Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Home of the Juicy Lucy

In 1954 a customer at Matt’s Bar in Minneapolis walked in and asked owner Matt Bristol to sandwich a piece of cheese between two burger patties before cooking it. After taking his first bite and having cheese ooze out, the customer is said to exclaim, “That’s one juicy lucy.” With that, a Minneapolis tradition was born. It should however be noted that long time rival for the best JL, The 5 – 8 Club also lays claim to the invention. Not only do they not agree on who invented it, they can’t agree on what cheese to use (Matt’s is American ONLY whereas 5 – 8 has options). Heck, they can’t even agree on the spelling. With Matt’s spelling it “Jucy Lucy.” 5 – 8 will tell you that “If it’s spelled right, it’s made right.”
BM LogoThe Lucy has spread it’s tentacles out from the Twin Cities over the last decade or so. It’s made its way over seas and caught the attention of gym teacher by day and burger guru by night, Mohammed “Big Moe” Saleh. Together with his sister, Naticia, they are faces of the 2 burger shops in Toronto’s east end that clain to be the “Home of the Juicy Lucy.”
Big Moe’s has brought a bit of a fair flare to the business. Carnival treats like Funnel Cakes and Tornado Dogs (available on the summer menu) round out the menu and add to the fun. They’re also experimenting with Waffle Fries for the upcoming season. 
They're grinding their own beef in house that is brought in fresh daily from a Halal butcher. Being Halal also means there are no pork products. So don't go asking for bacon. They are experimenting with cow bacon though. 
Big Moe's WardenIn an area that’s got it’s (and a few other city’s) share of shawarma places having a burger joint is a nice change of pace. The mid Scarborough restaurant occupies a corner unit in a small plaza and the bold sky blue colour really attracts attention from the road.
Big Moe's interiorThe inside is somewhat spartan and bathed in natural light. Those large windows allow the place to be flooded during the day time. There’s seating enough for about a couple dozen and there’s both and open kitchen where the final cooking is done and a back kitchen where all the prep work happens. Including freshly grinding their own beef.
So let’s get a look at what Big Moe has coming out of his kitchen.
Juicy Lucy (2)When you claim to be the home of the Juicy Lucy (in TO anyway) you'd better make a good one. Moe's does. This incarnation uses American cheese and it works well. There's a good amount that counters the beef without being lost or dominating. The crust created by the flat top adds a nice bit of crunch. The only real drawback with this burger is the beef on either side of the cheese is thin and tends to get over cooked. This one was fine but if the cook doesn’t know what they’re doing, you end up with a patty just this side of descicated. One other small defect was the bun was just slightly too big. Said bun is terrific though. Very light and mild in flavour that’s buttered and grilled on the flat top.
Double CheeseburgerWhile the Lucy is nice to have once in a while the Cheeseburger is really where it's at. This double is pretty close to everything you could want in a burger. The meat is very beefy and as I said above, the bun is perfect. The choice of American cheese is nice as it's the default cheese for these types of burgers. Where this becomes more than just a good, homemade burger is the cooking. The flattop adds the crust for added flavour and texture. The edges in particular were very crispy and it all adds up to one fantastic sandwich. One of the better ones the city has to offer. As you can see by the picture, the bun is a better fit here.
Tornado PotatoThe Tornado Potato is excellent. A spiral cut tater skewered and deep fried. Being a real potato it of course has good tuber flavour and deep frying it like they do it gets nice crisp edges and a soft middle. It comes with S & P which I though could've been heavier handed but you can always add more at the table. One of the great things is they offer a cayenne pepper shaker as well and that really took this to another level. I just thoroughly enjoyed it.
FriesNot to be outdone, the fresh cut fries are fantastic as well. Not quite as crispy (but crispy enough) as some of the other fresh cut speciemens I've had at the new burger places but no less tasty. First off you need a good potato. Secondly, cook them properly. Lastly, but certainly not leastly (huh??) season them properly. On that last part in particular, they nailed it. Exactly the right amount of salt for my tastes.
Funnel CakesIf you have room for dessert they offer up some tasty Funnel Cakes. Something similar to pancake batter deep fried, topped with icing sugar and other, assorted condiments. I opted to keep it simple and went with just plain strawberry syrup and it was great. The syrup had a nice taste from the berries and while sweet, I didn't think it was cloyingly so. These come in 2 sizes with the smaller 6" variety more than enough for a single person. I barely got through half.
So there you have it folks, another great burger joint in a city that’s come a long way in the hamburger department over the last few years.
You can find Big Moe’s at 1961 Lawrence, Ave. E in Scarborough, On.

