Saturday, August 31, 2013

Mama’s Boys Burgers (Toronto, On)

Mama’s Food is Fresh not Frozen

If you've been following along at home you've certainly figured out I love burgers from a flat top griddle. The heat nicely sears the outside of the beef which then fries in it's own juices. There are people who don't care for this kind of burger. Citing a "Flame Broiled" offering as the best. If you're one of those who can't decide or if  your buddy likes the other, then Mama's Boys Burgers in Toronto's east end is a good choice. Offering both types of sandwich and plenty of other great consumables.

Mama's BoysOpened in the spring of 2012, Mama's Boys is a bit of a throwback to the type of place that wasn't hard to find in TO in the 70's and 80's. Greeks doing home made burgers, soulvaki, O-Rings and fresh cut Fries among other things. As the turbulent decade drew to a close these joints had, for the most part, sold out. Once a place to get great fast food they expanded and quality suffered greatly. Others were bought up. In any case, few survived.
Thankfully, this little hidden gem has the kind of goodies that will take you back to those times. Offering fresh everything. Not frozen fries and burger patties. They pride themselves on that fresh quality.

MB PanIntFrom the outside it's not much more than a corner unit in a strip mall.
Inside is bathed in sunlight and is straight up fast food. An order station where Bessy (Mama) will be waiting for you (usually) and a long counter where the condiment station resides.
There's seating for a couple dozen with tables and a ledge along the windows.

Like with a lot of these places there's an open prep kitchen and a main one in the back. Here's where you'll likely see "Mama's boys."So let's get a look at what the boys are serving up shall we??

Everything, as they tell you, is "Made with love."

MB Spicy FetaThey have the usual suspect when it comes to condiments but a signature offering is Spicy Feta. Oh baby this stuff is good. Hot peppers are pureed with olive oil and blended into some crumbled feta. The richness of the feta is nicely cut by the acidity of the peppers. Said peppers add a nice bit of heat and some flavour with the oil smoothing everything out. It won't blow the doors off you but if you're not into the hot stuff, it'll probably get your attention.

They offer a few different French fry options. I've had some plain and they're okay. First off, the fries weren’t overly salted which is better than being too salty and easily fixed. They use fresh cut Yukon Gold potatoes which are considered a very good all purpose potato but I  believe that Russet's make better fries. Creating a crisp and golden brown on the outside, soft and fluffy on the inside fry. These ones here are somewhat limp. Not at all a deal breaker though as the taste is still solid.

PoutineThe Poutine, is good but not great. My feelings on the fries are the big reason. A simple food like this can only be as good as it's weakest link and the tater of choice is just that. The gravy is beef which seems to be the norm here and is quite good. The curd seems to have some squeak which will make the purists somewhat happy. As I said, all in all, this is good stuff.

MB Greek FriesThe Greek Fries again are good but not great. Again, the potato being the weakest link. These fries topped with crumbled feta, olive oil and oregano are still pretty tasty. The cheese isn't as pungent as I'd like but it's fine none the less. The oil and oregano work really well in the dish. So again, over all, good.

MB Souvlaki on a BunThe Pork Souvlaki is, stop me if you've heard this, good but not great. In fact, it's very good. What really keeps me from rating this higher is that it's fairly mildly marinaded. Souvlaki can range from mild to punch you in the face bold with garlic and oregano flavours leaping out at you. I prefer that latter. This offering is incredibly tender though, has a nice taste but didn't stand up that well to the tzatziki which in and of itself is fantastic. It normally comes in a pita but I had it on a bun and added some of that great Spicy Feta. Very good overall.

BDCBI really liked the burger. Called the Signature American it’s a Banquet Burger that has sautéed onions on it. As you can imagine, being named American, it’s 4 oz. (per patty) double burger done on a flat top. It’s not in my pantheon of great burgers but is solidly in the next group below. The beef is ground in house but, as with the fries, under seasoned. A little S&P helped with that. The beef was otherwise good and while the cheese lacked a bit, (only 1 slice) the bacon had a good presence. I love onions and want to love sautéed onions on a burger but I just don’t seem to. So next time I’ll omit them.

