Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Milk and Cookies

20120817_153837There is, perhaps, no more iconic symbol of childhood than milk and cookies. The purity of the milk and the sugariness of the cookies mirroring the innocence and sweetness of a child. A cookie, dunked in milk like a child frolicking in a puddle. They go together, as Forrest Gump would say, "like peas and carrots."
Unfortunately we don’t remain kids. We grow up. Condemned to sneaking cookies from our “Stash”. Tucked away in a tool box, underwear drawer or back of the cupboard. Covertly enjoying a treat while other adult eyes are focused elsewhere.

These days you don’t have to be a kid or even Santa Claus to enjoy this quintessential treat. In what looks to be the newest “It” thing, little shops selling flavoured milk and a variety of cookies are popping up in cities all over North America. One such place can be found in Toronto’s Beaches neighbourhood. 

20120817_132154Moo Milk Bar is a little store front in the yuppiest (do yuppies still exist??) part of Toronto. Danielle Oron, the French Culinary Institute trained and New York City chef and fashionista, married a local Toronto boy (Tas) and together they own and operate  Moo. Tired with the direction fine dining was headed and wanting out of the fashion industry she traded in life in the Big Apple for life in the Big Smoke and a simpler calling. Wanting to get back to basics as she says, she chose the tight knit, family oriented community to open her newest venture and showcase her culinary talents.

20120817_132136Moo really is quite small. Probably no more than about 15 feet wide. The outside is awash in (Milk) white and (Chocolate) brown paint with large windows. Inside antiques and old pictures hang on the wall and the counter is faced with reclaimed barn board. A few stools line the walls but for the most part though, this place is just about all kitchen and storage. There is also some fake grass and little piggies for a bit of whimsy.

In that kitchen, Danielle is churning out cookies, ice cream sandwiches and pies. All from her own collection of recipes refined over the years. The milks are made with fresh fruits and home made syrups. Quality ingredients go into the cookies and pies and they even make their own ice cream for the sandwiches. If milk isn’t the drink for you, an espresso or cappuccino may just hit the spot.

So let’s have a look at these goodies.

20120817_131534The flavoured milks we tried were good. Nothing all that great in my mind but perhaps we just didn't hit a flavour that really wowed us. There are a number of them to choose from so you may have to try a few to get the right one.
The Caramel in almond milk was okay but not nearly caramelly enough for my taste. Keep in mind that I'm known to squirt caramel in my mouth straight out of a squeeze bottle.
The Strawberry was much better but not exactly what Mrs. Sippi was hoping for. Longing for memories of Strawberry Quick from when we were kids this one is certainly a much better quality drink. It was more like melted strawberry ice cream. Made with real strawberries it's quite good but for that Pepto Bismal looking milk of our youth it wasn't "Candy" tasting enough.

All the cookies are terrific but… first off let me describe for you my perfect cookie. Flavour not withstanding, I’m talking about structure here. I like a puffy cookie with a crispness to the outside (not just the edges) and an nice chew on the inside. These cookies are not those. These ones are much thinner (with a crispy edge) than I prefer but that's, for the most part, esthetics. The irregular shapes scream home made.

20120817_131523They have, at any one time, 6 different flavours from which you can choose. They rotate them on a daily, weekly, hourly, whenever-we -feel-like-it basis. So you never know exactly what specimens from which you can choose. We took one of each for a good sampling.
Oatmeal Raisin - I hate, hate, hate raisins so as such I'd rather eat boogers. Mrs. Sippi said it was really good though.
Cowgirl - This is an almalgum of different cookie mix ins. Micro chips, chocolate chips, nuts, toffee bits, etc. It was a really nice cookie however I think I'd have liked it a lot more without the nuts.
Party - This is a terrific sugar cookie with coloured sprinkles. Very rich and creamy tasting it was one of the better offerings.
Chocolate - Sometimes I wonder why I bother with double chocolate. Most of the time it's inferior to regular chocolate chip. This was no exception. Not that it was bad. It wasn't. In fact, it was very good. Just second fiddle to the other chocolate offering.
Milk Chocolate Chip - One of the best tasting chocolate chip cookies I've ever had. Pretty much everything a chocolate lover could want. Nice flavour in the dough that isn’t too sweet and nicely supported the rich chocolaty chips. Certainly the best of the bunch.
Brown Sugar Toffee Bit - Maybe I shouldn't have been surprised. English Toffee is great. It seems it's even better in cookie form. Especially when played off against the richness of the brown sugar cookie dough. Another absolute winner.

