Sherman's Food Adventures: Bells & Whistles

Bells & Whistles

Unless you've been stuck to your own neighbourhood in the past few years, it has been increasingly obvious that Fraser Street is taking over from Main Street as hipster central.  Gradually, we've seen more and more additions that include Sal y Limon, Earnest, Carano, Bows & Arrows, Crow Bar, Jethro's and if we stretch it a bit, Savio Volpe.  The latest spot to set up shop is Bells & Whistles near the intersection with Kingsway.  It boasts a great selection of draft beers in addition to a decent selection of eats.  We decided to check the place out after softball practice with the team.

We got there shortly after 8:00pm on a Monday night and the place was bustling.  After some bevvies, we moved onto the food starting with the Pimento Cheese Dip accompanied by pretzel crisps, mini-pickles and grainy mustard.  This was pretty straightforward with a cold and thick cheesy dip.  It had the appealing sharpness from the cheddar combined with the sweetness from the pimentos.  The pretzel chips were firm enough to scoop the cheese as well as remain crunchy.  This went well with my light and crisp passionfruit ale.  Next up, we shared the Pineapple Sriracha Chicken Wings which happened to be gluten-free.  I thought the flavour was spot on being a great combination of aromatic sweetness with a spicy kick.  The skin was fairly well-rendered with a few fatty parts while the meat was succulent and almost juicy.

Bam Bam and Pebbles started with both the KFC (Korean Fried Chicken) and the Chili Cheese Fries.   I found the KFC to be very saucy, hence, the flavours were pretty intense.  There was this smoky, sweet and richly spicy hit that was quite good.  The pieces of chicken needed to be bigger as it was completely overwhelmed by the sauce.  It felt like I was eating sauce, but at the very least, it was tasty.  Despite being tiny, the chicken stayed moist and tender with the batter being soft due to the amount of moisture.  As for the chili cheese fries, I thought they were fantastic.  Although appearing to be generic, the fries were nothing but.  They were hot and uniformly crispy.  Meaty and not overly wet, the chili was a nice compliment to the fries as it was flavourful without being too spicy.  The aged cheedar added a sharpness as well as the ooey gooey factor.

Miss Y decided on the gluten-free Baha Fish Taco with tempura cod, Mexican slaw, cilantro crema and chipotle salsa.  She added a side of fries with garlic rosemary aioli to round things out.  Since the batter was gluten-free, the textures were definitely different.  She remarked that the whole thing turned out to be too wet and not crispy at all.  The fish was fresh and flaky though.  The fries were the best part being even crispier than the chili cheese fries as there was nothing on top.  They were even better dipped in the creamy and noticeably garlicky aioli.  Continuing with fish, we also had the Ahi Tuna Poke with green onion, cilantro, cucumber, black sesame seeds and avocado.  This was served with gluten-free tortilla chips.  Although the poke wasn't the easiest to pick up with the chips, it was fresh, clean-tasting and nicely textured.  A bit pricey at $14.00, but good nonetheless.

In terms of the bigger dishes, I shared both the Fancy Burger and the Crispy Chicken Sandwich with R2D2.  At first glance, many might wonder why their burgers and sandwiches are on the higher end of the pricing continuum.  However, upon finishing it with the accompanying fries, it as pretty filling.  I found the fancy burger messy to eat (not a bad thing) due to the combination of a house-made patty, thyme-roasted mushrooms & onions, goat cheese, truffle and basil aioli, alfalfa sprouts and tomato.  Although the beef patty consisting of short-rib, brisket and chuck was not exactly juicy, it wasn't dry though.  There was a nice char that elevated the existing meatiness.  We thought the crispy chicken to be quite good as well.  It was indeed crispy and also rather moist too.  The black pepper mayo really came through.

Since their ice cream machine was busted, we returned for another visit.  Before dessert, we decided to try their Nachos Grande with aged cheddar, beef chili, corn, fresh guacamole, black beans, chipotle salsa, pickled onion & jalapenos and olives.  This thing was incredibly massive.  It didn't look like much in terms of table space occupied, but the amount of layered ingredients made the nachos hearty and filling.  Despite the plethora of wet toppings, the house-fried thick chips remained crunchy while not being greasy nor heavy.  Loved that there was a noted spice as well.  There was no need to dip them into anything as the dip was built right into the dish.  Bam Bam and Pebbles got the Popcorn Shrimp which looked like a pretty small portion.  Indeed it was, but the quality and execution made up for that.   The little nuggets were crispy and light while the shrimp was perfectly cooked.  They were buttery with a cold-water snap.

