October 7-10: what to do/see/drink/eat on a school night this week

Last week, I started the weekly feature of “what to do/see/try/drink/eat” on the weekend, but while I was researching it, I realized there’s so much going on during the week that twenty-somethings need to know about, so this is the partner feature.

Do: If October has you in a spooky mood, the Tour Guys have the I Ain’t Afraid of No Ghost! Tour, just for you. The walk takes you on a walk of a little over 2km telling ghost stories of haunted buildings as well as what ghost hunters have found. They claim that this tour is from everyone from believer to skeptic. It actually runs Thursday-Sunday until November 3rd but can count as a school night.The cost is $30 plus service fees.

See: Our Man in Tehran is playing at the TIFF lightbox. This is the story of Ken Taylor, the Canadian Ambassador in Iran during the hostage crisis which began in 1979. This is the Canadian side of “Argo”, with a more realistic depiction of that Hollywood film. 

Drink: It’s the last day of Toronto Cocktail Week so you can head down to the Drake Hotel  TWC13 Industry Thank You Party where you can taste the winning cocktails from the Hogtown Shakedown competition and apparently, there’s some surprise entertainmment in store!

Eat: Kinton Ramen is a ramen noodle restaurant on Baldwin St, just off of Spadina, North of Dundas. They have a large selection of soups available and if you finish your dish, you become a KintonBowler. They have prizes for the number of Kinton Bowlers you accumulate, which range from free food to Kinton merchandise. Plus they have beer cocktails, I love beer cocktails. 

following your dream: building a food truck from the ground up

If you’re one of Allen Tan’s almost 4,500 followers on Twitter, you know he is honest, has a great sense of humour and makes some delicious looking rice balls. He is the founder of Me.N.U and his engaging Twitter feed is fun and follows the journey of Allen building a food truck business, with no experience. His social media presence is great, so I had to find out more. 

What has been the best experience to date?
Allen: The best experience has been learning what it takes to start a food business. It’s funny to say this because while in school I felt I was learning but it wasn’t exciting because I wasn’t “applying myself”. At my previous jobs I didn’t feel as though I was adding any value to the company. Now starting my own business – more energy in = more reward out.
Now I am learning everything it takes from the bottom up to start a food truck – marketing, menu development, operations, suppliers, execution, branding, sales, customer service. The more I learn and the more I apply I get to feel and see the reward. I have had the pleasure to learn from many food owners around the world what it takes to start a business. Now in the present, its one of the most exciting times to date. I can actively see myself getting closer to my vision of “success”.

What has been the biggest challenge in developing your truck?
Allen: The biggest challenge have been developing the recipes and processes for the food business. Without that research and development there would be no product to sell. You have to make sure that there is Value added while charging a price that generates a reasonable profit. Learning all of recipies and suppliers and know how took several weeks of practice. It came with a lot of highs and lows, a lot of mistakes but in the end each day we were getting better. 
Currently, we have not priced out how much a food truck would cost – we are trying to develop our brand awareness before be take the next step. I believe that we should develop an audience and engage them before we make the big investment of owning a food truck. Why invest in a food truck and start from scratch when you can have an audience waiting for your food truck to launch?

Me.N.U founder – Allen Tan

What is something surprising you learned since you started your food truck journey?
Allen: I had the pleasure to job shadowed one food truck owner in Toronto name Fidel Gastro and I got to experience “A day in a life” with him. I didn’t know how hard food truck owners worked and he definitely showed me how hard running a food business could be. We started work at 6 am and didn’t end till 10 pm. We did prep, running around, set up, tear down, cleaning, catering, you name it we did it! It was a good look into my future, it definitely  showed me how hard I would have to work in the future and how many things I still needed to learn. Throughout the day he instilled good habits that I would forever keep in my mind.

Your twitter and tumblr are very honest about your lack of experience and some of your mistakes – do you think this has fueled your success?
Allen: I think I have tried to do something very different then other food truck owners. I have started with no experience and my goal is to show others how to take an idea and turn it into a business. I have documented all my success and failures to share with everyone. I want to be very transparent with my business to share my journey and experience with anyone who is willing to listen. 

I have read a lot of entrepreneur books and business books and they give you insight about things you need to know but the never really show you a step by step guide into how to do it. I am on a journey of SHOWING people how to start a food truck the RIGHT way. 

What advice would you give new grads who have the same feelings you did about a 9-5?
Allen: Read books about business, passion and entrepreneurship. These books will give you a new perspective on how to break away from the social norm. They will show you there is more to life then a steady pay cheque and always being comfortable. Someone quoted, the three worst things in life are heroin, carbohydrates and a monthly pay cheque. 

