssion…the hotdog.  It is estimated that Amercians eat 20 billion hot dogs a year.  It is also estimated that there are about 83 million owned dogs in the USA.  What isn’t known is how many of the 20 billion hot dogs are eaten by the 83 million dogs in a given year.  That said, it makes perfect sense to focus a restaurant on the beloved frank.

The menu at Showdogs is simple.  In addition to a small breakfast menu, there are a number of renditions of the American favorite as well as a few classic American sandwiches like the burger and fried chicken.  In addition, there are all the words foodies wanna see in a menu including organic, house made,hand dipped and special sauce.  My trigger words include “sharp cheddar” and “chili” so I had to try the chili cheese dog ($10).  I asked the guy behind the counter what should complement the dog and without hesitation he recommended the onion rings for $5. Along with it, there is a good selection of local brews which, when you drink enough, can almost make a dog show tolerable.  In particular , the  Hell or High Watermelon from the 21st Amendment brewery was memorable ( I later drank a six-pack with my uncle in Pennsylvania).  The food was equally as memorable.  I mean, a hot dog and onion rings has boundries regarding creative licence but it still has to be tasty.  The think and crunchy onion rings were among the best I’ve had especially when eaten with any of the house made sauces available.

Chili Cheese Dog ($10), onion rings ($5) and a Happy hour $4 pint
Chili Cheese Dog ($10), onion rings ($5) and a Happy hour $4 pint

 

My Take

My mom used to boil hot dogs until they split, throw them on a bun and yes, they tasted like lips and assholes.  Since then, the hot dog has evolved beyond the ball diamond and street corner cart and  have become the focal point of many menus across North America. In fact, a hot dog by Dougie Dog in Vancouver is served topped with Kobe beef and Lobster and soaked in 100 year old Louis XIII cognac has just attained the Guinness nod for the world’s most expensive hot dog with an estimated value of $2300.

World's Most Expensive Hot Dog $2300
World’s Most Expensive Hot Dog $2300

 

Showdogs has embraced the dog and elevated it to a decent meal.  The vibe, service and experience was the complete package in this establishment that definitely qualifies as a dive. S0 while skinny Wendy is making out with a pretzel bun while singing an Eric Carmen ballad and people jam into Madison Square Garden wearing  their Sunday best to watch dogs walk their owners,  I’d  rather grab a pint, listen to Pearl Jam in the background and eat a dog instead of watching them.

Show Dogs on Urbanspoon

Tasting, Trivia and Tea Time in Niagara-on-the-Lake

Day 1- Tasting Menus and Creepy Paintings

To switch things up, our last team meeting was planned outside of the normal confines of the GTA and we headed to Niagara-on-the Lake.  A hot spot for worldwide travelers during the summer months, this small border town on Lake Ontario sits quiet during the winter months populated by stray deal seekers and seniors who didn’t make the trek down south for the cold season.

I showed up at the Prince of Wales a little late but in time for the second course of a wine and food pairing.  I quickly had a glass of Cattail Creek Pinot Noir shoved into my hand while the chef explained the salmon he prepared.  It was a pan roasted organic salmon cake, blue cornmeal and citron aioli lettuce wrap slider. Very tasty.

Salmon Cake
Salmon Cake

The next course was a fair trade coffee braised Ontario short rib, sweet potato and succotash and watercress salad served with a Henry of Pelham estate cab/merlot. They paired together nicely and the spoon was a blend of nice winter flavours.

Coffee Braised Short Rib
Coffee Braised Short Rib

The final was a dessert tray with a divine 2005 Southbrook ice wine.  Promised to have complex fruit flavours, it had an overwhelming but delicious raisin flavour that was delicious with the truffles.

Further inspection of the hotel afterwards revealed a setting which may have been the inspiration for the Shining or some other horror movie.  The attention to detail in everything from the tapestries to the door knobs was incredible and a far cry from the facades which grace most of the modern day destinations in metropolitan areas. Part of the ambiance was a number of oil paintings scattered throughout the hotel depicting members of the royal family past and present.  Almost ever suite in the hotel is different.  Mine was a red room complete with velvety curtains, matching carpet and a Pollyanna backboard.  There was antique side tables, cozy chairs and yes…an oil painting with two overdressed and unhappy children staring at me.

Room at the Prince of Wales
Room at the Prince of Wales

Escabèche at the Prince of Wales Hotel on Urbanspoon

Day 2– Beer is the new wine but microgreens are alive and well

There’s a beer movement brewing  in the wine-dominated Niagara region. The Prince of Wales featured Niagara-on-the-Lake’s own Silversmith black lager.  It reminded me of a black and tan..it starts punchy and ends with a smooth finish.  The Butler’s bitter is produced by students of the Niagara College teaching brewery and  proudly features on the list of taps available.  Meant to resemble the beer of choice (or perhaps necessity) by the 1812 British soldiers, it was pleasantly unrefined  but surprisingly refreshing.

We walked down the street to the Charles Inn for dinner. It was a mere five blocks from the Prince of Wales but during a polar vortex it felt like a marathon of a walk. It’s a quaint hotel and unlike the Prince, it was decorated much more subtly but still maintained the feel of a 19th century abode.  It was a set dinner but was a fair representation of the food scene in this sleepy winter town; squash, microgreens, pork and salmon. In a sense, it’s a fusion of old school dining with a flare of the new.  I opted for the squash veloute (which in fact was a cream soup but I guess you can call it a veloute as much as you can call it a bisque).  It was hot and creamy and flavourful. The roasted marshmallow was a nice addition but a few springs of crispy sage would have worked really well.

