Address: 535 Dick Road, Buffalo, NY

Rich and Alana ordered: Wedges with a side of mac and cheese

Iris, Dan and Leah ordered: Double Downs, wedges and mac and cheese

Plus: Juicy chicken, bacon, located on Dick Road

Minus: Hairy burnt macaroni, saucy sauce, heart attacks

8 chicks on dicks out of 10

 Rich sez: On this particular weekend Alana and I decided to visit the city of Buffalo. Why? Well our carnivorous friends, Iris, Dan and Leah wanted to sink their teeth into KFC’s newest creation – The Double Down; which for some reason is not available in Canada. So Saturday morning, at 8am we met up with friends, grabbed some coffees and breakfast treats for the 2 hour car ride, and off we went the land of the Buffalo.

Iris sez: I should preface this review with one important disclaimer: I actually like KFC. In fact, I LOVE the colonel’s secret mix of 11 spices. Even though I have occasionally dallied with the likes of Church’s Chicken and Popeye’s Chicken, a fidelity to my childhood memory means KFC will always be my first love. When we crawled out of Rich’s car, and the smell of greasy chicken not so much tickled, but assaulted, my senses, I knew this would be the highlight of our Buffalo trip. (That was before we stopped by Target and I got two Zac Posen dresses for cheap, which made that the highlight of my trip.)

 The thing that immediately caught my attention after I ordered my Double Down meal was that I had to wait five minutes for it to be ready. This implied that the “sandwich” was made fresh. I can’t tell if this is a franchise standard or just because of the lack of patrons at the Dick Road KFC. In any case, I took many pictures with a cardboard cutout of a Double Down for posterity sake while I sucked down half of my diet Pepsi. The latter would haunt me later on.

After a few false starts, our Double Down meals were finally ready. My first impression was how greasy it was-not surprising at all since they just fished the majority of my meal out of the deep fryer. The flimsy paper sleeve was already soaked in grease and the cardboard box that comes with the meal also took on an unusual, greasy sheen. I had to wrapped my sandwich in a wad of napkins to stop the grease from invading my hand. After a few obligatory pictures with the sandwich, I was ready for my first bite.

Wow, the chicken was super juicy! To the point where I can’t tell if I was eating white meat or dark meat after the first couple bites. The chicken fillets were larger than I expected and it was obviously made out of a single breast meat-no mushy McNugget chicken here. I did not expect such quality at all. The stuff in between the two chicken, however, is just gross. The “swiss” cheese was a gooey blob that smothered the single bacon in my sandwich. The bacon was chewy, not crispy. And there’s some kind of orange special sauce that tasted like chipotle ranch sauce, which I did not enjoy at all. This combo of cheese-bacon-sauce also added a lot of salt to an already-salty sandwich. I chugged the rest of my diet Pepsi and still I was left thirsty for the rest of the day. In fact, I felt the greasiness was less of a detriment than the saltiness. But overall, I think this sandwich still exceeded my expectations. There’s only so much you can do to improve a sandwich made out of chicken fillets and I felt KFC had actually put some thought behind the composition of this 30 Rock-joke of a sandwich.

 The order of wedges that came with the meal was well seasoned, but no longer crispy by the time I came around to it. Nonetheless, despite the risk of grease poisoning, I ate all of my wedges. This prompted Dan to say, “Iris, you win at KFC.” Thanks Dan! If I die of an acute heart attack within the next month, can somebody carve that into my tombstone?

Dan sez: Okay, Iris, I’ll up your secret and raise you one. Not only do I kind of like the colonol’s blend of 11 spices, but occasionally I even go to the KFC near my house and buy some. It’s a totally different experience and shows the clear delineation between KFC in Canada and in the States. They are practically different restaurants. Here they have a lot of packaged products and seem to focus a lot on stuff like popcorn chicken or chicken fries. In the States it seems to be far more focused on huge chunks of meat and (relative) freshness. In fact, the experiences are so different that I would say American KFC is closer to what you would get at a Popeye’s here. They even have biscuits. Canadian KFC seems like it’s devolved into selling sides for Taco Bell meals.

 As for the “sandwich” itself the most interesting thing about it really is the marketing. It’s basically a perfectly regular serving of chicken (and a pretty good one at that), packaged in such a way to be excessive. The baconator at Wendy’s is worse than this (it has almost double the calories), and while it certainly got some gaffaws, it didn’t cause the same cultural shock. KFC has made a fast-food chicken cordon bleu and packaged it to seem like American excess.

The experience of eating the thing was actually pretty good. The chicken was fresh and juicy, it was spiced perfectly and the cheese and bacon stopped it from being bland (the special sauce was slightly unneeded though). The main problems were in the logistics of eating it. Without the bun it was  difficult to hold (the thin paper sleeve it came in got covered with melted cheese and eaten through by grease), and sauce and cheese kept leaking out.

 Overall though the biggest problem was the size. It really would have been excellent if it was more “snacker” sized. Of course, this would run counterto the “culture of excess” motif they’re pushing with the Double Down. But I’d rather I have a meal I enjoy gastronomically than ironically.

