Jack Tripper’s Closet, George Carlin’s Arrest and Flocking Good Chicken

Swearing is an interesting means of communication.  When used properly, it makes things funnier. I was watching John Oliver rant about the atrocities of the democratic and republican primaries last week and tipped my hat to his strategic use of the word “fuck” a handful of times. Personally,my swearing is catalyzed by two things: golf and drinking. A near perfect drive followed by a 10 foot flub is enough to put me over the edge and I swear a bottle of homemade wine shuts off whatever language etiquette  I may have.

Many marketing campaigns have been developed around altering the english language slightly to insinuate the use of at least some of Carlin’s list of seven words you can never say on television. In 1972, Carlin was arrested for muttering those same words (see below) during a Milwaukee comedy show.  Surprising enough, despite the increased acceptance of steamy sex scenes and extreme violence in the past decade or two, most of the words are still not allowed, at least on network TV. Luckily, the same does not apply to bloggers or other angstful social media zealots.

The use of manipulated swearing in marketing campaigns is as classic as a misunderstanding on Three’s Company.  I remember many instances in which Jack Tripper’s words and antics  were misconstrued by Mr. Roper and subsequently Mr. Furley. Today, it is an interesting observation to watch the stereotypes of almost 40 years ago.  Janet was the sensible, party-pooping and moderately attractive brunette and Chrissy was the bubble-headed blond.  Jack had to pretend he was gay in order to remain the girl’s roommate given the fact that multigender living arrangements (at least in the eyes of both Mr. Roper and Mr. Furley) were as controversial then as transgendered bathrooms are now.   Whether or not this was the first instance in television’s journey in the recognition and acceptance of gays remains a debate but an article I read while researching this blog (see link below) provides an interesting perspective.  Among other things, it suggests that the irony of Jack’s need to closet his heterosexuality against his landlord (ie. the man) was a direct reflection of the same struggle that homosexuals in the same era were living. The author also notes that the thought of even discussing homosexuality on television was absent in the seventies and really only erupted years later with the introduction of shows like Will and Grace and teasers like Rosanne Barr’s “bisexual moment”.

http://soref.tv/jack-tripper-good-for-the-gays/

What does all this banter have to do with a food blog? I remember going to a place called Fricker’s in Ohio in which you could order a “fricken big beer”.  Ok…friggin’ is not quite a Carlin no-no but I think it illustrates the concept well. Plus, I’m sure there is somewhere in the world where you can cleverly order an “I don’t give a duck sandwich” or something similar.

Enter Flock, a rather new chicken restaurant in Toronto.  It currently has a brood of 3 locations with a fourth which is almost hatched.  The Harbord street location (at the old THR and Co. spot) has a larger sit down area complete with “flocktails” and other bar service.  Otherwise, the other two are no booze take out joints with a bit of seating. The premise is simply chicken and greens.  One can opt for rotisserie or fried chicken complete with a variety of sides and/or a choice of five super salads with all sorts of toppings. In addition to all of that, there are endless possibilities when it comes to the use of the restaurant’s name in everyday speak.  Would it be flocking good or a flocking nightmare? Ha!Much like the sexual innuendos of Three’s Company, it never gets old.

My first experience was a take out lunch from the Harbord location for an office.  I grabbed some Flock Stock (ie soup) ($7) and a few salads including the power flock salad (Chicken, Romaine Hearts, Shaved Brussels Sprouts, Pickled Onions, Marinated Black Beans, Daikon Soy Beans, Cilantro, Goji Berries, Crispy Chick Peas, Sunflower Seeds With Carrot/Ginger/SoyBean/White Miso Dressing) ($11.50 for full). Both were delicious and fresh. The salad was far from overdressed which maintained the crispy integrity of the ingredients.  The soup was herby and fragrant and highlighted by chucks of rotisserie chicken swimming throughout.

flock salad

The second time I grabbed dinner for myself from the Adelaide location.  This time I ordered a half chicken (with Caribbean pepper sauce)  with green beans on the side.  Once again I had no complaints.  The chicken was moist, the beans were cooked but firm and the crispy onions and kimchi were great compliments. I quite enjoyed the sauce.  It was bright with a good flavour and hear;a far cry from Swiss Chalet’s odd and confusingly beloved dishwater dipping sauce.

flock chicken
Half Chicken $9,50 with Carribean Sauce and a Side of Green Beans $5

My Take

Quick and healthy lunch choices can be difficult in a city filled with burger joints and taquerias on every corner, especially if you believe that Subway is nothing more than disguised junk food.  Flock fills this gap by offering food in which the flavour is achieved by spices and freshness as opposed to sodium and fat.

