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Thursday, 25 June 2015

Some Of The Best Things I've Ever Eaten in Montreal And Other Places

When it comes to very tasty food I personally don’t think anything will ever compare with the treats that were available growing up in Montreal in the 1950s and 1960s. There were Bar-B-Q chicken places and Jewish delis everywhere on the west side of the island and downtown. There were large restaurants on Ste. Catherine Street near the old Eaton’s like Dinty Moore’s that seated over 100 people. There were also cake stores that sold exquisite pastries. Over on the old Decarie Boulevard (before they dug up the expressway trench) there was a strip of drive-in restaurants on one side of the road that included The Bonfire, Miss Montreal, and The Orange Julep. On the other side of the road were the sit down restaurants, the Italian restaurant Piazza Tomasso and the American style Chinese restaurant Ruby Foos.

In the late 1950s the first pizza joints including Mama Mia’s Pizzeria on Cote St. Luc Road opened for business. La Crepe Bretonne on Mountain Street became very popular. Montreal business types and those that could afford it were dining at Mother Martin’s and Au Lutin Qui Bouffe.
I remember when the first Dairy Queen opened on Sherbrooke Street West in N.D.G. in the late 50s. On hot summer nights over 100 people would line up for soft ice cream. There were similar line-ups at Elmhurst Dairy in Montreal West (not soft ice cream). For a while you had to go out to Dorval (near the circle) if you wanted some A & W fare. Later they opened another place on Ste. Catherine Street West. It would still be some time before a MacDonald’s would turn up in Montreal.
Desjardins Seafood and Pauze’s were two finer seafood places at the time. Wealthier families bought a lot of their groceries from Dionne’s. The staff at Dionne’s (there was one on Greene Avenue in Westmount) wore long white aprons. The finest foods in the world could be found in their stores including things like fresh Alberta beef, fresh lobsters, escargot, and whole figs in jars. They also sold exotic fruits and vegetables that were not likely to be found at other supermarkets like Steinberg’s, Thrift, or A & P.
You could also find some exotic foods and tasty stuff in Eaton’s basement on Ste. Catherine Street. They sold all kind of cakes and pastries there. The items would be placed in a white cake box and wrapped up with string. The string hung from some kind of devise attached to a pillar or a wall. (Woolworth’s also did this). You could mix and match a selection of small sandwiches that were prepared on either white or brown bread. Parsley sprigs were added. Eaton’s had the tastiest ice cream cones. The chocolate one’s tasted like cocoa. The top of the cones were oblong instead of being round.
If one ventured away from the predominantly English side of the city they could discover things like “steamie” hot dogs at 2 for a quarter with mustard and relish and some chopped up raw cabbage.

“Greasy Spoons” were everywhere it seemed. Many of them catered to office workers in the downtown core. A good grilled cheese sandwich was slightly blackened from the grill. Rumours were that most of these places never replaced the oil in their deep fryers. You could get lunch at one of these places or at the Woolworth’s lunch counter for less than a buck.
Back then there were a couple of chains of restaurants that seemed to employ mostly older waitresses who wore uniform kind of dresses. One of these chains was Murray’s (I can’t recall the other one.) Murray’s was known for their hot brownies that were served with vanilla ice cream and lots of hot chocolate sauce in a kind of brushed nickel serving dish.
I don’t remember eating much Chinese food as a kid. I know that Chinatown was close to St. Lawrence Boulevard but I don’t recall ever going there. From what I understand a guy named Bill Wong opened the first Chinese buffet in the 1950s on Queen Mary Road in Snowden. It is kind of amazing that almost every small town in Canada has a Chinese restaurant. I got married in the small town of Gull Lake, Saskatchewan in 1981 and the wedding dinner was Chinese food brought in from Swift Current 35 miles away. My father was a lunch time regular at Ruby Foos on Decarie Boulevard for a few years in the late 50s. Business types would meet at this place for what used to be called “a liquid lunch”. My father brought our family there a few times. When I was about 20 I took an American girl from Philadelphia to Ruby Foos for dinner. We had shrimp in lobster sauce. I must have robbed a bank to pay for it. LOL

