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&Company Resto Bar

Posted on May 2, 2013 by in Mississauga

3 Stars

- We were invited last week to attend a new menu tasting event at &Company Resto Bar in Mississauga.

First impressions were that this restaurant is HUGE. It’s a good spot if you are looking to throw a large-group party or corporate event dinner. They definitely have room to accommodate large groups for dinner and drinks.

The menu is set up with shareable appetizers as well as traditional entrees. We tried a variety of starters, all which ranged from $13.50 to $16.50.

First, we tried the Louisiana Shrimp Po’Boys. This sharable serving came with three Po’boy sliders, along with a helping of fries. The shrimp were lightly spiced instead of battered like a traditional po’boy sandwich, and were served with creole tartar sauce, lettuce and tomatoes. The buns were a bit oversized for the shrimp in the sandwiches. Something tells me they are better suited for the hamburger sliders also on the menu.

Next up for appetizers is the Charcuterie Flatbread. This was a great value! The flatbread that came to our table was the size of a small pizza. Each of us had a few pieces, which is a great size for an appetizer. As a big fan of a traditional charcuterie board I was interested in trying this out, and was pleasantly surprised. The meat was not overpowered by the cheese, tomato and sauce base on the flatbread. Would highly recommend this one!

Traditional entrees were next… I tried the Surf n Turf, a new menu item, which was $29. I really liked the unique presentation, which each item set up on a long board instead of a traditional steak and potatoes plate. The steak was cooked exactly as I requested. The lobster tail was a generous size, and the lemon-garlic butter sauce wasn’t overpowering at all. It was cooked perfectly too and was very meaty. Unfortunately, the double cheese baked potato was very dry. It seems like they are premade and had cheese, asparagus, and shallots added and reheated. A simply baked potato would have been a better choice for this one. The attempt at an added flair didn’t add much to this dish.

Under recommendation from our waitress, we also tried the Penne Jambalaya. This huge helping of pasta came with big chunks of chorizo, chicken breast and shrimp, in a Sambucca Cajun cream sauce. The sauce tasted a lot like vodka sauce, for those who have never tried Sambucca before. The portion size was impressive, and the pasta had a good kick of spice to it too. Definitely a win, and at $19 it was well worth it.

Once 10pm hit, the music was turned up to a deafening level, and other tables of guests began to arrive, including a few party groups with bottle service for the night. We decided it was time to ask for dessert so we could head on our way. The Brownie Cookie Stack arrived at our table with fanfare. A huge firework candle drew the attention from the tables around us as it arrived. It would be great for a birthday party or function, but as a regular dessert accompaniment it was a little over the top. Again, we were pleasantly surprised by the portion size, a stack of 4 huge, thick brownie and chocolate chip cookies with vanilla ice cream and raspberry drizzle, all for $10. Although the presentation was amazing, the ice cream and sauce just couldn’t bring out enough from the cookies, which were warm but weren’t very moist or chewy.

Overall, the food is comparable to a lot of nightclub-restaurants on King Street in Toronto but at a more affordable price range, and without the 60-minute wait for a table. The service was great, from the manager to the hostesses we felt very welcomed at the restaurant. &Company would be an awesome spot to celebrate your birthday, family function or company party but if you are looking for an intimate dinner party or a romantic evening, this might not be the best choice.

- Karin

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The Kennedy Public House

Posted on March 10, 2012 by in Bloor West Village

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4 Stars

- Sharkey’s is no more! And thank God for that. I mean, I know the restaurant options in Bloor West Village are limited, but I really have no idea how that place hung on for as long as it did. With horrible service, brutal food, and staff that spent more time admiring themselves in the mirror than their customers, they created a place that was meant to be avoided. Yet somehow, it managed to exist on that corner for years.

So, imagine my surprise when I saw the beautiful sight of a building permit and brown construction paper covering their windows one day…

A few months later, The Kennedy Public House was born. And boy-oh-boy, this place is exactly what BWV needs. BWV is virtually void of restaurants serving great food. Ok, so there’s earth and Dr. Generosity, but other than that, your choices are pretty limited compared to the tons of options available to other Toronto neighbourhoods. That’s why seeing something as untraditional in BWV as The Kennedy is such a welcoming sight.

