Monday, 23 July 2012

Look what's new! Now featuring great locales for Travel and Tourism!

Along with my passion for food that I started since I was a kid growing up and learning to cook from my Father. I also developed a love and passion for travel. My day job allows for me to put aside time and funds to let me set out and fill my soul with wonderful experiences near and far. I thought to myself....self would it not make sense to combine my passions for food and travel together...the answer a resounding YES!

I dedicate my first post to a wonderful spot in the heart of some of the most fertile farmlands and wineries in the world...

The Black Walnut Manor

The Loft - What a beautiful room, this photo courtesy of Black Walnut Manor.

Going forwards I will be presenting new locales and destination hotspots that I have personally visited in my travels.  I will write based totally on my personal experiences and will only recommend points of destination that have really touched me and would visit again in a heart beat! Let's begin our series with a little gem of a place that I feel is the perfect launch point to explore the Niagara Wine Country. 

The Dining Room where guest share a communal table and some lovely good eats!
The Black Walnut Manor is a beautiful boutique B & B located in Vineland, Ontario.The owner operators Carole and Mike are the consummate hosts attending to every detail to make your stay as enjoyable as possible.  Upon our arrival we were struck by the quaint surroundings, the lovely pool, the beauty of the suites and the food.
Carole is magnificent in the kitchen, the food that she creates for her guests is mostly locally sourced and presented simply and is very tasty. You can tell that she has a passion for food and has a definite flair for presentation. The food that Carole prepared for us on our visit was lovingly prepared, delicious and very satisfying.  The rooms are decorated in various styles but are all elegant, comfortable and luxurious. With orchards, farms and wineries so close by I think the only tough choice you will have to make on your visit is which place to visit first?

The Main Sitting Room
During our stay we were very happy to meet with Guests that visit the Manor. Everyone raved about how wonderful the Manor was and how stunning their suites were. On our visit we enjoyed the great company and learned that for many guests this was not their first visit! Repeat visits from loyal customers is not hard to attract with such a high level of service and comfort. Once you visit the Manor you too will most certainly be thinking about coming back sometime soon.
With it’s location in such close proximity to such great locales and attractions. There is no wonder why the Black Walnut Manor is truly a first class destination for visitors who wish for comfort, great food and a lovely place to get away for a bit to recharge.

Great Food and Sparkling from a Local Winery. Life is Good.
The Black Walnut Manor features opportunity to enjoy:

Fine Dining - They offer exquisite dinner and lunch packages at these fine restaurants, just let us know - we'll handle the details.

Carole's Culinary skill is VERY impressive! Mixed fruit drizzled with honey served with the BEST scones!
Winery Tours and Tastings - just a few of our favourites.

Comfort, Luxury and a wonderful place to recharge.
Cooking Schools & Great Shops

Recreation (Spas, Golf, Cycling, Hiking, Arts)

One of the lovelies that will say 'Hello' during your stay!
When you book your suite contact them for more information on the activities in the region Carole and Mike will most definitely take care of you and your loved ones.

4255 Victoria Avenue,
R.R. #1
Vineland Station, ON
L0R 2E0
Phone/Fax - (905) 562-8675
Toll Free - 1-800-859-4786

Friday, 20 July 2012

Famoso Traditional Neapolitan Pizza Impresses in the Annex

There are delicious moments and then there are delicious moments you will never forget...Pizza is one such moment.

Ever since I was a young kid growing up in Mississauga, my parents have always tried to put their spin on western food. One food that I enjoyed was pizza a la my parents…thick and gooey good. It wasn’t a totally typical Italian pizza but I loved it. Time passed and my taste buds have grown up, matured and my love for pizza has just kept on growing!  Throughout my university years it was what my roommates and I lived on...just picturing the mountains of pizza boxes!

Fast forward, as I went through culinary school and experienced different cuisines from all over the world I learned the basics of how to make great pizza. I even worked at a traditional pizzeria for a time and really learned the importance of the crust, simplicity of toppings and the tradition behind pizza. My work experience opened my eyes to the culinary world of Italy and inspired me to travel. Having been to Venice, Rome, Pompeii, Sorrento and Naples…I can honestly say I have a pretty good idea what real traditional pizza tastes like and I love it.   

You would imagine that living in Toronto, with its large Italian population finding traditional pizza like back in the old country would be simple. You would be wrong.  There are so many differing opinions on what makes a good pizza is as there are stars in the sky.  The latest addition to challenge for best pizza in Toronto opened in The Annex and is called Famoso. On a recent visit to this new restaurant that emphasizes tradition, adherence to quality traditional ingredients and great taste it delivers on almost all counts.