Much like Jack Tripper represented the evolution of the sitcom and George Carlin did the same for comedy, perhaps Flock presents the future of lunch in Toronto. After all, it’s flocking good chicken.  Shit….here come the cops.

Flock Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

 

 

 

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Ben Stiller, Tattoos and an Afternoon at the Museum

Ben Stiller annoys a lot of people.  That said, he has a decent track record when it comes to box office grosses, primarily driven by three successful trilogies; the Fockers, Madagascar and the Museum movies. In addition, one cannot forget his washroom scene in the very successful “There’s Something About Mary”. Ironically, despite being cited as the leader of the brat pack, movies in which he has starred alongside his partners (Jack Black, Will Ferrell, Vince Vaughan, Owen and Luke Wilson and Steve Carell) have been less successful than other Stiller franchises although not total disasters.

The Night at the Museum film series had worldwide appeal. Based on a children’s book, the cast led by Stiller was multi-generational, ranging from the likes of Dick Van Dyke and Mickey Rooney to the late Robin Williams as Theodore Roosevelt right down to Rami Malek (now of the critically acclaimed Mr. Robot) and that creepy kid from the Vacation remake. The three movies over eight years produced diminishing returns despite bigger budgets although all three could still be considered good return on investments if you looks at the global ticket returns.

Speaking of museums, as anybody hailing from the Toronto knows, it is a city that will not be outdone. Instead of hoping for living reincarnations of a tattooed Atilla the Hun, local hipsters may be intrigued to drop in to the tattoo exhibit which is now showing at the Royal Ontario Museum.  I’m more into bourbon than body art, so after I finished up a conference along Bloor Street and had a couple of hours to kill before dinner so instead of the ROM, I visited another museum, in this case the tavern across the road to indulge in their advertised happy hour. In addition to buck a shuck oysters, one can indulge in a barrel aged cocktail for $11 vs the normal $15 charge ( although when I got the bill I was charged $15).

Choosing between a manhattan, old-fashioned, negroni and sazarac is like choosing which child I love the best.  Alright, maybe not quite but it’s a difficult task nonetheless.  In this case I opted for the first two.  A couple of ounces of both were smartly presented in a funky highball  which housed a thick base of ice instead of a floating ice cube.  The booze itself was smooth, sleek and balanced.

The oysters were fresh and served with a tasty mignonette which I downed them with the aforementioned  barrel aged  old fashioned.

museum oysters
Buck a Shuck Oysters

The Musuem tavern does represent a historical era in the fact that is has that speakeasy feel.  From the decor to the glassware, it screams the 1920s.  The menu is more modern pub fare with what appears to influenced  by a bit of everything.

Since I was grabbing dinner later, I stuck with starters and opted for the fried chicken ($14) and creole crab cakes ($16).  If my intent was to span the spectrum of available snacks I think I succeeded. The four pieces was a hearty serving of chicken which was crispier than greasy , well-seasoned and far from dry.  The crab cakes, on the other hand, can better be described at crab balls.  The dainty, bite sized morsels didn’t lack in flavour what they lacked in size.  Although they were moist, heavy on the crab and served with a decent remoulade., it hardly justified eight bucks a bite…even with pickled onions.

My Take

Viewing history is no longer the exclusive role of a museum.  Many restaurants are now setting up shop with the promise of rewinding the clocks back to the days of prohibition.  The aptly named Museum tavern is no exception and comes complete with swanky decor and a old-school barrel aged cocktail list.  In the end, it had its stars and a decent plot….or at least the trailer (aka. happy hour) suggested so.  The question will be whether the theme resonates past Toronto’s prohibition phase or whether a day at this museum turns out like Ben’s Night at the Museum and overstays its welcome.