20120817_132307Moo's Ice Cream Sandwiches are so stunningly better than those you find in a convenience store it's like it's a completely different animal. The chocolate chip cookie was the perfect medium to sandwich the fresh made Vanilla Bean Ice Cream. I'm not sure how, exactly, to put this but perhaps saying the quality of the two components shone through here is the best way. It just tasted like it was on another plain. Far and away the best ICS I've ever had. Tas took one out to show Mrs. Sippi and she said it was like waving a steak in front of a hungry dog.
They also had Double Chocolate Chip with Banana Ice Cream which we didn't try.

So there you have it folks, a trip down memory lane just north of Kew Beach.

You can find Moo Milk Bar at 1918A Queen Street East, Toronto, On.

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You can also find them on facebook, Twitter and the Web.
Moo Milk Bar on Urbanspoon

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


Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Bayou Bastion

Upon seeing his obituary in the New York Times, the legendary Mark Twain quipped, "The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated." For Tim Faul, owner of Tim's Cajun Kitchen in Huntsville, Alabama reports of his death have not yet started. However, Tim has had the need to post on his facebook page that, contrary to reports on Yelp, he's still going strong and in November of 2012 will mark 20 years of serving up Cajun favourites to north Alabama residents.

Among the most popular of regional American cuisine, Cajun/Creole restaurants can be found in just about any city with more than about 10,000 residents it seems. Creole being the more refined foods found in the city while Cajun being the "Peasant" food found in and around bayou country. Both cuisines are heavily influenced by French and African with a little Spanish, Italian and Caribbean thrown in for good measure. I've heard it said that the simplest way to determine which is which is Cajun doesn't contain tomatoes where as Creole does. Probably an over simplification considering the once fairly obvious differences. As the years have past and people have migrated towards city life, the once bold line between the two has been slowly blurred. One thing is for certain, Chain restaurants have gotten a hold of this cuisine and muddied the waters terribly. Dishes like "Blackened Chicken" and "Cajun Seafood Pasta" are simply marketing. This is one of the better articles I've found explaining the differences.

Tim's, much like most restaurants making Acadiana food has representatives of each. Mix in some more traditional Southern dishes listed as white board specials and it's a nice menu with a little something for everyone.

013On the outside Tim's can be a bit daunting. Tucked away on the side of a hill just off the interstate in what I'm given to understand is an old Pizza Hut it's not exactly the most welcoming looking place. That's, as you find out, part of the charm. It's supposed to have a rustic, backwoods bayou feel to it and on this it delivers.

011Inside the place is dark but reveals a sense of humour. The dining room walls are covered in caricatures of employees and customers going about their daily business. Cleaning, cooking, eating, etc. You get a seat, order, eat and pay in the front vestibule. In back there is a large bar area for nights when a major sporting event is on, this place can get very busy.

In the kitchen Tim is doing practically everything himself. Right down to smoking his own meats and making his own hot sauce. Said meats and sauce can be purchased from Tim either in the restaurant or at his butcher shop.

So let's see what's coming out of said kitchen. Keeping in mind that I'm by no means an expert on Cajun and Creole cooking save for crafting my own recipes at home. How they'd stand up to a scrutinizing palate from the region I wouldn't know but it seems that Tim and I are somewhat on the same page.

003The Red Beans and Rice were terrific. When I make 'em at home there's a little more gravy but that's just a personal preference. Loving sauces and all. Outside of that, they taste very much the same. The fact that Tim uses his own smoked Andoullie in it makes it that much better. His sausage has a very pronounced smokiness that plays very well with the red beans. This dish was made even better with the addition of Tim's house made hot sauce.

006The Cheese Grits were good but not great. I think they could've been cheesier but all in all there really wasn't anything wrong with them. Just good solid cheese grits.
The Cajun Corn, a recommendation by the waitress really was as good as she said. Corn mixed with tomato and holy trinity. The thing was, mixed with the grits it made both better. A match made in heaven.
While no one, and I mean no one can beat my SIL's SIL's deviled eggs, these ones were very good. Done in the Southern style with sweet pickle relish these ones were sprinkled with paprika. Very good. As I often do, I got a dinner roll for sopping up all that goodness left on the plate.

015The Catfish Curls were nice. They seemed to be the perfect balance of fish to breading ratio which was a nice change. Usually the fish to breading ratio is much greater but there was as much fish taste as breading taste and I thought it worked really well. Partly because the corneal breading was tasty and partly because the fish could stand up to it.

