Justin: ..Two weeks ago
Chanry: …ok, ok, two weeks ago, we received a lot of feed back about how great the post was and how much fun it was to read – especially my parts of course! So this week we bring to you – the second edition. Don’t think this is going to be a weekly thing or anything … okay there might be one next week too but put your pom poms away, this won’t be an erryday thing.
Justin: Please note that I do not own pom poms. On the real though, our last “Battle” was a nice change of pace and I was really happy we could team up together again so soon.
Justin: I caught word of The Tavern On George 4 months ago while perusing through Hamilton’s Subreddit. Someone inevitably asks “what’s the best place to eat/drink/date/etc” once every six weeks or so. This time around, The Tavern On George was brought up as having some interesting cocktails and a tasty if small menu. It went on my giant list of places to eat (aka my ever forgetful brain) and it was just a matter of time before visiting.
Chanry: When J first suggested Tavern on George (TOG) – I went “eww why” Because A). This place doesn’t have a website, no instagram, not even a Facebook. Do you see me giving you cut eye TOG, because I am throwing shade your way & B). There was no menu to be found anywhere! I very rarely go into a restaurant dark. Meaning, I don’t know what’s on the menu and I have no idea what I’m going to eat. Not cool. But I reluctantly agreed and off we went to Hess Village
Justin: Well… they do have a Facebook Page and a web site. Sadly the site is a splash page. Going in dark is a big no no for a lot of people though. I immediately gun for an online menu when learning about a new place as well. If the word of mouth hadn’t been so positive from Reddit, there’s no way I would have pushed it on you. Incurring Chanry’s wrath is not a fun time. There’s soooooo much side eye.
Chanry: True. I’m giving J side eye right now as I’m editing this ..
Chanry: When we first arrived we were welcomed with a bowl of Jerk Spiced Popcorn and we were both pretty impressed. This was a great conversation piece and definitely better than the generic bread basket.
Justin: I couldn’t agree more. I love WARM bread when first sitting down at a restaurant but this was a great Curveball. At first you’re like “really? Popcorn?” but the colour gets you wondering and then you bite into that light Jerk Spice and your palette gets lit up. Chef Kyle said they had been experimenting with various unconventional flavours and this was the one most folks agreed was the best. I could eat this to my face every day. I’d say Kernels should steal the idea but then they’d sell me a large bag for $56 somehow.
Chanry: After cruising the drink menu I realized I was more in the mood for something else.. The true test of a well trained bartender is how well he can mix drinks off the menu – The manager Will, whipped me up something on the fly when I told him I wasn’t a big drinker but still wanted something nice to sip on. He also didn’t make me feel like a big Diva for wanting something not on the menu. Brownie points there! He came back with a “Southside” which was exactly what my brain & taste buds had in mind. He nailed it right on the head! Something sweet, sour, light and refreshing; I was in heaven with this one! J had a Long Island Iced Tea and I wouldn’t go near that with a ten foot straw.
Justin: We all know by now I don’t know anything about the finer points of booze. What I do know though is that was by far the most well balanced Long Island Iced Tea I’d ever had. For a drink with 3oz of liquor, I never felt like I was tasting anything boozy (that’s a word and I’m sticking to it). It’d most likely be my drink of choice if visiting for cocktails.
Kale & Roasted Pork Belly ($6.5) – house roasted pork belly, shaved carrot, house citrus vinaigrette and whole roasted almonds
Justin: Ah Kale, my arch nemesis. I see we meet again. This was definitely a “Yeah… I don’t want that” and Chanry did. There’s a photo above so you can see who won that argument. ANYWAY, I don’t mind saying I was wrong… on occasion. Let’s get to the star here. The Pork Belly was gawdlike. Pork Belly is making the rounds of late in a lot of restaurants and I may keep some in my freezer from time to time as well. It’s an easy ingredient to mess up. Undercooked it almost tastes gelatinous. Overcooked and it’s a chewy disaster. This was smack in the middle Seasoned perfectly, very juicy and an easy chew. The Kale, which I was dreading, turned out well. The Citrus Vinaigrette took the otherwise blah Kale up a notch.
Chanry: Obviously I forced J into getting this one because I knew two dishes were not going to make me full ..aaaand there was pork belly. Duh. Like he would have ordered Kale on his own! This ended up being a pleasant surprise. Of course the pork belly was completely unnecessary (you could have easily replaced it with any other protein) but like a hot chick at a party – once she’s there, you don’t ask her to leave! It added a nice salty texture to the kale salad which came pre-dressed. Kale is usually pretty bland on its own but the dressing worked really well with the texture of the greens and it didn’t wilt on us at all.
Very Southern Fried Chicken & Fries ($9.5) – Boneless chicken thighs marinated in Trinidadian green seasoning, double -dredged and deep fried in classic fashion. Served with garlic dill pickle, muster, fries and nappa cabbage coleslaw
Chanry: The Fried Chicken definitely isn’t something I’d consider traditional. It resembled something more of a Mochiko Chicken from Hawaii made with rice flour (yay gluten free) and add a Trini twist (where the chef is from) minus the sesame seed and Teriyaki sauce of course. The accompanying “bbq” sauce which actually turned out to be house made ketchup was a great addition. Be warned this is fried chicken on the sweeter side, so if you’re a fan of chicken & maple syrup this is definitely up your alley. The cold slaw I could have done without, just a personal preference but the fries and honey mustard played very well together. The crunch and coating on the outside was redic though, kudos on texture and moisture. You get three pieces of boneless thigh meat so expect a punch of flavour! Cause ya’ll know dark meat is where it’s at. For that price, you can’t really go wrong.
