God forbid that a roving national eating correspondent should turn out to be some hoity-toity dink with elevated tastes, as someone on one of the Globe’s often surprisingly moronic comment pages accused me of being the other day.
His remarks surprised me all the more because I had been extolling the virtues of a bacon-and-sour-cream-stuffed potato… if extol is too grand a word for said critic - had been singing its praises, had crammed fast into my meat-hole…ya know what I mean, buddy?
In any event, the gentleman in question - I assume he’s a gentleman because he hides behind a male pseudonym - accused me of having snobbish and rarified tastes (after I had written about a baked potato, no less) because I had never eaten a stuffed baked potato before.
One must prepare for a great meal by consuming several others beforehand.
The reason I hadn’t is that my mother never had time to make them, and neither have I. The stuffed baked potato dates back to Escoffier and beyond, and is a creation for the upper classes by chefs with nothing better to do than ream out potato flesh, whip it and cream it and stuff it with cheese (and everything else), and then pipe that back into the potato shells. But nevermind the facts.
To relive some of the pleasures of the summer, I’d like to pass along some of the common but unexpected delights I have come across as I rolled along the highway, happier and hippier by the kilometre.
1) The butter tarts at Randy Spencer’s Tall Trees restaurant in Huntsville, Ontario, baked by his pastry chef, Kim Groomes. They’re so full of buttery goo, you’re a mess after you eat them. If you want a tidy butter tart, go to The Farmer’s Daughter on Highway 60, also in Huntsville, where the proprietor has designed her butter tart not to ooze. But they’re not as good as the Tall Trees tarts.
2) The charcuterie plate at Souleiou in Saskatoon, owned and run by Janis Cousyn and her chef husband Remi, with meat and attendant wonders supplied by various organic and localist partners. Another attraction of Souleio--and there are many--is that it’s full of attractive women. The restaurant is the gustatory equivalent of an ashtanga yoga class. If I was a man in the market for such fare, and lived in Saskatoon, I’d eat there twice a day.
3) At the recommendation of a friendly reader, after my unpleasant experience with bannock, I went to see Sharon Bond and Darren Dodd, who have reinvented the campfire bread. In their hands, bannock becomes a healthy doughnut instead of a rope of flour-and-water wrapped around a stick—a good thing. Their restaurant, The Kekuli Café (motto: “Don’t panic...we have bannock!”), in Westbank, BC (aka West Kelowna, if you take the other side in a local name dispute), reinterprets aboriginal food at every level, from the powwow taco (which they transform into an edible stable) to bison and caribou stew—for lunch.
4) Any ice cream from Cow’s, one of PEI’s contributions to world flavours, but especially the Cowie Wowie (vanilla, toffee, chocolate). I had one in Banff and another in Charlottetown, and am still wearing the effects.
5) The wonton-crusted tempura shrimp at Catch, in downtown Calgary. Some days they’re on special for $2 a piece. They’re huge. They’re delicious. Eat them at the bar.
6) The homemade foccaccia from Peggy Bodie’s Applewood Farm stand at the Golden, B.C., farmers market.
Farther down the aisle you can buy one of Andreas Vogel’s $3 bacon wraps - a long thin loaf of homemade pretzel bread, encased in cheese, and wrapped with a long piece of bacon. The bread makes it. The bacon doesn’t hurt.
7) Speaking of farmers’ markets, the one in Vernon, B.C., out behind the community arena, is brilliant with fruit. I went at the invitation of three Vernon women who immediately filled me in on the deeply competitive nature of summer canning in the Okanagan, particularly where salsa is concerned. Vernonites also like to layer fresh tree-ripened fruits of all kind together in stone jars, fill them with rum or gin or vodka, and then wait until Christmas to start eating the concoction.
It is also possible in Vernon to receive tongue-on instruction in the difference between a Lapin and a Lambert cherry, where previously you might have thought it was Bing or bust. I bought a bag of plums, which I ate all day in the car, and a jar of pickled asparagus, which I ingested in the front seat of my car in the parking lot of the market four minutes after I bought them.
8) The Esquire café, on the Bedford highway, north-eastern edge of Halifax. Left hand side of the road as you head north, just past Clearwater’s giant roadside lobster. Choosing between the Esquire’s specials and The Battered Fish fish stand’s perfectly coated and cooked haddock and sweet potato fries could break a lesser man - they're side by side. Fortunately, I had just picked up my brother Tim at the airport (he was joining me for a few days of eating, our traditional shared pastime).
It is true we were headed to Wolfville to have dinner at Tempest, but it’s an hour-long drive, and Tim was always a delicate child, someone who has been making up for it ever since. “Just one piece of fish,” he said, as he spotted the stand. He’d been in the car five minutes. I ordered the fish, but by then he’d disappeared into the Esquire: five minutes later he emerged with a piping hot baked ham and scalloped potato dinner in a Styrofoam box. It was so good I may have entered a trance state and chanted in tongues. I remember Tim saying “This is not just a slice of ham,” and thinking, that is so profound. Nothing arty, just perfectly cooked and well-cheesed. The haddock from the Battered Fish was just as good. Then it was off to Tempest, and brain-changing lobster and mussel alfredo. One must prepare for a great meal by consuming several others beforehand.