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

Salazar: It Seems Only the Hipsters Have Beards in Cincinnati

Cincinnati has long been ignored as one of America’s culinary destinations, especially in the area of finer dining. Sure, there’s Jeff Ruby and he acclaimed steakhouses but other than that most of the regional foods are more pedestrian in nature and include chili, goetta (a German inspired spiced meat patty containing oats) and grilled cheese via Shark Tank.  They are perennially shunned in the annual James Beard awards mostly due to the fact that they are in the same regional category as Chicago.  Take 2016 for example.  Of the 20 James Beard semifinalists for the Great Lakes region,  11 were from Chicago compared to one in Cincinnati. As for the finalists, all 5 hail from the Windy city.

The lone wolf in Cincinnati was Jose Salazar.  Salazar isn’t your typical hometown boy.  He’s originally from Columbia and after coming to the states, developed a passion for cooking, schooled in New York (and was two blocks away from the twin towers when the 9/11 attacks occurred)  and ended up working with icons including Geoffrey Zakarian and Thomas Keller.  He decided he wanted a quieter life and moved to the Queen City.  Since then, he has opened a handful of restaurants including Mita’s ( the tapas restaurant he was nominated for) and Salazar, his first endeavor which celebrates the Over the Rhine region of Cincinnati.  Given the simplicity of the menu and the fact I was with my daughter, I opted for the latter.

Salazar has a modest but pretty interior highlighted by a large bar, brick walls and tiled floors which seems characteristic of the OTR region. We were quickly greeted by a waitress and I started with a Kentucky Penny cocktail, mainly because it is bourbon based and shares my last name (hey…it’s the closest I’ll ever get to a namesake cocktail so I gotta love a little).  Made with  maple, lemon, bitters and topped with ale, it was a shandyish but punchy concoction which I quite enjoyed given the abnormally warm weather.

salazar kentucky penny
Kentucky Penny $10

There’s a handful of nibbles on the menus so we indulged in some brussels finished in a yuzu aoli. They were crispy, fantastic and gave me an idea of how to use my bottle of yuzu vinegar at home moving forward.

salazar brussels
Brussel Sprouts $6

My daughter went with the burger and I chose the sandwich special which was egg salad served with gravlax.  I found it kind of funny that the salmon played second fiddle to the egg but the combination was quite delicious, especially with the toasted bread it was served on. The farm green salad was a pleasant side. The burger was solid even when dumbed down by my daughter’s cheese omission and medium-well patty.  The thick bacon and “special sauce” were both spot-on.

We ended the meal with a dessert which fused three American favorites; sweet potato pie, donuts and smores.  The sweet potato donuts served with chocolate, graham and marshmallow. The earthy and naturally sweet flavour of the potato was a terrific medium for the  sweeter accompaniments and the fact they were served hot out of the flyer was bonus.

salazar donut
Sweet Potato Donut $8

My Take

Jose Salazar and his namesake restaurant prove there is more to Cincinnati than chili and goetta.  It’s modest and economical menu delivered on taste and value without a whole lotta pretension. Even though the Queen City’s culinary scene will likely always live in the shadows of Chicago’s, Salazar growing empire is a reminder that, unlike the Bengals and Nick Lachey, there is hope in Cincinnati after all.

Salazar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

 

 

 

Araxi at Whistler: Cougar Milk, Penticton Cheese and Memories of Hell’s Kitchen

Let me start by saying I’m not a skier. Growing up in Sudbury, we certainly had the weather for it but the once majestic mountains of the Canadian Shield  have long since eroded to more minuscule bumps, limiting any chance of maximizing 6000 foot drops. As a result, there was no ski scene other than Adanac mountain with its’ six runs and 239 ft vertical or cross country tracks near Laurentian university.

