Saturday, September 28, 2013

The Fish Store (Toronto, On)

Our Food Treated with Love

Fish Store SignIt would be impossible to live in a city and find they have no hidden gems. Places that are flat out awesome however somehow stay below the radar. Even with people such as myself blogging about them or customers posting their experiences on some of the internet food boards or review sites out there they go unnoticed. They somehow never seem to be at the top of anyone's list of great places to eat. Yet just about everyone who pays a visit, raves.

The Fish StoreTake The Fish Store and YuNes Sandwiches in Toronto. The tiny spot owned by a friendly immigrant Korean family in Toronto's Little Italy sells fresh fish you can take home. However what will really get your attention are the fresh fish dishes they offer. Give or take there are 18 different sea critters available daily and your fish can be presented in 4 different ways. Sandwich, on rice, a burrito or tacos. All cooked to order. If that weren't enough, they have 3 different soups on the daily menu as well. All are very good.

Fish Store Interior (1)The sky blue store  has a nice distressed look. As if it's been weathered beaten over the years as if it overlooks the sea. Not College St. Your seating options are very limited. Both in room and choice. They have a patio with about 12 seats and that's it.

Fish Store Interior (2)Inside it's little more than a closet. Almost every inch is dedicated to stock. It's actually a pretty efficient use of space. There's very room to maneuver but enough that they can cook up some of the city's best sandwiches from their tiny little kitchen.

Quite literally, the smallest place I’ve reviewed.

All fish is, more or less, cooked exactly the same. In a terrific sauce that I think can best be described as a fish sauce vinaigrette. It's tasty, earthy and tangy. So let's get a look.
Fish Store BBQ SauceYuNes makes their own BBQ Sauce and it's really quite good. I suppose it has to be since it appears to be either completely a home made Sriracha (rooster) sauce or is the base and back bone of the sauce. I occasionally felt like I tasted cucumber but I wasn't sure. Either way, as I said, it's really good. I would describe it more of a hot sauce than a BBQ sauce FWIW.

Fish Store New England Clam ChowderThe New England Clam Chowder (they also make Manhattan style) is not the best I've had but there is a good reason for that. It's dairy free. Now, I normally would pass but I've heard great things so I gave it a go. I just can't say that you don't miss the richness the cream provides however I can say that this is fantastic. It still has a buttery-ness even without dairy. It has the signature clam chowder taste. It's just not as rich. Using a potato broth means it's not really lighter, just not as rich. Even better with a bit of pepper.The Butternut Squash soup is fantastic. With a nice squash flavour, slightly rich, a bit buttery and silky smooth. About half way through I added some of the BBQ sauce and it was probably equally as good. Neither way was better, just slightly different.
Fish Store Grouper SandwichThe fish sandwich really is all that. Here we have grouper on a nice bun with lettuce, tomato and a hint of cilantro. The whole thing works great with the cilantro adding a bit of personality. Not so much as to put off the bazillion people who hate the stuff but enough to give some flavour. The bun is spectacular. Tender yet crisp. A thin, crispy crust that is tender enough that the guts don't squish out the back yet sturdy enough to stay a bit crunchy throughout consumption. The mild, buttery grouper is at it's delicate best. One of the best fish sandwiches I've ever had. Phenomenal.
Fish Store Catfish TacosThe Fish Tacos here are both fantastic and disappointing at once. 4 soft flour tortillas stuffed nicely with fresh vegetation and then topped with your fish of choice. The freshness of the veggies really shone here. The fresh catfish  was really nice however I felt rather skimpy. They'd probably do better offering the same amount of fish but spread out across 3 tacos instead. I mixed and matched the BBQ sauce and vinaigrette and any combination was really good.
Pancho's BakeryThey don't do dessert so a trip across the street to Pancho's Bakery will let you score what they claim is the "Best churro in the city." Pancho's does Mexican sweets that are, from my experience, hit and miss. A group of us paid a visit during a food tour and the over all consensus was that we must be missing something. I got the impression that a lot of what we had was designed to be eaten with a cup of coffee. That said, I've had a few things that I really liked. Not the least of which was a strawberry empanada.

 Pancho's ChurrosIt's hard to say whether or not the churro is the best but I can say I'm not sure I've had better. Perhaps the crunchiest I've had with good flavour in the dough. I'd like a bit more cinnamon hit but it was fine. There's ample dolce de leche squeezed into the middle that it last the whole length of this terrifically tasty tubular treat. The more of these I eat the more I seem to like them. With a growing Latin community, that's only gonna get better.

