Friday, June 24, 2011

Burgers and Taters and Dogs Oh My!!

Owning a hot dog stand was the dream. It wasn’t however, the dream of Markin Dornan but that of his father. For about 35 years Mr. Dornan had wanted to have his own hot dog stand in his native Montreal.
On business in Birmingham, Alabama, Montrealer, Markin met a young UAB student named Kim. As fate would have it they fell in love, married and set up life in Hazel Green, Alabama where they started a family. They also decided to go into business together. They’d realize Mr. Dornan’s dream but add their own spin. In 2010 after a year and a half of tasting and testing, testing and tasting in their home kitchen they had it down. It was time of take the “Leap of faith” and open Taters n’ Dawgs in neighbouring Meridianville. Hamburgers, hot dogs, fries, all fresh, never frozen in a family friendly atmosphere.101_0528Kim and Markin almost literally poured their hearts into the business. Aside from food development they also tried their hands at (among other jobs) architecture, painting and carpentry. Kim says the local contractors were very patient with their “Crazy ideas.”   101_0527The interior they designed is basic. Tables with benches line the wall in a white almost operating room like setting. The kitchen is open and reveals one of my favourite things. The flat top. This is where ground beef (and many other foods) turn into culinary gold. Outside they also have picnic tables for those who want to enjoy the weather.
As we know though, the weather sometimes turns vicious in that area. Fortunately there’s people like Kim and Markin. Following the April 2011 tornado outbreak that devastated parts of northern Alabama TnD held a fund raiser in support tornado relief. It was of course a huge success and shows the commitment they have to the community. As does their nightly support of a different local charity.

So on with the food they crafted. Taters, dogs, burgers and drinks (they serve coke products.)

For those who’ve never heard of it, poutine is a staple dish in the Montreal area. Fresh cut fries are served up with cheese curd and brown gravy. Described by Tony Bourdain as a “Gastronomical train wreck” it’s high cholesterol at it’s artery clogging best. TnD’s take on it swaps mozzarella cheese for the curd flawlessly. The other two components are perfectly executed as well. The gravy is spot on and the fries are fresh cut and great. The “Tater melt” as they call it is excellent.
The chili dog is terrific. The wiener itself is all beef and very tasty. The home made hot dog chili isn’t spicy and very tomatoey. They messed with the notion of having beans but a good dog chili doesn’t have beans. I added some cheese as well. The whole mess comes on a steamed bun. I think next time I’ll add some diced onion.
The cheese burger was simply fantastic. When I say simply, I actually mean it. It’s the classic American burger. A simply seasoned 1/4 lb patty with sliced cheese and a simple bun. Standard toppings as well. Keep it simple. This is my favourite type of burger and this one ranks right up there with the best.
The “Slawdog” had a nice, fresh cabbage slaw with very little in the way of vinegar or creaminess. It had a good crunch and worked well. Again the dog itself was very good and would be great plain.
A very enjoyable lunch was had by all.
You can find Taters n Dawgs at 12835 Hwy 231/431, Meridianville, Al.

View Larger Map
You can also like them on facebook
 Taters N' Dawgs on Urbanspoon
Well that’s it for this time in the foodcourt. Y’all come back now ya hear.


Monday, June 20, 2011

Big Fat Burrito

Ask any burrito lover in the GTA who’s been to San Francisco and they’ll tell you, you can’t get a good burrito in Toronto. Save for Mission Burrito at Village by the Grange I guess. Citing the mission style as THE only burrito that’s any good they pooh, pooh everything else. So I guess it’s time I dipped my toe into the great Toronto burrito debate.

For the most part, the burritos served by independent places in the city are grilled not steamed. So for most, this means they’re not good. Rather closed minded in my opinion it’s like blaming chocolate for not being vanilla. I have no idea why people can’t just like something for what it is and not dislike it for what it isn’t. So I will deal with what some in these parts call a "Toronto Style Burrito.” Stuffed, rolled and placed on a flat top until golden brown and delicious on both sides.
I’ve made no secret about my love of the flat top so as you can imagine, I’m a big fan of anything that has a date with it. The result of this flat top grilling is a nice crispy "Skin" and another dimension of flavour not found in a steamed burrito. The wrappers maintain a certain chew that I enjoy. Contrasted that with the more tender and (in my mind) less interesting shell that results from being steamed. I personally have plenty of room in my heart and my stomach for both styles. As I’ve said in the past, taste trumps all and if it’s tasty I’ll enjoy it for what it is.

