October 20, 2014

#DishofTheWeek with 95.3 Fresh FM

I'm happy to announce I have teamed up with Andrew Gerrior from 95.3 Fresh FM for a series called #DishoftheWeek.

Every week you guys get to follow me around exploring my favourite restaurants and eating my favourite dishes. Vlogs are definitely something I'm not use to - so bear with me!

Every Saturday they'll go up on the Fresh FM website as well as YouTube page - and in case you miss it there, they'll be here Monday mornings!

Catch up on Episode 1& 2 below and come back next week for Episode 3!

Happy Eating!

October 13, 2014

#BIEat (8/13): West 25

Our 8th stop on my #BIEat tour with Hamilton EcDev is newly opened West 25 Cafe & Pizzeria. We were lucky enough to arrange a sneak peek a day before they officially opened to the public. I honestly have no idea what was here before but it looked like the owners did some work to the interior. It had that new car feeling inside. 
The menu ranges from salads, panini's, wings to pizza and of course your standard coffee shop offerings.  A little bit of everything I guess is what they were going for. Personally this raises a few red flags for me. You can't be everything to everyone. I would rather have a restaurant do a few things really well, than a lot of things mediocre.  To quote T.I "Don't want no Mediocre. I won't hit no Mediocre. No" He wasn't exactly referencing food but it's all the same right? Basically, if you're not going to do it well - don't do it at all. 

Our original visit was back in August so I'm not too sure if they've tweaked a few things or not. If they have, please let me know in the comments. On this occasion, we tried three seasonal salads, three pizza slices and a huge mountain of wings. The wings were really meaty and sauced perfectly.  The spinach garnish was a little much but I'm not hating, it made me feel like I was eating a salad. 
The salads were incredibly hardy and would make an excellent lunch option. They weren't stingy with the toppings at all. I would like to see some creativity with the salads in the future and possibly offer a few house made dressings. The option to add a warm component would be great too. 
The pizza unfortunately was like any other pizza down the street. Very mediocre. Decent if you're in a pinch and looking for something hot on the go but I wouldn't go out of my way to order this again. 
I would say panini sandwiches are their specialty. I love, love, love a nice crispy warm panini. The one pictured above was the Chicken Tandoori - they're onto something with the creativity of this one but I wish the chunks of chicken were larger and the flavours a smidgen more intensified. I feel like they're holding back in order to not scare away the masses. Not that I'm speaking for the Hamilton Community or anything but Hamilton is not afraid of flavour. The palate of Hamiltonians are bold and enjoy a kick in the face or two - of flavour!  So restauranteurs - listen up! Get your %^& together and stop holding back. 
The desserts might be the hidden gem here, they're all made in house by a pastry chef. We ordered the upside down pineapple cake and this chocolate caramel monstrosity of a cupcake. Again, similar to the hot food, the flavours need to be kicked up a notch! Everything was incredibly neutral. My pineapple upside down cake could have used more pineapple flavour but the chocolate cupcake was pretty spot on. I enjoyed it.  

Hopefully in the next few months they'll iron out all the kinks and be a little more bold with their offerings and flavour. The space has an incredible amount of potential and a pretty decent location. 
If you pop in anytime soon, let me know what you think. Thanks for reading the 8th instalment of #BIEat - next BIA - Locke street! So many choices, where should we go?

Happy Eating! 

West 25 Cafe & Pizzeria
25 Main St West
Hamilton, On

Previous #BIEat features: #1 Westdale - Delirious | #2 Stoney Creek - The Attic | #3 Waterdown - Jitterbug Cafe |  #4 Concession - Papa Leo's | #5 Dundas - Picone Fine Food | #6 Ottawa Street - Poco Loco | #7 Barton Street - Duarte's

*this was a complimentary meal in partnership with The Hamilton Economic Development Office. The opinions expressed are my own

