‘Tis the Season to try something different

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house,
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there.

Before we nestled the children all snug in their beds,
We had to eat and feast, as after all,
‘Twas the night before Christmas!

Now, we were going away for a few days, so the thought of planning a traditional ‘Réveillon’ was overwhelming. So I suggested we would follow a long-establisehd Jewish tradition and eat Chinese food for Christmas.

The kids were confused, so I had to explain. It’s been documented a-plenty that North American Jews have been patrons to Chinese eateries while Christians are celebrating. Historians believe that the tradition began in New York’s Lower East Side, at the tail end of the 19th century, with an early wave of Eastern European immigrants. Chinese immigrants were settling down nearby, in what became Chinatown.

First thing, many Christian-owned and operated restaurants were closed on Christmas Day. Chinese shops didn’t follow the same calendar. A match made in heaven! It also helped that, when it came to kosher law, Chinese restaurants didnt use dairy and therefore, there was no mixing of meat and dairy. That one is easy.

But what about pork? Pork is not kosher food (neither is shrimp) and it is used in Chinese cooking. But it is usually concealed inside something, like a wonton or an egg roll. Apparently for many, if you can’t see it, you can’t know it’s there, making it safe to eat. Plausible deniability! A true Christmas miracle!

And so the decision was made to order from Ding Ho, a Gatineau restaurant located in small strip mall, at the corner of St-Louis and the Alonzo bridge, in a space that was occupied for the longest time by a Patio Vidal franchise. Five years ago, Vidal was gone and Ding Ho was opening for business.

Now, we basically never order Chinese food for several reasona. For starters, Ms. Waffle is wary of MSG and the kids are not too familiar with this type of food. So this was a momentous occasion! Ding Ho’s menu is classic Chinese-Canadian fare: Chop Suey, Chow Mein, Foo Young, Fried Macaroni, Fried Rice, etc.

Ms. Waffle was weirdly excited by this and took control of the online order. Chow Mein and other noodle dishes were ruled out, she has strong opions regarding what she terms slimy noodle dishes.

The only existential question I was asked was, Spring Rolls or Egg Rolls?
“It’s Christmas. Let’s get both!” I magnanimously pronouced, like a Wise Man packing Myrrh for the Messiah.

Ms. Waffle made sure to order the classic Chicken Balls and added some Breaded Shrimps for good measure. A Chicken dish, a Beef dish, some Spareribs for Mini-Waffle et voilà! Bonus, our order being over $50, we were getting an extra Chicken Fried Rice for FREE, a saving of $8.95!

1 x Sweet & Sour Chicken Balls$12.95
4 x Egg Roll$6.80
4 x Spring Roll$6.80
1 x Salt and Pepper Chicken$14.45
1 x Garlic Spareribs$12.95
1 x Beef with Green Peppers$13.95
1 x Breaded Shrimps with Garlic Sauce$14.95
1 x Chicken Fried Rice (Special) FREE

The food arrived in the planned time frame. A whole bunch of styrofoam containers were soon emptied into more presentable dishes. The table was set and we were ready to celebrate!

‘Tis the Season to try something different

Most certainly, it smelled good and looked good! The Waffle jr. is not keen on fried rice, so we added some leftover white rice to the table to keep her content. We all filled up our plates and dug in.

The Chicken Balls were meaty and actually quite decent. Nice white meat, not overdone. The fried batter was a bit doughy but the ratio was good. That was not the case for the Shrimps, where there was too much dough. I ate mine with the Cherry Sauce and left the garlic sauce alone.

The rolls were pretty good. The Egg Rolls were nicely crispy, with plenty of delicious filling. The Spring Rolls were not as good, a bit oily in my opinion. I stayed with the classic Plum Sauce to eat them.

The Garlic Spare Ribs were uneven, as is often the case for this dish. Some were really meaty, nice and tender. Others less so, with more cartilage than flesh. Luck of the draw or expert eyes will get the best pieces! There was plenty of the sweet and garlicky sauce. It was a tad fatty.

The Salt and Pepper Chicken was a nice, simple, crispy dish. The chicken had been deep fried than mixed with very simple sauce, not too salty with a good peppery flavour. Lots of chicken too, with some onions and a few pieces of green peppers.

