Instagram-Friendly Ice Cream at Sweet Jesus

Sweet JesusLocation: 106 John Street, Toronto
Websitehttp://www.sweetjesus4life.com/

I don’t think there’s a more blatant case of an Instagram-famous restaurant than Sweet Jesus.  They serve up concoctions that are so finely-honed to be drooled over on social media that actually eating them almost feels like an afterthought.

They mainly serve very elaborately topped cones that are impossible to eat without making a huge mess; but then, what do they care?  Again: actually eating them is secondary to the likes that they’ll accrue online.

Thankfully, they eventually acquiesced to common sense and offered the option of a cup instead of a cone, which is slightly less photogenic, but much more reasonable to eat.

I got the Sweet Baby Jesus, which is supposed to come with caramel soft serve (I’m pretty positive it was actually vanilla) topped with peanut butter caramel sauce, chocolate peanut crumble, and chocolate sauce.

Sweet Jesus

I should note that I actually like Sweet Jesus.  I’ve been there a bunch of times, and I have no doubt that I’ll be back a bunch of times.  But it could be so much better.

The biggest issue is the soft serve itself.  It’s fine; it’s basically on par with what they serve at ice cream trucks.  I like the stuff, but it’s not exactly high quality ice cream.

And because they insist on making these things as cones instead of the sundaes they should obviously be (for no reason other than that the elaborate cones look better on Instagram), the ratio of sauce/toppings to ice cream is way off.  This would be fine if they were using better quality ice cream, but they’re not.  Which means that the big pile of ice cream you’re left with after the toppings have been eaten feels kinda useless.

As for the Sweet Baby Jesus, it was tasty enough.  Peanut butter and chocolate is a surefire combo, and yeah, it works here.  But both of the problems I mentioned above are definitely present.

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Tasty Soft Serve Gelato at Bar Ape

Bar ApeLocation: 283 Rushton Road, Toronto
Websitehttp://www.bar-ape.com/

You wouldn’t be blamed for getting kinda bored of gelato in Toronto.  You seemingly can’t walk more than a few blocks without coming across a gelato shop in the city.  A lot of it is quite good, but after a while, it all starts to feel samey.

Enter: Bar Ape, which mixes things up by selling their gelato in soft serve form.  Of course, this means that they can only serve two flavours at a time (though chocolate-covered gelato bars are available in a variety of combinations), but it’s a worthwhile trade-off for something that’s so delightfully unique.

On this particular visit the two flavours were chocolate sorbet and fresh mint.  I got the twist, which comes with both.

Bar Ape

Sorbet is generally made without dairy, so I was concerned that it would be icy or thin, but it was rich and creamy, with a really nice dark chocolate flavour.

The fresh mint was even better; unlike 99 percent of mint ice creams, which are made with mint flavouring, this was clearly made with actual fresh mint leaves.  This gave it an interesting herby flavour that really made it stand out.  The combination between it and the chocolate was a home run.

The only real downside?  The wooden spoons.  They’re becoming more and more common in the city, and I feel bad for criticizing them — they’re obviously more environmentally-friendly than plastic — but the rough texture and mild woody flavour makes them an off-putting implement for eating ice cream.  Plastic (or metal) or GTFO.

Amazing Fried Chicken at Chica’s Chicken

Chica's ChickenLocation: 2853 Dundas Street West, Toronto
Websitehttps://www.facebook.com/chicaschicken/

Recently, I had the Nashville hot chicken sandwich from Porchetta and Co. and was thoroughly unimpressed; it was bland, disappointingly mild, and dripping with flavourless grease.  It was a surprisingly mediocre sandwich from an otherwise great restaurant.

Clearly, the problem was not with the dish itself, because I just had the version from Chica’s Chicken, and hot damn it was so good.

The menu here is exceptionally simple; it’s pretty much just bone-in chicken, chicken wings, and a chicken sandwich, along with a variety of sides.  I got the quarter chicken (dark, of course) with a side of coleslaw.

Chica's Chicken

There are three heat options: mild, medium, and hot AF.  I ordered hot, which prompted the woman behind the counter to warn me that it was indeed very hot.  She mentioned Carolina Reaper peppers (currently the hottest pepper in the world) along with another pepper I can’t recall.

It’s so good.  The chicken is perfectly cooked, with an amazingly satisfying level of crispiness on its skin and abundantly juicy chicken.  And the flavour is explosive; aside from the level of heat, their spice blend is outstanding.  It’s some of the best fried chicken I’ve ever had.

Chica's Chicken

As for the heat: it’s hot enough to make you sweat and to clear your sinuses, but not so spicy that it feels like something you should be eating on a dare.  It’s great.

It comes on a plain slice of bread (de rigueur for this style of chicken), which soaks up all of the amazing grease.  It also comes with a side of ranch for dipping, which was a huge upgrade over the typical Hidden Valley; it was creamy, slightly garlicky, and a little bit sweet.  It was a delicious compliment to the intensely spicy chicken.

The creamy coleslaw was great, too; I normally prefer vinegary coleslaw, but versions like this make me second guess myself.

Decent Macarons from Butter Avenue

Butter AvenueLocation: 477 Queen Street West, Toronto
Websitehttps://www.butteravenue.com/

I guess those stupid overpriced macarons from Ladurée in Yorkdale have ruined other ones for me.  Because I just ate a couple from Butter Avenue, and they were pretty good, but I couldn’t help but compare them to Ladurée — and they came up short.

Butter Avenue

I tried the pistachio and the raspberry white chocolate, and there certainly wasn’t anything wrong with either.  The pistachio had a really enjoyable nutty flavour, and the raspberry white chocolate featured a delicious raspberry jam centre surrounded by creamy white chocolate.  They were both quite tasty.

But the flavours just couldn’t compare to what they were serving at Ladurée, and the texture was overly dense and chewy, in stark contrast to the almost ethereal lightness of Ladurée’s version.

Butter Avenue

They were three bucks each, which is certainly less than the almost four that they’re charging at Ladurée, but not exactly cheap.  If you’re already spending three bucks on a tiny macaron, you may as well spend the extra dollar and get the superior version.

(Mostly) Great Gelato at Hollywood Gelato

Hollywood GelatoLocation: 1640 Bayview Avenue, Toronto
Websitehttp://www.hollywoodgelato.com/

I’m not sure why, but there are way more gelato shops in the GTA than regular ice cream.  I’m pulling this number right out of my you-know-where, but I’d guess there’s something like four gelato places for every one ice cream shop.

So when you’re talking about the best gelato in the city, there’s quite a bit of competition.  But Hollywood Gelato is certainly a strong contender for that list.

Hollywood Gelato

On a recent visit, I got Rocky Rocher (chocolate hazelnut) and Sicilian Pistachio.  The texture was phenomenal.  It’s slightly stretchy and richly creamy; you’re not going to do much better in the texture department without a plane ticket to Italy.

The flavour, however, wasn’t quite up to snuff on this particular visit.  It was still very good, but the flavour on the Rocky Rocher was a bit muted, and the pistachio was slightly too strong (I think someone was a bit heavy-handed with the pistachio flavouring in this particular batch).  There was also a vaguely unpleasant aftertaste that lingered on my palate for a while after I was done.

Hollywood Gelato

(I think I’m coming off more negative here than I should — don’t get me wrong, it was still delicious.  It just wasn’t quite as delicious as it usually is.)

On another visit, I got a couple of the wackier, Easter-inspired varieties: Creme Egg and Kinder Surprise.  Surprisingly enough, they were a lot better than the more traditional flavours I had on my previous visit.  The Kinder Surprise, in particular, really nailed the milky, chocolatey flavour of that particularly treat.