Sunday, 29 May 2011

The GTA is looking for good wings . . .

Looks like I'm not the only one in the region looking for tasty chicken.

Anthony P let me know about BlogTO looking for wings in Scarborough . . . but still no responses, but I want to know!

They aren't alone. Over on Chowhound air621 is looking for grilled wings in Toronto.

Do you know where to get the above?

Saturday, 28 May 2011

HIGHWAY 61 ~ Toronto ON

*** Highway 61 is NOW CLOSED - RIP ***

A while back I got a Groupon Coupon for a BBQ joint not close to me downtown. Then I forgot about it. Then I remembered that it was set to expire in one day, so I trucked it up to try them out. Simple story right? 

I totally bought into the brand that Highway 61 was putting on: low and slow BBQ, blues and classic rock, wood paneling and fake flames. The patio was full, and the inside was not very big (there is an upstairs though). There was a smell of BBQ in the air, but no wafty smoke.

I totally dug the atmosphere and the very friendly staff. I didn't catch the waitress's name, but she was very friendly and excellent server. The place was busy (as it turned out, everyone else came with their Groupon). I was happy to have my seat. There were a lot of families with kids there. A lot. There was also a guy in a cape who sat at the table next to me. My first thought was to criticize the odd choice of a cape - but then I was like 'rock on' because I like capes. He ordered ribs, as well as gator bites (this was also pretty popular and the waitress had to make sure they still had some they were in hot demand). When he left, I then realized he wasn't wearing a cape, but a poncho. I wasn't so on board for the poncho. But to each their own.

While I had already scoped out the menu online, I was not sure what all I was going to get. I did get a Coke, which came in mason jars (I like when I get funky drinking glasses). And my waitress was there to refill as needed.

There were so many things on the menu that I was mouth watering for. I was getting wings, that was for sure. But there were pork ribs and beef ribs, fried chicken, pulled pork, brisket, BBQ chicken . . . I mean what to get what to get?

Of course you could go with one of the Delta Blues Platters. I was totally sold on the BB King Platter but not the price tag. Even the Memphis Minnie was more than I was willing to shell out. I ended up going for the Baby Back Rib & Pulled Pork Combo ($20.99). 

There was the combo in all its glory. From left to right: Ribs, BBQ sauce, coleslaw, beans, jalapeño corn bread, pulled pork.

On the side were the beans and the coleslaw. Standard beans that lacked pizazz. Could have been a little more sweet. The coleslaw was nice and crunchy, with a mayo based slaw (which I prefer). A little peppery and nice and creamy.

Then there was the corn bread muffin. It had chunks of jalapeño which was nice. The muffin itself was soft but half-way to being hard. It came with a little container of cinnamon butter, which didn't appeal to me initially (not a big fan of cinnamon) but it melded well with the corn and jalapeño flavour.

The pulled pork. Tender but no strong flavour. No real smoke flavour. The sauce came on the side, and I needed to cover it pretty good. Their signature BBQ sauce was ok - too much of a tomato base for me.

The ribs are Ontario sourced and smoked. They looked really nice coming out. I did have the option of them coming out unsauced, but when it comes to ribs I really like sauce.

The ribs were a disappointed to me. They weren't bad, but there were several things that just didn't work. First, they were not tender at all. I had to use the given knife and really cut to split them apart. The meat gave more than a little chew to try and get it off the bone. The meat did not really have a smoke flavour nor was there a clear smoke ring. I didn't see smoke from the place when I arrived, and when I left I went out back to see if there was a wood smoker - there wasn't, so I assume they are smoking with an electric smoker.

I couldn't not have the wings when I saw them on the menu. Funny thing, the wings actually came out first, and then I had the BBQ platter (which a lot of went home in a doggy bag).

The wings come in an order of about 8 or 9 wings. They are rubbed in seasoning and then smoked, finally tossed in your choice of sauce.

On the side were carrots and celery and a cup of ranch dip. It wasn't the standard ranch but one of a higher quality - maybe made in house rather than bottled?