October 3, 2014

First Impressions: 28 Lister

I am not even going to bother writing a funny, witty, well thought out, intro because a majority of you will just skip it anyways. Lets face it - we all want to know what the food's all about at 28 Lister. What could a $138.99 steak taste like?! I want you to know I am fully capable of wit & and this intro would have been badass wicked if you just had the patience to let me write it. Lets get on with it..
The decor on the inside is quite nice, this art piece was my favourite and I loved the upholstered booths. Most of the space really is beautiful - besides the fact there isn't a bathroom in the restaurant. That's right, if you need to tinkle you have to use the public one located within Lister Block. Yep, get your eyes ready girl, cause they are going to roll. 
My new friend Dave ordered the Bloody Mary ($9.99) - I didn't have a sip of this because I'm more of a Clamato type of girl, but Dave & Avi seemed to enjoy this one and for 2oz at ten bucks, that's a winner, winner, chicken dinner. 
In case you weren't aware of the hype and controversy surrounding 28 Lister - their high end prices and crazy antics from the owner have given the Hamilton gourmand community a lot to talk about. There were whispers of the prices being on the same playing field as Jacobs & Mortons. Personally my jaw dropped when I saw $36 for 9oz of duck. That duck better be laying golden eggs for $36. Am I referencing the right fairytale? Was it a duck or a goose? #immigrantproblems
To ensure we all still had our rent money at the end of the day, we decided to order a few dishes to share from the "28 Lister Chophouse Grill" menu and our mains from the rotating lunch menu. Both Avi and I found it disappointing that they don't offer lunch portions of their steaks. Cause who wants a 12oz steak for lunch? ...Put your hand down Justin 
Avi ordered the Daily Soup - Creme of Mushroom ($7.99) and the three of us split the Large Caesar Salad ($13.99). I found the mushroom soup to be very basic. There were chunks of mushroom littered throughout, which I enjoyed but besides that it was a standard cream of soup. Cream of Mushroom is just one of those dishes I would never order at a restaurant - despite my love for fungi. Avi enjoyed it and had no qualms to share. 

The Caesar salad on the other hand was enjoyed by all of us. The fried capers were a nice touch, and this coming from someone who doesn't even like walking by capers in the grocery store. I despise them, but fried, they were pretty damn tasty. We asked our salad to be spiked with wasabi and fresh anchovy. Unfortunately both ingredients were barely noticeable. I was expecting nice little salty morsels of anchovy but, we found none. We thought we might have tasted the zing of wasabi but none of us were too sure. It's a shame, the salad definitely needed a kick. We all agreed more garlic please. It was evenly dressed though, and the romaine was fresh and bouncy when it arrived. I hate an overly soaked salad.

Dave ordered the Bacon & Tomato Poutine ($18.99)double smoked bacon, Quebec cheese curds, demi glace and fresh tomatoes on russet potato fries. 

I know.

Are you fricken kidding me? 

Nineteen bucks?!

For a tomato poutine? 

Okay, I'm done freaking out. Are you? Do you need a moment? 

Did this bacon come from Ms. Piggy herself? - Okay, now I'm really done </rant>

There were a few lashings of tomatoes and bacon and a few curds here and there but mainly just a pile of french fries. The fries were actually pretty decent. I'm personally not a fan of hand cut fries and these definitely came shipped in a plastic bag pre-cut. But for a few spoonfuls of bacon and some factory fries - this was a complete rip off.
Avi had the Mussels ($12.99) This, on the other hand, was like a fresh ray of sunshine after a crap tonne of rain on the one day you forgot to bring an umbrella. Do you feel me? It's rare to find mussels made with a tomato broth these day, which is a shame cause it's so refreshing and full of flavour. The broth was seasoned well and there was an abundance of mussels. It was easily the best dish ordered the entire meal. The price point wasn't too shabby either.

We also decided to order a few sides to share : Risotto with Pecorino cheese ($6.99)  as well as Apricot & Honey glazed heirloom beets ($6.99)

I hate to say it but the risotto was absolutely atrocious. I rarely use that word to describe food because it's so disrespectful to the individual who made it but this risotto really had no hope. First off, the bowl it was served in is a huge risotto no-no. Everyone knows it should be served in a flat round plate so you can eat from the outside in to maintain a consistent temperature. Risotto should be warm, rich & comforting. 

