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Category Archives: Fast Food

Review of Clive Burger

Summary: Another hip burger joint. 

CLIVE BURGERS CALGARY 17

So. Burgers are all the rage now. They are the new pizza. There’s even an entire food blog dedicated to reviewing just burgers. Clive Burger is the latest addition to the scene that has been dominated so far by places like Rocky’s Burger Bus and Boogie’s Burgers.

Occupying the former space of Wok Box, Clive Burger aims to bring hipster cool to the latest trend in the yyc food scene. The front of the house reminded me of a sushi lounge or ramen noodle house in Japan:

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If you are in a group, you can sit in a booth that is adorned with hip burger-joint art (that`s right, I just created my own genre of art):

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I loved the interior space – it was bright and inviting – as food for me is a total sensory experience. The ambiance definitely plays a factor in the overall experience.

Calgary-20120511-00218You order your custom burger off a giant “menu” and pick your own toppings too. Kinda like Subway for burgers. I dig it. If you are feeling extra hungry or just want to carbo-load before that big 10k run the next day, you can order a “custard shake” for $5. AND if that wasn’t enough, you can wash it all down with some beer on tap (from Village Brewery; they also have other wine and beer). For the vegetarians and celiacs out there, Clive also serves up any burger 100% vegetarian or gluten-free. I approve.

Once you order, the burger goes through an “assembly line” of line cooks that construct your burger with the love and care a greasy fat guy with a cigarette in his mouth cannot possibly match.

 

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Kiran’s Thoughts

Calgary-20120511-00225I ordered the double cheese burger with the vegetarian patty along with a vanilla custard shake as I was feeling extra frisky that day. For my burger toppings, I went with friend onions, pickles, lettuce, tomatoes and Swiss cheese all topped off with hot sauce and Clive sauce.

The custard shake came out right away and it was downright sinful how good it was. Song said it was like drinking liquid egg tarts. Kent said it was like drinking ice cream.

I say it was fucking delicious.

We got our burgers to go and find a spot outside to enjoy a nice sunny spring day in the City. I eagerly bit into my burger expecting to find glory, but alas, I only tasted mediocrity. Don’t get me wrong, it was a solid burger, but there was nothing that stood out. The bun was a bit soggy, and the patty (although well seasoned) wasn’t crispy on the outside that gives one the satisfying crunch of biting into a mean burger. I liked the Clive sauce though, as it was nice and garlicky and had a mild vinegary pucker to it that I wasn’t expecting.

Overall, a pretty solid burger and and shake that satisfied my hunger.     

Richards’s Ruminations

Burgers, beers, Battlestar Galactica.  This is what you can look forward to grabbing at the slick-looking Clive Burger on 17th ave (ok, maybe not Battlestar [That’s only at Dickens pub during Sled Island -Kiran]).  There seems to be a bit of a burger boom going on in Calgary these days, much in the way that thin-crust pizza places have been all the rage in the past few years.  Clive Burger punches in with their own sustainability-focused take on the classic burger joint, proudly touting their organic food sources and offering fully-recyclable or compostable containers and utensils.  Even the straws and stickers are biodegradable apparently. In fact, they don’t even have a "trash" container within the store.  The simple line cartoons and modern minimalistic design make it seem like a place that would fit in nicely in Vancouver.

For some reason, they have an absolutely enormous staff – perhaps this is only apparent due to the open-kitchen layout, but maybe they are also big on the social sustainability and are looking to generate as many jobs as feasible ;)  Even though their staff is substantial, this isn’t exactly a "fast" food joint – burgers are freshly prepared, and they can take quite some time to come out.  Luckily, the cashiers issue you a buzzer that vibrates when your food is ready to pick up, so you can sit and sip your beer with your friends instead of having to huddle around anxiously at the pickup counter.

Visually, the burgers sort of resemble the ones from Shake Shack with soft round buns and nice ruffly lettuce, though unlike Shake Shack the toppings selection is vast, arguably even better than Five Guys.  They offer everything from $6 plain singles up to a $17 monstrosity with 3 patties, bacon and a fried egg to boot. There’s also a good range of hipster beers in tallboys and cans, plus a delicious custard shake which is like drinking a liquid mix of egg-tart and ice cream.

I went with a single cheeseburger and an order of fries to share – and it’s a good thing that I was planning on sharing, because it ended up being a pretty crazy amount of fries! (Be warned that there is only one size of fries offered, so better show up with a friend or a huge appetite if you plan on ordering them).  Deliciously fried in peanut oil, they struck a nice balance, being soft but with a tenderly crisp skin – I could easily eat them on their own, but they also came with ketchup and Clive sauce for dipping.  As for the burger – well, you might want to change out of your dress clothes before eating here because it is MESSY!  Maybe it’s because I ordered every free topping except for sauerkraut, but it was oozing goodness from all sides.  The meat was nice and hefty and the topping fresh, so all-in-all, it was edging on excellence – though given that the burger’s appearance reminded me of Shake Shack, it also made me think that the burgers could be even better if cooked medium-done (these were definitely well-done)

Kent’s 2 Cents

Model Milk’s chef is involved with Clive, so it has to be good.
Well, they definitely didn’t fuck around. The beef is some sort of free range, organic wizardry where the farmers feed the cows caviar and Thai massage it to death, creating a pretty satisfying patty. You are free to add on all sorts of fresh toppings, with no additional cost. And like the fries, I think they use peanut oil on the patties too. Heart attack right? Well not really. I found the single & double patty to be just enough to make you full, but not too much to feel like ass immediately afterwards. Just make sure to share the order of fries with a friend or two, its a big serving.

Clive is also doing their part to slow down the destruction of Earth. Compost and recycling have their separate bins. The forks, knives, and other packaging is biodegradable. So you can head back to your Ford F-350 after the meal and feel great about yourself for at least an hour or two.

Summary

We went back to Clive after a night out at Sled. To our delight, we discovered that they are open till 3 am on Fridays and Saturdays. This is awesome as it’s a sign that Calgary’s finally growing up – any large city worth its salt has late night offerings other than Denny’s and Humpty’s – and has options other than 3$ pizza.