So there you have folk. Some really good fast, no make that fresh food in Toronto's east end.

You can find Mamas Boys Burgers at 480 Danforth Rd in Toronto, On.

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You can also find them on facebook.
Mama's Boys Burgers on Urbanspoon

Well that's all for now folks, see you again in the food court.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Zip's Cafe (Cincinnati, Oh)

Cinci’s Best Burger? Vol. II

Zip's SignFor more than 85 years residents of Cincinnati's gorgeous Mt. Lookout neighbourhood have called Zip's Cafe their local watering hole. Opened in 1926 it's made it's reputation not on it's service, beer lineup, (which incidentally now features offerings from the terrific Great Lakes Brewing Company) or quaint atmosphere but on it's burgers.

Zip's CafeSuch is their reputation for burgers that they're often rated as best in Cincinnati by local diners, bloggers and media outlets alike. In fact, they're burgers are such an institution in the area they resisted adding bacon for almost their entire existence. However, in the spring of 2013 they gave into the smoky, salty overlord. At 5pm EDT Wednesday, April 24, 2013 they held their bacon release party. An event marked earlier in the day by Cinci mayor Mark Mallory declaring it "Zip's Cafe Day" in the Queen City.

What makes their burgers so good?? 2 words: Flat Top. Well, that cooker of all things delicious and of course quality ground beef delivered daily by Bleh-Avril & Sons, Inc. and the soft honey egg buns from Klosterman Bakin Company on which they are served.

Zip's InteriorThe cafe sits right in Mt. Lookout Square and has an almost European feel to it. Hanging baskets adorn the facade and a nice green awning punctuates the front door.
Inside it's dimly lit adding some ambiance and is rather a tight squeeze. The main dining room out front seats about 30. Behind that is the "Code Room" which is really just the bar area and behind that the kitchen. There is a number of beautiful old Cinci-centric photos scattered through out. A toy train circles the dining room and pokes its head into the bar for a short stretch.

But enough of all that,  time to get to the million dollar question; are they the best burgers the city has to offer?? In my mind, no. That's not to say that they aren't fabulous eats though. So let's get a look shall we??
Chili Cheese FriesThe Chili Cheese Fries are good even if they are pretty low brow. Shoestring fries are covered in a very tomatoey chili and smothered in cheese sauce. It really is a very tasty dish however the complete antithises of fine dining. They very much reminded me of the ones at Ritzy Lunch in Clarksburg, WV. Where the chili and cheese almost completely dominate. While I think the dish would be better suited with a heftier fry, I'd miss this mess if they changed it. As with Ritzy Lunch, it was almost like chili cheese potato soup. Which as I'm sure you can imagine is a good thing.
Zip's CheeseburgerTheir Burger is a text book rendition of the Classic American Cheeseburger. Fresh ground beef, simply seasoned, done on a flat top and served on a Wonderbread style bun. It's right in line with the likes of Miller's Tavern in Detroit. It's absolutely perfect, tasty, juicy and beefy. It practically melts in your mouth.
Train WreckI just couldn't resist the Train Wreck Burger. This is their basic sandwich with deli ham, three cheeses and Mettwurst. It also comes with a host of condiments but I skipped most of them. I don't care for tomatoes on a burger and for the most part, can't stand lettuce on one. There are of course exceptions to rules but I wasn't about to make one here. Anyway, all the flavours worked nicely together and at times took turns standing out. Delicious.
Well there you have it folks, some great burgers in a historic Cincinnati pub located in a quaint part of town.
You can find Zip's Cafe at  1036 Delta Ave, Cincinnati, Oh.
You can also find them on the web, facebook and Twitter.
Zip's Cafe on Urbanspoon

Well that's all for now folks, we'll catch ya later in the food court.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Porchetta and Co. (Toronto, On)

Hogtown Heaven

P&C LogoIn the mid 19th century William Davies immigrated to Canada and before long, set up a stall at Toronto’s St. Lawrence Market. William sold hams and bacon and quickly learned, he was onto something. By the 1860’s he was shipping high quality salt cured pig products back to his native England. In time, the William Davies Company would operate the largest pork processing plant in the British Empire, the second largest in North America and would be credited (in part) for creating the Canadian pork industry we know today.
This success wasn’t lost on others as competitors soon cropped up and would be the genesis of Toronto’s nickname, Hogtown.

