Author Archives: Laura Roberts

Cheap eats in Toronto

Tequila Bookworm (photo: Ariel Rubinstein)

Tequila Bookworm (photo: Ariel Rubinstein)

They said it couldn’t be done: Toronto on a budget. Well, they didn’t know who they were dealing with. (Or “with whom they were dealing,” for the grammar nazis among us.)

Shoestring Montreal has done the impossible: Toronto on $40 a day.

I’m actually working on writing this up for someplace that’ll pay me, but as a quick blog entry, here are the highlights:

– Fresh: All-vegetarian restaurant. Delicious sweet potato fries with miso gravy to start, followed by a black bean burrito that was deliciously rice-free. Halleluia!

– Rocket Fuel Coffee House: Take someone who’s been there before, as this place is a bit hard to find, the owners are rather gruff, and there’s no menu whatsoever. Kind of like the Soup Nazi, you’d better know what you want and have your money out and unfolded! They serve coffee, hot and delicious, and they make it like true artists. My friend said they have the best soy lattés in the world. I, a cow’s milk drinking heathen, enjoyed a nice stiff foam on the top of my enormous cowjuice latté. Seriously, you could be drinking this thing all afternoon. And only $3!

Tequila Bookworm: Okay, so their latté wasn’t anything like the unbelievable one I had at Rocket Fuel, but dude, combine a café and a bookstore and you’re set for life. Why anyone hasn’t thought of this in Montreal I don’t know, but I’m telling you, this is an idea to jump on. Especially in a town of loafers who love to hang with their coffee all afternoon, you could be pulling in extra dough as they peruse your bookshelves. Just don’t ask me how they manage to police the books or prevent pickpockets from simply thieving them, cus I don’t have a clue.

– Homemade pizza with dill pickle: I was wary, very wary, when my friend informed me that she’s super picky about her toppings and ALWAYS puts dill pickles on her pizza. Along with olives (both black and green), pineapple and green pepper. I met her halfway and added some of the dreaded dill pickle to one side of mine. As it turns out, I didn’t hate it! Garlicky pickles on pizza… who would’ve thunk it?

And as a side note, why aren’t there any No Frills grocery stores in Quebec? That shit is off the hook with its bargain awesomeness. BYOB (bag, not bottle) or you’ll have to pay per bag. This totally makes sense! How else do you force people to use those re-useable grocery bags they’ve been collecting and forgetting in their apartments? Not to sound like a Toronto lover, as we all know that Montreal is the only Canadian city worth loving, but after a weekend in Toronto I’m just not the same. There are deals and steals, if you know where to look. And even though we didn’t make use of this Top 10 Under $10 article in NOW, it’s obvious that the T-dot has more style and class and even cheap eats than we’ve previously given them credit for. Y’hear that, Montreal? You’ve got competition!

Advertisements

Angela Pizzeria & Restaurant

angelasI must admit: I’ve never eaten pizza at Angela Pizzeria & Restaurant. This should not reflect badly on their pizza, as it looks pretty tasty from the photos I’ve seen. Instead, think of it as reflecting positively on the rest of their menu, which I’ve always found far more intriguing and tempting than the average pizza pie—no matter how delicious that pizza may, in fact, be.

Angela’s has a great menu, particularly when it comes to their specials. The daily specials change, along with their homemade soups, but there’s also an excellent value menu that remains constant. You can get an awesome chicken breast “burger,” with coleslaw, fries, soup and dessert for only $10! This is definitely my favourite thing on their menu, as they are probably the only place in town that offers such delicious chicken burgers. The fact that they serve up a juicy chicken breast on a bun (along with lettuce, tomato, onions, pickle and mustard, ketchup and mayo on the side) makes it well worth the price. No freeze-dried “chicken” patties here! My mouth is watering just thinking about eating one later on today.

In addition to their fabulous chicken bugers, Angela’s also serves up amazing pastas, everything from spaghetti with meatballs to tortellini in a rosé sauce, meat and cheese stuffed cannelloni, and a tasty lasagna. The portions here are also huge, so you’ll have plenty leftover for lunch the next day, or you can share something with a friend for the truly budget conscious!

