While we stumbled off the Via from Montreal into Quebec City at 10pm on a Saturday night, no research had been made and therefore we had absolutely no idea where we were or what was around. We became victims to the tourist traps and hawkers of the Grand Allee, where a simple take-out window charges $10 for a Lebanese pita and Vieux-Montreal bistros charge $50 for an entree. Those are single Michelin star prices in California! Annoyed, at the mercy of my apathetic traveling companion, and finally empowered, I paid the $13 wifi charge at my hotel and spent hours, until my brain could take no more, and did some research.
I found The Post Office, Le Bureau de Poste. A restaurant opened in 2013 and situated on Rue St. Joseph Est in the St. Roch neighborhood, currently undergoing gentrification. The joint ran by what seemed to be an
It's not that this joint democratically offers $5 starters, entrees and desserts in a city where it seemed impossible to find any good food for affordable prices. It's that the food is also delicious. I'm a lot less aggressive when I know I'm not trying to be bamboozled. The both of us folded into peer pressure and settled on a Boreal IPA and The Works burger. A juicy burger with maple bacon, cheese, crispy fried onions and other salad fixins' on a cush bun. The fries are heavily seasoned with black pepper and there's finally a place that gets my love of black pepper. I don't have to defend myself or surmount my fries with multiple miniature packets of black pepper while the bar dude looks on like I've just molested him.
Two burgers and two beers, $22. Add a beer to the tab so that the chefs can drink as well for all their hard work? You can do that as well, it's suggested right on your menu.
For me, this was a fucking haven after the night of ceaseless attempts to be lured into Grand Allee
restaurants like a business man wandering the red light district. Not only did The Post Office completely
In laymen's terms, Le Bureau de Poste is open SEVEN days a week from 11am to 3pm. It's comfortable, cozy, affordable, hipster, divey, has good music, solid beer options and good food. Not good food for the price...but, just good food.
Sunday, December 1, 2013
Thursday, November 21, 2013
The first time I traveled abroad I was determined not to consume anything remotely related to what I ate back home and not to spend over $10. There was no point and nothing to learn from not stepping out of your comfort zone and forced to speak a language you recently learned out of a pocket phrasebook on the fourteen-hour flight. The more I traveled, the more home-sickness made an appearance. And the more I craved an “American-style” breakfast, as most of the world calls it.
My traveling companion did some half-assed research online in the hotel and managed to come up with some bright, shiny and well lit tourist traps for breakfast. No go. Not only do I not need the brightness and reality with my morning java, I also don't need to be charged dinner prices for something that costs
pennies to make. And so his suggestion was vetoed, if ever considered, and while he pouted in the corner to contemplate what atrocities he'd just committed, I fingered through my notepad of all the places I researched months ago. Rookies.
This Casse-Croute du Coin, literally translated into "snack corner," is affectionately known as Moe's. A serious hole in the...ground. This basement restaurant sits on the corner of Maisonneuve Ouest and Lambert Closse, tucked into a tree-lined residential block where you're guaranteed to see its vintage red Coca Cola sign peeping through the leaves before the building itself. A few grimy-looking steps down into the double entry way leads you into a dim diner that looks like it was transported from a Midwestern town via the depression era. There are jukeboxes that don't work. Booths that don't fit fat people. On a continuous loop that never ends. Literally, because it's open 24 hours. Turns out there's a heaven for atheists after all.
It has to be open 24 hours, it's stumbling steps away from College of Montreal and McGill University, so you'll hear lots of Southern California Hermosa Beach accents asking for egg white omelettes and coins for the bus. Fortunately, these people who work here appear to take no shit from anyone, so the likelihood of a yolk creeping into your omelette is the nicest thing they should do to you.
Speaking of omelettes, I opted for a bacon (which is really ham-like) and cheese omelette. That automatically entitles you to potatoes, or some other options I tuned out after I heard potatoes, toast and coffee or tea. And it's all for $7.
If you're thinking that's steep for a greasy spoon...good! You can eat at one of those Mother's Day restaurants next to American Eagle and Gap.
As soon as we ordered, the woman manning the line (there was one woman and one young man working the entire place) chucked my papas into the fryer. Irregular cut potatoes, the best cut, that turned out as golden as a sun-baked Hawaiian Tropic model. Soft chunks intermingling with crispy bits. Soft-cooked eggs that swaddled their plastic Kraft cheese and pink bacon babies within, ensuring safety until they're both met by the violence of my eager mouth. And toast, well...toast is toast. It's brown, it's delicious, it has Kraft jam. Did you know Kraft products are big here? And free refills on your coffee.
