The Ethnic Flare of the 905: Taking the Burger out of Suburgatory

After a longer than normal (and probably not noticeable) absence, I figure it’s time to jump on the blogging band wagon again.  Part of my absence can be explained by the unbelievable amount of time it takes to move and the post-relocation stress disorder (PRSD) that lingers for months after. Although this resulted in many days with a spoiled appetite, I have managed to work my way out to a few places during this period.

It seems I’ve been eating in Toronto’s burbs a little more recently lately. Maybe it’s correlated to the fact that,  although I didn’t move far in London, I am on a quieter “suburban” crescent now as opposed to the busy “urban” street I used to live on.  More likely, I’ve just been in hanging more in the 905 area. As part of these experiences, I have noticed that there are advantages to eating outside of the city.

1. Hipsters are few and far between. Sure, there are suburban hipsters (substers) which pop up here and there but for the most part they are an easier breed to deal with.  Substers usually possess less angst and are more likely to have mom tattooed on their upper arms as opposed to roman numerals or  a recreation of Joseph’s Amazing Technicolour dreamcoat all over them.

2. Parking is a much easier and cheaper. This may be an issue, however, if the main reason for the night out is to get sloppy drunk. Uber may be a little scattered and transit is a lot less predictable so and expensive cab ride home may be in the works. That said, the price of a cocktail seems to drop by about $5 once you are north of the 401 so it may justify the extra $15 you’ll need to spend to get home.

3. There are amazing pockets of ethnic food in many of Toronto’s suburbs which luckily offset the numerous chains which populate the major streets and commercial areas within the 905. I apologize in advance if there is any disappointment in the fact that there won’t be a Jack Astor’s review as part of this post although I do hear their chicken fingers made in-house are divine and pair beautifully with a barefoot chardonnay.

In particular, I have recently spend some time in the Markham area and hit a quadruple eateries none of which are owned by Cara foods:

1. Tapagria

While the industrial themed small plate movement was taking over the 416, Tapagria quietly opened in the 905 focusing on Spanish tapas with a Markham twist (ie. located in a strip mall).  The menu was surprisingly authentic, complete with traditional favorites such as paella, pintxo and Iberian ham. We stuck with an array of bites including pan con tomate, smoked eggplant pintxo, mushroom croquettes, skirt steak, grilled calamari and a cheese board (including a bit of manchego) which we washed down with a decent Tempranillo. Generally speaking, the dishes were acceptably true to form, attempting to focus on quality ingredients whenever possible. Sure, it’s not la rambla, but despite a bit of suburban modification, I’m not sure it’s much less authentic than some of the other tapas joints that have popped up all over downtown. Plus, it would save a trip if you are in the area anyway and don’t want to venture down the always crowded highways.

2. Congee Queen

Congee queen is well-established Chinese eatery with half a dozen locations scattered across the north of the GTA. Unlike Tapagria, the authenticity does not lie in the food alone, but in the overall experience especially given the fact I was the token white guy in the whole place. Trolleys busily trek back and forth carrying piles of food from the extensive menu. I’ve been a couple of times. The first time I went for an early lunch so one of the 40 plus options of the namesake dish made sense. I opted for the abalone clam and chicken which I  paired with some rice rolls; a combination would could easily replace an oral glucose tolerance test for the diagnosis of diabetes. That said, there is something about a simple bowl of rice porridge that was more mystical than it should be. The second time I went for dinner and sampled an array of dishes including the shrimp wonton soup, tiger shrimp and mango salad and snowpea leaf with king mushroom. The food is good, the portions are huge and the prices are reasonable.

3. Ding Tai Fung

Dim sum and dumplings are music to my ears and another assault on my beta cell capacity. If you’re not on the Spadina strip in urban Toronto, then Ding Tai Fung is super suburban surrogate. It’s located in the First Markham place, which is the epitome of Toronto’s 905 experience. Where else can you can circle for 20 minutes looking for a parking spot, pop into the Home Outfitters for some bed sheets and finish the experience with a bubble tea or some stinky tofu from the Mei Nung Beef Noodle House. Back to Ding Tai Fung: the food was above average highlighted by the incredible Shanghai wontons with spicy sauce and soup dumplings. The only minor disappointment were the gyoza dumplings which were enormous but a little too doughy as opposed to crispy.

