Beast

Crispy Pork Hocks from Beast
Location:  96 Tecumseth Street, Toronto
Websitehttp://thebeastrestaurant.com/

I’ve actually written about Beast before, on Serious Eats, where I raved about the Beastwich.  But I have to rave again — the Crispy Pork Hocks at Beast were so damn good that I felt compelled to bring this blog out of semi-hiatus so I could talk about them.  Immediately after eating them, I was hit by a powerful compulsion: I need to tell someone about this.  I need to tell everyone about this.

The hock — the part of the pig where the foot attaches to the leg, usually served as one big, unwieldy hunk of pork, bone and all — has been streamlined by Beast into convenient little cubes of crispy, porky goodness.  It has been perfected.

Each cube is maybe an inch-and-a-half square, with an amazingly crispy, crunchy exterior, and a rich, perfectly cooked interior of tender, decadently fatty pork.  I’m not even sure I can put into words how amazingly good this was.

Seriously, look at this and tell me you don’t want to eat this right this second:

Crispy Pork Hocks from Beast

That layer of crispy, crunchy amazingness is just so incredibly satisfying, and the interior is the perfect combination of extravagant fattiness and fork-tender pork.  You might think it looks too fatty, but trust me, it’s not too fatty.

It’s served with a thick, sweet variation on soy sauce called kecap manis that kind of reminded me of hoisin sauce; it worked amazingly well with the pork.  It also comes with two eggs cooked how you want them, crispy potatoes, toast, and a fairly generous pile of zingy kimchi.

I don’t want to over-sell this, but I think it might be one of the best things I’ve ever eaten.  This is not a drill.  Drop whatever the hell you’re doing right now and get yourself to Beast.  If they’re not open yet, just camp out and wait.  Because who cares what else is going on when something this good exists in the world and you haven’t tried it yet.

Review Round-up: Part 1

So I’ve barely been updating this blog at all over the last year or so, but obviously I’ve been eating things.  So here you go: the first part of my (maybe) multi-part round-up of some of the more noteworthy things I’ve eaten in the last several months.

Blue Sage
Blue Sage
When I visited this place the owner seemed to be the only one manning the restaurant and cooking the food, as he’d go in the back and disappear for long stretches, and I never saw anyone else.  He certainly talked a big game, espousing at length the lost art of classic Southern low-and-slow barbecue cookery.  He was so serious about it that it made me more excited to try the food; he really seemed to know his stuff.

The discrepancy between the way he talked about the food and the actual flavour was almost comical.  I ordered the spare ribs, and they were ridiculously tough.  Fall-off-the-bone is actually not a desirable trait among BBQ aficionados, with a little bit more chew and texture being desirable.  This, however, was on the opposite end of the spectrum.  Cutting through it, even with the sharp steak knife provided, took a very concerted effort, and biting off chunks of meat was a serious jaw workout.  It also had very little smoke flavour, and no visible smoke ring whatsoever.

My dining companion had a pulled pork sandwich, and that was even worse.  Zero smoke flavour.  It had that distinctively gamy taste that you only get when you reheat pork one time too many, and it was absolutely doused in a strongly vinegary BBQ sauce.  My dining companion described it as tasting like a vinegar sandwich, and I can’t say I disagree.

Cafe Polonez
Cafe Polonez
This was my second time eating at this gem of a restaurant, and having ordered something a bit more familiar the first time (the goulash-stuffed potato pancake — which is absolutely delicious, by the by) I decided to go with the much more mysterious Pulpety, which is described as “Minced chicken balls topped with a creamy dill sauce.”  I wasn’t entirely sure what this was going to be, but as it turned out it was essentially meatballs with gravy; kinda like a Polish (and much, much more delicious) take on Ikea’s trademark dish.  The meatballs were super tender, with a pronounced chickeny flavour, and the creamy, dill-infused sauce complimented them perfectly.

Dance Mac
Dance Mac
It’s very easy to miss this place, which is in a tiny little food court on Queen Street near John.  They make a few different mac and cheese variations, which they cook fresh in the oven in front of you, which gives you that nicely crispy, cheesy topping.    It’s certainly not gourmet (the mac has a processed-tasting, Velveeta-esque base), but it’s creamy and cheesy and abundantly satisfying.

Fabbrica - ravioli
Fabbrica
That would be Nonna McEwan’s Ravioli: “veal, pork, beef, tomato sauce and reggiano.”   Honestly it’s been a while since I’ve eaten this one, and my memory is getting a bit fuzzy — I do remember, however, thinking it was one of the best versions of ravioli that I’ve had in a long, long time, so I’d say it’s definitely worth eating.  Actually, I kind of want to eat it again.  Note to self: go back to Fabbrica.

Fidel Gastro - short rib
Fidel Gastro’s
Having really, really enjoyed my meal at Lisa Marie, I was excited to try the food from where it all started.  I tried the root beer braised short rib and kimchi sandwich, which certainly sounded interesting.  Sadly, it was quite terrible: mushy, cloyingly sweet short rib with the approximate texture of wet paper towels, topped seemingly randomly with kimchi (it didn’t compliment the meat at all). It’s all on a soft, squishy bun that adds no texture and only serves to make the mushy meat feel even mushier.

