Mar 27, 2014

The Breakfast Club

I used to belong to a breakfast club.  No, not anything like that breakfast club.

We were twentysomething professionnals meeting up on a weekly basis to discuss current events, political, professional, personnal.  Most of the time, we met at Dunn’s on Queen street, now closed, and enjoyed their breakfast special :  two eggs your way, with home fries, toast, and your choice of bacon, ham, salami, sausage or tomato – all that for $1.99.  Quite the deal, and it lasted at least until 2008 before the prices started going up – which had nothing to do with the closure, I’m sure.

As we all got busy with our lives, kids and all, we stopped getting together .  It just wasn’t possible any longer.  But a few weeks ago, on the news that Dunn’s is coming back to Sparks Street (as reported here by The Waflle), I suggested that this was a) good news and b) the time to revive the breakfast club.

The motion was moved and carried unanimously.  Now, Dunn’s won’t open for a few months.  So I suggeted that we go back to the scene of my first breakfast with the club.  Back in the days, the Sparks Street spot was called Barristers and had the strangest, widest murale of Ottawa on their west wall. Today, the location is called 73 North.

73 North is a bit of an oddity.  It has dubbed itself a Restaurant and Lounge.  It features Lebanese specialties, but also Canadian and Italian dishes.

In 2001, general manager Eli Malouf started offering  shisha pipes on the patio in the summertime. In the morning, it is more like a greasy spoon with its breakfast special. And that is why we were here.

For $4.99, you get two eggs with home fries and toast, with your choice of bacon, ham or sausage.

I got my eggs poached, and ordered them with sausage and brown toasts.

At breakfast time, the place is never full but there are always patrons, mostly white collar types.  You place your order, and in no time, it is served to you – usually within 5 minutes,  or the time it takes to cook the eggs and toast the bread.

My poached eggs were cooked the way I like them.  Sadly, they added too much white vinegar to their boiling water – you really shouldn’t be able to taste any vinegar. Once you get rid of the water in the little bowl, you can enjoy them better.

If the potatoes are of the frozen variety, the sausages are really the star of the breakfast. Not one, not two, but three links of plump, meaty, juicy breakfast sausage.  Nothing like meat in a tube, eh?

No one can say that this is the best breakfast they’ll have ever had, but considering the quick service and the price, 73 North is hard to beat on Sparks. For now.

73 North Restaurant Lounge on Urbanspoon

Apr 7, 2014

A capital crime in the capital?

I had a business lunch and my business date had suggested we go to Lapointe  in the market.  What a great idea, I thought.

I’ve bought fish at Lapointe and have never been disapointed, but somehow I never end up eating at one of their six restaurants.

The market location is kitty corner from the store. During the summer months, you can enjoy your food on their fully licensed patio but despite the nice weather, we have barely put a dent into spring.

The main level is very simple, a couple of tables and their sushi counter, if you’re interested in a quick lunch.  Downstairs, the main dining room is more interesting, spacious and comfortable, with rich brown and blue colours combining for a casual nautical style. Tourists and business folks alike can feel welcomed. On the downside, having no natural light coming through and the fire place in the corner gave the spot a basement feel.

My date had aleady decided that he would go for the Fish and Chips – a favourite dish of his.  So I had a quick look at the menu – Fish Galore, of course!

I elected not to be tempted by the Fish and Chips (offered in four declinations : Cod ($13.50), Haddock ($13.50), Pickerel ($15.00) or Halibut ($20.00))  and since I was wearing a light suit, decided not to temp fate by skipping over the Provençale Bouillabaisse ($16.00) and the  Tiger Shrimp Pasta ($20.00).

In the end, I had a tough choice to make between between the Steelhead Trout
(Seared and served with Sautéed Garlic, Spinach & Mushrooms, Confit Tomato, garnished with a Port Demi-Glace and a side of Roasted Butter and Chive Mashed Potatoes ($22.00); and the Seared Yellowfin Tuna (served on a bed of Baby Arugula, Confit Tomato, Fire Roasted Shallots,  Fried Capers, Marinated Mushrooms, garnished with a  Roasted Red Pepper & Lemon Coulis and Aioli on the side ($28.00).

A basket of wam all-grain buns was brought to the table, a nice touch. I indulged while we chatted and waited for our plates, which arrived in short order.

My companion seemed to enjoy his Fish and Chips. The batter on the pickerell seemed pretty light and the flesh flaky.  “Great texture, and not oily at all,” he commented.

My dish looked quite good and the portion, sizeable.  The Tuna was of good quality. It was cooked medium-rare but sadly was served medium-cold.  The fish and I deserved better. 

That said, the flavour profile was interesting.  The coulis was thick, but the Roasted Red Pepper flavour was complimenting the seared fish well.  The roquette was fresh, and you would get a variety of textures along with it Silky mushrooms, juicy tomatoes, crispy shallots and cappers.

The aioli on the side seemed superfluous however – a bit of olive oil on the salad would have sufficed to dress it and would have worked better with the fish and its coulis.

I wish I had enjoyed it more. Tuna is a tough fish to cook and can use some time out of the fridge to warm up a little. It is then much easier to get to a more normal room temperature than if it’s taken straight from the fridge to the pan to the plate. 

Not a capital crime in the capital. But close.

Lapointe Seafood Grill on Urbanspoon

Apr 5, 2014

Getting Crispy at Tim’s

In February, Tim Hortons announced it was making big changes, including putting to an end its partnership with Cold Stone Creamery. The partnership with the American dairy chain, which started in 2009, will, however, continue in the in the United States.

Tim’s has also removed about 24 items from the menu. Gone are the Mixed Berry Smoothie, the Blueberry Danish, the Chocolate Danish, the Gingerbread Man Cookies, the Walnut Crunch Doughnut and even the Timbit Dutchie.

By trimming the menu, the coffee chain’s goal is to improve speed at the counter by making it easier for staff. Customers who were abandonning the chain because of wait times will be coming back, they believe.  In addition, Tim Hortons struck a deal with CIBC for a Visa credit card that accumulates Tim Hortons rewards points, starting in May.

In March, Tim Hortons announced a new menu item, stating that “for guests craving a warm and satisfying chicken sandwich for lunch, the wait is over.” Because, you know, most people craving a warm and satisfying chicken sandwich have been disappointed when they couldn’t find any at Tom Hortons, as opposed to, say, this place.

According to NPD research, “chicken sandwiches in the last 12 months are the largest growth item,” says Robert Carter, NPD’s executive director of food service. The growth was at nine per cent last year and, in fact, breaded chicken sandwiches are apparently the most popular sandwich variety in fast food restaurants in Canada, with almost 19 per cent share of total sandwiches.  Take that, Cheeseburger.  (That said, The Waffle has his doubts about that – and so does NPD, though this is about the US.)

The Waffle investigated during a stop at the Ottawa Civic Hospital, where the only week-end lunch options were either Tim Hortons or Starbucks.

The Tims Crispy Chicken Sandwich is now available at Tim Hortons restaurants across Canada, for $4.99. You can also get it as part of a combo with coffee and a donut for $6.79 or with soup and coffee for $8.25, but since The Waffle doesn’t drinkg coffee, I ordered a single.

The Tims Crispy Chicken Sandwich is made fresh to order with breaded white meat, lettuce, tomato and topped with light mayo.  It is served on a fresh, soft burger-style bun.

Crispy Chicken Sandwich

Indeed, this chicken sandwich actually looks like a chicken burger, but with a piece of processed chicken made to look like a piece of tenderized chicken breast. The piece of chicken, baked, is lightly seasoned and has no greasy feel to it. The chicken was too big for the bun, which I think is a marketing ploy. But the real deal is the crisp – at the center of their marketing camping, they are not kidding around with the “crispy” experience. This is not crispy, it is crunchy! You can actually hear the crunch in your skull while you eat it! Kudos for that. However, the chicken meat itself was dry, not juicy at all.  The chicken flavour was more of an impression than anything else.

If the lettuce was fresh and crispy, the tomatoes were more on the mealy side. To complete the sandwich, a small dab of light mayo. No extra napkin needed to clean-up spilled sauce here. Chicken needs mayo and so this was disappointing.

Overall, I can’t say that I was overly impressed by Tim’s experiment. I mean, for lunch, it’ll do in a pinch, but you’re probably better off with a different Tim’s sandwich – or even a bowl of chili. Or soup. Or a box of timbits. Despite the lack of Dutchies.

Tim Hortons on Urbanspoon

Mar 20, 2014

The Tigers win big!

A Waffler is informing us that the Detroit Tigers are adding new menu items that will no doubt very popular in Comerica Park this summer.  Crain’s Detroit Business is reporting that the Tigers are expanding their hot dog menu for the 2014 season.  Bless You Boys are accordingly excited.

Take your pick, 7$ a pop:
Late Night Dog: Fried egg, bacon, cheddar cheese
Pork & Beans: Baked beans, cheddar cheese, bacon
Slaw Dog: Coney chili, cole slaw
Poutine Dog: French fries, cheese curds, beef gravy

What’s that?  A Poutine Dog?

Sounds like a Grand Slam to the Waffle.  What’s not to like? Hot dog. French Fries. Cheese Curds. Gravy. The perfect melding of iconic American and Canadian culinary fare indeed.

Here is a Poutine Dog preview, published by Sportservice, the concessionaire at the ballpark.

Poutine Dog

“All the hot dogs are a combination of us all brainstorming and looking at trends. Currently, poutine seems to be growing, and my operations manager and chef are big fans of it, so we developed it from there,” said Robert Thormeier, Sportservice’s general manager at Comerica Park

Crain’s reports that there will be other gourment items available, including the Burrito Bowl, a fried tortilla shell filled with lettuce, cilantro lime rice, roasted corn and black beans. You can go meatless or with your choice of slow braised chicken or taco meat, topped with pico de gallo and cheddar cheese. All that for $9.  Also, Street tacos, with your choice of slow roasted chicken, pork or beef barbacoa topped with pico de gallo, cheddar and cotija cheeses, garnished with onion, cilantro, lime and taco chili sauce – going for $10.

If you end up in a suite, you’ll be able to try other new items, such as Pork tamales, Fajitas, Lobster mac and cheese, Turkey burgers, Italian sub and the Meatball Trio.

The Waffle might send its Detroit correspondent to check it out.

Apparently, he took the winter off and is now ready for assignment.

Or The Waffle might go on a road trip.

Mar 14, 2014

Celebrating Saint Patrick’s at Kettleman’s

After winning the Soccer 7s Men Rec division 1 championship with Sporting Yamela 7-5 against the Red Star, we went to Irene’s for a celebratory pint. Irene’s has been the watering hole for my former teamates for years. I say former teammates because Yamela had called me as an emergency replacement from my current Chelsea Panthers team to replace their injured goalie.

At the end of the night, as was my habit during my Yamela’s days, I stopped at Kettleman’s Bagel Co. across the street to bring home a few bagels for the next morning.

Two guys were busy working the dough, getting ready for the morning’s business.  A few patrons were eating bagels and chatting away, a late night snack after an evening of drinking, it sounded like.

I ordered my dozen Montreal-style, sesame seeds bagels, and then noticed something unusual in the refrigerated counter.

Amongst Kettleman’s regular offer of spreads, including Olives, Chives, Hot Peppers and more; there was a bright green spot.

Intrigued, I got closer, and discovered Irish Cream Cream Cheese.

I couldn’t resist. The colour is simply wrong and the flavour can’t possibly work with cream cheese, but I had to get me some. So I did!

The next morning, I was ready to try. So I did!

I toasted my fresh bagel, and schmeared it lightly with the green spread. As it slightly melted under the hot bagel, the cream cheese let out an aroma that was vaguely familiar.

I took a bite. Yes, vaguely familiar.

A sweet aftertaste, with hint of vanilla and coffee. Kinda like Irish Cream. But with no booze. And with cream cheese. And green.

So ya…

Perhaps only for St-Patrick’s Day!

