Posts Tagged ‘Fat Willy’s Rib Shack’

The Lexicon Of Food Snobbery

Ah, eating.

Aside from the simple act of breathing, there isn’t really any other consumptive requirement that equalizes society more (because we all have to do it or else we die).  So, it seems only logical to me that as a species we should be more than a little preoccupied with the W5H of our food.  If essentially (we’re talking extremely drilled down here) nourishment boils down to a matter of life or death (do I have food enough to eat or will I go hungry?) why wouldn’t you want to concern yourself with it to the nth degree?  If you were to ignore the question of food for long enough, it’s possible that your own survival would be at stake as your body began to starve.  Yet for some odd reason the people who do consider these things aren’t the norm, and instead are labelled foodies; an insipid little word which inspires disdain even amongst those who would fall into such a category.  As such, foodies have become culinary outliers, a fact easily proven by watching the eyes of non-foodies glaze over whenever someone who appreciates food discusses the intricacies of their favourite edible creation in their vicinity.

There’s an inordinate number of people in the world who would consider me to be something of a food snob based primarily on the fact that I am very selective about what foods I will allow into my body.  But I’m not a snob; far from it, actually.  It’s simple, really.  If it doesn’t taste good, it’s not coming in, that’s all there is to it. Why is it that having passion for any subject has become synonymous with snobbery? I’m not as big a hater of the word foodie as most people either (obviously), but I generally try not to frame myself through definitions of character or personality.  I grew up in a house, in a place, in a family that professionally and socially cooked and placed a high value on food and kitchen table camaraderie.  Subsequently, I was nurtured and engaged in food myself, and to this day not only do I love to cook but I relish eating, too (surprisingly, I don’t love to eat nearly as much as I love to cook, though).  To me that’s normal and not something I regard as smacking with even the slightest bit of pretension.  Rather, I think of food and cooking and eating as elemental, because it unites us with our forebears via its commonality.

While I may not eat some foods because I don’t think they taste good (the vast majority of processed foods would be a perfect example) I don’t believe that being discerning is sufficient grounds for being labelled snobbish.  My brand of food fascination is a blend of a quest for authenticity over watered down fare, tempered by occasional bouts of obsessive compulsive behaviour.  Case in point; I can be just as easily satiated by a $4.50 baby cow sandwich from Commisso Bros. as I have been with the $275 a head tasting menu at Eigensinn Farm – it really just depends on the situation.  The cost of food is irrelevant when you consider the rich tableau of atmosphere, companions and occasions that formidable memories are born of.  For instance, in Chicago I desperately wanted to visit Alinea, but it was something that time just wouldn’t allow.  It would have been a meal costing several hundreds of dollars I’m sure, but the cheap and dirty food from Fat Willy’s Rib Shack that formed our last taste before getting back on a plane was just as appreciated as Alinea would have been because it too was prepared with passion.  In that respect I’d say I’m closer to a culinary egalitarian, really.  Put simply, I enjoy good food.  Whether I cook it for myself, or I pay someone else to cook it for me, taste integrity is unanimously the mitigating factor in what I choose to eat.  Though realistically, as much as I’ve come to enjoy restaurant food, 99 times out of 100 I’d much rather cook something for myself because only I understand precisely how I want that something to taste.

In fact, I personally believe that people who choose not to cook are the true snobs, because paying someone else to do something you don’t want to do reeks of superiority.  At some point during the 1950′s, cooking went from being perceived as a nurturing part of a decent home life to being painted as an intolerable chore.  Cue the montage of ads about liberating women from the drudgery of their kitchens by replacing home cooked foods with frozen dinners and ready meals to make my point for me.  Or this quote from a recent article in The Toronto Star For me in recent years, cooking has been a bit like dentistry: I hear there are people who still do it themselves but it just makes me shake my head sadly.” (I know it comes from an article about the Slap Chop, but I find such a sentiment disheartening still). I’m not going to disagree with the fact that cooking and preparing food from scratch is hard work.  You’re reading the website of a girl who cooks her own food, bakes her own bread, cures her own meat, preserves her own jams and churns her own butter, so believe me when I say I do understand.  But look instead at what’s been lost.  Society has become so far removed from the taste of real food that manufacturers can layer on salt and fat and sweet and chemicals just to make their food seem palatable because most people are unfamiliar with how delicious unadulterated food can be.

