Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Welcome to the Neighbourhood

Saturday afternoon when I was walking down St. George Street, I noticed a new café. I quickly crossed the street to check it out. Nothing excites me more than seeing one of the vacant store fronts in Moncton’s downtown filled with a new business.

The Clementine Café and Deli is a quaint little spot, with about six tables, some bar stools and a couple of comfy seats in the corner. It’s a brightly lit room, with well-worn hardwood and green and orange walls.

The café was doing a brisk afternoon business, and both people behind the counter were busy serving customers. I didn’t have time to wait for a bar drink so I grabbed a bottle of Coke from the cooler. It came in a refreshing old-school glass bottle. Before I left, I promised to come back soon to try the food and coffee.

Since today was a storm day, I decided to take a quick jaunt around the corner for lunch. I figured the bad weather would keep people away, but when I arrived shortly after twelve, I was pleasantly surprised to see the place hopping. There was only one employee manning the bar and sandwich counter, but he handled the pressure with a quiet confidence.

There’s a chalkboard menu featuring six different types of sandwiches, freshly made salads, quick breakfast items, a daily soup, desert and an extensive espresso bar. After some deliberation, I decided on a Smoked Meat Sandwich with a bowl of tomato soup and a double Americano to drink. The server quickly grabbed the pre-made sandwich and put it on the Panini press.

I took a table by the window and worked a little on my new play. The service was slow, but I wasn’t in a hurry, so I just sat back and soaked up the atmosphere. There was acoustic music playing softly in the background and none of the other patrons seemed to mind the wait either. It was a relaxing place to spend an hour.

When the food arrived, it was worth the wait. The sandwich was served on a rye bread that had been grilled to a perfect crunch on the outside, but was warm and chewy on the inside. There was a pickle on the sandwich, and usually I’d want the pickle on the side, but the salty crunch really added to the sandwich. The creamy soup was comforting and really hit the spot on a stormy day. The soup surprised me. I was expecting it to be bright and tangy, but the soup was reminiscent of the tomato and chickpea soup at the Asian Garden.

The double Americano had a robust flavour and gave me a nice jolt of caffeine to get me through the afternoon. It was also served with a small ginger cookie, which was a nice bonus. When I was ordering my meal, I also noticed that their cookies are made by Nick the Dutch Baker of Moncton Market fame. There also loaves of home made bread and baguettes available to take home.

The Clementine Café serves fresh food and quality coffee in a mellow atmosphere and it’s a welcome addition to the neighbourhood. So the next time you’re in search of a good cup of joe, a delicious lunch, or you just want a nice place to relax, you should stop by The Clementine Café at 241 St. George Street. This place deserves your business

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Growing Op in Moncton

In the summer of 2006, an independent film called Growing Op was shot in Moncton. A few of my students had been hired as extras, and one even got to say a couple of lines. I had totally forgotten about this, until I read about it in Here Weekly.

Despite the fact the film was shot in the city, it had yet to be screened in Moncton. This did not surprise me. It’s often difficult for Canadian film to find an audience. The absence of the move from local multiplex probably would have gone unnoticed had a concerned citizen not written a letter to the Times and Transcript. Luckily, the manager of the Trinity Drive Empire Theatres arranged to have two special screenings this past Saturday.

Amanda and I decided to attend the 4:30 show despite not knowing much about the film. We thought it’d be cool to see Moncton on screen, but we were a little afraid that it would be a stupid stoner comedy that would only be funny if we were high. We were pleasantly surprised.

The first surprise was the crowd; the show sold out. I was worried the movie would play to an empty house. Too often I’ve watched independent cinema in near empty theatres. The worst example of this was back in university, when my friend Jeff and I enjoyed The Divine Ryans with two other people. At the time Jeff worked at a local radio station and one of his perks was free movie passes, so there were only two people that night who’d actually paid to see the movie. I felt so guilty that after the movie I tried to pay the price of admission. To make up for not paying, Jeff and I encouraged our friends to go see the movie and we even convinced a few to go, but when they went later in the week- the movie had already been replaced.

