“Killer Dishes” around the Region

“Killer Dishes” around the Region“Killer Dishes” around the Region
by Andrew Coppolino

“Killer Dishes.”

The phrase isn’t so much a description of calorie count and cholesterol as it is about big, bold, soul-soothing flavours that make a generous and hearty plate of food filling at the same time it creates memories and richly-savoured satisfaction – so much so, in fact, that you have to sit back, pat your tummy and say, “Ahhh! I’ll be back for that dish again!”

We checked in with a few Waterloo Region chefs and restaurateurs and asked what they would consider their restaurant’s killer dish and why it’s a must-have go-to meal.

Make sure you collect all five killer dishes!

Eric Neaves: Fork and Cork Grill, Kitchener
Casual dining dedicated to fresh, local ingredients and Ontario wine and craft beers. The weekend brunches at Fork and Cork, located on Weber Street East near the Expressway, go like gangbusters.

“Without a doubt, it’s our double-stuffed ravioli – and they’re hand-made, mind you.” That’s the pronouncement of executive chef Eric Neaves, who combines art and culinary science to the pasta preparation. “It’s a two-chamber ravioli stuffed with goat’s cheese mousse and a seasonal vegetable filling,” says Neaves. “It presents beautifully, and showcases a number of great local ingredients.”

That would be Woolwich cheese, Oak Manor organic flour and locally grown asparagus, beets, mushrooms, peas or squash, adds Neaves.

“The dish typifies my style, which is to get good ingredients, treat them with respect, and let them shine without too much fussiness.”

Austin Kiddy: Ethel’s Lounge, Waterloo
Since opening in 1994, Ethel’s has been a popular, super-relaxed neighbourhood bar – and one with memorabilia and no deep-fryer. It makes for inventive, imaginative cooking.

Without a doubt, Ethel’s killer dish is unique and all their own – the Rajah (although Kiddy says Ethel’s meatloaf is a very close second. Kiddy and Ethel’s are willing only to give part of the recipe.

“People travel far and wide for this dish,” he says. “It’s one-of-kind.”

The rajah is comfort food for the spicy at heart. It’s halved and grilled sweet peppers stuffed with diced chicken or smoked portabella mushrooms and served with Spanish rice or refried beans. Then, the peppers are smothered with a home-made creamy, spicy sauce made-to-order.

The rajah can accommodate gluten-free and vegetarian diets but, Kiddy says, “you must love spice.”
For more than two decades, customers have tried and failed to re-create our famous sauce. “It’s kind of like the Colonel’s signature spices: this recipe will remain locked in the vault,” says Kiddy.

That sauce is – in guarded, redacted revelation – sautéed garlic, onions and jalapenos. “They are added to a reduced cream and hot sauce is added until the perfect colour is created, according to Kiddy. “But that’s all I will say about the sauce!”

Nick Benninger: Nick and Nat’s Uptown 21 Food and Drink, Waterloo
Possessed of a passion and love for the bounty that is Waterloo Region, Uptown 21 works closely with local producers, farmers and brewers and more.

“When it comes to selecting a killer dish, for me it’s got to be choucroute garnie!”

That’s the word from Nick Benninger about an old classic and a signature dish from what he calls “the hay days at u21.” Benninger’s high performance protein is pork, a meat that perhaps encapsulates much of how – and what – he cooks.

“We don’t make it as much anymore, but look for a few pop-ups where we feature dishes like the garnie,” advises Benninger. “It’s big and soul satisfying flavours like fermented cabbage, smoked sausages, pork belly, braised pork chops, apples and potatoes.”

It’s a dish that is perfect for almost every season and especially so in a region like Waterloo Region, steeped and rich as it German history, according to Benninger whose Fat Sparrow Group also includes Taco Farm, Harmony Lunch and Marbles.

“Choucroute garnie seems to me like the ideal dish and one that I just have to have once every so often!”

Steve Allen: Little Louie’s Burger Joint and Soupery, Cambridge
Imagine an old-style burger joint that’s on the way to cottage country: Little Louie’s has that atmosphere – in the middle of residential Cambridge neighbourhood. That and excellent burgers helped it be featured on Food Network’s “You Gotta Eat Here!”

“Our burgers of the week are the big bold flavour items,” says chef-owner Steve Allen. “They come on Monday and are gone on Friday never to be seen again.”

That is, except for “The Cape Breton Surf ‘n’ Turf Burger,” which appears every May. “It’s the same with the soups,” adds Allen. “There are a few that meet the criteria, though they come and go at will.”

Little Louie’s creates hundreds of different soups each year, many of which coincide with local growing seasons, says Allen who does a lot of foraging. “They could mushroom soups, corn chowders, with variations on asparagus, tomato and fiddleheads. Our seafood chowder is always in demand.”

As for the Cape Breton surf and turf, it coincides with Cape Breton lobster season, Allen says. “It’s a six-ounce beef burger on an egg bun with homemade tartar sauce, topped with a creamy slaw and a whole Alexander Keith’s beer-battered lobster tail and garnished with a beer-battered claw skewered through the bun.”

If you listen to the burger closely, you can almost hear the ocean – and it’s echoing “killer dish.”

Janet Duncan and Klaus Ristanovic: Jake and Humphreys’ Bistro, New Hamburg
Casual bistro fare that includes house-made pickles and terrines set amidst the classic bones of a 1940s house on the main street.

Pan-fried baby beef liver calls out your name, according to Janet Duncan and Klaus Ristanovic, co-owners and co-chefs of Jake and Humphreys.’

“It’s baby beef liver pan-fried and topped with sautéed onions and deglazed with sherry vinegar and rounded out with demi-glace,” Duncan says.

The dish is served with mashed potatoes, braised red cabbage and a medley of buttered fresh vegetables. “It’s a lot of the favourites like carrot, broccoli, cauliflower, rutabaga, butternut squash, Brussels sprouts, asparagus and green beans. Although it is just liver, the bright punch of the sherry vinegar gives a good mouth zing and the demi is rich, classic sauce while the hearty mash and veg portion is almost a meal in itself,” she says. “It’s just a favourite with our guests.”

interior of Jake and Humphreys Bistro