Leah sez: For those considering eating a KFC Double Down, just know: What doesn’t kill you, will only make you stronger — and also, eventually, fatter. Iris and Dan are spot-on with their assessment of the sandwich’s (breast-wich?) finer points. It is effectively a fast-food chicken cordon bleu, specially designed for people who hate plastic forks as much as they hate their livers. The serving size is surprisingly(excessively) ample; the chicken “buns” are shaped from quality white meat, though they’re overly salted (in keeping with the Colonel’s special, stroke-inducing recipe). And yes, it’s fresh. Straight out of the deep-fryer fresh. So fresh, in fact, it’ll burn you.

Or at least it burned me. By merely pointing at my sandwich — not even lifting it, dripping with delicious grease, into my eager maw — I managed to scald my finger. Mind you, mine are lady fingers — a sort of fingers to which the Double Down sandwich is not aggressively marketed. But given the unwieldy shape of thing, and it’s straight-out-of-the-fryer temperature, I can only imagine further injury awaits KFC customers with similarly delicate features — particularly if they’re illiterate and fail to heed the warnings printed on the very sandwich wrapper that scalded me.

Following the incident, I proceeded to conduct a survey based on a sample of our three Double Down reviewers. Based on our findings, 66 per cent of all Double Down consumers will finish their meal with at least one minor hand injury. This, however, is no strike against KFC. This scientifically irrefutable data only serves to demonstrate their product is even more Xtreme (XXX*bacon*XXXtreme?) than it purports to be. And now that I’ve conquered the double down, I’m fairly sure I could eat a sandwich made of two live bears, havarti and turducken without issue. But skip thechipotle-mayo: that shit was completely unnecessary.

BONUS SIDE DISH COMMENTARY: Anything nice Alana and Rich have to say about the mac and cheese is all lies. My side order was accompanied by a mysterious crusty brown “ingredient.” Fail.

Stuck in Scarborough

May 10, 2010

Review: Tasty Shwarma

2993 Sheppard Ave E ,  Scarborough, ON, M1T3J5

Rich ordered: Falafel, fries, Diet Coke.

Iris ordered: Chicken shwarma

Plus: Quality, quantity.

Minus: The wait, the location of condiments, the pot belly.

prison guards needed out of 10

What is Stuck in Scarborough? It’s restaurant reviews to help those who have to commute to Scarborough everyday for work; For those people who just want to get out of the office for an hour to eat a decent lunch. I will help you find the best eats in Scarberia. Expect some special guests reviews as well.

Rich sez: Today at work I decided to round-up some troops from the office and head out for some falafels and shwarma. The email went something like this:

Subject: LUNCHO

Shwarma?

Leave at 11:30 to beat the rush?

Who’s in?

A lot of people were not too keen on the 11:30am roll out, but if you want to avoid the line up at Tasty Shwarma, you go early or don’t go at all. One thing I recommend as soon as you strut into Tasty is that you try to claim your seats — it fills up fast. We usually put our jackets on chairs or have a group of us with switch-blades sit at tables claiming dibs. 

When you line up to place your order you might be taken aback by the 3 or 4 workers behind the counter who may or may not be straight out of prison, but whatever. Tasty Shwarma has combos with a choice of salad or fries and a drink. I say hit up the fries, they are thick cut, made to order, and like Mc Donald’s, they salt the shite out of them. On this occasion, I had the falafel combo. The falafel balls are also made to order so it takes about 7 -10 minutes to get your lunch all situated. It’s definitely worth it.

After a few customers pass me who ordered shwarma instead of falafel, my hunger grew. As I stood there waiting, I imagined jumping the counter and just falafel-bobbing into the deep fryer. Then becoming some super-mangled-faced falafel villain who terrorizes the locals at Scarborough Town Centre. FINALLY, I am nudged by my friend Iris, and I snap out of my food-deprivation daydream. After I passed the line up of 15 to pick up my order,  I headed over to the garbage bin where they keep the condiments. My orange cafeteria-style tray has a wax paper on it so I dumped my fries out and smothered them with ketchup and vinegar.  As we sat and un-wrapped our half-moon sandwiches, I could feel the eyes gazing, everybody in line staring at us with a hungry hatred. I made sure that I made my first mouthful a good one. After the first few bites I found my self searching for the spiciness I ordered. It was nowhere to be found. Sad, but the crunchy pink pickled turnips, on the other hand, are slammin’. Also, the toasty wrap and the spices in the light brown falafel balls tickle your taste buds. I always leave my paper wrapped around the falafel, so I avoid a messy drip at the end.

And in the end I feel… full. I ate way too much. I wish I wore my jeans with the elastic waist band. But it is so good. It is a nice treat-yourself kind of lunch. One last, but important, note — don’t forget to bring cash. They don’t take debit.

Iris sez: Like Rich said, I was pretty reluctant to go to Tasty Shwarma at 11:30. After all, I just ate a giant cheese scone for breakfast like an hour ago and I wasn’t hungry at all. But after Rich told me how PACKED the place usually gets, I reluctantly followed along.

