Monday, September 16, 2019

Eating off the Hill: St. Andrews Fish and Chips

As I've mentioned before, Scarborough is an ethnic food oasis. One of the few remaining remanants of the Scarborough of yesteday though are assorted fish and chips spots. And the one that was my regular spot during my decade Scarborough residency is St. Andrews Fish & Chops.

There's now a Biryani Hut next door, but St. Andrews remains a Scarborough institution at Ellesmere and McCowan. With a simple retro feel inside and a dedicated take-out counter that does brisk business to the lunch crowd, St. Andrews has a scottish theme with specialties like meat pies, haggis, mealie pudding and mushie peas.

They do a very affordable lunch special at $8.95, but I tend to stick with the regular-sized Halibut and Chips at $14.95, often subbing in a ceasar salad for the fries. I could do cheaper fish like haddock, cod, Alaskan whitefish, sole or salmon, but I've always been partial to halibut.

On a recent lunch visit I decided to go all-out though and upgrade to the halibut platter, which adds breaded shrimp and scallops, and to sub out the fries for fritters. Was hoping they were veggie fritters, but they were potato. Still, a lot of deep-fried delicious, and enough left over for breakfast the next day.

I didn't have desert this time, but the deep fried Mars Bar with ice cream has always been a stand-out.

Definitely worth a stop on any Scarborough food tour, especially on a Friday -- Fridays are fish day.

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Thursday, September 05, 2019

Eating off the Hill: A German Imbiss in the heart of Scarborough

There's a lot of great food in Scarborough, and I'll be chronicling it through the election this Fall. Cuisine in Scarborough has evolved with the community. As the Greek and Italian communities have moved on to the suburbs, so has their cuisine. Today's Scarborough food scene reflects today's Scarborough: a lot of Filipino, Hakka, Indian and other South Asian options -- much of it Halal.

But last week, while down a YouTube rabbit hole of Bon Appetit cooking videos, a sudden craving for deli led me to Goggle and to happening upon one of the last remaining outposts of old European Scarborough (apart from several surviving Scottish Fish and Chips reasturants): Vienna Fine Foods.

I've actually gone by this unimpressive from the outside grocer on the bus many times and never noticed it, buried in an industrial area on Birchmount, just North of Eglinton. While they do offer a deli and a wide assortment of imported German foodstuffs that brought back many memories of my years there, what caught my eye was the Imbiss.

Literally translated as snack, Imbiss coloquialy refers to a snack bar or lunch counter, and in the back of this grocer is a small lunch bar serving up a variety of homestyle German specialties. There are a few small tables, but they do a booming takeout businss with nearby workers stopping in for a schnitzel on a bun or other popular offerings.

For my first meal last week I brought back a schnitzel dinner to the office. The traditional lemon wedge was on offer, but I went for the gravy and paired it with two sides: scalloped potatoes and mixed veggies. The schnitzel was large and nicely breaded and fried to order, and the potatoes were. The peas-heavy mixed veg tasted like they may have been there awhile (I did come mid-afternoon, after the lunch rush). Still, a very tasty meal.

This week I returned with a friend, and was pleased to see the special of the day was potato pancakes with sour cream or apple sauce. I went with the sour cream, and paired it with a bratwurst. The wurst could have used a little more flavour, but the pancakes were buttery delicious crispy goodness. I don't usually eat much potatoes anymore, but I could eat these every day.

It's unfortunate that I lived in Scarborough for a decade and never knew of this outpost of German cuisine, but it will be a regular stop when I'm in town from now on. And I'll be bringing some dry Spätzle from the grocery back with me to Ottawa for sure. Schmeckt gut!

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Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Eating off the Hill: Northern Smokes BBQ in Scarborough

I believed I've mentioned before my fondness for southern-style BBQ developed during several trips to the Austin, Texas area during my previous career. Obviously nothing can compare, but a lot of BBQ joints in this style have been popping up in Canada and I recently tried one of them -- Northern Smokes -- in Scarborough.

It being Scarborough, Northern Smokes is, of course, Halal, to broaden its potential market. So no pork ribs or bacon, but lots of beefy options and great sides. It's a bit of a schlep to get to on transit, but I'll consider it worth the trip. Located in a non-descript strip mall (it's Scarborough, everything is located in non-descript strip malls) there's limited indoor seating but I enjoyed my BBQ on the patio, beside a grill and several good-sized smokers.

The menu has the usual BBQ options minus the pork, such as beef ribs and brisket, as well as a few choices catering to local tastes such as Jerk chicken and lamb leg. There's also the expected BBQ sides, including corn bread, means and slaw.

I decide to balance off the meat with the sides and make what's a fairly standard BBQ order for me, minus the pork ribs. I build my meal around the tri tip plate, which is half a pound of tri tip steak. I add, as I often do, a sausage. For my sides, mac and cheese (my favourite southern side) and japapeno creamed corn -- cause I'm all healthy like that.