Angela’s soups are also a draw, and a friend of mine likes to hit the place at least once a week for the barley soup and other favourites.

So, even though I’ve never tried the pizza for which Angela Pizzerie & Restaurant is named, I have no doubt that it kicks ass. Heck, maybe I’ll even try some tonight, just to be different!

ADDRESS: 1662 de Maisonneuve West
METRO: Guy-Concordia
PHONE: 514-933-2000, delivery available ’til 5 AM (or so says the Yellow Pages)

Tim Hortons

What is the Canadian fascination with Tim Hortons? (photo: timhortons.com)

What is the Canadian fascination with Tim Hortons? (photo: timhortons.com)

UPDATED AUGUST 10, 2009 @ 9:34 AM:

Here’s yet ANOTHER reason to avoid Tim Hortons: Apparently they are sponsoring an anti-LGBT event in Rhode Island held by the hate-mongering National Organization for Marriage. Hello? If your company claims to support local communities, that community includes gays and lesbians—regardless of your opinion on gay marriage. Stop being a bunch of hypocrites, Tim Hortons. And for those who are interested, please sign the petition to put a stop to their atrocious behaviour.

Dear Canadians,

What is the fascination with Tim Hortons? Much like the American obsession with Starbucks, I just don’t get it, but having worked for the evil empire (i.e. Starbucks) for a while has at least given me some appreciation for the way their world works. My experiences with Tim Hortons, however, have been almost uniformly negative.

Allow me to share a few thoughts on the subject.

First of all, Timmies is basically a coffee shop. A low-brow version of a café, the coffee shop is not designed to be aesthetically pleasing or to encourage patrons to stay and while away the hours with a gourmet brew. No, the coffee shop is about utility; it is to coffee what McDonald’s is to burgers. This is not to say that coffee shops are inherently inferior to cafés, but rather to suggest that it involves a different mindset. It’s more about getting in and getting out as quickly as possible, potentially during a road trip or on your morning commute. Coffee shops aren’t about great coffee, they’re about working-class coffee that is cheap, hot, and ready to go.

That being said, Timmies is one of the WORST coffee shops I’ve ever seen. Particularly in Quebec, the problem is that while they give the illusion of all being exactly the same (in the McDonald’s sense of the word, where a Big Mac is always a Big Mac), they are not. Each outlet offers different menu items; some don’t serve breakfast sandwiches, others don’t serve chili or soups. How would you feel if you went into a chain restaurant, expecting the chain menu, and then were told, “Sorry, we don’t serve half of those items at this outlet”? It’s infuriating, really.

And did I mention that the Quebec Tim’s don’t take debit cards?!

Okay, so maybe you’re popping in for a donut and a coffee, which costs about $1.95 at the most. You probably have change. But what if you want a couple of sandwiches and some coffees and a box of donuts for your co-workers? That’s about $15 worth of merchandise. Are you honestly telling me you can’t take debit or credit cards, that I must have cash on me, and that you don’t even have one of those sketch-o independent ATMs in your store? This is maddening!

All in all, I’ve found that the Tim Hortons near Concordia is the only one in the province that provides regular service, i.e. a fast-moving line, all menu items, and a dedicated staff to make sandwiches (rather than the skeleton crews that have ALL cashiers ALSO making sandwiches, rather than designating one employee as the sandwich maker). The others have been uniformly bizarre, with employees telling me things like, “We don’t serve breakfast sandwiches,” and “We don’t take debit cards,” in rude tones, as if it should have been obvious when I stepped through the door—even though I’d never patronized their establishment before.

To me, this kind of customer service and brand sabotage is unacceptable, yet Canadians still stand behind and worship Tim Hortons as if it’s a service they cannot live without! Has the world gone mad? Why should I wait 20 minutes in a line-up of FOUR PEOPLE just to get a small cup of coffee (which, by the way, I would’ve gotten in a maximum of 3 minutes at Starbucks, no matter how long the line-up, as per their policy)? Why wouldn’t two lines be divided into the “beverage only” and “sandwich” lines, if there are only two employees, in order to expedite service?