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You can also find them at 3517 Kennedy Rd, Scarborough, On. as well as on facebook.
Big Moe's on Urbanspoon
Well that’s all for now folks, see ya next time in the food court.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Nashville Institution

Brown's (2)You’ve probably heard me mention George Motz and his book, Hamburger America. A must read for any and all hamburger aficionados BTW. Around Christmas time I bought the eBook version for the iPad and I’m glad I did. We were heading home from the in-laws a few days after New Years and thought a burger for lunch was a good plan. But where in Nashville should we go?? Well, pull out the iPad, check the eBook and see where George had been. We found Brown’s Diner both convenient and well recommended. Plot a course on the GPS and away we go.
Some may scoff at all the newfangled technology that inundates us these days but these hi tech gadgets led us to one of the most low tech of places I've seen. Brown’s is easily the antithesis of the iPad. It’s as basic as basic can be. It's "Oldfangled." It’s what’s so great about it.
Brown's (1)In 1927 Charlie Brown (no not that one) parked a mule drawn carriage that was part of the old Nashville trolley system on a corner in Nashville and opened a restaurant. He got what is now Nashville’s oldest beer license and sold hamburgers as well. Over the years Brown's has changed hands but little else has. It's still locally owned. Musicians, both struggling and renown still play. The beer is still as cold as ever and “New” owner Jim Love (he bought it in ’72) still cranks out what is often cited as Nashville’s best hamburger.
Brown's (3)Since I’ve started writing this blog I’ve been in some really nice places. I’ve been in some dime a dozen places. I’ve been in some, “Bless their hearts”, dumps. The latter I mean with a great deal of respect. As I’ve said before, they ooze charm, ambience and credibility as far as I'm concerned. Browns falls squarely in that latter, dishevelled category. Much like the other places I’ve mentioned and seen on Triple D, it wears the “Dive” title with pride.
Brown's (4)Brown’s original rail car sits prominently on a grassy knoll in the south end of town. Approaching from the south it almost looks like someone’s home. There's a patio with wrought iron fencing and an awning above a "front door." Save for the Browns Diner name, on first glance you'd swear someone lived there.
The parking lot is around the side and back and reveals a second trailer of some sort as well as a more conventional addition. It’s pale grey colour with black trim are again as basic as basic can be. It’s just portends what’s inside.
Browns InteriorThe more conventional part and where the door from the parking lot is, is the main dining room. There's a seating for a few dozen or so. Regulars really just see this as “the room you walk through to go to the bathroom” as Love once remarked. All the action is up front in the bar area housed in the old rail car. At any given time you can find a cast of characters laughing, joking and talking football (or whatever) with Jim or one of the other staff members. A place like this has so many long time regulars they almost become part of the furniture. Definitely a part of the experience. There are a few TV's scattered about for patrons to keep up to date with the Titans, Predators, Commodores or whoever they may cheer. The kitchen and storage areas are basically housed in the old trailer.
So let’s have a look at what’s coming out of that kitchen.
Frito Chili PieThe Frito Chili Pie posed an interesting conundrum for me. Do I like it because it tasted really good or dislike it because it absolutely is not Frito Chili Pie?? Heck, it doesn’t even have Frito's in it. (Though I understand there once was). FCP is quite simply a pile of corn chips topped with chili topped with grated cheddar. Garnish with minced onion if you like but that’s it.
Anyway, what we have here is Nachos. As Nachos go, these are really good. I’d like more cheese on them but this is a tasty way to start.
As an aside, the chili is a house specialty as well and it’s quite good. Very heavily chili flavoured and quite rich.