Montreal has always had “ethnic” restaurants it seems but it wasn’t until the early 1960s that they really became common. In the late 1960s American fast food restaurants started to invade the city. They survived and flourished but added nothing to the culture of food in Quebec.
I haven’t lived in Montreal for about 45 years. Every once in a while I’ve read about places that were great at one time going out of business. There are those that say that Schwartz’s smoke meat isn’t what it used to be. I’m sure there are still a lot of great restaurants in Montreal, maybe just not the same number that could almost guarantee hardening of the arteries.
A Mother’s Cooking
I can’t recall hearing anyone ever saying that their mother’s cooking was as bad as it gets but I’m pretty sure there have been some mothers who weren’t very good at preparing meals. We do get comfortable with what we are used to. Many of us have memories of particular dishes our mothers made or the certain way her food tasted different.
There were a lot more stay at home mothers back in the 50s and 60s and many of them would cut out recipes from women’s magazines and the daily newspapers. It was the era of the casserole. A can of Campbell’s soup, some kind of meat or fish (often tuna), a cup or 2 of milk, some noodles, toss it in the oven with crushed soda crackers or shredded yellow cheese on top and…..voila!
My mother used to make a casserole that included diced chicken and tomato wedges. The wedges were dipped in flour so they didn’t explode in the oven. One of the ingredients in the sauce was a spoonful of Keen’s dry mustard. After I left home I used this recipe for a number of years but lost it somewhere along the way.
My mother also cooked a lot of stuff I wasn’t fussy about. Some of these meals included animal organs like kidneys and sweetbreads. There is nothing sweet about sweetbreads. She kind of catered to my father’s British tastes.
We usually had a big meal on Sunday like roast beef. My mother would put the suet in the fridge and it tasted great on the cold leftovers the next day. When it came to stuffing a chicken or turkey she kept it simple with some chopped onions and celery, diced bread, a bit of butter or bacon grease, and some salt, pepper, and poultry seasoning. Sometimes we would sneak into the fridge a dig our fingers into the chicken ribs trying to extract one last remnant of the cold stuffing. I’ve tried other people’s stuffing over the years including ones with fruit and sausage but nothing will ever top my mother’s stuffing as far as I’m concerned. She used the same stuffing recipe for roast pork tenderloin.
For most of my childhood our family had a tradition of having sandwiches for dinner on Sunday night in the living room. At first we ate them listening to Our Miss Brooks and other programs on the radio. Later it was The Ed Sullivan Show on TV.
The stove in the kitchen in our house had a broiler on the bottom part of it (where we store pots and pans today). She used this devise to grill open faced old white cheddar sandwiches and a bacon wrapped kind of thing that was filled with Kraft pimento cream cheese. Most families had gas stoves back then.
Other sandwiches that were served included sardines (Millionaire) mixed with mayo, egg salad, salmon salad with tomatoes, and ham.
My mother also had in her possession a cooking devise that a lot of people today (back then too probably) aren’t familiar with. It is called a “Toas Tite”. It was made of metal and had two handles at the end of rods that were about 14 inches long. At the end of the rods were two identical circular disks. You placed two slices of bread that were buttered on the outside on the disks and added a filling like bacon and cheese or sardines with mayo. You then closed one disk against the other. A metal clasp on the rods made sure the circular disks were tight against each other. The excess bread was trimmed off and the devise was placed over the burner. The Toas Tite was flipped a few times to make sure the sandwich was evenly cooked on both sides. This may have been an early version of the pizza pocket. I own the original Toas Tite we used back then and have a back-up one in the shape of a clam shell. Just in case.

Probably what I remember the most about my mother’s cooking was her deserts. Some of the things she made were almost orgasmic. Here are 3 of my favourites, baked marzipan cake, upside down peach cobbler with a touch of vanilla, and banana pudding with sliced bananas and vanilla cookies. Let’s go for 4, English style “trifle” with whipped cream and Maraschino cherries on top.

I grew up on Campbell’s soup and Habitant pea soup (one of the ingredients in Habitant soup is lard and you can still buy their soup today) and peanut butter and banana sandwiches. Back in the day peanut butter sometimes came in tall glasses that could be used for drinking after the peanut butter was all gone.

In some families one or more of the parents insisted that every last thing on a plate be eaten. Some poor country in Africa was usually quoted.
Back in the 50s a trip to stock up at the grocery store cost about 20 bucks. Milk was homo and they also sold buttermilk. There was no 2%. White bread was sometimes a bit on the wet side if it was fresh. “Freshie” gave Kool-Aid a run for their money. Instant Jello pudding didn’t exist. Hot dog buns had slits on the top of them for the wiener (Hy-grade). The only yogurt I saw was vanilla with one cherry on top. Nobody had ever heard of pepperoni and salami was only made with beef.

