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.

Fin-al-ly..The Peoples Eatery has Come Back (although it was never there to start with) to Spadina Avenue!

The first time I heard the name “peoples eatery” I couldn’t help but think of  Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson.  He used to step into the ring, grab a microphone and proceed to gloat and taunt his way through an electric monologue which began with “Finally, the Rock has come back to insert city,” and made numerous references to him as the “people’s champion”. He would also cite his “people’s elbow” finishing move so suffice to say he may appreciate eating at the people’s eatery.

In fact, the name may be a reference to the People’s Republic of China given the menu features a spin on Asian fare in the heart of China town (there seems to be inconsistency about whether there is an apostrophe in peoples but the website suggests no)   .  As an extension of 416 snack bar, it has similar features in that it’s crammed into a tiny space (at least the downstairs is) and doesn’t see the necessity of utensils.  It’s different in that the dishes are primarily  inspired by Jewish and East-Asian cultures with a few other surprises thrown in. In addition, there is the option of a tasting menu designed by executive chef Dustin Gallagher and his culinary team.

I arrived to be greeted by well-coiffed waitstaff with a pretension reminiscent of  Rocky Maivia, Johnson’s pre-rock persona. They offer a small but impressive list of local beer featuring breweries like Left Field and Neustadt for around $7.  I inquired about the list and had the choices on the menu described to me.  Ten minutes later, the same guy had a conversation with a co-worker behind the bar raving about the new beer they just got that wasn’t on the menu. I was a little perplexed as to why this was never mentioned to me.

h
“It doesn’t matter what beer you want!”

The Peoples Eatery in a true snack bar.   Most things on the menu are under ten bucks unless you want quail or peking duck.  I got the “small plate” speech which was a predictable as the Rock saying “Jabroni” during one of his heated wrestling rants.  I ordered a bunch of dishes with the knowledge  they would arrive as they were prepared and ready from the kitchen.  Speaking of the kitchen, there is an open prep area for cold foods beside the bar and an open kitchen for hot food in the back. The first dish  to arrive was a twist on the Jewish Sabich (pita with quail egg and herb salad) for $7.  The abundant filling made it a bit tricky to eat and was accented with pickles, a tangy dressing and a creamy sauce.  The flavours were good but it lacked a little substance, especially for seven bucks.

Sabich $7
Sabich $7

Next to arrive was the panipuri ($4).  Also called waterbombs, these bite size morsels fizzled more than they exploded although the dipping sauce added a sweet, tangy and sourness which accented the bombs greatly.

Panipuri $4
Panipuri $4

The General Tso-fu should be ordered just for the name.  It’s tofu….done General Tso style.  It was arguably the best thing I ate all evening.  The silkiness and temperature of the piping hot tofu coupled with the cooling yet spicy sauce balanced perfectly.

Tso-fu $4
Tso-fu $4

Char Shiu Boa (aka pork buns) may be the new taco. Although surprisingly simply, there are many interpretations of this traditional Chinese dish.  The people’s version is a transfer from 416 snack bar and more reminiscent of the Momofuku staple as opposed to the standard dim sum version.  It had that wonderful wonder bread mouth feel and taste which surrounded  a delicious tender pork filling.

Char Shiu Bao $5
Char Shiu Bao $5

Although I follow and accept the small plate doctrine of the restaurants I eat in, I felt it very strange that my oysters were served last.  My guess is that either the waiter forgot until I reminded him or it takes longer to shuck 6 oysters than it does to prepare four dishes.  I was interested in the oysters for two reasons; they were less than $3 bucks each (which is a novelty in Toronto in most cases) and the promise of traditional and untraditional garnishes.  In this case, they were served with lime, a mignonette and a beet horseradish (which I suppose is a little unorthodox).  The oysters themselves were a nice size and shucked properly.

Oysters 6 for $15 served with lime, mignonette and beet horseradish
Oysters 6 for $15 served with lime, mignonette and beet horseradish

For dessert, I ordered the pineapple with coconut cream and lime.  It was a refreshing finish to the meal but nothing remarkable. In general, I find the quality of pineapple inconsistent in general  and this one was a bit on the sour side.

Pineapple with coconut cream and lime $4
Pineapple with coconut cream and lime $4

My Take 

Ok, the Peoples Eatery has never been on Spadina Avenue so technically it can’t come back but let’s stick with the wrestling analogy.  First, we have the pretension of the staff which mimics that of the buff characters in the ring.  There was certainly hipster muscle flexing going on.  Second, like a wrestling match, the menu was well choreographed, offering both traditional and fancy moves contained within an entertaining evening. Finally, as a finishing move the dessert  was more like Hulk Hogan’s lame leg drop as opposed to the Rock’s electrifying people’s elbow executed in front of the millions and millions of his adoring  fans.  In the end, the People’s Eatery is a decent but not spectacular sequel to 416 snack bar.  I wouldn’t say it has the swagger of Wrestlemania but it would certainly be considered a good episode of Monday night raw…. if you smell what the Rock is cooking.

People's Eatery on Urbanspoon

DDD:Cleveland:Momocho Mod Mex

Another old yelp post with a few updates…..

It was a swell night and I was sitting in a hotel at the Cleveland airport. I called down to Momocho Mod Mex and they assured me I would get in without too much of an issue. I arrived to be told it was a 30 minute wait but was seated after about 15. I opted for the patio which provided lots of room in nice backyard type surroundings.

I started with a michelada ( beer and hot sauce wit some lime and salt on the rim). Well done and good price point ($4.50) and  I liked the ability to choose from any of the numerous Mexican and non-Mexican beers on the menu. I opted for an old school Tecate. There are also plenty of margarita choices on the menu as well.

After mulling over the array of guacamole (there’s everything from goat cheese to crab), I opted for the jicama/pineapple ($8.50). It was a big portion, was fresh and tasty but not as unique as I hoped. Maybe it was my choice!

The tamale dumplings ($8.50)  were ordered as a side and were very authentic although served with the same side as the taquitos.

momo tamale

From the mains, I ordered the Machaca (brisket)  ($15.50) and atun (tuna) ($17.50) taquito plates at the recommendation of the waiter.  The tuna was a perfect medium rare and the brisket was tender and flavourful.  The highlights were definitely the  brisket   and the blood orange marmalade that came with the tuna. The chile rajita served on the side was good but not spectacular.

Atun Taquitos (Tuna $17.50)
Atun Taquitos
(Tuna $17.50)

Brisket
Brisket

Dessert was the Capirotada ($6). Despite the unique menu description (gingersnap and jalapeno) and promise by the waiter, I would say it was an average bread pudding.

Dessert
Dessert

Decor inside was unique and very tasteful. Cozy in and out even though some of the art is a bit creepy!  Service was slow at times but the staff was pleasant.

My Take

All in all, a nice experience in a relaxed environment with refined, modern Mexican food, although the flavours became a bit monotonous as the meal progressed. The guacamole was a tiny let down, either because it was so highly touted or because I went conservative and shied away from the trout, crab, goat or blue cheese.  This place is an atypical DDD  in both cost (I found it a little pricy) and decor.  Plus, I swear Guy Fieri was one of those strange masked men in the pictures hanging on the wall. It didn’t blow my mind but I also didn’t leave disappointed although I do believe,based on the pictures inside, I had a few nightmares of masked Mexican wrestlers administering full nelsons on me while screaming “Mi comida es la mejor del mundo” in my ear.

Verdict: 4 Guyz

Momocho Mod Mex on Urbanspoon