I am ambivalent about this place. It’s pretty hip and cool, and the milkshakes are downright mind-blowing, but I found the burgers alright. Richard and Kent found the burgers delicious, so I guess that evens things out.

At the end of the day, after a hard night of partying, this is a great place to grab a bite and chill out with your friends.

Ranking

Kiran Richard Kent
Ambiance 4/5 4.5/5 5/5
Service 3.5/5 2.5/5 3/5
Taste 3.75/5 4.5/5 4/5
Originality 3/5 4.5/5 4/5
Value 4/5 4/5 4/5
TOTAL 18.25/25 = 73% 20/25 = 80% 20/25 = 80%

Clive Burger 17th on Urbanspoon

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Food Truck Weekend Overload (Part 2)!!

Richard and I headed up to Lilac Fest a couple of weekends ago to kick-start the summer festivals circuit. Although I personally find most of these street festivals a bit blasé, they are an awesome opportunity to make lots of food-related discoveries.

After the initial successful pilot, food trucks are now here to stay, with their numbers reportedly rising up to 30 by the end of summer. It seems like food truck frenzy has taken over the city, with a new one popping up every week. Lilac fest had a plethora of food trucks so it was the perfect opportunity to review a few more trucks from the day before

Snoberry: Shaved Ice-Cream

The first one that caught my eye was the latest offering from the folks over at The Noodle Bus, which explains the following photo:

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But no one can beat the one Asian gang sign to rule them all:

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(Kiran’s so jealous of my style Winking smile -Richard)

(I am. Sad smile –Kiran)

But, I digress…

Snoberry serves up shaved ice treats and allows up to two toppings per cup. The toppings range from the classics like blueberries, to the more exotic like “mochi” and “lychee burst”.

What is shaved ice, you ask? The “formal” Wikipedia definition describes it as a “large family” of ice-based dessert made of fine ice shavings or finely crushed ice and sweet condiments or syrups.”

Basically, it’s a fuckin’ snow-cone…aka kala khatta in India or Ais kachang in Southeast Asia

And not a good one at one. The texture of this shaved ice was that of shredded wheat. The texture basically turned me off the dessert completely. Plus, a real shaved-ice treat would actually be dripping with syrup and other condiments (like red beans or peanuts) that you can scoop or suck on. Instead, Snoberry’s version just blurs the line between a frozen yogurt and snow cone, and unfortunately, the end result isn’t very good. (I tried it and was rather ambivalent to it – it’s not really much like a snow cone, as the flavour is imbedded in it rather than in syrup form like the types that Kiran is familiar with. It’s more like those ice crystals that you get on the lid of an ice cream container when you over freeze it – vaguely milky-flavoured, but a relatively dilute taste. Sure it’s a bit overpriced, but the main thing that made it shitty was the horrible combination of flavours that Kiran picked – sorry, peanuts and chocolate don’t go with mango ice and lychee bursts. –Richard).

(It was a fuckin’ delicious combo. –Kiran)

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The Happy Truck

We were looking for a solid meal, and the bright and cheery Happy Truck caught our eyes and stomachs. We were also intrigued by their po’boy offerings with decidedly non-traditional po’ boy ingredients like satay sauce, tempeh, and beef.

I decided to get the temphee (sic) po’boy (that was pretty much my only option) which was a cornucopia of ingredients that you wouldn’t necessarily see often but nonetheless excited me somewhat in my loins. The big “mystery” ingredient for me was tempeh (deep fried fermented soybeans) which turns is something that has been consumed in Indonesia for centuries. The tempeh was supplemented with a generous (and I mean fuckin’ generous) load of shredded/marinated cabbage, pineapple chunks (?!?!), carrots, and cucumber, all topped off with satay sauce and dollops of sambal.

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The above ingredients sound delicious on paper, but unfortunately, where the po’boy failed was in delivery and execution. I didn’t know how to eat the fuckin’ thing. The bread was cut through on both sides so there was no way to hold the sandwich without ingredients oozing out and dripping onto your lap. The above would be forgivable if the sandwich was mind-blowing, but it wasn’t, thus exacerbating my dislike for the po’boy.

Richard’s Thoughts

The Happy Truck, eh? The name certainly appealed to me, and the people running it inside seemed happy enough. Ok, worth a try, right? Their off-beat offerings were a strange mix of Asian-inspired flavours (from samosas to Southeast-Asian satay) centered around a “Po’ boy” that was the Southern-States standard in name only. It was more like a Viet/Thai style sub (though the bread was certainly po’boy-like), filled with satay beef, cabbage, seemingly cooked cucumber, pineapple pieces, hoisin sauce, and slathered with a generous helping of peanut-y satay sauce.

DSC00097It was certainly an adventurous combination, but I can’t say that I was a fan of it. The sweetness of the pineapple and hoisin sauce combined with the strong peanut flavour of the satay made it taste like I was eating a PBJ sandwich – that happened to also have beef and cabbage in it Sick smile. Seems like it might appeal to people who like the PBJ hotdog at tubby dog though Winking smile. I also had a spring roll, which was almost like an Asian-style sausage roll – unlike many spring rolls, there was no vermicelli or vegetable fillers – only pure, pot-sticker-style meat. On the plus side, the Happy Truck accepts credit cards, which was rather welcome.

Purple Pastry Chef

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The set of cupcakes that were on display in front of the little van caught my eye as we were walking by, and the cheerful ladies manning the little van seemed pretty down-to-earth, so I figured it would be a good place to grab some dessert. The flavour selection was very unique (cinammon, rosewater, and mojito were among the offerings that day), and each cupcake was exquisitely decorated and packaged in individual windowed boxes. We were informed that everything on the cupcakes was edible (including the well-crafted butterflies that adorned several cupcakes) – except for the straw that adorned the mojito cupcake (which was what I ended up ordering).