Justin: It’s Fried Chicken, you KNOW that I was going to push for it. Chanry and I are going to have to make a top 10 Fried Chicken list soon. When you’re used to either flour based skin or just the straight drop method and then see these pieces, both the skin and chicken itself threw me for a loop. What really caught my attention with this Fried Chicken is that it was de-boned thigh meat. Now a lot of people will tell you that the bone is necessary to add flavour. This Fried Chicken could make the case it isn’t needed. It was insanely juicy (as you can see) dark meat. As Chanry mentioned, this was a sweeter flavour as well. At first I thought I was tasting Ginger. It turned out that Chef Kyle uses Jamaican Five Spice in his recipe. I prefer salty over sweet but this was still very enjoyable.
Pork Meatball Banh Mi ($8) – House ground pork meatballs seared to order on a Vietnames Roll with sambal mayo, chicken and pork liver mousse, carrots, daikons, cilantro and cucumber quick pickle
Chanry: I know what you’re thinking, a place that has two of Chan’s all time favourite things to stuff her face with. WHAT?! I know – I got very excited in the car when J told me the chef on their Twitter account recombined both the Fried Chicken & Banh Mi. Lets be honest and say this will never beat a $2.99 Nguyen Huong Banh Mi but it was a start – just a few tweaks here and there in my opinion and you’ve got a pretty kick ass lunch. For starters, more pickle – don’t get greedy with that $%^*!! And the bread was too dense. We later on found out they’re purchased fresh each day but because of the humidity in the kitchen, they tend to steam up and take the crisp factor out. In this case, I would suggest hollowing out some of the filling – just so you get a better ratio of filling to bread, ya’ll know how important ratio is to me. The cilantro and pork patties were on point for ratio and quantity – super fresh and good flavour. I would have gone with some more bolder flavours like lemongrass and kaffir leaves though. A dashing of soy sauce and a few slices of Thai chilies wouldn’t hurt either. But overall I am very excited to see Hamilton chefs playing around with one of my favourite things to be exported out of Vietnam .. next to that green stuff your neighbor smokes – just kidding!
Justin: I had mixed feelings about this dish. There are a few preconceptions I have about Bahn Mi and a crispy bite is at the top of my list. As soon as I grabbed the bread I knew it wasn’t going to be crisp (sadface). On the flip side, I find “traditional” Bahn Mi is typically lacking in Proteins in favour of a lot of cheap vegetables. It’s street food for a reason right? In this case, the Pork Meatball Patties were thick and seasoned well. They never took a back seat to vegetables, even the Cilantro (which I really prefer in minute portions if at all). With adjustments to the Bread and Vegetable portions this could be a hit. As is, it was my least favourite of everything we tasted. First impressions (bite?) are everything.
Chanry: The chef was also generous enough to bring over some things he was working on. Like these Bourbon sour Popsicles. Careful they melt pretty fast, but the flavour was on point! I easily could have two or three of these in the summer, especially if we were on a patio – errrmahgerd keep them coming . I would have loved to see them served inside a stemless wine class, cause whatever you weren’t able to lick up, you could still drink up. Nothing goes to waste in my books! Especially something so thirst quenching and delicious.
Justin: Alcohol based Popscicles? Well then… let’s get drunk for dessert shall we? It’s a great idea in theory but these delicious Popsicle are going to need work in execution. Let’s get the obvious out of the way: Booze doesn’t freeze. So the water is binding this all together. We were in a temperate room and this melted FAST! I’m sure the idea is to make for a patio treat but something will have to be added into the mix to hold it together. As for flavour, this was spot on. Much like my Long Island Iced Tea, this never tasted too boozy. It was light and refreshing. I’m hopeful this Popsicle can be refined because it could be a summer hit.
Chanry: All in all , TOG is definitely a little gem worth visiting. Definitely not your typical “Hess Village” vibe and after a quick chat with management, you can look forward to them opening up for lunch later in the week and the kitchen is already open up late at night. So no greasy spoon necessary at 1am, come for a banh mi – or at least come for the popcorn, trust me. Just show up for the popcorn! It’s a great bang for your buck and the cocktails easily make TOG a great after work spot.
Justin: Our service was fantastic, with Will being very proactive in anticipating our needs and just carrying on general conversation. Much thanks to Chef Kyle for briefly stepping out of the kitchen to answer a few recipe questions. We’d have been baffled on the Fried Chicken for sure without him. Also; as Chanry briefly touched on with the Fried Chicken, the price point is straight value town. Every item we ate was under $10 with portions large enough to satisfy. As for the food itself? I’m honestly on the fence. Everything (aside from the Kale salad oddly) felt like it’s right on the cusp of being great but not… quite… there. Everything felt like it needed just a little something more or adjusted to elevate it to “wow” status. What I’d suggest is stop in for drinks and see if something catches your eye on the menu rather than vice versa. The food has so much potential, it just hasn’t been realized yet.
The Tavern On George
109 George Street