Who smokes the best?

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Spoiler alert: it’s Schwartz’s, in Montreal (pictured above). But you already knew that.

Now, instead of making silly comparisons, let’s talk about the smoked meat in Halifax. We’ve recently visited two restaurants, on the same street, that are claiming to have smoked meat as one of their specialities. Okay, to be fair, Hali Deli is also claiming many other dishes on their menu, the traditional Jewish fare, to be specialties. Sully’s Roast Beef & Smoked Meat is pretty much just serving smoked meat, with very few other menu options, and a confusing Irish twist on their branding.

Smoked meat sandwich at Sully's.

Smoked meat sandwich at Sully’s.

I already mentioned Sully’s in the my last post, about brunch. Geir did have the smoked meat on that trip, and he was pretty satisfied with it. I also tried it. The sour pickle claims to be the same as those used at Schwartz’s, and it was pretty awesome. The meat is smoked in-house, and cut very, very thin. It is piled on the sandwich with your choice of mustard (Geir chose HOT), sauerkraut, and swiss cheese. It is served on light rye. There are no fries on the menu, so plain potato chips must satisfy any salt craving. This was a decent sandwich, but was missing meaty substance and texture, having been sliced as thin as deli meat. Also, there were a lot of inconsistencies with what Sully’s had listed on their menu and what was actually available when we were there. I get they’d only been open a couple weeks at the new location, but to have a draft machine with local beer tap handles, sit empty, is just cruel.

When we walked into Hali Deli Old World Delicatessen, I immediately liked it. They truly have accomplished the old school diner feel — to me that place could have been there for the past 40 years. Again, Geir ordered smoked meat but this time in the form of a reuben, one of his favourite things to eat. The meat is cut thicker, more Montreal-style, and and is complemented by the traditional rueben fixings: dressing, sauerkraut, swiss cheese. There is French’s and a big brand “bold deli-style” mustard on the tables (no true Dijon or hot English mustard). This sandwich is better; it’s served with house cut fries and slaw, as well as a fantastic pickle.

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I ordered a salmon burger, which consists of two house-made salmon patties on a bun with tomato, lettuce, onion and homemade tartar. I’m a huge fish burger fan and I enjoyed this. I also love that Hali Deli has the breakfast part of their menu available all day. We’ve already been back once since this first visit — Geir ordered the rueben again and this time I had the lox schmear platter: lox (cured salmon), chives, red onion, cream cheese mixed together, served with a toasted Montreal-style bagel, lettuce, tomato and cucumber. I also had their super garlicky caesar salad, for which they use the smoked meat cracklings instead of bacon. Loved this! We had a delicious milkshake on both visits, as they are not licensed. Next time, I plan on trying some of the Jewish dishes on the menu.

Brunch need not be complicated

Smoked salmon bagel at Sully's.

Smoked salmon bagel at Sully’s.

If you follow me on Twitter or Instagram, you may have noticed, I eat a lot of brunch. Like, a lot. I never miss a weekend brunch. And while I do appreciate creativity on a brunch menu, I’ve found time and time again, you don’t really need to stray far from the classic flavour combinations to create a satisfying brunch experience, especially if they’re done well and with a little love.

BLT + fried egg at the Tin Pan.

BLT + fried egg at the Tin Pan.

For example, we spent a night in Grand Pre during ice wine festival last month, and on the recommendation of our amazing server at Le Caveau the night before, ended up at local institution The Tin Pan in Port Williams. Now, The Tin Pan, in reality, is someone’s home and their dining area is what was once a living room, and in many ways still feels like it. They don’t even have commercial kitchen equipment. We ordered a couple B.L.T.’s (served on homemade bread) plus a fried egg, and pan-potatoes. Amazing. Cash only.

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Smoked salmon croissant at Tess.

Another example was our recent visit to Tess. Aside from having unbelievably reasonable prices, this is another small, quaint neighbourhood go-to that serves consistent, simple brunch items (and of course their famous crepes). My dish was a combination of smoked salmon, cream cheese, maple syrup and capers inside a buttery croissant. The sweetness of the maple really balanced out the smokiness and acidity of the other ingredients. The rich buttery goodness of the croissant made this an outstanding take on one of my favourite things to eat for brunch, ever.