This was just mushy rice piled in a bowl. Avi and I agreed it tasted like rice pilaf with melted cheese. The beets were pretty awful as well. They could have been cut into more smaller edible pieces. There was also absolutely no apricot or honey flavour to be found and they were completely underdone. 
I didn't exactly feel like the 20oz Porterhouse for lunch so I settled for the Open Faced Steak Sandwich($22.99) - seasonal mushrooms and sharp cheddar served with fries. 

For a steakhouse, I expected this dish to be the pièce de résistance. Sadly, it did not meet my expectations. I know I ordered the "lunch steak" but that shouldn't change the quality of the product. It's the same cook, the same equipment, the same seasonings and it should be the same farm they're getting their "dinner" steaks from. 
It was barely a 4oz steak and although the grill marks make it look promising, it was grey and completely flavourless. The menu claims their steaks are "the top 1% of Canada AAA US Prime Beef" This tasted like it came frozen out of a box from Walmart. I asked for it to be cooked medium rare and from the picture below, it was more medium well. As a steakhouse, every steak that comes out of that kitchen whether it's a Tomahawk or a little guy like mine, better be mother fricken awesome. This wasn't. <insert displeased eye roll emoji here>

The mushrooms were fresh, plump and incredibly juicy, but they were just soaking in an absurdly acidic balsamic vinegar that just overpowered any woody, earthy, flavour  these beautiful mushrooms were suppose to have. To have such a simple dish executed so poorly is disheartening. 

The service overall was pretty decent. She needed a little more finesse but her general personality was warm. We were the only guest in the entire restaurant during our meal so it was slightly uncomfortable having our server, the host, a junior server all waiting on us.When a restaurant is dead you probably assume that service would be stellar but everyone who has ever been a server knows it's the complete opposite. Service usually tanks. 

Add two cups of coffee, a bottle of sparkling water, tax & tip and our lunch bill was a little over $150 for three people. Give me a quarter of that and I could have bought us some bomb ass empanadas from Culantro's down the street - and still have money left over for sweets at Made for you by Madeline - also down the street. It's a shame. I had high hopes for this place. Afterwards I drove down the street for a $2.50 banh mi sandwich that hit spots this steak couldn't reach with a ten foot pole. 

Would I go back to 28 Lister? No. Never. It's too much of a hot mess. First off, the menu, what is pork chops & mango bbq sauce doing on there? How about sourcing some local Ontario produce? And coconut shrimp should never be on a menu where they use cloth napkins. All that sh#$ comes frozen from a box. The menu was a horrible mash up of gastro pub favourites and hoity-toity country club specials.

Secondly, for a restaurant that has the audacity to charge $139 for a steak, they should have the professionalism to spell check the menu before it goes to the printer. [I'll give you a moment to scroll up to see if you can spot the mistake(s)]. It's little things like misspellings, no bathrooms, having to ask for cutlery, & gunk in your coffee cup that don't add up to the high price points. If this meal was served to me at a dive bar I would be mildly impressed. But at a fine dining, white table cloth establishment? It was unacceptable. 
The most appropriate way to describe the entire dining experience would be Meh. This is the best situation to use Meh. This meal was Meh. I will forget it the second my body digests it. 

When I go to a fine dining restaurant I expect to be spoiled rotten. I don't expect my dishes to come to the table lukewarm (risotto, beets, fries, soup) my coffee cup to be stained or have to ask for cutlery. These are all things you brush off if you're at your local diner not a high end restaurant. My word of advice -get rid of the doorman and invest those labour dollars into training the cooks and waitstaff. Hamilton has a plethora of phenomenal restaurants offering outstanding food and top notch service - so save your dollars for another well deserving restaurant. 

Happy Eating!   

28 Lister
28 James Street North
Hamilton, On
28 Lister Chophouse & Grill on Urbanspoon

Side Note: I was assigned to write about 28 Lister back in February for the winter issue of Hamilton Magazine, so you can say I've been following their story very closely. Set to open in March there were numerous set backs from the beginning. 28 Lister has been plagued with more than its fair share of bad luck - from the nasty article in the Spec, to the death of the Executive Chef. I have hemmed and hawed about reviewing the restaurant since opening day. You see, I was invited to the soft opening a day before it was to open publicly. That unfortunately got cancelled but the owner offered to reschedule my reservation to the next day. My jaw dropped when I arrived at the host stand the following day to have there lovely hostess tell me they were not yet scheduled to be open. How odd, since the owner himself made my reservation - and where was he during this awkward moment - out to lunch the hostess said. No email or telephone call was made to inform me my reservation had been cancelled. This was a blatant disrespect of my time. I was ready to blacklist 28 Lister - but how could I knowingly blacklist a restaurant I had never dined at? 

