If You're Hip Read This Because This Restaurant Just Might Become One of Yer Favorites

I’m a big Tragically Hip fan. In fact, I recently was informed by spotify that I was one of the top 1% fans worldwide so I figured it was time to write about them. I spent many university days spinning Road Apples, Fully Completely and Day for Night over and over while doing everything from drinking to…ummm….studying. The release of their greatest hits album, “Yer Favorites” solidified the age old argument of whether the slang for yes should use the letter “e” or “u”. Yep..I was right all along.

North of the border, they have had countless cult and commercial hits. Many tell stories of Canadiana or human struggle (which in many cases seem synonymous) . Others are poetic recounts of important historical moments. People like Tom Thomson, Jacques Cartier and Bill Barilko became household names because we sung them out loud while reciting songs like Three Pistols and Fifty Mission Cap while trying not to fuck with the 401.

During their farewell tour, CBC ran a poll to determine the favorite hip songs of Canadians. Not surprising, many of the mainstream classics topped the list including Fully Completely’s Locked in the Trunk of a Car, Courage and the number one fan favorite Wheat Kings, a haunting ballad about the false conviction of David Milgaard. It also cited Day for Night’s Grace, Too and Nautical Disaster which were the songs they performed during their only SNL appearance in 1995. Also on the list was Ahead by a Century which was later resurrected as the theme song to CBC’s Anne with an E.

Instead of reiterating the obvious, I thought I would focus on my favorite but less mainstream Hip songs (you can’t become top 1% in the world only listening to New Orleans is Sinking). Here are my top 10 lesser known buy favorite tracks (in chronological order):

10. Cordelia- Road Apples

It starts with Angst on the planks, spittin’ from a bridge…Just to see how far down it really is. ..a vision that brings me back to days when I would guesstimate height using my own saliva at various Sudbury landmarks. It’s a little angry with fantastic sound and was often overshadowed by more pop-like and popular songs like Little Bones and Twist my Arm.

9. Put if Off- Trouble at the Henhouse

While many default to Gift Shop and Springtime in Vienna, this is one of my favorites. In fact, I usually listen to this album backward, not for satanic purposes but it makes Put it Off the lead track. This song speaks of many dichotomies in which I can relate given my documented and less than adorable moodiness. I often either hum the mantra Put it on or Put it off depending on my state of mind at the time.

8. Emperor Penguin- Phantom Power

I never understood why this song isn’t more popular. It pops into my head constantly, especially when I’m watching Atypical because of Sam’s love for Antarctica and penguins in particular. Plus, given the devotion to the egg, it reaffirms that the fact that not all males in a given species are complete assholes.

7. Sharks- Music@Work

Sharks don’t attack the Irish, It’s mostly Australians. Whew, I’m safe. I just love Gord’s mumbling chorus in sync with the brilliant guitar.

6. The Dire Wolf- In Violet Light

I had no idea who Tallulah Bankhead and Canada Lee were before this song but their story of strong friendship in an era of racially motivated social nonacceptance was impressive and inspiring. They costarred in the 1944 Alfred Hitchcock movie Lifeboat. This song is another example of excellent songwriting with a great story.

5. The Dark Canuck- In Violet Light

If this song came out before my kids were born, it might have considered naming them apple, zippo or metronome. I love the rather radical change in tempo partway through this song. It goes from a classic Hip ballad to a uptempo and haunting tune reminiscent of Nautical Disaster or Locked in the Trunk of a Car.

4. World Container- World Container

The poetic lyrics of this song combined with the crescendo of angst in Downie’s voice makes for a great listen. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought “How’d it get so late so early?'” in my own life so I karaoke that lyric in the car every time I listen to the song.

3. Last Night I Dreamed you Didn’t Love Me Anymore- World Container

This is a song about an exaggerated paranoia about falling out of love which can also serve as a great breakup song. Gord’s singing which escalates from frustration to desperation as the song progresses gets me every time.

2. The Depression Suite- We are the Same

This song reminds me of a Day in the Life by the Beatles and Scenes from an Italian Restaurant by Billy Joel. Sure, it doesn’t tell a story quite the same but does give one a rather decent lesson in geography and is a near 10 min experience with a few different and equally enjoyable melodies.

  1. Queen of the Furrows- We are the Same

This is just a good old farming song with a great beat and a signature Hip sound with nothing so deep that it’s meaningless. There’s even mention of a toasted Western..can you ever go wrong with a toasted Western.

Favorites is a newish Thai BBQ joint which opened on the Ossington stretch. It’s secretly tucked behind a Sam James coffee bar. Once you enter, you are brought into a surprisingly spacious area with a variety of seating options. It’s unique among many Thai places in Toronto for a couple of reasons: first it focuses more on grilled items versus standard noodle rice dishes or spring rolls and second it suggests wine as the main alcoholic companion to the food as opposed to Singha beer or cocktails. According to the restaurant, the key is smart whites and lighter, chilled reds to compliment but not drown to the more intense Thai flavours. We complimented our meal with la Cuvee du Chat, a fantastic French Gamay which makes me want to head to the SAQ in Quebec to grab a few bottles.

La Cuvee Du Chat

Food wise, we selected a variety of dishes from each section, all of which was served sharing style of course. First was the Betel leaf wraps (nope..not shrimp fresh rolls) with smoke trout, roe and galangal caramel. The edible leaf housed a variety of flavours and textures which will well rounded and a great indicator of what was to come.

