Sunday, April 28, 2013

We stopped at P-Za-Pie Neapolitan Pizza on the way home from #FBC2013

P-Za-Pie on the corner of Richmond and Piccadilly.
Okay I know what all you locals are thinking. Where the heck is that? Piccadilly and Richmond, I don't recognize that corner. Well good eye. This isn't a shot from Windsor. P-Za-Pie is located in London Ontario and it's my favourite pizza outside of Windsor. While this blog has a focus on Windsor, now and then I'm going to talk about the fuzzy stuff in the back of the picture.

My wife and I love London. I don't know exactly what it is. Perhaps because it's got a bit of that big town feel without it being too much, like say: Toronto. Perhaps it's the fact that it still feels like home and close to home but isn't actually home. I do know a lot of it has to do with great experiences we've had pretty much every time we go. As I mentioned when I was talking about our Birthday Weekend in Windsor, we usually spend my Wife's birthday up in London but we broke that tradition this year, and I think that was one of the main driving forces for wanting to stop in on the way home from the Food Bloggers of Canada Conference.

P-Za-Pie Kitchen
A shot of the kitchen
 right out there in the open
We first found P-Za-Pie last year and though we were only in London two days we ate there twice. We thought it was that good. This pizzeria just feels right. It somehow looks like a pizza place. No, not the pizza places of the 70s and 80s with the red checkered table cloth and picture of a vineyard on the wall. A modern pizza place. With the wood fired stone oven right out there in the open. With the cooks assembling the pizzas right in front of you. Lots of space, lots of tables, lots of seating and the ability to move all those around to fit either a couple or a group of 12 people at one table.

The menu, I would call gourmet casual. It's mixed with things like Wood Oven Buffalo Chicken Wings and a Roasted Pear & Goat Cheese Salad. Beside the Italian Sausage Pizza is a Fingerling Potato White Sauce Pizza. Actually the white sauce thing is one of the things we love at P-Za-Pie. I first tried pizza with white sauce at Festival Epicure (I so miss that fest), and loved it. Not many places offer it though. P-Za-Pie actually offers just as many white sauce pizza as red sauce pizzas. The set pizzas are a mix of traditional and gourmet toppings. They also have their own house beer which I personally think is rather cool. It's a light beer, but very easy to drink and goes well with the Pizza.

Pzapie Carne Pizza
My Carne Pizza

No matter what else is on the menu we came for the pizza. They come in two sizes 8" and 12" and range in price from $8.50 to $9.50 for the small ones and $15 to $17 for the larges. An 8" is more than enough for even me so we each got one of those. I got a Carne which is a red sauce pizza with double smoked bacon, pepperoni, Italian sausage, mushroom, tomato sauce and mozzarella. I personally had them skip the mushrooms, as they aren't something I enjoy,  which they were perfectly willing to do. My wife tried the Tuscan which had pancetta, grilled wild mushrooms, roasted red peppers, spinach, feta and a basil infused olive oil.  They were both fantastic. Sure mine is a little dark around the edges, but so what, that's what you expect from a true wood fired pizza.

PZaPie Tuscan Pizza
My Wife's Tuscan Pizza
So yes, I generally will be talking about Windsor here, but just in case you find yourself out of town and happen to be stopping in or passing by London Ontario and have a Pizza craving. I can't suggest a better place to try out than P-Za-Pie. Great pizza at a reasonable price in a very welcoming atmosphere that's great for a couple or a large group. Hey they even have their own beer. I can't think of anything else I would want from a Pizza place.

So now you know my favourite out of town Pizza place. Do you have a favourite out of town spot that you try to hit every trip?