The place was actually pretty empty when we got there—only 2 men were waiting for their shwarma order. I gave Rich the seriously-we-came-out-here-early-for-this? look. But the line was out the door in the span of 10 minutes between when I first made my order, and when I sat down with my meal. So I guess Rich was totally right about the long line up. I originally wanted to order the shwarma meal with tabouli, thinking I could eat it while humming this song. Then I overheard Rich and our coworker, Jeff, waxing enthusiastically over the crispy, salty fresh-cut fries. Well, Rich had been right so far already, might as well follow his lead again.
The thing that struck me the most at Tasty Shwarma was how juicy that chicken looked. I was further filled with glee when, upon receiving my order, the man carved off my serving of chicken straight from the giant rotisserie. None of my meat was carved out ahead of time and left sitting on the counter only to be microwaved later. For someone who’s used to the plebeian shwarma offerings of Ghazale and Ali Baba on College street, this was a delightful surprise. 
My shwarma was stuffed with the usual tomato/lettuce/pickled turnip toppings and a generous serving of hot sauce and hummus. Not that these weren’t tasty toppings, but the flavour of the chicken eclipsed my memory so much that I couldn’t recall what the non-chicken ingredients tasted like. However, I do remember the fries being absolutely delicious. It took some concentrated effort, but I finished the whole meal, fries an all. It was a LOT of food. I was ready to lapse into a food coma in the car on the way back to the office. 
Of course the only downside to a 11:30 lunch was heading back to office and realized there’s still 5 hours of work ahead of me. But Tasty Shwarma made it worth it. 

Review: Pho Huong

April 30, 2010

Address: 394 Pacific Avenue, Toronto

Alana and Rich both ordered: Large veggie pho, spring rolls, and beers.

Plus: Great vegetarian pho,  lots of condiments, opens at 10 am.

Minus: Weird atmosphere.

Rating: 8 hot-sauce ninja turtles out of 10

Rich sez: Alana and I love veggie pho so much that we decided to implement PHO FRIDAYS! Every other Friday we will adventure out to a new location, if we can, and have pho. This week: Pho Huong in the Junction.

This is not the first time we have gone here for veggie pho, but we thought we should share its greatness with the interwebs. Being a Phriday, we decided to have some beer and an order of spring rolls with our meal. Sadly, we frequent Pho Houng so often that we have memorized the menu number for our favourite dish: P12 – L. Which is the large tofu and veggie pho bowl, in vegetable broth.

Bring on the spring rolls. CAUTION – these spring rolls are scorching hot to the touch when they first arrive at your table. They are also a little greaser than I would like, but are perfect  for a hangover lunch/dinner. Wait, why was I hung over on a Friday? A single order is two spring rolls, cut into 2 pieces each. I always try and take the bigger halves when Alana is playing chop sticks with her chop sticks? What? Did I just write that?

The  pho arrives. The large size is perphect. I like mine a lil’ more spicer than the norm, but sometimes, sometimes, I get a little carried away with the cock sauce. However, I have figured out a simple soulution. I just draw a ninja turtle in my bowl (I like Raphel) with the sriracha and, with a swirl of soya and a few dashes of hoisin, I am good to go. The veggies are fresh and the broccoli pieces are huge. I tend to finsh my bowl before Alana and start to give her the hungry seagull eye. Once I start squawking, she usally hands over the rest of her bowl before we get kicked out.

The Phatmosphere – it gets moderately busy in this restaurant. Any hour of any day, you will not be eating alone.  If you go on a weekend you will find that there are several children running amuck within the restaurant — often, it seems as if they are running a side-business as a day care. If you need to use the restroom, it’s down the stairs, past the Christmas tree, through the small hallway … yes, a Christmas tree still stands at the bottom of the stairs. I am OK with celebrating Christmas 365 days a year, but this tree has no lights,and it’s tied to the banister.

Overall, I love Pho Huong and all of its quirks. It never disappoints.

Alana sez: Pho Huong is one of our go-to neighborhood restaurants. Their veggie pho is like a warm hug for your insides — it will cure anything from a hangover to the plain old blues. I especially love that they open at 10 am on the weekends. It’s never too early for a delicious bowl of noodle soup.

As I’ve mentioned before, good vegetarian bowls of pho are few and far between. At many Vietnamese restaurants, the vegetarian soups are bland, uninspired afterthoughts. Not so at Pho Huong. The already-flavourful broth is kicked up with the provided sriracha, soy sauce, hoisin, and lime juice. Within this wonderful base, a  generous portion of tender (but not mushy) rice noodles swims among barely-cooked broccoli florets, carrot rounds, tender onion slices, and puffy fried tofu. It’s comfort food at its best.

As Rich mentioned, the atmosphere can be a little weird. There’s a flat screen TV showing CP24, 24 hours a day (natch), and something that sounds like the soundtrack from Gone with the Wind is always on the speakers. There are children dancing everywhere, and the service can be impersonal. Regardless, Pho Huong is probably our favourite place to grab a bite in the Junction, and I hope it never changes.

Review: The Egg and I

April 29, 2010

eggni

Address: 275 Highway 20 South, Stoney Creek

Rich ordered: Greek omelette with homefries.