Porchetta & CoToronto has never gotten over it’s love affair with the pig. Toronto’s signature sandwich is the Peameal Bacon on a Bun. This simple dish, an almost “Must do” for any trip to the St. Lawrence Market, traces it’s DNA back to the inventor of Peameal Bacon; William Davies.
Another piggy treat that’s really gained a lot of steam over the last half decade or so is the Porchetta Sandwich. In “Hogtown”, there’s no better offering of this rich, slow roasted porcine deliciousness than at Porchetta and Co.
This small (mostly) take away only place nestled in the heart of Toronto’s Little Italy neighbourhood churns out plates, sandwiches and sides. The menu is really that small but is shored up by weekly “white board” specials like Fried Chicken.

PorchettaP  & Co. take the basic porchetta and soup it up. A pork shoulder is marinaded 24 hours with a variety of aromatics like rosemary and lemon zest. It’s then wrapped in proscuitto. Just because that simply isn’t good enough, the whole thing is then wrapped in cured pork belly. From there, the whole monster is blasted in an oven to create a great crust before slow roasting for hours to achieve that melt in your mouth, decadent flavour that has people lining out the door.
Chef/Owner Nick auf der Mauer open shop in December of 2010 and it has been on my “To do” list pretty much ever since. It wasn’t until a season 2 episode of Anthony Bourdain’s show The Layover came to town and, what with Tony being big on the pig, paid them a visit that I realized I could no longer put it off. Couple that with a tweet pronouncing they were serving Soft Shell Crab Po’ Boys, it was a done deal.

P&C InteriorThe tiny shop is a little hard to spot from the street but sniffing it out is well worth your trouble.
Inside there’s a handful of stools across the front window where you can eat your goodies but those seats can be hard to get. Especially when it gets busy. A good bet is to get out to one of the many local parks. Weather permitting of course.
The vast majority of the small space is dedicated to food prep and sales. The counter is backed by an open prep kitchen with the main one in the back.
Just a word to the wise. There’s no public bathrooms so you may want to wash up before hand and bring cash ‘cause they don’t take plastic.

So let’s get a look at these goodies.

Porchetta SandwichLet’s start with the flagship. The porchetta sandwich. You can DIY your own with modifiers like Tomato Sauce, Mozzarella and Rapini. The latter being fantastic on porchetta.
This day, on the specials board was a sandwich constructed with Truffle Sauce, (real) parmesan and grainy mustard. This was simply an awesome sandwich. The bread was perfect in that it added some flavour but not a lot. It had enough body to hold together yet not so much as to cause the innards to squish out the back when you bite in. It had great pork taste as well. Bolstered by some cracklin’s which also added some crunch. The parmesan and truffle sauce were more back ground players. What tied the whole thing together is that mustard. It was tasty, tangy and had a little kick.

Baked BeansThey offer up a trio of sides from which we selected the Baked Beans. These don’t resemble canned beans too much with hunks of pork and plump beans in a rich sauce. The whole mess is then garnished with cracklin’s. Very tasty although I’d leave the cracklin’s off next time. I didn’t feel they added much and were excellent of their own accord. So much so that Mrs. Sippi tried unsuccessfully to purchase some as a side.

SS Po' BoyThe reason for the visit was the Friday - Saturday special that weekend. The Softshell Crab Po’ Boy. Crabs, as you probably know, have an exoskeleton. The bones don’t grow so need to be shed regularly as the animal grows. A process known as molting in case you didn’t know.
For a brief period the crab has no shell. Such beasts have become a delicacy world wide.
Typically (in NA) they’re deep fried and often served up sandwich style. P&C serves theirs on a Wonderbread style hot dog bun with sriracha mayo, slaw (which she omitted) and prosciutto bits. The crunchy crab shone on this and was nicely complemented by the garnishes. The bun served its purpose perfectly. It was merely a vessel to get from plate to mouth. A superb sandwich.

