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Posts Tagged ‘dining’

I Despise Food Writing! Stop Me!

Posted by crowbiz on September 3, 2009


Fine Dining chez Crow

Fine Dining chez Crow

I swear, I didn’t realize.


Luckily, this dawned on me before someone else had to point it out.  Many of my posts have something to do with food.  It all started with the woeful Limburger story and mushroomed from there.  Not wanting to run a restaurant, canned bread, the Garbage Plate, my useful “recipes” (more coming), an adventure with rye bread, and pursuing sukiyaki, even though it was only the musical kind.  The thrilling crescendo came with the recent poutine review.  Where did all this come from, I asked my reflection in the mirror.  I heeded my own advice and looked within.

Three important points emerged:  

1)  All of my food discussions center on something relatively low-brow.  

Come on, canned bread and gooped-up fries?  Humble, but good eats.  And believe me, even if I had known the Limburger had been hit by a car, I’d still have eaten some.  I’m not above admitting it.  My posts have generated a fair share of “eewws” and have probably led to the misconception that I sit in my Tyvec-encased trailer eating dry stuffing mix washed down with store-brand cola.  With my bra strap slipping down along my flaccid bingo wing, crumbs accreting on my gut-shelf.   Wielding a remote.  The judgmental conclusion would be that I don’t know bacala from Bac-Os, nor camembert from Cheez-Wiz, but I caution you to be a careful thinker.  My adoration of low-rent food simply means that I’m not a snob.   I have no tolerance or patience for people who reject and mock foods that haven’t passed the cool-trendy-expensive-foreign-gentrified-organic-upper-middle-class test, and I’m downright embarrassed for anyone who would really care what others might think of their reaching for a Slim Jim (nacho flavor rocks).

OK, busted.  I am a snob about a couple things.  Tea.  Chocolate (“we do not eat brown wax in this house”).  

2)  For all my wordiness on food, I actually detest, abhor, loathe, and 27-other-thesaurus-synonyms-for-hate “food writing” and reviews.

H-A-T-E.  Can’t stand reading it, but somehow it crosses my path at times, such as when I’m stuck at the mechanic’s shop and have read every word of the rest of the newspaper or magazine at hand.  Many things about it drive me nuts, one of them being the amateurish nature of most food writing that finds me.  Shiver.  Hackneyed phrases like “blanketed with a ___ sauce” and “the ___ was generously studded with ___”  set me off so badly I could fork out the writer’s eyeballs and “infuse” them in acid.  I’ll only accept the word “flaky” in the psychopathological sense.  The strain of these writers trying to seem knowledgeable, coupled with a criminal lack of originality, is all too painful.  After all, food critiquing is equal-opportunity, since we all eat, we all have preferences, and we often have something to say about it.  Everyone wishes they had their own Food Network show, but frankly, half of the people on there shouldn’t even have their own Food Network show.  Really, I’d rather hear Joe Blow plainly relate that the plover-brain ravioli in a reduction of Rudbeckia nectar was “awesome!” than read that it was blanketed and studded.  

3)  I like things simple.

Yes, it’s fun to eat at a nice restaurant in which the chef has labored to concoct a most interesting array of offerings (often, presentation at the expense of taste).  I’ll eat most anything.  I’ll eat most any combination of anythings.  But I don’t like good stuff messed with too much.  Lobster smeared and stuffed with six ingredients?  Just throw the freaking thing out, it’s a waste.  Lobster.  Butter.  Too much great food comes to innovative ruination.  Leave it the heck alone, at least in front of me.  All this makes me seem hopelessly unsophisticated, but then so is the Buddhist monk for not reaching Level 17 in Grand Theft Auto, if that’s how your critical thinking works.  Let me suggest that I’m discerning with open arms.  What do I order on the uncommon occasion of upward dining?  Red meat, rare, because anyone can pile up twelve precious ingredients in their “signature dish,” but it takes restraint and finesse to get meat the way I like it – waved once over a candle flame with a sprinkle of salt.

In order to boost my food cred, I have to resort to pulling rank.  As a sensory-perceptual scientist and educator, one of my jobs is exploring the fascinating and still mysterious world of human taste perception (OK, so we only spend two classes on it).  I pass around the PTC paper samples to the class so each willing student can place it on his or her tongue and determine what category they fall into:  a nontaster, a taster (the largest group), or a supertaster (thank you Lazypedia, for a fair lay explanation and for referencing Linda Bartoshuk; but students, if any of you employ web references, I’ll fail you summarily).  Hilarity ensues as the unsuspecting supertasters wince, flinch, and bolt for the nearest water fountain cursing my name while the nontasters and tasters sit there puzzled.  I’m a supertaster, too.  So I need it simple.  My superior number of fungiform papiliae trump your measly few, so lay off my Frito fetish. Turns out, I also have the slightest whiff of synesthesia, so many flavors at once in my mouth is rather like an unsupervised 6th grade orchestra of ADHD boys playing Schoenberg.

