Showing posts with label Danforth. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Danforth. Show all posts

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Restaurant Review: Big House Pizza

Sometimes when you are trying to review a place, the attitude of the owners and servers defeat you. Big House Pizza is a new pizzeria at Danforth and Donlands that serves pizza, bread, wings, salads, fries and patrons of local bars.

The place is big on puns and flavour. One of their pies is named the John A. MacDonald that includes, (and I quote); Ground All Beef Patties, Special Sauce, Lettuce, Cheddar Cheese, Pickles, And Onions On A Sesame Seed Crust. Stop humming. I know you are doing it. My kid states that this is better than a Big Mac but I pretend not to understand what he is talking about.

Their pies that state that they are hot as in spicy hot not temperature hot are, at best, a medium heat for those accustomed to a little something something. Most disappointing pie in this vein was the Buffaloes Have Wings? Now, I am going to moot this criticism and the one that follows as well. This place is quick to respond to criticism. It  is quick to suggest changes and make efforts to fulfill reasonable requests. For example, I had originally looked at the Wing pizza and was a little iffy due to the ranch dressing. I hate the stuff. The cook at the time was a little hesitant to remove the cooling liquid as how could you properly replicate the wing experience without the sauce. Okay, he didn't say that directly but you could see it in his eyes. Also, they still gave the sauce to me on the side. Some places would do this grudgingly without pointing out their reason for having the pizza this way. They care about their food.

More importantly, when I mentioned the issue on twitter, they were more than happy to let me know that they had homemade hot sauce available. The sauce is good...soooo, that criticism cannot stand.

Okay, so after having a slice and some fries, I decided that this shop was good enough to order some for my boys. The next pizza night, I ordered a John Candeyed Ham (another pun. Who knew?) with ham, sausage, bacon, back bacon and some things that were not meat. A lot of toppings on these pies require a thicker crust, so if you are a fan of thin crusts, this place is not for you. My wife liked it but wished there was more sauce. Next order, I asked for more sauce without a problem. This attitude of compromising with the customer without compromising the food happens too seldom in Toronto.

Look. This place has restaurant pedigree. The owners are opening another restaurant out west soon and I hope this place does not suffer because of this. The basic premise is good ingredients on a crust with sauce enough to hold it into place. The flavours are typically bolder to cut through the doughiness of a thicker crust and could sit as flavours for a main course.

Remove the crust. Change the ingredients around a little and add a starch and you could have a meal. I am focussing on their pizzas but their fries are really good. The Greek fries were cut to resemble eggplant slices and served with olives, feta and fried veggies. They are smart enough not to call any of the fries poutine but rather let them be their own thing.

This isn't a destination pizzeria but rather a really smart neighbourhood joint that understands its customers and the area. The prices are reasonable for this mixed income area. I am surprised that no one else has stepped up to pair with the Only Cafe before now. It is only time before these two places start menu pairing with beers and pies. I, for one, will be the better and heavier for it.

Big House Pizza on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Drunk Review: Square-Boy

I went to my local, The Only Cafe, hoping to land the triple quad like Elvis Stojko and ended up doing a triple tripel like Patrick Chan on a bad day. (Piraat, St. Martin, and St-Feullien + a few others). Before I get into the review of Square-Boy that sits almost opposite at 875 Danforth, I just want to mention how awesome Hopfenstark brewery is. It is awesome, that is all.

So, after the aforementioned trips, we tripped on over to Square Boy to take a peek. It is a standard family style greek restaurant with gyros and chips and homemade hamburgers. Don't make the mistake of getting anything not labeled homemade. The square in the square boy refers to the shape of the burger, square. In order to ram in the point in a "it goes to eleven" type of way, their motto refers to the fact that you get four bites more. Now, four bites more of crap is just four more shitty bites. Maybe it is my inebriation or my bonhomie at being let loose on a Wednesday night but the Homemade banquet burger with fries and gravy tasted really good. I ate it with all the fixings and the flavour of the pickles cut through my last saison of the night. There was a great char on the burger with a soft grayness of patty that suggested that this was not just a beef burger. Frankly, I could not care what this meat was because it was delicious. Hey, you can also order another round while you are waiting for your order to come up. How cool is that? Keep your buzz on while waiting for your food. THAT is freakin' genius.