4. Shanghai Shikumen Fine Cuisine

Also located in the First Markham place complex, I went not only as the token white guy at the table, but the token white guy in the whole restaurant. I luckily had some help trying to decipher the hundreds of available items and ended up with a variety of dishes which represented a Shanghai experience and pushed the envelope just a little. Menu items included braised wheat gluten (which is somewhat satisfying for reasons other than taste),xiaolongbao (dumplings), jellyfish (which I’ve concluded I’m not fond of), ribs and a few soups. In particular, the spicy soup (similar to mapo doufu) was an interesting experience. It’s characterized by tongue numbing peppercorns which seemed a bit of an initiation but my Asian table mates (little did they know I own not one but two buffalo wild wings champions shirts for eating 10 blazin’ wings in less than 5 minutes…insert evil laugh). I must admit it was a bit euphoric to have one of your senses temporarily removed. The other soup was Jiu Niang (or maybe a variation) which is a fermented rice soup with a level of booze that may just fall short of inducing red faces in those with alcohol dehydrogenase deficiencies (which clearing a phenotypically does not include me).

My Take

Ok, I really didn’t move to the burbs but I can still draw parallels between busy street chaos/calm crescent living and urban vs suburban dining. Yes, the latter can be a little slow and boring but there are elements of excitement (and perhaps modernization) here and there. It’s true enough that many of the aforementioned Asian eateries are nothing new but in some cases there is an overall shift towards having restaurants in the 905 reflecting a multitude of cultures in ways more than shrimp tacos at Kelsey’s. Perhaps one advantage is these places don’t have to pretend or feel pressure to adhering to authenticity dictated by foodie culture. One can enjoy an authentic dumpling without being draped in silk tapestries or having to listen to some spiel about the chef’s inspiration while on a pilgrimage along the Great Wall. Instead, you just get decent food unapologetically thrown down like on the table like a suburban parent running late for hockey practice or piano class.

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The Solemn Story of Snackies by a Montgomery who wasn’t Lucy

One of the most treasured stories in Canadian folklore is that of Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery.  It’s the coming of age story of a determined redhead who was mistakenly adopted into a farming family in PEI and has been told and retold through books and other media such as film, television and even live productions.  Over a hundred years later, numerous Toronto restaurants are writing their own stories in an effort to capture the essence of Canadiana. Montgomery’s is one of these. Although I can’t attest to the origin of the name (it certainly isn’t that of the owners), I could use my creative licence and suggest that it is may be named after the famed author.  So, although I’m sure she could pen a much better story than I, I’ll attempt to summarize the experience in my own literary style:

There’s a restaurant called Montgomery’s.  It’s a modest place and apparently purposely so. One could easy walk past the meager storefront searching for a place to dine.  The interior is a bit meager  highlighted by a rather large and seemingly cozy rug/tapestry hanging along one wall and tables and chairs that looked like hand me downs from an estate sale. With the plain white walls it looks a bit like a prison visitation room.  Once seated, you may hear a fable from the waitstaff justifying a thirty dollar price tag for an Italian beer. If you are really lucky, in surroundings lit only by the small candle flickering on the table you may hear the tale of Snackies the Omish cow.  Snackies was aptly named by a 2 year old on a farm that, despite, her tender age, was a bovine clairvoyant who knew that one day, her farmyard friend would adorn a plate in downtown Toronto served medium rare.  In the original story, the name of the cow remained a secret, only to be shared with those who were curious or wanted to know the name needed to canonize this cow into culinary sainthood.

