Steak & Mushroom Florentine

Last week for dinner I made Campbell’s Steak & Mushroom Florentine.

1. Using actual grilling steak as suggested instead of stewing beef makes a huge difference. The steak is tender and chewy making it unnecessary for one to use a knife.

2. This recipe called for one small onion and I really need to learn what that means – I think the onion I used was a medium size onion which for my tastes, was great. Other might not have appreciated this as much as I did. I think on my next trip to the grocery store I will have to buy a bag of small, yellow/Spanish onions.

3. I hate wilted spinach. It makes me feel like Popeye and it has no flavour.

4. I think next time I would add chopped mushrooms to bring out that rooty flavour of the soup and then maybe I could eliminate the spinach with the justification that I am still eating vegetables? But then this wouldn’t be a Florentine anymore and would just be a stroganoff but there’s nothing wrong with that.

5. Serve over egg noodles – No Yolks – there is no alternative.

The Polish Hall

On March 18 we celebrated my Babcia’s (Babcia is Polish for grandmother, but she is actually my great-grandmother) 95th birthday at the Polish Hall in Oshawa.

A few words on my Babcia – she is truly amazing and I am so lucky to be able to know my great-grandmother and for the length of time that I have. She is strong yet silent and truly brings substance and respect to the term matriarch. I wish everyone could have someone like her head their family and I know she gives our family strength and inspiration. I have no doubt that Babcia will see many more birthdays to come and I can’t wait to celebrate them.

This place is about as Polish as you can get in North America without being in Chicago. From the building being called Pavilion Krakow, the number of Polish eagles and maps, and all the red and white, this place got everyone’s Polish senses tingling.

It is hard to find authentic Polish food since the majority of people don’t even know what Polish food consists of. An easy way to remember it is the “beige food diet ” – a phrase coined by my father to mock my sister Theresa’s eating habits.  Polish food is hearty food that is cheap to produce in mass quantities – to put it simply. My top three Polish foods are:

1. Cabbage rolls

2. Pierogi

3. Meat Sticks

I did eat all of these things at the Polish Hall but unfortunately, I was too excited and ate everything before I could take a picture.

The food is ordered by the plate (for example, a plate of cabbage rolls is about $10 and has 8 cabbage rolls) and is intended to be served in a family dining sort of style. Of course, you could go as one person and order a plate of meat sticks and be quiet content.

Oh, and mix is fre. How very Polish.

It is my goal to make my three favourite Polish from scratch soon, it’s just a matter of finding the right recipe. I think I will start with cabbage rolls and Martha Stewart has a recipe (being the good Polish girl that she is). Then I will try to make meat sticks using whatever recipe adaptation my sister Amelia comes up with. And lastly, I will make pierogi. Likely filled with cheese.

Stand by for more Polish adventures.


New Sushi Island

On St. Patrick’s Day we were feeling particularly Irish and went for sushi. It was actually surprising the number of people who were having sushi instead of joining in the traditional, drunken debauchery that accompanies St. Patrick’s Day. We went for All You Can Eat (AYCE) sushi at New Sushi Island located on College Street in Little Italy.

From the outside, New Sushi Island looks slightly decrepit and rundown and the inside doesn’t much help that perception. This clearly used to be some sort of Spanish/Moroccan restaurant based on the built in cove-style shelving, the terracotta texture of the walls and the tin-tiled ceiling. An effort has been made to make this place seem slightly more authentic but sadly enough, putting up a few paper fans and koi fish does not make a restaurant an authentic Japanese restaurant.

But don’t let the physicality of the restaurant throw you off or make you not give it a try. As far as AYCE sushi places go, this is a fairly good deal. The lunch menu is $13.99 which is a fairly standard price but the menu is very extensive. It is just as lengthy as their dinner AYCE menu but features a few different items. The rolls and sushi are are the same size and quality as they are for their dinner AYCE or a la carte offerings. This is not always the case.