The Beef and Green Peppers had a different ratio, with lots more veggies than the S&P Chicken. Which is fine, I guess, considering that it is called Beef and Green Peppers. The beef was crispy yet tender. The peppers were still firm. Some sliced onions, too. Pretty good dish even though I would like more beef!

Finally, the Chicken Fried Rice was also good. Nice and salty from the soy sauce, the chicken flavour was punching through too. Nothing to complain about this freebee!

All in all, we all enjoyed our Chinese Christmas meal. The portions were quite generous, so there is plenty more left for us to enjoy at a later day. The food was plenty hot and we all had a fortune cookie. Apparently, one of my investments will bring solid returns.

Bahama Breezin’

The four of us had landed in the Land of the Free for a few golf rounds and some beach time under the Florida Sun. Upon arrival, however, we were short on supplies, so our first meal would have to be out there in the danger zone. Bahama Breeze Island Grille was thus selected.

Bahama Breezin’

Bahama Breeze is an Carribean-inspired restaurant chain, owned by Darden (Olive Gargen, Longhorns Steakhouse). Bahama Breeze is specialized in island fare, including seafood, chicken, steaks, and of course, tropical drinks. The Fort Myers location is one of 43 franchise across the United States, with almost half of them being situated in the Sunshine State.

We elected to sit on the patio, which seemed a safer bet in these uncertain times. It was also a bit of a condition set by Ms. Waffle to grant me the green light for the trip.

The patio was busy but not overcrowded, which allowed for our server to be promptly with us to take our drink orders.

I went for the Mojito Cubano ($8.49). It is made with Bacardi Superior Rum, sugarcane juice, fresh lime and mint. Garnished with a sugarcane stick, it was a simply made but well made drink. Refreshing! Perfect to start the weeklong hostilities.

Meanwhile, BMac had doubts about his frozen margarita, which had an orange hue. It tasted limey and tequilaey, but he had a hard time getting over the colour. In both cases, they certainly didn’t skimp on the booze.

The food menu is meant to bring you all over the Antilles, and, presumably, the surrounding area. You’ll find Empanadas and Tostones, Bahamian Seafood Chowder and Cuban Black Bean Soup, Tacos and Tostada. But also Burgers, Fried Chicken, Steak and Ribs. Also, lots of Jerk on the menu.

Speaking of which, I decided to try their new Jerk Shrimp Pineapple Bowl ($17.49). Sautéed shrimp, diced pineapples and sweet peppers tossed in a jerk pineapple glaze. Served on white rice in a fresh-cut pineapple bowl.

Of course, it didn’t quite look like the promo picture. I mean, I am not one to complain, but compare and contrast I can do.

It certainly wasn’t as full. And the glaze was obscuring the colours, everything was kind of brownish.

But using the carved pineapple is a fun novelty idea. Flavour wise, it tasted good. Some hint of spices, fresh pineapple. The rice was fluffy. The sauce was working well with the pineapple and the peppers. The shrimp were cooked well, not rubbery.

If you are looking for a jerk flavour that packs a punch, you’ll be disapointed. Let’s say it is jerk-inspired, very mild and a tad sweet. It needed more kick.

On the table, two hot sauses. The classic Tabasco, I thought, wouldn’t work.

But since Jerk is coming from Jamaica, it seemed to me that this Walkerswood Seriously Hot Jamaican Jonkanoo Pepper Sauce would do the trick.

Not quite in the Jerk palette, but it worked with the dish. Hot pepppers, cane vinegar and cane sugar made for an interesting combination. I have never heard of cane vinegar before, to be honest. It did the trick.

All in all, it was an agreable dinner. It was nice to be outside in the warm evening of Florida. The mood on the patio was festive but not crazy. Our server Noah was attentive and efficient.

We were off to a good start.

Lunch in the Works

It had been over a year since Ms. Waffle and I had ventured together to the Ontario side of the Ottawa river for a lunch date on location. After a stop at Decathlon on St-Laurent, we had a false start at the Boston Pizza in the same mall parking lot: there was a line-up and Boston Pizza is not worth the wait.

So we headed south on St-Laurent in search of another spot to eat out. We soon spied The WORKS, who’s patio didn’t look too busy. We were soon sitting down and peering at the menu.

