Friday, November 30, 2012

I Went to Philly (Toronto, On)

Redeeming the Philly Cheese Steak One at a Time

Back in 2007 Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson put a name on something we all knew existed, The Bucket List. We all have a list, in our minds or otherwise, of things to do before we die. We just didn’t know what to call it. Some of us have even compartmentalized them by genre. Lots, such as myself, have a food bucket list. A list of to food related things do/eat. For me, a trip to Philadelphia and a Cheese Steak showdown between the two iconic purveyors, bitter rivals and cross street neighbours, Pat’s King of Steaks and Geno’s Steaks. There are people who tell you those places aren’t where the best are and I’m sure they feel they’re right. In time, I may agree. But these two stars of the Cheese Steak world, sitting on opposite corners of the same intersection are the faces of the great Philly Cheese Steak.
In 2011, Jack and Julie Stevenson took a trip to Philadelphia and of course, the famous intersection. For Jack, a car salesman and Julie, a home maker and mother of 3 grown kids, it changed their life.

I Went to PhillyUpon returning home Jack, having felt he’d sold “One too many cars” quit his job, teamed up with Julie and decided to fill Toronto’s cheese steak void. In August of 2012 they opened I Went to Philly. Selling fresh cut fries and cheese steaks.

IWTP InteriorI Went to Philly sits on Toronto’s main drag, Yonge St. Occupying a dime a dozen store front it’s decked out loud and proud. There’s slogans and other adverts all over the front.
Inside the red and white checkered floor and tile detail give it a nice feel. There’s seating for almost two dozen and an open kitchen. This is where the sandwiches are assembled, fries are cooked and anything else needed to fill out orders. There’s also a kitchen in back doing prep work.

So let’s get a look at what the Stevenson’s learned on their trip to Philly.
Yoo-hooYoo-hoo has become an iconic American drink. “The name literally beckons” is a line in The Big Bang Theory. This chocolate drink, born in New Jersey in the 20’s by an Italian-American soft drink purveyor named Natale Olivieri. Originally sold in his store it quickly became mass marketed and by 1950, when Yankee great Yogi Berra promoted it, became a household name.
Let’s face it, when the first ingredient is water you kinda get an idea of what it’s like. It’s, quite simply, chocolate flavoured water. It’s fine. It’s pretty inoffensive and since it’s a tradition in the great cheese steak emporiums of Philly, I partook. When in Rome right?? They also offer it in tetra packs and cans.

Philly Cheese FriesI will warn you first, the “Heart attack on a plate” Cheese Steak Fries are a meal in and of themselves. Fresh cut fries, which can stand proudly on their own, are smothered in steak and Cheez Whiz. Just flat out artery clogging goodness.

Pizza FriesAs good as those fries are, the Pizza Fries are even better. The same dish minus the steak but with marinara and fried pepperoni. First off, how they could stay as crisp as they did through all that liquidy goodness is beyond me. But there we were at the bottom of the dish commenting on the crunch they still possessed. The whole thing just worked. Especially where you got a little bit of everything. Fabulous.

IW2P Cheesesteak BurgerThey grind their own beef and form quarter pound patties and offer a pretty respectable burger. I opted here to add a cheese steak on top. So beef, provolone, steak/onion mixture and topped with wiz. I was asked if I wanted any condiments but I correctly declined. This is the best of both worlds. The meats complement each other nicely and cheese really smooths things out. A fantastic burger.

Philly Cheese SteakThe Philly Cheese Steak, the star of our show this day is excellent. As I stated above I can’t speak to the true authenticity but I can tell you it’s a terrific sandwich. I ordered mine “Traditional Wit.” Basically, provolone and whiz (traditional) and onions (wit) that get sautéed along with the meat. It comes on a “Hoagie” or sub bun and is ooey, gooey goodness. My only two complaints are these. I’d like a little more onion on mine. I love onions and bites with a bit more were just better. Secondly, and this drives me crazy, if you offer drip down your arm food, offer napkins up to the task. The cheap ones pulled from a chrome dispenser are all but useless.

IW2P Pepperoni Pizza PhillyIf a cheesesteak isn’t your thing but pizza is they offer the Pepperoni Pizza Philly which is really just another way of saying, pizza sub. Loaded with fried pepperoni and a home made marinara sauce and topped with mozzarella cheese it’s really great. It could be awesome, I think, if they’d dial it back a bit on the sauce. I felt it partially drowned out the pepperoni. That’s just minor tweaking to suit my tastes though. Your mileage may vary.