Here is a selection of what we ordered: (from top left, clockwise) Green Dragon Roll, Firecracker Roll, Rainbow Roll, Dynamite Roll and Salmon Sushi Pizza.

This is the only AYCE sushi in the city that I’ve come across and find is worth the money. However, there is only one other place in the city that I have had AYCE sushi – a place on Charles Street, east of Yonge Street and it was overpriced and not worth it.

I want to try more as lots of sushi for cheap is something that is very appealing to me. If you have any suggestions, please let me know! I am always on the hunt for cheap food in mass quantities.

Hotel Gelato

In the midst of all the gorgeous weather a couple of weeks ago, GC and I decided it would be an appropriate time to begin our gelato eating for the summer. Typically, we go to La Paloma but this year we are branching out slightly and we want to try a few different places. That being said, feel free to suggest your favourite gelato locales to me so I can try them out. I am also going to try and branch out from my traditional only-ordering-lemon-gelato-purism.

Eglinton has a lot of restaurants, cafes, and shops that always catch my eye but rarely do I stop. This is something that needs to change and did with our visit to Hotel Gelato.

The exterior of this building is just so appealing to me – the very 1970s colour palette they have chosen (I mean that as a compliment) with the orange and brown is to warm and inviting. This is something very unique in a gelato restaurant – typically they either try to look like 1950s ice cream parlours or 1960s Italian-mod. Both of these are perfectly acceptable but why not do something a little different and stand out?

The interior is a combination of modern and traditional pieces and textures which in itself is very Italian. Sleek espresso machines are paired with fireplaces and rustic looking books and vases. There is a wall that features a number of clocks displaying different times, but instead of the names of major cities, the clocks feature the names of famous hotels throughout the world. I thought this was a neat spin on an overdone idea that also plays into the name of the restaurant.

The only thing I will hold against this restaurant, and this is not unique to this restaurant but rather a common problem for restaurants/cafes/bakeries that do not have a huge decorating budget – this place reeked of Ikea. Maybe this is something you can only identify when you go to Ikea about 2 times a month or when your own house reeks of Ikea. I did like though how they tied in some unique pieces and I like to think that the money that was not needlessly wasted on the decor was spent on important pieces key to the quality of the food and drink (the espresso machine, the gelato ingredients, etc).

The gelato. A lot of places make the mistake (possibly knowingly) of just serving ice cream under the guise of a fancy Italian word. I do not like this. Call it what it is. Ice cream is delicious too, there is no shame in that. I do not think Hotel Gelato lied to me.

I am less concerned with the fat content of a dessert than its quality. If I am worried about the fat or sugar in something, should I really be eating it? When it gets to the point where I will have to worry about these sorts of things, I will just eat desserts less frequently so when I do I can eat good-quality, fattening, diabetic coma type of stuff.

Gelato really isn’t interesting to photograph. Unless you are photographing the tubs which are always decorated with props of fresh fruit, or chocolate drizzle. There are none of these types of photos as their store refrigerator was broken so all the gelato was in the back and out of view.

I ordered the Pear Gelato (shocking!) and GC ordered the Strawberry Cheesecake Gelato. My gelato was sweet but had that slight tart quality that pears have. There was also the texture of pear in the gelato – fleshy, with a certain gritty quality from the skin of the pear. GC’s gelato was sweet but was really more strawberry ripple then anything related to cheesecake. It was still delicious but I would think that is a bit of a misnomer as you couldn’t taste any cream cheese and/or graham cracker (if there was any actually in the gelato). These two are simple flavours compared to some of the more complex concoctions they have – mojito, salted caramel, and spicy Mayan chocolate. There is a lot of flavours I would like to try so I hope it’s a hot summer for it.

Hotel Gelato also serves salads, sandwiches, breakfast and brunch offerings making this place a great spot for a business lunch, a casual date or an espresso with a good book. I have been intrigued and delighted enough to visit again. See you soon, Hotel Gelato!


