Hankering for Hakka at Federick Restaurant: Scarborough’s hidden gem

Federick

For some reason, Scarborough is a new immigrant’s first landing spot, and is more commonly known by Torontoians as Toronto’s armpit. Recently, a U.S. economist by the name of Tyler Cowen came out and declared that Scarborough is the “best ethnic food suburb he has ever seen in his life, ever, and by an order of magnitude”. I personally couldn’t agree more, and in my view, I am surprised it took people this long to discover that Scarborough is not exactly the armpit, but more of an elbow.  See, I grew up in Scarborough, so I had the luxury of eating out at these cheap, yet delicious restaurants at a young age.  As a poor immigrant family, we didn’t have the means to go out and eat all the time, so when we did, HUZZAH!! We ate like kings for a fraction of the price you would typically find in a downtown Toronto restaurant. Also, these restaurants were so authentic, that for any new immigrant that missed the motherland, the very act of shoving rice into your mouth with chopsticks, for instance, would literally transport you back home.

Translation; Shut the fuck up!

Translation: Shut the fuck up!

Enter today, where I am a hundred pounds heavier and on a rage for Hakka food.  For those of you who are not familiar with Hakka culture, they are people from southern China near the border of India,which makes Hakka cuisine an eclectic mix of Chinese and Indian cuisines. It is also DELICIOUS. For a while now, I have been seriously craving this cuisine, to the point where every night, I would squeal “I WANT HAKKA” to Chuck, and he would exhaustingly look over to me and sigh, “I know…you’ve been talking about it for weeks now”.


Who the hell wants to purposely go here?

Who the hell wants to purposely go here?

Some of my favourite Hakka restaurants are located in Scarborough, but for this particular post, I will highlight what is in my opinion the BEST Hakka restaurant in the city, Federick Restaurant located at Ellesmere Road near Bellamy Road.  At first glance, it doesn’t look like much on the outside.  Heck, you wouldn’t even glance in its direction if you were not actually going there in the first place! It’s in this shitty little plaza complex with 6 parking spaces out front, so it’s very easy to miss.  Just look at it!

Anyhoo, Federick’s has changed from when I was younger – the decor inside is much nicer and modern, although it is still very small.  They have a separate entrance for those wanting take-out and boy, was this narrow hallway packed! When we got there around 7:00pm, the place was completely full, and we had to wait about 10 minutes while another patron was just finishing up.  It really didn’t help that we were super hungry and the smells of the kitchen was wafting into the dining room, slowly tantalizing and teasing us while we waited.  However, it’s a good thing we got there when we did because 5 minutes later, there was a line up of people going out the door!

Once we were seated our waitress came out with a jug of ice water, a sign of spiciness to come. The menu was extensive and had all the traditional Chinese comfort food like chow mein and general tao chicken, but they also had Chicken Pakoras, and something called Manchurian chicken, which I heard was delicious, but we didn’t end up ordering it.  The four of us finally settled on a Federick’s special vegetable fried rice, chilli paneer with gravy, Federick’s special sweet and sour chicken, chilli squid, and for my vegetarian friend, a veggie delight. We also ended up getting dessert, but more on that later.

Like most Chinese restaurants, food flew out of the kitchen and landed on our table almost instantaneously after we ordered.  First to come was a heap of Federick’s special vegetable fried rice, the size of which both surprised and intimidated us.  Because I hadn’t been there in years, I forgot just how large the portions were.  Just look at the size of this dish!

Okay rice, you win this round...

Okay rice, you win this round…

The rice was buttery without being too oily (it tasted like they used ghee to fry up the rice), and was doused in this sauce the taste of which I couldn’t put my finger on…it was spicy, yet light, and had a slight smokey flavour to it.  The bok choy in the rice was soft on the outside, crunchy on the inside and complimented the peas in the rice perfectly. We dug into the plate like ravenous coyotes, spooning heaps of rice onto our plates while our mouths watered in anticipation.

We won the rice battle, but little did we know we were about to enter into a food war...

