April 18, 2014

First Impression: The Naked Sprout

A couple months back I had The Naked Sprout (TNS) for the first time at Taste of Burlington and I absolutely loved it! They served a fantastic raw zucchini dish that was full of flavour and incredibly refreshing. I was itching to get myself down to the actual restaurant after I scraped my sample clean. 

Unfortunately we didn't make it in time to partake in TOB - but points for still making it out. First off, let me say TNS is completely outside of my comfort zone. I mean, I loved The Loving Hut, but hated Live Organic Food Bar - and this was definitely in the same ball park. Now why do I keep going back to places like this? 

Because I want to be one of those chicks that strolls in after there hot yoga class in her lululemons and devours a quinoa bowl and a green shake with extra shots of chia seeds and wheat grass. I wanna be one of those chicks! You'll find out later why I'm not..
When Suzanna and I walked in - we were pleasantly surprised. I love it when vegan joints sway away from the incense, buddha statues and crazy prints decor and keep it minamalistic. TNS does just this. It was a well designed space - despite the fact that it's in a strip mall.

The menu here is divided between Starters, Salads, Raw Mains and Cooked Main. We started off with the Naughty Nachos ($7.50 starter) - yes that is actually what it's called. It consisted of carrot flax crackers, refried beans, salsa, greens, guacamole and sour cream. We also opted for taco meat, and pickled mangoes for $0.50 each.

Suzanna got the heebee jeebees over what the hell "taco meat" was but me being me - I don't always need to know. The taco came beautifully presented with a copious amount of toppings and was very pleasing to the eye. I loved all the different flavours and the pickled mango added a really nice tang but I couldn't get around the carrot flax crackers. My mouth was saying  nuh -uh to the crackers - Suzanna however didn't mind them at all.
I also ordered a glass of The Beat Goes On ($6) - apple, beet, raspberry, strawberry & lemon  - no complaints here, this was fantastic! Incredibly fresh, and the perfect balance of sweet & tang.

Next up, came our mains. Suzanna ordered the D'Ambrosio Burger ($15) - chickpea patty, mayo, greens, avocado, tomato with a side of hot potatoes.  This dish was interesting - it was definitely an eye opener for the both of us. Meaning, "why didn't we just go for Thai food?" and "what the hell did we get ourselves into" We quickly looked around and realized 98% of the restaurant were 23-35 year old women with their girlfriends yapping away about their intense yoga sesh. We were definitely outside of our comfort zone. But we were already neck deep in lululemon - so why not? She picked it up with two hands and took a huge bite outta that D'ambrosio burger!

It was alright. I found the chickpeas needed a little more spice and a lot more crunch on the outside. The avocado and the greens were super fresh and the potatoes although small in portion were seasoned and cooked well. Don't even get me started on that bun.

Okay, now my turn, I ordered the special of the day which was the Exotic Eggplant Caponata with brown rice pasta.  This dish looked very promising. It smelt great and the portion was massive and it just looked like something Suzanna and I could sink our teeth into. Unfortunately it stops there. The flavours resembled a basic pasta dish with pesto minus the pesto - so just crushed nuts and herbs? And cubed tempeh - which I couldn't even recognized. The brown rice pasta was a win though - I could definitely eat that again - with meatballs, or a bolognese.
I needed to kick up the flavours so the waitress offered me this wheat free organic hot sauce. I thought it was pretty cool - tasted just like franks.
So, I've come to the conclusion the whole vegan, raw movement just isn't my thing.  I want it to be - but like a bad boyfriend - I just need to walk away and never look back. But I do have to say the service was spectacular and I can see why it is such a hit with the raw/vegan/health conscious crowd. The food is fresh, the menu diverse and the service was incredibly warm and inviting. Even when I told the server I didn't enjoy the tempeh she took a small percentage off my bill to compensate.
So maybe TNS isn't for me - it might be for you! They're definitely doing something right if they're named Best Retaurant & Best Original Cuisine as well as Best Vegetarian in the city. 

Happy Eating!

The Naked Sprout
4040 Palladium Way
Burlington, On
The Naked Sprout on Urbanspoon

April 16, 2014

B.I.Eat (4/13) : Papa Leo's

 Guess whose back with another #BIEat post? I know it's been a while - this place was starting to grow cobwebs. But I'm back from my impromptu hiatus to bring you the fourth instalment of #BIEat. 