The cupcakes were almost too adorable to eat – but eat, we did. Unfortunately, I’d say they made better decorations than desserts – the cake itself was nice, if unremarkable, but the icing was too viscous for my liking (almost like marzipan) and the flavour was mostly one-dimensional – sugary (there were wisps of rum/mojito mix but it was pretty muted). Luckily, it came with a slice of key-lime that I bit into in between bites of cupcake that helped cut the sweetness and added some zing. The sugar mint leaf on top was actually also really good, but it wasn’t really big enough for me to get a piece of it with every bite of the cupcake. They weren’t that cheap either ($3.50 or $3.75, I think?), but I don’t doubt that a lot of care went into each and every cupcake so the price was somewhat understandable. –Richard

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I went with the white chocolate and rose water cupcake, which like Richard’s selection, was absolutely gorgeous to look at. However, like his, mine was also better admired than eaten. The icing was too thick and sweet for my liking and the cake wasn’t really all that special. I attempted to eat the rose petals, but ended up just coughing them out.

It was pretty disappointing to have something that delicious looking turn out to be not that delicious, but such is life. #firstworldproblems. -Kiran

Other Trucks

4th Street was lined all the way with food trucks and amongst the new and interesting ones we saw were:

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Which essentially seems to be Edo Express on wheels:

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Then there are other trucks like The Naaco Truck that weren’t at the Lilac Fest, but which I am SUPER-excited about as white people need to know there’s more to Indian food than butter-chicken (which 95% of India Indians won’t be able to afford anyways):

Summary

Food truck mania is definitely taking over the city. I can’t thank Nenshi’s office enough in pushing this concept through City Hall. Calgary’s a pretty cool place, and although it will take us a while to be as trendy, hip or cool as Montreal, we will get there (in a couple of decades or so!). I personally think Calgary’s main problem is how young of a city it is. A lot of people don’t realize that we have grown to a million in the span of only 60 years, whereas a lot of the major cities around the world have two or three CENTURIES worth of history.

As the food truck scene explodes, there will be an increased scrutiny on the quality and price of the offerings. BUT, ultimately, regardless of the food quality, the concept of street food is only going to help revitalize our City.

Looking forward to what summer brings in our local food scene.

-Kiran

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Purple Pastry Chef (Food Truck) on Urbanspoon

[NEW DISCOVERY] Gravity Espresso & Wine Bar in Inglewood

 Summary: A neat new addition to the Calgary food scene that serves up all kinds of delicious brews (alcoholic & non-alcoholic alike) and could easily serve as a space for modern art.

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I love Inglewood. Every time I go there, my spirits are automatically uplifted. I found myself in the neighbourhood yesterday again shopping at ESPY for new threads (definitely check this place out –it’s the next Banana Republic) when I stumbled upon the “Now Open” sign for Gravity. It was the perfect time for an afternoon pick-me-up, so I took the opportunity to explore this new addition to the Inglewood family.

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DSC00116The best thing about the most popular cafes is the ambiance (in addition to the coffee, of course) and Gravity does not disappoint. The interiors are a bit dark, if not moody, and has a “quiet” ambiance about it. With large pieces of art from DaDe hanging off the walls, Gravity almost feels like a Nuevo art gallery with high ceilings, hipster baristas, and a full-on chalk board menu that’s all the rage nowadays. To be honest, the high vaulted ceilings give the entire place the ambiance of a library, which to me is not a bad thing at all…I love libraries (Dan of Dan`s Goodside also has a pretty hilarious description of the ambiance here).  Gravity also hosts weekly open mic nights every Sunday and features musical guest every Wednesday.

In addition to serving the traditional caffeinated fares, Gravity also serves wine, beer, and if you are feeling real Russian, premium vodka. They have just applied for a patio permit with the City, so come summer time, you can look forward to chilling outdoors with wine or beer from Village Brewery until midnight on weekends.

Calgary-20120605-00302I personally needed a caffeine and sugar boost, so I ordered a macchiato and cheesecake (no point drinking coffee if you are not complimenting it with something sweet).

Gravity serves Phil & Sebastian coffee, which I am increasingly growing fond of. I love their storefront off of 33 Ave SW in Marda Loop and it always pleases me greatly to see a local outfit make it in the food industry. The macchiato was great – even though the sweetness of the cheesecake overpowered the espresso, it did not taste acrid. The brew went down smoothly and was rich. I am not a coffee drinker usually, but find myself increasingly drawn to it. I can’t really pick up any of the subtle flavours that a more experienced palette can pick up, but in general, coffee is a much more complex beast than wine in many ways.

The cheesecake comes in these cute containers with open lids that are topped off with a strawberry-rhubarb (?) compote. The latter was tangy but the cheesecake wasn’t too sweet, so the tanginess didn’t really help to cut down on anything. Generally speaking, I am not a big fan of these compotes as I find they ruin a perfectly good cheesecake. Next time, I am going to have to remember to tell them to leave it off.

In addition to desserts, Gravity also sells entrees like panini, soups, and cheeseboards if you are looking for a more substantial meal. I went back the next day for lunch and ordered myself a roasted vegetable + cheddar panino and a cappuccino as I wanted to have a taste of their lunch menu.

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The panino was delicious: the natural sweetness that roasting brings out in vegetables (zucchini, cauliflower, red peppers, and onions combined really well with the saltiness of the cheese and butter. All the flavours – sweet, salty, bitter and umame – came together really well, and I was pretty vowed when my brain realized what had just happened. The bread was also perfectly done, albeit a bit softer than I would have liked it, but I am just nitpicking. The cauliflower was also a bit crunchier than I would have liked.

The cappuccino was a bit disappointing, however, and that`s likely because I was drinking it while eating the panino. I found the cappuccino to be bitter to the point that I was reminded of the after-taste left in my mouth from drinking hoppy IPAs. There was also a persistent astringent after-taste at the sides of my tongue even though I cleansed my palette with water several times. The coffee had great body though: smooth and creamy, it had a very silken texture which I loved very much.