But wait, you say, what about my devotion to things like the Garbage Plate and poutine?  Those are piled with ingredients and flavors, right?  Yes, but they’re simple.  Fat.  Salt.  Who can’t handle a mouthful of that?

So from here on out, I may or may not talk about food – OK, I’m pretty sure I will – but I pinky-promise not to mention blanketing, studding, or infusion.

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The Poutine of Renfrew County

Posted by crowbiz on August 23, 2009


What price, Paradise?


As with every entry, there’s some backstory begging to be revealed that I have to reign in out of fear of irrelevancy and reader boredom. Here is my valiant attempt at brevity:  Let’s just say that for a week in August for most of the past several years I find myself in the Madawaska Valley region, specifically in Renfrew County, Ontario, Canada.


Anyone familiar with these parts, or anywhere in eastern Canada, really, well knows the institution that goes by several names combining “chip” or “fry” with “wagon” or “truck.”  My favorite is the “chip wagon,” but feel free to use “chip truck,” “fry wagon,” or most prosaic, “fry truck.”  For those unblessed by experience with this phenomenon, it is usually a vehicle (camper, step van, school bus, etc) or seasonal shack positioned at crossroads or on various lots in small towns and outfitted as a quick meal stop offering typical transient fare such as hot dogs, burgers, fish and chips, and fries.  But not just any fries.  Sure, you can order and eat  “just any fries,” alright.  I’m talking the pinnacle of fries, the ne plus ultra of fries, Canada’s greatest contribution to the world, alongside hockey and politeness:  POUTINE.


If you need a refresher on this author’s feeling about foods like poutine, go back and read my entry on the Garbage Plate.  Poutine comes in a few forms, but it’s basically french fries topped with gravy and shredded/curd white cheese.  People will argue about the specifics, and I say let them, just don’t mess with mine.  My preference, and the one I encounter most frequently, is beef gravy and what appears to be mozzarella cheese.  Over the years we’ve joked about taking poutine high-end or experimental (gorgonzola?  parmesan?  pork gravy?  tarragon sprinkles? ) but it’s only an exercise on par with imagining what you’d do with your lottery winnings.  It will never really happen.


The name connotes ancient, rustic Quebecois origins.  Though they didn’t get theirs from a converted recreational vehicle up on blocks for the summer, you can imagine 17th century trappers settling in after a long day’s paddle and whipping up a satisfying heap of fried potatoes covered in a steaming glob of fatty, salty toppings.  (It’s hard for me to type, my hands are shaking so.)  With a heavenly dish like this as their legacy, its no wonder Canadians grew to be so polite.  They deserve to be outright smug, but the gustatory contentment derived from poutine has a pleasant mellowing effect.  Actually, poutine may be a mid-20th century invention, but it hardly takes much imagination to think variants have been around forever.  I’m not even going to link to any alleged information sources, since they ruin the spirit, and worse, contain falsehoods about poutine that I will not be party to passing along.


My first brush with poutine was many years ago at a pow wow in Salamanca, NY where I purchased a plateful of poutine to accompany a bear sausage sandwich from a First Nations vendor.  Despite seeing the many fry wagons of Fort Erie, Ontario all my life, I virtually forgot about poutine until the trips up to the Madawaska Valley with Mr Crow’s family became routine.  Reckless vacation-eating mode, paired with the relative difficulty procuring groceries locally makes visits to the chip wagons nearly mandatory.  Not to stop would be like crossing the Sahara and, upon reaching an oasis, blithely saying, “Nah, let’s skip this one.”