As the story goes for how Famoso came to be:

“Years ago, on a trip to Naples, we were introduced to the taste of true Neapolitan pizza and the classic pizzeria. It awakened our pizza taste buds and we just knew we had to share this with our friends and family back Famoso, our version is inspired by Neapolitan pizza in its truest form, using Caputo ‘00’ flour, imported Campania tomatoes, fresh basil, fior-di-latte, and a fire roasting bell-shaped oven.” 
Justin, Jason & Christian, Founders of Famoso

As the evening began, we were introduced to a unique way to order, we were instructed to seat ourselves, menus available on the table and when ready asked to order at a central counter.  This is a pretty brilliant method to ordering, it ensures speedy service, I can see this being a hit with the hectic lunch crowds. Your order is brought to your table and any follow-up is via the server. This was a new way to do things and I liked it.
We started our meal with a few drinks an Aperol Spritz, Lemoncello Martini and a lovely Mojito.

Then our starters came from our server and we were immediately impressed with the selection.  We received an order of Roasted Kalamata Olives, lovely marinated kalamata olives garnished with oregano, feta and chilies. What surprised us was what a punch of flavour is created with the simple action of roasting them and serving them warm. The flatbread was stellar, seasoned and warm and oh so good!

We ordered a series of salads and they were fresh, flavourful and generous. We ordered a traditional Caesar salad with prosciutto crisps instead of bacon. This we liked. We also ordered a Gorgonzola Walnut Salad and one of their signature salads the Blackberry Arugula Salad. As with the Caesar we liked all of their offerings and would most definitely order any one of them again.

As with many restaurants that I visit I look for that one standout appetizer that is a must have. At Famoso, I highly recommend the Prosciutto Wrapped Mozzarella Balls. These little tasty bits are perfect for sharing with your dinner guests.  Fresh mozzarella wrapped with prosciutto, baked in Campania tomato sauce, fresh basil and pecorino romano cheese served with warm flat bread! If you love gooey cheese and the salty goodness of prosciutto you gotta have this. Divine!

Now, getting down to the business of things…the pizza. This is after all why we are all here.  The menu is broken into two principle categories Traditional and New World. Yes, I know that they emphasize tradition…you wonder why they would offer New World Pizza? A purists would shudder and even turn their back to even the remote suggestion of anything not tradition…I’m not certain, all I can think is that they are trying to satisfy a world of tastes of all kinds.  Sometimes, traditional pizza with its minimal ingredients doesn’t compute with more western tastes.  But I digress…on to what we ordered that night.

We ordered a Funghi Tartufo a beautiful pizza consisting of roasted white mushrooms, oyster mushrooms, white truffle oil, reggiano parmesan over a beautiful tangy non-cooked tomato sauce. The sauce is perfect, simple, full of flavour and authentic. The mushrooms are earthy and tasty, I love mushrooms on pizza.

Next, we ordered what I consider the ultimate test for any pizzeria that boasts that they are the best…The Margherita.  A traditional pizza named after Queen Margherita of Italy in 1889. It is in its simplicity that makes this a challenge. Fresh mozzarella, fresh basil, pecorino romano and extra virgin olive oil. That’s it…no spicy sausage, no pineapple or grilled chicken. Simplicity, simply beautiful. You can really tell the quality of the ingredients, the tomato sauce is excellent, the mozzarella is stringy and gooey, the pecorino provides a bit of a salty bite making this pizza a good rendition. Not excellent but good. I would have preferred the crust to have been baked just a touch longer. There was a bit of disappointment in the level of sogginess in the centre and I believe that the basil was baked on top of the pizza as opposed to how it should have been just added on its way to the table. But it was tasty and good. The quality of the ingredients stood out, it is only in the execution that I feel that the kitchen will have to tweak. 

The last pizza we tried was one that sparked all of our interest; it falls into the New World pizza category. It was very popular amongst many that were noshing down on delicious pizza and drinks. The San Andreas is a Californian inspired pizza. Bianca sauce (white sauce), fresh mozzarella, and chili-lime marinated roasted chicken. Baked, then topped with fresh avocado slices, diced roma tomatoes, diced onion, cilantro, and drizzled with light cream. It was in a word delicious! The traditional thin crust made with the ‘00’ flour blends well with the new world ingredients to make for one very tasty pizza. This was a winner. I will order this again in a heartbeat. 