All kids like candy but when I was a boy it was kind of an obsession for me. If it was sweet I wanted some. Back in the 1950s in Montreal there were a number of small stores that sold tobacco products, newspapers, magazines, Revell model kits, yo-yos and whatever the current kid fad was, chocolate bars, pop, and pretty well anything else that wasn’t good for a growing kid. You certainly couldn’t buy milk in these places.
Candy bars, peanuts, chewing gum, and potato chips had their own racks where you could choose your poison. The cash register was usually located on top of a glass display case. Inside the case was a variety of what used to be called “penny candy”. Black balls were about the size of small marbles and were 3 for 1 cent. Other individual candies on display included jellied spearment in the shape of a leaf, Kraft caramel caramels and chocolate caramels, banana flavoured candies in the shape of a banana, sugary strawberry looking candies with a marshmallow center, maple fudge, Lik-M-Aid which tasted like powdered Kool Aid with sugar and came in sealed straws or packages, candy buttons that were attached to small strip of paper, licorice pipes, Jujubes, lollypops, and little cones that had fudge on top and syrup on the bottom. I may be wrong but I think a lot of the penny candy was locally made in Montreal. I don’t remember “Nigger Babies” but it isn’t hard to figure out why that name disappeared.

By the age of six a lot of boys had figured out that we could get money for used pop bottles, 2 cents for the small ones and 5 cents for the larger ones. Some of us would find ways to get those empties including swiping them off of neighbour’s back porches or scavenging around construction sites. All it cost was a few pennies to get our sugar highs.
Smaller chocolate bars were a nickel and bigger ones were a dime. Some chocolate bars also came in “family size” and cost a quarter. Some of the old chocolate bar names are still marketed today like Caravan, Eat-more, Smarties, Oh Henry!, Jersey Milk, Rolo, Pep, Malted Milk Bar, Turkish Delight, and Tootsie Rolls. Lowney’s, York, and Cadbury were some of the bigger chocolate bar manufacturers back then. It was hard to eat a Cherry Blossom without getting some of gew on you. York was known for their dark chocolate and had a 10 cent bar with 6 different fillings. MacIntosh’s Toffee took a long time to consume…. and a lot of saliva.

I was never a big fan of “sponge toffee” or the red candied apples. The caramel apples however were tasty. I also remember some pretty terrible Halloween candy as a kid, the brown or orange coloured chewy stuff that was wrapped in paper with witches on it and twisted at both ends. Argh!
I think pretty well every boy I knew as a kid owned a Pez dispenser at one time (an unneeded delivery system?). Glossette Raisons were pretty good. My father was a smoker and always had a roll of peppermint Life-Savers close to his pack of plain end Sportsmen’s. Life-Savers also came in butterscotch and a fruit variety pack.

Cracker Jacks popcorn had a tiny prize in the box they came in. I’m not sure if anyone ever played bridge with a bowl of Bridge Mixture on the table. Jelly beans came in a variety of fruit flavours and watermelon and mango weren’t two of them. Black licorice tasted much better than the red kind. There was a rumour that black licorice ensured a smooth bowel movement.

If we wanted something salty there were products like Humpty Dumpty and Old Dutch potato chips or Planter’s peanuts. If a can of mixed nuts appeared in a home back then, the cashews were often quickly picked out and eaten. The Brazil nuts were like the last kid chosen for a pick-up game of baseball.
Gum, teachers often hated it, a lot of parents too. Steadily chewing of it made us kids look like morons. When the flavor was exhausted it was sometimes discarded by sticking it under a table or a school desk. Wrigley’s made Spearmint and Juicy Fruit gum which didn’t taste like any fruit I was familiar with. Who knew back then that the Wrigley family owned Wrigley Stadium in Chicago where the Cubs play baseball? It was built in 1914 and is still in use today. Another gum company back then was Beeman’s.
Pretty well every one of these little stores had one or two gum machines and peanut machines outside their front doors. Some of them were stocked with “jaw breakers” gum balls which were about the size of ping pong balls. My guess is there were a few chipped teeth over the years from trying to munch on one of those orbs.

