Saturday, December 28, 2013

Okra (Fayetteville, Tn)

The Town Square
20131129_132427If you visit a small town, most of the time you'll find one common denominator. A courthouse and square right at its heart that is not only historic and beautiful but is (or was) often the center of the towns universe. Butchers, bakeries, mercantile, and other various and sundry businesses lined the square and was where locals would do their shopping. Often the movie theatre is there as well. So common is this setting that Universal Studios has a permanent set dedicated to the “Archetypical American” town. The set has been seen in such movies as To Kill a Mockingbird and Back to the Future and TV shows like Leave it to Beaver and Night Rider.

Sadly, the advent of mega malls and grocery stores saw a lot of these businesses surrounding the courthouse fail. Due to the proximity of the courts they are quite often, sadly taken over by law firms. Some towns that haven't suffered from recessions still have a variety of merchants offering antiques, books and souvenirs. And rest assured, there will be restaurants.
20131129_132439Such is the case with Fayetteville, Tn. A wonderful courthouse square is surrounded by some of the afore mentioned establishments. That's where you'll find Okra Restaurant. The latest offering from artist Toby Penney and her husband Chef Michael Bradley. Local restaurant veterans, one time operators of the famous Mrs. Mary Bobo's in nearby Lynchburg and owners of Amazing Gracie’s BBQ.

Combining a love of art and food Okra serves as restaurant and art gallery. Not to mention the upstairs apartment serves as living quarters and studio.

You have your choice of ordering off the menu or the white board. Toby advised me that the only thing that comes in a can is the ketchup refill. Other than that, everything is made from scratch. So lets get a look.

Both Mrs. Sippi and Madame Butterfly opted for Fried Catfish Blue Plate Specials with a variety of sides. I ordered off the menu.

20131129_133834Breaded Catfish: Nothing earth shattering here. It was straight up, cornmeal breaded on the outside and flaky yet creamy inside. It was just solid. Fried catfish 101
Fried Okra: As good as it gets. Not the crusty balls of slime you get in some places but lightly battered, fresh tasting and just cooked. Mrs. Sippi hailed it as some of the best.
Mac n Cheese: Your typical old school creamy mac n cheese executed very well. As I said to Toby, mac n cheese doesn't have to have 4 cheeses I've never heard of to be good. It just has to be good.
Pinto Beans: These are great. Nice rich gravy with earthy beans. Sadly, there was no pepper sauce on the table to kick them up a notch. Not that the NEEDED it.
Turnip Greens: A nice example that had a touch of sweetness followed with a peppery finish. Thoroughly enjoyable.
Squash: Mrs. Sippi had mixed emotions about this. She was disappointed in that it wasn't what she thought she was getting when she ordered it. That said, it was still fantastic.

20131129_133829'Mento Cristo: This play on the famous Monte Cristo (which is a fancy way of saying grilled ham and cheese sandwich) is made with Pimento Cheese rather than cheddar. The sour dough was basically made French toast style, complete with cinnamon sugar which I didn't care for (nor did the lady sitting at the table next to us) and easily dusted off. This sandwich however after the fine tuning was an absolute home run. The lady beside me agreed.
Fresh Cut Fries: Another item that needed some fine tuning in my mind. They needed to be more well done. As I said, that's just a personal preference. Outside of that, these are fantastic. Great potato taste and seasoned with Fleur de Sel which was a very nice touch. Fries like this would easily fetch north of $10 at a fancy steak house if you simply named them "Pomme Frites."

20131129_135448Apple Bread Pudding: There was a significant difference of opinion here. While the other two thought it was only okay, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Much like Mrs. Sippi and the squash, this wasn't exactly as I expected but decided I liked it for what it was not for what it wasn't. Most notably, I was hoping for a nice apple cinnamon flavour. The caramel sauce on top was really nice but not (in a good way) over the top rich. It came with a nice fluffy whipped cream.

So there you have it folks, some terrific southern fare in a lovely little town.

You can find Okra at 113 Main Ave. S. in Fayetteville, Tn.

View Larger Map

You can also find them on the web and facebook.
Okra on Urbanspoon

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

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Fresh Burger (Richmond Hill, On)

Tastes Good Like a Hamburger Should.