My partner in crime cringed a little at the bun wishing that it was a little better but I am not sure that I would have it any other way. \It fit what I expected from this type of place. The toppings were no more or less what is expected. There are sharp raw onions, vinegary pickles, mustard, ketchup and stuff that evaded my discombobulated vision. It freaking tasted awesome to the alcohol addled taste buds. This is the type of food that drunks love. Soft, easy to eat with just enough acid and salt to cut through the previous hours inebriant. As some would say, this is some next level shit.

I am not sure how this would taste sober and frankly, I am not sure I care. There are some food that is meant to be consumed while the time is right and this is it. In the words of the sloppy drunk, I love you guys.

Square-Boy Drive-in on Urbanspoon

Friday, November 2, 2012

Drunk Review: Subway Meatball Sub

So, I am walking home from one of my locals (The Only Cafe) after having a couple of good beers and a half decent one. I had been tweeting earlier with a person who remember Ottawa in the 90's as a land of shawarmas and Imperial Pizza, so I had a hankering for a donair.

I stopped at Fuzzbox and had a donair and continued on my way. There was still a little space for a little something something and so I decided to stop by the Subway. When I was younger and poorer, if that is the right term, I used to order a meatball sub with veggies, especially jalapeno peppers. For old time sake, I order one of those beasts and got the creamy smoky sauce, hot sauce, jalapenos, green peppers and red onions. After the bitterness of the hops, I find that spice can cut through it and provide some type of decent flavour.

 The problem was that all the additions tasted great but the meatballs tasted of mush. There was a vague meaty taste but it was the type of preformed meatishness found in cans of Puritan meatballs and gravy. I know that the hoppiness of the beer that I indulged in earlier kills some of the more nuanced notes found in food later consumed but it would not kill every note. Think of it like going to a loud concert. When you get out, you get that strange form of ringing in your ears. Usually, you can still understand what is on the radio as you drive away from the venue. You could recognize the band and even hum along. This would be the equivalent of not even realizing the radio was on. The meatballs tasted of nothing. I would be hard pressed to let you know what the meat was.

In some ways, I guess this is a good drunk snack. Not offensive with enough breadiness to quell your stomach and slow down the absorption of alcohol. In another sense, it does not punch through the alcohol numbness. It is a toss-up if you are a youngster but as a more seasoned foodie, I think I probably should have ordered some fried pepperoni with my donair.

  Subway on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Restaurant Review: The Fuzz Box

I spent a little time thinking about this restaurant and how to review it. My first introduction to donairs was in Ottawa during my formative (read that as occasionally drunk student) years. It was served with sweet sauce, pronounced schweed, hot sauce and garlic sauce. The hot sauce was typically srirachi and the garlic was a modified tzatziki sauce. Most of the donair shops were run by Lebanese and I believed that most of them were great when I was drunk. Often, this analysis did not hold up during the time that beer money was tight and the sandwiches were still cheap.

A donair is roasted meat on a stick claimed by the Turks and the Greeks. This meat is used to make a delicious sandwich redolent of garlic and served with fresh vegetables and pickled turnip. Add this disagreement of who created this dish to the long list of grievances between the two civilizations. Other nations have their versions; the aforementioned Lebanese, other Middle Eastern nations and even Mexico. I am not here to try and claim anything about this nebulous dish but rather to talk about a great sandwich.

Ever since leaving Ottawa for the Big Smoke, I have asked every shawarma, donair and gyro place whether they had the sweet sauce. Blank stares followed by suggestions that I really meant tzatziki or some other sauce they had at the ready were all I got for years. I had not realized how special that sweet sauce was against the roasted meat, the harsh raw garlic flavour and the crispy vegetables. I missed it dearly. Then there was the Fuzz Box. It promised me a return to my idyllic days of academia and beer raising.

