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Chez Tousignant

24 Jan

In Quebec, the casse-croute is a tradition. That little neighbourhood joint where you get a nice simple breakfast, a greasy lunch, dinner or even just a coffee and a doughnut. Nowadays for most of us, we think of casse-croutes as those greasy spots by the highway or the Belle Province you go to grab a bit after a late night outing. Not exactly the highest of quality.

As an unabashed fan of Michele Forgione and Stefano Faita – and their drive to make everything homemade within their restaurants GEMA and Impasto – All the “test” pictures of burgers, bread, hot dogs and doughnuts that Michele has been posting on Instagram for the past year or so have been killing me. When would we be getting this ideal old school casse-croute? Finally, just prior to the holidays, it finally arrived: Chez Tousignant run by Impasto’s previous chef de cuisine (and originator of the idea) Yann Turcotte. I was away for 2 weeks but as soon as I came back, it was clear that I needed to finally satisfy the cravings from all those pictures.

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Located on Drolet near the Jean Talon market, Chez Tousignant has a great old school diner look – the neon sign in front, the ceramic tiled floor, the metal-topped tables and counters, the stools. Everything even down to the menu signs fits the old style.

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Foodwise, this is a casse-croute through and through. On my first visit, I went classic – a Michigan hot dog and some fries. The fries were great – as you need at a diner – but right now, we NEED to focus on that hot dog. Homemade all-beef dog. Homemade potato bun. Topped with homemade meat sauce and cheese curds. Good lord this thing was amazing. Officially the best hot dog I have ever had and it’s not even close. The all-natural beef frank is such a change from the usual industrial variety. Cooked on the griddle, it had a nice crunch to it while still having a nice tender texture inside. And that bun….. oh that bun. Man, they nailed it. When you add the buttered grilling on the griddle, that dense yet soft bun gets a nice rich crunch to it. Rare is the time where one hot dog would fill me up but this one hit the spot. When you’re doing hot dogs with ingredients with this quality, that’s what you get apparently.

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The second time around, I went for some other classic casse-croute staples – cheeseburger and poutine. The cheeseburger – served with special sauce, lettuce, onion as well as tomato and pickle if you wish – was another hit for me. The potato bun was once again spectacular – god I need to learn to make these – with that same buttery goodness off the griddle. The meat was meaty with a nice crust, the cheese was nicely melted on-top and the sauce added a nice little creaminess. A classic yet spectacular burger.

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The poutine was a beauty as well. First off, curds at the bottom. Not just on-top. Big hit with me. A very nice touch. Anyway, we’ve got here a generous portion of fries with plenty of curds and some amazing gravy. This wasn’t some off the shelf St-Hubert gravy mix. So dark and rich, the gravy ties the whole thing together. It’s amazing how given all the ways that people feel the need to dress up a poutine now if you just use the best elements, the classic one is simply the best.

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On top of all this goodness, there is even more! Chez Tousignant also does a pie of the day and some doughnuts for dessert. I went with a doughnut because I couldn’t resist the beautiful stack of doughnuts on-top of the counter. An old-fashion cake doughnut with a vanilla bean glaze. The doughnut itself was dense but nicely chewy – sweet with a touch of cinnamon. The glaze though was the impressive part to me. The vanilla bean came through nicely and the glaze was firm – no stickiness whatsoever – but cracked nicely once you bite into it.

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Lastly, I went with a milkshake because of course I did. Chez Tousignant does chocolate or vanilla. I tried one of each on my two visits. Rich and smooth in both cases with nice deep flavour. You actually got chocolate or vanilla flavour – not just milk with a hint of either one.

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Chez Tousignant was a blast in the past in the best way possible. A true casse-croute where care is taken to make everything homemade because that is how you provide the best to your clients. All through the process of testing, chef Forgione labeled all his pictures with #ParceQueVousLeMeritez – that’s the essence of what Chef Turcotte and the Chez Tousignant team are about – it may be lots of work but as a client, you cannot help but appreciate the craftsmanship on display.

