I’ve been a bit derelict here at VIEW Magazine. Despite countless invitations to attend Dave Hanley’s various food adventures, known as Dishcrawl, Battledish, and his latest venture, Pop Up Hamilton, I always had previous obligations. I’m pleased to say that has all changed and I am now firmly on the Dave Hanley fan bandwagon.
I attended his second Pop Up Dining on Friday, November 22nd. Pop–up restaurants are those super cool events that you always read about happening in other people’s cities, but sadly not our own. No longer must Hamilton foodies feel blue about this inadequacy! A restaurant is set–up for a one night event in a spot where no restaurant has existed, perhaps in an art gallery, or on a rooftop, or in the case of the first Pop Up Hamilton, an empty dockside warehouse. I experienced my pop–up at the newly renovated Leander’s Bay City Music Hall which overlooks the harbour. We were well taken care of by Chef Robert To, of Koi and Nino’s restaurants, who started us off with his signature Nonna’s salad consisting of organic local mixed baby greens with honey–glazed pecans, Asiago cheese and a balsamic truffle vinaigrette. This was a nice start to the night, but nothing you haven’t seen before. This was followed by a more unusual offering. Quail with a “stuffing” of mushrooms and caramelized onions. The stuffing was more of a sauce on the side, all very tasty. The star dish of the evening was venison done two ways. One pan seared and the other oven–baked. Both were lovely and cooked to perfection. We capped the evening off with a decadent vanilla creme brulee. The wine for the evening was provided by Pelee Island Winery and the pairings carefully thought out and explained to the diners. We were given five generous pours, including a sparkling wine to start and finishing with their ice wine. All in all the evening was a decent value, albeit not an inexpensive night out. $90 gets you four courses with wine pairings, your taxes and gratuities included. It is, however, difficult to place a value on the “fun” aspect of the evening, starting with not knowing your location until a few days ahead of time, not knowing what food will be placed in front of you or who you will be dining with. It is great fun and I’ve already had friends and family ask me to tell them when the next Pop Up is happening, claiming “we’re in!”. If you are the fussy sort of diner who likes to make substitutions, has complicated dietary restrictions, including vegetarianism/veganism, don’t bother signing up. If you are at all in doubt, you should contact Dave in advance to inquire if the situation can accommodate your particular needs as each event has its own unique circumstances. Vegans can look forward to a completely vegan pop–up in the near future, but otherwise, you get what you get, so if you are a picky eater this is not the eating experience for you.
Quickly on the heels of my first pop–up, I attended my first Dishcrawl. If you are not familiar with the phenomena that is Dishcrawl, think pubcrawl, but with restaurants! Each crawl focuses on an area of the city that can provide four different food experiences that are within a short walking distance of each other. Like the pop–up restaurant modus operandi, diners don’t know where they are going in advance. They know the neighbourhood, and two days ahead of time they are told their first stop of the evening. Dishcrawl Hamilton has visited Locke Street, James St. North, the International Village to name a few districts. I wasn’t able to attend these events but I did know they were happening and in each instance I was able to predict at least two of the four restaurants that were included. I was likewise able to predict a few of our stops on Tuesday night’s Mountain Dishcrawl, but it was still delightfully full of surprises. Our evening started out at Papa Leo’s on Concession Street. What a little gem. I’ve driven past this place on countless occasions, and for whatever reason it never piqued my curiosity. I’ve never noticed it reviewed anywhere and I’ve never noticed it advertised anywhere. It is just a tiny place and it couldn’t accommodate all of the dishcrawlers at tables, with quite a few of us lining up along their bar for the 45 minutes that we were there. Papa Leo’s serves breakfast and lunch six days a week and has recently started one dinner service a month, on the last Friday of the month. Starting our evening off, Leo served us a trio of apple bacon pancakes with fried quail egg, mango and red pepper salad finished with chorizo and a crab and shrimp cake with aioli. What can I say? It was all as delicious as it sounds. If the purpose of a restaurant’s participation in Dishcrawl is to showcase its chops and attract foodies to return to their establishment on another occasion for a full meal, then Papa Leo definitely achieved its objective. I’m sure that it gained a few new patrons that evening.