 As our pizzas were devoured our thoughts turned to something sweet to finish our meals. We ordered a series of desserts that I will have to say flat out…wonderful and delectable each and every taste. This came as a surprise but a very welcomed one indeed! We ordered ALMOST the whole dessert menu one item after the other…it was just that good!

The Dolce & Banana was one that is very easy to share – oven roasted bananas coated in caramelized brown sugar, crushed pecans, caramel sauce and vanilla bean gelato. This was a fun dessert to breakdown and share. It almost boarders on being too big for one. Loved it!

Nutella pizza was up next, this was flying out of the kitchen and was very happily devoured by the guests in the resto. Simply it is their awesome pizza crust that is smothered in Nutella, folded calzone style and served with whipped cream and drizzled with caramel sauce. This was mind blowing good enough to share but I wouldn’t want to in the future, I love it that much!

We finished with an Affogato this was such great goodness in a cup! A shot of espresso on top of a scoop of gelato sounds simple…it is…but very delicious. I crave this now always.
There are two locations for Famoso in the GTA area please check their website for other locations.

Famoso – The Annex
386 Bloor Street West,
Toronto, ON
M5S 1X9
Twitter @FamosoPizzeria

Saturday, 14 July 2012

The Pioneers of the Not So Humble Grilled Cheese

Grilled cheese sandwiches are a big deal in Toronto. A VERY BIG deal! Trust me, I know. You see it when people are willing to attend a Food Truck Event, pay for parking and wait in line for over 2 hours for a grilled cheese sandwich, ya know we’re all crazy for grilled cheese! Today is a special day for us here at baguettes and butterscotch. We are extremely pleased to have an opportunity to do a Q & A with the pioneers of the grilled cheese revolution in Toronto.

Kevin and Tom from Cheesewerks are going to be giving us an inside look at what's going on in the world of grilled cheese, local sourced ingredients, local producers/suppliers, and the trials and tribulations of opening their first and if I dare say it not their last Cheesewerks restaurant.

They have a great story and who better to tell it than the creators themselves. This should be cheese-tastic! Without further are the men bearing the flag for Grilled Cheese taken to another level...Kevin and Tom

1. Where did you get your interest into the world of hospitality/culinary? Who in your life influenced/inspired your passion for food?

When I was 13, my Mom (Audrey) came home from her job as head cashier at our local A&P to announce to the family – that she had told them to take their job and shove it.  She was tired of working for someone else and wanted to follow her passion of making and serving great food.
My parents turned half our basement into an industrial kitchen where my mom started an “artisan” bakery before marketing people had even invented the word.  She made everything from scratch- all of it – pies, baked goods, muffins, squares, cookies and I was her wee sous chef. In 1988, she purchased “The Courtyard Tea Room” in Perth and it ran for 18 wonderful seasons. She was a fixture in Perth, everyone knew her and the Tea Room - cottage goers, locals, and families passing through made pilgrimage to mom’s place – especially for her pies.
With Tom, he comes from a large Asian extended family which means that every get together had no less than 30 people and loads of food.  His family is enriched with diversity with uncles and cousins from Jamaica; brother in law from Antigua.  This of course means every family occasion is filled with all types of cuisine from ox-tail to papaya salad & sticky rice to roti to pho noodle soup.  Growing up with this melting pot has turned him into a foodie.
In 2005, my Mom retired and was diagnosed with lung cancer two years later.  She passed away a short 45 days after that.
It stopped both Tom and I cold.  Our daughter Taylor was 4 at the time, and with such a big shake up – we decided we wanted to build our own “family business” and that would most certainly be surrounded around food.

2. After a long hard day of work, what do you gravitate to for sustenance? Where do you like to go and eat?

Tom – At the end of the day I’m all about comfort food.  I love meatloaf, casserole…trucker food.  But what I love and crave the most is Pho from scratch. It was a 2 day affair to get the stock just right.  I remember growing up and my Mom making it almost once a month or at my request. I always looked forward to having it for dinner, lunch and dinner the next day and beyond…mmmm.
Kevin – I’m a sucker for some good chicken.  Roasted or fried – it doesn’t matter - it’s what I crave when I want comfort food. But when we go out, I tend to carve two things good Chinese or good Deli.

3. Since opening Cheesewerks, how have you seen your dream grow and progress? Has it gone all according to plan? Explain Good surprises and Bad surprises.

CHEESEWERKS has been amazing.  The reaction has been incredible, customers love our food and we’re really starting to hit our groove.  We’ve only been open for 6-months so it’s impossible to predict the future but so far so good!
We haven’t had any bad surprises really; we do know that Toronto doesn’t like the idea of paying for ketchup.  Even if it is house-made and local... LOL.  But as for good surprises, being featured in Food + Drink magazine was an amazing highlight.  It’s my go-to foodie bible and to featured only 4 months after being open – that was pretty cool.


