Tuesday, 24 March 2009

DICK's DRIVE-IN & DAIRY DIP ~ Ottawa (NWR)

About a month ago I was talking about how every town or city has its own burger shop. Well, Ottawa is no different. Last week looking for lunch in a pinch, having past them time and time again, we finally stopped into Dick's Drive-In & Dairy Dip.



Walking in the door you are transported back to the 1950's in this classic diner. 50' & 60's rock and roll on the speakers, memorabilia on the walls, and chrome. Dick's wants you to come back to a simpler time of food, and their website had a great quote about days gone by:

"I remember when hamburgers used to be prepared with high quality, fresh ground beef and cooked over charcoal, not fried, 'flame broiled', or microwaved. Those were the days when you ordered French Fries you got fresh, hand-cut potatoes cooked just like the chip trucks used to. Indeed asking for a milkshake meant you could rely on getting a generous portion of premium ice cream with real vanilla and real whipped cream. Unfortunately, over the years, that trusts has been broken by chain restaurants as they continue to place a higher value on speed, marketing and cost 'control' than they do on product quality."


I read that and pictured an old timer sitting on a porch in a rocking chair, straw in his mouth, wearing overalls. Ah the good old days.

We entered the joint and looked up to the ordering board before seating. This must be a common mistake because the lady behind the counter suggested we take a seat. See I thought you ordered and took your food to your seat, but no, table service is included. And while we didn't have a roller skating waitress with a poodle skirt, our waiter was efficient and was willing to refill pop and meet our needs.


Dick's organizes their burger options by choosing your burger, then you can add a combo on. LJ & I both went with the Deluxe Cheese Burger (cheddar, fried onions, mustard, aioli, lettuce & tomato) $6.65; I went with the Chili Cheese Fry & Drink combo (for about $4 more) and LJ got the Onion Rings and Drink for about the same cost.


I wanted to try a little bit of everything, so the chili fries let me get the both, all while sampling onion rings across the table! A generous dish of the chili cheese fries came out. The fries themselves were fresh cut, and tasted just like chip truck fries, just like they claimed.


The next layer up was the chili. I was enticed to try the chili from their sign outside (see last photo of the review). Well, the chili was . . . ok. I mean it was meaty, but over all didn't have much spice or flavour in my opinion. I actually had to use a lot of ketchup on it. It's not bad, but you know me, I like my food to have a real kick. The top was just plain cheddar.



Then there were the onion rings. Now I normally am not a fan to breaded onion rings. I like battered because of the smooth, crunchy texture. Breaded are rough and crumbly. That being said, these were probably the best breaded onion rings I've had before. Light, crispy with a hint of wonderful. They call them "Dick's Awesome" onion rings, and they were right.


Now onto the burger. This is their baby, what they 'do'. Well I'll tell you up front I was disappointed in them. Lets break this burger down:


First, the bun. I can't remember the exact ratio on the menu, but this is basically a whole wheat bun. Whole wheat. I'm just going to let that set in for a minute. ................ sure the bun was fresh but whole wheat can taste one of two ways: cardboard or blah. These were blah (thankfully). But the bun dominates the burger.

Second, the beef. The good news is is made with fresh ground Angus beef. The bad news, no flavour in there either. Again, the execution of the cooking was done well, but the beef was bland.


Third, the condiments. The bad was too much lettuce for me. The good was the fried onions which while mild, added a nice dimension to the burger. Finally, although I could only taste a hint of it, the aioli was delightful. But they really need to bump it up and slather it on so it oozes out.



So the burger and the chili was a bust for me. That's ok though, they have good fries and killer onion rings. And I look forward to trying some other dishes like their hot dog, sandwiches and of course, the milkshakes and ice cream.



Dick's Drive-In & Dairy Dip
1485 Merivale Road, Ottawa (Nepean)

Thursday, 19 March 2009

RIDEAU CARLETON RACEWAY buffet ~ Ottawa, ON

I don't know where to begin.

I guess the beginning is as good a place to start as anywhere. Buffet. LJ & I were looking to go out and have a wide sampling of food items for a reasonable price. The problem? In my opinion, casual food in Ottawa is just done poorly. And buffets here have been one of the offenders. I know what your thinking, buffet food is about quantity, not quality. And normally I agree, but I have never experienced this lack of quality before.


We've been to 3 Chinese buffets that ranged from mediocre to terrible, an ok Chinese/Indian mixed buffet, a North American buffet chain (that LJ and I disagree on the quality, but to give you a hint, I am not a fan), and just a few weeks ago to an 'international' buffet in Gatineau that had some of the worst food I have ever eaten at a buffet (but to be fair, there were a few gems). and I love buffets.