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Snackies

The trout, sadly, did not receive the same attention. It was simply called trout, named in a fashion much like the majority of the characters (ie. bear, skunk and muskrat) in the Franklin cartoon.  Perhaps the two year oracle would have named it Fishy or Swimmy but alas one will never know.  The only other protein of mention was an small egg custard who’s bite was bigger than its bark in that it was full of sweet, salt and unami flavours. The bread took a dip in the lentils or camouflaged itself behind vibrant green butter. The chain gang of vegetables were housed on white plates and bowls as bleak as the walls themselves. The lettuce drowned in its sorrows and the beans, carrots and potatoes were particularly sour to be there. The tarte tatin, however, was the apple of everybody eye.  The entire group, when together, made for a fun and eventful adventure despite being housed in a concrete tundra. The end.

My Take

I’m a bit behind in my reviews so the menu has changed often since I went a couple of months ago.  That said, the concept seems to have remained the same; seasonal vegetables with a few proteins served in a fashion (ie. plain) which forces the food to do the talking. That said, the cup of lettuce seems to be a consistent character in this story and is worth a try although you probably won’t dream of bathing in the broth at night.  All in all, the food was not mind blowing but it was good.  The custard was divine and Snackies represented. The vegetables were a bit hit and miss but all around good.

The concept of the restaurant, from the shabby store front to the ugly floors and odd rug/tapestry thing on the wall, bothered me. Some people have told me this is purposeful and if it is I apologize for not understanding.  Maybe it’s like that painting at a museum I stare at thinking “WTF”, but I perceive more as “we couldn’t be bothered so let’s pretend like we meant to do it”.  From a decor perspective, to me there is a difference between industrial and correctional.

I’m a bit perplexed at the lack of social media coverage.  Sure, the opening was covered by Toronto life and Blogto but other than that the normal review sites have been as barren as Montgomery’s walls. There are only 9 yelp reviews and zomato hasn’t registered enough voters to even have a rating.  This is not always indicative of overall noise but it’s a bit odd.  I do, however, notice that they do take time to respond to many of the reviews, good or bad.  They are also closed on Sunday and Monday now which could be interpreted in a number of ways.  I guess we have to wait and see if this place will turn out more like Anne of Green Gables or the Pat of Silver Bush.

Given the story of Snackies the cow as the lead character among a diverse cast of plain, misunderstood and diverse characters all set in a drab decor, if I was a literary critic I would say Montgomery’s can best be described as  a tale in which AA Milne meets Orange is the new Black.

Montgomery's Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Doomie’s: Hollywood Lands in Toronto with the Samuel L. Jackson of Vegan Food

It’s stretch to say that Los Angeles and Toronto has too much in common.  Sure, because of a weak Canadian dollar and the continued escalation of TIFF to entertainment elitism, Toronto could be considered the Hollywood of Canada. In addition, Canada, in particular Toronto, have exported numerous television and movie commodities to the City of Angels.  Regarding  food, there have been hints of an affair between California and Toronto cuisine in the last couple of years.  First, there is California sandwiches, the very successful  Toronto sandwich chain which, come to think of it, seemingly has nothing to do with the Golden state.  Next there was Monticito, the Jonathan Waxman/Ivan Reitman partnership which fuses West Coast cuisine with science fiction comedies. The latest Cali spinoff in the Six is Doomie’s, the popular LA joint which didn’t have to claim a single animal product for inspection when crossing the border earlier this year.  Doomie’s, unlike some of the other vegetarian or vegan places in town, doesn’t claim that their products are healthy. In fact, they boast about not offering salads on the menu.  Instead, the theme centres around caloric-laden junk food including the flagship vegan Big Mac which mysteriously does not appear on the menu but is available (likely due to the carnivorous lawyers representing Ronald McDonald et al.).

