Porchetta – The fattiest lunch you’ll ever want to avoid

It’s a dreary noon hour, spitting rain on the first day of December, and a quick walk to Porchetta’s new location on King West, a short hike west of Spadina.

Porchetta entranceThis is Porchetta’s second location and has a reputation to live up to. The de rigueur line up greets us. (Do they line up for good food or following a trend like sheep?) Expectations are high.

Porchetta

So Porchetta is actually a thing. A delicious pork experience. Research tells me its a savoury, fatty and moist boneless pork roast prepared in the  traditional Italian method that includes a succulent pork shoulder wrapped in pork belly.

Porchetta menuThe menu is pretty basic. We order the Porchetta plate – one with baked beans, another with coleslaw and the last with rapini with garlic and chilli flakes. Fried chicken sandwich is an option. Maybe next time.

Hipsters at Porchetta

Hipsters wait for take away and we opt to eat in. The are about 20+ seatings at high tops, a harvest table and a few counter spaces.

Line cooks at Porchetta

Good prep happening the kitchen.  Expectations are higher still.Porchetta and rapini

So, here is Porchetta with rapini and crackings.

PorchettaAnd here is the aftermath. Uneaten greasy rapini.  Worse – this is the fatty remains of the meal. Just walk away.

Porchetta
647-352-6611
545 King Street West

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CNE 2015 – Just not what I’d hoped for

There are only two milestones that really mean the end of summer – my birthday and the CNE.  I don’t visit it every year (the CNE, not my birthday), but frequently enough to notice the changes, good or bad. And I do have food expectations – Thanksgiving on a waffle, deep-fried Red Velvet Oreos (just to be clear, for a friend, not me) and Poutine Balls.

Two years ago, I survived the Cronut Burger and, in a very weird way, enjoyed the S’Mores Hot Dog.

Welcome to the Food Building signSo here I am again and this year, it’s a sticky Saturday morning on Labour Weekend in the Food Building and I don’t find any of the funny, funky 2015 craziness everyone is talking about.Fran's counter CNE 2015

Okay, sure, Fran’s is here. At $12 for a Thanksgiving waffle and $9 for a plain old milkshake, the prices are outrageous. I know it’s the Food Building. But really. Pass.

Vienna food stall CNE 2015

Enter, Vienna, home of giant pickles on a stick, Philly Cheesesteak and POUTINE BALLS!

So enter, Vienna, home of the

Look how excited they are establishing the ‘exclusive’ with Poutine Balls!
Fortunes may be made, or perhaps not.

Serving Poutine BallsWaiting…
Fresh Poutine Balls on a trayAnd here they are. Glorious cheese-stuffed mashed potato balls, breaded and deep-fried just waiting for curds and gravy.
Poutine Balls with curds and gravyYup. Six gluey mashed potato balls (cheese stuffing missing), served with squeaky curds and Barvarian-style gravy (I don’t know what that means). If you went to a diner and ordered hot turkey sandwich with gravy, it’s that gravy. So just not that interesting.Interior CNE food building2015 didn’t live up to my expectations, as meager as they were. Did you have fun at the CNE this year? I hope so. I’ll be back in 2016, hopeful as always – looking for more silly food.

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A bitter wind whistles down John Street

It’s our first food adventure in weeks. Mid-November and we’re off to Queen West at Spadina. One step outside and the wind captures our breath, buffeting us north along John Street to Richmond and into the arms of Thoroughbred Food and Drink. Forgotten is the fish place. We may be hearty Canadians, but the very first northern blast turns us into a bunch whining five year olds, eager to find refuge. Neatly tucked away – really tucked away too well, is a pretty Victorian red brick house nestled amongst Toronto’s ubiquitous condo developments. Brave the construction and find Thoroughbred.
Thoroughbred plank

I’m thrilled. I met one of the owners, Jacob Fox, at the October 2014 Delicious Food Show. He was delightfully engaging then and he is genuinely so again when he greets us.

Thoroughbred interiorWe sit at the 10-seat high top communal table, getting a great view of the main floor with its 12-seat bar, three high-tops for two and several four tops with banquettes. The reno has an industrial feel with bare light bulbs and tiled walls, but the warmth of the owners and the wait staff make you feel like you’ve come home.

