Why the Mug Proves that Springfield May Actually be Greenfield

During the Simpsons’ long run, there have been numerous questions and speculations about what state Springfield is in. A few years back, creator Matt Groening revealed that Homer’s hometown was inspired by Springfield, Oregon, a city about 100 miles south of Groening’s hometown of Portland.   There are, however, a number of references in the show to suggest that this iconic town could in fact be anywhere in the continental U.S. For this reason, I may push the envelope even further and suggest that Springfield may not even been a Springfield and may, in fact, be Greenfield, Indiana.  Although I don’t have a lot of evidence to back this claim, note the following:

  • The words Springfield and Greenfield could easily be mistaken for each other in a conversation
  • In the show, Shelbyville is Springfield’s hated neighbour.  There is a Shelbyville 18 miles south of Greenfield.
  •  In the Simpsons movie, Homer befriends a pig which assumes the personas of both Spider Pig and Harry Plopper.  There is also an iconic pig in Greenfield.  Although I’m not sure of its name, it graces the sign of “The Mug”, a roadside drive-in restaurant on Apple Street.

On my way from Cincinnati to Indianapolis I stopped in Greenfield to try out the Mug. A few years back, it replaced the Frosted Mug, a family business around for 5 decades. The change in ownership maintained the small town feel complete with a drive-in option and plenty of outside seating. The difference now is what the owners call farm to curb; meaning most of the meat is single sourced from the Tyner Pond farm and anything else comes from local sources.

At the request of my daughter, we drove into the parking lot and awaited the car side service.  A few minutes later a friendly guy showed up and took our order.  Shortly after, he apologized and said he’d be back in a minute.  He proceeded to run into the restaurant, came out with a bag, hopped in a car and sped down the street, presumably to do a delivery.  This action was reminiscent of Homer screeching away in a car in the background after forgetting a birthday, once again reminding me that my hunch may be right. A few minutes later, a different staff member arrived with the grub.

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The Drive-in Menu

I went with the original burger for just shy of $5 and teamed it up with some fries in a combo.  I finished it off with a brewed root beer. The burger was simple and a reminder that things were good long before the days of patties being slathered in aioli or topped with pulled pork or dare I say it…..a fried egg.

As part of the order we also had the mac and cheese ($1.25), coleslaw ($1.50) and the bacon and sweet bowl for $2.50.  The first two are self-explanatory.  The last is a bacon topped bowl of corn salad flavoured with a bit of leek.  It’s one of the few instances in my mid-west dining experiences  where I can honestly say the portion size was small (thus the equally small prices).  That said, it was more than enough and pretty decent.  Although not the best mac and cheese I have had, it held its own.  The slaw was good but the corn salad stood out as the winner.  Maybe it was the nostalgia of eating corn in Indiana couple with the fine pork of Tyner Pond that made it even better.

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Original Burger $5 plus an array of sides

Speaking of sweet corn, I had a chat with the incredible staff after and was tempted with their famous 16% milk fat ice cream.  The richness of the fat combined with the sweetness of the corn was plain addictive and an ideal finish to a roadside experience.

mug
Corn Ice Cream and a Facebook Acknowledgement

My Take

In the farm to table concept, simplicity is sometimes lost among the pickled ramps and broiled beef cheeks.  The farm to curb concept of the mug maintains the commitment to proximal provisions without the convolution of the latest food trends.  Single source meat and local dairy highlight a menu that demonstrates that simple and classic can be just as exciting as trendy.  Add the old school car side service  and it makes for a good outing. Between the delivery guy’s screeching tires and a possible Harry Plopper sighting you may buy into my theory that Green/Springfield may be smack dab in America’s heartland.

The Mug Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

 

 

 

Waffles, Kibble, Rhine and PBR in Cincinnati

I reverted back to increasing my Diner, Diners and Drives tally on my recent trip to Cincinnati.  It was an easy call since three of them are less than a block away from each other on bustling Vine street. Over the course of two days I hit all three; one for breakfast, one for lunch and one for dinner.

When Guy Fieri was only 10 years old, WKRP in Cincinatti hit the air.  I remember watching the short lived sitcom (four seasons to be exact) as a kid.  It featured a group of misfit radio personalities at a radio station in the Ohio city.  The cast, headed by Andy Travis (not to be mistaken for Randy Travis) featured the likes of Johnny Fever, Venus Flytrap and Jennifer Marlowe.  Andy may have precluded the hipster movement by frequently donning plaid shirts and luscious locks.  Howard Hesseman, who played Johnny Fever,  went on have success as the lead in the sitcom Head of the Class and Loni Anderson will go down in history for certain features and for being remembered as Mrs. Burt Reynolds until the end of time.

wkrp_cincinnati_complete_series_dvd
The Cast of WKRP in Cincinnati

 

In honour of this cult favorite, here’s an overview of Taste of Belgium, Bakersfield and Senate, three of Cincinnati’s Vine street triple D joints.

W- (Waffles and Wright).

Taste of Belgium boasts waffles done right so it seemed to be the ideal breakfast spot.  The decor had the brick walls and tiled floor characteristic of Over-the-Rhine eateries. We were seated and greeted but a waiter with a definite chip (unfortunately not chocolate) on his shoulder.  He was efficient but far from welcoming.  I ordered a decent Americano and the McWaffle, a breakfast sandwich containing egg, bacon, cheese and served with a side of maple syrup.   The waffle itself was far from the fluffy batter you might bake up at the free Hampton breakfast.  It was much denser and more filling.  It flirted with dryness but was helped by the syrup.  The combination of everything made for a good but not remarkable bite that was a lot sweeter than the service.

 

Daniel Wright is the brainchild behind Senate, the street food pub which revolves around the ultimate street meat..the hotdog.  In addition to tube steak (including a daily dog names after a celebrity), there are a number of items including bites, burgers and sandwiches. It had a good vibe highlighted by a long packed bar surrounded by tables. Since it was over twenty degrees, the front window/patio was open and I managed to score a seat overlooking the street.  Our waitress was attentive although somewhat overshadowed by this dude in a vest and tie walking around like an..umm…senator.  As tempting as the Mama June celebrity dog of the day was (you can imagine the toppings), I opted for the best selling trailer park burger, mainly because it was topped with Cincinnati’s own Grippo’s crushed BBQ chips atop a bacon wrapped dog and finished with slaw and american cheese. It was a delicious mess.

senate dog
Senate Trailer Park Dog $10

K-(Kentucky and Kibbles)

Bakersfield is a taqueria which is gradually expanding in all directions from it’s Cincinnati epicentre.  Also focusing on Mexican food, the booze menu is expansive, not only including traditional tequila but also whisky from the neighbouring state of  Kentucky.  In fact, I was there on a Monday night which meant I could get a shot of Bulleit for $3.  Add a $2 boot of PBR and I’m two thirds of my way to a George Thorogood song for $5. I felt bad to the bone.  As for kibbles, the guacamole at Bakersfield was fresh and chunky (which I’m sure is Cincinnati style)  and aggressively seasoned with garlic which was paired nicely with one of the best (and spicy margaritas) I’ve had in a while.

R- (Restaurants Over-the-Rhine)

Defined as one of the most historic neighbourhoods in the US, the Over-the-Rhine area of Cincinnati has deep German roots and architecture dating from the 19th century.  Over the years, it has debilitated into one of the sketchiest area in the states.  For example, the area was used as the backdrop for the 1991 movie “A Rage in Harlem” because of it’s resemblance to 1950’s Harlem.  However, over the past decade or so, there has been major restoration, at least along the southern part of Vine St, resulting in a trendy neighbourhood full of shops and restaurants including the trio of triple D’s mentioned in this blog.  I was speaking to a table of locals at Bakersfield and they confirmed this restoration story, telling me that crossing Liberty street to the North after dark was once  a death wish but ven that is slowing changing.  That said, I late took a drive north up Vine St.to check out the University of Cinicinnati  and passed through one of the most decrepit neighbourhoods I remember, easily rivaling  Michigan St. in Detroit, parts of  Harlem and the worst part of San Francisco’s tenderloin district.   Restaurants like Taste of Belgium, Senate and Bakersfield are part of the nucleus in a molecule of hope working through the celebration of food.

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Cool Floor at Taste of Belgium indicative of Cincinnati architecture.

P (Pastor, Potstickers and Poutine)

The foundation of the Bakersfield menu is the taco and there are almost 10 to choose from.  They pride themselves on making their own tortillas and ironically, that was the weakest part.  I felt they tasted a little raw as if they were only fried on one side.  They were nicely presented on a large tray with abundant fillings at a reasonable price point of $3-4 each. The pork belly pastor were a good representation and the spicy cochinita pibil and huitlacoche tacos were quite unique.

Meanwhile at Senate, the potstickers were full of extreme Asian flavours and the poutine was served with short rib and cheese  and since a white gravy was used instead of the traditional (at least in Canadian terms) brown one, it was more creamy than squeaky and quite rich to say the least.

My Take

Based on my ongoing Guyz rating for diners, drive-ins and dives, none were a disaster but  I’ll  give top taste, service and vibe points to Senate. The vibe of all three were helped by the cool architecture but the buzz at Senate and Bakersfield was much better than the sleepiness and snarkiness of Taste of Belgium.  Service wise, both Bakersfield and Senate were pretty good. Regarding the food, the Senate hot dogs, in addition to being pretty delicious, are a great concept especially with the rotating celebrity choice of the day.  The Bakersfield guacamole was good and the tacos were average.  Taste of Belgium served a decent breakfast.

In the end, Over-the-Rhine is a fun and buzzing area with a number of funky restaurants, shops and snacks.  In fact, Vine Street may be the best thing in Cincinnati’s food scene since WKRP’s  turkey bombing of the Pinedale mall on Thanksgiving in 1978.

Senate

Food- 4/5 Guyz
Service- 4/5 Guyz
Vibe- 4.5/5 Guys

Total- 12.5/15 Guyz

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

Bakersfield

Food- 3.5/5  Guyz
Service- 4/5 Guyz
Vibe- 4/5 Guyz

Total- 11.5/Guyz

Bakersfield OTR Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Taste of Belgium

Food- 3.5/5 Guyz
Service- 3/5 Guyz
Vibe- 3/5 Guyz

Total- 9.5/15 Guyz

Taste of Belgium Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Filling my Belly at 1 Love Kitchen

The fusion of music and food is a fundamental component to the theme of eateries all over. My son works at Five Guys and spends eight hours listening to classic rock while flipping burgers and dropping fries. Grand Electric blasts old school rap throughout the smallish confines while one eats some of the best tacos in the city. Some eateries take it a step further by creating an entire theme around their pop culture icons. For example, take Sky Blue Sky’s odd tribute to indie band Wilco or Fidel Gastro’s  snack shop which pays homage to the Presley family at Lisa Marie.

One of the newer joints to follow this blueprint is 1 love kitchen, a drop in Caribbean place on Queen street.  Not surprisingly, the menu revolves around jerk meats and features all the fixings including rice and peas and plantains.  In a a Toronto twist, they also offer quinoa and beans for fans of the ever popular supergrain.  A sketch of Bob Marley with his famous smile looks down on the modest interior which has seating for a couple of dozen people.    A line of chaffing dishes  housing the menu offerings is staffed by a single employee who was quite welcoming upon my entry from the bitter cold.  I was grabbing take-out for myself and a colleague who was tormented by the hotel down the road’s lame attempt at gluten free/vegetarian offerings and needed some real food in order to get through the rest of the meeting.  I went right for the jerk chicken with a side of rice and beans, cole slaw ($9.45)  and plantains for an extra $1.25.  The chicken was well seasoned and moist and the rice and slaw hit the spot. The plantains were a bit tough and dry.  The portion sizes (especially the chicken) wwer rather large which somewhat justified the ten dollar price point.

Jerk Chicken with Rice/Peas and Slaw $9.45
Jerk Chicken with Rice/Peas and Slaw $9.45

My intent was to get the channa roti with buckwheat as a gluten free option but I was informed that this option never took off so they don’t offer it anymore.  So, I ordered the veggy lover’s medley ($9.50) instead after finding out it was a chick pea based curry and therefore had adequate protein and was served with rice and peas and a side salad.  The curry was well developed and hit an appealing bite at the end. The texture of the chick peas were spot on.

Veggy Delight with Rice/Peas and Slaw $9.50
Veggy Lover’s Delight with Rice/Peas and Slaw $9.50

Another interesting point is that 1 Love Kitchen is part of Belly, a rather new reward program that allows numerous businesses to be linked to the same account thus cutting down on the need to carry 15 lunch cards around.  With a scan of the Belly app, one will gain points and get rewarded for their ongoing loyalty sometime down the road.

My Take

In the midst of numerous burger joints, sub shops and hot dog carts, 1 love kitchen offers quick Caribbean cuisine for around 10 bucks. Sure, there are a bunch of hole-in-the-wall jerk chicken shacks which might be a bit cheaper, but the proximity of 1 love within the hub of hotels, hospitals etc coupled with the Belly reward program makes it a consideration for a quick lunch or dinner. It’s another example of the fusion of good music and good food.  After all, I left sayin’: let’s get together and feel all right. Wo wo-wo wo-wo! before and after I filled my belly. Bet it would taste even better after embarking in some of Marley’s other “talents”.  Too bad they don’t have late night hours.

1 Love Kitchen on Urbanspoon

The Irony of Happy Hour at Lee

I’ve met a few celebrity chefs in my travels.   I ran into Lynn Crawford at a food truck festival, met Mark McEwan at a Second Harvest event and snapped a picture of Guy Fieri through the glass at Lakeview diner.  I’m not very bold in these endeavors.  I usually only approach if they are available and usually if somebody else has already asked for a picture before me.  This might explain my reluctance to Susur Lee.  First of all, he scares the hell out of me.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen him smile  and I still remember the way he ripped apart chef Eric Wood during an episode of Chopped Canada.

I was in Toronto at staying in the King and Portland area so I decided to stroll the neighbourhood in order to grab a bite.  I was thinking Portland Variety, the new menu at Valdez or maybe a sausage at Wvrst.  The last thing on my mind was Lee but as I walked down the sidewalk I looked up and sitting on the patio of his own restaurant was Susur himself.  He was dressed in a burgundy blazer with the same stoic look I have always seen on TV.  He seemed engrossed in a business meeting with members of his staff so the last thing I wanted to do was interrupt. Instead I texted a few food geeks I knew  informing them of my discovery.  I attempted to snap a picture but  with my already horrendous camera skills it didn’t go well.

I was still undecided about where to dine until I saw a small sandwich board advertising happy hour at Lee which offered $10 cocktails and a small 1/2 price bar menu.  Sounded good to me.   I walked in and had a seat at the decent size bar.  A friendly bartender was waiting and quickly handed me a food and drink menu.   The drink menu offered 6 cocktails which had an array of spirits as a base.  I started with a burnt orange manhattan (knob hill bourbon, vermouth, grand marnier, cointreau, orange cream citrate).  It had a classic taste with a little twist. The bartender even flamed  the orange peel for extra effect. Although Knob Creek is not my favorite bourbon, it was still a great cocktail, especially for $10.

Burnt Orange Manhattan $10
Burnt Orange Manhattan $10

The half price bar snack menu consisted of 5 items so I went all in and ordered them all.  The first to arrive was the edamame hummus dip ($4) served with sesame crisps, taro root chips and pomegranate.  The silky texture was heavenly and the normal earthiness of a chickpea hummus was replaced with a fresher flavour. The punchy pomegranate seeds and taro chips were great compliments.

Edamame Hummus Dip $4
Edamame Hummus Dip $4

At this point, a buddy of mine joined me.  Shortly after, the spicy tuna tartare and black pepper tuna tataki ($6), spicy jerk chicken ($6) and cheese burger spring roll ($7) arrived.   The tartare and tataki were served on a rice cake and topped with red pepper relish.  The tuna was prepared perfectly but was blunted by the overwhelming rice cake.  The flavours were there, just disproportionate.  The cheeseburger spring egg roll was a brilliant concept, especially with the lettuce wrap and pickled vegetable.  Once again, like the tuna, the main protein was lost among the numerous other things on the plate.  The spice jerk chicken served with the tamarind glaze and chili sauce was phenomenal and easily the best dish of the night.  Moist chicken and a very crisp and aggressive seasoned coating was perfect as a stand alone but the sauces enhanced the flavour even further. It was so good we ordered another one.

Tuna Tartare Tataki $6, Jerk Chicken $6, Cheeseburger Spring Rolls $7
Tuna Tartare Tataki $6, Jerk Chicken $6, Cheeseburger Spring Rolls $7

The last dish on the bar menu was the fois gras and chicken liver pate. Served with ice syrup, ginger mango and ciabatta for $7.  It also had some housemade blueberry compote.  Although pate is rarely my preferred choice on a menu, this worked on all levels. The texture of the pate complimented with the contrasting sweet and  gingery condiments were delightful to the palate.  Ironically, I didn’t eat all the pate but the the rest of the plate didn’t stand a chance.

Fois Gras and Chicken Liver Pate $7
Fois Gras and Chicken Liver Pate $7

For a second cocktail, I ordered a Mayan Solstice, a tequila and gin based drink with chili infused lime juice, cucumber and green apple (with a little chartreuse).  This was fresh and delightful but the heat from the  chili was adequately present with every sip.  It was a great cocktail.

Mayan Solstice $10
Mayan Solstice $10

Whether it was a few cocktails or an general enjoyment of the food and atmosphere, I saw a couple across bar order Susur’s Signature Singaporean-style Slaw.  I felt that the guy from “The Source” commercial who sees his creepy neighbour dancing, looks at the speaker and says “I want that”.  This $22 salad is one of the most recognized dishes at Lee.  It’s an architectural feat, constructed with 19 ingredients.  After a detailed description. the waitress skillfully destroyed  it into something that could fit in one’s mouth.  As much as it was eye candy, it was alliterative mouth candy as well; sweet, salty, sour, spice, savory and sublime.

Susur's Signature Singaporean-style slaw $22
Susur’s Signature Singaporean-style slaw $22

My Take

I stumbled across happy hour at Lee by chance.  It started with a chance sighting of Susur itself and lead to an enjoyable meal. Although it is not your typical cinq a sept joint, the staff are welcoming and treat you as well as somebody who might be dropping a few hundreds bucks for dinner. The cocktails were above average and a great value at $10.  The bar food was a nice representation of Susur’s intense and diverse flavour profiles although I found the tuna and spring rolls  a bit  disproportionate. I’d order two jerk chicken right off the bat just to save yourself a wait. If you like pate,  Susar’s is a must.   The hummus was excellent as well.

The King and Portland area has become the epicentre for the snack food movement in Toronto and Lee has jumped on board (at least between 5 and 7 anyway). The result is a successful menu which offers a sample of Susur’s bold flavours.   Both the cocktails and food are a great value but be warned, you may be tempted to indulge in things like the signature slaw or other dishes which cross your path. In the end, although Susur didn’t look overly happy during his own happy hour, I sure did.

Lee on Urbanspoon

The P & L Burger: Recognizing Big Boy as the Original Hipster

Parts and Labour’s offspring, P &L burger, was in part due to its performance on Burger Wars, in which it beat out rivals Burger’s Priest and Dangerous Dan’s to claim supremacy.  It opened its doors recently near Queen and Spadina, only a few doors down from Burger’s Priest and in an  area with an ever increasing number of fast/snack food options. Upon entry, I was greeted by a young lady with modern enthusiasm who quickly took my order. Fifteen minutes later, almost to the second, my number was called and I proceeded to the counter.  The cook was as cool as his facial hair and engaged me in a very pleasant conversation about the weather, cycling and growing up in Windsor, Ontario…a far cry from the less than enjoyable service I often receive from other places in the area.

Let’s do a quick historical recount of the evolution of the burger culture in the United States. It would be hard to argue that the Big Mac is not one of the most iconic and recognizable food on earth.  In fact, economic models use the cost of a Big Mac to standardize the state of the economy across the globe.  The brilliance of the Big Mac lies partially in the use of a secret sauce to add some tanginess to the other layers of flavours one would associate with a burger.  The Big Mac was “invented” by a Pittsburgh franchisee in 1967 who developed it to compete with the Big Boy (developed circa 1937), the flagship burger of the restaurant of the same name. The Big Boy is a three layered burger, served on a sesame bun with all the fixings including a special sauce (sound familiar?).  Once a presence throughout the United States, Big Boy still exists although primarily within the state lines of Michigan although a few still exist in Ohio and California.

What struck me the minute I tried the deluxe was the fact that I was eating a hipster Big Mac. It had most of the components with an extra emphasis on the the huge beef patty, which was cooked a juicy medium-well.  The P&L sauce was an excellent condiment and resembled the special sauce that made the Big Mac famous.  The cheese was melted nicely and crispy bacon pieces lined the thick patty.  It was a big, sloppy and delicious mess.  Consuming it did make me wonder why too many other burger places haven’t made an effort to mimic one of America’s favorite and most recognizable foodstuffs.  As far as the sides, I found the fries rather soggy and the slaw unappealing in both colour and taste.

The Deluxe $9
The Deluxe $9 (aka The Hipster Big Mac)

 

Somewhat Soggy Fries
Somewhat Soggy Fries (plus $3 with drink)

 

P & L Slaw
P & L Slaw ($3)

My Take

Not only did Big Boy invent the saucy burger, I argue they invented the hipster.  I mean, look at the mascot:

1. He wears checkered clothing.

2. He has a clean side part and a a flip in the front.

3. He is wearing light blue shoes.

4. He has that “I’m cool because I’m about to eat a burger” look on his face.

Big Boy- The Original Hipster
Big Boy- The Original Hipster

Now McDonald’s stole the Big Mac concept but  alienated the hipster concept and instead introduced Ronald McDonald in 1963.  The famous clown (which apparently has 96% recognition in the USA), was created by Willard Scott (yes…the same Willard Scott who gained fame as a Today show weatherman).  Since then, there have been eight actors who have portrayed the famous clown and none of them have worn, plaid, plastic rimmed glasses or parted their hair to the side.

Willard Scott as the original Ronald McDonald- This would be enough to make me a vegetarian
Willard Scott as the original Ronald McDonald- This would be enough to make me a vegetarian

P&L has created a DELICIOUS burger which competes for the best under $10 in Toronto.  The sauce is the key, adding a tangy cut through the richness of the thick beef patty and accompanying melted Amercian cheese and bacon.  The bun is terrific and the condiments are as harmonious as the Big Mac song itself.  The fries were soggy and the slaw was unremarkable.  You’re likely in for about a 15 minute wait but I think it’s worth it (after all some people in Toronto have no issue waiting hours for a stool tucked in the corner of a popular snack bar). Now that I’ve read a bit about burger history I realize that in fact the classic sandwich is the perfect food for the modern day hipster; you can dress like Big Boy and act like a clown.

 

The P & L Burger on Urbanspoon

 

 

Review:Vancouver:Downtown:The Fish Shack

It was honestly an internet search and a restaurant within walking distance that brought me to the Fish Shack. After seeing it was a creation of the Glowbal group, I was sure it would be far from a shack and even have a few of the gimmicks this restaurant group is renowned for.  The last Glowbal restaurant I went to was Black and Blue. It had a beautiful decor, with a classic steakhouse setup and  highlighted by  a 15 foot high meat locker.  I figured the Fish Shack would be the same.

I wasn’t far off.  The decor is reminiscent of a wooden fishing shack.  Nets hang throughout the place and pictures of fish with interesting trivia line the  wall. It’s bright and clean and the busy waitstaff have a casual look and attitude. The air is filled with the aroma of shellfish, likely  a combination of the bar side shellfish  steamer and the adjacent table ordering the fisherman’s catch, a Cornucopia of mixed seafood strewn across the table in a free for all.

The beer selection is pretty lame, dominated by Molson products. The Whister Bear Paw Honey Lager is a bit of a redemption.  This sad reality led me to the Caesar fleet featuring four offerings laced with vodka, gin, whisky and tequila.  I went vodka, a pretty standard Caesar garnished with prawn and pepperoni.  It was a good Caesar and definitely better than a Coors light.

Caesar
Caesar $8

I like gimmicks, so I opted for buck a shuck oysters (Light house were featured)  and mussels and clams fresh from the steamer. The oysters were fresh and a great deal for four bucks. The $15 steamed shellfish prepared classic style (wine, garlic , shallots and herbs) were good but didn’t rival the mussels at Chambar or the clams at the Pike market in Seattle which were pulled from ocean just minutes away in Puget Sound.

Steamers $15
Steamers $15

For the main, the halibut was calling my name.  Although priced significantly higher than the other fish and chips options, I remembered my experience at Dandelion in Philadelphia and Blue Water cafe in San Diego and hoped for the same in Vancouver.  It was a bit flimsy and although all the components were quite good, nothing was remarkable. The batter was not greasy and had a pleasant taste while the fish maintained a good integrity and decent moistness. The tartar sauce and fries were pretty classic and the creamy horseradish slaw was colourful to look at but didn’t have as much bite as I wanted.

Halibut and Fries $16.50
Halibut and Fries $16.50

I last had the brussel sprouts at Black and Blue last year and ordered them again. I was equally impressed, especially when I hit them with a squirt of hot sauce.

Brussel Sprouts
Brussel Sprouts $6.50

There’s a small dessert menu featuring cheesecake, apple berry crumble and sticky toffee pudding, all for $8.50.  Some may argue you don’t need anymore than that.  I opted for the latter and was presented with a pretty decent offering. The cake was moist, partially helped by the plentiful pool of sauce it sat in.  The traditional chantilly cream and somewhat unorthodox berries were a good finishing touch.

Sticky Toffee Pudding
Sticky Toffee Pudding $8.50

My Take

The fish shack is kind of like Red Lobster, except for people under the age of 65.  Both have a bad beer selection and shrimp garnished Caesars.  Both are decorated with fish and fish paraphernalia.    Both have cheesy slogans like “We sea food differently” and “hook it and cook it”. One can indulge on an array of seafood with the shack’s Fisherman’s catch or Red Lobster’s Ultimate feast, a choice from the fresh daily fresh fish list or non-sea signatures like cheddar bay biscuits (RL) or brussel sprouts (FS).  Both even have a New York style cheesecake for dessert.

The fish shack is pretty; pretty decor and pretty good food.  It’s filled with the little gimmicks like bar side steamers that make the Glowbal group what it is. .  Although none of the dishes blew my mind, the execution of the food was acceptable. and the vibe reeked a little of fish and little of hip. So send Gramma to Red Lobster and suck back some west coast buck a shuck oysters before 6 pm at the fish shack (trust me, Gramma and oysters don’t mix). Afterwards, you can hear about the nice fish and  that dessert cake like Gladys used to make.

As for slogans, I kinda like this one from a famous book that pretty much says it all:

“Fish,” he said, “I love you and respect you very much. But I will kill you dead before this day ends.”
Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea

“Catchy”, isn’t it?

The Fish Shack on Urbanspoon

Review:Toronto:Roncesvalles:Barque

After walking up and down Roncesvalles during a festival, I looked at my phone and realized it was close to five.  Knowing that Barque opened then and they hold a percentage of the place for walk-ins, I grabbed the kids and trekked to the front doors. I felt like I was trying to get a wristband for the MMVAs.  It did change my assumption that the only people who eat at 5 pm are kids and senior citizens. I broke a mild sweat as the place  gradually filled.  When it got to my turn, I mustered up my request. She looked apologetic and informed me that the only seats left were those at the bar facing the kitchen.  I couldn’t stifle the smile and said  “Done!” as we were directed to our seats.

The decor strays  from the traditional smokehouse and resembles something you would expect in the west end of Toronto. I was a bit relieved to see a number of children peppered throughout the smallish venue and on the decent sized patio out back. As soon as we were seated, the show began.One of the sous chefs wheeled out about 150 lbs of brisket and methodically prepared it for the smoker.  He pulled out a chunk of brisket and infused each with a large syringe filled with some magic elixir and transferred it to a tray.  He looked like a cross between Bruce Lee and Dr. Frankenstein.  Upon completion, he set the smoker at 175F and threw it in. I was surprised at the low temperature and it made me think I could have thrown a brisket on my porch last week with this summer weather and had the same result.

Oddly enough, they feature four or five beer from the McAuslan line which is a bit of an oddity considering the possibilities in the GTA alone.  Nonetheless, it’s a decent brewery to hang your hat on and I started with a pale ale.

