Saturday, December 18, 2010

Welcome to Hell

Perhaps it was a German tourist who said "So schön hell!" ("So beautifully bright!"). Commenting to his travel companion. It may have been local wives who’d say “He’s gone to hell” when their husbands would get drunk on whiskey at the tavern. Maybe just maybe it was the hellish terrain and bug problems that plagued early explorers. No one really knows what made George Reeves tell the state “Call it Hell for all I care….everyone else does” when asked what he’d like to call his town. But on October 13th, 1841, “Hell” became the official name of the tiny burg in central, lower Michigan.
Settled by Reeves in 1838 around a mill and a general store on the banks of what is now known as Hell Creek, the tiny, blink and you’ll miss it town  has become quite legendary. (George would later add the tavern.) There’s car and bike rallies every year as well as plenty of weddings. Unofficially the population sits at 266 and about the only thing that’s changed since then is the height of the dam and the addition of electricity. Although Reeves businesses have long dried up.
Hell has only one industry now. Kitsch. They survive on the selling of all things “Hell.” Tee shirts, bumper stickers, coffee mugs, you name it.  Letters are stamped “I’ve been thru Hell” and are singed before being postmarked.
There’s the fictitious “Damnation University” (Damn U) from which you can get a diploma. The general store is named “Hell in a Handbasket” and the local watering hole is named “The Dam Site Inn” (also for its location right in front of the dam).
Opened in 1948 the Dam Site Inn is a nice rustic place with chains hanging from the ceiling and fake pyres throughout. Recently it was purchased by Jim Mills and his partner and they’ve pretty much kept the menu the same. Most things are made in house. A notable exception is the pizza dough made by a local bakery. They roast their own beef, make their own chili and hand form their own burgers.  All of this means nothing if they don’t deliver and deliver they do.
So lets give the Devil his due as it were.
We split a (pepperoni) pizza. I had the "Smitty" Burger and Mrs. Sippi had the Hot Beef Sandwich.
Mrs. Sippi’s sandwich was great. It came with mashed potatoes and smothered in a rich, home made gravy. The beef was tender and flavourful (leftover prime rib after all) and the potatoes came skin on and had a slight fruitiness to them.
My Smitty Burger is so named for the previous owner and inventor of the “Special sauce.” The burger came medium well without even requesting it and was very juicy. I wasn’t excited about the sauce. It was an amalgam of hamburger condiments (Ketchup, mustard, onion, pickles, etc.) and truth be told, I’d just as soon have them put on, individually. All in all, a great burger though.
The pizza was really tasty. Thin crust, I kept it simple with only pepperoni. The best part was it had a great cheese taste. It also warmed up really well the next day which is always a good sign.
You can visit the Dam Site Inn at 4095 Patterson Lake Rd. in Hell, Michigan. (not to be confused with the Dam Site Inn in Pellston, Michigan)

View Larger Map
You can also visit them on the web.
Well that’s all for now. See you next time in the Food Court

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Lots of Good, Cheap Food…

…and Dozens of Beer.

Hailing itself as “Ann Arbor’s neighbourhood bar”, Casey’s Tavern took over the historic Washtenaw Lumber warehouse and opened for business in 1986.
In 1872 the Wood and Perrin company built a warehouse across the street from the train station. They sold pork, cider, apples and wool out of the building until the 1880’s when the former Underground Railroad slave runner , Sellick Wood, turned the building into a lumber warehouse. Wood ran the buisiness along with his son Frank until 1916 when it became the Washtenaw Lumber Company. Washtenaw operated out of the building until Casey’s took over and converted it into the homey bar and grill that it is today.
Featuring home made bar fare the smallish tavern does as much in house as possible. The beef is ground for burgers and corned for corned beef in house. Such commitment shows in the personnel and food. Some of the charter employees are still there. It’s also made Casey’s a perennial winner of the “Best burger” crown in Ann Arbor. High praise. Especially when pitted against one of my all time favourites at Krazy Jim’s Blimpy Burger.

Mrs. Sippi’s friend, The Wolverine, suggested a lunch meeting as we passed through the area on our way south. Casey’s did not disappoint. 

