Franklin BBQ

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If you come to one conclusion from my recap of Hot Doug’s, it’s that Isabel and I don’t mind waiting in line for the promise of great food. And of course, when it comes to Texan cuisine, great food and great BBQ are one in the same.

Coming from Toronto, the notion of proper, southern BBQ is foreign. BBQ around here tends to be hot dogs, steak and burgers (or chicken wings, if Isabel and I invite you over). But of course, anyone with tastebuds and internet access knows that ain’t the case in Texas. So while in Austin, it was natural for us to sink our teeth into the best BBQ we could find. And since the internet is full of people who know more about that sort of thing than I do, it was easy to to get pointed in the right direction. Because if you’re looking for BBQ in Central Texas, all signs point to Franklin.

Of course we knew about the lines. But from what we’d heard, the multi-hour queue is a worthy price of admission for what plenty of experts call, “the finest barbecue in the land.” So we arrived shortly after 9am on an unassuming Thursday morning. Some two hours before the restaurant opens its doors and staked our place in line. Little did we know, it would be close to 4 and a half hours before we’d come face-to-face with the famous pitman.

Here’s where I say the most unbelievable-but-true thing I possibly could: the wait wasn’t that bad. Yes it was long, but we happily used that time to make friends with the fine folks around us who shared the belief that greatness (some might say, “perfection”) is worth waiting for. Maybe we lucked out, but our linemates were all very friendly, offering a place to sit (on their cooler) and drinks (beer from said cooler). And as the line snaked closer and closer to the unassuming shack of a building you couldn’t help but feel that the waiting is part of the appeal. BBQ is slow food, after all.

So what did we eat and how was it? We ordered everything that came out of the smoker (aside from the turkey, which sold out before we got the chance to probably not order it). So this meant brisket, ribs, sausage and a handful of pulled pork given to us gratis. The brisket is probably what gets most people excited, and it was undoubtedly delicious. The Central Texas-style of BBQ means that the rub is simple: salt and pepper. Which means that the end product is really all about the meat. And the smoke. And the skill of the pitman. A common credo around these parts is that great BBQ doesn’t even need a sauce. And this was true for everything we tasted. But that’s not to say that Franklin doesn’t have a dynamite BBQ sauce. Spiked with espresso, it’s much more complicated and delicious than the typically one-note sauces I’m used to.

On the whole, the Franklin experience was worth it. It was the best BBQ I’ve ever had, and would happily stand in line for it again if given the chance.

Blue Star Donuts


When telling people that you’re headed to Portland, the word “donuts” is generally said within a few sentences of their response. Or at least when you talk to the kind of people I do.

“Skip Voodoo Doughnut. It’s for tourists. The real winner is Blue Star.”

Be it through word of mouth or word of mouse, the general consensus is nothing but praise for Blue Star Donuts – the trendy shop (of course it’s trendy, it’s in PDX)  slinging inventive and delicious donuts. So naturally, it was Isabel and I’s first stop when we rolled into the city. And it did not disappoint.

I typically favour a cake-type donut (with a sour cream old fashioned being my absolute favourite) but Blue Star’s brioche-based dough gave even the best donuts I’ve ever had a run for their money. Between the two of us we sampled three delicious varieties, but the undisputed champion was the lemon poppyseed. Paired with Portland’s finest brew and what you’re left with is a breakfast fit for a big ol’ fat king.

Ontario Peach Sorbet


Maybe because its been a cooler summer than last year, but our ice cream maker has been criminally under-utilized this season. But after picking up a couple bushels of fantastic Ontario peaches, we put that worry to bed by trying our hand at a batch of sorbet.

I’ve experimented with a number of different ice cream flavours since getting the machine, but this was my first stab at sorbet. And given the fact that it’s a much more straightforward process, with less elements to screw up, it came together even easier than I thought it would. Obviously with so few ingredients, the strength of the end product is largely contingent upon the quality of the fruit. And since we are in the height of peach season here, that was never in question. I’m sure canned fruit would work, but when you taste how fresh this version is, why would you bother with anything less?



