Tuesday, May 31, 2005

gourmet's gallery: market basket sarsaparilla

MARKET BASKET SARSAPARILLA
Market Basket, Billerica, MA


Package Notes: Bubbly motif, used on all Market Basket sodas. "Made with Sparkling Water", as opposed to flat swill drudged from a neglected New England harbour.

What's It Like?: Root beer, with a mellower taste than many brands of the foamy stuff. Market Basket also has cans of RB, but I neglected to pick any up for a direct comparison. Indistinguishable colour from RB.

Would You Buy It Again?: Yes, due to that mellower taste - it's easier to polish off a can of sarsaparilla than full-strength A&W or Mug.

Monday, May 30, 2005

roadtrippin': crepeing off to syracuse

Toronto-Niagara Falls-Syracuse - 474.7 km
The story begins with a table full of crepes...

The gang convened at Cafe Crepe down on Queen West for a quick bite before most of them caught a matinee of Star Wars Episode III.


Mr. Bondyra and his ham/egg/emmenthal crepe, the same type I had.


Here's the brunch squad. Interesting to note that all those not going to Episode III were on the left side of the table (though 2/3 saw it the night before). Picture by our friendly waiter.

Getting out of Toronto was an adventure, with traffic jams everywhere. The bunch-up on the QEW at the 403 merge in Oakville was worse than usual, so I decided to take my usual detour, Upper Middle Rd. As everyone else decided to use this backway, I headed up Ninth Line, only to be stuck in a long jam by the 5 Drive In due to people attempting to enter/exit a garden centre at Dundas. Not wanting to be stuck forever on the back routes, the mind wanders in dark directions...in this case, a trek down the highway of evil, 407.

I have nothing against toll roads, proven by extensive use of them once I crossed the border. If it keeps the highway or other government projects in good shape, I don't mind tossing a few coins. 407 is a different beast, a privately-owned road whose sale by the Harris government was one of their greatest boners. Surcharges, overpricing, etc...all to line the pockets of a few shareholders. I suspect my short trip down the 407 (between its junctions with 403) will end up costing me as much or more than driving from Buffalo to Syracuse.

More fun when I reached the border, with five minutes of questions. Lesson: if bringing a suitcase with you, make sure you cut off all tags from your last trip, as the Amtrak tag from last year's visit to New York raised the guard's ire. Several questions were repeated, likely to try to catch me off guard. She also seemed ultra-curious about how much money I was bringing into the US. No sign of humanity whatsoever, furthering my theory that all guards along the Niagara border are partially cybernetic.


What border guards along the Niagara River look like underneath.

Limited myself to a quick stop at the outlet mall in Niagara Falls, where the trip's book blitz began. Walked out with a couple of cookbooks and a history of Our Gang/Little Rascals (yeah, I grew up with endless Sunday morning reruns of Mush and Milk and Our Gang Follies of 1938 on channel 4). Headed east on the NY Thruway, breezing along while burning my arms. Little did I know there'd be plenty of time for them to heal up...


Arrived in Syracuse around 5:30-6, found a hotel room immediately at a Microtel off Carrier Circle, a giant roundabout adjacent to six million chains, except for the remnants of an ancient HoJo's at the south end. Microtels are basic but comfy, with a full cable package to make up for all that TV I don't watch. Cue a Chappelle's Show marathon on Comedy Central, along with mucho laughs from Fox News Channel.

The cookbook count grew, thanks to extreme markdowns at a Waldenbooks in a half-deserted mall (the only store I noticed much traffic in, apart from department stores, was a goth/RPG supplier). Also began the quest to sample products from every grocery chain along the way, with Price Chopper (no relation to Sobeys' "no frills" stores). Only picked up a can of soup, due to everything else requiring a loyalty card to get a discount. Rant to come.

Ended the day at Barnes and Noble, plotting out the next day's route with a new road atlas, to go with a book on cheesy late-night informercial products (GLH - Great Looking Hair - anyone?) - JB

gourmet's gallery: pathmark homestyle lentil soup

Over the course of the roadtrip, I couldn't resist visiting most grocery store chains I came across. Let's just say the nuclear stockpile of food grew significantly. As a consumer service, the Warehouse Test Kitchen will review these products over the next few months, letting the public know if it's worth the trip to Massachusetts for sarsparilla or Quebec for "exotic" fruit juice.

First up, some homestyle goodness from Joisey...

PATHMARK HOMESTYLE LENTIL SOUP
Pathmark, Newark, NJ

Package Notes: The folks at Pathmark are proud of their product. How so? Dig these directions:

"DO NOT ADD WATER. SERVE FULL STRENGTH, JUST AS WE COOKED IT."

It's much funnier if you picture these instructions in a New Yawk accent.

What's It Like?: different from most canned lentil soups I've tried, due to the chunks of potato and smoke flavouring. Borders on bean and bacon, without the little bits of bacon. Thick consistency, dark brown colour that may remind you of a body by-product. Definitely less vibrant than the soup pictured on the can.

Would You Buy It Again?: Yes. Tastier than most canned lentil soups, yet the smoke flavour isn't overpowering. Hearty another to be split over two lunches, would make a great sandwich companion.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

return of the revenge of the sister of the brother-in-law of the second cousin once-removed of best price movers

Just checked my phone messages and found a note from your friendly-neighbourhood Yanous, everyone's pal from Best Price Movers (yes, that's how he spelled it this time round). He wondered why I haven't called him back to move the piano (you know, the one that makes the music...dum-de-dum-de-dum...Yanous admits he can't play that tune). He also told me that if he wasn't around, I could talk to his pal Bisti, and that because "in this country, you have the big places", he'd always be there to help.


Anybody else get this latest Best Price message...and if so, do you think they moved beyond mere camp value with this one? - JB

Sunday, May 15, 2005

toledo calling

Pictures and stories from a trip with the family to the Glass City, Toledo, Ohio...


Our story begins just north of the Michigan-Ohio border, at the outlet mall in Monroe. At one time, this was a thriving retail centre, with three full sections. Today, only one is near-capacity, while only a Pepperidge Farm outlet and one other store remain open in the section shown above. The in-between section was torn down years ago. However, my Mom still has good luck at the remaining stores, so we haven't written off this "dead mall" yet.


This was our primary destination, the Libbey Glass outlet store. Located in one of Toledo's many failed projects to resurrect its downtown, this is the only part of the Erie St. Market one could honestly say is healthy (the outdoor market looked meagre, the indoor all but replaced by antiques).