In addition, I get little enjoyment at the thought of lugging copious amounts of equipment to a crowded resort only to dress up, wait in line for a lift and let gravity pull me down a run named Cougar Milk just to end up at the point I started.  Instead, I’m more than happy to sit in the bar and provide moral support although I do feel somewhat guilty about indulging in the apres menu when I didn’t do any of the work. Maybe this is why the Whistler ski scene bugs me so much.  Don’t get me wrong…the scenery is absolutely beautiful but it is somewhat tainted by the aberrant behavior of the town’s residents and visitors.  Here are a few examples:

  1. Nobody looks cool walking in ski boots- Ski boots are for skiing and not walking.  Regardless of your gait or corresponding wardrobe, people walking around hotel lobby’s wearing boots look more foolish that a guy trying to run in high heels as part of a fundraiser.   If you’re done skiing, take your boots off.
  2. Accents are cool unless you make them up- Whistler draws youth from around the world, especially Australia and New Zealand.  Many people find such accents cute or even sexy…unless you don’t really have one. Hanging with a few Aussies for a couple of weeks doesn’t entitle you to start speaking like them.  Accents aren’t viruses..you just don’t catch one.  In addition, making up an accent to increase your hill cred is stupid; it didn’t work for Madonna it sure as hell won’t work for you.
  3. It’s evident there aren’t an abundance of salons in the village- You can get almost anything in Whistler Village…except a haircut.  According to the map, there are a few places but most people don’t seem to use them.  Sure, chronic helmet head is inevitable in such an environment, but allowing your hair to be a refuge for alpine wildlife is taking it a step too far.
  4. Bathrobes are called bathrobes for an reason.  They aren’t called restaurant robes, lobby robes or bar robes.  If you want to drink wine in a bathrobe, use your minibar.  I don’t need to see your post-pedicured feet stuffed in a pair of disposable slippers or have to witness a wardrobe malfunction because you forgot the only thing holding you man or lady parts in place is a velour belt.
  5. Weed is technically still illegal in BC- Regardless of time of day, it is almost impossible to take a stroll through the village without wafting skunky smells here and there.  Although Whistler is far from immune to wildlife, I’m sure the smells are not the results of stinky mammals….well at least not the ones with a white stripe and fur….oh wait…and four legs.

The dining scene in Whistler is a mishmash of aristocratic eateries, snack bars, beer havens and a few very recognizable franchises such as KFC, Starbucks and McDonald’s.  I spent most of the time at the hotel for work functions, but I did have the opportunity to go to Araxi for dinner one night. Araxi is a fine dining establishment which gained national attention when it was announced the destination of the winner of the sixth season of Hell’s Kitchen.  Dave Levey, best remembered for breaking his arm while washing a fire truck, was the eventual winner.  Rumour has it he was treated like a glorified line cook and left shortly after the 2010 winter Olympics.  In 2014, he was reported arrested as part of a drug bust in New Jersey (perhaps he thought he was still in Whister). Araxi, on the other hand, has continued to flourish under long time head chef James Walt.

I started with a Cuckoo’s calling cocktail, presumably named after the Robert Galbraith aka J.K. Rowling crime novel which is funny because the only bourbons named in that novel are the cookies which are most recognizable as the long brown ones in a box of Peak Frean assorted creme that you only eat once the good ones are gone.  The drink had many of my favorite cocktail flavours including bacon infused bourbon, jalapeno, thyme, lemon and bitters.  The smoky flavour was prevalent but not overwhelming  and the rest of the flavours blended together well.

araxi cocktail
Cuckoo’s Calling $13.50

Araxi features an oyster bar and a small but diverse choice of starters and mains.  Since I rarely have an opportunity to indulge in fresh west coast oysters, I was happy to order a half dozen (three each of Zen and Joyce Point from coastal British Columbia).  They were shucked nicely and served with traditional condiments (fresh horseradish and lemon) and a spectacular mignonette.

araxi oysters
Oysters ($3-$3.50) each

A few of us also split a  Vancouver Island beef tartare tossed with Peruvian chilies, yuzu, local sweet peppers and snipped chives, spiced vegetable chips and arugula and topped with a quail egg.  It was smallish but the ingredients were in perfect proportion and  delivered fresh and delicate flavours with the right amount of heat and seasoning.

araxi tartare
Vancouver Beef Tartare $19.50

For the main I opted for the Quebec rabbit stuffed with slow cooked pork jowl with carrot puree, roasted carrots, sauteed brussel sprouts and grainy mustard vinaigrette.  It didn’t dawn on me on first but I thought afterwards it was rather strange to have a dish with rabbit and carrots together but once I tried the puree, any thoughts related to this food chain faux pas quickly hopped out of my head. It was fantastic.  The rabbit with the pork was incredible and reminded me of a two-tiered and  upscale M&M chicken tornado my mom used to make. The sprouts and carrots were a nice al dente.