  • 8 large peaches (ripe, skin on)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • squeeze of lemon juice
  • pinch of salt
  • dash of vanilla


1. Slice the fruit and place it in a large bowl.

2. Add the sugar, lemon juice, vanilla and salt. Stir to combine.

3. Using an immersion blender (or food processor) blitz the works until it is smooth.

4. Cover with cling wrap and place in the fridge for a minimum of 2 hours – or better yet, overnight.

5. Once the sorbet batter has chilled, freeze the works in an ice cream maker, following the instructions as if it were ice cream.

6. The sorbet will come out of the machine in a soft serve consistency. It’s tasty to consume now, but would benefit from setting for a couple of hours in the freezer.




Homemade Horchata


In my opinion, part of the fun that comes with traveling to the States is getting to eat real Mexican food. As good an eating city Toronto is, there just aren’t many options when it comes to snacking south of the border. So on our recent trip to Chicago, Janice took Isabel and I to the Lower West Side neighbourhood of Pilsen—which happens to be one of the city’s Mexican communities.

We had a very enjoyable (and filling) meal. But one of the highlights of it was the cold glass of horchata that accompanied it. When we came back to Toronto, I knew that I wanted to have a go at making it myself.  And here’s how I did it:



  • 1/3 cup of long grain white rice
  • 1 cup of skinned almonds
  • 3 cups warm water
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • simple syrup (to taste)
  • dash of vanilla


1. Blitz the rice into as fine a consistency as you can. A spice grinder would do a great job at this, and I found our food processor did ok too.

2. Toast the almonds in a dry pan until they become fragrant and begin to brown.

3. Add the rice and almonds and cinnamon sticks to 3 cups of warm water. Let the works sit overnight.

4.  Once the rice and almonds have softened, process the works until smooth. Strain and add a dash of vanilla and simple syrup to taste. Serve over ice.

Hot Doug’s

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Last weekend Isabel and I drove to Chicago. It was our second visit to the city in as many years, and if I claimed the urgency of our return was prompted by anything other than eating a hot dog, I’d be lying. But of course, a Chicago-style hot dog is much more than a regular dog. And when you are talking about one from Hot Doug’s, that’s another matter all together.

To say that the self-proclaimed, “Sausage Superstore and Encased Meat Emporium” is much more than your average hot dog stand, would be an understatement. In fact, the exotic and inventive menu has landed it on Bon Appetit’s list of the  “50 Best Restaurants in the World.” No small feat for a place whose logo is a cartoon hot dog with glasses, and the most expensive item is a whopping $10.

So yeah, the place is good. But the urgency of our return was prompted by owner Doug Sohn’s shock announcement earlier this spring that the restaurant will go into “permanent vacation” this fall. Which meant if Isabel and I were going to sample some of these famous dogs, this summer would be our last chance.

If driving 850km to eat a hot dog sounds insane, than how would you react if I said that before even setting foot in the small restaurant you have to stand in line for upwards of 2 hours? Well that’s part of the Hot Doug’s experience. I won’t say it was a pleasant part of it, but time flies when you’re aware of the ridiculousness of the situation.

So after waiting over an hour and a half—which is about average, I’m told—we came face to face with Hot Doug himself. Part of the restaurant’s charm stems from the fact that Doug personally takes every single order, and happily makes chitchat with every single person. Isabel and I ordered three dogs. The first was Doug’s version of the classic Chicago-style dog. We got ours charred (instead of boiled). It was as good as any Chi dog we’ve had to date. We considered this our “control” in the taste trip. Which meant we had two more opportunities to sample some of the more adventurous dishes. A no-brainer for us was the foie gras dog—a duck and sauternes sausage, with truffle aioli, foie gras mousse and fleur de sel. It was as rich as it sounds, and probably the tastiest bite of food I had on our trip. Our third order—based on Doug’s recommendation—was his cassoulet dog. It was a Toulouse sausage with herb mustard, great northern beans, duck confit and black sea salt. We found this one to be a touch salty, but delicious nonetheless.

The verdict? Amazing. Worth the ridiculousness we went through to try it. When it closes this fall, Chicago is losing a real gem.

