Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Eating up the hill: Truly outstanding committee mac & cheese

A lot of the time of a backbench MP -- and their staff -- is spent either preparing for or in committee meetings. And often those meetings happen over breakfast or lunch.

When that happens, food is provided for the members since they can't leave in the middle of the meeting to go grab something in the cafeteria. And if the members don't eat everything, there's an opportunity for staff to have a bite as well.

Which is all an introduction to saying I had the most fantastic mac & cheese at the Status of Women committee yesterday. My boss told me everything was vegetarian so I wasn't too excited, but when I went up to take a look I saw mac & cheese and my excitement level spiked.

As I'm sure I've covered many times here, I'm a big mac & cheese fan. One key is that it needs to be macaroni -- don't put "mac & cheese" on the menu and then serve me spiral pasta with a cheese sauce -- it ain't mac & cheese without the mac. And give me a nice cheesy sauce.

The committee mac & cheese certainly look good upon inspection. Baked with melted cheese on top, so a step above Kraft Dinner, and a saucy looking sauce -- and macaroni noodles. So I plated a respectable amount, with some root veggies on the side cause I'm healthy like that. Didn't have huge expectations, but certainly looking forward to enjoying some mac & cheese.


Taking it back to my table and putting my ear piece back on, I tried a forkful and OH MY GOD. SO much better than I'd anticipated. It wasn't just that it was a cheesy sauce -- it was a good cheese. Distinct, flavourful and strong. It had body. Maybe a well-aged cheddar or a Gruy√®re, I don't know. But it was amazing -- all that was missing was some smoked bacon.

Parliamentary Catering, a job well done.

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Sunday, February 16, 2020

Eating off the Hill: The best wings in a non-wing city?

While the best chicken wings can be found in Buffalo, there are nearly as good wings to be had elsewhere. When in Toronto, I'm partial to Duff's Famous Wings. While you have your chain wing places in cities like Ottawa, they're mediocre at best. For good pub wings in Ottawa, Local Heroes Sports Bar & Grill are said by many to be the best.


I've actually been to Local Heroes once during my Carleton days, a good twenty-plus years ago. Their wings have a reputation for being huge -- much larger than your average wing. My recollection was that they were, but not overly so. The location I went to back in the day on Bank Street in the deep South of Ottawa closed years ago, so for my wing excursion this Family Day weekend I had to go to the last remaining Local Heroes location -- on Clyde, south of Baseline, out towards Nepean.

It's wings by the pound and they offer both the traditional roaster wings and their "famous" large wings, both $11 for a pound, no fries or veggies on the side. But I didn't trek out here -- 30 minutes by bus when the transfer wait is minimal -- for no regular wings. I ordered two pounds of the big ones -- one medium, one cajun blackened.


Split at my request, each pound came with a small plastic cup of sour cream -- the option of ranch or dill would have been a nice touch. The wings were meaty, but didn't seem overly so -- just like wings should be. Maybe I should have ordered a pound of the roasters for a side by side -- either way, while I didn't leave hungry, some celery would have been nice.

The wings were properly cooked and had a nice crisp to them. And, as I said, meaty. But where I think they were lacking is in the sauce quality. The cajun ones were dry and lacking in distinct flavour. And the medium, while saucy, were ketchupy -- no heat or distinct flavour at all.

Sauce can be improved though, and they do have a bunch more to choose from. All in all though, reasonably good wings but a bit of a drive or ride to get to. But no comparison to those I had in Buffalo a few months back. 

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Saturday, February 08, 2020

Eating off the Hill: The Hungry Man at Fatboys Southern Smokehouse

This is my third time visiting Fatboys Southern Smokehouse, and it was third time the charm as I finally got the southern bbq experience I was looking for by going big on the meat.

My first visit was four years ago for a reception, and the format didn't really lend to a proper sampling of their wares. The second was a few years later for a summer holiday lunch, when I allowed myself to talk myself down to a sandwich. You don't go to a BBQ place for a sandwich; you go for meat coma.

So, this snowy winter weekend I walked in to this Byward Market BBQ joint with a plan: meat, and lots of it. That meant the Hungry Man personal BBQ tray: three meats of my choice, a side of my choice, and cornbread. I added a Diet Coke to assist with the meat ingestion.


My reward a heaping metal tray of meat that, at $29, represents good value in BBQ economics. I selected the Memphsis Ribs, Texas Beef Brisket and Chopped BBQ Chicken as my meats -- not a big pulled pork guy, so that was an easy one one. I was tempted to add a veg of some sort as my side, but I can't resist me a good mac & cheese.

Starting with the sides, forgive me southern purists but I don't care for corn bread. If bread is going to be sweet, it should be a donut or cake. I did eat it out of politness though. The mac & cheese was served hot, had a smoky flavour and was cheesy, but I didn't see any of the smoky bacon promised in the menu description.