Squash Veloute (aka soup).
Squash Veloute (aka soup).

The pork loin was served roasted and was coupled with a square of belly, another example of a fusion of eras versus one of cultures.  It was cooked and seasoned nicely and served with root vegetables and a sort of potato pave. I’m sure the latter is a favorite of the locals year round as it screams old school french.

Pork Loin Entree with potato pave and root vegetables
Pork Loin Entree with potato pave and root vegetables

Coming as no surprise, dessert was creme brule, the ubiquitous staple of purveyors of fine dining and pyromaniacs across the country.  It had all the elements; crispy top, smooth bottom, a spattering of fresh fruit. and yes..icing sugar. Looking at it was like watching a Miracle on 34th street.  I felt relieved knowing this dish would still be around when I was 65 or 70.

Creme Brulee
Creme Brulee

Charles Inn Dining Room on Urbanspoon

Day Three– Burgers, Balzac’s and Brass Tacks

So there’s no question that a winter virus plus a few too many brews makes one a little groggy the next morning so I crossed the street to Balzac’s to indulge in some sort of recovery beverage.  Balzac’s is  small chain of coffee shops that populate the Golden Horseshoe. They offer roomy interiors and a carousel of available coffees.  In addition, they sell traditional coffee inspired beverages but also feature some interesting elixirs that crush things like Starbucks sickly sweet caramel flan latte.  The citro-boost for example, is a potion of lemon, maple syrup, ginger and cayenne pepper.  It was exactly what the doctor ordered. I trotted back across the street, sat in my meeting and felt medicinally wonderful as my colleagues sipped the watery, hotel made coffee of unknown  origin.  The next day I went back and had the Cafe Nordique, a latte with honey, vanilla and cardamom.  Although a little on the sweet side, the cardamom burst through, resulting in a pleasurable treat.

Balzac's Coffee on Urbanspoon

In the still of winter, I was not surprised that the hotel was rather empty on Monday and Tuesday night.  Wednesday, however, was a different story.  After my meeting, the bar/restaurant was buzzing and filled to capacity.  A wave of blue hairs and accompanying distinguished gentlemen had invaded the place.  When I asked the barkeep what was going on she responded with two words: Burger night.  It seems 5 dollar burger night is all the rage.  The locals dig themselves out of the driveways and brave the cold to indulge on this weekly treat.  You even see a pint or a glass of wine  peppered on tables around the bar although fisticuffs remained at a minimum.

My plans involved crossing the street to the Irish Harp pub.  Voted Niagara’s number one pub, it features an array of local and European beer.  Their flagship pints are sold under the “Irish Harp” name and brewed close by. I sucked a few back over the evening with great delight. To my surprise, not every person in Niagara-on-the-Lake was eating a burger at the Prince.  The remaining folks were about to engage in Wednesday trivia night.  The place was quarter full but table tents with team names adorned most of the unoccupied tables.  We took one of the only free tables on the bar side.  Shortly after, the regular crowd shuffled in.  One group was a half dozen twenty-somethings who looked like trivia was their only break from hours of Call of Duty or Grand Theft Auto. Another table was Niagara-on-the-Lake’s version of thirty something foodies.  The remaining tables were serious looking mixes of older patrons who were here to play.  The husband/wife trivia leading tandem showed up and we were off to the races.  Six sheets were circulated in succession with questions that would stump Ken Jennings.  The lager numbed the fact that I couldn’t list the first native american prima ballerina (who passed away in 2013) although  I did know the author of Get Shorty.  After 4 rounds we were in third place and received a few threatening glares from the locals but in rookie fashion we choked a bit in the last two rounds and finished out of the money in 5th place (actually it wasn’t money…first place was a basket of homemade chocolate).

I found the food average.  The black and tan onion rings with Guinness spiked mayonnaise were a unique and delicious twist on the traditional appetizer although a little steep at $13.

Black and Tan Onion Rings $13
Black and Tan Onion Rings $13

For a main, I ordered the Irish hot pot which combined a small portion of Irish Stew with the Steak and Guinness pie for $13 and a side of mashed for $2.50.  It was quite average.  The meat was tenderish and the seasoning was acceptable but neither dish was mind blowing. The picture is really bad because I wasn’t allowed to use my phone during trivia so had to sneak a fast shot…proof I’m not Peter Parker. The pictureless bread pudding was quite delicious, a fitting end to a table who wasn’t quite smart enough to win the prized confections.

Irish Hot Pot $13 plus $2.50 for potatoes
Irish Hot Pot $13 plus $2.50 for potatoes

The Irish Harp Pub on Urbanspoon

My Take

Niagara-on-the-Lake made me crave life after 65.  The thought of indulging on microgreens, creme brulee and a weekly burger plus a trivia beat down while drinking copious amounts of microbrewed beer is a solid retirement plan.   Sure, I would need to put up with annoying summer tourists and creepy oil paintings but it beats snowbirding to Florida, plying bingo and eating dinner at 4 pm every night.