In reality, I should have asked for the cappuccino to come out after my lunch…I don`t know why these cafes serve you your coffee first if they know you have ordered lunch. Seems a bit backwards, but hey, live and learn. I will have to try their cappuccino at another time without food.

Summary

I enjoyed my time at Gravity. It’s got all the essentials a hip, urban cafe needs: art gallery modernist feel, good coffee and desserts, art hanging off the walls, and of course, hipster baristas. Pretty soon, they will also have a patio to enjoy the great Calgary summers with local beer and wine up till midnight. Keep an eye out for it…

Ranking

Kiran

Ambiance

4.5/5

Service

4/5

Taste

3.75/5

Originality

3/5

Value

3.5/5

OVERALL

18.75/25 = 75%

Gravity Espresso & Wine Bar on Urbanspoon

Weekend Food Truck OVERLOAD (Part 1)!!

The Lilac Fest weekend was definitely a food truck extravaganza. Summer time is almost here and Calgarians were yearning to get out and get some time in the sun.

The first event one was Calgary’s “newest food festival” Eat Real YYC, which according to Casel Marche, the organizers of the event is:

“…a one-day indoor and outdoor revolutionary feast of community and good eats will feature many Calgary food trucks, restaurant pop-ups, food stations featuring local products and food artisans, and wine tasting.”

I saw a lot of twitter posts tagged with #stickittotheman in association with this event, but to be honest, if you can afford to shop at the grocery store in the building, then you probably are The Man; you are definitely not part of the 99%.

The “real food” festival turned out to be no more than a bunch of food trucks parked on 24th St (at least, by 3pm when we arrived –Richard), which was alright, cause that’s what I was there to check out.

BLAM!WICH ~Heroic Eats

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She is BACK!

After a winter hiatus, Margie and the team over at Blam!wich are back. And they are better than ever.

Pearl’s been retired, but they have replaced her with someone better. With a bigger interior and more room, the Blam!wich truck is better equipped to serve the masses and dish out those awesome blam!wiches.

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Although they were done for the day, Margie was kind enough to make a Speedy Gonzales just for me! Homemade spicy black bean burger, spicy & tangy pico de gallo topped with melted cheddar….you would have to be insane to say no that.

And the bread…oh so good. It sounds stupid to rave about the bread, but I don’t think I have had bread quite like this before. Perfectly toasted for that delicious crunch on the outside, yet soft and moist on the inside. I raved to Margie about this and I was on the money: apparently, she commissioned an 80-year old European baker to custom-bake this sandwich bread for her. You can definitely taste the difference with this bread – it adds a whole another dimension to the overall taste and experience. The Speedy Gonzales is definitely a worth successor to last season’s ratatouille-based vegetarian sandwich. Good job, guys!

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Stay tuned for an update to the original ride-along for another behind-the-scenes look at Blam!wich’s new truck.

Spud Mobeel

Although I was pretty satisfied after that heroic blam!wich, my eyes were immediately drawn to the spiral fries that everyone was trying to stuff their mouths with. 

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Something potato-based is perfect for a food truck as it is quick, simple, and makes the perfect snack. To me, that’s what street food is all about. Spud Mobeel has a long line-up of potato-based offerings – all grown in Alberta -  starting with the respectable French (Freedom?) Fries to the awesome “spiral dog.” I couldn’t get a photo of the spiral dog as it was already sold out, but imagine the spiral potato below, with a hot dog stuck through the inside on the skewer. It’s like one of those ship-in-a-bottle! Brilliant!

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Apparently, the white cheddar topping was the most popular that morning, so that’s what I went with. It turned out to be a good choice. What I didn’t like was the extremely crispy potato spirals. It was like eating chips off a stick, which was with odds at what my mind had visualized: softer, more French Fries like texture. In addition, the spirals weren’t cooked towards the bottom, so it was weird transitioning from the super-crispy to partially uncooked at the bottom.

It wasn’t that the spiral wasn’t good…more like I didn’t like the chips-like hard crunch of the spirals. Maybe this is your thing, and if so, I would encourage you to try it. Next time, I am going to try something else.

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 Wrap-up

With the number of food trucks set to hit 30 by this summer, there is going to be an increased scrutiny on the quality and novelty of the food being sold. Now that everyone and their aunties and uncles are getting into the food truck business, the quality is going to get diluted as folks seek to capitalize on the market. I don’t think more choice is bad – in fact, I think it’s great – but it does also bring out the more mediocre offerings.

Stay tuned for part 2 of the food truck update!

-Kiran

Blam!Wich - Food Truck on Urbanspoon

The Blam!wich Ride-Along: Pulled over more people than a police ride-along

There comes a moment in every man’s life where he has to choose between sleeping in or manning up by waking up early to hang out with one of his favourite food trucks in town. A couple of Saturdays ago was that day.

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I showed up bright and early (for a Saturday) at Casel Marche where Blam!wich was going to be parked that day. It was a gorgeous but windy Fall day. Margie (owner) was already out and about getting ready to start off the day by turning on the generator:

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That right away answered one my long-standing mysteries: do they keep the engine running to power the truck? The answer (if you haven’t guessed it by now) is a no. The generator that Margie was working so hard to get started (while I was watching taking photos…haha) keeps the truck powered. It’s the most important piece of equipment out there.

Margie quickly took me inside the truck to introduce me to her line cooks Eleni (blue shirt, background) and Ashley:

The photos don’t do justice capturing how truly tiny the cooking space is inside the truck. At 6’3”, I felt like gojira walking through downtown Tokyo hell-bent on destroying everything. There isn’t really a lot of room to move and one quickly learns how to move in the most economical and efficient manner so you don’t start destroying shit. But back to that in a bit…

Margie, who is originally from Montreal (and has a degree in Art History) is a veteran of the food industry. On one of her trips out to Calgary, she fell in love with the mountains. One thing led to the other and she ended up owning, operating, running restaurants in the mountains for the next 15 years. Eventually, in Margie’s own words, every cook burns out and so did she, which led her to take an 8 year break in Marketing. The food truck pilot is her first venture back into the food industry…and she is going after it in full force!