So luckily, Growing Op did not suffer the same low attendance. There was an enthusiastic crowd on hand to watch this unique coming of age story. Quinn is an isolated 17 year old, who mows lawns part-time to avoid helping his parents run their in-house marijuana grow-op. He seems to be more uptight and conservative than his family and longs to be normal. Quinn is lonely and tired of being home schooled; he develops a crush on the girl next door and decides against his parent’s wishes to enrol at the local high school. He quickly realizes that life as a normal teenager is not exactly what he expected and by the end of the movie wishes that he’d not gotten caught up in the drama of high school.

Growing Op has an aesthetic similar to other Canadian movies like C.R.A.Z.Y. or New Waterford Girl. There’s quirky humour, smart dialogue and lots of local content. There are scenes that take place at Moncton High School, Assomption Place, L’Ecole Odessay and obvious shots of Moncton’s skyline. The movie is set in Riverview, but I don’t think it’s supposed to be Riverview, NB.

There was a scene late in the film, when Quinn finds money and it’s obviously the greenback. The film makers want to keep the locale generic enough, in hopes of getting American distribution. However, there is enough CANCON to make it feel Canadian. There were token references to both Degrassi and The Guess Who. The movie also prominently features songs by Maritime musicians Jill Barber, Joel Plaskett, Jenn Grant and Matt Mayes. Watching this movie was an enjoyable way to spend a Saturday afternoon. The movie has likable characters and is thoughtful without being too sentimental. If you have a chance to see it you should definitely check it out. This movie deserves to have an audience. Canadians should support this movie.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Brunch Worth Waiting For

On our second morning in Ottawa, we woke up and realized the cupboards were bare so we had no choice but to go out for breakfast, which, in reality, is awesome! There’s nothing like going out for brunch on Sunday. After running through our options we decided to try the Lieutenant’s Pump at 361 Elgin Street.

We braved the crisp winter morning and walked a few blocks to the pub. When we walked by, I figured we’d have no trouble finding a spot, because the place seemed extremely spacious. There are a number of rooms to dine in, but when we arrived around 11:00am all the tables were full. We were told there’d be a 15 minute wait, but we decided to stay. We passed lots of restaurants and pubs offering brunch, but none seemed to be as busy as the Lieutenant’s Pump.

It appeared that we arrived just in time; while we were waiting the line kept getting longer and longer. It seemed every few minutes another party came looking for a table. It is unbelievable how many large groups were meeting for brunch. The waiting area quickly became crowded as more and more hungry people decided to brave the wait. No matter where I stood, I was in someone’s way. The restaurant should seriously consider a more efficient way to organize their waiting list. A couple of hostesses would walk around meekly calling out for the next party and it seemed the patrons were never near by. I’m not sure where they went, but it seemed like the waitresses needed to organize a search party to fill the tables.

Eventually we were seated at a well-worn table in the corner. There was lots of natural light, a stone floor, and the energy of the people waiting created a warm atmosphere. The Lieutenant’s Pump has an extensive breakfast menu, with lots of creative dishes such as white-chocolate pancakes, a wide variety of Eggs Benedict, yogurt and other traditional breakfast fare. I decided on something a little off the radar- a roast beef sandwich served with peppercorn mayonnaise on a butter croissant. It came with fresh fruit and home fries, and despite already getting lots of starch, I ordered a side of Rye toast.

Despite the crowd, it didn’t take long for our meals to arrive. My sandwich was delicious. The shaved beef was tender and flavourful; I was expecting cold cuts, but this meat definitely was roasted in house. The croissant was soft and buttery and the mayo was chock-full of peppery goodness. Another highlight of the meal was the home fries that were golden brown and seasoned with lots of rosemary. They were the best breakfast potatoes that I’ve ever eaten at a restaurant.