So there you have it. Some of the best fish and churro's this city has to offer.

You can find The Fish Store at 657 College St in Toronto, On. Pancho's is right across the street.

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You can also find them on the web and "like" them on facebook.  

Fish Store on Urbanspoon

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

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Huntsville's 20 Most Distinctive Dishes Pt. I

As many of you know I married a southern girl. Originally from Memphis and raised in north Mississippi, both her and her sister (Sil) have now relocated. Known on here as Mrs. Sippi she's living up here in Canada while Sil's journey would see her settle in Huntsville, Alabama (her parents would later follow). This, if you've been scoring at home, you may already know.

With family in Rocket City, several times a year we make the drive south. Stopping along the way at some great mom and pop shops that I've shared with you here.
I've also shared some of the great eats the City of Huntsville has to offer as well.

You may have noticed me referencing a list of the 20 Most Distinctive Dishes in the region. Originally published by the Huntsville Times and posted on it's a pseudo guide to noshing in the greater Huntsville area. I set out to sample each and every item on the list. Along the way I've made new friends, eaten interesting foods, discovered great new restaurants and foods I didn't know existed.
Some items I found to be absolutely incredible while others were miserable failures. Either in terms of taste or execution.

So here are my findings in the order they appear in the original article.

This is part 1 of a trilogy in 4 parts.

1) White Bean Chili ~ Duffy's Deli. (Huntsville)
Duffy's Deli ~ White ChiliIt's possible this is the best thing on the list.  In fact, it's so much a part of Duffy's that the recipe is considered an asset to be sold with the business. I asked if I could get a copy and that was the explanation that accompanied the "Sorry." It was suggested that the recipe is simple and not hard to decode. I suspect there's RoTel in it and plenty of recipes exist for Rotel White Chili.

What makes the dish is the generous amount of cheese loaded into the cup before the chili.

I can also recommend the Deep Fried Cheesecake for dessert.
Duffy's Delicatessen on Urbanspoon

2) Hush Puppies ~ (Old) Greenbrier Restaurant (Greenbrier)
Greenbrier Restaurant ~ HushpuppiesRumour has it these deep fried cornmeal dough balls (finger shaped here) were invented by hunters as a way to keep their dogs satiated. As meals were prepared a simple cornmeal dough ball was fried as a treat to “Hush the puppy.” Around here pretty much everyone agrees, these are far superior to any other hush puppies.

They don't need it to "Make" them but make sure you try them dipped in white sauce.

I will also recommend the Catfish Plate.
(Old) Greenbrier Restaurant on Urbanspoon

3) Coconut Pie ~ Gibson's BBQ (Huntsville)
Gibson's BBQ ~ Coconut PieThe name Gibson is synonymous with BBQ in north central Alabama. What some may not realize is they're also famous for their outstanding pies. Sadly, this Gibson's has lost it's way over the years serving Q not nearly worthy of the family name. However, their pies are every bit as good as ever. The coconut offering possibly leading that charge.

What makes this dish is it's home made.

I will recommend you stick with pies and skip the BBQ.
Gibson's Barbecue on Urbanspoon

4) Chicken with White Sauce ~ Big Bob Gibson's (Decatur)
Big Bob Gibson's ~ Chicken and White SauceThe Commodore. The Patriarch. The Headwaters. Whatever you want to call Bob Gibson, he practically invented north/central Alabama BBQ. His main contribution is a little known (outside the area) condiment simply named, White Sauce. At Big Bob's they take their smoked chickens and give them a dunk in the white stuff. It's fantastic. The tangy, mayo based finishing sauce nicely balances out the smokiness of the chicken.

What makes this is the balance of chicken and sauce.

I can also recommend the ribs. Some of the best I've had.
Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q on Urbanspoon

5) Hamburgers with Cheese ~ Big Spring Cafe (Huntsville)
Big Spring Cafe ~ Hamburger w CheeseFirst of all, they're not cheeseburgers, they're hamburgers with cheese. Cooked on a flat top they're held in an au jus bath until serving. They get a quick trip to the sandwich press and voilĂ . It comes slider size with pickle and mustard.
Add some onion for the classic condiment combination. So named because they did not require refrigeration.

What makes this is the simplicity. Just a great, easy snack.

