Friday, June 4, 2010

The Burger Business Can’t Boom Forever

There are few things in life more pleasurable than biting into a perfect burger. Perfectly charred, juicy, meaty, covered with cheese and oozing some kind of mayo-type sauce. It’s really a simple pleasure. One that’s much easier screw up as to do properly. Over-thinking a burger often causes one to lose sight about the fact that doing the simple part is more important than anything else.

Lately about four gazillion and one new burger joints have opened up across the GTA. And they’re all fancied up with $5 toppings that should never be put on a burger. Reviews are all over the place. The most common complaint is that the burgers are not cooked properly (aka dry). This angers me. Being such a huge fan of this food, I’m all for having a ton of dining choice and innovative creations. But the last thing I want is to have to choose among four gazillion and one new restaurants to find only one or two gems that do it right.

I say this can’t continue. I say this is a fad that will end poorly for at least half of the new places that have opened up. I will admit that I haven’t tried many of them and I doubt I will. I’m sure many are good, but the choice is simply too dizzying. I also don’t think everyone shares my love and there aren’t enough people to keep these places making money long enough.

It’s really unfortunate, but it’s reality. The places that stay in business will be the ones in a good location that make a consistent, delicious and fresh product and charge a reasonable price. It sounds so simple, doesn't it?

Saturday, October 31, 2009

BEST Onion Rings Ever... Part II

Back in August, I posted about the best onion rings I had ever had. They were from Craft Burger and they were tremendous. This past Friday, I ordered them again. Guess what... they sucked. The batter was not crispy and the ring was very very greasy. It was the limpest saddest thing I've ever seen... you had to hold it with two hands otherwise it would sag over and the onion would fall out.....

so the search is back on.....

On an unrelated note, the poutine was quite good. I can't rank it though because that is the first time I've ever had poutine. Later skater, kids are ringing my doorbell like it's out of style.. better go give them candy before they start egging my car.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


I’ve had a gripe about the lack of spicy food in food courts for years. Whenever a fast food joint comes up with a “spicy” menu item, it’s laughable. Adding a little extra blac
k pepper and a drop of Tabasco doesn’t make it spicy. The masses can’t handle spicy food, so Harvey’s can’t sell a mass amount of a spicy burger if it burns the fragile palettes of its clients. Even the fast food Thai and Indian places “Americanized” their hear levels. Well, damnit, that’s not good enough! There are people out there that want REAL spicy food!

Do I sound angry? Well, I was angry, until recently. As we’ve mentioned in our previous blogs, over the past couple years our fast food has become more “gourmet”. Processed foods are out, real foods are in. And thankfully, so are real spice levels! Vindaloo is finally spicy. Jalapenos are not always from a jar. And “chipotle” and “habanero” and not just marketing terms.

This phenomenon motivated me to write about my top 4 picks for the best spicy food on Bay St. The criteria was very simple. It must pack heat. It must be delicious. That’s about it. Please enjoy and I look forward to any comments on my choices or suggestions for other great hot spots.

4. Piazza Manna

(Exchange Tower; There are a few locationsof this Mom ‘n Pops type Italian takeout shop, but I have a strong preference for the one in the Exchange Tower. I get the veal sandwich with the hot peppers. The sandwich itself is very good. Fairly tender veal on a fresh Italian bun. Lotsa tomato sauce and your choice of toppings. Their sautéed hot peppers add quite a kick. Though inconsistent, ranging from spicy to searing, the chilies are immediately noticeable. More of a heat that stays in your mouth than travels through the body.

3. Burrito Boyz

(Adelaide St; Walk a couple mins, wait in line for a long time and walk away with perhaps the best burrito in the city. The halibut burrito is really special, but the chicken is also good for the less adventurous. But I digress. This shop makes the list because of its habanero hot sauce. Oh man, this stuff is potent! For “hot”, you’ll get about 3 drops of it. If you want intense heat though, ask for at least 5 drops and it’ll knock you out! The heat is immediately noticeable on the tongue and hits your torso almost immediately. Love it!

2. Amaya Express

(First Canadian Place): Finally, the first truly good Indian food I’ve ever found in any food court. For $6.99, you get a healthy amount of food with an intense flavour punch. Pick your rice, main and veggie side. The beef vindaloo is out of this world. Super tender cubes of beef simmered in a wildly spicy curry. The heat level is absolutely perfect and continues to build on you. It’s a deep heat, the kind that you feel throughout your body and does not sting the mouth. This, to me, is a great example of comfort food and is incredibly satisfying.

