Friday, August 26, 2011


There are some places that just take you back. That are more like a time machine than a restaurant. Where you can sit and soak up the vibes of an era long since past. I’ve been to some places that have been in business for as much as a hundred years. Due to renovations and modernization though they loose their old feel. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining. Nor am I saying that a place shouldn’t refurbish itself. A nice modern looking place can be good for business. However when you stumble upon these places that seem like they’re stuck in a different epoch it’s very special. 
Take Wright’s Dairy-Rite in Staunton, (pronounced STAN-ten) Virginia. Opened in 1952 this drive-in started as a drive up hamburger and ice cream stand. It has grown over the years and as of 1989 has a dining room. It hasn’t lost it’s feel though. It’s still owned by the same family and it’s still doing things the way they did when they opened. Ya, the Wurlitzer juke box plays CD’s instead of 45’s but the music dates back to the 50’s and 60’s. Vintage menus from days gone by are posted all over the dining room and you even order your food from your booth by phone.
Drive-in’s hit their hey day in the late 50’s and early 60’s but have been around since Jessie G. Kirby of Dallas, Texas opened Kirby’s Pig Stand way back in 1921. Much like the family owned motel that used to dominate the old state highways the drive-in has suffered with the advent of the national chain and the interstate system. Fast food giant McDonald’s grew out of this era and style of restaurant. Heck, even one of their signature sandwiches, the Big Mac can be traced back to a drive-in. Take Wright’s for example. They were making their double deck Super Burger more than 10 years earlier than the now famous bi-level sandwich. They aren’t the only ones either. Remember the Super Big Buy at The Spot in Findlay, Ohio?
So when you find one of these road side gems you almost have to stop.

And stop we did for a terrific lunch.

We followed the instructions, picked up the phone and ordered a Carolina burger, a Dogzilla, onion rings and a Wright’s Wheelie. 

All items are cooked when ordering so it takes a bit longer to arrive than you’d expect. It’s worth the wait so just sit back and soak up the experience.
I give them full marks on their rings for a few things. Battered and fried in house is a plus. They passed both the pinch and pull tests. They were however not my favourite style of ring. I prefer bigger beefsteak type onion slices and a beer batter. This was more like a breading than a batter. All in all still pretty tasty.
The Carolina burger is so named for the way they eat their hot dogs in the Carolinas. Chili, cheese, onions, mustard and slaw. Called “The Works” or “All the Way” usually, it was a third pound of delicious beef hand formed and flat top griddled.
The one third pound “Dogzilla” was fantastic. I’m not usually a monster hot dog guy but this one was fantastic. The onions were nice and fresh but the deli mustard was what really made it.
The Wheelie was to die for. A fresh glazed donut (think Krispy Kreme Original Cream) topped with whipped cream and vanilla ice cream. We added butterscotch and strawberry sauces. The goop left at the bottom was enough to make you want to lick the carton.
Much like a good drive-in should they make their own milk shakes and malteds. As you can imagine, they were great.

You can visit Wright’s at 346 Greenville, Ave in Staunton, Virginia.

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You can also visit them on the web or join their facebook fan page.
 Wright's Dairy Rite Incorporated on Urbanspoon

Well that’s all for now from the food court. See y’all next time.

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Gum Wall

As disgusting as I think gum is I did encourage Mrs. Sippi to take part in this Greenville, Ohio ritual. Heck, even I took part. Yep, for years now people have been stuccoing the walls at the Maid Rite Drive-In with chewing gum. As seen on Roadside America and even Hanna Storm of The Early Show on CBS has added to the collection.
Gum WallGreenville, Ohio may just be the most famous town you’ve never heard of.
Famous for the “Treaty of Greenville” in 1795 which put an end to hostilities between the US and several native tribes. Opening up the northwest territory.
Famous for writer and world traveler Lowell Thomas. The man who made “Lawrence of Arabia” a household name.
Famous for the gun totin’, sharp shootin’ wild west star Annie Oakley.
Famous for being the home of the Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer.
Last, and certainly not least, famous  for loose meat sandwiches known as “Maid-Rites” and the Maid-Rite Drive-In that sells them. A midwest staple especially in Iowa.

A loose meat sandwich is like a “Sloppy Joe” but not sloppy. Like a burger but not formed. One legend has it invented in 1926 by Fred Angell of Muscatine, Iowa. Another has it invented in 1920 by Carroll Dietz of Missoula, Montana. The rumour is that this particular Maid-Rite uses a recipe developed by co-founder Louise (Weezy) Maher. A recipe that is still a closely guarded family secret. 
Angell’s franchise, now called Taylor’s Maid-Rite is not affiliated with this Maher/Trimble/Koontz family owned drive-in.