Pepperoni PhillyIf the cheesesteak is your thing but you love pepperoni too, then this unnamed sandwich on their non existent secret menu is right up your alley. A cheese steak with fried pepperoni. OMG this is awesome. As funny as it may seem, this is probably the best thing I’ve had from them. Yet my favourite is still the Traditional Wit (extra wit).

Chicken and Waffles (IW2P)If you don’t eat red meat then the Chicken and Waffles may be right up your alley. At the time of this writing they aren’t yet on the menu however if you ask, they’ll hook you up. A unique take on this soon to be the next great thing dish in that they are served as popcorn chicken in a waffle cone. Drizzled with syrup and a dusted lightly with powdered sugar. Different yet delicious. The cone is probably the best I’ve had. The pieces of chicken breast are deep fried in a Frosted Flake batter. Overall this is a well balanced dish of sweet and savoury. It walks a fine line but can easily be a meal or, dare I say it, Chicken and Waffles for dessert??

So there you have it folks, Toronto’s first full time cheese steak emporium.

You can find I Went to Philly at 462 Yonge St. Toronto, On.

You can also find them on facebook and Twitter.

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

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Original KFC

20121121_132527I guess you think the Colonel invented Kentucky Fried Chicken. Well, guess again. Kentucky Fried Chicken was actually invented by Joe Smiley of West Virginia and sold at his Lexington, Kentucky drive in during the 50’s. I know. I just blew your mind.

Okay, now lets sort all this stuff out. KFC as we know it with it’s 11 herbs and spices was indeed invented by the good Colonel. However, marketing genius that he was, he knew when he went to mass market his now famous chicken he needed a name. That’s where Joe comes in. The Colonel thought Joe’s "Kentucky Fried Chicken" name was perfect. The two men struck a deal (Rumoured to be $30K) and the name “Kentucky Fried Chicken” was sold. And as the iconic Paul Harvey would say, “Now you know the rest of the story.”

20121121_132431“Good food at a good price” was Joe Smiley’s motto. Having moved from West Virginia to Lexington he saw an opportunity. His vision was for a drive in on a dirt road outside town. He made that dream a reality on November 11, 1951. Joe sold only fresh made food from fresh ingredients and now 60 + years later, that tradition continues. The Parkette has become part of the civic fabric.
The now iconic sign shown above was installed in 1957 and is as much a symbol (#10) of Lexington as is a horse farm.

20121121_131419Sadly, Joe closed the Parkette in 2003. A group of local investors bought it and tired to keep it afloat. They failed, it closed. In 2009 Jeff and Randy Kaplan bought it, dusted off the cobwebs and reopened it. The brothers were immediately snowed under with business. It was too much. They closed for the winter, regrouped, renovated and otherwise retooled. They reopened in the spring of 2010 returning The Parkette to the “Good ol’ days.”

20121121_132051It was later in 2010 that Guy Fieri and his Triple D gang showed up for a visit and put The Parkette on the national map. It’s of course where I first learned of it. They say you can always tell when they’ve re run the episode by the upswing in business.

It’s always great when you’re really looking forward to eating somewhere and it still exceeds expectations. So let’s have a look at this culinary time capsule.

20121121_133037Where best to start but with the chicken. Very nicely breaded although not overly herbaceous it’s possibly the best of the non 11 H&S types I’ve had. The breading had good flavour and the chicken was tasty, tender and juicy. All in all, fantastic. You can get sawmill gravy with it but honestly, I really don’t think it needed it. That said, the gravy was awesome. I thought Mrs. Sippi was gonna get a “To go” cup of it with a straw for the car ride. It was that good.
The accompanying slaw was nice. Nothing special just straight forward slaw. Nothing wrong with that. I also love the crinkle cut fries. The ridges helped hang on to that gravy.

20121121_132958As I perused the menu I heard a gasp from the other side of the table. Seconds later I saw why. Gizzards. Mrs. Sippi loves her some gizzards. These babies come with a nice crisp breading and have a very pronounced chicken taste. My whole problem with gizzards is texture. It’s much like eating cartilage. These particular examples, while still “Cartilagy” were certainly more tender. Think al dente. They were fabulous dipped in the chicken gravy.

