The Big Slice of Life.
3 May 12
Years ago life was simpler. We’ve all heard that – probably say that – and shit, even thinking that ages one immediately in front of company even a few years younger than yourself. It is true though – in some sense – there were less rules, more personal responsibility, and in that, more leeway in what we could do and get away with. Kids could still go to playgrounds or adventures in the woods without a parents supervision……dressing up as a devil on Halloween was considered an appropriate costume, and there was no such thing as a peanut free zone. Today of course, none of these three examples are appropriate or allowed. It is too bad really.
My early youth was accelerated by an amount of independence given to me by my parents, with trust of course (although I didn’t always follow that, kids will be kids), and appropriately for the times, I lived a great childhood exploring, doing, living and learning. Growing up, I was a big sports fan and I was allowed to attend Toronto Maple Leaf games at the Gardens – me and my buddy on our own – as early as age eleven. Living outside of the city a random “Leaf game school night” would look something like this. Mom drops us off at the GoTrain station in Oakville. We ride into Toronto to Union, and transfer to the subway. From the subway, walk to the Gardens and watch the game from up in the grey section (and get this, tickets were $8 at the time), and do this in reverse following the contest. Alternatively, my friends mom would pick us up around 11pm in Oakville and drop me off at home for bed and an early rise the following day for grade six. Grade SIX! Yes folks, during those days, you could leave a somewhat responsible child on their own to do their own thing, and not have your neighbours call family and children services for neglect. Having this new found freedom, my friend and I would snatch up every available Leaf ticket and exercise our independent option from those early days well into our teens. I remember heading to the ticketmaster outlet at Sunrise records on opening day for ticket sales and laying down $300 for upwards of 20 games we would attend. And this would be at age 12. On a side note. When the boys in blue played their last game in the storied building back in 1999 I remember people saying they had never been to the gardens to watch a game. Or maybe once for a game, once for a concert and once for a wrestling event featuring Hogan vs Andre the Giant or something along those lines. At the time I went through my meticulously kept ticket stubs – in a photo album – and counted the games I had attended during those years. A proud me had walked through the hallowed halls of my/this hockey shrine, at least 122 times. Thank you mom and dad and the late 80’s.
To continue, one of the places we would frequent in the city was a pizza joint called THE BIG SLICE. Located on Yonge St just south of College this appropriately named pizza parlour was just what a young and hungry kid needed. In no particular order: Pizza, Cheap, Big. My friend and I would go there night in night out for our fill right before puck drop and I would always order the peperoni and mushroom – cost with a coke at the time $3.50. Standing at the counter in awe of the massive slices of pie, the smells, the excitement of the city and game night, was magic to us. This was growing up at its finest…..free to do as we wished and away from moms and dads who (as with most other kids our age) were telling their children to do their homework and go to bed. How cool were we?
Fast forward 25 yrs later and I’m still eating THE BIG SLICE. It has become a Toronto staple for me. When Im in town and I need a quick bite to eat, nothing tempts me more than going for a quick slice of premium pizza (note: this is not gourmet pizza or gluten free pizza or organic pizza or any other lovey dovey term of the day), simply pizza. And it is good. It was good then and it has been good ever since, including yesterday. The pizza is still spun by hand in the front window, toppings generously added by feel – not by scale and weight. The counters, tables, chairs, and paintings on the walls – all remain the same. Dance music of the day played over the decrepit radio shack speakers – wires still unattached to the walls – a five minute job that could have been done decades ago. Until recently Ive not taken notice of how long Ive been eating at The Big Slice and how long things there have just remained the way they were. Continually I still order peperoni/mushroom and a can of coke. The cost today is five bucks tax incl. Pizza, Big, Cheap. I was thinking to myself that maybe it’s the nostalgia, maybe the feeling of returning to a different time – young, innocent, free – or maybe Im just stuck in my ways, and this the reason I keep going back. I mean Im not with my buddy like the good old days – who has long since moved to Asia – nor going to a hockey game……..nor there avoiding bed time and homework. But I am there for some reason besides just being hungry.