FB LogoFor Jacques Kavafian it was time to plot a different course in life. Having spent 28 years in the financial industry he was ready for a new challenge. Taking his love for food and most specifically hamburgers and fries he created Fresh Burger. In his words, "Many of them (nouveau burger joints) complicate the hamburger into various concoctions. We emphasize the taste of the hamburger itself. At Fresh Burger we promise to offer great tasting hamburgers done right." What a concept. A burger place that is focused on the platform (the burger) rather than the myriad of condiments/concoctions that drown out the fundamental building block on which they construct these monstrosities. But don't get me wrong, a well executed monstrosity is still a very tasty thing.

Fresh BurgerKavafian is following a template used by Southwest Airlines. Founded on 4 basic tenets; Equipment (in this case the burger not an airplane), Price (make it as inexpensive as possible without cutting corners), Service (he's all about keeping the customer happy), and Simplicity (Keeping a small menu and concentrating on doing a few thing very well rather than a number of things poorly). Jacques is also taking cues from other successful companies as well. His house made burger sauce is inspired by that of the great In 'n Out chain based in California.

The store is quite small and the menu, as I pointed out, is even smaller.
As of now, you basically have two options, burgers and fries. There is some room to customize within those two options such as Poutine and single or double burgers but at the base, burgers and fries is all Fresh Burger does.

So let's get a look at those items shall we?? 

I will first point out that all cheeseburgers come with American cheese as a default. Upon request you can change up to Cheddar, Swiss or Provolone.

FB Double CheeseburgerDouble Cheeseburger: An excellent burger. Two 4 oz. ground sirloin patties, American cheese on a soft white bun. This is what it's all about. Simple and absolutely delicious. Sirloin isn't overly fatty but Jacques doesn't over cook them so they're still juicy enough and the flavour of the meat is nicely complemented by the cheese. Which also adds a nice creaminess. The bun provides little more than a way to get deliciousness to the mouth and soak up whatever juice does run out.
FB Prime BurgerPrime Burger: A White Board special this is even better than the single or double. Made with USDA Prime Beef it's a little fattier and as such, juicier with that unctuousness that fat can give. Adding bacon and cheese just makes it that much better. It comes with tomato, lettuce, onion, pickle and secret sauce as a default and while I removed the rabbit food I stuck with the sauce and I'm glad I did. It's very good and lends a nice flavour component.
FB FriesFries: These are really good but nothing I would consider the best I've had. Fresh cut and nicely fried I think maybe they could've used a bit more salt but that's something you can easily add at the table. I like the size and they didn't come with a whole bunch of those crummy bits that you sometimes find when a place cuts 'em fresh.
FB PoutinePoutine: A decent representation of this classic Quebecois dish. Made with beef gravy as basically every place in the GTA does but the flavouring wasn't quite right. So all in all, I'd say that if you like poutine you'll probably like it but not love it. If you're one of those so called "connoisseurs" of the dish then you'll probably find enough to complain about and should probably steer clear. FWIW, my buddy Gus, an expat Montrealer gave them his approval.

So there you have it folks, quite possibly THE BEST burger in York Region and one of the better ones the GTA has to offer.

You can find Fresh Burger at 9206 Leslie St. in Richmond Hill, On.

View Larger Map

You can also find them on the web, facebook and Twitter.
Fresh Burger on Urbanspoon

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

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Chuckwagon BBQ (Madison, Al)

Alabama meets Texas

20130814_130921You sometimes have to wonder what possesses people to do the things they do. I mean, what would posses a person to open a Texas BBQ joint in Madison Alabama. Right in the heart of North Alabama BBQ country. Especially given that people from one BBQ region DO NOT, as a rule, like BBQ from another region. But....there it is, Chuck Wagon BBQ not 10 minutes from the legend, Big Bob Gibson's. It's a recipe, no pun intended, for disaster.

20130814_130847But what if I told you that at lunch time, you can't get near this place. That lineups start before the doors open. That ya, it's that good.

