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Archive for February, 2009

Silver Donald’s Rustic Restaurants: Eastern & Northern

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009

February 22, 2009

Last week, I shared readers’ suggestions about excellent year-round restaurants in small towns on the South Shore and the Valley. Today, guided by readers, we take a gastronomic tour of northern and eastern Nova Scotia.

Joan Czapalay reports that Reid’s Bakery and Restaurant in Middle Musquodobit “has been run as a family restaurant since the 1880′s. There is the Temperance Pledge mounted on the wall (which backs on to the NSLC). The bread is home-made, turkey or chicken for the House Club is freshly roasted, there are pots of homemade jam available, and the molasses jug stays on the table.”

My friend Bill Fisher suggests Kennedy’s Restaurant in Middle Stewiacke, while Mary Anne White cites Fletcher’s in Truro. Also in Truro, Judy and Arnold Forsythe praise Murphy’s Fish and Chips, while Herald gardening guru Jodi DeLong proposes lunch at The Wooden Hog, “where the crab and salmon cakes are regularly sold out. Their homemade soups are fabulous and so are their desserts.”

Heading westward, Joan Czapalay notes Diane’s Diner in Five Islands for “great clams and chips, very good pan-fried haddock” and free country music. And in Amherst, try Duncan’s Pub, suggested by CBC producer Mary Munson for its tasty and affordable lunch specials, and Old Germany, on Church Street, nominated by Madelyn LeMay. When one of her children was studying music at Mount Allison in nearby Sackville, NB, Madelyn writes, she went to Old Germany whenever she could.

“One of the owners is the cook, the other serves – and the food is incredibly good,” she writes. “I would highly recommend the spinach appetizer, which I can’t reproduce no matter how hard I try, the specially-made sausage, and for dessert – my kid would highly recommend the quark and custard! And if you are looking for the best, and least expensive fresh stollen ever for Christmas, your search is over.”

Stollen, aka Weihnachtsstollen, is a German fruitcake, and a quark is a subatomic particle, a piece of software and a central European fresh curd cheese. But you knew that, didn’t you?

East of Truro, several good restaurants adorn the five towns of Pictou County. Rod Desborough likes The Dock, an Irish pub on George Street in New Glasgow, for fine seafood chowder and soda bread. My fellow scribe Al Farthing singles out Cafe Italia, “owned, staffed and operated by three really hardworking, charming young women, ” and also the Eastside Family Restaurant opposite the hospital. “Been there for ages, never changes,” says Al. “Their specialty is Chocolate Cake with boiled icing. People come from far away for that.”

In Pictou, deputy mayor Ken Johnston endorses Sharon’s Place Family Restaurant on Front Street for “reasonably priced home cooking in an old fashioned diner setting.” In Stellarton, Gord MacPherson says that whenever he returns from working out west, he heads immediately for The Pantry Kitchen on Foord Street, whose fish and chips are “the best I’ve ever had.”

Mary Munson likes Gabrieau’s in Antigonish while Lloyd Daye directs our attention to the Days Gone Bye Bakery and Eatery in Guysborough, owned by Aldona and Fabian Gerrior, where “everything on the menu is homemade and very reasonably priced.” In Canso, in the very far east, Joan Czapalay praises The Last Post for great haddock dinners.

In Cape Breton, Nancy MacLean applauds the home-made food at the recently-opened Bayside in Whycocomagh. Taiya Barss, one of my favourite artists, nominates The Cedar House on the main highway across Boularderie Island, for “fish cakes, their own baked beans, and the plate I always get, the hot turkey sandwich. They also sell loaves of their own bread, containers of their baked beans, and a variety of cookies to take home. Mmm,mmmm.”

And finally, Eileen Coady points out a “little gem” on the Cabot Trail at North East Margaree called the Dancing Goat Bakery and Cafe. Opened in 2006 by a returning Margaree man named Marvin Tingley, the bakery offers assorted breads, “old-fashioned cookies including Cape Breton ‘Fat Archies,’ and some delightful dessert cakes and cheesecakes.” The cafe provides delicious soups, hearty sandwiches, decadent desserts, assorted coffees and teas – and glassworks by a local artist adorn the front window.