014The Crawfish Po' Boy was also very good. Amply filled with breaded mud bugs and with the standard remoulade, tomato and lettuce it was an all round tasty sandwich. The Fried Okra was good but this is something that's not my favourite. Mrs. Sippi loves it but I'm not a big fan.

So there you have it. Some mighty fine Louisiana based foods in the heart of Dixie.

You can find Tim’s at 114 Jordan Lane NW, Huntsville, Alabama.

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You can also find Tim’s on facebook and Twitter.
Tim's Cajun Kitchen & Specialties Meats on Urbanspoon
Tim's Cajun Kitchen & Specialties Meats on Foodio54

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


Monday, August 13, 2012

Fried Chicken and Donuts

No, this is not some reworking of Chicken and Waffles. This is a tiny take away place in Toronto cooking up two of the hottest new food trends in TO.

20120810_111110With the success of Delica, owner Devin Connell was getting painted into a corner. Trying to keep a popular restaurant stocked with all home made foods in a tiny kitchen is a daunting task. So, much like Holly Hill Inn did in Kentucky with Wallace Station she set her eyes on a remote kitchen to do some off site baking. A little storefront with a large kitchen was found and in June of 2012 Devin threw open the doors of Paulette’s Original Donuts and Chicken.

20120810_111121Named after her grandmother this boutique place in Toronto’s Leslieville neighbourhood supports the big restaurant from it’s kitchen as well as offers up some delicious “to go” fare for the locals.

Paulette herself is said to have loved to cook and it sure seems it’s in the family genes. Her daughter, Linda Haynes, along with her husband, Martin Connell, founded the popular ACE Bakery in 1993. Now servicing over 300 restaurants and stores and expanding to the US South East. Then of course it was grand daughter Devin’s turn in the restaurant game. The mother and daughter also penned the cook book Two Takes.

20120810_111146On the outside Paulette’s powder blue paint job has it stick out like a sore thumb.
Inside the place is not much more than an order window and a lobby. You go in, you order, you wait on one of the handful of stools by the front window. Employees are decked out in 50’s diner style attire, are very friendly and eager to serve. The menu on one side and the donut line up on the other side frame the order window. Bright, clean and functional.

So how was everything you may ask?? Well good. Maybe even very good but sadly, I think could be even better. I should point out that I was there just as the first batches of chicken were coming out of the oil. So they were as perfect as they could be.

20120810_110851First off, we’ll start with the donuts. Made in house (by a robot) with all natural ingredients these cake donuts are tender yet hearty. All come with the same base dough but have different frostings and condiments. There are 7 daily options that change and/or rotate. I sampled 6 offerings and all were good but unfortunately none blew me away. Starting top left and heading clockwise.
Raspberry Rose w/ Graham Crackers: Not bad. The tartness of the raspberry nicely offset the sweetness in the icing.
Cinnamon Latte: Nice cinnamon flavour with a hint of espresso. Good for the “Not so sweet” crowd I suspect. Great I imagine, with coffee.
Mojito: The only flavour I could really pick up here was lime. That said, it was nice and one of the better specimens. Mrs. Sippi’s favourite.
Vanilla Bean Nutmeg: Probably my least favourite. I got nothing other than “Old Fashioned Sugar Donut" from it. No vanilla flavour which I love.
Dark Chocolate Pretzel: If I’d picked the pretzel off I’d have loved this. Chocolate and pretzel as a combo isn’t a favourite of mine.
Rootbeer Float: Definitely my favourite. A nice mild rootbeer flavour with some creaminess to it.

20120810_110839The fried chicken seems to be either very divisive or they’ve been watching the internet and people’s comments. I’ve read people saying the batter is so hard they were worried they’d break a tooth. Either their hyperbole is a million times worse than mine or the fine folks at Paulette’s have it dialed in now. Also, this is not traditional southern fried chicken. It's roots are more in Korea than in Kentucky. The meat was tasty and juicy (Although not overly) and the batter is a tempura that is as crispy as it could possibly be. I thoroughly enjoyed the crispiness and really wish that right out of the oil they’d hit it with some S & P. Served straight up like that I think it would be fabulous. The philosophy seems to be that the chicken comes "plain" and you customize it with a variety of sauces or seasoned salts. A very interesting concept that perhaps just needs some time to iron out all the wrinkles. 
I tired one sauce and one salt.
Hot Sauce: This sauce wasn’t overly hot but did have a nice flavour. It's seems to be meant as a dipping sauce. As such it was too thick and ended up over powering the chicken.
Garam Masala Salt: This was a much better match. If you lightly seasoned your bird with it, it provided some balanced flavour and seasoning. While Indian flavours aren't associated with fried chicken, I thought it worked really well.
So all in all I liked the chicken but think they’d have a real winner on their hands with a few tweaks here or there.

