Showing posts with label Toronto. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Toronto. Show all posts

Friday, January 3, 2014

Toronto Feature - REVIEW: Harlem Restaurant

Harlem Restaurant

My trip to Canada concluded with dinner at  Harlem Restaurant in downtown Toronto. I tell you, this was the best food I tasted during my trip. I dinned at the 67 Richmond St. E location of the restaurant. As soon as I walked through the door I feel in love with this eatery.  +Harlem Restaurant serves Southern Caribbean cuisine.  Now, being a gal of the south and Jamaica W.I., I had to authenticate this concoction of flavor.

 

 

 

I entered the establishment as was mesmerized by the charming hanging red curtain and phonograph that lead to the main dining area. I parted the curtains and was instantly drawn in by the welcoming embrace of the eclectic environment. The  warm red covered walls, the intimate space, the beautiful assortment of color infused original paintings, created a soulful inviting atmosphere. I loved the artsy feel of the interior. The owner did an excellent job capturing the art inspired Harlem Renaissance aspect of Harlem, NY.




Harlem Restaurant





I had the delightful impromptu opportunity to sit down and chat with owner and chef Carl Cassell.

Carl Cassell
Owner/Chef  Carl Cassell


Shuga: What is the inspiration behind Harlem Restaurant?
Cassell: Harlem is the evolution of another restaurant I owned named Irie. Harlem is more inclusive of the entire diaspora. At Harlem we can provide an inclusive menu of Southern and Caribbean style of cooking. The people from the south cook food similar to the way we [Caribbean people] do. Like collard greens which would be our [Jamaicans] version of callaloo.

Shuga: How long has Harlem been in existence?
Cassell: We have been opened for 7 years. 

Shuga: Why did you choose Harlem as the name of restaurant?
Cassell: Harlem is instantly recognizable. I wanted to evoke a response in people that they'll never forget it. Positive or negative, I wanted it to leave "you" with an impression. That's what I wanted to do, "kick the door open."

Shuga: What is the inspiration behind the decor?
Cassell:  The decor is inspired by the 1920's. The original name was Harlem 1920. As you come through the door you will see the phonograph. It's kind of a 1920's art deco feel. The deep red....gives it a bold feel.

Shuga: I understand you have weekly live entertainment.
Cassell:  Yes. That was kind of our mantra. That's what created Harlem in a sense. When I had Irie, which has been converted into a Harlem as well, it kind of became the place to meet people. I've been in the city [Toronto] for a while and half of my friends are artists, actors, musicians and Irie became  like an impromptu music venue. So when this place [Harlem] opened the idea was to create an artistic space which we provide with a stage upstairs.

Harlem Restaurant has two floors, both of which feature dining rooms with candlelit tables. The top floor has a stage where weekly entertainment is presented.

Top floor stage

After my Q&A, it was time to taste the delicious food. The menu was mounted on a vinyl record which a found to be quite clever. It really tied into the rustic chic theme. There were so many lip-smacking choices.  I had a difficult time choosing. Thankfully Carl Cassell provided some excellent suggestions, and oh was it extraordinary roller coaster ride for my taste buds.

Menu
I went with a group of friends so I was able to sample a few dishes. I started with a Miles Davis cocktail which was a mix of  Jamaican Overproof Rum, Peach Schnapps, mango, passion fruit juice and lemon. Cassell said that was a signature drink for Harlem.  It tasted smooth and was mixed just right. Next I sampled the Harlem Kool-Aide. This drink was made with Triple Sec, Melon Liquor and cranberry juice. It tasted tangy and sweet with just the right amount of alcohol. It was simply superb.

Harlem Restaurant
Miles Davis

Harlem Restaurant
Harlem Kool -Aide


We started by sharing a plate of Catfish Lafayette , which was breaded deep fried morsels of catfish served with a sweet chilli mayonnaise sauce for dipping. The breading was seasoned well and the catfish was light and flaky. The dipping sauce added an extra kick. However, I also found the catfish quite scrumptious on its own.  

