Barbecue and hot sauce, that is! The place where we stayed was a block away from the Whole Foods flagship store and we dropped in for breakfast on our first day. I couldn’t resist getting a photo of their hot sauce / barbecue sauce aisle.

Want this photo as a desktop? Here you go — right-click here and pick “Save As…”!

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Milwaukee Travel Diary, Part 1: Deep-Fried Cheese Curds

by Joey deVilla on October 5, 2011

View from an airplane window, looking at a United Airlines jet at O'Hare

It’s tempting to go with the same-old, same-old when travelling on business. You typically end up in a hotel somewhere near downtown, and these places are typically near the same chains no matter where you are: Starbucks, Subway and so on. While it’s nice to have the familiar within easy reach – and hey, the coffee and sandwich options were far worse before Starbucks and Subway – if you’re going to have the exact same things while away, why go at all?

My terribly early Friday morning flight to Milwaukee by way of O’Hare put me in my hotel shortly after ten. I had a lot of work to do before meeting with customers that afternoon, and the area I was in was all hotels, office buildings and malls, so lunch meant a run to some nearby food court to see if there was anything that was either:

  1. Local and tasty (if a little less healthy)
  2. Chain-based and healthy (if a little same-old, same-old)

That’s when I ran into this:

Culver's logo: "Culvers / Frozen Custard / Butterburgers"

I’d only heard of frozen custard thanks to Alton Brown’s show, Feasting on Asphalt. As for “Butterburger”, something with a name like that had to be good. Here’s what I ended up ordering:

Diet Coke, deep-fried cheese curds, ButterBurger

In the photo above, the thing to the left is the ever-recognizable Diet Coke. (Do you know why people drink Diet Coke? Because they’re fat and thirsty.)

On the right, a swiss-and-mushroom ButterBurger. It’s pretty good, a cut above your McDonald’s/Burger King/Wendy’s burger and the bread’s pretty nice. They say that they “lightly butter” the bun, but perhaps “lightly” means something different in Wisconsin. No matter: I love butter.

As for my side, those things in the middle are deep-friend cheese curds. That’s right: cheese curds, just like the ones we put on top of poutine, breaded and deep-fried. They were delicious, and we need to get some place to start serving them here.

Here’s an even crazier idea that came to me while enjoying my lunch: what if we made poutine with these babies instead of uncooked cheese curds? C’mon, Smoke’s, I know you can do this!

For dessert, I had the frozen custard flavour of the day: turtle, which was vanilla frozen custard with chocolate and caramel sauces and pecans. Frozen custard is a little richer-tasting because it’s made with eggs, and its texture is thicker since it has less air whipped into it than ice cream does. It’s good stuff, and I want more.


The Truth About Mixed Nuts

by Joey deVilla on August 29, 2011

Photo of mixed nuts: 'Mixed nuts are cashews with obstacles.'

So very, very true.



by Joey deVilla on August 21, 2011

I make it a point to always get some street food whenever I’m travelling, and Vancouver’s signature street food is the Japadog, a hot dog done Japanese-style. Here’s my coworker David smiling in anticipation of a delicious east-meets-west organ-meats-in-casings lunch on Friday:

Part of Japadog’s charm is their delightful Engrish signage. It’s so very charmingly quirky that I wouldn’t be surprised if their misspellings and malapropisms were intentional. After all, they did get me to take this photo and post it online:

Click the photo to see it at full size.

I had the “Spicy Cheese Terimayo Dog”, their biggest seller in 2010, pictured below:

I’d never describe it as spicy, nor would I call the sauce spread over it “cheese”. The shredded nori gives the dog a “Japanese” flavour, but in the end, it wasn’t the “Western food through the Japanese funhouse mirror” kind of good that a number of other places have mastered (MOS Burger are particularly good at this).

I think I would’ve preferred the Oroshi dog: bratwurst with green onions and soy sauce. Maybe I’ll grab one before taking the train to the airport tomorrow.


For Eatin’ and Writin’

by Joey deVilla on December 4, 2010

eating utensil pen caps

I’m not sure how well they’d work in actual use, but given the number of people who eat lunch at their desks in offices, these caps for ballpoint pens seem like a pretty clever idea.

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“Praise Allah”: A Hard Spice to Sell These Days

by Joey deVilla on August 3, 2010

Old print ad: "Everyone's a chef when they use Praise Allah - 'A treat for meat that's hard to beat'"

Once upon a time, the Arab world occupied a very different place in pop culture: a place of exotic locations (see Lawrence of Arabia, The Man Who Knew Too Much), décor (I Dream of Jeannie, a couple of Star Trek episodes) and as you can see from the ad above, tastes. I don’t think it would sell these days for the dual but diametrically opposed reasons of political correctness and xenophobia.


