Monday, January 28, 2013

Why did it take me so long to try Terra Cotta?

This weekend my wife and I had a rare treat. Four hours without the kids to do anything we wanted. After a bit of discussion we decided we wanted a nice meal and then to head to a favorite downtown spot, The Coffee Exchange, for some desert and coffee and a few rounds of Race for the Galaxy. This post isn't about the coffee and card games though, it's about where we ended up for dinner: Terra Cotta Pizza.

Terra Cotta has been around for a long time. As long as I can remember at least. I'm sad to say up until last Saturday night we have never tried it. I know they are known for stone oven pizza but that was about it. I also knew they had a two for one Tuesday deal but we never managed to make it out for it. I've even been told by friends to try it. For whatever reason I always thought of Terra Cotta as high end. A classy, don't bring the kids, wear a collared shirt, cloth napkin, kind of place. I'm my head it was La Guardia with a guy cooking pizza up front. Man was I wrong. 

Check out the awesome glass pitcher.
The first thing you will notice walking up to Terra Cotta will most likely be someone cooking pizza, right there in the front window. Anyone can stand there and watch traditional, dough tossed in the air, pizza making, right there from the street. How cool is that? Going inside I was amazed to see not only how small but also how comfortable the place was. This place is really small. There's the pizza prep area up front, a long bar in the middle, some two seater tables across from that and maybe 8 more tables in the back for larger groups. Okay I guess it's probably a bit bigger than say Sam's Pizza but smaller than it looks from the outside. The place is also very casual. I have no idea where my idea that this was a fancy shmancy place came from, but I was wrong. Not to say the place is a dump or anything like that, it's very casual and homey with no pretensions. They also had high chairs and there was a family in there with kids, so I guess it's a good family place as well. It's nice to be proven wrong sometimes.

Our Crustino
I was pleased to see a good beer menu that included a ton of Sleeman Products including draft. Was was even happier when they noted they had Okanagan Spring on draft and ordered a pitcher for the two of us to split. Check the pictures on this page to see the awesome solid glass pitcher this came in.

Looking at the menu, we found a full page spread about some stuff they call Crostino. This is home made, double toasted croutons topped with Pizza ingredients, baked in the wood fire Pizza oven. At about $8 and with enough food to share we decided we had to try it. We grabbed the Crostino Alla Bolognese which had mozzarella, ham and Swiss. It was very good. A really unique taste with the crunchy croutons, zesty sauce and lots of herbs and spices. I think I would try a different set of toppings next time but I do suggest you try one of these unique offerings.

For main courses my wife and I both ordered Pizzas. The menu has a wide variety of pre-made options that range in price from $8 to $14. Toppings range from the traditional bacon, pepperoni and green peppers to eggplant, turkey and calamari. They also offer white or whole wheat crust, gluten free options and even non-dairy cheese. The menu didn't stop at pizza either; there was a selection of appetizers, salads, Italian wraps and sandwiches, salads and calzones. I went with a make your own pizza, with sausage, pepperoni and my favorite pizza topping: prosciutto. My wife grabbed one of the pre-set pizzas, the Prosciutto e Funghi and ordered it with non-dairy cheese. 

Looks awesome doesn't it?
Okay look at that picture right there. Just look at it. Doesn't that alone make you want to go to Terra Cotta? I know it makes me want to go back. Not only did the food look good, it tasted amazing. By far some of the best wood fire flat crust pizza I have ever had. Why the heck did I just try this place this weekend?  It's been here for years, I could have been eating this like once a month, maybe once a week, maybe twice a week!

The food was great. The atmosphere wasn't at all what I expected but that was a good thing and it meant that this should be a great place to bring the kids. It also seems like the kind of joint my parents would both dig. What this means over all, is that I will be going back to Terra Cotta, probably multiple times and bringing along the entire family. I'm still a bit frustrated that it took us so long to try somewhere so good, but I'm very happy that we finally did and have found a new regular stop for great pizza in Windsor.

Monday, January 21, 2013

I drove 45 minutes just to eat at Jack's Gastropub

Hoping to get in at least one more restaurant during Windsor Eat's Winter Bites we headed out to Kingsville, Ontario Saturday to try Jack's Gastropub. Now Kingsville is about a 45 minute drive out of town from where we are, so I doubt this will become a regular trip.

