Restaurant Roundup, our cross-country tour of Canada's great dining scene is well in Ontario for the moment as we keep moving eastward. We've already stopped in Kitchener-Waterloo to check out their burger scene. We'll also be heading to Toronto and Ottawa but today marks the first of two stops to get acquainted with essential eats in the Hamilton-Burlington area
The amalgamated City of Hamilton is the third largest metro area in Ontario. Throw in Burlington and you’d have to drive almost 100 km to cross the expanse at its widest point. Living close to the middle, I’ve noshed my way across much of it and discovered some great eateries along the way.
According to several chefs I know, the restaurant scene in Hamilton/Burlington is “crowded.” Great new places spring up like summer flowers: as much fun as that can be, consumers often turn to the “old reliable” when we want great taste and no surprises. We’ve been regulars at the first two places described since they opened.
From his small restaurant in charming Dundas, Chef Simon Wong serves what is quite possibly the best sushi west of Toronto. (The Hamilton Spectator critic Dan Kislenko thought the fish “first class”.)
My young daughters were introduced to sushi at “Simon’s,” as it is often referred to, via the pretty pink tofu-skinned “Shirley Temple” rolls he made just for them. They graduated quickly to adult fare including the similarly-pink Cherry Blossom roll ($12.95, 8 pieces) that includes butternut squash and purple yam tempura, and tobiko.
The ultra-premium Californian sushi rice is impeccable as is the sashimi: Wong travels regularly to Toronto to select his fish, so watch also for special treats like fatty toro and Alaskan King Crab he occasionally brings in. We all revel in signature dishes like the 8-piece GeorgeBettyKaiser roll ($17.95), Salmon Tataki ($14.95, 4 pieces) and Albacore tuna in ponzu sauce (10 pieces, $18.95).
The GBK roll is a fixture on the menu and pays tribute to two influential people who helped shape Wong’s career, American industrialist and philanthropists George Kaiser and his wife Betty. When you go, ask him to point out their picture on the wall and tell you the story. The roll is filled with deep fried soft-shell crab and avocado, and is generously-topped with tuna, salmon and salmon caviar.
The Salmon Tataki is lightly cooked on the outside, rare in the middle and served with a cilantro sauce, spring onions and hot red peppers. As with all his offerings, the ponzu sauce accompanying the tuna is made in-house by Wong. It’s a tangy standout with lime juice, sweet wine, soy sauce and, inevitably, a secret ingredient, maybe even two! Even better is an eel sauce that takes two weeks to prepare. It’s deep, glossy and salty-sweet, but make sure the eel is one of the last things you eat as it will overwhelm any other flavours.
Exemplifying the best of Matsuri is the colourful Haru Matsuri Platter weighing in at $37.95: it comprises a Rising Sun Roll (featuring shrimp tempura) and 7 pieces of nigiri (including my personal favourite, sweet Hokkaido scallop. A trademark lobster carved out of cucumber presides over the dramatic dish.
To close, Chef often offers an orange, deftly sliced, or some watermelon, on the house. Definitely worth a stop in Dundas!
D Hot Shoppe
Eat to the beat at this always-hopping roti joint in Burlington. Arrive near noon and you’ll enjoy the line-up banter with other customers - many regulars, often greeted by name - before getting your order in. You can also call ahead for takeout and go to the head of the line to pick up if you want.
You’ll likely meet the owners, Gabriel Lou-Hing and his lovely wife Simone: He was head chef of several establishments in Trinidad and Antigua before they came to Canada a decade ago. Simone says, “We love meeting people every day!” It shows in the broadest and most genuine of smiles.
Gabriel brought with him his grandmother’s recipes including the one for mother roti sauce made from tomatoes, garlic, cilantro, Guyanan curry powders, chives and homemade pepper sauce. Oh, and the de rigeur secret ingredients of course.
Our order is inevitably “large goat, medium.” Priced at $7.74 the slightly sweet split pea-stuffed roti is wrapped around tender, boneless, dark Halal meat and potatoes. Pretty spicy at medium hot, it suffices for lunch for both of us, or – if we are really hungry – can be up-sized with an order of samosas with Gabe’s tamarind sauce. (Six of these small bites run $3:00 and usually comprise 3 flavourful variants.) Go for the additional gravy too (50c), and get a frequent buyer card to claim your 12th roti free. A ginger beer from the cooler is my favourite accompaniment.
Goat not your thing? Then chicken, beef, shrimp, cuttlefish, and vegetarian (including pumpkin) roti options are also available, along with various curry or jerk chicken dinners ($7:50 – 12:75), doubles (curried spice chickpeas bundled in fried dough, $2:75) and phalourie (fried split pea flour dough with chutney, $2:50).
Plaques from the Burlington Post adorn the vividly coloured walls showcasing D Hot Shoppe’s “Readers Choice Awards” going back many years. (For instance, in 2013 they won top honours in the following categories: Friendliest, Vegetarian, Lunch, Portions, Quick bite, and Spiciest.)
Clearly they are doing it right, and hundreds of customers a day agree.
As noted above, the food scene in Hamilton/Burlington is booming: The Taste of Burlington Prix Fixe summer program will run July 20 – August 3rd and is a great opportunity to check out some of the offferings. Be sure to read part 2 of our Essential Eats in Hamilton as well!
Restaurant Roundup: Essential Eats in Hamilton-Burlington was written by Alex Bielak. Alex writes on Food and Drink in Southern Ontario and beyond and has penned over sixty Food for Thought columns for the Hamiltonian since 2012. He is also Food and Drink Editor for BCity Magazine and Contributing Editor at Rare Republic. His food, drink and travel writing has appeared in a variety of other Canadian and International media. Connect with Alex on Twitter:@AlexBielak or via Linkedin.