Throwback Thursday: The Flamin’ Hot Cheetos epidemic

(Originally written October 17, 2012)

In America’s War on School Lunches, one particular product has become the prime target: Flamin’ Hot Cheetos.  The spicy cheese snack, first introduced in the early 90’s, apparently has such devastating consequences to kids’ health that it’s been banned in several school districts.  No, not unhealthy snacks, or Cheetos in general, just the Flamin’ Hot variety.  “We don’t encourage other chips, but if we see Hot Cheetos, we confiscate them — sometimes after the child has already eaten most of them. It’s mostly about the lack of nutrition,” a California principal told the Chicago Tribune.  Oookay, but what makes them less nutritious, or more confiscatable, than other chips?

According to CBS News, “One ounce of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos — about 21 pieces — is about 160 calories, including 17 percent of the daily suggested serving for fat and 8 percent of serving for saturated fat. It also contain (sic) 250 mg — or 10 percent of the daily value — of sodium.”  That’s not very healthy, granted, but it’s got nothing on a humongo chicken shawarma!  However, it appears that the most harmful substances in Flamin’ Hot Cheetos are not found on the nutritional guide.

As per the Tribune, “processed salty, fatty or sweet foods of any kind — also called ‘hyperpalatable foods’ — can trigger brain responses similar to those created by controlled substances in addicted individuals.”  Or, as one high-school sophomore put it, “Personally I have been eating them for years, and I cannot stop. I just have this urge to eat them.”

Even Frito-Lay, the company that makes said spicy snack, seems to treat ‘em like a controlled substance. “Frito-Lay is committed to responsible and ethical marketing practices, which includes not marketing our products to children ages 12 and under. We also do not decide which snacks are available on school campuses and do not sell snack products directly to schools,” Ricky Ray’s former employer said in a statement.  Still, rumours that the spicy seasoning contains crack dust have yet to be confirmed…

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Assembling the most heroic Hero Burger of all time

So, here’s the deal. In Toronto, we have this local chain called Hero Burger. You can even get ‘em at the ACC. And they offer you no shortage of options—a 4 oz patty, a 6 oz patty, two 4 oz patties—and that’s just the beef! I mean, you could get chicken or turkey or fish, but not in a double. You can even choose from five different buns, dude!

And that’s without talking about all the crazy toppings on top. You’ve got five different cheeses, six different sides, and funky options likes crispy onions, roasted red peppers, a fried egg, guacamole and beef bacon. So I sez to myself, “Dude, what would happen if I added all the crazy add-ons at once?” Well, for one thing, the burger would be freakin’ huge…

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And just wait till I unwrap it, bro! I will say I didn’t double down where it didn’t make sense. So I went with crispy onions over sautéed, and beef bacon over bacon strips (they might hafta take my Epic Meal Time card away). I also didn’t do the guac, cuz hey, who wants to pay 99 cents for guacamole? I don’t even add that charge at Chipotle, son! I did, however, pay 99 cents for a bamboo charcoal bun, cuz, let’s face it, those look pretty badass:

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OK, now let’s break it down. We’ve got goat cheese on top of one patty, and blue cheese on top of the other. And the very first thing I taste when I bite into this is the blue cheese. It’s pretty pungent stuff, and not everybody loves it, but if you don’t put it on your wings when you’re in Buffalo, they’ll deport you to Syracuse…

Next up, we’ve got a nice chew from the beef bacon, which has a little more texture than its porky cousin. The tomato and pickles added some freshness, and the fried egg packed on some extra protein. There was also a nice tangy flavour from the pineapple mango sauce, cuz hey, I had to get some fruit in there somewhere. And the bun had a nice texture; crispier and crunchier than your average burger roll. The one thing I didn’t really remember was the Portobello mushrooms. I hope they didn’t forget to put ‘em on, cuz I know I paid for them—sez so on my receipt, bro:

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Now, you might think an epic burger like this would set you back 77 bucks, or something, but as you see, it was only $24.42—and that’s after HST! (I mean, it’s not like I could ask them to hold the tax when I didn’t say to hold anything else, eh?)

It’s like Boars Gone Wild, bro!

So, yesterday I went to Maple Leaf Loblaws, which was the only grocery store open on Easter Sunday. (I guess they don’t like Easter eggs, or something.) I don’t go there very often, but when I do, I find all kinds of funky frozen food—Chili’s chicken fajita rice bowls, Greek chicken souvlaki pizza, and some of the best frozen burritos I’ve ever tasted. Oh, and then there’s this:

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Man, the last time I had sanglier, I was getting drunk on a plane with Gérard Depardieu! (Too bad I made it to the bathroom before he did…) I wouldn’t normally buy wild boar, but it was on sale for $6.99, so I figured it was worth a shot. Wasn’t sure how to cook it, but I figured since it was steak, I could probably just throw it in a frying pan with some semi-sauteed onions, et voila:

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Wild boar steak frites, bro! You got a nice crispness from the fries, a little crunch from the onions (which were a little undercooked) and a nice medium-rare boar. Y’know, it does kinda taste like steak, but it’s kinda got a bit of a livery texture to it. Not that I’ve had liver and onions lately—it’s never on sale at Longo’s, bro!