Harlem Restaurant
Catfish Lafayette



Harlem Restaurant
Mac- n - Cheese
The baked Mac-n-Cheese sprinkled with Parmesan cheese was hearty, creamy and satisfying .  


Blackened Salmon 
Blackened Salmon is a creole inspired dish-- salmon topped with a seafood ├ętoufee sauce, served with mixed greens and coconut rice and peas. The interesting part of this dish was the mixed greens which was collard greens infused with carrots and celery. I have never had collard greens prepared in such a manner. I found it quite pleasing.


BBQ Jerk Chicken
The BBQ Jerk sauce really made the dish. The sauce was sweet with a hint of spice. I loved it so much I asked for a small container to carry home.

Coconut rice and peas
Rice is a very important componet to the Caribbean dish. This rice was fluffy and light with a pleasant hint of coconut flavor. It came very close to the sweetness of my mother's cooking.

Harlem Restaurant
Chicken and Waffles

The signature dish of Harlem is Chicken and Waffles. First, the presentation of the dish was the best I have ever seen. I have been to many restaurants that serve this dish and Harlem's presentation is the most attractive. I love that the chicken came with three dipping sauces - sweet and sour, maple syrup, and scotch-bonet-corriander-lime gravy. The chicken was exquisitely prepared --juicy, tender meat, covered in a thick, crispy batter. One bite and I feel under it's sinfully delicious spell. The waffles were fluffy with a tasty buttermilk flavor.



Mango Chiffon Cheese cake

My meal concluded with a signature slice of  Mango chiffon cheese cake. The delectable dessert was velvety light and heavenly extraordinary.

The dinner was accompanied by a comedy show presented by one of Toronto's top comedians +Quinn Martin. He was very entertaining and a great complement to a satisfying evening.

Quinn C Martin
Quinn C Martin - Comedian

Overall, my experience at Harlem Restaurant  was filled with appetizing foods, gracious portion sizes, friendly service and excellent entertainment. The restaurant provided a great taste of the traditional South with new twists of flavors. I truly had a marvelous time and look forward to returning in the future. So, next time your in Toronto, stop on by Harlem Restaurant  for a roller coaster ride your taste-buds will never forget.  Harlem Restaurant -East





Harlem on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Best Top 5 "Must Eat" in Toronto

Shuga Henry

 

My roaming adventures in Canada has been quite festive. Coming from New York I thought I knew what cold was. To my surprise, I did not really understand real cold weather until I visited Canada. Never the less, I quickly  learned the proper dress code and all was good. So, I have complied a list of the Best Top 5 things you must eat when traveling to Toronto. Enjoy!

 

5.  Fanzorelli's Restaurant & Wine Bar

Fanzorelli's is a wonderful Italian restaurant located in the downtown area of Brampton, Ontario. The interior is quaint and romantic with beautiful paintings of Italian scenery on the walls. The delicious smells of the Italian flavors envelops you as soon as you walk through the door. My cousin Keesha, a native of Canada told me she has been dining at Fanzorelli's for 12 years.  Her most favorite dish that she has been ordering for 12 years is Farfelle, which is fresh  roasted peppers pureed in a cream sauce with diced grilled chicken presented on a mountain of bow tie pasta.  Keesha also stated that in all the years she has been visiting there, the staff has always been very welcoming and friendly.  The owner, Mr Anthony is always there to greet the patrons with a warm smile. Fanzorelli's offers great food, large scrumptious portions, flavorful mixed drinks, delectable desserts and excellent customer for a reasonable price. http://www.fanzorellis.ca/index.html


4. Ketchup Chips 

Ketchup Chips is a must have in Canada. It is a staple well-loved snack that can only be found in Canada.   I first learned of Ketchup Chips in the early 90's from my Canadian cousins. At the time, Herr's was the distributor of the chip. When the flavour was introduced in the early-1980s by Herr’s, the recipe was changed three times before everyone was satisfied. The chip has been consistently sold and adored ever since. The chips are potato chips, that are treated with a ketchup-based powder that turns them red and adds the flavor of ketchup. Most recently, Lay's has started producing Ketchup Chips. However, I don't feel the company has captured the original taste of the beloved chip. This version tasted more like salt and vinegar chips. You can hardly taste the signature ketchup taste. So on your visit to Canada look for Herr's or Hostess Ketchup Chips and get the authentic flavour  of this tasty treat.  http://www.herrs.com/products/chips/ketchup.html







