Well, it’s no grown-man’s forearm baguette…but it’s certainly not bad!

When they finally opened a Me Va Me Express on Queen Street West, I was pretty excited, having heard the rumours about their baguette sandwiches as big as a grown man’s forearm and the shawarma pitas the size of a five-year-old’s head.  However, it seems that these belly-busting sammies are only served at their suburban stores.  Upon discovering this, I was so distraught that I walked right out of the restaurant without buying anything.  But eventually, with the aid of a five-dollars-off coupon, they were able to lure me back in.  Well, with that and some lamb-burger sticks:

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OK, so it might have fewer calories than a KFC Double Down, but there’s still a lotta food on this plate.  You’ve got three seasoned lamb patties with a side of French fries, Greek salad and a couple large slabs of slightly warm pita bread.  Put it this way: it’ll take more than a few Tiger beers to get me buzzed when the Stamps kick off against Hamilton in a couple hours, cuz I’ll be drinking on a full stomach. ;)

Me Va Me Express, 240 Queen St W (at John St), 416-546-3770

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The bitter taste of victory…

With the addition of the expansion Ottawa REDBLACKS!!!!, I needed to find a new beer to associate with the new team for my CFL drinking game.  So I took to Twitter, where some Rough Riders related account suggested I try Dinner Jacket O’Red IPA from Arch Brewing Co.  Hey, it has an O for Ottawa and the word “red” in its name, and it comes in a black can adorned with the kind of outfit that Gros Jos would wear.  (FYI, their mascot’s French name translates to Big Tits.  No, really!)  And it’s brewed in Thunder Bay, so I can get it at the LCBO–although the closest three LCBOs were all sold out.  Still, I was kinda hoping to try this brew, and when Ottawa finally scored a touchdown on an extremely penalty-aided drive, I was compelled to crack one open:

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Now for me, the idea of a strong red IPA is basically bad news.  While I do like red beer, I much prefer the smoother taste of a pilsner or the light, citrusy flavour of a wheat beer.  IPAs are just too bitter and hoppy for my liking…and this one, well, it tasted like an IPA.  Mind you, it wasn’t quite the sour-grapefruit flavour of Crazy Canuck, with the red adding a bit of smokiness to balance out the hops.  And at 6.3%, it’s not quite Maudite, but it certainly hits you harder than, say, Molson Canadian.  I’m not drunk or anything, but I have been singing “Pretzel bun, I hope you feeeel it too!” throughout the night…

Anyways, since Calgary won big, I’ve still got a few of these left in the fridge; but the next time they play Ottawa, I’ll probably stick with Rickard’s Red or something.  That won’t be until next season, mind you–I’ll be heading up to The City That Sleeps at 7:30 for the rematch in a couple weeks. ;)

Poutine: It’s not just for breakfast anymore…except when it is!

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Meet la poutine matinale, a before-lunchtime version of the Quebec tradition, as served at popular Outremont brunch spot Faberge.  This place packs peppers, onions, cheese curds and an egg on top of hash browns smothered in hollandaise.  I even paid extra to add bacon–because face it, everything’s better with bacon!

La poutine matinale, $12 (add $2 for bacon) @ Faberge, 25 avenue Fairmount Ouest, Montreal, PQ

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OK, so this wasn’t my first meal of the day.  (I had, like, a bagel or something beforehand.)  But you almost don’t need dinner after chomping down on La T-Rex at legendary diner La Banquise.  With ground beef, pepperoni, bacon and hot dog atop a bed of poutiney goodness, you actually hafta chew through a couple layers of meat just to get to the fries, gravy and curds.  And yes, that is their signature La Banquise beer in the background. ;)

La T-Rex, $9.75 (regular), $14.95 (large) @ La Banquise, 994 rue Rachel Est, Montreal, PQ.

Parts & Labour Burger, hold the hipsters!

The last time I went to Parkdale hipster dive Parts & Labour was a couple years back, when due to a double booking, uber-loud sludge duo The Body ended up sharing the bill with some indie dance rock outfit in their basement concert space.  Suffice to say, The Body went on first, and sent the hispters scurrying to the nearest vegan art gallery, heh heh.