The only buffet that had quality food was at Banco, the Casino du Lac-Leamy, also in Gatineau.


Important to this blog, most of these places have wings, and I just never did reviews of them. And most of these buffet wings were terrible, and we never went back to these places for me to do a review. But doing some random surfing of the net of restaurants in Ottawa, I came across another buffet in town, and this one had a side restaurant pub with a deal that caught my eye:



$1.99 chicken wings? Seriously? And all I have to do is buy a drink? I don't have to be a member or anything, and this is on a Saturday night? Tonight is Saturday night! Where is this magical place and can this place be too good to be true?


The Rideau Carleton Raceway. Horse racing, slots, and food. It seems like every casino has a buffet, and as mentioned with the above Quebec gambling buffet, they can be pretty good quality. I had never been to the raceway before, just south of Ottawa in the outskirts of the airport, but LJ had heard good things, and Saturday was also their Prime rib & Seafood buffet and we decided to check it out.

Of course once you enter (and we got ID'd by security), you have to cross through the slots and gaming area to get to the food. The beeping, the dinging, the flooding sound of hundreds of machines giving and taking money - it's too much for me. I don't care for gambling, mainly because I'm not lucky, nor skilled enough to win at other casino games. I don't find it fun, but that's just me.

Fortunately, the dining area is glassed off and soundproofed from the casino floor. But the dining area was not as 'classy' as I had expected. The seating is on several tiers facing big windows where, if it wasn't still winter and night, horse racing would be going on that everyone could watch. The carpets were stained, the tables and chairs cheap, and lighting was industrial mixed with x-mas lights. It was a little off-putting. Our waitress got our drink orders and we were off to the buffet.

There was a big line up for the prime rib and shrimp skewers. There was a long table with 'main' dishes, then another table for salads. There was a dessert section, and on the other side of the prime rib line was some cold items like shrimp and pickles. And then there was . . . well, that was pretty much it. LJ and I both looked at each other and said, this is it? This is 100 items?

Our first round through, I forgot I had my camera and didn't take any photos. I made up a salad with lettuce, onion, croutons, peppers and Caesar dressing (nothing else in the salad bar interested me). My plate got some potato salad, some ribs, chicken wings (I'll come back to the wings and ribs in a minute) and a couple of skewers of grilled shrimp. The shrimp was blah - and dry and the grilling didn't actually add anything. Overall pretty disappointing. As was the fatty, gross prime rib.



On the second tour of the buffet, LJ went with crab legs. These were a popular item and some people (and you will see them at every buffet) mound their plates so high, that not everyone gets a fare sampling. I have no patience for cracking crab legs, and with the shrimp putting me off, I didn't have any. LJ said it was ok. Note that butter self serve in plastic containers - not environmentally friendly, but there were no small bowls to use.



On both my first trip to the buffet I got the ribs (about 3). They were tender, meaty, and had a tasty bbq sauce on them. The sauce itself was sweet, only so slightly smokey, but I don't doubt it is some sort of bottled sauce. These too were a popular dish, and of the buffet, the only item I really liked. On my second trip I picked up about 5 more, but by the 3rd (after eating 6) I was not enjoying them anymore.

So how was the wings going to fare?



Buffet wings are always exciting to start with for me, because its all-you-can-eat wings, which is good. However, the quality can often be poor, which is bad. But I have rarely met a wing I won't eat. Again, its a sickness with me.


These wings were breaded. It was a thick breading, and its consistency made me sure that these were a frozen product that they bake off at the last minute and serve in big trays. There is no seasoning on them, so on their own, they are pretty bland.



Their size was about a small to medium. They weren't very meaty, and the breading overpowered everything. The colour wasn't very appealing to me either. The wings weren't crunchy but chewy, and it took a lot to get them down after a few.


As I mentioned, they were a blah wing on their own. I had grabbed a lemon wedge my first time for my Caesar salad, but I ended up using it on my wings just to give them some moisture and some tartness. On my second go at the wings at the buffet, I grabbed a plastic cup and had some bbq sauce (they also had honey garlic, but why?). The bbq sauce wasn't the same as the ribs, nor near as good, as it was extremely sweet. For most of them I just rubbed them against the ribs for their sauce. I should have used some ranch or something. On my way out that night I saw one guy with a big pile of wings on his plate and a jumbo bottle of Tabasco sauce. I said to LJ I should have asked for that, and she said "would it have really made the wings better?" No, no I guess it wouldn't have.





