Lunch at the Trump: Not Even Neil Diamond Would Come to This America

I have fond memories of my grandparents and blame them for some of my suspicious musical preferences.  Beside the rusty orange la-z-boy was an eight track player which sat atop a faux leather stand which housed a mix of country and adult contemporary music.  I particular, I remember Neil Diamond.  Even today, at the age of 74, Neil remains a stud in the music world. As a high school student, he would write poems for his male classmates so they could pass along to the ladies in an effort to seal the deal. He was a pre-med student at New York University and excelled at fencing.  He has be inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and some of his music remains among the most recognizable over the past 3 generations.  I challenge you to go to any bar, wedding, Red Sox game etc. and not see a drunk crowd of anybody over the age of 25 not belt out the belt out the chorus of “Sweet Caroline” when cued.  He also wrote “I’m a Believer” which any Shrek or Monkees fan would recognize instantly. In this context,  I was reminded of Neil as a result of his epic song America in which he sings of an immigrant’s triumphant arrival to the U.S. with such lyrics as “Everywhere around the world, they’re coming to America,ev’ry time that flag’s unfurled, they’re coming to America”.

America recently replaced Stock at the Trump hotel and is a surprising partnership between two of Toronto’s biggest hospitality groups: Charles Khabouth’s Ink entertainment and restaurant juggernauts Oliver and Bonacini.  As a result, one would expect lavish surroundings and trendy menu choices.  I went for lunch as part of a meeting recently and ordered off the menu.  There is a mix of items including soups, salads and pastas as well as daily specials ranging from lobster rolls to seared tuna.  I fought the temptation to grab a mid meeting nap on the velvet banquette complete with comfy  decorative pillows and ordered the wild and tame mushroom soup ($14) and america’s caesar salad ($16).  I was appalled.  The soup, described on the menu as “enough said” should have said “four mushroom pieces floating in a flimsy broth with no substance” or “mild and lame”.  At least the Caesar salad had a more accurate description which simply stated “creamy roasted garlic dressing”.  There was A LOT  of dressing and the only other component other than the red romaine was a few “croutons” which were nothing more than a dried version of the same jalapeno corn bread that was in the basket on the table. In addition,  I spoke to a few colleagues after and they were equally unimpressed.  The tuna special was sleepy and the shrimp and squid tagliolini had the too long under the  heat lamp look to it.  One of my table mates asked for some Parmesan (I didn’t blame him) which seemed a bit insulting to the waitstaff. Other than that, although the service was pretty good, it was rather slow and inconsistent which was a far cry  from  the service I received in other areas of the Trump throughout the week.

Wild and Tame Mushroom Soup $14
Wild and Tame Mushroom Soup $14
America Caesar Salad $16
America Caesar Salad $16

My Take

Although it was in a different context, I enjoyed Stock when it was open.  I was expecting that if anything, America would elevate at 31st floor of the Trump hotel to a new level.  Instead, it seems to quality of the food has been comprised. Perhaps the dinner experience is better but I would have expected  more from a $30 lunch.  It was surprisingly more stagnant than it was stuffy and I left with a bad taste in my mouth…literally.   In the end, Neil Diamond’s America is much better than Trump’s…and I like his hair better too.

America Restaurant - Trump International Hotel and Tower Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

King Street 2.0: Barhop

I’ve realized that I have done a number of second visits to restaurants along King street so far this year.  Since it has been some time since I’ve been to or reviewed these places, I figured it would be prudent to update my experiences.  Let’s start with Barhop.

Both the staff and many of the patrons at Barhop are what I refer to as “hopsters”.  Hopsters fall under the same genus as hipsters but they differ in order in that their angst is geared toward those who don’t appreciate the fine art of brewing. My first experience with hopsters was almost 20 years ago at C’est What?, a brewpub on Front Street.  I remember watching people come in and order a Canadian or a Blue only to be scoffed at by the staff followed by a stern lecture pointing out that you can’t order a macrobrew here. At the time, I thought it was quiet humourous and chuckled under my breath at the unsuspecting fools.

Barhop has carried on the hopster tradition but has adapted it to 2015.  Even with a decent knowledge of beer, there is no guarantee you will receive prompt and/or courteous service. I dropped in one night only to sit there for 10 minutes without so much as an acknowledgment so I left.  I returned a second time and it was equally as busy but this time I got a rail seat and at least an offer of a drink.  It goes without saying that the beer selection is amazing.  Most of the draft choices are local brews including side launch, KLB, Amsterdam, Indie Ale House, Sawdust city etc. They also have a few of their own branded pints including a very good nitro ESB.  They also have rare brews, table bottles and all sorts of other delights.

From a food perspective, the menu is exactly what you would expect; bar food with a gastropub twist. I only had a few snacks since I was grabbing dinner later.  These pictures are brutal but I wanted to minimize the use of the flash so as not to disturb the hopsters as they began their nocturnal ritual.  The olives and marinated cheese ($13) were served with grilled bread. I thought the cheese was a clever dish and a bit of a deviation from the normal cheese plates served in the area.  The homemade jerky ($9) was served with a bourbon bacon jam.  I must say this the first time I’ve ever eaten jerky with jam.  I won’t say there was synergy in the combined flavours but I think the jam made the jerky, which was quite dry (as is meant to be) a little easier to chew.  The fried pickles served with ranch ($9) hit the mark and were comparable to other places from both a taste and price perspective.