Cheers!

Chez Tousignant
6956 Drolet
438 386 6368

Chez Tousignant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Pizzeria Gema

16 Aug

Ever since Stefano Faita and Michele Forgione of Impasto announced their second project would be a pizzeria, I have been eagerly anticipating its opening. The level of craft showed from them at Impasto left me no doubts that their approach of pizza would worth the wait. Each instagram post from Chef Forgione of his test runs made me more and more excited as we saw the level of perfectionism in its purest form. This pizza would be no slouch. Finally, at long last, I could find out for myself. Pizzeria Gema opened up last month just across the street from Impasto in the heart of Little Italy making the corner of Dante and St-Dominique an happening culinary corner.

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Gema itself is a relatively small restaurant – all of about 40 seats probably and they don’t take reservations, so you may have to wait to get in. In our case, we waited about 30 minutes. The nice part is that they will take your phone number down and call you so you can go from a walk or grab a drink elsewhere in the meantime. If you prefer, there is a takeout window on the side where you order a pizza to-go or some frozen custard. The interior is sparse but clean – old wood panels on the wall, aged hardwood on the floors with a weird light “tree” in the middle of the room adding some color to the space. The other focus point is the bar with its marble countertop although I got a good laugh that the bar chairs are the same Ikea ones I have in my apartment. The space isn’t a looker like its neighbour Impasto but that’s not an issue for me.

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The menu is small and concise. A few entrees, 8 or so pizza options and some frozen custard for dessert. As a starter, we went with the fried calamari. A nice portion of fresh calamari with a good crunch to them. They are served with a couple of lemon wedges, no mayo because they don’t need any sauce to enhance flavour. The calamari have plenty of flavours all by themselves.

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On the pizza side, we got 2 pizzas to enjoy. The first one was their basic “1889” margarita pizza with tomato sauce, fior di latte and fresh basil. The second one, because I am a huge meat-lovers fan, was the Giovanni Deluxe – tomato sauce, zampina, pepperoni, porchetta and lardo. Boy, did these pizzas not disappoint…. the pizza crust is just insane. Ridiculous. Whatever positive superlative you want to use applies to this dough. A nice crisp seer on the exterior without a single burnt spot to be seen…. and completely soft and moist inside. This level of dough mastery deserves the highest praise. Props to you Chef.

And we haven’t even gotten to the toppings yet. The classic margherita was excellent – the tomato sauce was tangy, the cheese creamy and rich, the basil brought that freshness and the overall ratio on the pizza was excellent – none of the ingredients were too present or not present enough. As for the Giovanni deluxe: house made pepperoni, the porchetta from Impasto, zampina, lardo…. this pizza had me from the description. Great combo of fatty rich meats on top of the base margherita. Simply heavenly. I just wished it had been bigger so I could enjoy it some more.

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Whatever you do however, make sure that you have room left for dessert because Gema has frozen custard… not ice cream but custard. The difference comes in terms of a richer, creamier texture which personally bought to mind a creamy version of Dairy Cream which hit childhood nostalgia for me every time. Gema has chocolate or vanilla so of course, we went with a twist of the two. There is also a handful of topping options – we went with crumbled baci, mixed nuts and butterscotch sauce. A perfect dessert for a pizzeria.

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Once again, Chefs Faita and Forgione hit it out of the park. Gema is a wonderful addition to the pizza scene in Montreal and for me, is currently the champion hands down. That crust means business. If they offered delivery to the McGill Ghetto, I would seriously be a weekly caller. At present, I will definitely be a regular visitor because they are other topping combinations I need to try and that pizza is too good to pass up for too long.

Cheers!

