By Andrew Coppolino
The end of the year prompts reflection and collection: top 10 songs, videos, books, sports bloopers and news stories of the past 365 days. Food and restaurants are right up there too.
As Kitchener grows, so too does its food and restaurant landscape. I’ve visited pretty much all of the city’s dining establishments, from humble to fine dining. My favourites always include Verses for the finest food quality and creativity on a plate as well as service excellence. But so, too, do I enjoy a plate of schnitzel or some perogies from Two Goblets.
And I cannot go for more than a couple weeks without #318: rare beef pho from the King Street Pho Dau Bo or a veal parm “sangawheech” from the ladies at Nostra Cucina on Manitou Drive. As for real BBQ brisket, wings and pulled pork? Well, that is hands-down Lancaster Smokehouse in Kitchener’s Bridgeport neighbourhood.
So without further ado, here is a run-down of my favourite dishes consumed in the year that was; it’s the “Kitchener 12 for 2012” —and in no particular order.
Exclamation! in the Duke Food Block (DFB) prepared a crispy duck special that warranted the punctuation. If you see it on the blackboard, order it. It came with a well-balanced sauce that had fruitiness and five-spice earthiness nicely mingled.
Staying in the DFB, Bread Heads’ wood-fired pizza oven pumps out nearly 900 degrees of roll-over heat to produce a crisp, thin-crust pizza in a matter of seconds. This pizza is the essence of pizza: fresh made, simple, delicious.
It’s an outright copy of a Waterloo indie burger joint, but Jack’s Burgers on Duke Street near Ontario Street makes a fine homemade burger with good, fresh fries and those little bottles of Coke. Just a warning though: it’s closed for the winter.
I eat monthly one of my favourite comfort-food dishes, bibimbap, at Korean BBQ in Hong Kong Plaza on King Street east near Cedar. Served in the rocking hot dolsot bowl, the grains at the bowl’s bottom sear to candy-sweet crispiness.
It was great to see the café at TheMuseum rejuvenated by the folks at Imbibe Food and Drink. There’s an emphasis on local produce and wines, and proprietor Bill MacTavish knows his stuff when it comes to craft beers. I’ve had several good soup and sandwich combos at Imbibe, located near the corner of King and Queen streets.
Belmont Village welcomes to Kitchener JL Bistro, the new iteration of Janet Lynn’s Bistro which was a Waterloo mainstay for years. It’s good to see chef Nelson Zapata and owner Kevin Wong back in action with business partner Nikki Weiler. With several JLB dishes under my belt since the place opened shortly before Christmas, I’d say the risotto and salmon is my 2012 favourite there.
Back in the core, Marisol Restaurante served up a grilled whole anchovy appetizer with a luscious, creamy white-bean purée. Stellar. This is a unique dish from a unique downtown restaurant.
Right around the corner, we thank Peter Martin’s The 41 for their anchor-role in dining in the city centre. Between Martin and chef Darryl Haus, the restaurant serves delicious food including a great burger and an excellent charcuterie board. Haus has an ongoing love affair with Cajun and bayou techniques and ingredients, and that provides him with a unique palette of flavour for your palate.
For rib-eye or a New York cut, I still love the Charcoal Steakhouse and have never been disappointed in their comfortable parlour room. Downstairs at sister restaurant Del Dente, they have a new pasta machine for the base of a very good Bolognese sauce. Recently, they’ve added a lovely curing room for house-made charcuterie, including guanciale.
When I want a sub, I scoff at the chain pabulum on doughy, mushy quasi-bread and prefer Givral Deli’s Saigonese banh mi. A crusty, toasted baguette — a nod to the culinary cross-overs in that part of the world — is stuffed with pork or sardines and fresh sprigs of cilantro, cucumber and carrot and doused with a spicy mayonnaise. It’s an excellent street-food snack for under $3. (Just a note: sadly, Givral is leaving the downtown core and moving to a new location near Kitchener Collegiate.)
At China Fried Rice located in Hong Kong Plaza, I had a very hot, spicy and garlicky stew-like soup that included sliced lotus, glass noodles and wood-ear mushrooms. It was a challenging eat given the strength of it all, but what I really appreciated was some very helpful and courteous service. They also have beef lungs listed on the menu, which is on my list for 2013.
Of course, this is a representative cross-section and doesn’t include everything I ate in 2012. It is unfortunate that I can’t mention some of the other great dishes available in the city, but on that note, I will say, with anticipation and salivation, here’s looking ahead to 2013!
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Andrew Coppolino is a Kitchener-based food writer and broadcaster. Visit him at waterlooregioneats.com.