Almost everyone at the table decided to go with the All-Day Breakfast Burger consisting of thick maple sausage pork patty, American cheese, hashbrowns and a fried egg.  This was a great decision because for all the hype this thing has received on social media, it delivered.  First off, the thick sausage patty was moist, well-seared and flavourful.  The fried egg was perfectly runny while the hashbrowns were notably crispy.  With everything combined, the burger was filling and well-balanced in terms of texture and taste.  Milhouse decided to be different and had the Big Ring consisting of BBQ sauce, onion rings, blue cheese and rosemary bacon.  Made with the same meaty and flavourful (naturaly meat flavour) beef patty, this was as good as the fancy we had last time.  However, that also meant that the onion rings were not crispy enough (same as last time).  Flavourwise, the tangy BBQ sauce and sharp blue cheese offered enough impact while the bacon was crispy and aromatic.

On yet another visit (they recognize us now...), we finally got around in trying one of the cheaper items on the menu - the sour cream and onion Corn Nuts.  Not bad for $3.00 as it was actually a good amount.  Naturally, this was a nice compliment to our beverages.  The nuts were crunchy with a creamy tang and an onion finish.  On our original visit, we had tried the pineapple sriracha wings, so we ended up with the other flavour this time being the Sweet & Sour Mustard.  Served as whole wings, these were crispy and fairly well-rendered.  Exactly as before, the meat was tender and juicy.  However, the actual flavour was meh.  It was neither very sweet nor sour.  Rather, it was actually kinda bland.  Either there needed to be more glaze or the glaze itself needs something.

I ended up sharing the Fat Stevens with R2D2.  It consisted of beer-brined chicken, gravy, mayo and crispy fried onions stuffed into a milk bun.  This was reminiscent of the Brass Chicken Sandwich of the long gone La Brasserie food truck.  The entire thing was saucy and messy, but ultimately delicious.  I found the generous chunks of chicken to be super tender and moist.  Enveloped by a thick and flavourful gravy, there was enough saltiness to go around including the bun.  The crispy onions on top added a sweet crunch. For the first time ever, there was a salad at the table.  Pom Pom wanted to be healthier with the Big Salad comprised of arugula, quinoa, goat cheese, lemon-caper vinaigrette, candied pecans, seasonal berries, pumpkin seeds and cucumber.  This was a good balance between sweet and acidity where it brought brightness to the peppery arugula.  The combination of sees and pecans provided the textural crunch.

We've been always curious about the other 2 types of fries (other than the chili fries), especially the Chowder Fries.  Yah, it really was fries topped with chowder consisting of cream corn, local fish, fresh dill and paprika.  In all honesty, I wasn't a huge fan of this.  I did enjoy the chowder by itself as it was briny and fishy (in a good way).  The creaminess was just right and the sweet corn did its usual thing.  But when used as a sauce for the fries, something got lost in translation.  It just wasn't appealing to eat.  On the flip side, the Lamb Curry Fries were magnificent.  The fries were just another starch to go with the curry rather than rice or naan.  Just spicy enough and full-bodied, the curry was aromatic and well-seasoned.  I found the chunks of lamb to be tender and well-portioned.  To top it all off literally and figuratively, the mint-lime yogurt provided a bright creaminess.

All the food was fine and dandy, but the real reason we were here was for the soft serve ice cream.  For myself, I chose the Stout Float mostly due to the fact no one ordered it.  To be honest, I was not too sure of this when I spotted it on the menu and wasn't too sure after the first sip either.  However, after I vigorously mixed the soft-serve into it, the flavours were more balanced.  There was an initial creamy sweetness that gave way to a bitter finish that was akin to dark chocolate.  Since I'm not a huge fan of sweet desserts anyways, it worked for me.  With that being said, the best choice was the Coco Crisp with salted caramel soft serve, chocolate sauce, Skor bar crumble, white chocolate and pretzel bits.  I loved the balance between sweet and salty while the soft-serve was creamy and purposefully sweet.  The crunch from the toppings was light and didn't take away from the creaminess.

Bear and Milhouse had the other 2 options in the Demar Deraspberry and Berry Rice.  Sporting original and blueberry twist, Oreo chunks, summer berries and sprinkles, the demar deraspberry was fruity as expected.  It didn't eat very sweet despite the ingredients listed.  With that being said, the crunchy Oreo pieces did add pops of sugar intermittently.  As for the berry rice, it was comprised solely of blueberry soft-serve with "lemonade" and poppy seed rice crispy squares.  Although blueberry anything usually means bland, this was aromatic enough.  The crispy squares added texture while the lemonade topping provided the "pop" needed to liven up the blueberry ice cream.  So after these 2 visits, we nearly demolished the entire menu except for a few things and the salads (LOL).  It is safe to say the food is generally good while the selection of brews adds to the dining experience.  However, for some, the pricing may seem high, but remember, many chain restaurants charge even more than this.

The Good:
- Generally good food
- Good selection of bevvies
- Creamy soft-serve

The Bad:
- On the pricier side, but not outrageous either
- Onion rings need work   

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