I'll also recommend the Chili Burger. On the list of 100 Things to Eat in Alabama Before You Die. As is the Slaw Dog.
Big Spring Cafe on Urbanspoon

So there you go. Stay tuned for part 2 coming to a computer near you.


Sunday, September 8, 2013

Hey Meatball (Toronto, On)

You'll Love the Size of our Balls

HM SignIn the Spring of 2011 Rodney Bowers, the self proclaimed 300 pound Nona opened an interestingly titled if not concept-ed restaurant named Hey Meatball.
Having spent time in Eastern Europe and in particular Turkey, he discovered that for every burger place in North America, there was a Kofta (meatball) Shop in that north eastern Mediterranean region.

Bowers, who'd previously owned Rosebud, modeled his new venture on a business that failed to hire him. Chipotle Mexican Grill. Yep, the quasi Mexican mega franchise. Oft heralded as a top notch chain they certainly impressed Rod with it's branding and simplicity.

Hey MeatballRod didn't want to open just another burger place and really loved the meatball idea. He just couldn't envision it. Then came parenthood and the epiphany. Kids (and people) love spaghetti and meatballs. It's been a hit. Local television stations and media love this place and word has spread. So much so that the gang at Triple D followed Guy here During the winter of 2013. Hey Meatball was featured in the episode, European Inspired. He’s just recently opened a second location in TO’s east end and a kid centric place named Hey on Roncy.

HM InteriorSituated in Toronto's Little Italy the store is a contrast of basic and bold. A large window surrounded by white subway tile isn't the most eye popping store front. However if you add some assertive red graphics you have a visually catchy place.
Inside it's really all about function. A smattering of tables and chairs up front, a small bar on one side, a menu on one wall where the cutlery is and a order station in front of the open kitchen in back where the balls are handled.

So what about Bower's balls??

HM Sign1Well, they really are quite good. Made from pork and beef they hold together nicely and aren't weighed down with a bunch of competing herbs or other flavourizers. Just letting the meat carry them. They, like basically everything else are made from locally sourced ingredients and hormone and anti biotic free. You can order them in sandwich or plate form.

Let’s have a look.

HM Hot SauceThey offer 2 house made hot sauces. The green one appears to be pesto with some chilies involved. It looks innocuous enough but has a pretty good back bite. The orange was somewhat scary. What with habaneros being orange and all. It's not nearly deathly hot and has a pretty fruity flavour. Really quite nice and probably less spicy than the green.
Incidentally, the two combined is a nice mixture as well.

Rigatoni & MeaballsYou can get your balls with various forms of pasta and even polenta. Fresh Spaghetti, Mac n Cheese and even white board specials are some options and are quite tasty. The noodle itself in this case (Rigatoni) is quite good (although I could stand a bit more salt) and is cooked to al dente. The meatballs, as I said, are really very good. What I especially love is the basic red sauce. A simple tomato gravy with not a whole lot, in a good way, going on in it. Just let that great tomato flavour shine through. (It's essentially a mother sauce that can be altered to create something else). Some fresh parmasean adds a bit of background.

HM RodfatherThe Rodfather caught the eye of a local blogger and Guy sampled it during the episode.
It’s a terrific sandwich. Three meatballs on a grilled chiabata bun with pesto, tomato sauce and Parmesan. While I wasn't as enamoured as they were I still think it's an excellent offering. I was especially impressed with the perfect balance. No one component stood out but all added exactly the same amount of flavour to the whole dish. My only complaints are structural. The meatballs rolled out of my sandwich a couple times. So when I got to the last one I cut it in half and it gave me much better handling. Also, the bun was just slightly too tough for the innards. I had some issues with things squishing out the back when I bit in. It seemed like the bifurcated meatballs helped with that problem as well.

HM Pickled SaladThe sandwich comes with a salad on which I decided to pass. I was assured that it was a great salad and as such decided to go ahead and take it. Sure enough, it was. Lightly pickled kale, chard, dandelion and arugula tossed with chopped cucumbers and topped with fully pickled red cabbage and onion. Terrific as is I thought it was better with the addition of some Parmesan. I think it would be even better with something like pine nuts as well but that's just gilding the lily. 