20130814_153503Owner Mike Holley, a genuine transplanted Texan is churning out what could very well be the best Texas Q East of the Pecos. Using recipes handed down from his Grandfather, George Washington Gray he's found enough room in the BBQ saturated landscape of Madison and Limestone Counties. While he toiled in the oil fields of Texas for many years, Mike had cooking in his blood. His Great Grandfather was a chuck wagon cook on the
Goodnight-Loving Trail.

20130814_153402Located just off I-565 Chuckwagon BBQ is a sight to behold. An honest to goodness joint. Decked out in weathered barn board with a bright red roof and big BBQ spelled out it's a stand out. Smoke stacks and catering pits pop up like mushrooms in a damp forest.

20130814_145819Inside it mirrors the outside with more barn board and is decorated with many things Texas. You enter around back and go through the outdoor dining area. Food is served to you cafeteria style from a large serving station inside and the cramped main dining room seems to accommodate many more than you'd think.

So let's get a look at what's got Alabamians betraying their roots shall we??

20130814_150623The Beans were much better but seemed to be lacking something. It seemed to be an acid of some sort. I added a bit of BBQ sauce and that seemed to brighten things up a bit. So I added more. I found that there was a level that was perfect and one that was too much. So easy does it.
I quite liked the Tater Salad. Nothing special about it, it’s just good old solid tuber goodness. Nothing wrong with that.
20130502_180443A 2 Meat combo of Brisket and Sausage is a nice match. Smoked pork sausage and Texas style brisket are as ubiquitous in Texas as cows it seems. While both were terrific, they both lacked that great smoked flavour that I love. Otherwise, the sausage was incredibly tasty and perfectly cooked. When smoking sausage the casing can become rather rubbery and downright unappetizing. This wasn't the case here. The brisket also hit all the appropriate buttons but the smokey one as I mentioned. The meat was fork tender, juicy and great tasting. Gven that these are the two house specialties, they’d better be good.

20130814_150637They do actually do pork products as well. This horrible photo is of ribs. Given that we showed up 5 minutes before close and I got the last order of ribs they were needless to say, not very photogenic. Not to worry, the taste was pretty much everything you’d want. As you can tell by the pink in the meat, the smoke flavour was spot on.

20130814_152240For dessert there are some options but Mrs. Sippi was all over the Fried Pies. The apple was terrific but the peach was just slightly better.

So there you have it folks, terrific Texas BBQ in the Heart of Dixie.

You can find Chuck Wagon BBQ at 8982 Madison Blvd. in Madison, Al.

View Larger Map

You can also find them on facebook.
Chuck Wagon on Urbanspoon

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

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Patty and Franks (Toronto, On)

Gourmet Burgers and Hotdogs.

Patty & Franks Sign"Gourmet Burgers and Hotdogs." "Signature" burger. Sigh.
Here is another case of not judging a book by it's cover. When I see things like "Gourmet" attached to burgers and such it makes me think that they're really over thinking things. Gilding the lily doesn't make it better. When I see the use (or in many instances, over use) of buzz words like "Signature" it makes me wary. That there's a corporation just trying to sell a concept based on a craze. Cutesy names are another red flag. Like you need to sell the sizzle because the steak isn't good enough to sell itself. "Beau Thai" is a good example of a name that's a turn off. Sometimes I'm right. Sometimes of course those things should just be over looked. Such is the case with TO's newest burger emporium, Patty and Frank's. Which doesn't fit the first two warning signs and walks a fine line with the last.

Patty & Franks (1)Perhaps they should've led with this: "At Patty and Franks Gourmet Burgers and Hot Dogs, we create juicy burgers from family recipes and offer real food without any fillers or preservatives!" That's the kinda thing I like to see. That's the kinda place I love to visit. Let's face it, there's nothing inherently "Gourmet" about ground beef or a simple hot dog. They're simple yet tasty concoctions and in no way need gussying up.
P&F Interior (3)So, once I was able to silence the alarm bells and give P & F's a chance I was glad I did. Opened in the fall (of 2013) they're, as you can imagine, doing burgers and dogs (Patty & Franks, get it??) along with some of the normal sides and terrific shakes. Located in Greektown their off to a fast start. Immediately grabbing the attention of the GTA's burger loving crowd and so far, the early reports are great. Both links and disks come in preordained creations or you can mix and match parts and accessories to create your own masterpiece. The best part is, everything is house made. Yes, even the Onion Rings.
From the outside it's yet another store front along "The Danforth." Mixed in amongst many restaurants it's bright and simple outward appearance makes it stand out from the rank and file.
P&F Interior (1)Inside I loved the space. It's kind of a cross between retro a burger place and a modern burger place. Bright, white and clean like an operating room it has some subtle reminders of the glory days of the diner. Chrome napkin and straw dispensers with vintage Pepsi logos on them are a nice homage to days gone by.
There's some hardwood on the walls with real tables and chairs (not quasi booths) filling out the dining room. There's a prep kitchen in the back and an open assembly kitchen in the middle of the space.

