Sunday, June 30, 2013

Rotiers Restaurant (Nashville, Tn)

The Old Carriage House

Rotiers Sign (1)In the early 40’s John and Evelyn Rotier (Ro-Tear) were operating a gas station in the Belmont neighbourhood of Nashville. After returning from the war, John, wanting to be in the restaurant business, took over a small space that was once the carriage house for the Elliston Mansion. With that, Rotier's Restaurant, a Nashville, if not American legend was born.
If nothing else, Rotier's is a family business. The odd twist here is, it’s in many ways, a two family business. There’s the Rotier/Crouse family that are children and grand children of Evelyn and John. However, if you head into the kitchen you’ll see a fleet of workers that, more or less are all related.  These young men and women are brothers, sisters, cousins, second cousins, etc. Though not related to the owners they treat the kitchen like they do own the place.
Students from the local university round out the staff.

Rotiers (1)Location, location, location. When the restaurant opened and for many years after Rotier's was, more or less, the only game in town. In that part of Nashville there were only 2 other restaurants and neither of those served beer. John had the market cornered. If that wasn’t enough to keep ‘em coming back the hamburger would. Those two things and gambling were the lifeblood of Rotier's in the early days. The restaurant went more “Full service” after the abolition of gambling in the state of Tennessee.

AdIt was the book Hamburger America by George Motz (Moat-s) that put Rotier's on my radar. He’s since featured it in the Tennessee episode of his new show, Burger Land. It consistently wins “Best burger” in the local Nashville magazines. It’s ranked as one of the 10 best cheeseburgers in Jimmy Buffett’s Parrot Head Handbook and the French Bread version is #27 on the list of 40 Things Every Tennesseean Should Try.

The cut stone building sits right at the road on the edge of Vanderbilt University. The original doors have been replaced and now serve as the entrance and windows.
InteriorThe interior is pretty tight. There isn’t a lot of space or tables and business is usually brisk. Maximizing space is paramount and it has the feel of an old saloon. There is, as is the case with many legendary places, news article after magazine article after award lining the dining room walls that “horseshoes” around the bar and kitchen.

So let’s get a look at what’s coming out of that kitchen.

ChiliI opened with a bowl of Chili. While not the greatest bowl of Red I've ever had, this is one solid dish none the less. Tasting mostly of chili powder and very mildly like cumin it was just tasty. As you could see by the picture it came piping hot but not however spicy hot. Not to worry, there's a bottle of hot sauce on the table. A few drops to add a bit of heat really rounded this out for me. The acid in the hot sauce also brightened up the flavours. Quite meaty with very few beans in a broth somewhere in between rich and delicate.

Pimento Cheese SandwichWe had decided to split a Pimento Cheese Sandwich but Mrs. Sippi needed to make a few modifications. It comes toasted with mayo, lettuce and tomato. All those modifiers needed to go and we got it straight up on plain white bread. I took a few bites and thought it was excellent. Mrs. Sippi loved, loved, loved it. Proclaimed it the best PC sandwich she'd ever had. I gave her the other half of my half.

Fried GizzardsShe could not resist the Gizzard Dinner. It comes with Fries (frozen but very good) and a salad (it's salad) with home made dressing. I'm no gizzard expert and as such, didn't get much out of them. Mrs. Sippi thought they were good. She then put some hot sauce on a plate and started dipping. That was the "Ah ha" moment for her. She gobbled them down and thoroughly enjoyed them. One of the kitchen staff came out and was talking with her and said that with gravy is the best way. Sean suggested his favourite was was with their home made Blue Cheese dressing. Next time she says she'll try both ways.

CheeseburgerNow, the legendary burger. Lemmie tell ya, it's "All that." Simple in nature in that it's just ground beef (not some special blend of cuts), brought in fresh every morning, simply seasoned and done on a flat top. It comes on a simple bun and I added cheese of course. It's just delicious. The classic American cheeseburger completely done to perfection. I skipped the house specialty served on French bread. I dislike sandwich innards squishing out the back when you bite in and suspected this would be the case. Our waitress confirmed my suspicions. There’s also an option to have it on “Grill bread” which means the patty is jammed into a grilled cheese sandwich. I wanted to try the classic preparation on this trip.

Hershey's CakeFor dessert they have a number of options but being the chocolate fiend I am, I couldn't resist the Hershey's Chocolate Cake. Not really what I was expecting, however it was great. First of all, I love the decadent, uber rich cakes you get sometimes. This isn't it. This is the cake equivalent of taking a mouthful of Hershey's chocolate chips and eating them. Very choclately but not sweet and with a nice, ever so slight bitterness. It was nicely frosted and the chocolate sauce on top was just a bonus.

So there you have it folks. One of America's great burgers (not to mention other fantastic options) in a Nashville institution.

You can find Rotier's at 2413 Elliston Pl, Nashville, Tn.

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

Rotier's on Urbanspoon
Rotier's Restaurant on Foodio54

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

Friday, June 21, 2013

White Squirrel Snack Shop (Toronto, On)

Breakfast, Lunch and Snacks

This restaurant ceased operations as of November 1, 2013

White Squirrel Snack Shop (1)It’s always interesting and even exciting to see a new “Foodie” part of town develop. The intersection of Queen Street West and Spadina Avenue in Toronto has, in the past, just been an area that, more or less, intersects the Business, Entertainment, Fashion and Chinatown districts. While still in its infancy, it’s looking like it’s trying to become it’s own little sub district. Call it the “Snack” district if you will. Within the last couple years no less than 5 places have opened up serving high quality fast food. Taking advantage of the lunch late night bar crowds. The latest of which, White Squirrel Snack Shop offers a little taste of Toronto.

White Squirrel Snack Shop (2)In 2009 David Ginsberg opened White Squirrel Coffee Shop just west in the Trinity Bellwoods neighbourhood. It’s been a hit ever since but the small shop doesn’t have a full kitchen. Wanting to expand his horizons, David found a spot and together with Chef Chelsea White crafted a menu that takes from Toronto’s strength; Diversity. Influences from across the globe can be found in items like Nachos, Fried Rice, Souvlaki and Po’ Boys. Many of those items coming in full or snack sizes.

WSSS InteriorThe Snack Shop operates out of a store front on Queen Street West. Up front is the dining area with it’s half dozen or so seats as well as couple tables beside the counter. Which is about half way through the space. The restaurant has high ceilings and is very long and narrow. Two things really stand out, first is the completely unfinished wall down one side and the enlarged 100 year old map of the city on the other. The map is beautiful with it’s collage of vintage photos adorning. The unkempt feel of the place… not so much. The kitchen is in the back and where you pick up your goodies.

And speaking of those goodies, let’s have a look at some.

WS Hot SauceThey make their own hot sauce and it’s just as good as anything you’ll find anywhere. There’s a hint of smokiness that comes from Chipotle. Other than that there’s a medley of chilies and other flavourizers. The whole purpose was to make it flavourful and not just hot for hot’s sake.

Kimchi Fried RiceThe Kimchi Fried  Brown Rice is a bit of an odd dish. Brown fried rice with kimchi, oyster mushrooms, tofu and topped with grilled bok choy. What I’ve heard and read so far, for the most part matches my findings. Which are that it wasn’t really what I was expecting (not that I really know what I was expecting), wasn’t wowed by it but at the same time, found it addictive. It was slightly spicy with a bit of crunch and packed with flavour. About half way through I decided to add a bit of the hot sauce. It was just that much better. Adding another layer of flavour and kicking the spice level up a few more notches really helped solidify this dish for me.

Sweet-Spicy WingsI thought the Sweet/Spicy Wings were quite good but not really my thing. They come grilled and tossed in a maple, chili, lime, cilantro sauce. They have good flavour but I find the sauce a bit thin. I like a heftier sauce that really sticks to them. I also found that the taste was somewhat restrained whereas I like a bolder flavour. So all in all they were really good but just not what I go for.

Cubano SandwichThe Cubano is one tasty sandwich. Slow roasted pork, smoked ham, slaw, grainy mustard and pickles on fresh French Bread. White Squirrel’s version of this classic Florida sandwich is fairly close to traditional. The use of grainy mustard and slaw a slight departure but it holds fairly true. And does it justice. The most pronounced flavour is the piggy, roasted pork. The rest of the ingredients all play supporting rolls. The bread is delivered fresh from a local bakery every day and is excellent.

Snack Shop BurgerTheir Snack Shop Burger is pre ordained with a half pound of house ground beef on an egg bun with caramelized onions, pickles and dijon mustard. While it’s not my “Go to” burger (bacon, cheese, pickle, raw onion, prepared mustard) I thoroughly enjoyed this. Make no mistake though, that is because of the meat. It’s excellent. The bun is good. It doesn’t detract and is sturdy enough to stand up to the oozing juice. The toppings are okay but nicely balanced. The sweetness of the sautéed onions equally measured by the pickle and mustard. The beef is, well, beefy. It is loosely formed into a patty and though it was cooked to well done, it’s still plenty juicy. The nice thing is, it’s ground corsely enough to still have a pleasant chew. This is just a great burger.

So whether you’re stumbling out of a bar or escaping the rat race, White Squirrel has some tasty treats for you.

You can find White Squirrel Snack Shop at 507 Queen Street West in Toronto, On.

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You can also find them on the web and Twitter.
White Squirrel Snack Shop on Urbanspoon

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

Friday, June 14, 2013

Duffy's Deli (Huntsville, Al)

Famous White Chili

Ed Hyter graduated from Huntsville High School almost 40 years ago. To say he’s stayed fairly close to home is an understatement. Ed got a job at Duffy’s Deli in Huntsville, Al a week later and has, for the most part, been there ever since. Sure, he did leave for a couple of weeks but found the grass on the other side of the fence was not greener. So he came back. Ed didn’t turn his back on his alma matter either, acting as HHS’s Panther football squad as Equipment Manager. His work at Duffy’s has earned him the title Chef Edward and The Soup King. His work with the Panthers has earned him the title, Mr. Huntsville High. In the Five Points area of Huntsville, he seems to be Mr. Everything.

Duffy's Deli (1)Duffy’s, founded by former University of Alabama Crimson Tide Quarterback John “Duffy” Boles, sits in a 100 year old house. Sadly, the house is in probate court right now and Linda Ledbetter who owns and operates the Deli with her husband Terry, has no interest in relocating. The plan is to continue the tradition until they’re uprooted and then retire. They’d like to sell the business but time will tell. It’s an unfortunate part of life when an institution is taken from locals however life is not always sunshine, lollypops and rainbows.

20130103_141651From the outside it looks like, well, an old house. Of course, most houses don’t have a sign outside and the lawn has been replaced with a parking lot. As with any century home, it needs some TLC but given the uncertain future, no one wants to invest the money. So there it sits, sadly needing some love, awaiting it's fate.

20130103_141726Inside Duffy’s has an order counter as you walk in. You then procede to the dining room and wait for your goodies. There really isn’t one big dining room but a handful of smaller ones. There’s plenty of newspaper and magazine articles decorating the walls. Of course, there’s all kinds of Crimson Tide paraphernalia. Perhaps the most important feature though, Eddie is always near by. When not cooking in the kitchen he’s in the dining room mingling with customers. Talking football mostly.

Speaking of Eddie and his kitchen, let’s get a look at what he’s got to offer.

20130103_141927I’ll start with the star of the show. The White Chili. Very simple in nature and not heavily seasoned it’s truly a work of art. The beans and chicken really shine through. It has a really nice, well rounded flavour. I found the gravy to be fine as far as thickness although reviews I’ve seen see people consider it thin. What really ties this whole dish together is the generous amount of cheese in it. It’s a spectacular dish.

Catfish DinnerThe Catfish is quite good. A nice, thin, crispy cornmeal batter encases a melt in your mouth filet of fish. As far as the fish goes, it has that signature earthiness to it. While they use frozen fries, these are among my favourites. They’re coated and makes for a really crisply exterior and conceals a fluffy, potatoey interior. As I’ve said before, good frozen fries beat bad fresh cut every day of the week.

Meatball SandwichA daily special sandwich is Italian Meatball. Served on a hoagie bun it’s packed with gum ball sized meatballs in Maranara and topped with Mozzerella cheese. There’s no alchemy going on here, it’s just an around tasty sandwich.

20130103_143616The Baron sandwich is also fantastic. Salami and Ham on Rye (they were out so a whole wheat bun was subbed) with Swiss. The meats really complemented each other rather than competed. What really “Made” this sandwich though is the mustard. A nice deli mustard. Just enough to add some character but not so much as to take over the whole thing. Fab-U-Lous.

Bayou HoagieThe Bayou Hoagie is a tasty sandwich as well. Pieces of Cajun Sausage on a hoagie roll with mayonniase and spicy mustard. The simplicity is really what makes it. The condiments are only there to compliment the sausage and the bun to hold it.

20130103_143636Eddie takes great pride in his burgers and it shows. Some hail it as Huntsville’s best. As of yet, I‘ve found no better. A great beef taste in this hand formed and flat top (ahhhh) griddled burger. Topped with cheese on a nice fluffy bun. It’s simply great.

20130103_145648The Deep Fried Cheesecake is fantastic. They get a simple cheesecake from a local bakery and deep fry wedges. They top it with whipped cream and chocolate sauce. Eddie tells us that he loves it with raspberries on top.

So there you have it. Great sandwiches and legendary white chili in a Huntsville institution that, hopefully, will endure.

You can find Duffy’s at 2324 Whitesburg Dr S, Huntsville, Al.

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You can also find them on facebook.
Duffy's Delicatessen on Urbanspoon
Duffy's Delicatessen on Foodio54

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

Monday, June 10, 2013

Hamburger Heaven

“You can’t get a good burger in Toronto”
almost everyone

100_2968There was a time not too long ago when trying to get a great burger in Toronto was a real challenge. Particularly if you’re a fan, like myself, of the Classic American Burger. Sure, you could get a good, maybe even really good flame grilled beef patty with plenty of extenders and flavourizers. Those can fill a void but the truly great burger, in my humble opinion, is basically fresh ground beef with minimal seasoning (usually salt and pepper only), done on a flat top, topped with American Cheese and on a Wonderbread style bun. It’s a hamburger (or cheeseburger) at it’s most primal. It’s back to it’s roots. Simple yet challenging but when done right, a thing of beauty.
In Toronto there was precious few places to find one of these classic gems. Your best bet would be at a diner. The problem is, there’s so many and most just use frozen patties. Very quietly though a little diner on Gerrard St in Riverdale was producing a very inexpensive and quite honestly, superb version. Collegiate Lunch is a run down relic of the 60’s but their Banquet Burger is one tasty sandwich and with a Coke and fries can be had for less than $10. A steal based on what a similar version can fetch these days.

100_2967The beauty of the flat top is really two fold. First of all, the burger releases some of it’s fat and begins to fry in it’s own juices. All that luscious fat that would drip down onto the fire now splashes back onto the meat, basting it as well as cooking. Secondly, with fat being an outstanding cooking medium, the meat begins to cook to a hard, caramelized crust. Searing in juices and adding more flavour. No it’s not the healthiest way to cook a burger but really, who cares?? It’s about the taste. If I’m worried about my health, I’ll eat a salad.

100_2958In the late spring of 2010 the burger landscape in Toronto would change. A revolution would begin in a tiny store on the edge of Toronto’s Beaches neighbourhood. Shant Madrosian, an expat from California, longed for the simple burger. The type on which empires were built. In SoCal you could just drive a block to In n Out Burger. One of the most highly respected chains for foregoing profit in the form of expansion to preserve quality and reputation. Necessity being the mother of invention, former seminary student Shant decided to fill the void and opened The Burger’s Priest. His plan was simple, redeem the burger one at a time. Celebrating it’s 3rd anniversary at the time of this writing he’s shunned franchising for control and has opened 2 more locations with a 3rd, flagship store in the works. As far as burgers go, BP may possibly make the best burgers I’ve ever had. Certainly the best in the city.

2012-02-23 11.11.44Johnny Prassoulis and Bill Koutroubis were so impressed with BP that they wanted in. Shant wasn’t about to let anyone else in on what he had going so John and Bill devised their own burger strategy. In the late summer of 2011 they opened Holy Chuck in mid town. Taking that basic burger and adding their own spin. While BP had started to introduce a secret menu, HC’s more extravagant novelty burgers were right on the wall. The result was a burger that fell JUST shy of the standard set by BP. It’s a great burger. 
They plan on opening a second location in the summer.