Som Drinking Vinegar


On our trip to New York last year, Isabel and I were lucky enough to enjoy dinner at Andy Ricker’s supremely hyped Pok Pok. The meal was very memorable, but perhaps the biggest revelation came while we were waiting for our table, dining and drinking in the adjacent (and also Ricker-operated) Whiskey Soda Lounge. Pok Pok doesn’t accept reservations, so the business case for WSL is to capture the overflow of wannabe diners while they wait upwards of 2 hours for their table. But a less cynical view is that it offers a slice of aahaan kap klaem—the unique, small plate, drinking food of Thailand. While Ricker seems to hate the ‘A-word’ (authentic), the place really did feel a lot closer to Bangkok than Brooklyn.

The one item that jumped off the menu for me was the fruit flavoured drinking vinegars. Diluted with soda water, tart and sweet, the drink seemed like the perfect summer beverage – even on the cold December night I was introduced to it.

So as a present for our anniversary, Isabel gave me a bottle of the pineapple-flavoured som. After a Sunday of biking and grilling in the park, we cracked open the bottle and had a glass of summer. Poured over ice, and mixed 4:1 (four parts soda water, 1 part vinegar), the result is tart and sweet and awesome. We tossed in some mint from Isabel’s rapidly expanding potted plant collection and added a dash of bourbon, and the result was pretty incredible.

BBQ Season pt. 1 – Pok Pok Chicken Wings


Summer is on everyone’s lips in Toronto right now. And for me, a big part of this exciting new season is the opportunity to barbecue. Not only is most meat* cooked over flame delicious, it also means less cleanup, and with adequate planning (i.e. making marinades in advance) makes weeknight meals a snap.

Over the past few years, Isabel has preached the virtues of BBQ chicken wings – a staple for her growing up. And I’ve got to say, I’m a convert. Not only are grilled chicken wings delicious, they’re essentially bomb-proof. Which means you have to work pretty hard at screwing them up for them not to turn out just right.

I’ve flavoured BBQ wings many ways, but my current favourite is a riff on Andy Ricker’s famous fish sauce wings that Isabel and I had at his Brooklyn restaurant last year.  I say a “riff on” because his are deep fried, and a fair bit more involved, but this simplified grilled version is equally delicious.

A note on technique: When I BBQ wings, I marinate the works for as long as time will allow in a Ziploc bag. When it comes time to grilling, I transfer them to a large bowl, reserving the remaining marinade. Once the wings start to pick up colour, I pull them off and toss them again in the marinade. I repeat this a few times until the meat is cooked. I find this process adds layers of browned flavour that vastly improves the end result. Obviously, a marinade that has touched raw chicken is inedible, so be sure to cook it through, after each swim.

*I say most meat because I’ll take a perfectly seared steak or burger our of a frying pan over charred on a BBQ any day of the week, regardless of season.



  • Chicken wings (1lb – 1.5lbs)
  • Fish sauce (1/4 cup)
  • Sugar (1/4 cup)
  • 4 or 5 garlic cloves, diced


1. In a large bowl, dissolve equal parts sugar and fish sauce.

2. Finely dice garlic cloves, and add to the fishy-sweet marinade.

3. Add the chicken wings and let marinate for as long as time will allow (overnight would be great, but even a half hour is a decent start.

4. Take the wings to the grill. Reserve the leftover marinade. Cook over medium heat. As the skin starts to brown, flip the wings. You’ll do this several times over the course of the process, so don’t worry about being precious. Just be sure to not rip the skin. If they don’t pull away from the grill, they are not ready to be flipped.

5. After both sides are starting to take on colour, remove from the heat and toss with the reserved marinade. Return the wings to the grill. Repeat this process a few times until the wings are cooked. The result is a sticky-sweet-sour wing that punches well above its weight-class at any BBQ.

Bourbon Blondies



There’s been a bottle of Bulleit Bourbon in our freezer for some time now. Aside from the odd old fashioned, I’ve been looking for ways to incorporate it into cooking. I came across this recipe on Serious Eats and decided to adapt it based on the age old premise of emptying the pantry.

The process of making blondies is very straightforward. It’s equal parts brown sugar to flour, a stick of butter, pinch of salt and vanilla. From there, you can add just about anything that you fancy. The bourbon in this recipe is subtle (I’m not sure if Isabel even noticed it). But it did add elemental interest to the works, making  what’s usually a one-note baked good a bit more multi-dimensional.



