6 posts tagged with “Strip Mall Gems”

  • Last of the Strip Mall Gems: Readers’ Choices

    A spread at Hibachi Café in St. Catharines.

    Strip Mall Gems is a series of Eating Niagara, my column that runs in the St. Catharines Standard, Niagara Falls Review and Welland Tribune. This is my final instalment in the series and includes readers’ choices.

    It was about a year ago at this time that I walked into a burrito joint in a Niagara Falls strip mall, looking for lunch.

    I was there on chef Michael Olson’s recommendation and held out high hopes for my sweet potato wrap at a place that was nothing if not intriguing. It was Don Wong’s Mexican Asian Food Mart.

    How could I not be curious?

    As I waited for my order, I learned that owners Cyndi Wong-Lorenzo and Attilio Lorenzo had only been open three weeks. They moved to the region from Toronto, beckoned by a pace of life more meandering than big-city maniacal.

    Niagara Falls, where Lorenzo grew up, promised to be the perfect place to raise the couple’s own family. Their new takeout venture, a more multicultural riff on what they were doing in Toronto, would enable them to do it.

    As I took my first few bites of burrito, filled with generous pieces of sweet potato and splotches of guacamole, I wondered how many people were like these two, pinning their hopes on a shoebox space in those bastions of mundane urban architecture we call The Strip Mall.

    And how many of us just drive by, thinking ‘One day I’ll stop in’ or ‘I wonder if that place is any good?’

    My strip mall gems series was born at that moment.

    This past year, I stretched my freelancer’s bank balance and my waistline to tell the stories of some of Niagara’s dining treasures; some fancy, some no frills.

    They were stories of chefs trading in round-the-clock jobs in other people’s kitchens to put their own stamp on breakfast and lunch, and have time at night for their families.

    They were tales of people with plum day jobs packing them in to take a chance on a dream. Of new Canadians who longed for a taste of home and when they couldn’t find it, invited us to their tables to share their experiences and become part of their new communities through food.

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  • Peach Tree
  • Noodles draw oodles to Viet-Thai joint

    Kim Pham of Pho Xyclo.

    Strip Mall Gems is a series of Eating Niagara, my column that runs in the St. Catharines Standard, Niagara Falls Review and Welland Tribune. This instalment is about Pho Xyclo in Niagara Falls.

    You could call Kim Pham picky.

    After all, it’s how the Niagara Falls restaurateur will describe herself if asked.

    But then, you can’t build the city’s best Vietnamese eatery, according to crowd-sourced ratings, by being willy-nilly.

    Pham, who owns and operates Pho Xyclo (pronounced Feu Zicklow) with friend David Chau, is nothing short of exacting when it comes to turning out bowls of pho, the noodle soup slurped at street food stalls in Vietnamese villages and now beckoning Niagara locals to the restaurant’s home in a Dunn Street strip mall.

    Ditto for the stir-fried southeast Asian dishes that round out the menu at Pho Xyclo, named after the three-wheeled rickshaws weaving through the clogged streets of Ho Chi Minh City.

    Rather than order her vegetables from a restaurant supply company and risk them not being up to snuff, Pham heads to the grocery store every day to load up on peppers, cucumbers and lettuce.

    “That way I know how fresh it is. If it’s in a shipment, I don’t know how long it has been sitting there,” Pham insists.

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  • Peach Tree
  • Strip Mall Gems: Don Marco’s Italian Eatery

    A pasta dish at Don Marco's Italian Eatery in Welland.

    Strip Mall Gems is a series of Eating Niagara, my column that runs in the St. Catharines Standard, Niagara Falls Review and Welland Tribune.

    It’s wise to listen to your lawyer.

    Wiser, still, if he happens to be a friend with impeccable taste in food. I couldn’t help but think I was being led astray, though, when Ross Macfarlane, lawyer, friend and bon vivant, suggested I meet him for lunch at Don Marco’s Italian Eatery in Welland.

    And I wasn’t sure whether to blame him or my GPS while driving through a residential neighbourhood in Welland’s east end, past a high school, an elementary school, and brown-brick bungalow after brown-brick bungalow. Where the heck was I going?

    That’s when Don Marco’s appeared, seemingly out of nowhere, in a small plaza, neighbouring a convenience store at Wellington and Lincoln streets.

    If the eggplant Parmesan was as good as Ross promised, I had arrived at the epitome of a strip mall gem: that place you’d never know existed until driving past en route to somewhere else, then making note to stop in someday.

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  • Peach Tree
  • Strip Mall Gems: Spiice Chinese Express

    Hot and sour noodle soup at Spiice Chinese Express.

    Strip Mall Gems is a series of Eating Niagara, my column that runs in the St. Catharines Standard, Niagara Falls Review and Welland Tribune.

    Richard Lin is deliberate in his choice of words when I ask for a cup of tea.

    “Would you like some Chinese-Chinese tea?” he offers me, his eyes widening in anticipation of my answer.

    His repetition of Chinese makes it clear that the black and red blend of steeped leaves we’re about to drink isn’t watered down by Canadian influence. It’s the real thing — tea that’s authentically Chinese, like everything else on the menu at Spiice Chinese Express in St. Catharines’ south end.

    That means if you’re looking for hot and sour noodle soup made with traditional potato glass noodles, fermented vegetables, black “Chinese-Chinese” vinegar for kick and enough chili oil to coat your tongue and make your brow glisten, you’re in the right spot.

    Ditto for wonton soup with dumplings bursting with shrimp and pork, punchy Ma Po Tofu, rich braised eggplant, cumin-spiced chicken kidney or Szechuan pork lung in chili sauce.

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