Mushroom Tart - ThoroughbredOrder the Wild Mushroom Tart with its grilled buttery crisp pastry crust, creamy sweet onion jam and meaty mushroom and peppery bright watercress accents. Yes, you know I liked it.Kung Pao Cauliflower - Thoroughbred

Is there anyone who doesn’t love Kung Pao Chicken?  Move over chicken and celebrate Kung Pao Cauliflower. It’s spicy (but not t00 much), crisp from the deep fryer and is tantalizing meaty. Slim slices of chili and cilantro micro greens add delicious delicate heat.Thoroughbred sign

Please check out this amazing Richmond spot. Vegetarians and carnivores both welcome. The guys are great, the food delicious and the waitstaff is awesome. I’m over the moon with this place and I want to be a regular. Great lunch, cool bar selection and friendly service. Haven’t seen the second floor and am curious about the third.Thoroughbred menuI profess my bias and highly recommend Thoroughbred, a place of outstanding quality, service and awesome food.

Thoroughbred Food and Drinks
416-551-9221
304 Richmond St W
info@tbto.ca
Tues-Fri 11:30 am-2 pm and 5 pm-2am
Sat 5pm-2am

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Of blueberries and birthdays

I make it to Evergreen Brick Works and enjoy their Wild Blueberry Festival and bake-off competition.

TTC to the Brickworks

Hint: take the 28 Bayview South from Davisville Station, a direct route to the Brickworks in only 15 minutes and much more convenient than the free shuttle bus from Broadview Station.Farmers' Market Evergreen Brickworks

Select multi-coloured organic potatoes.Farmers' Market Evergreen BrickworksSquash, peppers and tomatoes.Zinnias

Sensational flowers.Farmers' Market Evergreen Brickworks

And the delicious variety of fruit.

Wild Blueberry Pie Bake-offBest of all is the Wild Blueberry Festival’s Wild Blueberry Pie Bake-off. Three participants: Fran Earle (Molly B’s Gluten-free Kitchen), Celia Satov (Celia the Celiac), and Trish Donnelly, caterer and private chef-owner of Hobo Kitchen and current Chimney Court Chef at Evergreen.Blueberry bake-off selections

Clockwise from the top: Fran’s gluten free pie (very crumbly crust from white rice and tapioca flour, and xanthan gum), Trish’s blueberry/basil/goat cheese tart (see below) and Celia’s square  (dense and doughy). Trish Donnelly, Evergreen Chef

Trish’s blueberry tart wraps its buttery crisp crust around a creamy layer of goat cheese, topped with a jammy-basil blueberry filling. This not-too-sweet pastry is the best. Find Trish on LinkedIn.Surprise birthday cake

At the end of my blueberry adventure, I found a delicious spiced chocolate molten cake made just for my birthday. You rock, JF!

Evergreen Brick Works
416-596-1495, 1-888-426-3138
550 Bayview Avenue
Monday–Friday 9am–5pm
Saturday 8am–4pm
Sunday and holidays 10am–4pm

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Shrimp ‘n’ grits at home and away

I leave a bleak and dreary November at dawn to catch a flight to Charleston, South Carolina. A historic, mysterious and blessedly hot genteel southern city.Charleston, SC Magnolia Plantation and GardentsGraceful, sweeping plantations.Charleston, SCMajestic historic mansions.Charleston Farmers' Market

Local produce – in November!Grits for sale, Charleston SC And grits. Lots and lots of grits. For sale and on the menu. Grits are ground corn, fine or coarse in texture, yellow or white in colour. Shrimp and grits is a standard South Carolina meal. Hominy is porridge-like and is often served for breakfast.Bubba Gump's Shrimp 'n' GritsI find myself at Bubba Gump, a Forrest Gump-themed restaurant and order shrimp and grits, advertised as “a whole mess o’ shrimp, ham, onions, Andouille sausage, garlic and Cajun spices served over Carolina grits.” Smokey sausage, fresh spring onions, salty ham and plump shrimp served over rustic grits. Hot sauce is optional.Shrimp 'n' Grits, High Cotton, Charleston, SC

Then for a twist on a theme, shrimp and grits by High Cotton, billed as smoked sausage, local tomatoes, sweet corn garlic broth over grits. What a different a dish makes. Essentially, the same ingredients and worlds apart. Delicate shrimp with sweet, local corn, fresh green Okra in a sophisticated tomato-garlic broth over creamy grits.My shrimp 'n' grits

I am inspired by tastes of Charleston and create my own version of shrimp and grits. Crisp some bacon and fry onions in the grease. Sauté shrimp in the drippings and serve over creamy, cheesy grits. A drizzle of hot sauce for an extra kick.

