When One Door Closes, Another One Opens – Ate by Ate’s Fresh Start and Baja Tacos & Cod Sliders at The Happy Hooker, Part II!

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Okay, so “tomorrow” ended up being almost 2 months.  I honestly didn’t mean to be away so long.  I was so excited to celebrate Thanksgiving with you guys, posting about fall baked goods, fall harvest goodies and afternoon tea and just reveling in the delicious bounty of my favourite season.  But I just couldn’t post.  I wasn’t ready to tell everyone what was going on and didn’t want to pretend things were normal when they weren’t.  Aside from being just plain tired and sleepy some days, something else happened in my life during my time away that has, well…turned my life upside down a little.

I got laid off and lost my job.

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I can’t even begin to explain everything that I’ve been feeling and thinking since it happened and everything that has happened in relation to it since it happened.  Dealing with very mixed emotions, people, the day-to-day grind of remaining work while I’m still there, the future.  It’s something that you’re never truly prepared for and when it happens your mind just starts running in a million different directions.  It made me so sad not to post for over a month.  Part of me wanted to but the other part just didn’t want to bother with the facade.  I missed my Food Calendars, I missed the majority of the fall season, I missed posting on Ate by Ate’s Facebook page and getting fun tweets from people, I missed Ate by Ate’s 3rd birthday.

Needless to say, I’ve experienced MUCH happier Novembers in my 28 years of life and saying that it’s been a roller coaster would be a gross understatement.  Despite everything that’s happened though, my heart is so full of joy for Christmas, I am soaking in as much holiday happiness as I can and moving on from this chapter in my life will be the best thing for me come the new year.  It’s time for a fresh start, truly, and maybe finally, I can give Ate by Ate the love and attention it needs again because I have floundered this entire year.  Ate by Ate is my baby, it’s my bread and butter and we need to start having fun again.

So, let’s take a deep breath and dive right into the Happy Hook Part II post that never happened in October!

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Ironically enough, The Happy Hooker and I were introduced through work.  Back in May, I went on a fun “Insanewich” culinary tour led by Stephen from Foodies on Foot where the entire food tour was – you guessed it – based on sandwiches!  We noshed our way through numerous neighbourhoods in the city and chomped on sandwiches of all kinds: panini, sliders, grilled cheese, ice cream (SO creative and the best way to end a sandwich tour on a sweet note) and The Happy Hooker’s myriad selection of seafood sandwich bites!  What I love about The Happy Hooker is its playfulness, versatility and culinary creativity.  Seafood is much more than your typical fish ‘n chips, slab of grilled salmon and things you crack and eat out of a shell.  While the familiar is great at times, the menu at The Happy Hooker allows you to try different kinds of fish and seafood in so many different ways.

We have fish that’s grilled, fish that’s fried, seafood on a stick and seafood between buns.  We have shrimp, baja, cod, oysters, lobster, blue marlin, and grouper.  And we have beautiful, delicious side dishes that go with all those scrumptious seafood delights such as a rainbow of salads (check out the arugula and kale, it’s a thing of beauty!), fish fries and other yummies.  Oh!  And pie-in-a-jar desserts from Le Dolci.  And deep fried Oreos.  Ohhh boy.  The Happy Hooker’s menu changes on a regular basis based on the availability of fresh seafood, seasonality and what’s plain delicious and fun.  Prices range from $3.50 to $11 with small tacos coming in at $3.50 each and larger sandwiches coming in at $9-$11 with sliders sitting between the two at $4.

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I’ve had the luxury of trying their seafood tacos and their adorable and delicious sliders.  What we have here are Cali Baja tacos with avocado crema, fresh lettuce and tomatoes served with a little wedge of lime, grilled shrimp tacos with mango salsa and pickled onions and BC cod sliders with tomatoes, slaw and capers, all dressed in their special seafood mayo sauce.  My mouth is watering just looking at these photos again.  I know some may appreciate larger portions more but you all know I’m the type of person who hates having to choose between menu items and generally munches on multiple small portions of things.  It just makes my life (and digestion!) easier.  I get to try numerous things at once and I don’t feel overwhelmed with what’s in front of me.

I would LOVE to eventually try everything on their menu but if I had to recommend something, I’d get the sliders and Cali Baja tacos again in a heartbeat.  The BC cod was so flavourful and moist (and come on, they’re just so damn cute) and the crispy fried goodness of the Cali Baja pairs so well with crema and sauce and fresh veggies.  I love my shrimp too but coming from a person who tries her best not make a hot mess out of herself while eating, it’s not the most graceful of things to eat – I kept dropping shrimp back onto my plate!

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The Happy Hooker exudes fun, hip, and casual and it’s one of those places that brings to mind fun lunches you can enjoy on a park bench on a gorgeous summer day.  Given how we’re deep into the first week of December though, that visual doesn’t really help our cause so I’m super curious to see what their menu looks like during the winter and how their food transforms into hearty comfort food.  No matter the season, it’s a fab place to try lots of different types of seafood and their buttermilk oyster sliders and blue marlin burgers totally have my name on them for a future trip!

It’s good to back everyone and thank you for hanging in there with me.  The support means the world and I am going to make the next 20 days before Christmas (and beyond) the most fun it can be.

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*****

The Happy Hooker is located at 887 Dundas Street West, just west of Manning Ave. between Bathurst St. and Ossington Ave. near Trinity Bellwoods Park.  They are open every day from 12pm-10pm.

