the grub street diet

Matty Matheson Reveres the Chicken-Finger Sub

“People who don’t like it never grew up going to the States. Like, Okay, you’re too Canadian.

Matty Matheson and his summer vegetables. Illustration: Eliana Rodgers
Matty Matheson and his summer vegetables. Illustration: Eliana Rodgers

“I’ve kept my circle pretty small, and I don’t really hang out with anybody,” says Matty Matheson, the outrageous and exuberant food personality who came out of Toronto’s restaurant scene. Since leaving Vice last year, Matheson has gone solo, launching a YouTube channel of his own, in part to promote and poke fun at his forthcoming cookbook, Matty Matheson: Home Style Cookery, out September 29. True to the book’s title, Matheson films his videos on his farm in his hometown of Fort Erie, Ontario, where he moved back a couple years ago. Along with his cookbook, Matheson also started Matty Matheson’s Meat + Three, serving barbecue and southern food; been working on Blue Goose Farm; and he and his wife, Trish, are expecting their third child. Matheson says that with the book, the restaurant, and a new, as-yet-unannounced “secret project” in the works, he’s got a contingency plan if the ongoing pandemic means another shutdown: “I’m just going to be back at the farm doing my thing,” he says. 

Monday, September 14
Made coffee. There’s no cafés to get a good espresso around here. It’s pretty wild — and unfortunate. But I’ve really become a fan of just drinking drip coffee. I didn’t grow up in a house of coffee drinkers. I got into drinking coffee through working in restaurants and traveling, and I have grown to enjoy coffee. But I’m definitely not a coffee snob. At home, I have one of those big jugs of Folgers, you know? I love, literally, just a cup of Folgers.

Lunch was Robo Mart’s beef tacos and half of a chicken-finger sub. I’ve been going there as long as I can remember. My younger brother had a house kind of around the corner, ’cause it’s right by the river. At the edge of the parking lot, you can see Buffalo. It’s right by the Peace Bridge. It’s always been the spot. It was like, “You wanna go get some subs?” There was no Subway. I think Canadian border towns are very influenced by America, obviously, and so the food is very similar. The tacos, they’re just like Old El Paso tacos — where can you buy those? They’re just ground beef, lettuce, tomatoes, onion, sour cream, and cheese. I love them very much. It’s not even Tex-Mex. It’s complete bastardized Mexican food — it’s the king’s crown of appropriation. It’s horrible.

The chicken-finger sub is something that’s massive in Buffalo through Jim’s Steak Out and other kind of iconic spots. In Fort Erie, every pizzeria in town serves them. The only thing you can eat here is subs and pizza, or Chinese food. A lot of Chinese restaurants, a lot of bingo halls, and, back in the day, there were a lot of strip clubs because in Canada you can have full nudity.

It’s just chicken fingers tossed in Frank’s and butter, blue-cheese dressing, lettuce, onions, pickles. You can even add a slice of processed cheese. It’s so fucking good. Either you get it, or you don’t. There’s a 50-50 chance: It’s either the best thing you’ve had, or you’re the 50 percent where you’re like, “What the fuck are you even talking about?” The people who don’t like it never grew up going to the States. Like, Okay, you’re too Canadian. You can’t handle it.

Dinner was leftover lasagna bianco that I made for the first time for Sunday supper. I don’t really use recipes. When I’m making food for myself, I’ll Google something, and I always read two or three recipes and what are the three or four things in the recipes — is it fresh nutmeg? How are different people making their béchamel? I did a sausage and pork mix. I bought ground pork and Italian sausage, took them out of the casing, made a white ragù with onions, carrots, and garlic. Some peperoncini. I cooked off the pork and sausage together, cooked that out in chicken stock, then my béchamel I just did some milk with mascarpone, no flour, no eggs, no nothing. I added a bunch of white pepper and just a dash of nutmeg. I had the fresh basil and some really amazing spinach from my garden and layered it up.

Tuesday, September 15
Brewed some Puff Coffee this morning. Duane Sorenson sent me a couple bags, and it’s so fire. The one bag of beans is from Mexico — I can’t tell you right now exactly where they’re from, but it’s so nice. That’s why Duane is Duane. He can find the beans, man.