Frankly, I just don’t get it, and I don’t think this chain deserves my service. If it weren’t for the gift card I received for Xmas, I wouldn’t even be writing this, because I never go to Tim Hortons unless I’m with a friend who’s gotta have a double-double. But I’d really like to know: Can anybody explain the average Canadian’s love for this overrated coffee shop, particularly in this age of Starbucks, Second Cup, Van Houtte, etc. on every corner?

Mom’s Home Cookin’

I absolutely waste too much time on the Internet, easily distracted by shiny objects and new technology. However, I also think there are some great websites I use on a fairly regular basis that are worth mentioning here. Some will help you to make better meals at home, others are purely for the food porn photos, and some of them are just vehicles for my own obsessions.

Like TwitPic, which is almost always a receptacle for my bizarre take on still-life photography. Example:

SRSLY, why does this product exist?

SRSLY, why does this product exist?

I have no idea why anyone would have thought to themselves, “Hey! You know what’s missing from the world of flavoured coffee? SOUTHERN COMFORT!” To me, SoCo is not a flavour, in the way that hazelnut or mocha is. Sure, you can add a splash of it to your morning brew, if you’re into whisky, but I’m more of a Bailey’s kinda gal. Even so, the concept of a Bailey’s flavoured coffee would still be ludicrous to me. Either you get the real thing or you leave it out entirely, right? What’s the point of having the flavour of the alcohol, but not the alcohol?

Some will immediately jump to the conclusion that I am simply an alcoholic, but let me clarify by saying that I rarely add alcohol to my coffee. Kind of like Red Bull and vodka, the concept is peculiar. If I’m out of milk, then Bailey’s adds a nice creaminess, but a shot of whisky? Yech.

Anyway, back to my point: Southern Comfort flavoured coffee is weird, but it arrived as part of a holiday gift package my mom and sister put together, so I decided to give it a try. Verdict? Southern Comfort apparently tastes like orange. As in the colour. As in orange jelly beans, to be precise. Who knew?

Kolatchkies by mom

Kolatchkies by mom

Along with the coffee, my mom also threw in some of her homemade kolatchkies and some maple walnut fudge. Luckily for me, my husband hates maple more than anything in the world (aside from mixing sweet and savoury items, like ham and pineapple), which means I get the fudge all to myself.

But enough about TwitPic and my bizarre photos posted there. What about these other websites I claim are good?

First, there’s Open Source Food, which was recommended to me by AV Flox. I’ve posted a few simple recipes there, as I haven’t been cooking on a grand scale lately, and today’s recipe was something I termed Fancypants Grilled Cheese. In an homage to The Minimalist, Mark Bittman (whose blog and column in the New York Times I also recommend, as he’s very funny and very New York—particularly in his short videos), I thought I’d pass along a recipe for something really easy, something you probably take for granted that you know how to make. Indeed, most people make a grilled cheese with Velveeta slices and margarine on the stove, along with a can of Campbell’s tomato soup, just like mom used to make. My recipe is slightly different, both because I’m lazy and hate washing dishes and also because I’m a sucker for things with less than five ingredients that taste amazing. Granted, the recipe relies on quality ingredients, but it’s also hella easy to make and everyone can find good bread, good cheddar and an avocado even in the middle of winter, right?

If not, you’re really in trouble.

Anyway, all that to say that Open Source Food has tons of recipes that have been field-tested (i.e. if you’re gonna post something, you have to have big photos so you must have actually MADE IT), many of which come from overseas and lots of which are Asian. I like Asian food, but have no idea how to put together a dish, so it’s awesome to see Asian home chefs giving their opinions on Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Korean cuisine (and more!) so that North American schmucks like me can see how the other side of the world cooks. Plus, since they tend to use readily-available items, you get to see what they’ve got in their pantries, what they regularly buy at the grocery store, etc.