4. I can see that you have a very popular following on social media has this been a help or a hindrance in spreading the good word about Grilled Cheese? What would you like to say to all your Cheesewerks fans?

THANK YOU of course!  We love our fans and supporters. We really tried to build a brand and community before we opened.  It totally worked.  The initial following allowed us to test recipes, receive feedback and garner buzz before we even opened our doors.  Invaluable powerful information and insights can be garnered for a new business via social media.

5. Artisan locally sourced produce was a key message that I heard from you during tastings. Can you highlight some of your fave suppliers and why you work with them?

Being 100% family-owned and operated is being local.
J  And to take that first, yes we support 100% Canadian vendors and suppliers.  As you can imagine, with a place called CHEESEWERKS know for our “Legend Dairy” Grilled Cheese – two ingredients were paramount…Cheese and fantastic Bread!  Our signature bread partner is St. John’s Bakery.  Their artisan sourdoughs are just incredible and they also produce our two signature breads from our recipes – our Cracked Peppercorn Sourdough and our Green Onion Potato bread.  With bread figured out Cheese, was next.  We support a number of producers, but all of our Cheese is 100% Canadian, artisan where possible and with no milk modified ingredients.  We love the product from Bothwell, Upper Canada Cheese Co., Glengarry Fine Cheese, Best Baa and others.  They are all incredible products and great people to source from.

6. There is grilled cheese and then there is Cheesewerks Grilled cheese. What sets you apart from the rest?

We’re flattered – thanks.  It might sound corny but we believe what sets us apart from others is that we have a story behind every recipe, every ingredient, we use real Cheese, real Butter, real food.  There is also a story behind our creations. Lastly, we have an overwhelming love for great food! It makes a difference, you can really taste it!

7. Who develops your sandwiches? Where do you get your inspiration from?

We don’t have an executive chef or a big production test kitchen someplace.  We get inspiration from our travels around the corner and around the world. We live to eat and travel.  Those great meals and great culinary travels bring our menu to life. Take our HOUSTON Grilled Cheese.  Houston was the first place we had a family-vacation with Taylor.  Tons of memories, tons of great meals.  So we took that inspiration and started to braise our own beef brisket, house-made BBQ sauce, a bit of Texas – right here in Toronto.  Same for our BEIJING Grilled Cheese.  People thought we were crazy making a cheese-centric Chinese item.  But when you taste the Asiago, with the BBQ Pork, slivered green onions, Hoisin grilled on our signature Green Onion Potato bread.  It will change you.  It’s so good.  And that Grilled Cheese was inspired because we got married in 2008 and spent our honeymoon at the Olympics in Beijing.

8. What’s next for Cheesewerks?

We just expanded our menu to include Mac + Cheese.  We had been serving it as a some-what regular special, but our fans and customers wanted it every day. So we added it.  Now you can order any of CW cities as a Grilled Cheese or Mac + Cheese.  And again – all house-made.
Bigger picture, we’re starting to look at ideas and plans for expansion.  We have a couple ideas in the works.  You’ll have to chat with us in a few months for the details. J 

9. I understand that you do events and catering. How did this come about and what projects have you been involved with?

Events and catering are two huge revenue opportunities for a new business.  Not every customer can come to you – so we built a robust infrastructure to manage a lot of special, private and corporate events.  Plus, catering is fun, it gets you out of the restaurant – thinking on your feet and meeting tons of new people.  It’s tremendous business builder for us.

10. Lastly, If you had to pick a favourite sandwich, drink and side combo – which would each of you pick and tell us why!

Tom - I’ve always loved the Beijing. And to boot, I’ll usually add bacon to it.  I also love the rustic herb tomato soup with a cold glass of sweet tea.
Kevin - I love how our flavour combinations are becoming a signature of the shop and how easily they transferred to our new Mac + Cheese.  So me, I’d switch from a Grilled Cheese and order a CHARLESTON Mac + Cheese, sparkling lemonade with a spike of gin, with a ginger molasses cookie. Comfort, accessible and delicious.

I'd like to thank the guys for taking the time to give us foodies an inside look at to the development, growth and future of Cheesewerks and in the grander scheme of things grilled cheese in Toronto. 

You can find them at:

56 Bathurst St.,
Toronto, ON,
M5V 2P7 
Twitter @cheesewerks
Facebook find Cheesewerks