I've moved on physically, but the dish I can't forget is the stuffed potato at Smokehaus Meats in Martensville, just north of Saskatoon.
I realize this is not a self-flattering revelation. Marcel Proust concocted seven novels from the whiff of a madeleine, which amounts sensorially to a suggestion of tea within a fainter dose of baked butter and sugar. The stuffed potato at Smokehaus, on the other hand, emanates smoked bacon, hot onions and melting fat: if Proust had caught a snoutful, À La Recherche du Temps Perdu would be the name of a motorocycle. A very bad, fast one.
While I am in confessional mode, I may as well admit I had never eaten a stuffed potato, much less anything like the Smokehaus clogger, before walking into Smokehaus Meats at an age when one normally turns away such fare, for fear that it will leave you convulsing on the bathroom floor within hours of ingestion.
I wasn't even planning to have one. I simply wanted a half-order of ribs. When I made that request over the counter at Smokehaus - which is essentially a two-storey room upholstered in meat and sausage and smoked ham and bacon and jerky and kielbassa and the like - Mel Ens, who was behind the counter that afternoon, took a hard look at me. I realize now, having tasted Smokehaus ribs, that no one ever orders half a rack, and that anyone who tries is genuinely deserving of skepticism, and perhaps a call to the Mounties.
On the afternoon in question, Mel found my measly order so suspicious that she called Twyla Johnson over. Twyla and Mel are a couple of Saskatoon charmers who could sell lightning to a golfer with an umbrella. To make a long story short, it wasn't long before they'd sussed out who I was (reporter) and what I was doing (eating my way across Canada) and insisted that I needed to talk to Trent Ens, the owner, who would be arriving in about fifteen minutes, whereupon they invited me up to the second floor of the shop to eat my half order of ribs, from which vantage point I could overlook the meat city below.
It was Mel who then said "Would you like a stuffed potato as well? They're new, and they're really good." Apparently my acquiescence was a forgone conclusion.
The thing about the potato is, I don't actually remember eating it. One moment it was there in front of me, all yellow flesh and green oniony topping and crisp pinky-brown bacon tiles, all floating on a turned-down, fluffed up bed of potato and sour cream. The next moment it was not there. It was inside me. I am a fast eater at the best of times, one of those people who looks up from his plate to discover that he has wiped it clean while others are taking their second forkful of baked ham. It's a terrible habit, one that dates back, I think, to the need for eating speed when I was a boy, fighting off my brother's stealing fork and trying not to attract my mother's attention.
But that Smokehaus stuffed Idaho doesn't even exist in my memory - a case of complete alimentary amnesia, a demonstration of the obverse of the Cartesian principle: I do not remember eating it, therefore I didn't.
Having dematerialized my potato and the ribs, I had nothing to do but wait until Trent Ens, the owner of Smokehause Meats, showed up. He's not related to Mel: in fact he's not related to any of the Enses who work Smokehaus. "We have eight of 'em," Trent said, after introducing himself. Martensville is a heavily Mennonite community. "Eight people with the same last name."
Then he laughed, and then turned his attention to the potato question. "You see, we had a big argument," Trent said, "If I had my way, I'd stuff the potato with garlic." But Mel - who dreamed up the Smokehaus potato concept in the first place -wouldn't hear of it, because some people are psychologically imbalanced and don't like garlic.
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