I’m not what you would call a Pizza snob. You’ll never hear me use words like “traditional”, or “authentic” in regards to pizza, because I just don’t care about that stuff. I only care about if it tastes good. Plus, big words are hard to spell. I’ll stick to “mmmm”, and “yum”, thank you very much.
When we stumbled across (literally stumbled, as we had just left happy hour at Ortegas) Project Pie in the Hillcrest neighbourhood of San Diego, it looked so unique and interesting that we had to try it out.
The concept of Project Pie is so simple it makes you wonder why somebody hadn’t thought of it sooner. You walk up to the counter and order either a pre-designed combination of sauce and toppings, or build your own. The price is the same ($7.50), no matter how many toppings you get. If you just want a straight-up cheese pie, it’s only $6.
Choose either white or red sauce, and proceed down the assembly line adding as much, or as little of everything as you want. What a concept! I’ve seen it referred to as “The Subway of Pizzas” in a few online reviews, and as much as that would make me cringe if I was a restauranteur, it’s a very accurate description of the process. Thankfully there is no “Subway Funk”, which is the term I have assigned to the strange, sickly odour of Subway’s bread. Yuck.
When I first saw the dough I was a little nervous about how this pie would turn out. It had the appearance of those dreadful grocery store pre-made pizza shells, with the mathematically uniform perforated surface.
Proving yet again that life’s best decisions are made after a few margaritas, I went ahead with my order.
Like a kid in a candy store, I went down the line surveying each possible topping as closely as the scratches on a rental car. I finally settled on Pepperoni, Mushrooms, Sausage, Feta, and fresh Basil on half, with tomato sauce.
A mere 2 or 3 minutes later I had my pie in hand and let me tell you, it looked delicious! The crust had a nice crispiness to it, and wasn’t too thin or too thick. It was surprisingly very good. Purists would whine about it to be sure, but I say if it tastes good, eat it.
Anytime a pizza is “cheap”, the first thing I think is that the cheese will be skimpier than a teenagers mini-skirt. It wasn’t. In fact, my pizza was quite the opposite in that my wife Robyn actually thought there was too much cheese on it for her. (She must have been off her meds) In fact, none of the toppings disappointed the way you might expect they would on a “value” pizza. I was impressed.
I’m a little sad that I didn’t make it back for a second sampling before the end of our holiday, but at least now I know where I can get some good late-night pie next time I’m in San Diego.
Last summer, hit Food Network show Eat St. was in town filming 3 of our local food trucks. The first of those episodes aired last Monday, and featured Molly’s Eats and the trucks owner, Susan Chin.
If you didn’t catch the episode the first time around, I’ve included the link to that part of the show below. I was lucky enough to get an invite to the taping, so you’re not going to be able to avoid getting a healthy dose of me in the episode. Don’t worry though… my wife Robyn (the “It’s a monster!” girl) is also in it to keep me in line. Mostly.
Warning: you have to wade through a few commercials before you get to the goods. Enjoy!
Is 3 trips to the same restaurant during a paltry 1 week holiday too much? Is that too narrow minded in focus, robbing you of precious opportunities to sample more of what the local dining scene has to offer?
If you answered yes, then clearly you’ve never been to the Carnitas Snack Shack, in beautiful San Diego.
Before our trip to Southern California, I put out a request to SD locals to tell me where to eat in their fine city. The folks on YELP came through big-time with more great suggestions that we could possibly sample. When a few of them checked out my blog to get an idea what I’d like, the Carnitas Snack Shack became the overwhelming recommendation.
I’ll tell you what….. that recommendation could not have been more spot on.
True to it’s “Shack” moniker, the building itself is pretty underwhelming, and would be easy to miss if not for the giant iron pig that adorns the roof. If you were just driving by, you could easily miss the epic swine-tastic delights being created inside.
We had heard that the lineups could be long at peak times, and our first visit at 7pm Sunday evening confirmed that. We about 45 minutes before we go to the order window, then waited another 40 minutes to get our food. Although there is no indoor seating, there is a beautiful outdoor seating space out back. As you might have guessed, the menu is heavily pork-centric, which is A.O.K. with me.
On our first visit, my wife Robyn went for the BLT. I have to admit that when she ordered the BLT I thought “Really? A BLT? Did you see all the other great sounding stuff on the menu?” Though, one stolen bite later I was converted.
A couple things make this much more than your standard BLT for me; the addition of crispy ham (I guess it’s actually a BLTH?), and a delicious a concoction called Shack Aioli. According to Robyn, it’s the best BLT, and one of the best sandwiches overall that she’s ever had. That’s a pretty good introduction to the Shack.
