Location: 9 Bogert Avenue, North York (in the Emerald Park food court)
There’s a Chinese street food called jian bing that’s fairly ubiquitous in China, but virtually unknown over here. And I’m not sure why — it’s super delicious, and it’s cheap and relatively easy to make.
That’s why I was so excited when I found out that a little place called Gao’s Crepe in the Emerald Park food court serves these things.
That food court is hidden away on the bottom level of a condo near Yonge and Sheppard; you’d never even know it’s there if you’re not specifically seeking it out. But it’s a gem. Aside from the crepes, there’s several interesting-looking eateries here, mostly Asian.
Gao’s Crepe doesn’t even have a sign, and there’s no English menu posted — again, if you didn’t know it was there, you’d pass right by. But the jian bing they’re serving is the real deal.
Jian bing is essentially an eggy crepe that’s coated with hoisin sauce and hot sauce, sprinkled with green onions and cilantro, and wrapped around a crispy piece of fried dough. The version at Gao’s Crepe is freshly made right in front of you (you can watch the chef doing his thing).
It’s quite tasty. The contrast between the chewy crepe and the crispy fried dough is really satisfying, and the vibrant flavours of the hoisin and the hot sauce matches well with the freshness of the green onions and the cilantro.
It’s not as good as the versions I had in Shanghai — it’s a little dry, and the balance of flavours feels just a bit off — but then that sort of comparison is always unfair. We’re a million miles from Shanghai, and it’s quite good.
Location: 6075 Main Street, Buffalo, NY
Here’s a question: why isn’t frozen custard a thing in Toronto? It’s so good, and its absence makes me simultaneously sad and infuriated, because why? It makes no sense!
For the uninitiated, frozen custard is basically like ice cream but better. It’s made with egg yolks along with the traditional ice cream ingredients, which gives the final product a richer, more velvety texture and an irresistibly custardy flavour.
There used to be a frozen custard joint in the city called Jedd’s, but aside from the fact that it was never very good, it closed down. Recently, a place called Rita’s opened near Kensington Market, but based on one sampling (which was right when it opened, so I should probably give them another shot), it just tasted like regular soft serve.
So — for now, at least — all frozen custard cravings need to be satisfied via a road trip to Buffalo. Though the frozen custard at Anderson’s isn’t exactly the best I’ve ever had, it’s rich and creamy, and it has a really nice custard flavour. It’ll do.
Location: 6643 Transit Road, Buffalo, NY
When I was a kid, my family and I used to go to Florida every summer. We’d always drive there, and a stop at the Cracker Barrel was a must. It’s not exactly gourmet, but if you’re craving greasy southern comfort food, it nicely fits the bill.
Their current special is something called Southern Bowls; I went with the Sausage, Grits Cakes n’ Green Tomato Gravy Bowl, which I couldn’t resist. I mean, read this description from their menu and tell me you don’t immediately want to eat it:
Enjoy a fresh take on Southern flavors with two deep-fried stone ground pimento cheese grits cakes and our Sweet Pepper n’ Red Skin Hash topped with sausage patties, two scrambled eggs, and shredded Colby cheese all smothered in our green tomato gravy with a sprinkling of fresh parsley.
And it’s pretty much exactly what you’d think it would be from that description. None of the individual components stand out as being particularly great, but they all kind of meld together into one cheesy, creamy, delicious mess. In particular, the zingy green tomato gravy does a great job of adding a pop of vibrant flavour, and cutting through the richness of the eggs and the cheese and the grits.
Location: 93a Ossington Avenue, Toronto
I’ve already established that Bang Bang continues to be the best. Further proof? A flavour called P’nut Butter Cup, which they describe as “Reese candy / mucho peanut butter.”
Mucho peanut butter?? Uh, yes please.
I’m not sure why they call this P’nut Butter Cup — there are actually Reese’s Pieces in there, not peanut butter cups, and that’s what it tastes like (I love Reese’s Pieces, so I’m not complaining). Though they do also add chunks of chocolate, so I guess that adds a certain amount of peanut-butter-cupiness.
The ice cream itself is ridiculous. It’s so rich and peanut buttery — “mucho” definitely isn’t an exaggeration. It almost tastes like some kind of delicious amalgam between ice cream and peanut butter, like a jar of peanut butter and a pint of ice cream found its way into Jeff Goldblum’s teleportation machine. It’s incredible. And the crunchiness of the Reese’s Pieces makes for a great contrast with the dense, smooth ice cream. It’s pretty much the best.
Location: 9425 Leslie Street, Richmond Hill
If you’re going to put the word excellent in the name of your restaurant, you’d better be able to back that up. Even if you’re serving pretty good food, that’s not excellent, is it?
Well, Excellent BBQ Restaurant in the Richlane Mall in Richmond Hill definitely lives up to its name: it is indeed excellent.
There’s something really satisfying about the simplicity of Chinese-style BBQ like this. It’s beyond simple — it’s basically just whole pieces of meat and rice — but when it’s done well, it’s delicious and comforting in a way that few dishes can match.
Excellent BBQ Restaurant does it quite well, which is evident as soon as you get there: when I visited, there was a line going out the door, and it remained that way for the whole time I was there.
When you’re serving food this good, word gets around.
We tried a few different things. BBQ duck.
And roast pork.
Everything was really good. In particular, the duck was fatty, tender, and perfect. The skin could have been a bit crispier, but that’s a fairly minor complaint.
Both types of pork were just as good — there wasn’t a whole lot of crispy skin on the roast pork, but what was there was shatteringly crisp and amazing. The BBQ pork was slightly dry, but again: that’s a minor complaint.