Just today, we visited Sully’s Roast Beef & Smoked Meat, now open on Agricola, where I indulged in a similar combination once again. This time it was Willy Krauch smoked salmon featured on a Montreal style bagel with cream cheese and a generous sprinkling of chopped red onion. (Side note: They just reopened a couple weeks ago at this new location, and so while it was a little rough around the edges, we enjoyed the food and they smoke the meat in-house.)

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The breakfast sandwich at Morris East, Bedford South location.

Morris East has expanded their brunch offering in the past few months and now serve up this little beauty, a classic breakfast sandwich. Local bacon and cheese, a fried egg, lettuce and tomato on the exceptionally soft buns baked by Boulangerie La Vendeenne. Add some kind of potato on the side, in this case a rosti, and you’ve got brunch. Plus they have a deadly caesar featuring their house-made clamato mix.

Where’s your favourite joint for a simple, sometimes greasy, brunch fix?

 

Tasty Bites from the 11th Annual Savour Food & Wine Show

My fave... no bias I swear! The salmon tartare with avocado and creme fraiche at Saege Bistro's booth.

My fave… no bias I swear! The salmon tartare with avocado and creme fraiche at Saege Bistro’s booth.

Last week I attended Savour Food & Wine on a media pass. This year the event was bigger than ever before and seemed to really gel. The layout was slightly adjusted and the crowd seemed to flow nicely. The noise level never became uncomfortable, and the group was relatively tame, which seem to lend well to everyone experiencing the food and drink in a more involved way. It was a great night.

I still (as usual) was not able to visit every single booth. There were over seventy this year with a close to fifty-fifty split on food and alcoholic beverages. A couple of wines I really enjoyed were Zalze Bush Wines Chenin Blanc (South Africa) which was poured by Franklin Imports, and Real de Aragon Cava poured by Bishop’s Cellar (which won best of show).

Pig trotter from Ratinaud French Cuisine

Stuffed pig trotter from Ratinaud French Cuisine

One of the most delicious bites at the show, for me, coincidentally was the salmon tartare with avocado and creme fraiche on a crostini from Saege Bistro (I could have eaten these all night but limited myself to two). I also seriously enjoyed the stuffed pig trotter with green onion sauce from Ratinaud French Cuisine, 2 Doors Down haddock taco, the smoked meatloaf from The Stubborn Goat. I thought the scallop hotdog was a great idea from Le Caveau, plus I just love their team, so friendly and professional. It was also a pleasure to see the kids from Hope Blooms give the media tour a run-through on their salad dressing line.

Green curry-coconut spicy fusion tacos

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This has been the week of green curry. I brought home a can from Tian Phat on Monday and have been trying to use it in a variety of ways since. My favourite, so far, has been these green Thai curry-marinated tempeh tacos. You could easily make this recipe with the meat or seafood of your choice, but I think it’s delicious with tempeh or tofu.

Here are the elements that came together to make this delicious (almost vegan) creation…

Grilled masa corn tortillas + green Thai curry and coconut-marinated tempeh + spicy “Asian” slaw + Sriracha-citrus yogurt + daikon sprouts + crumbled peanuts + fresh cilantro = delicious fusion tacos.

This is my second run at fusion tacos, because as most of you know I am obsessed with the bulgogi style tofu tacos at Indochine Banh Mi on South Park Street. I tried recreating those once and something just wasn’t right. These are different, with the Thai curry influence, and I was extremely happy with how they turned out. I’m putting them in regular dinner rotation, maybe switching up the protein now and again. The marinating did take a little bit of time, but it was completely worth it.

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I’m not going to do a full recipe, just give you the basics. The tempeh marinade consisted of rice wine vinegar, sesame oil, lemon-infused olive oil, soy sauce, lime juice, freshly squeezed blood orange juice, fish sauce, green curry paste, more fresh ginger and garlic, fresh basil and of course coconut milk. I let that sit, sealed, for a couple hours. The cooking method to really infuse the flavour into the tempeh is to then put it on the stove, cover it in the marinade, bring to a boil them simmer for about 20 minutes. After that, jack the heat and let it completely reduce to nothing.