Alana ordered: Cheese omelette with homefries.

Plus: Good seats, nice staff, pleasuring potatoes.

Minus: The building is a a bunch of pink shacks, no one but the chef had a mustache.

Rating: 7 Uggs-wearing teenagers out of 10

Rich sez:  A while ago, Alana and I were in Hamilton to attend a Stag n’ Doe and to celebrate a friend’s birthday. The next morning, we were in dire need of the  best hangover brunch spot in Hamilton. We found it at the Egg and I on Highway 20.

My previous visits to the E.I. had been tainted with over-dressed church goers, crying babies, college girls wearing sweat pants to hide their freshmen 15, and greasy cold food. My hopes were not high as we made our way up the Hamilton “Mountain.” On the way, I explained to Alana that the Egg and I looks like a bunch of mashed shacks, but the interior has your typical country-diner vibe.  As we entered, we were greeted by a professional and young teenage staff.

We were seated right in front of the kitchen, where I immediately noticed that the chef seemed to be 15 years old, but with an enviable moustache. He was barking out orders and checking each plate that went to the pass for quality control. I was like DAMN! Someone has watched way too much Hell’s Kitchen, but he was killing it.

I ordered the Greek omelette. It was packed full of flavorful veggies and the side of potatoes was perfect. Finally, someone gets it. Good potatoes can save a bad brunch. I could be eating a omelette of goose droppings and, as long as the home fries are spiced just right, I am a happy camper.  My advice to The Egg and I is to keep the young mustachio chef for life. He’s a keeper. Did I just develop a man crush? Well, he’s no Ryan Reynolds. Never mind.

Alana sez: As we pulled into the parking lot for the Egg and I, my hopes were not high. It looks like a shanty town populated by The Hills’ casting-call rejects, AND it’s in Hamilton: a designated food dead-zone. By the time our food arrived, my expectations were so low that they were hanging out with some CHUDs in the sewer.

Strangely, my omelette arrived with a perfectly square slice of bright-orange cheese melted on top. The homefries on the side were a matching shade of orange. Bracing myself, I put some eggs in my mouth. And chewed. And … it wasn’t half bad. In fact, it was even GOOD! Our mustached friend in the kitchen had managed to turn out a tender, velvety omelette with plenty of real melted cheese inside. I next scooped up some of the homefries to find that they were fluffy and spicy, with some crispy browned edges that added textural contrast. I was amazed — we had found a decent brunch in the Hammer!

With my hangover chased off by the holy trinity of cheese, eggs, and potatoes, I was ready to face the long drive back to Toronto. Granted, we may have caught them on a good day, but I would definitely recommend The Egg and I if you find yourself in need of a tasty breakfast in Steeltown. Especially if you appreciate teenage mustaches.

Review: Brad’s Eatery

April 5, 2010

Address: 325 Roncesvalles Ave

Rich ordered: Eggs benedict with smoked salmon, on a potato rosti, with a side salad.

Alana ordered: Croissant breakfast sandwich with homefries.

Plus: Amazing homefries. Large portions. Friendly atmosphere. Solid brunch.

Minus: Mediocre coffee. Oily salad.

Rating: 8 annoying grunts out of 10

Rich sez: After a fun night of twelve-dollar 40s and sweet mash-ups with DJ Lockdown at my second-favorite bar in Toronto, Margret, a Good Friday morning brunch was needed. Alana and I had recently heard from a friend of ours that Brad’s on Roncesvalles was the place to go. When I think of the name Brad, I associate it with the eldest son from Home Improvement. As such, my expectations for this place were very low. I asked Alana on the drive to Brad’s, “How long do you think it will take Brad to come talk to us about his girl troubles with Ashley?” Alana: “I have no idea what you’re talking about.” Alana was a JTT fan, I guess.

As we walked towards the entrance, they were just opening up the front windows so we could sit and enjoy the new warm weather — lucky us. Alana ordered a Coke Diete and I had a the coffee. As we sat and sipped our drinks, I was not terribly impressed with my coffee’s flavour (or lack thereof) — maybe I was too distracted by the half dozen crazies walking by. I orded the eggs benny with smoked salmon on a potato rosti, and a side of garden salad.

Before our food got to us and 2.5 cups of coffee in, a family of 7 came skipping into the restaurant. The family’s youngest boy was riding a bike with new trainies on it — his dad called out , “Mark come on, lets go!”, but he would not set foot in the door, and who can blame him? Noogies and adoption jokes from Brad awaited him inside, and who knows where Randy was hiding, waiting for the perfect time to tie him to a tree, or steal all the attention away with a cancer scar … uh, sorry — back to reality. The poor l’il guy was actually hesitating because he didn’t want to leave his bike outside with the Roncy riff-raff. Alana and I assigned ourselves as his bike security team, since we had the window seat. With a gracious thanks and tip of the hat from dad, off went future Goth Mark in to the restaurant.