 3. Poutine

As I journeyed around town, I kept seeing ads for something called Poutine.  This dish was being offered at many establishments even McDonald's so I had to get the full scoop on this foreign dish. I learned from the locals that poutine is a common Canadian dish originated from Quebec in the late 1950's.  The word poutine is the meaning "fries with cheese and gravy."  Poutine is made with French fries and topped with a light brown gravy-like sauce and fresh cheese curds. The French fries are of medium thickness then fried so that the inside stays soft while the outside is deliciously crunchy.





This fast food dish can be found all across Canada and also in some places in northern United States. It was suggested that I visit a restaurant called Poutine ( http://www.poutinedaretobefresh.ca/) in downtown Brampton, Ontario for my first sample of this exotic dish. I must say that the poutine was delicious. The fries tasted crunchy and fresh. I learned from the owner that the fries are freshly cut and fried everyday. The gravy had a traditional gravy taste with a hit of other spices that the owner explained was their secret sauce. Well, whatever the secret it, it's delicious.  I had the classic poutine. The menu also showcased  loaded poutine, Philly Cheese Steak poutine, chili-cheese supreme, vegetarian and much more. 







I did a little research and learned that the great taste of poutine can be experienced and enjoyed in New York. Below are links to a few establishment that serve this mouth-watering dish.





2.   The Burger's Priest

I learned of The Burger's Priest  from another local referral. Amongst the many burger joints in Toronto, The Burger's Priest reigns supreme.  I was told that this establishment was featured on Toronto's Burger Wars as the best chow in town.  The Burger's Priest, which is a classic American cheeseburger joint is the brain child of owner/chef  Shant Mardirosian.  After graduating seminary school, Mardirosian realized being a priest wasn't the future for him. So he took his love of hamburgers and being a good Christian and created the Burger's Priest. (Read more of  Shant Mardirosian's Burger story http://www.yongestreetmedia.ca/features/burgerspriest040312.aspx )Since opening its first shop at Queen and Coxwell in June 2010, the classic American-style burger joint rapidly gained a devout following. 

Shant Mardirosian
photo credit: www.nowtoronto.com

I had the California Classic. I was told that is was one of the most popular. I really enjoyed this burger. The  meat was tender, seasoned well and very juicy.  The manger told me the beef is always fresh and I could taste the freshness in the burger. A custom blend of ultra premium beef is ground multiple times a day on premise. The meat was sandwiched between a lightly buttered and grilled fluffy bun. The meat was coated with priest sauce, a slice of melted cheese, caramelized onions with lettuce and tomato - amazing. I mean the burger literally melted in mouth.  My side of fries were divine. The crisp and awesome flavor was heavenly.  The manager told me the French fries are first blanched and then fried to lock in the flavor.  Overall, the Burger's Priest was a sinfully indulgent  time. The lines can get a little lengthy. However, it's well worth the wait.  http://www.theburgerspriest.com/menu/





1. Harlem Restaurant 

My most finger- licking discovery was Harlem Restaurant  located in downtown Toronto. Harlem Restaurant  serves a fusion of Southern Caribbean cuisine.  From the moment I walked into the establishment, I feel in-love.  There were so many lip-smacking choices,  I had a difficult time choosing. Thankfully, owner/ chef Carl Cassell suggested I try the signature dish of Chicken and Waffles. And oh was it extraordinary roller coaster ride for my taste buds.  Read full review  Harlem Restaurant Review


The Burger's Priest on Urbanspoon

Monday, December 30, 2013

Toronto FEATURE: Joe Mama's Southern Restaurant: Review

Joe Mama's
Enjoying a Gladys Knight cocktail at Joe Mama's

My roaming adventures have taken me to the province Ontario, Canada. I always enjoy coming to Canada. I love the wide open spaces, clean air, clean wide streets and the charming friendly people.  A wonderful refreshing change of pace from the crazy rat race of New York. 