I can only think to myself that I love the place because it hasn’t changed. Its grown up a bit – like we all have. Funny though……on the other hand it means that (in this case) I haven’t grown up either. To take note of yourself in a slice of pizza……it’s a bit crazy, but I think its contemplative and cool. Life is good sometimes.
Final Note: take away all the philosophical stuff and life lessons Im trying to pull together, and the pizza there is that good. You really should check it out. Open daily…….pretty early to very very late. East side of Yonge at the corner of Gerrard.
……and my buddy, that’s Graham. Some of you would know him. Hes lived in Thailand for the last decade with a lovely wife and two beautiful children…..he has everything he needs but access to The Big Slice.
Walking along Queen st East this afternoon I came across the Caplanskys Deli food truck affectionately called Thunderin Thelma.
Its located at 72 Queen St East and serves up a mini menu from the actual restaurant. A smoked meat sandwich with pickle costs $7. They have poutine as well ans some sort of speciality maple donuts which sound (and probably are) very good. The truck is open M-F from 11-3pm. This also happens to be the idea that owner Zane Caplansky pitched on the CBC show called Dragons Den. Incidentally the Dragons did not invest in the food truck idea, but Zane went ahead anyway. They also make appearances at food shows and other outdoor events in the Toronto area.
Next time Im in the area, its going to be a tough decision between traditional street meat and Torontos best (and first) smoked meat. A pic of the truck below.
Check out the video of the pitch from Dragons Den.
Damn Good Burger – Royal Meats Barbeque
25 April 12
Finding myself tailing along with a buddy on a business appointment just outside of Toronto, we were delayed in the timing of his meeting so we decided to go for a quick bite to eat. The sales rep we were waiting to see suggested that there was a “great spot for burgers – if you like burgers – right around the corner.”
Now I am a burger guy and this comment peaked my interest with the usual cynicism I hold when it comes to peoples evaluation of what a good burger is, what good wings are, what good street meat is (Diamond cut required) or who serves a good deli sandwich. These four items Ive searched far and wide for – and when possible, indulged, eaten, and evaluated. For years I’ve been complaining that no one could make a decent burger on Utila for example. Some people there blame it on the beef, some on the lack of fresh baked buns and others simply don’t care about this stuff and would look at me like “why does this guy talk and care about a freaking burger so much?”.
Recently when in was in Israel I went through the same process with friends there of whom most claimed to know of a decent burger spot in Tel Aviv or somewhere else. I digress, I was so enamoured with the high quality shawarma in Israel that I didn’t give even one burger the chance at my criticism, while I was visiting. I looked but didn’t take. At a cost of 12-15usd for a minced beef sandwich (with probably a crappy bun – although I don’t know why Im saying that), the thought of an Israeli burger just wasn’t doing it for me…….that ……. and the shawarmas were just that good.
On with the show here and back to this afternoon.
My buddy Hitch and I stepped inside a very tidy and simple restaurant with big glass windows and lots of light. Immediately I sensed that we might be in for a bit of a treat. At Royal Meats Barbeque, you select from the deli counter the meat you wish to be cooked. They favour burgers there (in two sizes, ½ pound and full pound) and they are well on display beside a few other items such as sausage and chicken fillets, which are also on the menu. After placing the order, you have a seat and wait a short time while the fresh made patty is grilled in the open kitchen with your eyes and nose as witness.
Once ready, they call you back up to the counter to garnish the fine looking specimen of beef. There are the traditional toppings – lettuce, tomato, full size deli pickles, and condiments. Further, they only provide Heinz Ketchup – there is only one kind (as WE know) and anything different would be sac religious on a burger (or anything else requiring ketchup) – check mark for that.
Also offered, was a special house dressing which looked decent, but I didn’t want to crowd the senses in the overall evaluation. This would be similar to being served a draught beer in a frosted mug – that is, youll never know if the beer has gone sour because of the coldness of the glass – always room temp mug for the first beer to verify a good brew, FYI. Royal Meats also offered another special “spread” we’ll call it. I believe the worker said it was a mixture of cream cheese and mayo. I usually add mayo to my burger so I reasoned this wouldn’t be too far off the path not to give it a go. They spread it on the underside of the top bun, looked good. Was a decent replacement for cheese.
