Friday, February 24, 2017

Speed bartending competition hits Halifax

Ten women to compete in the Speed Rack qualifying round on Monday.

Posted By on Fri, Feb 24, 2017 at 4:56 PM

Morgan LeCreux of 2 Doors Down, one of 10 competitors at the Halifax Speed Rack qualifier. - GABRIELLE MULLIN
  • Morgan LeCreux of 2 Doors Down, one of 10 competitors at the Halifax Speed Rack qualifier.
Think you could make a mojito in less than a minute?

On Monday, 10 of Halifax’s female bartenders will be put to the test for the city’s first Speed Rack competition. The women have to make four separate “classic” cocktails as quick as possible without compromising the quality of the drink.

The tournament was created by Ivy Mix and Lynette Marerro in 2011, both as a fundraising venture for breast cancer research and a way to promote women in the United States bar industry. Since then, it’s branched off to the UK and Canada.

Evelyn Chick—bar manager at Toronto’s Pretty Ugly bar and past Speed Rack finalist—says it’s beneficial that the event focuses on drinks “any standard, good bartender should be able to execute,” as well as raising money for charity.

“It’s more of a balance of doing something that’s charitable, and also coming together as a community to learn those new skills and techniques.”

For Speed Rack’s first time in Canada, women showed off their skills through video for a chance to attend the finals in Vancouver. Given the competition’s popularity, it’s happening differently this year, with preliminaries taking place in six different regions.

“More girls will have the chance to practice and participate in this event,” says Chick. 

Morgan LeCreux of 2 Doors Down is one of the booze-mixing women taking part in Halifax’s qualifying round, which is happening at Highwayman on Monday evening. The speediest cocktail crafters will have the chance to represent Halifax in the Canadian Speed Rack finals in Toronto.

At first, LeCreux was reluctant to participate—she’s never been in a bartending competition before—but when she learned the event was a fundraiser, it was “an easy decision” to sign up.

“Even if I’m not terribly confident, it’s for a good cause and we’ll have a bit of fun.”

LeCreux is a self-described creative type, who was a pastry chef before she started bartending in December 2015. Although the gig comes with some pressure, she has a few pieces of advice for people who are new to the industry.

“You prioritize, you figure out what you have to do. Don’t stress about it—you can only go as fast as you can," she says. "The drinks will get made and they’ll get to the table when they have to do.”

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Friday, February 17, 2017

Gingergrass takes a hiatus

Saturday marks the last meals at Morris and Barrington before the restaurant moves

Posted By on Fri, Feb 17, 2017 at 3:50 PM

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It's been 10 years since Nira Nugroho opened Gingergrass Thai and Vietnamese at 1284 Barrington Street, but she says it doesn't feel nearly that long ago. Tomorrow marks the restaurant's last day at the corner of Morris and Barrington though, a move spawned by the re-negotiation of her lease when its term was ending.

"The lease negotiation didn’t go the way the either side wanted it to," says Nugroho, adding that with a proposed 97 percent increase her business would have been impossible to maintain. "If I continued the way I work here, closing some days and between lunch and supper, the annual increase would represent 80 percent of my profit."

She's adamant that this isn't a closure though—Gingergrass is relocating, and she's in the process of solidifying a new place to call home. Her preference, she says, is to stay in the downtown area.

"I see it as an opportunity to make some changes and I’m so ready to move on," says Nugroho, who sings the praises of her neighbours and regular customers who've been supportive of the transition. "This will give me time off to decide what direction I'll take with the restaurant. When one door closes, a good one can open."

The move gives Nugroho the chance for a total fresh start, and with this in mind she'll be donating all of her current furniture and equipment to Ark Outreach and the Moncton chapter of Habitat for Humanity. After serving Gingergrass' last meals tomorrow, preparations will begin to move out of the building February 28. She says she'll keep curious diners posted on her progress and new location via the restaurant's website and Facebook page.

