Saturday, 15 August 2009

A Specialty Restaurant in Toronto

My son and I have had our eyes on this one for awhile, so when I finally got my chance to try it I was still tossed between which naughty pleasure I would enjoy while in Toronto for a convention ; Hooters (for the chicken wings, of course) or this poutine specialty restaurant. I went for the poutine. (Less to explain if your wife finds you dead of a heart attack than if she finds a Hooters receipt in your wallet).

The menu is basically a whole bunch of different combinations of stuff you can put on standard poutine, which of course consists of fries, curds and gravy, eh? I had the pulled pork on top of the heaping mound of poutine. I may never eat again. Heck, I may never see my feet again.

Good - fresh cut fries, hot gravy, real curds. Some places try and get away with using mozzarella cheese just because it's white and melts up real stringy. That ain't right - it's supposed to be curds. This place uses them.

Great - Pop Shoppe Pop in the bottle. I had the Cherry Cola. Aaahh, the memories.

Room for Growth - I deliberately don't name the restaurant because I don't want to wrongly accuse, or seem to accuse. Cashier / order taker / cook working alone rang up my order with cash drawer open. When I asked for receipt he had to ring it up again to print the receipt. Typically that may mean that a) that cash was never destined for the cash drawer, or b) the taxman ain't getting his full share because not all sales get recorded, or c) cashier is correcting a previous error by not getting management involved.

No matter how you slice it, this is a danger signal that could mean that this place won't be around much longer if controls aren't in place. The owner probably can't figure out why his sales are down and food cost is up. Glad I came when I did, I may not get another chance.

I can only imagine how good this place is at 2 a.m. after a few brews. I'll let you know after the party tonight.

Saturday, 8 August 2009

The Naked Fish Market

When I decided to write about restaurant experiences for the benefit of anyone who feels like reading this stuff I started with only three rules:
1. If I was going to name the place I would always say something good. In a few restaurants where this was not possible I have told the manager/owner in person and left it at that.
2. Never write about a friend's restaurant.
3. Never write about a restaurant in my own backyard.

Today I break rules #2 and #3 to rave about The Naked Fish Market in Kingsville, Ontario on the shores of Lake Erie in beautiful Essex County. My friend Rob Taylor owns this little fish and chip shop. Rob and I go back 12 or more years in the restaurant business, and I have always appreciated two things about Rob - his creativity and his commitment to quality. That pretty much describes TNFM.

The menu gives choices of several types of fish combos and other great appetizer and entree offerings (like Pulled Pork). I especially like the self-serve ice cream bar - buy your cone or cup and fill it as high as you want, one trip only. Rob says that's pretty popular with the kids from Kingsville High.

The ambience is cool, with just enough "naked" references to make it fun without being scandalous. You can buy an "Eat Naked" t-shirt for $10, or trade in the one you're wearing and pay nothing. Rob always has a way of taking something ordinary and putting a fun twist to it.

The place is small, busy, trendy, fun and fantastic. Rob is friendly and welcoming and putting everything he's learned from Red Lobster to Applebees and countless other smaller non-chain restaurants over the last decade into making this place work. He's clearly learned what doesn't work and left it out of TNFM. Working in the restaurant business can introduce you to some really amazing people and some pretty unsavoury characters too. Rob has his own story to tell about how he became the accidental entrepreneur after years of sweating it out in other people's kitchens, but I'll summarize for him. When life handed him lemons, he cut them into slices and served them with fish. I had the breaded fish and french fries and my wife had the battered haddock and fries. Both came with coleslaw. You can choose the number of pieces you want in a dinner and the price is reasonable. The fries are fresh!!

It works. It's cool. Sure, it's deep fried trans-fat free so I won't be eating there often. But as the most interesting man in the world from those beer commercials might say, "I don't always eat fish and chips, but when I do, I eat Naked."

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

The 5 Coolest Things about Windsor, Ontario

1. We're a microcosm of the Canadian experience. We can literally see how close Canada really is to the United States, we have a strong manufacturing base and a growing white collar base, we are agricultural and we are tourism and conventions. Fresh vegetables and fruits from the farm on which they are grown are no more than 30 minutes away for most Windsor residents. We are, however, a little light on snow and frostbite.

2. You can see next year's car models being driven around Windsor and Detroit. They're the head turning cars that have no name badges that make you wonder "what the hell is that?" Yesterday I saw a Volkswagon convertible sedan, might be a Passat. VERY cool!

3. We're fully bilingual. We speak American and Canadian. We drive in km/hour, purchase our gas in litres (when we're not across the border paying much less per gallon at the duty-free) and we measure the outside temperature in Farenheit degrees.

4. Good people do good work for their neighbours everyday in Windsor. Oh sure, we've got our share of movers and shakers (who are more often than not really just bobbers and weavers in cheap suits) but amongst the hoi polloi some very generous and caring people live.

5. We have at least one member in each level of government who really gets it. Brian Masse MP, Sandra Pupatello MPP and Bill Marra Councillor Ward 4 are straight shooters who are leaders among their peers. Good people.

Worst Greeting Ever

Worst greeting ever (at a restaurant last night after the movie let out).

Waiter/Bartender charges to the door as my wife and I walk in: "The people behind you left the doors open, they should be shut," brushing past us and directing us to the doors.

Me (confused): "What are you saying?"

Him: "The kitchen is closed." I look at my watch, it is 9:20 p.m. on a Tuesday night. We leave, no further pleasantries are exchanged. We get escorted out.

We won't be back.

Saturday, 1 August 2009

Welcome Back City Workers!

A word on the new found civility in Windsor, Ontario...

Since our public employees started back to work this week I have found them to be polite and thorough in our interactions. My garbage was picked up and the area left clean, and the staff at the municipal gym are more friendly and accomodating than they've ever been.

I am also hearing that the city managers seem to be showing a generosity of spirit and a desire to show leadership in providing a welcoming and healthy workplace.

In other words, everyone appears to be doing their best to get along with everybody else; staff, management and hopefully customers (taxpayers) alike.

The only fly in the ointment is the squabbling at city council. This, unfortunately, was entirely predictable no one is paying any real attention to it. To paraphrase George Carlin's newsman routine about a publicity seeking fool, "nobody has noticed and nobody gives a damn."