Much to my regret, I’ve hardly scratched the surface in making the chip wagon rounds in the region.  Let me be clear that I may not be an expert, but my poutine zealotry should count for a lot.  Or maybe I really could be an expert?   I’ve been at it long enough to see my favorite stand (a shed out in the backyard of a “real building” ice cream parlor) in Bancroft disappear.  Some have been a passing visit, others see me at the window year after year.  And here are some from this year:



Customers at Fast Eddy's, Combermere, Ontario

Customers at Fast Eddy's, Combermere, Ontario






This year's winner

This year's winner from Fast Eddy's




























Fast Eddy’s, Combermere

Positioned shrewdly outside the laundromat/coffee shack/gift shop /internet cafe (a couple computers tucked into a closet behind the washers, sock display and slushie machine), Fast Eddy’s is rocking.  Combermere sees brisk summer activity, and F.E.’s is there to meet the need.  As is the case at the best chip wagons, the fries are hand cut before frying and the enormous piles of empty potato cartons attest to the steady business.  Stand in line, because there probably will be one, order at the window, then wander into the omni-center to sort through garden hoses, greeting cards, and community notices.  (Note: this all-purpose joint also has a commodious restroom with a claw foot bathtub, should the mood arise). You will buy a pair of Madawaska socks before walking out.  It’s not just about the poutine, you know, but the whole atmosphere.  Wander back out to F.E.’s truck and wait for the single, bust-ass worker to complete your order, then plop yourself at one of the many roadside tables.  Overhead this year was the following phrase:  “I just have to tell you, these are the best chips I’ve ever eaten!”   Poutine:  *****




D & M Valley Chip Wagon, Quadeville, Ontario

D & M Valley Chip Wagon, Quadeville, Ontario





Poutine at D&M

Poutine at D&M


D & M Valley Chip Wagon, Quadeville 

Intersection of Route 515 and Addington Road.  This outlet is the quiet, dark horse in the chip wagon game.  Occupying one corner of the T-intersection is a large camper that offers a long list of items, including the other regional delight, the pogo, or corndog on a stick.  It even has the big RV awning stretched out over the condiment shelf.  Compared to the veritable metropolis of Combermere, Quadeville is merely an intersection with two buildings (one empty) and the fry truck.  When and why people flow through here is sort of mysterious to me, but then, I’m a real outsider, and therefore unentitled to pry.  Points have been subtracted for the serious infraction of using pre-cut, perhaps frozen fries, but to me, there is technically no such thing as a “bad fry.”  It’s rather like the term “bad sex” to a man.   Extra credit applies for two reasons: 1) It would appear that the proprietor of D & M lives in the RV, judging by the satellite dish and homey curtains in the non-kitchen half of the camper.  Forget the Zen serenity of life on a beautiful mountaintop; life in the chip wagon would be my goal for bliss attainment.  2) There is an electric bug zapper for insect-free outdoor dining at night – except the wagon closes at 7:00pm, well before dark during the wagon’s July 1st to September 1st schedule.  Poutine ***






Popeye's Charpit, Palmer Rapids, Ontario

Popeye's Charpit, Palmer Rapids, Ontario





Popeye's Poutine - note the chunky curd

Popeye's Poutine - note the chunky curd


Popeye’s Charpit, Palmer Rapids

Behind the grocery mini-mecca of Hannah’s on Route 515 in Palmer Rapids, at the back of a wide, sandy lot, lies the permanent shack version of the fry truck known as Popeye’s.  It features charming painted portraits of Olive Oyl and Popeye, evidently done in their very early years, since Popeye sports a full head of hair.  Though Palmer Rapids is technically smaller than even Quadeville, it has a larger feel to it, chiefly owing to the cornucopia that is Hannah’s (including fireworks and plenty of liquor) and the gas pump on the outskirts.  Standard fare and good prices.  Extra credit for: 1) offering pea meal on a bun, rather like a pea meal Whopper, and 2) actual cheese curds melted on the hand-cut fries – not the ubiquitous, if tasty, shredded cheese.  Typical of the kookiness one might encounter at a fry wagon was when the cook kindly and apologetically asked if I’d mind picking up a 2 liter carton of milk for her when I told her I would walk back up to Hannah’s to buy my beverage; there is a “rental agreement” that the stand itself cannot sell beverages so as not to compete with the big H.  Poutine ****


Others, oh, so many others

•Maynooth.  Hand-cut fries.  Memory tells me that everything was pretty good.

•Maple Leaf:  Route 62 between Combermere and Maynooth. The nameless “flower power” camper.  We’ve never stopped, but are intrigued by the hilarious appliqued flowers, reminiscent of my swinging neighbors bathroom in 1970.

•Bancroft:  Route 62.  A new truck several hundred feet away from my former favorite.  Could it be the same owners?

•South of Bancroft:  Route 28.  Several, but the yellow hut on the east side of the road, a few miles south of Bancroft, rang my bell a few years back.



Eager anticipation

Eager anticipation

See you in line.

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