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Sushi California - a guest post on Eyes on Windsor

I'm very pleased to announce that my first ever guest food blog post is now live on Eyes on Windsor. Eyes On Windsor is a local website hoping to become a complete guide to restaurants, entertainment, attractions, bars and night clubs, wineries, fun stuff to do, accommodations, and more in Windsor Ontario and Essex County. You should go check it out:

Very shortly after I launched Big Dude Likes Food I was contacted by +Eric Bonnici, the mastermind behind Eyes on Windsor. I seriously only had one post up and it was a rant about a bad experience at the Crave Grill. Talk about being on the pulse of the city, I have no idea exactly how Eric found me that quickly but he must have liked what he saw. He contacted me right away and almost immediately asked me to write something for him on Eyes on Windsor.

How could I refuse? Here I am with my first ever food blog post getting the attention of one of Windsor's hippest online news sources. I know my wife has been telling me I should be doing this whole blog/writing thing for a while now, but well, she's my wife. She's supposed to be supportive, I'm pretty sure it's part of the deal. So it was awesome getting some outside justification for this journey I was about to take. I truly have to thank Eric for his early praise as it's one of the main things that made me keep up this blog.

So the guest post itself. It took me a bit to settle on something to send to Eric and Eyes on Windsor. My initial plan was to do a write up on Marathon Ethiopian Restaurant downtown. My wife and I even went there twice specifically with me planning on taking pictures and blogging about it. Both times though something went foul. The pictures didn't turn out. I totally forgot to grab a menu. I forgot to get a picture of the place from the outside. For whatever reason it just wasn't meant to be. Now Eric was in no hurry, but I felt bad that I kept putting off giving him a post.

Then yesterday I completed a write up of The Sushi California. When I started it I had no idea it was going to be the post for Eric. I was just writing up my final follow up post to the Birthday Vacation in Windsor post. When I was done writing it though I read it over. I had a very solid post on my hands (well at least I thought so). It told a story. It was human. It showed off a night of both joy and frustration. It mentioned a slew of great local resistant and it tied back to not one but two of my previous blog posts. So it seemed perfect for a guest post.

Okay this was meant to be a short intro to my guest post. I guess it turned into a bit more than that. Once you get me typing I find it hard to stop. I'm good though, it's out of my system. So here you have it: A happy mistake that led us to The Sushi California, my first every guest post over at an amazing local online resource: Eyes on Windsor.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Twisted Apron, amazing even by Walkerville standards

One of the coolest areas of Windsor is a neighborhood called Walkerville. Walkerville was founded in 1890 by Hiram Walker, yes the booze guy, Hiram Walker. The distillery is still going strong producing Canadian Club and other popular Canadian brands. Walker built the town as a model town and a lot of that old school look and feel is still there. A lot of the original buildings still stand and the newer shops and houses were built with that old town look. Walkerville along with Sandwhich and Ford City all became part of the larger City of Windsor in 1935.

The Twisted Apron main entrance
Walkerville is now a one of many "historic neigbourhoods" of Windsor and features a unified neighborhood look and feel, higher end boutique shopping, good food and great drink. In this area you will find Windsor's only brewery; Walkerville Brewery, one of the cities only euro style pubs; O'magios Kildare House, one of the finest pizza places in the city; Vito's Pizzeria, a great Tapas restaurant; The Gourmet Emporium, the headquarters for the Arts Council of Windsor; The Artcite Gallery and a lot more. All of these places are amazing, but there's one we keep going back to again and again and that's The Twisted Apron. Heck, during my wife's birthday vacation in Windsor we ate there twice.

The Twisted Apron is a fairly small place located right in the heart of Walkerville at 1833 Wyandotte East. It looks a bit tiny on the outside until you realize that they actually take up two store fronts. It's also a lot deeper than it looks from the outside. Though it's larger than it looks, don't expect them to have room for you even though they have all this space. Reservations are recommended and without them you can expect a bit of a wait.

Breakfast Poutine
One of the things that keeps drawing us aback is the fact that everything is prepared fresh with a home cooked style. Their motto is It's like eating at Mom's...if Mom were a kickin' gourmet chef. The food is never frozen, always prepared with local ingredients and using home made recipes. What this ends up giving the diner is a great homey welcoming feel while being served some of the best food they've ever had. There's none of the pretentiousness you sometimes come to expect from places that serve food so good.