The Asian slaw I made had sliced napa cabbage, grated carrot, green onion, red pepper and cilantro. The dressing was hot (and tasted SO good the next day) with chiles, fresh ginger, rice vinegar, lime juice and lemon-infused olive oil. The Sriracha-citrus yogurt is simple, I used a mixture of Fox Hill plain yogurt, store-bought greek yogurt, Sriracha, lime juice and my secret ingredient, roasted garlic oil.

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Add your favourite Asian-inspired toppings and you’re good to go. I found amazing daikon radish sprouts at Selwood Green last weekend and they were perfect; those along with crumbled peanuts and fresh cilantro, and these were some spicy, yet beautifully balanced tacos.

Thanks to the Seaport Farmers’ Market I was able to use mostly all local vegetables, and grab fantastic handmade corn tortillas from El Gallo.

(To make these vegan, just leave out the fish sauce and use your favourite dairy-free yogurt.)

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Unintentionally Vegan: Creamy Lentil Salad

veganlentilsSince it’s January, I, like everybody else, am trying to eat a little bit healthier. Since I already do almost all my cooking from scratch and generally feel pretty good, it’s more about using nutritious ingredients that I’m not overly familiar with, and expanding my repertoire.

So, lentils. We’ve got a ton of them in our pantry, and they’re still not my number one choice, simply because I don’t entirely know what to do with them. I’ve come to love the brown variety; they are extremely easy to cook. There are just a couple tips about lentils that I’ve come across, including that you should always rinse them off beforehand, and that you should wait to salt them until after they are cooked (or they might get mushy). Other than that, lentils seem pretty easy-going. I haven’t overcooked them yet, or burned them to the bottom of the pot.

This recipe was very much an odds and ends creation, but came together better than I ever expected. And it’s perfect for Meatless Monday. I call this dish: creamy lentil salad with avocado-lemon dressing, and cashews. It is filling, rich and flavourful… oh, and unintentionally vegan. Here is the recipe, for one person, as it was a work-day lunch for me:

Creamy lentil salad with avocado-lemon dressing, and cashews. For one. 

  • 1/2 cup brown lentils, cooked and cooled to room temp. or warm
  • 1 avocado, ripe
  • Juice from half a lemon
  • EVOO
  • 1/4 cup white onion, very finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup red pepper, finely chopped
  • 1 radish, chopped
  • 1 button mushroom, chopped
  • 1 sun-dried tomato, chopped
  • Salt and pepper
  • Handful of crushed cashews (preferably unsalted)
  • Greens for on top, optional

As a note, the ratio for lentils to water is 1:2. They only take about 20-30 minutes to cook. Bring them to a boil then simmer, uncovered, for the rest of the cooking time.

Method: This is pretty easy. Mix up the avocado, lemon juice and EVOO until you get a creamy dressing that isn’t too thick. Add some salt and pepper to taste. Mix the dressing with the lentils until they are covered. Mix in all your chopped up veggies until covered. Add salt and pepper if you need to. Spoon into a bowl and sprinkle the cashews on top. Finish with a handful of greens. (If you are a lover of heat, cut the richness of this dish with your favourite hot sauce!)

Look for my next post, which will be the complete opposite of vegan. It will feature making ravioli from scratch and other indulgences from my recent birthday weekend…

Meatless Monday: Sloppy Joe

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There is a way to get some flavour into that veggie ground round and use it for your favourite meat-heavy meals. This dish came from us just having odds and ends in the fridge, including a package of ground round.. Since it’s Meatless Monday, I thought I’d share the recipe. The Guinness and worcestershire are what really amped up the flavour, as well as the long simmer. (Leave out the jalapeño and it would be great recipe for kids too!)