I decided to do what a food blogger does - write about the food. I wanted to judge this place for the food and not for the unprofessional behaviour of the owner. I'm glad I did, cause now I can save you guys the time & money. Don't bother. 

September 22, 2014

#BIEat (7/13): Duarte's Supermarket

I know I've been living in Hamilton for more than half my life but there are still so many places I have yet to discover. Not just new up and coming joints where the cool kids hang out with their ankle boots and denim vest - but places that don't come with comfy leather seats, well spoken servers, and hundred dollar light fixtures. Duarte's Super Market is exactly one of those places. 

Mucho Gracias to Michael Marini from Hamilton EcDev for choosing Duarte's as our 7th small biz feature in our #BIEat series. 

After doing a little research on "Home of the Hefty Hoagie" I instantly fell in love. Alcino Duarte and Filomena Sousa both grew up in Portugal, immigrated to Montreal and met at a magazine stand. Three months later they were married and get this - they honeymooned in good 'ol Hamilton!  - Can you believe that?! This love story is cuter than a video of a puppy licking a lemon.

We all know what kind of reputation Barton Street has, and I'm sure most of you have a "one time on the Barton bus..." story. But we forget there is a whole community on that street doing more than just surviving. They're enjoying little gems like Duarte's - peacefully without prying hipster eyes and Locke Street sass. Those bastards. 

When Marini and I walked into Duarte's, the place was packed!  And it consistently had a steady line up the entire time. There was a system and a rhythm to the whole thing. If you were a regular you immediately knew how to slide in without any hiccups.  Marini and I had to take a few minutes to observe, make a few notes on the enormous menu & hot bar - then when we were ready, we queued in line. 
I obviously learned the hard way there are actually two lines - one for cold items and another for hot. What if you want both? I have no idea - the ladies working the counter were not waiting to make small talk. It was all business with them. I felt like I was in that one Soup Nazi episode in Seinfeld, either you knew how to order or you were SOL. 

Thankfully, I was not completely SOL cause although I didn't get the cabbage rolls or perogies I wanted - I still managed to get  my hands on this beautiful beast. And I whole heartedly stick to the beast nickname because it was massive. At $3.50 - it was also one of the most expense things on the menu. 

Thats right

One of the most expensive things on the menu is three dollars and fifty cents. 

To quote my fellow food blogger Justin from Eating Your Content: "LOL $3.50 LOL" 
Marini also went beast mode and ordered the steak sandwich for $4. That is the hands of a grown man holding that sandwich below. It was massive. And for four fricken dollars! 

Ya'll are probably thinking, how can they afford to do this? 

Alcino once said in a Spec article, "Sometimes you've got to make people happy, thats all. And they buy other things too". There you have it folks - happiness cost $4 and it's being dished out on Barton street smothered in caramelized onions. Not too shabby. 
Establishments like Duartes's make me feel all mushy and warm inside. For less than the cost of a Big Mac combo you get a wholesome, handcrafted meal bursting with flavour and you're supporting a small business. How can you hate on that? 

I'm sure Duarte's has a kitchen full of mama's churning out recipes passed down from generation to generation cause that's exactly what the food tasted like.  This was a damn good sandwich - and not just one for under $5. The bread was soft and crusty, the lettuce was so fresh you could taste the sweetness, and the meat was plentiful, nicely seasoned and top notch quality. This is an establishment that takes pride in tradition.  
What shocked me the most about the Duarte story was in 2003, they won the lottery and officially became millionaires - then they went back to work like business as usual. 

THAT. Is true dedication and pride in your work & in your product. 

It may not look like much from the outside, but this corner grocery shop known for its hefty hoagies is worth a visit. Not just for a declicous, homemade, hardy meal - but to just get a breath from all those damn hipsters downtown. Just kidding. 