When the wings came out - they looked really good. Like, really good. They were a decent size (medium to medium-large) but on the menu they were described as jumbo. That's something that gets me down because they either don't know what jumbo wings look like, or they lied. But I wasn't too bummed out.

The wings are also smoked, which means you are not going to get a crispy skin. So I removed that score from the card. What you do get are chicken wings that are so tender that the meat just falls off the bone. You can so easily remove the smaller bone from the wingette and then just suck the meat off the bigger bone with no difficulty.

I went with Prairie Hot wings. These had a nice tang to them but were also buttery. A little bit of heat, but the sauce and the smokiness of the wings were still there. There were so many levels of flavour going on. I would like a bit more heat, but that might take away from the nuances that this wing were putting out there.

FINAL SCORE:  While smoked wings are not my go to wing of choice, from now on these are the bar that I will judge all future smoked wings against. Buttery, smokey, spicy, tender, savoury - oh ya, these were good. They were not jumbo as advertised, but they were good. The rest of the BBQ on the other hand was pretty passable. But there are so many other things on the menu I want to try (Boar ribs? Gator Bites, poutine, burgers, fried chicken etc). While I would normally judge a BBQ joint on their ribs, I`m willing to definitely give them another chance based on their wings.  4/7

Highway 61
1620 Bayview Ave, Toronto ON


Road Trip! 

LJ and I were off to Watertown New York again and I was determined to get some wings. I'm in New York state where Buffalo is, so I have to be able to get some good Buffalo wings right?

Watertown is an interesting place. A population of close to 30 000, the main draw to the city is the nearby US Army base Fort Drum. That and Canadians coming down to the shopping areas. And it is home to some intersting firsts according to wikipedia:

"The city is known as the birthplace of the Five and dime, the safety pin, and is the home of Little Trees car fresheners. It manufactured the first portable steam engine. It has the longest continually operating county fair in the United States and holds the Red and Black football franchise, the oldest surviving semi-professional team in the United States." 

I was on a wing mission, and if your going for a local wing joint, the Wing Wagon seems like the place to go. Located in Public Square which is a city square which you don't really see in Ontario towns - actually it reminds me of the square in Hill Valley (Back to the Future) or the park where Forrest Gump sat. The Wing Wagon has been serving Buffalo wings since 1982. They must be doing something right.

Last year they went through a renovation (as I read on their website). However the place looks pretty dated inside. Also not so cool: sticky tables and not so clean chairs. No really, this was not cool.

What was cool? The staff. Two guys working behind the counter that were super friendly, ready to answer questions and were happy to help any way they could. We ordered up lots of chicken and sides and I can't tell you how excited I was.

While I knew exactly what I was getting, LJ was debating over some several tasty options. I said chicken is this places thing. So she went with the chicken fingers. Came with celery and blue cheese. There were 5 in the small order. There were a decent size, and LJ said they were good. Nothing fancy or special, but good.

They also came with a side of sauce. LJ asked for them to be tossed in sauce, but they said they couldn't. She went with the Butter-Garlic sauce. Buttery and garlicky - but it haunted us all day long.

They also had fried dough on the menu. I thought it was going to be more like pizza dough, but it turned out to be a desert dough with cinnamon butter and powdered sugar. Actually it was like a beaver tail. It was doughy, but light. It was a nice side dish. And big too - came in a pizza box!

We can't forget the main course - the Buffalo wings. Look at those full, beautiful looking containers.

Wings come in orders of 10.  Even though we were eating in, they still came in Styrofoam take-out trays, with wings in one half and the veggies and dip on the other.

There was a mound of celery. Very generous serving. There was also the standard blue cheese dip. Take notice other wing joints - veggies and dip part of the package. The way it should be.

The wings were a large wing - big, meaty - perfect for a Buffalo Wing. A reminder what a Buffalo Wing is: naked wing that is deep fried and tossed in Buffalo sauce. The skin was crispy. The wings were saucy.