This #BIEat brings us to Concession BIA where my partner in crime, Michael Marini from The Hamilton Economic Development Office and I hit up Papa Leo's for a quick lunch. Papa Leo's is a recent discovery of mine - in fact, I am one of their newest breakfast groupies. So, I was elated to head over there for lunch - unfortunately they don't do dinner service at the moment. But if you want to harass Leo about dinner service - feel free to do so here . 
We both started off with soup of the day - I got something special off their catering menu that they just happen to have - shiitake mushrooms, glass noodles & pulled pork and Michael ordered the soup of the day - a french onion styled soup. 

Both soups were without a doubt well executed warm bowls of heart warming liquid. I am a huge fan of non-pureed soups - I prefer something with a good broth with little morsels I can scoop up with my spoon. Papa leo hit the spot with these two. 
Michael and I also decided to go halfsies on two of the most popular lunch orders - Tacos and a Po'Boy. The Tacos ($12) come with a choice of battered cod, slow roasted pork, or chicken on flour tortillas with lettuce, onions, tomatoes, fresh mango salsa, seasoned mayo and a side cucumber & pepper salad.   

Obviously we went with the cod taco and it was hands down the best decision I made all day. There was a perfect ratio of cod to tortilla. Every bite was one huge piece of cod, mixed with sweet crunchy mango and creamy mayo.  The fish was perfectly battered - not too thick but still crispy - and the cod was huge. I can not stress how perfect the ratio of cod to tortilla was. I'm tired of ordering a fish taco at some froo-froo joint where the first two bites are all tortilla and there are about two and a half more bites left on the taco. </hater> The cucumber salad? - meh I could have done without, the taco was a decent enough portion. 

These crab cakes although not super authentic were still completely satisfying. It was more of a patty than a cake and there isn't a lot of extra filler - just crab. This might be taboo to some but they throw in a little bit of that imitation crab too - which I am completely happy with. It's kind of a guilty pleasure of mine.  They also serve these puppies with poached eggs for brekkie - definitely worth rolling out of bed for!

In all honestly, Papa Leos is one of those neighbourhood joints you picture on TV - where the Ross, Chandler and Rachel come for breakfast. The food is simple, wholesome and the faces are familiar - all the suppliers are local, when possible, in fact there's a list on the menu of all the local suppliers Leo supports. "Papa Leo" himself also works the cash register and runs tables. He's bubbly and full of smiles - definitely not your typical chef!

 Previous BIEat features: Westdale - Delirious | Stoney Creek - The Attic | Waterdown - Jitterbug Cafe

Happy Eating! 

Papa Leo's
638 Concession Street
Hamilton, On
Papa Leo's Restaurant on Urbanspoon

February 24, 2014

B.I.Eat (3/13) : Jitterbug Cafe

Have you guys been following my #BIEat post? On twitter? Instagram? How about Facebook? How about I just use this opportunity to pimp out all of my social media handles? Smooth Operator

Anyways, you should know the spiel by now, The Hungry Gnome has teamed up with The Hamilton Economic Development Office to promote Hamilton's thirteen BIAs - this month it's Waterdown and a visit to The Jitterbug Cafe.  
I'll be honest and say I had never heard of Jitterbug before and the only time I  ever come out to Waterdown is for their annual Rib fest. But I think that'll definitely change after this.
As usual, my partner in crime was Michael from Hamilton EcDev and I brought Marc - my Hamilton Magazine Editor along for the ride. 

I'll mention this now - we really don't give a heads up to the restaurants we feature on BIEat - besides the occasion tweet here and there, we tend to just show up and eat - like regular folk - we even pay the bill, well at least Michael does!  So please don't think these restaurants are rolling out the red carpet for us.  

Why am I mentioning this? Because we received the most warm and friendly experience at the Jitterbug - and they had no idea who we were. Don't worry, I threw a bandaid on my ego - I think I'll survive. But it just shows how amazing some people are when they get to do what they love. You can tell Shelly, the owner, absolutely loves her job - and who can hate on that? 
Michael ordered the Reuben - grilled slices of Montreal smoked meat topped with sauerkraut, mozzarella and dijon mustard with dark rye ($9.25).

