Let's Be Frank (Toronto)



While the gourmet burger craze has swept the city over the last five years, it's only recently the haute hot dog options are starting to pop up. Beside El Mocombo, on the diverse Spadina stretch, is Let’s Be Frank - a cheerful combination of restaurant, bar and overall cool place to hang out (Bring Your Own Vinyl Tuesdays for the music lovers perhaps).

Their location is ideal for the late night crowd (they’re opened past 2pm). So, when you’re feeling the munchies and want it paired with a tall pint of beer, Let’s Be Frank is there. For those who need a stronger drink, cocktails are also available. The Sour Dog ($7.99) is an easy drinking, eye puckering concoction of gin, lemon juice and syrup, whimsically garnished with a sour key.


With over a dozen options on the menu deciding on what to eat may be difficult. Luckily, they offer almost all their dogs in three sizes (3.5” slider, 6” regular and 8” big dog) so you can taste from the plain naked dog to the generously dressed pulled pork po’boy.

The pulled pork ($3.99/$7.95/$8.95) is a meat lover’s friend with the juicy frank topped with more meat, zingy BBQ sauce (care of Dine Alone Foods), tangy coleslaw and some hickory sticks to add some crunch. I’d suggest trying this with the “bed of fries instead of a bun” option, which you can do with any of their dogs for free. For those who want to skip carbs or meat, you can also substitute the bun with romaine lettuce and the beef frank with a veggie wiener instead.


A favourite of owners Christa and Julie (and me) is the Katsu Dog ($3.49/$6.95/$7.95) where the crunch from the deep fried panko coated dog goes so well with the soft bun, sweet katsu sauce, wasabi mayo and fresh green onions. It’s satisfying but not overly heavy feeling, although I would have liked more wasabi incorporated into the mayo as the slider didn’t provide that heat as expected.


The corn dog ($2.49/$4.99/$5.99) is where you can savour the succulent Nathan’s Famous beef frank in its fully glory. Simply covered in a corn batter and deep fried it's covered with a liberal squeeze of the slightly spicy BBQ sauce. Our table saw possibilities of combining the katsu and corn dog. Just imagine having the crunchy panko fried frank as the base, a smear of thicker gooey mac n’ cheese in the middle and then covered with the sweet corn dog coating. What an amazing texture combination that frank would be!


If you have a sweet tooth, Frank also offers the Ivana Banana dessert dog ($4.49) where a deep fried banana stands in for the wiener and it’s covered with gooey peanut butter, Nutella and a light jelly. Although I’m not a fan of the peanut butter and jelly combination, this was actually quite nice. But, the banana itself could be larger to stand up against all the condiments.


Some snacks you could have include the hot dog “wings” ($5.99 for 6 pieces) which are bite sized deep fried hot dogs tossed in buffalo sauce and served with a thick blue cheese dip and veggie sticks. For me, these were a tad salty given the hot dog is already so flavourful and perhaps served full size on bread may be better.


Let’s Be Frank also offers various sides to round out the meal. Of course, the tried and true fries are available. But, there’s also a saucy mac n’ cheese or hot dog gravy poutine (both $4.99 for small and $6.99 for large) for those who want something more substantial.


What impressed me most was hearing about the perseverance Christa, Julie and Simon had with starting Let’s Be Frank. The partners dreamt of a place where they and their friends could meet-up for drinks. But, they wanted to serve no-fuss food as well and what could be more fun than hot dogs?

Mac Daddy ($4.49/$8.95/$9.95)
Although it only opened in late 2014, this business was a five year endeavour all starting with a catastrophic festival attempt (think no tent in pouring rain, dropped chili with no backup and tons of unused food at the end of the night). But, like true entrepreneurs they learned from this experience and went on to do more festivals, purchased a food truck and did a pop-up restaurant before settling in their permanent location.

To top it all off, they all had regular full-time jobs (Simon has now since quit his to focus on Frank)! I can only imagine the dedication and hard work required to put in 50+ hour weeks and then start prepping for busy weekend festivals right afterwards. As an aside, the best part of attending media events (other than sampling food of course) is hearing about each restaurant’s history and meeting the people behind the brand. I have the utmost respect for restaurateurs as it’s definitely an industry that takes dedication and skill to be successful in.

