Sunday, 27 December 2015

Storming the Barnstormer Brewing Company

Six family members in this house and three of them have December birthdays! Why couldn't they have waited until January, as I did, for a more convenient time to be born? Some people, eh?  It isn't always easy to fit a few more special days into the mix of holiday madness, but we manage it somehow. Five days before Christmas, we took the last of the December babies, my husband Ron, to the Barnstormer Brewing Company for dinner.

Barnstormer is a neat concept. They are part brewery and part eatery. Started a few years a ago in a storage unit, these self described like-minded, beer-loving, big-dreaming wing nuts began experimenting with making true natural and sustainable craft beers. No filtering, pasteurizing or preservatives. Everything on their restaurant menu is either made using beer or created with pairing it with beer in mind. Even the grains used in the brewing process are turned into things like pizza crusts and flat-breads - genius!

Ron and I, three of our kids and 1 girlfriend easily fit into one of Barnstormer's unusually large booths. I'm  pretty sure we could have added 2 more. A quick look around from our table vantage point revealed a casual and fun looking place, almost Irish pub meets industrial. The airplane theme is everywhere but I also got the feeling that this place could definitely be somebody's local. Signs of fun times ahead - trivia night, live music, high-stakes rock/paper/scissors tournaments were everywhere. Sounds like a riot. You can see the brewers behind a glass wall sampling, testing and laughing as they go about the work that they obviously enjoy.

We have a favourite server and her name is Della, which is sort of odd considering we have never been in before! Della is a long time family friend and an employee at Barnstormer. For quite some time, she has been encouraging us to try it out and so finally here we are. We missed Della's shift that day sadly, but she made us a reservation and we were greeted by another fine server instead.

There are several ways to try out Barnstormer's beers. You could order a a tray of sample sized beers if you aren't too sure what you want, or dive right into a full size glass of something that sounds appealing. The beer drinkers at my table all chose the very popular 400 Blonde Ale which is named in honour of all the road warriors who brave our local highway on their daily commute and most certainly deserve a cold brew on a Friday evening. Not being overly adventurous on their first flight into Barnstormer, they wanted something familiar tasting and had heard reports that 400 was reminiscence of Molson Canadian, which they found to be more or less true. They looked at me funny when I ordered the Polar Pumpkin Ale. C'mon guys - live a little!

Barnstormer is well known for their excellent pizzas so Ron ordered one customized in a meat lovers' style with pepperoni, bacon and sausage. He got the 11 inch pie, (there is a 15 inch as well) and fretted aloud that he could never eat all that pizza himself, but eat it he did. Hmmmm it must have been good!

The six of us took a good run at the menu with no two ordering the same thing. Aside from the tasty pizza, there were also honey garlic wings, a beef burger, a Pin Up Girl chicken wrap, a quinoa salad and my veggie burger with a side of poutine on the table. At least the reserved beer drinkers branched out a bit when it came time to eat! By the way, my Polar Pumpkin Ale was really nice. It contrasted greatly to the tall pale blonde glasses on the server's tray when it arrived and I had a brief what-have-I-done? moment. Was this short, darker glass of beer going to be bitter? I am kind of an anti-hop person, if such a term exists. First, I took a sniff. Wow - I completely got that pumpkin pie aroma! I passed it around for others to smell. They agreed that the fragrance was nice but I was still nuts for drinking a pumpkin anything beer. Their loss, I say.

Food was good. We would definitely come back again I would say. In fact, Ron was back again six days later for wings to watch the World Junior hockey game with my brother-in-law.

Being a bit of a spelling and grammar tyrant, (although I mess up plenty myself), I was amused by the large sign above the bar. In raised letters, it reads WHAT'S ON TAP, although the apostrophe seems to have been added in later with either white paint or chalk. I'm betting that there is an interesting story behind that! So if you want to check out something a little different in place where they take the important stuff seriously, but don't get too serious themselves and yet treat you to seriously good eats and drinks, book a flight and take off to the Barnstormer Brewing Company at 384 Yonge St. at Little. Oh yes - they do take out food  and sell beer to take home too!

