dinning

Restaurant Review: Anthony’s 

Rustica – Cherry tomatoes, mozza, arugula, shaved parmesan and prosciutto

I am not a believer in the “All pizza is good pizza” motto. I’ve turned my nose up at many a tasteless and cardboardy mess masquerading as good pie. Anthony’s wood-fired Neapolitan-style pizza is authentic, toothsome and peerless.

Apart from being quite tasty, many of Anthony’s pizzas are visually arresting. It’s hard to avert your eyes from the frescos of greens and reds. Owner Anthony Balestra has found a wide canvas on which to express himself, using pizza as his medium.

The emphasis is on clean flavours and fresh ingredients. The classic Margherita, with the sparest of adornment, allows the flavours of the San Marzano tomatoes and fresh basil to come through.

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Interview with a Chef: Ottawa Ribfest’s Matt Smith of Gator BBQ

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Nick Smith, left, and his father Matt, of Gator BBQ.
Photo credit: MORGAN MODJESKI / THE STARPHOENIX

 

For over 30 years, Gator BBQ has been delivering mouth-watering chicken, pulled pork and ribs to the hungry crowds of Rib Fests all across North America. Touring Canada and the Northern United States, the Smith family of Port Dover continue to win countless awards and events with their signature southern BBQ cuisine. On the eve of Ottawa Ribfest, I caught up with Matt Smith to discuss his humble BBQ beginnings, his secret for achieving great tasting barbecue and if he ever gets tired of being around so much BBQ!

How did you get involved in the BBQ business?
By accident mostly. I used to be part of the carnival circuit for Conklin Shows and eventually crossed paths with a fella who ran these Ribfests. I started my own team and its grown from there—must be 20 years at least. We were there at the very start!

Tell me about the BBQ process. Boil or bake? Smoker? Hardwood or gas?
Always smoked. Ribs, pork and chicken are done in our smoker (Southern Pride) for various times depending on the meat. Although the fuel is propane, there’s a wood oven that heats the smoker and pumps the heated smoke throughout. (more…)

Toronto: Baseball, Beyoncé and Baby Pandas

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My recent jaunt to the 6 (Toronto, for the uninitiated) included wondrous and diverse activities.

My Chipotle obsession continued. Three visits during my five-day stay. Unsurprisingly, my beloved first-place (at the time) Red Sox lost in spectacular fashion. Always great to be kitted out in full Sox regalia while being chirped by 50,000 petulant bandwagon-jumping Jays fans. (more…)

Restaurant Review: Wilf & Ada’s

While a small crowd huddles in the portico, some stragglers linger out front. Others, like myself, skedaddle and exploit the “we’ll text you when a table is ready” offer. You see, Wilf & Ada’s doesn’t take reservations. Waiting is the only option and there’s no way around it. Is the food worthy of such effort? Affirmative. This place should be on your “must get-to” list!

When you do finally get a table, try the “Eggs in Purgatory.” They will deliver you immediately to heaven. This dish is a carefully conceived idea with delicious results. Picture a small cast-iron skillet containing two eggs poached in a spicy tomato sauce, covered with a light dusting of Grana Padano, and topped with a heaping of arugula. Toast and homies ride shotgun.

You could also go for the breakfast hash. This particular one I tasted off the “specials” menu was made-up of a trio of roasted root vegetables—beets, squash and yams—tossed with caramelized onions, some crumbled sausage and Parmesan. The mélange was topped with two eggs and a side of toast. An unfussy breakfast, yet beautifully articulated and belly-filling.

What else is worth the wait? The servers. Instantly lovable, gabby and dedicated to ensuring that you have the best experience. The décor has the sparest of adornment yet is fitting for the space. And while the wait is a bit of a bummer, the food at Wilf & Ada’s earns high marks for sticking to the old rule book: make as much of the menu in-house, from scratch and source the best quality ingredients using local suppliers and products whenever possible. And, make it delicious!

Wilf & Ada’s is on 310 Bank Street in Ottawa and is opened 7 am-3pm on weekdays and 8 am-3 pm on weekends.

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The best thing I ate this month – January 2015

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I received  more than a few puzzled stares when I announced that I had just dined on chicken and waffles at Hooch Bourbon House restaurant. For hardcore obsessives of Southern cuisine, there is nothing more heroic than these two combinations. Where today, most chicken is served devoid of bones or skin, this Cornish hen is proudly dished-up bone-in, skin-on and artfully displayed on its cutting board canvas. A perfect tribute embodying the soul of the south in the dead of winter. The smokey-sweet chipotle maple emulsion provides a compelling counter to the soft, chewy buttermilk waffles and tender crispy chicken. This is a stunner of a dish. A simple, good thing elevated to symphonic heights. And it was the best thing I ate this month.

Hooch Bourbon House restaurant is located at 180 Rideau Street in Ottawa.

Hooch Bourbon House on Urbanspoon

{Guest Blog} No, it isn’t wrong to use food as a reward …especially when Cool Food Dude is cooking!

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I seem to be surrounded with people who are obsessed with food. Everywhere I go that’s pretty much all folks want to talk about. My friends and family have long hinted around about getting in on the blogging action. So why not let them? Here is a guest post courtesy of my friends Tony and Lyana. Enjoy!