We won the rice battle, but little did we know we were about to enter into a food war…

Next thing that flew out of the kitchen was the Sweet and Sour Chicken and the veggie delight, the portions of which were the same size as the rice:

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OH. MY. GOD. The chicken was out of this world delicious! And as if it wasn’t enough food, the chicken came with a huge bowl of plain white rice! The sauce for the chicken was smooth in texture and not as sour as one would normally taste in a sweet and sour sauce, and it felt like velvet in my mouth.  The pineapple in the dish gave just enough tartness and sweetness which complemented the chicken well.  The pieces of boneless chicken itself had a perfect amount of crunch on the outside from the breading, but was juicy and soft on the inside. This cornucopia of flavours on my palette made my tongue scream for more!

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While the chicken was tangy and sweet, the veggies were garlicky and firm.  The broccoli was cooked perfectly, with the florets on top soft and springy, and the stalk firm and crunchy.  The snow peas were soft and sweet.  The veggies were smothered with this extremely garlicky sauce, which made everything taste super savoury.  It. Was. GLORIOUS.

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As we were eating this feast, we had forgotten about our other orders.  AND FOOD JUST KEPT COMING! The next thing that landed on our table was the paneer with gravy, which had ALOT of kick to it.  The paneer itself was firm like tofu, with a milky aftertaste characteristic of cheese.  The gravy…oh my the gravy…it did not taste heavy, had an amazing spiciness to it, and thick in the most fantastic way.  And fit perfectly onto the plain white rice.

But wait, there’s more! Just as 2015-03-28 19.11.32we thought we had all of the food we ordered out on the table, the final dish of chilli squid came.  This dish was the coup de grace for my stomach that night…the chilli peppers and spices assaulted my taste buds (in the most excellent of ways) and left them craving more. The squid was lightly breaded and crunchy on the outside, but soft and tender on the inside.

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You cannot deny its siren call

After all of that food we decided to finish off the feast with a dessert of 2 fried bananas and 2 scoops of ice cream shared between the four of us.  The heat from the fried bananas was melting the ice cream quick, so naturally we had to eat quicker!  Just look at its gloriousness!!!

Overall, this meal more than satisfied my craving for Hakka food and made my weekend just that much more delicious.  Oh, and before I forget, guess what the bill came up to for four people? $47 on the dot!  (Sorry I left the bill at the restaurant so no picture).  Divide that by 4 and you get $11.75 per person!  Yes, it is $1.75 over my threshold, but for the amount of food we got, that $1.75 extra was worth it. I didn’t feel like I had to eat for the rest of the week!


I would like to add that beginning with this post, I have taken some of your suggestions to add a rating system to these restaurants, which I will post on my Rating System page.  For Federick’s Restaurant, I give a rating of 6 out of 5 stars and here’s why:

1 star for atmosphere: the dining room was modern and clean.  It’s a little cozy, but it wasn’t uncomfortable.

1 star for customer service:  We didn’t have to wait very long for a table and they apologized to us from the get-go about the wait.  Also, the waiters and waitresses at Federick’s are very friendly (even though some of them don’t speak English very well), and would come to the table the second you caught their attention.  One of our servers also recommended the dessert (although we were going to get it anyway) and was joking around with us, even though they were super busy.

1 star for taste: As I have mentioned throughout my post, THE FOOD IS DELICIOUS! And I didn’t feel heavy afterwards.

1 star for cost: It literally cost us $11.75 per person for 6 dishes (I’m counting dessert), which brings me to my next point –

1 star for portion sizes: As you can see from the pictures, the portions are HUGE! There literally had to be about 3 solid pounds of food on the table;

And finally, 1 star for overall experience: eating the dishes transported me to my youth, when I had last gone there.  It gave me fond memories of those special occasions where my family would actually go out to eat since we couldn’t afford to do so on a regular basis.  It was nice to share that experience with Chuck and our friends for the first time (it was Chuck’s first time trying Hakka food, but not the last, I hope).

If you get the chance to visit Federick, make sure to wear your stretchy pants and bring a good appetite with you.  The food will blow your mind.

