The great Toronto Caesar challenge: MSG free
After a couple of days straying into unchartered waters and sampling some of the more unconventional ingredients found in some of the Caesars around town, today we return to familiar territory and are reminded why the Caesar is such a Canadian staple in the first place.
Of course, that's not to say the Caesar's at 3 Speed are made with any less skill, or the end result any less rewarding, but they're a little more "normal". But normal is good. At Bloor and Dufferin - where 3 Speed is located - things feel a little more normal. It's outside of the core and back in a place where you'll find malls and schools and buses. But normal doesn't' have to mean ordinary, and it certainly doesn't have to mean that the cocktails need to suffer.
The flavour here is anchored in Clamato - well, tomato-clam cocktail actually. A 3 Speed Caesar is MSG free, which means no Clamato. But before anyone's head explodes at the idea of substituting a no name brand (President's Choice actually) mixer in place of the sacred Clamato, rest assured things are just fine.
To counteract the lack of sodium in the President's Choice stuff, they add a good squirt of olive brine followed by another of limejuice. Following that, 10 (I counted) good shakes of Worcestershire, 3-4 of Tabasco, and a shot of vodka.
Freshly grated horseradish is an option, but doesn't come automatic - I indulged. The final product was a drink with that deep tomato-clam flavour, brightened with the distinct flavour of lime. The olive brine is barely noticeable, but helps to bring out the other flavours while adding subtlety and complexity. Again, everything worked the way it should, sweet, salty, sour and bitter - all in there, all distinct.
The drink is served in a small pint glass. Along with the beverage comes a wedge of lime, a skewer of two green olives and a pickled pepperoncini pepper. It's bare bones, but the pepperoncini is a nice touch. It's unfortunate there's no celery stalk, but even beyond my own personal preferences, it would have been nice to have any kind of palate cleanser: cucumber, celery, just anything cool and neutral to cut through some of those stronger flavours.
Two things make this Caesar stand out. First is the pepperoncini - it's a garnish 3 Speed uses on their food menu a lot and it works. It's sour and spicy and is just a really great touch. The second and more important deviance is the olive brine. It's there to compensate for their brand of mixer, but what it adds is crucial. It's the kind of depth you'd never notice off the bat, but the way it draws out the flavour of the tomato and clam - it actually might make for a better combination than the brand name stuff itself.
At $6.50, this is one of the cheaper Caesars I've had the pleasure of sampling. Of course, pricewise, it's still a ways from the rock bottom $3.00 ones available around town. But this isn't a bargain basement cocktail and as such, shouldn't be priced as one. You can get away with a lot, and be excused for a lot when you hit the sub $5.00 range, this one doesn't make any of those concessions. This is a decent cocktail and at $6.50, it's like you're paying for the parts and getting the labour free.
TOTAL SCORE: 19/25 (76%)
There's a lot of good going on here. Going with a brand of tomato-clam juice that is MSG free makes for an awkward write up, but is genuinely appreciated as a customer. And as I mentioned above - and I'm not even a big olive fanatic - I love the olive brine here, it's the thing that sets it a part. I couldn't say how or why specifically, but it does. The only real low points here are kind of trivial: there should be a stalk of celery and an extra shot of vodka. But this is the one to watch, it's not going to make you bug eyed with its innovation, but it's the one you'll find yourself going back to.
Day 1: The challenge begins
Day 2: Extra horseradish
Day 3: The $3 Caesar
Day 4: A Caesar with chopsticks
Day 5: With a cherry tomato
Day 6: The Irish Caesar
Day 7: The red wine Caesar
Day 8: The Monster Caesar
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