Chiclets gum game in a number of flavours. Thrills gum didn’t. Thrills had a kind of sharp cinnamon taste. You either liked them or you didn’t. Chiclets and Thrills had a little plastic window in their boxes. If you blew into the empty box you could make a “tooting” sound. It was almost as impressive as the sound made by attaching a playing card to your bike wheel with a clothes peg.
Bazooka Gum came in individual pieces or in a roll like Tootsie Rolls. Each package contained a short cartoon story with a character named Bazooka Joe. Double Bubble also had little cartoon stories in their packs. Probably the worst gum was the hard flat stuff found in trading card packages.

One of the weirdest things sold in these stores was something called Sen-Sen. They came in a small package and looked like little pieces of black bird seed. They were pretty potent and kind of set your mouth on fire. I suspect that some older kids who didn’t want their parents to know that they were smoking used them to hide the odor, probably some older drunks too.
If, as a kid, you were impressed with smoking you could always get a pack of chocolate cigarettes at one of these stores.
And then there was the soft drink cooler. My favourite kind of cooler was the one that was filled with cold water. The bottles sat on rails in the water and you had to do some maneuvering to get your selection out.  Some of the pop available back then were Coke and Pepsi, Seven Up, Orange Crush, Nesbitt’s Orange, Gurd’s and Canada Dry ginger ale, Snow White cream soda, Grapette, Allen’s apple, and the awful tasting spruce beer. Gas stations often had hand cranking pop dispensing machines. Coke came in greenish bottles and Orange Crush in  brown bottles.

Drug stores often had candy counters too. Many of them also sold ice cream as did the other small stores. A brick of chocolate, vanilla, strawberry or Neapolitan sold for around 25 cents. Popsicles, Revellos, Creamsicles, and ice cream sandwiches could also be found in the freezer. Dixie Cups were vanilla ice cream that came in small round containers. You were given a wooden spoon to eat it with when you bought one. There was some kind of picture on the bottom of the round lid.

If all of this didn’t satisfy a kid’s search for sugar there were other places to find sweet things. Ovaltine and chocolate Quick were available at grocery stores. Woolworth’s had some really tasty chocolate donuts and Boston cream pies. The corner grocery store near us sold Pom Bakers raspberry and lemon tarts and a vanilla cake that had some of the best chocolate icing I’ve ever tasted. Also May Wests and Joe Louis.
And then there were all the “extra” chocolates that were snaffled from the Black Magic box. Here’s a shout out to the orange and coffee flavoured ones.
A trip across the US border to places like Plattsburg New York opened up a whole other world for those of us on a quest for a sugar high. Hershey’s chocolate bars, Bay Ruth’s, Butterfingers, Mars Bars, 3 Musketeers,……We weren’t the only candy junkies!

When I think of delicatessens or “delis” I think of take-out food places that were common in Montreal years ago. Usually they were smaller places without chairs and tables. These places usually had two sections of refrigerated display cases, one for meat and one for pastries and cakes. Pretty well all the food sold was Jewish.
Karnatzel is kind of a pepperoni looking thing but less spicy. It came in lengths about 3 feet long and usually was hung out in the open air in the store from some kind of rack. Often it was available in a dry or wet version.

Every deli had a meat slicer and you could order the weight you wanted from the meat selection including beef salami (no pork in a Jewish deli), tongue, mock chicken, smoked meat, and cooked turkey. The mock chicken had a little bit of fat on the outside of the cut.
Other offerings included things like cheese blintzes, potato latkes, coleslaw, pickles, chopped liver, lox (smoked salmon), cream cheese, gefilte fish, knockwurst sausages, and matso balls. You could also order rye bread and bagels.
When it came to deserts cheesecake was probably the most popular item. Typically cheesecake had a slightly browned look to it on top. A variety of tarts were available including a glazed strawberry one with a custard filling. Milles-feuilles (1000 layer?) pastries were also very popular.

