Saturday, September 17, 2011

Lincoln’s Other Gettysburg Address

By the mid 19th century, Edward Everett was at the apex of his oratorical career. Well known as an educator and politician Everett was bestowed the honour of “Featured speaker” at the Consecration of the National Cemetery at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Everett’s speech would last just over two hours. Charged with the task of following Everett, President Abraham Lincoln would say “A few appropriate remarks” in officially dedicating the cemetery. Lincoln spoke but a couple minutes and retook his seat. Feeling his address was a “Total failure” the President is said to comment that, like a bad plow, his words “Won’t scour.”
The following day in a letter to the President, Everett would pass along the greatest of compliments. “I should be glad if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes" he would write. 

The president was in Gettysburg for only 24 hours. He arrived the night before and spent the night at the Willis house as a guest of David Wills. A local lawyer and the man responsible for the creation of the cemetery. It’s unknown where he took his meals but if his namesake diner was around back then, he’d have done a lot worse than to have eaten there.101_0896Located just north of Lincoln Square and directly across the street from the very train station that began and ended Lincoln’s time in Gettysburg the Lincoln Diner gleams. The polished stainless steel and neon eatery is a shining example of the great American diner.
Inside, like all diners there’s counter service and booths along the windows. The colours are those of a different era and like most diners now, its had a large dining room added.

Diner’s first appeared around the turn of the last century in the guise of lunch wagons. Eventually the Worcester Lunch Car Company would sell lunch wagons with seating all over New England.
The Jerry O’Mahoney Diner Company would build about 2,000 “Rail car” style diners between 1917 and 1952 with about 20 still remaining. They’re often credited with having created the first diner.
Prefabricated buildings would follow with more seating and still allow proprietors to set up a food service building cheaply. 
While the depression of the 30’s would be hard on the industry the diner more or less held its own selling meals at more affordable prices than other restaurants. With the end of WWII and a return to prosperity the diner thrived.
Like many good things though, the diner suffered from the advent of the Interstate system and the proliferation of the fast food chain. They remain a part of American pop culture occupying their own special niche. Their menu and (mostly) Art Deco style seem to transcend time.101_0894Among the many things diners are noted for is their desert case. A great diner will have it’s own bakery and a glass “trophy” case in which to display its wares. The Lincoln Diner is no exception. Their desert case was chock full of tantalizing treats. Sadly we were both too full to partake. Perhaps next time.101_0895So enough of the history lessons and let’s have a look at the food shall we??

We both ordered off the specials board with chicken croquettes and baked mac and cheese with ham. She had a side of mac and cheese and I had cucumber salad and we split the corn fritters.

Even from the picture you can tell the mac and cheese was kinda dry and pasty. It tasted okay and was certainly helped where some juice from the ham dripped on it. Which brings me to said pig product. It was great. Not too salty and a little smokier than most. I think I’d have preferred one thicker piece rather than two thinner pieces but that’s just splitting hairs.101_0897The accompanying cucumber salad was great. More or less sliced cucumbers in a creamy slaw dressing. I used the dinner roll to soak up as much dressing as it would hold. I really liked it and it’s caused me to make cucumber salad at home now.Cuc SaladMrs. Sippi’s chicken croquets were very tasty. She’d never had them and I hadn’t in years so we don’t really know how good they were. Other than we enjoyed them.Chic CroquetteThe corn fritters tasted exactly as my mom used to make but with one significant difference. These were tossed in some sort of breading. I didn’t much care for that part so all in all I’d say good but could’ve been great.Corn Fritter
You can visit the Lincoln Diner at 32 Carlisle St. in historic Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

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 Lincoln Diner on Urbanspoon
Well that’s all for now history buffs. See ya next time in the food court.


Saturday, September 3, 2011

Secret Society

From the road it’s not much more than a worn out building. It offers very little information as to what goes on inside. For most, it wouldn’t even be noticed. Others would see Spanish merchants and not give it another glance. 101_1107Within its brown and cream cloak a cabal of sorts meets. Lawyers, hair dressers and cooks, et al, offer videos, hairdos and money transfers right under the collective noses of Torontonians. They don’t advertise to the likes of me. They’re not in business to serve me. They’re there, for the most part, to serve each other.
A look around back reveals a door with basic sign saying “Food Court.” It’s as unassuming as it can be and an understatement if there ever was one. 101_1106For this is no mere food court. This is an oasis. A portal to another part of the planet. A culinary vacation without ever leaving the city.
Hidden in the north west corner of the city, el Mercado Latino or Plaza Latina is a gem among jewels. Catering to the growing GTA Latin American community it’s anchor shop is Autentica Spanish Food and Empanadas. Of which I wrote earlier.
For the rest of the food court, English is an almost ignored language both written and spoken. It’s somewhat ramshackle in appearance with kiosks looking more like they were built by a local handyman rather than a licensed contractor. It can be intimidating I’ll admit. Even off putting. But muster up your courage and you’ll enjoy some genuine Latin flavour.101_0621Chile, Ecuador, Mexico, El Salvador and even Cuba are among the countries represented here. Easily identified by the flags above. If not by a little deductive reasoning. 