One of us - I won't mention who - ordered the Lunch Combo ($8.95)  which is your two choices of  either soup, deli sandwich or chef salad.
I ordered one of the days specials which happened to be a peameal bacon sandwich with cheese and grilled veggies on a ciabatta bun. ($11.50) All the sandwiches come with veggie fries and fresh fruit.

I can honestly say my sandwich was absolutely delicious! A little messy to eat but they were incredibly generous with the bacon and the veggies were beautifully caramelized and although this was just a basic side salad - the dressing was pretty stellar. They make them it house and can actually be purchased at the counter where you order.

The  boys completely enjoyed their meals as well - judging by the empty plates.
And just when we thought lunch was over - dessert arrived! My sandwich was plenty but my companions devoured every morsel of this decadent chocolate brownie - and even an apple fritter on the side or two! The Jitterbug also does a great job of supporting local artists - the walls are completely adorned by them. 
I  wish there was a Jitterbug in my neighbourhood because this place was too fricken cute! It was such  a cozy room - we were literally talking to Shelly as she was cooking our meal! It's not a big cafe but definitely enough room to curl up and stay a while. I thought the prices were fair and the portions were great as well. 
And because we got to Waterdown exceptionally early (thanks to my stellar driving) we had enough time to swing by Brown Dog Cafe for some of their famous apple fritters. This was my first visit and they were heaven right out of the fryer! Looking forward to enjoying their Locke Street location. 

                                                                        Happy Eating!

Previous BIEat features: Westdale - Delirious | Stoney Creek - The Attic 

Jitterbug Cafe
35 Main Street North
Hamilton, On
Jitterbug Cafe on Urbanspoon

February 20, 2014

Taste of Burlington Winter Launch Party 2014

It's that time of year again - Taste of Burlington! Happening Feb 16th - March 9th. A few weeks ago I was invited to the launch party - and similar to last years, I spent the evening with Christine & Dave noshing and exploring the entire night away. 

The night consisted of twenty six restaurants offering up food and drink samples. Although not a part of TOB, samples from Cameron's Brewing Co and coffee from Lakehouse Coffee House were also present. I was invited by Tourism Burlington but tickets were available for purchase as well. It was definitely my kind of event - you pay one fee and eat all you want. I roll my eyes at events where they charge an arm and a leg to get in and then on top of that - you have to pay for food samples! 