Our food arrived, and as soon as our plates were placed on the table I immediately regretted not ordering the homefries. Alana’s plate was stacked with the toasty, spicy squares from heaven. My garden salad was alright — it was a little to oily for my liking, but I enjoyed that the dressing was freshly-made, rather than store-bought garbage. This was my first time having eggs benny with potato rosti underneath and, let me tell you, it will be very hard to go back to english muffins (not that hard, actually — I had them again today at Milestones. Yes Milestones has a brunch menu. Weird right?). The eggs were cooked perfectly — piercing the yolk caused a rich, creamy yellow river to pour out and mingle with the hollandaise. I wished I had eaten my brunch more slowly, so as to better enjoy its well-balanced flavours, but I tried to whiz through it so I could steal more of Alana’s homefries. Over all, I think Brad’s is right up there with some of the great spots in Toronto to get a good brunch and a nice walk in a cool neighborhood. One thing not to expect is Brad himself to come over and entertain you with his soccer skills while you eat.

Alana sez: While Rich was busy peeping on Jill with Wilson in one of his (not infrequent) Home Improvement hallucinations, I was having a very enjoyable brunch to kick off the Easter long weekend. The vegetarian options on Brad’s menu are quite limited, so I ordered the croissant breakfast sandwich with oven-roasted tomatoes in place of the usual peameal bacon — the kitchen was happy to oblige. I think people who order salad at brunch are crazy (see: Rich and his Tim Allen obsession), so I went with homefries on the side.

Before long, I was digging into one of the best breakfast sandwiches I’ve ever eaten. The croissant was lightly toasted, and piled high with scrambled eggs, aged white cheddar, and exceptionally flavourful roasted tomatoes. Each bite was better than the last, and I was a little sad when I finished it. But only for a second — I had a mountain of homefries waiting for me that weren’t going to eat themselves. I was as impressed with my side as I was with my sandwich. The homefries were spiced generously with smoked paprika, and perfectly crispy-on-the-outside-and-fluffy-on-the-inside (or COTOAFOTI to homefry connoisseurs such as myself). I finished my meal at Brad’s completely sated, and hangover cured. I think Rich enjoyed his brunch, too — he kept mumbling about JTT’s dreamy eyes as we paid the bill.

Review: Fuzzy’s Taco Shop

September 24, 2009

Nachos

Address: 2917 West Berry Street, Fort Worth, TX

Website

Rich and Alana both ordered: Chips with guacamole and queso, and tempura fish taco platters with rice and refried beans.

Plus: Giant drinks. Yummy tacos. Jukebox!

Minus: Overwhelming atmosphere. Screechy number-calling lady.

Rating: 8 horned frogs out of 10

Rich sez: On the way to our 2nd sports event in Dallas, an NCAA Football game, Alana mentioned that she had read about a great taco place only a few hundred feet away from the TCU stadium. So, after we bought some TCU merch from the school’s book store, we headed into Fuzzy’s Taco Shop.

Unfortunately we entered through the exit door and thus started the confusion of trying to figure out what the HELL we were supposed to do/go in this madness. As we walked in, some lady on a microphone was screeching out orders like a deaf person with Tourette’s, and there were so many neon lights that I started to have images of Harrison Ford contemplating human life while eating tacos. To add to the chaos, the place was packed, and there were no free tables. With all this ridiculousness going on, Alana escaped my clutches to try to find us a table – NO LUCK – All Alana could get was a small table with no chairs near the entrance. This was no good, so I decided to go back towards the exit and eventually found myself sharing a table with some cross-eyed university students. I sat and waited while Alana went to order us our food and beverages.

Alana sez: Eventually I managed to make my way over to the cashier to order our food from the menu on the wall. I had started feeling pretty anxious because of the crazy atmosphere, so choosing meals for both Rich and myself from the huge variety of tasty-sounding Tex-Mex options seemed like an insurmountable task. Feeling pressure from the counter staff, I blurted out an order for chips and guac, fish tacos, and margaritas. Gigantic drinks and order number in hand, I began to work my way through the crowd toward Rich, who appeared to have taken up camp with a surly-looking co-ed and her gloomy boyfriend.

Rich sez: Alana came back to our shared table with these fishbowl sized drinks and we sat waiting and listening to the crazy woman behind the food counter shouting out numbers in NO numercial order. Finally our number came up, and Alana had trouble maneuvering through the crowd to bring it over to the table. Of course, when all of our food hit the table and Alana got somewhat settled, we noticed a free table. Before I could even take a bite of my first taco chip, Alana cartwheeled out of her seat like a Ninja Turtle and slammed her margarita down on the free table. I collected the baskets of food and sauntered over.

Alana sez: So Rich took his sweet time to get to our third table, but we eventually managed to bring everything over to our newly-claimed booth and carve out a little bubble of peace for ourselves amidst the insanity that is Fuzzy’s. Finally able to relax and enjoy lunch, my mood brightened and I started to sample the food.

The tortilla chips were obviously house-made, light and crispy and topped with a sprinkling of chili powder — some of the best I’ve ever tasted at a restaurant. The guacamole was also super-fresh, with big chunks of avocado and very well-balanced flavours. I moved on to my main dish to find two soft corn tortillas folded around chunks of crunchy, tempura-coated fish, topped with lettuce, tomatoes, and fresh Mexican cheese. A dash of the house hot sauce took these bad boys over the top. As for the sides, I very much enjoyed the creamy refried beans. However, the rice mixed with mushy, overcooked veggies left something to be desired.