For some reason I mostly remember older Jewish couples owning delis in Montreal.
Smoked Meat

There are two things I regret never experiencing while growing up in Montreal. One was never seeing the Montreal Expos play at Jarry Park and the other was never visiting Schwartz’s smoked meat restaurant on St. Lawrence Boulevard in its heyday.
I ate smoked meat sandwiches at a lot of places in Montreal including Dunn’s, Ben’s, Chenoy’s, Dankoff’’s, and Manny’s in Snowden on Queen Mary Road next to Decarie Boulevard. Ben’s was a strange place to eat at 2 a.m. when I was 20 years old and drunk after a night on the town. The place seemed to have a number of transvestite and gay patrons in the wee hours of the morning. While trying to figure that out I would look up at the walls and see black and white photos of people I remembered seeing on The Ed Sullivan Show on TV. Years later, drunk again after a night out in Vancouver, the same type of crowd hung out at a place called Fresgo’s on Davie Street. I can still visualize the grill with stacks of fried onions and mushrooms and thin slices of steak sizzling away.
Most smoke meat is of the pink meat variety. Fat is part of the taste of a good sandwich as far as I’m concerned. I believe that there is also a darker smoke meat that is kind of brownish. The only time I ever ate this version was at a place called The Maryland Tearoom on Monkland Avenue in NDG.
I later lived in Vancouver for many years. I got to know a middle aged guy named Phil who owned a smoke meat place in Richmond, BC. We were both Frank Sinatra fans and I once gave him a Sinatra tape I had made. Phil was known as “Phat Phil” and that is what he called his restaurant. Everything on his menu that started with an “F” was changed to “PH”. Every now and then Phil would get in trouble with the local city hall for placing his big wooden sign too close to the curb. Phil was a brash kind of guy. You might think that he had grown up in New York instead of Montreal. He’s been gone for quite some time now.
After Phat Phil’s closed down I had to find another place with Montreal smoked meat. I then discovered Kaplan’s on Oak Street. I t doesn’t have a great atmosphere and the folks at the cash can be a bit brash at times but the smoked meat is pretty darn good. I haven’t had one of their sandwiched in a few years now as we usually only go to Vancouver now to fly off somewhere. …………………………………………………………………………………………………………
Bar-B-Q Chicken

The two Bar-B-Q chicken places I remember the most in Montreal were the Chalet Bar-B-Q on Sherbrooke Street near Decarie Boulevard and the Cote St. Luc Bar-B-Q. As a kid my father mostly went to the Chalet for take-out. You could watch them preparing the food. Some guy with a cleaver, and who seemed to possess all his fingers, would whack the chicken into sections with his weapon. The pope’s noses were flicked into a garbage can, It was almost like he was making a statement and it was a wee bit frightening to a 10 year old. The chicken sections were wrapped with a crispy kind of cellophane that you don’t see anymore.
The French fries in these places were on the soggy side and were double paper bagged. A side of fries was 15 cents. The buns were white and nobody cared that they didn’t have any nutritional value. The sauce had a bite to it and I have no idea what went in to making it. All I know is that it you slathered it over the fries and left a bit to dip the bun in.
A few years ago when we were back east I tried some St. Hubert Bar-B-Q (“Ring, ring, ring, vous placez vous?”) in the Laurentians but I wasn’t impressed.
Years ago a Bar-B-Q place opened on West Broadway in Vancouver. The coleslaw had seeds in it. Seeds? Coleslaw should be soggy and vinegary. The place didn’t last long.
For years there was a Swiss Chalet in Nanaimo, BC where I now live. Swiss Chalets on the west coast of Canada were like a waiting room for old people to go to before expiring. There were times when I lived in Victoria, BC when there were line-ups outside the front door at 5 p.m. The Swiss Chalet pulled out of Nanaimo a few years ago and now it’s a kayak store.………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