Chocolate Chip Cookies

Everyone has their own go-to chocolate chip cookie recipe – either it’s from the back of the chocolate chip package, ailment Martha Stewart or it’s just a tube of Pillsbury cookie dough (if this is you, please continue reading to see how easy it is to make chocolate chip cookies and how truly offensively you have been living your life). My go-to is Betty Crocker’s Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe.

I love and use this recipe for a couple of reasons:

1. Betty Crocker does not lie – she says this recipe makes 4 dozen cookies and it does.

2. When I was a kid, I used to bake all the time with my sister Amelia and we would use this recipe. We have baked so many chocolate chip cookies using this recipe that the page in the recipe book is coated with enough dough to make another cookie.

3. It makes tender, moist cookies that melt in your mouth instead of crunchy, crumbly cookies that make a mess everywhere. In my edition of the Betty Crocker cookbook there is a diagram that illustrates what you did wrong if you cookies pancake out (too soft butter), or stay firm and perfectly shaped balls that you scooped out onto the cookie tray (too much flour).

On the note of softened butter – My favourite thing about my new (to me) kitchen is my refrigerator. It is from the 1970s and is a lovely olive green/yellow colour with wood veneer handles. Although almost everything is wrong with this thing, it has one piece of genius – the butter compartment has a temperature/hardness control on the outside allowing you to thaw butter in the fridge! This means, because I have this handy dial set to soft, I can literally bake whenever I want and can avoid the moment that almost always accompanied a new baking project: “I forgot to thaw my butter…”

4. If you don’t have a stand mixer (like me currently….hint, hint) you can easily make cookies using an electric hand mixer. I find it is actually better at beating the butter and mixing a smooth, liquid base before you add in your dry ingredients. It is slightly more difficult, however, to gradually add your dry ingredients and not to end up covered in flour when you use a hand mixer. I opted to stir in my dry ingredients using a spatula-spoon type utensil. Mix in all your dry ingredients before you mix in your chocolate chips.

5. The recipe calls for semi-sweet chocolate chips to be used but in my infinite wisdom, I combined all the various chocolate chips I had into one bag. This resulted in a mixture of white chocolate, semi-sweet chocolate, milk chocolate and mini chocolate chips being used in this batch. It created a nice subtle scale of chocolate flavours and colours.

6. Leave them in until they look almost cooked – this is Betty’s advice, and now my standard cookie rule. It is a common, rookie cookie move to leave cookies in the oven until the tops are hard. This will result in a rock solid cookie in your mouth.

I enjoyed a few of these at work and I left them sitting out on my desk in the sun. The chocolate chips were warm, and gooey as if straight out of the oven. Yum.

I also enjoyed a few with my friend Cynthia on our common lunch hour in Yorkville.

Weeknight dinners

I moved out exactly three weeks ago. I have been trying to be a good adult by cooking dinner and making my lunch. I think I have been doing fairly well. I have only bought my lunch twice – I took Theresa out for lunch on her birthday and I went to Subway on Monday. Dinner is a different story – when I first moved down we went out a couple of times but in the past two weeks we have been really good about it. We have only had sushi a couple of times and we went out for dinner with some friends. Overall, a pretty good transition into adulthood.

Before I moved out I stole a mini recipe book from Campbell’s that my mom had from a magazine. It was called “Better Weeknight Dinners” and it features 10 different recipes – 5 of which I have made so far.

1. Chicken & Sundried Tomato Pasta with White Wine Sauce.

This was creamy and sweet. The sundried tomatoes were slightly tart which cut the creaminess and richness of this dish. The chicken was tender and moist but didn’t brown as much as I would have liked. This was because I didn’t dry the chicken well enough (or at all) before I put it in the pan. This tasted great as dinner and just as good as cold leftovers the next day. This is going in the recipe box for future meals.

