Monthly Archives: November 2012

Tropical Joe’s

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Tropical Joe’s  is not a sit-down restaurant, it is a mall cafeteria outlet, and it’s not an Eaton Centre mall, or even from a downtown joint, it’s from Gerrard Square, alongside KFC, El Greeko, [don’t get me started on the Spanish accent], Subway, and some others, but why does it stand out?  Surely this isn’t a “Sliders”  episode where in this universe I look for the most forgettable dives ever, could it?

Well I can assure you it’s not, as Tropical Joe’s has more to offer than bolted seating and a clichéd name.  The food is restaurant quality, frankly begging the question why isn’t this at the Eaton Centre [maybe it’ll be in the second cafeteria]?  The weird part is that it isn’t just one good thing and lots of bad dishes they have going on, it seems more like the exact opposite [the wolf in the fold are the flavorless vegetables, don’t bother with them].  That’s the summary, here’s the detail.

What most people would order is the Jerk Chicken, which is one of their best options.  For a large meal, order the small jerk chicken on top of rice with a beef patty side, it is enough for lunch and take-out [thinking of the large chicken brings an image of a guy crying out ‘Godzilla!’].  The chicken is tender and delicious thigh meat in a generous amount of wonderful jerk rub.

They’re not messing around when they use this cleaver

Look out for bones though, they tend to get chopped up with the meat.  It may sound an implausible task to actually cut bones, but that’s before you see their giant hacking cleavers, I even found knife slashes on a large bone once and it looked like the animal fought a dinosaur!

Spicy Beef Patty

As for the rice and beef patty, they make great sides too, the rice has some spice and flavour, and the patty is tasty with some very good meat inside.

Stewed Chicken Roti

Now for the rotis.  Rotis are anything wrapped up in a thick flatbread, even though in this case they had to be in round takeout boxes otherwise they’d fall apart.  The stewed chicken with potatoes on the inside is fantastic, as is the curry chicken roti.

Curry Chicken Roti

Both have the usual delectable sauces and fine ingredients, probably adding to a theory that most people in the food world, at all, would agree with, something is good, or it is bad, or it is great, or it is abysmal.   This works for most things for that matter, building designs, scientific theories, books, cars, schools, movies [don’t give me any of that ‘good effects makes good movies’ nonsense Hollywood] and restaurants.  Tropical Joe’s is no exception, and are just as recommendable as many places at the Eaton Centre.

The only other food item I can talk about are the drinks.  At Joe’s, there are more than just Pepsi or another places Coca-Cola, there are Jamaican sodas.  The ones we’ve had are pineapple flavour and champagne coke, and no, that’s not alcohol.  It actually is a lot more like cream soda, I hate it.  As for the pineapple, it is quite good, sweeter than the Mexican version of pineapple coke.

So, all in all, if you want to visit Gerrard Square, go to Tropical Joe’s, it is certainly better than most mall food, it’s also certainly better than most Jamaican restaurants there are too, so give it a shot!

Tropical Joe’s 1000 Gerrard Street East
Tropical Joe's on Urbanspoon

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Indian Cuisine

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I know I haven’t been posting in this category for a while but the amount of information, and repeat information, is extensive and hard to filter, so it took a while but here it is.

As always I shall start with the history of the cuisine, although one thing I noticed is that Indian Cuisine is more affected by the politics that went on for five thousand years, as opposed to Jamaica or America where it just came about all at once, so this should be interesting.

Indian Cuisine started off a lot like Italian food did, with several sub-cultures each with their own practices, beliefs, ways of life and, most importantly for the food preparation, climates and locally available foods.  Historically, and probably now for that matter, a diet consisted of fruit, vegetables, grain products, dairy, honey and\or meat, especially poultry.