Happy Eating! 

Duarte Supermarket
417 Barton Street East
Hamilton, On

Previous #BIEat features: #1 Westdale - Delirious | #2 Stoney Creek - The Attic | #3 Waterdown - Jitterbug Cafe |  #4 Concession - Papa Leo's | #5 Dundas - Picone Fine Food | #6 Ottawa Street - Poco Loco

*this was a complimentary meal in partnership with The Hamilton Economic Development Office. The opinions expressed are my own

September 5, 2014

Belly Monster Battle: Panaderya Bakeshop

Justin: So a month ago, Chanry tells me about a cute new Hamilton Cafe that just opened up. We stopped into Panaderya Bakeshop for a couple of treats. I'm not huge on dessert, though I have to admit my tastes are changing of late. I'm either learning to appreciate dessert or my tastes are changing as I get older. Get off my lawn etc.

Chanry: I’m pretty sure I had something to do with the change of heart Justin. It’s either have dessert, or watch me give you stink eye from across the table. 

Justin: Always with the stink eye. Anyway, we decided to stop in for lunch (and more dessert). Panaderya Bakeshop cooks an assortment of items catering to the lunch crowd. As usual, Chan and I decided to try a bunch of items and share. I've come to call this "I order things I know and she makes me eat stuff I don't."

Chanry: Hhahha, next week, Balut! 

Justin: I don’t even know what that is. I’m scared already.

Chanry: Justin from Eating Your Content and I rarely ever go out for Asian food together. The man is not a fan - so I was pretty thrilled when I could finally drag him out for some Filipino food. I wouldn't say I'm brand new to Filipino food but a majority of my encounters with it usually involve some form of karaoke so I was a little disappointed when we walked in and there was no karaoke machine in site. 

Justin: LOL can you imagine karaoke in this cute bakery? It’d be so random.

Chanry: It would be a goldmine! Are you listening Panaderya?! Anyways, onto the food..

Coconut Curry Chicken with Steamed Rice - $7
Justin: Any time I see Curry Chicken is available it's an automatic buy. As soon as I took a look at this particular choice, I was reminded of the Curry Chicken I order every time I'm at Pho Dao Bo. Yes... I order Chicken at a Pho restaurant. Stop looking at me with those disapproving eyes.

Chanry: *disapproving eyes*

Justin: Not only did this look like Pho Dao Bo's version, it tasted IDENTICAL! The major difference here is that Panaderya Bakeshop uses all parts of the Chicken. No complaints from me in that regard. I like when a restaurant cooks with the bones in. All that delicious flavour comes through. The Chicken was accompanied with Potatoes and served beside Steamed Rice. It was a solid portion of food, especially at that price. I figure this'll be my lunch time go to if I stop in again.

Chanry: It tastes identical because they both probably use the same Aroy Curry Paste. I’m not hateing, I use the same one at home too! Kudos to Panaderya for serving up curry with the bone still on the meat though. That is exactly how mama makes it at home! So many times you get shavings of “chicken” or “pork” and I’ve purposely used quotation marks because meat should never look that pretty. You know what I mean right? 

Chicken Adobo with Glass Noodles - $7

Justin: This was Chanry's choice. I didn't know what "Adobo" was so I cowered in fear while she's all "IT'S SO GOOD WE'RE GETTING IT!" Truth be told it didn't really taste like anything to me. It was a lot like any "stew chicken" you'd get in a West Indian household. It tasted fine but nothing I'd be gunning for if I came in for lunch again.

Chanry: To be honest, adobo isn’t really my favourite but it’s such an iconic Filipino dish we had to have it. Cambodians have a very similar dish as well and it’s all very nostalgic. Again the portions were hearty and everything was bone in. Big thumbs up from me. Yes it’s a little messy to eat but everyone knows the meat closes to the bone is always more flavourful! This was a pretty safe choice for me - next time something way more adventurous! 