Since 2010 a host of upstarts have opened. Trying to cash in on the success of Burger’s Priest. All serving the same flat top burger, known generally in this areas as a “Smashed burger” for the way most places squish a meat ball onto the griddle. For the most part, they’ve been successful. I’ve sampled quite a few and have seen a few that really seem to be more “concept” or just seem to be people trying to cash in on the latest craze. Trying to sell the sizzle not the steak as it were. 

The StockyardsThere is also one place that precedes the Priest by about a month that is serving the same type burger along with signature burgers mixed in with BBQ favourites and other southern inspired goodies. The Stockyards burger is in the conversation for best in TO. Recognizing the great crust that the flat top gives, they push the envelope and produce a burger with easily the best crust.

Now don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of tasty burgers that aren’t done on a flat top. Heck, my buddy Gus makes a hand formed patty on the grill that is as good as anything you’ll find in a restaurant. But it aint my favourite. Nope, unless it’s seen that wide expanse of stainless steel, it won’t rival those in the pantheon of greatness.

So for what it’s worth, here’s a list of my top 5 burgers the city of Toronto has to offer. All have opened or made their reputation since that little burger shop in Queen St. E opened 3 years ago. My default order is a Bacon Double (4oz. patties) Cheeseburger with pickle, raw onion and mustard. But I do vary.

101_06791) The Burger’s Priest. 3 locations as of spring 2013  and possibly the best burger ever. If you want to get a little bit crazy and don’t want to worry about your waist line, try the Vatican City. A Double Double (two patties with two slices of cheese) with grilled cheeses used for buns. Add bacon to it but skip the jalapenos.
The Burger's Priest on Urbanspoon

Farmers Threesome2) Holy Chuck. My favourite burger place (they exceed BP in most other categories) in town and almost as good as BP. Make sure you grab a shake. (I suggest Salted Caramel Nutella) If you’re in a diet busting mood, the Farmer’s Threesome, consisting of 1 patty each of ground beef, ground lamb and ground bacon is awesome. All are topped with cheese and the whole thing is topped with more bacon and sautéed onion. The addition of mustard rounds it out very nicely. Make sure you get a shake as well.
Holy Chuck on Urbanspoon

Stockyards3) The Stockyards. Stick with the Classic here. A single 6 oz. patty topped the way you like if you don’t like how they suggest. The meat is great, the crust is incredible and it’s just an all around outstanding burger. There’s plenty of other great things on the menu as well but we’re talking burgers here.
The Stockyards Smokehouse & Larder on Urbanspoon

Burger4) Stack Smmmoked. While this burger can be a bit hit and miss, it’s mostly hit and when it’s on, it’s terrific. Bill, the owner is a big believer in the “Dirty burger” as he calls it and worked to perfect his. Version 2.0 is really is a terrific burger and for those who abhor “plastic” cheese, they use real cheddar. The bacon get’s a second tour in their smoker for added goodness.
STACK Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Snack Shop Burger5) I’m torn about putting this last place on here because I just had their burger for the first time. White Squirrel Snack Shop produces one burger, topped with sautéed onion, pickles and Dijon on an egg bun. I would love to do it up my way and see how it stacks up but for now, I’ll stick with the data at hand. What really puts this into the top 5 is the beef. It’s as good as anything on a bun any place serves. 
White Squirrel Snack Shop on Urbanspoon

Honourable mention goes to Big Moe’s. Resist the temptation to get the Juicy Lucy and stick with a Double Cheeseburger. No bacon here as this place is Halal but you won’t it. They serve a great tasting burger.
As well the afore mentioned Collegiate Lunch. Their fresh ground beef with cheddar and bacon is a great burger and even better value when you factor in the fact that you get fries along with it for less than the cost of a 5 Guys Bacon Cheeseburger.
So a happy 3rd anniversary to The Burger’s Priest and a heartfelt thank you for popularizing the greatest style of burger ever.

That’s all for now folks, see ya next time in the food court