Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Windsor Craft Beer Festival year 2. Great event but skip the VIP pass

Back on October 17th my wife and I attended the 2nd annual Windsor Craft Beer Festival.

We went to the inaugural event last year and had a fantastic time. Such a good time actually that we decided to go with the VIP tickets this year. That may have been a mistake.

Don't get me wrong, the event was awesome. We had a great time and I will be attending next year, but I just don't think that the VIP passes were worth it. At least not for us.

My biggest complaint with the VIP pass was that it gave us "early access" to the event. This meant that we got in half an hour early.

Expecting a line, my wife and I showed up about 15 minutes before opening (early access opening). We were the first people there. By the time the gates opened there was a crowd of 5 of us waiting to get in. I guess we didn't need to rush to beat the crowd.

This wouldn't have been a problem though, so what if we are at a near empty event? Just means more beer for us and no wait time, right? Nope. Sorry. 

We approached the first brewery we saw and asked what they were serving. We were told curtly: "we're not serving anything yet, can't you tell we are still setting up!" This same situation repeated itself at 6 other breweries. Here we are at the Beer Fest with our "early access" and we can't get any beer! 

So we thought maybe we should grab some food. Nope. Sorry. Food won't be ready until 5:30 (when the 'general public' gets in).

Eventually we did find someone who would serve us: Descendants. You can see our first beers there down and to the right in our VIP glasses. Glasses that weren't actually just for VIPs, you could just buy one at the gate. Which is probably what we will do next year.

Now another 'bonus' we got for buying VIP passes was access to special VIP only beers which changed every hour. I thought this was pretty awesome and was the 2nd reason I decided to go VIP. 

What I didn't understand is that it literally meant "access." I thought it meant we got to try each of these beers for each hour we were there. As in we got a sample to taste. What it actually meant is that we could buy beer that other people couldn't. That greatly reduced the value of my VIP pass (which I thought was getting me 5 free samples). 

One final complaint about the VIP pass: I'm a big dude (note the title of the blog), we also got T shirts. They didn't have a shirt anywhere near in my size. Now I'm not a huge dude, and I'm pretty sure I saw some other big dudes. You would think at a beer festival they would expect some larger people to be attending.

Okay enough negativity. I make the event sound horrible, and it wasn't. It was actually pretty awesome. I don't regret going at all. We had a great time.

One of the huge improvements over last year was the food. There was the Road Chef food truck that had this awesome Pork and Apple sandwich and some great fried mozzarella. Robbie's Gourmet Sausage was there as was Motorburger. This was so much better than the small appetizers supplied by St. Claire last year.

The beer was also great. There were more brewers than last year and I'm pretty sure the ones that were there were offering more options. There was Beau's, Broadhead, Descendants, Highlander, Hop City, Bayside, Lake of Bays, Mill St., Motor Craft Ales, Railway City, Samuel Adams, St. Ambroise, Walkerville and Wellington. There were also some representatives from a couple local brew pubs that are opening later this year. Based on the pamphlet we were given there were over 70 beers there to try (including the special VIP brews).

The only real complaint I have about the beer is the fact that due to the event being in the middle of October, every single seasonable beer was some form of Pumpkin beer, mostly Pumpkin Ales. I had so many Pumpkin Ales that they all ended up tasting the same. 

I had some really amazing beers. I should say we had some really amazing beers, as my wife is as much a beer fan as I am. Actually I can't think of a single one that I tried I would consider bad. They were all solid brews. Highlights for me were Nightmare on Mill Street from, you guessed it: Mill St. and Ramblin' Roads Dakota Pearl Potato Ale.

One bonus of getting there early was that there was no crowd. By about 9pm that changed. Man did it get busy. Then it rained. 

That leads me to another awesome improvement over last year's event: the tent! The middle of the 'fest area was covered in a very large tent that even had heaters under it. That was so much better than freezing out in the open last year. I will admit it got a bit crowded, especially when the rain hit, but my wife and I never had a problem finding a place to sit.

The weekend before this event there was another craft beer event. That one was in LaSalle and I  had heard a few horror stories. Stories about rude loud drunk patrons, fights and people demanding free beer. I saw none of that here at the Walkerville event. Everyone we met and saw was polite and just there to enjoy some good beer, just like we were. I don't think I heard a raised voice (well except for everyone trying to talk over the extremely loud music).

That was also a change from last year. Music. Loud music. Most of Friday night was a couple guys playing the same set of German drinking songs over and over each set. That was a tad annoying. The volume seemed way too loud as well. Kind of felt like I was in a bar and having a conversation with my wife meant shouting. These guys were replaced with a local bluegrass band that was fine. Take it or leave it, didn't seem to really fit the theme of the event. I would have personally liked to have heard some Celtic Pub songs. Say by, The Shannon Bros. 

Overall, if you like beer at all, especially good Ontario Craft beer, I strongly recommend checking out this event next year. I'll be there as will my wife. 

The only thing I do want to warn you about is that the VIP pass may not be worth it. It definitely wasn't worth it for us this year. Maybe next year they will offer something a bit better though. 


Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Support local Scouting with some amazing popcorn

Anyone interested in some Scout Popcorn?

My oldest daughter is a Beaver and her Troop is raising money by selling gourmet popcorn and I'm looking you, my friends, family and colleagues for support.

60% of the proceeds go to Scouts Canada. More importantly to me and my girl is that all of that goes right to Gwen's Troop: the 44th, and 20% of that goes directly to my daughter to pay for gear, camping, trips etc.

The delivery date is mid to late November and I'm sure we can figure out some way to get your popcorn to you. Just send me an email or comment below to tell me what you would like.

Friday, August 8, 2014

#FoodPornFriday Went downtown for a personal favourite: Terra Cotta

Up late for a Twitter Party and just realized that it's turned into #FoodPornFriday!

This past week my wife and I headed downtown to one of our favourite places to eat: Terra Cotta Pizza.  It had been far too long since we've been there. I think it was a bit over a year ago. Which is a shame.

While I was slightly disappointed that they no longer server Okanagan Spring beer on tap (for some reason it went with their pizza so well) the food was as amazing as ever.

If you dig fresh hot wood oven pizza you have got to check this place out. Call for reservations and head down there on a Tuesday and you can even get 2 for 1.

Friday, August 1, 2014

#FoodPornFriday Take-out isn't just for Pizza and Chinese - India Palace

For this week's #FoodPornFriday post I figured I would feature some take-out. Now normally when people think take-out they think Pizza (especially here in Windsor and with good reason) or Chinese food. Actually we do the traditional take-out often enough that every time we go to order I wrack my brain for something different. 

One of my favourite forms of 'something different' is Indian and the best place to get Indian food in Windsor is: India Palace. This rather tiny place is easy to overlook at their location at 1167 Ottawa Street across from Lansbury Park. I have to admit I've never eaten in there but I do like to get take-out from there.

I became interested in Indian food because of the TV show Red Dwarf. One of the characters, Lister, is obsessed with Curries, specifically Vindaloos. One of the episodes even has the crew fight a Vindaloo monster. At some point quite a few years back I went into India Palace and told them: "I want a Lamb Vindaloo and some other stuff. For someone eating Indian for the first time what would you recommend."

While I don't remember exactly what we got back then, I do know that the meal included Butter Chicken and Garlic Naan as those are the two things we enjoyed the most and ended up on the 'order every time' list. Along with those I still get Lamb Vindaloo every time. Other than that we mix it up. 

What you see up there at the top is the Lamb Vindaloo on the left, the Butter Chicken at the bottom and Paneer Masala at the top. This all surrounds a portion of the largest serving of fried rice I've ever seen. Seriously, check it out, it's over there on the right. Added to the insanity of that portion, my wife and I ordered two! Never again.

One heads up about India Palace and Indian food in general, for those who haven't tried it. It's HOT! Hot as in spicy. Every dish we ordered here besides the rice had some serious bite to it. Personally I enjoy this (at least while eating it, not as much the next day). You can let them know how hot you would like it, but even medium is pretty hot. 

So the next time you are sitting at home thinking "I don't feel like cooking, let's get take-out", forget the traditional Pizza and Chinese and try something new. 

Friday, July 25, 2014

#FoodPornFriday I've heard good things about Panera Bread and finally got to try them

I've been hearing good things about Panera Bread for a few years now. For example +Robin Laws has noted that he does most of his writing while sitting in a Panera in Toronto on his Ken & Robin Talk About Stuff podcast. I've been wanting to check them out for a long time but it just never worked out.

The main reason it never worked out is that you won't find a Panera Bread anywhere in Windsor. Actually I would have to drive to Oakville to get to the nearest one in Canada (that's like 3 hours away from here).

So where did I finally find a Panera? On the Ohio Turnpike, on the way to Pittsburgh.

Does it live up to the hype? I would say: "mostly". I will admit I had really high expectations, probably way to high for what is really a fast food chain. It was good, actually it was a bit better than good, it just wasn't great. I enjoyed my Ham & Cheese Sandwich on a Provolone Bagel with a side of French Onion Soup. I loved the fact that I could have gotten it on about 8 other kinds of bread and I could have gotten many other things besides soup (IIRC I had four soup choices as well). I also really loved the brownie that I was too busy eating to take a picture of. It was much better than your average fast food, that's for sure.

If there was a Panera Bread here locally I'm pretty sure I would go their fairly often. Free Wi-Fi and decent food with lots of customization. I dig it.

It's that time of the week again. #FoodPornFriday! Who's going to link up with me?

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Burger Battle: Motor Vs. Mamo

There's a battle raging right now in Windsor. A burger battle. On one front you have Motor Burger and onthe other front you have Mamo Burger Bar.

In case you haven't noticed, Windsor has become a battle zone of amazing burger joints. We've had Bubi's and Gilligan's for a while now but now there are tons of amazing burgers around the city at places like Joe Schmoe's and the Bull n Barrel. Two of the newest entries onto the field of battle, and my personal favorites, are Motor Burger and Mamo Burger Bar

Motor Burger

Motor Burger is located in the heart of Via Italia, Windsor's Little Italy, at 888 Erie Street. Awarded the Reader's Digest Canada's "Best Gourmet Burger" medal in 2012 and followed up with their "You Gotta Eat Here" stripes the next year, Motor Burger comes to the field well decorated.