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Dinner and a Show: The 80s Girls Visit McReilly's Pub

If you've read a few of my blog posts, you will notice a recurring theme - the 1980s! It's true that I am hopelessly stuck in this fantastic era of giant earrings and even bigger hair, but what I love the most about that decade is the music. Give me new wave, a bit of punk and a lot of super synthesized electronic dance music.

I wasted many hours of my youth on the lighted and mirrored dance floor at the Queen's Hotel, and if I had a time machine, I would set the dial to about 1984 and go back there in an instant. Without that device (someone invent one please), I do the next best thing - I go to as many 80s band concerts as I can. When I learned that Platinum Blonde was playing at the Roxy Theatre, I was so in! Bought my tickets online and rounded up some other dedicated 80s chicks to go along too.

Going downtown for a show is a great excuse to try out a new eatery. On this adventure, we decided on sampling McReilly's Pub at 82 Dunlop St. E. It is part of the 150 year old McConkey building, where my husband and I had our first apartment years ago. Just my opinion, but I think that an Irish type pub like this is ideally suited to an historic neighbourhood such as this, as opposed to a box in a newer plaza.

My neighbour, Christine, and I arrived at McReilly's about 6:30 and found Nikki and Theressa already there sipping drinks. I looked around - nice, cozy looking place, lots of booths, warm and casual atmosphere and a good mix of age groups. Our server was with us very quickly and I ordered a pint of cider. How I love a cider.

My other love, as you may well know already, is fish and chips. It must be my UK blood. The best thing in the world is a fish supper bought from a street corner chippy, soft white haddock or halibut in a light batter, chunky fries, lots of salt and vinegar, all wrapped up in newspapers. Heaven. Sadly, I believe newspapers aren't considered food grade material and can no longer be used.

So yes - I ordered fish and chips. Christine ordered a really cool thing that I have not noticed on another menu - a hamburger inside a grilled cheese sandwich. Both Theressa and Nikky got the reuben sandwich. Theressa chose the house cut fries as her side dish but Nikki got house salad, which leads me to an interesting little event that I wasn't going to mention at first but then I realized that it actually shines a very positive light on McReilly's excellent customer service.

A little background information - three out of the four of us are country girls, Nikki and I having been raised on the Holland Marsh. We grew up yanking carrots straight out of the field and, after a brief wipe off on our jeans, ate them as a snack. Today, Nikki still lives on the Marsh and works for a company that produces fresh sprouts.

So when Nikki got down to the bottom of her salad bowl and found a minuscule green, six legged creature expired there, she was not terribly panicked. Although not trained pathologists, we surmised that the tiny thing had succumbed to drowning, as this salad was obviously super well washed. Our lovely server however, was mortified. Her pretty smile disappeared and she was very apologetic. We were not too worried because we know that these things happen. Real vegetables, grown in real fields, are going to get mixed up with other living things, whether we want to see them or not.

Even with that funny little occurrence, we really enjoyed our dinners and would come back again. When the bills were handed out, Nikki didn't get one. It took her a minute to realize why. She had not expected to have her entire bill wiped out and was very pleasantly surprised. Very classy, McReilly's!

So, with full bellies and feeling good about our dining experience, we wandered down the street to the concert venue. We arrived far to early but the good thing about that is that you can pick your spot for the show. Nikki is a more seasoned concert goer than I (I plan to catch up!) and set us up stage side, right beside a waist high speaker. She insisted that this was the place to be.

Yes, we waited something like an hour and half there for the concert to begin, but once Platinum Blonde came on stage, the atmosphere was electric! Jumping up and down, hands in the air, dancing in our crowded little corner to Crying, Standing in the Dark, and It Doesn't Really Matter, we were transported back to those fun times years ago. For a few hours, we were 19 years old again.

I didn't appreciate Nikki's true genius until front man, the charismatic Mark Holmes, jumped off the stage and onto our speaker and played his guitar right above our heads. Wow, I nearly turned into one of those screaming fans that you see on old film of Beatles concerts!

The night was such a success that we are already planning to see Honeymoon Suite at the Roxy in January. Platinum Blonde, you guys are as good as ever - or better! McReilly's Pub, you proved that top notch customer service doesn't depend on the thing that happened but how you deal with that thing. You get an A+ from me.