Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Eat Drink Cheer

When the five headed monster consisting of Gus Papaioannou, Sam Pasalis, Tony Vlachos, Chris Papadimitriou and John Matheos decided they wanted to open a sports bar they weren’t about to open just any sports bar. Their mission statement pretty much says it all; “Our passion for sports and food is what drives us. Our goal is to create the ultimate venue to eat, drink, cheer and brag about your team.” What they created surely meets expectations. Rally Sports Bar and Smokehouse is, as they say, “All that.”

044Opened on (how perfect is this for a sports bar??) Boxing Day 2011 Rally welcomes all but make no mistake, this place is Toronto (and Team Canada) centric. Gus Papaioannou once told a reporter “My father-in-law is a Habs fan, so I have to let him in.” But rest assured, every game night during hockey season you’ll find the Leafs on. When it’s not about hockey there’s plenty of UFC, Euro or World Cup, Olympics or whatever the major sporting event du jour is. It’s a food and sports lovers nirvana.

Rally, from the outside looks very impressive. Set back from the road with parking in front it cuts an imposing profile. The large back painted brick provides a perfect field for the bold name. No doubting what this place is all about. It has a nice patio attached to the side and just plain looks big.

045Inside it seems even bigger than the outside would suggest. A large bar area, small dining area to the side and large dining area in the back offer seating for up to 300 people in the over 7,000 square foot dining area. There’s plenty of sports (especially hockey) memorabilia spread throughout as well. The 40 HDTV’s are scattered all over the place to be sure you don’t miss your favourite sporting event. And for the guys, they’re well stocked in the cute waitress department. All of whom are enthusiastic about the place and very friendly.

In the kitchen they’re doing as much as possible in house. Fries and Onion Rings are exceptions but outside of that, everything else I’ve had they made themselves from quality ingredients.

So let’s have a look.

20120726_115712Their house made coleslaw is very creamy. Perhaps even too creamy. It's quite liquidy and has a pretty strong mayo taste. The cabbage almost seems to play second fiddle here. One thing that I really loved though was there was a little hint of horse radish. That played very well. Almost like slaw made with Alabama White Sauce. Which I do at home sometimes.
The beans were quite tasty too. I love that they had their own personality. I couldn't quite place my finger on what spice it is but it had a uniqueness to it. Perhaps clove?? Very enjoyable anyway.

20120726_115547I was very pleasantly surprised by the Pulled Pork Sandwich. Not the traditional southern style on a cheapy hamburger bun but more of this nouveau style, loaded with sauce and served on a soft bun and topped with their creamy coleslaw. All in all it was very good. I would normally write it off as being too saucy (yes I know, I'm always talking about how much I love sauce) but said sauce was very tasty and the whole mess just worked well together. I just wish more places would leave the saucing for the table.

20120726_115533The Brisket Sandwich would probably be enough to piss off a Texan. This is not a Texas Brisket sandwich so if you put that notion out of your mind you should do well with it. Thinly sliced brisket is tossed in their house made sauce and topped with Caramelized Onions and served on a hunk of Baguette. The meat has enough beef flavour to cut through the sauce and there's a hint of smokiness to it as well. All in all it was a very pleasing sandwich.

20120726_115620The Pork Belly Sandwich is fantastic. A good amount of pig tummy smoked, sliced and piled onto grilled Sourdough Bread. It's topped with grainy mustard and sauerkraut. The sharpness of the kraut played nicely with the richness of the pork. The mustard added a bit of kick and countered the pig fat very nicely. Not a whole lot of smoke detected but plenty good though. The sourdough really worked well here.

048The Fried Chicken is superb. Three pieces to an order with fries and macaroni salad. The macaroni salad is fine. Nothing special. I’m told their working on it but as is, it’s fairly pedestrian.
The fries were surprisingly good. Nice and crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside. Better than your average frozen fry.
The chicken is heavily breaded and very crispy. The seasoning is fairly minimal which isn’t my style but the breading more than makes up for that. The chicken was juicy and very flavourful. Just all around great.