We got into town a little early (on purpose) and stopped in at the Butcher of Kingsville before driving around a bit to find Jack's. For some reason I thought it was located on Main St. when it was actually on Division. No big deal, Kingsville isn't very big at all and it took less than five minutes to find.

Jack's is located in a converted house. There's a small bit of parking outside and it looked like there was an overflow lot as well, but we didn't need it and I didn't think to confirm. A quick walk around the front of the place gave us a good look at a large obviously popular heated patio. It's mid January and the patio was packed, at just after 5pm. Once inside I couldn't help but point out the very cool little bar room off to the right. If I lived in Kingsville I could totally see sitting here drinking some craft beer and catching up on some reading.

We were asked if we had reservations, which surprised me given the time of day. Note to self and anyone reading this: make reservations, even if you think you are coming too early to need them. Thankfully they did have some room for us upstairs. As noted the place is a converted house. Well they didn't convert much at all. It was still very house like upstairs. We walked through an obvious living room, to the back hall, almost to the kitchen, up the stairs, past two bathrooms and into what I guess was at one time a main bedroom. Much of the original fixtures were still there. There were also lots of hats. No clue on this one, I guess someone digs hats. Cool enough.

Bad iPod pic of the Beer Menu
We got a booth seat, noted they have a high chair up here (hey cool this is a place we can bring the kids), and started looking over the menus. Note I said menus, as in plural. No I don't mean mine and my wife's I mean the food menu and the beer menu. That's right Jack's has a beer menu. I didn't think anywhere south of London had a beer menu. Awesome!

What we then realized is that we didn't have a copy of the special Winter Bites menu that brought us here. This was quickly corrected and we ordered. I went with the Pulled Pork Poutine followed by a Farm Burger, which is an all beef burger topped with bacon, goat cheese, onion tanglers and fried egg on a toasted Kaiser. Instead of a third course Jack's continued with the awesome offering up a Beer Tasting Flight.  That's right, instead of desert, you get four beers to try. For my flight of beer I decided to get Walkerville Blonde, Okanagan Springs, Maudit and Dead Elephant IPA. I will admit that I was slightly disappointed that between the bottle list and the craft beers on draft they didn't have anything I haven't tried before, but that is become more and more common as I reach the 700 beer's reviewed mark.

Flight of beers, a beautiful thing.
The beer came very quickly and it was nice to see a waitress point out which were which. I've been to a few places that serve flights that forget that important step. Our first course showed up before I had finished the first glass.

The Poutine was great, probably the best I've ever had. My pulled pork was fantastic and I tried a bite of my wife's Cheeseburger Poutine and it was good as well (though not as good as mine, score). Seriously this stuff is awesome.

Now here comes the one bad experience this whole trip. While about half way through my poutine our mains showed up. Holy cow, talk about fast. At this point we have probably only been at Jacks for 20 minutes. I can't help compare this to the disaster at Crave, this trip is like the complete opposite. Now I'm not happy the second course came out before finishing the first, but really, if it had to happen to any type of food, is it really that bad to get a burger while still eating your fries? I think most of all I just would have liked a breather and time for things to settle and to drink some more of those beers.

My Farm Burger

So that main course, how was it? Fantastic! Truly fantastic. This may be the best burger I've ever had. I'm still on the fence about it. It's most definitely up there with Motorburger. It might actually be better. I think I'm going to have to go back to Motorburger to check.

The picture over there doesn't do this burger justice. It was big, thick and amazing tasting. I couldn't even finish it, which is a rare thing for me (I'm a big dude for a reason). I also have to add, that bowl of coleslaw was great. Why I need to add that. I don't like coleslaw, well most of the time. I hate bitter, pickled tasting slaw. This was not that this was creamy fantastic slaw.

So yeah, this was good. Really good. Remember up top I said that the 45 minute drive meant this won't be a regular trip. I was wrong, totally wrong. Right now I'm sitting here typing this and trying to figure out how I can get back out to Jack's again this coming weekend, or maybe somehow tonight. Anyone know a good sitter?

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Finally stopped in at The Butcher of Kingsville

Saturday afternoon we had plant to hit up Jack's Gastropub for dinner to try their Winter Bites menu. Since we were heading into Kingsville anyway, we decided to head out a little early in hopes of catching The Butcher of Kingsville before they closed. We made it five minutes before 5pm, just in time.

