Hamilton’s first-ever Battledish was one of my highlights of the year, and certainly the most indulgent that this tourist experienced in 2013. Eight restaurants along Locke Street competed with their best dishes and those of us who participated voted for who would reign supreme. I was thrilled to be asked by organizer Dave Hanley to join the celebrity judging panel. Proceeds from ticket sales went to Tastebuds: Student Nutritional Collaborative.
The opponents – the restaurants and their chefs:
NaRoma Pizza Bar (Mario Spina)
West Town Bar & Grill (Walter Roper)
Ole Gourmet (Mike Tofano)
Earth to Table Bread Bar (Manny Ferreira)
The Courtyard on Locke (Zelco Grahovac)
Cheese Shoppe on Locke (Tor Kruger)
Cake & Loaf Bakery (Nicole Miller and Josie Rudderham)
Leading up to the event, Nicole and Kim of local video blog Steel and the City captured each chef throwing down the gauntlet in their kitchens. At the event, everyone was free to wander around at their leisure and had about four hours to hit all eight spots before voting. The restaurants were nominated in different combinations across five categories – Best Cocktail, Most Authentic, Best Modern, Most Creative, and Most Delicious
It was game on – THIS. IS. BATTLEDISH!!!!
Stop #1 – NaRoma Pizza Bar
It was a mix of sweet and savoury at NaRoma. They served “Schiacciata con l’uva” which is NaRoma’s secret handmade dough recipe, topped with local grapes, rosemary, triple cream Brie cheese from Cheese Shoppe on Locke, homemade reduced balsamic, and sprinkled with arugula, icing sugar, and cinnamon. The drink served was a red wine. Despite it barely being 2pm, Nicole, Kim, and I were just fine with starting the day with a little bevvy!
Chef Mario came out to introduce the food, which gave the meal a personal touch. It was nice to hear about the food straight from the source. The portions were small, so we figured we were off to a great start and we could totally conquer this Battledish. We were confident when picking out our second stop.
Stop #2 – West Town Bar & Grill
Choosing to stick in close proximity to the first stop (it was a chilly, windy day!), we settled on one across the street. Each spot was bustling with regular customers, so for a couple of stops, we opted to try another and circle back. Grabbing a table, we were presented with West Town’s battle entry – citrus marinated pork tenderloin in a puff pastry with a peppercorn cream sauce. We had a couple of choices when it came to an alcoholic beverage. Although Joe’s Coffee (spiked, mind you!) was their formal submission for battle, they also boasted about their caesar, claiming it to be the best in the city.
It was a bad sign that we were admittedly a little full after only our second stop of the day. But, hey, we just ate a pork tenderloin baked into a pastry! Not the lightest meal in the world, albeit very tasty. We soldiered on to the next mission.
Stop #3 – Ole Gourmet Mexican
It helped that we were able to stretch our legs with a short jaunt in between stops. We strategically ventured a little further for the next one. Two of the competing restaurants were located inside a church at the end of the street because they would have been too far to walk to otherwise. Ole Gourmet was one.
It was time to get a little spicy up in this Dish! Ole’s submission was two types of tacos – one pulled pork with sauteed onions, cilantro mayo and lettuce, and one lime chicken with pico de gallo and spicy salsa toppings. To drink, we had Mexican Cerveza (beer) and there was a tasty mango drink on hand as well. Arriba!
Stop #4 – Earth to Table Bread Bar
Bread Bar is so fresh and inviting, and always busy. We grabbed a seat at the counter and were presented with beer-battered Brie with maple-apple puree, bacon jam, spiced walnuts and fried bread. Fried bread? Come on! We soon forgot how full we were getting and went to town. It looked so neat that I didn’t want to mess it up by taking it apart to eat. Our cocktail was an Apple Rosemary Collins – super refreshing.
I felt like a real celebrity judge when I was recognized by our server, Simon. That fulfilled my rockstar moment quota for the day! We also caught a sighting of chef Manny.