The Kennedy has a cool vibe that, if you know the neighbourhood, you wouldn’t expect to see there. It seems oddly out-of-place while at the same time seems oddly comfortable being there. With a laboriously nice interior space, the entire design is well-thought out and pleasant to be in. But surprisingly, The Kennedy isn’t just nice to look at; it also has exceptionally good food.

The Kennedy’s menu doesn’t serve your typical pub grub; it’s much more imaginative than that. Non-traditional items, like polenta burgers, calamari po’boy sandwiches, and pork belly casoulet easily compliment more traditional pub fare, like wings, macaroni and cheese, and thin crust pizzas. Their menu does a fantastic job of covering everyone while still remaining concise and well-thought out.

Working with a number of local businesses, the Kennedy also proudly sources bread and meats from places you’re probably familiar with, like Cobs bread and Wellington County Beef. Nice. I’ve always found that knowing where my food comes from somehow makes it taste better.

One other thing worth mentioning: The Kennedy has unisex bathrooms, which they’ve pulled off nicely. They’ve incorporated them into the place really well, that is, except for the hand-dryer. Their bathroom hand-dryer must be the loudest dam one in the entire free-world. If you happen to be sitting in the back-half of the restaurant, it might even ruin your experience. Hopefully they’ll turn to either cloth or paper towels, or they’ll just find one that is a hell of a lot quieter.

Keep in mind though, if you’re looking for a relaxing experience, this isn’t the place. With strollers and screaming babies during the day that makes it resemble a Montesorri school, and lineups and loud music in the evening that makes it resemble something at John and Adelaide, The Kennedy doesn’t provide a quiet and relaxing experience; what they do provide is a killer take on food you wouldn’t expect to find in a typical public house.

- Andre

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Grand Electric

Posted on January 22, 2012 by in Parkdale

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5 Stars

- Let me start by saying I am truly a Latin American food snob. I am fortunate enough to know what the good stuff – the real stuff – tastes like, and I resent those who do it poorly. It’s not difficult food to make, but it takes both time and love to create great Latin American dishes, and it frustrates me when I see melted cheese from a jar smeared on store-bought chips that are passed off as “Mexican food” in restaurants. So it was a relief and a thrill to hear that the head chef from The Black Hoof was helming Grand Electric and promised, “Mexican food, craft beer, brown liquor and loud music.”

I met my dinner companion across the street at The Mascot at 5:45 and watched as a line started to form outside Grand Electric. The Mascot’s baristas suggested that we get ourselves over there before the line up got too long, warning us we’d be eating at 9pm if we didn’t get it in gear. We dutifully lined up at 5:50pm behind two parties. Within five minutes the line had extended half a block behind us. At 6:02pm, the doors opened and people flooded inside. We were shown to a table for two and marveled at just how quickly the small space filled up. Tables were gone by 6:05 and the bar was full a minute later. Music blared, servers started making their rounds and Grand Electric was off and running.

The bar is quite the thing to behold. Bourbon-heavy, it is run by enthusiastic and well-informed staff.  It towers over patrons and is a great focal point for the restaurant. In addition to bourbon, you can try several craft beers including Churchkey and Canucklehead cask ale. Both are excellent, but if you haven’t tried a cask ale, you should know it’s not carbonated. Don’t let that dissuade you from checking it out, though, as it has a fruity and slightly bitter taste. You’ll be hooked after your first taste.

The menu for Grand Electric located at the back of the restaurant on a giant chalkboard. It is split up into appetizers, tacos, specials and dessert. Given the advanced buzz that’s been generated, we opted to try as many dishes as possible. We had the guacamole and nachos (an excellent test of a Mexican restaurant’s mettle), tuna ceviche, chicken frito appetizers, one of each taco, and in the end, we went for the key lime pie for dessert.