araxi rabbit
Quebec Rabbit $36.50

For desert, I decided on a cheese course featuring a mix of offerings from local, Canadian and Italy sources.  I’ve tried a few such as the delicious Benedictin Bleu from Quebec and P.E.I.’s Avonlea Clothbound Cheddar before, but although not normally a huge fan of the softies, the Poplar Grove double cream camembert from Penticton was the star.  In addition to the decedent taste,  its glistening interior was visually stunning. The fig compote was unbelievably good as well.

araxi cheese
Cheese Plate $23.50 for 5 cheeses (a little more for the extra)

My Take

Whistler draws thousands of annual guests ranging from novice skiers to village wondering orophobic tourists.  As a result, the variety of shops and eateries is quite diverse.  Whether it’s an urban taco bar or a swanky sit down, there is no shortage of choices.  Araxi is one of the most recognized of the latter and lived up to its long standing reputation although at resort prices. Whether it’s untamed hair or an affinity for the maryjane, just remember what happens in Whistler should stay in Whistler…just ask the winner of  Hell’s Kitchen six.

Araxi Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Nana: Daycares and David Bowie

I was pondering how to incorporate the recent passing of David Bowie into a blog post when serendipity occurred. I went to dinner at Nana and the soundtrack was nothing but the Thin White Duke.  Starman, Heroes, Jean Genie and a number of other classics blasted from the rafters, reminding me that Bowie was truly a chameleon in that a skinny white dude’s music fit perfectly within a crowded Thai restaurant.

Social media has changed the way we recognize dead celebrities.  My facebook was littered with tributes from people telling the world what Bowie meant to them from a fashion and music perspective.  Others credited him for making them feel unapologetic about being different and how they changed his life. Maybe I’m just a clueless moron or a heartless muttonhead (which I think is the perfect insult for a person who writes about food), but his impact on my life was less exciting. That said, I appreciated his quiet and private approach to stardom.  He lived by example and not by sponsored endorsements or fabrications.  From a music perspective, I would always stop on a Bowie song if I was flipping through my Sirius.

I tried to find some sort of relationship between Bowie and Nana and the closest I came was that Nana (along with a whole bunch of other nana’s) were lyrics in a 1968 song called Ching-a-Ling written by Bowie as part of a trio named the Feathers which also consisted of his girlfriend at the time and guitarist John “Hutch” Hutchinson.

Looking for a link between Bowie and anything related to food also proved a dubious task. I did find one interesting story however. Prior to Bowie’s leap to permanent stardom in 1969, Bowie briefly appeared in a rather psychedelic  commercial for Lyons Maid ice cream Luv lollies as a way to make a few bucks. The following clip is worth a watch, but  here are a couple of interesting facts:

        • These treats came with rock star trading cards which included the likes of the Beatles and Davy Jones.  The latter is actually David’s real name but he chose Bowie as his surname to avoid confusion.  A series of trading cards from Mr. Softee in the early 60’s depicted an astronaut named Tom and rumours suggest that this was, because of Bowie’s need to collect, the inspiration behind Bowie’s most famous protagonist Major Tom.
        • The commercial was directly by Ridley Scott. It’s quite coincidental that in the year the rock icon dies, Scott may finally win an Oscar for best picture (he has been nominated for best director thrice in the past but has yet to win) for “The Martian”  which one can argue has a plot similar to “Space Odyssey”.

 

Nana is a spinoff of Khoa San Road, the highly successful downtown Thai restaurant. According to the website, Nana means meeting place.  According to me, it means daycare since the plastic red seats and big tables, looks more like you find them at a babysitting service than an Asian street market . Unlike KSR, Nana takes limited reservations which a least gives you a hope of eating without a wait.The menu offers KSR favorites as well as a spattering of items which represent the Thai street experience.  Each dish is described in detail on the second page of the menu which makes things easier for people who don’t know the difference between pad mama and pad prik.

