Sunday, October 02, 2022

Eating on the road: Penny's Hot Chicken in Toronto

 As chronicled previously, Nashville Hot Chicken is all the rage these days. Very on trend. And when delivered in chicken sandwich form it ticks several boxes for me. So finding myself in Toronto over the lunching hour recently, some googling brought me to Penny's Hot Chicken near Yonge Dundas Square.

It's actually a few blocks North of Dundas, on Yonge, in kind of a mini food court with several other restaurants with minimal seating; an interesting concept to save on downtown rent and seems designed to cater more to the take-out office worker and Uber Eats crowd than dine-in customers.

Still, a friend and I found a table at the back and went to the counter to take our orders. They have tenders, platters and lots of different fry options, but I was in sammy-mode and ordered the Hot Mac sandwich, described as a medium-spiced thigh with lettuce, green onions, pickles (which I held), nacho cheese and comeback sauce on sliced bread. 

Sandwiches come with one side and one dipping sauce. Not being a fry guy, I opted to try the mac & cheese wedges and nacho cheese sauce. Other side options include fries, fried pickles, potato salad and coleslaw. But I figured with the lettuce and green onions I had veggies covered.


Everything was cooked (deep fried) fresh, and was ready in about 10 minutes. The sandwich was piping hot, which was great. A few variations from the menu description: it came on a brioche bun instead of two slices of bread -- I am more than fine with that. The described lettuce was also missing, leaving me short of my required serving of veggies or the day.

I would not order this side again -- the mac and cheese wedges were generic and bland. And I would go with a dipping sauce with some heat.

The sammy, though, was fantastic. The chicken thigh (the best chicken to use for sammies) was juicy and delicious, pounded down and generously breaded to be just huge. A big battered chicken tongue sticking out of the bun seems to be a signature for them. It was fun to tackle and offered a natural starting place to begin eating the sammy. Next time I'll up the heat, as a medium really did nothing. But it was delicious and filling and offers excellent lunch value at $13.90 before tax.

Either time your visit carefully though or be ready to carry out, as seating is very limited.

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Friday, September 30, 2022

Eating on the road: Wings at Gabriel's Gate in Buffalo

I'm a big fan of chicken wings. But chicken wings done right. In Toronto, I had Duff's Famous Wings. In Ottawa, there's not really any good spots for wings. Local Heroes isn't bad, but it's not worth the trek. If you're anywhere near Buffalo though, the home of chicken wings, a trip to Gabriel's Gate is a must for any wing connoisseur.

Located in the Allentown neighbourhood of downtown Buffalo, Gabriel's Gate is where the locals go. You may have heard of Anchor Bar, alleged to be the birthplace of the Buffalo wing. I've been there and had their wings. They're pretty good, but they're the tourist spot. 

With an angel outside to great you, Gabriel's Gate is a typical pub with old church pews for seating. No refills on soft drinks. Lots of other stuff on the menu -- we had onion rings as a suitable side. But I was there for the wings, and placed a double order of Hot so I'd be guaranteed leftovers to declare at customs.


Carrots and celery, ranch or blue cheese, and twenty big crispy juicy hot chicken wings. It's the crispiness that sets an OK wing apart from a wing done right. Most bar wings just don't have that. Yes, the sauce is important, and they do it well here. But using only good size wings, treating them properly, getting that crisp, most places don't take the care.

They're not cheap, but how often are you in Buffalo? Seize the day, my friends.

We all left full and with leftovers and, as good citizens, declared them at customs re-entering Canada.

"Where'd you go for the wings,?" we were asked.

"Gabriel's Gate."

"Oh yeah, they're good," said the man from Canada Customs and Border Protection, welcoming us home.

Indeed they are.

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Sunday, September 18, 2022

Eating up the Hill: The evolution of the caf's General Tso Chicken

You're not going to get high-quality Chinese food from a Parliament Hill Cafeteria -- you'd do better at a nearby mall food court or, better yet, walk down to Sommerset Street and Chinatown. But for a quick lunch that is a nice change, I always try to make it to the caf when General Tso Chicken comes up on the rotation menu of daily specials.

It's been a staple for most of my seven years on the Hill and the basic idea has remained much the same: chicken in a general tso sauce on fried rice with a spring roll and plum sauce. It tends to align with one of my preferred soups, so it's a nice once a month or so treat.

There have been some bumps on the General Tso road over the years. It tends to be a popular dish, so occasionally they've run out of chicken -- usually unbreaded chunks of processed-looking white meat. On these occasions they will sometime sub in a couple of breaded chicken strips and sauce them which is curious, as chicken strips aren't on the menu at all -- if so, they'd be in my rotation. I asked once, and apparently they only keep them on hand for chicken emergencies.

Sometimes they run out all together.

