Tag Archives: St. Lawrence Market

Free-Market Fast-Food Fight: Big King vs. Big Mac

17 Jul

I recently wrote about the new Burger King in the St. Lawrence Market neighbourhood, and how it’s the devil incarnate, the worst thing to happen to the area, miserably soulless, yada yada yada.  I also mentioned that the McDonald’s that it faces is arguably the worst one in the world, and that the best thing that Burger King could do is to put it out of business.  Being a big fan of unbridled capitalistic competition, I thought I’d compare their offerings to determine who will likely be the winner of this fast-food fight.

I chose the Big King and the Big Mac, since they both represent their respective establishments and are remarkably similar (lawsuit, anyone?).  I knew the Big Mac would be mediocre at best, so I was hoping that the Big King would blow it out of the water.  To be clear, this was not a test of flavour and quality in absolute terms, but rather a relativist exercise in figuring out the lesser of two evils.

Packaged burgers. I prefer boxes.

Packaged burgers. I prefer boxes.

Unfortunately, it turned out to be like a race between a blind guy and a half-blind guy.  The Big King was the half-blind guy.  Despite the fact that the Big King was marginally better because of its pseudo-grilled flavour, proportional serving of sauce (the Big Mac was swimming in it) and real toppings instead of onions that looked like bits of paper towel, I was disappointed that Burger King, the new kid on the block, couldn’t get it together enough to put out a truly quality product (again, in RELATIVE terms).

The Big King. Meh.

The Big King. Meh.

The Big Mac. Bleh.

The Big Mac. Bleh.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If an independent burger joint had taken over the corner opposite a McDonald’s, you can be damn sure that it would have tried its hardest to win people over. This Burger King is just phoning it in, and the neighbourhood is left with a choice between useless and hopeless.

Many brown thumbs down for both.

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St. Lawrence Market: we’ve hit the fast food tipping point

6 Jul

The St. Lawrence Market neighbourhood has just about as many fast food joints as it can handle.  Between Starbucks, Pizza Pizza, McDonald’s and Jack Astor’s, there are as many chain restaurants per square inch as you’d find in *cringe* a suburban shopping mall. That’s why I was mortified when I saw my friend Angie’s picture of the shiny new Burger King at the corner of Front and George streets.

Burger King - you are a waste of space.

Burger King – you are a waste of space.

I’m no civic activist, and the property owner is free to choose his tenant, but this is a situation where the neighbourhood needs to vote with its feet.  It’s taken a while, but there are a growing number of innovative and high-quality cafés, bars and restaurants that are helping to foster a true community feeling in the St. Lawrence Market area. Think AAA, Fahrenheit, Betty’s, Pacific Junction Hotel and Fusaro’s.  These have popped up alongside the established, low key locals such as Paddington’s Pump, Patrician Grill, Bellissimo’s and On the Rocks.  All these places, new or old, have the character and soul that are the lifeblood of a true neighbourhood.  By definition, a chain restaurant like Burger King could never have that.  Yet character and soul are what the neighbourhood needs more of as it grows with each new development.

Perhaps the geniuses behind this Burger King location thought that they could capitalize on the nearby George Brown crowd by offering them cheap crap to gobble down while studying (or avoiding studying).  To all those George Brown-ites who might fall for this – there are other, cheaper places. If you want cheap, go to Patrician Grill on King, or to Bellissimo’s down Sherbourne.  They’re just as cheap, and they even have character and soul!  If it’s truly a burger you’re looking for, there is a positively dizzying array of good burgers within spitting distance.  The Jason George has a really well executed pub burger and, on Tuesdays, it’s $5.95! Best of all, it’s RIGHT NEXT DOOR!  As well, Paddington’s and Patrician both do a made-from-scratch flat-top diner style burger that will knock your socks off.