I of course couldn’t decide on what to order since I literally wanted to try everything. I settled on a Pork Belly App, with sweet and spicy glaze and a frizee salad. I rarely meet a pork belly I don’t like, and this one didn’t disappoint. I loved the crispy crust and the sweet glaze on the side was a perfect topper.
I also ordered the Triple Threat Pork Sandwich. Over 3 visits, this was the one thing that we found underwhelming. Since we took that first meal to go and ate it in the hotel room, I think it suffered from the extra 20 minutes in the take-out container. Piled high with bacon, pulled pork, and pork loin schnitzel, topped with pepperoncini/pickle relish, and shack aioli, it sounds like a pork lovers dream come true.
The thing that threw off the sandwich for me was the schnitzel. If it had been crispy it would have changed the texture of the sandwich (which was what I didn’t like), and I’m sure I would have enjoyed it much more. I wish we had thought about that at the time and ate it at the restaurant, because it probably was crispy when first served. Based on that amazing BLT alone, we knew another visit to the Snack Shack was going to be in the cards before heading home.
Our second visit to the Shack was late Wednesday afternoon after a day of relaxing on the beach in La Jolla. We had asked while waiting for our food on the Sunday when the best time to come would be to avoid line-ups, and mid afternoon sounded like the most likely bet. Sure enough, we arrived around 3pm to find we had the order window to ourselves. Score!
We ordered the special of the day; a Pork Burger with candied bacon, gorgonzola, mixed greens, and shack aioli and we paired it with an order of seasoned french fries.
The french fries were darn good in their own right and the homemade bacon ketchup (yeah…bacon ketchup) was stupendous, but in all honesty one whiff and subsequent bite of that Pork Burger and the fries were all but forgotten.
Simply put, this was the best burger either of us has ever had. Seriously, I couldn’t help licking the screen 3 times while writing this thanks to the picture. The pork was super juicy, the bacon was crunchy and sweet, the gorgonzola was mild and oh so creamy, and they grilled the brioche bun to give it perfectly crispy edges.
I have no idea how you could make a burger better than this.
Most people would have stopped while they’re ahead, but as we were sitting in the courtyard waiting for our food, we watched as a lot of other delicious looking food was being delivered to other lucky guests.
Hence a third visit on Friday.
This time I was determined to try the Steak Sandwich I had seen brush past me like a sultry vixen the last 2 visits. Just the sight of this sandwich causes me to drool uncontrollably and moan inappropriately. This baby has sliced ribeye, pickled serranos, tomatoes, chipotle aioli, and pepper jack on a jalapeno cheddar bread.
I loved every single thing about this sandwich. The spicy kick, the tender beef, the bread, and the juiciness of the sandwich is just unparalleled. Without a doubt, this is the single best hot sandwich I’ve ever had. I’m thinking about getting a medic alert bracelet and instead of medical info, I’m listing The Ribeye Sandwich at the Snack Shack as my critical medication. For real, look at the picture and tell me you could resist.
Robyn decided that since the Pork Burger was so fantastic, she’d try the Shack Burger from the regular menu.
Different burger, similar result.
This one had bacon jam, white cheddar, butter lettuce, and that delicious shack aioli. This is starting to be a running theme, but this would also make our list of best burgers. Possibly even #2, right after the pork burger.
Despite all that meat, Robyn still wanted chocolate. I wouldn’t have thought that a place specializing in pork products would have had any desserts (let alone anything good), but when Robyn saw Chocolate Pot de Creme on the menu, she had to try it. Rich and creamy, with a nice crunch from the bacon brittle on top, even I had to admit this was pretty darn good… and I’m not a dessert guy.
We typically suss out the best comfort food a city has to offer whenever we go on a holiday, but I have to say that for me the Carnitas Snack Shack has jumped straight to the top of my list. Almost 2 weeks later I’m still completely obsessed with 4 different items from their menu. You can’t get a better recommendation than that…except to say that it was simply ball-out awesome (having your balls out at the Shack is frowned upon).
P.S. Be sure to check out the Carnitas Snack Shack website for much more professional pictures than mine to make your mouth water.
We’re always up for a great burger, so when we got suggestions from from San Diego locals to check out Burger Lounge, we couldn’t resist.
The look and feel of The Burger Lounge reminded us a lot of Clive Burger in Calgary. Fittingly, just as the Custard Shakes at Clive caught Robyn’s eye first, at Burger Lounge it was the Brownie Shake. This is now in my top 3 favourite shakes, along with the Chocolate Cake Shake at Portillos in Chicago, and the aforementioned custard shake at Clive Burger. I’d probably give the custard shake the nod, but all 3 are fantastic. I swear there was a half pound of chunked brownie in that shake!