IMG_0013Eleni, who was the head line cook that day, knows Margie from way back. She’s been in the industry since high school and has been through various roles over the past 11 years – from waitressing to culinary manager – before hooking up with Margie on the Blam!wich adventure.

Last, but not the least in the truck was was Ashley who was helping Eleni to speed up the line and cut down the wait times for sandwiches. Ashley, who’s originally from Manitoba (who’s favourite is the Tree Hugger!) kinda fell into the food industry and has been working in it since she moved to Calgary two years ago. IMG_0037

As mentioned earlier, the truck aka “Pearl” was pretty cramped. Margie and her bf picked it up in Golden from a guy who was looking to get rid of it. The duo drove it all the way to yyc, painted it themselves, got a friend to design the logo, got all the necessary permits, and BLAM!, were on the road selling sandwiches in less than a month…all thanks to the extremely streamlined City of Calgary process to get the food truck pilot going. Good job, CoC!

Challenges

The most fascinating part of the day for me was seeing the trio in action dealing with multiple orders. Prep work such as cutting veggies, cooking the ratatouille, and prepping the jerk sauces is done the night before in an external kitchen. While trucks such as Perogy Boyz and Alley Burger have their restaurants where such prep work can be done, Blam!wich doesn’t have that luxury, and hence, has to rent an external kitchen.

Even then, the cramped working conditions don’t help, especially as most line cooks like Eleni are used to lots of counter space if full size restaurant kitchens.IMG_0018

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With multiple orders coming in at one, it’s pretty important to be on the ball – the ability to multi-task is critical. Someone like Eleni has to constantly calculate in their head which orders can be grouped together so she can efficiently get orders out in that 7 min. window.

Even little things like how the order is written down makes a difference in her efficiency. For instance, depending on who’s taking the orders, the location of the customer’s name changes, costing Eleni that extra second before registering the name and calling it out. It’s a high stakes operation in there.IMG_0078

Of course, once all the prepping and cooking are done, it’s time to clean the truck. All in all, most food truck operators are looking at 12-16 hour days after the prepping and cleaning activities are taken in to account!

I got to hang out with John (aka Margie’s bf) towards the end of my sojourn and we got talking about the cost challenges involved in running a truck. A lot of people (including myself) have complained about how much this supposedly “fast food” costs. At the end of the day, there are a lot of costs that have to be covered by that $8 sandwich: food, labour for three, insurance, rental for a separate kitchen, indoor parking lot during winter so fire suppression system doesn’t freeze up, etc. that all add up and need to be paid for.

I think the main issue is perhaps the perception that food from a truck is supposed to be fast, and more importantly, cheap. While this could be true, it often isn’t, as there is a lack of understanding around what it takes to own and operate a truck: it is essentially a mini-restaurant on wheels.

At the end of the day, if the truck ain’t working, then there’s no revenue coming in. It’s as simple as that.

Positives

IMG_0049The most positive thing about working in a food truck environment for all three seemed to be the chance to meet people from all walks of life. The constantly evolving and dynamic nature of the job seemed to fuel both Margie and Eleni. Both of them seemed to revel in the adrenalin rush of working in a high-stress, multi-tasking environment. Margie especially seemed to thrive on the high of meeting and interacting with multiple people.

What amazed me the most was how elated people looked when they picked up their orders. I don’t know if I look that happy when I pick-up my orders, but it was the most amazing thing to watch from behind the scenes. At the end of the day, that probably in itself keeps the crew going day after day.

IMG_0094Future Plans

Amazingly enough, Blam!wich plans on working through the winter, once again showcasing that the only way to take back winter is to stop bitching and doing something about it. Margie plans to buy a 10’ x 10’ pop-up tent so people can be sheltered from the wind while waiting for their orders. Pretty neat.

Blam!wich is also planning on trialing a RT Twitter ordering system. The whole idea is customers can tweet their orders in prior to getting to the truck. Margie guarantees that the sandwiches will be ready in 7 min. regardless of when you plan on getting there. So, if you pre-order too soon, your sandwich might be sitting for a while…which is not a bad price to pay for not having to stand in –20 deg C weather. Brilliant!

Summary

It was pretty illuminating hanging out behind-the-scenes and getting to know the people who make great things happen. The three ladies formed a pretty tight team – everyone knew exactly what their job was and what they needed to get done – and didn’t waste any energy or energy getting those sandwiches out. It was pretty cool to see Eleni intensely focused, popping out multiple sandwiches like Third World Country families pop out kids!

The trucks will have to step up their game eventually once the novelty wears off. Right now, people are willing to disregard the high costs and/or band reviews for the novelty of trying out truck food. Shows like Eat Street on Food Network (which, interestingly enough, contacted the City to do a piece on yyc food trucks as opposed to the other way round!) have done a great job of introducing North Americans to the concept of food trucks, but like everything, Calgarians will undoubtedly get jaded and will start getting more discerning. It’s going to be very interesting to see how new and old players evolve and adapt to an increasingly demanding audience.

Personally, I couldn’t be happier. This was one thing missing from the Calgary food scene. As someone who grew up in cities with an amazing street food culture, it is very exciting to see Calgary develop it’s own street food scene. Calgarians now have additional options to satisfy their late night hunger pangs after a hard night of partying.

After all, there’s only so many times you can satisfy your soul with pizza-by-the-slice after some heavy drinking.

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Blam!Wich on Urbanspoon

You had me at Fries: A review of Fries & Dolls Food Truck

The Fries & Dolls food truck is arguably the hottest and sexiest of the seven food trucks. The hot pink exterior, the dolled up ladies taking orders and serving fries, the suggestive “cup” sizes…everything screams “Eat me!” (literally and figuratively).

IMG_0093Well, I finally got the chance to check them out today after hanging out with Blam!wich at Casel Marche today. Having spent close to 3 hours inside the Blam!wich food truck, I was surprised by the line-up outside the F&D food truck (keep an eye out for an in-depth look at Blam!wich). The ladies at Blam!wich were knocking out sandwiches every 5-7 min., yet there was a relatively large line-up at the food truck serving fries? What the what…?