2. Creamy Basil Salmon Bake.

I will admit – this is not my image, but rather the one from the Campbell’s website. Unfortunately, I did not plate my salmon as nicely. It was because instead of using four individual, frozen salmon fillets we bought one larger, fresh fillet. The red pepper is sweet and the asparagus was perfectly crunchy but still tender. We had to leave the skillet in the oven for about 5 more minutes in order for the asparagus to rich the appropriate tenderness. The sauce had a subtle asparagus flavour and smothered the salmon and the rice making the entire dish creamy and delicious. Another one to keep in mind for future reference.

3. 3 Step Pear & Cranberry Pork Tenderloin.

This was delicious but I don’t think I would make this again. I am referring to this as a pseudo-stew and I think it could hold up on it’s own without any rice. The mixture of pear, celery and cranberry it light, and crunchy and works with the tenderness of the pork. The base of this stew is applesauce which is a natural compliment to pork and makes the pork tender and just fall apart off the fork. Not quiet pulled pork but as close as you will get in 30 minutes and without trying to make pulled pork. And I got to use a new spice! The recipe called for savoury which I had never heard of and I didn’t have but from a quick search I found that marjoram was a replacement which was something new but strangely enough I had some. Now I want to try savoury… what does that even mean? That is an adjective not a spice.

4.Orange Ginger Beef with Angel Hair Pasta and Snow Peas.

This is how mine turned out.

And the above is how Campbell’s made it. I would love to know how this happened. They don’t remotely look like the same meal. Regardless, this is still delicious. Part of my issue was I used way too much angel hair pasta because it is so deceptive. And it clumps instantly. And is so terrible. I now know why people hate it and choose not to use it. I think next time I would use spaghetti instead. I also didn’t use the right type of meat – I was supposed to use steak but I used stewing beef because that is all that I could find at the grocery store and that was a bad idea. Stewing beef, obviously, is very thick, tough meat that is intended to be marinated and stewed for hours to get a perfect, tender consistency. Stewing beef seared in a pan is tough and chewy and not good to eat without a knife. Next time, if I cannot find all my ingredients I will not make a recipe. And I love snow peas! They stay crunchy in the broth and are so fresh. Paired with the mandarin orange wedges. Perfect. However, in an attempt to stop my pasta from clumping, I was constantly stirring everything which pulverized my orange wedges so you didn’t get that big bite of citrus.

General note – everything I cook seems to have garlic in it which is amazing because I love garlic and we have about 12 bulbs of garlic. The only problem is, I don’t know how to chop/mince/cut it but I am planning on getting a garlic press.

5. Lemon Garlic Shrimp Soup with Brown Rice.

This soup is light, citrus, fresh and grainy. Probably not the best time of year to make soup – the past two days it has been close to 25 degrees but I think you could eat at this as a cold soup, which I didn’t try despite believing this. It is a good meal for the summer though because it is light but filling and doesn’t heat up your kitchen. The great thing with all of these recipes is they are made on the stove and typically use only 1 pot/skillet. My only complaint with the soup is yes, shrimp with the tail on is very visually appealing but then I have a bowl of shrimp tails at the end of my meal. Not so great.

5 meals down, 5 more to go. I decided to start with this group of recipes because they were easy and it was a great way to ease myself into cooking. My plan is to cook my way through all my cookbooks (this is very ambitious and slightly ridiculous) once I am done with these recipes. The five remaining recipes are:

1.Low Sodium Lemon & Rosemary Chicken with Quinoa

2. Dijon Cod & Veggie Bundles

3. Chicken with Cheddar Broccoli Sauce

4. Steak & Mushroom Florentine

5. Cowboy Pasta

Harry’s Social Kitchen

Harry’s Social Kitchen is a restaurant at Yonge & St. Clair that is in the former location of Fionn McCool’s. I was walking in this area a couple of weeks ago to meet a friend for dinner and I noticed that Fionn McCool’s was no longer there. I was severly disappointed as Fionn McCool’s was my location of choice (if I had to make that choice) for St. Patrick’s Day – Happy St. Patrick’s Day by the way! Last weekend, my parents came down to take me, GC and two of my three sisters (they love us equally, only three of us live in Toronto) for lunch and my mom choose Harry’s Social Kitchen.