Pigging Out at Toronto Ribfest 2010

by Joey deVilla on July 3, 2010

Joey deVilla on a pig ride

The Missus and I have started a tradition of going to Ribfest during the Canada Day weekend. A number of barbecuers – a half-dozen to a dozen of them, some from Canada, some from the States as far down as Florida, come to Centennial Park every year to serve the magical meat known as pork and compete for prizes.

Ribbers preparing ribs on the grill at Kentucky Smokehouse

Ribfest can get very crowded, but if you time your visit right, you can hit the park when few people are around. We decided to visit on Friday for lunch – the day after Canada Day, but still a working day for many people. The crowds were pretty light, but anticipating that, so was the staffing at all the smokehouses, which meant that we waited for our food for about as long as we would’ve waited for it if the place were crowded. Still, we were pleased to get our hands on some pork ribs.

Ribbers preparing ribs on the grill at Kentucky Smokehouse

We generally hop from stall to stall, ordering a half rack from the more enticing ones. Our first stop was Kentucky Smokehouse, who were probably the friendliest crew of the lot and made a tasty half rack.

Kentucky Smokehouse's display signs

I enjoyed the ribs at Billy Bones last year, but we didn’t have any this time ‘round. We gave the American ones higher priority, as they seem to “get” barbecue in the way that we just can’t. It’s odd that in Toronto, we’re very good at doing food from the opposite side of the globe, but just don’t have the knack for making barbecue, the food from the country next door.

Billy Bones BBQ's display signs

Aside from last year, when I grabbed barbecue to go from the Ribfest one rainy weekday afternoon, I’ve never seen crowds so light here:

A relatively small line and uncrowded spaces at Ribfest

Camp 31's display signs

Our next stop was Camp 31, who boasted of having “Alabama’s Finest BBQ Ribs”. We waited in line for 15 minutes and it didn’t budge an inch.

Camp 31's display signs

We looked over at the stall to our left, Bad Wolf, who make great ribs. We decided to leave the Camp 31 line and line up there instead.

A short line of people for Bad Wolf

Bad Wolf make ribs Kansas City style, and they’re quite tasty. They also make a very cake-y cornbread which is fluffy and sweet enough to qualify as a dessert.

Bad Wolf Barbecue's display signs

Of the three places whose food we tried, Bad Wolf was our favourite this year. Nice meaty racks of ribs, and they were generous with their sauce, which was delicious and had a nice tangy bite to it.

Bad Wolf's wolf statue and trophies

Every stall offered a three-meat-combo featuring ribs, pulled pork and chicken, but Camp 31 had the best name for it: 

Sign: "Tree Huggers Special: 3 meat combo (chicken - rubs - pulled pork) $22.00"

The line at Camp 31 finally started moving, so we lined up for their ribs/pulled pork combo platter, which came with beans and very creamy coleslaw. While the meat was good, we thought that Bad Wolf edged them out for our vote as our favourite for 2010.

Camp 31's display signs

You’ve got a couple more days to hit Ribfest – it’s open today and tomorrow (July 3rd and 4th) from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. at Centennial Park in Etobicoke:

Map picture

Not only is Ribfest good fun, it’s also for a good cause. It’s run by the Rotary Club and raises money to support local charities and community organizations, including:

  • Trillium Hospital (Formerly Queensway/Mississauga Hospital)
  • Habitat For Humanity
  • The Gatehouse
  • Guide Dogs of Canada
  • Rotary Camp Enterprise (Youth Program)
  • Women’s Habitat
  • Worldwide Polio Immunization & Eradication
  • The Dorothy Ley Hospice
  • Humber River Regional Hospital
  • Toronto Fire Dept. Defibrillator
  • Snoezelen Room at Seneca School
  • P.A.C.T. (Youth Crime Reduction Program)
  • Lakeshore Santa Claus Parade
  • Lakeshore Arts
  • Salvation Army
  • Lori’s Room at St. Joseph’s Hospital
  • Rotary Youth Scholarships
  • Lakeshore Community Policing Station
  • The Troup Program (Toronto Outreach Program for Youth)

Here’s how they raise that money:

  • “Ribbers” and vendors pay to participate in Ribfest.
  • Ribfest also has sponsors.
  • They take onsite donations to "Tubby”, a giant piggy bank at the entrance.
  • Profits from drinks sold on the site go to the charities and organizations.

Have some ribs and a good time, and help out the community!