It has a very modest storefront and a long narrow and equally modest interior.  There are a number of seats at the bar and since I was solo (and the fact there wasn’t an available table in sight), I was seated there.  The waitress was very pleasant and cordial and didn’t grill me about my normal food preferences.  She wore her heart on her sleeve; actually it was a tattoo which may or may not have been a heart.  I was driving so I stuck with pint-size pop but I was easier talked into the aforementioned sandwich.  I was also coaxed into a upgrade of the side of fries to nacho fries which came complete with fake meat, fake cheese and real vegetables….a combo which ran me $20. I was pleasantly surprised. I’m not sure if the picture does it justice but the burger was probably twice the size of a normal Big Mac. The fake meat was far from extraordinary but the combination of ingredients (especially in the cheese sauce but keep in mind I have a strong affinity for fake cheese) certainly gave you that Big Mac feeling. It was like completing a chemistry lesson and then eating it. It was as messy too…on numerous occasions I felt like a two year old trying to eat that thing. The fries were those crispy coated ones but the added toppings made for a delicious side. I was lucky to get through half the offering.

doomies
The Doomie’s Big Mac with Extreme Nacho Fries $20

My Take

I’m sure there is a laundry list of reasons why people choose to become vegan which may include the following:

  1. A recognition that meat production and consumption destroys the carbon footprint quicker than a Nascar race.
  2. Bambi is cute.
  3. Their satiety comes from peace in the soul as opposed to peace on the tongue.
  4. It’s the easiest way to fit into a size 0 set of Lulus.
  5. A past, existing of fear of a future health scare.
  6. In the case of a guy, he wants to get laid.

Doomie’s could address most of these (except 4 and maybe 5) but I saw 6 first hand when the guy beside me openly admitted he only came to impress his girl who came all the way from Kincardine to try the fare.  Bravo buddy!

My experience at Doomie’s taught me a couple of things.  First, vegan food does not always have to served with a side of political strife or judgement.  A carnivorous fat dude can walk into this place and actually be encouraged to add fake sour cream to their fries.  Second, there is a market for this stuff.  It was 5 when I went and the place was packed and at $20 a for a burger platter the profits can roll in.  Maybe I’ll jump on the entrepreneurial bandwagon and open a PETA pit and use my son’s chemistry kit to dream up dairy products that don’t taste like shit.

In Hollywood terms, Doomie’s would be like a Samuel L. Jackson movie (even the name sounds like a movie he could star in..and you can add a $20 burger to the $5 milkshake).  It’s nasty, filthy and sometimes a bit confusing but makes a tonne of money in the theatre.  This would be in direct contrast to the numerous Meryl Streep movies which get critical acclaim and win awards but are sleepy and boring and nobody other than Hollywood gives a shit.  Once again, maybe my concept would work.  The PETA pit could offer middle of the road food with a little edge and some odd humour. I wonder if Jason Bateman is around?

Doomie's Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

I Had DINR with the Prime Minister in the North and with the Navy…Sort of.

I’m oblivious sometimes.  Sure, I can navigate through a number of websites searching so what’s hot in the restaurant world but I often miss things right in front of my face. I was in Ottawa for a conference recently and needed a quick spot for dinner.  As part of my search, I stumbled across DINR, a rather new app which revolves around last minute reservations at some of the most coveted restaurants in the country.  Luckily, Ottawa is one of the featured  cities so I managed to secure the chef’s table at North and Navy with a few hours notice. North and Navy is a relatively new restaurant which moved into the space left when Beckta switched locations. The concept plays on what the owners call similarities between the climates of Northern Italy and Eastern Ontario with a focus on local ingredients.

I was staying at a hotel down the road so it was nice walk to the Nepean street location. I noticed that the air was crisp indicating that fall was here.  What I didn’t notice was that there were a number of black sedans outside the restaurant.  We were quickly seated at the rail and waited for our last guest who arrived and immediately commented on the motorcade parked outside.  I laughed and offered to look around the restaurant on the way to the washroom in case the beloved Justin Trudeau may be in the house.  On the way back I made eye contact (well..maybe one way eye contact) which somebody who faintly resembled Sophie who was sitting with a man with flowing Pantene locks.  I didn’t dare stop or make eye contact to confirm given  I’m not sure of the Canadian rules around approaching a head of state in a dining establishment (although a shirtless selfie may have been in the cards), so I went back to my seat and mentioned I thought it was him. Another member of our party got up, walked past the table, did a 360 and quickly returned to confirm the sighting.