Beef would be considerably rarer, as the Bagavad Vita, a Hindu scripture, bans eating beef under the belief cows are sacred.  This is why cows are all over the urban streets of India, they are sacred.  Keep in mind not everyone Indian avoids eating cow meat, Hinduism one of many religions [80% of the Indian population is Hindu, 13% Islam and 2% Christian, and 5% other] , so that’s why you would see beef at an Indian restaurant.

There were several dynasties of India during the Middle Ages until Central Asian people invaded and which lead to the Mughal Cuisine, a mix of Indian and Central Asian foods.

Vasco da Gama landing in Calicut, India circa 1498

Other invasions, such as the one by the Portuguese also affected the culture and food, this time introducing potatoes, breadfruit and chile [I don’t think any Indians in that time would have thought how they would be thankful for being given a worldwide favourite spice eh?].  Conquering places, although a brilliant solution to any problem in the old days, wasn’t the only way Indian got some of it’s staple food, trading with the Persians and Israelites worked as well, without the nasty side effect of oppression.  I’ll end the history section with an interesting thought.  While most people might consider food relatively trivial to the real going ons in history, which could be valid really, the European/Indian spice trade was very important indeed.  It lead to the Age of Discovery, when the Europeans explored [sorry that’s old English, modern translation: sticking flags in] Africa and the Oceans.

Today Indian food can be found around the world, from North America, to Britain, to the Caribbean, to the Middle East, so clearly it was successful.  It can get particular too.  While most of the time vegetable oil is used, lots of other s are used as well.  Northern and Western India favour peanut oil, while the East has mustard oil, coconut oil for the west coast, and gingelly [sesame] oil for the south.

Ghee is unique to India cooking and can sometimes be found in Grocery stores (in jars and unrefrigerated)

All of these are popular because they have their own flavours.  The variety is justifiable, considering how oil is used basically for nine out of ten dishes in one way or another, some change would be a relief.

Seafood is the same way, I find.  It is pivotal to the Andaman and Nicobar islands, were the indigenous Andamanese people had little contact with the outside world and relied heavily on fish.  Outside cultures are now settled there so culture is different and the cuisine has more foods it can use.  As I mentioned before, there are lots of regions, and I myself counted 33 of them [from a Wikipedia article so it’s an accurate source] and I’m afraid I can’t record all of them nor do I want to unfairly highlight a few of them, so all I can say is that they are all unique and wonderful.

While I can’t show prejudice to cultures, I think showing some for a few popular ingredients is acceptable, so hopefully I can get enough material to finish this post.  Garlic, for instance, has a very interesting history with India.  It is believed to have great medicinal powers from helping digestion problems to curing infectious diseases.  Its smell is unmistakable [ask Dracula] and is eaten throughout India excluding the Kashmiri Hindus [I got the Led Zeppelin song stuck in your heads didn’t I] and the Jain sect.

When simply used for flavour, it is used as a root with onions and ginger in meat recipes a lot.  For those of you how want to know what Garam Masala is, it blend of spices.  It literally translates as aromatic mix.  The specific mix can change from entire countries to regions to neighborhoods.  Even the grind can change from a coarse grind to fine powder.  As for cinnamon, it is the dried inner bark of the cinnamon tree, which is an evergreen indigenous to Sri Lanka.  It is used in many things including Garam Masala, and can be used in raw stick form or ground up for savoury or sweet dishes.

In Ayruvedic medicine it is used to alleviate headaches, colds, and rheumatic [Arthritis] pains.  Cinnamon bark also makes a type of hot tea to sooth a sore throat.  And lastly, nutmeg and mace.  Mace is from in between the outer husk and inner core and nutmeg is the kernel.  They come from the tree mysterica fragrans [probably Latin].   Nutmeg is used in small ground amounts in desserts, and mace is less sweet and is also used as a ground spice.  I’m not sure about mace [except as a protective spray], but nutmeg also has a purpose, it is believed to help cure bronchitis and rheumatism.