So, the first time I goes into the store, I spends a time in the local craft beer mecca, the Only.  I excuses myself and take a short walk down the ways. One donair, please. Yes, I would like sweet sauce. Oh and you have homemade hot sauce! Sure. I'll take that.

That first one went down so fine. The meat was supple and tasted meatier against the sugar sweetness of the sauce. Crispy bits of meat were in contrast to the soft pita and interrupted in texture by the veggies. The hot sauce tasted vaguely fruity when taken in mouthfuls with the sweet. Not too much can beat sweet plus heat. The hot sauce was served on the side so that the creamy sweet sauce doesn't dull it down.

Okay. That's pretty hyperbolic but I was drunk and that is what it tasted like. The true test happened weeks later when I discovered that this donair sandwich tasted as good sober as it did drunk. It matched my drunk memory pretty well. To top it all off, they serve fried pepperoni and Pop Shoppe drinks.

I'm not even going to describe this place. I will mention that it is at Danforth and Greenwood. I would love to tell you about the great game specials. They always look good. This guy can cook.

But I can't. I can't leave the donair alone. If you know me, then you know I am not one to get the same thing over and over again. This place could turn me into a creature of habit. I know such bliss that I haven't even noticed if it has the pickled turnip and you know what, I don't care.

The Fuzz Box on Urbanspoon

Monday, April 2, 2012

Restaurant Review: Kilt and Harp

This review could be called the Suzanna's face lift.  Suzanna's was the restaurant that existed previously just east of the Woodbine subway stop on the Danforth.  It was a greasy spoon that my wife and I had gone to a few times.  Hangover food served in the morning, hangover makers served in the afternoon.

This was a working class neighbourhood and to some extent still is.  There is a lot of people who still work at the traditional blue collar jobs mixed with artists and the encroaching young families.  This strip which is invariably called destitute, decrepit and other 'd' all meaning dump in restaurant reviews misses out on what this strip and the parallel strip travelling Gerrard is all about.  It is about the people living in these areas.  

On Gerrard, there is the beginnings of a resurgence with GAS (Gerrard Art Space) and Tea n Bannock opening soon while along Danforth, east African restaurants and hookah shops ply their trade.  All this to try and explain what the Kilt and Harp is working with.

Firstly, the Scottish name is just that, a name.  Nothing Scottish here.  When we visited, there were a number of televisions, half tuned to a fishing channel and the other half with the information screen for turning on the satellite set.  There are high stools at narrow tables.  Black wainscoting is topped with deep red walls.  A couple with school aged kids was talking to another neighbourhood dad while some friends caught up behind us.  While we were drinking, a couple of young lads fresh from a day's work, still in their work clothes came in and had a pint.  A sign in the window asking for a cook warned us off trying to ask for a menu which was good because no menu was offered.

There are 12 taps with mostly similar tasting stuff: Rolling Rock, Budweiser, Canadian, Foster's, Sleeman, Rickard's Red, and Sleeman's all make an appearance.  Some of the others that we offered without irony (but non-ironic has become the new irony BTW) were Pabst Blue Ribbon, Smithwicks, and Guinness.  This bar is starting to sound as if it is trying to feel out what will work.  The hood is in flux and there must be a way to maintain the old while getting the new to see the merits of places like this.  

The balance has to be struck.  The waitress was wearing a Flying Monkey's tee.  That beer was one of the last one's she mentioned as in 'Oh and we have that Flying Monkey's thing.'  It turns out they have two taps for the Monkey's - Anti-Gravity and Hoptical Illusion were on tap.  If this place continues to carry a few interesting taps to mix with their work-a-day beers along with their hipster beers (work-a-day and hipster seem to be very closely associated, weird!) then I think this place could work out.  Unfortunately for beer snobs, Castro's and the Only are so close that this place will only get a sniff and the occasion out for drinks with the buddies crowd.  For the rest, this place seems to be a good place to meet and drink and see the next door neighbours.

