Where chef Eric Wood eats in the burbs
We’re going on the road with some of the city’s top chefs to explore their favourite suburban restaurants. Eric Wood, executive chef at PORT and the soon-to-open Maple Leaf Tavern, tells us what’s good in the Durham region
For the last year, chef Eric Wood has been commuting eastward to Pickering for work, but has been making trips to visit his wife’s family in the Durham area for even longer. We picked up Wood on his day off for a tour of his favourite spots for steak sandwiches, barbecued ribs and seared rainbow trout.
The Big M
711 Krosno Blvd., Pickering, 905-837-9332, thebigm.ca
“The Big M is an institution. It’s been here for 50 years and everyone comes here on the weekend or after local baseball games. Almost every night of the week there’ll be a different club, like a motorcycle or Corvette club, set up in the parking lot—it’s always a party. PORT is just down the street, so I ride my bike here after I finish work.”
Go-to dish: The steak-on-a-kaiser combo. $16.79.
Tasting notes: “This was the first thing I ate here about a year and a half ago. I’ve tried other stuff on the menu, but this is what I always go back to. It’s huge, the meat is good quality and really flavourful, and there are tons of toppings. The onion rings aren’t greasy and the batter is excellent. A good batter should hold the flavour of the seasoning, so you’re not just eating fried onions. They’re like a good french fry: crispy on the outside, creamy in the middle.”
2001 Thickson Rd., Whitby, 905-436-6986, busterrhinos.com
“Buster’s is fairly well known in Toronto and a lot of people make the drive out to the Whitby or Oshawa locations. But I don’t think downtowners really understand how much better the barbecue is here. It’s not fancy or hipster; it’s not expensive either. The owner, Darryl Koster, knows what he’s doing and is clearly passionate.”
Go-to dish: Half rack of ribs and pound of wings combo. $25.99.
Tasting notes: “The ribs are pretty much perfect: brined nicely, expertly smoked and moist. The texture is perfect in that the meat falls off the bone but isn’t overcooked. His smoked wings are the best I’ve had. They aren’t concealed by batter or drenched in sauce, so the flavour and texture have to be bang on, and he nails it.”
Goes well with: Cheerwine. $3.
“It was here that I heard about Cheerwine. It’s a southern cherry pop, and this is one of the few places that sell them—including Soda Pop Central, which is also in Whitby.”
Durham College Campus, 1604 Champlain Ave., Whitby, 905-721-3312, bistro67.ca
“This is the restaurant of Durham College’s Centre for Food. It’s in a beautiful new location that overlooks the farm fields that the students tend to, and the menu changes seasonally. It’s important to support student restaurants because they need the work experience. PORT accepts a lot of the students from here, because there aren’t many places to practice in this area other than big-box restaurants. The school is quite new, so they feel like they still have something to prove and they’re really willing to work for it.”
Go-to dish #1: Seared rainbow trout. $17.
Tasting notes: “The trout was nicely cooked; flaky and tender. It’s not an easy fish to cook.”
Go-to dish #2: Apple bruschetta. $15.
Tasting notes: “The apple bruschetta is a good fall dish that’s sweet rather than savoury. It’s something I wouldn’t have thought of.”