We both got the Lounge Burger, which BL proudly proclaims is made with 100% single source, grass-fed beef. The Lounge Burger is topped with Organic cheddar, fresh or grilled onion, lettuce, tomato, and house made 1000 Island. It’s served medium unless requested to be cooked more. I’m generally a “when in Rome, do as the Romans do” kinda guy, but the Canadian in me just couldn’t willingly order a burger medium, so we went med-well.
You know how I gave Clive the nod on the shake? Well Burger Lounge gets my nod for the burger. The juicy, gristle-free patty was delicious, the bun was soft and the grilled onions were a nice touch.
I wish I could say I was as happy with the combination of Onion Rings and French Fries we had to accompany the burgers.
The Onion Rings were pretty much flavourless, and although the rings and fries both had some specks of green on them suggesting a herb of some sort, neither of us could distinguish any flavour from it. The saving grace for the fries was the little side of homemade bbq sauce that we used for dipping. Tasting heavily of chipotle, they gave the fries and rings a nice kick and helped us finish them off.
Although the Fries and Onion Rings were a miss for us, I could definitely foresee a late night burger and shake in our future before we come home.
The nice thing about a dining event centred around Alberta Pork, is that, well, it’s a dining event centred around Alberta Pork! Duh.
Given that this event, dubbed Swine and Dine, was being held in my neighbourhood at the brand spanking new restaurant Bistro Saisons, it was a prefect time to check it out.
According to our host, Sharman Hnatiuk, Passion for Pork would like to make Swine and Dine a monthly event, held at a different restaurant each month. Based on what we were treated to for a very reasonable $50 price tag, you’d do well to keep your eyes open for the next event and book it early.
From start to finish, I though the staff did a fantastic job of not only showcasing the delicious Alberta Pork, but themselves also. If this was your first experience at Bistro Saisons, you’d certainly be back to try more. It made me even more sad that we had to cancel our first planned visit here with our friends Twyla and Steve, but lucky for you Twyla is herself a blogger and restaurant reviewer for CBC radio, so you can read all about her experience at Bistro Saisons here.
On the table to start, sat a basket of french bread, with whipped butter. The table chatter immediately turned to gushing over this butter. Salty, garlicy, and so delicious. It’s no wonder everyone liked it so much, as it was laced with truffle and one of my favourite new ingredients, black garlic. Even as we were elbows deep in entrees, more bread and butter was requested at both ends of our table.
Course 1 of the 3 course dinner was kind of a 2 for 1 starter. Heritage greens salad, with lardons, duck eggs, and tomatoes, with an apple- dijon vinaigrette. This was quickly followed by a white bean cassoulet, with braised pork shoulder and crispy pork belly. The salad added a nice acidic contrast to the rich pork and beans, but the greens weren’t exactly bite sized. Hardly worth complaining about, but what the heck… they didn’t give me anything else to nitpick. The Pork Cassoulet was very well done, with the rich fattiness of the Pork seeping into the beans. I’d order that on the regular menu if it were there.
Course 2 consisted of Pork Loin, wrapped in Bacon, topped with a cognac apricot sauce. That was paired with Black Lentils, with caramelized apples and onions, and Honey Lavender Roasted Vegetables. The thing that struck me when this course hit the table, is that the chef actually thought about the meal as a whole, and what will work together. Heavier proteins such as pork really need to be balanced with some acidity to cut the richness of the meal, and the chef did a great job of that. I wish more Edmonton chefs would take the cue, as it seems like many just think that making great food just means adding more fat.
The pork was moist, tasty, and had a great crust on the outside, but for me the star of the show was the Cognac Apricot Sauce. Again, the acidity was there to cut the richness, and it worked perfectly. I would have eaten that sauce with a spoon. The vegetables were roasted until soft, and had just a touch of sweetness from the honey. The black lentils weren’t something I’d had before, but I really enjoyed them. Clearly, I wasn’t the only one, since our large family style bowl (the whole meal was served family style) was empty when I went looking for seconds. I think it was the texture most of all for me that sent me looking for more. With a lot of other soft-textured components on the table, the firmness of the lentils was a welcome contrast.
At this point, I was already full, but of course the women at the table were a different kind of full. You know, the kind of full that means they’re full enough of dinner, now bring me a 1 pound chunk of decadent chocolate cake please.
So they did.
Seriously, this thing was like the Stonehenge of Chocolate Cake. Usually I’m not a fan of dense chocolate cake, and even less a fan of adding bacon to desserts in general, but this one had such a delicious, crunchy outer coating and mild bacon flavour that I found it quite enjoyable. It was a great, albeit heavy, end to a pretty fantastic meal.