Turn off your TV and start investing time into something that will get you ahead in life. Self education is a huge part of my daily routine and once your studying for yourself and not for a piece of paper, you will see the world in a new light. 

What’s the next step for ME.N.U?
Allen: My business partner and I are heading back to South East Asia where I learnt how to cook, however this time we are going to try to do Global food pop ups in Asia. We hope to create a story that no one has ever heard or seen in Toronto. After we get back we hope to buy a food truck and start selling to the masses of Toronto! 

Can’t talk about your food without finding out, what’s been your favourite creation so far?
Allen: So far we have only sold one product, Fried Rice balls. There are a couple of recipes that are in research and development but I can’t release my secrets that are going to come in the near future. 

Me.N.U Fried Rice Balls

I want to thank Allen for taking the time to speak with me so candidly. His enthusiasm is truly infectious. Be sure to follow him on Twitter to find out where you can get your next fried rice balls.

October 4-6: what to do/see/eat/drink this weekend

It’s Friday! Here is some ideas for your well-deserved weekend.

Do: Nuit Blanche is happening this weekend. This free art festival will bring locals and tourists out all night long to check out more than a hundred art installations in the downtown area. You can also use the site to plan your evening so you are well prepared to enjoy the event. There is also twenty bars in the city with an extended liquor license until 4am. The weather is supposed to be decent so it should be a great event. 

See: BeerProv is a monthly improv show at the Comedy Bar near Bloor and Ossington. The show is only $15 and starts at 10:30pm. The show consists of 12 comedians competing in an improv championship, in hops to drink from the BeerProv cup. The show is run by Jim Robinson and should be good for some great laughs.

Drink: Bier Markt locations throughout the city again celebrating the month of October with their Oktoberfest. They have a special beer menu for the festival as well as a special food menu. Take this opportunity to enjoy an ice cold beer with a great menu.

Eat: Although Bier Markt has an extended menu, eating still deserves its own section. This Saturday at 3am, it will be important know who is serving food. There is a long list of food trucks that will be feeding hungry art-lovers throughout the event. Be sure if you’re out there, check out the food options available.

thirsty thursday: black creek pumpkin ale

Because it’s almost the weekend.

I tried pumpkin ale many years ago and  it wasn’t very good, so I was a little reluctant to try it again for my first thirsty thursday but I figured I had to because I feel uncool because I haven’t consumed enough pumpkin product this season (I haven’t had one pumpkin spice latte, ever).

This week’s selection is from a local brewery, Black Creek, located at Black Creek Pioneer Village.

At first, this just tastes like a regular ale and then there’s the pumpkin. It’s almost like beer mixed with pumpkin pie filling. It’s really just taught me that I’m not into the pumpkin spice craze. If you’re one of those people that counts down until the pumpkin spice latte, I would assume that this is the beer for you. I will definitely try another one of their ales, also available at the LCBO but I’ll leave the pumpkin for the pies.

movie review: don jon

Two movies this week! Crazy. 

Last night was Don Jon, which I have to say I really enjoy. I like Joseph Gordon-Levitt, not really sure why, something I can put my finger on, maybe its just a childhood crush from his “Third Rock from the Sun” days. So when I first saw the strange but captivating trailer for this movie, I knew I had to see this movie. This is Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s writing and directing premiere and according to his interview with Howard Stern, he has been working on the film since 2008.

The movie revolves around Jon, a macho man who is addicted to pornography. He even claims that he prefers porn to having sex with a girl. The character makes us reflect on how porn has created unrealistic expectations for sex and relationships. On the flip side, he meets a gorgeous woman (Scarlett Johansson) who creates unrealistic expectations of relationship and men through the love stories she watches. It is an interesting commentary on how people create expectations based on completely ridiculous premises. The film also looks at how our world has become so sexualized, mocking the Paris Hilton burger commercial. The movie was a bit repetitive but I think it was a way to build on his character, show that he was very one-dimensional and how he lived his life essentially on repeat. Most of the characters were over-stereotyped people from New Jersey, which could get to be annoying but I think it was meant to be a bit satirical (at least I hope it was). It was also pretty neat that he was able to get some big names for this small budget film.

I really enjoyed this film. I laughed out loud quite a bit but I also cared about the characters which is really important when I’m watching a film. If I don’t care what happens to them, I don’t want to waste my time watching it. I would recommend this movie if you’re looking for an adult comedy with a little bit of substance but still some pretty ridiculous situations. What’s your favourite low-budget film? Let me know in the comments. Happy watching! 

movie review: the family

Tonight I went with my family to see “The Family”. The best way I could describe this movie is a critique of gangster movies but to be completely honest, I’m not entirely sure. I haven’t seen a lot of advertisements for it, the only time I remember seeing a trailer was at the beginning of a YouTube video and to be honest, I skipped it so I didn’t really know what to expect. 

