Sandwiches work-in-progress at Leslieville Pumps

Pulled pork

Solid sandwich in search of more flavour

Finally managed to visit Leslieville Pumps General Store & Kitchen today for lunch with a friend, situated conveniently at the corner of Queen Street East and Carlaw Avenue in Toronto’s east end and readily accessible by two major transit routes.

A friendly little place where everyone makes an effort to call you by your name after you place a food order, the whole vibe is “welcome, hope you have a good time.” The seating areas both inside and out are kept quite clean, and the folksy decoration fits nicely with the increasingly eclectic Leslieville community that surrounds it.

I ordered the pulled pork sandwich (topped with cole slaw), the classic poutine and a semi-sweet iced tea. My friend ordered the BLT sandwich, deep-fried pickles and iced tea, as well.

Almost full marks on the pulled pork sandwich. They did not scrimp on the meat or overwhelm the pulled pork with so much BBQ sauce as to create a huge mess, and the coleslaw had a nice crunch and added a lovely contrast to the meat. Where they need to improve the sandwich is in the spice of the BBQ sauce, which never really stood out to me. It simply moistened the already juicy meat rather than enhanced or added flavor.

My friend’s BLT was completely underwhelming, unfortunately. Truthfully, there is little to say about this sandwich other than if you want a BLT for lunch, head directly across the street to Rashers, a small restaurant that specializes in all things bacon.

BLT

Rashers Beer BLT vastly superior to Leslieville Pumps BLT

Fortunately for my friend, the blasé BLT was offset by the deep-fried pickles, which were nicely coated with a crunchy crust that wasn’t the least bit greasy. And the pickles themselves stood up to the frying nicely, still providing quite the crunch.

The poutine had ups and downs, but ended up being nothing special. The fries were quite good, not particularly greasy and maintaining a very woody potato flavour. The cheese curds—two varieties, in fact—were okay, adding that stringy quality for which poutine is known, but not adding much flavour to the mix. And the gravy was only slightly better than hydrated beef Bovril cubes, so runny that it largely just pooled in the bottom of the container rather than mingling with the fries and curds.

And finally, the semi-sweet iced tea. Let it be known that I like my iced tea unsweetened, so I knew I might have some issues. I was not ready, however, for something that tasted like it came out of a Lipton Iced Tea can. My dining companion—born and raised in the Southern United States—assures me that the tea was indeed brewed rather than the processed stuff, and is simply suffering from the addition of lemonade. Not a fan.

The $34 meal managed to fill us up, but didn’t leave us terribly satisfied. There was enough merit in the pulled pork and deep-fried pickles, however, for me to be willing to try other dishes on another day.

Giving, gratitude and karma

Puppet girl

A cherished symbol of appreciation and friendship

When someone contracts me to write or to develop marketing creative, I expect to be compensated. Most often, the compensation is money, but on occasion, it is a service-for-service barter.

But, as often as not, I voluntarily offer my creative services to friends and acquaintances who are pursuing passion projects or who are doing something about which I am passionate.

I’ve Tweeted and Facebooked madly about a nearby restaurant that specializes in bacon sandwiches.

I’ve created promotional posters for crowd-funding campaigns of a short film I would love to see made and a bizarre puppetry show at distant Fringe festivals.

Locked up

Their photo, my verbiage

And in other cases, I’ve merely retweeted and shared posts by favourite bloggers, artists and journalists.

Yet for all of this work—almost universally welcomed by the sources—I have never directly been compensated. And not only am I okay with that, I am actually pleased. Compensation was never my goal.

I’ve had a few friends who’ve witnessed my mania and offered feedback like:

They should be feeding you for free for all this work.

Or

I hope they appreciate what you’re doing for them.

And I smile and shrug, because again, that isn’t my purpose.

Instead, my goal is to apply my passions and skills to help others achieve theirs, even if unsolicited and unrecognized. The point is the doing, not the acknowledgement.

This isn’t to say that such recognition isn’t welcomed and received with gratitude. Pretty much everyone to whom I have offered my gift has expressed his or her joy and appreciation in receiving it. And in a few cases, I have even received wonderful gifts.