That said, while I never tried the food, I heard that place made a pretty good burger.  So when it eventually opened a burger-only offshoot not nearly as far West on Queen Street, I figured I’d eventually stop by.  If there’s one thing I love, it’s a good burger

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The P&L’s Philly Burger comes topped with fresh mushrooms, sauteed onions, hot peppers and some good ol’ American cheese sauce.  All that’s missing is the steak, but with this thick, crumbly slab of beef, you don’t really miss it.  They must not use any binders in their burgers, cuz the patty falls apart all over the place, necessitating the use of several napkins…which probably isn’t environmentally conscious.  But paired with a side of thick-cut, juicy fries, it’ll fill ya up for that mid-afternoon drinking session.  (Go Jays Go!)  And the best part?  Not an indie rocker in site!

The P&L Burger, 507 Queen St West.  Open Saturdays 11 am to 11 pm.  Apparently, they deliver, too…

John Catucci is a true Canadian!

It’s Friday, which can only mean one thing: back-to-back new episodes of You Gotta Eat Here!  When I first heard about the Food Network show, Canada’s answer to Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, I figured it had to be a pale imitation that could only thank CANCON regulations for its existence.  But y’know what, I think I actually like our version better now, and not just because I can actually walk to some of the places I’ve seen on the show.

Put it this way: YGEH! host John Catucci is not the Canadian Guy Fieri…and that’s a good thing!  Although I still watch his show–for the food–the bleach-blond broseph has been getting on my nerves lately, and not just because they brought my food to the wrong table at his American Kitchen and Bar.  When an old episode of Triple-D comes on, ever notice how Guy wasn’t covered in awful-looking tattoos back in the day?  And man, his catchphrases have become so cliche that even everyday diners on You Gotta Eat Here! are using them now.  Hmm, I wonder if Food Network Canada owes him royalties for that…

But while Fieri spends more time hobnobbing with Kid Rock and the cast of Grown-Ups 2 (ever the arbiter of terrible taste) than he does helping in the kitchen, The Catooch, as he’s affectionately called, is not afraid to get his hands dirty.  I must admit, I was entirely unfamiliar with the Canadian actor/comedian beforehand, previously best known for his role on the CBC children’s show The Doodlebops.  But he’s won me over with his self-effacing humour, his kind and gentle demeanour…and most importantly, his equal love of plaid and food.  When I watch the program, I think “Now there’s a guy who could eat as many hamburgers in one day as I can!”  Or maybe not;)

In a nutshell, what makes Catucci so endearing to Canadian viewers is his utter Canadianness.  Even the tagline “I’m not a chef, but I know great food when I eat it!” gives the impression that he’s not some overinflated, egotistical Texan, but just your ordinary, average Canuck, the kinda guy you’d like to have a beer with.  And hey, although I don’t live in the area anymore, if John ever visits Puck ‘n Wings or Burrito Bandidos in The Annex, I wanna be in that episode!  Dude, those wings are bananas, and bananas is goodTM!

TMGuy Fieri

I survived… the infamous Rochester garbage plate!

Rochester, New York might only be 75 miles from Buffalo, but if you think it’s a wing town, think again.  Sure, they serve chicken wings, like every other place on the planet, but their local culinary special is much closer to a French-Canadian classic.  In fact, it’s kinda like poutine on steroids…if steroids make you fatter.

The garbage plate was invented by local eatery Nick Tahou Hots, which owns both the trademark and the domain name.  The basic idea is to take french fries and/or macaroni salad, throw a buncha meat on top, then top with chili and cheese sauce.  I guess they called it the garbage plate cuz “heart attack on a plate” was already taken.  Mind you, while Nick’s mighta been the originators of this culinary creation (waaaay back in 1918!), most local diners, drive-ins and/or dives offer some variation of the plate–whether they call it a sloppy plate, a junkyard dog plate, or, in the case of the Marshall Street Bar & Grill, a volcano plate:

002Mmm, cheese-tastic!

If you’re wondering how this plate (which, technically, is more of a serving bowl) got its name, you obviously haven’t tasted it yet.  The chili offers up a pretty decent kick, and I suspect there might also be some spice in the cheese sauce.  I had mine topped with a cheeseburger and some pulled pork overtop the home fries (often used instead of regular fries) and the mac salad, which you can’t even see in this picture.  The burger was nothing special, just a thin, charbroiled patty, but the pork had a nice tang to it.  Hiding the macaroni near the bottom makes sense, since you’ll need it to cool your palate after all the heat…if you’re not knocking back a whole buncha $2.50 pints of American light beer, that is.  Of course, the fries on the bottom got pretty soggy from the nuclear cheese assault, and weren’t quite as good as the crisp ones up top.  But hey, I guess that’s what happens when you live in a volcano cheese-ruption zone!  Shut the front door and buy a ticket!