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El Furniture Warehouse – A New(ish) Fixture of in the Annex

El Furniture Warehouse

When I first heard about El Furniture Warehouse from my sister, I was very confused.  Why the hell would she go to a furniture store to have beer and food? Yes, I know, I’m clearly I’m not with “it”.

I used to be "with it"...then they changed what "it" was...

I used to be “with it”…then they changed what “it” was…look how desperate I am!!!

Then, a good friend around my age that is with “it” told me about El Furniture Warehouse and how everything on their menu is $4.95 and comes in decent sized portions, I knew I had to try it out for myself, just to see what the hype is about. After all, there MUST be a catch!  What restaurant/bar in downtown Toronto, located in the Annex no less, sells all their wares (haha) for five bucks? Either I heard wrong, or the people that run this restaurant/bar is truly and madly insane!

Well, after pestering Chuck and many others to go with me (apparently this is not a place to have dinner alone, which I like to do from time to time) a good friend of mine who lives in the Annex finally agreed to try this magically theoretical place with me.  Let me tell you, I. WAS. NOT. DISAPPOINTED.

I went there Thursday night, around 8:30pm.  I am not that old that I forgot it was Thursday pub night for all the university students that live in the neighbourhood, however, I just thought that most of them would be on exams and therefore be the good little boys and girls they are and stay home studying.  That was obviously wishful thinking – after all, I never did that either before an exam! I went out and partied like everyone else who was clearly procrastinating did…which I was reminded of to my dismay when I was made to wait outside for 15 minutes.  Luckily, I had to wait for my friend anyway, so it wasn’t too much of a bother.

Entering into El Furniture warehouse was like going into a VERY LOUD club but with seats and tables made out of random pieces of wood, and skateboards gracing the walls of this fine establishment.  There were a number of TVs (I counted 4) BLASTING amazing ’80s hits and co-eds drinking shots fixed onto a long ski, who were clearly having a great start to a very drunk night.

The waitress was a nice hipster-y girl named Bianca with booty shorts, and was listing off the drink specials of the night and how much they cost – which I literally couldn’t hear a word of.  I nodded politely, and just ordered the first drink she mentioned…something about a margarita.  Hey, you can’t go wrong with a margarita can you?

Of course you can’t.  This is what came to the table moments later

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Yes, you are witnessing the elegance of a Corona bottle stuck upside down in my margarita, slowly feeding its sweet, sweet nectar into my drink.

Looking through the menu, I was really floored with the amount of options they gave me for food – all for just under five bucks.  I was feeling rather famished so I decided to order a couple of things – for $5, I can’t see them giving me lots of food anyway, so why the hell not try as much as I think I could eat!

I ordered the beet and goat cheese salad, and the Works Burger, with an upgraded side of poutine (cost me $2.95 more but eh, what the hell right? My friend ordered the Quinoa salad, and chicken tacos. This is what came to the table:

My beet and goat cheese salad, the Works Burger and side of poutine.  Look at the back bowl of the first picture.  That is literally how deep my bowl of salad was…

THESE PORTIONS ARE GINORMOUS!

THESE PORTIONS ARE GINORMOUS!

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I can’t believe I  actually entertained the idea of dessert before I knew what was coming. 

The salad, as you can see, was just enormous – for god’s sake it came in a freakin’ bowl! It literally took me 15 minutes alone just to finish my salad, which had a crunchy romaine lettuce bed topped with warm and soft, sweet roasted beets on top, a copious amount of earthy goat cheese, and to top everything off, they liberally sprinkled whole pieces of candied pecans onto the entire thing! My burger was thick and juicy and had the maplest of bacon shoved in between the burger patty and the brioche bun.   There was a perfectly thick slice of cheddar inside the burger, and just the right amount of condiments (they had some sort of sauce which I don’t remember what it’s called, but it’s orange and tasted smokey and creamy, which was a great addition to the burger).

My friend’s avocado salad and tacos:

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I also could not help myself and took a bite of my friend’s avocado salad, which had soft creamy avocado, quinoa tossed in some sweet vinaigrette, slices of crunchy and tart green apple on the side, and nicely roasted almond slivers sprinkled throughout the salad on a bed of crispy romaine lettuce.  I didn’t get a chance to try the tacos though, but my friend simply described it as “tasty” in between mouthfuls.