They offer a small selection of wine, a few unique draughts and a Thai themed cocktail list. I started with a Silom Sour which incorporated Thai flavours such as ginger, lime and chili in a very enjoyable cocktail. It was topped with chili powder which surprisingly numbs the lips in seconds.

nana drink
Silom Sour $12

Tom yum soup is usually my go to measure of a great Thai experience and I thoroughly enjoyed Nana’s version. It was a true testament to intense Thai flavours boasting a great level of heat and plenty of chunky mushrooms and tomatoes. It was one of the better Tom Yum soups I have had in a restaurant.

nana soup
Tom Yum Soup

Our other appetizers included spring rolls and chicken satay but saying por pia tod sai moo sub kub nua pu and sa tay kai kub nam ar jad sounds a lot more fun (although it’s a spellcheck nightmare).Both were good.  The mushroom was a great addition to the rolls and I thought the lightly pickled veggies were a great addition to the normally predictable chicken satay.

We ordered a variety of mains for table including pad mama with hot dog, pad prik king with chicken, pad thai bo lan and pad see ew.  We also tried to get the mi ga ti with pork which looked incredible based on the description but was unavailable.  In general, the dishes are in the $15 dollar range for a slightly skimpy portion size.  The pad mama, supposed the mac and cheese of thailand, was gimmicky and resembled something a creative university student might with make with leftovers.  The pad prik king was the best dish of the night.  The chicken was tender and bursting with heat and extreme Thai flavours.  Both the pad thai and pad see ew were a terrific testament to two of Thailand’s most recognized noodle dishes.

I never get excited about Thai desserts but the roti kuay (buttered roti dough, cooked and folded with banana) was a decent finish to the evening.  The table split an order which was plenty, especially after a mass infusion of rice and noodles. Cutting it was a dubious task, however, since there are no knives available to customers (once again reiterating the fact that this place is probably in fact a daycare).

nana dessert
Banana Roti $8

My Take

Nana is a funkier version of its sister restaurant, Khao San Road.  It is smaller but does entertain the thought of reservations which made it a feasible destination for my group. The draught list is small but good and the cocktails are smartly constructed. The Tom Yum soup is among the best around and the dishes pay commensurate homage to Thai flavours.  I’d highly recommend the pad prik king and you won’t be disappointed with any of the noodle dishes.  The pad mama is a good gimmick but not a great dish.

In the end, Nana is a place where you can enjoy pretty good food in a communal environment and if you’re lucky, you may even hear some Bowie in the background or get to  play Simon says, I spy or clapping syllables to the names of Thai dishes such as por pia tod sai moo sub kub nua pu.

Nana Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Hearing Stories at Mamakas While Wondering if Mikey, Despite his Ancestry.com Results, Will Like it.

I’m fascinated by the latest round of ancestry.com commercials.  In particular, there is one where some middle aged guy, after thinking he was German for 50 years, went onto the website and found out he was Scottish. In addition, he seemed quite happy about exchanging the lederhosen for a kilt.  I have a problem with this.  If I found out that I wasn’t the nationality I thought I was after 5 decades, I’d be pissed.  Immediate questions like “Did we have a Scottish mailman or a nanny?”would pop into my head. I would also have a frank discussion with my parents about the significance  of properly relaying important information, such as where the hell I came from , to my siblings and I.

That said, there are times I wish my family history was a little more exciting.  I’m at least a third generation Canadian so ties to my homeland are as faded as memories of the last time England won the World Cup.  I’ve mentioned before that my mom has always been a good cook but it would be a stretch to say she was authentic.  Her cabbage rolls, for example, are stuffed with precooked hamburger,  minute rice and parmesan cheese.  I have longed to be able to latch onto a culture and call it my own, especially from a food perspective. After a rather boring diet for the first 20 years of my life, I finally was able to experience authentic ethnic food. I remember working with a doctor from Thailand who introduced me to the first Tom Yum soup I’ve ever had.  To this day, it is etched in my brain as one of the best things I’ve ever eaten. Most culture’s foods are quite ubiquitous now.  Even in sleepy towns like London, Ontario, there is a surge in the availability of international fare. Toronto is like a diner’s Disneyland, allowing any of us to be Korean, Indian or Jamaican for a day.

