Monday, May 20, 2013

Cinci's Best Burger?

Terry's Turf Club (1)If you’re a fan of vintage neon signs you may have heard of Cincinnati’s Terry Carter. Terry owned a night club aptly named Neon in the Over the Rhine neighbourhood. Terry has moved on and now owns and operates Terry’s Turf Club in the near by Mt. Washington neighbourhood. While the old place was a night club, the Turf Club is all about the food. Other than Terry, the two places have one thing in common. Terry’s extensive collection of metal and neon signs, figures and other sundry quirky items. 

TTC GrillThe Turf Club may be a neon museum but it’s the food that brings people in. Often voted Cinci’s Best Burger (along with it’s main rival, Zips). What makes Terry’s burgers so special isn’t the meat or the bun. Even though they’re great. It’s not that they’re cooked on a flat top. The best way to cook a burger. No, it’s the toppings. And I’m not talking Pickles and Lettuce here. Terry, an avid outdoorsman, has travelled the country and the world and is always looking for something unique that’ll work on a burger and take it to another level. Like Fois Gras or Swedish cheese or Mangos or Lobster Tails. Heck, even his burger seasoning has off beat ingredients like Grains of Paradise and Annatto. He’s constanly reinventing the wheel. Always trying to keep it fresh and interesting. With a reputation like that line ups can be long and arduous. It’s not uncommon for there to be people snaking out the door and down the street. 

Terry's Turf Club (2)Terry’s looks like it used to be someone’s home. It rests on the side of a hill and is an awesome spectacle. Gorgeous hanging plants shroud the large front porch and The collection of restored metal and neon is worth the drive itself. They’re everywhere and add a nice level of kitsch.

TTC Interior
Inside place mirrors the exterior. Neon, neon everywhere and cylindrical coolers known as Bevadors. There are basically no light fixtures so the whole place is bathed in neon glow. Space and seating are minimal at best. Every nook, every cranny has a function or is otherwise employed. Because it’s so busy and seating is limited it’s communal. So don’t be surprised if you’re seated with people you’ve never met. As well, don’t be a stranger with these people. We met a father/son pair when we sat down and had a wonderful conversation about absolutely nothing in particular. After they left, 3 gentlemen about my age sat down and we chatted food. Food, food and more food. We didn’t meet 5 strangers. We made 5 new friends.

A few years back I started compiling a bit of a “To do” list of places that I felt we needed to visit. On that list was Terry’s Turf Club. It took a while to get there but it became a high priority after viewing the visit of Guy Fieri and the Triple D gang.
Seeing what Guy was served made it just that much more tempting.

To start things off, I'll explain the menu for you. It's basically in 3 sections. Appetizers, Sandwiches and, to borrow a Starbucks term, Modifiers. If you order a sandwich it comes bare bones. There is a small section of free condiments like onions and pickles. The standard stuff. Then there's about a full page of up charge extras like cheese, bacon, crab cakes, specialty sauces, etc., that you can add as well to customize your sandwich. For instance, when Guy was there he ordered a Burger with Swiss, Grilled Onion and Burgandy Wine w/ Wild Mushrooms & Truffles Sauce. Not really my cup of tea but he sure enjoyed it. So you get the idea.

Anyway, on to the food.

TTC FriesAll sandwiches come with potato chips but since I hate plain potato chips (unless there's dip) I added fries. They're fresh cut and cooked to a beautiful brown colour. They had really good potato flavour but lacked a good crunch. There was a bit of crispness so it's not like they were limp, soggy tuber sticks but not the best either. So satisfactory all in all and certainly better than the chips would've been.

TTC Portabello BurgerOur lunch guest, The Squire, opted for the Portobello Burger with Provolone and Mango/Curry Sauce. It comes out looking really nice as you can see but sadly, that didn't last. It lost complete and total structural integrity (and not in the good way) almost immediately. The Squire was mildly frustrated but quickly picked up a knife and fork and set to it. He said it was fantastic all in all with just the right amount of kick.

TTC Bacon Cheeseburger (1)Both Mrs. Sippi and I went fairly old school. The standard burger with American Cheese and Bacon. What we got was a burger that was way up in the heirarchy of best burgers. This is magnificent. Definitely a top 5 burger for both of us. The meat had as good a taste as any I've had. Almost steak like in flavour. The cheese adds a nice creamy component, not to mention the cheesiness. The bacon, 3 strips of it, was good quality and really stood up well to everything else. Again, this is one incredible burger.