20120810_111819The big home run for me was the Mac & Cheese. The use of “Scoobi Do” (Cavatappi) is a great choice. In particular the textured outside really helps hold on to sauces. The pasta was also an absolutely perfect al dente. Add to that a nice, smooth cheese sauce and top it all off with crispy bits of tempura batter for crunch it’s some of the best Mac & Cheese I’ve had in the city. 

So there you have it folks, one of the newest additions to the burgeoning Leslieville food scene.

You can find Paulette’s Original Donuts and Chicken at 913 Queen St. E. in Toronto, Ontario.

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You can also find them on the web, facebook and Twitter.
Paulette's Original Donuts and Chicken on Urbanspoon

Well that’s all for now folks. We’ll see you next time in the food court.


Monday, August 6, 2012

Home of the World Famous Ground Round.

20120716_141443George Motz wrote the following after visiting Miller’s Bar in Dearborn, Michigan. “The first time I visited Miller’s it was in the middle of a torrential springtime downpour. It was 11:15am on a Wednesday, the bar was packed and everyone was eating hamburgers.”
That in itself should speak volumes about the burgers at Millers. Quite often familiarity breeds contempt. A place can be great at first and without ever doing anything can fall out of favour. What seemed so unbelievable at the outset becomes the same ole, same ole. Clearly this is not the case at Miller’s.

20120716_141541Miller’s is an All Star when it comes to bars. Voted one of the best in the US by Esquire and one of the 20 Burgers you Must Eat Before You Die by Alan Richman of GQ. Quite simply, it’s a legend. (It’s often on a list of America’s best burgers.) Then there’s the little idiosyncrasies that just add to the charm. There are, for instance, no printed menus. The offerings are so few that the staff knows them off the top of their heads. Just ask your server and they can recite the entire docket in about 20 seconds. (Alternatively you can check on line).

More interestingly though, they are on the honour system. No tabs keeping track of what you ate or drank. Just tell them what you had and they'll tell ya what you owe. They trust you.

From the outside it's not much to look at. A decent sized red building with a big white Miller's on the side. It looks more like a warehouse than a bar. There is plenty of parking out back which is nice. All said, it's very unassuming.

20120716_141403Inside was rather nice. I'm not sure if it's freshly renovated given the 1970's lounge feel to it but it was clean, neat and tidy. There's lots of seating in booths and tables or belly up to the bar like we did. At one end of the bar is a small kitchen and flat top where the magic happens. Miller’s serves upwards of 1,200 burgers a day. So many that their butcher starts at 4am getting the patties made. I'm told the same lady has been cooking up burgers for nearly 30 years. So you know you’re in good hands.

So how were those burgers?? Well.........

20120716_142039The fries and onion rings are from frozen. Not that there's necessarily anything wrong with that. Good frozen food is good food. The rings were fine. Not great but certainly good enough to satisfy a ring craving. On the other hand I didn't care at all for the fries. I didn't find them overly potato tasting and as you can see by how blonde they are not nearly well done enough for me. I'm not much of a shoe string cut guy either. I like them to be beefier so all in all, huge fail on the fries. That said, I would order them again and ask for well done before condemning them all together.

20120716_142021Is it the best burger in America?? Well, maybe. This is a fabulous, fabulous burger. Instantly in my top 2 in the US. It's a 7oz burger which makes a little bigger than most patties of this ilk. The bun, while staying true and using a Wonderbread style, is able to hold up to the juiciness of the patty and the addition of Velveeta for the cheese just nicely pulled the whole thing together. It melts so well and added a creaminess to it. The whole package had an unctuousness (a trick word meaning greasy in a good way) that left me with a euphoric feeling when I was done. Just incredible.

So there you have it burger meisters. Sometimes you can believe the hype.

You can find Miller's Bar at 23700 Michigan Ave. Dearborn, Mi.

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You can also find them on the web.

Miller's Bar on Urbanspoon
Miller's Bar on Foodio54

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