It was all pretty good, although I have to say the sides were the standout for me. Which is usually a negative as you want the mains to shine. But the mains were good, I just really enjoyed the sides.

The sausage was just ok, I would have liked more juicy flavour. The bun had a nice toast on it though The steak had a nice smoke and flavour. The mac and and cheese was hot and had real cheese and was realtively creamy, which I look for. And the corn was deliciously creamy though not reallty spicy at all, which I was fine with.

I took home some leftovers so I didn't leave in a complete meat coma. Very tasty; I'll be back but hopefully I can find a ride.

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Friday, July 12, 2019

Eating Off the Hill: Summerlicious Prix Fixe at Bannock

I'm in Scarborough for the summer, so expect some even more off the hill food reviews in the weeks and months to come. My first installment comes from a trip downtown to Queen and Bay to sample the Summerlicious prix fixe menu at Bannock.

I will say up front that I was disapointed, although that could partially stem from a misunderstanding of Bannock's concept and offering. I thought it was a somewhat upscale reasturant offering Indegenous-inspired dishes. Instead, it's actually marketed as midmarket Canadian comfort food.

So I went in with an expectations mismatch, and was surprised to find plastic menus and no particularly Indigenous dishes on the menu except the namesake Bannock -- more on that shortly.

Still, I was interested in the menu, which, as part of the City of Toronto's Summerlicious promotion, offered an appetizer, main and desert for $33 as a way of encouraging people to sample more local reasturants.

As my appetizer, I selected the "Fried Mac & Cheese  with aged cheddar and basil pesto." I was a bit put off my the two keptchup packets it came with. I mean, I realize this isn't the more swank place I thought it was, but I don't think Moxie's would give you ketchup packets with your meal. I had lunch at Darcy McGee's at the airport a few weeks back and they gave me ketchup in a ceramic cup. I didn't use these packets, so hopefully they were saved and not disposed of.

Still, as fried Mac & cheese go it was actualy pretty good. Other times I've had this it's more thin like a triangle, so the mac & cheese inside isn't particularly cheesy or pasta-ish. This though was done in cubes. which allowed the cheesy goodness inside to be enjoyed on its on merits.

For my main, I nearly got the meat pie, but ended up deciding on the"Braised Ontario Lamb Pappardelle with tomato, olive oil, parmesan, lamb ragù and rosemary. It was just OK. I would have liked more parm, and perhaps the addition of some garlic for added flavour. It wasn't overly saucy and the lamb was dry. Very much nothing special.

For the last course I selected their featured dessert, described as " Haagen-Dazs Extraaz Bananas Peanut Butter Chip Ice Cream with graham cracker, torched marshmallow and screeched strawberries." First of all, I don't like marshmellows so let's just remove the from the equation. The highlight was the banana ice cream. The bready thing it was served on though didn't seem very grahm crackery to me though. And the strawberroes, while perfectly fine strawberries, I don't know exactly what made them screeched. I didn't finish it as it didn't seem particularly worth the many calories I was no doubt consuming.

Whick brings me back to the namesake Bannock. Since I didn't know when (probably never) I'd be back, while I was sure to be stuffed by the prix fixe, when placing my order at the beginning of the evening I also ordered the mixed bannock box appetizer, just so I could try it. Unfortunately, they seemed to forget it as it never arrived. I didn't bring it up because it didn't show up on the bill and I was full enough anyways, but still, would have liked to have tried it and I did order it.

Anyway, overall I was disapointed by Bannock. Part of it was a mismatch of expectations on concept and menu, but still, their actuall concept was executed mediocrely.

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Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Eating up the Hill: SEN Kitchen at Queen Street Fare

I've written previously about the burger and the pizza vendors (actually, seems I haven't written about the pizza yet so, spoiler alert) at Queen Street Fare, the newish adult pseudo food court that will be adjacent to the Queen Street LRT station if and when it ever opens. The burger place was overpriced and the pizza was fine but nothing special. I have, though, found a dish I thoroughly enjoy and at a fair price point too: the creamy peanut chicken with crispy spinach at SEN Kitchen.

For $13, you get a good-sized portion of chicken and mushrooms in a peanut sauce, a side of crispy spinach, and steamed rice. I added an imperial roll for $2 but frankly, you don’t need it, and it wasn’t anything special. But the main dish was.

The chicken was white and not dry and I was a fan of the mushrooms, but it was all about this peanut sauce. So much peanut flavour it was like peanut overload. I’ve had other peanut sauces. None this peanutty. I was unsure what to do with the crispy spinach, so I just mushed it all together with the main and the rice into a do-it-yourself stir fry, some assembly required.

I miss the days of the sub-$10 lunch but I recognize that, outside the Hill cafeteria, those days were over years ago. But of the three dishes I’ve now tried at different Queen Street Fare vendors, this left my hunger the most sated and offered the best value for dollar.

They also sell dumplings and pork belly bao that I haven’t tried but that look delicious.

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