Nevertheless, I decided to check it out as it was a gorgeous fall day and I wanted to get a little bit of sun in before the dark days of winter. Unfortunately, it was a very slow moving line as I waited at least 15-20 min. before I was able to place an order. The Dolls were nice enough to pass down a sampler of their “Sandra D” which consisted of yam fries coated in sugar & spice and everything nice like cinnamon. It was delicious, but I was in a mood for something savoury. My eyes immediately drifted to the “Sophia” fries with truffle oil and Grana Padano parmesan (‘B’ cup – $6). There were many more delectable options as well but I wanted something more traditional, and hence, opted to go with the potato fries.

I asked for a doggy bag as I was driving home, but the sublime earthy aroma of truffle oil couldn’t be contained by a measly paper bag. There was no way I was going to muster up enough will power to wait until I got home, so I just dug in. And it was heaven. The combination of truffle oil with the parmesan Grana Padano was fucking out of this world. I love it when simple ingredients combine together to produce something that is much more than the individual components. The fries were crunchy and crispy yet soft and mushy on the inside like good fries should be. Dip the fries in the house chipotle sauce for a smoky yet tangy, with a little-bit-of-a-kick experience for your mouth. Amazing.

I have to be honest: a food truck serving fries was pretty low down on my priority list for that exact reason – it’s just fries (they also serve hotdogs if you want something more substantial). But now that I have had a taste of what these ladies have to offer, I am more open to tasting some of their other items.

My only complaint is I don’t understand why it takes that long to make the fries. The wait was long enough that I considered leaving thrice (the third time was when I almost at the front)! I personally have no patience to wait in line for 15-20 min. for French fries, but I was probably in the minority judging by the line-up behind me. Considering Blam!wich was knocking out entire sandwiches in 7 min., and had a smaller line-up, I don’t understand why it took F & D a similar amount of time to make French fries…

Anyways, other than the waiting time, I was pretty pleasantly surprised by F & D! It’s definitely a truck to check-out if you have some time to spare and are willing to bear the wait times!

-Kiran

Review of That Schnitzel Place! A new hidden gem in Calgary

Summary: Simply put, the next Tubby Dog. Due its awkward location and limited hours, its popularity will never reach the mythical proportions of Tubby Dog. Good, ‘cause that will keep the fuckin’ hipsters out.

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The thing I love most about writing a food blog is discovering hidden gems that no one else’s heard of or knows about. And once in a while, a series of serendipitous events conspire together to bring you to such a place and completely blows you away.

Well, today was that day. Walking home from work, I walked past That Schnitzel Place (TSP). I had walked past this establishment quite a few times, but never had had the time or inclination to check it out. Luckily, my plans for post-work drinks and dinner with Kent and Richard fell through, so I needed a place to grab dinner. That Schnitzel Place satisfied that gaping hole.

The first thing that caught my attention was the big, bold “That Schnitzel Place” on red background. The next thing that catches your attention is “BIG, HOT, JUICY.” Enough said.

To the uninitiated, schnitzel’s are essentially breaded boneless meat that is tenderized and friend until crispy, golden brown. Technically, you can pound, bread, and fry anything and call it a schnitzel. I was quite surprised by how vegetarian-friendly TSP is. Pretty much every item of their menu can be made into a vegetarian version using Portobello mushrooms. In addition, there were some pre-existing “vegetarian-friendly” items on their menu already.

After chatting with the proprietor and his son (the cook), I decided to go with the Mexican-inspired Daily Special “Poncho Villa.” The latter consisted of Raspberry chipotle sauce; Havarti cheese; chilli-lime pico de gallo (with avocado, tomato, roasted corn, onion, red and green peppers); and topped with pea sprouts. I could have just as easily gone with the other vegetarian-friendly offerings, but this one just appealed to me the most.

Dave, who is one of the co-owners, decided I should also try his mushroom soup. This turned out to be the best decision of the day: I have never had better-tasting mushroom soup. I generally enjoy the earthy, neutral taste of mushroom soups, but this one had a delicious peppery kick to it. I was instantly sold. The bar was already set pretty high, and I hadn’t even seen the schnitzel sandwich yet!

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Finally, it arrived. I bit into it with anticipation and instantly heard the satisfying crunch of the breaded Portobello. I love that sound. The sweetness of the raspberry-chipotle combined with the pico de gallo to produce a combined sweet-tangy taste that was very pleasing. I loved how all the flavours combined to produce a harmonious effect overall. This Schnitzel’s Delicious (= “TSD”…This Sh*t’s Delicious…get it? ;D)! The cherry on top of the icing is the fact that TSP sells beer and wine!

Now for the behind the scenes look at the team behind TSP. I usually do this at the beginning, but elected to do it after reviewing the food once I realized how much material I had.

Dave (one of the co-owner’s) is local Calgarian born and raised here since 1951 when the population was only 89000 (wtf!). He’s truly seen Calgary grow from a small dusty, little prairie town to the hip, urban, multicultural town that it is now in a span of slightly more than half a century. His family is originally from Europe and was in the garment industry making FR oilfield clothing until competition from overseas made it uneconomical for them to operate the garment factory. Dave then went over to the company that makes polar fleece as a consultant.

ARxipVgdzamqx6-640mDave’s Calgarian roots are clearly reflected in the large very hip, urban posters that adorn TSP’s walls. I didn’t notice this initially, but each poster has TSP branding overlaid on Calgary landmarks like the Calgary Tower or the iconic Saddledome. Very cool. 

The point of the above personal history is that Dave & co actually have purportedly no prior food industry experience. They essentially knew the previous owner of the place who no longer wanted to own or run the place once his wife took ill. Dave and his co-owner saw an opportunity to own a restaurant and decided to buy the place from him. Just like that.