Lunch was eggplant parm that Trish made. She cooks all the time. She was due on this upcoming Monday, her birthday is on that Monday, so she’s been meal prepping for a couple weeks. We got this big freezer in the basement. She’s been making herself a ton of food just for the next couple weeks. The eggplant parm, I had a little bit of that; she was making them for the freezer. But she cooks and bakes all the time.

We have at least something from the garden around every day. I’ll snack on tomatoes, or when the cucumbers were pumping I ate a lot of those. Doing Blue Goose, our little garden, saved my sanity through this whole thing. It helped a lot spiritually, I’ll tell you that much. It truly grounded me. It made me happy when I was stressed. I would go out there and just sit in the garden and watch the sun go down, and, you know, it definitely was a very big North Star through this whole thing.

I’m very lucky in my sobriety and have done a lot of hard work. It’s never like, I need a drink. It’s more like, How do I deal with these feelings right now? You build up your little castle of fortitude with your little baby blocks, and every once in a while you have a fit and knock them all over the place and you’ve got to put them back in place.

Got Ma Chinese Cuisine in St. Catharines: spicy cucumbers, squid, Sichuan chile fish, fried chicken with Sichuan peppercorn, spicy dumplings, tripe, snow-pea leaves, and Chinese broccoli with oyster sauce.

Ma is amazing. It’s a gem. It’s so weird. There’s very little Sichuan in Canada, I’ll say that, and I cannot believe this restaurant is so good. Their chile fish, they’ve got sliced beef tongue and tripe. They’ve got some really good dishes that blow my mind that exist in this area. It’s just nice we have a place we can go and get real food, real xiao long bao. Their shumai are crazy; their char siu is crazy.

It’s just a place I couldn’t believe when I went there. Now, I’ve probably been 15 or 20 times in the last year and a half. It’s just as good as any spot in Toronto downtown. Every time I go, I’m like, Please don’t go away. I’m always so happy people go there. Every time I go, it’s very busy.

Wednesday, September 16
Morning coffee.

Made my one-hour Bolognese. I ate it for lunch because of some fucking PR thing. I had to do a step-by-step of a quick and easy recipe. So, because I make that, it’s just tomato paste and beef stock. I cook everything and then I reduce it with egg yolks and milk. It’s one of those really quick, really nice beef sauces.

I love making it. I’ve been making it for a long time, but it’d been a while and I was like, Fuck, I forgot how good this is. I kind of like ragù that’s more beefy rather than tomatoey. But I do have a place for a tomato-sauce ragù as well.

Trish made a roast-chicken dinner with stuffing. Her stuffing is my favorite stuffing ever. She puts chestnuts in it, and she cooked these double-baked mashed potatoes with cream cheese that I love. She made a kind of Thanksgiving dinner on the fly.

Thursday, September 17
Usually on Thursday and Friday, I’m in the office in Parkdale, back in Toronto. I stay overnight at my friend’s house. She lives in the neighborhood, so I go stay at her place. For the last year, I’ve just been sleeping on the couch. Then her roommate, one of our close friends, moved out. So now I’ve got a bedroom.

If we’re doing an office day, we’re doing either Lao Thai or momos for lunch every day. We got Lao Thai this time: nam kao, fried-chicken lettuce cups, wonton soup, and beef laap.

We’ve been going to Lao Thai for a little over a year. I don’t even think there’s seating inside. It’s just pretty much Thai takeout, run by a mother and daughter. It’s in the bottom of some brand-new fucking condo building, and it is the best Thai in Toronto. It feels like something that legitimately Jonathan Gold would write about, and I’m like, Man, this reminds me of L.A. That kind of stuff doesn’t happen in Toronto somehow. It’s random. It’s on a weird intersection in Parkdale in the bottom of some brand-new massive condo monster. It’s this family serving the best Thai food in the city.

I didn’t have dinner. I slammed too much Thai food.

Friday, September 18
Went to a little coffee shop right by the office called Rustic Cosmo Café. It’s so fucking good. I got a coffee and breakfast bagel sandwich on an everything bagel with bacon, avocado, cheese, tomato, egg, and aïoli.

I didn’t eat too much else this day. I ate my breakfast sandwich and then I rode home on my motorcycle. I finally got my license and insurance. I just got home a little later and picked some stuff out of the fridge — some salami and cheese and crackers.

My motorcycle is a ’91 Fat Boy. I’m way more into the romantic side — I just kind of want to cruise some backstreets. I don’t know, I’m searching. I’m just trying to cruise solo, man.

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