We were greeted by a pleasant employee who went through the description of the menu using the airplane safety speech that has become the norm for any shared plate eatery currently in existence.  We were encouraged to try the cicheti (ie. Italian snack plate) which featured grissini, marinated anchovy, oyster, mackerel and a homemade meatball.It was served on a silver platter worthy of let’s say….a prime minister.  We collectively destroyed the plate’s contents with good reviews.

north-cichetti
Cicheti $2-4 plus funky socks and crocs in lieu of a Prime Ministerial selfie 

There were four primi pasta courses on the menu and we ordered them all. The potato tortaletti with matching brodo was pleasantly plated with some pickled onions. The tender and unique pasta was spot on but the delicate but precisely seasoned  broth stole the show.  A bit more along the traditional path of Northern Italy, the bigoli con le vongole was another hit in its simplicity. Great pasta, great sauce and great seafood. I’m typically not a risotto fan but I thoroughly enjoyed  the pancetta and corn offering.  It provided cream corn comfort sprinkled with salty pieces of pancetta. The mint parpadelle with abundant mushrooms was an incredible concoction of earthy flavours.  The mint leaves offered a unorthadox yet pleasant freshness.  In the end, each primi choice offered textures and tastes that ranged from Harper conservative to flowing lock liberal.

As an intermezzo, we went for the raw zucchini with olives, mint and pecorino plus cured eggplant with house yoghurt.  I love chef’s tables, especially when dishes involve meticulous construction.  Both this dishes were assembled with a pinpoint precision which made then as appealing to the eye as to the tongue. The zucchini cleansed the aftermath of the previous dishes while the eggplant foreshadowed what was to come.

Given the sizable amount of food we had already consumed, we decided on two of the  available entrees; the trout with brussel sprouts and parsnip and the Quebec duck with fennel and pear.  The fish was brilliant.  Maybe it was my bias given the fact that I’m tired of every fish dish in a restaurant currently being served with some kind of tomato.  Instead, crunchy sprouts and a rich and pleasantly pungent parsnip puree were the perfect compliment to the pristine pesce. The red cabbage and the pickled squash (which was addictive by itself) added colour and another dimension to the dish.  Duck, especially Quebec canard, seems to be a staple in Ottawa and North and Navy was no exception.  There is an emerging trend coupling fresh fruit with protein and in this case, it was sliced pear.  It wasn’t my favorite dish of the night but still hit decent flavour and textural notes.

Since we were sitting at the chef’s table, we were able to get some great reflections and insights from the kitchen.  Adam Vettorel, North and Navy’s head chef, stopped his meticulous plating to chat for a bit.  He had a confident yet awkward personality which is seemingly quite characteristic among those with the role of chief cook.  We were treated to a story about a recent competition in which he opted for successfully pickling of squash instead of cooking it, a tactic which was transferred with some regularity to his menu soon after.

Dessert was classic Italian which nicely reflected the  general theme of North and Navy; traditional tiramisu and playful panna cotta. Like the rest of the meal, the fundamental execution was brilliant and combined old and new world ingredients and flavours.

My Take

Although I doubt Mr. Trudeau used nor needed the DINR app, it is a great tool for an unorganized, indecisive and whimsical food fan.   I would personally argue that a culinary celebrity sighting if usually more exciting than a political one but dining with the prime minister (sort of) makes for a good story, especially when chatting with friends and colleagues who figurative bleed red or appreciate good hair. That said, North and Navy made its food, especially the pasta, worth throwing into the discussion as well.  Adam Vettorel et al., unlike his famous guest,can effectively  execute a plan. North and Navy’s campaign promised Northern Italy with local influence and they delivered.  In the end, they get my vote even if I’m not a card carrying Liberal.

North & Navy Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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.

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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.

