Monday, February 25, 2013

Fine Hungarian Cuisine

Goulash HouseIn June of 2011, Judit Szamosszegi introduced the flavours of the old country at Paprika Euro Deli. Just off Main Street in Newmarket. The smallish store featured, among other things, meats, dry goods and hot table. So popular was said hot table that a year later when the adjoining spot on main street came available, she jumped at it. She and her husband George opened The Goulash House serving York Region some of the finest Hungarian food in Canada.

I’m told it doesn’t get as cold in Hungary as it does ‘round these parts in the winter. While that’s probably a good thing for them when the mercury does dip, Hungarian cuisine seems to be just about the best comfort, stick to your ribs, stay warm kinda food that is perfect on a cold snowy night.
Sometimes called Magyar Cuisine after the primary ethnic group of Hungary. Rife with meats and fresh vegetables, owing to Hungary's farming heritage. The cuisine in general seems to have a nice blend of what one would consider eastern and western European dishes. Things like schnitzels and perogies would be fine examples of those.

InteriorLocation, location, location is what they say and this place is all over it. It sits in a corner unit of a heritage building with beautiful, large front windows. If you don’t mind being in a bit of a fish bowl, those tables there are great. Inside wood and exposed brick dominate. The whole place just has a nice warm feel that the food supports nicely. It’s just a great place.

So let’s get a look at this food of which I speak.

Hungarian SamplerThe Hungarian Sampler platter is an assortment of cheese and meats from the attached deli. Everything on the plate was at least very good but the two stand outs were the Smoked Mozzarella (top right) and the Smoked Salami (bottom right). The Liptauer (Cheese Spread) (bottom left) was also quite enjoyable. It came with some very nice bread.

Chicken PaprikashChicken Paprikash is as synonymous with Hungarian food as Goulash. This example (the only one I've ever had) was simply marvelous. Not very spicy and very smooth. The chicken was nice and tender and the Nokedli (Hungarian Spätzle) was a perfect vehicle for the extra sauce. I added some of the offered hot sauce (very similar to sambal) and it gave it just that much more punch. 

Beef GoulashThe national dish of Hungary is Beef Goulash and as such, you’d best make it well if you have a Hungarian restaurant. Especially if that’s the name on the door. Well, this is every bit the hearty, delicious dish I know. A rich, thick, yet delicate flavoured gravy with chunks of tender beef shank swimming in it is poured over Nokedli and served in a kettle. The hint of caraway and paprika gently flavour the dish. It’s somewhere between soup and stew. Quite frankly, it’s simply incredible and would be the best thing on the menu if not for….

Potato Paprikash…Potato Paprikash. This dish has so much going on and is just so incredibly delicious. Slices of potato are simmered in a paprika broth that’s flavoured with Csabi sausage and garnished with a piece of Debreceni sausage. Served with the Nokedli it’s just so tasty. As much as I wanted to say the goulash was the best, this dish is just that much better.

DoboshThe Dobosh cake is really good. a 7 layer torte topped with caramel (in this case a caramel topped cookie like thing). It had good over all taste and wasn't sickeningly sweet. We quite enjoyed it.

Somloi GaluskaNot nearly as much as the Somlói Galuska. A mixture of Chocolate, Vanilla and Walnut sponge cakes with custard, topped with whipped cream and chocolate sauce, topped with a cherry. It's heavenly.

So there you have it folks, some fantastic Hungarian food a little north of Toronto

You can find The Goulash House at 200 Main St. S, Newmarket, On.

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You can also find them on facebook.
Goulash House on Urbanspoon

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

Monday, February 18, 2013

A Family Treat….

….To eat with us.

Nola Schmucker had an ability to make pies like no other. In 1948 she and her husband opened Schmucker's Dairy Bar. Serving the fine folks of Toledo ice cream and her delicious home made pies. Their son Allen would peddle his bike around the neighbourhood selling ice cream novelties to the locals. Eventually Allen would dedicate his life to the family business which would go on to become Schmucker's Restaurant. A basic, no frills diner serving scratch cooking for breakfast, lunch or dinner.

While Allen's kids would work the restaurant all through high school, it would be Doug who would take over and become the third generation behind the counter.

20130107_125429Some of the things I love most about places like this are the big neon signs out front and the feel inside. These classic signs from yesteryear have gone the way of the dinosaur. The chrome stools and phone booth inside are original and for the most part, everything is as it has been for decades. There's a certain charm that comes with that kind of tradition. 
Schmucker's has always  been about family dining. Even employees are treated as one of their own. All wear name tags and how long they've been a "Family member." For some, it's "Since 2010." Others, such as Doug himself, has a tag that says "Since birth."