One of the GTA’s finest examples of this culinary bomb is Big Fat Burrito. Now 3 locations strong, they began life in Toronto’s Kensington Market neighbourhood and where Mrs. Sippi and I paid a lunch visit.
Much like all burritos you choose your flavour and then garnishes. BFB offers steak, chicken, pork and their signature filling, yam. One of the things that make them stand out is the use of refried beans rather than whole pinto or black beans. A substitution that works extremely well as far as I’m concerned. They also have 5 levels of spiciness with a simple 1 – 5 choice that’s right there from which you choose.
Enough with the small talk, let’s get on to the food.

Our lunch consisted of a burrito and a root beer each. We also sampled a taco.

BFB serves Boylan’s products. This family owned company has been in business for almost 125 years and serves up one of the best root beers you can find from their old family recipe.
The taco was pretty simple and tasty. A hard shell with a typical cumin based seasoning for the ground beef. Tomatoes, lettuce, cheese, sour cream and hot sauce round out the filling. The thing that made it was how the sour cream and hot sauce blended to form their own sauce. I’m sure the purists will lament the use of a hard shell but I liked it and that’s all I care about. It's like a better version of the taco kit you buy in the grocery store.
Now the big question, how were the burritos??

Mrs. Sippi’s yam burrito was very good. The sweetness of the yam balanced the hot sauce very nicely. She opted for medium hot (2) and that was hot enough. The filling was rounded out with lettuce, tomato, cheese, burrito sauce and refried beans. There’s a rumour that you can order off menu and get yam and pork that’s incredible.
My steak burrito was fantastic. The marinated cow meat was very tender and the “Regular hot” (3) heat level added a really nice kick without being overbearing. I love the use of refried beans as they give the whole thing a nice earthy tone I don't find from whole beans. I also find that RFB's play nicely with hot stuff.101_0375 
All in all, having never been to San Fran and tasted one of their Mission style burritos it's somewhat unreasonable to make a fair assessment of which is best. I will however say that having had a burrito at Mission Burrito here in TO and a few of the chain offerings (Chipotle, Moe's, etc.) which are Mission style as well, I think I'll take the Toronto style myself. As I said above, I'll take either way if it's well executed.

So check your burrito prejudice at the door and give Big Fat Burrito a fair shake. You may prefer your burrito Mission style but you can’t disregard this tasty treat. Enjoy it for what it is.

You can find BFB’s original location a 285 Agusta Ave. in Toronto, Ontario.

View Larger Map

They can also be found at 112 Dundas St. W. and 529 Bloor St. W. inside Lee’s Palace.
 Big Fat Burrito on Urbanspoon

Well that’s all for now burrito fans. We’ll see you again in the food court.


Sunday, June 12, 2011

Buckeye Fever

If you’ve ever driven I – 75 though Ohio you quickly realize two things. One, it can be pretty boring. Mile after mile of farm land wallpaper the view. Don’t get me wrong, farms can be nice to look at but after an hour or so, it gets a bit monotonous.
Secondly, finding a good spot to eat can be a bit of a challenge if you’re not a fan of chain restaurants. Obviously I’m not and at times it can be tough to find a decent “Indie.”
If however you find yourself in the middle of the state get off at exit 111, drive into town and hit up Woody’s diner in Wapakoneta.
Wapak as locals refer to it, would probably be nothing more than another in the string of small towns along 75 were it not for a gentleman named Neil Armstrong. You know, “One small step for mankind” etc. Born in 1930 to Stephen and Viola the family left in his early years for a series of moves until finally resettling in time for Neil to attend high school. A museum honouring the Naval and Aerospace hero is right off the highway and certainly worth a stop.

It’s also in football country. Buckeye football that is. So Woody’s is as you can imagine a bit of a shrine to all things Ohio State football. Autographed pictures, jerseys and other memorabilia adorn the walls.  The name Woody’s is in honour of legendary OSU coach, Woody Hayes.
Otherwise the space is pretty much just about function. Simple tables and chairs with booths lining three sides and a bar by the kitchen. 

One other thing about Woody’s. They appreciate a good laugh. Big fans of A Christmas Story the center piece of their Christmas decorating is the “Can Can” dancer leg lamp they put in the front window a la Mr. Parker.
Woody’s does a lunch buffet which is taken well advantage of by locals and of course, us. Todays offerings are reviewed below.
I will tell you that the buffet tastes much better than the picture would indicate.
The Broasted chicken (left) was very good. Broasting is a trademarked method of deep frying chicken in a pressure cooker. (It’s how the Colonel does his chicken.) It produces a crispy skin with a juicy interior and this was no exception. The breading was minimally seasoned so it tasted mostly of juicy chicken. Nothing at all wrong with that.

The chicken and noodles  (front) were pretty solid. Just think school cafeteria chicken soup but half the broth and/or twice the noodles. It was loaded with good size pieces of chicken too. Quite tasty.

I had a piece of the sub (right) as well and while it didn’t wow, I thought it was pretty good. 

