Friday, November 25, 2011

The Finest Dive in America

So says the welcome banner on Rick’s White Light Diner in Kentucky’s capitol city, Frankfort. Quite honestly Rick could probably greet internet visitors with “Come for the food, stay for the lecture.” Yep, owner/chef Rick Paul knows a thing or two about just about anything you can imagine. And he’s not afraid to tell you about it either. 017
Rick, a graduate of the prestigious Culinary Institute of America has owned the White Light Diner off and on for years. He’s left for other ventures but has always returned. A little older, a little wiser and a little grayer in the beard. When not manning the kitchen or harassing employees, Rick can often be found perched on the back counter with his feet up on the front counter. Espousing his thoughts on life, politics, other restaurants, the weather and, well, you get the idea. He’s attracted a lot of attention from local media outlet and even CNN but what put the diner on my “To do” list was a visit from Triple D gang.012
The tiny space perched on the side of a steep hill is the oldest restaurant in the state. Dating well back into the 19th century. The porcelain tiled two story building was once part of the “White Light System” which near as I can tell was a local hamburger chain. Much along the lines of White Castle.013
8 stools line the counter and 3 four seat tables round out the dining room. The walls are covered in souvenirs, stickers, slogans and a whole host of other memorabilia. The perilous walk down the stairs to the restroom in the basement would make a mountain goat sweat. Flat out, this place oozes character.

Enough about the place, how was the food you wonder. First off, let me tell you that Rick uses local meats, dairy and anything else he can get his hands on making him Kentucky Proud.
We opted for the daily special, Jambalaya with a side of Mac and Bleu Cheese. As well,  the Triple D Sample Platter featuring Crawfish Pie, Fried Oysters, BBQ Pork, French Bread and side of Fried Green Tomatoes.

I’d have passed off the Jambalaya except that it tasted pretty good. The presentation was rather odd in that it was an unattractive amalgam of rice, sautéed veggies, chicken and sausage. It’s then topped with a Creole sauce. It was a strange way of doing things based on my knowledge of the dish. Again, it was good but odd.
The side of Mac and Bleu Cheese was an interesting and quite good retelling of the old diner standard. Good job here.015
One thing not mentioned on the menu that showed up on the Sampler Platter was the “Salad.” A small wedge of lettuce with some salad dressing. It was pretty tasty. The oysters were good but ultimately relatively “Dime a dozen” deep fried oysters. Nothing wrong with them but not outstanding. The BBQ had an interesting flavour (all spice??) and was good but again, nothing mind blowing. The Crawfish Pie was excellent IMHO. Crawfish etouffe baked into a pie shell. Delicious. Rick’s home made French bread was very good too.
The side of Fried Green Tomatoes were much like the oysters. Good but not special.014
A little sign behind the counter advertised Deep Fried Oreo’s. Okay, I’ll bite. I mean, how could I not. Anyway, 3 chocolate Oreo’s battered with pancake batter and deep fried. Very good.019
The Bourbon Pecan Pie was fantastic. A pecan pie laced with some of Kentucky’s finest.018
If there wasn’t enough booze in the pie for ya, an atomizer of bourbon is at your disposal. To kick things up even more.020
So all in all a good meal but in the pantheon of Triple D places I’ve visited, this one is at the bottom. Rick himself is worth the visit if not the food.

You can find Rick’s White Light Diner at 114 Bridge Street in Frankfort, KY.
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You can find then on the web, on facebook and twitter as well.
 Rick's White Light Diner on Urbanspoon

Well that’s all for now in the food court.

Urban Revival

Call it a sign. Call it coincidence. Call it dumb luck. Whatever you call it you have to admit there did seem to be some cosmic forces at work to point me in the direction of Slows Bar B Q in Detroit.
Less than a week before we depart on our Thanksgiving trip (which takes us through Detroit) I see Adam Richman and the Man vs. Food crew showing off the Triple Threat Pork sandwich at this down town Detroit establishment. As if that wasn’t enough to put it on my radar a day before we leave I notice someone hailing the TTP sandwich as one of Detroit’s top 10. It had to be a sign.