What happens when you combine three of my favourite foods, sweets and drinks together? Easy. Magic in a bowl.

I experienced that magic when my wife and I were invited to CoolFoodDude’s place for dinner. This dude pulled out all the stops. The meal was incredible from beginning to end. But one dish resonated with both my wife and I: his spin on Thomas Keller’s Five-Spice Roasted Lobster with Port-Poached Figs and Beurre Monté from The French Laundry restaurant cookbook. We spoke about it on the drive back home. Imagine this: chocolate, lobster and coffee… all in one dish. That happened to us that fateful night. Listen, you wanna talk about palette overload? This dish had it all. It was savory, sweet and injected with my go-to drink that keeps me going day in and day out: coffee (salivating as I type). Man, it was bananas. Arguably one of the saddest moments of my life was saying goodbye to that last bite. I almost ate the plate!

Keep in mind that this is coming from a guy (me) who was privileged enough to grow up in a family of chefs, so the CFD should be proud. His cooking is always extraordinary and top-class, but on this night, it was on a whole other level, and, we were honoured to be a part of it.

I still dream about it at least once a week. I think about it at least twice a day. Thanks CFD, I’ll never be able to enjoy another lobster. Unless you make it for us again! But you know, whenever you have the time. No rush or anything.

Two amazing Thanksgiving recipes

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One down, one to go. Just finished serving up a scrumptious Canadian Thanksgiving spread and I’m gearing up to dish out American Thanksgiving in a few weeks. And there’s a common element in both of my feasts. The turkey and the cranberry sauce.

Try out Food & Wine’s Apricot-Glazed Turkey. This roasted turkey tastes as good as it looks. It’s rubbed with olive oil, sprinkled with a mixture of coarse salt and pepper, and stuffed with bay leaves, lemons, garlic, thyme, roasemary and sage. The gorgeous mahogany colour comes from a glaze of lemon-infused apricot jam. The meat is flavourful and moist. And, it all cooks in less than three hours.

Cranberry Sauce

Bon Appétit’s Cranberry Sauce with Vanilla Bean and Cardamom is a tangy and flavourful relish. Fresh cardamom and vanilla seeds make for a version that’s sweet, sultry and exotic. It’s my family and friend’s favourite.

Book review: Heritage

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I feel as though I have been searching for this book my entire life. See, I’ve had a full-on obsession with Southern cuisine as far back as I can remember. It is my favourite food. I am drawn by the cuisine’s hallowed traditions and unique cooking styles. And in this book, I have discovered someone that shares my love of one of the greatest cuisines of the world.

James Beard Award-winning Chef Sean Brock is an emissary of Southern food and culture. He is best known for his work in Charleston, SC, where he is the executive chef and partner of restaurants McCrady’s and Husk.

Heritage is his very first cookbook and offers a mix of traditional and contemporary recipes in chapters such as “The Garden” and “The Pasture.”  The recipes (e.g., butter-bean chowchow; pork belly with herb faro, pickled elderberries, chanterelles, and sumac; buttermilk pie with cornmeal crust) range from simple to sophisticated. Pork rinds, for example, are cooked sous-vide and dehydrated before being deep fried.

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Book review: Jack Allen’s Kitchen

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Right from the start of the book, the author sets a clear intention. He has a shared respect those, like himself, who make their living off of the land. He is keenly aware of the importance of creating meaningful connections with local farmers and purveyors. ‘On Saturday mornings, you’ll find me at the farmers market …I know the farmers and they know me …they take care of us and we take care of them.’  

Jack Allen’s Kitchen: Celebrating the Tastes of Texas includes 150 well-tested recipes using the produce and bounty of Central Texas. Coming in at just over 4.5lbs, this tome of a book pays homage to all four seasons with each section listing cocktails, appetizers, sides, dressings, entrees and desserts that make the most of that season’s harvest. The ingredients, measurements, cuts and preparations for each recipe are spelled out in an easy-to-follow fashion.

Mr. Allen’s book offers several familiar southern dishes as well as new takes on old southern classics. The Grilled Gulf Shrimp Salad with Greens, Strawberries and Watermelon plays with putting spicy and sweet components together to see how they complement each other. The Crunchy Fried Shrimp omits the tartar sauce and instead uses blackberries as a sweet and tart accent.

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A weekend escape to T.O., part 2

CN Tower, Toronto

Sometimes I just need to escape to the big city. True, it comes with some headaches like snarling traffic and unruly crowds. But the benefits of being in a metropolis far outweigh the liabilities. If only to get me out of my food slump.

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Chipotle, Chipotle, how do I love thee? I may seem strange to profess ones love to a fast food restaurant but considering the jam-packed Yonge street location, I am not alone in my adoration of the burrito bowl. And like long-distance lovers reunited after a lengthy time apart, it was oh so sweet. I long for the day when we can once again be together. Chipotle, it wouldn’t hurt you to save me some gas money and move to my neck of the woods. I love thee but how much do you love me?

Chiptole, Yonge Street Toronto Yonge Street, TorontoYonge Street, Toronto Yonge Street, Toronto

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