Rich sez: Once we were safe in our booth and full of soft-crunchy-taco-goodness, Alana and I decided to stick around for a while. The chaos of the place had grown on us. Maybe it was the fact that the woman abusing the PA system had gone on break. Anyways, this meant another round of margaritas and chips. But this time, instead of guac, we went with queso. I had never had queso, and neither had Alana. My 1st impression was not a good one. It was hot, gooey and creamy white. Those three things usually don’t sit well with me, but this queso tasted like it was milked from a cow in heaven. As we finished up our drinks and enjoyed the ruckus of the purple-clad TCU Horned Frog supporters around us, Alana and I both agreed that Fuzzy, whoever he is, makes some of the best tacos we’ve ever had.

veggie pho

Address: 780 East Road to Six Flags, Arlington, TX

Website

Rich and Alana both ordered: California springrolls, grilled shrimp springrolls, and veggie pho.

Plus: Ridiculously fresh food. Delicious broth. Creative, huge springrolls. Inexpensive.

Minus: We found a mushroom in our soup!

Rating: 10 happy bellies out of 10

Alana sez: The morning after flying to Texas for the Dallas Cowboys’ home opener, Rich and I were eager to tour the NFL’s newest stadium and take in a Rangers game. But first: breakfast.

Arlington is not a very pedestrian-friendly city so we asked Curtis, our hotel shuttle driver and apparently Vernon Wells’s BFF, to drop us off somewhere in the vicinity of Tasty Town. We soon found ourselves in Lincoln Square, surrounded by T.G.I.Friday’s, Chili’s, and Hooters. “Thanks,” Curtis.

Eventually we stumbled upon a tiny Vietnamese spot that seemed out of place among the surrounding chain giants. Since this was one of those rare occasions where soup for breakfast seemed like a good idea, we headed into Sprout’s.

We were surprised by the mod decor we found inside, which was very pretty and much more welcoming than the generic ’80s banquet hall vibe that most Vietnamese restaurants go with. At the direction of our friendly server, we grabbed a booth and settled in to look over the menu. Before we had even finished reading the appetizers, we found two tall glasses of Diet Coke with plenty of crushed ice placed in front of us. We were off to a good start.

Sprout’s offers up a wide variety of creative fresh springrolls, with everything from crispy chicken to grilled tilapia stuffed into rice paper wrappers with lettuce, fresh herbs, and vermicelli noodles. We eventually decided to try the California (avocado and imitation crab) and the grilled shrimp versions. For our mains, we were all about the vegetable pho (noodle soup).

While we waited for our apps and enjoyed some fun retro tunes, our server brought out some Diet Coke refills before we even noticed we were empty — it’s the little things like this that take a restaurant experience over the top. Before long, our springrolls were placed on the table and Rich and I came to understand what “Texas-sized” really means. These things were huge — each springroll was at least twice the size of the largest ones I’ve been served in Canada! Dipping our overstuffed rolls into the provided sauces and condiments, we found them to be fresh, toothsome, and extremely tasty. The grilled shrimp roll in particular had an amazing char-grilled flavour that was complimented nicely by the pineapple dipping sauce. Just as we finished our rolls and felt like we couldn’t take another bite, our soup arrived.

I’m usually disappointed by vegetarian pho — without the usual chicken or beef broth, the animal-friendly versions tend to be bland, bland, bland. As such, I didn’t have high expectations for Sprout’s offering. This skepticism was shattered as soon as my pho was placed in front of me — steaming hot, and accompanied by crisp, fresh sprouts, Thai basil leaves, fresh lime wedges, and bright greeen jalapeno slices, this looked like one kickass bowl of soup. My first taste of Sprout’s broth did not disappoint. It’s rich vegetable flavour was enhanced by the sweet basil and the subtle spiciness of the jalapeno slices. A squeeze of lime juice took it over the top. Normally, I add hoisin and sriracha to my (typically flavourless) veggie pho broth. Not this time — this was a soup base that could stand on its own. Swimming in this amazing broth, I found the freshest possible vegetables, big slabs of flash-fried tofu, and perfectly cooked vermicelli. And a single mushroom, which I placed on my side dish with disgust. Mushrooms are Satan’s food.

In Toronto, most vegetarians I know point to the Golden Turtle as the place to find the best veggie pho in the city. I’ve tried Golden Turtle’s pho, and it pales in comparison to Sprout’s. I highly recommend that any vegetarian Vietnamese food fans who find themselves in Dallas/Forth Worth take a special trip to Arlington to try out Sprout’s. It was easily the restaurant highlight of our trip.

Rich sez: Who knew SOUP for BREAKFAST would be so good. Also on that same day, I watched an episode of King of the Hill, which is based in Arlington, in Arlington. What a great day.

RICH TIP OF THE DAY: After putting jalapenos in your pho, remember not to rub your eyes.

Review: Molson Pub

September 23, 2009

veggie burer

Address: Toronto Pearson Airport, Terminal 1

Rich and Alana both ordered: Veggie burger with fries (Rich), Caesar salad (Alana)

Plus: Decent veggie burger.