My Take

The original microbrew movement was somewhat quashed by the realization of international conglomerates that microbrews  posed a threat to their bottom line. This resulted in the purchase and/or suppression of many a fine beer.  Creemore, for example, was purchased by Molson (who is owned by Coors’) in 2005 and to this day has been disguised as a microbrewery.  Both Alexander Keith’s and Rickard’s stay at arms length from their owners (Anheuser-Busch and  Molson Coors Brewing respectively) and promote family values, tradition and other moral lessons.

Luckily, this decade has seen a return to the art of authentic craft brewing. Barhop was one of the first restaurants to jump on the resurgence of the true microbrewery movement in Ontario.  With it comes the hopster attitude and a menu which tries to match the needs of their beer swilling patrons.  It’s crowded, they don’t take reservations and the service can be inconsistent but if you want a good pint in the entertainment district, this is your best bet….just don’t order a bud.

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Tearing it up at Terry’s Turf Club

Day two was an early drive into Tennessee.  My goal was simple…drive 8 hours to make a reservation at Husk, GQ’s sixth ranked restaurant in the US.  Of course there would be a stop or two along the way but at the time I didn’t realize I had the assistance of a change in time zone to grant me an extra hour to complete this daunting task.

Part of the plan was to conveniently arrive in Cincinnati around lunch, allowing me to pop into Terry’s Turf Club.  Terry’s is one of these places that has been elevated to elite status in the  world of edible Americana.  It has been featured on numerous shows and articles including a visit from Guy Fieri on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives.

The exterior could easily be mistaken for an Ohio garage sale.  Worn collectibles grace the entire length of the joint.  Inside, there’s enough neon to put the Vegas strip to shame. We were greeted by Jim, a friendly maître d’ who informed us we were the first guests of the day and guided us to our seats.  He was wearing the first of many Bluetooth earpieces I saw during my travels, an artifact that is near extinct north of the border but is alive and well in the USA.

Terry's Turf Club- Outside
Terry’s Turf Club- Outside

Terry’s is a burger place.  You choose a patty (ranging from lump crab to filet mignon), choose your cheese, decide if you want onions and/or banana peppers  and finish with optional toppings for an additional cost.  The waitress highly recommended the red wine, wild mushroom and truffle sauce since it was not only her favorite, it was Guy’s choice on the show.  I decided to infuse a little irony and add a fried egg (Guy’s nemesis) to the mix. In the end, it was a $13 burger served with potato chips (fries were another $2.25).

I also ordered a TTC deviled egg with shrimp ($3.25) and some pepper paw poppers ($4) to start.   The first is a half egg topped with a mango-jalapeno marinated shrimp and filled with a mix of yolk, bearnaise, ghetto mustard and crème fraiche.  It was delicious.  The filling was thick and hearty. The tanginess was nicely offset by the sweetness and subtle heat of the shrimp. The poppers were an interesting spin on traditional bar food.  They are not fried and stuffed with their four cheese mix instead of the traditional cream cheese.  They were tasty.  The peppers were a natural blend of sweet and spice.  The filling had a punch but it was a bit gritty.

Devilled Egg $3.25
TTC Devilled Egg with Shrimp $3.25
Poppers $4
Pepper Paw Poppers $4

While waiting for the burgers, Jim came by and engaged in a very interesting discussion about the restaurant and a past trip to London, Ontario.  He and all the staff were extremely friendly and really created a cool vibe, especially when mixed with the copious numbers of neon lights and other symbols of Americana.  For example, in an effort to be clean, neat and polite Canadians, we were eating peanuts and nicely stacking the shells on the table.  One staff member came by, shook his head in a friendly way and threw them on the floor.

Terry's Turf Club- Inside
Terry’s Turf Club- Inside

The burgers arrived in decent time.  Eight ounces of meat sat between a nicely grilled bun and sat on a paper Dixie plate.  The potato chips were nothing more than decoration.  Along with the burger came a large serrated knife for the sole purpose of slicing the monstrosity in half to make eating it somewhat possible. As the burger, the meat was a bit stringy, the sauce was a bit salty and the egg was a bit overdone. Collectively, it was a good burger but not a great burger.

Terry's Burgers ($8.50-$13)
Terry’s Burgers ($8.50-$13)
Tool for Burger Dissection
Tool for Burger Dissection

My Take

Terry’s is a must see if you are in search of what I call “Edible Americana”.  The decor is over the top, overflowing with neon, tin and advertisements of yesteryear. The service is superb and sincere. The food is more than acceptable (I really enjoyed the deviled egg) but not among the pinnacle of recreating America’s most beloved foods, the burger.   The prices are reasonable unless you can’t fight the temptation to add numerous condiments to the half pound of meat which fills the well-toasted bun. In the end, Terry’s is worth a stop if you’re looking for cheesiness as part of American road trip.  If you’re looking for cheese slapped on the best burger on the planet, however, you may be disappointed. 

Food– 3.5 Guyz

Service– 5 Guyz

Vibe– 5 Guyz

Total: 13.5/15


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