There’s simply not enough room for both a Burger King and a McDonald’s on the same street corner.  Despite wanting a Burger King in the neighbourhood about as much as I wanted an ice cream during the polar vortex, maybe it’ll give the world’s worst McDonald’s a competitive kick in the teeth and put it out of business.  That may be the only silver lining in this unfortunate state of affairs.

 

Fahrenheit Coffee: the Latin dance party of espresso bars

24 Jun

This review has been a long time coming. When I wrote about the best coffee in the downtown core, I intentionally left out Fahrenheit Coffee (@FahrenheitTO), and not just because it’s closer to the St. Lawrence Market than King and Bay. Fahrenheit is more about good friends hanging out than wanker bankers talking about the next deal. Fahrenheit is where you want to go, not where you have to go.

fahrenheit 2

When you set foot in Fahrenheit, it’s like stepping into your living room when you’ve got friends over for a party.  The baristas know everyone – I often go there with Alice and, when either of us go alone, they ask where the other is!  The Latin music is just loud enough to create a fantastic energy without making your conversation a yelling contest. The layout is communal – the long, narrow wooden table in the middle of the space all but forces you to be social.

fahrenheit 1

Fahrenheit would be a winner solely based on the fantastic atmosphere. However, it manages to do what only the very best establishments can – marry a great ambiance with truly high-quality products. Crudely put, the espresso is fucking awesome. These guys have mastered the art of extracting subtle flavours and notes out of an incredibly intense beverage, to the point where their selection of beans “on tap” comes with tasting notes. The Diablo is a mainstay, and their Brazilian option is well-balanced, with the surprisingly specific flavour of peanut butter. However, of all their current offerings, the Sulawesi espresso is the standout. It is reminiscent of a 2009 Savigny-lès-Beaune – pleasantly acidic, with delicate fruit and earth tones but a powerful structure. If you could classify espresso like wine, this would be a premier cru.

If you go to Fahrenheit, be prepared to be just as invigorated by the ambiance as by the coffee. There’s no better place to start your day this side of Yonge Street.

4.02 out of 5 brown thumbs up.

Welcome to the neighbourhood!

15 Oct

Three recent facts about me:

1. I moved a month ago.

2. And I started a new job 4 days before the move.

3. And one week after moving, I had the bright idea of hosting a dinner party.

The last one is the really craziest of all thing that I’ve managed to pull off in a while. Maybe even more stunning than when I secured the new job and the new place within 24 hours. The whole dinner party was cooked up as a way to use my awesome outdoor space before winter settled into Toronto. In an email to the YYZ crew, I joked that it should be a YYZ Gourmand writers meeting, and that Nathan and MC would have a cook off. People laughed, asked me for more details and then I disappeared under a pile of work and moving boxes … and in my absence they thought that maybe I was serious. Never was I happier to have a joke be taken seriously. I even took it seriously myself. On the Saturday of the dinner party, on my way home from work, I realised that it was what Clementine had dubbed “YYZ Summit” day and that while I’d taken the time to clean the place up, I had bought absolutely zero things for my own dinner party.

Until then, my worst (dinner party) fear had been reserved to Bridget Jones levels of food failure and my guests being so bored that they leave early. I had never expected that I’d completely forget the food. Here’s where Majid and Nathan came to the rescue. They did so by taking me up on my dinner party dare and actually planning a cook off. And these boys were serious! 

Bresaola, lemon, parmesan, olive oil and pepper... Before Nathan served this to me in my own own, I'd only ever seen this served in restaurants!

Bresaola, lemon, parmesan, olive oil and pepper… Before Nathan served this to me in my own own, I’d only ever seen this served in restaurants!

Nathan, who had come in from Waterloo for the event, showed up with fresh bread and Monteforde cheese, couscous and vegetables from his own garden.

The lamb doing its last leg of marinating before being put on the grill...

The lamb doing its last leg of marinating before being put on the grill…

Majid had bought everything fresh that morning at the St. Lawrence Farmers Market. Including lamb steaks from his “lamb guy” which Majid marinated and prepped in a lemon garlic base.