Speaking of bun. This is where everything about a burger can fall apart – literally and figuratively. You can have a decent burger….heck you can even have a great burger…..but if the bun isint up to speed the whole thing can fall apart and go right downhill. This burger bun was big enough to cover the patty and was toasted as well – which made me a bit nervous. That is, with over toasting and a large portion to shove down the trough, a badly toasted bun can become hard and tends to cut/chafe the top of your mouth. Not a great description but a situation we can all understand. Well…….. this bun was perfect. A mix between toasting and steaming on a fresh baked bun that had the consistency and look of a ciabatta and Kaiser roll mix.
When leaving I inquired to the manager about the burger and he told me they were made fresh daily at their Royal Meats Butcher shop that has been in business for the past fifteen years. Also, they only use salt, pepper, chillis and onion in the patty……simple but good. Fresh and fast. Price was decent at $7.50 for the half pound and $9.50 for the full pound………youre going to pay a bit more for drink and fries if you even have the room.
And there it is……..a very decent burger at a relatively new joint.
Royal Meats Barbeque
710 Kipling Ave, Etobicoke, On M8Z 5G5
This post is dedicated to Dor, Arbel, Stass, Niv, Nir, and others.
Oh what can you do in an hour and a half with a ZIP CAR rental.
Booked on the phone through their app and making a reservation for the appropriate car and pick up location. Done four hrs in advance and pre paid.
Picked up the car at the designated spot (Queen E and Logan’ish area) called “busy”. The car was there, ready, clean, and good to go. My cousin Eyren had the timing down and drove a block around to pick me up at 3:10pm – a bit late due to an unscheduled boss appearance at her shop.
Ready to go, trunk packed with random empties for the beer store. In that time, friend across the way kindly offers for us to take back some of his empties as well. For the sake of it and the dream of a bit of effort to earn an extra five or six bucks – they were along for the ride, in the trunk with the others.
And off we went…..here were the order of stops and random comments.
–Beer Store – arrival – 3:13pm – Empties in arms, sorting in the bins on the roller track to the counter. Purchasing of a case of Lakeport Light and out the door in 7 mins. Cost savings for returning the empties: $9.50. Of note: this Beer Store is one of the few remaining with full service old style set up. You know the one we all know and like – And it is usually reserved for small Ontario towns which have not yet been converted to the new convenience store/functional beer and liquor store all in one combo. Thats a lot of words for LCBO, in the new tiny shops.
–Liquor Store – Arrival – 3:23pm – A quick discussion about needs and wants and ultimately, the advantages of having a car there was a quick stop here to pick up the months worth of wine. Either that or communion wine for say, every catholic church in Ontario this Sunday…..none the less, a deserved stop and one that took us through every grape stomping producing nation in the world. Eyren had locations, years, styles, label colours and creative names all tucked away in the part of her brain noted for efficiency and a box of wine was filled in minutes. I was impressed. Of note: this liquor store did carry one type of Flora De Cana Rum (the most popular rum in Honduras but distilled in Nicaragua) and the 750ml (26’er) of the 5 yr old was $26. In Honduras, on over priced touristy Utila this same bottle is $6.
–Gerrard Square Mall (Staples) – arrival – 3:32pm – In through the door of what should be a terrible run down – out of style dollar store shit show – this was a generally pleasant little mall. Anchored by Staples and Home Depot, the surrounding stores seem to keep up in quality – or variety at the least – and its clean. Note: there was no music playing, hmmm is this another one of those things that has changed in the past three yrs? Shopping for random office supplies and goods was aided by the staff eager to point out to us where the goods were located. A well written list by Eyren even led to this quick exchange after having just picked up the tape dispenser and the wacky puddy “stick things” to your walls stuff.
“excuse me…….can you tell me where the velcro strips are?” Eyren asks.
“yes of course” replies the staff member, “they are right in front of you.”
…yes folks, service can be that efficient if everything and everyone are in the right place at the right time.