Gilead Cafe - Porchetta sandwich
Gilead Cafe
I had the porchetta sandwich, which was okay — it had a decent flavour, though to be honest it’s hard to eat porchetta in this city, knowing that the always phenomenal Porchetta and Co. is an option.  That’s pretty much porchetta perfection, so it’s very difficult to measure up to that.  Jamie Kennedy’s famous fries were as delicious as always, however.

Me Va Me

Me Va Me - Jerusalem Mix Laffa
Location240 Queen Street West, Toronto
Website: http://www.mevame.com/

I have to say, I wasn’t expecting a heck of a lot from Me Va Me, and so its level of quality was actually a pretty delightful surprise.

They have a decent amount of stuff on their menu, but I homed in on their laffa wraps.  I had a pretty great experience at Dr. Laffa a few months ago, so I was hoping for more of the same.

(For the initiated, a laffa is thicker and more substantial than a pita; it’s somewhere between traditional pita bread and naan.  It’s delicious.)

They have a few different wraps on the menu, including the mysterious Jerusalem Mix.  There’s no mention of what this is anywhere on the menu, so I asked: it’s a mixture of chicken liver, heart, thigh, and sauteed onions.

it’s hard to tell from my shoddy picture, but this thing is crammed to the gills with stuff.  They give you a very, very generous amount of meat, and cram a ton of other stuff in there as well (the usual assortment of pickles, veggies, and sauces).  I asked for everything except for onions, because raw onions are the worst and no one will ever be able to convince me otherwise.

Again, you can’t tell from my terrible picture, but this thing has heft.  It’s about the size and weight of a newborn baby: those with smaller appetites are advised to share.

I was getting worried that it was going to turn out to be overstuffed, but somehow, all the various flavours worked perfectly together.

Foremost were the various chicken bits that make up the Jerusalem Mix.  Seriously good. It was perfectly cooked, with the juicy thigh pieces working perfectly with the liver.  I like liver, but even if you don’t, the flavour is mellowed out by the sauteed onions and all the the other stuff.   I’m not entirely sure that the heart was necessary — there were a few vaguely rubbery pieces that I’m assuming were heart.  Still, tasty stuff.

I don’t think the laffa itself was quite as good as the one from Dr. Laffa, which was amazingly fresh and close to perfection.  But taking the whole package into account, I’ve gotta give the edge to Me Va Me.  All the stuff they mix in there worked really well, and the chicken itself was above average.

Boar

Boar - the veal sandwich
Location3 Glebe Road East, Toronto
Websitehttp://www.boarsandwiches.ca/

Boar is a spinoff of Black Camel, which serves some pretty solid sandwiches. Because of my affection for that place, I’ve been meaning to check Boar out for a while, though I don’t typically find myself near Yonge and Eglinton, so it took a few months to get there.

They serve Italian sandwiches like veal, sausage, and meatball, with your choice of various sauces and condiments.

I’m a sucker for a good veal sandwich, so I ordered that with tomato sauce and caramelized onions.

It’s a bit different from the traditional veal sandwich that they serve at a place like California Sandwiches: rather than being dipped in the tomato sauce, the breaded, fried veal cutlet has the sauce spooned on top.

These types of sandwiches typically feature a smooth, blended sauce with a fairly mild flavour. The sauce here, on the other hand, is rich and chunky, with the intense flavour of a sauce that’s been reduced to its purest essence. It’s pretty fantastic, and pairs perfectly with the tender, perfectly fried cutlet.

The only misstep are the caramelized onions (and that’s my fault, since I was the one who chose them); though they were perfectly cooked and sweetly flavourful, they were a little bit too assertive and just got in the way of the outstanding interplay between the rich sauce and the crispy cutlet.

It’s mostly a take-out place, though they do have a small dining room off to the side. With the exposed concrete walls, the rustic wood tables, and the boar’s head mounted on the wall, it has a vaguely creepy vibe that made me think Leatherface was going to bust in at any moment, chainsaw roaring. But the sandwich was so good that this could have happened, and I still would have called the visit a win.

Boar - the sitting area

Canuck Pizza Truck

Canuck Pizza Truck
Location: Check their Twitter
Website: http://www.canuckpizzatruck.ca/

The Canuck Pizza Truck is one of the more eye-catching food trucks out there — it’s a 1946 Chevy Stovebolt, and it features a real, no-foolin’ wood-burning pizza oven. At first I thought that they had perhaps made a gas or electric oven look like a wood-burning one — but nope, you can peek inside and see the logs burning, so it’s the real deal.

They have a few different options, but I went with the Meat-za, which comes topped with bacon, sausage, and pepperoni. They sell by the slice for six bucks (which is a quarter of a pizza) or the whole pie for $23.

The pizza basically tastes like a cross between the Neapolitan style you find at places like Queen Margherita Pizza and Pizzeria Libretto and the cheesier, more traditionally North American style found at pizza joints everywhere.

It’s good. The cheese, sauce, and toppings are all pretty solid, and the wood-burning oven gives the crust a satisfyingly crispy/chewy texture that you can only get from an oven that hot. It’s not exactly the best pizza I’ve ever had, but if I find myself in the vicinity of this truck again, I’ll probably get another slice.

When I went, they were a bit disorganized (putting it mildly) and didn’t seem to have a much of a system for taking and delivering orders; it was a mess, but given that they’re a fairly new truck, I’ll cut them some slack on that.

Canuck Pizza Truck Canuck Pizza Truck