1. Gandhi Roti

(Queen & Bathurst; Ok, this technically is off Bay St., but it’s worth an exception. Gandhi Roti is Toronto’s best roti and up there if comparing the top Indian food in the city. They have a variety of meat and veg choices, all delicious and superbly rich, encased in a paper thin, fluffy roti. The portions are massive and eaten with a fork and knife. And the best part is that you can order anything mild, medium or hot. Oh wait, that’s actually not true… the BEST part is that “hot” will blow your head off and eat a hole in your stomach! Very, very few people can handle the hot. Seriously! I can handle spice and have eaten the hot a few times. Each time, I swear I’ll never do that to myself again. Like Amaya’s hot, it’s a deep heat that builds and leaves you with a nice warm feeling all over. If you want intense heat, get the medium. If you want insane heat, get the hot. If you can’t handle heat, do not DARE order anything above mild. My favourites are the chicken korma, butter chicken and chicken tikka masala.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Oxford Word of the Year for 2009: Locavore

Yep, it’s all the craze these days. Everyone’s eating local. Why buy an apple from Chile when you pick one off a tree from the farm up the street? And few embody it as much as Jamie Kennedy does. While his high end restaurant empire was showing signs of cracks, he began opening up locavorized, affordable lunch spots (“locavorized” - no, it’s not a word, but maybe Oxford will consider it a candidate for next year – I want all the cedit!).

Within walking distance to Bay St., there’s Hank’s. Who is Hank and why is it not called Jamie’s? I don’t know. Frankly, I don’t even care, I just care about getting good food. The menu at Hank’s has some regular items. A few sandwiches and a couple other, simple items. Additionally, each morning they post a blog (much like this blog, but not nearly as good) and introduce their daily specials of soups and a nice variety of salads. What’s locavorized about it? Well, pretty much everything. The meat is organic and from nearby farms. Same with the cheese. And same with the veggies. Kinda makes you feel good about supporting the local economy. The truth is, there’s so much more to this movement. The products used in the food are very high in quality, ultra fresh and super tasty.

I’m tempted to order the smoked lake fish sandwich, but I’m feeling carnivorous today. So the flank steak gets the nod: “Flank steak marinated in mint and lime, smoked sheep’s cheddar, jalapeno mayo, acidulated onions, local greens.” Sounds awesome! But when the sandwich arrives, a sense of disappointment comes over me, because it seems a little on the small side for $9.50+tax (pictured here is half of the full sandwich). I press on, unwrapping it and examining it before taking a large first bit. The disappointment quickly fades and turns into… for lack of a better description… Mmmmmmm. The sandwich is perfectly balanced. Just the right amount of each ingredient. And while each ingredient is great on its own, all the flavours work phenomenally well together. The bread tastes like it came out of the oven an hour ago (probably not too far from the truth… it’s multigrain sourdough from St John’s bakery down the street), dense and flavourful. The steak is tender and tangy. There’s a perfect amount of spice from the mayo and the cheese adds an extra layer of complexity. Absolutely delicious! I love it!

But there are a couple negatives. First, the price. I understand why it’s priced high and can’t say it’s unreasonable. If I ordered this at a restaurant on a Saturday, I would actually think it’s great value. But for a takeout lunch, it doesn’t pass the “under $10” test. And it doesn’t fill me for the rest of the day. If it were $8, I’d get it a lot more often. And second, Hank’s doesn’t serve the infamous Jamie Kennedy fries. Blasphemy!! The fries, available at his other locavorized lunch spot, Gilead Café, are without a doubt the best in the city. Not having access to them kinda pisses me off, but I can get over that.

Saturday, September 12, 2009


Last Monday, while I was putting my white slacks and matching loafers in storage, I started to reflect on this past summer. Did we even have one?? I can't recall a single stretch where it actually felt like summer. More like a long spring..... Case in point, I did not water the lawn once this summer and my grass is still green (no lie). I turned on the air conditioner twice in the car and once at home and even then it wasn't absolutely necessary. Again, no lie.

I did not once smell summer. And because of that, I am supremely bummed right now. Although I will likely get over the disappointment of a lost summer, I am nervous that without the recharge from the long hot months I may not make it through the wicked winter. The only saving grace is that I have a few memories from a short trip I took a few weeks back. I will likely have to rely on those 10 days to get me through whatever mother nature throws at us in the coming months.... I just hope it is enough.