Breakfast Flatbread

Menus at The Twisted Apron are seasonal and there is always a Breakfast/Lunch menu and a Dinner Menu. There's also a Carry out Menu for those in a hurry or not willing to wait in line for a table. Personally we've only actually been for breakfast and lunch so that's the food I will be talking about here. Menu items range from $9-$15, though if you aren't that hungry you can grab just a house salad for $6 or a cup of soup for just $3. It's worth noting that the dinner menu also has a large selection of drinks including Wines, Spirits and an amazing Canadian Craft Beer Selection. Dinners range from $10-$21 and still feature home cooked favourites.

Fried Perch
If you are there for breakfast I can't recommend the Breakfast Poutine enough. It's $10 and comes with hashbrowns, bacon, cheddar, chicken gravy and scrambled eggs, all tossed together poutine style. It also comes with your choice of toast and a side of fresh preserves. I absolutely love this meal. It's the main thing that has me personally coming back time and time again. My wife usually mixes it up a bit more than me trying something new each time. Our last trip she tried the Breakfast Flastbread. This was also $10 and had naan bread, bacon, cheddar, scrambled egg, spinach, sweet onion relish and hasbrowns. She loved it.

Pulled Pork Sandwich
Now I noted that during that weekend in Windsor we ate at The Apron twice. Well one of those times was for lunch and it was our first time going there later in the day. We weren't disappointed by the food at all. For lunch I had a great Pulled Pork Sandwich for $10. This had local pork, cheddar, crispy onion and coleslaw all on a pretzel bun. My wife tried the Fried Perch for $12 which was planko-crusted Lake Erie perch, fries coleslaw and fresh made tartar. Neither of us walked away hungry or disappointed.

Actually that's worth noting, I have to admit every time we go the portions look too small to my eyes. I always sit there and think that I'm going to end up wanting desert or leave hungry. I think I'm just soured by so many big chain places overloading you with sub-par food. The food is just okay and you end up justifying it by the huge amount of food you get for the price. The portion size here at the Twisted Apron is pretty much perfect. I've never left hungry.

I love the Walkerville area. It's one of my favourite parts of town to visit, either for an afternoon of shopping, a pint of beer after work or a meal on the weekend. Breakfast at the Twisted Apron has become one of our families weekend delights and I don't expect that to change any time soon. Sometime though, I've got to make it there for dinner.

So when you are in the Windsor area or if you live here, do you head out to the Walkerville area? If so, what's your favourite part of one of the oldest areas of town?

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Nordic Ware Dutch Oven Duel for #FBC2013

So tonight I cooked dinner. This is a rare thing. My cooking skills are pretty much limited to breakfast, where I have my own special recipe for scrambled eggs everyone seems to love. I literally caught a kitchen on fire boiling water to make Kraft dinner at our first apartment. I usually stay out of the kitchen.

Well I'm going to the Food Bloggers of Canada Conference starting tomorrow afternoon. As a guest one of the promo items I received was a Nordic Ware dutch oven. There's a contest deal where you show off what you did with it. Much to my wife's surprise I thought it would be cool to enter. I get to try out the new 'toy', she gets a night off cooking, it's win win.

My wife is also going to the conference and she runs a mommy blog called Maple Leaf Mommy. She came up with the idea to make this a bit of a contest. So last night she cooked this really amazing Lemon Chicken with Curds thing. You can read all about her entry here:

The Nordic Ware Dutch Oven
Who knew this was a cooking tool?
First off I had no idea a Dutch Oven was a cooking tool. Come on, I know I'm not the only one. So first I had to ask my wife what exactly it was we received here and do a bit of research online. After figuring out it's kind of like a Crock-Pot that you can put on the stove and move right into the oven and back (or do some really cool stuff using coals outdoors) I started to look for recipes online.

Eventually I found this Goulash Recipe on the Food Network website.  It sounded quick and easy, plus it will let me face that fear of making Macaroni (I wasn't joking about the fire).