Pizzeria Gema
6827 Saint Dominique
514 419 4448

Pizzeria Gema on Urbanspoon

Impasto

6 Oct

After a few months of waiting, I finally had the chance to check out the Italian restaurant everyone is talking about right now – Impasto. This small space, located in the heart of Little Italy and only a short walk from the Jean Talon Market, was born of the collaboration between Michele Forgione (formerly of Osteria Venti) and Stefano Faita, host of CBC’s In the Kitchen. Impasto aims to provide great Italian food with no shortcuts – almost everything is made in house. Walking into the space, that level of craft permeates even the decor. Beautiful open kitchen with wood panel walls, leather banquettes, terrazzo floors, Pelligrino bottles lining the ceiling and just enough lighting to really brighten up the room. I sat down with a Negrini in hand, ready to enjoy a wonderful meal with a group of friends.

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First up, we have the Insalada di Moscardini – baby octopus, fennel, potato and red onion salad. A beautifully balanced salad. The freshness of the fennel combined nicely with the bite of the red onion, the starch of the potatoes and the fatty octopus. Add a little olive oil and some herbs and you had a great starter to the meal.

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The other starter I got to try was the housemade Apulia style sausage with pan seared rapini and apple vinegar. Great texture to the sausage as well as great flavour. The combination of the rapini and the apple vinegar adds some nice acidity to the fatty sausage. I know rapini isn’t everyone’s thing but I personally love it so that worked for me.

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The next course was the pasta course. I went for the ricotta gnocchi with basil infused tomato sauce. This dish is probably Chef Forgione’s speciality and I had heard so much about it that I wasn’t sure it could meet my expectations. Well….. it blew them out of the water. The slow pillowy texture of each morsel. The rich ricotta flavour. I have never had gnocchi that literally melt in your mouth like these ones did. Lightly tossed with a simple but very flavourful tomato sauce, this was pretty much the best pasta dish I have had all year almost without saying. Bravo Chef!

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I also got to try another pasta dish – the mafalde with rabbit ragu, chicory and olives. The mafalde pasta itself was wonderful – great texture, indicative of people who know how to make great in-house pasta. The combination of the rabbit ragu with the chicory made for very earthy notes – a nice contrast to the richness of the ricotta gnocchi I had previously.

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For the next course, I went with Nonno’s porchetta roast served with a vanilla pear, pan seared rapini and some candied fruits. This was an amazing roast – deliciously rich and fatty pork meat with crispy skin. The skin wasn’t the crispest I’ve ever had but still wonderful. The inclusion of the vanilla pear and the candied fruits provided some sweetness to balance with the inherent saltiness and fattiness of the roast itself. I love porchetta and Impasto’s take just reinforced my love.

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For dessert, we went with the Tiramisu and the chocolate tort cake. I’m not a big fan of Tiramisu due to my hatred of coffee but this one was milder in terms of the coffee taste and had a wonderfully smooth texture. The chocolate cake had more of a brownie texture – very dense but still moist. Very well executed.

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This was a great meal all around. Impasto aims for great Italian food and they hit on all the notes. As a party, we did find the service to be slightly slow in terms of bringing water and taking wine orders but it is a minor quibble. Now, the menu changes seasonly and ironically enough, they just changed the menu for the fall so you won’t be able to try the dishes I described above. However, that should not stop you from going menu unseen. I have no doubts you will be as satisfied as I was. Now, I just want to go back to see what Chef Forgione and company have in mind for the current season.

Cheers!

Impasto
48 Dante
514 508 6508

Impasto on Urbanspoon

Pizzeria Napoletana

9 Jun

If there is one blind spot in my Montreal food repertoire that I feel somewhat embarrassed about, it is Pizza. Despite my absolute love of all things Pizza related – I could honestly eat pizza everyday if such a thing were reasonable from a dietary point of view – I have not exploring many of Montreal’s fine establishments. If someone were to ask me where to get a great slice of pizza, I honestly wouldn’t have an answer that I could base on personal experience. Well… I want to change that. So last weekend, I took the opportunity after a visit to Jean Talon Market to try a Little Italy institution, Pizzeria Napoletana.

