Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Brunchcapades: Part Three

Date: Saturday April 17, 2010

Location: The Hoof Cafe, 923 Dundas Street West

Time: Arrived at 11:10 am, Jen (part owner and mixologist) put our name and phone number on the list and said it would be about 45, we sipped coffee at The Communal Mule while waiting, got sat at 12:50 pm, was compensated for the ridiculously long wait with mini jelly filled doughnuts

Companions: Annette and Katia, friends of over 11 years, we call ourselves “The Triad” and are often either acting like thirteen year old boys or thirty year old men

Why they make a great brunch date: a mutual love and interest in pork and vodka is one of the foundations of our relationship, we can agree that a package of bacon for three people is not absurd, they love bread and I love cheese; sometimes it just works

My love and respect of The Black Hoof could only suggest that I had to try its’ little sister, The Hoof Cafe. My obsession with meat and offal lead me there like a horse to water. Jen’s house made bloody ceaser didn’t hurt either. It’s got to be five o’clock somewhere.

I take pride in the fact that I always give it to you straight. No B.S and this review is going to be no different although I have to say that this one hurts a little. See, I think Grant Van Gameran (the other owner and charcuterie master) is a cool guy. He’s a culinary genius and does fantastically creative things with animal parts. The bad news is, (insert wince) is that our brunch was no bouquet of awesome. It was mediocre at best. Do not believe the hype. It was not worth the wait.

The first problem is the space; I have seen bigger walk in closets. Diners are jammed in like chickens in a factory. It is just too small.

The second problem is the suckling pig eggs Benedict. Small eggs, flavourless hollandaise and mushy pulled pork on top of a biscuit that was as dense as particle board. Everything except the side arugula salad with a couple of pork rinds was tasteless. Where was the salt? The lemony zip in the sauce? The blue hairs on high blood pressure meds would have loved it.

Another indiscretion was the greasy tongue grilled cheese sandwich that was stuffed with a young, soft cheese - rind and all. I hate the rind. It made the sandwich taste stinky. The oily toast and oozing cheese did absolutely nothing to highlight the meat.

Thank god for the pork belly pastrami and sour cherry and marrow jelly filled doughnuts. The belly, so juicy with strips of fat had a nice drizzle of sweet maple. The really mini doughnuts were crispy with gooey pink centers and dusted with grainy sugar. The idea to incorporate a little unctuous marrow into the filling was sheer brilliance.

Add a fried egg into the mix and that would have made for a much better brunch.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Some Women Like Shoes, I Like Food

One of my favourite activities is food shopping. No, I don’t mean going to the grocery stores (although that’s pretty fun too), I’m talking about food stores, specialty or ethnic stores, the little ones that are filled with exotic and foreign items. You can’t keep me away from them or get me out of them. I once spent two hours at Grant’s Asian Grocery Store at Bloor and Dixie.

These stores are where I find inspiration not just for cooking but for writing as well. Like a school trip, it’s where I learn. I read labels like stories and peruse aisles like a detective. Yes I know I am a food nerd but if you want to know where to get ancho chilies, papadums or tosino, I’ve got you covered.

Eating outside the box is just as important to me as eating within it i.e. for sustenance. Food should be fun and unpredictable. I realize some of my antics (brains, tongues, sweetbreads, eyeballs) are a bit much for some and downright Fear Factoresque for others and I’m trying to forgive you for that but that doesn’t mean that you can’t experiment in other ways. Try a new cheese even though it smells like dirty socks or an unusual vegetable that you have no idea how to cook, even something as safe as a strange bread. Trust me, if it’s sold it’s because somewhere, somehow, people are eating it.

You think I am the first person to eat a beef heart?

Offal aside, just take a little trip to an ethnic supermarket and you will be amazed by all the different colours and fragrances. You will even save a dollar or two as the “ethnic” aisle of the big box stores are charging you way more than the product’s value. Even worse are specialty stores like McEwan’s or The Cheese Boutique. Wanna laugh? McEwan sells sriracha, the one with the rooster on it with the green cap, for something outrageous like $5. You can get it for $2.49 in Chinatown. Here’s a tip: if you are looking for an ethnic ingredient, go to the neighbourhood where that culture resides. Get kielbasa on Roncesvalles, kefalotiri on the Danforth, kimchi in Koreatown, curry in Indiatown, you get the picture. It’s the beauty of living in Toronto; a beauty that should be taken advantage of.

Example: Kensington market is like a playground for food shopping. Augusta Avenue is home to Perola's, a latin grocery store where I picked up some corn tortillas, different salsas and some chipotles for an attempt at making heuvos rancheros.