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Say Cheese

Posted on February 10, 2012 by in The Annex

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3 Stars

- Once upon a time I was a university student.  Without giving you an exact number of how many years it’s been, I will tell you that Gap wanted everyone in khakis, pagers weren’t quite obsolete, and Mambo #5 was tearing up the charts.  So thankfully a lot has changed, but two things remain, and will always remain the same, about student life.  Number one:  students are broke.  Number two:  they are hungry.  Say Cheese is going to make many U of T students very happy.

I haven’t met a grilled cheese sandwich I didn’t like, and I haven’t met anyone that doesn’t like a grilled cheese sandwich.  That might be why so many gourmet grilled cheese places are popping up these days, but it’s a risky business.  The people have spoken and they want grilled cheese sammies…but they don’t want to pay a lot for them.  After all, you can make a perfectly good one at home with white bread, and cheese that’s more plastic than it is dairy.  And that’s where Say Cheese comes in.  Nigel Koo, part owner and operator wants to satisfy stomachs without putting a dent in wallets.  He doesn’t see why he can’t serve up a high quality sandwich at a low(ish) cost and have customers walking out in a lactose induced ecstasy.

It was quiet when I arrived but word wasn’t really out yet, and the boys were still experimenting in their test kitchen.  I was happy to be a guinea pig.  I asked to try their most popular meat and veggie options, and this is what followed.

I started with Indira’s Pulled Pork made with Beemster.  Diners can choose to have regular cheese, such as cheddar, on their sandwich ($6.50) or upgrade to a premium choice ($8.50). My creation came topped with homemade mac & cheese (fun!) on whole wheat bread.  I only ate half as I had more coming my way, but the sandwiches here are generous, and I had to pace myself.  The different textures paired nicely, but I would have liked it more had the meat been a touch saucier, or came with something in which to dip it.

Next, came the Italian Classic.  Not that I’m taking bets, but if you put Buffalo mozzarella on anything, I will eat it.  So I was pleased when they said one of their best meatless sellers was filled with the stuff.  I like a good Margharita pizza, and this was the sandwich version.

As if that wasn’t enough (and by all dietary standards, it was more than that) I was offered their dessert sandwich.  It didn’t take a lot of prodding, and went something like this;

Nigel:  You should try our dessert option.

Me:  Wow, I don’t know.  I’m really stuffed.  Okay.

The French Grilled Toast is like a ménage a trois between a grilled cheese, some French toast, and a piece of cheesecake. It’s good.  Scary good.  Filled with ricotta, mascarpone and a berry compote, the sandwich is then dusted with turbinado sugar, and drizzled with maple syrup.  As with French toast, this needed to be eaten with a knife and fork, which probably worked in my best interest as it stopped me from inhaling it.  I will be going back for this one.  As it is now, I think about it more than anyone should think about a sandwich.

So in total I ended up eating just a little bit more than a full sandwich thanks to the few bites I had of the French toast, and I was beyond full.  So much so, that I actually skipped dinner that night. Now by my calculations, that equals two meals for the price of one, and a low price at that. This bodes well for hungry students up to their necks in debt.

Footnote:  During the week, for a mere thirty minutes between 4:20 and 4:50 you can get yourself a sandwich and side (including soup, salad and possible ramen…) for just $4.20.

- Rebecca

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Hey Meatball

Posted on November 10, 2011 by in Little Italy

Hey Meatball

2 stars

- Hey Meatball; Hey Mediocre. Walking into Hey Meatball instantly feels like you are walking into your old high school cafeteria. A few two and four person tables are set up, and there’s one long 16 person table down the middle, all this in a space that was clearly not built for this many diners. I wasn’t entirely sure if we were to seat ourselves or wait for direction. We inquired with the cashier/order taker/owner to find out. I know he was the owner because he told us.

For a restaurant that serves all meatballs, all the time, we were surprised to find that there were only three entrée selections on the chalk board and a few side dishes to choose from. Of the four side dishes, two had already been crossed out for the day, leaving a side salad or butternut squash soup. I decided to order the vegetarian eggplant ‘meatballs’ with polenta and parmesan, and my dining partner ordered the Porky  meatballs, (a combination of pork and ground beef) with tomato sauce on spaghetti. Immediately I was told that they were out of polenta and was asked “what would I like it on?” Unsure of my options, even after asking, I replied with “spaghetti,” as that was the only thing on the chalkboard that I was sure that they had in stock.

