Monday, March 27, 2023

Fish and chips of the Magi 

It's only been a few weeks but I think I finally have gotten the memory of a truly awful meal out of my mouth. Though to be safe I ought not think of it. It was a lovely snowy day, that turned into a cold damp night when we had thought to go out for a meal after a long-ish walk. The light wet snow was turning into rain. We were both getting hungry. Julia asked what I was looking for and only one thing came to mind: fish and chips from Allen's restaurant. Initially we thought to take the subway but the nearby station suddenly closed due to a medical emergency. Each bus that passed was packed full and offered no respite. While I was game to walk the 20 minutes or so to Allen's, Julia, whose ill-fitting winter boots were failing her, was growing tired. Thus here we were. I didn't want to ask Julia to keep walking in wet soggy boots and Julia wanted to fulfill my wish for fish and chips. The closest place was a sports pub that had been there for ages but with the notion that perhaps it was under new management we ventured forth.

Don't trust a restaurant that greets you with a potpourri of old cigarettes, stale beer, urinal puck and burned cooking oil. The cigarette smell was particularly odd as there hasn't been smoking in Ontario restaurants for over 20 years. In any case, let's just say the place with multiple screens showing a variety of sporting events (basketball, football and golf), was immediately without charms. I noticed a young lad, maybe nine or ten-years-old, ask his father if he could go to the bathroom and I was alarmed when the adult answered, "Yeah sure, you know where it is." So, this guy regularly took his son to this forsaken spot? Admittedly, this scene made me think, "Well, if you come back here, maybe it's better than I assume." Thus we sat down, Julia ordered a burger and I ordered the fish and chips.

What arrived was passably "food" and even though the burger was edible, the wet "from freezer to fryer" fish I had, was not. Normally I would give it that old college try, or out of an abundance of politeness, at least make it look like I tried, but it was entirely inedible and out of caution, I didn't go beyond the first explorations. The sides of tartar sauce and coleslaw were, I think, passed due, expired, gone off. What was I even looking at? I won't go into detail but needless to say, inflationary pressures aside, this was not what an $18 plate of food should look, smell or taste like. In fact, I'm still a little mad that we paid for it. Someone, in that kitchen, is going to kill someone one day. I'm not joking. There is no way in which that meal seemed safe to eat. Normally, I'm the guy who wants burgers made on the greasiest of grills. The more miles on that grill, the better. Give me fat and salt and I am happy, but this was really the straw that broke the camel's back.

You shouldn't judge a book by its cover, which in many cases is sound advice. Yet, if the book is called Intergalactic War of Space Babes, with an image of a buxom, bikini-clad lass wielding some kind of laser rifle, you can probably accurately guess this is a Barbarella rip-off of some variety. I believe the same can be true of restaurants. I'm open to be surprised but at the same time I am done with mediocre "pub food". Burgers, fries, pizza, tacos, fish and chips are all pretty easy to make competently. If a place can't do even the modest frying or reheating of a Sysco sauce pack (check out their "cutting edge food solutions"!) why should I bother with them.

Shortly after this gastronomic disaster, I was with a group of acquaintances that were reminiscing about lost burger joints or diners that are all but forgotten in Toronto now. We all ordered something similar, a sandwich, soup, fries, macaroni and cheese or a burger. The food was a little pricey for what it was, but also, the restaurant was cosy, warm, immaculate with attentive servers. They started critiquing the burger, and all I could think was, "If you only knew what I was served a few nights ago." Was the food world class? Maybe not, but how world class is a BLT or burger going to be?

Why did we pay for that meal I described? Because, we're nice people. Yet I realized it was my desire to not make a tired loved one walk one more step and her desire to find the meal I'd been craving that brought us to that place. A mutual hope to give your loved one something, a respite, a comfort, anything to make them feel better. Love took us to pub with a terrible reputation and we tried to make the best of it. But, no more. No more grubby floors, no more joints with the bathroom you can smell despite it being in the basement. No more piss poor attempts at decor by hanging fake Guinness ads. It occurs to me now about how a friend in the UK lamented that so many pubs were being bought up by corporate entities and became terrible after they were purchased. I reminded him then that I had been to many independently owned pubs that were complete crap. In Toronto it feels like you really should be able to tell the moment you walk in, "No, this establishment is a crap hole." I've been to enough of them by now, and I feel it's time to start trusting my intuition just a little bit more often. Trust your gut before you bust your gut.

Labels: ,


Post a Comment

<< Home