Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Eating off the Hill: Jerk Chicken Roti at Island Grill

I wrote last week about an Indian food outing that lacked some heat -- well, a few days later I had some Jamaican food that more than made up for it.

Island Grill is another Bank Street restaurant I’ve been walking by for year but never dropped into, so one day after work I dropped in to this little Caribbean spot that is nestled amongst the Bank Street pizza by the slice counters.

It’s a small spot but it was doing a pretty good early evening weekend business, with just one guy working the counter and seemingly the kitchen too. But he did a good job considering at keeping up with drinks and orders.

I came craving roti, and went with the Jerk Chicken Platter for $14. For that, I got a good sized roti stuffed with jerk chicken, a salad, and rice and peas. The sides were fine; the salad was OK and the rice is what I would expect. The plantains were a pleasant surprise – the ones I’ve had in Cuba and the Dominican Republic were fried to within an inch of their lives, and were more like a chip. These though still had substance too them and were quite enjoyable.

The roti was the star though, and deservedly so. Stuffed full of quality jerk chicken breast, just on the edge of my spice tolerance. Thoroughly enjoyable and flavourable and just a little burn without being too much. I needed my drink, but it was well worth it.

When the world is back, I will be too.

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Friday, March 20, 2020

Eating off the Hill: Cheese steak at Centrale Bergham

A sudden craving for cheese steak a few weekends back led to a googling of local options and to the decision to try a fast food spot I had passed by on the bus a bunch of times but never had the opportunity to pop in to: Centrale Bergham.

They're a Montreal-based fast food chain that seems to have a bit of a Middle Eastern influence, with a Halal menu and many items coming in kebabs. They have some very interesting/weird options, like a double cheeseburger and grilled chicken in one kebab, or their signature "bergham" sandwich which is 3 beef patties, egg, beef bacon and cheddar cheese in a kebab.

Some of that is a little out there even for me; I was only looking for a philly cheese steak. I went to the Ottawa South location on Bank Street, at Heron, and it was pretty quiet on a Sunday afternoon with one guy working the counter and one in the kitchen.

After waiting for a rather slow-ordering family I ordered a Philly Steak with onion rings and a pop. I ordered it as they make it, which is alleged "creamy filet mignon" with onions, tomatoes, lettuce, mushroom and swiss cheese on a kebab roll.

Having been to philly, my expectations were low. On my trip there five years back during my East Coast baseball tour, I did my research before placing my order at Sonny's for one whiz with. It was delicious. One day, I shall return.

For a not overly busy fast food reasturant, they weren't very fast. After 30 minutes cooling my heals with a diet coke and Twitter, I went up to the counter to enquire just as they came out of the kitchen with my order. Guess they must make every order to order, one at a time?

Anyway, I took it back to my table to dig in. The onion rings were light and not greasy, and I don't recall what the sauce was but it paired well and I appreciated being given two of the small cups and not just one. As for the sandwich, I should have told them no lettuce and tomato. I know you can get that in Philly too, but for me a philly is beef, cheese whiz, and onions. Will accept mushrooms.

Anyway, the beef was fine and so was the roll. It's definitely not a philly, but nothing outside of Philadelphia is. It filled me up, and I'll be back to try something else. I just wish it was less of a wait.

Here's my sammy at Sonny's in Philly back in the day. Ahh, memories.

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Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Eating off the Hill: Indian food for white folks at Roast N Curries

Don't worry, I haven't been eating out. But I do have a few backlogged meals I now have time to blog while distancing, which brings me to my craving a few weekends back for Indian food.

Some quick googling found I was just down the street from one of the higher-rated Indian reasturants in Ottawa -- Roast N Curries, on Bank Street at Nepean. In fact, I've walked by it most every day on the way to work for over four years but never thought to drop in. So on this day, I did.

It was quiet around the lunching hour, and I was the only customer, so service was quick. Now I'm far from an Indian food expert, but having lived in Scarborough for a decade I've had a decent amount of exposure to good Indian food, from the hole in the wall to the fancy -- and have developed an expectation and a decent spice tolerance.

I would call the menu here Indian food by the numbers -- you have all the major items you would expect to see, but nothing overly adventerous. And no mention of heat. Butter chicken, curries, korma, assorted veggie options all on offer.