A collection of no less than 20 condiments are waiting for you on your table. They had some of the usual suspects such as Tabasco and Worchestershire but the honey mustard and a roasted garlic flavoured hot sauce were among our favourites.
We started with (battered) deep fried artichoke hearts. They were nicely done in an almost tempura batter. The “Dijonnaise sauce” was really nice. Kind of a cross between remoulade and thousand islands dressing. A good way to get the ball rolling.
The Wolverine took the simple tuna salad sandwich and added cheese. He had it grilled and elevated it to a terrific tuna melt.
The burgers are pretty much construct your own. We opted for the jalapeno chutney, cheddar cheese and chili. I’m not sure if the chutney even made it onto the burger but if so, it was lost. The bean laden chili was really nice although not spicy. The burger it’s self came with a nice tinge of pink to it and was moist and tasty. They may win best burger in Ann Arbor but my vote still goes to Krazy Jim. The accompanying fries were out of a bag and were okay.
The Reuben was flat out great. I loved the corned beef. Strong with allspice flavour, it was fantastic. The Swiss stood up nicely to it and the kraut added a nice secondary dimension. I started to add some mustard and then decided the sandwich didn’t need it.
You can find Casey’s across from the old train station on historic Depot Street (#304) in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The old storage sheds, original to the building are still in the back parking lot.

View Larger Map
You can also find them on the web.
 Casey's Tavern on Urbanspoon

Well that’s all for now. See ya next time.


Sunday, December 5, 2010

Pizza so Thin it Only has One Side

“It’s time to build our own brand” said Gerard Williamson as the Piqua, Ohio pizza restaurant he and his family built changed names.
Formerly part of the Cassano’s chain in the Greater Dayton Area the Williamson family has spent 43 years in the pizza business. Taking over the struggling  Cassano’s franchise in Piqua, Joseph and Frances Williamson turned the business around and never looked back. Running the Water Street restaurant for over 30 years until passing it onto their kids. Frances can still be found working the restaurant and a third generation is poised to take over some day.
The new name, Beppo Uno Pizzeria and Trattoria pays homage to Joseph. Beppo is a nickname for Joseph and Uno means one. 
A smallish pasta menu accompanies the Roman style pizza. Characterized by an edgeless dough, Roman style pizza is cooked on stone to produce a crispy on the bottom but with a slight bread texture above crust. It's thin but not quite like a cracker and if made right, it should almost melt in your mouth.
The restaurant is very nice inside. A beautiful stone fireplace sets off the dining room and makes for a nice warm feel. Especially on a cold winter night.

We aren't here for the interior though, we're here to eat. So, without further adieu.

We started with an order of bread sticks. A half dozen, made to order, garlic and herb sticks of pizza dough. The were a nice start and come with either cheese or marinara sauce. We asked for and received both. The cheese sauce was pretty good and the marinara was much better. I switched back and forth as well as ate them plain. Good anyway I had them.
As was stated, the crust is very thin and quite crisp. The toppings were very plentiful and to be honest, probably too much. The over all taste was very good but I think it was a bit out of balance. The crust, sauce and cheese were certainly overwhelmed by the amount of toppings. As such, I much preferred the outer pieces since they weren’t as topping dense. Next time I’ll stick with just pepperoni or maybe add one other topping.
The couple next to us was talking about enjoying the endless pasta special they have on Tuesdays. They declined because it meant they wouldn’t be eating pizza.

You can find Beppo Uno at 414 W. Water Street in Piqua, Ohio.

View Larger Map
You can also find them on the webfacebook or Twitter

Beppo Uno Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

Well that’s all for now. Hope to see ya soon.


Sunday, November 28, 2010

Classic Greek Fast Food

As far back as the time of antiquity, Greeks have been grilling meat on a stick. The forerunner to the modern day souvlaki these shish kebabs we’re comprised of cubed lamb. 
Loosely translated to mean “Little skewer” souvlaki has evolved to be just about any meat or vegetable skewered and grilled. The food items name being used as a prefix to souvlaki. “Chicken” or “Fish” souvlaki. The most popular modern day incarnation is “Pork” souvlaki.

