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.
The highlight of my trip to Montreal, this year, was an eye-opening study in contrast; two worlds colliding. A symphony of athletic prowess juxtaposed next to an opus to excess. The pursuit of glory and the pursuit of gluttony. Pure discipline vs. pure gourmandize.
Let’s begin with the good. Playing professional tennis requires hours of devotion and years of sacrifice. I marveled at the players’ talent and physicality. Seeing them up close is a wonder. In what was very lucky break for me, I got to see, meet and shake the hand of my favourite player, Filip Peliwo. I caught him after a lengthy practice and he couldn’t have been kinder or more polite. This man is a terrific player with fiery determination, cocky swagger and a never-say-die-go-after-every-shot resoluteness. His play can be electrifying and goose-bump inducing. He’s still trying to find his way on the tour and, I believe that he will one day be amongst the world’s best. Did I tell you that I got to shake his hand? 🙂
Of course, Filip fanboying aside, I got to be in the presence of many top players. I stood about a foot away from eventual champ, Andy Murray, watched Stan Wawrinka and Grigor Dimitrov dutifully practice, and I witnessed the return of the bespectacled one, Janko Tipsarevic.
This year’s Open had some pretty decent concession fare, as well. A chicken sandwich that included an honest to goodness chicken breast, and a combo platter made up of a ham and cheese sandwich on a baguette was served alongside a tomato salad and chocolate cake. It was very civilized given the occasion and milieu.
Walk into Kettleman’s and you’re right in the hub of the action.
To the left, the bagel roller cuts and rolls the dough. To the right, the bagels are boiled in honey water to seal moisture. The baker then finishes the bagels with fresh poppy or sesame seeds and bakes them for about twenty minutes in a wood-burning oven. The bagels never stop streaming out of the oven (over 6,000 a day), so it’s not uncommon to get one that’s still piping hot.
Founder and Montreal native Craig Buckley opened the first store in Ottawa in April of 1993. By rolling, kettling, and baking traditional Montreal-style bagels in a wood-fired oven using handpicked hardwood, this Ottawa-based business has become a legend around these parts.
A Kettleman’s bagel is toasty and crunchy on the outside and soft, chewy and sweet on the inside. These carby delights come in all the classic varieties like sesame, poppy and cinnamon raisin as well as more audacious flavours like lemon cranberry, mueslix and chocolate.
Whatever bagel you choose, they’re even better schmeared with one of the shop’s cream-cheese spreads. Kettleman’s also happen to make some of the most delicious bagel sandwiches. Best of all may be the Breakfast Bagel. Smokey bacon, a perfectly cooked egg, gooey cheddar cheese and served with a crunchy latke on the side.
To keep the line moving, they only accept cash or debit. Service is kind and fast. Kettleman’s is open 24/7 every day of the year, so you can nosh at any time of day or night. And believe me, it’s worth the schlep!
Kettleman’s Bagel Co. is located at 912 Bank St in the Glebe.
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.
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.
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.
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?
Ottawa is 3,366 km from Mexico but quite suddenly I am a mere 10 metres from truly authentic Mexican cuisine. The drab, generic strip-mall location is quite a distance away from Cabo San Lucas but this should not deter you from experiencing the genuine Mexican classic dishes found at Taqueria la bonita.
My vist to the Rogers Cup in Montreal capped a “day of firsts” for me. It was the first time that I got to lay eyes on future hall-of-famer Serena Williams in person. She was in full-focused training mode, practicing for her next match-up. “Intense” would be the word I would choose to best describe my first encounter with one of my most beloved players.
It was the first time that I actually enjoyed concession food at a tennis tournament. The “Turkey Bretzel” managed to almost live up to its otherworldly $11 price tag . A cross between a baguette and a pretzel, this conveniently portable sandwich was stuffed with deli turkey meat, tomato, lettuce, cheese and mayo. Although made for the masses, the Bretzel managed to satisfy my hunger and delight my taste buds. Thumbs up!
As luck would have it, It was my first time to bask in the presence of two of the world’s best women’s doubles players, and my personal favs, Kveta Pechske and Katarina Srebotnik. I sat there staring adoringly for close to an hour watching them practice and punch out laser-like volleys and talk strategy. After they wrapped up, they even took the time to snap a pic with yours truly. I found them to be kind, funny and very cool.