For 5 bucks a plate I literally ate like royalty and then some.  I felt like a bonafide beached whale after this feast. Yes, this was not a meal. It was a feast.

Although our bill in total came up to $50 (where they get you is the drinks – mine alone was 13 bucks!] I literally ate like a Queen for just a little over $10.  If I decided not to get the side of poutine, or my friend did not get a side of guacamole, it would have just been a little under $10 each for both of us.

What a nice round number, $50.

What a nice round number, $50.

Would I go back? HELL YEAH! Would I bring ear plugs next time? YOU BET! Will I go on a Friday or Saturday night? PROBABLY NOT. By the time we were done there was a massive line up out front, to which I say SCREW IT, I am WAY too old for that. But on any other night, BRING IT ON EL FURNITURE!

Czech’ing out Cabbagetown: Schnitz’ing on EuroBite

EuroBite Storefront

First off, I would like to apologize for the bad puns.  I just never had the opportunity to put a country pun and a food pun together. Now that I have, I can die a happy woman.  Damn I love puns.

I got home from work late yet again today and Chuck, my husband, was going over to his friend’s house to edit the podcast he is working on about story telling, so either I would have to make dinner for myself, or I can do the lazy thing and get some takeout.  As a side note and an act of shameless spouse promotion, Chuck is working on a wonderful podcast called “What’s the Story”, where he breaks down elements of what makes a traditionally good story and how good stories come to be.  It starts at the end of March, but when it does come out, check it out! But I digress – you ARE visiting this blog to find out some good cheap eats in Toronto after all!

Anyhoo, after a long day of work and finally getting the chance to get into my relax groove, my living room ceiling starts to leak cos my landlord’s kids decided it was a good idea to plug the sink and leave the water running on their third floor, which inevitably ended up in brownish 100+ year old ceiling water dripping all over my beautifully cleaned living room (I live in a heritage house in what used to be a butler’s quarters in case you were wondering).  Yet another excuse for me not to cook! So I decided to venture out and visit this small restaurant I saw open up a couple of weeks ago up the street called “EuroBite”. Chuck had gone there when it first opened and told me their fares (in both sense of the word) was not bad, so I figured I would review it here since no one knows about it yet.

The restaurant, if you can even call it that, is brightly lit with orange walls and grey trimmings, and is furnished with a couple of tables and chairs for patrons who feel like eating there.  Behind the counter are specials written on a chalkboard advertising their sandwiches, crepes, and various meat and cheese pie, all under $6.00. Here’s a sample menu:





 Mostly, as the person behind the counter told me, they are a take-out place serving homemade Eastern European food.  On the daily special today, on top of their regular sandwich and burek pie offerings was a chicken schnitzel with mashed potatoes and salad for $7.95, and cabbage rolls with salad for the same price.  I was hungry and wanted a bigger meal, so I opted for the  chicken schnitzel meal.  I took the liberty of plating it in a somewhat more presentable fashion so I can take a picture (everything came in a takeout styrofoam box):

Don't let the picture fool you, it's a big plate!

Don’t let the picture fool you, it’s a big plate!

First off, the mash potatoes, while not looking quite as appetizing at first, was chunky, yet soft, and buttery without being too rich, which was a surprise.  Next, the salad, which was just a regular romaine lettuce and tomato salad topped with cheese, extra olive oil and caesar dressing, was nothing too special, just your run of the mill plants with dressing.  The main star of the meal though was good, although not spectacular.  On its own it was a pretty standard schnitzel at best, but then I dipped it in their homemade roasted red pepper spread “avyar”. Suddenly, my taste buds awoke, and I noticed the notes of black pepper and herbs in the breading that I had so quickly dismissed just moments before.  The roasted red peppers, which I normally hate to eat, was chunky yet soft, and the sauce had a twinge of vinegary taste to it, which really brought out the herbs in the breading. There was also a smokey flavour to the caviar, which made the chicken taste like it was fire roasted right from the grill.  Sadly, I was too liberal with the caviar, and I ran out pretty quickly, since they only gave me enough for half of the schnitzel.  Here it is below:

