Flavourtown Roadtrips

John Catucci is a true Canadian treasure!

(Originally written June 27, 2014)

tha_catooch

It’s Friday, which can only mean one thing: back-to-back new episodes of You Gotta Eat Here!  When I first heard about the Food Network show, Canada’s answer to Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, I figured it had to be a pale imitation that could only thank CANCON regulations for its existence.  But y’know what, I think I actually like our version better now, and not just because I can actually walk to some of the places I’ve seen on the show.

Put it this way: YGEH! host John Catucci is not the Canadian Guy Fieri…and that’s a good thing!  Although I still watch his show–for the food–the bleach-blond broseph has been getting on my nerves lately, and not just because they brought my food to the wrong table at his American Kitchen and Bar.  When an old episode of Triple-D comes on, ever notice how Guy wasn’t covered in awful-looking tattoos back in the day?  And man, his catchphrases have become so cliche that even everyday diners on You Gotta Eat Here! are using them now.  Hmm, I wonder if Food Network Canada owes him royalties for that…

But while Fieri spends more time hobnobbing with Kid Rock and the cast of Grown-Ups 2 (ever the arbiter of terrible taste) than he does helping in the kitchen, The Catooch, as he’s affectionately called, is not afraid to get his hands dirty.  I must admit, I was entirely unfamiliar with the Canadian actor/comedian beforehand, previously best known for his role on the CBC children’s show The Doodlebops.  But he’s won me over with his self-effacing humour, his kind and gentle demeanour…and most importantly, his equal love of plaid and food.  When I watch the program, I think “Now there’s a guy who could eat as many hamburgers in one day as I can!”  Or maybe not… 😉

In a nutshell, what makes Catucci so endearing to Canadian viewers is his utter Canadianness.  Even the tagline “I’m not a chef, but I know great food when I eat it!” gives the impression that he’s not some overinflated, egotistical Texan, but just your ordinary, average Canuck, the kinda guy you’d like to have a beer with.  And hey, although I don’t live in the area anymore, if John ever visits Puck ‘n Wings or Burrito Bandidos in The Annex, I wanna be in that episode!  Dude, those wings are bananas, and bananas is goodTM!

TMGuy Fieri

If Buckley’s cough syrup was a 70-proof spirit, they’d call it Jeppson’s Malört

(Originally written November 20, 2012)

jeppsons-malort

In Chicago, and only in Chicago, will people willingly and happily consume a beverage so awful that even the owner of the company that makes it won’t touch the stuff.  Jeppson’s Malört, described by one bartender as “it tastes like [everything from] earwax to Band-Aids to burnt hair” to the Wall Street Journal, nevertheless sells 23,500 bottles a year to bars in the Windy City.  This is despite the fact that the drink-maker believes “its Malört is enjoyed by only one out of every 49 drinkers who try it.”

Malört is Swedish for wormwood, one of the key ingredients in absinthe, and Jeppson’s reportedly draws its bitterness from said substance.  As one of the first people to be granted a liquor license at the end of prohibition, the company’s founder, George Brode, got the recipe from a certain Carl Jeppson, who called it “a spirit favored by the city’s Swedish immigrant population,” according to the WSJ.  Since then, Brode took on the challenge of marketing the undrinkable product until his death in 1999, when he left the company to his secretary.  (“All my life I wish George had made a product I could drink,” she told the Journal.)  Yet, despite its lack of medicinal properties, and a taste another bartender described as like “stomach bile and dirt,” Malört has gained a cult following in several local watering holes.

“It is a Chicago ingredient. There is almost a certain responsibility to find a good way to beat it into submission,” said an aptly-named Mr. Joly, beverage director at The Aviary.  It’s also a good way to wish an ex-lover an unhappy birthday.  As per the Journal, one Chicago resident recalls “the first time he encountered Malört. It was about a decade ago at a bar, and two guys who didn’t get along kept sending shots of it to each other.”

Is it any wonder that Malört has become popular amongst Cubs fans, those notorious gluttons for punishment?  “Enthusiasts of the drink held their first Jeppson’s Malört night earlier this year, at a bar a few blocks from Wrigley Field,” the WSJ reports.  Gee, if the stuff’s anything like folks have described, it would have to be the worst way to wash the bitter taste of defeat from your mouth, wouldn’t it?

Crikey! This 155-pound lad eats more breakfast in a half-hour than I do in a week!

(Originally written February 8, 2013)

kidz_breakfast

Now, doesn’t that just look delicious?  Man, I could dive right into this platter and stay there for a week!  Alas, only one human being has ever eaten this scrumptious spread in the alotted “one hour and it’s free,” some scrawny bloke named Robert Pinto.  It says here he only weighs 11 stones!