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

New Orleans Day 2: Getting Surrey, Them Feeling Toup of the World and Grabbing a Few Groceries to End it All Off

Day two started with another trip down Magazine Street but instead of ending up in the core of the Garden district I stopped a bit early at Surrey’s cafe, another of the 10 or so DDD in the New Orleans area.  Surrey’s is a breakfast/lunch juice bar. The menu items include some of the standard fare for both meals plus a few choices with a Latin flare.

The place is rustic or run-down depending on what side of the foodie line you stand on.  You know what I mean… wobbly tables on an uneven floor with mismatched chairs and confusing art on the wall.  That said, the waitstaff was attentive and the dude was quick to recommend a few of his favorites.  He talked me into the $11 corned beef hash.  The spin was the addition of both boudin and andouille sausage. It was a delicious and hearty portion which I finished off with a few liberal splashes of hot sauce.

In the end, Surrey’s is your cookie-cutter hipster breakfast joint characterized by a seemingly necessary shottiness.  In this case, there is a Latino flare added…kind of like Corona’s as opposed to Cora’s.  Decent food and a decent vibe providing you go at off-peak times.  Otherwise, you’ll be waiting a while.

Food- 4/5 Guyz

Service- 3.5/5 Guyz

Vibe- 3.5/5  Guyz

Total: 11/15 Guyz

Lunch was another example of me living out my PVR fantasies.  Instead of a DDD, I opted for Toups’ Meatery in the Mid-City.  Not only had Issac Toups been nominated for numerous James Beard awards (including 2016 in which he lost out to the chef of my dinner destination), but he also was a finalist on the popular competition show Top Chef.  Toups’ promises a meat heavy experience with a Cajun twist served  in saloony type scenery. Armed with a carnivorous attitude, I delved into the lunch offerings while doing my best to avoid anything related to salad which meant a smorgasbord including  a cheese board, meatery board, Louisiana crab claws and a side order of cracklins. All were quite satisfying but I really enjoyed the crab claws.  They were served so they could be eaten hand held like artichoke leaves.  The sweet and sour of the pickled pineapple and the heat of the Thai chilis made for a number of exciting bites.  They had a bit of that mindless shoving popcorn in your face effect. With a copious amount of  fat and sodium, the cracklins were a complete exercise in arterial challenge.  I would have been surprised if they were anything short of tongue-tingling.

In the end, Toups’ was a good example of a charcuterie shack with a southern spin. I would be naive to think the small amount of omega-3 in the crab claws offset the saturated fat but the Cajun flare they added certainly increased the NOLA authenticity and reminded me I was in the general proximity of the Gulf Coast.

It was back to the garden district for dinner.  The destination was La Petit Grocery who’s chef, Justin Devillier, was the 2016 James Beard winner for the South region.Unlike the industrial look, the interior of this Magazine Street eatery looks like a place where you might court a southern belle.  The cocktail, appetizer and main I ordered are no longer menu (a reflection of the tardiness of my blogs) but these items were still a good representation of what to expect at La Petit Grocery which is New Orleans first flavours with a little Europe thrown  in.  The alta cocktail, which was a combination of booze from Italy to Mexico and accented with citrus flavours, resulting in a refreshing summer drink.  The fresh green garlic spaghetti was the perfect bed for the sweet crawfish tails and the crispy pork confit was teamed with modernized southern classics including pickled collard greens and dirty rice with a mustard jus which brought it all together.   The wine list is diverse and tackles all price ranges including the middle of the road ones we indulged on such as the Domaine Jean Collet & Fils “Montée de Tonnerre ” Chablis 1 er Cru 2009 for $70 and Oregon’s Moises Wahle Vineyards Willamette Valley 2008 Pinot for a few bucks less.

In the end, day 2 was a bit of everything; from rustic and run down to carnivorous and classic chic James Beard favorites which speaks to the fact that New Orleans has evolved into a scene beyond Cajun and creole.  That said,  they seem to ensure they protect the cuisine of Louisiana’s unique culture and history as well. I would need day 3 to see if this is always the case.

La Petite Grocery Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato