We were enlisted with The New Strongs for the World Trivia Night at the Aberdeen Pavillion at Landsdowne Park, and we decided that Humprey’s would be a good spot to stop for a light dinner beforehand.
The place was fairly quiet – a nuclear family to our left, a small group at the back, and the little jazz stage in the corner was empty – it was still early. I do enjoy the feel of the place, though, open but cozy and warm.
But I was quickly disapointed – gone were the Tandoori Chicken Wings from the menu! I expressed my displeasure loudly to the staff, who politely and with some embarrassment explained that they were simply not selling enough to keep them on the menu. That is really too bad.
Still, we had to eat. We started with some naan. The equivalent of two breads, cut in thick slices, and sprinkled with sweet paprika. They obviously make it on site, because it was very fresh, soft and warm. Some purists might not like it, but I didn’t mind them. I was also starving.
Melissa decided to get the red pepper and curry soup. It came with a generous portion of naan-like sticks, but crunchier. There was also a generous dash of cream to garnish the concoction, and I would argue a little too much. The soup was really thick, but it didn’t need to be that thick. They had the good idea of serving the soup with a quarter of fresh lime on the side, which gave the soup a fresh tangy zip.
For myself, I ordered their chicken quesadillas. It was a smaller portion than most establishment in Ottawa, with only four pieces. The chicken was alright, and the quesedillas were also filled with coriander and mango. Dipped in the hot sauce and the sour cream served on the side, it made for a light and fresh snack.
I have to say that I was satisfied with our meal, even with the banishment of the Tandoori chicken wings. But I have heard a lot of bad things about the service there, and even though I’d never witnessed anything myself, I figured I should mention it, and web reviews here seems to confirm what I heard. But again, I never had any problems.
La Cage aux Sports was founded in 1984. Regrouping 48 restaurants throughout Québec, La Cage is now well established in the Quebec Sports/Food scene. Although the newer Cage seem to all be built on the same model, each Cage has a unique interior and all of them have an atmosphere focused on sports.
I don’t mind the Cage in Hull. The bar in the middle is quite big, with lots of TV screens all around. There are plenty of booths available in the restaurant area, lots of TVs too but sometimes they are hard to see. It can get very packed in there for big games, especially when the Habs or the Sens are playing. It is a little more quiet for other sports, usually.
Tonight, they were showing on their main system the Habs playing the Hurricanes. Go Canes go, I said.
La Cage’s menu is quite diverse. Their wings are famous (Buffalo or 9-1-1, they are small but tasty – and they are only $0.49 each on Thursdays afer 4pm), but you can also get chicken, ribs, steaks, sandwiches and hamburgers.
But today, we took advantage of their “Tuesday Stars”. Starting at 11 am, all pizzas are $9.99, and so are pitchers of Molson Export. So pizza it is.
I picked the Grilled Chicken Pizza. It is basically a breast (half a breast?) cut in strips, deployed on the pie, with red pepper strips in between each piece of bird. That’s it. The pizza is of a nice size, for a personnal portion. Not too big, yet filling. The crust is well done, quite thick but light at the same time. The sauce is a tad sweet for my taste – but I suppose it is hard to go too spicy with chicken and red peppers.
Mel went for the classic all-dressed. Pepperoni, mushrooms, green peppers AND red peppers too. Nice touch. Again, a nice pizza. Probably better balanced than the one I had, the sauce working well the toppings. The mushrooms were nicely dried out, not squishy at all, and it is very pleasant to look at.
We left with a $40 bill. They gave me an extra $3 off because I showed my CAA card. Thank you, CAA!
Even better, the Hurricanes won!!
Burning grocery carts with anything you can find in the parking lot. Could there be anything better?
It does have more taste than the Light however, which is to show what advertising can do to a beer brand.
I have got to say that our sausages were pretty good. Juicy, tender, well cooked, they warmed our soul and gave us the necessary courage to get inside the stadium.
Some games, the action is in the stands, not in the stadium. The yellow coats of the security crew are running around the stadium faster than the Bills receivers. But this year, it was cold, and the fans were calmer then usual. We, however, miraculously avoided the snow the poured all around the area all day, but the skies over the Ralph Wilson Stadium held on.
Buffalo QB Trent Edwards poured even more cold water on the fans as he threw three interceptions in the first quarter.
Still, the fourth quarter began with a 16-13 score.
Cleveland scored a TD first, but on the following kickoff, Buffalo returned the ball for a TD.
The Browns added another field goal to give the Brown’s a 26-20 lead, which was then followed by a Buffalo drive leading to a TD, 27-26 for the Bills.
The next Cleveland drive brougt them down the field to a spot that gave their kicker a chance to win the game with a 56-yard field goal. Kick is GOOD. 29-27 Browns.
The Bills didn’t give up, and another drive gave the Bills kicker Ryan Lindell a chance to be the hero, from 47 yards out. Perfect snap, perfect hold. Kick is… WIDE RIGHT, WIDE RIGHT!!! Bills lose. 29-27.
Still, a great time. And better yet, we didn’t have to go out and enjoy Buffalo’s lively night life.
Also, a movie is coming out about the day, but there has been some delay. The fans are eagerly waiting.
Well-fed, we were on our way to Buffalo, an All America City. I had one goal in mind – make it. The weather got nasty here and there, at some point we could only see 20 meters ahead. But we made it, although it took us longer then expected.
Next step: lunch!
Because it is here, in 1964, in a small establishment of Main Street, Buffalo, NY, USA, that the chicken wings were born. The blessed nativity happened at the Anchor Bar.
I’ve always wanted to go, but although it is on Main Street, it is still a few blocks away from downtown Buffalo. On our annual football trip, we usually stay at the Adam’s Mark, as it is walking distance from the classy night life experience one only can get in downtown Buffalo, an All America City.
Monday Night Football was changing our plans, as there was no need to enjoy said nightlife. But it also meant we had time for an All America Lunch. So off we went to the Anchor Bar.
If I understood the story correctly, the chicken wings were invented one Friday night in 1964, as the son of the owners, Dominic, was hanging out with a bunch of his friends at the bar. Emptying the beer kegs, they got hungry. Teresa Bellissimo was asked by her son to feed his friends, but it being Friday night, and it being late, and them being drunk, she didn’t feel the need to feed them with fancy food. She took the chicken wings she had reserved to make soup stock, and dunked them in a deep fryer. She then tossed them in a “secret sauce” ( A blend of cayenne pepper, vinegar, salt, garlic and margarine) and served them with a blue cheese dressing on the side to cut the heat for the sissies amongs Dominic’s friends. They apparently liked the dish, ordered more beers, more wings, et voilà! A new star was born, and the Buffalo chicken wings are now a favourite accross North America, still spreading around the world.
We arrived around 1 pm. The parking was packed, which I assumed was pretty normal for game day. Still, we were 7 hours away from kick-off. The place was really busy – we lined-up in order to be part of the experience. Ivano Toscani, the Executive Chef, was welcoming people and making sure to move people along quickly. It took about 10 minutes before we were able to sit down in a corner table, not far from the piano. – Yes, they have live entertainment – but not today.
Today is all about Monday Night Football. Most of the patrons are wearing either Buffalo Bills‘ gear, or Cleveland Browns‘ apparel. Cleveland is not that far from Buffalo, so lots of Browns’ fans are in town, and lots of them are at the Anchor.
Jerry and I had a quick look at their lunch menu, but that was mostly just for show. Hell, we were here for wings, so we barely looked at the salads, soup, sandwiches, pizza and other available items to focus on the Holy Grail: the original wings! (They also have a dinner menu, expanded to include pasta dishes and seafood.)
Anchor Bar Wings are available in five flavours: mild, medium, hot, bar-b-que and suicide. The original version, I gather, is the medium one. We ordered 20 wings
To chase them down, I went for a pint of Genesee Cream Ale. Funny enough, of the 29 beers available at the Anchor Bar, 1 is Irish, 1 is Dutch, 2 are Mexican, 8 are Canadian, and 17 are American. The Genesse Cream Ale is quite clear for a Cream Ale, very pale too. Pretty weak aroma, it is quite smooth and therefore a good beer to chase down wings.
While waiting for the wings, I went to their souvenir shop. I bought a great chicken wing hat!!! It would be a huge hit later, I was sure of it. You can order a lot of the stuff on-line.
And then, the wings came.
Here they were. The originals. The wings to rule them all.
The smelled so good! They looked so good! And good they were. The wings were served with plenty of celery sticks on the side (for our health – way to go Anchor Bar!) and the original blue cheese dip. The dip wasn’t bad, but I’ve always preferred to keep my wings un-dipped. That’s the kind of non-dipper dipper I am.
The sauce is what makes it all happen. Because the wings themselves weren’t of the best quality. And, because of the heavy affluence I assume, they probably weren’t as good as they can be. In fact, some were a tad bit overcooked, so much so in fact that some bones would chip – I believe I did swallow a little piece.
But the sauce was divine, and it made for very tasty wings. They were served hot, and they were clearly not microwaved as they remained hot to the last one. I wanted to try the other sauces they had available, but that was plenty of food for now. So I went to their store again and bought an assortment of sauces and a gallon of original sauce.
I will make another pilgrimage if I have the chance. This place changed the world.
What’s the best thing to do after a long night of hockey? Why, getting ready for a football game! The first order of business though: food!What will we do today? Jerry’s research on the internet had led him to believe that tailgating was really the way to go, but from our home base at the Radisson, we weren’t really equipped for it. Besides, the plan was to do that in Buffalo.
So we went out looking for breakfast. After driving around for a bit in the area around the hotel, we had to conclude that we would not find anything satisfactory – in fact, we couldn’t find anything at all except for a bagel shop - so we headed for Downtown Pittsburgh for an adventure.
Not knowing where I was actually going, I ended up following the indication for the Convention Center. I knew it wasn’t far from the Strip, and figured that it was an area worth checking out anyway. Located by the old docks, this area of Pittsburgh has definetely seen better days. But it was our lucky day – we parked half-a-block south of Primanti Brothers‘original location on 18th street. Jerry’s research has told us that Primanti Bros. was an institution in Pittsburgh, and a must-go before a Steelers’ game.
Primanti Brothers is a sandwich chain of fifteen outlets throughout the Greater Pittsburgh area, with an additional two locations in Florida. It was founded in 1934.
We walked in. The place is clearly a blue-collar establishment, no fanciness, with wood tables where beer is drank cold and fast while feasting on the menu posted on a giant board at the back of the restaurant. We had a look at it after seating ourselves in a booth which had seen better days.
Jerry wanted breakfast, but we had just missed the deadline. We would have to settle for one of their regular fixtures. I hesitated – maybe I should go for a sandwich? But I decided to go for an item that looked exquisite – on the wall, at least: the Smallman Street Fries. Fresh cut fries, chilli, cheese, bacon, sour cream. Could this be a dream come true? Well, no. Are you kidding?
This thing was unreal. The fries weren’t bad at all – quite crispy, although greasy. But they serve a lot if it here, so they were fresh and nicely cooked. The chilli was half-decent, meaty and beanie, not spicy to my liking but that is understandable. The cheese? Well, it was that kind of cheese sauce they seem to pour everywhere here in Pittsburgh, some kind of re-processed Cheese Whiz.
The bacon was fake bacon bits, which added an unwanted dryness to the dish. The sour cream was helpful to make this thing more palatable, but let’s just say I wouldn’t recommend it. And the pool of grease at the bottom – literally, a pool - made it even more uninviting. I wish the coke I ordered had been bigger, to help wash it down. This poutine wannabe is light-years away from the subtle delicacy and fine balance one can find in Quebec’s best poutine.
Jerry didn’t fare any better, by his standards. I didn’t mind his order that much – (He couldn’t bring himself to eat it all – so I had half to chase my Smallman Street Fries.) You see, unbeknownst to Jerry, the Primanti Bros’ sandwiches are famous because of how they are served. The menu is clear, but one could easily miss a key word: “All sandwiches are topped with french fries, cole slaw & tomatoes. Onions by request.” Topped. Not served. Not accompanied. Not coming with. No, no, no, no, no. TOPPED.
So here it is – the Black Angus Top Sirloin Steak & Cheese Sandwich:
Angus beef. Coleslaw. Fries. All stacked between two thick slices of Italian bread. Now, I wasn’t as repulsed by the whole concept as Jerry was. After all, I lived in Jonquière for three years, and in the Saguenay-Lac St-Jean region, and other areas in Quebec, it is not uncommon to serve hot dogs with fries and cabbage as garnish.
It was, however, fairly thick. Cut in half, you could see the bed of fries which is counting for half the sandwich. The meat wasn’t bad at tall, but it was kind of drowned out under the fries and the coleslaw. The slaw was vinegary, which does work with fries but makes the bread a little too wet for it to be eaten properly, if such a thing is possible. Biting into it, I wished I hadn’t ordered what I had.
Primanti is quite the experience. But Jerry was still hungry, and thank God we had our hockey tickets from last night, so we went ahead and enjoyed our free Big Macs after shopping for Steelers’ gear.
We were told the good bars were on the other side of the stadium, in front of Gate A so we headed over in that direction.
The Steel Nation is known to be rowdy. Nothing compared to the Bills’ fans, but still. Today however, their ardour was slowed down by the flurries. There was also some Chargers fans around – not a whole lot, but their baby blue jerseys were clashing with the sea of yellow and black, so they were easy to spot.
We walked around the stadium for a while, immersing ourselves in the pre-game ambiance that was slowly but surely building. But the cold was getting the better of us – we had to warm up if we wanted to last the whole game. After all, we were 3 hours before kick-off. So we wandered down towards the promise land of sports bars which are supposed to be nearby.
The first one we saw had a line-up. We looked around and couldn’t really see anything else. So we did line-up, trying to make it inside the Jerome Bettis’ Grille 36. Bettis was traded from the Rams to the Steelers. A strong running back, Bettis rushed for over 1,000 yards in each of his first six seasons in Pittsburgh. A very popular figure, he decided to cash in by opening this “food-focused sports-themed restaurant.”
We had to get in. But the line was not moving. I noticed they had a patio, with a nice view of the Ohio river and of Heinz Field. I also noticed that we could get on the patio directly and therefore skip the line-up. The patio was almost empty, and there was not a lot of customers for the two Bud Girls who were trying to sell their malt beverages. We walked on and happily ordered to cold beers to warm us up. And after buying the beer, Jerry and I snucked inside the bar from the patio – the doors weren’t locked.
The place is great. It is huge. They have over 50 HD TVs with 12 different satellite systems, which makes it possible for them to show up to 12 different events at the same time! The TVs are everywhere, and they clearly identify with logos which TV will broadcast what. So you just need to find the TV you are looking for, and no need to ask the staff to switch any TVs. Everything is pre-determined.
The place was really packed. As people were cheering for the different teams, Jerry and I enjoyed a couple of beers, and we chased them down with a couple rhum and cokes. The bar itself is shaped like a football, and I counted 15 screens all around.
After checking in, we got ready for a Hockey Night in Pittsburgh. We got lucky and hopped on the shuttle as soon as we got back to the lobby. Arriving at the Mellon Arena, we decided to find a place nearby to quench our thirst. At the doorstep of the arena though, the view is spectacular, as the Arena is built on a hill. We stood there and looked at the Pittsburgh landscape from our vantage point – tall beaming skyscrapers with corporate logos at the tops, but we couldn’t see anything really obvious for our needs. Bunch of hotels and their fancy bars, nothing interesting.
A group of Pittsburgh Police officers were at the corner of Washington and Center. Strangely enough, they were all looking at their cell phones. Apparently, they were looking for someone’s number. We interrupted their important work to ask them about a good place to get a beer before the game. A big moustache-wearing sergeant directed us, with no hesitation, to the Souper Bowl, a couple of blocks away on 5th avenue.
We walked down as people were offering… errr… asking for tickets. The Souper Bowl looked promising, too promising in fact because there was a line-up. I’m too old for line-ups, so we kept going and fortunately rapidly found another sports place, the Café Fifth Avenue.
As expected, the place was filled with Penguins’ fans, but also with Sabres’ fans. It was bright. It was loud. Beer was flowing. Standing room only, but not overpacked. We found our way to the bar, where we witnessed the waiting staff’s dance. I ordered a Yuengling Traditional Lager. Yuengling is the oldest brewery in the United States, founded in 1829 in Pottsville, PA. I like Yuengling, as far as cheap beer goes it is pretty tasty and different from the generic brands.You can read an opinionated review and history lesson here.
There was a lot of beer being drunk at the 5th. Our barmaid, wearing a suggestive Jagermeister T-Shirt “Shot Happen”, was very effective in feeding customers said product. I even suggested to Jerry that we should do one. He declined, so I ordered another Yuengling.
We had a quick look at their menu. Everything was under 10$, but we decided against ordering any chicken wings, provolone moons, stuffed banana peppers, Fifth Avenue Pockets or other american delicacies. See, we were still full from the pizza. So I ordered another Yuengling.
Then, we were off to the Mellon Arena. The Mellon, formerly the Civic, was named after the Mellon Financial, following a 10 year deal signed in 1999. But Pens’ fans are still calling it The Igloo.
The Igloo is the oldest arena in the NHL, having been completed in 1961. Funny enough, its shape has nothing to do with hockey and was meant to give better acoustics to its first occupant, the Pittsburgh Civil Light Opera.
At any rate, it is a neat arena that didn’t age very well, as there are electric problems, as well as with the roof. So there will be a new arena in Pittsburgh in 2010, and you can watch the progress of its construction live.
The Mellon Arena is old, but it is kind of cool. There is a corridor inside dedicated to the kids and every local team, with their jersey framed and hanged on the walls. The concourse is cramped with stands of all sorts, though, and it creates some bottlenecks. Obviously, the original design didn’t make enough room for food and beer stands, so carts are all around.
It was a very good game, Malkin played great and Crosby showed flahses of magic. The Sabres were quick to counter-attack, but lacked the finishing touch, and seem to lose stamina in the third. Anyway, the Penguins won 5-2 and you can read the game report here. What I can tell you however is that in the third period, the Penguins were awarded a power play after Tallinder was caught tripping a Pens, who were incidentally wearing their old-fashionned powder blue for the first time since they switched to Pittsburgh’s black and gold colours. That power play triggered the announcement of a Big Mac Attack, a promotion where all fans can get a free Big Mac the following day at a participating McDonald’s if the Penguins scores during the next two minutes. Imagine the fans happiness when Goglioski scored to tie the game and give us a free Big Mac! Awesome.
As every other sports’ stadium, beer is quite expensive. $7 for a can of Blue or Bud. The concessions
are easily accessible, as the line-ups are not very long. Maybe the Pens’ fan know better. As for the food selection, quality and prices were not great. Hot dogs for $2.50, $5 for a slice of pizza from Pizza Hut, nachos, pretzels, pop corn, cotton candy. I ordered a Super dog for $4, and that was a mistake. It looked barely bigger then a regular dog. The sausage was not cooked evenly - not bad on the ends, but overcooked in the middle. And it looked overcooked, too, as the sausage was almost caramelized. All the condiments were available near the counters, including pickled jalapenos, which I freely added to my dog. I engulfed it quickly, and chased it with a Blue.