The kilt & harp on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Scotts are Coming

In the east end of Toronto, kilts are popping up all over.  Okay, I couldn't resist but there is at least three new "Scottish" pubs that have shown up in the last little while.  McGuigan's, Kilt and Keg, and Kilt and Harp.

This whole thing reminds me of a few years ago when a whole bunch of "Irish" pubs cropped up all over.  The most Irish thing about them was the beer.  Even that was normally putting one of two of the big breweries on tap and calling it a day.  Some cute names on the menu and a nod with adding turnips or something would finish off the Irish menu.  All very stereotypical and derivative.

McGuigan's opened just before Robbie Burns' Day near Gerrard at Jones.  The menu is upscale pub food and the beer on tap is not particularly Scottish.  There are plenty of beers from the UK but they tend to be the usual suspects.  It would be nice to see Tracquair, McEwan, Wee Heavy or Harviestoun on tap or even bottled.  Then there is the ability to bring in Scottish inspired ales as well  (Scotch Ale, Lakeport makes a Scottish style...).  By the time I have posted this, the pub may find its legs and have brought in more Scottish fare.  I will definitely try it.  The food is rumoured to be good but a tad pricey.  We will withhold judgement at this time.

Kilt and Keg is a redo of a local pub.  The outside looks like the typical pub.  It is located across from the liquor and beer store on the Danforth. The only ads on the outside for Guinness and Strongbow.

Kilt and Harp will be opening soon near Danforth and Woodbine.

Kilt and Harp is supposed to be opening tonight -- March 7, 2012. Maybe I will get a chance to go...

It is a little weird that in an area that definitely has Scottish immigrants that these are the most high profile of a Scottish pub that exist.  I'm wondering if there is a reason for that? Anyways, two of these are replacement pubs where a pub sat recently and the other is a new face on the block.  Hopefully, I will get a chance to raise a pint in and to them, soon.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Restaurant Review: Aravind

I once had a girlfriend who introduced me to Indian cooking via 50 Great Curries of India.  I made a few dishes and my love of Indian food grew even as ours fizzled.  Often, I am disappointed with eating restaurant Indian food that has neither the subtle flavours nor the well thought out balance of ingredients.  Instead, I am left with sweet butter chicken and a plethora of meat dishes with the same gravy served with basmati rice of indeterminate spicing.

On the menu of Aravind, (nothing on the website yet), there is nary a meat dish or "India -- The Greatest Hits" dishes available.  Rather there are dishes made from local ingredients coupled with eastern ingredients mainly in the vegetarian realm including fish dishes.  All dishes were beautifully composed and well thought out.  The presentation of the dishes by the servers reminded me of the early eighties when Indian food was still fairly new to Canadians and would be described in familiar terms that would underline their exoticness.

This is a new type of Indian restaurant food that I have tasted.  Aravind makes no bones about this being a restaurant that celebrates the Kerala area of India.  While I still suspect that there is much more to the great continent of India, I now feel as if there is a little more joy and understanding of this old culture and cuisine.

But is it authentic?  In a previous post on a family run Italian restaurant, I begged off on answering questions of authenticity.  Authentic can be broken down in various ways such as; 1. Made by someone from that culture (e.g. if an Indian makes it, it is Indian food), or  2. Made the "traditional" way (This argument generally falls down when looking at older cultures such as Italian.  Does traditional Italian food include tomatoes?), or 3. Evoking the techniques and flavours while using the best available ingredients.  I can safely say that Aravind fulfills these criteria while being modern and exciting.

Little revelatory touches such as the table water with cumin or cucumber and ginger water with mint leaf or a  bourbon sour with tamarind... These were eye opening.  If the water can be like this, then imagine the food. We had a bread and dip plate that had four breads, all different variations on rice bread, chickpea flour and  three dips; eggplant, kale/spinach and lentil.  The breads largely tasted different and it made sense to have these to contrast and compare with the dips.  We also enjoyed a crab curry with coconut and a dosa with three relishes/sauces and served with a sambal.  With the menu rotating depending on availability, not all of these will be available.  There is very little justice in this world as everyone should be able to taste these foods.

