Saturday, June 28, 2008

Toronto Ribfest 2008: Try Carolina Rib King

Today (yes, I'm blogging on the day of!) Darcy and I went to the 2008 Toronto Ribfest in Centennial Park in Etobicoke. Yup, there was a lot going on in the city today including the Toronto Jazz Festival, Gay Pride, Fiesta Mexicana, the CHIN Picnic, but no. We went to Ribfest and it was glorious.

I've never been to any of the big BBQ states before, so I really wanted to try something from a real American outfit. We went straight Carolina Rib King, which is the real deal from South Carolina. Everyone working there had a fantastic southern accent and a really nice, laid back attitude which made me feel like they were confident they had good stuff.

We got a half rack for Darcy and a pulled pork sandwich for me. The pulled pork sandwich was amazing with soft, minced pork that was moist, but not greasy, even without any sauce at all. They had three huge barrels of sauce out front so you could add as much as you want. I really liked it this way because too much sauce can so easily ruin a great sandwich. I squirted on a bit of both sauces (mild and hot) and they were delicious. The hot sauce doesn't taste hot at all at first, but then it really kicks in. So good. Best sandwich from any ribfest I've been to.

I nibbled a bit of Darcy's ribs and they were impossibly tender. Usually smoked ribs aren't as tender as those baby back ones you might get at Baton Rouge that are boiled first then baked, but these were. They came away from the bone and melted in your mouth.

The terrible thing about ribfest is that there is so much there, but you really can only eat so much. So, we got some stuff to go, including another half rack and a 1/2 pound of pulled pork (just the meat) from Camp 31, our favourite from last year, as well as the Vegetarian Nightmare (pulled pork, ribs, and chicken) from Uncle Sam's.

We took everything home, metabolized for a few hours, and then had the ribs, chicken, and half of the pulled pork. Everything was good, of course, but if I had to pick a favourite, I'd say you can't go wrong with Carolina Rib King.

In addition to the BBQ, there are tonnes of other goodies like roasted corn, french fries, hotdogs, Tiny Tom's donuts, and kettle corn. By far the most popular was the bloomin' onions and butterfly chips at Bob's Bloomin' Onions. The bloomin' onion is an enormous whole onion sliced crossways many times, but with one end intact so that when it's deep-fried, the slices fan out like flower petals. I'd never seen the butterfly chips before, but they are made by thinly slicing a potato in one long spiral and deep-frying it so you get a huge, entangled, very 3 dimensional mess o' potato chips. They were as visually impressive as a Thanksgiving turkey. We didn't get any, but I wanted a picture desperately. I tried to get a paparazzi-style one, but couldn't so I found this one on the web.

Toronto Ribfest runs until Canada Day, so you've got a few days to get there. You could even go twice.

Toronto Ribfest
Centennial Park
256 Centennial Park Rd.
Etobicoke, Ontario Canada
Web site:

Ontario Ribfests

Update: The Google calendar was updated for 2010, but not the text below it.

Since we love the Toronto Ribfest so much we wanted to go to more but couldn't find one web site that listed them all. So, with the power of Google, we compiled a list with links to the individual ribfest web sites along with a handy calendar so you can plan your summer's gluttony. Click on a city name in the calendar to see details and a link to its location. Enjoy!

Pickering: June 6 - 8

Niagara Falls: June 13 - 15

Ottawa: June 18 - 22

Gananoque: June 20 - 22

Bowmanville: June 27 - July 1

Toronto: June 27 - July 1

Timmins: June 27 - June 29

Peterborough: July 4-6

Barrie: July 10 - 13

Markham: July 11 - July 13

Sarnia: July 17-20

Mississauga: July 17-20

Kitchener: July 18 - 20

Uxbridge: July 18 - July 20

London: July 31 - August 4

St. Catharines: August 1-4

Scarborough: August 1 - 4

Brockville: August 8 - 10

Woodbridge: August 8-10

Quinte (Belleville): August 15 -17

Northumberland: August 15 -17

Newmarket: August 16

Guelph: August 22 - 24

Burlington: August 29 - September 1

Oshawa: September 5-7

Part 3: The trip back to Toronto aka The Odyssey

On the Sunday morning, we got up bright and early to start the journey home. Paula's hubby indulged our irrational fears of missing the ferry by driving with Darcy the night before to leave our rental car in line-up. We arrived and our shiny car was first in front of about 20 other cars. We drove up to it and got in like VIPs. The locals must have though we were nuts.