Chicken & Pork Spring Rolls - $6

Justin: Things kind of take a "meh" turn with these Spring Rolls. The wrapper was crispy but both Chanry and I couldn't discern a difference between any of them in terms of taste. You'd bite into one and go "OK this is Chicken" and then try another going "Uh... OK this one is too so these MUST be Pork" only to find it all tasted the same. If it wasn't for a texture change, I'd have thought they were all Chicken. The Spring Rolls were also sold cold. I assume they'd been sitting in the steam tray for a while. Meh…

Chanry: Justin nailed it. I couldn’t tell between the two, I understand why spring rolls are on the menu but if they’re gunna be that “chaunced” why bother? They were too tiny to even make a dent in flavour. Either beef them up - not literally, or take them off the menu. They’re too labour intensive too. Don’t even get me started on the frozen ones..

Chicken & Pork Skewers - $3

Justin: These were a step up from the Spring Rolls but still lacking. Like the Rolls, these Skewers were dead cold. It's a tough spot to be in when you're pushing cafeteria style and items sit too long. These tasted fine and I enjoyed the BBQ sauce but again, nothing I'd gun for again.

Chanry: These would have been a bit better if they were warm. They had some really good colour on them and the bbq sauce was fine enough but having them served at room temp made the meat hard. I can only assume these skewers and the spring rolls are on the menu as a stepping stone into the more authentic dishes. Fair enough - I see what you’re doing. 

Desserts (Assorted)

Justin: Alright now let's get to what will draw you back to Panaderya Bakeshop again and again. Their desserts are GAWDLIKE! They cover an absolute gauntlet of delicious sweet items. Chan's more of a fruit lover while I tend to dive into Chocolate. Anything that wasn't filled or covered in Chocolate I took a bite and then passed along. I found the non chocolate items VERY sweet. In cases like the Strawberry Cream Puff, there was a lot of natural sugars and then more sugar (powdered, drizzle, etc).It was an overload for me. The Chocolate on the other hand was right in my taste pocket. Items like the divine Beignets were rich, but not overwhelming. Filling on most of the treats carried texture akin to Mousse. I couldn't get enough.

Chanry: That’s it? One paragraph?! I could go on and on about how fantastic and over the moon the desserts are. Francis, the 27 year old owner bakes everything in house with one assistant. From the beignets to the three layered taro cake - these ladies are kicking some major butt in the kitchen!

Justin: Give me a bucket of Fried Chicken and I'll write you a novel.

Chanry: There seems to be a rotating menu of sweets in the window so make sure you come by often. I am hoping she expands further into traditional Filipino desserts - like the jackfruit and plantain spring rolls. For a dollar apiece these puppies are pushing me further and further away from my bikini body.

Justin: You can have all the Jackfruit. I’ll take the Chocolate… fruit? WHATEVER! 

Justin: There are two distinct impressions I get from Panaderya Bakeshop. In terms of lunch food, I don't really care for it. Everything ranged from "fine" in the Coconut Curry Chicken to unappetizing with the Spring Rolls. On the other side though, the desserts are outstanding. I'd lose all my teeth eating Chocolate Beignets every day forever. I've also found myself buying fresh Baguette on the two occasions I've stopped in and have been happy with it. I'd say try the lunch menu to see if it's to your liking but absolutely take the time to eat any and all desserts. They're all delicious and priced stupidly cheap at $2.50 or LOWER!

Chanry: The purple yam cake is what brought me to the door and it’s definitely what’s keeping me coming back. The desserts are without a doubt there specialty. A few things need to be tweaked with the lunch menu - for starters the temperature. Nothing was served hot! The lunch offerings are a great option for something quick and cheap and I think once they get into a good groove with the menu, it could be a really sweet lunch option. I’d come back and try some more authentic dishes because J and I definitely played it safe with the hot food. At $7 a plate - you can’t really hate though. The desserts are an excellent bang for buck and you get quality up the ass too. Sorry, probably should not have used that saying when describing desserts. What I’m trying to say is, it’s a great place to get quality hand crafted desserts without breaking the bank. It’s nice to see Hamilton ahead of the game when it comes to food trend. I think Filipino food is the new Korean.

Justin: There’s authentic Korean coming in my future isn’t there? =/

Panaderya Bakeshop
275 James St North 
Hamilton, On