Minus: Overpriced. Sullen staff. Plastic pint glasses. Too many laptops.

Rating: 6 airplanes out of 10

Rich sez: On our way to Dallas for the weekend to experience my AMAZING, over-the-top birthday present (Giants vs. Cowboys NFL game — home opener in the new Cowboys Stadium), Alana and I found ourselves sitting in the Molson Pub at the Pearson Airport for an early dinner. As we both cruised the menu, we decided that the veggie burger with pesto sauce would sit best on our 2 and 1/2 hour flight. I ordered mine with fries and a Caesar (SIDE NOTE: if the waitress askes if you want to make your $8 Caesar a double, just remember a 2nd shot costs $4 more at Molson Pub).

So, as I sipped on my surprisingly good Caesar and scanned the sports-themed spot, I noticed that every photo/wallpaper picture in the place was showing some Toronto sports figure jumping in the air. It was weird and dated. It makes sense that the pictures were dated — Toronto has not had a sports figure to celebrate in a long time. Yes there was Sundin and Carter, but where are they now? Exactly.

On my 2nd Terminator-style scan, my sensors were going off the charts for the number of middle aged men sitting by themselves with their laptops, scrolling their porn, checking their blackberries, and ordering pint after pint of Canadian. They were like douchebag drones from their future, divorced and sad.

FOOD ARRIVES – Great preso, ginormo burger with fresho looking patties. Fries were crisp with just the right amount of added salt — that being said, I made sure I polished those golden potato fingers first and fast before Alana could get her li’l talons on them. As I sunk my giant teeth into the burger I noticed there was really no pesto sauce…? WTFTTM* Molson Pub. Even though the burger was missing its pesto, I would say that it crushes Lick’s veggie burger for taste, size and texture. The Molson Pub in general is overpriced and lacking friendly staff, but makes up for it with more than satisfying pub food.

Alana sez: Eating at the airport is never a great experience. Everything costs twice as much once you pass security, the employees seem to loathe humanity, and travelling usually brings out the worst in people. As such, I wasn’t very hopeful that we would find a decent dinner in Terminal 1 on our way to Dallas. After surveying our options, Rich and I settled on Molson Pub, despite our hate-ons for Canadian. Hey, it was either that or a stale donut at Tim Horton’s.

After being seated by our sullen waitress, it didn’t take long for us to decide on our meals — there are only 2 fishetarian entrees on the menu. While we waited for our veggie burgers, I was brought a warm pint of Canadian in a plastic glass. Joy!

Our food took no time at all, and I was soon looking at a clearly homemade veggie patty that seemed to contain shredded carrots and zucchini. As Rich mentioned, there was none of the promised pesto sauce to be found. However, the patty itself seemed to have a subtle pesto flavour. I was suitably impressed. This was actually a pretty tasty burger! The Caesar salad on the side was also decent — lightly dressed with a tangy dressing, it was devoid of the usual wilted lettuce or gloppy pastiness that is often found in pub salads.

If you must eat at Pearson, make your way to Molson Pub. Despite its flaws, it’s definitely the best eats I’ve found at the airport.

* WTFTTM means What the Fuck to the MAX

Review: Indian Kiss

September 10, 2009

Indian Kiss

Address: 399 Keele Street, Toronto

Website

Rich and Alana both ordered: Aloo Gobi, Channa Masala, and Naan.

Plus: Tasty food. Huge naan. Cute take-out lounge.

Minus: Overpriced. Long wait. Limited menu.

Rating: 7 smooches out of 10

Alana sez: After a long holiday Monday spent running a garage sale and packing up Rich’s old apartment, we were exhausted and feeling a mean craving for Indian food. Our standby, Curry Twist, is closed on Mondays, so we decided to try out a new-ish entry into the Junction’s catalogue of eateries: Indian Kiss. This take-away spot opened recently at Keele and Dundas, and I had heard some good feedback. We were hopeful that it would cure our curry fever.

The menu for Indian Kiss is on their website, but it’s quite limited — there are no appetizers, no fish/seafood dishes, and not a lot of vegetarian options. We settled on the aloo gobi, channa masala, and naan. Indian Kiss is a take-away only restaurant, so I gave them a call to place our order before we headed down there to pick it up. It’s a good thing I called ahead — after giving our order, I was told that it would be 40 minutes for our food. That seemed absurd for take-out, especially since it was very early in the evening (we called at 4:30). However, Rich and I were jonesing for an Indian food fix pretty badly, so we decided to wait it out.

I really couldn’t believe that it would take 40 minutes to make our food, so we headed down to Indian Kiss after about 25 minutes to see if our dinner was ready. We were greeted by a very friendly woman at the counter but, true to their word, we still had a 10- to 15-minute wait ahead of us. We took a seat in the very cute and comfortable lounge area, which is well-stocked with magazines. The soothing green colour on the walls and the cushy couch took the edge off of our wait.