FINAL SCORE: The pub simply serves these buffet wings themselves, so the $1.99 deal is not worth it. These were terrible wings no matter which way you slice it. After my second plate, I got dessert and that was it, I just was sick of the food.

The part that killed me was a conversation with our waitress. I asked what the weekday buffet was like, as it is $9.99 (as opposed to our $19.99 weekend buffet). She told me, in honesty and earnestness that the weekday buffet had the same number of items (she stressed that), but that the recipes weren't as rich as tonight's. Let me say it again, they were not as 'RICH' as tonight's. Simpler, less decadent. And she meant it.

But people seemed to love the food. And I find this everywhere in Ottawa. We go to casual restaurants that come highly recommended, or I read good reviews, and find the quality is just not what I'm used to. I think its little pond theory, and its not meant to be offensive to Ottawaians, but its where people in Ottawa who have rarely lived outside of Ottawa love the only food they have been exposed to. Sure there is a great diversity of food (Italian, Japanese, Lebanese, Indian etc), but its just never on par with what I had growing up in my small town, neighboring areas, or my last home of Toronto for 8 years. Ottawa is a beautiful city and a friendly people, but I miss the buffets from South Western Ontario!

Sorry about that Ottawa, I've just been keeping this in for a while, and the Rideau Carleton Raceway was the last straw. You really need to step up your game and get your wings out of the 'second thought' category and stand up. We shouldn't have to settle for this. I'm not writing this to be a 'hater' but to let the pubs and restaurants and even the grocery stores know that the good people here deserve better for the prices they are paying.

Rideau Carleton Raceway Buffet & its wings: FAIL 1/10


Rideau Carleton Raceway Buffet
4837 Albion Road, Ottawa

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

WOODY`S PUB ~ Ottawa

Wow - what a day of weather! It was beautiful looking outside - blue skies, not a cloud to be seen. But holy-geeze-by-golly the wind was crazy! Blowin' signs and people everywhere in Ottawa.


It was past lunch when I found myself stumblin down Elgin street, tired, cold, and hungry. I saw a pub (I saw a lot of pubs actually) but this one appealed to me. Mainly because there were big windows and seating up front for me to sit at.


Inside it was empty, aside from a small group. Later I commented to my waitress (and possible manager?) Julie if it was the time of day or just a slow day, to which she replied "Thursdays are always quiet." I found a seat near the window and took in the environment.


Inside was pretty much your classic pub/sports bar in appearance. What made it extra nice were two fireplaces (with fires a going, keeping the place warm) and several couches for sitting and relaxing (by a fireplace). I can't tell what kind of crowd usually frequented the place, because as I already mentioned, it was empty.


Julie was friendly and was perfectly attentive for my needs. Friendly, chatting, but not so much I was interrupted. She brought me my Coke, and I was ready for wings. It seemed like no time, and a basket of jumbo wings were in front of me.


I ordered a pound of wings, with a side of chipotle sauce (hoping for a spicy suicide sauce). I was tempted for tandoori or the Cajun dusted, but decided to stick to my traditionals.



About 8 wings came in the pound (but they were big wings). They were very lightly dusted in flour. There were no sides like celery or carrots. I was a little sad about that. Would have lost marks on the old SCORE system.



I was impressed with the size of the wings (I really need something for a size comparison for photos, my fingers just aren't doing the trick. But a tape measure is just to conspicuous). They were big. Jumbo. Kong wings. And they tasted like Kong - monkey bad. The meat was just really tough and rubbery, which can happen with some of these jumbo wings. Probably from frozen stock too. The skin was crispy at least, but I really had to fight with the drummy's and flats to get the meat off the bone.




I ordered the wings with Hot sauce on them. They were just a bit wet with the sauce, which was a pretty generic Buffalo hot sauce. Not hot at all, barely a medium. It was ok, but I would have preferred the wings to have been swimming a bit more to do some mopping.





And I ordered on the side the Chipotle sauce, as I usually do. And I usually do that not because I'm afraid of any heat, but in case 'suicide' sauce sucks, because a lot of places do.

Woody's chipotle sauce is a good reason for me to do this. The chipotle sauce is exactly what they claim it is - its chipotle. It tastes just like chipotle out of a can with adobo sauce. I'll be honest, I don't mind adobo sauce as a back ground flavour, but as the ONLY flavour, it just wasn't right.


Just like my failed suicide sauce, the smokiness just wasn't appealing - but I blamed the tomato flavour, but not I realize that the chipotle/adobo was also a factor. It just wasn't a good wing sauce. And the fact that it was cold also ruined this sauce.