Beers in hand, we eagerly awaited our food which came out surprisingly fast considering the kitchen must have gotten just crushed with all of us arriving at once. First up came the guacamole and chips. The dip was generously salted and had lots of lime juice, essential elements both. Without enough of those two simple ingredients, guacamole falls flat, but this was the best restaurant-made I’ve ever had (oh, and it comes with a huge serving of light-as-air pork chicharron as a garnish; a great aesthetic touch as it towers over the guacamole & chips). The fresh corn tortilla chips were also both well seasoned and delicious.

While still munching away on this, our tuna ceviche arrived.  Beautiful pieces of citrus-cooked fish were piled on a fresh tortilla and topped with cilantro and lime juice. My dining companion and I split the tender tuna, staring at each other, and not believing how good such a simple dish could be. The two appetizers were done so well that we were even more eager to try the tacos we had coming our way.

A plate of three tacos was delivered to us, and we hung on every word our server said as she explained which taco was which. The first three were the sweet pork belly al pastor with pineapple, the fried queso (cheese) and spicy arbol chicken. It’s not that spicy, I promise, especially considering some of the other choices. Of these, the only miss was the queso which I thought could have benefited from some salt. Having said that, the other two were simply wonderful, especially the pork belly.  We also tried the Baja fish taco, a lightly breaded tilapia fillet topped with bright, fresh cabbage. The textures of the soft tortilla and the crunchy, crispy toppings had us grinning from ear to ear.

Also on the menu that night were shredded beef cheek and cochinita pibil, a traditional Mexican dish of slow-cooked pork cooked in a banana leaf. Both were winners; tender and tasty with some nice heat on the pork taco. A server helpfully suggested we try the homemade sauces to either amplify the heat or cut it depending on our tastes and the particular taco. Given how busy the restaurant was, I was impressed at how calm, cheerful and helpful the serving staff was throughout the night.

Not-to-be-forgotten is the chicken frito dish we ordered: a mound of crispy, fried chicken pieces slathered in a sweet and citrus-y coating and sprinkled with healthy doses of cilantro, jalapeno peppers slices and little, red, evil chile peppers. I like heat, but skipped over the red chiles in favor of the jalapenos. Sweet, sour, spicy, juicy, crispy, hot…there was nothing about this dish that should be changed. Ever. I will most definitely be ordering this one again.

But let us not forget about dessert! When the small glass jar filled with buttered graham cracker crust, rich, tart lime custard and whipped cream topped with lime zest arrived, my friend and I looked at each other and snickered. “This isn’t going to be big enough for two of us,” we commented. We each grabbed a tiny spoon and dug in. Grand Electric has now spoiled key lime pie for me as this was the best I’ve ever had. Rich, tangy, buttery, creamy and utterly delectable, this dessert truly one of the best I’ve had. Though we contemplated getting a second, our stomachs finally caught up to our eyes and we decided to call it a night.

Overall, this was one of the most fun and delicious meals I’ve had in Toronto. The atmosphere is supercharged in the restaurant, filled with happy customers taking pictures of and devouring the food coming out of the kitchen. While you can hardly say that each dish on the menu is truly, authentically Mexican, it hardly matters when it’s this good. A word to the wise: go early or you will be waiting for hours for a seat, but even if you do end up waiting, it’ll be worth it. There is no other place in the city putting out food like this.

- Carolyn

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Posted on January 8, 2012 by in Trinity Bellwoods

Bar Chef

3 stars

- barchef. The name still induces salivating of Pavlovian proportion in me and the likewise shuddering of my wallet.

My girlfriend and I decided a random Monday was cause for celebration and thus a trip to barchef. I say ‘we’ decided, but it was really more her call. Had it been up to me and my budget, we would have been throwing back bottles of 50 at Java Café across the street, where coincidentally enough I took my own mother the next day (still waiting for my Daughter of the Year award).

Upon entering I had to allow my pupils to dilate to cartoonish levels to see my way to a leather couch at which point our waitress appeared dramatically from a cloud of smoke to bring us the drink menu.

Drinks at barchef are more than just that, and a quick glance at the menu makes it obvious. They are delicious science experiments created with ingredients like elderflower, rasped cinnamon, bohemian absinthe, salted butter, and black truffle snow. You won’t find a rye and ginger or rum and coke here. Don’t even ask.

