(Mostly) Tasty Eats at The Ex

The ExLocation: 210 Princes’ Boulevard, Toronto
Website: https://theex.com/

Though I haven’t been in a couple of years, I enjoy going to the Ex.  I mean, they have an enormous building dedicated entirely to food, not to mention vendor after vendor selling junky carnival food, so of course I enjoy it.

I didn’t get to try quite as much as I would have liked (this stuff was all extremely heavy), but I sampled a few things.

The Ex

The Big Chief from Porkies Sandwich Co.

This place specializes in porchetta and pork belly, and serves a sandwich that’s crammed with both of them.  The two meats are topped with caramelized onions, arugula, provolone, salsa verde, and chipotle mayo.  It’s not bad — the two types of pork are a bit bland and textureless (they’re super tender, but there are zero crispy bits or crackling), but they’re still porky and satisfying.  The cheese was unmelted and basically added nothing to the sandwich, but the onions and the sauces are tasty and do a good job of cutting through the extreme richness of the belly and the porchetta.  I will say, however, that this might have been the greasiest sandwich I’ve ever eaten in my life.  Grease was leaking everywhere.

The Ex

Scorpion Burrito from Burrito Co.

Though Burrito Co. advertises this as “Canada’s hottest burrito,” that’s a dubious claim; the burrito itself is barely spicy at all.  It does, however, come with a tiny dropper filled with a legitimately fiery hot sauce.  This stuff isn’t kidding around, though I wish they had added it right into the burrito, because having to reapply it every couple of mouthfuls was a bit of a pain.  As for the burrito itself, it was fine, I guess?  It was decent enough, but nothing about it particularly stands out (other than the comically absurd $19.25 price tag).

The Ex

Pickle Pizza from Rick’s Pizza

This is the only thing I tried that was outside of the food building.  The slice is basically exploding with pickle flavour; it’s topped with pickle slices, and features dill ranch instead of tomato sauce.  It’s a novelty food and it tastes like a novelty food, but it’s actually kind of satisfying.  The pickles are nice and zingy, and the pizza itself is decent.  I don’t know that I’d want to eat this all the time — but isn’t that the whole point of carnival food?  If it’s something you’d want to eat on a regular basis, it’s probably not doing its job.

The Porchetta at Porchetta & Co.: Still Great

Porchetta & Co.Location: 545 King Street West, Toronto
Websitehttp://porchettaco.com/

Though I’m a big fan of the porchetta sandwich at Porchetta & Co., my tendency is to get tempted by the various fried chicken sandwich specials.  It’s been ages since I’ve had the good old plain porchetta sandwich.

Porchetta & Co.

I was afraid it might have gone downhill.  It’s an outstanding sandwich, but many successful restaurants have a hard time maintaining consistency over the years, and eventually become a victim of their own success.  This is especially true once expansion becomes a factor.

Well, I’m happy to say that this doesn’t seem to be an issue here.  The porchetta sandwich: still outstanding.

Porchetta & Co.

I didn’t see any crackling when I opened it up, which concerned me.  But I guess it was all hiding under the meat, because there was a pretty good amount.  (I could have used more, but then it’s basically impossible to get enough crackling.  I could have an all-crackling sandwich, and I’d still be like “that was pretty good, but it needed more crackling.”)

I also thought the sandwich looked a little lean on first inspection, but again, it was all hiding in there; the meat was super tender, with a perfect amount of tasty fat interspersed throughout.

Porchetta & Co.

It’s a seriously, seriously great sandwich.  The crispy, fluffy bun is as perfect as ever, and the pork itself is still top-notch.  The spicing is subtle compared to some porchetta, but there’s more than enough for it to pack some serious flavour.  That’s not to mention that the milder seasoning allows the natural flavour of the pork to really shine through.

Porchetta & Co.

You can get all kinds of toppings, if you want — in fact, the “House Special” is topped with parmesan, truffle sauce, mustard, and hot sauce.   And certainly, it’s not un-tasty.  But all that stuff is superfluous, and worse, it just gets in the way of the amazing pork.  The porchetta is so tender, porky, and herby; obscuring it with additional sauces and flavours just seems like a shame.

Porchetta Roll

Porchetta Roll in Mississauga, Ontario
Location: 4120 Dixie Road, Mississauga
Websitehttp://www.porchettaroll.com/

I have a very, very hard time saying no to a porchetta sandwich.  So when I found myself at this particular plaza and saw that there was a new porchetta-based restaurant?  Well, I wasn’t planning on eating lunch, but I guess I am now.

The menu is mostly based around porchetta and rotisserie chicken.  I got the porchetta sandwich, which comes topped with arugula, caramelized onions, garlic aoili, and mustard.

Porchetta Roll in Mississauga, Ontario

The obvious comparison is Porchetta & Co., and no, it’s not as good as that.  The pork — while tender and tasty — was underseasoned, and there was zero crackling in my sandwich.

I won’t say that a porchetta sandwich is pointless without crackling, but come on.  Crackling.  I need it.

Porchetta Roll in Mississauga, Ontario

It probably doesn’t help that the last porchetta sandwich I ate was this one in Italy, and literally every other porchetta sandwich is garbage compared to that.  It’s an unfair comparison, but I couldn’t help it.

Porchetta Roll in Mississauga, Ontario

Still, it was a tasty sandwich, and a pretty decent deal at about ten bucks with tax (they absolutely cram the sandwich with porchetta — I’d say it’s double if not triple the amount they give you at Porchetta & Co.).  I’d probably ask for it without the caramelized onions next time; they were tasty and perfectly cooked, but their sweetness overwhelmed the subtly-spiced pork.

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.