The only false note was the palate cleanser of watermelon, ginger and honey.  It was not as  harmonious compared to the other dishes.  If the ginger was stronger or the watermelon had been infused with the flavours ... it was good but the tastes jarred against each other.  What a quibble!

Listen, at the end of this longer than normal review, I say... Go!...Now!  I really enjoyed a meal here and I would recommend it without reservation.

Aravind on Urbanspoon

Monday, June 27, 2011

Store Review: Patisserie La Cigogne

Finally, a great french pastry shop along the Danforth opens up.  This is the second location of the patisserie.  It has opened up in a location that was used briefly by an Italian restaurant and before that it was a long time Greek family restaurant.

The place is set up like a pastry or doughnut shop.  You want in and see the display cases across the back with ample room for sitting and the requisite Van Houtte carafes.  It could easily be mistaken for a Montreal style mom and pop bakery but the pastries are more refined.  On the day that I picked up some danishes, it had been very humid.  Even in that weather, the pastry was light and very tasty.  There was not a lot of crunch to the outside and therefore little in the way of contrasting textures.  The weather gives them a pass for that.  The only issue was the filling. It tasted too sweet and too similar to the type of filling that can be found on store bought pastry.  However, this turns out to be my only real criticism.

The cookie that needs no name did not spawn recollection of my childhood at my aunt's drinking tea in the cool of a summer afternoon nor did it devolve into crumbly letters and phonemes to extend to seven volumes of recollections and end unfinished in 1.5 million words.  It was good.  Bit dry.  Needed tea.  It was probably just as good as Proust's mother's madeleine -- which also needed tea.

The impressive bit comes with the slices or gateaux or goodies.  The part that I am always struck with french pastries is the use of different textures and flavours that are layered or filled or constructed in some architectural and interesting ways.  Jelly is placed on top of delicate cookies and mousses are extruded and covered in nuts.  Some times it is all a bit precious.  We tried four different gateaux and any with mousse were fantastic.  These guys can do mousse well.  My family loved three of the four slices that we picked (Symphony - three chocolate mousses layered with a fruit puree on top, The Flute  -- lime mouse and pistachios on a rum soaked cookie and Bacarra  -- pistachio and peaches.)  None of these felt overly precious.  The fourth just didn't appeal to my young sons or my wife.  I found that the flavours were a little jarring but that is probably more due to the alcohol, fruits and chocolate.  Done well but not one that I liked.

If I could imagine that a middle class in Vienna could go out to the opera with their kids and end up in this type of pastry shop drinking coffee and relaxing while the kids wolfed down these slices then it is not so far to reach to think that this is the perfect place to do the twentieth century equivalent.  After Karate, Kumon or seeing some street event, this is a great place.  Hell, even before or better yet ... during.

I haven't mentioned that they do sandwiches, crepes and tortiere.  We, as a family, will be going back to try some of this.  Who doesn't love a meat pie with ketchup?  That is the most important part of this place.  It lets you feel comfortable and eat as you like without talking down to you in terms of its food.  There are many gourmet shops that could take a good lesson from the end of the day, it is food.  Meant to be eaten and enjoyed.

Patisserie la Cigogne on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Restaurant Review: Retro Burger

As stated in an earlier post, Retro Burger is opening an outpost in the east side of Toronto, near Danforth and Coxwell.  When Retro Burger opened up at Yonge and St. Clair, it was with great fanfare.  There are few affordable and quick options for lunch in the area.  The burger scene consisted of Hero Burger, McDonald's and Wendy's and  since that time, Harvey's has joined the fray. 

For the first months, the place was always packed.  I went about a half dozen times to try everything on the menu and hope that the ordering kinks exhibited in the first few days were fixed.  Well, I went back a few weeks ago to prepare for writing a review for the new one.  It is not as packed as it was earlier on.  For the past few weeks, I have been wrestling on what to say about it. 