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Weslodge Saloon

Every six months a ‘licous’ rolls around with the tantalizing opportunity to sample  something new, perhaps delicious, at an untried local Toronto restaurant.Weslodge interior

This summer, we choose Weslodge Saloon, a short jaunt west along King Street, past Spadina. I’ve paused at Weslodge on a couple of occasions, checking out their menu. While it always grabs my attention, I never really feel compelled to go in. The prices strike me as a bit too high for the fare. Summerlicious is the perfect circumstance to taste the menu and prove me wrong.

Weslodge MenuI choose chickpea panelle, Wagyu roast beef sandwich and whipped panna cotta.Weslodge Chickpea PanellePanelle, a deep-fried fritter made with besan, or chickpea flour, can be served as an appetizer or a side to a main course. Weslodge presents dainty, bite-sized crisp morsels, lightly salted. The creamy interior contrasts with fresh microgreens and a crunchy Jalapeño pickle. Finely grated smoked cheddar enhances the besan’s earthliness.Weslodge Waygu Roast Beef Sandwich

Next, a Waygu roast beef sandwich, not found anywhere on their regular menu. Waygu refers to cattle bred to have intense fatty marbling throughout; Waygu-style farms are found in Alberta and Prince Edward Island. Wonder if this beef was sourced from either of these locations? There is so much promise for this beefy dish with its salsa verde, cabbage and pickled mustard seeds served on thin, toasted rye bread. Before I taste the meat, I struggle to saw my way through a crust so hard that I can’t easily cut it, even with a serrated knife! The beef reminds me of a mild corned beef, but much drier. Pickled mustard seeds pop with little vinegar bursts – these are the stars of the plate. Piping hot chubby fries, fluffy on the inside and crisp on the outside, are served with a fruity, plummy in-house ketchup. I’d get the fries again, not the beef.Weslodge Whipped Panna Cotta

The name of the dessert is misleading. Panna cotta is a chilled, molded dessert. This is not that. Two cubes of lightly ginger-spiced, moist honey cake are garnished with tiny cubes of fresh apple, a luxurious smear of caramel and stale candied walnuts. Whipped panna cotta has a delightful and comforting vanilla flavour, but the texture is like a heavy whipped cream. Not a panna cotta as advertised. Whipped or not.Weslodge entrance

Some elements on this menu were pretty good but not enough to get me to return. Hurray for Summerliscious! I checked out the menu and didn’t spend a fortune.

Weslodge Saloon
480 King Street West
647-660-0999
Monday-Friday 11:30 am-2:30 pm and 5:30 pm to close
Saturday 5:30 pm to close
Sunday 11 am-3 pm and 5:30 pm to close

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Finally. Pai.

I can’t tell you how long I’ve been waiting for this day. Oh, wait. I can. I have followed Chef Nuit Regular since I dined at Khao San Road several years ago. Sabai Sabai is still another favourite. And today, I’m happy to add Pai to my list of go-to Thai restaurants. Pai interiorThink street food with a gritty indoor vibe. Located in the basement of a former waffle and pancake joint, the space is transformed. Thankfully, tables are spaced well away from one another for better conversation and privacy. Puzzling. Why use church basement chairs? Distressed concrete floors, tongue-and-groove ceilings and mis-matched funky light fixtures makes us think urban awesome. And that’s just the atmosphere.Pai lunch menu Can we rock the lunch  menu? Looks like a grade five art project and it works. This lunch menu is limited compared to the broader evening one. But more than enough choices – Mango with Pandan sticky rice, Chiang Mai beef,  Masaman braised beef with rice – full disclosure, I have no idea what these items are. Our server, friendly and attentive, explained. Pai Spring Roll We shared Spring Rolls – warm lightly deep-fried dough with a meaty mushroom, carrot and glass noodle filling on a bed of shredded cabbage, complimented by the never-failing sweet child sauce (I have some at home in my fridge). Pai Panang BeefPanang Beef is a fragrant meaty curry served with rice. So tasty, my friend ate the whole thing. Didn’t think she could, but she did. Maximum yum factor.

Pai open kitchen

And all the magic comes out of the open kitchen.

Pai Fried Fish with Green Curry SauceFish and chips, a fish fry or the best of the best. And then there is Fried Fish with Green Curry Sauce and rice. What delightful food. The fish, a white fish, is succulent, moist and sweet encrusted in a crispy golden-delicious batter. Plain white rice with a green lightly  hot curry compliment the fish.
Pai exterior on DuncanPai
Northern Thai Kitchen
18n Duncan Street, Toronto
Monday – Saturday 11:30 am – 2:30 pm
Monday  –  Sunday 5  – 10 pm

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