20121121_133144There were so many good things on the menu I didn’t know where to start and where to stop. One thing I couldn’t over look though was the Chili Dog. Using Vienna Beef weiners, steamed on a steamed bun. This incarnation has it loaded up with mustard, onions, chili and cheese. It was a work of art. No one thing dominated yet it didn’t all turn into one big flavour. You bit in and you though, onion, no, chili. Oh, nice dog, oh and cheesy. What I’m trying to say is, all the components complemented each other and tended to take turns tickling your palate.

20121121_133118As I’ve pointed out before, back in the day, these types of places had a burger that included all or most of the following components. Two all beef patties, special (or house, or secret, etc) sauce, cheese, lettuce, pickles, onions and a sesame seed bun. I’m sure you’re more than familiar with the formula. Anyway, for Joe, life in coal mining West Virginia was mostly poor. With that in mind, he named his sandwich, the Poor Boy.
Very reminiscent of a Big Mac (obviously) but just better. One word of warning though, a pretty hefty slice of onion garnishes it. I love onion but found the whole disc too much. I pulled it apart, leaving a few rings and it worked much better. I thought the whole piece was a little too dominant.

There you have it folks. Call it a slice of Americana, a trip back in time or just plain great food. Whatever it is, you should check this place out. Well worth the 10 or so minutes off I – 75.

You can find The Parkette Drive In at 1230 E. New Circle Rd. Lexington, Ky.

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You can also find them on the web, facebook and Twitter.
Parkette Drive In on Urbanspoon
Parkette Drive In on Foodio54

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


Monday, November 19, 2012

Authentic Mexican

It’s a known fact. The Greater Toronto Area has no good Mexican restaurants. Or is it?? Long the opinion of locals the tide does seem to be turning. Mexican places that are opening in the city these days are getting better and better. There are also some top notch places just outside the city as well. Mostly to the north although I'm given to understand the epicenter of Mexican food in Ontario is Leamington. But that isn't really close to the GTA. In any case in small towns, far enough away from the urbanization of Toronto yet close enough to farms (and the abundantly fertile land of the Holland Marsh), good Mexican is starting to pop up as well. With the Mexican population growing rather generously in these areas due to the need for farm hands, entrepreneurial ex pat Mexicans are opening businesses to serve their fellow countrymen.

Made in Mexico (Newmarket)One such place can be found on the newly redesignated Main Street in Newmarket. Made in Mexico is quite simply that. Owned and operated by a Mexican family serving authentic Mexican food. While it is a family affair, it can sometimes seem like Fernando is really in charge. You'll see mom or dad hovering around in the back ground, ensuring everything is running smoothly. You'll see Romena in the kitchen toiling away. But walk in and most likely you'll be greeted by Fernando and his effervescent personality.

MiM InteriorOn the outside MIM looks like it's tucked in to an old furnature store. There's lots of display windows which can make for nice people watching but also has you in a bit of a fish bowl.
The inside is pretty much straight up restaurant. Tables, chairs a bar, you know, a restaurant. Decorating the walls are carachatures of Mexican celebrities as well as Mexican themed posters. The old building lends a certain charm to the place as well.
In the kitchen they're doing everything from old Mexican favourites to Tex-Mex that people enjoy. Having lived on both Mexican coasts the menu is a little more diverse. As is the cuisine in the country as a whole.

So let's have a look at these goodies shall we??
Frijoles CharrosFrijoles Charros is the Mexican version of the old soup, bean with bacon. (And chorizo.) A hearty chicken broth filled with bacon, chorizo and pinto beans. It’s just simply awesome. Although the cumin flavour does slightly come through, really, this soup is so well balanced it more or less has one flavour. Comes as an appetizer or a side.  
FlautasThe Flautas, to me, were good but nothing more. Keep in mind that I’m not really a flauta person. I wouldn’t have ordered them but a nice couple were leaving as I went in. They recommended them so I bit. Don’t get me wrong, they really were good. Stuffed with chicken, smothered in mole and topped with a drizzle of crema. Everything about them was top notch. They just aren’t my thing. If you like ‘em, I’m sure you’ll like these.

Beef TamaleThe Beef Tamales (which aren’t on the menu) are simply great. Very corny and beefy. It was a fairly typical size and came with a traditional salsa which was totally unnecessary.
The Chicken Tamales are even better. Same great corn flavour with great chicken taste. While it was great on its own, the salsa verde made for a nice complement.