FINAL SCORE: Well, I liked the pub itself. And my waitress was nice and helpful. My Coke was good too. But the chicken, the chicken, was not so good. Yes they were jumbo and yes they were crisp, but the meat was just too rubbery. I can't get behind these wings. And I didn't sample anything else, so, go for the drinks at least. Or the fireplace. 5/10




Woody's (British)* Pub
330 Elgin Street, Ottawa


* I don't know what made it a British pub, especially for all the Irish decorations for upcoming St Patty's Day.

Thursday, 5 March 2009

PC Hot Buffalo Wings ~ Frozen Wing Review

What's the best thing to have for lunch on a cold winter day?






Well wings of course. And found at the back of the freezer were some wings I had bought on sale a few weeks back.


President's Choice. No I am not a spokesman for them, its just that the Super Store is the closest grocery store, and well, they have a lot of PC products and they are on sale pretty frequently.

I keep getting these wings mixed up with No Name wings. I bought these thinking they were a new flavour but in fact, it was an entirely different brand. I just assumed as well that the packaging just got jazzed up. Proof you should really pay attention when shopping.



I am a staunch believer in fresh over frozen. A frozen wing, sauced or not, is never going to be as good as a wing straight out of the deep fryer. But I drained and cleaned the deep fryer and put it away after Buffalo Tofu, so fresh wasn't going to happen any time soon. I turned to the freezer to solve my wing craving.



I was happy with the overall size of these frozen wings - often they are just pigeon wings, but PC does a decent job of keeping them plump enough.



They say to bake for 20 minutes, turning once. Well, I baked, and at 10 minutes the wings didn't look ready yet - actually they looked pretty slimey from the freezer burn and the 'generous' hot sauce they have on it. 10 minutes later, they still weren't crispy, so under the broiler they went, and bam, they were at the bare minimum of crispness.



I won't lie, that exposed bone looks like an infection, a mighty gross infection.
I still ate it though.


The final product looked good to me. Well, frozen wing good,
not restaurant quality good.



The size of the wings varied. Some were a small/medium, others were a large.
Both were very meaty, with little grissel.


The box claims:
"Authentic Buffalo-style wings made with a generous amount of hot sauce for a fiery kick"

Bollux. The sauce was not Buffalo. And these aren't deep fried so I cannot let them be called "Buffalo Wings". They are a hot wing. PC rates them as 4 Chili's, but that's also bollux. A salty medium heat at most.

My personal thoughts is that instead of 'marinating' the wings in sauce then frozen, they should have a sauce packet on the side. To be closer to an 'authentic Buffalo-style', at least let the wings bake until crispy, then sauce. Or not, whatever, do what you like PC. You may be the president, but I have the crown.

FINAL SCORE: Ok they were decent size and actually had a little zing in heat. And they are sauce and meaty. BUT, they were nothing special. Would I buy them again? Mmmmm, probably not. There are other flavour and brands to try. 7/12


PC Hot Buffalo Wings

Remember, tune in next time for another exciting episode of:

WKTV
SAME WING TIME
SAME WING CHANNEL

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Extra Extra

This just in, local Cornwall Newspaper Blog follows Lord of the Wings blog.

Lord of the Ribs???

I have some good news - the London Ribfest is back on for 2009!!!


And there's bigger news:

THEY HAVE ASKED THE
LORD OF THE WINGS
TO BE AN OFFICIAL JUDGE

That's right, yours truly will be on the panel judging this years ribs. I'm excited and honoured to be picked.

As posted before, the festival was dropped by the Boys and Girls club to focus more on, well, the boys and girls. Private company Family Shows Canada has picked up the mantle, and is making changes to make the event their own.

Keep checking here for more info as I get it.

London Ribfest, only 4 months and some days to go!

More Chicken Wing Salad

A member of the Wing Nation Steve C, recently sent me some photos of his wing experiment with his buddy Macky:


"I was looking over your blog, as I do about once a month, and noticed the entry on Michael Smith's chicken wing salad. It reminded me of this time in University when a buddy and I had the same idea, but a different take on it . . .



. . . we made salad, avec bleu cheese of course, and then topped it with full chicken wings."



I asked Steve how it turned out and I love his response:
"The final product was awesome for the fact that we did it, and I don't regret it in the slightest; however, therein lay an enigma:

It was the greatest salad of all time because it was topped with chicken wings; yet, The wings could have been better if they had not been hampered by the surrounding greenery. A vicious circle."

Thanks for writing in!