I always approach BBQ joints north of the Mason Dixon Line (or Ohio River) with trepidation. Far too many places up north don’t get it. Old school, down home BBQ is an art form. Something, sadly, most northern joints can’t seem to master. Part of that is simply experience. You don’t just pop a couple shoulders and a few racks of ribs into a smoker and poof!! Great BBQ. Nope, truly awesome Q takes years upon years to master. The big BBQ craze afoot has seen many Johnny Come Lately’s who figure mastering a grill is all the prerequisite they need. Top it off with northerner’s pension for wanting to “Upgrade” and it most often falls well short. Why try to reinvent the wheel, right?? But we feel the idea of three types of pig in one convenient package was enough to warrant a stop in Motown at Slows.002

I’ve always viewed Detroit with both contempt and sadness. I’ve looked down my nose at the “Shit hole” I see from the interstate. Murder capital and all that it is, wondering why anyone would live there. The thing is, as I’ve ventured off the interstate and down to ground level sniffing out food, a different Detroit reveals itself. A once vibrant city sits in ruins yet those who’ve remained are voraciously proud. To people who’ve never been, I’ve likened it to Muhammad Ali. Once great now ravage by time and circumstance. A once hulking champion now regarded with sadness. Well enter businesses like Slows. Leading the charge in the rebirth of Detroit headed by part owner Phillip Cooley. Cooley has been named chairman of the mayor’s Detroit Works Project. Helping to map out Detroit’s potential future. Just one of several boards on which Cooley sits. He isn’t alone and his efforts to return Motown to it’s former glory aren’t going un-noticed. Slowly, very slowly people are returning to the city. They see bargains and find them a little too good to pass up. The architecture is beautiful albeit blighted. Nothing some TLC won’t fix though. Take the Michigan Central Railway station across the street from Slows as a microcosm. Majestic yet sits derelict. Waiting to be returned to its former glory. Much like the city itself.

The rebuild is taking place in the Corktown area where Slows has grown to the point of bursting. Long line ups are a common sight in the evening and on weekends. Arriving after 1pm on a Monday saw the place very crowded but no line. The smallish dining room has a nice warehouse feel to it with exposed brick and beams. Perfectly complimenting the late Victorian Era exterior. Opening the front door I was sadly not met with the smell of smoke hanging in the air. Boo. There was however the unmistakable smell of pig fat that I was more than eager to drink in. Yea!!003

So how was it?? Oddly enough we stayed with the more traditional style offerings and we were quite pleasantly satiated. The more normal Q offerings would have to wait for another day.

First, let’s talk sauces. Slows makes 5 of them. All good but two really stood out. Although the Apple and Sweet were nice, the Spicy (while not very spicy) was even better. The NC and Mustard sauces were however the clear winners. The NC hinted strongly at Buffalo Chicken Wing sauce and seemed clear that it would be terrific on poultry. The mustard sauce had a nice honey like sweetness to it for great balance. Perfect for pork.008

The Brisket Enchiladas were good but not the homerun that AR made them out to be. Not good enough for a second try but certainly satisfying. One criticism I have is that the beef had very little Q taste. It tasted like beef but no real Q hints.006

You seldom see fish on a southern BBQ menu and certainly not battered and fried. But Mrs. Sippi loves catfish and tempura so she couldn’t resist. It was simply outstanding. Crispy on the outside with melt in your mouth fish inside. The lighter tempura didn’t over power the delicate flavour of the fish and the creole mustard remoulade was an excellent compliment.007

Then of course there’s the whole reason for the visit. The Triple Threat Pork sandwich. Bacon, pulled pork and ham stacked on top of each other. Fabulous right off the line it was made even better with the mustard sauce. A truly outstanding sandwich worthy of the praise heaped upon it.005 
I will point out a couple things about the pulled pork since a few large pieces fell out and were consumed al a carte. It doesn’t have the big smoke flavour that I prefer and didn’t really scream “Rub” or anything like that. What it did have was an incredible pig flavour. The meat itself was some of the best tasting pork I’ve had.

So all in all, my views on BBQ and especially northern joints has taken an uptick. Seems you can do this nouveau Q thing and make it work. As I’ve always said, taste trumps all.