In other words, I’m a little jealous of people with well rooted histories and stories from the old world.  Narratives of Sri Lankan perusing markets selling fresh mangosteen or eating carnitas in the alleys of Mexico city sound far more exciting that chasing the Dickie Dee guy down the street to get one of those ghost shapes ice cream bars with the frozen, tooth-cracking gumballs in the middle of a luke warm day in Sudbury.  What overcomes the jealousy a bit is when I dine with them and get to see and experience the pride they have in their culture’s food.

Specifically, when it comes to Greek food, my experience was limited growing up.  The Apollo was the main gig in town and I rarely went. At home, my mom didn’t know what a greek salad was. Since then, I’ve hit a number of Greek places through my triple D expeditions.  Usually, these traditional eateries are pleasantly tacky, often decorated with blue and white colours, flags and pictures of architecture of  the homeland hanging on the wall.  I’ve also come to realize that every second diner, even if it doesn’t serve souvlaki (although it usually does), is owned by a Grecian.  In fact, a Greek friend of mine owns a sports bar in London and I can bet on two things; good food and continuous reminders that, as opposed to England,  Greece has won the Euro Cup whereas England’s World Cup win was even earlier than the last Leaf’s Stanley Cup victory.

I was surprised to hear a Greek place would harbour itself along Ossington, one of the more volatile and finicky streets on the whole Toronto dining map. That said, it keeps getting rave reviews.  I was particularly interested to go since I was with a couple of colleagues who in some way have Grecian ties . I knew I would be treated to  narratives which would nicely compliment some of the dishes that came out and would be a little more exciting than mine which involve the fact that my kids really like my horribly predictable (but decent) chicken souvlaki dinner.

The decor is less tacky than most Greek places and was actually fresh and bright, especially  for an Ossington joint.  It was bustling but there were no worries because they actually take reservations.   It had wine that night so I can’t comment on the cocktails.  Despite the fact that Greek wine is not as renowned as some it’s chest pumping European neighbours,  Mamaka’s stick to their heritage by offering  krasi of all types (about 15 white and red options) and price points ranging from $45 to $120. We opted for the $45 Sofos organic and the $60 Kidonista whites.  Although neither were the best whites I’ve ever had, they were as crisp and clean as the joint itself and well worth the reasonable price.

The first lesson from my table mates was that among the many dips available in a Greek restaurant, taramosalata is a better choice than tzatziki.  Made with fish roe mixed with other traditional Greek ingredients like lemon and oil, it has a pink hue and is quite salty. It was served with cucumber and pita. It’s a bit of a surreal spread and seemed synonymous with marmite from my British roots.

mamakas dip
Taramosalata $7

I didn’t need a lesson to understand the significance of octopus in Grecian cuisine but I did need one to understand Santorini fava.  My knowledge of fava beans include their cameo in a Hannibal Lecter speech in “The Silence of the Lambs” and from my dietitian training in which I learned that they fact they cannot be consumed by segments of the world’s population due to favism, a genetic disorder in which there is insufficient   glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase in red blood cells, leading to acute hemolytic anemia.  Ironically, many Greeks carry this genetic abnormality which also protects from malaria . That said, Santorini fava has nothing to do with fava beans.  In fact, it is similar to a hummus made with yellow split peas and flavoured with onions (in this case pickled…soooo Ossington) and capers. This dish was delightful and a nice change from the potato and olive combo which seems to accompany the mollusc everywhere else.

mamakas octopus
Octopus with Santorini Fava $20

Once again, through stories at the table I was transported to a large Greek family dinner featuring Kokoretsi, a lamb offal sausage complimented with skordalia (a garlic potato taste).  I was told stories of a grandmother, who did not want to waste a scrap of food, working meticulously  to season and stuff everything into an awaiting casing with great success.  Although I’m not a lamb fan, I couldn’t complain…it tasted like I was there.

mamakas sausage
Kokoretsi $14

For a side we had tiganites patates which were fries topped with a little feat, egg and spicy sauce.  In other words, it’s Greek poutine.  As I’ve said before, it’s hard to mess up fries and I will eat an egg on anything so I wasn’t disappointed.

mamakas potatoes
Patates $8

My Take

Mamakas proves that Greek food can be as funky and cool as their Korean, Cuban or Vietnamese neighbours.  This restaurant breaks the mold of predictable,  diner-like atmospheres and instead offers a cool and sleek vibe.  The food includes standard fare such as lamb and spanakopita but also transforms traditional but lesser known dishes into modern small plates which still emphasis the concept of family style dining.