From the outside, this place looks like nothing special. It has garage-door style patio window frontage and the exterior is painted a muted charcoal grey. Don’t let this exterior fool you – rather, see it as sleek, modern and hip which the restaurant is. I wasn’t prepared for how fancy this place was. GC and I showed up late (this seems to be a trend when we go places together but not when we go separately) and I was wearing jeans and a t-shirt which I would have rather not. This is the type of place where they take your coat and hang it up elsewhere before you sit down so needless to say I felt under dressed. The fanciest part about me was the fact that I had make up on. If this place had been busy, and full of it’s typical crowd, I would have felt out of place. But Saturday at 12:30, it was oddly empty.

Now this is a bit of a special post because it will feature the meals of 6 people, which I have never done. My entire family freely and willingly participated and took pictures of their meals. If when they read this, they would like to comment with descriptions and thoughts of their meals, that would be appreciated but I won’t force anyone to do so. I have briefly summarized the comments that occured around the lunch table.

My sister Theresa and my Dad both had appetizers, which I failed to take pictures of. Theresa had the Caesar salad with freshly grated Parmesan cheese. She gave me a flake and it was authentic Parmesan cheese. It was salty, with a little nutty flavour from being perfectly aged. The downside to the salad – it was overdressed. And unfortunately, you can’t really order your dressing on the side with a Caesar salad. Dad ordered the Soup of the Day which was roasted red pepper. The soup was this beautiful burnt orange colour and was speckled with a blend of different spices and seasonings. It was the right consistency – thick and almost smooth, leaving you with a texture so you know it has been freshly puréed.

1. For my lunch I had the Grilled Apple Brie Quesadilla.

Charred green apple, triple cream brie, willow grove hill bacon, maple mustard drizzle, and bourbon tomato chipotle jam.

This was amazing. The apple had been cooked long enough that it was soft but not the consistency of baby food. The brie had melted so it was stringy but not scalding your mouth. The bacon was crispy without being burnt. The maple mustard drizzle – let’s talk about this. I haven’t seen anything like this and after eating this dish I want to go the St. Lawrence market and go to the mustard store. I typically do not like mustard. I only like it on hot dogs and in my Mom’s macaroni and cheese (as an ingredient not some sort of bastardizing topping like ketchup). But this drizzle. The sweetness of the maple syrup was cut by the tangy, zing of the mustard and just created this unique flavour the complimented the sweetness of the apple and even the undertones of the cheese. And the burbon tomato chipotle jam. I like this trend that is emerging of jams in place of salsas and chutneys – they are overdone, often watery and from a jar. If you have a jam instead you know it is fresh, custom and is going to be something you can’t get off the shelf at a store. I want to make my own version of this jam and eat it with tortilla chips.

2. GC ordered the Hemingway Chicken.

Natural chicken breast, agave lime marinade, roasted tomato chipotle jam, romaine leaf & buffalo mozzarella.

I think he was sold at the buffalo mozzarella. And that bun looked unreal – like it just came out of the oven.

3. Theresa and Dad ordered the Woodland Mushroom Tortellini.

Tri-coloured cheese tortellini, basil pesto cream sauce, fresh mushrooms, roasted red peppers & parmesan regianno.

Creamy, woody, salty and cheesy. And a huge portion which Theresa was able to take about half home for dinner. When they wrapped it up for her the included a fork and a napkin in the bag. A nice, logical touch.

4. Mom had Harry’s Soft Tacos.

Two soft corn tacos with southwest spiced angus ground sirloin, shredded nappa cabbage, chipotle aioli, cilantro salsa fresco & manchego cheese.