I talked to the guy behind the counter about the levels of heat in the wings (they have the three main heats, then x-hot, xxx-hot and insanity). I wanted to know if the sauce was a base sauce that just increased in heat, or if hot and xxx-hot were completely different sauce - but he said they make their own sauce with just increasing levels of heat.

 While I was curious to try Insanity, being in another country, on a road trip, and far from home made me think to be careful to eat possibly super spicy food. Also, I wanted to try to test their baser sauce and still have some kick.

X-Hot for me was a good hot sauce. For others it would be suicide, but for me it had a good kick and a lot of buttery/vinegary/cayenne hot sauce flavour. This is more than just a classic Buffalo Wing - this was the way it is supposed to be.


BBQ was a different story. My first bite I was there with the wing. Like, just there man.  But it quickly went somewhere I didn't want to go. This was a very sweet BBQ. Very sweet. Then I noticed something that isn't clear in the photos - but there was a purple/pink tinge to the sauce. What I think is going on here is their base sauce has something like a VH cherry sauce being added. In the end I couldn't eat all the wings (in general - it was a lot of food), so what I did was eat most of the hot, then put the BBQ wings into the X-Hot sauce container to go. Much better.

FINAL SCORE: We both agreed that we would go back, but would get the food to go next time. The wings were excellent - big, meaty, crispy and super saucy. The X-Hot Buffalo wings were excellent, but next time I would go for XXX-Hot. BBQ was just too sweet for me. But again, top notch Buffalo wings. 8/10.

The Wing Wagon
71 Public Square, Watertown NY, USA

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Port Elmsley Drive-In ~ Port Elmsley ON

When was the last time you went to a drive-in cinema?

Have you ever been to a drive-in cinema?

While visiting Ottawa, I actually spent a lot of time visiting places not in Ottawa. LJ and I decided to take a road trip out to Port Elmsley to the Drive-In there. It was opening weekend, a decent movie listing, and I figured the bugs should be at a minimum. We took the hour and a half drive out, paid the $20 admittance ($10 per person, double feature) and found a great parking space in the middle.

The first movie I can remember seeing as a child was E.T. at the drive-in (which no longer exists). There was something cool about watching a movie in the family car. Flash forward many years, and it still has a magic quality.

It was opening night, so I didn't know if there was going to be a big crowd or not. Turns out, it was a big crowd.

I love the retro feel of the Port Elmsley Theatre. Above is the projector booth and concession stand which is clearly from a different era. They generally show family fair but I think this would be awesome to watch some grindhouse horror films here. Actually, it would make a great setting for a horror film. Hmmm . . .

Inside is the concession booth. I don't think much has changed here over the years.

Pogos, cotton candy, burgers, brined pickles and eggs, and of course popcorn are on sale.

A cool old fashion looking Sound Master. I ah, I don't know what this does. But look it's old and cool.

When I go to the movies, I almost always have to have popcorn. This time I wasn't getting popcorn. Until I walked in and smelled popcorn. And then I saw the self-serve butter and I had to get some popcorn.

I also got a cheese burger (this was my supper). Cooked on the flattop. Flipped by 16 year olds. Not stellar burgers. Just frozen bargain burgers. I did top it with ketchup, mayo, mustard and pickles. Should have gotten the pogo.

In case you forgot about the conscession stand, or the announcements from the projectionist, they play the old timey commercials (not the "lets all go to the lobby", but you get the idea).

On site is a playground for the kids to play while they wait for the movie. Families were playing catch with baseballs and footballs in the rows between the cars - which I thought was a terrible idea. Baseballs, kids, car windows. I trust dad is going to catch the ball, but not the kids.

Also, there was this crazy huge nest on top of a light/announcement pole. I'm pretty sure it was a pterodactyl nest.

The good old days of attaching the radio box to the window to listen to the movie are over. Now you just tune in to 88.7 and voila!  Basically you have surround sound which is pretty cool (depending on your car speakers of course).