On to the meat. I got four bones of ribs, some with some nice bark, all with nice smoke and the right amount of fall off the bone. The brisket also was nicely smoked, and I got one piece that was a bit wet and with some nice bark. And the chicken was tasty and a slightly leaner complement to my heaver beef and pork choices.

A very tasty and filling BBQ dinner, and much better than the BBQ on offer at Moe's, my last BBQ outing. Next on my list will need to be The Smoque Shack, a favourite I have taken several out of town visitors too and reviewed before but haven't visitied since they moved to a new location. Meatings has also been suggested, but a trek out to Orleans will need to wait for either a car, an LRT expansion, or at least warmer weather.

Until then, nap time.

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Thursday, February 06, 2020

Eating on the Hill: Lamb, beef and Canadian whiskies

I haven't reported on many Parliamentary receptions lately -- partly because I haven't attended many, and partly because the food is often the same. There were some new offerings on hand though at last night's Grain Farmers/Spirits Canada reception, so I have something new to share.

The advertised highlight of the reception was a wide assortment of "exceptional Canadian whiskies made from Canada's finest grains." So I went with some trepidation, as I only take my whisky mixed with cola, preferably of the diet variety (need to watch those calories). I remember when I toured the Jameson distillery in Dublin some years back and they looked quite aghast at my request for mix when we reached the sampling room.

 Thankfully, last night it was a judgement-free zone.

They started me off with a simple Canadian Club and Diet Coke. Not a new drink for me as CC is a regular in my liquor cabinet, but it went well with my beef sliders. Carved fresh on site, the beef was nicely medium-rare, and after two on a bun I had a few more slices minus the carbs.


I asked for a more adventurous recommendation for my second and final round, and they suggested the Gooderham & Worts. Definitely a much more distinctive flavour than the CC, and went nicely with the Diet Coke.


And by this time several new pass appies were on offer. There were two spring rolls circulating -- the veggie was standard, the duck was a new one for me but just didn't hit home. I didn't snap a pic of the mini quiches. But the highlight was the meaty lamb chops -- again, medium to medium rare and juicy. Don't recall seeing them on the reception circuit before -- well done.

All in all an enjoyable nosh; thank you to Canada's assorted grain farming organizations from coast to coast to coast for hosting.


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Sunday, January 26, 2020

Eating off the Hill: Moe's BBQ a miss

After having visited Austin, all BBQ pales in comparison. Still, I will continue questing for BBQ goodness North of the border, whether it's Northern Smokes in Scarborough or The Smoque Shack in Ottawa. On Saturday, I trekked to deep southern Ottawa by South Keys to try another contender, Moe's BBQ.

Located in a strip mall at Hunt Club and Bank, Moe's is certified Halal and that makes sense, given the demographics of the neighbourhood. It also though means no pork ribs. It's a lowkey place with the fireplace channel running on a screen on a loop, and a smokey vibe in the air. Plastic menus are at the counter, where you place your order and pay, and then find a table to wait.

I peruse the menu (who am I kidding? I pre-scouted online and knew exactly what I wanted) and order the sample platter, which for $23 includes 3oz of brisket, 3oz of pulled beef, 1/4 chicken and your choices of two sides -- I choose mac and cheese (of course) and slaw (cause I healthy). Add a can of Diet Coke, tax and tip and you're at $32 -- that's pricy even for BBQ.


My first thought on receiving my tray, served as befits BBQ tradition on paper on a metal tray, was those are decent-sized sides. The second was those some tiny sauces. The third was, where the bread?

Let's dispense with the sides. They were decently sized. I enjoyed the slaw; it had the feel with its texture of being made in-house and not industrially in a food factory. Slaw isn't a healthy veg, but it's as healthy a veg as you'll get in a BBQ context, and a nice change from the other elements. Now, I like a good mac and cheese. And this one probably was good. Creamy, nice flavour, actual macaroni. But it was served luke-warm. Hot, it probbaly would have been amazing. Luke-warm, it was meh.

The sauces. Sauces are key to an authentic BBQ experience. Usually you would get bottles on the table to sauce to your hearts content. The little paper thimbles provided were cheap and insulting. As for the sauces themselves, the BBQ was decent but the white sauce had one note: dill.

And the lack of bread. Authentic BBQ should come with a slice of white bread, or something similar, for making little sandwiches and/or wiping up the BBQ bits left after your meal. It's absence here is inexplicable.

But on to the meat. The brisket was good and nicely cooked, but lacked any note of the smoke. No infusion of flavour. The pulled beef was fine, a little more flavour than the brisket and not dry, but not outstanding. This wouldn't have been my guess going in, but funnily enough the chicken leg ws my favourite of the meats -- and I'm a white meat guy. But the chicken was juicy and well-cooked, with the sauced skin adding very nice flavour.

Glad I went down there to try it, but with better and nearer options in the Byward Market I don't think I'll be back to Moe's

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