Restaurant Roundup, our cross-country tour of Canada’s great dining scene, is well into 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 is part 2 of a look at Essential Eats in Hamilton/Burlington with The Hamiltonian's food writer, Alex Bielak.
In part 1 of Essential Eats in Hamilton-Burlingon, I mentioned two of my favourite places to eat in Hamilton and Burlington. Part two describes a worthy newcomer just recently added to that list, as well as another stalwart…
Memphis Fire Barbeque Company
The newcomer to my list is worth my 30 km drive to the southern edge of Hamilton. This is simple taste-of-the-south fare, made from scratch and done supremely well by very nice folk. My sincere regret is I cannot do the MFBC story full justice in the space available.
I first heard about them from one of the most committed trenchermen I know. He raved, raved I say, about the buttermilk-marinated fried chicken served on a waffle with table syrup, the sweet balanced with a shot of hot sauce. It took me several visits before I was able to sample that particular dish and boy was it worth the wait.
Initiates know six-hour hickory-smoked Kansas-style ribs are available Thursday to Sunday ($24.99 for a full rack with two sides), the huge chicken dinner (five pieces with coleslaw, a buttermilk biscuit, ranch dressing and homemade pickles, $16.99) is served Mon – Weds after 5 pm, but the elusive waffle version (3 pieces, $16.99) is only available on Tuesdays. There are lots of other options on the menu too, of course.
MFBC is run by Steve and Lori Popp with front-of-house help from Steve’s delightful parents Stan and Linda, his advisors as Steve calls them. Steve, who started cooking professionally at age 14, worked in fine dining establishments and was also an instructor at Liaison College for nine years which is where he met his bride to be. Together they now serve “comfort food with a fine dining twist.” Their souls on a fifties-inspired plate.
It has been 5 years since they opened: MFBC now has a loyal staff of 48 that are like family to the Popps. Word about MFBC continues to spread by word of mouth and via a strong social media presence. Their appearance on season 2 of “You Gotta Eat Here” certainly gave them a boost, and they now routinely get up to 12,000 customers coming through a month.
There are no secrets here: they’ll happily share ingredients and recipes, and are proud of their rubs (salt and filler free from their own Jet Set Spice Co) and sides. Lori’s beans made me swoon. And I hate beans! Oh, I almost forgot to mention the 30-hour smoke, hand-cut brisket. It is tender as all get out and might be even better than the chicken.
That’s a tough call requiring further intensive research, perhaps coupled with an enquiry into dessert, if one ever had room after all the food!
Memphis Fire Barbeque Company 1091 Highway 8, Winona, ON (Don’t blindly trust your GPS as there are several similar addresses in Hamilton.)
Gold Lion Chinese Bakery and Supreme Chinese BBQ
If there was a contest for “smallest Chinatown in the World” Hamilton would surely be in contention. These two un-related and unpretentious businesses are not places to linger and converse, but provide a simple, quick fix for cravings for take-away Hong Kong-style buns or BBQ pork.
After plying the same trade for 17 years in Hong Kong, Bakery owner Chi Tat Chung has been here since 1996 baking everything on site. Though he also does a trade in more traditional decorated layer cakes, the draw for me are fresh, pillow-soft Chicken Mushroom or Sausage, BBQ pork, and Curry Beef savoury buns, Pork and Shrimp Dumplings, Red Bean Sesame Balls, and sweet offerings like Coconut, and Pineapple custard buns, not to mention the lovely Egg Tarts I used to savour at a now-defunct dim sum spot. Prices are a bargain ranging from 60 cents to $1.09 per item, with no tax if one buys six! A box of Flaky Almond Cookies is just $2.50.
As often as not I’ll also stop next door at the BBQ shop to get a pound or so of lean BBQ pork cleavered up ($7.50/lb), and packed in a Styrofoam tray with a portion of sticky sweet ginger sauce. There are other items available for takeout (e.g. BBQ duck (19.99 each) and various prepared dishes, including sticky rice), not to mention more exotic fare like Roast Pig Heads at $6.00 apiece.
Stick around and you might even catch a whole BBQ’d pig disappearing into the back of someone’s pick-up.
Gold Lion Chinese Bakery and Supreme Chinese BBQ 127 MacNab St N, Hamilton, ON L8R 2C2
Othe Hamilton/Burlington Dining Spots to Try
As noted in part one if you’d prefer dining downtown in either the Hamilton or Burlington’s cores, there are scads of great choices. I’m particularly partial to the innovative offerings paired with the view, and great wine list at Spencer’s at the Waterfront, the $10 lunch menu at newcomer Test Kitchen (includes a beer or small glass of wine and tax), and Blacktree where Chef Matteo’s imagination runs wild, all in Burlington: and that great meatery, Rapscallion in Hamilton.
Restaurant Roundup: Essential Eclectic Eats in Hamilton-Burlington (Part 2) 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. And 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.