Georgio’s Cafe & Pizzeria – Burnaby, BC


Georgio’s Cafe & Pizzeria
5236 Rumble Street
Burnaby, BC
(604) 568-6061

Situated practically across the street from Burnaby South Secondary School means a couple of things for places to eat in the area, of which there are a handful.  The lunch hour can be a mad hectic time for non-students to try and get in for a bite to eat.  As well, the eateries seem to make the wise decision of having special menu items which are priced and portioned accordingly for this hungry younger market.  Thankfully, they aren’t limited to the kids and us adults can indulge in these quick, cheap eats too.  One of these places is called Georgio’s Cafe & Pizzeria.

Despite the rather convoluted smattering of text and listing of offerings in their windows that seem rather mundane, a quick glance at the makeshift sign was what drew me in.  “Filipino style BBQ”?  What’s that I thought.  Sitting inside was a pair of teenage girls apparently killing time on a break between classes perhaps.  A man was behind the counter and I could hear some others in the back kitchen.  As I was scanning the photo-included menu board, I quickly spotted the pork and chicken skewered barbecue items, thus answering my call to action.

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Arcade Restaurant – Memphis, TN


Arcade Restaurant
540 South Main Street
Memphis, TN 38103
(901) 526-5757

Food Network. Tourist destination. Foodies declare a “must visit”. It seems every town has one or two of these. Either featured on “Diner’s, Drive-In’s, and Dive’s”, or some other equally “Middle America” kind of show, it is usually an old institution that is still “doing it the old way”, and everyone loves the nostalgia. In Memphis, you have the Peabody Hotel, and you have Arcade Restaurant.

The claim to fame for Arcade Restaurant is that they are the oldest restaurant in Memphis. Located in downtown Memphis, a neighbourhood currently undergoing some “gentrification”, they even claim Elvis as a former regular customer. Considering some of the stories you hear about downtown, Arcade Restaurant resides in a fairly nice part of downtown.

The interior is all old school – I half expected to see Elvis sitting somewhere eating deep fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches after walking inside. This preserved interior has been the set for many Hollywood films. And they proudly state it. I actually kind of like it. While it doesn’t match my usual preferences for decor, it has character. LOTS of character.

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Handi Cuisine of India – Vancouver, BC


Handi Cuisine of India
4432 Dunbar Street
Vancouver, BC
(604) 738 3186

Dining solo has been a topic that’s come up from time to time in posts as well as in various comments.  Lately, when I’ve had to eat alone, I’ve tended to go the take away route.  Perhaps I’m being influenced by those who cringe at the thought of eating on their own, whereas in the past I had not been so self-conscious…

Handi Cuisine of India situated in the Dunbar neighbourhood (with another location in West Van) is a place I’d driven past many times over the years but had not yet gone inside to order.  It seemingly has a strong local following and reputed solid service, so my expectations were good.  Recently, I was finally able to find out for myself by dialing ahead and placing an order for pickup.

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Rocky’s Burger Bus – Calgary, AB


Rocky’s Burger Bus
1120 46th Ave. SE
Calgary, AB
(403) 243 0405
Monday-Friday, 10am-3pm

Rocky's Burger Bus on Urbanspoon

When people talk about restaurants as institutions, it usually refers to a place that has maintained their longevity, and quality. In Calgary, people usually talk Peter’s, or Caesar’s, or Chicken on the Way.  They certainly have had their longevity, but I question the quality. For me, there are places not as well known that I also consider to be true Calgary institutions – and Rocky’s Burger Bus is one of them.

Rocky’s Burger Bus is literally that – an old transit bus parked in the middle of an industrial area in SE Calgary. Most people have heard of it, but many people I’ve talked to don’t seem to have an idea of where it is. They proudly serve AAA Alberta beef, and their customers proudly eat it. On any given day, +20 or -20, come lunch time, there is a huge lineup. Get there early or late. Lunchtime is a zoo. You’ve been warned.

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The menu is a pretty basic thing, consisting of all your typical greasy spoon items. Burgers. Fries. Onion rings. Poutine. Smokies and hot dogs. Bacon on a bun. Milkshakes. Pop. It’s nothing earth shattering, but you don’t expect that from a place serving greasy spoon out of a bus.

The big thing here is burgers. Hand formed patties made from fresh 100% Alberta beef, cooked on a griddle in their own fat and juices.  They make them by the hundreds, and cook them when they are ordered. If you peek inside the bus, you’ll see dozens of burgers cooking at any one time. The smell of beef is unmistakable.

The burgers themselves are a generous size – i’d guess 1/3 of a lb, precooked weight. Maybe as large as a 1/2 lb. They come in 3 configurations – plain($4.50), with cheese ($5.00), or with cheese and bacon ($5.75). You can also make it a double for slightly less than double the price. Standard condiments are mustard, relish, and onions. They are juicy, and lack the texture of having been mixed with a lot of filler, even though they are all cooked to well done. The buns are standard store bought buns, and aren’t good, but don’t detract from the burger.

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In most cases, i have some issues with well done. I like my burgers medium. Meat that has been freshly ground does not have the contamination issues that store ground has. So not only are burgers cooked to order generally better quality, but they taste better too. Canadians, however, seem to be very bacteria phobic, and prefer them all well done. Or establishments use inferior beef, and can only cook to well done. Regardless, it is typically a sign of a very average burger. But I will concede that these are a decent well done. Not bone dry. Retain some flavour. It’s about as good as i would expect well done could get, without the inclusion of a lot of pork fat 🙂

Any good burger place has some critical accompaniments. For me, the most important is fries. Fresh cut, they are fried to a crispy consistency., yet retain a nice bite with great potato flavour. The interior structure of a well cooked fry is important. It cannot be hollow, and it cannot be like mashed potatoes. These are an excellent representation of fresh cooked fries, though for $3.00, i would like a lot more fries. The order is a bit skimpy.