The menu is divided into four sections: punch bowls, sipping, sweet & sour, and molecular. Apparently there used to be something of a “recession menu” with $8 drinks, but I guess because our economy is doing so great these days (???) drinks now start around the $13 mark. This was how much my Four-Seven-Two put me back. Made with bullet bourbon, cola bitters, fresh lime, muddled mint and mint syrup, despite its differences it tasted akin to a Mojito, with a little extra oomph. I wish this came in a punch bowl and that it was socially acceptable enough for me to drink a whole one to myself from my lap and through a straw. As it was, I just made it last as long as possible.

My date went with the Tequila Sunset (the night owl counterpart to the Sunrise version) which was heavy on the cherry and tasted a bit too herbal and medicinal for my liking, but she disagreed. To be honest, after plonking down the better part of $20 for a single drink, saying you like it even if you don’t might be a self-preservation technique. It should also be mentioned for those partial to cherry that this particular drink is no longer on the menu but has been replaced by another more seasonal option, as is what happens at barchef.

The aforementioned smoky haze is owed to the molecular drink menu selections and the bartender’s zest for smoked hickory. That combined with the birch tree printed wallpaper made us feel not unlike we were camping, and it was nice until the smoke reached white rabbit proportions and we were choking on it. Methinks the $45 vanilla smoked Manhattan was a popular choice that night.

The stars I’ve given are attributed to the drinks themselves as I wasn’t a huge fan of the ambience. It was very sexy indeed with all the prerequisites of a trendy hotspot; black velvet curtains, plush leather couches, a giant block of ice astride the bar chipped at request, and lighting so dim it’s difficult to read the menus (note: holding them up to the tealight candles only helps until the menu starts to catch on fire…thank goodness the place is already smoky enough that my contribution went unnoticed), but I felt a tad underdressed and like I was missing a fedora or an ironic moustache.

Although sardonic me could find a lot to poke fun of at barchef such as the drinks listing ‘beach essence’ and ‘green olive air’ as their ingredients, what looks cliché on paper, is delicious in a glass, and I will return. I can no longer drink a plain old mixed drink in this city. Not even a good one. Damn you barchef.

– Rebecca

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Hey Lucy

Posted on September 24, 2011 by in The Annex

4 stars

- Geez. There seems to be some negative buzz surrounding this place. Most of the stuff I read made it seem like there wasn’t any shot of much good coming out of it. So, imagine my surprise when the food was good, the service was attentive, and the overall experience was one that I’d come back for.

In all fairness, a lot of that negative stuff I read was about their Theatre district location on King West, which I’ve neer been to, but that just doesn’t hold much value for me. The fact is, most of those places on that strip of King seem to get a bad rap. Get ‘em in, get ‘em fed, get ‘em out; that’s their philosophy as they wait for theatre goers to arrive, and then again when they hope for them to come back after the show… thankfully, Hey Lucy’s Annex location isn’t anything like that.

With their soft lighting, chandeliers and black-and-white cow print seats, it’s difficult to describe what exactly they were going for when they designed this place, but somehow, it works well and provides a nice backdrop, particularly for a date night. The ambience is hip, the decor is comfortable and cozy, and the space is of a decent enough size that it can easily accommodate both large groups and couples.

Hey Lucy is busy in the summer evenings, mostly because of their killer patio that lines the entire side of the building. Perfect for people-watching, this packed space is a nice addition to The Annex, and it holds up well against other patios on the street (except for Pauper’s Pub!).

Probably what Hey Lucy is most well-known for is their martinis. They’ve got a pretty decent martini menu with some interesting things on it, like the Godzilla and the Freedom 55, but man, these guys are expensive. Although they do come with a minimum of 2 ounces of booze, you can expect to shell out 9 bucks plus taxes for one. And while that may seem ok at first, having a few of them can easily add up… trust me on that. If martinis are your thing, but getting ripped off for them isn’t, then you’re definitely going to want to come back on a Wednesday. Wednesday is Martini Wednesday at Hey Lucy, and the prices drop to 4 bucks for the exact same martinis. But come early, other people like a good deal when they see one too, and this place fills up pretty quickly.