Reading through the recipe I already decided to make some changes. The first and main one was to get rid of the House Seasoning. Pepper doesn't sit so well with me and I really dig a mix of oregano and Parmesan with a touch of thyme and garlic salt as a spice mix (there's a bit more to it then that but I'm not giving away my scrambled egg secret), so I planned on using that. The other main complaint I had just reading this was the total lack of cheese. That's not something I can live with so I knew I would be adding cheese at some point. Well more cheese than the Parmesan I was already planning to add. Have I mentioned I like cheese?

Here's what I finally went with:

2 packs of lean ground beef
2 large onions
3 big cloves of garlic
3 cups of water
2 cans of tomato sauce
2 cans of diced tomatoes
1 Tablespoon of Garlic Salt
A few dashes of Oregano
Enough dashes of Parmesan cheese to cover everything before stirring.
2 tablespoons Italian seasoning
3 Bay Leaves
3 Tablespoons Soy Sauce
1 Tablespoon Seasoned Salt
2 cups of Macaroni
About half a big bag of Kraft Tex-Mex cheese

With it I served some pre-made Dempster's garlic bread (with cheese to be added on top).

How I cooked it:

Beef browned and veggies cut.

Browned the beef, breaking it up as I went and draining fat along the way. Remember to next time buy leaner beef. Added the veggies (onion and garlic) and cooked them until they were soft. I dunno maybe 8 minutes or so for that. Added the water, tomatoes, and all the seasonings (everything but the Mac). Figured out I didn't have a big enough dutch oven. Panicked  Skipped one of the cans of tomato sauce. Put a lid on it and and really hoped it would simmer down a little, while updating the blog about my panic. Fully realizing that by having the lid on that probably wouldn't happen.

The solution to the emergency.

Okay, new plan: let it cook for about 20 minutes. Then take half of it out and put it in a bowl, all nice and cooked (still minus the macaroni). Split the second can of tomato sauce between the bowl and the oven. Add only half the macaroni or so to the dutch oven and continue to follow the recipe from there. Then a couple days later we can toss all of the stuff in the second bowl, already prepped, back into the oven and toss in a cup of Mac and we should be good. At least I hope so. I haven't lit anything on fire so far so I think things are actually going pretty well.

Almost finished just needs cheese.

So I proceeded according to plan B. I took out a little under half of the goulash mix and added just over a cup of Macaroni. Realized that I'm not sure exactly what we will do with the other half since we are heading up to the Conference tomorrow. Right now it looks and smells like it would be a great stew, so probably going to go that way later. For now it went into the freezer. As of then I had half an hour, some of which I'm used to update this here. Oh and I remembered to get some more pictures. Actually I've been good about that, I was worried I would forget about the picture thing.

Well the next step was easy enough. I turned off the heat and let it sit. I've got to say at this point the house sure smelled awesome. About half an hour later I cut up the Demptster's bread and tossed some of the cheese on it. At the same time I tossed a ton of cheese on top of the Goulash. I put both in the oven at 400 degrees for 8 minutes.

So how did it turn out?

The finished meal before serving.
Rather good I do have to say. The Macaroni was a little softer than I would have liked, but that could have easily been caused by not splitting the liquid well during that emergency in the middle. The meat tasted fantastic. It had absorbed all the other flavours. I was slightly tempted to just drain it all and use that ground beef as a base for a Spaghetti Sauce (something I may actually try sometime in the future). I think baking the cheese on top at the end really finished it off. My wife liked it enough that she went back for seconds. Not something she does often. The kids seemed to dig it, though they both said they preferred Kraft Dinner.

My plate, well my first plate.

Overall I'm really happy with how things turned out. The Nordic Ware Dutch Oven worked great, even if I did underestimate how much I could fit in there. I loved being able to take the finished goulash, toss some cheese on it and transfer it right to the oven for a quick broil. If I ever made this recipe again I would cut all of the ingredients in half. As it stands I think we have enough left for at least four more delicious meals.