Established in 2001 in Ottawa, The WORKS is now a well-established chain of craft burgers, with 27 locations across Ontario. Owned by MTY since 2017, the chain’s plan is to expand in Manitoba, Alberta and British-Columbia. The chain went through a re-branding last year, The WORKS Gourmet Burger Bistro becoming The WORKS Craft Burger & Beer. I hope it was worth the consultants’ fees.

The Ottawa-Manor Park location has a very small patio in two parts, one which is basically in the mall’s parking lot; the other one is on St-Laurent, across from the Beechwood Cemetery. There was space on both, but Ms. Waffle decided that looking at the Cemetery would be a nice touch during lunch.

We peered at the new menu, which is not even a year old. The menu features two new crafted poutines, namely the Brisket Case Poutine and the Tragically Poutine, (topped with crumbled maple bacon, crispy bacon sticks and drizzled with bacon roasted garlic aioli) and new crafted milkshakes like the Birthday Cake Cookie Dough, the Bella Nutella or the Shake What Your Brownie Gave Ya!

On the burger front, some of the classics are still kicking around, like the Gettin’ Piggy With It (Canadian bacon, smoked bacon, cheddar, onion strings) or the Malibu Meltdown (Havarti, Gouda, Brie, Beechhouse sauce, O-Ring).

But you’ll also find new offerings, like Not Your Grandpa’s BBQ Burger (maple bacon, smoked brisket, maple bacon jam & bacon garlic aioli), The Pig Popper (bacon, cream cheese, sliced jalapenos), the Hella Nutella (maple bacon, crispy O-ring and optional Nutella), the Strip Cheese (bacon and cheddar) and the Magic Mushroom Melt (mushrooms, caramelized onions and cheddar).

Once you have chosen your burger, you get to choose your patty amongst eight options: Beef, Chicken Breat, Crispy Chicken, Mushroom Cap, Beyond Meat, Wagyu, Elk and Cheese-Stuffed Beef.

Ms. Waffle and I both chose the beef on the Sesame bun. She selected the Love Goat (get it?), with a Peppercorn crusted beef patty, topped with goat cheese, sweet & spicy sauce and bacon ($18.01). I elected to go with the Blues Burger, a simple beef patty garnished with Blue cheese, blue cheese ranch dressing and bacon. It is apparently “John and Dan’s go to!”, although I somehow doubt that the Blues Brother were ever here.

Our burgers ordered, we got to work on our pitcher of Barking Squirrel while contemplating a front-end loader truck filling up a grave at one end of the cemetary.

Our burgers arrived within 15 minutes, interrupting our contemplation.

The Love Goat looked lovely.

The Love Goat promises something for everyone

The Peppercorn Crust, which you can get on any patty by the way, didn’t look as luscious as it does on the corporate photos – not to mention how the goat cheese seems to be a thick layer while it was actually just a dollop.

Nevertheless, the extra pepper gave the beef patty a burst of flavour, although the “hot” warning in the menu is not warranted.

Still, there is no mistake that this was a superior beef patty: ½ lb of fresh AAA beef (there is a 4 oz option available as a lunch special).

The burger was topped with the goat cheese, which was pretty mild but still recognizable. The sweet and spicy sauce is sweeter than spicy, but it did work well with the goat cheese. Two nice strips of crispy bacon completed the burger.

Lunch in the Works
“They’re not gonna catch us. We’re on a mission from God!

Blue cheese and beef is a classic combination. The sharp flavour usually works nicely against the fatty meat. I was expecting a pack of flavour, because of the addition of the blue cheese ranch dressing on top of the blue cheese. You could taste the blue cheese, but in my opinion it wasn’t sharp enough and didn’t stand out – likely there was simply not enough cheese and the dressing was mellowing everything. Between the beef and the wide strips of bacon, the blue cheese barely added a subtle edge to the burger. You either need more, or you need sharper cheese.

Not that it was bad, mind you. It was fine. I’m just not sure it was worthy of the Blues Brothers. The beef patty was cooked to a medium well, the usual for an Ontario burger. Still, it was moist and tasty, with a nice char crust.

Both burgers were served on a Multigrain with Sesame bun, at our request. (You can also choose White or Lettuce or Bunless). The buns were toasted on the inside, which helps preserve the intergrity of the burgers, which remained stable through the end. A must.