The Keys to My Heart: The Grilled Halibut Melt at Jakes Pub & Grille on Main Street Unionville!

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I knew it was too good to be true.  The weather, that is.  I was loving the chillier mornings and the moderately warm, sunny days last week.  Then the weather decided to pull a fast one on me and scorch my little tooshie again, all the while gloating as I cowered under the sun in my bucket hat, whimpered in the heat, and cursed the buses that didn’t have air conditioning.  So, I did what any disenchanted girl would do: in defiance of the nasty weather, I hightailed it over to my favourite local pub for a patio lunch, noshed on my favourite dish, sat under a nice, shaded wooden awning, watched people happily sling back a few beers at neighbouring tables, and walked away with a happy belly full of yummy food.  I had myself one of the best lunches this summer and kicked the sweaty, icky, yucky feeling to the curb.  Eating at one of my favourite spots in one of my fvaourite neighbourhoods in my neck of the woods always does the trick.  Welcome to Jakes on Main Street Unionville! 

Jakes is a very classic type of pub establishment with a casual and relaxed atmosphere that’s family-friendly and always hopping with regulars who come out for beers, families who come out with their kids for some good old fashioned kiddie food (you wouldn’t believe how many kids and baby strollers that were there during the hour I was there!), and groups of friends sharing giant plates of food and having a great time.  It’s such a popular, well-loved spot and the crowds show it.  The patio is constantly packed, there’s always a consistent stream of people filling up the tables when they’ve been vacated, and it doesn’t matter what part of the day it is; Jakes is definitely the place to be if you’re around Main Street Unionville.

Jakes and I go way back.  Probably not as far back as many of the locals here who’ve lived in Markham all their life, but far back enough; my first look was back in high school and my first visit was before I even started grad school!  It’s my favourite spot on Main Street and my favourite classic pub in Markham.  I know that aside from the beer, pubs aren’t necessarily known for their haute cuisine.  There are some pub spots in the city that I’ve been to that are totally top-notch with delicious food, but if we’re playing a game of word association here, we know that most people would associate pub fare and bar grub with things like wings, calamari, and nachos and unless they’re spectacular, they’re forgettable to most people. 

At Jakes?  Call it pub fare, call it bar grub, call it whatever you want because the food here is REALLY, REALLY good!  You must be thinking, “how good can it be?”.  Trust me, their menu selection and portions speak for themselves.  We’re talking 6 types of poutine (butter chicken, pulled pork, and steak and mushroom just to name a few!), 21 different sandwiches, burgers, and wraps (beef dip, smoked salmon club, California club with guac and mango salsa, fish tacos, and more!), pub appetizers (deep fried pickles, crab cakes, coconut shrimp, and bacon wrapped scallops among others), and plenty of mains and entrees including baked chicken, pub pie, goat cheese quesadilla, and spicy chicken and seafood.

Prices are typical of a sit-down pub ($7-$20) and their menu is the same for both lunch and dinner, so you enjoy the goodness during the day or well into the evening.  It’s been so long since I’ve been here and while I was sitting at my table waiting for my food to come, I saw countless dishes being brought out to other patrons and I was reminded of how great their food was and how much I dearly missed what I had ordered since it had been so long since my last visit.

My favourite thing to have at Jakes: the halibut melt!  One of my ultimate not-healthy, comfort food weaknesses is fish and chips and Jakes halibut melt ($11.99) is a delicious, crispy, melt-in-your-mouth battered halibut fish sandwiched between caramelized onions, melted mozzarella cheese, and grilled bread, served with tangy tarter sauce (I LOVE TARTAR SAUCE!) and either fries, caesar salad, or green salad with your choice of salad dressing.  I LOVE fish sandwiches, tacos, and burritos and given how I’ve blogged about the haddock fish burritos and shrimp burritos and quesadillas from Burrito Boyz and the fish tacos from Wish Cafe, I figured it was time to post another one on seafood sandwiches, pub style!     

The sandwich is so, so good because the grilled bread is able to hold up to the melted cheese and caramelized onions and give the crunchy halibut fish the support it needs to stay crispy with every bite – no one wants a limp and soggy sandwich!  The battered halibut on the inside is moist and flaky and perfectly golden on the outside with a scrumptious buttery warmth to it.  I think one of the things I love most about fish and chips is the difference in textures (moist on the inside, crunchy on the outside) and this sandwich is so full of crunch and flavour and the melted mozzarella just adds that extra butteriness to the whole sandwich. 

And the tartar sauce!  It is so much fun dipping this sandwich into the tartar sauce and having that creamy tangy just whack a few good ones out of the park in your mouth.  After awhile though, it gets a little hard trying to dip the sandwich in so I just dip my fork into the sauce and slather it on.  And while the salad is just a side to the star of the show, it’s worth noting that the green house salad is great with it baby greens, refreshing cucumber, shredded carrots, and sliced bell peppers.  There’s a ton of different dressing options and I chose a honey mustard to go with mine this time around.

Jakes has made changes and additions to their menu over the years and I’m looking forward to coming back more often for some casual pub fare and really good food in fab neighbourhood.  After living in Markham for 14 years now, it’s a neighbourhood pub that definitely feels like home.

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Jakes Pub & Grille is located at 202 Main Street Unionville in Markham just south of Carlton Rd. on the popular Main Street shopping and dining strip.  They’re open 7 days a week for both lunch and dinner with a big patio out front.