Korean BBQ dog ($3.99/$7.95/$8.95)

So will the haute dog trend start in Toronto next? Only time will tell, but until then, I’m sure there’s a contingent of people who don’t care and just like wrapping their hands around a big juicy frank.

Overall mark - 7.5 out of 10
Disclaimer: The above meal was complementary, but rest assured as noted in my mission statement, I will always provide my honest opinion.


How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 460 Spadina Avenue

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____________________________
Gastro World's Grading System

  • Anything under 5 - I really disliked and will never go back
  • - decent restaurant but I likely won't return
  • 7 - decent restaurant and I will likely return
  • 8 - great restaurant that I'd be happy to recommend
  • 9 - fantastic restaurant that I would love to visit regularly and highly recommend
  • 10 - absolute perfection!

Let's Be Frank on Urbanspoon


Elegance Chinese Cuisine (Markham)




With so many Chinese restaurants across the GTA, there’s no shortage of options for eating dim sum. However, on weekends, demand is at its highest and it seems like wherever you go after 11:30 you’ll be doomed to wait for at least half an hour. Enter Elegance Chinese Cuisine. Somewhat hidden in a small plaza I didn’t even realize it was there until someone told me word-of-mouth. This means, that they’re not overly busy and upon arriving at 11 we instantly received a table.

At Elegance diners are given a sheet upon arriving and you simply select as many dishes as you desire (depending on the sizes about 3 per person is a good rule of thumb). However, they also have some “special” items which are wheeled around in a cart (think soups, braised offals, etc) to entice patrons if you’re still feeling hungry.

Personally, I’m a traditionalist and tend to enjoy the cart version of dim sum instead (you can read all about dim sum here). But, ordering off the menu does have its benefits: the food arrives piping hot, it’s generally faster and for those who don’t understand Cantonese is an easier option.

At Elegance, the frustrating thing is that everything comes in quick succession and you end up with a table full of items getting cold. Some traditional items ordered included the steamed squid with curry sauce (M; $4.20), which was very well flavoured with the savoury Singaporean style curry.


The steamed minced beef balls with vegetable (S; $3) were decent, but sadly arrived with not a vegetable in sight. The description is rather misleading as I would describe the beef to be more paste like than “minced”. It’s essentially processed until smooth and then steamed so that it becomes airy.


A crowd favourite is the sticky rice filled with assorted meats and conpoy wrapped in lotus leaf (L; $5.20). In the past, these use to be one large rice packaged stuffed with a piece of chicken, lap cheung (Chinese cured sausage), yun cheung (Chinese liver sausage), salted egg yolk and Chinese black mushroom. However, to cut down on cooking time and amount of ingredients, they have morphed into individual sized packages and is stuffed with a minced meat and mushroom filling instead. 



At Elegance, theirs is a cross between the old-fashioned and new aged method: they are miniature and uses the minced meat mixture but also has a piece of lap cheung and half a salted egg yolk with it.  This is one of the better versions of the dish eaten where I found their rice to be smooth and almost creamy.


The pan fried “tainam style” onion cake (M; $4.20) is predominantly a flaky pastry with minced onion in the middle. It’s very different from the green onion pancakes you’ll find at Shanghainese restaurants being much airier yet slightly greasy.


I recommend trying the steamed rice roll with crispy bean curd (L; $5.20), a great combination between the silky soft rice roll, crispy bean curd layer and succulent pork and shrimp filling. It’s enjoyable both with the warmed soy sauce or thicker sweet hoisin and nutty sesame sauce on the side.

  
During dim sum, it’s customary for the restaurant to add on a “tea” or “seating” charge. On the bill, you’ll generally see it as a one-line charge before the subtotal. It's generally about $1 a person and at Elegance is $1.20. All in all, Elegance serves a decent dim sum (perhaps a tad expensive for the quality) but if time is important to you, this would be a good option. 