You know those days where you just don’t seem to be able to find time to make a healthy dinner? Or any dinner at all? Those days often end up with a trip through the drive- thru. Well it doesn’t have to be that way. You don’t always have to resort to fast food.
These are the days when a smart utilization of the pantry can save you a few bucks and a whole bunch of calories. Using just a few ingredients that most of us typically have on hand, you can create this quick, low calorie Spicy Thai Egg Drop Soup.
Use the recipe as a guideline, and tweak according to what’s in your pantry. You don’t have a thai chili? Use red pepper flakes. Or a pinch of cayenne. Or even a squirt of sriracha. Got some leftover chicken? Throw it in! No-one’s going to know. You’re the boss here. Make it your own.
Here’s the recipe to make 1 large bowl.
2 cups chicken stock- if your stock is a bit thin, bump up with a couple tsp of concentrated chicken boullion
1 tomato- diced
1 celery stalk- diced
1 thai chili- seeded and diced
1tsp thai seasoning
1tbsp chopped parsley
1 green onion- chopped
salt and pepper to taste
Bring all ingredients except the egg and green onion to a boil for approximately 10 minutes. Blend with immersion blender.
Whisk the egg in a separate bowl and drizzle into the soup while slowly stirring.
Garnish with green onion
Sorrentinos 22nd Annual Garlic Festival begins April 8th and runs through the 11th. The fundraiser for Sorrentinos Compassion House combines a special garlic themed menu at Sorrentinos restaurants (and Bistecca), with garlic themed events. The flagship event is the Garlic Stomp, which is a night of food, dancing, and fundraising for Compassion House. Check out http://www.sorrentinos.com for tickets.
One of the events was held last week – a garlic cook-off – where home cooks were invited to submit their best garlic-themed recipes. Out of all the submissions, 5 finalists were chosen to prepare their dish for a panel of judges for a chance to win a trip to Gilroy, California to their huge garlic festival. Pretty sweet prize.
Oddly enough, the good folks at Sorrentinos invited me to be one of the judges of the 5 finalists in the garlic cook-off and, shockingly, I jumped at the chance.
The event was being featured on Global Televisions Morning news, so Lorraine Mansbridge was busy interviewing contestants and judges. No pressure, people… it’s just a T.V. camera in your face watching your every move (and bite).
The panel of judges weren’t any less intimidating than the cameras. Edmonton Journal columnists Liane Faulder and Nick Lees, Sorrentinos executive chef Sonny Sung, Mary Bailey from Tomato Food and Drink and, somehow, yours truly.
The dishes included a Garlicy Butternut Squash soup by Jodie Bakker, Garlic Infused Chicken Balls by Laura Connor, A Roasted Garlic Goat’s Cheese & Rosemary Tart from Heidi Noble, and a Roasted Pork Belly with Roasted Garlic Polenta from Sharman Hnatiuk. All those dishes has some high points, but they couldn’t defeat Dino Esposito’s Garlic Eggplant Ravioli, with 3 different sauces. The Garlic Prosecco Cream, Garlic Pesto, and Marinara sauces were a nod to the white, green and red in the Italian flag. Enjoy Gilroy, Dino.
Here’s a few iPhone pictures of the event and food I snapped in between mouthfuls.
Nait recently offered a media availability with this years Chef in Residence, recent Top Chef Masters Champion Chris Cosentino. Nait generously included food bloggers in it’s description of media, so I instantly texted my friend Maki, whose own write-up of the event you can find here, and made plans to attend.
The day started with about an hour of observing Chef Cosentino teaching a very lucky class of Nait’s Culinary Arts students. What a fantastic opportunity for these kids to spend a few days learning from one of the best in the business!
The instruction was fast paced, and to the point. I overheard quite a few instances where Cosentino would stop a student in the middle of the task, and ask if they understood why they were doing what they were doing. If they seemed unsure, they were bluntly yet respectfully given instruction, and asked to continue. Although Cosentino mentioned to us later on that he doesn’t really teach students back home, I couldn’t help but think that his style of instruction and strong personality are very well suited to the classroom. Oh well, the students loss is a diner’s gain, I guess.
Some of the students were clearly a little intimidated working so closely with the well known celebrity chef, but they all seemed very eager to soak up every last drop of knowledge they could before Cosentino’s time at NAIT was through.