First and foremost, don’t let the language barrier worry you. Most vendors have pictures at which you can point and generally speak decent, broken English. In fact the younger, the more likely they are to speak it. Secondly, I’ve noticed that anywhere you go, if you show interest in another peoples food they really open up to you. 

So on with the food.

Most items are cooked to order. Generally you place your order and take a seat. They bring out your goodies when they’re ready.

Being Latin it’s no surprise most vendors have “Real Coke.” That is, Coca-Cola made with cane sugar and not that health political hot potato HFCS. 101_1101I prefer the diet versions of soft drinks but every once in a while it’s nice for a change. This version from Mexico is far better than that of Canada or the US. It’s smoother, less carbonated and doesn’t have a harsh sweetness associated with HFCS. This is why we fell in love with the drink in the first place.
El Sabroson
Who knew Peruvian food was so good. Other than Peruvians of course. East meets west in Peru where conquest from Spanish and immigration from China have shaped the cuisine. The name of this place says it all; “Delicious.”
Lomo Saltado is another shining example of fusion food. A simple Chinese stir fry mixed with French fries to create this conglomeration. It came nicely presented with a mound of rice at one end but the game plan here is to get the rice to the bottom of the dish and have it soak up the oils and grease. As is pictured below.Lomo Saltado This dish was stunningly good. It’s always great when one minute you don’t even know a food exists and the next you’re eating one of the tastiest things you’ve ever had. You have to wonder how anyone could keep it a secret. It’s the type of dish that is probably better the more greasy it is. Comfort food, hangover food, fusion food. Call it what you will but ultimately it’s delicious food.
As was the Jalea. Corn meal battered and fried seafood topped with a garnish of Peruvian Creole salad101_1103At first bite, (shrimp with no garnish) it seemed rather boring. What makes this dish is the pickled onions and tomatoes. Contrasted with the heavier fried shrimp, calamari and fish it was excellent. I found the fried yucca side to be somewhat plain. That’s what yucca is though. Like a mild, starchy potato.
A hot sauce was provided that was bordering on deadly. 101_1105This seemed to be little more than pureed habaneros. I didn’t add any since it didn’t need it.
Comedor Popular Ecuatoriano
Meaning, Popular Ecuadorian Dining room this stall is tucked into the corner and serves up some great soups (sopa) and ceviche. A number of other diners had terrific smelling soup from this vendor. We opted for ceviche though.
Ceviche is seafood “Cooked” in citrus juice. Rather than heat cooking the protein, the acid in the juice cooks it. The result is a fresh tasting, tart dish that’s sweetened slightly by the sugars pulled out of the added vegetables. Most often red onion and tomato. A little cilantro for garnish and colour rounds out the dish. 101_1102As one can imagine, this ceviche mixto is just terrific. A seafood medeley of shrimp, scallops, mussels and calamari tossed with the vegetation. Keep in mind that a minimum of 15 minutes is required for the citric acid to work it’s magic.
La Fuenta del Puro Sabor
Translated to mean “the source of pure flavour”, more foods hailing from Ecuador are featured in this stall. They specialize in natural fruit juices. This mango shake, more like a smoothie in consistency was fantastic. 101_1100A velvety texture and sublime mango taste was fabulous.
La Costenita Colombia
Near as I can tell, this translates to “The Colombian Coast.” During a crawl around the city sampling Colombian empanadas we paid a visit. Empanadas are a meat and potato filled pocket pie. Other meats and even veggie filled empanadas are sometimes offered but here it’s the Colombian standard beef and potato.101_0647The empanadas are cornmeal breaded and have a potatoey tasting filling similar to that of a samosa. They’re quite good.
Much better are the pupusas though. Especially when paired with the shredded cabbage. 101_0618The fried tortilla is stuffed with cheese and pork and is just tasty.

For desert a dulce de leche churro from Autentica was the perfect finish.

You can find the el Mercado Latino at 9 Milvan Drive in Toronto, Ontario.

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Well that’s all for now from the Latin food court. Check back in for updates as I work my way through this place.