What makes this whole story even more amazing is how well put together this whole enterprise is. TSP is very well branded for a couple of retirees with no prior food industry experience (to be fair, maybe the co-owner does – I didn’t ask). From the matching t-shirts at the front counter to the website design, everything screams “meticulous” – branding is clearly at the forefront of the owners’ mind (intentionally or not). In fact, TSP reminded me a bit about Jelly Modern in that when you walk into JM, it is quite clear everything has been thought about twice and is a labour of love. This is no fuckin’ mom-and-pop operation, that’s for sure.

My only nitpick would be that I was hoping that menu was home grown considering family has European roots, but it appears that the menu was designed by a chef who also comes up with ideas for Daily Specials regularly. The chef (external, 3rd party) is the brains behind the menu and does the daily prep work, leaving the actual cooking and assembly to Dave’s son. But does this really matter? This sh*t’s delicious, so who gives a fuck?

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Closing Remarks

It’s not often that I come across a hidden jewel that none of the bloggers have heard of before. Most of the traditional blogs wouldn’t cover a place like this anyway as they mostly focus on the big-name restaurants. But TSD’s always held the opinion that it’s the small and hole-in-the-wall establishments like Canada Dosa Corner, Tu Tierra, and now TSP, that truly define the very fabric of a city. I am truly honored to be the first second yyc food blogger to review this place. Miss Foodie’s Gourmet Adventures has the honour of being the first.

Ranking

Kiran
Ambiance 4/6
Service 6/6
Plating 4/6
Taste 5.5/6
Originality 5.5/6
Value 4/6
Overall 29/36 = 81%

 

That Schnitzel Place on Urbanspoon

Kol3 Review

I’ve always thought that Calgary had a pretty decent Vietnamese food scene, but one of my friends constantly laments the lack of places that serve “real” Vietnamese food (presumably, stuff that she gets at home).  No doubt, while there is a pretty good variety of bun, pho, and Viet sub places around the city, you won’t find many places in the city that explore the many uniquely Vietnamese dishes outside of these mainstays.  Kol3, just behind the Kensington Wine Market on 12th St., looks to kick the trend and carve out its own niche by specializing in banh xeo, a savoury Vietnamese crepe.

Subtly flavoured lemongrass soda - dry indeed

Kol3 greets you with a clean, friendly and simple interior, with bright colours and hand-written menus on the wall.  Banh xeo features prominently as the main style of dish on their menu, though they do also offer a few appetizers and desserts, as well as pho.  Though they have the “traditional” banh xeo (with pork, sprouts and shrimp filling), they also offer a variety of fusion-flavoured fillings such as basa fish, “breakfast” (eggs and bacon), and bacon cheeseburger.  Their soda selection is also quite interesting, with lemongrass, rhubarb, blood orange, and lavender sodas being among those that you can choose (though they seem to be light on the calories – read, sugar – which may or may not be down your alley).

We decided to start with the ginger wings to start, which turned out to be an awesome choice.  Seasoned with chilli, ginger, and green onions, they were juicy, meaty, and damn good (though they work out to cost ~$1.10 per wing so they aren’t cheap – still worth it though).  Soon after we mopped up the wings, the banh xeo came out.

Vegetarian banh xeo with tofu

“I can’t believe how big this is!” (That’s what she said –Kiran)  The crepes were definitely generously sized (or at least plated to appear so).  All the dishes came with mesclun salad and fish sauce on the side, save Kiran’s (which came with “Vegetarian sauce”, NOT fish sauce, the server adamantly clarified).  As I had ordered the bacon cheeseburger banh xeo, mine also came with ketchup (of course).  The salad was crisp, fresh and went well with my meal, though some of the others thought it was an odd pairing.  The banh xeo itself was as tasty as it looked – crispy exterior and with a good mix of ingredients on the inside (mine came loaded with pickles, onions, tomatoes, bacon, cheese and ground beef).

The service was good (though there aren’t very many tables in the venue so that shouldn’t be hard), and they didn’t mind us lingering at our table long after we finished eating.  How many places have a waitress who will take the time to chat with you on the finer points of sci-fi television? (I think she was a bigger geek than any of us).  Apparently they are also looking to get a liquor licence/bar soon, though it seems like that has been the case for some time.

Kiran’s Thoughts:

Vietnamese coffee - the equivalent of 4 shots of espresso and half a cup of condensed milk to kick your ass

The interior space has a bright, airy feeling to it, no doubt helped by the large wall-to-ceiling windows that let plenty of natural light in. It is complimented by the bright, neon coloured furniture, as well as the two-tone neon green/white paint. All in all, Kol3 has a contemporary feel to it that reminds me of “Japanese.” What specific aspects of Japan the interior reminds of isn’t clear, but I will leave that up to the readers.

As usual, like any good Vietnamese/Southeast Asian cuisine joint, Kol3 had the standard single vegetarian crepe option (with vegetarian fish sauce) and nothing else. Our server didn’t know what was exactly vegetarian about the vegetarian fish sauce, except that it was and that worked for me.

My crepe was crispy but moist and was filled with tofu, bean sprouts, spinach, and onions. It also came with a mint and arugula salad on the side. The salad had no real function IMHO, except to serve as a palate cleanser and to add $$ value to the plate. That said, every component of the salad and the crepe were fresh and that greatly enhanced the taste. The “fish sauce” added a very tangy finish to every bite, and without it, my crepe would have been fairly bland.

To be honest, my favourite part of the menu was the delicious Vietnamese coffee. It wasn’t the drip-style Vietnamese coffee in a strictest sense of the category, but it had the 4 shots of espresso and a generous helping of condensed milk. It was a strong and bold yet balanced in its acidity. The finish wasn’t astringent and the bitterness wasn’t overpowering. A word of caution though: I was up until 3 am that night and was the most productive I have been in a long time.

Kol3 is a great addition to the Calgary crepe scene. Everybody gets excited about French crepes, but they don’t realize that Indians (and Vietnamese) have had crepes on their collective menus longer than the French have been around (though who knows, maybe banh xeo was inspired by the French like several other Viet dishes? -Richard), so it’s great that Kol3 is trying to highlight other aspects of SEA cuisine.

