The One Shot:  Papa’s Pier 17

“Dpapa-s-pier-17on’t judge a book by its cover” is a pretty good adage to apply to the restaurant industry.  We see all sorts of gadgets and gizmos and doo-dahs to get the punters through the door.

Some work extremely well – like the mecca of molecular gastronomy in Chicago, Alinea.  Dine on smoke and foam and puffs of scent.  Dining becomes theatre as well as a destination of choice.

Others are kitschy at best and at worst it becomes a distraction. IPad as menu, dining in the dark or even rube Goldberg machines that serve your food  surely make it a fun time but it begs the question –  is the food any good?

Enter Papa’s Pier 17.

When I was a little boy – and this was not yesterday – it was THE destination after a concert. The Arts and Culture Centre is around the corner from Papa’s Rowan Street location. It used to be that very few restaurants were open late and when you have a carload of hungry musicians and kids – Papa’s Place (as it used to be called) was a special place to be.

I remember as a kid I could go in and be greeted as I came in through the door. It was always neat as a pin and the chairs (which I think are still used to this day) mimicked the twirly chairs we just left while sitting in the box seats of the ACC. I can’t comment on the menu as it used to be but when talking to my dad, he reckons that Papa’s was as authentic Greek as we were going to get in the city.

Fast forward nearly 30 years and things have changed a lot.

When you look in the windows of the restaurant on Rowan Street they are filled with mechanical toys, this season dressed as traditional mummers.  The animatronic figures turn their heads and twirl a bit. It is possibly the most entertaining part of the experience.

We had an early reservation as we have a small child.  This sort of planning ahead is not uncommon for people who like to go out to dinner.  Seated in the main dining room we were in the middle of the action with the waiter and waitresses scuttling about around us.

Ordering was a simple proposition as it was two pages, neat script upon plain white paper. My wife had a shrimp appetizer and Greek cod; my daughter had fettuccine and red sauce; I endured cod tongues and Greek version of beef burgundy.

To be blunt the food as a whole was not very good.

My cod tongues were well cooked but not seasoned or finished. My pilaf of rice looked, tasted and smelled like it was a box of instant rice and flavorings. Quite insipid. The Greek version of beef burgundy was under seasoned and claggy. The side Greek Salad was served with Italian dressing – a little cultural fusion going on?

I didn’t have a chance to try my wife’s shrimp but they seemed cooked well as did the cod so there were no problems there.  My father in law didn’t mention but seemed to have suffered heavily burnt bacon wrapped scallops. He liked his fish mains.

It was the pasta and red sauce that caused us the most grief.

My daughter is very young and at the age where she is a little more particular about her meal time. Her pasta and red sauce looked ugly, including the mass of melted cheese over the top of the lot. While eating it she continuously told us she didn’t like it but we encouraged her to have more and so, it is here that the review ends and my true feelings come out.

The meal that was served to my daughter made her sick. 3 hours after she ate at the restaurant she was sick from “both ends”.  Quite violently in fact.  We spent the entire night awake, tending to her, cleaning and sanitizing.  Never mind the loads of laundry the next day – 4 sets of bed sheets, pyjamas, towels, cloths…

The food she ate was either not fresh or improperly heated.  Here is the thing: of all our meals she was the only one to get sick. We all tried each other’s food (except hers) with no symptoms.  She was not sick beforehand but we have been suffering ever since.

My wife called the restaurant in the light of the next day, on my recommendation, as all I wanted to do was yell and be angry.

My dutiful wife called and with all her patience mainly wanted to inform the manager of the restaurant that an incident had occurred.  The restaurant’s response was along the lines of “ARE YOU SURE? HAVE YOU TAKEN YOUR KID TO THE DOCTOR? IS IT CONFIRMED?? NO ONE ELSE COMPLAINED.” Sympathy, I am afraid in the eyes of the management was to be found in the dictionary between shit and syphilis.

Sad state of affairs, but there it is.

So here are some tips to make it all better:

  1. Never step foot into Papa’s Pier 17 lest you get sick or verbally abused.
  2. Always adhere to #1

So I am afraid that Papa’s Pier 17 has spectacularly lost their One Shot.  Just adhere to my rules – that’s what we will be doing from now on.


The One Shot: XIX

In this little miniseries called The One Shot –  I’ll give the joint one shot to make that one good impression. Win me over and I will sing praises; fall flat and, well…

Getting together with family is always a treat, and when we sit together at the table it is, in my mind, some of the best memories I could ever wish for.

This year for Easter we decided to go have “brunch” instead of a familial repast at one of the parents’ homes.  My dad was the one who suggested we try XIX, or Nineteen, the club restaurant at Clovelly Golf Course.

Now I have worked at Country Clubs (read: golf clubs). In my former life I worked the hotline and large banquets for hundreds of people during the busy summer wedding season. So I know a thing or two about what to expect in this type of service.

Here are some things to observe when eating brunch:

The early bird gets the worm – if there are two seatings, especially in buffet form, go early and go often.  You will find that the food is the same but the quality delivered is a bit more sharp.