When Eleni and George Moschopolous started vacationing in Greece they probably had no idea where the journey would take them. Favouring the small neighbourhood, restaurants George and Eleni fell in love with the food. Simple ingredients, treated simply. It’s not rocket science. Let the true flavour of the meats, cheese and veggies shine. Years of travel through the country produced some favourites such as zucchini, olives, beeftekia and of course souvlaki. All of which they’ve brought back to Pape Village in Toronto and to Folia Grill.
Keeping with the feel and philosophy of the little curbside establishments, Folia offers a small menu that is executed extremely well. Just about everything is made in house from ingredients that are locally sourced.
It’s also the kind of place that’s best visited with friends. Items are not expensive and most are perfect for sharing. It only has about 10 seats which makes it cozy with a clean, modern look and open kitchen. The over all feel I got for he place was laid back. Get some food, relax, talk, laugh, eat, enjoy.
My visit was for lunch (early) and it wasn’t crowded but take out orders were starting pile up. I got the feeling that it’s one of the neighbourhood “Go to” spots for a great, quick, inexpensive meal.

The pork belly souvlaki is fabulous. I ordered the double skewer on a pita which is a pair of skewers (obviously) with tzatziki, lettuce, onion and tomato. From previous experience I knew I didn’t like fries on mine so I opted out of those and also from a previous visit here I thought Steve (the cook) was a little heavy handed with the tzatziki. So I asked for light on that. The meat its self is the very same part of the pig from which we get bacon so you know it has to be good. It’s grilled over an open flame. A longer cooking time results in melt in your mouth pork, kept moist with the rendering pork fat and it gets a nice charred exterior.
The beeftekia is even better. Ground pork and beef formed into egg shapes. It too was cooked over the open flame. They were made fresh that morning and are well seasoned with oregano and garlic. Before plating the eggs are bathed in a lemon based sauce which was awesome.
A previous visit saw me enjoying chicken gyro. These gyros are the same style as Messini. The schwarma, al pastor type of layered, seasoned meat. Not the meat loaf on a spit style. It was very tender, very juicy and very tasty. As I mentioned above, I thought there was too much tzatziki on it. That’s really just personal preference and quite frankly, if my tzatiki was as good as Steve’s, I’d load up everything I make with it too.

I had heard nothing but great things about the new (as of 2012) Pork Gyros. Let me tell ya, they’re every bit as good as advertised. They’re simply fantastic. Nicely seasoned and plenty tender. Mixed with the salad here it made for a really great, healthy choice lunch.

Mmmmmm rotating meat.......
You can visit Folia at 1031 Pape Avenue in Toronto, Ontario.

View Larger Map

You can also visit them on the web
Folia Grill on Urbanspoon

Well that’s all from the food court for another day. Hope to see ya soon.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Iconic Cincinnati

In 1951 Johnny Johnson, fresh off the boat as it were, walked into Camp Washington Chili and began his first day of work in his new country. He never left. Still there today, 6 days a week, Johnny is just one of many icons at this Cincinnati institution.
The Camp Washington area of Cincinnati is named for the old military camp that trained thousands of soldiers for the Mexican/American war and of course the restaurant, opened in 1940 is named for the area. The original building is long gone now. Demolished in the name of progress and has been replaced with a modern, 50’s diner themed emporium. 
A painting of the old building hangs on the wall amid dozens of magazine and newspaper articles and their James Beard Award
It’s not often you find food synonymous with a city and even rarer that you find three such items all under one roof. Goetta, (pronounced “get a”) the pork or pork, beef and oat mixture found in loaf or bulk sausage form that is a staple on breakfast tables. Double decker sandwiches are not to be confused with Dagwood sandwiches. The two tiered sandwiches are filled with such things as beef, ham, cheese, bacon or veggies between each toasted slice. Then of course there’s Cincinnati chili. The icon of icons in the Greater Cinci Area is widely regarded as THE best around.

So on with the eatin’.