Their menu doesn’t follow any sort of style; it’s a bit all over the place, but it’s still the sorta thing you might expect from a place like this. Pastas, wood-fired pizzas, paninis, sandwiches, all of it is pretty good, but unfortunately, this can unexpectedly change once the place fills up. In Hey Lucy’s case, it’s better to go when it isn’t that busy.

While I wouldn’t go out of my way to go to Hey Lucy, if you’re in the area and looking for a night out, Hey Lucy provides nicely.

- Andre

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Souz Dal

Posted on August 20, 2011 by in Little Italy

2 stars

- Alright, alright, so as it turns out I sometimes judge a book by its cover.  Or, in this case, a bar by its’ signage.  Let’s face it, I’m a sucker for good signage.  And Souz Dal has it.  The rusty globe hangs outside like a relic, the name of the bar cut into the side.  Lit, and glowing from within, it reminds me of one of those tin punch-out crafts made from a (insert random legume) can at summer camp.  But much cooler of course.  It was this sign that caught my attention on more than one occasion, beckoning me in when I had somewhere else to be.  Finally, one night a couple of weeks ago, I gave in to its sirens call.  I was a little bit disappointed.

It was devoid of people save for us and the lonely bartender.  I say lonely, but judging by his charm (see: none) he probably liked it better that way.  Granted though, it was early – Souz Dal only has a drink menu – and a few more folk trickled in as the night wore on.

The stars I gave are attributed solely to the bar’s ambience.  Dimly lit, and painted in muted reds and oranges it has an earthy or Moorish feel to it.  Worn textiles and cathedral mirrors adorn the walls, while candles flicker on every table, casting shadows.  The back patio has a similar vibe happening, cloistered in by high walls, and lit by candles wedged in the mouths of old wine bottles.

Now I rarely turn down a good patio, but in this case I chose a seat inside, which says a lot.  Reclined on velvet benches at our table by the open front window, we watched College Street come alive as we perused the drink menu. I was in a cocktail mood, and my friend had read somewhere that Souz Dal claimed to have the “best” mojitos in the city, so that was the first order I placed.

Now I’ve been to Cuba.  I did a little backpacking, starting in Havana and making my way to the South coast.  I wouldn’t say I’m a connoiseur of the mojito because of this, but I did drink my fair share, and like to think I know a thing or two about a good one. And this wasn’t one of them.  There wasn’t nearly enough mint or sugar, so it was overwhelmingly bitter.  I don’t like my mojitos to taste like Kool-Aid, but I do like a little sweetness to curb the edge.

Unlikely to order another of the same, but unwilling to give up on the bar, we tried a few other beverages.  Nothing wowed us.  The Moscow Mule with its ginger beer offered a nice slow burn, but it also wasn’t a repeat offender. The fortune cookie garnish on the lychee-infused Soho martini was fun, but not nearly as tasty as a lychee would have been.

Although funky signage and ambience mean a lot to me, a good drink means even more, so chances are I won’t be returning to Souz Dal.  If however, you are in the market for an intimate date setting (see: empty bar) then head on over.  And if a mediocre mojito is your thing, then you can get them here for $5.75 on Mondays.

- Rebecca

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The Mugshot Tavern

Posted on July 18, 2011 by in High Park

The Mugshot Tavern

5 stars

- The High Park neighbourhood is near-void of good places to grab a pint. Well, it was until The Mugshot Tavern opened anyways… The Mugshot easily provides the perfect answer to filling that void, and then some. Truly nice owners, delicious food, and a killer environment, this place takes the neighbourhood bar way beyond what it’s expected to be.

If the Mugshot doesn’t have the best draft selection in a 10 km radius, it certainly has the most well-thought-out one. These guys obviously love beer, and more obviously is that they’ve put a ton of thought into what is being pulled from the taps. It’s all craft beer, and some interesting stuff at that. Chances are they have a few you’ve never even heard of, like the King Pilsner and Warthog Ale. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that they’re probably one of only a handful of places in the city with either on tap. Don’t expect to find Canadian or Blue here; what they offer is much more creative than any of that stuff.