The movie stars Robert DeNiro, Michelle Pfiefer and Tommy Lee Jones. There are a few other characters you’ll likely recognize but needless to say, this movie brings in some pretty big names. The movie starts violently, and we’re introduced to the family. Robert DeNiro is a gangster under witness protection, and his entire family, including the children are aware of the “business” he is in. The plot was a little weak, and there were only a couple of laughs, mostly at how ridiculous the situation or the dialog was. I often worry when I see gangster movies that its going to be overly violent, I hate unnecessary violence, I don’t need to see every gory detail to understand what happened so I was quite happy that this movie was fairly mild. Of course people are shot and there’s a few explosions but nothing too torturous that left me nauseous. 

If you’re looking to watch the next Oscar worthy film, don’t go see “The Family”, I don’t think it will be up for any large awards anytime soon. This movie was fine for a Sunday afternoon, with a group of people who don’t often have a lot of movies they can enjoy together. If you’ve seen it, let me know what you thought in the comments, maybe you figured it out better than I did! 

seven comedians, one week

I went to Just for Laughs for the first time this year, it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. For $99, I got a headliner act and 4 smaller ahows, i also had the option to get credit back for each show, if i checked in – which essentially meant, I could see every smaller act of the festival. When I purchased the tickets back in July, seeing a headliner plus 4 smaller shows didn’t seem like so far away, it was a bit much to take on but this was my adventure this week.

Note: I wrote each blog post following each show, they probably could have been individual blog posts, but they are not. Enjoy!

Friday, September 20th
For our headliner, we chose Sarah Silverman. She had a great opening act. He made me laugh out loud multiple times throughout his act. I really hope I can see him perform again sometime. Sarah was pretty good. She was so offensive. I’ve never watched her whole act before but it was offensive. She was really great though at interacting with the audience. I found her to be at her best when she seemed to be improvising.

Sunday, September 22nd
Tonight was Janeane Garofalo was tonight and she was great. Her show was very conversational and I could relate to a lot of her set.  I know it sounds a little ridiculous but a lot of what she was saying made sense, particularly on babies, she doesn’t want to have then but a fat baby is going in her mouth, I get that. She is extremely well-spoken and intelligent. A long time ago, a drama teacher told me that you get cheap laughs when you using swearing and that its more authentic if you don’t do it. This rule seemed great tonight. Awesome show, next stop on the just for laughs train is Tuesday with Sean Patton.

Tuesday, September 24th
So, I won’t lie, I thought Sean Patton was Sean Cullen. I was incorrect. Tonight brought us to the comedy bar near Ossington and Bloor. The act was indeed Sean Patton and it has been a long time since I laughed liked that. He was the perfect amount of offensive and hilarious. His storytelling was impeccable and you had to believe him because there’s no way he could make that stuff up. It was so ridiculous but also honest, it was great. I can’t believe we’re more than half way through the festival. The daunting 5 shows seems more manageable when its this funny.

Thursday, September 26th
Tonight was the fourth show. It was at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre at the exhibition grounds. I don’t care for going to the ex grounds because it is not easy to get to and parking is expensive. This was my first time at this theatre. The theatre was a fair size, and I don’t think there was a bad seat in the house. The bathrooms on the other hand could use any kind of update. But, enough about the surroundings, we were there to see some comedy. Tonight was John Mulaney, he is the genius behind the stefon character. This was the biggest venue I had been to since last Friday, so there was an opening act. You know we were surprised and excited when it was Sean Patton! Some of it was the same jokes from the other night but it was still funny. John Mulaney was really funny as well. His humour was based mostly on his childhood and it was great. I could definitely see him going on to write shows or movies and I look forward to watching it. Tomorrow is our fifth and final show, should be good.

Friday, September 27th
Well, we survived. 5 shows, 7 different comedians. Tonight was Kyle Kinane. He was quite funny, it didn’t feel like I was laughing out loud, but I was definitely enjoying him. His opening act, Rob Mailloux, had me laughing out loud, maybe because I related to him far too much. He was the perfect opening act for me, Just slightly offensive not more than necessary.