The diner is a fairly inconspicuous box in the Reynolds Corners neighbourhood of Toledo. Were it not for the sign, you may miss it. Inside it's all diner. Counter seating, booths, open kitchen and of course, a dessert cabinet that looks more like a trophy case. 20130107_124554That's where Doug keeps his pies. And make no mistake, this place was built on those pies. So well known, so good, so in demand it's not unheard of for them to "whip up" nearly 2,000 of them around Thanksgiving. All from their main kitchen in the back. There’s a standard line up with "Doug’s Pie of the Week" rounding things out.

They say man can not live on pie alone (though I'm willing to try) so the rest of the menu better deliver. Let me tell you, it does and then some. 

20130107_124615I ordered a side of chili. It was nice but nothing mind blowing. I found it rich in tomatoey goodness and chili spice but seemed to lack some balance. A little Tabasco helped with that. The acidity and heat provided perked it up. While it's not the best I've had it's a good solid bowl of red none the less and as such, enjoyable.

20130107_130700Mrs. Sippi, as you can imagine, was all over the Hot Beef Platter. A gravy enveloped roast beef sandwich on white bread with mashed potatoes. The picture on the menu was inviting. What arrived at the table was mouthwatering. It hit on all points. Gravy; nice and rich. Beef; Beefy and tender. Bread; Just there to provide structure. Mashed Potatoes; Creamy and flavourful. If all that wasn’t enough, the horseradish was potent. Seriously, this stuff is not for the timid. Use it respectfully. Just a fabulous dish.

20130107_130707My Dagwood was more or less a Club without the chicken or a BLT with ham. It also had a fried egg on it. Either way you (ahem) slice it, it was great. It was just one of those satisfying, “Comfortable old shoe” type foods. Calling it a "safe bet" doesn’t do it justice but that’s what it is. It’s not sexy in anyway, shape or form. It’s just a terrific sandwich.
The fries were a bit undercooked and as such, underwhelming. They’re fresh cut and tasted great but were a little too flaccid and a few were al dente. Next time I'll order ‘em well done.

Perch SandwichIt would be nice if everything was made in house at every restaurant. Sometimes this is not possible. That doesn’t mean it can’t be good though. Take for instance the Perch Sandwich. Unless you have the ability to buy a large piece of whole fish daily and cut to order, you’re best off with frozen. Fish and seafood deteriorate as such a rapid level, IQF is the way to go. Here, locally caught Perch from Lake Erie is enveloped in a crunch, tasty batter. Encasing the delicate tasting and creamy fish. Topped with mayo, lettuce and tomato on a dinner roll it’s one fine sandwich.
I added a nice pile of Hash Browns (with onion) on the side and they were quite satisfactory.

Now for the pies.
20130107_134214 Mrs. Sippi went with the Cherry Crumb. It’s tough to say that this is the best cherry pie I’ve had. All the others have been the traditional double crust type. This has your typical “Crumble” on top and it adds a dimension that’s really difficult to beat. The balance of sweet to tart from the cherries was perfect. It was spectacular.

Scutterbotch PieA long standing tradition is the use of the term “Scutterbotch” which in Schmuckerese means Butterscotch. One of their more popular pies is the Scutterbotch and it’s easy to understand why. Delicious butterscotch pudding under a pile of whipped cream and caramel drizzle.

20130107_134234Being the gigantic chocolate fiend I am there was no way I could turn down something named Triple Chocolate Indulgence. I would however be lying if I said it was everything I hoped it would be. It was just that much better. The crust is nothing special but it’s really just an exoskeleton for the most part. On the bottom is chocolate pudding topped with chocolate mousse and garnished with hunks of chocolate brownie. I know, right?? Well, I took a couple bites and was utterly blown away. Ya see those coloured streaks in the mousse?? Well those are M&M’s. Totally unfair!!

So there you have it folks. A fantastic little family diner serving all your favourites.

You can find Schmucker’s at 2013 N. Reynolds Rd, Toledo, Oh.

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You can also find them on the web and facebook.
Schmucker's on Urbanspoon
Schmucker's on Foodio54

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

Saturday, February 16, 2013

The Old Guard

SignIn 1980 Joe Batshon, along with the rest of the family immigrated to Canada from Israel. Within a year the family had purchased a restaurant and began a local tradition. Jumping in on the independent fast food movement at the time they sold, much like a lot of places that dotted the GTA landscape at the time, burgers, souvlaki, steak on a bun and fabulous onion rings. Many, such as Fire Pit and Lick’s expanded, lost control and either went away or are shaddows of their former glory.
Joe stuck with the business, didn’t sell out and today is the owner of what has become a community landmark. An integral part of this small town, long ago swallowed up as Toronto pushed it’s boundaries, that never really came to grips with progress. The Burger Shack, as much as any other restaurant in Forest Hill, is the heart and soul of the neighbourhood. Even though it lies just outside the Forest Hill postal district.