So there you have it folks, one of the US's best burgers in a cool and funky place.

You can find Terry's Turf Club at 4618 Eastern Ave, Cincinnati, Oh.

You can also find them on facebook.
Terry's Turf Club on Urbanspoon
Terry's Turf Club on Foodio54

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

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Tenoch Restaurant Grill & Bar (Toronto, On)

“La Real Y Autentica Camida Mexicana”

TenochFurther to my discussion about the state of Mexican food in Toronto let me offer up Tenoch in Toronto's Oakwood neighbourhood. A community within the city that's getting more and more of a Spanish flavour. More and more these days Mexican and other Latin expats are immigrating to the area. With them of course comes culture and most importantly the cuisine. It's become the part of town to which people of South and Central American countries flock after their soccer team wins during the World Cup.

Tenoch InteriorTenoch gets it's name for the now mythical leader of the ancient Aztec world. Debates have ensued as to whether he was just a myth but the evidence suggests he lived from 1325 to 1375. Tenoch was honoured when a new city, cut into an island in Lake Texacoco (near present day Mexico City) was named Tenochtitlan. It soon became the capital of the Aztec empire and the largest city in the pre Columbian "new" world. Today, Mexico City's Zócalo, is located at the site of Tenochtitlan's original central plaza and market. Many of the original city streets correspond to modern day roads.
As such, I'm sure you can imagine the food is from the Mexico City region.

Tenoch BarTenoch is not much more than a store front from the outside. Pictures of specials adorn the front window and almost dare foot traffic to walk on by.
Inside it's like a great little cantina. The seating is ample and there is karaoke in the back. There's a bar in the middle that is where, outside of the food, my favourite feature is located. The collection of Mexican wrestling masks.  The kitchen is located in the back and just about everything they sell is made in house.

So let's get a look at these Mexican goodies.
SalsasAs a typical garnish you get, naturally, salsa. In this case, Salsa Verde (green salsa) and an orange sauce made of reconstituted chilies.
The orange sauce has a nice flavour with some smokiness to it. As though there's some fire roasted component in there. The kick is mild but there.
The Salsa Verde is fabulous. Very fresh tasting with a nice balance of onion, chili and cilantro. It packs a bit of a wallop so be careful.

Tacos de AlambreIn English, Alambre means "Wire." There seems to be some missing links in the evolution of this dish because, at it's roots, it should be a skewered dish. It has become however, a dish that is diced meat (usually steak) sauteed with onion, chiiles and (usually) bacon. Here we have Tacos de Alambre with red and green chillies and also ham. It's covered with cheese and is incredibly tasty. The tortillas aren't made in house but are authentic corn tortillas that I suspect come from La Tortillaria. I mixed and matched lime juice, orange sauce and salsa verde and everything just worked. There was no combination that was better than the other  and that was better than without condiments. It was all just so good.

Torta TenochIn Mexico City if you serve torta you serve a Torta Cubana. Never mind the name, it has really nothing to do with Cuba. A torta is a Mexican sandwich served on a crusty, oblong bun. While no 2 torta are alike, this becomes more so with the Cubana. It's an amalgam of all the torta a restaurant will serve. Here, being the house specialty, they've rebranded it, Torta Tenoch. Quite frankly, it's a monster. 12 ingredients not including the bun. I don't carry a scale but it has to come in around 3lbs. It's a ton of food in sandwich form. We have Roast pork (Pierna), breaded fried steak (Milanesa), hotdogs, ham, pastrami, cheese, tomato, onion, avocado, mayo, re-fried beans and fried egg. It's an absolutely incredible sandwich. Big enough that one half was lunch and the other, dinner. Tasty enough to be among the best sandwiches I've had.

Mole TamaleLike any good Mexican place they make their own Tamales. They offer 3  types and this specimen, Mole, has chicken in mole sauce as it's stuffing. First off, lemmie tell you, it's huge. I think they needed 6 husks to keep the thing together. It was very tasty but did have some weaknesses. One such flaw what that the filling was a bit on the sparse side. I thought there was enough mole to carry the dish but the chicken was a bit lost. As well, it was a bit on the dry side. A common malady for these things. I thought the orange chili sauce drizzled on it helped with that an also added a bite that was nice. The corn flavour from the masa was excellent.