Well there you have it folks. A great sports bar cranking out well above par food.

You can find Rally Sports Bar and Smokehouse at 1660 O'Connor Dr. Toronto, On.

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You can also find them on the web, facebook and Twitter.
Rally Sports Bar & Smokehouse on Urbanspoon

That’s all for now, see you next time in the food court.


Monday, July 23, 2012

Eat More Pancakes

In 1961 Robert Baldwin founded a Nashville institution when he first opened the doors to the Pancake Pantry. Robert wanted to create a family friendly atmosphere and he succeeded beyond his  wild imagination I suspect. Not only has the Pantry become one of Nashville’s “Go to” places for breakfast or lunch and a favourite of local celebrities (not the least of which is Taylor Swift). In 1988 it become a second generation family run joint and if all goes well, someday a third generation will be at the controls. If all that isn’t enough it’s now on the national radar. If it wasn’t already that is. In June of 2011 Adam Richman and the Man v. Food Nation crew paid the Pantry a visit. Adam was shown how to make the Sweet Potato pancakes which he then sampled. To say he loved them is an understatement. You can see more of his visit and reaction here.

From the outside the 150 year old building sits prominently on a corner. It's not overly dressy looking but has that beautiful old brick look to it. Another feature of the exterior is the long line up. This is common at Pancake Pantry and at first, I was a little disheartened. Experience has shown me thought that this line up moves pretty quickly. About 15 - 20 minutes was all it took to get seated. It seems the smaller your party the better chance you have to jump the cue as well. 

Inside is quite nice with it's high ceiling and large open dining room. This gives the busy restaurant plenty of room for noise to dissipate. So it's often crowded the additional volume means the din of peoples conversation does not intrude. On this particular day the nice summer sun was shining through the windows. The seats are jammed in as tight as they feel they can get them while still allowing for room to maneuver. For both patron and staff alike.

In the kitchen secret recipes foods are prepared fresh daily. The grains are from a mill in east Tennessee so you know they're fresh. So let's have a look at them shall we??

 There are two syrups waiting on the table for you. The obvious one is maple of course. The second is a Cinnamon Cream Syrup. Slightly caramelly with a proud but not over powering cinnamon taste it's absolutely fabulous. The cream pulls it all together to a smooth rich sauce. My only complaint about it is they should serve it warm. Perhaps keep some in a slow cooker and then ladle into a teapot for service. Other than that, I can't say enough great things about it. As you can tell, I love cinnamon. Especially counterbalancing sweet.

The Sweet Potato Pancakes are quite nice. Not overly tasting of sweet potatoes however not void of any notes. They were nice and fluffy yet still dense enough to have some heft. They recommend you use the Cinnamon Cream Syrup on them and it's a perfect fit. Cinnamon is a great match with sweet taters as most people know so they go together perfectly.

Their regular pancakes as just as good as any I've had. Perhaps the ones I make at home are better but as with most things, I prefer mine. These are a great, solid, straight up pancake just itching for the whipped butter and sweet stuff. I started with Maple Syrup on the first one but the cinnamon was drawing me. It was just perfect with these as well. They have some different fruit compotes. We tried Strawberry and Blueberry. The later being far and away superior.

The Cook's Grill Medley is a pile of food. Good thing I was starving. As described, "Mounds of hash browns with onions, green peppers, tomatoes, and ham, all grilled up crisp. Add to that: melted American and Swiss cheeses with two fried eggs on top." Just a nice blend of flavours and textures. The toast on the side was pretty nice too. Nothing special, just good.

They do offer lunch fare but lets face it, this place is built on breakfast.

So there you have it folks. A great start to your day at the favourite haunt  of one of the brightest young stars in pop music.

You can find The Pancake Pantry in the heart of
Hillsboro Village at 1796 21st Avenue S. Nashville, Tn.