Well there you have it folks. Some rather decadent foods at a reasonable price.

You can find Porchetta and Company at 825 Dundas Street West in Toronto.

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

Porchetta & Co on Urbanspoon

So that’s all for now folks. See ya again in the food court.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Wahed Shawarma (Aurora, On)

Wahed (2)As you may have figured out, I love shawarma. The heavily seasoned, super marinaded, rotating meat of the Middle East. It's really pretty simple, I love meat, bread, sauces, seasonings, spices and ethnic food. Which, when veggies are added, exactly what shawarma is.
It should then come as no surprised that in the Spring of 2012 I was very excited to see a little mom and pop shawarma place open out on the main drag, Yonge St. in the little town where I live

Wahed Shawarma is a small Iraqi place in the south end of town in a little strip mall. The name translates from Arabic to mean "Unique" or, as the title of this review suggests, "Peerless." In the town of Aurora, if not York Region, that may simply be the case.

Like with all good shawarma places, pretty much all food items are made in house with the exceptions of the breads and are tasty and fresh. While the shawarma itself is not the best I've had it's certainly first rate. The Falafel is another story. It's awesome and flat out my favourite. Opinions bolstered by the many Middle Eastern people I've talked to while waiting in line. All rave about the place so don't just take it from this Canadian. Those who know, know.

CroutonsOne thing that they do as well that I really love is put a bowl of "croutons" on the counter for you to nibble on while you're there. Said croutons are deep fried, seasoned pieces of pita bread that are used in Fattoush. The Middle East’s version of a bread salad.

Wahed InteriorWahed's interior is not much to look at but then again, it doesn't need to be. A gaggle of tables and chairs in a dining area that has seen better days. There's the counter/prep station just as you walk in. Requisite religious items and pictures of the homeland decorate the walls. The main kitchen is in the back corner where all the main cooking and prep work are done.
But enough with all this, let's get a look at the food. 
First off let me say that the pitas they use are rather small. So if you’re a big eater, you may want to order 2. They’re a little more bready than others I’ve had. Most are pretty thin with a crispier shell while these have a bit of fluffiness to them. Inside and out. That said, they’re also among the most inexpensive shawarma.
 They also serve them “clamshell” style, not “tucked and rolled.” I prefer the latter. It doesn’t affect the taste either way. Just a preference in presentation and maneuverability. After assembly they get a quick grilling in a sandwich press. 

FalafelThe Falafel is outstanding. Like any shawarma place worth its salt, they cook it to order. These chick pea dough balls have a nice crispy exterior (because they’re cooked to order and don't sit around steaming and getting gummy) and a fluffy interior. They have a really nice “fried” taste with a good hit of cumin and a bit of cardamom. As I said before,  I’d have to say this is my favourite falafel in the GTA. I don’t do hot sauce on it though. I just don’t like it hot. 
Wahed Chicken ShawarmaThe Chicken Shawarma is also quite good. Juicy, chickeny and highly seasoned with overtones of cinnamon.  They have the standard toppings and I get all of them. They have a pretty kick butt hot sauce and aren’t shy with it either. If you ask for it spicy, you get spicy. Not some hint of it that leaves you wanting more.
The Beef Shawarma is even better. Similarly spiced however the beef tends to stand up a little more than the more delicate chicken. Again, with everything and spicy is my order. I simply love it.
I must say though, these days I'm on a "Mix" roll. That is to say, I get a mixture of beef and chicken. Blended together they work well and don't fight with each other.
So there you have it folks, some great shawarma and falafel north of the city.
You can find Wahed Shawarma at 14810 Yonge St in Aurora, On.

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Oddly enough, this may be the only restaurant on the planet that isn't on the web, facebook or Twitter. It's such a hidden gem that even Urban Spoon doesn't know about it yet.
Well that's all for now folks, catch ya next time in the food court.