The cheese was creamy and salty. The beef was perfectly seasoned and had the right amount of heat. We all thought fries were a bit of a weird side with tacos but my mom is never going to turn down fries. I think instead maybe you should get three tacos without fries but obviously the fries are a more inexpensive way for the restaurant to give you a complete meal.

5. Liz had the Parsnip Soup.

Roasted parsnip, organic chicken broth, spring leeks, willow grove hill bacon, roasted garlic cream & gruyère garnish.

Root vegetables are truly underutilized in most people’s cooking and this soup illustrates how delicious they are. It was creamy, but thick with the right amount of salt from the cheese and bacon. The bacon bits were soft and flowed with the texture of the soup. The garlic flavour but was subtle enough to ward off vampires. Delicious. Another dish I would like to recreate at home.

Dessert. Typically as a family, when we go out for lunch and/or dinner we do not order dessert for a number of reasons: allergies, we are too full or the quality is not up to the standards that we could make at home. But anytime a restaurant has crème brûlée you know it is going to be quality desserts.

1. Theresa and I both ordered the Crème Brûlée.

A satisfying crack led you to the silky, custard center. The drizzle on the side was a strawberry, vanilla cream which was sweet and was clearly made from real strawberries. I had two complaints and I don’t know if these were shared by Theresa: 1. All my vanilla beans fell to the bottom (can’t really be helped) so I didn’t get that real, rich vanilla flavour until the bottom of my pot and 2. My custard wasn’t the same consistency all the way down. I think it could have stayed in the oven for a minute longer.

2. Mom and GC had the Apple Crumble with Old Cheddar Cheese.

GC’s only complaint was the cheese – he didn’t want it to be melted.

3. Dad had the Chocolate Lava Cake.

Chocolate. That’s all you need to know.

Overall, we were all very happy with this place. An upscale, adult atmosphere paired with an eclectic mixture of food that is all custom made, on-site. The menu features unique offerings that are not too unique to the point that you will not want to try them or that there isn’t something for everyone on the menu. I would recommend this place for a date night, a girls night, or really, any kind of night. I want to go back.

crème brûlée

Chocolate Salted Caramel Cupcakes

For my sister Theresa’s 26th birthday I made her Martha Stewart’s Chocolate Salted Caramel Cupcakes to take to work. Theresa has a top three favourite cupcakes that I make, in the following order:

1. Gingerbread Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Icing

2. Chocolate Salted Caramel Cupcakes

3. Chocolate Chip Cheesecake Cupcakes

(If this is not the correct order, I apologize Theresa).

Of all the cupcakes Theresa likes, these are the most time consuming but I love her.

1. These are mini cupcakes as to not overwhelm you with the richness. I think the next time I make these I will ignore this rule of thumb and make them in regular-sized muffin tins. You have to hollow out each cupcake in order to fill it with caramel and this is time consuming. You also don’t get a ton of caramel in each cupcake which, in my opinion, is the best part.

2. The icing needs to be a bit thicker – the recipe only calls for 1/2 cup of icing sugar but I think 1 cup icing sugar would pull the icing together better and make it thicker. If it was thicker the piping would come out better. Regardless of how the icing is, the sea salt brings out the cocoa in the icing and strikes a perfect balance between sweet and savoury.

3. I used St. Patrick’s Day wrappers. I did something that I hate when people do – when your birthday is near a holiday and people lump it together with that holiday. Birthdays and holidays should be separate. It was more because I didn’t have very many mini cupcake wrappers and I have promised myself I will not buy anymore (from my estimation I have approximately 1200+ cupcake wrappers).

4. According to Martha this recipe makes 56 mini cupcakes. It made 84. Oh, well.

5. Making caramel will always scare me – when you add the cream to the sugar mixture there is bubbling, steam and a lot of heat in your face, you basically have a volcano in a pot. There was also the constant fear that my cats were going to jump on the stove and scald themselves. Fortunately, this didn’t happen and we were just left with salty, sweet goodness. It makes about 2x too much caramel so I would suggest having an ice cream sundae ready to be topped with the extra cut-out cake and the extra sauce. Yum. And then have a cupcake when you are done. Double yums.