We ordered a side of goetta. At Camp Washington, it’s made into a loaf, sliced and then put on the flat top to give it a beautiful crust. It’s a little bit spicy, heavily seasoned and is absolutely fantastic.
We opted for ham and turkey double decker. The meat is of the cold cut variety sliced thin on toasted white bread with lettuce and mayonnaise. Simple, perfect. I will point out that they didn’t skimp on the mayo and I thought it made for a good balance in the sandwich. The girl next to us didn’t think so as I watched her scrape some of the mayo off.
The chili is simply fantastic. We went with a three way (spaghetti, chili, cheese) and split it. Not as tangy as Skyline but with a little more balance in the flavour. There was no one flavour that stood out above the other but one giant flavour. We both had to admit, it was the best Cinci chili we’d had. It had the requisite mound of cheese on top but not the comical amount that I’ve seen at other establishments and that also helped with balance.
Last but certainly not least were the chili, cheese Coney's. As per usual the dogs were of the pup variety, steamed on steamed buns. Loaded with chili, diced onions, mustard and a heap of cheese. There were fabulous.

You can find Camp Washington Chili at 3005 Colerain Ave, Cincinnati, Ohio.

View Larger Map

You can also find them on the web.
Camp Washington Chili on Urbanspoon

 Well that’s about all for today. We’ll see ya next time. Take care.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Lake Effect

In mid October of 2006, Lake Effect Storm Aphid slammed into Buffalo, New York. The storm dumped over a foot of snow in the city and as much as two feet in higher elevations just outside to the south/east and left over one million people without power. While unusually early, this is only par for the course in western New York.
Lake Effect Snow Storms are a result of a large pocket of Arctic air moving over a warm body of water. With machine like efficiency they suck warm moist air up, condense it and then dump it when it hits land. The higher the elevation, the more severe. These events most often occur in  the Great Lakes region of North America and due to their size and geographic location, where this machine does it’s best work. While the area on the leeward side of Lake Ontario between Watertown and Syracuse is known as the “Snow Capital of the East” perhaps no other city in North America is more famous for it’s snow than Buffalo. It’s location at the eastern end of Lake Erie puts it right in the path of these monsters.
It is this type of weather that shapes to fine folks of western New York. They don’t just accept it, they embrace it. Late season NFL games and even the NHL’s inaugural  Winter Classic in 2008 are played in the snow. It’s so much a way of life they’ve even named a diner after this weather phenomenon, The Lake Effect Diner. Located just inland from Lake Erie in Buffalo it is a tribute to both the diner and old school restauranteering.
101_0022 In 2001 Tucker and Erin Curtin went looking for a diner. They wound up in Wayne, Pennsylvania and rescued a vintage early ‘50’s Mountainview Diner (Vin #446) from the wrecking ball. Relocated to Main Street in Buffalo it was fully restored and returned to its former glory.
101_0023 As for the menu, the commitment from the Curtin family takes a back seat to no one. Oranges are fresh squeezed for juice to order. Beef is corned and hams are smoked and cured in house. They grind their own beef and make their own sausage. This old school way of running a restaurant is married with diner classics like meatloaf, burgers, club sandwiches and of course, breakfast. They’ve also added their own touches to the menu such as pulled pork, chicken souvlaki and grilled pitas. I really like how they offer their fish. A haddock filet comes with your choice of preparation. Italian, lemon buttered, Budweiser battered or Cajun. A similar multiple choice is offered of their club sandwiches. Tuna, smoked turkey, corned beef, roast beef or smoked ham. I’d like to see more places offer this.
This type of dedication to all things tasty has garnered the Lake Effect Diner the ultimate seal of approval. A visit from Guy Fieri and the Triple D crew in 2009. Loved locally the spot on Diners, Drive Ins and Dives has put them on the culinary map.

So on to the food.

We started with a plate of Chili Cheese Fries. The fries are hand cut in house and served under a blanket of chili and cheese and topped with onion and a dollop of sour cream. The fries had good potato flavour but I’d order them well done next time. I like a little more crunch on the outside. The inside had that nice fluffy potato texture though. The chili was outstanding. Not spicy, very tomatoey and well seasoned. The cheddar, onion and sour cream complimented it perfectly. It’s enough for a meal in its self. 101_0028 Mrs. Sippi opted for the Beef on Weck. While not as good as Charlie’s it was still great. I prefered this bun and the horse radish had more jump to it. The jus served on the side was better and it compromised the integrity of the bun as she ate it. Just like it should.
101_0032 I went with the BBQ Meatloaf Bomber. The house meatloaf on a hoagie with caramelized onions, aged cheddar and home made BBQ sauce. It was simply great. The meatloaf has a terrific taste and the BBQ sauce and onions bumped it up a few more notches. I took half of it home and it was still great the next day.
101_0031 We shared a side of Griddled Mac and Cheese. A creamy mac and cheese that they put on the flat top. It was really nice but I didn’t care for the griddling part. The toasted cheese overpowered the rest of the dish I though. Mrs. Sippi concurred.
101_0038 She went for a Vanilla Malt and I had the PB&J Shake. The malt was really nice and something we don’t see much. It was a clear runner up to the shake though. It was liquid peanut butter and (strawberry) jelly sucked through a straw. She drank almost as much as I did and summed it up in one word, “Insane.” We blew through it so fast I had to order another shake. This time it was a banana split. It was good but not in the same weight class.
So for some terrific diner food and experience, visit Lake Effect Diner at 3165 Main St. in Buffalo, New York.