Kettleman's Bagel Co. on Urbanspoon

Mar 10, 2014

Yesterday’s got no tomorrow

Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away. But After 55 years at the corner of Sparks Street and O’Connor, Yesterday’s restaurant closed its doors for good yesterday.

With its prime location and its simple menu, Yesterday’s Restaurant and its sidekick Centretown Tavern have served politicians, public servants and lots of tourists over the years. The spot wasn’t known for fancy food, that’s for sure, some even saying that indeed they were serving Yesterday’s food.

According to the CBC, restaurant owner Stan Ages, 71, wants to retire and sold the restaurant. The new owner will renovate and open a new restaurant at the same location.

The building that houses Yesterday’s and the attached Centretown Tavern (formerly Hoops, a sports bar) was built in the 1870s, on the site of a historical event.

Because it is here that Thomas Darcy McGee was assasinated on the steps of the building. Known as the Desbarats Building, McGee was waiting for his landlady to open the door. After his assassination on April 7, 1868, Desbarats erected a commemorative sign in McGee’s memory. 8 months later, the building was set on fire and destroyed.

The building also used to house Bryson Graham and Company, one of the Ottawa’s largest and oldest department stores.

Joseph Ages, an accountant, opened a restaurant in the building in 1959. He named it Sharry’s, after his daughter. The restaurant’s name was changed a few years later to Yesterday’s.

The Waffle last review of the Centretown Tavern is here.

But as of now, Yesterday’s got nothin’ for me.

Yesterday's Restaurant & Parlour on Urbanspoon

Feb 24, 2014

Milestone’s Stacked Burger is Stacked

I had a hastily arranged lunch date with a reporter who had been trying to pin me down for a few weeks now.  Some free time opened up, so I suggested that we meet up at Milestone’s, which is both convenient and usually quiet early in the week.

As we tried to complete a few emails and phone calls, we peered at the menu, which had once again changed.  New lunch options are the Spicy Thai Basil Noodles and the Stacked Burger.  I ignored those and was looking at the Chopped Salad as a possible option, another one being the Fire-Grilled Salmon, served with a Pineapple and Pepper Salsa and Quinoa Pilaf.

My reporter friend wanted to try the Stacked Burger ($15) – but she was insistant on me getting it along with her, to share the guilt I suppose. I reluctantly agreed, and as I walked away to take another phone call, I told her to order for me.

And she did, nicely getting the Mixed Greens Salad as a nod to my previous attempt to eat healthy.

It didn’t take look for our glorious burgers to show up:

A sizeable Prime Rib burger on a Brioche Bun, stacked with Smoked Meat, Bacon Strips, Button Mushrooms, Caramelized Onions, Cheddar and Horseradish Cream.

As I pointed out earlier, the burger was served with a side salad, mixed greens with red onions and strawberries and served with a berry dressing.  It was useful to clean the palate between Stacked Bites! Continue reading »

Feb 23, 2014

How Angry is the Angry Whopper?

Coming back from the Liberal shinding in Montreal, I had to make a stop for a quick lunch. I had decided to go home via the 417, which meant taking the 40 West. Which meant that the easiest stop was going to be at the Montée Lavigne exit.

Your options at exit 17 include Harvey’s, Tim Horton’s, McDonald’s and the Hudson Inn complex, which has a table service option with Eggcellent, and three counters: Pizza Hut Express, Subway (which replaced the Dunkin Donuts) and Burger King.

I drove while pondering my choice, but despite my willingness to consider options, I had to come to terms with my craving – I wanted a Whopper. So I had to go to the Home of the Whopper.

The Whopper is Burger King’s signature hamburger. It was created in 1957 by Burger King founder James McLamore, 10 years before the Big Mac.  Originally, the burger was made with a plain bun but BK switched to a sesame-seeded bun in the 70s – though they used a Kaiser roll for a decade starting in 1985.

Over the years, BK has sold several variations of the burger, some then sticking around the menu permanently, some as limited-time offers.  We’ve seen the Chicken Whopper, California Whopper, Western Whopper, Texican Whopper, Whiplash Whopper, Wisconsin White Cheddar Whopper, Veggie Whopper, Chipotle Whopper, Avocado and Swiss Whopper, Teriyaki Whopper, LTO Canadian Whopper and even the Windows 7 Whopper, sold in Japan to celebrate the launch of Windows 7.  Burking King even launched the BK Whopper Bar to brand their express, limited menu, franchises.

