What I was trying to do as I drove was find out how far up into Ontario the foodie thing extended. The truth is that it never goes away.
But a lot of people in Toronto had predicted it ended in North Bay, at a restaurant called Moose's, where they sold 102 flavours of chicken wings.
I cannot say I was looking forward to the experience. You can get tired of eating.
You pull into North Bay, which is full of interesting people but does not present well, if you know what I mean, you see the Bull and Quench pub, 'Home of the 1 lb burger' - think about that - and Indra's Curry House, next to the Heart and Stroke Foundation office.
You think: Maybe this is my last day on earth. Maybe this is where my heart explodes.
The manager on duty at Moose's, explained that selling chicken wings was more complicated than anyone realized. I daresay this is true of you as well, dear reader.
Moose's is the most popular restaurant in North Bay.
The waitresses were dressed in soccer uniforms, each girl a different team, but I found the thick knee socks unflattering.
The menu required complicated mixing and matching sauces and flavourings - it made me wish I¹d studied math in university. The heat choices alone went up to 5: homisuicide. I think that was a joke.
Some flavour combinations were named after famous Canadians: the Stompin Tom was a Maple BBQ and Hickory BBQ sauce combination, whereas the Wayne Gretzky was a mixture of Maple BBQ and mild.
My server was Jasmine: she was pretty, engaged to be married, and dressed in the pale blue uniform of the Argentinian team, which made her look like a little patch of sky.
She tucked her pencil into the knot of her ponytail.
Derek Corbeil, the manager on duty at Moose's, explained that selling chicken wings was more complicated than anyone realized. I daresay this is true of you as well, dear reader.
The difficulty is that wings used to be scrap meat, back in the day when 39 cent wing nights were a staple of the land.
Today, Derek said, "chicken wings are more expensive than chicken breasts," especially if you use the jumbo six-to-eight count wings, as Moose's does for its "faMoose wings" (this too is a joke), instead of pipsqueak eight-to-ten count wings. Demand is unprecedented.
"The worst season for chicken wings is after the SuperBowl," Derek said. "Because everyone and their grandma is eating chicken wings on that day, and after that the price goes up $5 to $6 a case."
That means $106 for a 40 kilogram case. Plus the flour in the coating on the wings breaks down your oil, which means you go through a lot, and then you have to pay someone to haul it away. There's a guy in North Bay who allegedly runs his car on leftover chicken wing oil.
And yet the economics of mass food production are such that Moose's wings seemed like a bargain. Five cost $6.99, and 200 ran $177.99.
You can get a Hub Cap of 30 wings and a jug of domestic beer for $34.99, an idea I associate more or less with the fall of Rome, but I realize I'm more or less alone on that one.
There were banners on the wall that said Eat Drink and Be Merry and Oh Canada. Every fourth guy who walked in looked like he'd need a fibrillator in the next year, but none of them seemed to mind.
It was a jolly, crowded, unironic place.
All of which is to say that I wasn't planning on eating any wings.
I'd already sampled, that day, two butter tarts, a massive plate of spaghetti with leeks and garlic, some mind-blowing tiramisu (there's endless tiramisu in Northern Ontario, a lot of it astonishingly good), four cups of coffee and a glass of Verdicchio. And I'd spent the day driving.
But then Jasmine appeared and put her knee up on the bench opposite me, the way waitresses will, and said, "Do you like a little heat?"
In the end, it came down to a choice between a plate of Farmer's Daughter wings ("hot and sweet just like a farmer's daughter," Jasmine said) or an order of John Candys, which were wings with a mix of maple and Fat Boy sauce (essentially Frank's Hot Sauce) on the side.
"I like John Candy," Jasmine said, and so I did too.
Moose's has a $14.99 all-you-can-eat special, and about 200 people come out for that every week. "You can usually eat about 15 or 20," Derek said. I ate five and experienced a strong desire to lie down on the table and go to sleep.
Those wings were meaty little bastards, I'll say that.
Then I climbed back into Betty, as I have come to think of my white rented Impala, and battled on.
Ian Brown eats Canada
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