The food, and the entire menu for that matter, is equally well-thought out. It’s a killer mix of Southern-soul and comfort food, and they do a dam fine job of pulling it off. You can expect to find Southern favorites, like fried chicken with fritters, and some not so expected ones, like in-house-made corn dogs with chutney. The presentation is pretty decent too and again, goes beyond the typical bar stuff. It’s pretty obvious that the people manning the kitchen know what the hell they’re doing back there. Rarely do I go to a restaurant and have difficulty deciding what to order; at The Mugshot I was torn between a few items.

They’ve done a dam good job of ridding the place of all remnants of the defunct McKenzies that used to take up the place. They’ve clearly spent a lot of time, thought, and energy turning it into something completely new. The environment, painted in bright red and tactfully covered in old-school, famous mugshot photos, is easily the kind of space you could hang out for a long, long time. It’s comfortable and welcoming, the way a neighbourhood local should be. Despite not being an overly large place, it still accommodates nicely, and any excess people can spill onto their cozy rooftop patio.

And the staff at Mugshot? They couldn’t be any friendly. Having only been open about a week or so, you’d never know it by their attitudes. Likely working long hours, round-the-clock, getting the place ready and established, they’re still sociable, out-going, and friendly. I sure-as-hell didn’t feel like a stranger in this joint, and I don’t think anyone with even the teeniest bit of personality would either. Even coming in by yourself is sure to get you some conversation.

It’s clear that, after just opening, they’re still trying to establish their crowd. It’s still sorta random as to the people that might be in there. While one day the bar could be full of seniors, that evening it could be packed with a younger crowd. It seems to be dependent on the time of day, but it’s also, unfortunately, the way the neighbourhood seems to work. Customers are sorta like family; you can’t really pick ‘em.

The Mugshot isn’t just the kind of place you sit, drink, and hide from the world, although it provides that pretty well; it’s also the kind of place that you can unexpectedly get some truly imaginative and delicious food in a comfortable and welcoming space. In a neighbourhood like High Park, The Mugshot Tavern is unrivaled in every respect.

- Andre

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Murray’s Sandwich Emporium

Posted on April 27, 2011 by in Trinity Bellwoods

3 stars

- The story goes, according to the Murray’s Sandwich Emporium website, that Murray is a weiner dog who loves the finer things in life. Despite the obvious assumptions, Murray does not take kindly to eating regular old hot dogs. He prefers a more delectable, refined meal. What does Murray like the most? Sandwiches, of course! In fact, he loves them so much that he  used all of his love and expertise to build a sandwich shop for his fellow sandwich lovers. Thus, Murray’s Sandwich Emporium sprang to life.

I recently found myself in the exact same conundrum as Murray the dog was; I was sick of my same-ol’-same-ol’ packed lunches, and I was searching for something better. I know you’re thinking that sandwiches have to be the most cliché lunch choice of them all, but one look at Murray’s menu, and you’ll know that you’re in for something much different.

There is not a huge selection (by sheer number) at Murray’s, but each item is unique, and there is a decent range of combinations across the board. There are meatless, chicken, beef, fish, cheese and even sweet sandwiches, plus a decent offering of sides (note: combos and sides are extra).

The restaurant itself is pretty simplistic. It’s small, has exposed and undecorated brick walls and two large wooden tables with stools scattered around them. The chalkboard menu hangs on the wall, and there is a small refrigerator full of beverages just off to the side. It is all very subdued and quite appropriate for a sandwich shop.

I held back a bit on my first trip to Murray’s. I didn’t really know what to expect, how big the servings would be, and what kind of value I would find there. I decided to go with The Uncle Phil: sliced ribeye, onions, green peppers and ooey, gooey, messy, melty provolone cheese on a beautiful baguette.

Truthfully, I thought the bread was the best part of this sandwich. I don’t feel bad for discounting the meat or toppings because, for sandwiches at least, the bread is just as much a star in the meal as anything else. The baguette was clearly very fresh, they keep it tender (but crispy) and most importantly, not over or under-stuffed. The meat was tender too, but it needed a bit more oomph. The green peppers were just slightly sautéed, giving them a nice crunch and, as mentioned above, the cheese was gloriously gooey. All of that was topped off with a pickle – for nine bucks!