On a totally unrelated topic, our apologies for not keeping up with our posts. As a group I think some of us have been a bit uninspired lately, I know I have been. Others (I won't name names) have been sidelined with injuries suffered while gathering material for a food review. Still. No excuses. We will make an effort in the coming days to start posting again.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Black Camel: Consistently Fantastic!

Black Camel is a little café hidden away across the street from Rosedale station. So it’s not on Bay St., but it’s only a 10 minute camel ride, or, 7 minute subway ride for those that are hump averse or prefer the better way. And it’s well worth it. They have a very limited menu of five sandwiches and a few sides. My favourite is the brisket (I know what you’re thinking, but that cut comes from a cow, not a camel). The pulled pork (also not camel) comes a very close second. I haven’t tried the others, but the pulled chicken and veggie have each gotten rave reviews from my colleagues.

Mistakenly, many people try to compare this little café’s sandwiches to BBQ brisket/pulled pork sandwiches. Sure, you can compare them to Lou Dawg’s, Phil’s or many of Toronto’s mediocre BBQ smoke houses. But such a comparison would be both dead wrong with culinary standards and unfair to the comparison candidates. Why? Simply put, Black Camel does not own any BBQs or smokers. You see, a place like Phil’s smokes its brisket in a smoker for several hours. The meat becomes tender over this time and inherits the aroma and flavour of the smoke. Conversely, Black Camel braises its brisket over several hours in an oven. Believe me when I tell you that consistency is far easier to achieve in an oven than a smoker. The reward of true smoked meat, however, is greater. Unfortunately for Toronto, there are very few, if any, truly great BBQ joints (caveat: I have yet to try Stockyards).

So, off to the sandwich we go. The meat is piled heavily onto a soft-in-the-middle, yet slightly-crunchy-on-the-outside bun. The meat is just as tender as it is flavourful. The brisket is shredded, which allows it to maintain a nice meaty feel, yet almost melt away as you chew through it. The BBQ sauce is homemade from all natural ingredients and just the right amount is applied. And the fontina cheese adds just enough tang to bring everything together. A perfect sandwich? YES! Well, sort of yes. If I had to give it a ranking, I’d give it 4.62 camel humps out of 5 (isn’t that how many humps Alice the Camel had??). The sandwich gets 0.3 humps deducted for the bun being slightly soggy in some areas after a 10 minutes of transportation and 0.08 humps deducted for having some oil in the wrapper (as is evident in the picture… I honestly don’t know what this is, as the sandwich itself is not oily whatsoever). Oh wait, maybe it’s not oil, rather camel drool? Either way, it’s a deduction. If the sandwich was eaten fresh at the café, it would have gotten 4.92 out of 5.

One day, I’ll make a list of the best sandwiches. I don’t know what it will look like yet, but I do know one thing for sure – this delicious brisket will be somewhere at the top. And for $7 + tax (extra $0.90 for the cheese), it’s a wicked deal.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Battle with Chili & Who Can You Trust?

There are a few things in our day to day goings on that make life and business pursuits palatable. A satisfying lunch is an important part of a productive day. And, relying on colleague's advice prior to making the lunch choice is just as important.

What happens when these things fail to work or let's say more mildy, disappoint? Exhibit I, I introduce to you the lunch culprit of the day, a large bowl of chili soup from Druxy's @ Scotia Plaza.

When it comes to chili soup, I set the bar pretty low since Wendy's generally hits the spot --- at under $3 for the large bowl I should add. So, you may query, why did I go to Druxy's? -- fyi, price is $3.80 for the large soup.

Upon the recommendation of a quasi trusted source, Druxy's was supposed to be decent and surefire chili soup winner. Well the transaction wasn't smooth and the soup, left much to be desired. On the positive side, the soup was hot and from the photos looks cosmetically on par with other chili soups in the same price range.

Before I get into the particulars of the food product and a side note, I wasn't actually able to purchase a large soup since at 11:40am, Druxy's only had enough chili soup for only a 3/4 serving. They did give me a $1 rebate for failing to deliver what I ordered.

In terms of the final product, the chili tasted metallic, and the beans felt like they needed a shave. If you've ever chewed hair, you know what I mean. Bottom line, the chili had no taste and President's Choice ketchup would have been a substantial improvement. Don't even want to mention the beef, well if there was any beef, because I've had shoe leather that had more protein.

Final thoughts. On the bright side, I can try getting my lunch right again tomorrow. On the gloomy side, I'm stuck with my colleagues so maybe they'll get their lunch advice right tomorrow too. As for chili, I'll stick with Wendy's.