View Larger Map
You also visit them on the web.
Lake Effect Diner on Urbanspoon
Lake Effect Diner on Foodio54

Well that’s all for now. See you next time in the food court.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Authentic Gyros

As far as I’m concerned, anytime there’s revolving meat it’s, as Martha Stewart would say, “A good thing.” It should come as no surprise then that I’m a big fan of the Greek version of rotating meat on a spit, Gyros. 
From the Greek word for “Turn” it’s a sibling of the Turkish “Donair” and Lebanese “Schwarma.” Although it’s often made as a meatloaf of highly seasoned beef and lamb, authentic gyros are actually chicken or pork slices that are stacked on a skewer. The meat is vertically roasted on the spit with the heat and distance from the meat adjustable to speed up or slow down the cooking. 
It is to Greeks what hamburgers are to westerners. Consisting of meat on a pita the consumer can customize the sandwich as he or she sees fit. As a general rule, tzatziki, tomatoes and onions are what make up “Everything” but that can vary.
Oh, and it’s pronounced, Yee-Roes with a slight roll of the “R”.

Just north east of Toronto’s downtown core is Greektown. Home of the massive Hellenic celebration, “Taste of the Danforth,” it’s one of the largest Greek communities outside of Greece.
It’s also home to Messini. A small restaurant serving genuine Greek food in a friendly atmosphere. Owner Marinos Dafnas opened his cafe in 2002 with great anticipation. Having “Test driven” some of his menu at the ‘02 Taste of the Danforth festival the feedback proved invaluable and he was able to give patrons a taste of what would be in store.
Dafnas honed his skills and recipes cooking in his native Greece as well as Germany before immigrating to Canada. He worked fine dining in Vancouver and Montreal before realizing his dream of opening his own place. The result of his years in the business and his commitment to the restaurant and product has made Messini an anchor in the heart of Greektown. 
My lunch visit saw dozens of people either dining in or taking out. It’s no surprise either. The food is fantastic.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I present some of the most authentic Greek food the city of Toronto has to offer.

My lunch meal was a combo of a gyro with a side salad and drink.
Although I had the lamb before and it was tasty I opted for the pork as it’s more traditional. I have to admit, I prefer the meatloaf style gyros better. It’s what I always thought was a gyro and and as such, in my head, I think if this as more a schwarma. As far as what it is, it’s excellent. The pork is simply seasoned and spit roasted of course. The result if a very nice tasting, tender and juicy meat. The works in this case was tzatziki, tomato, onion and French fries as is normal in the Greek city and restaurant's namesake, Messini. The house made tzatziki is awesome but the French fries don’t really do it for me. I removed most of them and would omit them in the future.
Another misnomer is that “Greek salad” is a lettuce based salad. In actual fact Horiatiki Salata, the menu item often named “Village salad” is the traditional version. Chopped cucumber, tomato, green pepper and onion, dressed with salt, pepper, oregano, olive oil and garnished with feta and kalamata olives. Messini’s version is simply incredible. The vegetables are very fresh tasting and the feta is rich, salty and pungent. The oil has a nice clean flavour. It’s worth a visit just for he salad.
A side of grilled pita with an olive tapenade was also served. It too was very nice.
You can find Messini at 445 Danforth Ave in Toronto.

View Larger Map
You can also visit them on the web
Messini Authentic Gyros on Urbanspoon

Well that’s all for now. We’ll see ya next time in the Foodcourt.