So let's get a look at what's cookin' in those kitchens.
P&F Signature DogP & F Style Frank: A hot dog with cheddar, real bacon bits, chopped up burger and sautéed onions. I loved it. The wiener was good quality and everything had a nice balance with the exception of the burger meat. It was rather lost in there.I added only mustard and was rewarded with one of the best dogs I've had in the GTA. Perhaps anywhere. Sadly for you self proclaimed "Purists" out there the dog doesn't have the natural casing and snap that y'all see as a deal breaker. I'm not as picky and worry more about taste than anything else. On this second issue, they deliver in spades.
P&F Bacon CBurgerBYO Burger: I liked, not loved the burger. It's 5 oz. AAA CAB (yeah) that is seared on a flat top and then finished on a grill. I ordered my usual bacon cheeseburger. It tastes very much like it's a grill burger not a flat top. As such, there's just no way I'm gonna love it. It's just not my style. I spoke with one of the owners and had a debate on the merits of the grill or griddle. He loves the searing of the flat top but thinks that it NEEDS to see fire. I disagree but this is Canada and we're not only allowed to, we're better off because we can. So, all that said, a good burger is a good burger no matter how it's prepared and this is certainly one. I'd order it again.
P&F PoutineTraditional Poutine: Probably the closest to the real deal I've had in TO. It's made with beef gravy (which isn't traditional) but at least they seem to understand that it's more of a sauce than actually a gravy. The best I've had is at the Montreal Pool Room and this seems close. The flavour and consistency is very good. The curds were massive and melted nicely. The fries on their own were nice, crispy but a bit under salted. Perhaps because they were being covered with salty condiments. It's better to err on the side of under salted so no big deal. The purists here will lament the lack of squeak but as I've said in the past, I like my curds to melt so they wouldn't squeak anyway.
P&F RingsOnion Rings: Also very good. Home made they passed the pinch test although some of the breading did shatter and fall off. The pull test they passed with flying colours. They were tasty in a basic way. Not a lot coming from the breading other than crunch so the onion had to and did carry the dish. They were a bit greasy even for rings. I mentioned it to one of the owners and he said he knew that and is working on it.
Shakes: The Strawberry/Banana was fabulous. (no picture) Made with real ice cream, strawberries and bananas. What an idea!! I can remember back as far was when I was a kid that being a great combination of fruit flavours.
It seems, thanks to a competitor who shall remain nameless, that while Toronto was getting a burger upgrade, a residual effect was an upgrade in the shakes being offered around town as well. At the very least, the availability of great shakes.

So there you have it folks. Great, (not) gourmet burgers, dogs, shakes, well lots of great stuff in one of the cities newest fast food havens.
You can find Patty and Franks at 467 Danforth Ave. in Toronto, On. 

View Larger Map 

You can also find them on the web, facebook and Twitter.
Patty and Frank's Gourmet Burgers and Hot Dogs on Urbanspoon 
Well that's all for now folks, catch ya later in the food court.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Huntsville's 20 Most Distinctive Dishes Pt. II