There's nothing more important than a greasy spoon with slow service, but fast coffee, to grab your bearings and use as an excuse to people watch. This is a type of place where creative types can accomplish much creating and radicals can accomplish much manifesto-ing. No one bothers to ask, "how's the food/how are we doing," or ask if you want something else as a subliminal message that it's time to pick your tuchus up so they can turn the table.
It's one of the most down-to-earth diners I've had the pleasure to clog my arteries in. And you should too.
Moe's Casse-Croute du Coin
2214 Boul. Maisonneuve Ouest
2214 Boul. Maisonneuve Ouest
Top photo courtesy of: PouletCochon
Monday, September 9, 2013
Sunday, September 8, 2013
Frozen Kuhsterd hadn't been on my radar. It was only a few days after I had read about it, that it was coincidentally going to be down the street from my house. But, as a production baker who'd like to secretly open a quality dessert truck, i'll almost always spend my money on (what I'd consider) exorbitant prices for things that literally cost pennies to make.
It was warm outside and Frozen Kuhsterd had one of the longest lines. But, because they're mostly scoop and serve, the line moved quickly. Luckily the long line gave me plenty of time to decide between toppings like cinnamon toast cereal, cornflakes, condensed milk, sprinkles and chocolate syrup that are 0.50. But, one topping that you probably won't see around is their burnt caramel, that is 0.75. On this day, I didn't have to have an independent thought, because they already concocted something that sounded amazing. A Liege Waffle Bites Sundae, you choose the custard.
I was handed a glorious looking clear plastic cup of subtle-sweet and bitter Blue Bottle Coffee Custard, Liege Waffle pieces, Burnt Bacon Caramel and Candied Bac-o-bits. Again, in theory, adding a waffle into anything seems amazing, does it not? Dude, this sundae would have been solid if it didn't have those gnarly waffle pieces. They were basically room temperature Styrofoam that got left at the bottom of our cup. That burnt caramel, not only genius but fucking amazing. And yes, we're still doing this bacon thing folks, but who cares when it's candied bac-o-bits on a sundae. Honestly, this was the one time I wasn't complaining about seeing bacon again. This actually made sense to me. Baskin-Robbins could strongly consider using this as a topping. There in your hand, in regards to flavor and texture, you have a perfectly balanced dessert. Sweet, smoky, slightly bitter, gooey, crunchy, creamy, cakey (except the waffles were hard as nails).
However, I'm not sure it was worth the $7 it cost me. I guess I could convince myself that I'm paying the majority of that for someone's health insurance.
[Greater Bay Area]
Friday, September 6, 2013
Standing in the Berkeley cold with finger-less mittens, watching my breath dance before me, I read the sign that states: $8.50 buys you your choice of 2-pieces of fried chicken and fries, or 2-pieces of fried chicken and beignets. Most people in line were opting for the beignet combo, and so I blindly followed suit like a good soldier on the brigade. The chicken looked incredibly enticing, with its slightly mahogany colored, crispy skin. After greedily rushing to find a chair behind the truck, I found out that the skin was indeed not only crispy, but also incredibly seasoned. Some of the crispy bits of my skin had found its way into the beignet glaze, creating its own rendition of fried chicken and syrup laden batter cake.
The beignets...are not beignets. They're more like Malasadas. Their doughnuts were big. They were the perfect size for fat and fat friendly people who love doughnuts. However, these doughnuts were so damn dense and heavy, I hadn't even gotten through half of it before I gave up. Of all the beignets I've ever eaten, when I've bitten into them, there's almost a pocket of air that separates the dough and the skin. It's as if, the lightness tried to escape feverishly, and if you wouldn't have put it into your mouth at that very moment, it would have succeeded. You greedy bastard. I watched through the window as they piled on this intensely sugary glaze on top of the doughnuts, "Ok, that's enough!" Just watching it made my teeth hurt.
Am I becoming pessimistic towards the food truck phenom? My taste buds sending messages to my curmudgeony heart and brain that, "We're over this." Or, is it that the current generational wave of trucks are not the too-poor-to-open-brick-and-mortar-but-worked-under-Cory-Lee chefs that started the movement that once belonged solely to blue collar workers? Are these new trucks the ones that jumped on the bandwagon for profit and an Attention Deficit Disorder amount of time fame?
This can't be true, because a few of the original trucks still manage to amaze me.
The Architect's Kitchen
Today, I received my first backlash in regards to a piece I wrote. Christopher Caraballo, co-owner of Puerto Rican food truck, Borinquen Soul, laid it on me.