If you bring your attention to the top of the plate where you see some sauce unceremoniously smeared, that is EuroBite's homemade roasted red pepper

If you bring your attention to the top of the plate where you see some sauce unceremoniously smeared, that is EuroBite’s homemade roasted red pepper “avyar”

Overall it was a decent meal for $8.46 ($7.99 + taxes).  Unfortunately, the last half of my schnitzel was cold since I had to tend to my various bowls of brown ceiling water, which I’m sure sounds just as appetizing as my meal.  Although not the most unique schnitzel in town, it certainly was filling and in a pinch, this daily special at EuroBite will do.  

Eating Brunch with Satan – Graffiti’s Bar and Grill Black Metal Brunch

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Nothing entices me more than a tagline that tells me to “Eat Out with Satan”. The Black Metal brunch at the legendary Graffiti’s Bar and Grill in Kensington Market boasts eardrum shattering metal from 11am-4pm on Sundays with a side of sinfully delicious fare from beyond the hell-fires of Hades.  Black Metal Brunch, as far as I know, has been around for at least a couple of years, and is one of my very favourites. Most things on the menu, from their B.L.T. to their gigantic breakfast plates cost $10 and under. Besides, who doesn’t like head banging to the epicness of earth-shattering guitar solos and double-bass drum beats while scarfing down some of the most unique brunch combos found in downtown Toronto.  They also make their own hot sauces, one of which is made by their bartender/server using only the finest capsicums only the prince of darkness can stomach.  Did I mention that he grows these little devils himself?! God only knows what kind of TLC he has given these peppers to make even my nuclear tongue throb in delicious pain. I had to drink the cream that came with my coffee just to calm the burning!

That big bottle in the back? That is the unholy union of ghost peppers, scotch bonnets and satan's blood.

That big bottle in the back? That is the unholy union of ghost peppers, scotch bonnets and satan’s blood.

In addition to their regular brunch menu, Black Metal Brunch offers specials that change every week.  Although this week the specials were a little over my $10 threshold per dish, spending an extra $4 on a mouth-watering breakfast pizza topped with shrimp, Italian sausage and two baked eggs in the middle was worth every penny.  Here it is below:

Doesn't this look delicious? It tasted as good as it looks.

Doesn’t this look delicious? It tasted as good as it looks.

The pizza crust was thin and crispy, sprinkled generously with huge chunks of tender shrimp, herby Italian sausages, and what tasted like collard greens, giving the pizza an overall earthier flavour. The eggs were delicately baked sunny side up, with the yolk breaking apart revealing a gooey caramel-like consistency to which I dipped my cut up slice of pizza in.  

My fantastic partner-in-crime wanted something a little more comfort and homey, so he opted for the White Trash chicken, which is baked fried chicken with gravy and mashed potatoes topped with cheese.  Also a tad bit over my $10 threshold (the dish was $12.95), it was well worth the extra $3:

Who doesn't want baked fried chicken on top of a mattress of mash potatoes, gooey thick gravy, topped with delicious melted cheese?

Who doesn’t want baked fried chicken on top of a mattress of mash potatoes, gooey thick gravy, topped with delicious melted cheese?

The baked fried chicken was juicy and had a nice crunch underneath the gravy soaked breading. The cheese was so tantalizingly melted on top of the entire dish, producing long threads of cheesiness as you separate a piece of chicken from the dish with your fork. The mash potatoes was herbed nicely, but didn’t stand out from any regular mashed potatoes you can get at a restaurant or at home. 

On top of all the deliciousness, the server was just fantastic and friendly and the music was just banging’…head bangin’ that is! There weren’t too many people when we got there around 11:45am, but slowly, hung-over metal heads trickled in as we ate.  Don’t expect the most lavish furnishings inside though, this is not a brunch place for the faint of heart.  The Black Metal Brunch is definitely a poormet worth “brunching” on!