I felt that I didn’t really get the whole experience of Murray’s my first time around, so on my second visit I decided to get into some side dishes. I certainly didn’t hold back on my sandwich choice with The BL-Tizzy – double smoked B, of course some L and T, house-made mayo, avocado and an egg (a $1.00 add-on). I threw all of that into a combo with some onion rings and a can of pop, bringing my total to $12 plus tax. This is a bit pricey in my opinion, but considering the amount of food they give you, it’s not so bad. Here again, I thought the bread stood out more than anything else. It was so fresh and tasted of near perfection. Just like The Uncle Phil, the fillings were good but, other than the sheer volume, they were fairly regular…tasty, but regular.

Overall, Murray’s Sandwich Emporium offers a delicious product that is definitely over-sized and that will satisfy your hunger. Plus, they’re open for lunch, dinner and late-night eats. However, as tasty as the sandwiches are, I can’t say anything really blew me away. Yes, the menu item names are unique and fun and the serving sizes are huge, but nothing is really over the top. That being said, sometimes simple is best; they know what they’re good at, they know how to make a good sandwich, and they’re consistent.

Good boy, Murray.

- Nicole

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Drake BBQ – Revisted

Posted on April 14, 2011 by in Liberty Village

2 stars

– If you’ve already read our first review of Drake BBQ, then you’ll know that they didn’t exactly impress the first time around. If you haven’t read it yet, I suggest you do. In any case, everyone deserves a second chance…

So, I wiped Drake BBQ’s slate clean and went with a clear mind that was free of any preconceived notions of what the food or service would be like.

After my visit, I decided to up Drake BBQ’s review to two stars, for one main reason in particular; I considered my encounter with the staff a drastic improvement from what Andre experienced a few weeks ago.

That said, when I first entered this tiny restaurant, I immediately thought I was in for much of the same. There weren’t any other people there, yet I hardly received a glance, much less a hello. However, once I stopped for to look at the menu hanging on the wall the guy behind the counter engaged me in the regular shtick, with a “how are you doing…” “what can I get for you…” and “may I recommend the pork.” Okay, okay, it’s not the most glaring example of good customer service, but I certainly didn’t feel unwelcome, and the employee helped where he could.

Now, I will deal with lackluster staff if the food is spectacular. Really, I don’t care much who is behind the counter if I’m handed a plate of something truly delicious – at least the attitude is well earned. Though, I’m sad to say that I have to agree with the Andre’s review of the food. I may never have been to Texas, but I have had good BBQ, and this just isn’t it.

All of my fond experiences of BBQ are owed to two important factors: an unbelievably tender meat, and a deep, smoky sauce smothering it. At Drake BBQ, I ordered the Texas chopped beef brisket combo with a side of coleslaw (other side options are peanuts, chips or pickles). When I took my first bite of the beef, I was momentarily excited by a hefty charcoal flavour that was seemingly infused in it. Unfortunately, it didn’t carry through the whole sandwich. When there is a true-master behind the grill, you’ll get something that has a deep flavour running through and through, not just on the crust of the meat. The rest of the beef was actually quite boring, bland, and dry. Truth be told, I actually saw another diner go up and ask for salt…ouch!

I know the sauce was a point of contention last time, and I’m sad to say again, I also wasn’t impressed with it. BBQ should leave your face splattered and your hands tacky from with sweet, tangy, and smoky sauce. I saw them put the sauce on my sandwich – honestly, I did – and some of it even dripped onto the plate, but somehow it seemed to vanish into thin air as I ate it. As for the coleslaw, there was dressing on mine, but it wasn’t quite sour enough to be a superb vinegar-based slaw, nor was it smooth enough to be considered one of those satisfyingly creamy ones.