Apparently, the two best areas in Pittsburgh to go for food, nightlife and action are the Strip District, about a mile east of downtown, or Station Square, on the south shore across the river. We decided to Square things properly and took the “T” to get there. Funny thing about this light rail system: you pay when you arrive. Not sure it is the most efficient system, but hey, the ride was fairly comfortable, even though we had to stand all the way.
The Station Square’s Bar Louie is quite big, lots of space, a stage for bands, a dance floor. A great place to party, I am sure. We ordered a couple of beers. Jerry went for a Stella Artois, which he had to return because it actually tasted like Pabst. But our friendly waiter obliged with no arguments and brought him something less offensive. For my part, I went with a Michelob AmberBock. Pretty smooth beer, clean finish.
I really did enjoy the fact that there was lots of space in between each tables. Nobody is squeezed against their neighours, the waiting staff are not dangerously trying to serve while avoiding chairs and flying hands.
Their menu is quite eclectic. Items can be inspired by Tex-Mex, Cajun, Italian, Asian, American traditional or even Bavarian cuisine. Burgers, pizza, salads and sandiwiches are composing the bulk of the menus, but you can also munch on sliders, a mini-burger shapped sandwich. We however felt the need to go for a large order of their chicken wings, for $12.99. Flavored offered are Buffalo, BBQ, Szechwan or En Fuego. I tried to convince Jerry to go for the Fuego variation, but he would have none of it so we settled for their BBQ wings. They were of a good size, fairly meaty and crispy. Their large order was generous, and the two of us struggled to finish it. We weren’t starving however, but there was over two dozen wings in the basket, and it came with sour cream.
For 4 beers and the wings, it costed us $40 before tip. I did enjoy Bar Louie. I’d go back with no hesitation if I had a chance.
Nobody seemed in favour of us stopping at Denny’s Beer Barrel Pub, so we didn’t make the detour. I still thought about it, since it would have only added an hour and 43 minutes of travel time. But then, another 5 hours to eat the Beer Barrel Belly Buster would have been too much to make it in time for the Sabres-Penguins game at the Mellon Arena.
Instead, we stayed on the I-90, also known as the AMVETS Memorial Highway. Part of the Dwight Eisenhower System of Interstate and Defense Highways, the I-90 is the longest Highway in the United States, almost 5000 km long from Massachussets to the State of Washington.
We passed a bunch of service areas, and, as we got hungry, we decided to stop somewhere we would feel like home: The Ontario Service Area.
It seems that the owner of the McDonald’s actually owns the rest of the place, as McDonald’s products (containers, glasses) were used every other place. In fact, the girl at the pizza counter was wearing a McDonald’s uniform.
We decided to start our road trip with real american food. We ordered a full pizza, and two Cokes from the fountain. We went for the meat lovers, hell, why not?
The pizza was freshly made in front of our eyes. Not the greatest quality of toppings, but still, not frozen. It came out 15 minutes later, nicely cooked and very filling. The sauce was kind of sweet with a bit of basil. Meat was sausage bits, peperroni and bacon.
It was not a great pizza, but it was good enough for a road stop.
What wasn’t good enough, though, was the lack of the geographical knowledge of the people working there. One would think that employees working at a highway service area would know where they are. Jerry was curious, he wanted to know how far from Rochester we were, and if it was behind or ahead of us. “Ask at McDonald’s”, the McDonald’s uniform wearing pizza-girl told him. We glared at each other in disbelief. After all, Rochester is a city of one million people, and although it is not New York City or even Buffalo, it is quite certainly the biggest city near the Ontario Service Area, as opposed to, hmm, I dunno, let’s say West Chili, Beullah, Belcoda or South Chili. Off to the McDonald’s he went, to come back with no better knowledge of where Rochester was.
We checked on a map, and for the record, the Ontario Service Area is three miles before the 490, which goes to Rochester. A grand total half an hour away. They could also have pointed out that we passed the 390 14 miles ago, and it also goes to Rochester in half an hour. How can you have a million people living 30 minutes away from where you work, on an interstate, and have no idea where it is is beyond me.
Welcome to the United States of America.
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