Topped with tandoori bacon, Mississauga joint's Punjabi cheeseburger doesn't hold back the spice
Rick's Good Eats is at 6660 Kennedy Rd. #1 in Mississauga
In my opinion, Brampton's food scene is the most exciting in our province right now. How it stands out from other parts of the Greater Toronto Area is in its dynamism when it comes to food.
There are so many takeout stores and small restaurants that it's become a challenge to keep up. There's more movement in the culinary scene there than anywhere else in the GTA. There is a beautiful mix of immigrant food that speaks to a certain time and region, and then there's a rumbling of young entrepreneurs that are mixing these cultures to create new dishes.
If you want to see for yourself, take a drive down Kennedy Road. As one of the main arteries of Brampton, which leads into Mississauga, the road is its own food tour with old and new plazas rich with international food options. On this street — near the border of Brampton and Mississauga — is Rick's Good Eats restaurant, which has become one of my favourite places to eat in the city.
I first met owner Rick Matharu many years ago when he was a food blogger and food TV personality.
"I'm Punjabi, but was born and raised in Brampton. I grew up in all these various cultures here and it has always inspired me in my cooking. My style is to mix different styles of food to create something new."
Matharu participated in a number of popup events and cooking competitions through the GTA where he served up his gourmet samosas.
Once dubbed "the man that is redefining samosas," Matharu took a fusion approach using unusual stuffings like jerk chicken, butter chicken and channa masala to create his samosa menu.
One of the highlights of his career was on Food Network Canada's Recipes to Riches where amateur cooks flaunted original recipes for a cash prize. Matharu won with an unusual dish that combined elements of Indian and Italian cooking.
"My dish was the butter chicken lasagna. I felt that it was this perfect marriage of two cultures. The punch of butter chicken flavours in layered pasta." This was some six years ago. Hot off the win, Matharu started looking at spaces in Peel Region for a restaurant.
In 2016, at the intersection of two cities, Matharu opened Rick's Good Eats. His mom, Manjeet, came on board as a partner.
"My mom has been the biggest inspiration for me in my life. She is the most talented cook I know and keeps me grounded," Matharu said.
Once word got out that his fusion dishes had a brick and mortar home, Matharu quickly garnered a following. The samosas are a mainstay, but Matharu expanded the menu with other dishes that he had been experimenting with: a plate of fries sprinkled with masala seasoning, cheese and chunks of butter chicken; fried chicken made with a tandoori marinade; a dosa burger with a crispy potato patty and a layering of curry seasoning and sambal. The dishes may sound strange, but they work.
Matharu's approach to mixing cultures is meticulous. He spends months trying to find the right balance and his mom plays a crucial role in the creative process.
When I was in the kitchen, watching Matharu prep the Punjabi cheeseburger — one of his signature dishes — I noticed a wall of large bins, filled with a rainbow of spice mixtures, carefully labelled to correlate to dishes on the menu.
"My mom is the spice queen. She understands spices like nobody else I know," Matharu said. Manjeet is actively involved in running the restaurant and cooking. Her main role is concocting spice mixes for a number of dishes on the menu. Notably, the Punjabi cheeseburger.
The Punjabi cheeseburger was inspired by Manjeet. Matharu recalls his mom making spiced chicken patties on the barbecue when he was a kid. He wanted to create a burger that tasted similar to Indian kabobs. The beef is seasoned with a secret house blend of spices, cooked diner-style on a flat top grill and then topped with bacon that has been soaked in tandoori spices.
"My mom helped me with the base spice blend for this dish, and I have been perfecting it for the last year or two," he said.
Matharu's approach to spicing can be described as bold and punchy. Within the first bite, you'll taste the garam masala and cumin, followed by the smokiness of the tandoori bacon and the tang from the achari (pickled) mayo.
The Punjabi cheeseburger is a crash course in Matharu's cooking style, a marriage of Indian and North American flavours. His mom's style is more traditional, and there is one dish on the menu that is a must try.
"My mom has a cult following for her biryani," Matharu said.
The South Asian mixed rice dish is very personal to me. I grew up with it my entire life. While there are many places that specialize in "spicy rice," it is a dish that can easily be faulted with dry rice or over seasoning. Manjeet has been cooking biryani her entire life, and she has a slightly different approach to flavouring the rice.
"I grind and roast my spices instead of using whole spices; that way it really gets into the rice," she says. This steeping of spices into the rice is what does the trick for me. When she serves it with curried chicken, every spoonful is rich with fenugreek and cumin. The rice is slightly moist and doesn't fall apart, and the chicken is incredibly tender and soaked with spices. It is easily one of the best biryanis I have had in some time.
The food I eat in Brampton offers a glimpse into how cultures are mixing in a big city and it teases on where it can go. Rick's Good Eats is a fine example; a composite of two ideas. Rick and Manjeet are committed to preserving their cultural traditions and roots, and they're also exercising a willingness to experiment without judgment. It's the kind of cooking that will leave a mark long after your visit, and can abruptly wake you up in the middle of the night with an insatiable craving.
Rick's Good Eats is at 6660 Kennedy Rd. #1 in Mississauga.
Suresh Doss's weekly food segment airs every Thursday on Metro Morning. Watch for video of his jaunts across the city on CBC Toronto's Facebook page.
Do you know a GTA restaurant that Doss should visit? Tweet us @metromorning or send us a message on Facebook. And if you try any of the places he features, we want to see photos!