Nothing really jumped out so I kept it simple and went with a classic: butter chicken. I got the combo, which also came with my choice of naan (which was garlic), samosa (which was chicken) and salad. And a soft drink

I got a good helping of food for my $18, so I certainly didn't leave hungry. But I did leave underwhelmed.

I'll start with the sides. The garlic naan was excellent. Hot, flavourful, buttery garlicky. The samosa was OK, a little too veg heavy for a chicken samosa, and not as good as the Rinag chicken samosas I've been vibing on sold at Herb & Spice down the street. The salad was the same basic salad every South Asian reasturant serves.

Butter chicken over basmati rice. I liked that it was breast meat, it wasn't dry, and it was a good portion. But the sauce was just bland. It lacked body. No spice. I know you need to cater to all palates, but if I had been asked, I'd have asked for a medium spice. This was blandy bland bland. Which is why my bullet review when folks have asked has been Indian food for white people. Scarborough has spoiled me. I can't go back.

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Saturday, March 14, 2020

Eating off the Hill: Canada's breakfasts need more chicken

Bacon. Sausage. Ham, Meaty breakfast staples. But who decreed breakfast needs to be so porky? Sensing the need for giving Canadians more of a reason to wake up in the mornings during these challenging days, McDonald's recently did us all a favour and introduced a new offering: breakfast chicken.

In my last career I used to travel through the States a fair bit, and so got to experience a fair bit of regional vrariety accross the McDonald's menu. Many parts of the US have biscuits in the mornings, for example, including chicken on a biscuit. I remember having a Steak McMuffin in Denver one time that put a smile on my face on a Colorado morning. But in Canada, we haven't seen that much breakfast menu innovation since the McGriddle.

So I was happy to notice this week that McDonald's had brought in breakfast chicken. It's an easy move for them logistically, as it's all existing menu items -- they're taking their existing junior chicken patty and offering it to you either on a McGriddle plain, or on an English Muffin with cheese and mayo.

I never really got into the McGriddle, and reviews I read lamented the lack of sauce (would need to be a syrup, as mayo would clash with the sweetness of the McGriddle) and so I went with the Chicken McMuffin.

It was quite tasty. I would take it over my go-to Sausage McMuffin any day. They could also kick it up by offering the spicy mayo they're using on their daytime Spicy Habanero McChicken. And I haven't tried it yet, but I imagine the kiosk would allow you to add bacon for an upcharge -- will try that next time for sure.

It's available for a limited time, but I hope it sticks around. Canada's breakfasts need more chicken.

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Thursday, March 12, 2020

Eating up the Hill: Possible Cinnamon pasta at likely my last Hill reception for awhile

Didn't realize it at the time, but the Women Entrepreneurs on the Hill reception last Wednesday was, with a possible extended recess looming, likely my last Hill reception for a little while. So thankfully, I got some pictures.

The catering at this reception was actually pretty on point. Right upon entry, the smell of garlic and pasta greeted me and led be to a table where two pasta dishes were being prepared and plated (bowled?) After an explanation from the chef, I took one of each.

The veggie risotto was well-cooked and hearty, with nice flavour. Mushrooms, carrots, herbs, all good. But the penne, omg it was so good. Rich flavour, shaved cheese, tasty tasty, but there was a secret unexpected ingredient -- pretty sure it was cinnamon -- that made it so good. Reminds me of when, in my youth, I did potatoes on the bbq with cinamon (cooked in foil with butter). Fam was skeptical until they tasted it - delish. I may need to try to replicate this pasta myself at home. A light touch will be key. But well done and a nice treat.

Some pass appies came by, including a shrimp spring roll and beef on a bun.

On my second trip to the food table, I passed on the poutine being assembled on site but talked the chef into putting some curds on a mini-bratwurst for me -- and got agreement without hesitation. Some of the millenials will call it a food hack but that's stupid -- hacking is for computers. This isn't just putting cheese on a brat. Chicago has been doing that for generations. It was good. And a quality bun too with some chew, which was a pleasant surprise.

I stopped by the Canadian Foodgrains Bank Reception but didn't get any shots of the pass appies. And the Canadian Cattleman were down the street at SJAM for their annual beefy reception, but alas, I had filled up already.

Here's hoping everyone listens to the medical professionals and we're all back to normal again soon. I still have some past meals to blog, and then I guess it will be more home cooking reviews. Be well, my foodie friends.

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