When a friend asks you for a restaurant recommendation, where do you send them? Which restaurant are you consistently “wowed” by, so much so that you keep going back?
That’s the premise of You Gotta Eat Here!, a Canadian TV show on Food Network Canada, that has comedian and host John Catucci travelling across the country to recommend restaurants to viewers with the help of local restaurant “regulars.”
“Pretend you’ve been telling someone “you gotta eat here!” about your favourite local restaurant and all the dishes they have to try when they’re there,” says Catucci. “But on the show, I’m the one bringing you to all these places that locals love.”
On Friday, February 26, 2016, You Gotta Eat Here! returns for its fifth season with more recommendations on where to eat in Canada. The format has stayed the same — shots of behind-the-scenes, in-the-kitchen prep, and local reviews from frequent visitors. New this season, you’ll see the crew visit over 21 new restaurants in Canada, Catucci tries out some new-to-the-show food categories (including ramen and Latin baking), there are a whopping 28 episodes, and the crew even heads overseas to England (London), Italy (Rome and Florence), and Ireland (Dublin).
We interviewed Catucci about his experiences eating his way across Canada, and give you a sneak peek about the upcoming season.
The show shoots almost year-round, ten months of the year, and filming each restaurant is a two day process. One day involves filming Catucci in the kitchen with the chefs, learning how some of their signature dishes are put together. The second day involves interviews with frequent local customers.
“That’s the part I love the most,” says Catucci, “just sitting back and having fun and talking with customers.”
The restaurants that appear on each show are mostly selected based on local recommendations, so if you have a favourite send it in!
Anyone who watches You Gotta Eat Here! knows that Catucci loves burgers, but his favourite non-meat dish is pasta — pasta e fagioli, specifically, meaning “pasta with beans.”
“I love noodle-based dishes. Chinese noodles, maybe with some nice mushrooms, ramen, pasta… Also, I like pizza. I’m a carb guy I think.”
So what does this burger aficionado think makes the perfect burger, having tried dozens of varieties on the shows?
“The burger has to be tasty. It’s got to be juicy. I like to cut my burgers in half to see all the layers. Burgers have to be the right texture: there needs to be crunchy lettuce, a fresh tomato, and the bun’s gotta hold up for the whole burger and not fall apart — the bun to burger ratio has to be perfect. I don’t like a burger that’s way too seasoned. I like a burger where you can taste the meat. When I go to a fancy burger place, I’m intimated. I just like a plain cheeseburger. And a mark of a good burger place is doing a good cheeseburger well. It’s like going to a pizzeria and just getting a cheese slice as a test to see if they can do a simple thing well.”
Catucci’s traded burgers for some new cuisine this season, including ramen. Kinton Ramen in Toronto is the first ramen bar to be featured on the show.
“I had never done a ramen restaurant on the show, but then I watched Mind of a Chef and he’s all about the ramen. So I wanted to know what the big deal was; why was this guy obsessed with ramen? And then I tried it and, wow! The broth, the meats, the seasoned, soft boiled egg that’s still kinda gooey when you crack through it… so good. The chef we worked with at Kinton, he was so passionate about what he was doing and it came out in his food. I’ve gone back to Kinton on my own a couple of times since filming the show and he’s always so genuinely happy to see his customers. I’ve been to a number of other ramen places too because now I’m obsessed with ramen. Although, it’s difficult to balance a delicious, savoury broth without it being too salty. Ramen is difficult to do well.”
Is there any food Catucci won’t try? Spicy foods are off the menu after a bad experience with a particularly hot sauce. “We were making a barbecue sauce at a restaurant in Windsor, ON and put a ghost pepper in it, and I tried it and… it was insane. We had to stop filming so I could compose myself.”
Due to the show’s popularity in Italy and the United Kingdom, the crew decided to travel there and showcase the food culture of England, Italy, and Ireland.
“In Italy, the show airs under the name Fast Food Man,” Catucci says, “and it’s dubbed into Italian. And when I say the catchphrase ‘you gotta eat here!’ they dub it over as ‘Ciao! I’m a fast food man!'”
Here’s a sneak peek, with some commentary from Catucci, about the restaurants he visits in season five:
“It’s where I had some of the best brisket I’ve had,” says Catucci. They really know their barbecue. The vibe there is so much fun. The staff that work there are great, you can tell it’s a fun place to work. The turn over isn’t high and [the owner] treats his people right and it shows in the service, it shows in the food. Service is important to the overall experience of a meal. A mediocre meal can be saved by great service, and a great meal can be ruined by poor service. There needs to be a fine balance between being attentive and letting you have your space.”
Oak Tree Tavern
“Everything is homemade from the sauce on the sloppy joes to the dill pickles,” says Catucci, who ordered the meatloaf when filming wrapped. “And the dill pickle soup is unbelievable.”
The Pig & Duke
John loves bacon, and the Pig and Duke is his go-to for their bacon-wrapped meatloaf with bacon bits inside. It comes with mashed potatoes which are topped with, you guessed it, more bacon bits. The Pig & Duke is having a Super Bowl Sausage Party featuring and all-you-can-eat hot dog buffet!
“It’s the same owners as Tres Carnales, so going there was like a homecoming. Rostizado has such a different vibe [from Tres Carnales]. The roast chicken at Rostizado is so great, they just really know what they’re doing.”