I've been hearing good things about The Butcher of Kingsville for quite a while now, at least a year maybe more. Actually when I was looking for somewhere new to try for my birthday dinner, two different people suggested I just go to The Butcher and buy a steak and make it at home and that will beat out almost everywhere I could possibly choose to eat. The BofK is a full service butcher shop that focuses on whole animal butcher, local, responsibly raised meats and handmade foods.

The place itself is right on the main drag in Kingsville Onatario and has a very inviting storefront. The front service area is small but doesn't really need to be any bigger than it is. Behind that is a small cafe counter where they serve coffee, deli sandwiches etc. We were already out in the county for dinner so didn't get a chance to try the cafe. Behind this was the butchery itself, surprisingly out in the open. I'm used to going to places like this where the 'work' is behind closed doors. It was a cool touch.

Staff was very attentive, answered every possible question we had, and even went above and beyond by ensuring we knew how to cook each item we bought. In addition to all the fresh cuts at the counter, they also had two coolers of prepared and pre-cut food. If we weren't due to be out for a couple more hours we would have grabbed a frozen meat pie for sure. Prices were extremely reasonable and comparable to other local meat sources. 

For my wife and I, the best discovery we made at The Butcher of Kingsville is to find out that they are the same people who did the beef share that we had taken part of a year or so back. It was called Country Connect and was awesome. You paid a set price and that gave you a portion of a cow, along with other subscribers. At a set point in time (I can't actually remember the frequency) the butcher would deliver you your cuts. What we thought was awesome about this, over and above the extremely fresh cut meat and high quality, was that it was a complete mix of cuts. This introduced us to a bunch of cuts of meats we never would have tried otherwise. The best part of all this? We found out that The BoK still does this, just through the shop! We will definitely be signing up for this for BBQ season this year.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Can't see ever Craving this Grill

This week is Winter Bites week here in Windsor. This is a great annual event where a bunch of local restaurants put out special menus and meal deals in an effort to get you to try new things. This awesome event is put on and organized by the great people at Windsor Eats. Tonight we gathered up the family and decided to try somewhere new that is participating in this great event: The Crave Grill (note you can click on this link but it looks like someone forgot to pay their web hosting). It was an interesting experience.

I was totally thrown off by the location of the Crave Grill, I've driven past the location many many times and totally missed it. It's part of the complex on Ottawa that has Topps of Windsor and the Komedy Korner. After finding the place we parked in back (free after 6pm) and went in. Great looking place with a really nice atmosphere. Fairly formal without being pretentious.

We were seated quickly. The place was far from busy but wasn't empty. We had called ahead to make sure the place was okay for kids and we verified that they had booster seats. Here's where we had our first sign of things to come, though we didn't know it was a sign at the time. After asking for a booster the waitress brought back a highchair. I guess people who don't have kids don't know there's a difference? I'm pretty sure I knew the difference before we had our kids, but whatever. So I correct her and ask again for a booster. They don't have boosters, this is what we have. We note we called and asked, and she said yes we have this (points to the high chair). Okay whatever, fine, I'll sit my 2.9 year old in a chair since she's far too big for the highchair.

We get menus and all that fun stuff. She points out that they have a special menu for Winter Bites. I comment that "this is the reason we are here." We look over the standard menu. Everything looks great. Nice selection of items. A mix of steak house, pasta house and unique Mediterranean items. One thing I always look for is good beer and I was impressed, there wasn't a lot of selection but it included a good mix of beers for eating. One each of lager, porter, stout, black ale, brown ale, oh and the usual crap domestic stuff. Though they need an editor (I ordered Miller Street Coffee Porter). The adults all decide go for the Winter Bites Menu which is a three course meal for $25, we order a kids pasta for the little ones to split. Specifically I ordered Tomato Soup for a first course. Chevaps for a Second Course and Apple Crumble Cheesecake for the Third. Actually looking at the menu now in another window I realize we ordered at least one of everything on the special menu.

Our waitress takes our drink order. More than 5 minutes later she comes back to point out that the juice we ordered for the kids is out of stock. More than 10 minutes later we get our drinks, for whatever reason she doesn't take our order now and wanders away. I have no clue why. We have to point out to the kids, who are getting antsy that it's going to be a while as we haven't even ordered yet. We eventually order. 20 minutes after ordering the waitress returns realizing she forgot to ask which sides we want. One thing that has to be noted here as it matters later. My wife and I ordered all three courses, the app, the main and the desert for our Winter Bites meal, my parents only ordered their app and main.