Overall mark - 7 out of 10


How To Find Them
 Location: Markham, Canada
 Address: 20 Gibson Drive

Follow me on twitter to chat, be notified about new posts and more - https://twitter.com/GastroWorldBlog

____________________________
Gastro World's Grading System

  • Anything under 5 - I really disliked and will never go back
  • - decent restaurant but I likely won't return
  • 7 - decent restaurant and I will likely return
  • 8 - great restaurant that I'd be happy to recommend
  • 9 - fantastic restaurant that I would love to visit regularly and highly recommend
  • 10 - absolute perfection!

Elegance Chinese Cuisine on Urbanspoon


Doing the thing that gets me excited!



Let’s lay it out there now … I am not unhappy. There are many things in my life that I’ve been blessed with and wouldn’t want to change. And it’s because I already have so much that I’ve always felt greedy for wanting more. So, for several years sayings such as “work shouldn’t be fun … after all, if it was they wouldn’t be paying you to do it” were always top of mind. To me, what mattered most in a career was ease of getting a job, of course the compensation, ability for progression and job security.

As I’ve grown older, this no longer seems enough. Sure, I change roles every 2-3 years to keep things new but inevitably it’s still working in a large corporation and going through the motions. Don’t get me wrong, the companies are great and offer everything I had wanted in a career. My managers are supportive and provide the right amount of recognition. And I’m good at what I do; I know the work is appreciated and “matters”.  

But, what about that intrinsic satisfaction, passion, simply put doing that thing that gets me excited? Sunday evenings shouldn’t be a drag and Friday afternoons the best thing in the world. Surely, there must be some of you out there who are nodding your heads right now.

Over the last few months, as a means of staying encouraged, I’ve started meditating (currently loving Tracks to Relax and My Meditation Station) and listening to motivational podcasts (try Happiness Five a Day and the Daily Boost). In the end, I’ve realized that to achieve contentment you have to do something that makes you want to move.

Writing at Gastro World is exactly that thing that makes me move. Despite a 45-50 hour work week, I want to spend more time writing at least two posts a week, connecting with others through social media daily and attending as many media events as my schedule allows. I’m energized by all these things and look forward to every moment of it!

Sure, I know this is just a hobby… but why does it have to be? Plenty of people work in the food industry as food writers, social media consultants and public relations professionals. Then why can’t I find my niche? 

Quite frankly, it all comes down to finances which has made me stop myself. The industry is competitive and not exactly as lucrative as corporate Canada. So, it’s taken a while, but the realization is I can’t have it all – is money or happiness more important?

As much as I’d like to announce I’ve handed in my resignation and started working for Blog.TO, lets be realistic - living your dreams isn’t an easy affair. Nonetheless, I’m willing to give it a try. 

But, it’ll have to be done in a systematic way, so financial obligations can be met and I won’t have to live on Kraft Dinner. Sorry, I’m too much of a planner and frankly not brave enough to just take the plunge. In the next post, you’ll find out more about the “Master Plan”. 


&Company Resto Bar (Mississauga)


&Company's entrance is eye catching with its hulking door flanked by fire, imagine Spiceroute moved to the suburbs. Inside the restaurant is massive filled with plenty of tables (great for large parties) and booths that will soon be converted for bottle service patrons.

But on this visit I was here to try their revamped menu, made by Executive Chef Ron Stratton, which has took a traditional turn towards starter, main and dessert options. With his 20+ years of experience in the restaurant industry, he wanted the menu to offer familiar options but elevated to a higher gastronomic level.  Whatever you order, portion sizes are generous so lends itself for sharing as well.

The pappardelle ($19) is a perfect dinner to have before transitioning into their night time entertainment. The house made egg pasta was just al dante enough and comingles with ribbons of zucchini and carrots in a savoury oven-roasted tomato sauce. The dish is hearty enough to counteract vodka bottles yet light enough to help you avoid a food gut afterwards. I enjoyed the thinly sliced Fresno chilies sprinkled on top adding a hint of heat without overpowering the dish itself.