So, I know what you’re thinking: what could I possibly be drinking to wash this down? I got two words for ya… Molson Dry!

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If Molson Canadian is the national beer of Canada, then Molson Dry is the national beer of Quebec. Cuz when you wanna get Montreal wasted, buvez Molson Dry!TM

Best burger in NYC? Let’s break it down…

(Originally written January 27, 2013)

Eating out in New York City is expensive.  Y’know, I almost wish they had a gift shop that sold t-shirts inscribed with “I can’t believe I paid $16.95 for a deli sandwich!”  (And it was a damn good deli sandwich, too, but still…)  Suffice to say, I didn’t have le cash to eat at Le Cirque–though I’m sure it’s very nice.  Alas, aside from a daring foray into Guy Fieri’s critically disclaimed restaurant and bar, I primarily dined on burgers.  Which isn’t all that unusual for me, since I once spent a whole week eating beef here in Toronto not so long ago.  (Hey, I am from Alberta, after all!)

Now, while Toronto has its share of gourmet burger joints, you won’t find too many of them on Zagat’s best list–with the exception of The Burger’s Priest, which, I must confess, I still haven’t tried.  On the other hand, the best burgers in the Big Apple are adored by critics and commoners alike.  They even go as far as to ask you how you’d like your patty cooked, which was a first for me.  Of course, I’m from Alberta, so I had mine medium-rare.  (Apparently, you’re supposed to cook hamburger for longer to prevent stuff like E. coli.  I guess that explains a lot…)

Mind you, I was only in NYC for one weekend, so it was kind of a case of so many burgers, so little time.  However, I managed to find two great burger joints that couldn’t have less in common, apart from the main menu item.  One was your more traditional fast-food, take-out or dine-in joint (if your traditional fast-food joint serves alcohol) in trendy Fort Greene, Brooklyn.  The other, a popular, wait-for-a-table, upscale eatery in Hell’s Kitchen, Manhattan.  But in the end, both had some tasty beef.  Let’s go to the tale of the tape…

67 BURGER

To get to 67 Burger, you’ll hafta take the C Train.  This Brooklyn fav boasts two locations a world removed from Times Square; one in yuppified Park Slope and the other in racially-harmonious Fort Greene.  (GQ describe the latter hood as a racial mucous membrane, which is definitely a disgusting way to define diversity.)  The decor at the Lafayette Ave location leaves little to look at; there is, however, ample seating space if you get there early enough.

As I alluded to earlier, this fairly-fast-food joint also offers a six-dollar selection of beer and wine.  But for the price of a pint, you can go one step further and order a beer shake.  Admittedly, I wasn’t watching the milkshake machine when they mixed it, but it did taste a little like a light lager…

67_burger_shake

The nice thing about 67 Burger’s selection is that you can order any of their 13 signature creations with any one of five proteins: beef, chicken, turkey, veggie or tofu.  They even offer recommendations as to which patty goes best with each style–while also encouraging experimentation.  According to the menu, the southwestern (homemade chipotle mayo, roasted peppers, tomatoes, scallions and pepper jack cheese) tasted best with tofu, but I’d rather shit a brick than eat tofu–though I’m told the two aren’t mutually exclusive.  So naturally, I made mine with beef.

67_burger

Hard to tell if there were roasted peppers on there, but the chipotle mayo blended well with the big block of cheese.  I made sure to pile on all the extra toppings on the plate, as well.  The pickles were especially fresh and tangy.

Meat: Thick and juicy, this patty practically has its own zip code.
Cheese: The big slab of pepper jack didn’t fully melt on the burger, which allowed it to melt in your mouth instead.
Toppings: Tangy chipotle mayo collides with fresh pickles and purple onions for a nice bite.
Price: $8.75 burger, $6 beer shake (fries are extra)

5 NAPKIN BURGER

Though its namesake started as a popular menu item at Nice Matin on the Upper West Side (not to be confused with the Corsican newspaper), the 5-Napkin Burger simply couldn’t be contained, as it now boasts four New York locations (three in Manhattan, one in Queens) as well as sister franchises in Boston and Miami.  The flagship location, at 9th and West 45th in Hell’s Kitchen, is a pretty popular place; you simply cannot just walk in and get a table, not even at 5 pm on a Sunday.  But if you time it just right, you can probably grab a barstool.  Most people sitting at the bar are waiting for a table, so once their buzzer goes off, jump in and snag their spot.