We each ordered a homemade cream soda, we were given a number, and we took a seat. Our number was called out about 10 minutes later, and we immediately noticed the disparity in portion size. My eggplant ‘meatballs’ were served on a huge swirl of very al dente spaghetti, whereas the porky meatballs arrived on what could be considered an order from the children’s menu- if there was one that is.

The food was good, but not great. The eggplant ‘meatballs’ had a nice consistency, and were spicy and full of flavor. The tomato sauce that the dish was served with was hearty and not too salty, however I thought that the pasta could have been cooked a little more. The Porky meatballs were excellent, the combination of pork and beef proved to be a hit, however we both found that the tomato sauce served with the meatballs was far too sweet for the savory nature of the dish.

The saving grace of the meal was the amazing cream sodas they make fresh on site. They were a throwback to the Jones cream soda that you used to drink as a kid, but without too much fizz. Unfortunately, when the beverage you order to go with your meal is the best part of the experience, you know that there is something missing.

Hey Meatball is missing the warm and friendly atmosphere you would expect to find in a restaurant with a wide open kitchen, communal tables and a chef that endeavors to use ingredients within a 100-mile radius of Toronto. All great qualities to have in a unique restaurant with a unique concept, but here, it just didn’t seem to create anything memorable. There was no music playing while we were in, the fluorescent lighting was a little harsh on the eyes, and gruff reception made Hey Meatball just another mediocre dining experience.

- Janine

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Buster’s Sea Cove

Posted on October 29, 2011 by in St. Lawrence Market

Busters Sea Cove

4 stars

- I know St. Lawrence market is full of great food, but I never would’ve thought that tucked way in the back of the building I’d find something quite like Buster’s Sea Cove.

Keep in mind though, this takeout shop isn’t Rodney’s or Oyster Boy, and I’m definitely not trying to convince you that it is. In fact, Buster’s Sea Cove isn’t even in the same boat. At Buster’s, you won’t find soft lighting, romantic ambience, or table-side service, but what you’re pretty much guaranteed to find, is some killer seafood served up really, really quickly.

Fresh-made fish and chips are the staple in this place, but they’ve got so much more than that. Their huge menu has everything from crab cakes and clam strips to fried oysters and fish-topped salads. And their fish-type sandwiches, something that they happen to do really, really well, are outstanding. I’m not talking about your standard old fried-fish-on-a-bun here; Buster’s rivals the best seafood takeout places with crab cake paninis and seared tuna melts sandwiches.

But don’t overlook the fish and chips either. This little takeout stand easily delivers one of the best plates of the stuff in the city. They’ve got a few varieties of fish to choose from, and each of them is served up expertly battered and crispy. Each plate of fish and chips also comes with in-house made fries and a killer slaw.

Buster’s also has a few other options you wouldn’t expect from a takeout stand. Grilled swordfish, seafood bisque, rainbow trout, even octopus to name a few. It ain’t fine dining by any means, but they truly do push the limits of what takeout is both in quality and selection.

Chances are though, once you get your food you’ll be spending most of your time searching for a place to eat it. Busters only has 4 tables or so scattered around in front of the counter, but if those are full–and they probably will be–you’re on your own. There’s an exit close by to the Market’s back patio and parking lot where most of Buster’s customers end up, but trust me, if it’s a nice day out, that’ll fill up pretty quick too and you’ll be left looking for a place to eat your by-then-getting-cold food.

Truth be told though, even if you’re standing out back of the market among parked cars and alleyways, it won’t matter all that much. You might not even notice. Whether it’s a crab cake sandwich or plate of fish and chips, the food at Buster’s is just that dam good.

- Andre

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Bamburger

Posted on August 1, 2011 by in Davisville

4 stars

- Bamburger is the latest entry into the inexpensive “gourmet burger” trend taking over Yonge Street, including Gourmet Burger Co., South Street Burger Co., Burger Shoppe and Gourmet Burger.

While Bamburger offers a decent take-out menu, we chose to enjoy their small, but friendly sidewalk patio, right in the middle of restaurant row at Yonge and Davisville. Bamburger is appealingly decorated in dark brown, natural wood and lots of greenery complimenting the patio and the booths. The lighting is soft and the seating is cozy. This is the kind of place that you could hang out for a great meal without the rushed “diner” feeling that often comes with burger joints. Our server was friendly, talkative and more than willing to explain the options on the menu, as there are many, and recommend some personal favourites.

Starting off with drinks, Bamburger serves beer, wine, and old-fashioned Stewart’s soda, but what is a burger joint without milkshakes? Bamburger specializes in milkshakes, including the usual vanilla and chocolate suspects, as well a special flavour each day for the nice price of $3.95.