Nathan's hands were hard at work while Clem and I enjoyed the fruit of his labour.

Nathan’s hands were hard at work while Clem and I enjoyed the fruit of his labour.

Clementine and I could have helped prep the food… but instead we sat in the living room and gossiped and wistfully wondered why I didn’t yet have cable so we could watch a baseball game. Feminism at work, folks.

Part of the spread that Clementine and I were digging into before we were supposed too. Opps!

Part of the spread that Clementine and I were digging into before we were supposed too. Opps! (And no, my plates don’t match. Don’t judge me!)

There was more food at the dinner table than there was at my family’s Thanksgiving dinner this past weekend! No matter how hearty our appetites, we just couldn’t finish it…

A feast for many, but served to four.

A feast for many, but served to four.

It was the best dinner party that I’ve ever had the pleasure of (accidentally?) hosting (and not cooking for). My gracious guests/cooks generously left with me all the leftovers… which fed me for the next 3 days. A good meal is all you need to feel instantly at home. Thanks for the welcome to my new hood, MC, Nathan and Clementine! Come over any time! (I’m serious, please do, I barely know how to feed myself!).

Triple A Bar: Texas Style BBQ in Old Town Toronto

27 Aug

I love where I live (in the middle of Old Town Toronto) and I don’t mind my shoebox of an apartment because I’m rarely at home.  Once in a while, however, I have a pang of regret for not having a backyard.  My dream would be to have a garden to grow my own hops, space for a Big Green Egg and room to host spectacular dinner parties where I force my guests to try my beef ribs and drink my home brewed IPA.

The second best thing to watching people puzzle over my presumably perfect fictional BBQ sauce is to find a neighbourhood joint to frequent where other people make BBQ for me.   And at long last, that has happened.

Triple A Bar

Triple A Bar

Triple A Bar is a Texan styled BBQ bar/restaurant just north of St. James Park.  The scuffed wood, distressed steel and hanging Edison bulbs bring about a southern road side saloon ambiance.  Their menu is simple: a handwritten note lists items such as smoked beef brisket ($15), dry rub ribs ($15) and pulled pork sandwich ($10).   Sides include spicy or regular coleslaw ($4), beans ($4) and fries or onion rings ($6).

My dining companion and I settled on trying their brisket and the pulled pork sandwich.  We accompanied that with fries and spicy coleslaw.

The brisket: tender slow-cooked smoky quality beef with good fatty to lean ratio (enough for flavour, not enough for a heart attack).  Served with two slices of Wonderbread.

Pulled pork sandwich: shredded moist pork atop Wonderbread bun. Served “dry” (aka not swimming in a pool of sugary BBQ sauce) which is how I prefer it, and that meat stood well on its own.

Bottle of homemade BBQ Sauce ON THE SIDE: This was awesome because 1) I like controlling how much BBQ sauce (in particular) is on my food and 2) it was homemade and good.  Simple maple sweetness and sufficient tang – it truly accompanied the meat instead of stealing the show.

I also have to give a huge thanks for the variety of habanero and scotch bonnet hot sauces that were offered.  None of this  “tabasco IS a hot sauce” scam at this BBQ joint!

Fries: Are these double-fried?!  So good.  Crispy exterior, slightly seasoned.  We asked the server to bring a second basket (don’t judge!).

Spicy coleslaw: Finely shredded peppery purple cabbage was used in this slaw.  I loved it – refreshing crunch and NOT swimming in mayonnaise (gross), or oil.  It looked like it was squeezed with a cheesecloth?

The meal, along with cold pints of beer, hit the spot for a BBQ craving and I can’t wait to go back to try their dry rub ribs and onion rings.  I highly recommend this place for other apartment dwellers in the Old Town Toronto area who can’t fit a smoker in their den.

Post Script – I heard a rumour that there’s a $3 tequila special each night and that they make a mean bourbon sour.  Will have to return to back up these claims.

Triple A Bar on Urbanspoon