Loose meat sandwiches escaped their relative obscurity for a short time when on the TV series Rosanne her “Lunch Box” restaurant served them. Of course, they’re retreated back to the status of regional delicacy again. Go to Iowa and they’re everywhere though said to be differently seasoned.101_1065
The outside of the Maid-Rite is a simple brick box. It has a very busy drive thru window and an old fashioned neon sign over the front door.
The interior is circa 1970’s fast food. Orange furniture and paneled walls throughout. The menu is pretty simple and on a back lit menu board. Egg and chicken salad and Maid Rite’s infamous “Loose Meat Sandwiches.” 101_1068
The “Salad” sandwiches are supposedly very good but lets face it, we were here for the legendary loose meat Maid-Rites.

So how are they you ask??

The meat itself is fairly plain. So is the bun so it’s odd that the two of them elevate each other. The addition of pickle, onion and mustard make for a nice counter to the subtle sweetness.
The addition of cheese made the “Cheese-Rite” a much better sandwich. Just as adding cheese to a hamburger makes it that much better.
Of course, adding some sort of pig product it likely to elevate anything further. The Big Jim is a cheese-rite with a slice of deli ham. This was the clear winner. Suggested by someone we talked to in the drive thru line. It had the requisite pickle, onion and mustard.101_1073
They make pretty darned good milk shakes and malts. Mrs. Sippi had a very good Vanilla malted and I had a terrific peanut butter milk shake.

You can find the Maid-Rite Drive-In at 125 N. Broadway St. in Greenville, Ohio.

You can also visit them on facebook here.
 Maid Rite Sandwich Shoppe on Urbanspoon

Well that’s all for now from the middle of nowhere Ohio. So until next time, happy eating. 


Saturday, August 13, 2011


With political and religious tension over the years many Lebanese have felt the need to leave the home land and migrate to safer havens. One such immigrant destination is Canada where a growing population of expats is awaiting them in Toronto. Specifically in the Lawrence Ave. E area between Victoria Park and Warden. It’s along this 1 mile (or so) strip you’ll find some of the best shawarma in the city. With several places competing for your food dollar the quality is high and so is the value. I perused the Chowhound Ontario board and came up with what are considered the 3 best in the area.

Shawarma is to Lebanese what gyros are to Greek and döner are to Turks. Layers of meat and fat stacked on a spit and roasted vertically. This fast food meat is shaved from the spit and stuffed into a pita. A variety of vegetables and sauces are added and (in most cases) the pita is folded and rolled.
So here they are from least favourite to my #1 shawarma place in the afore mentioned area. All places were visited at lunch. A beef and chicken shawarma with “Everything” and “Hot” (spicy) were the standard.
~Empire Shawarma~
This hole in the wall place in a strip mall near the corner of Pharmacy does a humming business. The faint smell of curry permeated the place and the din of (what I can only assume is) Lebanese filled the air. There are a few basic tables and chairs and a ledge along the front window.
The volume meant that all the meats were cut fresh from the rotisserie. There was a nice bit of crunch in the meat from the little nubs that get a bit well done. A very nice textural and taste point. The meats had a very faint curry taste but were otherwise simple. The shell is a little smaller than most but the meat content was about the same. They don’t have nearly the same amount of  condiments. The meats dominated the veggies as a result and the tahini and hot sauces added some nice flavour and some requisite messiness. At first I thought the beef was only just okay but the more I ate the more I really enjoyed it. Ditto for the chicken although I “Loved” the beef I only “Really liked” the chicken. I rather enjoyed the meat to veggie ratio.
The drawbacks would be the pita is served clam shell style where I prefer the wrapped style. They don’t grill press their sandwiches either.

~Ibrahim's Shawarma and Halal Pizza~
You would expect the place that has a butcher shop attached to it would have great meat and so it is. Ibrahim’s restaurant arm is renown for their shawarma and other favourites. Home made garlic and hot sauces compliment the meats perfectly. The tiny space has only a few tables and reminds me a bit of a burger joint in it’s appearance.
The meats are the juciest and most flavourful. The crunch from the cabbage and the power of the garlic sauce are all perfect. The heat level is outstanding with their clearly best hot sauce. It’s well rounded out by the hummus and tahini. The actual beef it’s self may be a close second in flavour to Nasib’s but the chicken is superior and the over all package is better than most.
Their shortcoming is that their pitas are so big they end up with a little too much condiment. Not a deal breaker but not exactly the perfect balance of meat to stuffing.
Clearly the best IMHO. The friendly family run establishment has been around since 1962 so they oughta know a thing or two. Everything is made in house and fresh. Emad the owner is all about keeping the customer happy. It also had a brighter cleaner feel than most places.
The pitas are just the right size to allow a perfect balance of meat and toppings. I liked that the chicken and beef were seasoned differently. The chicken was simply seasoned and allowed for a good chicken taste. The beef was the tastiest with it’s Lebanese spicing and slight char. Nasib’s veggie options had an unbelievably fresh taste and equaled only by Ibrahim’s in terms of variety. The garlic sauce was a clear winner here. Mrs. Sippi claims their pickled turnips are the best she’s had.
The only drawback was the hot sauce wasn’t nearly as hot or good as Ibrahim’s. It needs to be ordered extra hot IMHO.
The bottom line here really is that choose any of them and you can’t go wrong. All make a fabulous product but there are subtle differences between them. I will point out a couple of tips. First of all, if you see condiments that look like they belong on a burger or in a sub you’re probably in the wrong place. You want to see cabbage, pickled turnips, tahini and such. Secondly, while still good otherwise, people believe that shawarma is at it’s peak when enough meat has been trimmed from the spit it’s close to half it’s original size. Earlier slices haven’t had enough fat drip on them and later slices have been around a little too long. While it’s all good, that middle third is the sweet spot. Another good tip is to frequent places that as much as possible shave from the spit as it’s ordered. Stay away from the steam tray as it can make the meat very dry.