Just like the first day, it was pouring rain so after some hasty goodbyes, we scrambled into the car and waited to board. After that point, the day was supposed to go like this:

  1. Take ferry from Fogo to Farewell
  2. Drive from Farewell to Gander
  3. Fly from Gander to Halifax
  4. Connect in Halifax and fly to Toronto
  5. Take a cab home and arrive just in time for dinner

Steps 1-3 went pretty seamlessly. The ferry ride went without a hitch and the drive to Gander was easy peasy. We arrived in plenty of time to find some food and return the car. There isn't too much in Gander in the way of local cuisine, as far as we could tell. If you want a local experience, you might have to eat at one of the hotels. The Albatross Hotel restaurant is a good bet. Because other than that, you're looking at fast food: McDonald's, Subway, A&W, etc. We had Subway.

By the time we got to the Gander airport, I was absolutely freezing (6 Celsius!) and the little turkey sub I had did nothing to warm me up. So, we went to the cafeteria at the airport. I was jonesing for something hearty and Newfie and my prayers were answered: Fries, Dressing, and Gravy. It's basically a Newfoundland-style poutine with bread stuffing instead of cheese curds. Darcy's stomach was a little upset so he had to sit away from me while I dove in. I ate the whole thing.

When we got to Halifax, we heard rumours of thunderstorms in Toronto but our flight wasn't delayed by too much. We took the opportunity to have something to eat before boarding which we were very thankful for later. We went to the new Beaches Bar and Grill (I think this is what it was called) at the far end of the departures level. It's much quieter than the Legends, the sports pub, but they still have TVs and it has a Nova Scotia surfing theme. Yes, that's right, despite the year round frigid water temperatures, surfing is big on the south shore of Nova Scotia, particularly at Lawrencetown Beach which is 20 minutes from where I grew up. I took this last chance to have something east coast-ish and ordered the lobster roll. The lobster was minced pretty small so I suspect it wasn't fresh lobster picked from the shell. Ah well.

The flight was fine until we were just about to land and then couldn't due to the thunderstorms. Instead, we flew to Montreal, waited in the stifling airplane for an hour, then in the terminal for an hour before we finally took off again at midnight. By 1AM we arrived and the airport was busier than Christmas. Every flight had been delayed and we were all waiting for our bags. Needless to say it took about 2 hours to get the bags before we stumbled out to wait in line for a cab. I was complaining about this to a co-worker who flew the exact same night and was in Montreal at the same time. It turned out that his flight got cancelled in Montreal, so he slept in the airport before boarding again at 5:30AM. So, we were actually pretty lucky.

Thank you so much to Paula and family for hosting us in Fogo. We had a great time and we'll be back again!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Part 2: I can't believe there's a Chinese restaurant in Fogo

After a glorious night's sleep, Paula cooked us an amazing breakfast of bacon, eggs, and toast with a side of fishcakes (mixture of whitefish and potato formed into patties and pan-fried). Luuurv fishcakes. Crispy on the outside and soft and pillowy on the inside with a slight salty taste of fish.

Later in the day, we went on a long drive around the island hoping to see icebergs, whales, or caribou, but it was a tad too foggy and rainy. Nevertheless, we saw the fishery where Paula bought the crab, interesting old houses, graveyards with tombstones dating back to the 1800s, and the tiniest post office I've ever see. I love post offices.

Now, people say that there is a Chinese restaurant in every town in the world and now I believe it. Kwang Tung, Fogo Island's only Chinese restaurant, is just a stone's throw (literally) from Paula's house and and is run by a Chinese woman and her son. We picked up a few combos for an early dinner.