  • 1 stick of room temperature butter
  • 1 cup of brown sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup bourbon
  • chocolate chips (optional)
  • quick oats (optional)


1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

2. Using a stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar. I decided to apply the Milk Bar cookie technique of  taking the creaming process well beyond what typical recipes call for. This involves adding the egg once the sugar has been incorporated and whipping the works on high for about 8 – 10 minutes. Christina Tosi credits this process for Milk Bar cookies crisp exterior and fudgy, under-cooked interior. And if that doesn’t sound like what a good blondie should taste like, I don’t know what does.

3. The egg-sugar-butter batter should have lightened in colour and doubled in size. At this point add the vanilla, the salt and the bourbon.

4. Pour in the flour and mix until a batter forms. Fold in the optional elements.

5. Grease a baking pan and pour the works into it. Bake for 20 – 25 minutes, checking in at about the 18 minute mark.

Poached egg with Haricot vert


It’s a well-known fact that brunch is catnip for the worst kind of foodies. Sure it’s an unpopular opinion in a city like Toronto, but I really believe it to be true. Part of the reason for this is the type of people the meal (or the culture around it) invites, but equally important is the fact that you can replicate most of the things on the menu at home. With that in mind, I decided to treat Isabel to a little bit of brunch this morning.

I was partially spurred on by an article I read this week on Serious Eats which advertised a “fool-proof” way to poach eggs. It’s worth a read, but the crux of the argument was a Heston Blumenthal technique that involved straining the raw egg – to remove excess, runny whites – prior to the quick poaching. I’m happy to say that the technique worked like a charm, and the result was probably the most perfect poached egg I have ever made.

I served the eggs over some blanched and chilled haricot vert, tossed in a bacon-mustard vinaigrette. Recipe Below:



  • Green beans, washed and trimmed
  • Bacon cut into lardons
  • Rice wine vinegar
  • Dijon mustard


1. Place the beans in boiling water and cook for approximately 4 minutes. Be sure to watch them, because any longer and they will be overcooked and rubbery.

2. Shock the beans in ice-cold water to stop the cooking. Set aside.

3. Fry off the bacon lardons until crisp. Remove from the frying pan and reserve the leftover grease.

4. The flavorful liquid fat from the bacon will act as the oil in the vinaigrette. Mix with the rice wine vinegar using typical dressing best practices. Add a quarter tsp of mustard to help emulsify the works.

5. Toss the chilled beans with the vinaigrette. Top with a perfectly poached egg and crown the works with the crispy bacon.

Yum Cha with Susur Lee

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It’s been about a month since Susur Lee’s newest venture, LUCKEE, opened in the Soho Metropolitan. Isabel and I went on opening night (after the Jay’s home opener) for drinks and bar snacks. The was service scattered, the was food cold, and everything was overpriced. But I’ve been a Susur fanboy for some time now, and knew that he deserved another shot to impress us.

So last weekend we went for Saturday lunch. Which really is the main event for any dim sum place—even if it’s of the so-called Nouvelle Chinoise variety. Unlike our first visit, we were seated in the dining room (it’s a beautiful room) and were given the full menu to order from.

The menu is a mix of dim sum items and larger sharing plates. We decided to sample a bit from both. Of course, when it comes to dim sum, the true way to gauge a restaurant’s quality is to sample the standards. For most that means ha gow and siu mai—but we usually add in a pan-fried turnip cake (Susur’s variation involved taro—which I’m a sucker for).

The “classics” were legit. Well-made and tasty, but mostly elevated in price only. The true revelation in the meal came when we ordered his luxe version of cheong fun. This classic rice noodle roll dish was sent into the stratosphere with the inclusion of a fried dough stick (yau ja gwai), chicken and onions. It really was something special. 

Other dishes approached this high (his Shanghaiese ham dish was delightful, and the wok fried beans were as good as they are anywhere else—which isn’t faint praise, because I love that dish).

The only real miss of the meal was his take on siu long bao. I insisted on ordering it because I always do at dumpling restaurants, but knew full well that it would be hard to impress us.

Most reviews will refer to LUCKEE as elevating dim sum. And truth be told, based on this one experience,  it’s already near the top of the dim sum food chain in Toronto. But the Chinatown bar is pretty low. So does it make the trip to Markham irrelevant? I’m not going to go that far, but it’s nice to know that a yum cha fix can be filled closer to home. Even if we’re charged a premium for it.