Of course fans will already know that chef Cosentino is very well known for his affinity for cooking offal. Although it was finished when we came in, I could overhear that one of the dishes they prepared that day was beef heart tartare. The chef stressed on more than one occasion how important it is to use the things that others waste. Cosentino considers it a chefs responsibility to do this, and you have to admire his conviction and respect for the animal that is obviously a foundation of his cooking style.
After class, there was a brief opportunity to ask a few questions. I didn’t want to ask the obligatory questions about the 2 feet of snow we got during his stay, or about T.V. shows. Instead, I focused on food. Specifically, where he ate while he was in good ol’ Edmonton.
He mentioned 3 spots that left an impression in particular.
First off he mentioned Tres Carnales. He commented that he was really impressed with their legit, authentic Mexican street food. High praise, considering the vast selection of quality Mexican food on his doorstep at home in San Francisco.
Secondly, highly acclaimed Corso 32 elicited some high praise from the celebrated chef. Apparently the crew at Corso 32 stuffed their guest full of darn near everything on the menu!
The other restaurant to garner some accolades was Three Boars. No surprise there, given their well publicized use of off cuts.
I was intrigued about where he got his dining suggestions, since those would have been the same 3 spots I would have recommended for him, personally. Does a world famous celebrity chef sit at home on his couch the night before a trip, munching cheetos and surfing Urbanspoon reviews? Or does he just take the advice of locals in the know when he arrives?
It turns out that there is indeed a pattern to how he selects the spots to try out when in a new city. He always seeks out a good Italian restaurant for starters. His own food is heavily Italian influenced, and so he likes to keep abreast of what other Italian restaurants are doing. Hence his dinner at Corso 32. He also likes to seek out restaurants that are using offal, so that explains his appearance at Three Boars. And as it happens, Tres Carnales was just around the corner from the hotel. Lucked out on that one!
My final question revolved around what he sees as the next big food destination. I suggested that to me, Philadelphia is a very underrated food destination. A sly grin swept across Cosentino’s face as he said that Philly has been cranking out fantastic food for a long time, but the difference is that they don’t tell anybody. He says that his prediction is an explosion of southern cuisine, and mentioned particularly relatively unknown dining destinations Nashville and Charleston. I can’t wait to find out if he’s right about that.
Keep scrolling to check out a few more pictures of the day.
If you’ve been sitting around just waiting for someone to invent Poutine Meat Loaf, your wish just came true.
After the success of my Poutine Burgers a few weeks ago….
….I thought I’d try making a meatloaf version, complete with crispy potato crust. Check it out.
Poutine Meat Loaf
1 pound ground beef
1 pound ground pork
2 cups diced cheese curds
8 cloves roasted garlic
1 small onion, grated
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 cup of your favourite bread crumbs (I used sourdough)
1/2 tsp each salt and pepper
3 sprigs of fresh basil (when chopped, approx. 3 tbsp)
2 russet potatoes, peeled and sliced thinly on a mandoline
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
- Grease your large casserole dish and layer potatoes on the bottom
- Mix remaining ingredients and put on top of potatoes
- Bake 1 hour or until internal temperature reaches 150 degrees
- Strain out fat and flip out onto a parchment lined cookie sheet
- Roast under the broiler, potato side up until browned. Approx. 5 minutes
- Remove from oven and rest 15 minutes, covered with foil.
- Use 4 tbsp beef fat for the gravy. Add 2 tbsp flour and make a roux. Mix in 2 cups of beef stock, and season with salt/pepper.
- Slice and serve with gravy
The culinary world seems full to the brim nowadays with $75, &100, and even $125 per person special events or dinners. That’s why I like events like Downtown Dining Week 2013, which begins on Friday, March 15 and runs for 10 days, ending on the 24th. 30 downtown restaurants are enticing you to give them a try by offering special 2 course lunches for $15.00, and 3 course dinners at $25, or $50. Great deal.
Last night I had the opportunity to go to the Launch Party at the Art Gallery of Alberta, where of course there was plenty of samples to be had from a few of the participating restaurants. There were some interesting dishes to try, but I had 2 definite favourites.
My favourite of the night was from Zinc, the gallery’s own restuarant, who was offering Pan Seared Pork Medallion, served atop Yam Macaire, with a cinnamon maple demi glace and shaved black truffle. If you like sweet and savory together, and I do, you’ll love this. This dish is part of the 3 course dinner they’re offering for $50.
My second favourite was the Corn Fritters, with bacon butter and peach jam. On the $50, 3 course special at Hundred Bar and Kitchen, this will be served as an accompaniment with chicken. Crispy and salty, we all went back to grab another before we left. So good.
But that’s fine by me; they may have gotten more pictures, but I drank more champagne.
Also, you can check out all the menus at the Downtown Business Associations website, here.