I wanted so badly to take pictures inside the restaurant, but I thought that might appear patronizing so I abstained. The restaurant is in a small, converted house. When you walk in, you're immediately in the middle of the dining room and there is a tiny window cut between this room and the kitchen where you pass your money through and receive your order. I took a picture of the menu in case you're ever in the area and want to plan ahead. On the flipside of this menu is some North American specialties, including sandwiches, burgers, and steaks, but I heard that the best thing to order is the Chinese food, so I'll leave that picture out. Blogger keeps inserting it sideways anyway.

Paula and I had the Kwang Tung Specialty C (egg roll, garlic spareribs, chicken fried rice, chicken guy ding) while the husbands both had Specialty A (garlic spareribs, fried rice, sweet and sour chicken). Oh, you know you love it -- Chinese Canadian food. Good in that guilty pleasure kind of way. The spareribs were fantastic, but we were all a little disappointed that the egg rolls had actual recognizable vegetables and meat in them instead of that uniform meat paste. I love that meat paste.

You might think that after all that food we couldn't possibly have dessert, but you'd be wrong. Paula and I had these peanut/coconut/chocolate-covered things bought at the grocery store with a side of vanilla ice cream and brownie.

At the same time, Darcy enjoyed the local brew, Black Horse, which doesn't have such a great reputation, but he really enjoyed it. We all plunked down on the couch with our respective treats, half watched the U.S. Open, and indulged in the comfort of hanging out with old, old friends.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Part 1: The journey to Fogo Island

It'd be pretty silly to apologize for my blog laziness these days, since I've been so absent, but I'd like to say sorry for my tardiness to my good friend Paula who graciously hosted us in Fogo Island, Newfoundland last weekend and treated us to such a good time. She and and her wonderful hubby Steve were so great about showing us around and feeding us such yummy food.

So, after spending a night in Gander, we headed for the fabled Fogo Island, which was made famous in that I's the B'y song that everyone sang at some point in school. My oldest friend (for 27 years!) Paula moved there a few months ago with her husband, new baby, and adorable dog, and we were their first visitors.

Let me say firstly that it was a lot further than I expected. It took in the neighbourhood of an hour to drive to Farewell where the ferry leaves. For anyone who is planning on going, I have two pieces of advice: 1) bring a map (there aren't many signs along the way); 2) eat in Gander before you go. We were excited and left without breakfast and discovered that there isn't anything in Farewell except the ferry and a vending machine. We were super early so we backtracked, but still couldn't find anything but a gas station where we bought some of those plastic-wrapped sandwiches that somehow have expiry dates stretching one month into the future. Mine was actually pretty good.

The ferry ride was quick and pleasant with a very short stop in the Change Islands. The vessel was the same actual boat that used to carry passengers between New Brunswick and PEI before Confederation Bridge was built, so it was very familiar. Again, for anyone planning on making this trip, there is only vending machines on board, so be prepared. The crossing is only about an hour.

After getting off the ferry, we drove the last 20 minutes to Paula's place and it really was such a different world. After a straight stretch of highway at the beginning, the road started to wind around inlets and rocky terrain covered with red heather alongside the foggy coast. All the businesses (convenience stores, pubs, and even a tanning salon) were inside old residential houses, which is so charming.

Upon our arrival, Paula had a huge spread of freshly caught crab that she got straight from the fishery, Newfoundland potato salad, and yummy white bread rolls. I think I ate twice as much as everyone else. Rule of thumb: 8 lbs of crab is more that enough for 3 regular people and one greedy one. The crab was by far the best I've ever had. The fishermen pressure cook it immediately after catching it, so you only have to steam it to warm it up again. The flesh came out of the shell in one, luscious piece. Thanks so much, Paula. I am so lucky.

Friday, June 13, 2008

I can't believe I'm in Gander

Yup, we're in Gander and are minutes away from departing for the long-anticipated Fogo Island, which the linked web site will tell you is considered on of the four corners of the earth by the Flat Earth Society. We're visiting my oldest friend, Paula who moved here in March and I can't wait to see her and her new home as well as this remote and exotic island off Newfoundland.

Right now, we're in Gander, which we haven't seen much of since it's been raining nonstop, but I did get a chance to have a Blue Star beer (local brew) and eat some cod tongues at the Albatross Hotel restaurant. Cod tongues -- not really my thing it turns out, but I tried them!