One time I was down early but they had pulled the special -- apparently they felt the sauce was too hot this day for the Hill population to handle. I have never even gotten a hint of heat from their General Tso sauce, but my sensitivity has been dulled by years of Scarborough Hakka and South Asian cuisine.

A few months ago, I ordered the special when it was up and it was inedible. The sauce was just gross and the chicken very low quality.


Still, I believe in second chances, so when it came up in the rotation again I took the plunge, assured they had made changes. And indeed, they had. The first and most noticeable was that they were now using breaded chicken nuggets. Rather than being in the sauce as before, they were kept separate from the sauce and were sauced on the plate. The veggie rice was also now just regular rice, although the number of red peppers in the sauce seemed increased. All through the years, the spring roll has remained an unchanging constant.

Breaded nuggets are an interesting choice. I'm not sure what the General would say. I mean, it's higher quality than the most recent chicken iteration, but it's far from traditional. I miss the veggies in the rice; hell, even tossing in some of that pee/carrot/bean frozen veg mix would be welcome.

Glad to see them trying to innovate the menu, though. Maybe rotate this out for something in a peanut sauce or a curry though? Better is always possible, my friends.


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Saturday, September 17, 2022

Eating on the road: A smashburger in Muskoka

I'm always on the lookout for a good smashburger in my travels, and during my summer visit to Muskoka I was pointed to the Fare Food Co. It's a food truck located behind a Shell gas station on the way into Port Carling, and if you didn't know it was there you would never think to stop. Even knowing it was there, I wandered around a bit before finding in in a clearing behind the station.


They also have well-recommended chicken sandos, including a Nashville hot, but I was here for beef and ordered a double smash cheeseburger with fried and the obligatory diet coke. They promised to bring it to me when ready, and I found a seat on a picnic table up a small hill in a closed-in picnic area.



They cooked it fresh and brought it up to me when ready and I dug in. It was hot, beefy, cheesy and like a good smashburger will be, messy. It certainly filled me up. As far as smashbugers go it was fine, not spectacular but satisfied my craving. I'm not a fry person; they were just OK. With the Muskoka tax it wasn't cheap ($18 plus tax), but that's how it goes in cottage country.

Were I to go back I would likely try the Nashville hot chicken sammy but I don't think I'll get the chance. They were a summer pop-up and have closed for at least the season, if not forever, as they focus on a catering business in Toronto.

What will be the next great Muskoka smashburger? Or will Muskokans need to invest in oversized spatulas and start smashing their own burgers? Time will tell.



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Friday, September 02, 2022

Eating off the Hill: Ein gutes deutsches Essen bei SchnitzelWorks -- schnitzel lunch!

I again found myself with a rental car today before I head out of town for the long weekend tomorrow, and so my thoughts of course turned to where can I go for lunch that I couldn’t easily on transit? Having been watching a lot of German food videos lately, some googling lead me to SchnitzelWorks on Cyrville Road in Gloucester, which was rated highly and well-reviewed for its namesake dish.

That’s what they specialize in, and if you don’t like schnitzel you should probably go somewhere else. But I do, so this was the spot for me. It’s in a unassuming standalone building in an industrial area, as good food often is, and they look to do a brisk lunch business with lots of regulars – and indeed, are only open for breakfast and lunch.

The menu is long, but it’s all pretty much variations of schnitzel. You can get pork schnitzel or chicken schnitzel, on a bun or as part of a platter with sides. You can get a dizzying array of toppings; the traditional Weiner Schnitzel just takes a lemon wedge.


I went with a platter though and with what was a favourite of mine when I lives in Germany – beef gravy with mushrooms. Also known as jaeger schnitzel or hunter schnitzel. The platter comes with Spätzle (an egg pasta I always choose over fries in Germany) and red cabbage.

My drink came quickly, and my lunch wasn’t far behind – they run an efficient operation. The pork schnitzel was the size of my plate, pounded thin and breaded then shallow fried, and smothered in mushroom gravy. It sat atop a half plate of Spätzle and another half plate of red cabbage.

Truth be told, I had missed the cabbage in the menu description and wasn’t a fan – I would have just had them hold it if I’d realized. But that was the only down note.


The schnitzel was generous and tasty, the mushrooms plentiful, the noodles filling. Definitely as good as I’m likely to do outside Germany – and much better than the pretenders that serve schnitzel on Sparks Street.

With entrée and drink and tip it ended up near $35 (plater was $22), but it was a hearty meal. For a lighter lunch without a side, schnitzel sandwiches start at $15.

I left thinking I wouldn’t be back any time soon as I don’t regularly have a car, but I realized driving back home that it was maybe a five minute walk from the Cyrville O-Train station. So maybe I’ll say los gehts! again sooner than I thought.



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