The 5-Napkin bar itself is a pretty impressive structure.  It conceals over 50 beers, 100 wines and several stirring cocktails.  I confess, I spent longer looking at the beer menu than I did deciding on food.  I was a little disappointed, however, when my drink arrived.  I saw Brooklyn Pilsner for seven dollars and assumed it was on tap; nope, that’s seven bucks for a bottle…

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Now, I must say, the fare at 5 Napkin was much more diverse.  While 67 Burger offered burgers, fries and salads, this Manhattanite’s menu included chicken wings, pork taquitos and a wide variety of sushi maki rolls.  No, really.  Who goes to a burger joint and eats sushi?  Not this guy.  Alas, while they also offered turkey, tuna, lamb and veggie burgers, I went back to the beef.

5_napkin_fries

The Bacon-Cheddar almost needs no introduction.  It’s sharp cheddar, bacon, raw onion, lettuce & tomato on a soft white roll.  As you can see, mine was extra bloody.

Meat: Let’s put it this way; I went to a Rangers game afterwards, and they probably coulda used this patty as a puck–if hockey pucks were meant to explode if your mouth without knocking out your teeth.
Cheese: Smothers the meat like an overbearing mother, or a warm slanket.
Toppings: Top marks for the big pile of thick, crispy bacon; just the way I like it.  There wasn’t much else on top of ol’ smoky, but there didn’t really need to be.
Price: $14.95 burger (fries included), $7 beer

 

THE VERDICT

Although it’s hindered by a weaker photograph, I’d hafta say 5 Napkin had the slightly better burger.  However, for convenience, speedy service and affordability, the edge goes to 67.  Uh, I guess it’s a draw, then?  (That just means you’ll have to have them both!)

A burger joint on Bay Street? Actually, that’s not a bad idea…

(Originally written November 21, 2013)

Being that I walk by the place twice a day, I was certainly intrigued when the signs first went up for South St. Burger at 360 Bay Street.  While it isn’t much of a fast-food area–underground food courts aside–you’d think that a brand-new burger joint might be a welcome addition to the neighbourhood.  After all, not every Bay Streeter can afford to eat at Blowfish or John and Sons for every meal!

In fact, I’ve already eaten at South St. twice.  I first came in for lunch last week to find the place was still pretty packed shortly after 1 pm.  I’d soon seen why–their service is a tad slow, albeit no more so than, say, Big Smoke Burger at the Urban Eatery.  Their assembly-line layout lets you choose from a variety of toppings, and if the beef takes a bit longer, it’s cuz they cook it to order.  But they’ve also got a line of signature burgers that I felt compelled to try, starting with The Nacho.  C’mon, you can’t tell me that a nacho burger doesn’t sound amazing…

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The nacho burger is so named because it comes topped with salsa, cheese, guacamole and “jalapeno sour cream.”  (Suffice to say I added a few more toppings to mine above.)  First things first: the patty is nice and juicy, cooked perfectly.  There’s definitely some creaminess from the guac and sour cream, but I was a little disappointed in the salsa, which was milder than a bridge party at grandma’s house.  If you’re gonna put salsa on a burger, it’s gotta have some kick to it–and call me crazy, but this is one time I would actually prefer some processed cheese sauce.

That said, the overall experience was fairly pleasant.  Being that they were still within their first couple weeks of operation, a manager was quick to ask me how I liked my food and to clear away my trash.  I should also mention that this local chain has an arrangement with New York Fries for all their potato needs.  Not a fan of their poutine, but on their own, their fries are nice and crispy.

Anyways, I came back a few days later for dinner, and it was much quieter around 7 pm.  Hell, there were no more than 10 people in the place–although one guy did make a massive order to bring back to the boys working late in the office.  (Accountants, I presume.  Hey, it’s beginning to look a lot like tax season…)  This time, I went with another South St. specialty, the True North, which is basically beef, extra cheese and bacon.  Oh, and some “maple-syrup-infused onions,” although I couldn’t exactly taste the cabane à sucre.

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I might lose my Wendy’s Club membership for saying this, but the True North sure beats the hell out of a Baconator.  Again, the burger was perfectly cooked, and the bacon was the ideal texture: good chew, but not too chewy nor too crisp.  Oh, and big ups for using real cheddar cheese instead of the “orange cheese” you get at your generic burger joint.  The onions also added a bit of tang, but like I said, I couldn’t taste the maple syrup.

In any case, while this might not be the best restaurant and Bay and Temperance, it’s certainly the most affordable: a signature-burger combo will only set you back 13-15 bucks after tax.  Even if you tip your server, that’s still less than a martini at the Trump Tower!