Bon appetit. In Gaelic.

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Silver Donald’s Rustic Restaurants: South Shore and Valley

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009

February 15, 2009

Last month, I asked readers to tell me about good year-round restaurants in small Nova Scotian towns. Here’s the first of two reports, covering the Annapolis Valley and the South Shore.

In Hantsport, Judy and Arnold Forsythe recommend the R & G Restaurant on Wednesdays for their fishbits, served with fries, garden salad or potato salad. Down the road in Wolfville, Margaret Archibald likes The Front Street Cafe, especially the fresh haddock and the bread pudding.

Also in Wolfville, with a second location in Kentville, is Paddy’s Pub and Rosie’s Restaurant, recommended by Robert MacNeil and others for “good food, good service and great beer brewed in house.” He and others also admire The Port, a spacious “gastropub” in nearby Port Williams, with a great menu featuring its own beers as well as local foods, notably beef and cheeses. The Port, writes chef Michael Howell, is “a collaborative community investment” with more than 40 community shareholders.

Two readers praise Vicki’s in Coldbrook, which Angela Leighton describes as “a little ‘hole in the wall’ in a small strip mall just past Valley Volkswagen, with haddie bits and home fries to die for.” Belle Darris ranks Vicki’s fish and chips “the best in the province. And don’t get me started on the pies…” Vicki’s recently expanded, and also includes a small fresh fish market.

In Berwick, two readers favour the Union Street Cafe — which is on Commercial Street. My niece Sharon Kendall describes it as “quaint and cozy,” with owners who frequently host east-coast musicians. To satisfy Marjorie’s haddock addiction, however, Sharon suggests Kellock’s, across the street. Harvey Freeman champions a third restaurant on Commercial Street, the Driftwood Take Out, which, despite its name, actually has tables and booths, and seems to be Berwick’s lunch-time hot spot..

In Middleton, journalist Scott Milsom dines at The Capitol Lounge and Grill, located in the former theatre. Calum MacKenzie, however, avoids his Friday-night cooking obligations by taking his wife and her 97-year-old Mum to Pasta Jak’s on Main St. He particularly approves “the salmon and haddock dishes, pan fried and slightly browned.” Further west, Jack Swan nominates the 35-seat Lawrencetown Restaurant, whose specialties include a Saturday night bean and scalloped-potato supper.

Numerous readers passionately endorse Chez Christophe in Grosses Coques, on the French shore, where chef Paul Comeau specializes in traditional Acadian dishes like rappie pie and fricot au poutines. The restaurant was the home of Comeau’s grandfather, and patrons may eat in the original kitchen with the old kitchen stove. All the seafood dishes are splendid, says Dr. Gerald Boudreau. Comeau’s seafood lasagna is “uniquely delicious,” and his rappie pie with local clams is “simply heavenly.” Claire Boudreau contends that Marjorie “will adore not only the haddock, but everything else on the menu.”

In Yarmouth, Pierre Belliveau suggests Chez Bruno, just up the hill from the ferry wharf, while Margo Riebe-Butt favours Mern’s for “really great home cooking” including a notable lobster poutine. Eileen Coady nominates Rudders Seafood Restaurant and Brew Pub, located in an old warehouse on the Yarmouth waterfront, for its fish cakes, pub steak, Acadian rappie pie, hot lobster sandwiches and coconut creme pie. Marjorie and I agree. In 2004, we moored our boat at nearby Killam’s Wharf, and walked to a memorable dinner at Rudders.

Scott Milsom thinks that Harris’s Quick and Tasty is in “Dayton, on the northern edge of Yarmouth,” while Joan Czapalay places it in Hebron — but both recommend its seafood and pies. Author Laurent d’Entremont is a regular at the Dennis Point Cafe in Pubnico. He likes their sweet potato fries, and he vigorously applauds the seafood at the nearby Red Cap Restaurant. Marjorie agrees.

