Tuesday, 31 July 2007

Urban Summer BBQ

BBQ. Is there any greater word in the English Language to hear on a summer afternoon? The sounds of sizzling meat, the smell of smoke in the air, the feel of a cool breeze while a warm sun hits your face . . .

There's only one problem. I live here:

Downtown Toronto. BBQ is done here:

A backyard, with grass, possibly a pool, and lots of summer memories. Back to me, in downtown Toronto. What I gain in access to 24 hour grocery and restaurants, cultural festivals, and an urban life, I sacrifice in comfort, a great place to grow up, and fresh air. See my unit has no balcony. It doesn't even have a window I can open. Oh, and my a/c unit in my living room doesn't work. For me to enjoy the greatest gift summer can bring, I have to have BBQ in my cramped residence room in artificial circumstances. So I have to make the best of a bad situation.

First, see me cooking burgers on a George Foreman grill. A grill is not a BBQ. It comes close if it has some sort of flame, like a Burger King grill where the burgers are flame kissed. Nope, I have to use electricity. I put on an apron to make it feel like I was outside cooking, enjoying summer. I even was making a smoothy of vanilla yogurt and frozen fruit to also fuel the lie.

I really don't like the George Foreman Grill, or any of the knock-off's for that matter. What makes it better than a frying pan is that you can 'knock out the fat!" as George says with the oil dripping down into the trough. What is the opposite of good though, is the fact that the grill has no temperature control. It just burns. The outside of the burgers (or chicken if that's the meat your cooking) gets scorched while the inside doesn't really cook well enough. Hank Hill on King of the Hill uses the slogan "taste the meat, not the heat" when describing propane bbq'ing, but it applies to this grill as well - I won't lie, I like tasting the heat of a nice charcoal or open flame. And the clean-up: these things are terrible to clean. But all of this doesn't make it impossible for use. My favourite use for the grill is roasted corn.

The kernels caramelize just nicely. But the cooking surface is not equal, as the clam-shelled grill can't close evenly over both cobs at one time. This goes for burgers, sausages or anything.

For my roasted corn, I melted butter in a shot glass, brought out some kosher salt, and my favourite popcorn seasoning, dill powder.

The little shot of butter was perfect for the golden corn. The dill popcorn seasoning is something I saw at Taste of the Danforth where they had all sorts of popcorn shaker flavours to put on the corn. It makes sense; good on popcorn, why not corn?

In the end, despite my vigilant eye and myriad of spices I added to the burger, it was bland and crispy to the outside. The corn turned out great and my smoothy was delicious. But, I ate it, looking out the window at the city and dreaming of the day when I might be back at a real house with a backyard, with a real bbq, and a real meal. For now, I will wait for Ribfest next weekend in London.


Had a metro pass, and I was off to adventure the city. I really wanted some classic pub-wings but I wanted to try some new place, and Molly Bloom's, across from the UofT campus came to mind. When I was an undergrad, it was a Druxy's Sandwich shop (the first and last time I ever went to one - I couldn't get over the price of simple sandwich!). Then it closed down. After my time at UofT it became a Peel Pub where I used to get cheap cheap wings (they were micro-wings, but you could get a ton for a few bucks). Then all the Peel Pub's in Toronto went out of business. Then in the past couple of years, when I wasn't looking, this Irish pub moved in to compete against O'Grady's and Ein-Stein's.

The decor hasn't really changed since Peel Pub: brick walls, plasma screens with sports etc. Although I had thought about sitting on their nice looking patio, the old men sitting out front and the beckoning air conditioner inside brought me inside. I came inside to find more old people; in fact, it looked like some sort of event of old people gathered - was this a student drinking hole or a seniors centre?