On the other end of the spectrum is the hickory smoked burger ($27), a mammoth 8oz stuffed beef patty topped with an egg, onion frizzles and thick slices of candy coated smoked bacon. With the thick wedges of crispy potatoes on the side this is filling and may leave some breathing heavy but likely very satisfied. In my opinion, it would have been better if the fries were thinner and less dense to contrast the heaviness of the burger. But, despite their large size, they still had a nice crunchy coating on top.


In the middle of the patty is a sizeable portion of hickory smoked mozzarella that simply oozes out of the juicy meat. Eat through it or swirl it around the fries, this is definitely a burger for cheese lovers.


&Company also has a variety of appetizers that make great shared plates. The duck confit poutine ($18) comprised of potato wedges covered with marinated cheese curds, tons of tender pulled duck, crispy onion frizzles and enough tarragon gravy. I enjoyed that it wasn’t overly salty but could have been even better if the cheese were sprinkled between the fries to give them more heat to melt. When I have poutine it’s the gooey mess of cheese with gravy covering the fries that I crave.


For dessert, my friend and I shared the espresso vanilla beignets ($11) and sharing is a must for this dessert as they arrive five to an order. At first they looked ominously big and dense, not like the pillowy ones I recall from Café du Monde


Upon biting into the pastry I was pleasantly surprised to find the light airy centre, perfect for dipping into the thick espresso crème anglaise on the side. &Company should consider dusting these with powdered sugar in lieu of the granulated sugar as the larger granules just don’t stick quite as well and leaves a gritty texture against these delicate desserts.


After finishing the meal around 9:15, plenty of patrons were only entering to start theirs. With the friendly service we received that night, we realized that the restaurant transforms into a club around 10 with salsa dancing on Wednesdays, top 40 on Fridays and throwback top 40 Saturdays catering to a mature crowd. 

&Company has a great mantra “Life’s better when you’re in good company”. I completely agree with this as a meal just isn't the same if you’re not with loved ones. So, after a delicious meal, what could be better than enjoying some drinks and dancing the night away with friends to burn off those excess calories?

Overall mark - 7 out of 10
Disclaimer: The meal was provided on a complimentary basis, but rest assured the opinions are honest.


How To Find Them
 Location: Mississauga, Canada
 Address: 295 Enfield Place

Follow me on twitter to chat, be notified about new posts and more - https://twitter.com/GastroWorldBlog

____________________________
Gastro World's Grading System

  • Anything under 5 - I really disliked and will never go back
  • - decent restaurant but I likely won't return
  • 7 - decent restaurant and I will likely return
  • 8 - great restaurant that I'd be happy to recommend
  • 9 - fantastic restaurant that I would love to visit regularly and highly recommend
  • 10 - absolute perfection!

&Company Resto Bar on Urbanspoon



The Wilcox Gastropub (Mississauga)

At the corner of a suburban plaza stands a stone house that’s distinct and unexpected. Co-owner Daniel Nguyen tells me that it's not just any house, it may be possibly one of the oldest one in Mississauga (built in 1850). So, when taking over the property, they really wanted to keep the character of the landmark, reviving it and naming it after builder Amaos Wilcox.

As you enter the Wilcox Gastropub, their interiors are definitely contemporary in nature with the mix of wood, leather, tree trunks and antler chandeliers. You sort of get the feeling of being in a hunter’s lodge that’s been turned into a lounge.

Wilcox’s menu doesn’t follow the Canadiana theme. Rather it’s a mix of shareables (sliders, nachos, etc), tapas type dishes, salads, burgers and larger composed dishes. Essentially, there’s something for everyone and enough sides to customize to one’s content. The owners wanted to offer Mississauga a menu that patrons may not find locally and also uses fresh in-house prepared sauces and ingredients.

The menu is developed by Chef Humberto Sanchez and his Spanish/Mexican influences were apparent in the starters. Especially in my favourite dish of the night, the fish tacos ($14). Yes, fish tacos are on everyone’s menus making it hard to stand out. Wilcox’s steps away from the typical baja style (albeit still has pico de gallo and guacamole) and instead incorporates great Mexican sauces (a tart tomatillo and fiery roasted poblano crema) as well.


