- Fat Jack’s Homestyle Diner
- 50865 Trans-Canada Hwy., Boston Bar, British Columbia
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- Open daily, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
When I told people I was going to Boston Bar for the long weekend, the responses were either super-excited (Cool!) or confused (Why? There's nothing in Boston Bar.) Besides a four-lane bowling alley and incredible views of the Fraser Canyon, there really was not much here until recently.
Two-and-half years ago, Todd Baiden closed 12B, a hugely successful underground restaurant in Vancouver's East End. He had had enough of cooking eight-course, fine-dining meals for topless stagette parties and drunken financiers.
He moved to Boston Bar, bought The Mighty Fraser Motel, renovated the dilapidated interiors from top to bottom and opened Fat Jack's Diner.
I've wanted to visit for a long time.
Gulp. We take the back route from Pemberton, driving east across the stunning, yet stomach-lurching Duffy Lake Road. After a short pit stop at Lillooet's Fort Berens Estate Winery, we slowly wind south down the old Cariboo Road, gasping through several hazardous sections that are still better suited for horse-drawn chuck wagons.
The Mighty Fraser Motel beckons from the side of the highway for several kilometres past Lytton with its bright, retro-diner signs: "Cold drinks! All-day breakfast! Espresso!"
Oh, it's cute – more 1970s-style family vacation than scary movie. The main restaurant is lit up in neon, surrounded by row-style room blocks and apartments all freshly painted in white-and-black.
Our timing is perfect. The pub received its liquor permit the previous day, and the fridge is stocked with an impressive selection of craft beer, cider and small-producer B.C. wines.
We take dinner on the pub's newly licensed patio, fenced in by white pickets and simply adorned with wooden picnic tables and modern black umbrellas.
Mr. Baiden, a real lumbersexual without the beard or affectations, knocked down a wall that had separated the diner from the front desk and pub. Now the servers do not have to go outdoors to deliver food to the other side.
The menu is a mix of homestyle diner classics with a few cheffy surprises, such as homemade pasta for spaghetti and meatballs, wild salmon and spicy grilled pork chops with apple sauce jus.
Chicken and waffles comes with hot sauce and syrup. I have never quite understood the appeal of this dish, or how it's supposed to be eaten. (Slice and dip? Slather everything on top and tear it apart?) But the warm, homemade Belgian waffle is nicely dense and laced with chewy bits of caramelized sugar. The local chicken (from Thiessen Farms) is poached tender, then fried in a crunchy cornflake-cornmeal batter that fills every last little hole and crevice.
The burger consists of a monstrous, moist, handmade patty made from Two Rivers beef. It is stacked high with smoky bacon, melted cheese and house-made pickles. The cukes for the latter are grown in an extensive garden out back, which is also where the fresh spinach, heirloom tomatoes and herbs for the side salad were picked.
How many road-stop diners can boast an on-site garden? The produce Mr. Baiden does not grow for himself is sourced from Stein Valley Farms just up the road, which makes twice-weekly stops on its way to the farmers' markets in Vancouver.
I'll think we'll sleep well tonight.
Room 20 is a kitchenette ($105 a night) with two queen beds, spread with fuzzy, howling-wolf head throws. (Mr. Baiden calls them stripper blankets because the Penthouse dancers used a similar model for floorshows when he worked there many moons ago.)
The room is basic, but impeccably clean. All the furniture and appliances, except for the televisions, are new. Amenities include good water pressure, tall showerheads and a huge of bucket of ice from the kitchen when requested.
We meet our neighbour, Jean-Michel from Merritt, smoking and drinking on his doorstep. It looks likes he has been drinking all day. He and his "French brothers" are cable workers who have stayed here for two months while twinning the power lines. Most of the motel guests work in the forestry and railway industry.
This is rugged country, not a place for wimpy hipsters.
The rascal, Jean-Michel. He promised to buy us breakfast, but now he's eating with two elderly ladies.
Wow. The 12b coffee (fresh-ground JJ Bean espresso with brown-sugar-sweetened cream) must be the best cappuccino from here to Barkerville. The miniature spoons are a souvenir collection donated by a regular customer.
The diner is a basic bare-bones diner with formica countertops, deep window-side booths and a few artsy touches – wooden sculptures, a fish tank filled with rusty cleavers, plastic-covered wooden boards (in place of the standard blackboard).
The chef makes mean eggs in various guises – fluffy chorizo omelettes with flowering "chive that's still alive," easy over with a stack of pancakes or messed up in a skillet with nachos, salsa and guacamole. Eggs Benedict with lemony hollandaise and moist, tangy pulled pork is particularly impressive. We've come from a BBQ competition in Whistler and this sauce (his dad's secret recipe) could have been a contender.
Breakfast plates come with fresh fruit, mint leaves, thick toast and cherry or plum jam made from the backyard fruit trees.
We work off breakfast and build an appetite for dinner by spending the entire day searching for swimming holes. Everyone points us to the public outdoor pool, but we are determined to find fresh river water. We finally divine a perfect pebble beach and gently flowing eddy at the Apocynum Recreation Camping Site, about a 40-minute drive down the winding, gravel Nahatlatch Forest Service Road.
Back at the Mighty Fraser, we tour the property and discover the perfect spot for driving golf balls (or, in our case, pine cones) over the canyon onto the railway tracks. A huge fire pit (for spring and fall) has carved tree-trunk seating and gorgeous sunset views.
Inside, behind the diner, a real art gallery is filled with large abstract and oil paintings by Vancouver's Johnny Taylor and Jay Senetchko. The gallery can be booked for conferences or harvest-table dinners. Come fall, Mr. Baiden plans to start promoting weekender-bender, 12B-style getaways with special menus.
We can see why Mr. Baiden has always done his own thing. His temperament is more short-order cook than fine-dining chef (although he excels at both). We agree with Jean-Michel, who told us that the owner sometimes rubs people the wrong way, but is a really good guy.
What he and his wife have done here is admirable. And they have done it all themselves. There is really nothing else like Fat Jack's in the B.C. backwoods.
After chowing down on sticky baby back ribs and nicely charred lamb chops with plum chutney jus and a medley of crisp vegetables, we retire to the billiards room to shoot a few racks while draining a bottle of gamay noir.