40 minutes in we still haven't received our first course, the appetizers. Soups, salads and bruschetta, not hard to make. Note there are only about five other tables of people here and four of them already have their meals. I don't get this. Also my wife ordered coffee and has not had a single offer of a refill. At this point we are getting rather frustrated. The kids are thankfully being rather good about all of this.

10 minutes later, 50 minutes in total we get our apps. Waitress can't remember who ordered what and we give up trying to explain and just each take a plate and pass it to whoever it belongs to. The apps were pretty good. I was particularly impressed by the bruschetta as it's not a dish I usually enjoy. I'm not big on tomato or onion and this particular version had goat cheese. Getting near the bottom of her salad, my wife notes that it has no candied nuts. This was one of the main selling points of this salad and they weren't even there. My soup didn't come with crackers which was disappointing to me. At this point I'm not sure if the serve soup without them or if they made yet another mistake.

When the first round of apps came I ordered another beer, when the second round came my dad also ordered a re-fill. I got my beer, my dad did not. Every time we saw the waitress we asked about my dad's beer. We did this 3 times. 20 minutes later she stopped back and cleared some of the app. plates and asked my dad if he wanted another beer. Wait, what?!? 

At this point we are all getting frustrated. The kids are getting antsy. we are getting sick of mistakes, lack of communication, ridiculous delays etc. 65 minutes in, she starts bringing the entres. We ask where my dad's beer is and she says: "Oh sorry we are out of that beer. We even checked the basement" - wow, okay then, you weren't going to tell us? What the heck? We order my dad a different beer. This beer finally shows up, she bangs the bottle (no draft here) on the table hard enough it foams up and pours out the top a bit. She fails to notice.

Crappy iPod pic of my main. I still don't see any pita.
Right in there somewhere the food showed up. It was all delivered to the wrong person again. I realize this is a minor thing but with everything else it's yet another straw.

Things start looking up: the main courses are really good. This is the best Chevaps I've ever had. Veggies are great and well seasoned  A really nice touch is that each veg is treated differently. The carrot is al-dente and mapled. The zucchini is soft and in a red sauce. The potatoes are roasted and lightly herbed and rather good. I tried my wife's rice (the other starch option) and it was nice, loose and flavorful. My main came with their own house cream cheese, this stuff is awesome and goes great with the spicy Chevaps.

I'm near done my meal when my wife points out: "didn't that say it came with Pita" - hey that's right! what's the buttered loaf I have? Pita would have fit much better. Yet another mistake, that I wouldn't mind so much if they were transparent about it. We've been here far too long, we've had a bunch of issues but that main was so good it's almost made up for it. At this point I'm thinking maybe go back, without the kids due to the length of time everything took, but maybe give them another shot. Then we get to the 3rd course: the dessert.

We've now been here an hour and fourty-four minutes. They confirm we want our dessert. We say yes and the waitress goes away. It's at this point that my parents point out they didn't order dessert yet (remember, I mentioned this up above). So we wave the waitress down and point this out. She says, "oh! okay! So you all want dessert?" We agree and my parents try to order. Now remember we are here for Winter Bites, we told her this when we got here. The Winter Bites menu only has two dessert options on it, Creme Brulee or Apple Crumble Cheesecake. My mom tells her they both want the Apple Cheesecake. "Oh I'm so sorry we are all out." Wait what?!? You tell us this now? Your set menu item for the special menu we are here to enjoy is out of stock and you failed to tell us over the last hour and forty five minutes? The waitress offers my mom Pyramid cake (some lady finger thing) she gives up and agrees to this. It comes out, four of them, one for each of us. My wife asks first: "but where is my Creme Brulee?"  "Oh we are out of that too. I don't know why but everyone was having those two items today" No shit! Those are the two items on your special menu!

We've given up at this point. We finish the sub par cake like dessert. They apologize for the lack of dessert. Note: just the dessert issue, what about all the other issues? We pay. We leave. I pretty much vow never to go back. I'm so frustrated by the experience I feel I need to share. So I made this blog.