Currently on Burger King’s menu in Canada, you can find the original Whopper and its familly: junior, double, triple, and triple with cheese Whopper.  And, of course, the Angry Whopper – which is what I ordered.

The Angry Whopper was first introduced in Europe in 2008 and made it’s way into the US in 2009 and in Canada shortly after. Since then, the Angry Whopper has come and gone a few times, sometimes triggering petitions.  So far, the Angry Whopper has always come back, usually with an aggresive marketing campaign.

 photo AngryWhopper_zpsa4998191.jpg

As usual, this Whopper has a 1⁄4 lb fire-grilled beef patty.  Building on that base, you’ll find Pepper Jack Cheese, bacon, spicy onion petals, spicy jalapeños,  smothered with their “angry” sauce and topped with tomatoes, iceberg lettuce and mayo - all piled on a warm sesame seed bun. Continue reading »

Feb 20, 2014

“What do they mean, meal upgrade?”

I’m a proud member of the Colonel’s Club even though I don’t often take advantage of it.
Nevertheless, every week, exclusive offers from KFC and KFC Select are sent to me, and upon presentation of my membership card at any restaurant, I get access to it. It’s magic!

In fact, a few weeks ago Colonel’s Club members get double the deals offered to them – a familly version and an individual version. However, as I said, I don’t often take advantage of it.

But since I was on my way to Montreal for the Liberal Convention, and since I had received the new deal by email earlier in the week, I thought I’d stop to the KFC in Casselman, exit 66 on the 417.

This Week’s Individual Meal Deal, for February 17th to February 23rd, is a Free Meal Upgrade With Purchase of Any Zinger BLT or BLT Deluxe. For the record, the Family deal is the 18 Piece Family Special for $29.99. But I wasn’t about to order that. No, no, no.

I got to the counter and showed them my card. The cashier seemed confused. It always happens. It’s like this Colonel’s Club is so exclusive that nobody has ever seen this membership card. The cashier called her manager over. They left the counter and went near the drive-thru window to consult some kind of a list posted on the wall.

Free Meal Upgrade With Purchase of Any Zinger BLT or BLT Deluxe. Seems simple.  Turns out, it wasn’t. From my position, I could overhear their conversation:

“What do they mean, Meal Upgrade?”
“I suppose he buys the sandwich and gets a free combo?”
“Why don’t they say free combo, then?”
“I don’t know.”
“I hate these.”

She asked me what I wanted and I asked for a Zinger ($5.49), which wasn’t actually an option according to the offer.  Nevertheless, she then proceeded to punch my Zinger into the register.  Then, she yelled through the order window that she also needed a small fries with that.

“Why isn’t it on my screen?” answered the kitchen staff.
“Because of the Colonel’s Club.”

I felt privileged.

And I got my order a few minutes later.

 photo IMG_20140220_122700_zps4211a321.jpg

The Zinger sandwich is made with a chicken breast, marinated in KFC’s hot & spicy seasoning, then double breaded before being deep fried. It is then topped with iceberg lettuce and smothered with their signature 2Hot4U spicy mayonnaise sauce and served on a toasted sesame seed bun.

The zinger offers a fairly big piece of chicken. ”Tender, juicy, Canadian chicken, grain-fed and hormone-free,” says KFC, in case you were wondering. It was tender, not sure it was that juicy, though. The double breading makes it very crunchy, which I liked, but said breading is also very salty. The lettuce and the bread were fresh, and there was plenty of chicken in each bite.

If you’re expecting a fiery hot chicken burger then you’re going to be very disappointed. The Zinger has a bit of a zing, but the 2Hot4U sauce, a thousand-island coloured mayo blend, was not that hot – although there was a slight build up as I ate my sandwich.  Overall, the Zinger is not a bad sandwich – but I could see how making it a BLT would improve it. If only nobody had been confused!