Not a very happy picture of “Tea Time” during the Victorian Era when Britain ruled over India

Indian eating customs are mostly familiar to Western, I found, possibly because of their influence from the British conquerors.  A healthy breakfast is preferred [okay, not too western with our sugary options] paired with coffee or tea.  Depending on region, flatbreads, vegetables, milk, chutneys, pickles, curds, and others are used.  Lunch can be made of rice, whole wheat  rotis, and usually two types of vegetables, as well.  Tea time is popular as is the idea that dinner is the most important meal of the day.

As I said before, there are many types of Indian cuisine, not only in India, but around the world, and that is a clear sign it is good.  So the judging shall begin.

First is taste.  I find that Indian is among the tastiest, so there is no trouble here.   One thing I will say is that desserts often are very sweet, even for me [I think it’s to counteract the spiciness] but I had Julebi once, and it was quite good.  Julebi  is a deep-fried dough coil dipped in syrup.

Secondly is health, which, for a cuisine largely consisting of brown foods, might not look too good, but fortunately the herbs and vegetarianism clears it up somewhat, but not quite enough.

Lastly is diversity, and in this it thrives, mostly because of the amount of ingredients that vary, as well as the different versions around the world.

There are two questions left: is it good enough?  I think it is certainly tasty and diverse enough, but cuisines like Japanese can beat it out in health.  With that answer, there is but one question: Whose cuisine will reign supreme?

The Works

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While most people would see this as an industrial-themed restaurant, it is also an historical one as the gear-work is reminiscent of Victorian Era Toronto.  The owners know this, as the menu references The Blaze of 1849.  Speaking of the owners, the manager himself greeted us along with several other pedestrians to give everyone a coupon for a free Tower O’ Rings.

As if that wasn’t friendly enough, the rest of the staff is also very kind.  On our second visit, we brought someone who avoids eating pork, so we asked a lot of questions about their food preparation, but the waitress was patient and actually cared about answering our questions correctly.

The “Gear-Works” decor

There is a factory-like order to the menu options, since you must first pick your patty [Elk among them] burger topping [they broke it down into categories to sort the giant list] bun option [the usual: White Whole Wheat or Gluten-free] and lastly, side choices.  The menu is surprisingly diverse here, with an equally large amount of sophistication.

Our free Tower O’ Rings

The onion rings as you can see came in a rather generous portion considering it was free, and the sauces were great as well.  While the white one, the Garlic Mayo, was good, the Chipotle Mayo was excellent and a lot better than most.

Dead Ringer

Dead Ringer is made with BBQ beef brisket, smoky BBQ sauce, jack cheese and one onion ring.  We took another picture of its height, but that one was too fuzzy to make the cut.  Suffice to say, squishing it down only was part of the task, it was big.  I’ll start with the Elk as it is probably what most of you were wondering about.  It tasted similar to beef, but a lot more flavourful.  I think it is because Elk is only recently domesticated, and cows have been in farms for thousands of years, so that is bound to change everything from taste to how they moo.  Beef isn’t bad, but it should be mentioned how The Works goes the extra step for more unique options.

Blaze of 1849

Blaze of 1849: made with avocado,salsa loco,  sour cream, and jalapeno peppers.  My mom wimped out and didn’t have the jalapeno peppers, so this burger is probably the Blaze of 1848.5.  One perk is that the burger is relatively healthy so you can pretend it’s good for you.  The fresh ingredients, on a more realistic note, add a great quality that people who do like vegetables for taste [not health] will love.


These coke pitchers, while fun thematically, also are a great amount larger more than a typical glass,  proving they’re not just for show.


With that said, I don’t think these are real light bulbs.  The good news is you can store them in the light sockets.

While you know a place is good when the owner himself checks on his customers [like he did with us on both our visits], The Works still exceeds expectations and is no-doubt one of the modern high quality burger restaurants that evolved from simple drive-through joints, and is in the top of my list.

The Works 888 Danforth Avenue
The Works on Urbanspoon