Look for simple – I had a great time today by mainly sticking to breakfast type foods (we were at the second seating).  The eggs Benedict had soft yolks and the pea meal bacon was cooked but not brittle.  Little sausages were cooked well  and not dried out by the chafing dishes. The tray of bacon was cooked by someone who likes perfectly cooked bacon – I could have eaten 10 pounds of the stuff.

What am I eating here? There were little signs near each station identifying the food; unfortunately they were on the outside of the chafing dishes instead of where one would generally look.  I would recommend in the future a smart tablet displayed at the front that can be read at a distance and substitutions made through service if needed.

Everything starts with good training –  the staff employed were the most unobtrusive but attentive wait staff I have encountered.  They were alert and always ready with extra coffee or tea and happily supplied double lots of milk for our table. In addition, manager came to our table to personally invite our little one to enter the colouring contest (even though she is only 2) and present her with a loot bag filled with non-edible but happily playful treats. A warm touch and it was well noted by our table.

Here’s the rub: it is a golf club, not what I would call a destination. There are better places in the downtown but our table had the vista over the ruddy brown greens, a view of sparkling fingers of silver thaw on the trees. We could only imagine that spring and a warm summer are soon on the way, and that was worth its weight in gold.

With happy memories and a full belly, XIX, you have won The One Shot.

The One Shot: Mohamed Ali

In this little miniseries called The One Shot –  I’ll give the joint one shot to make that one good impression. Win me over and I will sing praises; fall flat and, well…

When it comes to good food, variety is the the spice of life.

For too long in this little city of ours we have been dragging our ethnic heels, especially where food is concerned.  A decade ago you wouldn’t have ever seen anything exotic.  A handful of Chinese spots, a Thai spot a couple of curry houses and that, was just about it.

Now we can sport an authentic Korean joint, several Japanese inspired places, the same Chinese and curry houses but in the exact same spot where once was a Thai place on Duckworth Street is now a very cool hole  in the wall and it is called Mohamed Ali.

5 things that make an ethnic joint cool

  1.  Be authentic –  this place oozes authentic.  Form the cardamom coffee and spice spiked teas to the hot shwarma and kebab platters.  This place is authentic as it gets.
  2. Play to your strengths –  the menu is compact with few real choices but all of them are good.
  3. No music –  some places like to “put you in the mood” by playing over the top music of a specific geographical origin.  This place doesn’t.  Just the loud chatter of patrons and the walls covered pictures for sale by a local Middle Eastern artist. Simplicity at its finest.
  4.  Serve hot food hot and cold food cold –  no problems there.  From ordering to service in under 10 minutes and the contents of the kebab in a pita wrap was as hot as if it came off the grill.  Cold dips like hummus all cold from coolers.
  5. be of good value –  style points there.  We had an appetizer, two shwarma wraps, some cardamom spiked tea as well as baklava all for under $30.  Excellent value.

In all the years of living in this fine city I not once thought that a true Middle Eastern restauraunt would open. Now that it has I can say happily that Mohamed Ali has won its One Shot.


The One Shot: Red Rocks Grill

As someone who has worked in the food industry I am going to let you in on a little secret –  we really try not to talk out of turn when it comes to other food joints.  Sure we cut each other up when at the bar or having a drink with others, but we know that we might need a quick job at some time and our words follow us around – in some cases like stink –  so we should always be mindful of what we say.

That in mind I am starting a little miniseries called The One Shot –  in which I’ll give the joint one shot to make that one good impression. Win me over and I will sing praises; fall flat and, well…

Red Rocks Grill is on Topsail Road.  It used to be the old Home Hardware Store, before it became a video store before it became an average restaurant before it was transformed into Red Rocks Grill.

I give you 7 Tips to make a average first impression.

  1. Try seasoning food: that implies a little salt AND pepper.
  2. Try to leave the foil off the baked potato when serving it to guests. We are paying for dinner service not a backyard BBQ.
  3. Try and get the order right the first time: 7 tables and 18 covers does not a busy spot make
  4. Don’t serve BS to customers: chef lost your order ticket is euphemism for it got 86’d on the line and he couldn’t be arsed to check the tape are not the same thing when forgetting 2 out of 8 items on a 3-top.
  5. 33$ for grocery quality veg and average cooking skills isn’t highway robbery but it sure isn’t good business.
  6. If you give sauce, have enough for every bite. Not a spritz.
  7. A baked potato implies it came from an oven. A microwave oven does not count.

Here’s what you can do to improve:

Season as you go. Sprinkle salt and pepper a little at a time and taste food occasionally.  Use a bit of acid.

Make plates look nice.  We eat with our eyes first. Presentation and a little care can make an average looking plate look spectacular.

Have a call system. Call the order at the pass and repeat it verbally to the line.  Therefore if the server doesn’t hear a menu item it can be corrected on the line and on the fly.

Simple, honest answers work best.  Instead of “Chef lost the dupe,” say “We are sorry that the line misplaced your order for the sides you wanted. Shall I take them off the bill?”  Clear, simple and it provides a solution before the customer has a chance to become irate.

The rest speak for themselves.

Too often we walk into restaurant expecting one thing and getting an entirely different experience.  I had hoped the food would be good enough to return but when a simple mid week dinner costs nearly $100 without a single drop of wine and the food was average at best…I am sorry, but it doesn’t deserve a second chance.

Red Rocks Grill, you lost your One Shot.