You can find Slows in Detroit’s Corktown district at 2138 Michigan Ave.

You can also find them on the web, facebook and twitter.
 Slows Bar BQ on Urbanspoon

Well that's all for now folks. See ya next time in the food court.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Battlefield Fries

You probably had to have been living on Mars, in a cave, under a rock for the last hundred and fifty or so years to have not heard of the battle of Gettysburg. THE iconic battle of the Civil war. What you might no know however is why Gettysburg. What brought two massive armies to a small town that was little more than a way point on the road to somewhere else.
While there are various reasons for the Confederates venturing into the north and the Union maneuvering north to defend Washington, the simple fact is this. To move massive, marching armies you had split them up and move them along congruent roads. Well, in south central Pennsylvania at that time, all roads lead to Gettysburg. So well laid out and positioned it was, 10 roads culminated at or around the town square. The two armies were literally on a collision course that had them slam into each other outside the tiny hamlet of 2,400 in early July, 1863.
The 3 day battle would open to the north east of town.  The Union would be pushed back to defensive positions south of town for the second and third days fighting. The main part of the battle and of course battlefield park lay to the south.
The town of Gettysburg today would all but not exist if not for the battle. Virtually every business is there to support the tourist industry. Outside of hotels, banks or gas stations, pretty close to every proprietor sells either souvenirs, food or kitsch.
And speaking of food, that brings me to Hunt’s Café.
A short walk up Steinwehr Ave. from the battlefield sits Hunt’s. Much like many of the businesses along the road it occupies an old house.
One part restaurant and one part souvenir shop Scott Hunt is serving  up some of the best eats in the town. Featuring fresh cut fries, great burgers and “The best darn cheesesteaks out side of Philadelphia.”
The interior as you can see is small and cramped. Plastic outdoor furniture outfits the dining room and the smell of beef cooking on a flat top hangs in the air. As does the smell of fries cooking in hot oil. The walls are concealed by head shots of famous guests, hats, posters and just about anything else they sell.101_0792
A neat place doesn’t always translate into good food but in this case, Hunt’s delivers the goods. The sign outside advertising fresh squeezed lemon and orange juice was to portend the goodies inside.

The lemon and orange ‘ades were great. So fresh tasting (go figure) and nice to refresh ourselves after a morning in the heat at the battlefield.
The double cheeseburger had a really nice beef taste but was somewhat overcooked and a little too weighed down with condiments. For instance, there’s no need for tomato on two different levels IMHO. I’d give it a passing grade but it could be a lot better. Next time I’ll ask to have it more streamlined and tuned into my tastes. Less tomato, lettuce and I’d ask for it cooked to medium. That will probably kick up its grade a few ticks.101_0798
The cheese steak was beyond good. We don’t really have them in TO so I don’t have much to judge it against but this was easily the best I’ve had. We had ours with onions and mushrooms and the beef had a nice peppery taste. It was simply incredible.101_0797
The fries were good. Really good in fact but ultimately not a paradigm shifting experience. I don’t know whether my life long exposure to frozen fries has ruined me for fresh cut or I was expecting too much. I just wasn’t blown away. Perhaps there’s only so much you can do with french fries. Perhaps french fries just don’t move me.101_0799
All in all a really good place to eat that could still do better I think. I look forward to a return trip.

You can find Hunt’s Battlefield Fries and Café at 61 Steinwehr Ave in Gettysburg, Pa.
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You can find them on the web here or on facebook here.
 Hunt's Battlefield Fries on Urbanspoon