Stop #5 – The Courtyard on Locke
Hitting the halfway point, Nicole, Kim, and myself were slowing down just a tad. But we must press on! No time for funny business – The Courtyard is a classy joint. Case in point – rosemary quail with pear cider, smoked paprika and sweet potato, stilton polenta and baby bok choy. That was paired with the Courtyard Cocktail which came in tiny glasses that we threw back like shots. Not so classy.
All the while, a pianist was tickling the ivories to set the mood. Live music? Bonus points! From there, we had to psyche ourselves up to continue. This was getting serious!
Stop #6 – Cheese Shoppe on Locke
It was around the Cheese Shoppe where things started falling apart. Hilariously so. The girls and I started getting a little loopy, a little giddy and delirious from all the food (and the booze, of course). I believe this is where Nicole declared, “I can’t do this anymore!!”
But as soon as the food came, it was kind of a game changer. This was a meal in itself – zucchini cream soup with Gorgonzola pear served with a side of truffled three cheese macaroni and a sparking grape drink. A cozy meal in a cozy atmosphere. There was even another piano player (this guy actually sang as well – stepping things up!)
Stop #7 – Cake & Loaf Bakery
The giggles continued as we walked back to the church where Cake & Loaf was set up. As Nicole, Kim, and I passed by the Gym on Locke, we had this whole bit where we said we would burst into the gym and kick some fit person off the treadmill while shouting, “Move!! I need this more than you do!” Things got even sillier as we started reappropriating lyrics to pop songs. My favourite – Britney’s “Work, Bitch” became, “You want a hot body? Don’t go to Battledish!” We laughed super hard as we walked up and down Locke (not ideal, when you’re that full).
It was another strategic choice to save Cake & Loaf for toward the end for dessert. They never disappoint; it was a sweet trifecta – apple cinnamon dumpling, pumpkin harvest cheesecake, and a salted caramel chocolate macaron. To sip on, a Drunken Spiced Chai. The kick in this appeared to be Goldschläger (not that we needed help getting even sillier).
Stop #8 – Democracy
Home stretch! We made it! Democracy is the newest food spot on Locke and I was delighted by the space. Super bright and inviting, with high ceilings, I loved how the sign was cut out so you could see the sky peeking through it. My other favourite feature – chalkboard walls! I made sure to leave the mark of Battledish. Generations to come must know of all we endured on this day.
Democracy served up a cute plate – savoury broccoli cheddar mini muffin, lemon loaf, and a “Hello Sailor.” My reasoning here was that, since the new coffee shop is also a partner of Mulberry, I had tried all of these treats before (and I know how rich and decadent that “Hello Sailor” is!) so I opted to take these goodies to-go, while still maintaining an accurate knowledge of all eight stops in order to cast my vote. I did, however, take advantage of their drink entry, a Peppermint Mocha. It was just about all I could muster at that point.
Then it was time to cast our votes and head back to home base (Ceylon Tea Bush) to submit our ballots. We celebrity judges were also treated to some sweet swag bags (shout outs to the businesses along Locke who were sponsors, a.k.a. Allies, of Battledish!).
In the end, NaRoma took the Battledish crown! Once the votes were tabulated, the results were split between NaRoma and Bread Bar as follows:
“Apple Rosemary Collins” – Earth to Table Bread Bar
“Schiacciata con l’uva” – NaRoma Pizza Bar
“Beer-battered Brie” – Earth to Table: Bread Bar
“Beer-battered Brie” Earth to Table Bread Bar
Most Delicious (King of Battledish Winner)
“Schiacciata con L’uva” – NaRoma Pizza Bar
A job extremely well done to all of the competitors – that was really tough to decide. Everything was so delicious! Thank you to Dave Hanley of Dishcrawl Hamilton for organizing another fantastic event. Once again, Hamilton’s food scene is phenomenal and bringing Battledish to this city further showcases our amazing culinary offerings.
Check out Steel and the City’s video blog about the event.
Until the next Battle!
Note: I received a media pass to attend Battledish Hamilton, but all thoughts about the event are my own.