The menu is varied, offering up soup, salads, sandwiches and desserts, as well as a kid’s menu, but almost everyone here is in it for the burgers. Bamburger allows you to choose almost every aspect of your burger, from the type of bun, burger patty (beef, chicken, turkey, pork or veggie), as well as a plethora of toppings, some for the asking- tzatziki, chipotle mayo, olives, horseradish, pickles and banana peppers, and some for a price, $1-$1.50 each- bacon, avocado, onion rings, mushrooms, pineapple, and every kind of cheese you could imagine. Included in these cheesy wonders is “Bamburger’s Signature Cheddar Cheese Sauce ($1.50),” and it is worth every penny. You can order the cheese sauce on your burger, or as a side for dipping your fries, and I would highly recommend both. Just try not to think of how much butter and cheese have gone into that little bowl, and instead, focus on how delicious it is!

We went with the “Bambamburger ($11.50),” which is 2/3 of a pound of prime ground chuck, and the chicken burger ($9.95) for myself, on whole-wheat buns. Both of us outfitted our burgers with toppings galore, including mushrooms, onions, garlic mayo and cheese sauce for the “Bambamburger,” and avocado, chipotle mayo, dill pickles and jalapeno peppers for the chicken burger. Our meals took a while to arrive, as everything is cooked from scratch, but when they did, we received two overflowing burgers, with awesome homemade French fries and onion rings to match. Lesson learned from this particular trip to Bamburger is just because all of these delectable toppings are available, it doesn’t mean you should put all of them on your burger. We both lost our buns to the slippery extras, and ended up eating our burgers by topping, not as one cohesive piece.  Next visit I will try a couple toppings at a time, and see if I fare any better.

Bamburger serves up great burgers, fries and shakes at a fairly good price, although if you go a little overboard with the toppings, you might quickly end up with a $20 burger, without realizing it. The service was friendly and engaging, and the atmosphere was very comfortable and neighbourly.

If you are hunting for a real deal on a burger, Bamburger might not be what you are looking for, but if you are more on the adventurous side, and want to have fun creating your own burger masterpiece, Bamburger will deliver.

- Janine

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Butcher by Nature

Posted on May 25, 2011 by in Runnymede Village

Butcher By Nature

5 stars

- My chicken lived a healthy, happy life. She was lovingly cared for, allowed to roam the yard, and fed fresh corn and barley. How do I know? The other day I was going to my neighbourhood grocery store to buy a whole chicken. You know the type of bird I mean. It sits in those refrigerated, glass boxes at the back of the store; the only indication it was ever a chicken at all is the familiar sight of wings and breast meat. As its lifeless body sits there, I can’t ever imagine this thing having feathers, breathing, living. Truth be told, buying that chicken is a mostly unceremonious experience that people rarely give a second thought to.

But something spectacular happened to me that day. I didn’t buy that chicken; I didn’t even get to the grocery store. On my way there, I noticed the Butcher by Nature storefront, and I felt compelled to check it out and see what all this ‘By Nature’ business was all about.

Butcher by Nature gives life to that lifeless chicken. Much like purchasing pedigree, the butcher and owner, Frank, knew all about my chicken and all the other chickens he was selling for that matter. He knew the farmers personally, and he knew that they were passionate about raising animals. He spoke proudly about the pesticide-free and natural-focused environment the farmers raised their livestock in. Clearly, this is a different kind of eating.

The shop is fairly small, but truly cozy, and the store is classic with more butchery area than retail shop. The retail area has shelves lined with locally-sourced dry products, like jams and honey, and fridges lined with locally-sourced meat products, like duck and eggs. Butcher by Nature also has a passionate, knowledgeable owner. Actually, forget that last bit; calling Frank knowledgeable is an understatement. The art and science of butchery is seemingly ingrained in his bones. Much like those chicken’s proud lineage, Frank was raised to do butchery.

Pesticide-free, hormone-void, locally-sourced meats, combined with an experienced owner and a pleasant store-front is what Butcher by Nature is all about. And of course, they’re not limited to just chickens. They carry quite a large variety of meat including duck, venison, pork, and beef; all of it butchered and prepared in a bunch of different ways.

Fear not. Eating all this organic natural stuff isn’t for just the rich. In fact, most of the products at Butcher by Nature are actually reasonably priced. In most cases, you can expect to pay just a few bucks more than you would at the neighbourhood grocery store. That, combined with the absolute passion surrounding what they carry makes it an easy choice for meat. Even if you’re not in the area, Butcher by Nature is worth the trip.