Burger ShackThere was a time in the not too distant past that, when charged with locating Toronto’s best burgers, people would invariably point to The Burger Shack. The crown seems to have been lost over the last few years but not through their own misguidance. The simple fact is, while they still crank out the same quality burgers, the competition has stepped up. Some of the most recent surveys in the local publications are full of Johnny-come-latelys and their upgraded takes on this simple yet easy to screw up sandwich. Sticking with tradition can sometimes be a double edge sword. Joe’s burgers are no less tasty than when they reigned supreme. It’s just that restaurants see that as the bar they need to hurdle. Some, as you’ve probably read, have cleared that level very handsomely. Still, it’s nice to have those food memories from ones childhood. It's also nice to have a good, solid place that cranks out consistently terrific eats.

BS InteriorBurger Shack sits in what is now the northern edge of mid town. The small cash only place seats a couple dozen or so and does a steady, if not, bustling business. The seating screams fast food as does the modest décor. There’s plenty of articles heralding their success, collected over the years, framed and hanging on the walls.
There’s an open kitchen where burgers and what have you are flame broiled and rings and things are deep fried.
The back kitchen is a buzz with food prep. Just about everything here is made in house. Burgers are hand formed daily, sauces, gravies, dressings, fries cut, onions diced, it’s just a whirl wind of activity.

So let’s get a look at what’s cooking at The Burger Shack.

Onion RingsAt one time every independent fast food place made great onion rings. In fact, as much as any other offering, places were selected for their rings. Usually of the beer batter style.
The Shack’s version is just as good as I remember from my childhood. Plump, fluffy and oniony. Nicely crispy, golden brown on the outside and velvety on the inside. Easily passing the pinch and pull tests. Still some of the best this city has to offer.

PoutinePoutine, for those not familiar, is a dish native to Quebec. Once referred to by Tony Bourdain as a “gastronomical train wreck.” Fresh cut fries covered with cheese curds and gravy. While not quite traditional in that they use beef instead of chicken gravy this incarnation is incredibly tasty. Traditionalists will deduct points for non squeaky curds but I, for one, really don’t care. I actually love to let the dish sit a bit and those curds melt into a gooey mess. While few places in the city do it incredibly well, this is enough tide you over until a trip to the Eastern Townships occurs.

Souvlaki on a BunIf I were eating at a Greek fast food restaurant I’d have my Souvlaki on a pita. But here I am at a burger joint. As such, I’ll stick with my old favourite, Souvlaki on a Bun. At one time in the late 80’s I worked directly across the street from a place that served this and, again, a trip down memory lane was in order.
This did not disappoint. The pork souvlaki is just as it should be. Well seasoned and garlicky. The tzatziki could’ve been a little bolder but it was still good. I keep it simple with onion and tomato. It all comes on a lightly toasted large sesame seed hot dog bun.

Bacon CheeseburgerYou just can’t do a review of a burger place and not have a burger. It’s just not allowed.
I will caution you up front about one thing. Many places like this sell a homemade burger and a cheaper frozen patty burger. You don’t want that one. Stick with the homemade.
As I said above, the burgers are made fresh daily from meat delivered from a local butcher and triple ground in house. Unlike the new craze, smashed burgers, these are flame grilled and thoroughly spiced. Every purveyor had their own secret blend of spices and Joe is no different. One thing for sure though, they all have garlic in them. I’ve always thought the best measure of these types of burgers is the garlic burps that follow. There are exceptions to every rule however these are among the less garlic infused specimens I’ve had. This is their most popular, the Banquet Burger. Meaning it has cheese and bacon.

The Shack does a nice homemade breakfast as well. There’s nothing “Special” about their morning offerings. Your standard bacon and eggs type stuff. All done to a higher standard than most as you can well imagine.

So there you have it folks. Some good, solid, scratch made food that brings me back to a time when I had no mortgage payments, I was still an NHL prospect and about to start working on my first million. Sadly far too many of these places are now A & W’s, KFC’s or the like.

You can find The Burger Shack at 233 Eglinton Ave. W.

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You can also “Like” them on facebook.
Burger Shack on Urbanspoon
Burger Shack on Foodio54

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