Paying someone else to prepare your food (either via restaurant or the shelves of the supermarket) is rife with undertones of servitude.  With the obvious exception of celebrity chefs, cooking is still considered one of the humblest professions out there, staffed mostly by uneducated masses.  And before you start to disagree with me, consider for a moment what other profession requires you to work 80 or more hours per week on your feet for such meagre and thankless pay?  Or think on the fact that many of the unsung heroes in a kitchen are immigrants who are just thankful to be gainfully employed, even without the benefit of sick days, vacations, etc.  Cheffing is hard, brutal work that many attempt but few prevail at, and it certainly is not an industry for the weak.  Yet, why don’t we acknowledge their legitimacy when we’re basically putting ourselves into their hands by outsourcing our food to them more and more each day?  Again, it sounds like snobbery to me.  The clincher for me is that more often than not, the people who cook mid to high end food do not make enough money to even patronize the places they work at themselves.  How’s that for irony?

At a time when The Food Network feels it needs to add a whole other channel to accommodate a demand for additional programming, it would seem that what we eat should be a more important topic than ever.  Instead, it’s been shown that more people love to watch food television than actually cook anymore, with the backlash of artisanally-minded people like me still somewhat in its infancy.  But it doesn’t have to be.  Taking food into your own hands is not an indicator of snobbery, it’s an opportunity to exert a modicum of control over what you want to eat instead of letting Big Food (or anyone, really) decide that for you.


The Foodie 13 – Desert Island Fare

I probably spend more time than is normal thinking about what I would do if I ever became stranded on a deserted island.  I can assure you there’d be no montage of Castaway or Blue Lagoon moments, but if there were other people trapped with me, I imagine it would quickly devolve in a similar manner to Lord Of The Flies.

Because of that, I keep a mental list of comestibles I’d want to have with me if that were ever to go down.  The ironic thing about that statement of course, is that if (heaven forbid) it really did happen, there’s no way I’d be prepared enough to have all these good eats with me.  But a (slightly delusional) girl can always dream, can’t she?  With these 13 paradigms of culinary excellence to keep me company, I’d never be wanting for more.

So without further adieu, but in no particular order…

1- Czehoski‘s bacon poutine - There’s nothing better on a grey and blustery day than digging in to a bowl of this salty, creamy, crispy perfection.  If you’ve never tried bacon gravy before, you’re probably asking yourself, what’s the big deal?  Can it really be that different?  Trust me hombres, it can and is.  This poutine is what dreams are made of… decadent, curd-filled dreams.

2- Fat Willy’s ribs - Fat Willy’s is a little hole in the wall barbecue joint in the suburbs of Chicago.  I never expected we’d fine transcendent barbecue in Illinois of all places, but ever since we came home, I’ve had vivid dreams about the smoky tang I experienced there, sometimes to the point that I’m awakened from chewing on my own pillow.  Delish!

3- Terroni‘s mezzo mezzo - This appetizer platter is constantly changing, but always includes some meat, some cheese, some bread and some fruit or veg, plus a small dish of honey for dipping.  My favourite has always been the roasted pear that’s often a mainstay of the dish, and marries well with so many things.


Oh, What I Wouldn’t Give For Real BBQ!

So, let me preface this by saying that I know it’s been way too long since I wrote my last post.  I’m still trying to acclimate myself to the ridiculous commute to my new job.  It’s about a 3 hour round trip every day, and it basically means I leave waaaaaaay too early and get home when it’s late.  And that it’s dark when I’m doing both too.

So, that being said, I have several reviews that have been pending since I took my hiatus between jobs.  I will say that I now feel that my trip to Chicago this summer has ruined BBQ for me forever.  Perhaps if we hadn’t gone to Fat Willy’s while we were there, I wouldn’t think that BBQ in Toronto is so sub par.  Who can say…

Phil’s Original BBQ was a place that the Everyman and I had always wanted to visit.  And then, we saw them do a Restaurant Makeover and my desire to eat there plummeted.  Even though the Restaurant Makeover chef seemed very pleased with the overall quality of the food, I still kind of felt that there was no good reason for a place that makes delicious food to do a show like that.  So for a long time we put our plans on the back burner and kind of forgot about Phil’s.

