A Toronto brew pub has teamed up with Montreal’s Joe Beef to create the best TV dinner tray of all time
TV dinners, with their little pre-portioned rectangles and somewhat iffy ingredients, have historically had more in common with airplane food than fine dining. They are the ultimate convenience, but heating one up can feel like resigning yourself to a lesser food fate—trading freshness and flavour for speed and freedom from washing dishes. Happily, with the launch of Woodhouse Brew Pub’s nostalgic “Hungry Friends” reheatable meals, we’ve entered a new era of TV dinners—and not a moment too soon.
The Brockton Village kitchen, helmed by chef Graham Pratt (formerly of The Gabardine) has made a few “Hungry Friend” dinners to date, including one with a smoked chicken leg, one with Salisbury steak and a Thanksgiving special. Their latest tray is a limited-edition collaboration with Montreal’s Joe Beef dubbed “The Joe Beef x Woodhouse Primetime Holiday Relief Special,” with a chunk of the proceeds going to charity.
As far as restaurant collabs go, this is definitely a pandemic-era novelty: the two teams developed the fun concept over many emails and phone calls. This particular tray (which costs $60 and comes with a menu card and instructions for reheating) will be available at Woodhouse on Dec. 19 and 20, with pre-orders opening Dec. 11 through Woodhouse Brew Pub’s Instagram.
This TV tray is fine dining disguised in humble garb. Brisket boeuf bourguignon, adapted from a recipe in Joe Beef: Surviving the Apocalypse, is the centrepiece. A combo of smoked and unsmoked brisket sits in a deeply savoury red wine sauce, boasting a quality shared by all the best beef sauces: it tastes more like beef than beef itself. Browned mushrooms, pearl onions and extra chunks of smoked brisket round it all out.
Taking up more tray real estate is the lobster sausage. Among its many conspicuous excesses, Joe Beef is known for its lobster spaghetti, which includes bacon for an extra note of savoury flavour. In honour of that surf-and-turf combination, this sausage has the tiniest touch of salami, which gives it all the juice and heft of a sausage but with the unmistakable flavour of lobster. The sauce is another standout: it’s a creamy, crustacean-y bisque you’ll want to eat with a spoon.
While the mains are downright luxurious, the side dishes themselves are no afterthought. There’s a baked oyster topped with cheese, bacon, breadcrumbs and cream—another Joe Beef recipe. On the other end of the tray are six petite pillowy potato soufflés, creamy but airy with whipped egg whites. The peas are speckled with double-smoked ham and cooked in the broth of said ham, giving them a salty (and hammy) bite. And the carrots, cut into flower shapes (because why not, we need all the joy we can get), are glazed in honey, mustard and their own juices. For dessert, there’s a classic layered Marjolaine cake, with vanilla buttercream and hazelnut meringue (which happens to pair well with Woodhouse’s stout).
“We wanted to do something fun and nostalgic in time for the holidays,” says chef Graham Pratt. “We put out a TV dinner on Thanksgiving, and the response was really positive. It’s a way for us to stay creative and connected to the community. And of course, working with the guys at Joe Beef has been an honour.” The TV dinner idea also fits neatly into the brewery’s new concept: a convenience store of sorts, where you’ll find baseball and hockey cards sold alongside cans of beer.
“Me and Graham go back many years, and I’ve always respected his cooking,” says Dave McMillan, one half of the legendary duo behind Joe Beef. “I said to Graham, do your food, Joe Beef style. Cook you cooking me. And he killed it.”
Ten per cent of the proceeds from the Joe Beef collaboration will go to the Parkdale Food Bank, while Woodhouse will also be preparing warm turkey TV dinners to drop off at Fred Victor House, Fatima House and encampments throughout the city. And when pickup day comes, customers will be able to buy other tasty local goods, like sourdough baguettes from Robinson Bread. “We want it to be an experience,” says Woodhouse. “People can eat right out of the trays when they get home, or plate it up if they want to get a little fancy.” Get as fancy as you like, but nothing goes better with a TV tray than sweatpants and, well, TV.
Keep an eye on Woodhouse Brew Pub’s Instagram page for more upcoming TV dinners.
Woodhouse Brew Pub, 301 Lansdowne Ave., 416-516-5482, woodhousebrewing.com/brew-pub