There isn't any high speed Internet access in Fogo, so I'll have to blog when I get back to TO. Hope I get to see an iceberg!

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Pitbulls on Chowhound

Now, I know the purpose of the Chowhound message board is to provide a forum where anyone can quickly (and anonymously) post small restaurant reviews that can help us all find great, hidden places and be forewarned of ones to stay away from. We all want to have good food experiences. What I am amazed by is how some Chowhound users seem genuinely offended by new restaurants that they feel aren't worthy of being in their neighbourhoods. They take it as a personal attack and do everything they can to cheer on their closure. I don't know where the idea comes from that the owners of restaurants are out to get them. Is it an insecurity that they aren't cool enough to live there either? Whatever it is, the story completely changes when you know the people who work double-shifts to make the best food they can while the pitbulls circle outside and rack their brains for the acidic anecdotes that they'll post later, some without even eating there.

I know that I go out to eat a lot and sit in judgement of every aspect of the experience and write exactly what I think here, so this is a bit of the pot calling the kettle black. Everyone appreciates honest opinions, but can we relax a little bit and not pretend this all actually matters?

Sunday, June 1, 2008

The Kitchen: Sweet spot in Parkdale

Back in 2005, I took a Food Writing course at George Brown College and met bright, young chef, Olivia Bolano. She was, and still is, bursting with positive energy and I was thrilled to find out that she is the executive chef at newly opened (January 2008) hotspot, The Kitchen in Parkdale, a stone’s throw away from both the Gladstone and the Drake.

It’s so much fun knowing the chef at a restaurant and seeing how her personality comes through in the food (only Olivia could make Red Bull sorbet!). It’s the ultimate fusion menu with influences from Italian, Japanese, French, Spanish, and probably several other cuisines. Over the past two months I’ve been to the restaurant twice had the pleasure of sampling about half of the dishes. On one of the trips, I brought my friend and very talented photographer, Ayngelina Brogan, who skilfully took all the nice pictures you see here. The ones that aren’t so nice are mine.

It’s an all tapas menu, so they suggest you order 2 dishes per person and share. Between both visits, I tasted about 16 items in all and my favourites were the following:

Garden Maki
Asparagus and bell pepper roll in a panko crust served with wasabi yogurt. As far as the savoury items go, this was my absolute favourite. The panko crust was crispy, but not greasy, and the rice had just the right bite. So good.

Charcuterie Plate
Duck prosciutto, Serrano ham, chorizo and garnishes. This is the only place where I’ve ever seen duck prosciutto. Try it; you’ll love it. Along with the lovely, paper-thin Serrano ham and hearty chorizo.

Grilled Calamari
With double smoked bacon. When we were sharing this dish, I snagged a choice slice of the body meat and it was incredibly soft, tender and perfect. It couldn’t have been cooked better. Melts in your mouth.

Fried Calamari
This is honestly my favourite fried calamari in the entire city. If I’m not mistaken it’s breaded instead of battered making a peppery, crunchy crust around the yummy squid.

Beef Ribs
Slow cooked with an ancho b.b.q. sauce. This girl knows how to cook meat. These big, beef ribs fall off the bone and have just the right amount of sauce.

Banana and Jack
I’m not sure if this is the correct name of the dish because I forgot to write it down, but its well-deserved nickname is Banana Crack. This dish is based on a Filipino snack that consists of banana and jackfruit wrapped in a springroll wrapper and deep-fried. Olivia’s version is minus the jackfruit and plus some Jack Daniels and honey whipped cream. It. Is. To. Die. For. Order one per person because you will NOT want to share.

They had a crazy drink special on when I was there at the end of March where all drinks were $4 taxes in on Wednesdays. With the place gaining in popularity, they may not still offer it, but it couldn’t hurt to ask. In addition to dinner, they are open for both lunch and weekend brunch. I can’t wait to go.

I wish Olivia and The Kitchen great success and I hope you will try it. Know that the woman cooking for you at The Kitchen is one of the sweetest people around whose love of food shines through in everything on the menu.