Im not sure how long we really were in the store because it seemed quite short to me. In that time however – and after splitting off with Eyren – I was able to quickly re acquaint myself with the prices and technology of the webcam, head phones, and compact digital cameras – In that, everything has changed and everything is still the same.
“Andrew!” I hear from somewhere by the check out area.
And we were off.
Of note: There was (point 1) a Service Canada outlet in the mall close to Staples, and (point 2) with no line up – see follow up comment below.
–Canadian Tire – arrival – 3:47pm – With underground – or below store – parking I should say, this Canadian Tire is quite impressive in size from the outside. From the inside – after walking a mile or two just to get in past the check outs – the beginning of the tour was not so impressive I must say. None the less a big store with big aisles and seemingly not to many people. We moved around to find cleaning goods for the store and walked out with brooms and plungers and cleaners and all this other stuff. There was time to count out random Canadian Tire money in the purse and accumulated to a savings of $1.50. Of note: Right inside the store was a Service Canada outlet. Quite large as well and lots of information and kiosks to serve. Interestingly enough we observed a substantial line……Funny comment made by Eyren that the people should go to Gerrard Square for no line ups and faster service. In that one random coincidence of life it would have actually been better to be shopping for office supplies than car parts today – thats if you needed to go to Service Canada as well.
-Back in the Zipcar heading south with no further schedules stops to make (meaning 1.5 hrs of errands are done in just under 1 hour) – 4:05pm
“Holy Shit, were done already, weve got some time to kill.” proudly states Eyren.
“Oh ya nice….. well lets go down there, and show me the Leslie Spit and Cherry Beach.” I offer.
And now we are cruising along south of the Lakeshore giving me a tour of my soon to ride bike paths. Learning this is here, and this is there…….all Im seeing are factory’s, but lets go with it. Looks inviting at times and I can see with green on the trees and by heading all the way down to the beach, this is going to be ripe for the warmer days ahead.
“I should take you to TNT, its the one Ive talked about taking you to, the big asian grocery store…..there it is.”
And we turn in the lot to TNT and drive towards the doors.
“Are we going to go in?”. Knowing of course that we apparently have some time to kill. And we do, or did.
–TNT Grocery – arrival 4:12pm – We walk through the front doors and are immediately met by two things familiar but never generally in the same context. First, a well lit, clean, organized, inviting, and massive grocery store. And second, asian cuisine and goods so plentiful you figure every brand, colour, smell and product was imported in directly from the shores of the south pacific – via Lake Ontario, not like thats possible – within that same hour. The fresh cooked fare in the beginning aisle on the right from the entrance had us stopped in our tracks. Within minutes I was ordering shrimp dumplings, pork dumplings (throw them in what the heck), BBQ ribs and the finally, sushi. In those quick moments of indiscretion Eyren and I decided that this was to be dinner tonight. A longer line than we had time for greeted us at the checkout, but we were able to scooch around to a suddenly available counter and get our way out of there within another few minutes. Cost $19.75.
Once back in the ZIP CAR (and a few extra minutes to actually deactivate the locks with the magnetic card) we were on the road back to home. With two drop offs to make and a look down at the clock saying 4:26pm, time was now not on our side. Quickly approaching the “busy” drop off spot, a quick swing around the side of the flat to drop me off with the goods for the house. Eyren to continue on to the drop off the car prior to 4:30pm and transfer the brooms and plungers and stationary….oh and velcro, to the store.
Job well done. Quite the little hour and a half of course. Organized and executed. Efficiency ended up giving me the opportunity for a tour of the new neighborhood and provided dinner for the two of us this evening.
Being the overall optimist and reasoner of everything….I determined we saved over $10 by returning the bottle empties (which other wise would have gone out to the curb) and $1.50 by using the Canadian Tire money. For a total of $11.50. On top of that, everything that was planned and done for the store was done. Interestingly enough, ZIPCAR costs about $11/hr to borrow….about the same we saved cause of the efficiency of the whole system.
And a Special Shout out to Eyrens Store: Rowe Farms Lesliville.