Where Wall Street would eat in Toronto

(Originally written January 25, 2014)

Yeah, so it’s taken me about a month to see The Wolf of Wall Street.  Hey, so maybe I watched American Hustle and Anchorman 2 over Christmas instead.  In any case, I had already read the books–both of them–but I still wanted to see the new Martin Scorsese flick when it was in theatres.  Hey, that guy could direct a movie about two dogs fucking, and I’d probably still pay to watch it.  OK, that does not sound right at all…

But first I had to ask myself, if Jordan Belfort was in Toronto, where would he go for lunch?  Probably Canoe or Scaramouche, maybe Harbour Sixty.  But since none of those places are close to movie theatres, I instead opted for somewhere with a bit of a Wall Street film connection.  As a matter of fact, the Smith & Wollensky scene in American Psycho was shot at The Senator, a small diner just off of Dundas Street.  I have actually been to the real Smith & Wollensky in New York, and it’s certainly a lot larger than its on-screen counterpart.  That said, The Senator serves a decent blue-cheese burger, too:

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Did I mention this place was tiny?  There were already people lined up at 11:15, and by noon, the line stretched around the corner.  I dunno guy, but it might actually be easier to get a table at Dorsia.  I bet Jordan Belfort could get us in…

“Don’t forget you have a lunch date tomorrow with Donald Kimball at Smith & Wollensky…”

It started off as a shockingly violent Bret Easton Ellis novel before becoming the starring role that launched Christian Bale’s career. And tonight, American Psycho the musical debuts on Broadway. While some of the scenes were certainly squeamish, both the movie and the book also contained some of the craziest restaurant trends of the 80’s. And many of these joints actually existed–at least they used to, at the time. A couple years back, I took a flavourtown roadtrip to one of the few that’s still standing: Smith & Wollensky.

(Originally written July 31, 2013)

Not all the restaurants name-dropped in the Bret Easton Ellis novel (and subsequent cult classic film) American Psycho actually existed.  There was no Dorsia in New York City circa 1987–some guy from Godsmack or something tried to open one 20 years later, but it didn’t catch on.  (You can’t even find it on the internet anymore; ditto the short-lived Dorsia in London.)  On the other hand, many of the real restaurants referenced in the book/movie have since closed down–hey, 25 years is a long-ass time in the restaurant biz!  There are, however, a handful of NYC institutions (as documented here) from that era that are still going strong today–although something tells me Gorbachev’s not at ENK-NYC. 😉

Alas, when I found out that the hotel I was staying in last weekend was just a few blocks from the legendary Smith & Wollensky steakhouse, I knew I had to go there for lunch.  If Detective Kimball asks, I had a shower… and some sorbet.

smith&wollenksy

Now, because I didn’t think I could get a table at the main steakhouse in a Weed Metal trucker hat and a t-shirt depicting a Satanic goat throwing the horns, I took the side entrance to Wollensky’s Grill, which is meant to be more down-market, relatively speaking.  They’re even open until 2 am, but when I got there around noon on a Sunday, the place was Texarkana empty.  There was just one guy in the corner enjoying a salad, and no one else but the wait staff until an elderly couple came in right before I left.  I guess no one eats a business lunch on Sunday, eh?

But while the battered bartop had seen better days, the shelves behind it well certainly well stocked.  Put it this way: the place didn’t have J&B or a Corona, but I doubt they were out of Finlandia.  In any case, I ordered the house beer, Wollensky’s Irish Ale, which happens to be brewed by Rogue Ales.  It might not have been brewed with bacon, but it was still quite tasty.

As for the main, I ordered the notorious Wollensky Burger, with blue cheese topping and a side of fries served in a miniature chef hat.  The burger itself was $17.50, while the white-suited barkeep may or may not have comped me for the fries–the card-sized menu makes no mention whether they come with the sandwich.  (In any case, I left him a receptacle, erm, respectable tip.)  And hey, that might seem like a lot of bread for a sandwich, but believe me, you get a whole lotta burger for $17.50:

wollensky_burger

The beef, besides being bountiful, was also very juicy and tender.  The blue cheese–an optional topping, which didn’t cost extra–added a nice tangy bite, along with the pickles, and crisp lettuce, onion and tomato were piled on top for good measure.  Let’s just say you need two hands to eat this thing, but you’ll wanna keep one free for the fries, which were served hot and fresh.  I never have enough ketchup when they put it in those little dishes, but that’s a very minor, erm, beef.

Bottom line, this might be the best burger in NYC–and hey, I’ve actually had a couple.  Just try not to look shocked when you get the bill; I assure you, it certainly wasn’t cheap. 😉