You will find fifteen different burgers on the menu. These are all gourmet burgers made with a huge variety of fresh ingredients and toppings. My favourite is the Autostrada (Chipotle rubbed northern Italian sausage, gorgonzola cheese, sliced apple slaw), the wife loves the Twin Barracudas (2 panko encrusted haddock sliders, creamy cajun slaw, cheddar cheese, pickle). All of these are available single or supercharged. Supercharged means a scary amount of burger as they toss a second patty on there.

Supporting these fifteen lieutenants are the best damn sides in the city. Truly amazing onion rings. Sweet potato fries. Poutine and some of the greatest Mac & Cheese in the city. There are also some salads for those of you who forgot you went to a burger joint. Oh, and some great starters too, not that you really need them, a bowl of rings and a burger fills this Big Dude right up, but if you are a glutton for punishment grab the Chili Spring Rolls (chorizo chile & black bean, lime, smoked cheese, sour cream).

Added to all this great food Motor Burger has one more thing going for it. It's also an Ontario Craft Brewer. Yep you read that right. Motor Craft Ales is brewed specifically for Motor Burger. I could so use a pint of Dragula right now.

Mamo Burger Bar

Mamo Burger Bar can be found at 1515 Ottawa Street. The previous location of Sweet T's Southern Cooking and before that Smoke n' Spice. Actually Mamo was opened by the same owners and they have a real hit here.

Mamo has only ten lieutenants in their army but they back it up with a lot more support troops. The ten signature burgers are all tradition beef burgers. Well somewhat traditional. They get the meat from Shawn Morris Farms (better known as The Butcher of Kingsville), ground fresh that day. While it's not the variety you get at some other places in the city, this is the most tasty beef burger patty I've ever had. Added to those patties are some of the greatest topping combos ever. Personally I can never decide between the Wakin' & Bacon (cheddar, house bacon, fried egg & bacon jam) or The Daddy Mac (House made mac & cheese, smoked pull pork & caramelized onions).

Alongside those burgers are a couple of different sets of sides. Standard ones and deluxe specialist troops that cost a bit more to muster. These include fries, garlic fries, tater tots, Caesar salad on the low end and poutine, chili cheese fries and fried pickles for the elite troops.

There are also quite a few non-burger items on Mamo's menu. There are those same confusing salads (seriously, who goes to a burger joint to get a salad?), turkey sandwiches, pulled pork, chicken tenders, soup and chili and more. It's definitely a much more diverse set of troops.

The beer selection at Mamo isn't so bad either. Sure it's not brewed right there but they do have an Ontario Craft Beer menu and they mix up the taps pretty good.

My thoughts on the war

Both of these competitors have something amazing to bring to the battle. I think the sides at Motor Burger are some of the best in the city, if not the best. My kids love it as well, they can't get enough of the mac & cheese. I love the burgers too but I have to give an edge to Mamo Burger there. Given the choice I would choose a Daddy Mac over an Autostrada more often then not. But then Motor Burger brews their own beer, I really like beer. It's crowded though and Mamo feels more relaxed. Wait I know what will decide this battle: price! No wait that doesn't work, a burger and side at Motor Burger will cost you about $12-15. A burger at Mamo costs about the same and comes with side.

You know who really wins this battle? All of us, the people of Windsor, by having such amazing burgers made right here in our backyard.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

#FoodPornFriday The best Crêpes I've ever had came from Pittsburgh

Today's #FoodPornFriday pic comes from Pittsburgh.

Before our tip to Pittsburgh a few weeks back I posted on Google+ asking people from the area what we should try to make sure we did on our trip. The first thing that came up was Primanti Bros. I already wrote about that amazing place. The second thing that was mentioned was Pamela's Diner for breakfast. 

I was warned to expect a long wait and that when I got there I had to try the hot cakes. Quite a few more people jumped into the thread and said the same. Everyone kept going on about the hot cakes with many people noting how unique they are.

Well when I got there I found that people in Pittsburgh haven't really heard of crêpes. That's what these hot cakes were, crêpes. Crêpes are pretty common here in Canada, more so the further north you go. So at first I was a bit disappointed. Then I tried them.

OMG they were so good! I have no idea what they do different down there but these were the best damn crêpes I've ever had. Actually they were the best grilled breakfast item I've ever had. Better then all pancakes and even waffles (I really love waffles. Not the Belgian kind, the kind with the small holes). 

I have to agree with my followers on G+, if you are ever in Pittsburgh you owe it to yourself do at least two things. Get a sandwich from Primanti Bros and try some hot cakes cêpes from Pamela's.

It's #FoodPornFriday and I'm looking for other blogs to join in the fun an link up with me. I'm going to be posting one of these every week and you should stop by and link up. I want to see your awesome pictures! For the faint of heart feel free to use #FoodPicFriday