I don’t want to protest too much without offering what I think could be the saving grace for Drake BBQ. Three suggestions, if I may: up the ante on the sauce, spice it up and get it flowing more substantially; respectfully, if you don’t want a fryer in the joint, get really original with the coleslaw because I don’t want something that tastes like the grocery store stuff. I haven’t lost all of my hope for you, Drake BBQ. But, for now at least, one more star is all I can do.

Visually, Drake BBQ emanates a stereotypical southern eatery, including bullhorns and cowboy hat decor, a simple menu scrawled on a chalkboard and fizzy beverages in glass bottles that require a bottle opener to get into them. However, just like my meal, all the flavour is just at face value and none of that great flare infiltrates Drake BBQ where it counts – the food.

– Nicole

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Drake BBQ

Posted on March 21, 2011 by in Liberty Village

1 star

(Note: Drake BBQ is no longer in existence)

- Boy-oh-boy, do I ever feel let down. I actually went out of my way to go to this place one day when I was craving some good-ole-fashioned-BBQ. Claiming to be serving it up in true Southern-style, I thought that there’s no way this could go wrong. I’ve actually been to Texas and all throughout the Southern states on a fairly serious eating vacation, and lemme tell you something, The Drake and their lil’ BBQ place owe the great state of Texas and its surrounding neighbours a serious apology…

Drake BBQ has a slew of great reviews all over the Internet. Everyone on Yelp, Twitter, and a bunch of TO food mags have been raving about the authentic, badass Texas and Carolina style BBQ they’ve had in this place. I’ve read so many good comments, that I figured I must have gone to the wrong place. Maybe, I thought, there was some other place that just happens to look exactly the same, on the exact same street, with the exact same type of food?

Nope… I was in the right place. It just sucked is all.

Because they have such a loyal following, I’m sure quite a few people are going to dislike what I’m saying here, but in all honesty, if you got served what I did, you’d be disappointed too. My Carolina pulled-pork sandwich was small, dry, and amazingly enough, was completely void of BBQ sauce, which is a fairly important staple in a pulled-pork sandwich. They must have had some BBQ sauce somewhere in there, but if they did, they didn’t offer it to me, and it certainly wasn’t on my sandwich. My coleslaw was even worse. It was incredibly bland and wasn’t much more than shredded cabbage with a slight trace of what I assume was salad dressing. Not to mention that this stuff was expensive! Two of those sandwiches and an itty-bitty coleslaw–plus tip of course–cost over 20 bucks.

Welcome to The Drake BBQ; it’s BBQ with a side of pretentiousness. You don’t like it? Trust me. If it’s the same guy working behind the counter when I was there, then he won’t care at all. I asked if we could get some fries with our sandwiches. He just looked at me, shocked, and said, ‘I don’t want a deep-fryer in this place’. Hey, I’m fine with the guy being pretentious and true to the stuff he’s making and how he’s making it, especially if it’s honest-to-goodness Southern-style BBQ. If he truly was an artisan of the BBQ and the smoker, he can rightfully be as pretentious as he wants as far as I’m concerned. I probably would have answered back with an agreeing ‘Yes Sir’! But the true kick-in-the-ass was that the stuff that I ended up taking home in a sad little brown bag was basically less than edible. In fact, I only took a few bites and ended up throwing it out, which is something I never, ever do. Someone went and filled this guy’s head with the thought that this is actually what good BBQ is all about; someone lied to him.

Besides being about honest and delicious BBQ, the Southern states are all about hospitality and genuine people; people that would never be rude or unwelcoming. They’re more likely to invite you in for dinner than they are to turn you away. Drake BBQ was none of those things. The service was rude, inhospitable, and unwelcoming. From the moment I walked in, I felt as though they wanted me the hell outta there. That is, except for the older guy that handed me the bag. He sent me off with a sincere sounding ‘thanks for your business’, which is something I think businesses don’t say enough these days.

Like I said, this was painful for me. I felt ripped off. I felt sad. I felt let down. It was a just a plain bad experience that was nothing close to true Southern BBQ or Southern hospitality. In fact, I don’t think I would even give it another go, and whether you’ve been exposed to true Southern BBQ or not, I’d suggest you don’t either, because you’ll feel let down either way too.

- AB

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