Sloppy Joe Filling:

  • 1 package of Italian Yves Veggie Ground Round (or original)
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1 large clove of garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 jalapeño, finely chopped
  • 2 vine tomatoes, chopped (you might like it chunky)
  • 1/2 cup or so, sun-dried tomatoes that were packed in oil, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup red pepper, diced
  • Chilli powder and cumin to taste (a few shakes of each)
  • Tablespoon of worcestershire, or to taste
  • Sprinkle of brown sugar (optional)
  • Generous splash of Guinness, or other dark beer
  • 3/4 cup of water
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Method for filling: In a good-sized saucepan (you will need some depth) sautée the onions until slightly caramelized at medium heat, add garlic, then all other vegetables. Sautée for a couple minutes, then add veggie ground round. Season with chilli powder, cumin, salt and pepper to taste. Add worcestershire and sugar, stir. Add the beer to de-glaze the pan. Then add the water. Stir, then cover the saucepan. Let this simmer for about an hour. Check on it every so often, stir, and add more water (or beer) if necessary, as filling should be… sloppy.

To finish: Use the broiler to melt a cheese of your choice onto a toasted bun. Add filling. Top with sliced green onions, and maybe, hot sauce.

One note is that the ground round does have quite a few ingredients. To use fewer ingredients and fillers, consider trying brown lentils, which can substitute for ground beef nicely, like in my meatless shepherd’s pie recipe.

Humble and Homemade at Mateus Bistro

Mateus Bistro exterior.

Mateus Bistro exterior.

It’s been a little while since I’ve reviewed a local restaurant. It seems the blog (along with Halifax) has been dominated by brand new openings. Which is great — it’s just not that cool to review a place that’s only been open a few weeks. And those are the places I’ve been trying.

So, I made the trip to Mahone Bay to explicitly brunch at Mateus Bistro, a name I’d heard thrown around a few times, especially when I was sitting on the judging panel for the RANS awards this past November.

When we arrived, on a Sunday afternoon, there weren’t too many other patrons. The building is a wee old house, situated on the main drag, but with the entrance facing a parking lot. The interior feels small; divided rooms and a low ceiling, as you would expect of an older home. This time of day it was very sunny. The space achieves a very cozy and charming atmosphere but with bright spots of colour, due to the large collection of artwork showcased on the walls.

We took a table for two in the front part of the bistro (near the tiny bar room), where the sun was shining in our window and we could look out on Main Street. Our server was genuine and sweet. After finding out the keg had run dry of the Mystique Cider I had ordered, she made me an amazing spicy caesar: horseradish, lots of worcestershire, topped with house-pickled beans.

Delicious caesar with horseradish, pickled beans.

Delicious caesar with horseradish, pickled beans.

My brunch focus was thrown off when I discovered the lunch menu also being offered. I ordered the crispy haddock burger with house made tzatziki, on a bun from La Vendeenne, served with green salad. Geir went for the local pork schnitzel sandwich with homemade chow aioli and a caesar salad. This was humble fare, and it was made thoughtfully. My haddock burger was made from a nice, big fresh piece of fish, cooked properly; the tzatziki had a nice amount of garlic. My salad was super fresh with very flavourful greens, which the menu said were local, dressed with what tasted like a simple balsamic vinaigrette balanced perfectly with honey. The homemade creamy roasted garlic dressing on the caesar was fantastic! Perfect for garlic fiends like me.

Crispy haddock burger with house made tzatziki.

Crispy haddock burger with house made tzatziki.

Simple food, prepared to a high standard, using many fresh, local ingredients. Just the kind of place we love. We’ll definitely be back next time we’re in Mahone Bay. They offer a dinner menu with some more involved entree items that I’d love to try.

Travel Diary: Tuna Tostada by the Beach

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El Merkadito

The temperature may be dropping (seemingly rapidly) here in Halifax, but in my mind, I’m back in Puerto Morelos, Mexico, sipping on iced coffee, watching people and stray dogs. On our almost shamefully lazy trip to the Mayan Riviera last month, we managed to roll off our beach chairs a couple of times, and make the 20-minute walk into nearby Puerto Morelos. This teeny beach town has a unexpectedly large selection of reputable eating establishments.