While I was off between jobs, the Everyman and I had a hankering for some good old fashioned barbecue.  We both realized that the closest we would probably be able to get to the nirvana that was Fat Willy’s was at Phil’s Original BBQ.  Off we went.

To be fair, we visited on a Friday afternoon for lunch, and the place was almost entirely empty.  During our visit there were only 2 other tables occupied, and just before we left a squad car arrived to pick up a take out order.  I must commend the service at Phil’s.  The waiter (who I assumed was a friend or relative of Phil’s wife) was so exceptionally friendly and fun that I still managed to have a wonderful time even though the food wasn’t first rate.

On Restaurant Makeover the one thing they could not stop talking about (aside from the BBQ) were some traditional Venezualan corn pancakes that Phil’s wife made.  I decided that these were worth a taste, and indeed they were.  At first they just seemed like a corn omelette filled with cheese, but the more I sampled, the more I fell in love with their fluffy sweetness.  When I was finished my plate I was sad that there wasn’t more.  I think Cachapas may be my favorite new ethnic delicacy.


I’ve Been Everywhere, Man, I’ve Been Everywhere…

It’s been quite a whirlwind lately.

Last weekend was the Everyman’s birthday – (and being the most awesomest girlfriend on the planet) I decided to take him to Chicago for Lollapalooza – to see his most favorite band (that he’s never seen before) – Rage Against The Machine.

Only, a trip that was supposed to be about enjoying some really good music strangely turned into a trip about enjoying as much completely satisfying food as possible.  Of the 120+ bands that were playing at Lollapalooza that weekend, we managed to catch two.  Yes, twoRadiohead on Friday night and Rage Against The Machine on Saturday.  It’s funny how that happens sometimes, isn’t it?  I guess I know how to Bogart things without even noticing it…

Anyhow, in some ways it was the impossible trip.  Our flight to Chicago was delayed by 3 hours, and by the time the plane came in we were told that it wouldn’t be going anywhere, because the crew couldn’t fly anymore due to flight regulations regarding their shifts.  These 2 crazy girls who were on our flight started freaking out about how they had a concert to get to and generally annoying the desk clerks.  Of course, we were also going to this concert, but we weren’t about to throw a hissy fit about it.  It all ended up working itself out in the end – the flight crew got back on board and flew us to Chicago double-quick, and we got free booze on the plane for our troubles.  Of course, by the time we got to Chicago it was almost midnight, but this was nothing compared to our trip home (more on that later).

Our first true meal in Chicago ended up being honey barbecue wings from room service at the Holiday Inn Chicago Mart, and they were surprisingly tasty.  Honestly, at the time I thought my opinion might’ve been tainted by exhaustion and general frustration at that point, but we ended up ordering them again later on in the trip, and they were indeed delicious.  One order of wings is about 15 huge wings, which are both breaded and fried, and then doused in a tingly barbecue sauce.  They were unlike any wing I’d ever tried before.  The Everyman and I devoured the plate between us and then tucked in for some much needed shuteye.  We had a whole trip full of eating to get ready for, after all.

Like any good foodie, I’d researched the best places to eat in Chicago before our arrival, focusing mainly on downscale and delicious fare.  So when we woke up famished on Friday morning I knew exactly where to go.  Although, in hindsight, I might not have known exactly how to get there.  Overall during our stay I’d say I didn’t get us lost, but that I do have quite a knack of getting us to exactly where we needed to be based on hunches.  And when all else failed, we just grabbed a cab :)

Friday morning we headed to a diner called Lou Mitchell’s.  This place was a blast from the past.  When you walk in they offer you homemade donut holes and tiny boxes of Milk Duds to whet your appetite.  It was exceptionally busy, even though we arrived at 10:30 on a Friday, so I took that as a good sign that I’d made a solid choice.  I needn’t have worried.  I had a divine caramelized pecan belgian waffle, and the best chocolate malted I’ve had in years, with a side of smoky bacon.  The Everyman literally inhaled a stack of banana pancakes and a side of bacon (plus half of mine).  The one thing I began to notice about Chicago is that they love their large portions.  I was unable to finish more than half of my waffle or my malted, so when our waitress offered us complimentary homemade ice cream, I had to beg forgiveness.  She actually looked sort of insulted that I couldn’t finish my meal.  After the stuffening we hopped in a cab to our first tourist-y destination, the Shedd Aquarium.