Battista’s Calzone Company
“Battista does one thing and he does it well: he makes delicious, scratch-made calzones with fresh dough, high quality ingredients, and his family’s recipes. They’re only open for lunch, but you can order a frozen calzone to take home and have for dinner. Which, trust me, you should do.”
“They keep it simple here at this Old Strathcona smokehouse. You order your meat, then you order your sides. You can have meat for dinner, or meat for brunch. I had a smoked brisket sandwich with horseradish mayo and garlic fries, and was a very happy man.”
Burger’s ‘n’ Fries Forever
“This idea at this place is that burgers and fries both deserve your love. The meat here is all local grass-fed, and halal; the gravy is vegetarian, the sauces are all homemade, and they even have a secret menu (which isn’t much of a secret if you have a thing called the Internet). I ate a thing called a Burgeritto, which is exactly as outrageous as it sounds. A burger wrapped in a burrito.”
“This lovely family-owned Italian restaurant in Ottawa has two locations, and they just opened a pizza place. Chef Ivano has his PhD in pizza and taught me to make his Genoa Pizza with grilled chicken and basil pesto, gnocchi pomodoro, and his fetuccini sila with this beautiful mushroom cream sauce.”
Wilf & Ada’s
“This is a great little all day brunch spot. Neither Wilf nor Ada work here anymore. The restaurant’s name is an homage to the former Ada’s Diner that was here before Jessie and Dom took over. They call it a ‘scratch diner’ because Dom makes everything – even the peanut butter! – in house.”
Marion Street Eatery“This is a lovely little restaurant in a surprising location, inside the Marion Hotel. Chef Melissa Hryb grew up in the kitchen cooking with her grandmother, mother, and aunts. At the Marion Street Eatery, she’s making comfort food with love. I ate a mac and cheese that had bacon and broccoli baked in and had this crunchy pretzel crust on top.”
Stony Mountain, MB
“Just a short drive north of Winnipeg is this little gem of a restaurant. The first thing you notice is the floor – it’s made entirely of pennies. The next thing you notice is the food: it’s really inventive. The BLT is made with bacon marmalade, the grilled cheese is stuffed with Cajun shrimp, and a special pulled pork and mac and cheese grilled cheese sandwich.”
“Formerly known as the Hogtown Cure, this little gem on buzzing Dundas West does all their own curing and smoking in house. Inspired by Toronto’s agricultural history and owner Chris Schroer’s love for all things pork — from the celebrated Pulled Pork Sandwich to their Southern Pork Chop dinner — The Hogtown Cure is sure to have something you’ll go hog-wild for!”
“This was my first time trying Filipino cuisine – and I’m hooked! It’s been influenced by Spanish, Asian, and Latin flavours, Filipinos were doing ‘fusion’ before it was cool and you can experience it without leaving the GTA! Whether you’re craving authentic sweet and tangy Chicken Adobo or even if you’ve never tasted savoury peanut Kare Kare Beef Stew, you can feel at home at Casa Manila.”
The Combine Eatery
“You don’t have to go south of the border to get incredible Southwestern cuisine – just head to The Combine, where Albert Chow’s serving up California-style fish tacos, sticky smoked ribs, and crispy buttermilk fried chicken! It’s a road trip in a restaurant, right on the Danforth!”
“My first ramen! And now I’m obsessed. At Kinton Ramen, comfort food comes in the form of a big bowl of steamy, slurp-worthy noodles ,and rich and flavourful meats that are swimming in hearty slow-cooked broth. Take comfort in this energetic and friendly Japanese noodle house in downtown Toronto.”
850 Degrees Pizza
“Chef Chris Beard takes everything you love about Neapolitan pizza – the crispy blistered crust, the simple crushed tomato sauce, and the quality toppings – and makes it unquestionably Canadian! With pies that pay homage to the Group of 7, hometown hero David Bolland, and the Lord Stanley himself, Neapolitan pizza has never been so proudly Canadian!”
“This family run spot on Roncesvalles does really inventive wood-fired pizzas. They’re always experimenting with new toppings and flavour combinations, always keeping it fresh. I had a pizza with beet pesto and kale, which is as close to a salad as I usually get.”
“Don’t let the name fool ya, burgers are the specialty at the Cannibal Cafe! Where the patties are freshly ground with three cuts of beef and can be stuffed with bacon and cheese, and the lemongrass chicken is glazed with sweet and savoury hoisin sauce. Chef Zai Kitagawa knows what he’s doing at this place.”
“They invented a new word and they invent new doughnut flavours at Cartmes. What’s a donuterie? It’s where they make flavours like The Earl Grey, Apple Pie, and Canadian Whiskey Bacon. Chef Raj is a genius with dough.”
“This little hole in the wall on Denman Street is a great spot for an over-the-top burger, a Southern barbecue-style brunch, or special melt topped with tempura bacon?! If you’re looking for great barbecue and then some, there’s no doubt about it, the Buckstop’s here! And once you arrive, follow their motto: Eat meat, repeat.”
Panaderia Latina Bakery
“Another first for me this season: a Latin bakery. Fill up on a big meaty Chilean sandwich called a Chacarero, dig into a fresh baked Empanada, or go straight to dessert with a sweet slice of Milhojas, a puff pastry delight! A visit to Panaderia Latina Bakery takes you to Chile for lunch without ever leaving East Van.”
Watch new Season 5 episodes of You Gotta Eat Here! Fridays at 7 pm MST on Food Network Canada.