CheeseburgerThe Cheeseburger is great. It’s as simple as it can get and that’s absolutely what I like about it. Quality ground meat, hand formed, simply seasoned and done on a flat top (ding). It’s not over thought. It’s not trying to be anything more than it oughta be. It's how I remember my mom making them in a fry pan during the winter months. It's just a simple thing of beauty.
The fries were from a bag and good enough. I'm not a french fry snob so I'm okay with that. As was Mrs. Sippi.

So there you have it folks. One of the best burgers Nashville has ever produced. Served up in a legendary place.

You can find Browns at 2102 Blair Blvd. in Nashville, Tn.

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

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

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Wood Oven Pizza Joint

LogoThey say that wood ovens are the best way to cook pizza. That said I've also heard a coal fired oven is best. The simple fact is, both are essentially correct. For they both do the same thing. Cook pizza very quickly at a very high temperature. Diehards will tell you only a couple minutes in the hot box is best. These would be the same pizza maniacs who disable the locking mechanism on their ovens and cook their pizza on the self clean cycle. I'm not there yet. Though it is a tempting thought. I’m not sure Mrs. Sippi would agree.
Wood OvenRandy Feltis and Craig Russell know the value of the quick, high temp pizza cook. It’s why these two pizza mavens imported a Mugniani oven from Italy. Capable of tempuratures pushing 850° it can cook a pizza in about 90 seconds. The exact perfect time they’ll tell you.
So with that, they opened Pie in the growing city of Barrie in 2010. Pie was an instant success. Winning Barrie’s best pizza in their inaugural year. Since then, Pie has gone on to much acclaim. They’ve hosted a pizza eating contest the last 3 years and came to my attention when John Catucci and the You Gotta Eat Here gang paid a visit. Turned out John was right, I did have to eat here. Making the 40 minute trip for a delicious birthday dinner.
PiePie’s location, a couple minutes off the highway and in a large shopping area beside the local movieplex makes them very handy. The industrial box in which the restaurant resides has a nice patio and ablaze in orange and yellow. Bedecked in graphics it really stands out.
Interior (2)Walking inside the first thing you’ll notice, as you wait for a table, is a couple employees making pizza and loading them into the wood oven. There’s room enough for a half dozen so if my grade 5 math is correct, that’s over 200 pizzas an hour. There’s a nice bar area in the back and seating for around 100 diners in the ceiling-less dining room. Overall it oozes casual restaurant.
There’s an open window into the kitchen where most of the non pizza cooking happens.
Much like most pizza places these days, you can create your own Pie or, as most do, choose from one of the pre ordained versions. All with catchy if not clever names and about 10” around. So let's have a look.
DoughFirst, let's talk crust. It's pizza 101. If you don't have good dough, you don't have good pizza. Pie make their dough fresh in house as you can, I'm sure, figure. It's rolled out on cornmeal and the exceptionally high temperatures bake it up crispy, chewy and tasty in the Neapolitan style. It's among the best crusts I've had. Perhaps even the best now that my previous favourite Bigabaldi's is no longer. They don't overload the pies either. The crust is pretty thin and can't hold much weight. A respectable amount of toppings is all that's required.
Green Eggs and Ham PieMrs. Sippi selected the Green Eggs and Ham pizza featured in the show. Wood fired bacon, roasted potatoes, with spinach, pesto, mozzarella and a fresh cracked egg. It's delicious. There's really no other way to put it. It's not normally the type of pizza I'd go for but sometimes it's nice to opt for something that you wouldn’t eat at home. The egg in the centre adds a richness as you can imagine and the whole thing had a nice balance such that no one topping dominated IMHO.
Porky PieThe Porky Pie pizza is right in my wheelhouse. It's a fast ball straight down main street as far as I'm concerned. Italian sausage, prosciutto and wood fired bacon with fresh mozzarella and tomato sauce. The fresh basil on top is just an added bonus. The cherry on top of the sundae if you will. It's just as good a pizza as I've ever had. For the meatavores out there, this is certainly for you.
Nutty PieLast but certainly not least is the Nutty Pie. Nutella, bananas and brulee ice cream with caramel drizzle. Oh baby is this ever a way to finish things off. The bananas I could live without. Outside of plain, I only like them a few ways. Anyway it comes served cool which was a bit of a surprise. I thought it would have been in the oven and served warm but not so the case. A really nice way to round out the meal.
So there you have it folks, some fabulous pizza a short drive from the big city.
You can find Pie at 34 Commerce Park Dr in Barrie, Ontario.