Welcome back.
Here is the second of my trilogy in four parts on the article Huntsville's 20 Most Distinctive Dishes. The first of which was last month and the other two will be posted over the next couple months.
6) Locally brewed beer by Olde Town Brewing and Straight to Ale. (Huntsville) Available at various locations.
Straight to Ale ~ MonkeynaughtOlde Town Brewing Co.: They began operations in the summer of 2004 and were the first brewery in Huntsville since the repeal of Prohibition. The brewery was devastated by a fire in 2008 and the company never seemed to recover. They officially closed shop in early 2011 before I was able to sample some of their wares.
Straight to Ale: Born in the basement of co-owner Dan Perry, Straight to Ale first hit the market in the spring of 2010 and as of the summer of 2012 was only available in North Alabama. Their beer names are either puns such as "He Ain't Heffe" or locally themed such as this sample, Monkeynaught IPA. A tribute to the monkey's dispatched to space from Redstone Arsenal during the pioneering days of NASA. This is almost a glass full of tangerine or sweet grapefruit. It's very citrusy (as they advertise) and downright fantatic. If you like the citrus fruits, you'll probably love this.

7) Fish Taco's ~ Bandido Burrito Co. (Huntsville)
Bandito Burrito Co. ~ Fish TacosCertainly one of the best things on this list. BBC is not a lot to look at from the outside. Occupying what looks like a one time Burger King. In fact, the exterior doesn't hold much promise of good things within. But don't ever judge a book by it's cover. This place is great, led by the fish tacos. They come 2 to an order with Mexican Rice and Refried beans. (both sides were very tasty) A piece of lightly seasoned tilapia each, topped with cabbage, tomato, onions, cilantro and a white sauce made of dill, lime juice and Mexican crema. They are utterly delicious.

What made this dish is the sauce. It added a great deal of depth.

I can also recommend the Combo Burrito. Nothing earth shattering about it. Just plain tasty.
Bandito Burrito Company on Urbanspoon 
8) Jalapeno Cheddar Bread ~ FredBread (Huntsville) Available locally.FredBread ~ Jalapeno CheddarWhat we have here is basically a loaf of sandwich bread studded with jalapenos and cheddar cheese. On it's own with a bit of butter this was great. I didn't get a chance but I think it was just screaming to be made into a grilled cheese sandwich. Very tasty stuff.

What really makes this is, it's bread. Nuff said.

I recommend purchasing this on court square at Harrison Brothers Hardware. A wonderfully restored hardware store from days gone by.

Chicken Berlin ~ Cafe Berlin (Huntsville)
Cafe Berlin ~ Chicken BerlinA breaded chicken breast topped with Jarlsberg cheese, sauteed onions and sliced green apple. It was okay but really lacked any depth. The chicken was plain breast meat, the breading wasn't particularly well seasoned and even the Jarlsberg cheese, onion and apple didn't kick this up a notch. Here, the sum was exactly that of it's parts.

What made this dish was the red cabbage that was a side. It was fantastic.

I can also recommend the bratwurst platter. 
Cafe Berlin on Urbanspoon
10) Big 8 Pizza ~ Big Ed's Pizzeria (Huntsville) 
Big Ed's Pizzeria ~ Big 8 PizzaPepperoni, sausage, ham, green pepper, onions, fresh mushrooms, green and black olives. A seemingly nice combination however the thin crust was way too weighed down by all the toppings and too much water leached out and in general, the whole thing was a mess.

Nothing made this dish. It's just ill fated.

I can however highly recommend Big Ed's pizza. We had a simpler pizza with just pepperoni and black olives and it was fabulous. The best pizza in the city.
Big Ed's Pizza on Urbanspoon

So there you go. Some great and some not so great stuff. Check back in a few weeks for part III.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Motor Burger (Windsor, On)