Betel Leaves with Trout

Next we had the octopus salad complemented with pomelo and banana blossoms. The octopus, although hidden under a copious amount of greenery, was well prepared and the flavours once again were bursting with classic Thai sweet and salty notes.

Octopus Salad

Since the whole concept of favorites is Thai BBQ, we ordered a trio of options from the grilled menu which included Chiang Mai style pork sausage, Hen of the Woods Mushrooms and grilled duck. The mushrooms were the star, full of smokiness and subtle heat from the BBQ and chili vinegar respectively. The raw cabbage leaves, which were served with all these items, best complimented this dish the best, both in flavour and texture. The duck was nicely rendered and served a stunning medium rare which was nicely complimented with classic thai flavours in the form of a tamarind dip. The sausage was decent but the least thrilling of the three. I just didn’t find it as abstract and entertaining as the other grilled dishes.

The last dish, the curried prawn pineapple fried rice, was the most recognizable dish on the menu by traditional Thai restaurant standards. It was as good as the others I have had at places like Pai but after the rest of the dishes I had, maybe a little too normal.

Curried Pineapple Rice with Prawn

The dessert choices were small but still represented a return to the bold, vibrant and unique flavours of the rest of the menu featuring a passionfruit and chocolate parfait as well as coconut pannacotta. Thankfully, neither were extreme on sweetness but both were bold on contrasting textures and flavours.

Coconut Pannacotta and Passionfruit and Chocolate Parfait

My Take

I’ve always thought if I ever open a restaurant I might name it “Whatever” or “Not Sure” since that’s the answer I usually get when I ask the family where they want to go. That’s why I like the name of this place. If a friend comes up to me and asks where I want to go I can simply say one of my favorites. It deviates from the noodle heavy tendencies of most Thai joints and offers the same balanced flavours in the form of more protein heavy BBQ choices. Even the wine and desserts, two aspects normally less anticipated in Thai cuisine were some of my favorites, much like listening to songs like Sharks or the Depression Suite on the same playlist as New Orleans is Sinking.


Review: Ottawa: Union 613

I was immediately reminded why I love Ottawa restaurants.  No reservation, no room, no problem.  The host quickly thought on his feet and offered me the end of a communal table providing I was done an hour later (a further amendment later allowed me to stay longer).  A similar situation in Toronto might have left me walking out with my head down and seeking refuge at a hot dog cart close by.

Union 613 is located downtown away from the buzz of Byward market.  The decor has a hip union hall feel, with lamp fixtures made of black pipe and wine bottles.  The menu is what I would call “delicate southern food”, attempting to mimic flavours without the brawn of piles of chin dripping oversauced pulled pork or brisket sandwiches.  George was an excellent waiter who provided prompt service, honest answers and a laugh or two. Oh ya..and boiled peanuts.

Other highlights include a small but current list of draught beer and a cocktail list which changes on a weekly basis.


The fried okra with buttermilk dip was a perfect start. The okra was fresh and crispy, a stark difference from the normal sogginess of most fried green veggies.  The batter was equally crispy and not greasy to the touch.  Probably most interesting was the thin buttermilk dip.  Finally, an understanding that the fact that dip is meant to enhance the taste of food, not mask it.    

Fried Okra with Buttermilk Dip

I love the concept of the Berkshire swine. Deviating from the temptation to offer only pork shoulder in the form of tangy, slow cooked  pulled pork, various cuts and preparations are offered, respecting other parts of the animal while  still maintaining southern cooking styles and flavours.  This night offered a nice sized  pork belly served with a tart squash slaw. The pork was crisp yet tender and the slaw and fried sage were wonderful compliments.  

Berkshire Swine-Pork Belly with Squash Slaw

As far as sides go, the cheddar and roasted garlic grits were as good as it gets. A spin on the traditional mac and cheese served at most southern restaurants, each bite brought a rich flavour and a contrast of smooth and chunky textures.  The garlic taste was subtle and balanced.

Cheddar and Roasted Garlic Grits


The brisket was slow cooked and very tender.   The chipotle/coffee sauce maybe not be for everybody and I found it a tad overpowering, taking away from the beefy taste I have come to expect from brisket. The salsa verde was a great touch and tamed the taste of the sauce a bit.  Please forgive the picture…I had a faulty camera.

Bad picture of Chipotle Coffee Brisket with Salsa Verde

The lemon lime cheesecake parfait may have a polar following.  After a meal of  intense flavours, some people want to finish with a jolt of something sweet. This is not it.  Instead, this is a large dessert characterized by a rich cheese flavour and heat from the cayenne coating the corn nut crumble. I found it quite delicious but not entirely what I expected. 

Lemon Lime Cheesecake Parfait


When I eat an oyster, I’m looking for some acid, heat and/or salt.  Despite the tobiko, there wasn’t enough of any these complementary flavours so the oysters were bland.    

Lucky Lime Oysters

My Take

Union 613 provides good food with top-notch service. The menu as a whole  pays respect to the foundations of southern fare but introduces innovative twists from appetizers to desserts.  I would gladly return to try other dishes such as the crawfish boil or buttermilk chicken while at the same time anticipating new drinks, sides and of course fulfilling my curiosity about the Berkshire swine special, a curiosity only overshadowed by what’s really in the foot long I would be forced to eat when turned away in Toronto.



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