So, if you think that chickens, or most other animals for that matter, magically end up in refrigerated, glass boxes at the back of a grocery store, then you owe it to yourself to check out Butcher by Nature because when it comes to meat, it’s all about where it comes from.

- Andre

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Hula Girl Espresso Boutique

Posted on May 17, 2011 by in The Junction Triangle

Hula Girl

5 stars

- Man. This whole area is pretty packed with coffee shops. Just up the road in The Junction, there’s Crema, The Good Neighbour, and a Starbucks; just down the road in Roncys, there’s Alternative Grounds, Coffee and All that Jazz, and yet another Starbucks. And that’s just to name a few… The neighbourhood, it seems, is littered with coffee shops. So how does Hula Girl stack up against all the rest of them? Really, really nicely.

Hula Girl isn’t just another boring-old coffee shop; it’s an ‘espresso boutique’, and they focus their boutique-ish expertise on blends of Kona coffee beans and turning those blends of beans into near-perfect cups of espresso. The owners are clearly not only passionate about coffee, but knowledgeable about it too; it becomes blatantly obvious with the first sip. The espresso is noticeably balanced and brewed with a high-level of skill. Simply put, they have some truly nice people that are dam good at pulling espressos standing behind their shiny brewing machine.

No worries if espresso isn’t your thing. They have some of their Kona blends brewed and served as the standard coffee fare too, which is also seriously good. They’ve got a nice window at the front counter with some baked goods. There isn’t much there right now, as I think they’ve only recently started serving food, but it sure would look good stocked with some interesting, local pastries and deserts.

The space is beautiful too. Chances are, after you pick up an espresso you’re going to want to stay for a bit and soak up some of the killer atmosphere. Old wood, exposed brick, shiny chrome, the entire space is exquisitely designed and faultlessly put together. Fair warning though, the insides may be pretty to look at, but they sure aren’t big. It’s ok though. What Hula Girl lacks in space, it makes up in comfort. Sitting around Hula Girl and sipping an espresso just feels good. The space is nice, and there’s a few wooden chairs and a little bar space where relaxing music, a comfortable vibe, and fantastic coffee is all in abundance.

Chances are, they’ll be busy too. People around here seem to have already shifted their morning-coffee-loyalties over to Hula Girl, and that’s a good thing, for Hula Girl and you. Somehow, in this small environment, more people just make it feel cozier, which you’ll appreciate. And obviously it’s good for Hula Girl because they get to succeed and stick-around, and honestly, there isn’t much that’s nicer to see succeed than an independent business run by nice people.

Good on the folks at Hula Girl for opening up on this tired part of Dundas with its old pizza joints and 2 dollar palm reading shops. This street really needed a place like this, and no doubt the people that live there will appreciate it too. Especially among all the artsy stuff that’s crept up around here, pizza and palm-readings aside, Hula Girl seems perfectly at home.

Like I said, the coffee is spectacular. So if you want some near-perfect espresso made by people that truly know what that means, then Hula Girl should be on your to-do-list; but if you’re looking for a place to grab a donut and suck up some free-WiFi, keep walking up the street to The Junction or down the street to Roncys.

- Andre

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P.S. Kona beans come from Hawaii, which is where the hula girl gimmick gets it’s ground.

The Rotisserie House

Posted on May 7, 2011 by in Liberty Village

3 stars

- The Rotisserie House is a family-run, Portuguese barbeque (or Churrasqueira) restaurant in the Liberty Village area. Like most places owned and run by families, this restaurant is small, a bit cluttered with a mishmash of décor and, no matter the number of other patrons there at the time, has a staff that makes you feel like the centre of attention.

They happen to be closed on the weekend, but from Monday to Thursday they are open from 11:00 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. and Fridays from 11:00 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. The hours are slightly odd, but it makes for a great lunch spot, especially for those like me who tend to take lunch anytime between about noon and 3:00 p.m.

They offer a variety of chicken dishes, a number of different sides and even one vegetarian option. You can get a 1/4 or 1/2 rotisserie chicken dinner – white meat or dark meat – with a choice of two small sides for $6.50 – $10.00. For an additional $0.99 (small) or $1.98 (double) you can get a side of onion rings, Greek or Caesar salad.

The menu itself is pretty huge and is filled with quite a few options. The regular roster of sides, for example, includes Portuguese rice, roasted Parisian potatoes, steamed vegetables, French fries, garden salad or potato wedges. Mains include the abovementioned chicken combos, rib combos, a variety of salads and soups, chicken wings and fingers and sandwiches, like pulled chicken, grilled vegetable, grilled chicken, pork or sausage. They even offer catering.