20130809_204836I'm quite certain you've heard this story before. Several times over in fact. A business is no longer viable due to the "Economic Downturn" that occurred late in the last decade. It happened all over the globe but perhaps no where more so than the Detroit/Windsor area. While they are separate cities in separate countries they're more than just cross river neighbours. Their communities are tied together in just about every way imaginable. The parade of cars crisscrossing the Ambassador Bridge (and through the tunnel) on a daily basis for work or play is staggering. Not to mention that north of one quarter of the commerce between the two countries crosses that bridge connecting the two metropolises (or is that metropoli??). Simply put, if one bumps it's knee, the other says ouch.
(Ted Mosby fun fact: The D/W crossing is one of two crossings where you actually head north into the US from Canada.)
Motor BurgerThat down tur......well, lets call it what it was, a full on, dreadful recession, destroyed many businesses. A few were able to weather the storm and survive and others, such as Noi in Windsor's Little Italy, were forced to reinvent themselves. The Italian restaurant that once required you to wait for a table suddenly found itself struggling.  Could they have stuck it out and waited for the up turn?? Maybe. Not wanting to chance it and interested in a new challenge the place underwent a transformation that has spared them the executioner's axe. When Gino Gesuale and Jay Souilliere reopened as Motor Burger, most people didn't see it coming.
20130809_205909Motor Burger is the marriage of burgers and cars. The automotive themed restaurant opened in 2009 and has been going strong since. A trendy vibe and functional design is punctuated with chalk, schematic type drawings of cars and that's not the end of the vehicular theme. Menu items are named for automobiles or automotive terms. Heck, even the napkins are actual shop towels. And, much like the auto industry itself, they're in on the green movement. Ditching bottled water and utilizing a reverse osmosis system for their flat and sparkling waters for instance.

20130809_205749While they tell you the restaurant is a “present day rendition of a vintage burger joint with a modern twist on design” it may be better to think of it as a Bar and Grill focused on burgers.
They've also dipped their toes into the lubricant business. Creating their own craft brews right on the premises.

20130809_205809The success and quality of Motor Burger hasn't gone unnoticed either. Recently Readers Digest recognized their Deux Chevaux Burger as best in Canada. The Huff-Po has it as one of (#16) the Top 24 Brew Pubs in Canada. What brought it to my attention though was the visit paid by the You Gotta Eat Here gang. They were also featured in a National Film Board of Canada documentary series GDP which investigates the financial woes of Canadian businesses such as this one.

But enough of this, let's get a look at these vehicular inspired goodies.
20130809_211158The Motor Sauce is incredible. A compound mayonnaise that's full of garlic and chilies that's roots are in the French (and Creole) condiment, remoulade with chipotles added to the party. It comes on burgers or as a dipping sauce and is quite nice. It's not overly hot but does have a bit of jump and some tanginess.
20130809_210059We started with an order of Chili Spring Rolls. A really solid opening act here. Not quite blown away but very happy with these. Chorizo chili, lime, black beans, smoked cheese and topped with sour cream. The main taste is the chorizo with the others playing a supporting roll. They come 3 to an order, are deep fried and cut in half lengthwise.

20130809_211139The Motor Mac n Cheese is solid and fairly standard. There's not a lot that stands out but it's solid none the less. The use of tortiglioni rigate is a great choice for two reasons. First of all the standard elbow that's used in M&C is nice but the added length and helix shape are both aesthetically pleasing and seems to stand up better to the cheesy sauce. As well, "rigate" means it has those little ridges on the outside of the noodle. That adds surface area and more for the sauce to cling to. The pasta was nicely cooked. Falling somewhere between a perfect al dente and over cooked.
20130809_211215The Shrimp Fuel is, as you can imagine, a shimp burger flavoured with chilies, garlic, fresh tomato, cilantro and topped with avocado and mango salsa. I had probably over hyped this burger a little too much in my mind. I found it to be really good but still just ever so slightly disappointing. There was nothing wrong with it, in fact, it's very well executed. I guess the flavours were a little more subtle than I was expecting. Having seen it on TV I was excited to try it. It happens.
20130809_211125The Auto Strada burger is an absolute home run. It took everything in me to forego a beef burger for a sausage burger. I can honestly say it's one of the best burgers I've had and easily the best non beef burger ever. Chipotle rubbed northern Italian sausage, gorgonzola cheese and sliced apple slaw. There's a lot going on here and it's all good. The sausage is very flavourful and has a decent hit of spice. The cheese and slaw are up to the challenge as supporters. I just thought this was crazy good.

So there you have it folks, some truly great burgers in a hip, trendy setting.

You can find Motor Burger at 888 Erie St (Via Italia) in Windsor, On.

View Larger Map

You can also find them on the web, facebook and Twitter.

Motor Burger on Urbanspoon

Well that's that folks. Catch ya next time.