There's also another good reason for no longer needing the window sound box. See, it being May and cool, I thought this was a great time to go because there would be no bugs. In past summers, LJ and I would have the problem of so many mosquitoes, forcing you to roll up the windows (well, power them up) but then it's too hot, so you have to turn the car on to have the A/C on - its not a comfortable situation.

Well, it turns out the mosquitoes were out in force. But it wasn't that hot so we could have the windows up and not boil. The locals, being smart and aware, have these special net/meshes that go up over the car window to avoid this problem. Smart.

Show times are not fixed - you basically have to wait until the sun goes down. But it's worth the wait. I mean, doesn't it just look magical?

Finally it's time to watch the movie. Up first on the roster was Rango. I really enjoyed this movie. This was really more adult orientated and I really liked the action, the characters and the humour. We ended up not staying for the second feature, Limitless - not because we didn't want to see the film, but since it was starting after 11pm and we still had an hour and a half drive, we opted to go home.

The drive-in is a fun experience. It may not be the best cinematic experience (bugs, big screen seen through car window, occasional headlights on the screen) but the Port Elmsley is just something you have to experience.

Port Elmsley Drive-In
333 Port Elmsley Road, Port Elmsley ON



About two weeks ago now I was back in Ottawa having a bit of time off from work. I was up to spend some time with LJ, hoping to get some personal projects done, and to sample more Capital wings. I had a number of places I wanted to try, but time did not go the way I expected and most of what I wanted to get done for the whole week, did not happen (busy times, but it was good). 

Online I looked up a number of places I could go. The one place I did try was kind of by fluke. I was driving on Bank street after lunch time and there it was: a newish place with a relatively empty patio on a beautiful day, with one more thing that caught my eye:

1lb of wings for $5.50 - sounded good to me. But I was skeptical. The sports element of the MVP and the Lounge in the title conjured up images of tiny, crappy little wings. But I remember reading online some favourable reviews of their wings, and since it was right there, I stopped in.

There was a small group on the patio, but otherwise it was empty. I went inside just to let the staff know I was going to be on the patio. I didn't get a great look, but in the day it was dark and bar like. As I sat down I was served by Greg. At first he was very to the point, I think confused by my dining alone on a Wednesday afternoon, not drinking alcohol etc. But after a while he got a little more sociable.

 He was sitting with the group on the patio and I believe he might have been owner/manager because he was talking to them about instituting a new drink menu. Soon he was up and out with my jumbo plate with wings.

I ordered a pound of Hot, a pound of Cajun, with Suicide sauce on the side. Each pound didn't contain many wings (about 6-8) but they were large wings.

The order also came with some celery and carrots. No dip mind you - so what is the point? I ate them, but really there should have been some blue cheese or ranch.

The wings themselves were large. Yes, there was a generous dose of breading, but these were long, and meaty. The breading was very crispy and held up against the sauce it was tossed in. I asked Greg what the breading was. He said he had no idea, but asked the kitchen: just salt and pepper and flour. Not everyone likes breaded, but I'm down with it, and they did it well.


This was a pretty classic hot sauce - cayenne based. Probably Frank's.

Classic and tasty. There wasn't really any sauce on the plate as it had been absorbed into the wings, but it worked.


The Cajun Rub is a seasoning put on after the wings are cooked, not actually rubbed in. I won't lie, it was a little disappointing.

The main reason was that it was so faint in flavour, I could barely taste it. What I could taste was good, and the chicken flavour really came out. But I would like more 'Cajun' experience.


I got this on the side - just in case I didn't like it. But I didn't have to worry about that. It was good - very black peppery - and while it didn't burn my lips off, it certainly attacked with heart burn. I ended up pouring it on my Cajun wings, which made for a good combo.

FINAL SCORE:  I was expecting crappy little flappers and I got large breaded wings. The wings were not simply an after-thought on the menu. Good flavour, good crispiness, good patio. Well done MVP, well done. 8/10

MVP Lounge
683 Bank Street, Ottawa ON