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

Saturday, November 12, 2011


In the waning years of the 18th century, Brittan and France were at war in North America. The British were vulnerable in Upper Canada (basically what is now Ontario) and in particular the Upper Great Lakes. Fearing American intervention an overland route was to be established connecting York, (now Toronto) the new capital of UC  and the upper lakes. John Graves Simcoe headed north to Lac aux Clais (now Lake Simcoe) then blazed a trail to Georgian Bay and established Penetanguishene. An existing Indian trail would be settled upon as the York/Simcoe leg of what Simcoe would name, Yonge St.
Serving (unofficially) as “Main St. Ontairo” it would go on to be included in the Guiness Book of Records as the longest street in the world (1,178 mi) when Hwy 11 was amalgamated into Yonge St. In the late 20th Century realignments, bypasses and political shuffling have led the partial dismantling of Yonge St. and loss of its record.
If Canada sprouted along the St. Lawrence River and Lower Great Lakes then Ontario grew up along Yonge St. A string of small towns would pop up at most major crossroads along the route. One such town to sprout up is Aurora. The small burg about 15 miles north of Toronto began life at the crossroad of Wellington and quickly became an important industrial center. Led by the Fleury Plow Works. 
It would later be the childhood home of Lester B. Pearson (Prime Minister 1963 – 68) and where I currently call home.
In 1880 a small family home was built on Yonge Street just south of Wellington. The house served as a family dwelling for nearly a century until it was converted to a business. Several in fact. Mostly though, it’s lived the last couple decades as a bar and grill. In the early 90’s it was almost razed to the ground by fire. Determined to rebuild and restore reclaimed building materials were used to help maintain it’s century charm.
It’s current incarnation is Jersey’s Bar and Grill.  Jersey’s boasts one of the best bar menus you’ll find. Just about everything is made in house. No boil in bag here. Fish and other items are hand battered. Pizzas are made on site and the daily specials board punches well above it’s weight class.
The exposed brick, beams and large fireplace give the feel of a 19th century single room house. The wooden furniture is unfortunately not the most comfortable but bearable and lend to the charm.Interior (2)Make no mistake though, Jersey’s is best enjoyed during Summer on the patio. The large Walnut (I believe) tree covers the whole area and provides beautiful shade on hot summer days. While is proximity to such a busy street makes it a little noisier than one would like the wooden fence does a nice job holding the sound down enough that you can speak comfortably with your guests.Jersey's PatioSo let’s see what’s to drink.
From the bar you’ll find a great version Mrs. Sippi’s favourite cocktail, the Bloody Caesar. Loosely speaking a Bloody Mary with clamato juice instead of tomato. A nice helping of horseradish gives it a good bit of zing. As does Tabasco sauce.CesarThere is a nice selection of local beers such as this crisp cream ale from Muskoka Cottage Brewery. A little ways up Yonge St. in Bracebridge.Muskoka Cream AleAlright, let’s see what they’ve got in the kitchen. I’ve compiled a few different items from various visits here.
In the appetizer department you’ll find cheese balls. Tempura battered and deep fried balls of cheddar. Very nice but a swap out of dipping sauces was in order. We ended up with the Southwest sauce and it was a perfect fit.Cheese BallsMrs. Sippi often orders the fish on Friday night. The hand battered halibut usually comes with fries but on this occasion she subbed onion rings. The rings are one of the few things they don’t make themselves unfortunately. It also comes with a nice slaw.Fish n RingsThey also make a great pizza It’s completely build your own from size to toppings. The crust is thin and has a good fresh taste to it. Pepperoni, mushroom and bacon is what is shown here and it was devoured.PizzaA nice lunch option is the curry chicken wrap. Curried chicken and rice wrapped in a tortilla. I found the curry a little too mild for my liking. I like a more robust and spicy curry  and found this one rather tame. I’d probably ask for extra gravy next time.101_1113I swapped out a “Greek” salad for the fries with my wrap.  As Greek salads go it was rather lacking. If you just took it as a salad with feta and cucumbers it was pretty tasty.101_1115As much as anything though, Jersey’s is known for it’s wings. These stay crisp all the way through consumption which is nice. They come in a variety of standard sauces (unlike Wild Wing and their crazy concoctions) but hot with honey garlic is their bread and butter. They’re certainly in the conversation for the best wings in the area.Wings
 One thing lacking at this place, and it's something they are constantly thinking of fixing is the lack of desert. They don't serve it. Period.

You can find Jersey’s right in the heart of Aurora at 14987 Yonge St.

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Well that’s all for now folk. Catch ya next time in the food court.

Please note. Jersey's has undergone and restaurant makeover and is now an upscale Italian restaurant. Still owned by the Badali family a terrific Italian experience can be found.