I’ve talked about Mama Mia’s Pizzeria on Cote St. Luc Road in Montreal before on my blog. My mother often picked up a pizza from this place in the late 50s and early 60s. It is still the best pizza I have ever tasted. A guy with a white chef’s hat and a white shirt and pants would toss the pizza dough in the air making it bigger and bigger. Once it was the appropriate size the dough was spread out on a wood surfaced table. After the tomato sauce was spread over the pizza, fresh mushrooms, green peppers, and pepperoni were liberally added. The only other topping option was anchovies, Loads of mozzarella cheese was sprinkled over the top and the pizza was placed in the oven.
Once the pizza was cooked, a big wooden spatula was used to take it out of the oven. The tips of the pepperoni were slightly blackened as were a few spots on the bottom of the pizza. Then it was cut into sections and placed in a cardboard box. A ball of cooked dough was placed in the center of the pizza so the pizza would not stick to the box cover.
A large pizza could feed a family of four. Each slice was about a foot long and drooped from the weight of the toppings. You needed two hands to hold it. The cheese could be pulled to about 12 inches if you were inclined to do that. It was perfect!
We visited Mama Mia’s a few years ago and the pizza sucked. Dr. Oetker makes a better pizza. Much better!
As like most other people, I’ve eaten a lot of pizza over the years. The only times I have found anything close to the old Mama Mia’s was once in Sausalito, California and once in Seattle, Washington.
There are two other pizza joints I remember from years ago in Montreal. One was Pines Pizza located near the McGill University student ghetto east of the campus. I lived in that area for a few years in the late 60s and I was close to broke most of the time. They used really crappy pepperoni and the crust was on the greasy side but the pizza had lots of cheese. I wasn’t that fussy about the quality but I was driven by hunger. There was a place out in Valois that made pretty good pizzas. I think it was called Vello’s.
When my kids were young and I was living in Richmond, BC we got into the habit of ordering Domino’s. I liked the little sausage pieces. A few years ago in Nanaimo I ordered a take-out pizza from Domino’s. I didn’t have my glasses with me and by mistake I punched in my pin number in the tip area using my credit card. It was over 70 dollars. I phoned the store when I got my statement in the mail and the gal that was managing the place refused to give me a credit or my money back. I contacted the Domino’s regional office in Burnaby and they told me only the store could give me back my money. I was getting pissed! Eventually the district office gave me a credit and two free pizzas for my troubles. Last week I ordered another take-out pizza and it looked like I the same gal who wouldn’t give me my money back served me. When I got home I discovered that 1/3 of the pizza had no toppings. FUCK YOU DOMINO’S!!! Never again!
Something I always thought strange about pizza places is it seems that people from almost any nationality own the stores or franchises. Pizza is an Italian dish but you would be hard put to find a genuine Italian pizza place. Yes I know that some fancy Italian places make brick oven pizzas but that is just one of the items on their menus.
A few years ago Linda and I were down on Granville Island in Vancouver. (I used to know the wife of the guy that owns Duso’s Italian Foods there). We decided on Ukrainian food from a place called Hunky Bill’s. All the staff were Asians. It just didn’t seem to make a lot of sense.……………………………………………………………………………………………………………

The first time I ever ate sushi was back in the early 80s. It was after a Vancouver Canucks hockey game at the old Pacific Coliseum and I was with my family doctor at the time. We were both a bit stoned on weed. We ended up at a little sushi joint (Aki Sushi?) with a curtained entrance on Powell Street near Main. I was hooked right away.
I’ve always thought the secret about finding a good sushi restaurant is knowing for sure that the place is always busy. Busy usually means the seafood is fresh. There’s nothing worse than a tepid piece of raw fish.
For a number of years we went to a small place on Cambie and 41st. Later I had my favourite place in Richmond, BC. Several months ago I discovered a great place in Nanaimo called Nori Sushi. People come from all over Vancouver Island to eat at this excellent place. The portions are good, it’s affordable, and there is a nice ambiance about the place which includes jazz being played in the background.

Nori Sushi
Greek Food

I’ve been to the smashing plates and belly dancer places but I’m more about the food. I used to wonder why they put two starches on the same plate with potatoes and rice. The only things I’m not fussy about on a Greek restaurant menu are lamb shanks. I much prefer a rack of lamb.
I got to know a guy who owned a little Greek restaurant in Ladysmith about 20 minutes south of Nanaimo. His place was in a really crappy location right beside the Island Highway. The town was too small to support him and people don’t slam the brakes on while driving on highways because they all of a sudden have a craving for Greek food. We were fairly regular customers and I’ve never had better Greek food but he had to shut his place down a few years ago. He once told me that he had worked at Jakes Steakhouse in Vancouver in the late 60s. I remembered the place on Granville Street. They cooked their steaks in the front window and I remember being broke in 68’ and almost drooling.……………………………………………………………………………………………………………….
Italian Food

When I was a kid we ate at Piazza Tomasso on Decarie Boulevard several times. Magician Magic Tom Auburn regularly entertained there but I never saw him perform. His family lived on Marcil near Monkland in NDG for a number of years. I remember my father driving past Nittolo’s Italian Restaurant on Upper Lachine Road on our way south of the city. We never ate there. I think most adults back then knew that the place was mobbed up. In the 1980s Montreal mobster Frank ”Dunie” Ryan was murdered at the adjoining motel.
The best Italian restaurant I ever dined at was a place called Tommy O’s on the east side of Vancouver. Inside the restaurant was a large glass window where you could see fresh pasta hanging from what looked like brass rails. They made the most exquisite spinach cannelloni. The place closed about 20 years ago.