I sat down and my smiley waitress came - saying hello. I said hello back, and she just smiled at me, staring. I looked back. This was getting awkward. "Oh, uh, can I get ah, a Coke, and a menu?" I fumble out. She continues to stair at me, and slides the menu that she had in her hands as if to say - "uh, here's the menu already". Right. She continued to be friendly as she left and brought me back my glass of ice that had some Coke in it. Lets make that a Pepsi (I read the menu later). Some day I will rant about the Coke/Pepsi drink dealy, but not here. I ordered up some wings and some onion chips and I was off.


STYLE: breaded, deep fried
SAUCES: mild/medium/hot/stupid hot/honey garlic
SIZE: medium 0.5 /2
HEAT: 6/10
WETNAP FACTOR: 3 (before pouring sauce)/5
PRICE: $8.99 for 10 wings, $16.99 for 20 wings
SIDES: veggies and dip 2/7
WING NIGHT: officially Tuesday night, $0.34 a wing with beverage purchase,
but some posters said the same deal was available Sundays and Monday's too
OTHER/SPECIAL: patio, Foosball tables upstairs, free refills on watered down Pepsi
TOTAL: 22.5 /35

As soon as the wings came, I dove into them I was so hungry. After eating 2 I realized I forgot to take some photos.(I wasn't willing to have the flash go off in the non-lit bar, so what I did take came out kinda fuzzy). The wings were a good pub wing. Crispy (due to the dusting the wings went through) but not overly big.

As usual, I asked for the hot with a side of 'stupid hot'. The hot had no real flavour - but the sauce had certainly penetrated the gap between the dusting and the skin. I tested out the 'stupid hot' - 3rd Degree! I reserved a few hot to eat on their own, then doused the rest in the suicide sauce. So good, I ended up dunking the reserved wings in anyway.

The spicy onion chips were a nice side dish. Although I could see the chili's inside, they really weren't spicy at all.

There wasn't much more to report on - the wings were ok, the onion chips were tasty, and my Pepsi was very watered down, even if I got free refills (without asking!). Molly's wings were good, but I wouldn't make a special trip back anytime soon. I spent the rest of the day grocery shopping, seeing an excellent movie (The Lives of Others - check it out), riding the College/Carlton street car to the end (through Little India to the Danforth) and then attending the Beach Jazz Festival and enjoying some time on the beach at midnight. What an adventure.