Recipe below the cut.

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The Cupcake Shoppe

I first had a cupcake from The Cupcake Shoppe in my second year of university (it seems like the past few posts have been about revisiting old college haunts – cliche, yes) when my friend Amanda took me on an uptown adventure for my 19th birthday. The Cupcake Shoppe is located just north of Eglinton station on Yonge Street. I love this neighbourhood and if I could live anywhere in Toronto, it would probably be here.

In past years, the awning over The Cupcake Shoppe was a vibrant pink screaming a warning of the cuteness and delight that was inside. Unfortunately, the awning is slowly fading and causing the bakery to be easily overlooked from the street. The bakery has recent be renovated (summer of 2011) which causes the awning to look even more dated.

There is always a display of cupcakes stacked on various stands, boxes and plates, reminding you of a table at the Mad Hatter’s tea party. The bakery itself is tiny and has enough standing room for about 4 or 5 people. The cupcakes are displayed on the counter on cupcake stands and the bakery has a total of 18 flavours, of which, 9 are available daily. The website lists and has pictures of all 18 flavours. Of their 18 flavours, I have had 12 and I think I should go for it, and try the last 5. They have clever names like Yonge & Eligible and Crumby and the cuteness is just overwhelming.

However, unlike some other bakeries, the names still tell you about the flavour – Sleepless in Toronto clearly is a mocha cupcake. But hey, you are about to eat a cupcake, so deal. You can see bakers icing your cupcakes fresh and the whole place smells like vanilla. It is both salivating and comforting. And another great thing about this place – nut free! Safe for school and friends like me.

My favourite flavour here is the Yonge ‘N Eligible – it is your traditional vanilla on vanilla but the buttercream is creamy and the cake isn’t dense like a brownie, it is light and fluffy like cake is supposed to be. The icing is perfectly piped and there is just a sprinkling of about 8 expertly placed sprinkles. Another one of my favourites is the Pretty ‘N Pink – chocolate cake with raspberry buttercream. The icing is just lightly flavoured but enough so that you know it is real raspberry.

When I went last week, I grabbed two cupcakes…

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Big Smoke Burger

Big Smoke Burger or the former, Craft Burger, is a gourmet burger joint that started with a location on King Street and now has four locations, including one in the new Urban Eatery in the Eaton’s Centre. The name switched from Craft Burger to Big Smoke Burger due to some American burger chain that was/is coming to Canada. New name, but same burgers.

I first came across Big Smoke Burger when it was called Craft Burger back in my fourth year of university because my friend Al worked there. I went and loved it but for some reason I didn’t go back. This probably had much to do with the fact that I was a university student and slightly poor. My sister Theresa was the one who reminded me of the existence of Big Smoke Burger as her job is down street from it and luckily my new job is too!

After my first full week at the new job, GC took me out for celebratory burgers.

The menu is straightforward and simple – fresh burgers with premium ingredients. You can customize any pre-existing burger, create your own burger from scratch using as many toppings as you want or just try a classic Big Smoke Burger.

The interior combines modern pieces – retro, plastic chairs, and subway tiles – with natural textures through wood panelling, and a sleek, marble counter top. The restaurant also features works by local artists on a rotating monthly basis. The restaurant is cozy and can get very packed with take out orders as there isn’t really a designated space for waiting. When GC and I sat down, I sat on the bench seating and he sat in the plastic, modern chair. But something was odd. His seat was much lower than mine was. The couple beside us remarked on how it would be awkward to bring a first date here as it would create some sort of power-dynamic struggle between the two people. So keep that in mind if you plan on bringing a date here and you aren’t sure of the dynamic between the two of you.

You order your burger, you pay, they give you a number and you go and sit down. Perfect. More restaurants need to do this. I ordered the Blue Burger and GC ordered the Classic Cheese Burger.

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