I used to get taken out for lunch by one of my suppliers on a regular basis for a period of about 15 years. We usually ended up in an Italian Restaurant. There was a place in Burnaby that had smelts as the “special” on Fridays. (Most Italians are Catholics.) I also recall an Italian restaurant in Richmond that was in a converted 2 story house away from any other businesses. The maĆ®tre d’, who wore a tux, always gave the women diners a single long stemmed rose when they arrived.
I believe Nick’s on Commercial Drive is still in business. The kitchen was right by the front door entrance and the tables had red and white checkered table cloths. They fried their steaks in olive oil. The place was old school and kind of dark inside. For a number of years, back in the day, several Vancouver Canucks hockey players would eat lunch there after morning practice. I tried not to stare.……………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

I can’t remember ever as a kid eating at a seafood restaurant in Montreal. We did, however, eat a fair amount of it at home. Some of it was OK like smoked kippers, salmon, shrimp, and halibut but I always hated sole and scallops. I disliked the texture of sole and scallops would make me gag. I wasn’t that thrilled about haddock either.
We ate lobster a few times in the US state of Maine. I had cousins in New Brunswick and I remember eating something called winkles there. Winkles are small sea snails that tasted best with a touch of vinegar.
I got more interested in seafood when I moved out to Vancouver. In fact, at one time I thought it would be neat to open a 40 seat seafood restaurant. I would have called it “Thish Ish Fish!” Years ago there were 2 fresh fish places where people would often have lunch at in Vancouver. One of the places was a dive on East Hastings Street near Main called The Only and the other was on the Vancouver waterfront overlooking the Burrard Inlet called The On-On. Back then The Only didn’t have a liquor license and some seasoned veterans would bring along a bottle of alcohol with them.
Some of the seafood restaurants in the Vancouver area that were around for a number of years were Guppy’s in North Van, The Salmon House, Ondine’s, The Devonshire Seafood House, The Cannery, and a place called A Kettle Of Fish. The latter closed a few years ago and from what I understand street people now reside where the restaurant once was. I once took 8 people from the office of one of my customers for dinner at The Cannery.

Although there has always been seafood restaurants in Vancouver I’ve always thought that visitors to the city could be quite unaware of the vast selection of fresh seafood that is available from the ocean close by. Maybe it is because there are no commercial fishing boats docked near the downtown core? Most of them are out at the Steveston area of Richmond.

Seattle seems to promote their closeness to the ocean and fresh seafood far better than Vancouver. Pike Place Market is a good example of that. A lot of people have seen the salmon tossing there. There are some terrific seafood restaurants in the Elliott Bay area of Seattle.
There used to be a seafood place here in Nanaimo called Neptune’s but it is closed now. For some time now I’ve thought that somebody should open a large seafood restaurant here near the water. Yes we have some pretty decent fish and chips places like The British Bobby’s in Parksville but it would be nice to see a place that showed the heritage of the British Columbia fishing fleets.
Vancouver Island has it all when it comes to fresh seafood other than East Coast lobster and Alaska king crab. We have mussels, clams, oysters, scallops, sea urchins, salmon, halibut, ling cod, and snow crab.……………………………………………………………………………………………………………..
Chinese Food

For some reason we hardly ever go to a Chinese restaurant anymore. I’m not sure why, probably because there are so many other ethnic food places to choose from? I think the Vietnamese places stole some of their thunder. We’ll have to try a Chinese restaurant in the near future.
Back in the early 70s we used to go to a few Chinese restaurants in the Gastown area of Vancouver. The entrances were in back alleys and they had names like The Orange Door. The restaurant staff didn’t speak English and we ordered by the numbers beside the dishes on the menu. It was like being in another world for an hour or two.……………………………………………………………………………………………………………….
Hungry Yet?.