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You can also find them on the web, facebook and Twitter.
Pancake Pantry on Urbanspoon
Pancake Pantry on Foodio54

Well that's all folks, see y'all next time in the food court.


Thursday, July 19, 2012

Flagship Niagara

On June 18, 1812 the United States of America, for the first time in it's short history, declared war. President Madison saw unsettled business with Great Brittan and attacked while they were distracted by Napoleon. Less than a month later General William Hull ushered his small forces across the Detroit river into Upper Canada (now Ontario) and captured a small town in what is now part of Windsor. The US believed that they'd be welcomed by the majority American born population and this first engagement further fueled that belief. Such rationale proved fool hearty and ultimately costly.
While the war would rage back and forth for 32 months before a treaty was ratified in February of 1815. It was, for all intents and purposes a stalemate.

Among the significant engagements was the Battle of Lake Erie. On September 10, 1813 US forces led by Master Commandant Oliver Hazard Perry battled the British and Commander Robert Heriot Barclay around Put in Bay. Perry's flagship, USS Lawrence suffered heavy damage and was eventually abandoned. He was rowed under heavy fire to the USS Niagara where he picked up the fight. At the end of the day the British fleet was surrounded and surrendered.

The Niagara survived the war but was ultimately scuttled. To honour the centenial of the battle she was raised and restored. Following the celebrations the Niagara fell into disrepair. Over the next number of years she was shuffled around from one governing body to another. Finally in 1963 for the sesquicentennial she was restored as a museum piece. In 1973 she was placed in the National Register of Historic Places. By the 80's she was to see one last restoration. Unfortunately years of neglect rendered her unfit. She was completely torn apart and rebuilt with new materials. Some old wood was salvaged and reused but the ship is essentially a replica. Officially the state ship of Pennsylvania her home is now Erie. She's one of two ships remaining from the war with the other being the USS Constitution. She's had some modern electronics added recently and still sails Lake Erie during the summer months.

Perhaps no trip to Erie, Pa could be considered complete without a visit to New York Lunch. "Serving Erie's original Greek Sauce and Greek Dogs" New York Lunch was opened in 1927 and now 85 years later is still going strong. As much an Erie tradition as people flocking to the beach.
From the outside the place looks every bit it's 85 years. It's yet another of those places that scares off the easily intimidated. As I've mentioned before, I don't see a shabby building, I see character.

Inside it looks like it hasn't seen a health inspector in decades. Not to mention a renovators hammer. It's just part of the charm though. A few tables line one wall and stools are pressed up against the counter. While there is evidence of some rudimentary renovations those are long in the past. Fortunately they've left one architectural feature in tact. The pressed tin ceiling. You see fewer and fewer all the time sadly.

Well all that is fine, it's the food we're interested in here right??

The Greek style hotdogs are really quite a tasty treat. Greek sauce (which makes 'em Greek obviously) is an all meat chili sauce that's rather similar to Cincinnati Chili however not quite as intense a flavour. There also seemed to be a bit more of a traditional hint to it although just faintly. As for the dogs, well they were your run of the mill type on a soft bun and a slather of mustard. The chili just pulled the whole thing together. I quite liked them, Mrs. Sippi loved them.

Sadly the Greek style burger wasn't nearly up to the example set by the dog. A thin patty that looked like cardboard and tasted about the same. It came with some ketchup rather than mustard which really only added some sweetness which I didn't care for. The chili sauce and ketchup just really didn't work on the burger IMHO. I didn't hate it but wouldn't order again.

NYL serves up some pretty basic looking breakfast fare that according to the guy sitting across the way from us was declared "Good"!! Sausage and eggs, bacon and eggs, that kinda thing.

So there you have it folks, the next time you're in north west Pennsylvania looking for some history or a nice sandy beach, check out this neat little place serving Greek inspired food.

You can find New York Lunch at 1005 Parade St, Erie, Pennsylvania.