"It seems like just yesterday for me because 10 years passes so quickly, says Nugroho. "But I'm going to do it all over again, except this time with experience."

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Wednesday, February 15, 2017

North Brewing Company and Zuppa Theatre pour up liquid love

The Zuppa Symposium milk stout is released today

Posted By on Wed, Feb 15, 2017 at 3:34 PM

Give this milk stout a standing ovation
  • Give this milk stout a standing ovation

Who says you only get one shot at true love? Not Zuppa Theatre Company. Pop-Up Love Party, its wildly popular theatrical and culinary quest to define the l-word, is back to lift us up where we belong (entertained, with full bellies) this weekend, staging another sold-out run, this time in Dartmouth.

Battery Park Beer Bar is Zuppa’s stage, North Brewing Company its co-star. The constantly collaborating brewery—fresh off the release of a summery sour inspired by chef Renée Lavallée —has brewed an special beer to pair with the play (or, any lonely winters night, really), called Zuppa Symposium.

“At the end of the summer we got a whole bunch of fruit from Beet Rouge and we processed it and froze it to make interesting stuff in the winter when it’s slower and there’s time for fun experimentation,” says North’s Peter Burbridge. The result is a blackberry cherrywood milk stout, tart thanks to 38 pounds of berries with a woody finish, reminiscent of barrel-aged character. “There’s tartness from the blackberries, a little wood on finish. We kind of thought the fruit and the cherrywood had a bit of a Valentine’s feel to it.”

The beer isn’t just for attendees of Zuppa’s re-imagining of Plato’s The Symposium—which features a seven-course snack menu designed by chef Daniel Burns—it’s available in private liquor stores and North’s Dartmouth and Halifax retail shops as well.

“I think more and more the co-marketing, and being able to work together with other small businesses and community groups, makes a lot of sense,” says Burbridge, of joining forces. “These are things that are important to us, culture, community and culinary. It’s nice to feel like you’re really part of a community.”


Pop-Up Love Party
Feb 16-19, 9pm
Battery Park, 62 Ochterloney Street

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Wednesday, February 8, 2017

The Good Food Emporium closes this Friday

Rinaldo's takes over the longtime hangout's lease

Posted By on Wed, Feb 8, 2017 at 6:33 PM

“We don’t have many boundaries—the restaurant includes everyone.” - NXN PHOTOGRAPHY
  • “We don’t have many boundaries—the restaurant includes everyone.”
  • NXN Photography
The Good Food Emporium closes its doors Friday after “eight years, nine months and 10 days” as a gathering place and restaurant. The space is being passed on to Sam and Tony Rinaldo—who have been sharing a kitchen with the Good Food for the past five months while cooking for their mobile businesses T-Dogs and Rinaldo’s Italian American Specialties—as a bricks-and-mortar location for their Italian restaurant.

For owners Carole LeBlanc, Stephen Fowler and Eric Gunnells, the brothers seemed a natural replacement.

“It was important for me personally to find somebody to fill this space,” says LeBlanc. “Not just by someone looking for a location for a restaurant, but by someone who would cater to the community that supported us for all this time.”
LeBlanc speaks excitedly about the signing over of the lease, recalling when Bob Trenaman of Bob and Lori’s Food Emporium passed the original Gottingen Street location and his recipes over to the the current owners.

Since moving to the corner of Windsor and Duncan Streets six years ago, the restaurant has continued to grow into a community landmark. Every weekend the space is packed with students, neighbours and even some diehard customers who still call it Bob and Lori’s.
Gunnells and LeBlanc go back and forth trying to capture what specifically makes the Good Food special to so many people, mentioning everything from the proximity of the tables to the bright colours on the wall.