On that note, I found it funny–but also awesome–that this bar was showing Triple-D on the big screen when I walked in.  Guy hasn’t actually been to Rochester yet, has he?  Apparently not…

BURGER DAY 2014: It’s a beautiful day in the burgerhood…

Burger Day 2014 featured a few changes from the previous format.  For one, they moved it way down south to the park behind Fort York.  All in all, this was probably a good thing–green grass, picnic tables, more open space…and, most importantly, you could drink a beer outside, which wasn’t the case at the Wychwood Barns.

Now, I don’t know if it was the somewhat remote location, the wide-open spaces, or the pricing changes, but there actually appeared to be fewer people out this year.  As previously stated, after going all-you-can eat (for 30 bucks) last year, they brought back the burger and beer tickets from the inaugural edition, but also raised the cover from 5 bucks to 20 in the process.  While that wasn’t enough to stop a true Calgarian like me, I can see how some people might not wanna pay 30 bucks for just three sliders when they got unlimited sliders at that price one year ago.

For the record, I’m told that they did away with the all-you-can eat format because they thought it was wasteful.  Hey, when most of the money goes to a community food centre, I can see how having an all-you-can eat event seems just a tad inconsiderate…

In any case, I still scarfed down 10 sliders and polished off a couple beers–or, as Rob Ford calls it, breakfast.  (Sorry, couldn’t resist!)  Here are some hamburger highlights:

Holy Chuck: The Misbred Village Bahahastard: Two patties of aged beef, Ontario lamb, and saganaki cheese ground together and topped with red onion, Greek olive oil, and sautéed peppers.

Burger Day 2014 001I first had Holy Chuck’s during Burger Week 2012.  Still greasy and delicious!

Fidel Gastro’s Lisa Marie: The Nutella Burger: Burger stuffed with Nutella and topped with plantain chips and garlic coconut sauce.

Burger Day 2014 002Not as odd a combination as it might seem, though I probably shouldda saved this one for dessert.  Here’s hoping they add it to the menu on their food truck!

Fat Louie’s BBQ: The Smoked Belly Burger: Two beef patties, smoked pork belly, American/cheddar cheese, jalapeños, onion, ketchup, and mustard.

Burger Day 2014 004Speaking of food trucks, this one’s propane tank crapped out before I could order from it on Thursday.  But with double the beef and double pork belly, I knew I had to get it in my belly!

Boots & Bourbon Saloon: The Black & Blue Burger: Ground beef, Cajun seasoning, blue cheese, and fried onion strings.

Burger Day 2014 005Did you know that Toronto has its very own country bar? So, they weren’t blasting Brooks & Dunn on the jukebox, but there was just a little bit of Stampede in this little burger.

Hogtown Smoke: Angus burger stuffed with pulled pork and topped with cheese, pork belly strips, and pulled pork infused with BBQ sauce and bourbon.

Burger Day 2014 006Is that enough pork for ya?  Well, is it?

Spin Toronto: Cheddar jalapeño chicken burger with guacamole and sweet onion relish on a cornbread bun.

Burger Day 2014 007We interrupt your regularly scheduled beef programming to bring you this chicken burger.

Rock Lobster: Surf & Turf Burger: Kobe beef, spicy carrot and cabbage slaw, and grilled shrimp.

Burger Day 2014 008Who wouldn’t want a giant shrimp on your burger?

Frank: Wild boar patty with maple fennel bacon, wild mushrooms, onion, and sour cherry compote on a brioche bun.

Burger Day 2014 009It even has a cherry on top!  (Actually, I think that was just decorative plastic…)

Gangster Burger: The Jesse James: Candied bacon marmalade and southern-style slaw over a beef patty finished with honey Dijon glaze.

Burger Day 2014 010Presumably, this was named after the old west outlaw, not Sandra Bullock’s ex-husband.

The Works: War Pig: Canadian beef topped with fried mushrooms, smokey BBQ sauce, real Canadian cheddar, and smoked bacon.

Burger Day 2014 011How could I resist a burger named after the first Black Sabbath song I learned to play on guitar?  Unless, of course, it was named after the Toronto proto-metal band from the early 70′s…

The Crest: Beef and ‘nduja burger with smoked bacon, aged cheddar, caramelized onions, and smoked pepper aioli.

Burger Day 2014 012What in the heck is ‘nduja?  The guy told me it was andouille, but it says here that’s not quite the case.

Hmm, I just realized that I actually ate 11 burgers, instead of only 10.  Which is funny, because I only paid for 10 tickets.  Maybe they gave me an extra one for being such a great guy? :D