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Right off the bat, I am not a staunch advocate of either thin crust or deep dish pizza. I give equal time to both sides… as long as it is done right. In this instance, we would be treated to a classic Italian thin crust pizza. When coming to a place that has been doing it since 1948, one hopes you will be getting a great slice of pie. With thin crust, you are looking for a nice crisp base but one that still has a bit of chewiness to it. Too thin or crisp and you get something that tastes completely burnt. On the toppings front, you want a nice tomato sauce and good cheese. You want just enough of both to cover the dough but not so much that it overwhelms the flavor of the crust.

I decided to go with a Quattro Fromaggi pizza for my first try. Before I add extra ingredients, I want to see if the basic pizza is done well. Napoletana uses Mozzarella, Parmesan, Romano and bocconcini for their version. This was a very well done pizza. It pretty much had everything I was looking for. Crispy yet tender crust – check. Bonus points for the slightly burnt edge as well. Right amount of both sauce and cheese – check. Tangy tomato sauce – check. Nice mix of cheese – check. Very satisfying pizza overall.

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My sister went with a even simpler pizza on her end – the classic Margarita. Once again, a very nice pizza with the same characteristics of the previous one minus the added notes of the Romano and bocconcini cheese.

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As the 1st true entry in the Montreal Pizza search, Pizzeria Napoletana was exactly what I expected from a Montreal Institution – a place that serves solid pizza, tried and true. It was a good initial benchmark to set my expectations for a good Montreal Pizza. Walking into the restaurant, you absolutely get that old school pizzeria feel – the pictures of celebrities on the walls, all the staff in restaurant t-shirts and caps, paper placemats and the fact that this still only take cash. If you’re looking for a classic Napoli style pizza, this is a good place to start.

Cheers!

Pizzeria Napoletana
189 Dante
514 276 8226

Pizzeria Napoletana on Urbanspoon

El Rey del Taco

1 Jun

Spring is finally upon us in Montreal which means my regular excursions to Jean Talon Market are occurring once more. Outside of the wonderful produce available to us at the market, there are some very interested options for anyone looking for a good meal. One of these is El Rey del Taco, a Mexican grocery store with a terrasse space overlooking the market and dishing out some south american food. With the recent rise of tacos in the city with Grumman 78, Icehouse and Mais amongst others, El Rey del Taco can get overlooked as a worthwhile option but I am here to tell you that would be a disservice.

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Over the last month, I went for a quick lunch twice. As soon as you sit down, you are greeted with complementary tortilla chips with 3 different salsas, one mild, one spicy and one salsa verde. All 3 are enjoyable – the salsa verde in particular packs a pretty good punch.

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To cool down from the heat, I ordered a glass of horchata. For the uninitiated, horchata is a rice based beverage which I absolutely love. Nice hints of vanilla and cinnamon within this cold drink. Great refreshing beverage to balance nicely the heat of the dishes. One of my favorite summer non-alcoholic drinks.

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First up, I ordered the cheese quesadilla with guacamole. The guacamole has a nice thick consistency with the right hints of coriander, lime and tomato with the avocado. The quesadilla was quite good as well. The tortillas had the right crispness to them on the outside without becoming too brittle in general. The cheese in the middle was perfectly melted and had the right tang to it.

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As a main, I chose to go with the chorizo tacos. The chorizo was broken down and cooked perfectly well with the natural spiciness of the sausage coming out very well. The little sauce added to the mix further enhanced that flavor. Topped with some coriander and onion to add some freshness and sweetness, these were very nice balanced tacos.

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On the second visit, I went for the lamb tacos. In contrast to the spicy chorizo, the lamb was mild in flavor but had a more tender consistency and a much fattier taste as well. Topped with the same onions and coriander as the previous tacos, these tacos were quite tasty as well. I could have easily eaten the lamb by itself as a meal. Juicy, tender and falls apart without any effort. Just a wonderful cooking job there.

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El Rey del Taco is a great option for anyone looking for a good taqueria in Montreal. Service is a little up and down but the price is reasonable and the quantity are plentiful. If you come to Jean Talon Market with any regularity, you need to stop by at least one and enjoy a good meal.