At the end of the week, I’m pretty tired but I did really enjoy seeing all these up and coming comedians this week plus Sarah Silverman I think if I were to do it next year, even though the pass is cheaper,  I would probably do a pay-as-you-go for a couple of comedians I really want to see. Do you have a new comedian you’re following? Let me know in the comments.

frankie fettuccine: my food truck pick

We’ve had a series of food trucks at our office today, the others were good but I think today’s was my favourite. Its no secret that I’m a fan of pasta and Italian food so I was really excited when I learned this food truck was coming. 

I had the fettuccine  and it was great. It was fresh pasta and fresh sauce. There was mushrooms and pancetta in it but not to much to take away from the delicious pasta. The pasta was $10, little pricey but still so good.
fettuccine, with probably too much cheese but still so good

I also found out they had rice balls and had to try them. Cheesy, carby, deep-fried goodness covered in a delicious tomato sauce, how could you go wrong? They were 4 for $5 and I’d highly recommend them.
rice balls, this picture does not do the cheesy goodness justice

My friend also got what was ranked the number two best food truck dish in the city, the gnocchi poutine with osso bocco. I tried a few bites of it and I could see why it ranked so high. I normally don’t love gnocchi because I find Its sometimes mushy. They obviously fried this some how so the gnocchi was just perfectly crispy with the beef and cheese. I thought it was great. The poutine was also $10.

I say if you see Frankie on the street, be sure to try something delicious. What’s your favourite food truck in the city?  Let me know in the comments!

disgraceland: dinner in ‘bloorcourt’

As I will post about later this week, my friend and I are attending JFL this year. This show, we had about 4 hours to kill before so we went for dinner in the neighbourhood, Bloorcourt. I didn’t realize this was a specific neighbourhood but it was near Bloor and Ossington. You truly learn something new everyday.

We went to Disgraceland, at first we chose it because of the fun name, but then we read the menu and knew we had to try it. Its almost like a bar mixed with a diner. We ordered some beers, since we had some times and made the difficult decision of what to eat. 

We started with the perogies, we got the works because… bacon and cheese. I was surprised how crispy the the outside was but they were still pretty good. I had the turkey club, which was delicious and mashed potatoes which were ok. My friend had the cheese and bean burrito with fries, I stole some fries and they were pretty good. They have a ton of poutine options and I’m sure they would have been great in that. They also had a lot of vegan or vegan possible options, for those interested, including vegan poutine. The best, and obviously most unnecessary part of the meal was the deep fried cupcakes. We were unsure of how they would deep fry a cupcake but we determined it was actually a ‘ding dong’. They also deep fry twinkies, but I never understood that treat. These ‘cupcakes’ were delicious. They came with two which was more than enough for us. 

Deep-fried cupcakes

A little dark, but the inside of delicious.

If you’re in the area, I’d recommend stopping in at this place, particularly if you have a sweet tooth, or if you’re looking for vegan options. Our bill came to just over $80 after taxes but before tip, but be warned, they only accept cash – which is really irritating but we made it work. Have you found deep fried deliciousness that you’d deem worthy of the calories? Let me know in the comments below. Happy eating!

gluten-free brunch in the west end

Today we went out for a family member’s birthday for brunch. As I mentioned, my brother is celiac so we had to find somewhere that could accommodate his diet. We originally tried to go to a place in Etobicoke, but we showed up and it was closed, unfortunately not the first time we’ve encountered this. So we quickly google searched and found the Cardinal Rule on Roncesvalles, which has been featured on the show “You Gotta Eat Here”. And I’m sure glad we did.

They had a nice brunch menu and did what so many restaurants should do, clearly marked what was gluten-free (also noted vegetarian and vegan, for those interested). This is a great feature for restaurants because it makes the entire ordering process so much easier. It’s nice when my brother can just order straight from the menu without having to ask a bunch of questions. Just makes things run a lot smoother. I had the Cowboy Benny, it was interesting. I love eggs benedict but I found the bbq sauce overpowered the eggs. The brisket was delicious, the sauce was delicious and the buttermilk biscuit was really delicious. I found it a bit over the top but it was good.The latkes were quite salty but were filled with other herbs and spicy.  I also sampled some french toast from someone at the table and it was pretty good, its pretty hard to mess up french toast. A quick look at the rest of the menu shows that they have a bunch of different options on their regular menu with tons of gluten-free, vegan and vegetarian options. 

They also have a bunch of fun events through the week, including Tuesday night Cards Against Humanity, which I can only imagine is ridiculous and hilarious as well as Wednesday night trivia. If you’re in the west end and looking for specialty food options (or just something unique), I’d recommend checking it out. Is there any other gluten-free (or other specialty) brunch places you like to check out in the city? Let me know in the comments. Happy eating! 

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