Our newest contributor, Lasha Laskowsky-Reed, headed to Chef Tommy‘s to sample authentic Greek food in a converted Taco Bell. Did her meal leave her wanting to make a run for the border? Read on…
I am a little bit ashamed to write this review so late in the game – Chef Tommy’s has been around for well over a year now and this was my first visit. As a proud resident of our beautiful Durham Region, I try to make sure I’m on the up and up when it comes to new restaurants, ya dig? BUT in my humble defense, my mother and I had tried several times to dine at Chef Tommy’s when it first opened and it seemed to be closed every time we tried to visit. Also in my defense, my dear old mother died shortly after that, so I lost an incredible dining partner. But that’s a whole other blog. Or therapy session. Oy.
Anyway, I have been fascinated with Chef Tommy’s since its inception because many, many moons ago, a thirteen-year-old me lied about her age and got a job at that exact building when it was a Taco Bell. It was a total disaster. I dropped a whole bucket of sour cream on the floor during my first shift. Have you ever had to clean up sour cream with those scratchy brown paper towels? No Bueno. Needless to say, I lasted about three shifts that summer and then my Dad decided to take us on a family trip to Europe, so I quit. Without telling them. It was all so very irresponsible and I regret it now. But in my defense again, that trip to Europe started my love affair with food, and therefore was the seed from which this incredible blog sprouted. See? It’s all relevant.
You can’t really get away from the Spanish Style structure that was the tell-tale sign of the ghost of a Taco Bell. Even upon entering the restaurant you can’t help but notice the old drive-through window. They cleverly dressed it up with flowers and drapery, but I was immediately thrown back to 1992 and ordering a double-beef-burrito-supreme from the back of Jenny Kahn’s car after an epic bush party where I kissed Brent Wragg for the first time. Fun times.
The inside of the restaurant is warm and welcoming. It felt very European, to me. It was about half-full when we arrived at 6pm. We were greeted immediately by a women who was motherly and kind. I grew up with a European mother who loved a house full of people, lots of noise and good food. This is the vibe I got from her and was immediately won over. She explained that she had three daily features to offer – a lamb shank dish, a fish dish and some kind of vegetarian dish. For the more daring seafood connoisseur, she mentioned that you could order the fish with the head on, or off.
The best part of the experience (besides the food itself, which I’ll get to in a second, you impatient reader, you) was the fact that she took the time to explain each dish – it’s Greek origin, the preparation method, the difference in the dish made in a villiage as opposed to the dish made in big cities – interesting tidbits of history and anthropology that you don’t find in your run-of-the-mill Canadian Restaurant. I loved it.
With the help of our gracious hostess, I chose the Papoutsaki, an eggpant dish made with ground beef, tomatos and other vegetables. My beautiful dining partner, who also happens to be my favourite Aunt, ordered the Pastichio, a Greek Pasta dish. Our hostess proclaimed that these were her two favourite dishes on the menu, so we knew we were in for a party.
Speaking of parties, the table directly next to us housed a large extended family celebrating their matriarch’s 90th birthday. The youngest diner was about 8 years old and the eldest was….well…..90. They were having a great old time. Twice while we were waiting for our food, the owners came out to their table, lit a plate of food on fire and yelled “OPA!!!”. When we asked what dish they kept torching, they told us it was cheese. The only thing better than cheese, is cheese on fire. Obvi.
Our salads came out right away. Both my Aunt and I ordered the traditional Greek Salad that came with our meals. It was as good as a typical Greek Salad gets. Juicy, fresh tomatos and cucumbers with an obviously home-made dressing made for an excellent salad. It was the perfect size, too.
The time between our salads and the delivery of our main courses was the perfect amount of time to discuss the newest Real Housewives franchise (Dallas), shellac vs. normal nail polish, and some mindless gossip about a dude from Oshawa that got his wallet stolen in Barcelona. It’s actually a fascinating story – apparently, the guy thought he got shit-on by a bird, but it was really some gypsies on a balcony distracting him with fake shit while another one on the ground stole his wallet. Can you imagine?
The dishes that were served to us were incredibly aesthetically pleasing. My Papoutsaki was a half an eggplant filled with the kind of goodness that Dionysus would have eaten at one of his giant food/booze parties that Mr. Lynd made us read about in Grade 12 Classics class at OCVI. Honestly, if ambrosia is the nectar of the Greek Gods, then Papoutsaki from Chef Tommy would be the nectar of the Oshawa-based Foodie. It was THAT good. The eggplant was mixed with tomatoes, carmelized onions and ground beef. All of this was sprinkled with cheese and baked. It was the perfect mix of savoury and sweet. When I asked our hostess what made the dish so sweet, she said it was the carmalized onions. It was served with a side of buttered potatoes and rice. All of which were perfectly cooked.
My incredibly charming and good-looking Aunt’s dish was ALMOST as good as mine, in my opinion. She disagreed. She was absolutely in love with her Pastichio. It was a penne dish, served in a clay pot, smothered in ground beef, a homemade tomato sauce and the kicker – a béchamel sauce that was so creamy and tasty that it was the star of the show. All of this is baked with Parmasan cheese. Her masterpiece was also accompanied by the potatoes and rice.
I was full about halfway through my meal. But I continued on like the soldier that I am. I begged our hostess to take the dish away with about a quarter of it left on the plate, but she just smiled and walked away. I finished the whole thing. And while I felt a little bit of shame, it wasn’t enough shame to stop me from ordering dessert.
We deferred to our hostess’ suggestion for dessert and went with one order of Baclava and one order of galaktoboureko, a traditional Greek dessert of custard and phyllo pastry. I’m not a huge fan of the sweetness of the Baclava, so I liked the Galaktoboureko better. My Aunt agreed.
We finished up our dessert with a deliciously fresh cup of coffee and went on our way, stopping to congratulate the 90 Year Old Goddess on her happy day.
Here’s the skinny – I loved this place. The proprietors were exceptionally hospitable, the food was fresh, homemade and delicious. It was comfortable and brought back lovely memories of growing up in North Oshawa. I will go back again and again and again. Next time, if it’s not raining, I’ll sit on the beautiful patio. And order the flaming cheese. OPA!!!
Visit Chef Tommy’s at 1320 Simcoe Street North in Oshawa.
About the Author
Lasha Laskowsky-Reed (‘Shwa Girl) was born and raised in Oshawa. She is a former College Professor, Television Producer and Lead Singer of a punk rock band. Lasha is currently working at being a good housewife and mother as well as finishing her first crime novel, Hammered Heart. Find her online at http://shwagirl.blogspot.ca/.