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The Foodie Column
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Toucan dance

Regulars to Toucan Café know it for dependable food, attentive service and convenience.

Still, I meet several people every week who have never been to Toucan and then have a hard time finding this landmark among Southside eateries. Toucan Café may well be the most off-the-beaten path restaurant - that's on one of the city's busiest streets.

It was very busy on both of my lunch visits. Toucan Café is a popular gathering spot for ladies lunching and area business folks gathering for an extensive menu, plenty of daily variety and fair pricing.

On my last visit, my friend scored a bowl of tomato dill soup and the restaurant's regularly featured Black and Blue Chicken Salad; I chose butternut squash soup and a daily special - Beef Burgundy. Plenty of good bread and the house salad that accompanied my special made the bill of less than $30 for two a great value.

The beef burgundy, such a classic fall dish, was hearty and filling with big chunks of tender beef, thick slices of mushroom and a generous mound of mashed potatoes. A garnish of crispy potato frites and tomato added color and texture. The thick sauce was smooth, rich and savory.

My butternut soup was creamy and true to the squash flavor, but I would ask that the walnut garnish be dropped next time. The acidity of the nuts really contrasted with the sweetness of the soup - and left a lingering acrid finish.

My friend's salad was what I've come to expect with this dish - consistency and a filling portion. The chicken is always blackened perfectly, the salad ingredients are always fresh and varied in both flavor and texture.

631 Stephenson Ave. (about 100 yards west of the Waters Avenue intersection)/352-2233

Halloween drinks

Ghoul up your Halloween beverage list with wines and beers that help make your party more spirited. Our "mini Costco," World Market, has an interesting selection of suitably labeled wines that are perfect for your blood-sucking friends.

Vampire Vineyards, yep, a real vineyard in the Napa Valley, produces a variety of entry level wines as well as some truly premium labels. At World Market, you'll find the value-priced bottles around $12 - and can take home a Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and Merlot that are on par with their comparably priced Napa counterparts.

If you're more of the day-walker type, you'll be entranced by Zombie Zin from Chateau Diana. This Sonoma County winery doesn't stumble with its blood-red wine that is horridly rich in concentrated fruit flavors with a finish that never dies. Around $12.

Armida Winery, another Sonoma County wine haunt, brings a bit higher grade Zinfandel to market with its Poizin. This is a big, serious Zin with aromas of fresh plum, Bing cherry, spicy peppercorn and zinberry. The mouthfeel is soft with a hint of milk chocolate, sweet oak and a long vanilla finish. About $19.

At $15 or less for a 1 liter bottle, South America's Skeleton Vineyards Malbec is a steal. The bottle cap closure means you'll need to drink it all - but wine this inexpensive isn't meant for keeping - or even savoring. This is stripped to the bone Malbec. Big fruity aromas meet you and then lead you down a rustoc path with explosive fresh fruit, a touch of oak and an acidic finish.

Beer more your thing? Coney Island rolls out it blood-red lager, Freaktoberfest, every year about this time. If you like American Amber or Red Lager, you'll enjoy this beer - with its arterial red color and frothy pink head. Obviously, the ABV rolls in at 6.66 percent.

For fans of Old World beers, nothing says fall to me more than Wychwood Brewery's Hobgoblin, an extra strong bitter that tips the alcohol scale at just over 5 percent ABV. The English beer is often found on draft at Churchill's Pub on Bay Street - and is usually available year ‘round at your favorite package store.