Of course, it must be mentioned that Pinto’s a competitive eater.  He finished the whole thing in 26 minutes–and here’s proof!  How is it that skinny guys kick ass at competitive eating, anyways?  I mean, The Great Kobayashi tips the scales at 128, but that man can put more meat in his mouth than a male escort on Pride Week!  Me, I can barely make it through a corned beef sandwich at the Carnegie Deli without having a heart attack…

Oh yeah, he works out.  To burn off the 6,000(!!!) calories, Pinto told The Sun “I went for a five-mile run, went to the gym and had a swim — you have to keep healthy.”  Sure, that’s easy for you to say, Mr. I-eat-6,000-calories-in-26-minutes!  (Oh, wait…)

It probably helps that he’s not chained to a desk, either.  The Sun reports that when not devouring English breakfasts in a single round, Pinto “runs clothes shop C3 in Stamford.”  Which, I presume, is a women’s clothing store…  Hey buddy, nice blouse!

breakfast_slayer

I survived… the legendary Rochester garbage plate!

(Originally written June 11, 2014)

Rochester, New York might only be 75 miles from Buffalo, but if you think it’s a wing town, think again.  Sure, they serve chicken wings, like every other place on the planet, but their local culinary special is much closer to a French-Canadian classic.  In fact, it’s kinda like poutine on steroids…if steroids make you fatter.

The garbage plate was invented by local eatery Nick Tahou Hots, which owns both the trademark and the domain name.  The basic idea is to take french fries and/or macaroni salad, throw a buncha meat on top, then top with chili and cheese sauce.  I guess they called it the garbage plate cuz “heart attack on a plate” was already taken.  Mind you, while Nick’s mighta been the originators of this culinary creation (waaaay back in 1918!), most local diners, drive-ins and/or dives offer some variation of the plate–whether they call it a sloppy plate, a junkyard dog plate, or, in the case of the Marshall Street Bar & Grill, a volcano plate:

garbage_plate

If you’re wondering how this plate (which, technically, is more of a serving bowl) got its name, you obviously haven’t tasted it yet.  The chili offers up a pretty decent kick, and I suspect there might also be some spice in the cheese sauce.  I had mine topped with a cheeseburger and some pulled pork overtop the home fries (often used instead of regular fries) and the mac salad, which you can’t even see in this picture.  The burger was nothing special, just a thin, charbroiled patty, but the pork had a nice tang to it.  Hiding the macaroni near the bottom makes sense, since you’ll need it to cool your palate after all the heat…if you’re not knocking back a whole buncha $2.50 pints of American light beer, that is.  Of course, the fries on the bottom got pretty soggy from the nuclear cheese assault, and weren’t quite as good as the crisp ones up top.  But hey, I guess that’s what happens when you live in a volcano cheese-ruption zone!  Shut the front door and buy a ticket!

On that note, I found it funny–but also awesome–that this bar was showing Triple-D on the big screen when I walked in.  Guy hasn’t actually been to Rochester yet, has he?  Apparently not…

Guy’s American Bar is in Times Square, but its Kitchen must be in a distant suburb of Flavortown…

(Originally written January 23, 2013)

What trip to New York City would be complete without a visit to celebrity chef Guy Fieri’s Times Square joint, which received such a glowing review in the Times?  As a big fan of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives (the show, not the fat fuck who hosts it), I of course had to come check it out.  Were the Awesome Pretzel Chicken Tenders really not so awesome?  Did the watermelon margarita really taste like formaldehyde?  My life would not be complete without the answers to these questions.  But, much to my dismay, I see they’ve omitted the formaldehyde martini.  The chicken tenders, on the other hand, are very much still a menu item:

awesome_chicken_tenders

Now, I will agree with NYT food critic Pete Wells in that I would’ve never guessed that the breading contains either pretzels or smoked almonds.  That said, they really weren’t that bad.  Big, hot and crispy…  Better (and more expensive) than the chicken fingers I buy at Costco, that’s for sure!  Also, the Donkey Sauce really added an extra kick.  At least, I think that’s what it was called.  It was really just a spicy mustard.  Anyways, while the tenders were at least partially awesome, I can’t exactly say the same about the pulled pork tacos…

pulled_pork_tacos

Now, while the pork itself had the right amount of tang, it wasn’t even remotely warm.  And the random sprinkling of corn, cheese and semen-lookalike white sauce didn’t really add much of an extra kick.  This dish does not reside in Flavourtown, put it that way!

Alas, while there were initial reports of the place being packed, it was half-empty when I arrived around noon on a Sunday.  And yet, even though there were only three people sitting at the downstairs bar, the food-runner still managed to give my grub to the other folks–before he was chastised by the barkeep.  Granted, it might seem weird for one person to order two appetizers, but man, their mains were fucking expensive!

On the plus side, I take some comfort in knowing that the cooks all washed their hands before preparing my pork tacos.  I’m assuming they read the sign, anyways…

must_wash_hands

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