As a side, I had picked the Weeds, which is The WORKS way of telling us we probably shouldn’t order the salad. I mean, it was fresh enough, but it was quite simple: lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers and grated carrots. The dressing, nominally Greek, was mostly bland. My date had picked the Bottomless French Fries, but she hit the bottom and didn’t order an extra helping, despite my attempt to help her out. The fries were fresh cut, with a good crisp, a little on the light side of golden. Simple, efficient.

Overall, it was a pleasant experience. The burgers are a bit on the pricey side, but at least they are offering a quality product. The service was friendly and prompt, the one minor faux pas being not checking on us during the meal to make sure everything was ok. Or perhaps we were so hungry she didn’t have time to do so!

The Works Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Arrividerci, Luigi!

The announcement was made on Facebook and it shook our little community: after 8 years, Pizza de Luigi was shutting down its Chelsea location, and they were shutting it down basically immediately! The horror!

After 8 years of running two business and 6 years of working full time while running them, the owner decided that two restaurants was too much. They will focus all their efforts into the Wakefield restaurant.

Incidentally, Mini-Waffle had already selected Cheezy Luigi as the restaurant we would order from tomorrow, part of our weekly effort to support local restaurants during the pandemic. We realized what was happening only because we wanted to check the opening hours.

So we decided that we had no choice but to order immediately, one last time. Because even though they will remain open in Wakefield, that is a bit of a trek for us.

A family-run establishment, MJ.M.D. Pizza de Luigi first opened its doors in Chelsea in 2013. Their second location opened in Wakefield in the Summer of 2014. Their pizza was voted “Best pizza in Western Quebec” numerous times.

It is a neat spot, and weather and bug permitting it was better to eat outside. We dropped by a couple of times a year to dine on location, but most often we got their pie delivered. Luigi offers two types of pizza, Deep Dish or Old Country Thin; also a couple of salads and pasta dishes.

My favs are probably the Santina Sausage and the Carnivore: the homemade sausage, really makes it. But today, we went with the kids favorites: one large Pepperonni ($19) and one Hawaiian ($20).

Word was spreading fast about the closure in the community, so we figured we would order ahead. We called at 4 PM for a 6 PM pickup, but told us it would have to be 15 minutes later. No problemo!

Upon arrival, another reminder of the sad truth was awaiting. It was a snowy day to make it even worse. LIFE IS SO UNFAIR!

Say it ain’t so, Luigi!

Inside, the place was humming. Half a dozen people were making pies, taking orders, packing them and getting them out the door. The last day was going to be, no doubt, a very good day.

I picked up my order, one of the pies being free thanks to my filled-up fidelity card I remembered to bring (ouf!), and home I went with the very precious cargo: our last Chelsea Luigi pizza!

Arrividerci, Luigi!

These were golden beauties. First and foremost, the dough is great. Nice and crispy, not doughy at all, with fennel seeds to give it some oumph. Just great stuff. The sauce is a tad on the tangy side.

The toppings proportion is good, if a tad uneven. Nothing mechanical here, not even methodical. That’s fine by me, it gives it a rustic feel. If you like your pizza with a lot of toppings, you may find these a little lacking, but I find that it strikes the right balance. I mean, how much pineapple does one want on a pizza anyway? On the meat side, the pepperoni is not too greasy, good quality stuff. The ham cubes were meaty and juicy.

Very good pizza indeed. We may have to go to Wakefield soon!

UPDATE – May 1st, 2021 17:42

It looks like something will happen soon with the location, thanks to Geneviève Parent and her partner Roberto Caverti.

Chef Caverti was most recently the head chef at La Squadra in Gatineau. Caverti started his career as a Pasta Chef at Timo Restaurant in Isles Beach, FL, before working in a few other establishments, including Acciuaga in London, UK, la Madonnina del pescatore and the Ristorante MOMA in Italy. He then moved his craft to Chelsea and worked at both L’Orée du Bois and Les Fougères.

Rest assured, Waffler nation, that we will monitor closely!

MJ.M.D Pizza de Luigi Pizza Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Super Bowl Home Party 2021

The kids were disappointed because for the first time in a long time, we had to stay home for the Super Bowl.

Feeling their pain, I made a deal with them. Plan the menu. I’ll execute it.
So they did their part.