Saturday, August 31, 2013
If you think you've ever met a Puerto Rican, you probably haven't. You'd never have to question it, because where there is a PR...there will be the flag. Even if the car is a rental, there will be a temporary flag on the rear-view mirror. Few West Coast residents understand Puerto Ricans or the culture. They don't understand our insane loyalty to our families, even when members have been stabbed by each other. They can't comprehend our 31-flavors of skin and eye color and hair texture. They don't understand our Spanglish capabilities, our slang words (lunché), our commonwealth status that makes us citizens, but not able to vote for the Presidency. They don't understand the urge in our brain to uncontrollably shout out "guepa" whenever we hear the beginnings of the clave. I doubt we understand it all.
As I climbed the academic ladder passed my great-grandmother, my nana and my mother, there came an expectancy to leave the barrio behind. In order to not offend my acquaintances and friends during their every waking moment, I've had to learn how to communicate my heart out, like the natives. That means controlling the head and eye rolling, the animated hand gestures while telling a story, and cursing out the random stranger that stepped on my fresh new kicks. I FEEL (it's important to start the sentence with "I feel") like in many ways I've completely homogenized myself. I feel bland. The way I always wanted to feel when I was a kid.
While many of my friends escaped the grips of their parents during the summer and headed for the water park, unlimited access pass in hand, I was reluctantly helping my mom and nana pack for our annual Borinquen trip. The trip where I listened to a dialect spoken faster than I recalled coming from my mother, where I sat on the porch and chewed on raw sugar cane while I watched a 300-pound Hector eat aguacate, mango, bananas and anything else in his path. I ate rice and beans. I ate chicken stewed in bell peppers, onion, garlic, achiote and culantro. I had to listen to salsa play while I was forced to clean the kitchen after the family consumed their soda crackers from an emerald green tin and cafe con leche. My summer was dominated by Hector, my titi's masculine hog, guisada in sofrito and Hector Lavoe. I hated all of it.
These days during the summer, I grow incredibly achy for the music, food, dominoes and fast-speak of my Taino descendants. Coincidentally, the Borinquensoul - Boriquen being the indigenous name of Puerto Rico - food truck tweeted during an incredibly achy episode, 30-minutes before descending upon Lake Merritt. It wasn't entirely surprising to me that I could spot the truck from the other side of the lake by the big ass Puerto Rican flag wrap on the truck. It also wasn't surprising that there was salsa and merengue pouring out from speakers while I waited for my food.
$15 for a pastele, arroz con gandules, platanos and a Goya pineapple soda. It's a hefty price, but I know what a pain in the ass pasteles are to make, I didn't mind.
Pasteles, in theory, are Puerto Rico's equivalent to Mexico's tamale. It's the size of a hand pie. And if wrapped in a banana leaf, can be eaten with the hand...if you have skills. However, my family wraps our pasteles in foil. The masa is made out of a combination of guineo, platano, yautia and potato. A little milk and achiote is also added into it. I believe that the milk gives it its suppleness and the achiote gives it a sweet and nutty flavor. There's braised pork or chicken and Spanish olives on the inside with the reduced braising liquid, olives, sofrito and achiote oil. In the end you have this toothsome, sweet, savory, earthy, briny, fatty complexity. Borinquen Soul's pastele had all these idyllic traits. It was wrapped in a banana leaf that imparted a subtle grassy and umami flavor. Unfortunately, the rice was so incredibly dry that the little gandules had turned ashy. However, the real stars of the plate were the Platanos Maduros. Cut into relatively thick and meaty pieces, sweet and earthy and crackling crisp around the edges. I doubt I have had them this good. So damn good I had to return to the truck just to ask them how they were made. My companion asked me why there were packets of ketchup that came with our plate, and I told him in PR, they eat MayoKetchup. I suppose this was supposed to take the place of it.
Today, when acquaintances and friends ask me about what Puerto Rico is going to be like on their honeymoon, I generally respond with the same answer, "Hot. Sticky. Lots of pork to be eaten." I haven't gone back to my mother's motherland in eight-years, since my grandfather died and my familia caught the green-eyed monster and sold off what was supposed to be our legacy. I'm hoping that when I finally do return, as an adult, I'll throw myself backwards into the ocean like Miguel Piñero reportedly did and reconnect with my obvious affection for the isla del encanto.
And while my beloved and national dish of PR, arroz con gandules, was a disappointment at the truck, that won't stop me from representing and passing the word along. It didn't stop me from almost roundhousing a passerby that told his friend, "Yeah, it's a Cuban food truck and it's horrdenous." To which I replied, "It's actually Puerto Rican and it was probably horrendous because you expected Cuban food."That moment gave me back hope that I haven't entirely left my head rolling in the past. It gave me back parts of my summer. It wasn't an entirely Borinquen summer, but at least it still had the soul.
BorinquenSoul Food Truck
[Greater Bay Area]