Monday, 2 March 2009

GRAND CENTRAL NEW YORK DELI ~ Ottawa

(Grand Central New York Deli has now CLOSED * RIP)


Every once and a while a great food event occurs that gets people excited and buzzing. A few months ago here in Ottawa, a new restaurant was going to open, and the city came alive. The message boards lit up on the Internet about a new deli that was going to be serving smoked meat. Now smoked meat is a big deal in these parts, so close to Montreal and their famous wet cured brisket. But this was going to be a New York Jewish style smoked meat, dry cured, and you thought it was the time of the second coming for some.

Grand Central New York Deli opened and with great fanfare. Critics loved it, foodies loved it, and I sat in eager await to sample this exciting fare as people I knew or read had been and raved. And then I went and I liked it. It wasn't cheap, but it was quality and quantity both. And I never brought my camera to officially review it. And I still am not. Why? Because the last time I was there I had wings.





Yes, I have a sickness that says I have to have wings everywhere I go, in the chance that some place's wings are going to be the best. Sickness. But anyway, here's my thoughts on the establishment and some of its food.

Grand Central New York Deli (I will refer to it as GCNYD from now on) is situated in a small plaza that contains the formerly reviewed Nando's. The location was previously a fish and chips joint that I had wanted to try, but saw close down. I eagerly awaited to see what would replace it, and when I saw Deli, not only was I disappointed it wasn't a wing joint, but also thought there was no way a 'deli' was going to survive here (boy was I wrong, but also uninformed about what kind of deli it was going to be).



The inside is clean, open and a little chic. Brown wood, leather and paint against white/creamy background with various photos of New York. Lots of families were out for weekend brunch, but my last time here showed that demographics mean nothing when it comes to smoked meat - everyone loves it young and old.

Service was very friendly, with not only our waitress looking after us, but the hostess, another waitress, and owners also walking around checking in on everything. Customer satisfaction is very important at GCNYD.


My dining companion went with their brunch options, going for the waffle and fresh fruit. And it was all that it presented itself to be (although a side of extra whip cream was needed for this monster mound). Melons, strawberry, pineapple and more made up for the fruit cocktail on top, and a great waffle filled out the bottom.


We ordered a side of Smoked Meat (3 oz) and it was great. So tender, so tasty. The first time I had been to GCNYD I had their signature Empire Smoked Meat Sandwich, a extremely thick sandwich with homemade fries, crunchy sour dill pickle and creamy coleslaw. It was all good. Made better with Hebrew National mustard on the side.




If you've had Montreal smoked meat, you can see the difference (let alone taste the difference) between the two - this is a crispier, almost smokier, but I can't say I prefer one over the other. Smoked meat is just plain good no matter how you cure it.



They also had one of my faves - deep fried pickles. Served with ranch dipping sauce.


Crispy, juicy, hot - everything a deep fried pickle should be. What more can I say?

But back to that sickness of mine, I may not have had a giant sandwich this time, but I did have a healthy dose of wings (did anyone else kind of snicker after reading healthy and wings in that last sentence?).


I know what many people are thinking - why would you have the wings when the smoked meat is so good? Simply, my obsession to find the perfect wing. But to many its obvious that wings are going to be an after thought at any restaurant that specializes in something (ie Deli, burger joint, Italian etc). But I just have to try.



The wings came out and they looked good. Some care into their preparation. It smelled good, but not spicy. And again, as is the case with Ottawa, a sour cream dipping sauce. I mean, it was a nice, thick sour cream, but still.


The wings weren't big, but not too small either. A nice medium. The wings are lightly dusted, then deep fried. The skin was crispy, and you could hear that crisp when you bit into them. Perfect skin. Crunchy.

The meat was nice and tender, moist, but unfortunately tasted like they came from frozen. Maybe it was just the chicken itself, but that was the big negative here in these wings.


One of the reasons I thought the wings might be good here were the sauces. They didn't seem like your typical 'lets just throw some bottle sauce on them' . Maybe I was just a sucker for their written propaganda. I ordered mine with 'Buffalo' sauce, and it was a competent clone. Nothing spicy by any means, but it tasted like a bottle hot sauce. A lot of the sauce had soaked up into the wing itself, but there was still sauce drizzled around that allowed me to taste it on its own. Afterwards, I kicked myself for not ordering a side of one of the other sauces to compare.





FINAL SCORE: The wings were a good attempt. Again, they looked right, the texture was right, they were sauced well. But the sauce was not hot enough for my liking, and the taste of frozen chicken would probably prevent me from getting wings there in the future. Maybe. But the smart move is to stick to the Smoked Meat. And the dill pickles. 4.5/10



Grand Central New York Deli
1463 Merivale Rd, Ottawa
grandcentralnyd.com



Check out Ottawa Food Critic Ron Eade's article on the establishment before it opened for more info about GCNYD's process and philosophy.