9) Malpeque oysters at The Malpeque Oyster Barn in Malpeque, PEI. From the window you can see the oyster bed where, until very recently, the oyster in your mouth was happily sleeping. Chew them, for more flavour. I wasn’t wild about the mussels, which were carelessly cooked, or the lobster roll, which could be renamed A Fold of Bread with Some Lobster Bits, but the oysters were the freshest I’ve ever eaten. The local Gahan Brewing Co. Island Red ale is the kind of beer that makes you want to go outside and say charming things to women. Alas the more of the beer you drink the less capable you are of doing so, as Lucy Maud Montgomery did not say.
10) The mussels at the bar at the Blue Door restaurant in Fredericton (where $350,000 will buy a vast, pristine, Craftsman period house, just FYI), cooked perfectly in an orangle, chipotle, thyme and basil broth. Consume with a pint of Picaroon’ Brewery’s Door Yard Ale. Add a conversation with Kelly Grant, the manager. There are probably better ways to spend an hour, but they’re hard to find on the long road up through New Brunswick.
11) The newly released Bleu de Brebis de Charlevoix, from famous Maurice Dufour’s Le Migneron cheesery in Quebec’s Charelvoix region on the north shore of the mighty and very pretty St. Lawrence River, two hours north of Quebec City. Dufour produces half a dozen well-known cheeses-including Mignernon, a semi-firm washed-rind cow milk cheeese aged for either 60 or 130 days (I preferred the former). Dufour currently milks 500 sheep he is using in the fledgling movement to establish sheep milk cheese-making in North America. In Europe, pecorino and feta and Roquefort have already made brebis famous.
12) Any of the ciders made by Kristen and Bruce Jordan, proprietors of Sea Cider Farm half an hour outside Victoria on Vancouver Island. Inspired by scrumpie, the owners take cider to places - dry and semi-dry English and French places, mostly- you never expected to go if you’re used to standard sweet or hard cider. This cider is so dry it wakes you up and makes you go for an early-morning walk with your shooting stick.
Start with a glass of Flagship or Wild English, move on to Kings and Spies, and from there to glassfuls of Rumrunner or Pippins--oh, hell, have one of everything they make. Bracing and unforgettable, especially alongside the tasting platter at the farm itself, where you can sit outside and look at the sea.
13) Denman Island Chocolate, distributed out of Sechelt, British Columbia. I know it’s three bucks a bar. I don’t care. Try the Razzle Dazzle (raspberry) and the Holy Mole (chipotle peppers and orange). In fact, try them all.
14) Fish sandwiches at Red Fish Blue Fish, a stand that operates out of a converted shipping container on the wharf in Victoria. The owners, Simon Sobolewski and Kunal Ghose, were once employees of Gord Martin, the Vancouver chef and wild man who started Go Fish, another gourmet operation in a shipping container, on the wharf near Vancoouver’s Granville Island.
The twenty minute lineup, minimum, is worth it at both places. So is the hour-long lineup. At Red Fish Blue Fish I had scallop tacones, grilled scallops in a soft rolled taco, served with a brain-pleasing choice of sauces and slaws.
Then I had a Cod Dog, which is battered and fried cod in a hot dog bun. I would have eaten more but felt greedy. Chef Martin, who has gone on to other restaurant triumphs (such as Vancouver’s Bin 941) in the years since he started Go Fish, still isn’t happy about his former employees snatching his idea and even, he claims, the name of his holding company (Red Fish, Blue Fish Ventures). “If I ever go over there,” he told me one afternoon in Vancouver, “I’m going to drive my car through their window.” If he does, he’ll hit a lot of people.
Ian's cross-country journey on Foursquare:
15) The sweet breakfast pastries at Sylvia Main’s Fairholme Manor Inn, a luxurious bed and breakfast with huge rooms in Victoria. Of course, you have to stay there to get them, but they make you feel like Marie Antoinette on a good day.
16) Any of the on-site brewed beers at The Port Gastropub in Port Williams, Nova Scotia. Any of them. Order them from Katrina, the bartendresse, or from the handsome bartenders, whose names I missed, somehow.
17) Breakfast at Café Chez Nous in Malbaie, in the Charlevoix region of Quebec, an hour north of Quebec City. Specifically the smoked salmon with cream cheese on a toasted bagel, which is smoked down the road at Fumoir St.- Antoine in Baie-Saint-Paul. My jaw hurts as I type those words. Easily a contender for best smoked Atlantic salmon I’ve ever eaten. The yogurt, fruit and granola combination at Chez Nous is also first rate, in case you’re feeling delicate. My suggestion is, order both.
18) The pizza at Trattoria Pizza Mia at the Atwater Market in Montreal. Doesn’t matter which one, but I can personally recommend the Genoa salami on arugula with mozza, as they call it in Quebec.
19) You might ant to wash the pizza down with a bottle of Emile’s home-made spruce beer. Eighty calories, as opposed to to the 200 calories in Marco Beverages’ maple beer, which is too sweet for human consumption, and a weird idea to boot. Marco makes a nice birch beer, however.
20) If the pizza doesn’t hold you, walk half a kilometer across the Lachine Canal and have half a rack - or even a full one - of Magnan’s family-recipe beef ribs, which are coated in a prune-based barbecue sauce and slow roasted, and then finished off on the grill.
21) The fèves au lard (baked beans) at La Binerie Mont Royal, where Jocelyn Brunet and her husband devote themselves to recreating traditional Quebec cooking. The beans are prepared on site, and roasted for 15 hours. Have them (in the very comfortable restaurant) as are, then with maple syrup, then with molasses, and then - because this is how Marie-Josée St. Jacques, the restaurant’s brilliant waitress has them - with ketchup. You may need two orders. And breakfast.