After psychotically promoting the anarchic puppet improv spectacle PuppetUp! through social media, the show’s co-creator Patrick Bristow gave me a souvenir puppet from the show to express his thanks. I was grateful for this gesture and cherish the puppet for the sentiment it represents. But the greater gifts I received in this effort were the friendships I formed with the co-creator and the puppeteers that we still maintain years later.

Ironically, if I have struggled of late, it is in the simple acceptance of acts of kindness from others, whether unsolicited or in response to acts on my part. As much as I eschew the same behaviour in those to whom I offer kindness, I feel like I should at least compensate people for theirs to me. Instead, I am making an effort to simply say thank you.

If nothing else, you’re setting up some good karma.

And I smile and shrug, because ultimately, I don’t think you can force karma in any direction.

To my mind, the very desire of and attempt to create good karma negates it. Doing so implies a need for compensation for kind deeds.

It must be enough for me to do the good deed. Karma will do what karma will do.

I used to dismiss my efforts with a waved hand and a quick: It’s nothing. I now realize that is a discredit to myself, to the gift, and to the recipient.

It is not nothing. It is decidedly something. But it is something that I wish to do and offer gladly.

It is, perhaps ironically, a symbol of my gratitude to the recipient.

Hockey calendar

Sharing a passion with fellow fans

[And now, to completely deflate the seriousness of my message, does anyone else hear the music to The Little Drummer Boy?]

Visiting Toronto? Try the bacon! (review)

Ossington

The familiar red awning says it all

(Trying my hand at food reviews)

If a restaurant earned a one-word review, that restaurant is Rashers and the one word is bacon.

Bacon is all you really need to know about Rashers, which specializes in all things bacon, offering multiple cuts—British style, peameal and strip—in a variety of formats…well, one format (sandwich) in a variety of constructions. (You can also order any of the sandwiches without bacon, but we can’t be friends if you do.)

My personal favourite and weekly go-to is the Beer BLT served on a ciabatta bun, which I sometimes get with double bacon just to blow up my electrolytes.

Beer BLT

Beer BLT (double-bacon), potato wedges (salt & pepper), homemade beer mayo

For the less adventurous, but just as hungry, there is the traditional bacon butty (British bacon, white bread, brown sauce) or the Hogtown grilled cheese (peameal bacon, aged cheddar, multigrain bun). For the more adventurous, the Full Monty (full British breakfast on a bun) and the Brie & Bacon (no explanation here).

And to help you hold all that delicious bacon grease are various potato sides, including wedges (my fav), curly fries and tater tots. Oh, and ask for the beer mayo, a homemade ambrosia that offers a subtle sweetness without the oily heaviness you might expect from a mayo.

But surprisingly, I think the best thing about Rashers is the staff, who—come to think of it—kinda smell like bacon. You will never meet a friendlier group of people who seem to love what they do and are truly grateful to see their patrons. If you’re a regular, you receive an eager welcome upon opening the door, and if you’re a newbie, you are immediately greeted with smiles and offers of assistance.

Rashers staff

Serious intent disguises the welcoming smiles that greet you

My weekly pilgrimage is to the Rashers location on Queen Street East near Carlaw Avenue in Toronto’s Leslieville neighbourhood. That it is squeezed between an over-priced tea shop and over-priced pet store makes Rashers’ more than reasonable prices a nice change of pace—its belly-filling sandwiches priced around $8-$10 and sides at $4.

The only real challenge with this particular location is lack of seating, which is essentially 4 bar stools against the window or a triplet of old-style school benches out front. Fortunately, at least from Spring to Autumn, there is a park a couple of blocks West that seems to make the food taste that much better.

More recently, Rashers opened a location in the Western end of Toronto’s downtown core on Ossington, near Dundas. A significantly larger place, this location has booths for dining in comfort and a central bench for stand-up dining (can’t remember if there were stools). And for your entertainment during your meal, they installed a huge mural along one wall that essentially bacon-ifies familiar motifs and Toronto-centric events or landmarks (e.g., Toronto Raptors, Ikea monkey, Yellow Submarine).

Bacon raptor

Both locations are easily accessible via local transit, whereas you may have issue at busier times finding a place to park in either neighbourhood. Regardless, you should make the effort to check these guys out.

Sidewalking

Of to visit with a friend at a local baconery (not bakery, but baconery…a restaurant called Rashers dedicated solely to bacon) and decided to take my camera with me, catching some of the gardens and a surprise guest along the way.