After we finally paid and made it home with our eats, we couldn’t wait to dive in. The prices at Indian Kiss are quite high ($2 to $3 more per dish than Curry Twist), so I was expecting huge portions. As we opened our take-away containers, however, I was dissappointed to find that the amount of food in front of us in no way justified the higher cost. Neither did the flavour, unfortunately. The channa masala and aloo gobi tasted just fine, maybe even excellent, but they were still no match for our gold standard, Curry Twist. The sauces in our dishes were well-seasoned, with complex flavours, and I was impressed by the inclusion of fresh herbs and ginger. Our naan was gigantic, fluffy, and slightly charred, just the way I like it. However, nothing really blew my mind in the same way that Curry Twist does every time.

Our meal from Indian Kiss fully satisfied our craving for tasty Indian food, but the high prices and long wait left a slightly sour aftertaste. Curry Twist will continue to be our standby in the Junction, but Indian Kiss is a reasonable back-up on Mondays when nothing but Indian will do.

Rich sez:  I found the Indian Kiss experience to be a lot like that of a strip club. When you first walk into the joint, you’re mesmerized by the decor and bright colors. The familiar aromas help build the excitement of what is about to ensue. [Alana: Ew. Gross, Rich.] You’re told to sit down and wait. And wait. All you want is some attention but, when you get some, it’s going to cost you. But who cares, right? You’re the King of the World!

At first you don’t mind paying — the dish looks light and full of life. When you bring this bag full of joy back home with you, you’re led to believe that this is going to be a night to remember. However, when opened up and put out on the table [Alana: Again, gross.], you find that the familiar taste and fulfillment that you desire with your sweet and spicy dish is nowhere to be found. Once you’re done, you feel like you’ve received more of an Indian peck on the cheek than a kiss. Like a stripper, Indian Kiss does not give you enough for your money, and you don’t get the same spicy enjoyment you expect when you bring it home. [Alana: Rich, we need to talk.]

Review: Joe Tomato’s

August 25, 2009

Joe Tomato's

Address: 1020 10th Street West, Owen Sound

Alana had: A panzerotti with olives, feta, and tomatoes, and a beer.

Rich had: Cheese tortellini in a rose sauce, with garlic bread and a Caesar.

Plus: Tasty Caesars. Decent panzerotti.

Minus: Weak pasta. Generic atmosphere.

Rating: 6 trivia cards out of 10

Alana sez: While in cottage country to celebrate our 1-year anniversary, Rich and I decided to boost the romance by taking in some haute cinema: G.I. Joe. We had some time to kill before the film, so we headed across the parking lot toward the nearest restaurant, Joe Tomato’s, to grab some lunch.

The inside of the place is decorated like your typical chain family-style restaurant — it actually reminded me a lot of Jawny Bakers, which is to say it had a very generic feel about it. The lunch menu covered your usual pub grub, pasta, and pizza selections. We quickly decided on pasta (Rich) and a panzerotti (Alana) and placed our order, lest we miss the beginning of our movie. Because that would have been a tragedy. And by “tragedy,” I mean “blessing” — G.I. Joe was brutal.

Rich sipped on his Caesar and I on my beer while we waited. Our food took no time at all, and I was soon digging into my panzerotti. I had asked the kitchen to stuff mine with feta, fresh tomato, and black olives — the result was a gigantic and super-flavourful Pizza Pop, with the perfect dough-to-filling ratio. I was somewhat impressed. The only real downside was the small bowl of cold marinara dipping sauce on the side, which had obviously gone straight from jar to plate.

Considering it’s the only restaurant in the area, we could have done a lot worse than Joe Tomato’s. That said, our lunches were really nothing special. Joe Tomato’s turned out to be a great precursor to G.I. Joe — the perfect pairing for those days when you want to celebrate mediocrity. Like your 1-year anniversary. Blerg.

Rich sez: Before you read this, keep in mind that I was just getting over food poisoning or some sort of stomach flu when we ate at Joe Tomato’s, so my judgement might be altered. And here we go…

The cheese tortellini in rose sauce … I am all for cheese, love it, can’t live a day without it, but there was more shredded Cracker Barrel marble cheese melted on top of my dish than there were tortellinis in my bowl. And what was up with the giant chunks of green onions?! The garlic bread tasted like frozen garbage, and the tortellini was definitely pre-packaged. I honestly think they just gave me one of those pasta dishes from Pizza Hut — you know the commercial with the family who is blind-folded, driven around the block a few times, sat down at their own dining room table thinking they’re at a fancy restaurant, fed some Pizza Hut pasta, and when the blind-folds come off they are shocked to find that they could get such high quality pasta by delivery? If you pay close attention to the disclaimer at the end of the commercial, it says “You can also enjoy this dish at your local Joe Tomato’s.”

Much better than the pasta was their Caesar. It was really tasty — for the rimmer they used hot sauce , and for more flavour they squeezed lime and lemon wedges into my drink. It was also served in a mason jar style glass. GOOD ONE, Joe.

JT FUN FACT: They have trivia cards at every table from various board games, so if you are out on a romantic 1st date(or in our case, 1 year anniversary … LOL. Sad.), and you need an ice-breaking conversation starter, look no further than Joe Tomato’s.