Certainly, the dish does not shy away from flavours as the sauces were abundant and with each bite you experience refreshing and spicy properties. The deep fried fish was relatively neutral allowing the sauces to shine. Thankfully, Wilcox uses as chewy soft tortilla/pita mix which is thicker and holds up against the sauces.

The pulpo con ensalada Rusa ($14) is also worth trying with the star being the tendril of grilled octopus. It’s meaty, tender and has a hint of smokiness without overpowering the seafood itself. Below is a vibrant Russian salad, a hearty mix of creamy beets and potatoes. If there was a touch of something stronger (perhaps finely chopped onions or maybe even pickled vegetables), I would have liked it even more.


Unlike the rest of the burger loving table, I ordered braised short ribs ($23). The meat was flavourful and tender sitting in plenty of black trumpet mushroom jus. The seasoning on the dish was done well – savoury enough without being overly salty. Sitting on a bed of roasted heirloom carrots and parsnips and topped with onion frizzles (great addition) it was a nice well rounded dish.  The duck fat roasted potatoes could stand to be cooked a bit longer as the larger pieces were a tad hard in the middle.


Burgers seemed to be the popular choice amongst patrons and indeed my table as well. My husband’s Wilcox Burger ($17) consisted of a pepper crusted chuck beef patty, crispy onions, roasted red pepper aioli, goat cheese, arugula and crowned with a sunny side egg. Somehow it wasn’t a mess to eat as the egg was cooked just enough to allow the brioche bun and rest of the ingredients to soak it up. Perhaps it’s due to eating many flavourful dishes before trying a bite, but even with the plethora of ingredients I found it needed more seasoning (either in the meat itself or in the aioli).  


The California burger ($16) used the same patty but was topped with double smoked bacon, tomato, corn, salsa fresca, sour cream, pickled jalapenos and melted cheddar cheese. Again, I found the flavours to be somewhat muted, perhaps if the sour cream was substituted with the roasted poblano crema instead it may be even better.


As a matter of taste, I’ve really liked that most gourmet burger joints now serve their burgers slightly undercooked. Some may be squeamish about a slightly pink patty, but the end product is much juicier and flavourful. Wilcox Gastropub still follows the traditional thoroughly cooked method, which is fine and has its supporters but perhaps offering customers a choice of doneness would be nice (especially since they use fresh in-house ground patties).

To clarify, the burgers were good and everyone at the table enjoyed them (in fact inhaled them). But, for me, if two small changes were made they could be even better. The fresh potato fries were very good, I couldn’t help but steal more than my fair share off of my family’s plates.

Wilcox Gastropub’s menu is varied and extensive. Chef Sanchez, although proud of the entire menu, has a few favourite dishes including the ceviche, Scotch egg, Wilcox burger and duck confit. Alas, I didn’t know this before we ordered, but just a few more suggestions for readers if you need them. Service is friendly and attentive (our drinks were refilled with such rigor) and the atmosphere comfortable yet still providing you with a feeling that you’re “going out”. My suggestion is you make reservations as The Wilcox was packed on our Friday night visit and seems to be embraced by the community already.

Overall mark - 7.5 out of 10
* Disclaimer: Wilcox offered a 25% discount for the meal (prices above are the regular menu prices). Rest assured, I'll still be honest in my reviews.


How To Find Them
 Location: Mississauga, Canada
 Address: 30 Eglinton Avenue West

Follow me on twitter to chat, be notified about new posts and more - https://twitter.com/GastroWorldBlog

____________________________
Gastro World's Grading System

  • Anything under 5 - I really disliked and will never go back
  • - decent restaurant but I likely won't return
  • 7 - decent restaurant and I will likely return
  • 8 - great restaurant that I'd be happy to recommend
  • 9 - fantastic restaurant that I would love to visit regularly and highly recommend
  • 10 - absolute perfection!

The Wilcox Gastropub on Urbanspoon