Which all has me thinking that I need to start posting more recipes, which means I need to start cooking more and trying new dishes, rather than relying on my old standbys (hamburgers and tacos are the usual suspects on nights when neither of us want to cook). But there are so many choices, I almost don’t know where to begin. I’ve got subscriptions to Saveur and Cook’s Country, I’ve got a copy of the 2008 America’s Test Kitchen cookbook, and I like to browse Epicurious, even though I’ve never really found anything there that I was convinced I could make (mostly due to their reliance on pricey specialty ingredients that seem absurdly hard to come by here in Montreal).

So I’m asking my readers (all two of you): what recipes would you recommend? What are your personal favourites, and have you got any minimalist ideas with 5 ingredients or less? I’m curious to know what other people like to cook, and what your approach involves!

Le Baobab

UPDATED MAY 19, 2009: If the commenter “Madmoiselle” speaks for the entire Baobab staff, I definitely feel the cons now outweigh the pros. After all, I’m not going to frequent a café where I feel unwelcome and uncomfortable. I find it really disappointing that after giving my honest opinion, the only thing that really sticks in people’s minds or matters in the end is the provincial attitude of French First. To be fair, I had been to the café quite a number of times after my original post in order to form a fuller opinion of the place, and had started to like going there for a latté with friends. I had even considered fully revising my post to reflect this, but based on Madmoiselle’s comment, I will no longer spend my money here.

I’m still debating whether or not I like Le Baobab, a little café (or “bar à café,” as they’re calling themselves) here in Verdun. I’ve made up a list of pros and cons:

PRO:

  • Proximity to my apartment
  • Tasty lattés
  • Espresso drinks made with obvious care
  • Fair Trade coffee beans available for purchase (though, admittedly, I haven’t so far)
  • Apparently they have a bathroom where it’s safe to pee, which is good to know

CON:

  • Lattés are hella expensive (the small is $3.50, though I’m not sure if this is because they’re using Fair Trade espresso beans, in which case I’d be okay with the price)
  • When made to stay at the café, they serve their lattés in those horrible cone-shaped glasses with the teeny handle that is more likely to tip your drink over than allow you to lift it to your mouth and drink like a normal human being
  • Some of the employees speak absolutely no English, which can make communication difficult

Okay, so that last con is more of a problemo for my hubby, who has been sent out on latté-gathering missions during the past few days after we ran out of coffee, but still. It’s Verdun, dude. It’s not like there’s a shortage of Anglos in this ‘hood.

World's worst coffee mug design!

World's worst coffee mug design! (Apparently known as an "Irish Coffee Mug")

Still, you can see why I’m torn, right? Good coffee, shitty glass! When you like sugar (or Splenda) in your drink, it’s damn near impossible to add it without having the spoon’s insertion create a tsunami wave of java that drenches your (mismatched) saucer. This design is just bad form. I hate glass coffee mugs, period, but making them in a cone shape is just ridiculous. All the sugar sinks to the bottom, but your spoon is either not long enough to stir it or else too wide to get to most of it, which means most of it stays there instead of sugaring your drink. Brilliant.

For the love of all that is good and right with coffee, I wish there was some way to convince café owners to boycott this style of mug. It sucks, and I hate them, and I can’t be alone on this!

I know it sounds petty to diss a café because of their glassware, but let’s be honest: these things matter to coffee snobs, and there are plenty of cafés in this town that will gladly pander to the craziest of coffee drinkers’ whims. It’s not like we’re living in Newfoundland, where the choice is between this Tim Horton’s or that Tim Horton’s. There are two more cafés within easy walking distance of my house, so I’m likely to take my business elsewhere if things aren’t just right.

That being said, you can’t please all the people all the time, so will I still hit them up for a latté fix from time to time? Sure. Especially since they’re so close!

ADDRESS: 4800 Wellington (Verdun)
METRO: Verdun
PHONE: 514-509-1334