KFC on Urbanspoon

Jan 11, 2014

Miller’s World Famous Oyster House

Everglades City was first an American settlement after the Civil War, at first a trading post for sugar cane and a fishing and hunting destination. To this day, stone crab harvests (Everglades City is probably the largest commercial stone crab supplier in the US) and alligator hunts are a big part of the local economy.

 photo IMG_00001977_zps442f6145.jpgSo are tourists such as ourselves.  We had decided to explore the Everglades and settled on  an airboat ride with Totch’s Island Tours, the sole location offering a short 30 minute ride, which was deemed most suitable for the toddler and baby we’re carrying around South Florida with us.

And so, after a fun ride taking us through the Mangrove jungles and shallow water bays of the Everglades and the Waffle Jr. getting to hold a baby alligator, we were quite hungry.

We decided to drive around the area a little bit, searching for a suitable lunch spot while enjoying the scenery,  all the way from Everglades City to Chokoloskee and then back.

We finally settled on the Oyster House Restaurant, “World Famous” stated the big red sign, avertising fresh seafood and steaks and calling itself “Stone Crab Central”.  Quite the pitch.

 photo IMG_00001978_zps78cd4b41.jpgThe parking lot was almost empty, despite the noon hour fast approaching. Of course, we’re in the middle of the week in the middle of the winter.

The Oyster House is part of Miller’s World Resort, which includes cabins, a marina and of course a restaurant and bar.

Owner Robert Miller, a New York City developer and entrepreneur, bought the Oyster House in 1992 and renovated it, using Georgia hardwood pine, old shrimp boat latches and Seminole Indian woodcarvings.  Regional artist Skip Gage was commissioned to paint a lifelike mural of Chokoloskee Bay in the dining room.

His son Jr. is co-owner of the place and is also a professional chef. The Oyster House’s signature Pan-Seared Grouper was featured on Bobby Flay’s Food Nation.

Inside, the walls are covered with photos of famous people who’ve came by, including Craig Melnick, Joe Peschi, James Billie, Sean Connery, Joe Peschi, numerous Miami Dolphins, Arnold Palmer, Joe Peschi, Danny Glover, Joe Namath, the crew of “Gone Fishin’ and Joe Peschi.  The rest of the decor is very Florida kitschy, with hunting trophies of all kinds, including mounted fish and wildlife hanging on the walls, as well as an 8 foot alligator hanging around in the bar.

 photo IMG_00001987_zps2f4f1f17.jpg      photo IMG_00001988_zpsf9afff50.jpg

The Oyster House’s menu is obviously focussed on seafood, either broiled, blackened, fried or sautéed. Clam, Alligator, Shrimp, Stone Crab, Frog, Conch, Oyster, Grouper, Scallop, Tilapia, Lobster – your pick!  There is also a few “Land Lover” options, but why would you bother?

I hesitated for a long time.  This place is World Famous for it’s Oysters.  It is Stone Crab Central. The Grouper is highly recommended. The Shrimp are fresh from the Mexico Gulf. They have Gator meat! And so on…

I ended up ordering a few items:  the Florida Gator Appetizer and the Kicked Up Oysters to start, then Mrs. Waffle  talked me into ordering a salad for my main – I picked the Large Shrimp Grilled on a Tossed Mixed Green, which came with a cup of Clam Chowder.

The appetizers, which I intended to share, came fairly quickly.

 photo IMG_00001993_zpsb4102941.jpg  photo IMG_00001992_zps71d926f3.jpg

The Gator was cut into bite-sized pieces, sautéed in olive oil with herbs and spices and served with corn chips.  The owners claim they serve around a 1000 pounds of gator meat every month. Alligator is usually quite lean so I was not surprised to find these nuggets a little on the chewy side.  However, the meat was fairly moist, all considering.  Since the meat was sautéed, it’s delicate flavour was not overwhelmed by a batter nor was it covered up by the spices and herbs. What does alligator taste like? Well, it taste like chicken. Just kidding. Alligator taste like a rabbit who ate a lot of fish. I am not sure why they were served with corn chips, which were too dry.  Perhaps a little bit of their famous mango salsa on the side would have helped? Continue reading »

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