After a day of watching the world’s best tennis players, what better way to reflect on the day’s action than to chow down on a big ol’ Montreal smoked meat. I made my first trip to the MTL landmark, Schwartz’s Deli. Also known as the Montreal Hebrew Delicatessen, the deli was established in 1928 by Reuben Schwartz, a Jewish immigrant from Romania. According to its website, the unique flavour of their smoked meat is attributable to their mandatory 10 day meat curing time, the high turnover of their meat, and their brick smoke-house which just happens to be covered with over 80 years worth of buildup. Hmm.
Our wait in line was negligible. We were stuffed into a 6-seater table next to a couple and their two children. We couldn’t help but overhear the dad regale his kids about his childhood memories of Schwartz. A parade of fatty smoked meat, sour pickles, fries and frankfurters made their way to their side of the table before being quickly gobbled up.
We had Schwartz’s signature dish, a smoked meat sandwich served on rye bread with yellow mustard. The meat is served by the fat content: lean, medium, medium-fat or fat. The sandwich was indulgent and delicious. Tender and smoky meat piled high on soft rye bread with just enough tangy yellow mustard. Schwartz is now firmly entrenched as a Cool Food Dude favourite and has “repeat visit” written all over it.
With a full belly and an iPhone full of snaps of the tennis elite, the “day of first” was concluded. Thank you Rogers Cup for delivering another first-class enjoyable event full of action-packed matches and happy, fan-friendly tennis players. And thank you Schwartz Deli for serving mouth-watering and crowd pleasing deli staples. I’ll be seeing you very soon!
You quite literally have to enter the side door to get into Sidedoor Contemporary Kitchen + Bar. Pretty cheeky. Once inside it’s rather expansive. An open-air patio this way to your left, a groovy bar thataway to your right and a mutli-level restaurant straightaway.Consistently noted as one of Ottawa’s finest eateries, Sidedoor is an Asian-fusion restaurant celebrated for two very distinct dishes that are seldom associated with Asia or with fancy-pants dining: tacos and donuts. Although, as we were about to discover, these two dishes have been cleverly brought to inspired levels.It’s essential to remember that the food at Sidedoor is tapas-style, is meant for sharing and is portioned accordingly. The tacos are quite mini, actually. Two bitefulls and it’s over. But it’s not always about how big things are. In this case, the emphasis is on flavour. We sampled the spicy beef, Korean pulled-pork and the Bajan crispy fish tacos. Arranged on soft corn tortillas, they are at once flavourful, delicious, tender, juicy, messy, sinful, dreamy and triumphant. Our personal favourite was the spicy beef tacos with just enough heat and a rightful amount of cool radish and avocado toppings.
Next up, we went for the Coconut-poached halibut. The buttery and tender fish was topped with mango, Thai basil and fresh chili giving every bite an elegant and complex mix of fresh, spicy and sweet.
Finally dessert time had arrived. I’ve never had donuts at a sit-down restaurant, but I was ready. Bring on the white chocolate mint and the white chocolate with cranberry mini donuts. Served pipping hot, they were light and airy with a sweet thin glaze. Easy to eat and share, they were very much worth the wait. I can see myself becoming obsessionally passionate about these swoon-worthy creations.
One thing I observed as the restaurant passed from buzzy happy hour to more serious dinner service, the space retained an almost serene atmosphere, a calmness that can only be described as a pleasure to the senses. We were able to have a conversation without resorting to hollering at each other. Very refreshing.
As for the food, it belongs in rarefied circles. Sidedoor’s chef Jonathan Korecki has been able to elevate the lowly donut and taco and make them so good that they transcend mere adjectives. Having now dined there, regular appearance on the “best-of-the-best lists” come as no surprise. Consider this food blogger’s taste buds amazed. My dreams are now occupied with tacos and donuts!
Korean pulled-pork taco
Spicy beef taco
Spicy prawn taco
Green papaya salad
Duck leg confit w/ red apple curry, crispy shallots and mint