I decided upon the pulled chicken sandwich with a side of Parisian potatoes. The pulled chicken is topped with their “famous” hot sauce, served on a white or whole wheat Kaiser and is dressed with mayo, lettuce and tomato. All of this, with a drink, came in at about $9.

One of my all-time favourite side dishes are those lemony, roasted potatoes available at most Greek restaurants. Well, The Rotisserie House’s Parisian roasted potatoes are a close second. They are red, probably from Paprika, and just a bit fiery from the restaurant’s signature hot sauce. The pulled chicken sandwich was flavourful, tender and also had the same red hue from the sauce.

I do enjoy spicy foods, though I am a bit of a wimp. This restaurant’s hot sauce had a great kick and a good flavour, but it won’t burn your mouth to the point that you can’t taste anything else. This is really important, since they throw the hot sauce on their dishes, whether it’s requested or not. Don’t fret too much about all the spice if you’re grabbing lunch and heading back to the office, you can buy a pack of gum here too!

Considering the size of this restaurant, I was quite surprised by the number of items they have on the menu. It was not overly busy when I walked in, so everything went very smoothly as far as timing and service went. The staff is extremely friendly, but very small, so I am curious to see what happens when it gets really busy. However, they seem to have it all figured out.

If I lived closer to Liberty Village, I could see this being a regular staple for me for a quick lunch, or to grab some dinner on the way home from work. The prices are reasonable, the food tastes good and it’s quick and satisfying.

- 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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Tea Blendz

Posted on April 6, 2011 by in The Junction

5 stars

- There sure are a lot of tea places showing up nowadays, especially since the monstrous success of David’s Tea. Say what you will about that corporate beast, but in my opinion, David’s Tea has had a firm hand in pushing tea into the hands of mainstream Toronto. So, in a market on its way to becoming pretty heavily saturated, what’s Tea Blendz doing to differentiate themselves? Plenty…

First off, it’s not a corporate beast. It’s a little boutique shop owned by Khadija, an incredibly nice person whose passion for all things tea-related is almost contagious. That feeling of non-corporateness runs throughout the experience at Tea Blendz. Khadija is easily approachable, encourages you to ask questions, and is obviously passionate about the stuff she’s selling. Not to say that the staff at those corporate places aren’t passionate, but at Tea Blendz, it just seemed more honest.

They also have a pretty kick-ass teaspresso machine–one of the only ones in Toronto right now I’m told. Basically, it allows them to quick-press loose-leaf tea rather then steep it. That means you can get it faster and cleaner, and the whole process is under more control of the brewer rather than being at the mercy of the boiling water. Your tea will still take a few minutes, but those few minutes can easily be spent talking to the warm and pleasant staff. In fact, I ended up staying and chatting about tea and the neighbourhood for far longer than those few minutes that my tea was pressed.

Using the teaspresso machine, Tea Blendz also brews up some pretty amazing tea lattes. Khadija claimed they were the best in the city, and I can’t say I’d disagree with her. While I’m self-admittedly not a tea or tea latte expert by any means, I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I could definitely see myself going out of my way to enjoy another one.

Khadija works with local tea blenders to come up with a lot of her blends. They have plenty of classic flavours, like Earl Grey, English Breakfast, and Bourbon Street Vanilla, and some of that are hers and the blenders creation, like Chocolate Mint Delight, Root Beer Rooibos, and Sweet Pumpkin Spice. Despite being pressed and not steeped, the subtle flavours that the tea descriptions promised were still prevalent. I also picked up on a slight sweetness, which amazingly highlighted the even subtler flavours in the tea. All-in-all, I’d sort of equate it to wine-tasting; after tasting it, discussing the tea and its flavours seemed almost natural.

Khadija mentioned that there’s a growing trend in food and tea pairing. Because of that, I wondered if she planned on offering any food at some point, which right now she doesn’t. I don’t mean sitting down and eating a club sandwich and fries, but a small, one-bite of something that was specifically made just to be paired with a particular tea would certainly have been interesting. But Tea Blendz just opened a month ago, so things aren’t yet set in stone.

All-in-all, I had a great chat with Khadija. I learned some stuff, and I even left with a few bags of tea. I brought home a bag of Chocolate Mint Delight and the Sweet Pumpkin Spice, and at 5 bucks for 50 grams, I left feeling pretty good about buying it.

So if you’re in the neighbourhood, this honest-to-goodness, non-corporate boutique shop is definitely worth checking out and supporting. Even if you’re not in the neighbourhood, it’s worth the drive if you want to learn more about tea and if you appreciate truly nice customer service.

- Andre

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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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