We were given a recommendation for our first visit, El Merkadito, a beachside seafood restaurant. We wandered in from the street side, walked straight through the kitchen, and took a seat in the touristy-looking beach hut-themed seating area. Thatched roof, kitschy, mismatched signs all over the walls (one might have even said something about Margaritaville). It didn’t look promising… until we saw what the couple next to us, who turned out to be fellow Canadians, were munching on. Amazing-looking sea bass on top of risotto. El Merkadito turned out to be a great find. They may cater to tourists with the image, but the place was very clean, service was pretty good, and their seafood was fresh and cooked with expertise. The presentation was vibrant and playful on blue ceramic dishes, the kind you’d usually find on a camping trip. It wasn’t classic Mexican either, it’s what I would call fusion. There were several Mexican dishes on the menu (tacos, tostada, etc), complemented by items like risotto or condiments like aioli. It worked. Here’s what we ate:

Tuna "carpaccio" tostada.

Tuna “carpaccio” tostada. (There’s aioli underneath the tuna.) My favourite.

Masa tortilla chips with house made aioli + hot sauces.

Masa tortilla chips with house made aioli + hot sauces.

Fried fish tacos.

Fried fish tacos.

Sea bass "Merkadito style", on a bed of creamy risotto, grilled veg.

Sea bass “Merkadito style”, on a bed of creamy risotto, grilled veg.

Mojito.

Mojito.

On our second trip to Puerto Morelos, we wanted to, first, go back to Cafe D’Amancia, where we had a post-lunch coffee and flan after El Merkadito, and second, try some more traditional Mexican food. After some good people-watching and phenomenal iced coffee at the cafe, we headed just two doors down to Dona Triny’s, a small owner-run restaurant offering traditional dishes. The service was fantastic and we enjoyed the food, trying several items: tacos, torta, burrito and enchiladas. Highlight of this meal was the cactus-mushroom taco, and the mole sauce on the enchilada.

Taco trio. Marinated pork, chicken and sauteed cactus and mushroom.

Taco trio. Marinated pork taco, chicken taco and sauteed cactus and mushroom taco.

Three enchilada, three sauces. The mole was GREAT.

Three enchiladas, three sauces. The mole sauce was GREAT.

Torta. A Mexican sandwich with refried beans, pulled chicken, and crunchy lettuce slaw.

Torta. A Mexican sandwich with refried beans, pulled chicken, and crunchy lettuce slaw.

The GIANT burrito. Pulled chicken inside with refried beans.

The GIANT burrito. Pulled chicken inside with refried beans.

Check out the scenery in Puerto Morelos in the gallery below. The food at our all-inclusive (Marina El Cid Resort) was a giant leap from last year (if you remember our bland buffet food challenge). The Mexican dishes were authentic and flavourful (and the salsas had real, mouth-burning heat).

Food Highlights: California

IMG_0047In California I was overwhelmed by the eating possibilities. Not having an unlimited budget immediately removed several iconic and high-end dining options, and, this wasn’t exactly a trip just for the food. (We were going to a wedding. We had to be places.) But I did manage to stumble upon some great spots, including food trucks.

Walking from Santa Monica into Venice Beach, we discovered a gathering of about seven food trucks on the boardwalk. We had already eaten and weren’t particularly hungry, but I just needed to try something. I ended up going to Tokyo Doggie Style for one of their Japanese fusion hot dogs. What you see at the top of this post is their homemade veggie dog, with yuzu citrus coleslaw, wasabi mayo, pickled daikon and homemade teriyaki sauce on a traditional hot dog bun. The veggie dog, being homemade, isn’t actually tube-shaped but is more of a long skinny patty. This was delicious. I had mine with their lychee lemonade. So refreshing.

IMG_0019We completely lucked out with the timing of our short stay in Santa Monica, as the Main Street edition of their farmers’ market was going to be held the morning after we arrived, and right across the street from our motel, in Heritage Square. There was live music, a petting zoo, beautiful produce and many booths making food to order. I found one called Bean & Thyme, serving healthy dishes made only from ingredients found at that market. The roasted cauliflower sandwich with cheese, egg and greens (pictured above) was surprisingly hearty, and not-so-surprisingly luscious in flavour, with just enough crunch on the grilled bread. A very memorable breakfast.