Shrimp TacosI thoroughly enjoyed the Shrimp Tacos but think they could’ve been even better. First off, they were nice and light. A tempura like batter nicely encased plump shrimp. They were stuffed into a tender corn tortilla. Here’s the thing though. They were garnished with a “Mexican slaw.” A very creamy slaw that you’d find in a BBQ joint more likely. It wasn’t bad. It wasn’t good either. It was just odd. I’d have liked to see some onion, cabbage, cilantro and lime juice instead. I’d certainly order them again with no problem.

Queso Fundido (1)The Queso Fundido topped with Chorizo was phenomenal. Baked cheese topped with a nice oily (home made) chorizo. It came with a half dozen warm, corn tortillas. I just scooped up some of the ooey, gooey goodness, put it in a tortilla, rolled it up and thoroughly enjoyed. Absolutely fabulous.

ChocoflanIf you still have room after your meal check out the Chocoflan. Their spin on the Mexican favourite, flan. Here we have a Devilsfood cake married with flan. It’s ridiculous. If you like chocolate cake and flan then this is for you. It has all the best aspects of the two in one convenient package.

So there you have it folks, some really terrific Mexican a short drive from TO.

You can find Made in Mexico at 196 Main St. S, Newmarket, Ontario.

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You can also find them on facebook and Twitter.
Made in Mexico Restaurant and Cantina on Urbanspoon

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

Monday, November 5, 2012

Craft Beer... NY style Pizzas... Good Times

In 1991, just outside Vanderbilt University in Nashville a little pizza place named Guido's started doing business. It quickly became a hit with the locals who went crazy for their New York style pies and in particular, the dough. Guido's would eventually relocate to the Cool Springs Galleria area in Franklin. From there it would be sold to former British Infantryman, Chris Hartland and his wife Jane who immigrated to the area in 2008.
027Chris and Jane would add a microbrewery, the first in Williamson, County and was re-branded Cool Springs Brewery. Offering a full bar menu, centered around the original Guido's pizza as well as craft beers brewed right on the premises. They also offer live music.

029The duo behind CSB weren't fooling around either. Investing significant dollars in brewing equipment and bringing in Brewmaster Mike Kraft (yes that means the beer was Kraft-brewed) from Texas. Mike got the couple up and running but eventually need to meet new challenges. He left the brewery in 2012. Enter Derrick Morse. Born and raised in the unofficial capital of craft brewed beer in the US, Boulder Colorado.

031CSB takes up a few units in a strip mall. It's adorned much as you would expect with the large brew vats sitting prominently by the front window. Inside has all the trappings of a slick, big box sports bar. That is to say, TV's, TV's everywhere. The space is rather expansive with plenty of seating and can also handle larger groups either in the dining area or a semi private room.

035One thing I love about brew pubs like this is they offer a tasting board. Usually about 5 beers you can order in sample size before diving headlong into one brew or another. On this day we ended up with a bonus glass to make it an even half dozen. I'm not much of a dark beer lover so the Shaft Black IPA was just simply not for me. On the other hand I love grapefruit and as such the Private Johnson Pale Ale was clearly my favourite. Oddly enough, one of my dining partners absolutely hated it for the very reason I loved it. Others on the board included Tiches Wit, Saison and Franklin's First. All of which I enjoyed. There was also a wheat beer that I really didn't like. I haven't found a wheat beer I do like so take that for what it's worth.

044The chicken wings were excellent. The sauce wasn't quite Buffalo style but leaned somewhat towards that. It had a nice sweetness to balance it out. Sort of a Buffalo wing meets Asian wing thing. They were also perfectly cooked. Nicely crispy on the outside and beautifully tender and juicy inside. They come served with Blue Cheese or Ranch dips. We ended up with both but never touched either.

041The Pizza was very good. My only complaint would be I'd like the crust to have been a little crispier on the bottom but from a taste point, it was just plain great. There was enough sauce that you could taste but not enough to provide personality. The toppings, while many, weren't so heavily mounded on as to weigh the whole pie down. It's thin crust pizza and needs a lighter hand here. I really loved that they used capicola. This Italian ham is amazing on pizza.

So there you have it folks. A great lunch in the Cool Springs area which if you are familiar, is inundated with just about every national chain on the grid.

You can find Cool Springs Brewery at 600A Frazier Dr. Unit 135, Franklin, Tn.

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You can also find them on the web, facebook and Twitter.
Coolspring's Brewery on Urbanspoon
Well that's all for now peeps. See ya next time in the food court.