Further up the shore, Mary Anne White likes The Two Chefs in Bridgewater. In Lunenburg, Joan Czapalay suggests breakfast at Large Marge’s Diner, while Madelyn LeMay favours Historic Grounds for lunch. Deborah Gass reports that The Trellis in Hubbards, within walking distance of the wharf, offers art on the walls, music on Thursday and Friday nights, and good haddock too.

That’s it, gastronomes and travellers — our readers’ recommendations for year-round restaurants on the South Shore and in the Valley. Next week, eastern and northern Nova Scotia, and Cape Breton.

Bon appetit!

Living Under Cover

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009

February 8, 2009

“The guy never went outside at all,” said my friend. “Not for a month or maybe two months. The story was in one of the papers here. He went to the theatre, shopped for food and clothing, did his banking, ate out, all kinds of stuff. He even went to Toronto and New York – and he never went outdoors.”

“He went to New York without going outdoors?”

“He went by train. The Gare Central is underground, right under your hotel. ”

We were in Montreal, strolling along the underground passageways which are said to constitute the second-largest underground city in the world, after Moscow. I had been working in Montreal for a week. I was staying at Le Reine Elizabeth, on the Boulevard Rene Levesque, and most of my meetings were on Sherbrooke Ouest, 20 minutes’ walk away. The streets were choked with snow and lethally slick with ice – but I wore just a sweater as I walked past coffee shops, jewellers and haberdashers in perfect comfort.

It occurred to me that the underground network made Montreal a safer city than any other in Canada, particularly for senior citizens. Walking outdoors in the winter is a really hazardous activity for seniors. Every year, hundreds fall and break their arms and legs and hips – a significant factor in the Orange Alert at the Halifax Infirmary ER last month. Old bones don’t knit quickly, and many never really recover.

The danger was brought home to me a year ago, when I suddenly found myself lying on the ice beside my car. I had taken my key out, and I was about to unlock the door – and then I was on my patootie. I don’t remember slipping or falling. It was like a jump-cut in a film. One moment I was up, the next I was down. A few bruises aside, I was none the worse for the experience – but it got my attention.

Young seniors – from 60 to 80, say – often sidestep this problem by going south. You find them all over the southern US, Mexico and the islands, robust and happy, sailing and golfing and swimming. But after 80, snowbirding loses its appeal. At 85 or 90, people don’t feel much like travelling, and don’t travel as comfortably. They’d rather stay home, close to friends and family and doctors. And that puts them most at risk from winter conditions at precisely the point when they’re least able to deal with such challenges.

In Montreal, they’re fine. Their apartment buildings connect to the Métro, and the Métro takes them to the under-cover city downtown. They really don’t have to emerge until spring.

So at 80, should I live in Montreal?

Why not downtown Halifax? The city already has the beginnings of a covered downtown, with pedways and tunnels running from the Prince George Hotel to the waterfront casino, and branching into apartment buildings and office towers. We don’t have to burrow underground. We can just extend the pedway system to link the whole downtown, from Cogswell to the Via station. A large part of Calgary’s downtown is connected that way.

In Montreal, I noticed, some of the covered space was captured simply by putting a roof over the space between existing buildings. What was once a back alley becomes a connecting courtyard with a Starbucks coffee shop. In other places, a short tunnel between buildings converts two musty basements into prime retail space. Halifax probably has a score of locations where connections like that would work.

And, although a Métro doesn’t seem very practical in rock-ribbed Halifax, we could bring back the downtown streetcars, looping down Barrington and up Water Street, with stations right inside such major buildings as Scotia Square and the Westin. Alternatively, could we use a light elevated rail system like the one that connects the terminals at JFK Airport

I’m no planner, and these notions may be unworkable. Fine: let’s hear better ones. The point is that we’re about to have a tsunami of seniors, and it would be good for them – and for everyone else, too – if we made it possible to live a safe and active life in the middle of the city all year round.

We know it can be done. Vive le Montreal!