HM SodasYour main option in the drink department is house made pop (or soda or drinks or soft drinks depending on you locale). All ingredients are extracted (squeezed, etc) from scratch, by hand and blended with soda water on site. I thoroughly enjoyed my Cream Soda. It has a more mild and clean flavour than the pink stuff in the can. The awful aftertaste from HFCS is missing and with it the heaviness of the drink. A lot of the same applies to the Peach (seasonal) as well. Blended with some apricot it has a very mild taste and I found to be a terrific palate cleanser and quite refreshing.

HM BrownieThey have some small dessert items that are made at their sister restaurant. I normally don't bother saying something if I don't like it but am open to make exceptions. Exception made. This brownie is down right awful. Now, there's absolutely no chance I'd like this. It's basically no sugar added so it tastes like baking chocolate and what's worse, it's gluten free. I gotta tell ya, I loves me some gluten. So if you're into the gluten free thing you could very well like it as I'm sure it's executed well. Just totally not for me.

So there you have it. Some great food in a cool little place.

You can find Hey Meatball at 719 College St. in Toronto, On.

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You can also find them on the webfacebook and Twitter
Hey Meatball on Urbanspoon 

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

Monday, September 2, 2013

Nina's Taste of Tennessee (Lynchburg, Tn)

Put Some South in your Mouth

Nina'sIt would be very easy to say that the only reason to visit Lynchburg  is Jack Daniels. The large distillery almost literally being the life support system for the tiny town in Middle Tennessee. It's basically a given that if the distillery wasn't there perhaps the entire town wouldn't exist. However, to say that JD is the only thing worth visiting in Lynchburg is simply not true. A number of small businesses, particularly in and around the courthouse square offer a wonderful way to spend a couple hours shopping and eating. Purveyors offering things such as antiques, JD collectables as well as snacks and full restaurants.

Nina's CurioI've even blogged about one of them.
There are a few full restaurants but if you're feeling a bit peckish, there are a few places offering snacks and/or sweets. One such place is Nina's Taste of Tennessee. Named after Linda Ward who's lovingly known as Nina by her grand children this little store sells home made confections as well as other food related items and seasonal bric-a-brac. All made in the long thin state. While you can pick up items like Lodge cookware, various sauces,  Jim Shore collectables and other nick-nacks hand crafted in the "Volunteer State" it's the sweets coming out of Nina's kitchen that brings people in the door.

 Nina's InteriorOut front you'll find Johnny manning the counter, greeting people with that southern hospitality and charm. All the while Linda whisks away in the kitchen.

So let's get a look at what she's got cookin' in that there kitchen.

Nina's Trophy CaseThere are plenty of things to sample and among them are some fudges. I was able to sample the Chocolate, Whiskey, and Peanut Butter Fudges along with some straight and Whiskey Caramel Syrups. I'll deal with the fudges in a second but as for the syrups they're really good. They come from a local purveyor which also has other offerings. The addition of a little JD in syrup really adds some depth. You don't get that "Boozy" taste that can often times happen when alcohol is used but a nice, well rounded flavour. It has much more going on than the virgin syrup.
Nina's Choc OreosOne thing that really caught my eye was the chocolate dipped Oreos. Now, some will say you shouldn't mess with perfection and in principal, I agree. Citing Oreos as perfect the way they are. There's no getting around the fact that on their own, in their original incarnation, Oreos are possibly the king of the grocery store bagged cookies. These original types, dipped and then drizzled with the opposite colour chocolate are simply incredible. I wouldn't say better than plain but different. No better and certainly no worse. They come in white and dark chocolate and if you're like me and can't decided which one to chose, get both. I cut both in half and split them with Madame Butterfly. Even after all that, I couldn't decide which cookie was better.
Nina's JD FudgeThe star of the show and what got us in the door is the house made Whiskey Fudge. Being able to compare the regular version with the whiskey version it was clear, much like with the caramel sauce, the JD makes a difference. It just has more body. There's not so much that a non whiskey person would be turned off, enough you can tell there's some in there and certainly enough to push it over the edge as far as fudges go. As with most places selling fudge, it's sold by weight so you can pretty much buy as much as you like.
Incidentally, the Peanut Butter Fudge was absolutely amazing.

So there you go folks, some excellent goodies to satisfy anyone's sweet tooth.

You can find Nina's Taste of Tennessee at 14 Short St on the north side of Lynchburg Square in Lynchburg, Tn.

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You can also find them on the web.

Nina's Taste of Tennessee on Urbanspoon

Well that's all for this time. We'll see ya again in the food court.