Cheers!

El Rey del Taco
232 Jean Talon Est.
514 814 3813

El Rey del Taco on Urbanspoon

Douro

8 Oct

There are restaurants that, for some reason, become family favorites. Be it for a specific food item, the wine list, the decor or even the service, these are places that you will go back to time and time again because you enjoy it and are in the mood to go back. They become staple of the rotation when the family seeks a nice place to enjoy a nice weekend meal. For my family, Douro is one such place. Given we recently went back for a nice Saturday evening meal, I figure now would be a good opportunity to talk about it.

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For the uninitiated, Douro is a Portuguese restaurant located of the fringes of Little Italy here in Montreal. They serve tapas style dishes or you can stick to the classic appetizer/ main course format if you’d like. Each time I’ve gone, I have stuck to the tapas menu. Amongst the tapas options on this evening, we went for chorizo sausage, grilled squid, grilled calamari, garlic shrimp and cod cakes. Every item is cooked very nicely without overdoing the ingredients – simply allowing the natural favors of each items shine through with some slight enhancements. The grilled squid is of particular note here.

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The next serving brought forth some delicious mussels as well as 2nd helpings of squid and cod cakes. The mussels were rather small but they were still delicious as was the garlic and white wine broth.

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To top off the evening, a deliciously fresh pastry. Nice flaky crust and a buttery smooth filling.

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Add to this delicious food a nice bottle of Portuguese white wine and you have yourself a very nice meal to enjoy. The service is outstanding and personable. I have some minor quips about the decor of the restaurant (although I seem to be the only one who feels that way) but they do not distract for the great food you will enjoy. If you are looking for a nice enjoyable Portuguese meal, I highly recommend giving Douro a shot. Maybe your family will enjoy it as much as mine.

Cheers!

Douro
6518 Boul. St-Laurent
514 273 6969

Douro on Urbanspoon

Pastaga (Brunch Edition)

17 Sep

Another beautiful Sunday in Montreal can only mean another Brunch opportunity. This past weekend, my brunch partner and I….and yes… I have a brunch buddy. In lieu of a relationship, brunch is best enjoyed amongst friends, so we have made this a regular occurrence. Great way to maintain friendships you care about. Food for thought (and pun completely intended). Anyway… Pastaga is a restaurant that I have wanted to visit for some time now. Eventually I will go for dinner but for the time being, having been biking by it every weekend for the past 3 months on my way to Jean Talon Market, I decided that brunch was a quicker option for the time being.

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Pastaga does brunch on Sunday exclusively. On this beautiful day, we arrived before any rush and sat down right away. Right off the bat, the place has a great look and feel. Very simple and fresh decor. The large window in the front of the restaurant provides a large amount of natural light which lights up the space. Simple wood tables, couch chairs and a nice bar in the back. The killer element is the glass wall in the back which exposes the beautiful kitchen for all to see. I could have sat there for hours.

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Started off with a strawberry smoothie and the complimentary sugared doughnuts with housemate caramel. Smoothie was light but had a great taste. The doughnuts were very good as well. They didn’t have the warm fluffy texture of something that has been made fresh to order but were delicious regardless. Nice crunch to them and not too dense. The caramel was the star however. Perfectly rich and smooth.

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As a main course, I had Pastaga’s version of a hash. Grilled potatoes and peppers with bacon, egg and toast. Simple in principle but exquisite in execution. All the elements came together wonderfully for a great dish. The bacon in particular was just perfect. More a large slab of pork than what most would consider bacon but no complaints here. Simply a great dish.

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My friend had the Benedictine plate. Pastaga’s play of this dish included a fowl drumstick. Once again, every element of the plate was perfectly executed. The biscuit was good, the poached egg was perfect, the drumstick was great and the hollandaise sauce was exceptionally light with the same taste one would expect from most hollandaise sauces. Another great dish.

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Finally, to finish off the meal, we split the petit fours which consisted of 4 mini brownies with a candied grape in the middle of each. A perfect sweet ending to a very good meal.