I skipped the mashed potatoes (back).

Also part of the buffet is pizza. Constructed and cooked on site they had a nice fresh crust with a zingy sauce that was well balanced with cheese. The toppings were a bit minimal and more or less just played in the background. I had no problem with that so all in all, a very enjoyable pie.
Being a burger lover it was tough for me to pass it over but I noticed a guy at the next table ordered one. It was cooked medium (if that’s your cup of tea) and he very much enjoyed it.
For a little more fun they have the “Big Woody” challenge. A 4 lb hamburger, a pound of fries and a pound of coleslaw. If you eat it all in an hour its free and you get an “I ATE THE BIG WOODY “ T-Shirt. I wonder how much longer it will be before Adam Richman and the Man vs. Food crew pay a visit.

So in an area flush with the big chain places it’s nice to find a place where you can get some good solid chow in a nice, friendly environment.

You can find Woody’s at 9 N. Wood St. in Wapakoneta, Ohio.

View Larger Map

You can also “Like” them on Facebook.
 Woody's Diner on Urbanspoon

Well that’s all for now folks. Take care and we’ll see ya next time in the food court.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Unique and Exquisite Taste

In Spanish it reads “Un sabor unico y exquisito” and is the banner for Autentica Spanish Food and Empanadas. It’s also hard not to agree. The little bakery and cafe (panaderia y cafĂ©) in back of the Plaza Latina (more on that later) in the north west corner of Toronto is offering up a taste of Chile. From sweets, to breads, to empanadas there’s a little something for everyone. 
While not very large right now, Toronto’s Central and South American population is growing. More and more migrant workers are heading to Canada and the GTA seeking work. Often in the fertile farm land that surrounds the city. A sub culture of Latin restaurants and bakeries is sprouting up in and around the city. Carving out it’s own niche among the many different ethnic restaurants and neighbourhoods.

Autentica’s Plaza location (there’s another in Brampton) does a bustling business. Mostly within the burgeoning Spanish speaking community but more and more North Americans are discovering the many delights Chile has to offer. The shop is clean and does have a good amount of English so it’s not nearly as intimidating as other vendors. The staff are smiling and always willing to help. I think they enjoy the fact that “Gringos” are interested in their native flavours. 
Chile’s culinary traditions are based in it’s Spanish heritage with Middle Eastern, German and Mediterranean influences. The anorexic country’s extensive coastline means seafood features prominently. As do beef, maize (corn), olives and potatoes. And that doesn’t even include the wine.

Certainly a staple of Chilean (and basically all Spanish speaking countries) are empanadas. Larger in size than most and oddly enough using wheat dough rather than the plentiful corn meal for a casing, they come in several different varieties including, of course, seafood. 101_0607_thumb 
Also popular among Chileans, especially in the Patagonia region are sandwiches. Fresh breads are stuffed with a variety of meats and condiments and sometimes named after famous Chilean politicians. A prime example being the popular Barros Luco. A terrific steak and cheese sandwich named in honour of President Ramon Barros Luco.
But enough of this, ondele!

This visit my dining partners and I split a number of different offerings.

From the sandwich line we opted for the Chacarero. The English, translation is a farmer who works in a marsh. So roughly speaking, this is a farmers sandwich. Tender, grilled steak with fresh tomatoes, French cut green beans and mayonnaise on fresh bread. A rather unique combination that’s a meal in itself. 101_0614_thumb 
In the empanada department we opted for both chorizo and seafood. Probably my favourite all time the chorizo is well stuffed, not overly spicy and just plain tasty. The rope edging to seal the pastry is a nice touch.101_0612_thumb 
The seafood was a mixture of fish and shrimp and if you’re a fish lover you’re in business. Fishy in a good way and downright tasty. Okay, it’s also my favourite.101_0615_thumb 
A couple bowls (actually, they’re called molcajete) of salsa are there for you to help yourself. Both empanadas were able to stand on their own but also benefited from the mildly spicy garnish. 101_0611 
Perhaps equalling the main part of the meal is the sweets for desert.  
The pastry case has many delicious looking treats and we settled milhojas (me-low-ha's) and dulce de leche (caramel) churros.

The churros were very good. I’d like a little more cinnamon as I find it a great balance against sweet. All in all, very good.
Borrowing from the French influence milhojas are the Spanish equivilent of a Mille-feuille or Napolean. Layers of puff pastry and dulce de leche sandwiched and glazed then topped with powdered sugar. A very nice and yet not cloyingly sweet treat. 
You can find Autentica in the Plaza Latina foodcourt at 9 Milvan Ct., Toronto, On.

View Larger Map

Well that’s all for now from the foodcourt. ‘Til next time, adios.