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You can also find them on the web (humourously at facebook and Twitter.
Pie on Urbanspoon 

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

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Kickin' it Old Shul

Caplansky's LogoThey say, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” For Zane Caplansky, truer words may never have been spoken. Not a fan of what he considered sub par deli in Toronto he would pester friends to smuggle the good stuff back from Montreal. Not a long term solution Zane taught himself the centuries old art of curing meat and began making his own goodies. At first it was to satisfy his own palate. Eventually, at the behest of his friends, he opened a little spot in the Monarch Tavern. To say he was a hit doesn’t begin to scratch the surface. Eventually he’d outgrow the hotel and open his own place. I’d love to say that it was a run away smash hit but that doesn’t tell the story. Simply put, the review are mixed.

There has, perhaps, never been a restaurant that stirs up more passion than Caplansky's Deli in Toronto. For the most part, no one LIKES this place. They either love it or hate it with a heat of a thousand white hot suns. It's just about that simple. I have to admit, I do love the place. I’m not alone either. He’s got fans at the New York Times, Maxim and Gourmet Magazines and both John Catucci of You Gotta Eat Here and Guy Fieri and the Triple D gang have paid visits. He’s also featured in the David Sax book, Save the Deli.

Caplansky's DeliSitting just north of Toronto’s Kensington Market neighbourhood Caplansky’s is a beautiful place. Decked out in blue and white the corner unit reminds me of a circa 1940’s milk carton. The small patio is abuzz on summer nights and the whole restaurant nicely complements the trendy neighbourhood.

Caplansky's InteriorInside is just as nice. A mismatch of tables and chairs complement the old school feel inside. The pressed tin ceiling was preserved and art deco lighting brighten the place. The large windows allow plenty of light during the day. It just has a nice warm yet utilitarian feel inside. In front where you wait to be seated you’ll find the “Trophy case.” Displaying the many dessert options available. Mid dining room there’s a counter where the meat is sliced and wares are sold. Always on patrol is Zane himself. Ebbing and flowing between the dining room to great guests and the kitchen in back.

So let’s get a look at what’s coming out of that kitchen. All sandwiches are served on near by Silverstein's bread and come with a Putter’s pickle.

Mustard LineupThey have a caddy on the table with your typical ketchup and mustard. They also have 4 of their (made in) house mustard varietals. All come in your standard mustard squeeze bottle.
Mild and Delicious: Yes it is.
Hot and Horseradish: This is really nice although I think a hint more horseradish would improve it. That said, it may make it too much like the next one.
Super, Extra-Hot Mustard: Wow!! This is not for beginners. Perhaps not quite to the level of Keens but in the same ballpark. It's everything you want from a hot deli mustard.
Honey Mustard: I really don't care for this one. I don't like the balance between honey and mustard. It's pretty much honey with some mustard. Not nearly enough to balance out the sweetness. I'd like more mustard than honey.