Kent’s 2-Cents:

These wings ain't cheap, but they whoop the llama's ass

Short and sweet – I really enjoyed Kol3. Its a place I’ll be visiting again to try out the other variations of the banh xeo. The restaurant itself is clean, modern, and reminiscent of an Apple store. Kol3 isn’t really going for the authentic Vietnamese theme in either food or decor, but they have some really good ideas without taking too much away from the original crepe. Pro tip – Nuac mam (fish sauce) is pretty much impossible to screw up, and it makes anything taste good.

Summary

Hands down the best banh xeo place that I have ever been to!  Though, it’s also the ONLY banh xeo place that I’ve been to.  All in all, it was an enjoyable experience and one that I’m looking forward to having again.

-Richard

Rating:

  Richard Kiran Kent
Ambiance 5/6 5/6 5/6
Service 5/6 5/6 5.5/6
Plating 5.5/6 4.5/6 4.5/6
Taste 5/6 4/6 5/6
Originality 5.5/6 5/6 6/6
Value 4/6 4.5/6 4.5/6
Overall 30/36 = 83% 28/36 = 78% 30.5/36 = 85%

Kol3 on Urbanspoon

Review of The Big Cheese

The Big Cheese - Branding is a big thing

Like clogging up your arteries with potato, gravy, and cheese curds? Yeah, well so do we. This fine establishment is right beside Melrose on 17th Avenue, making it the perfect location for grabbing a late night snack as you stumble out of the bar at 2 am. The last thing a drunk wants is healthy food, and they definitely don’t want to walk more than 3 blocks to get it.

It's got a real inner-city metropolis feel, and lineups to matchThe menu is all poutine, baby. One section dominated by chicken, one section with pork, one section with beef, some traditional poutine, and even vegetarian (probably using gravy made with veggie stock). You can even custom build your poutine, choosing from a few different types of curries and gravies, cheeses, and meats. I ordered the Porky Pig (sausage, bacon, mushrooms, onions), and a few others ordered the Buffalo Chicken (chicken, franks red hot sauce, peas). Every poutine is served in 2 sizes, small and large. The small is really not that small – it’s enough to serve as a meal in my opinion. Having ordered the large, I felt the need to curl into foetal position on the bench and take a nap immediately afterwards. The large would be pretty good on an empty stomach.

The Porky Pig is pretty much standard fare poutine, but with the addition of bacon and sausage. You still get the Quebec cheese curds, gravy, and fries like any normal poutine. It comes out hot and fresh in a waxed cardboard take-out box, so, if you can’t find a seat inside (the place is not that big), you can sit outside on a nice sunny day or go for a stroll along 17th and not have the poutine leave a big grease stain on your crotch. Trust me, I know from experience (I trust you, Kent. Although, I was pretty sure it wasn’t a “grease” stain. Thanks for clearing that up. –Kiran)

Pork galore! It may not be kosher but it sure is deliciousAs far as the taste is concerned, I didn’t find the fries and gravy anything that exceptional. The serving comes out hot but the fries are not too soggy. The gravy is rich, thick, and not extremely salty. But, what really sets it apart is the different varieties of poutine, gravy, and toppings that you can throw in. It really depends what you order. Some (like the Porky Pig) will have the meat overpower the taste of everything else. The Buffalo Chicken has a bigger emphasis on the hot sauce. I think I am more impressed with the originality and selection on the menu than the taste of the poutine. Although I didn’t try the original, unmodified poutine, so my opinion could change.

Richard’s Notes

It feels like Calgary is growing into a full-out metropolis!  The Big Cheese feels like the sort of place that you might find in the Big Apple – charming style, interesting theme, big lineups (at certain times of the day – people seem to come here in waves).

The dilemma of getting just the right amount of food with a small vs. getting good value for your money with a large is grossly magnified here – typically a large only costs a couple bucks more than a small but you seem to get twice as much (fries, at least – toppings probably aren’t doubled).  I’d recommend coming with an empty stomach or with a friend so that you can split a large if you are looking to stretch your dollar.

From what I have seen, they are struggling a bit with consistency in the quality of the food – though perhaps this is normal for a brand-spankin’ new place.  I’ve had one friend tell me his fries were fried to death, while I found mine to be soft but largely unremarkable.  I quite enjoyed the Montreal Smoked Meat, but was less impressed with the Porky Pig (I did have these at two separate occasions though, so it may have had to do with how hungry I was each time).

Let's maximize the Quebec-ness by adding Montreal smoked meat to poutine!

Summary

You probably won’t be disappointed by The Big Cheese. The fries and gravy might not blow your mind away. But as a whole, combined with an orgy of different toppings to choose from, it is incredibly satisfying. And for those who are famished or maybe looking for a big hangover meal, you can order a pretty large portion and not blow too much money. Not that you would notice anyway after a long night on 17th Ave. (Kent’s review is spot on. The draw of this place isn’t the poutine, it is toppings themselves. The poutinerie isn’t any different from Tubby Dog – I don’t go there to eat their awesome dogs, I go there for the messed up and unholy goodness of toppings. That said, I did try the traditional poutine (with vegetarian gravy) at The Big Cheese and…well, it begged the question why poutine is so huge. Some of you haters might say that’s cause it was a vegetarian gravy, bitch. But, you know what, I eat veggie hot dogs all the time, and they taste delicious, so I don’t buy that argument. All in all, I am glad I tried it, but the next time I am at The Big Cheese, I am going to order their Mexican Vegetarian Poutine –Kiran)

-Kent

Ranking

  Kent Kiran Richard
Ambiance 4/6 4/6 5/6
Service 4.5/6 4/6 4/6
Plating 4.5/6 4/6 5/6
Taste 4.5/6 4/6 4/6
Originality 6/6 5.5/6 5/6
Value 5/6 5/6 5/6
Overall 28.5/36 = 79% 26.5/36 = 74% 28/36 = 78%

Big Cheese Poutinerie on Urbanspoon