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Fries, of course, can be improved with an excellent gravy, and this is where Rocky’s Burger Bus shines. Made from what i gather are the beef drippings off the griddle, this is probably the best gravy i’ve had in Calgary thus far. Beefy, rich, fatty, not overly thickened from flour or corn starch, the gravy stands out on its own merits. Definitely a bit oily, it isnt for the faint at heart. But I do prefer the gravy to the malt vinegar and salt, which says a lot.

Of course, thanks to our Quebec cousins to the East, there is another way to improve fries. It’s to add gravy, and cheese curds! Poutine, rated the worst food for you on the planet by some health study a few years ago (right above deep fried mars bars, which are also delectable), is considered a point of Canadian pride, and a staple for all grease lovers. The Rocky Burger Bus rendition of Poutine is excellent. Real cheese curds, complete with a little squeak, and a nice quantity, along with their rich beef gravy, and crispy fresh cut fries makes for an excellent poutine. Not quite on calibre with Montreal, but a fine rendition for the West.

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In your mind, an institution or not, Rocky’s Burger Bus delivers on the vast promise that a greasy spoon in a bus should. Greasy beef, crispy fries, and an otherwise artery clogging menu that tastes so good, a food coma is almost a given. Even though there is no seating, and large lineups, they consistently serve up quality burgers and fries to the masses that visit day in and day out. And I believe  it’s the consistency, the quality, and really, the bus, that make it an institution.

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Smoke’s Poutinerie – Toronto, ON


Smoke’s Poutinerie
218 Adelaide St. W
Toronto, ON
(416) 599-CURD (2873)

Ah poutine… a traditional comfort food right up there with pizza or Mac & Cheese. Now I know what many of you are thinking: a specialty restaurant for a side dish of fries with cheese and gravy on top? Why? Bear with me on this one…

Most people have had poutine at a school cafeteria or local greasy spoon and not really given it a second thought (aside from dealing with the heartburn afterwards). Or perhaps like myself, at some all-night diner after a night of bacchanalian activities — just to round out the bodily abuse. But don’t let the fact that cafeterias and diners across Canada simply put some shredded mozzarella cheese and generic gravy on fries convince you that there’s nothing more to know about poutine.

Having grown up in western Canada, I have to admit that I’m hardly an expert on the finer points of this Québécois-native comfort food. In fact, I don’t think I had even tried it until I was in university. However, having made a number of road trips to Mont Tremblant and Montréal over the years ever since moving to Toronto, I’ve definitely put away some fine plates of poutine. And while I wouldn’t say I’m a full-fledged poutine aficionado, I can definitely differentiate an authentic plate from the standard diner fare.

Unfortunately, outside of the province of Quebec, it seems hard to find restaurants with the same sense of tradition and dedication to the dish. So I was pretty excited to hear about the grand opening of Smoke’s Poutinerie here in Toronto, and their plan to import real cheddar cheese curds from Quebec for their poutine. Not surprisingly of course, their first choice of location was in the heart of the club district.

Smoke's Location

Located directly above Burrito Boyz (another fine comfort food establishment) on Adelaide, it’s a fairly unassuming location. The interior could be mistaken for any fast food chain aside from the chalkboard for the post-club crowd to add their wisdom and insight to (“I love you Stephen Harper” was the word from the street when I went) and Smoke’s distinctive logo/face plastered on the walls in a kind of punk-rock caricature way. It was also not-so-subtly guerrilla-branded around town in preparation for the grand opening.

Smoke's Brand Image

It’s a pretty small place designed for people who want grab a quick bite on the go. Bar stools line the windowed areas, and a few small tables in the remaining space. I’d say the location seats about 40 people max, but I’d imagine that most customers take their poutine to eat on the go.

But let’s get to the heart of the matter — the poutine. Now Smoke’s has a number of interesting takes on the dish: Bacon Poutine, Curry Chicken Poutine, Nacho Grande Poutine. However, I felt that for my first visit, the traditional style would be the best way to judge the quality and authenticity of Smoke’s.

The Poutine

So there it is in all it’s greaseful glory. For $5.95, you get a serving which should be hefty enough to soak up the last couple of drinks you shouldn’t have had, or to satisfy the munchies. I wouldn’t plan on needing anything else to eat afterwards, so it’s definitely good value for those on a budget (and eating healthy is secondary).

The verdict? The cheese curds were perfect — fresh, squeaky when you bite into them, mild flavored (unlike the orange cheddar which is used on many poutines around Toronto) so that they combine well with the gravy. The fries were also superb — made in house fresh daily using Yukon Gold potatoes and double blanched in sunflower oil. The size of the fries was just right for me. Slightly larger than McDonalds’ fries so that they can hold up to the gravy, but not so large that you end up with a bland potato center.

The one downside was the gravy. While it was good, it seemed to be lacking in flavor slightly and tended to disappear in the dish. I’ve discussed this with others and we can’t quite put our finger on what exactly it’s missing. Seasoning? Or perhaps it hadn’t been reduced enough (like it didn’t have enough time to stew)? Regardless, it didn’t seem to measure up to some of the other poutine gravies I’ve had. My wife also said that it had a bit too much cinnamon flavor for her.

Nitpicking aside, I can say that it’s the best poutine I’ve had outside of Quebec. I’m not sure how big a compliment that is given that I really haven’t found many restaurants around Toronto (or otherwise) in which it’s more than a sidenote. However, it certainly fares well even among the ones I’ve had in Quebec.

So if you have a craving for the real deal, want to find out what all the fuss is about, or are just looking for the comfort of three types of grease in one meal, Smoke’s should live up to expectations.

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