Final Score: 22/35

Molly Bloom's Irish Pub
191 College Street


~~~ FABULOUS has now closed: RIP ~~~

After a few days of helping LJ move by going from Toronto to Windsor, to Whitby, to Ottawa to Windsor and back to Toronto in less than 72 hours, Dude came down after moving his stuff back from Ottawa. He brought his friend Jen down, and I gathered Julianna working in the office, and we went off for lunch and the search for a nearby patio.

There aren't any real patios in my area. Not any big ones. We headed to the new St Louis to try their patio - which isn't that nice, but it was full. The Wolf and the Firkin is nearby (but absolutely tiny) so we decided to go to The Devil's Advocate. But, on the way there we passed by the Fabulous Cafe. Although I had been there years before, I really didn't remember it or what it was like.

Its on the corner of a small street with 2 other restaurants right next door - sushi and Slice of New York. I fell like its easily missed, with its wall of bushes and plants, which tries to make-up for the not-so-nice neighborhood (Bay street just looks so drab!). Its really hard to describe this 'cafe' - it serves semi-pub food, some Italian fare, and other random items on its small menu. I was surprised to find wings, and good wing at that.


STYLE: deep fried, then baked
SAUCES: mild/hot/bbq/ & honey garlic I think . . .
SIZE: large 1/2
HEAT: next to nothing, but good flavour 4/10
CRISPINESS: very crispy due to the second level cooking 3 /3
PRICE: $6.95 for 1lb, $1295 fo 2lb
SIDES: fries and veggies 7/7
WETNAP/NAPKINS: napkins 3/8
OTHER: patio
TOTAL: 20/35

I was really, really surprised when these wings came out. This place did give me the impression they could do a decent wing and I expected a shriveled up piece of chicken. Well, was I ever wrong.

These were a good size wings, almost jumbo sized. They were nice and crispy, juicy on the inside and put a big smile on my face. The sauces I went with were half bbq and half hot. Hot was not, as usual, but it was a nice Buffalo style flavour. The BBQ were also good - but both were quite mild in flavour, letting the chicken do the talking.

What was nice was the price, with these big wings coming with both fries and veggies and dip. How could you go wrong?

Jen, who requested not to have her photo taken, ordered a salad. It was pretty much the worst salad I had ever seen - not because it was plated poorly or that it was small, but that there was a giant mushroom on it. Gross. It did have nicely roasted vegetables, balsamic vinegar and buffalo mozzarella. She seemed to really like it.

Julianna went for the Caesar's salad. While the salad looked tasty, it was disappointingly small in it portion size. The picture makes it look a reasonable size, especially with the grilled chicken on the side, but it really wasn't. From the nibble I had it tasted like bottled Caesar sauce, not home-made.

Dude went for an old-man special of a tuna-melt. What went wrong here? First, OLIVES. Who puts OLIVES on a tuna melt? Gross. It was placed on a toasted pita, which Dude did not enjoy for eating. It did come with a very generous portion of fries that were definitely not frozen fries.

FINAL SCORE: a big surprise for delivering some good wings. Although they need to kick their sauces into gear, it would be worth going back at some point (even if the other meals weren't so great). Oh, and the waitresses wear next to nothing, that was a nice touch too. Something was at least fabulous. 20/35

Fabulous Bakery Cafe
635 Bay Street, Toronto

Sunday, 15 July 2007


"Over 35 But Still In Our Prime"

Two things that haven't happened in a long time: Me hanging out with Nee, and Me doing a new chicken wing review. So what better thing to do than kill two birds with one stone. We headed to an area I was unfamiliar with, Runnymede, in Toronto. It was quite a neighborhood with lots of pubs and interesting eateries - definitely an area to come back to to try more wings! We went to a pub Nee and Rayzor had tried earlier this summer with positive results: The Yellow Griffin.

You could spot the place from far away - tiki-grass umbrellas on the patio, and the distinctive black and yellow design of their sign (and website). A nice little patio, with an absolutely tiny inside (a few booths, a small bar and couple of tables, that was it), the Yellow Griffin was quite a pub. There were many interesting characters, from Mr Britain 70's (dressed from the 1970's and at least 70 years old), One Beer for the Road alcohol delivery guy, and The Traveler with his giant suitcase by himself. Yes it was an interesting crowd, but that did not deter me from being very hungry. I came for the wings, but stayed for the burger.

STYLE: battered
SAUCES: bbq/hot/honey garlic
SIZE: they were pigeon, but the batter made them bigger 0/2
HEAT: 4/10
PRICE: $7.85 for 1lb, $12.95 for 2lb
SIDES: veggies with blue cheese 2 /7
TOTAL: 18.5/35

These wings did just about everything wrong, and that's too bad. First, they were tiny. I mean small. The price was quite the rip-off, as there was no way that these were a pound, even with all the breading.

Now I can forgive a small wing, and the breading was a good start. But, and there had to be a but, either the breading was stale, or the oil was really old. I didn't see fish and chips on the menu, but the oil/breading had a fishy taste to it.