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You can also find them on the web.
New York Lunch on Urbanspoon
New York Lunch on Foodio54

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


Sunday, July 8, 2012

Enriching the Lives of Others

The mantra for Pittsburgh restaurateur Nadine Voelker is "No one has become rich unless they have enriched the lives of others. I thank my
staff and customers for enriching my life." From where I was sitting the customer can say the same thing. And the customer is of course, always right. The owner of Nadine’s Bar, the little tavern on Pittsburgh’s South Side has been enriching the lives of patrons since 2001. 

Pittsburgh’s South Side neighbourhood, formerly Birmingham,  is so named for it’s location on the south bank of the Monongahela River across from Downtown. It’s divided up into two areas. The Slopes (where the houses and streets cling precariously to the side of the bluff) and the Flats (what is essentially the flood plane).The proximity of South Side to three Universities (Carnegie Mellon, Pitt and Duquesne) has made it a bit of a “College town.” Rife with students and night life. Not long ago it was the site of urban decay. A victim of the decline of the steel industry and the closure of Jones and Laughlin Steel Company. Historic preservation stepped in and saved the “Flats” and it’s impressive collection of Victorian Era buildings. It has been designated a Historic District.

Much like with our visit to Slows in Detroit it was like someone was trying to tell us something. We had just decided when to head out on Summer vacation and thought a stop over in Pittsburgh to take in a Pirates game would be fun. We could find a place to eat and make a nice evening of it. The very next day we turn on Diners, Drive Ins and Dives and where is Guy?? Nadine’s in Pittsburgh. Had to be divine intervention right?? We had found our dinner spot.

Honestly, if you didn’t know it was the place you may not believe it. A very non descript building set just off the main drag in what almost seems like an alley. There is a big sign on the side of the building where the parking lot is but when you walk around front the only indication you’ve got the right place is a small neon sign in the front window. The front door isn’t exactly inviting and maybe even a little intimidating. It all just adds to the charm of this place though. 

Inside it's smoking all around. In fact, it’s like a poker game in there. Mostly men, drinking, smoking and swearing. If you put some money on table and dealt cards you had it. While Guys’ visit had increased the transient traffic immeasurably this place is really still all about the regulars. This cast of characters lends to the personality of the place. A little rough around the edges but with a heart of gold.  

Nadine wasn't around so her son Matt was in charge of things. He helped sort through the many tasty options on the smallish menu. The man as you might figure knows his stuff as he went 3 for 3. So let’s have a look shall we??

The meatball sandwich was really good. Home made meatballs and sauce on a nice hunk of baguette. What really made the sandwich for me were two things. The sauce had a nice, bright tomato flavour and it was well garnished with grated Parmesan cheese. I find a lot of places just put a bit on. This gave a nice pronounced flavour.

Even better was one of the house specialties. The fried baloney sandwich. Almost a half inch of fired baloney piled on nicely griddled bread with cheese and peppers. I loved the sandwich. The meat and cheese provided a meatiness and saltiness with the pickled jalapenos providing some heat and tang while the bread provided the crunch. An all 'round great sandwich.

Mrs. Sippi knew what she was gonna order 3 weeks ago. The Hot Roast Beef Sandwich. Featured on Triple D she's been anticipating this moment ever since. Quite a build up that inevitably ends in disappointment. Well not this time. She loved, loved, loved it. I managed to sneak a taste and it was good solid Sunday roast beef and gravy on bread. Simply delicious. The mashed potatoes were exactly  as I like 'em. Lumpy. I like when there's little bits of potato for texture and these had a nice flavour on their own. Even better with the silky gravy smothering them.

So there you have it folks. Great eats in a thriving neighbourhood on Pittsburgh’s South Side.

You can find Nadine’s at 19 S. 27th St. Pittsburgh, Pa.

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You can also find them on the web.
Nadine's on Urbanspoon
Nadine's on Foodio54

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