“It’s the people that dictate what this place is,” says Gunnells. “I think it’s really hard to conjure up an atmosphere. People try to do it, but when you just let stuff happen, stuff happens.”
The restaurant follows an unusual business model, often giving away food to those who need it and trying to keep prices as low as possible so as not to push any of the community out.
“If you let weirdos and freaks come into your restaurant and you give coffee or food away to whoever needs it, that opens up the boundaries,” says Gunnells. “We don’t have many boundaries—the restaurant includes everyone.”

There have been a few times, LeBlanc says, they’ve asked people to leave because it’s been important to preserve the restaurant as safe space. She says a customer recently admitted that the Good Food is where he goes when he feels down because he usually gets “a bunch of hugs.”
Neither Gunnells or LeBlanc know what’s next for the restaurant’s three owners and seven employees, but they say there’s a nervous excitement for “new beginnings.” Some staff members have worked at the restaurant for up to five years, but LeBlanc says breaking the news of the closure was easier because they were open and honest throughout the decision making process.
Along with passing their famous struan bread recipe on to the Rinaldo brothers, the restaurant will be remembered in a cookbook full of recipes and stories later this year.

“If these walls could talk,” says LeBlanc. “From people getting together, to break-ups, to babies.”


Good Food Celebration and Dance Party
Friday, Feb 10, 7pm
2186 Windsor Street

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Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Water and Bone brings local flare to ramen

Oodles of noodles coming to Charles Street

Posted By on Wed, Feb 1, 2017 at 4:53 PM


Jamie MacAulay has always been a self-proclaimed “ramen nerd.” When a space on Charles Street became available, it only made sense for him to look into opening his own noodle bar. “It’s a really appealing comfort food,” says MacAulay. “It hits all the notes, you know—comforting, warm broth, a nice piece of braised pork and egg in your soup, noodles.”

MacAulay’s first experiences in the food industry involved washing dishes rather than cooking. He’d originally planned on a career in graphic design—but when that didn’t work out, he shifted gears and put his focus back on food.

“Once I decided that, I sort of jumped in with both feet,” says MacAulay, who spent six years doing an apprenticeship in Whistler. These days, MacAulay’s teamed up with his wife Shannon Mcmullin along with friends Stephen John MacLean and Craig Nickerson to open Water and Bone at 5687 Charles Street, the former home of Chi Bistro and Tess.

MacAulay stresses they’re not trying to “create a Japanese ramen experience,” but they want to pay respect to the tradition and craft while having fun with appetizers and entrees. The menu will feature dishes made from local and seasonal ingredients, particularly when it comes to the base of the soup. Instead of toasted nori, for instance, they’re using dulse.

“We’re not going to use imported seaweed from Japan, ’cause why bother? It washes up in my backyard,” MacAulay says, laughing. He’s not literally serving the seaweed from his backyard, but you get the point. Pork and chicken from local farms and homemade noodles are also part of the spread.

“We really want to stick with local, but respect the tradition,” he says. MacAulay doesn’t have a firm opening date just yet, but he aims to have Water and Bone open in the next two weeks.

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The Argyle gets nostalgic with Vinyl Retro Dance Lounge

Get ready for Throwback Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays

Posted By on Wed, Feb 1, 2017 at 3:29 PM

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Start polishing your dancing shoes (er, platform sneakers?), The Argyle Grill & Bar's (1575 Argyle Street) plan to convert its basement into a new weekend dance party.

The restaurant/bar's mostly unused downstairs space will be re-vamped to become Vinyl Retro Dance Lounge, a concept The Argyle's parent company Urban Sparq Hospitality has tried—with much success—in other Canadian cities like Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton. Because who doesn't want to relive the hits and misses Much Music countdown from yesteryear?

Urban Sparq's Dan Crerar says Vinyl will crank '90s and 2000s mashups over an LED dancefloor Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, offer bottle service and boast a "retro feel" with lots of mirrors, big booths and music paraphernalia.

"Its nostalgia," says Crerar of the current '90s comeback. "It’s like old school video games are cool again. Everything old is cool again."

Vinyl Retro Dance Lounge aims to open February 16.

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