The only part of the meal that didn’t work was the not-so-fresh fruit. I understand you aren’t going to find fresh fruit in Ontario in the middle of March and that’s okay- we shouldn’t expect it. You can’t ship fruit from California and expect it to be fresh. The pineapple ring was brown, the melons were flavourless and the strawberries tasted like water. Why not just wait until the summer when the fields of Ontario are producing bountiful produce? I would’ve been just as happy without the browning fruit. It really took away from the rest of the meal.

The Lieutenant’s Pump
is a bustling pub, with an energetic atmosphere that serves an excellent breakfast. If you’re hungry on Sunday and don’t mind dealing with a crowd, the Lieutenant’s Pump is a place you should seriously consider checking out.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

March Break Starts at the Mayflower

After an adventurous overnight train ride, we arrived in Ottawa with hungry bellies. Amanda and I had planned to enjoy a leisurely breakfast at the Montreal train station, but since we arrived late our layover was virtually non-existent and there was no time for breakfast.

The trip from Montreal to Ottawa was quick, and we got here just in time to enjoy an amazing breakfast at The Mayflower Restaurant and Pub, at 247 Elgin Street.

This was my third trip to the this popular weekend spot. We arrived around 1:00 so we thought we’d beat the breakfast rush, but we still had a short wait.

Once we were seated, we were quickly served coffee by a slightly frazzled server. He was clearly a little exhausted after a busy morning. At the Mayflower, the menus are on the table waiting for you, which is fun, because it allows you to jump right into the decision-making process. And anyone who’s ever eaten with me knows my selection process tends to be both time-consuming and indecisive.

Since it was one o’clock the first decision to be made was lunch or breakfast? The chalkboard specials looked enticing. They included such comfort food classics as baked macaroni and cheese and chicken pot pie. There was also a club sandwich made with freshly spit roasted chicken and served on pumpernickel bread, but since I hadn’t eaten yet, I decided to stick with breakfast.

I had narrowed my breakfast selections down to the two meals I’d enjoyed on previous visits to the diner. It was tough decision between homemade oatmeal, served with your choice of toppings or the five-pancake breakfast. After consulting my very empty stomach, the much larger 5 pancake breakfast was an obvious choice.

Once our orders were taken, we had lots of time to catch up with friends, because it took a long time for our meals to come. The restaurant was packed, and the server did an excellent job keeping our coffees topped up. This is the third time I’ve eaten here and the food always takes time. But I don’t mind waiting for quality freshly cooked food. It’s a good sign that it takes time to prepare. If you’re somewhere and the food comes out just a little too quickly, you have to wonder how much of the food you’re eating has just been reheated in a microwave.

When the food arrived, we were treated by large scrumptious portions. The pancakes were buttery with just the right amount of fluff. My only complaint about the pancakes was the syrup. It’s a sin to serve “table syrup.” It should be mandated that all breakfast joints serve 100% Canadian Maple Syrup. It depresses me to think how many pancakes and waffles I ruined by soaking them with Aunt Jamima. But I digress.

The pancakes were enjoyable, and they were served with wonderfully grilled home fries, and decent breakfast sausages. I added a side of pumpernickel toast, which I enjoyed a little too much.

What I love about having breakfast at restaurants in Ottawa is the variety of breads available for toast. There’s nothing like enjoying dense pumpernickel toasted to perfection. It’s nice to have a choice beyond white and whole-wheat. When you throw in a chance to enjoy some pumpernickel, brown or dark rye- it adds a whole element of deliciousness to breakfast.

Aside from the pancakes, and oatmeal there are lots of omelettes, Eggs Benedict, and traditional breakfasts to choose from. The Mayflower is a cozy diner, packed with lots of people in search of delicious comfort food. So if you’re looking to discover a place to have a scrumptious breakfast or lunch you should stop byThe Mayflower and have an amazing meal.