So there you have it. 

You can find this shawarma lovers heaven on Lawrence Ave. E. in Toronto between Victoria Park Ave and Warden Ave.

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Well that’s all from the food court today folks. I’ll see you again next time.

Friday, August 5, 2011

“Winning” defines it as an “Act of a person or thing that wins.” People in in Tuscaloosa, Alabama would probably tell you it should just say “Crimson Tide Football.”
Yep, long before Chuck Sheen gave us his famous catch phrase, the University of Alabama was producing winning football teams. Established in 1892 the "Crimson Tide" has racked up an impressive 31 bowl wins, 22 SEC titles and 13 national championships (as of 2010) from their home in "T-Town", Bryant-Denny Stadium. Opened in 1929 as Denny Stadium it honoured the former university president George Hutchenson Denny. A name amendment to Bryant-Denny occurred in 1976 to honour coach Paul W. “Bear” Bryant. A legend, legends revere.
For many years most of the major “Tide” battles have occurred at the larger Legion Field in Birmingham. However an expansion of the stadium in 1997 meant a larger seating capacity and a permanent home in Tuscaloosa was established in 2004.
I had an opportunity to visit UA and got to see B-D up close and let me tell you it’s huge. The most current addition (2010) has made it the 2nd largest stadium in the SEC, the 5th largest in the US and the 8th largest non racing sports venue in the world at a capacity of well over 101,000.
101_1057While the front of B-D stadium faces University Avenue it’s address is actually 920 Paul W Bryant Drive. Right next door to Rama Jama’s.
101_1038Literally in the shadow of B-D stadium Rama Jama’s is a veritable shrine to the mighty Crimson Tide football squad. Ya, there are references to other sports but barely enough to let you know UA has other teams. Every inch of wall space is now occupied with a souvinier or picture so they’ve started working on the ceiling. It’s also crammed almost as tight as it will go with tables. On game days you don’t even think about getting in. They have 1 menu. It’s written on the chalk board above the cash registers. It’s a mecca for a Crimson Tide football fan. Heck even the owner bears a striking resemblance to head football coach Nick Saban.
Walking in my nose was to promise me a great meal. The smell of flat top hamburgers hung in the air like cherry blossoms on a spring day. My mouth started to water. My body to tremble with excitement. Mmmm fried beef fat aaaaauuuugggghhhhh!!!!
101_1040Okay, I’ve snapped out of it. 

I first heard of this place when Todd Blackledge of ESPN visited for a segment of his “Taste of the Town.” The analyst on ESPN’s Saturday night NCAA football games picks a local eatery every week during the regular season, pays a visit and features them during the game. Eat food, watch college football and get paid for it. Nice work if you can find it.
101_1054So with all that build up, how was the food you may ask??

The Championship burger was fantastic. I’m usually not into “Monster burgers” so at 10 oz it was at the top end of my range. I’d rather see 2, 1/4 lb patties rather than 1, 1/2 lb. The fact that it was just a large diner style burger worked fine for me. A bacon cheeseburger with my standard, pickle, onion, ketchup, mustard and mayo that delivered on the promise it held. Probably a top 5 burger for me.
101_1042The onion rings were right in my wheel house too. Large cut onion slices battered and deep fried. Passing the pinch and pull tests they’re as good as it gets. Maybe even the best.
101_1043Mrs. Sippi got an order of fried green tomatoes which she really liked. I thought they were okay. Far from the best I’ve had but still quite servicable.
101_1044Sil went with the RJ special dog. A hot dog wrapped in bacon. How can you go wrong?? Well, you can’t. Especially with mustard and grilled onions. She did admit that cheese would’ve elevated even further.
101_1045For desert we opted for an apple and a peach fried pie. Both were fantastic. I think I preferred the peach but the apple with it’s less sweet filling was very nice.
101_1053Sil, Madam Butterfly and the King all ordered milkshakes of different flavours and all loved them. 

They serve breakfast as well and having seen another diner with one, trust me, order the All American omelet.

You can find Rama Jama’s at 1000 Paul W. Bryant Drive in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

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You can also become a facebook friend here.
 Rama Jamas on Urbanspoon

Well that’s all from the food court for today. ‘Til next time.