It is easy to see what the restaurant is aiming at.  By Retro, it seems to be talking about the 80s given the music and the menus.  It is in imitation of Johnny's Hamburgers (Scarborough) or Apache Burger (Etobicoke).   An aside, my wife was raised in Scarborough and swore up and down about the legendary burger place but when we went back she remembered it being better.  I did not grow up in Toronto and Apache Burger was my favourite until the Burger's Priest.  Aside finished. Anyways, it is attempting to be a salt crusted burger with great fries. It falls short because the patty ends up watery and salty without the crust.  The buns act as a barrier to tasting the meat rather than a stage to show off the beef. 

The second issue is the pricing.  Originally, the burgers were priced reasonable at the Yonge location and they offered late afternoon specials but the prices have continued to rise and the specials evaporated.  The food has not gotten better.  Some of the toppings are good but not exemplary.  The fried onions are what I am talking about.

Once again, the placement of this new location is an underburgerized area near a McDonald's.  I don't like writing about a mediocre place.  It is easier and more satisfying to write about a place you love and would like a few tweaks.  It is a more guilty pleasure about writing about a horrible place and coming up with an interesting way to explain your disdain.  It is hard to write about ordinary.  This place will probably do well but I would like to see better from them and every burger place.

Update Just to be clear, there is a new location of this restaurant opening at Coxwell and Danforth but the one used to review the chain was located at Yonge and St. Clair. See comments for discussion.

As of August 22, 2011, the Retro Burger on Yonge has closed shop to be replaced by another burger place.

Retro Burger on Urbanspoon

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Restaurant Review: Gerrard Pizza and Spaghetti House

This could just be another review about a gem that has been around for just over 40 years but that would be fairly easy to write and not very enlightening.  Instead, this place brings out the uneasiness of using a short form review of authenticity.  So, let's start with a little review of what is here and hopefully, do away with the problem of real.

The restaurant is located on Danforth and not on Gerrard as the name would suggest.  This place was originally located on a bustling section of Gerrard Street and moved north to where the action moved to the new subway line.  The business opened in 1967 when the definition of Italian pizza was something different.  The Danforth subway line was finishing up construction for its official opening the next year.

The decor is not kitsch or even arriving at kitsch but rather a good reflection of restaurant culture around that time.  The plastic overlays on the table remind me of gingham and the walls are a story of place.  It shows a family that is proud of where it came from and a declaration of ethnicity that can only come from immigrants or children of immigrants who wish to regain ethnicity.  This type of genuineness of trying to convey their history with what was available later became the marketing tools of Olive Garden, East Side Mario's and countless pizza joints.   This one does conjure up the notion of a bistro that is set in Italy but in a really odd way.  It reminds me of a small restaurant that I went to in Florence set beside a vineyard.

The full menu is available on Facebook.  We went with our kids and ordered three pizzas and two salads along with a family bottle of Orangina.  I loved this touch that spoke to the family specials that you can get from chains but was distinctly European.  Maybe this is where the big chains got their ideas?  Pizza Pizza started in 1967.  We had a seafood pizza, sausage pizza and mushroom pizza with a radicchio salad and a spring mix with nuts salad.

These pies are not the pies of Florence or the trendy traditional pies.  All of these things were made with love.  They were recipes that are designed to best recreate meals from the homeland with ingredients from the new country.  For example, the funghi are the standard Darlington Whites rather than the mixed wild mushrooms of Italy or even Canada.  I am not sure that matters in terms of "authentic".

Over the ensuing forty years as we, the consumers grew up with these North American interpretations of Italian food (oooh exotic) and made them our own; we now treat these places as the authentic and real.  These are good pizzas.  This place has great value for money.  Our family ate for around eighty dollars.  Is it authentic Italian pizza or even authentic something?  I am not interested in that question or that word in this case.  A good Italian cook is making good pies that remind me of family restaurants that existed in the '80s.  Those restaurants became popular for a reason.  Many of the chains and restaurants also failed due to poor care in quality and amping up the kitsch factor and only focusing on making money.  Gerrard Pizza did not do that.  It is genuine and as Bono put it  "Even better than the real thing".

Gerrard Spaghetti & Pizza on Urbanspoon