The hot sauce was not hot, but it did taste pretty good. What sauce there was. They were pretty bone dry, tiny little critters. On the flip side of things, you learn fairly quickly when entering the Yellow Griffin, the place is about the burgers. The wings are definitely just an afterthought.

The Yellow Griffin re branded their image a few years ago to compete with all the local pubs by focus on one item: burgers. And they have quite the burger selection. There is a three step process when ordering the burgers:

  1. What kind of meat? beef, pork, chicken, turkey, veggie, lamb, salmon and bison (for $2 more)
  2. select your side: grif-fries, sweet potato fries, greens, coleslaw, Red Baron kraut-slaw, Village potato salad, zucchini sticks, breaded pickles and breaded onion rings. Or, upgrade to a poutine for $2.50.
  3. select your burger.

This is where things get interesting. There are 35 different burgers to choose from. There are classic choices like the Griffin Banquet, the Hickory Stick and the Cheezy Triple. But its their more interesting choices like the Skinny Dipper (a burger with peanut butter), the tandoori Bollywood Burger, and the Saint Peter burger ('Russia's finest caviar, topped with Siberian prawns and Black Sea fish sauce ).

Fortunately for me, the wings were TINY and I was hungry, so I also ordered a burger. Nee went with the exciting Gringo Burger: mixed Mexican beans, chili sauce, cheddar cheese, sour cream and home made guacamole.

When Nee came here last time, they were 'out' of the Gringo, so she was happy this time to get her choice. She went with the traditional beef burger, and sweet potato fries on the side. "The best" sweet potato fries she, and I think I, have ever had. They weren't too small to be too crunchy, and they weren't too big to be soggy. Just right and with a nice dusting-coating on the outside. What she didn't like, was the Miracle Whip dressing on the side as opposed to mayo.

I went with the Don Juan Burger: a burger topped with a chorizo sausage, sweet red peppers, onion, and whole roasted garlic. To make it even better, I ordered it with lamb meat, which was excellent. I enjoyed the burger for sure. The toppings were good, but by the end of the burger I was done with the burger. I would definitely go for the lamb burger again, but I would try something other than the Don Juan. I also love that the price of each burger is set, and that the sides are the same for each (you pay more for a specialty burger, not the accompanying sides).

For my side, I ordered the breaded pickles. Deep fried pickles are a rare and glorious treat when done well. They are one of the perfect accompaniment for wings, but in this case, the were perfect choice for the burger.

FINAL SCORE: terrible tiny wings, but big meaty burgers with lots of option. The service was also REALLY slow. So slow, I'm pretty sure we witnessed The Traveller performing a dine-and-dash. At first we thought it was because it was so busy and they were understaffed. But it wasn't. Service was slow. The price of a good burger I guess. 18.5/35

The Yellow Griffin Pub
2202 Bloor Street West

Saturday, 14 July 2007

Sauce Review: Valentina Salsa Picante Sauce

Life is good when you have wings thawed from the freezer. Ok, fresh wings would be much better, but you go with what you got. I wanted to DF these wings up right, so I dusted them in flour and got them ready to go.

However, I've been doing the traditional butter wings lately and wanted something different. A month or two ago in the store I came across a new hot sauce: Valentina Salsa Picante. Lets break this sauce down first:

It says salsa on the side - but this was really a hot sauce. There are no chunks of anything. If anything, this is Salsa Roja, or "red sauce" a hot sauce condiment more than a true chunky salsa.

When I popped open the bottle, the aroma of the chili pepper hit my memory files. They say memory is tied to scent, and I remembered having this sauce. Its been used as a suicide sauce at some pub that I have been to, but where? It has a nice light burn that really gets to the back of the throat. This is a great 'suicide' sauce for beginners, who want to feel like they can eat really spicy (when its not). The flavour doesn't really stand out, but it is nice. It might be good on Mexican food, something that doesn't overwhelm the taste buds, but adds a little snap of heat. But on wings, more of the flavour comes out as its not competing with guacamole or taco meat.

I actually split my wings in two to have two flavours of wings. I wanted the spicy for sure, but then I had my spicy BBQ. Although its not complicated, I'm not ready yet to give away my spicy BBQ secret. What I can tell you is that it is very close to the Spicy BBQ at Duff's.

I also sliced up some potato in an attempt to make my own homemade fries. I love fresh cut fries from a fry wagon with the skins still on. Mine, on the other hand, did not turn out right. Oh they looked perfect to me - but the potato itself I think needed to be soaked in water longer than I did.

So as for Valentina Mexican hot sauce, its worth checking out. It wasn't expensive, has a nice flavour, little kick - and could go well with a mixture of meals.