 

Upon my arrival to Canada I was greeted by the aftermaths of a winter ice storm. The entire city was covered in layers of ice, from the trees to the road ways. I learned that ice rain and snow had been falling for three days. So, although a little frightening on the roadways, the ice frozen trees added a beautiful artistic touch to the holidays. The neighborhood street sparkled as the bright sunlight bounced off the snow and reflected unto the uniquely shaped trees. It was exquisite.




After a few days of being shut- in due to the icey conditions, I was finally freed to venture out and explore. I received a recommendation from the locals to visit Joe Mama's a Southern Styled restaurant with nightly entertainment. Now, having lived in the south for more than seven years I had to sample this cuisine to authenticate the flavor.




Originally I wanted to visit the restaurant on Saturday because I heard great reviews about a cover band named Shugga. However, for Saturday the reservation was a little difficult to attain so I had to visit on a Friday.  If you are planning to visit Joe Mama's on a Saturday, reservations are recommended.

Joe Mama's is located in the heart of Toronto's entertainment district on the King Street strip . The interior of the restaurant is intimate and quaint. The walls are painted red and decorated with large photos of Motown greats like Marvin Gaye, The Supremes and Stevie Wonder.  There are round marble glass retro light fixtures hanging from the ceiling and attractively placed on the walls.  The entire room was dimmed in a warm red and orange light. The entire space screamed sultry, jazz and soul.




Performance stage at Joe Mama's



Now on to the food. I was eager to read the menu to discover what tasty southern delights awaited me. However, I was a little perplexed as I read through the choices. The menu reflected more of a Cajun style than a southern style.  Some of the menu items included Etouffe, Cajun Cob Salad, Cornmeal Crushed Catfish Sticks, Seafood Soul Pasta and Grilled Cajun Chicken n' Shrimp. I was looking for more southern classic dishes such as mac & cheese, fried chicken or items that were smothered, in gravy or fried.

Cornbread basket


Strawberry butter

 Since I traveled with friends, I was able to try a few dishes. I sampled the Seafood Soul Pasta, Cornmeal Battered Fried Shrimp, Surf n' Turf Fettucini, and Shredded BBq Chicken served with angel hair pasta. For dessert I had Red Velvet cake and  Bailey's coffee. Overall the food was unexciting.  The presentation was nice but the dishes were a little bland and most certainly lacking Southern spices and flavor.

Surf n' Turf

Seafood Soul Pasta

Surf n' Turf Fettuccine
Cornmeal Batter Fried Shrimp


Shredded BBQ Chicken 

Red Velvet Cake  & Bailey's Coffee

However, I did enjoy the drinks. The cocktails are named after musical artists. I found that to be quite cleaver. The drinks tied right into the decor of the eatery. I loved that. The choices included, Barry Gordy which is 2 part Absolut and dash dry Vermouth, Gloria Gaynor which is 1 part Absolut kurant, 1 part Southern Comfort, orange juice and dash of Grenadine, Marvin Gaye which is 1 part Absolute and Blue Curacao, and Gladys Knight, which was recommended as the most popular, is made with 1 part Absolut mandarin, Cointreau, Malibu rum, Grenadine and a dash of pineapple. ( Full cocktail list http://www.joemamas.ca/frames/menu.html)

Gladys Knight Cocktail

My favorite part of the evening was the live music. The entertainment for the night was a cover band named The Grind. The band featured R&B and Funk music. The lead singer was high energy and engaging.


The Grind

The Grind

Altogether, Joe Mama's is a nice place to visit. The menu is a bit pricey, however the atmosphere is enjoyable. So next time you're in downtown Toronto stop by  Joe Mama's (http://www.joemamas.ca/),  if not for the food, definitely for the entertainment.




Joe Mamas on Urbanspoon Joe Mamas on Urbanspoon