I often go to medical conferences (which would perhaps discuss  glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase) but don’t usually participate in the guided poster presentations which provide audio commentary to accompany  the visual data.    When it comes to dining, however, I’m singing a different tune.  Listening to my colleagues reminisce about family gatherings rooted in old world traditions in the context of Mamakas decor, vibe and food makes me want to declare myself a culinary pyromaniac, break dishes and scream “Opa!” at the top of my lungs for at least a few hours before reverting to my sullen, ale-swigging distant English eating habits.

In the end, I’ve realized I don’t need ancestry.com.  Being a United Kingdom mutt allows me to be a bit of an impartial chameleon when it comes to the diversity of  cultural food choices out there.  I think restaurant owners perceive there is as much a benefit in appeasing the clueless white guy as there is members of the ethnicity they represent. I feel I’m kind of like Mikey form the iconic life cereal commercials as many of the chefs anxiously stare at me wondering if, after a short period of consideration,  I will like it.

Mamakas Taverna Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

 

Bar Fancy: Bohemian Burlesque Beyond What Alanis Morrisette Says

I still remember the backlash from the community when Alanis Morrisette continuously misused the word ironic on the hit song with the same name of the “Jagged Little Pill” album. They argued that things like rain on your wedding day and a fly in your chardonnay are not ironic but in fact nothing more than shit luck.  Bar Fancy, on the other hand,  is a basic example of irony. Everything about the place fits the blueprint…I mean, the bar is far from fancy. In fact, it’s a bit of a visual atrocity; a mix between a garage and a bachelor apartment.  I would take it a step further and argue that what this Queen West eatery does is beyond irony and actually is more burlesque. Often associated with extravagant and over the top entertainment antics in movies like Moulin Rouge!, the word burlesque encompasses general exaggeration and ridicule. Bar Fancy  has a stupid website that has no copies of the menu and gives you nothing more than an address, hours and a picture of a neon tiger which shows you the way to the semi-hidden entrance.  Once inside,  they have a potluck menu (along with the token extra-large and stupid expensive steak) hand written on a sheet of paper.

I arrived for happy hour  and sat at the kitchen rail with a good view of the kitchen.  A couple of hipster guys were behind the counter, dressed in no way like executive chefs, waiting to prepare menu items to order. The beer and wine menu is intentionally small.  I asked for a cocktail list and was told they really didn’t have one but all the classics were available. I asked for a recommendation and a black manhattan came my way.

Although not the largest happy hour menu, I’ve concluded that half price oysters and $2 a piece fried chicken are a good way to spend the pre-dinner hours.  The chicken met all the criteria of a good bite. While I was there, I watched the kitchen with great interest. Each dish was meticulously prepared from scratch by plaid dressed peons with decent knife skills and obvious culinary comprehension.

bar fancy chicken
$2 Fried Chicken

My Take 

I remember doing a project in university where I had to interview a restaurant whose ironic tag line was “warm beer.lousy food”. Since then, the use of irony has evolved in the food industry.  Hipsters bars have embraced irony and have raised the bar by making things burlesque by exaggerating all the elements of the experience beyond just a simple catch line.

Bar Fancy is an example of a bohemian burlesque. You feel you are at a house party in somebody’s bachelor apartment. Hipsters prepare potluck foods while offering you a small array of beer and wine.  They have no cocktail menu but can whip up any of the classics upon request. Fancy additions like egg whites and lavender shrubs are absent.

Although I’m generally adverse to the silliness of the concepts around hipster havens, I like Bar Fancy. During happy hour, I can grab an old-fashioned, half a dozen oysters and a couple of pieces of chicken for under $30.  I love the lack of a complex cocktail list  and appreciate the simple concept around their  casual, made to order menu.  I’ll have to give it a shot late at night even if it’s after a free ride when I’ve already paid.

Bar Fancy Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato