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.

coffee-pot-triple-d
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.

Advertisements

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

Review:Toronto:Downtown:Reds Midtown Tavern

Another addition to the Yonge and Gerrard hotspot is Reds Midtown Tavern; the younger sister of Reds Wine Tavern in the financial district. The decor and set-up is similar.  It has a classy interior, boasting a fresh decor and a large bar as the centrepiece.  There is less emphasis on wine and more on cocktails and craft beer.  The first time I went to Red’s other location, it was shortly after the re-opening when Ryan Gallagher was still at the helm. The menu was heavy on fresh fish and seafood but this concept seems to be on the backburner now in favour of more traditional fare. You can still get a pan-roasted salmon and a cioppino, but the focus now seems to be on a generic mix of favourites such as pan-roasted salmon, steak frites and lamb shank as well as a daily curry hand-crafted by the chef.

For the first little while I felt like I was in the movie “Groundhog Day”.  There was a  repetitive nature of the evening as per the Bill Murray classic.  There was a bit of confusion around the service strategy.  As soon as I was seated some crispy potato flatbread arrived.  Wrong table.  Then a couple of beer came by.  Wrong table.  Finally, a runner carrying a vat of mussels walked toward me.  I just pointed to the adjacent table and said “It’s for them”. In fact, I thought I felt Punxsutawney Phil rub up against my leg once or twice.  There has been a surge of bubbly waitresses in Toronto as of late and this was no exception.  She arrived happy and informed me without breaking a smile that  they were out of the double dip and that “Sri Lankan beef” was the curry of the night. Come to think of it, she did remind me a bit of Andie MacDowell. I put in a drink order and she skipped away.  Sure enough, not two minutes later, I think I felt Phil again as another waiter arrived and told me they were out of double dip and the curry was Sri Lankan beef.

The cocktail list leans toward traditional with many priced at $10 or less. I asked for a highland old fashioned which came with scotch instead of one of the other traditional whiskies.  An orange slice lined the bottom of the glass, held down by a large ice cube.  It was well balanced, tasty and wouldn’t have been disappointed if I had to drink one over and over again.

Highland Old-Fashioned $10
Highland Old-Fashioned $10

The second cocktail I tried was another classic; the Negroni.  To me, a good Negroni should taste like cough medicine…and not the crappy generic stuff either. I mean extra-strength, cherry flavoured Benylin DM.  Red’s hit the mark with a decent $9 offering, made with gin and enough Campari to give it the taste and colour of a real good expectorant.

Negroni $9
Negroni $9

I’m a sucker for a good New England clam chowder, so I started with a cup of their North Atlantic Seafood  for $6.  There are a thousand interpretations on this classic dish. I quite enjoyed the flavour although it was thin for a chowder, there was more fish than clams and it was a bit on the sweet side.

North Atlantic Seafood Chowder $6
North Atlantic Seafood Chowder $6

Intrigued by the earlier attempt to give me some crispy flatbread, I decided to give it a try.  It was an interesting spin on a traditional flatbread, topped with an array of popular flavours like argula, balsamic and whole cloves of roasted garlic. I loved the crunchiness of the “bread”.  It was like a huge crouton underneath a standard Mediterranean salad. I was more than content with one or two small pieces and definitely would recommend as something you share.

Crispy Potato Flatbread $10.75
Crispy Potato Flatbread $10.75

I decided to venture into Asia and ordered the Thai slaw and the Sri Lankan beef curry, going against my cardinal rule of eating out…”if you’re not in a Thai restuarant don’t order Thai”.  Now I can add “if you’re not in a Sri Lankan restaurant, don’t order Sri Lankan”.  Neither dish was bad but just lacked that punch of  intense South Asian flavours, especially the slaw which was rather boring.  At $18.95, I’m convinced I could get a better curry somewhere else for half the price.

Thai Slaw $5.95
Thai Slaw $5.95
Sri Lankan Beef Curry $18.95
Sri Lankan Beef Curry $18.95

The roast chicken was a safer choice. It had all the fundamentals of a good roast chicken..crispy skin, moist meat and a flavourful au jus.  What lacked were the sides.  There was literally one fingerling potato (cut in half), a few pieces of asparagus and a few mushrooms.  For $18.70, I’ll let you decide.

Crispy Roasted Chicken $18.70
Crispy Roasted Chicken $18.70

My Take

Red’s midtown is a great place to grab a drink after work or meet a buddy for a few apps. It’s fun but also loud and chaotic. They have decent shareables, trendy yet traditional cocktails and a good beer list. I have to say it’s less appealing as a dinner destination given the generic nature of the main courses I sampled. In other words, it’s like a Moxie’s or an Earl’s or a Joey’s. Good atmosphere with average, overpriced food.

I’m reminded of a famous line from groundhog day in a conversation between Bill Murray’s character Phil and MacDowell’s Rita:

Phil: Something is… different.

Rita: Good or bad?

Phil: Anything different is good.

It’s not about whether Red’s is good or bad….it’s just not different.
Reds Midtown Tavern on Urbanspoon

Chicago:Day 5: Nana-nana-nana..I was bopping and hopping all night long

Stop 1– Nana’s

Day 5 was a triple hit of triple D.  After a subway up to Wrigley field a few days earlier, I figured I’d venture past US Cellular field to at least lay eyes on the White Sox home field.  That, and it was on the way to another DDD that was a cab ride from the conference centre.  I shyed  away from hitting up Nana’s on Sunday in an effort to avoid the brunch crowd so I figured a late breakfast/early lunch on Monday would be safer.  It’s a clean breakfast and lunch nook with an open kitchen, small tables and a bar to sit at. I had a chance to talk to the owner who told me the restaurant is dedicated to his mom who, after being diagnosed with diabetes, made radical diet and lifestyle changes which got her off of medications and made her diabetes manageable. The premise is fresh and organic foods served with a Mexican flare.

There are two things which definitely draw me to a dish: I’m always intrigued by traditional dishes which are given a twist and anything that is local and in season.  Today was no exception.  Instead of my normal tendency to fill my veins with sausage and pork gravy, I was drawn to the nanadict, an interesting version of classic eggs benny.  The english muffin is replaced with pupusas, the ham with chorizo and the hollandaise with a poblano cream sauce. The pupusa was a bit bricky and the eggs were poached American style (meaning a little too long). I loved the chorizo, especially with the poblano cream, which was rich and had a fresh flavour with a subtle bite.  A little cilantro on top would have been great, The earthy potatoes and acidic greens added a nice balance to the dish.

Nana's Nanadict
Nana’s Nanadict

The local/seasonal draw was the garlic whistles which were served with a sprinkle of fried cheese. They were tender and delicious. The cheese, a  shot of hot sauce and a squeeze of lemon recommended by the owner blended nicely with the garlic flavour. A great side dish!

Garlic Whistles
Garlic Whistles

My Take

Nana’s is a cute nook featuring breakfast, lunch and dinner rooted in family values and giving back.  They sponsor the Benton House, a local agency  dedicated to reducing hunger in Chicago through diner donations.  The owner is present and proud. The menu has lots of choices, many with Mexican/South American influence  and all based on local and in-house ingredients whenever possible. It’s a feel good place although I imagine too much poblano cream or chorizo may not leave you feeling too good the next day.

Verdict: 4 Guyz

Nana on Urbanspoon


Stop 2– bopNgrill

I got out the cab with a couple of colleagues only to avoid a summertime monsoon by seconds.  With wind blowing and stop signs rattling, I was happy to be in the safe confines of bopNgrill, a DDD featuring burgers and bop plates.  When I watched the show, I could almost smell the sizzling mushrooms through the television screen as Will Song meticulously created Americana with Asian influence.  I was drawn to the umami burger that  was featured on DDD and looked absolutely delicious.  The Philly Bulkogi egg rolls featured on the show are only available on weekends, so that wasn’t an option.   We also split the kimchi burger which featured my fave…a fried egg with bacon, cheese and kimchi. My sense of Smellivision was correct. The delicious smell of earthy mushrooms and truffles in the umami burger radiated throught the air. The burgers were cooked a perfect medium and had a dripiness which required a napkin run or two. They were well balanced and extremely flavourful.   As a matter of fact, after one bite the clouds parted and the weather seemed to clear up.  A coincidence??? I think not.

Kimchi and Umami Burgers
Kimchi and Umami Burgers

Verdict: 5 Guyz

bopNgrill on Urbanspoon

Stop 3- Hopleaf Bar

After bopNgrill, I hopped in a cab and faced a dilemma. I had hopleaf, another DDD pegged for a visit, yet it was game 6 of the Stanley Cup finals in the city poised to win.  Did I want to venture to a place with a ridiculous choice of beer or did I want to settle for bud light and a crowd of drunkards cheering for the Hawks?  Actually, it wasn’t really a dilemma. The day before, the barkeep at Haymarket raved about this place and hell, there may be a TV at Hopleaf so we could at least keep an eye on things.

The cab dropped us at the front door.  After paying the fare, we were stopped by a gent who demanded ID.  My dad and I have a running joke.  He was asked for ID at 42 and I said I’d beat him.  I’m not 42 yet but that fact I was asked on this occasion says I still have a chance.  That said, it’s pretty standard practice in Illinois to ID everybody.  Hopleaf is considered a tavern so nobody under 21 is even allowed in the place.  We seated ourselves in the bar area and examined the multi-page beer menu. . As for a TV…not a chance.  The bar staff looked like the Grateful Dead and the patrons had anything but hockey on their mind.

The beer selection is extensive, ranging from breweries down to the road to hot spots across the USA.  There is also an extensive selection of Belgian and Belgian style brews as well as a few European stragglers as well.

The Snaggletooth Bandana is a great Illinois IPA from Naperville combining a hoppy punch with strong tropical fruit flavours.  I was fortunate to try a Troublesome Gose from Off Color, a Chicago start-up brewery which had it’s official launch at Hopleaf that night. It was a classic wheat beer with medium spice and a refreshing finish.  One can’t go to Chicago without sucking back a Goose Island offering.  In this regard, I opted for a cumbersome pils which hit the spot. With three of us there, there was lots of sipping and sharing but be assured there is not shortage of choices.  The staff are very helpful as well, quick to offer advice, good or bad, regarding any of the pints.  For example, I ordered a pint of a cucumber beer and, at the advise of the bartender,  was offered a sample first and quickly realized a pint was just not feasible.

As for the food, the menu is a concoction of dishes with most made in-house. Since I was already pretty stuffed with the combination of bopNgrill and beer, we ordered a few things to split and stuck with the signatures; mussels with frites ($13), charcuterie trio  (headlined by house made head cheese) ($14) and the the brisket sandwich ($13). As a result of a camera malfunction I don’t have pictures but I can say that each dish was terrific.  The mussels were classically done.  The charcuterie plate was well executed and well thought out. A minor fight between the four os us almost broke out for the last smear of rilette.  I was a bit reluctant about the brisket.  It’s a tough cut to perfect and the fact it wasn’t a smokehouse left me a little suspicious.  My opinion changed with the first bite.  It was delicate and tender and competitive with some of the best briskets I’ve had.

My Take

Great  beer and great food make this a great place despite the lack on television and a less than cozy atmosphere.  The bar has a bit of staleness but doesn’t translate to the food and drink.  The mussels, brisket and charcuterie were amazing. The service is great from a beer recommendation perspective.  Otherwise, you’re on your own.  The bar area doesn’t doesn’t even have a waitress. Plus, you gotta leave the kids at home and bring you ID because if you don’t have it you might as well be 12 because you’re not getting in.  Despite the lack of a TV, two loud waves of screams a minute apart from a sports bar next door told us everything we needed to know.  The Hawks scored twice in the last two minutes to secure the Stanley cup and the party began….

Verdict- 5 Guyz

Hopleaf on Urbanspoon