Anyways, here is what we sampled that night - I'm happy to say I sampled more than half of the restaurants! I know - I'm a bad ass. 
Photo courtesy of Downtown Burlington Twitter Feed
Ivy Bar and Kitchen (@IvyBarKichen) Ivy Bar & Kitchen on UrbanspoonWild and Forest Mushroom Truffle Scented Cappuccino Soup with Parmesan "foam" and Garlic Biscotti - this was my first sample of the night - and the flavours were good but nothing but your average cream of mushroom soup. Read about my brunch experience with them here
Red Canoe Bistro (@RedCanoeBistro) Red Canoe Bistro on Urbanspoon: Local Heirloom Beet Risotto with Goat Feta topped with a Naturally Raised Beef Ragout - this was pretty unique, I loved the textures and it was really comforting but I wish the flavours were kicked up just a notch and the dish was hotter - in temp not in spice.
Test Kitchen (@TK_Restaurants) : Tuna Canapés - from the new kids on the block, these canapés were beautiful - great colour and artfully presented. Too bad the flavours were very bland - you could hardly taste the tuna but there was good texture in the dish. Judging from the presentation style and technique, I'm definitely interesting in still checking them out though. 
Downtown Bistro & Grill  Downtown Bistro and Grill on Urbanspoon: Roasted Pork Belly with Potato and Celery & Radish Slaw - can't say no to pork belly and the croquette was a nice surprise - I could have done without the slaw and salad though.
Queens Head Pub (@pub_queensheadQueen's Head on Urbanspoon: Sweet Potato Donut - a pleasant surprise from Queens Head, you never expected something so well executed to come from a pub. But just like the description says - it was a sweet potato donut and it was pretty damn awesome. These bad boys also won in the "best taste" category.
Celli's Osteria (@CellisOsteriaCelli's Osteria on Urbanspoon : Pork and Beans - Pan Roasted Sweet Italian Sausage in White Cannelloni Bean Ragu - the sausage was enjoyable and if the dish was served piping hot it would have been one of those belly warming dishes that you curl up with.
The Naked Sprout (@nakedsproutThe Naked Sprout on Urbanspoon : Prima Donna Primavera -spiralized zucchini, tossed in a sundried tomato marinara sauce, garnished with tomatoes, kalamata olives and a cashew meatbll sprinkled with brazil nut parmesan - although I've heard lots of buzz about The Naked Sprout, this was actually my first experience with them. I quite enjoyed the raw zucchini pasta - super hardy and flavourful… and it was like vegan I think? Right? I enjoyed something without bacon in it. 
Pepperwoods (@pepperwoodgroup) Pepperwood Bistro on Urbanspoon: Bison Slider with balsamic tomato mustard and Brie - here's the thing about sliders - there should only be one slider in a room at a time. Three restaurants chose to do sliders and unfortunately I only sampled the first two - and I literally had a bite just to fulfill my bloggin' duties. They're a horrible representation of what a restaurant can do. They're essentially items you can order pre made and takes absolutely no creativity - no matter how many types of cheese, caramelized onions or fried eggs you throw on them. There I said it. *gets off soap box*
Paradiso (@ristoparadiso) Paradiso on Urbanspoon: Angus Beef Meatballs with Mushroom Compote - Paradiso was my favourite pick at last years TOB but this years meatball was meh - it was nice and flavourful but the mushrooms served along side them were ice cold - horrible contrast in temperatures.
West Plains Bistro (@bistrobound) West Plains Bistro on Urbanspoon : Curried Cauliflower soup with dried mango, raisin and almond garnish - Beautiful soup served piping hot and I loved the sweet notes from the raisins. This dish won "peoples choice" as well. All it needed was crispy little morsels of pancetta or something nice and salty. 
Ye Olde Squire (@YeOldeSquire) ye Olde Squire on Urbanspoon: Sticky Toffee Pudding - one of my other favourite dishes of the night and the most memorable was this beautiful sticky toffee pudding.  It had all my favourite components - something warm, sweet, sticky and it was the perfect portion.
Turtle Jacks (@TurtleJacksTurtle Jack's Muskoka Grill on Urbanspoon: Award winning ribs - I'm not sure what kind of awards these ribs have won but they were pretty good. Nice and meaty and fell of the bone without completely melting away.
Stone House @StoneHouseFood Stone House Lounge on Urbanspoon: Beer braised short ribs wit truffled turnip puree - this was also a pretty well executed dish. And kudos to the chef for making up a pretty plate for this shot! The truffle oil was a little strong but I didn't mind and the sweet and rich notes from the sauce were grand.
Fraticellis @Fraticellis Fraticelli's Italian Grill & Lounge on Urbanspoon: Garganelli with Bolognese sauce - meat sauce and pasta - didn't really tickle my fancy but I'm sure it was a fan favourite, it's such a classic dish.
Amaya Express @AmayaExpress : Leek & Parsnip Fritter, Butter Chicken & Rice - I really wasn't expecting much cause I don't really picture Burlington having any solid Indian restaurants but I was actually surprised at how excellent the butter chicken was. The sauce was both, rich and creamy and had the perfect amount of spice. After a little googling I discovered Amaya has quite a few locations in the GTA.
Spencer's at the Waterfront  Spencer's at the Waterfront on Urbanspoon: Ice wine marshmallow s'mores : quinoa graham cracker, ice wine marshmallow and chocolate ganache - And the best food porn of the night has to go to Speners. Seriously, look at that beauty - and it was all hand crafted and made in house. I was thoroughly impressed! Read about my brunch experience with them here.
I'll be honest and say there were other dishes I sampled but they weren't exactly stellar so I didn't see fit sharing them with you. All in all it was a great night and I think the restaurants offered up a great selection of samples. I hate going to events like this and everyone cheaps out and offers up salad bowls and cous cous samples. TOB runs till March 9th so get your acts together and make the drive to Burlington already - parking is affordable and there is hardly any traffic - shocker right?

Happy Eating! 

* I received a media pass to this event