The menu features standard starters and mains but also a number of sampler options, so there is a bit a science to ensuring you get the right amount of food. I was rather intrigued by the Barque plate, which is sample of some unique dishes made each evening.  On this day, it was a tagliatelle with bison meatballs, fried calamari, pulled pork tacos and crostini.  The highlight was the pasta. The rest was decent.   Ok…I confess, I didn’t inform the kids of the bison until afterwards  but they found the dish delicious.

Barque Sampler $16
Barque Plate $16

Next I opted for the Barque Sampler for 2 and chose ribs, brisket and sausage as the mains with caesar salad, slaw and fries as the sides. The brisket was the highlight, a testament to the meticulous process we witnessed earlier. It was crazy tender and seasoned well.  I’ll give props to the remainder of the platter as well. The ribs were well seasoned and the sausages were not dried out and had a good flavour. The asian slaw (which does not look like it’s on the menu anymore) was delicious.  I left  the caesar salad to my son who reported it was good although the bacon “tasted kind of different” perhaps because it’s not my standard practice to serve candied bacon at home.  My daughter’s report on the fries were a resounding thumbs up although she’s not a fan of dipping sauces in general.

Barque Sampler for 2 $35
Barque Sampler for 2 $35 (with 3 sides)
Fries with Aioli
Fries with Aioli
Asian Slaw
Asian Slaw

I have a hard time turning down smoked chicken (both from a taste and having to have the serving staff reassure me that pink chicken is cooked perspective) and this night was no exception. This time I went with the cuban corn and pickles  as the sides.  The chicken was smoky and tender and the corn, although a little overcooked, was spiced nicely. A decent array of pickles were presented which included beets, asparagus, cucumber, cauliflower and onion.I think pickles are a smart side to add a little acid and crunch to an otherwise rich and chewy meal.

Smoked Chicken and Cuban Corn $19
Smoked Chicken and Cuban Corn $19
Side of Pickles
Side of Pickles

Some smokehouses pride themselves on an array of sauces but Barque less so.  There are two offered in a ramekin with a sauce brush. One was a standard tangy red BBQ sauce and one a carolina style mustard sauce.  I found both tasty although I sort of forgot about them in the midst of everything else.

The dessert menu featured a few southern inspired sweets fused with a little Toronto trendiness. The key lime cheesecake was surprising light and laced with a subtle amount of cardamom that worked well. The mango was a bit irrelevant but added some nice colour. The gelato, coupled with a couple of homemade cookies, looked with a nouveau, deconstructed Neapolitan but with cappuccino replacing the chocolate.  I hated chocolate ice cream as a kid, so a dead give away of my freezer mischief was a container of Neapolitan with only the strawberry and vanilla missing. I was often caught pink and white handed.

Key Lime Cheesecake $9
Key Lime Cheesecake $9
Barque Gelato and Cookies $9
Barque and Gelato Cookies $9

My Take

Barque has succeeded in bringing the smokehouse into the Roncesvalles realm. It appeals to atmosphere seeking hipsters as much as it does those who crave carnivorous  delight.  The price point is decent although if you fall prey to the numerous choices, it can push up the final bill rather quickly. The highlight  is clearly the brisket (which was outstanding), followed by the ribs and chicken which would compete in any neighbourhood cook-off.  There’s the token fish and vegetarian dishes for the pescas and vegans respectively. The  barque plate (4 small bites for $16) is a smart idea but hinges on the creativity of the chef on a given night and on this night it was a bit boring.  I’ll give an A for the tagliatelle, a B for the pork belly tacos and maybe a C for the squid and crostini. The single line beer (McAuslan) is a bit confusing given the array of options that would fit with a smokehouse. There is ample wine and a few cocktails which, like Barque itself, are inspired not only by the south but by Toronto itself. There are a lot of smarts about the place including sampling platters to taste either the signatures or the daily inspirations of the chef  or the Sunday night feature which reintroduces the concept of sharing family style. In the end, Barque is a chic smokehouse with Toronto flair serving among many things candied bacon that may not meet the standards of a 10 year old pork traditionalist.

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