The menu included a cover page and three distinct sections. On the cover, you will note the team logos, the fields, complete with goalposts, and what I can only assume are characters from Among Us, one near a bench and the other dropping the ball. SUS!

The ‘Appetizer’ section called for french fries, pigs in a blanket, chips and veggies with dip. Simple enough.

The ‘Main Meals’ section was setting the stage for chili, chicken wings and ribs. You will note the NFL simplified logo, a red square and the Pepsi logo, with a chicken wing in the middle.

For dessert, cake and ice cream and a Tom Brady-style under-inflated football.

I got to work.

The chips selection was secured early. Here was the line-up:

The Chips pre-game line-up

Que Pasa Organic Corn Chips are our go-to Corn Chips these days, either for dips, nachos or salad. We like them because they are not too salty, because their size is generous and, most importantly, they are quite sturdy. Goes great with my Smoked Salsa! Ms. Waffle’s pick was Miss Vickie’s Spicy Dill Pickle. MV’s SDP was introduced in October as a Costco exclusive, before being part of a massive recall of Miss Vickie’s products for the extra shattered-glass flavouring. The Dill Pickle hits you first and the heat builds as you snack on them. Great pick.

The Waffle Jr. went for a classic, the Ruffles Regular. Salty, Ridgy, Oily goodness. Can’t go wrong, even if it can get boring over time. I selected Dunn’s Old Fashioned Barbecue. Another Costo exclusive, this is a new flavour for Dunn’s – they have released Dill Pickle in the past. These are delicious, a nice barbecue spicyness to them, a hint of sweetness. A good crunch too. Speaking of crunch, Mini-Waffle got Ruffles’ Ketchup Double Crunch. Double Crunch is right – these have quite the crunch. If you can’t stand hearing people munch, don’t buy these for your guests. Flavour-wise, they packed a punch, but I thought they were too sweet.

The kids had also asked for Pretzels, but I thought I’d go the extra-mile with peanut-butter stuffed Pretzels from Kirkland. And, for good measure, a bowl of Wonderful Pistachios, roasted and salted. I am healthy that way.

Next, I had to get the ribs going. I had two slabs of St-Louis, which I prepped and seasoned with a very basic rub: garlic salt, smoked paprika and ground black pepper.

I then proceeded to smoke them for 7 hours with Tabasco Wood Chips.

I finished them with half a bottle of Nicastro’s BBQ sauce. That’s right, Nicastro’s!

While the ribs were going, I got started on my Chili.

As a base, I used Mark Bittman’s Chili non Carne recipe.

Starting with dry red kidney beans, simmered for 90 minutes in water, along with a whole onion. I drained the beans and reserved the cooking liquid. While the beans were cooking, I sauteed a pound of ground brisket with onions and some bell peppers, along with some chili powder, garlic powder, salt, pepper, cumin and oregano. Then I combined everything together, added some home-canned tomatoes and a cup of leftover turkey chili. I simmered slowly for a couple of hours.

For the wings, I used Bulk Barn’s Smoked Applewood Seasoning as a dry marinade. After a few hours in the fridge, I baked them, because I am healthy that way. The Waffle Jr. loves the flavor and doesn’t do saucy wings, so that was that.

Thus the main meals were ready to go.

The appetizers were next. Veggies, including home-grown carrots, served with a sour-cream-avocado-salsa-blue-cheese dip. I threw some St-Arneault frozen fries in the over.

Ms. Waffle made the dough for the pigs in a blanket, found on the interwebs. She claims she knew it would be authentic given it called for margerine and not butter.  It turned out great, better than when she uses Pillsbury croissant dough. The piggies were Hygrade’s cocktail weiners. Served with ketchup, mustard, mayo. Boom!

We were ready for kickoff! I grabbed a plate of protein and sat down to enjoy the game.

Don’t worry, we didn’t forget the dessert part.

Ms. Waffle made some Ganache Filled Chocolate Cupcakes with buttercream icing. She decided that orange was going to be the primary colour, no doubt showing her preference for Tom Brady and the Buccaneers over Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs. That, and the fact that she had a bunch ready to be used from Mini-Waffle’s birthday cake. With a scoop of Coaticook’s vanilla ice cream, they were delicious.

We had a great party. Despite the game!