Chorizo con Queso QuesadillaIn the Quesadilla category you'll find Chicharones con Queso. Chunks of pork skin simmered in a red chili broth and stuffed with cheese into a corn tortilla. Rather than baked in an oven or grilled over coals of some sort, this one seemed to be fried. It gave the exterior a nice crispiness while still allowing some pliability. That filling was exceptional. A hint of spice balanced nicely by the cheese with the richness of the pork being countered by an acid (probably lime juice) in the broth.

So there you have it folks, some of the best Mexican food I've had in one of Toronto's hidden gems.
You can find Tenoch at 933 St Clair Ave W in the heart of Toronto's burgeoning Latin American community.
View Larger Map

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

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

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Fish Tale

024In the late 1960's Oscar Gutierrez relocated from California to Huntsville, Al. With Oscar came years of experience in the restaurant business. In the fall of 1990 he decided it was time to open his own place. Serving burritos, tacos, tamales and the like. Oscar's place would do as much from scratch, in house as would be possible. The resulting consistency was the back bone of the business. Bandito Burrito Company has gone on to become a local icon, win several awards and has found their Fish Taco's named #7 on's list of Huntsville's 20 Most Distinctive Dishes.

020Occupying what seems to be an old Burger King or some other fast food restaurant, BBC offers parking in front. I hear plenty of comments that the place looks abandoned. Not so, the faded facade only adds to the charm.
Inside the décor matches the outside. A little worn but all in all, charming. It’s typical fast food in that you walk in, order, pay then take a seat in the dining room.
The kitchen is in back and that’s where all the good stuff comes from.

So let’s get a look at these Mexican goodies.

019Situated by the cash register is a dispenser labeled "Ghetto Grape Drank." The obvious question begged the young lady serving us, what exactly it was. Well, we're told it's Grape Kool Aid loaded with sugar. Me being me, I just had to try it. That said, I'm not stupid nor do I want diabetes. So just a taste was all I permitted myself. I can assure you it's not as sweet as I was expecting and to be honest, in a small dose it was actually quite pleasant. The word is, one customer not only drinks a full cup with his meal but also gets two refills. Wow!!

Taco BurgerThe Taco Burger is pretty neat. It’s simply a taco (Old El Paso style) in a cheap burger bun rather than a shell. There’s not much more to say other than 1 or 6 of these seems like something perfect for those either stoned or drunk.

20121123_112832You get a side of salsa and corn chips with your order and really, they're worth the price of admission on their own. The chips are cut up tortillas that are deep fried, not from a bag. The salsa is just plain fabulous. Nice and fresh tasting with a pretty decent amount of heat. 

023The burritos are well known around these parts. This Combo Burrito is filled with a cumin and lime seasoned ground beef, refried beans and cheese. All in all, about exactly the taste you'd expect and very well executed. You could tell that they use nice fresh cumin. Cumin doesn't sit well for long periods once it's ground (not that it won't hold it's flavour for a while mind you) and I find puts a displeasing taste on things. While freshly ground cumin adds such a nice, sweet earthiness that screams Mexican.

The refried beans are nice but nothing special. Nor is the rice. I don't have a problem with that. They're serviceable sides to the main. 
20121123_113228The Enchilada and Chili Rellenos platter here is good but not great. The relleno is really quite tasty. Like a large jalapeno popper without the heat. Sadly, the enchilada for which this combo platter is named really misses its mark. The tortilla/filler combination is fine but the pink highlighter enchilada sauce is thoroughly unflavourful. I tried it plain and it just didn't deliver anything. So, being the creative person I am, I poured a bit of the salsa on it. Much better. The beans and rice are the same as the other meals.

022That list of Huntsville's 20 Most Distinctive Tastes is what first led me here. The Fish Tacos are simply awesome. White corn tortillas stuffed with a filet of lightly seasoned tilapia, cabbage, tomato, onions, cilantro, lime and their special dill sauce. The magic is in the sauce. Made with lime, dill and Mexican Crema it added a certain richness that became very addictive.

So there you have it. Terrific Mexican food in a Huntsville legend.

You can find Bandito Burrito Company at 3017 Governors Dr SW. Huntsville, Al.

View Larger Map

You can also find them on facebook.

Bandito Burrito Company on Urbanspoon

Bandito Burrito CO on Foodio54

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