Jesus! What am up to now, 12 pages? This blog is longer than I planned and I still haven’t covered everything. I guess a lot of us could write a book on this subject. Maybe I can shorten this up with a “best” of? Of course this is only one man’s opinion. Some of these places don’t exist anymore.
Best Places To Eat After Getting Drunk….
Ben’s in Montreal, Fresgo’s in Vancouver, The Tomahawk in North Vancouver. Bryan Adams, the singer, worked as a dishwasher at The Tomahawk when he was a kid. Maybe that's where his song Cuts Like A Knife comes from?
Strangest Restaurants….
Frank Baker’s Attic in West Van. James Bond’s Astin Martin car sat outside in front covered by Plexiglass. There were a million tiffany lamps hanging from the ceiling inside. The food sucked (buffet style) and the cutlery didn’t match. Every once in a while Mr. Baker would play his horn while wearing a straw hat and a pink striped shirt. Get me out of here!

We once went to a place in Hawaii where all the waitresses and waiters were historical characters. Robin Hood accused me of stealing some silverware.

And then there was the medieval place in Richmond, BC where the waiters dressed like monks and we ate meat with our hands. That place didn't last long.
Best Fast Food Burger….
Hands down Harvey’s! I can’t for the life of me understand why Harvey’s never took off on the West Coast. For a while they had a few of them out here at Home Depots. And then they just disappeared. Harvey’s was often my last stop in Toronto after a night out but not always if you know what I mean.

Gross Looking But Very tasty….
Beef bone marrow. Spread it on a slice of white bread. Add a touch of salt. Tasty!
Something I’ll Never Eat Again….
Escargot. I used to order them sometimes in restaurants and liked them. Then I bought a can of them and some shells. I didn’t realize how gross they looked and the looked worse after I took them out of the oven. They went straight in the garbage. No amount of garlic butter was going to fix that image.
Best Overheard Conversation Heard In A Restaurant….
We once stopped into a roadside restaurant in Oregon. Everyone else in the joint was a local. Someone started talking about making poached salmon in a dishwasher and everyone else piped in. They knew we were strangers and I had suspicions that they were shining us on.

Best Breakfast Place….
De Dutch Pannekoek. They used to be in Vancouver, Victoria and some other places in BC. I think most of them are closed down now. I used to bring my kids there on some Saturday or Sunday mornings. They always ordered the thin flat pancakes with powdered sugar and syrup. I would order eggs over hard, hash browns, thin bacon that looked like ham, and a side of raison toast. The meal came with a green salad. I would cover everything other than the toast and salad with hollandaise sauce and wash it all down with a large glass of freshly squeezed orange juice. The only thing missing was a hammock to lie in when I was finished.

Best Middle Eastern Dish….

Chicken Shawarma. When I was running a business in Vancouver I discovered a Middle Eastern place in a food court in downtown Vancouver. They offered a number of other dishes but the only one I ever ate was their Chicken Shawarma. They cut chicken pieces off a rotating spit. Kind of the way a Donair is made. The meat was dripping with spices. The chicken was wrapped in a pita bread along with some sauce and lettuce and tomato pieces. I often ate this stuff in my car in a laneway behind the building.

Best Crab Cakes….
I had them at an old hotel in Washington, DC.
Best Clam Strips….
Iver’s in Seattle.
Worst Food In General…..
Anywhere off the highway between Michigan and Washington State. Chicken fried steak. Really?
In Closing….
I guess I could go on and on here but I won’t. I can always go back to this subject if I feel the need.
I’d like to finish up with a list of some things I used to really like that I can’t find in grocery stores anymore, at least out here on the West Coast.
Paris Pate or Cordon Bleu pate, Potato Puffs with mashed potatoes inside, Sara Lee lemon or orange sheet cakes with butter icing with rind pieces in it, Honey Dew orange juice, frozen fiddleheads, frozen Chinese food, particularly the short ribs and chicken fried rice, La Belle Fermiere farmer’s sausages, Millionaire sardines, all beef salami, rare roast beef at the deli counter without garlic, pistachio ice cream, real brown apple juice, Stouffer’s frozen chicken Tetrazinni, or a real Scotch pie.
Thanks for reading…..and just for the record I don’t weigh 300 pounds nor do I have high blood pressure.

Oh! One last thing! I never heard of poutine growing up in Montreal.