Beef BaconBeing a Jewish deli you absolutely can’t have pork products. But, but bacon!!! Well don’t you worry, Zane is curing and smoking his own. From cow. Beef Bacon is really interesting. It’s got just about all the attributes of regular bacon but lacks the bold, assertiveness. I described it to my wife as “gentle bacon.” It’s just more subtle and delicate in flavour.

Bean w Bacon SoupAn often soup du jour is Bean with Bacon. More like a thick stew actually at first glance it looks like chili. Loaded with tomato gravy and beans with some meat. Just remove the cumin (an other chili seasonings) and you have this dish. It's very nice and homey and tasted great on a cold winter day. 

Smoked Meat PoutineI'm somewhat torn with the Smoked Meat Poutine. Fries covered with cheese curd, topped with smoked meat simmered in gravy. Did I enjoy this dish?? Sure I did. It was tasty. Do I think I could've loved it?? I think so. First and foremost I don't like matchstick fries. Much like with pasta, the chunkier the sauce, the bigger the noodle needs to be. So a heftier fry would work better for me. Also, my favourite way to eat poutine is to let the cheese curds melt. Ya, the fries get a bit soggy but I like the trade off. The gravy here wasn't hot enough to melt the curds. It wasn't cold though, so don't misunderstand. And I just plain prefer regular poutine best.
For those that it matters to, the cheese curds had some squeak to them. For those who don't understand, poutine freaks rank curd squeak as one of the most important parts of the dish. Much like hot dog nuts are all about the snap of natural casings.

Smoked Meat & Pickled TongueA recommendation by one of the wait staff is a combination of Pickled Tongue and Smoked Meat sandwich. First of all it's not like Montreal Smoked Meat. It's not supposed to be either. Caplansky's is doing their own style which I thoroughly enjoyed. Hand sliced it was so tender it pretty much fell apart. As did the tongue. This was a terrific sandwich. It came on that same basic rye and I added a good dose of the SEH mustard. It was smoky, beefy and rich. It was fantastic.

BingoThe Bingo is a Friday sandwich of the day. Slices of fried salami on an onion bun with slivered red onion and cheddar cheese. It came dressed with the honey mustard. Again, as with the other sandwiches, I added the SEH mustard and it knocked it out of the park. The griddling of the salami really gets the oils going and helps carry the flavour. I'd have liked to see more cheese but that's just a fine tuning detail.

Meatloaf SandwichDefinitely my favourite sandwich is the Meatloaf. It comes on Ciabatta and you can get cheddar. Which I did. The meatloaf has smoked meat in it and is as good a meatloaf as you’ll find. The bold tomato flavour of the sauce is a great complement. My big concern is the bun would be too chewy and the guts would squish out the back. Not so, the tender bun is perfect and tasty to boot. I added a couple pieces of the cow bacon on half of it and while it was somewhat lost, the crunchiness added was nice.

Dessert CaseThe dessert (trophy) case is full of homemade goodies for your sweet tooth. I've had 3 options now and they've all been great.
Lemon Square: Rather like a square of Lemon Meringue Pie withouth the meringue. The crust is a bit like short bread which was fine. The curd was sturdy with a nice, but not puckeringly so, tartness that I loved.
Apple Crisp Pie: Among my favourite apple pies I’ve had. Bold with cinnamon just the way I like it.
Chocolate Cake: Let me just put it this way. If you love chocolate cake, you’ll love this.

Pecan Pie: It looks great in the case. A perfect looking pecan pie under a swirl of chocolate butter cream. It tastes great but sadly, when it’s heated that icing melts. I also found the chocolate distracts from the pie. It was good though I’d rather have the pie unadorned.

So there you have it folks. Fine old school deli served in a nice place.

You can find Caplansky’s at 356 College St. in Toronto, Ontario.

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You can also find them on the web, facebook and Twitter.
Caplansky's Delicatessen on Urbanspoon

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