IMG_5025Another delicious breakfast experience was in San Luis Obispo at a diner called Louisa’s Place. Now, while there is a banner in the window saying they were voted best breakfast in SLO, according to our friend who lives there, many other restaurants also claim to have been voted the best breakfast. I believe Louisa’s. First of all, we walked in, and it was absolutely packed with locals. And it’s mostly a breakfast counter. We grabbed a couple stools and the ladies in the centre served up some of the the biggest portions I’ve ever seen. I had huevos rancheros (pictured above), which comes with two homemade salsas, and their hash — which is french fries, onions and peppers. The service was fantastic; they comped our beverages without us having even complained, because they thought our food came out slow. My sister had a bacon and guacamole omelet, which was three times the size of what I consider a reasonably-sized breakfast.

There were many more satisfying dining moments; scroll through the gallery to take a look.

Food Highlights: Atlanta

During my very recent trip to America, I visited two states: Georgia, then California. The first three days were spent exploring parts of Atlanta, with my sister Melissa. I can say with confidence that the overall objective of our time in Atlanta was to seek out a legendary barbecue joint to eat an American-sized meal of smoky meat, then roll home in pain. We were in luck; according to her research along with a personal recommendation made to me by a U.S. customs agent in the Toronto airport, Fat Matt’s Rib Shack was the place to go.

The legend: Fat Matt's Rib Shack

The legend: Fat Matt’s Rib Shack

As the entire establishment is lit by neon beer signs, the task of taking photos with my iPhone became challenging. I didn’t want to be that person using a bright flash, either, as this was a real mellow, local joint. I did use it once, to capture the photo below of my chopped pork sandwich.

Finally used the flash -- chopped pork sandwich. Soft bun, heavy meat.

Finally used the flash — chopped pork sandwich. Soft bun, heavy meat.

The place was absolutely packed with a combination of locals and visitors. It’s the type of joint where you order at the counter, grab a self-serve lemonade or sweet tea, and take any seat that’s available. A couple guys with electric guitars were sitting up front and started playing the blues about 10 minutes before we left.

Fat Matt’s has a small offering, and they focus on doing a few things very well: ribs, whole smoked chickens, and chopped pork sandwiches. I did the sandwich, served with a small bag of Lay’s, and chose potato salad as a side. Melissa went for a half slab of ribs, and mac ‘n’ cheese. The namesake ribs did not disappoint. I even bought a bottle of Fat Matt’s barbecue sauce to bring home. Stickers were free.

Lit by neon signs.

Lit by neon signs.

The day I arrived in Atlanta, we hit up a permanent food truck park that I had discovered online. We were excited. I won’t give too much away about this one since I’m writing a piece for SOAR Magazine about my food truck experiences, but I will show what we ate there, as both items were pretty delicious. My pulled chicken taco from the barbecue truck was served with pickles (which I’ve heard is Kentucky-style) and homemade pear coleslaw. Melissa had a chicken tikka masala naan wrap from the Indian food truck. Both were tasty.

Pulled chicken barbecue taco.

Pulled chicken barbecue taco.

One last food highlight comes from a fantastic part of Atlanta called Decatur. Technically Decatur is it’s own city, but it is what’s called an in-town suburb of Atlanta proper. So many people call it a city within a city. It definitely has a very quaint, small-town feel and is home to many highly-regarded restaurants, plus over 50 independent shops.

Cakes & Ale cafe for lunch, in Decatur, Atlanta.

Cakes & Ale cafe for lunch, in Decatur, Atlanta.

Having done my research, I knew that Cakes & Ale was located in Decatur (Bon Appetit’s Best New Restaurant in America 2011). We were there in the middle of the day, and so only their cafe/bakery was open. Here I enjoyed a perfect panini from their small, daily lunch menu. Salty soppressata ham, creamy ricotta and arugula pesto grilled to crunchy perfection on house-made bread. We shared a salad of roasted root vegetables with cilantro-fennel sour cream served on the side, for dipping.

Arugula pesto, ricotta and soprassetta panini at Cakes & Ale Bakery cafe.

Arugula pesto, ricotta and soppressata panini at Cakes & Ale Bakery cafe.

Check out more photos in the gallery below, and come back soon for my upcoming California food highlights!