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Pastaga was a great brunch experience that I would highly recommend to anyone looking for a nice place to try out. This meal further reinforced my need to come have dinner here as well. Anytime you are in the Little Italy/ Jean Talon Market area, you would be hard pressed to find a better brunch option to enjoy on a nice relaxing Sunday.

Cheers!

Pastaga
6389 Saint-Laurent (corner Beaubien)
438 381-6389

Pastaga on Urbanspoon

Dinette Triple Crown

23 Aug

On my regular Saturday bike ride to and from Jean Talon Market, I occasionally use the opportunity to stop and try some desired location located on my route through Mile End and Little Italy. Last week, I was in the mood for some BBQ so I headed off to a pretty new addition to the scene in Little Italy, Dinette Triple Crown.

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I had first heard of this location through Natasha Pickowicz‘s blog. As a fan of BBQ, I was instantly intrigued and boy… was I not disappointed. The restaurant is in a small space at the corner of St-Zotique and Clark across from Martel park. There is a small counter area to sit inside but the place is really set up to pick up and enjoy elsewhere. In fact, they offer an option to provide a picnic basket filled with your order to bring across the street to enjoy outside. Had I not been alone, the option would have been a perfect one but inside was just as enjoyable. The restaurant has a cool look with amazing music playing throughout. Any place that plays jazz, crooner and soul music the whole time is a winner in my books!

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The menu options run the gamut of classic southern style food: brisket, fried chicken, pulled pork, biscuits, sweet potato, greens, etc… I went for a large wide swatch of their options for my lunch: Pulled pork sandwich, one piece of fried chicken, a buttermilk biscuit, sweet potatoes and a lemonade. There wasn’t a single bad option on this plate. The sweet potatoes were perfectly cooked with a nice crisp exterior without the interior becoming complete mush. The biscuit was a perfect combination of rich, soft, flaky goodness. It was the kind of thing where you can just tell that lots of butter and buttermilk was used in its making but you don’t care in the least. The fried chicken was simply perfect – the skin was crispy, seasoned perfectly and not overbearing. The chicken was probably the moistest I’ve ever experienced with fried chicken. That classic feeling of needing to drink loads of water to offset the dryness of fried chicken was nowhere to be found. The chicken definitely deserved to be enjoyed in a larger quantity but that had to wait because I needed to try the pulled pork.

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When I want to judge a BBQ place, the pulled pork or the ribs are, to me, the to go options. The pulled pork here is just amazing. Perfectly done with the right level of tenderness & amazing flavor and that is without sauce because at Dinette, the pulled pork sandwich comes un-sauced. On the table, you have numerous options of sauces from which to choose from. You have a more classic Memphis BBQ sauce, a South Carolina mustard sauce and a vinegar based East Carolina sauce. Dinette Triple Crown also experiment with other sauce options from time to time. When I was there, the chef came over to provide me with a sample of his current concoction, a peach jalapeño sauce. Let me repeat that because I believe it deserves to be repeated: peach jalapeño sauce. Now, I really don’t enjoy jalapeño spice but I definitely needed to try this one. I tried both it and the Memphis BBQ sauce. The BBQ sauce was spot-on and hit the notes you expect from a top notch BBQ place. The Peach jalapeño sauce was just out of bounds. Spicy to start with a nice sweetness midway to cool the pallet before the heat kicks up again at the finish, this sauce was ridiculous. Just ridiculous. Not sure how much I use it given my lack of hot sauce enjoyment but for those who do, Dinette does sell the sauces they make periodically so check it out with that’s your style.

All in all, Dinette Triple Crown is the best southern BBQ experience I’ve ever had. Period. Anyone who loves BBQ needs to stop over and give this place a shot. I will definitely be heading back very soon to try the rest of the menu.

Cheers!

Dinette Triple Crown
6704 Clark (corner St-Zotique)
514 272 2617

Dinette Triple Crown on Urbanspoon

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