The Big Lie about Deficits

Monday, February 2nd, 2009

February 1, 2009

The Big Lie theory was enunciated by Adolf Hitler.

The masses, said Hitler, in “the primitive simplicity of their minds..more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie.” We all tell small lies, and people easily recognize them. But real whoppers, frequently repeated – the Holocaust never happened, for instance – often succeed, because people cannot believe that anyone “could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously.”

Was Hitler right? Consider this whopper: conservatives handle money prudently, while “tax-and-spend liberals” are financially irresponsible. That’s the exact opposite of the truth – but this Big Lie has been so often repeated by the right that it’s rarely even questioned.

Look, for instance, at the recent interview between Maclean’s editor-in-chief, Kenneth Whyte, and Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Talking about upcoming deficits, Whyte asks, “Do you think it’s fair to say that the big-spending liberals of Canada and North America are taking advantage of the political situation to drive through more of their ideological agenda?” And Harper’s reply concludes, “That is a significant risk, which is why I think it’s important to have a Conservative government managing this kind of program.”

Whyte purports to be a journalist, but he performs like a Conservative shill. His question is drenched in falsehood.

Pierre Trudeau, a big Liberal spender, did leave Canada with a hefty debt. But Mulroney’s Conservatives, as Jean Chretien once commented, “took Trudeau’s $160 billion federal debt… and ‘reduced’ it after eight years to $450 billion and climbing.” Mulroney’s last annual deficit was $42 billion – higher than even Harper’s current proposals. A full 94% of the deficit, Statistics Canada reported, was due to Mulroney’s tax cuts for corporations and wealthy individuals, and to his government’s high interest-rate policies.

Slashing ferociously, Chretien’s Liberals routed the deficit in their first four years, and ran fat surpluses thereafter. In the US, the “tax-and-spend liberal” Bill Clinton inherited a record $290-billion deficit from Ronald Reagan and George the First. He balanced the books in his second term and bequeathed a $236-billion surplus to George Dubya. By 2009, Dubya – a self-described “fiscal conservative” – was projecting a record deficit of $482 billion, largely due to irresponsible tax cuts and reckless military commitments. And that was even before the meltdowns and bailouts.

In Nova Scotia, the Hamm government inherited an $11-billion debt, much of which derives from the spendthrift Tory regime of John Buchanan. The Tory story contends that Hamm balanced the budget in 2002, and that all subsequent provincial budgets have been in surplus. In addition, an $830-million offshore windfall was applied to the debt. The bottom line, notes Halifax accountant Ian Crowe, is that the debt magically “shrank” from $11 billion to $12.3 billion. Wha –?

I nominate for the Solid Brass Award the newly-minted Tory Senator Stephen Greene, who uses the spectre of deficits to flog Nova Scotia’s NDP. At a recent nomination meeting, Green reportedly compared Darryl Dexter to the communist rulers of North Korea and Cuba, and urged Tories to “remember the havoc under NDP Premier Bob Rae in Ontario.”

Ah yes, Bob Rae, the Ogre of Ontario. As Rae took office in 1990, Ontario was already heading into recession and projecting a $700 million deficit. Rae tried to blunt the recession’s impact using even larger deficits. He failed. But if recession-fighting deficits were bad policy then, why are the federal Tories embracing them now?

And what about Manitoba’s NDP Premier Gary Doer, running ten budget surpluses in a row while cutting taxes and improving social services? Anybody remember the balanced budgets of Allan Blakeney and Roy Romanow in Saskatchewan? And the looting of the Saskatchewan treasury by the Tories under Grant Devine, which sent the deficit to $1.2 billion and landed a dozen Tories in the slammer for fraud?

Canada’s greatest socialist, Tommy Douglas, held off implementing medicare for 15 years, until he was sure that Saskatchewan could afford it. Why? You can’t build social democracy, Douglas argued, if the bankers can stop you by calling your loans. That’s not a problem for right-wing governments – but it gives left-wing governments a lively allergy to deficits.

And anyone who tells you otherwise is spreading a Big Lie.

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