Our next stop was Ole Gourmet. Well, to be precise, a bagpiper took us on a merry little trek across the street to a church and inside we found the fine folks of Ole Gourmet prepared to impress us with a few new menu items that they are working on. If you are familiar with Ole Gourmet, you know that there is no way 40 dishcrawlers could fit inside, so this was quite an inventive solution. I didn’t expect a bagpiper and I didn’t expect a church visit either. Ole Gourmet has four locations in the city and the VIEW crew is well acquainted with the Locke Street location so for me this wasn’t as exciting a stop as Papa Leo’s. I already know and love Ole Gourmet. They rolled out a new beef taco with a soft shell that was very flavourful and definitely something I would order in the future. They also had a deep fried taquito with three tasty dipping sauces and a deep fried dessert churro, which also came with a dipping sauce that they unfortunately ran out of before reaching me. It would have been nice to have been offered a Mexican pop, or even been provided with a jug of ice water.
La Luna was next up on our tour of Concession Street and again, this is a big favourite of mine, whether at this location, or on King, or their La Luna Express on Upper James. There was nothing new for me to sample here, but no fault of La Luna’s or Dishcrawl. We were, however, provided with entertainment in the parking lot, courtesy of a fire eater, and that was very cool. My new foodie friends were all rather appalled that the accelerant the gent was using was kerosene. Kerosene! What is that doing to his taste buds? Anyhow, we all traipsed inside the warm and welcoming La Luna and huge dinner plates full of some of the best of what they are known for were placed in front of us. It was a lot of food. Rice, fattoush salad, a mound of their amazing hummus topped with a falafel still toasty warm from the fryer and their delectable chicken tawook. I.Just.Couldn’t.Possibly.Eat.It.All. It was so good that I did give it a valiant effort but clearly should have stopped eating sooner, because shortly we were off on our final jaunt of the evening, heading down Concession, closer and closer towards some cheerful music performed live by Ash and Bloom just outside of a café. We found ourselves at E23. Yes! So pleased to find myself in another spot I had yet to visit. It is a newly opened coffee shop owned by the same folks who own Red Hill Coffee and I think it is a great new addition to this strip of Concession which doesn’t have anything else like it. Ash & Bloom moved inside to continue with the entertainment and they were the perfect choice for winding down our evening. We were served a fancypants coffee upon which the barista had etched a sweet little heart and it was accompanied by Hotti Biscotti’s biscotti and a couple of Camino’s free trade chocolates. I’m sorry to say that it was all I could manage to find enough room in my stomach for the coffee and a nibble of the delicious biscotti. I like Hotti Biscotti’s biscotti. They claim to be a “softer” biscotti, and they truly are.
So to recap, we not only sampled the offerings of four restaurants and a bake shop, but we were given a warm welcome at Papa Leo’s by the Concession Street BIA, were entertained by a bagpiper, a fire–eater and a folk duo, were welcomed by an owner or chef at each stop who explained their dishes and offered a history of their establishment, and Dave was an excellent host, mingling constantly amongst us ensuring we all felt a part of it all.
Dishcrawl costs $60 plus tax and processing fee ( $71.79 to be exact) and that does not include any beverages you choose to purchase. Most Dishcrawls can accommodate vegetarians so do inquire in advance if you are interested.
In the spirit of transparency I must admit to being a guest of Dave’s for the pop–up dining but I was a paying customer at Dishcrawl. I was a bit reluctant to accept the free meal as I can honestly say that I have never written a review for a meal that I didn’t pay for. I think it is just that much more difficult to say anything negative when you’ve been treated to a night out and that one is naturally more critical upon plunking down their own hard earned cash. It was a bit of a relief to find that I couldn’t come up with much to nitpick about the pop–up dining experience and I know I will not be hesitating to shell out and take my vegetarian daughter to the vegan pop–up that is promised for early in January. If you are looking for a bit more than just a dinner out, if you’re up for a bit of an adventure, and game for whatever it entails then I think you can’t go wrong with Dishcrawl. I think Dishcrawl would be great for a date night, and that Pop Up dining would be tons of fun to attend with a group of your favorite food and wine enthusiasts. Put your trust in Dave Hanley to provide you with a grand evening out on the town. V
The next Dishcrawl will be January 28th on Ottawa Street.
Gift certificates are available