Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

October 20, 2017

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Quick eats in 22 cities

Once upon a time, “fast food” had nothing to do with international chains and industrial-tasting burgers. It was cheap local fare jazzed up for city life or traditional recipes rethought for casual dining. Some towns had signature snacks or dishes; every place boasted a diner or take-out stand that was an indelible part of the landscape.

Today, in a world of franchises and drive-thrus, it’s surprising how many hometown favourites endure. We’ve gone on a road-trip through 17 Canadian centres and five American cities to locate the local “marquee” food you’ve got to try. Rest assured that regional spins on down-home cooking and “pit stop” eats remain alive and well across North America.
 

CANADIAN FAVOURITES

St. John’s, NL

Tops on our list for unique regional cuisine, St. John’s is the home of everyday repasts like cod tongues, scruncheons and flipper pie, never mind such time-honoured dishes as Figgy Duff or Jigg’s Dinner. If you have no idea what any of these are, you’ll just have to visit! Remember to pass the toutons and partridgeberries.

Freshest fish and chips: Ches’s Snacks downtown
(9 Freshwater Road; tel: 709-726-2373)

Halifax, NS

Known for its dulse (edible seaweed), Halifax is the place to try traditional Acadian rappie pie, made from grated potatoes. There’s also sea pie, Newfoundland steak (aka fried baloney) and the classic five-minute Maritime breakfast — codfish cakes and baked beans.

Famous chip wagon: Bud the Spud, front of the Main
Library (5381 Spring Garden Road)

Charlottetown, PEI

The place for set-price lobster suppers in the summer, Charlottetown’s proximity to the renowned oysters of nearby Malapeque Bay means it’s all “shuck and awe” the rest of the year. Islanders consume their mollusks at home and head out for burgers, but don’t let that deter you. The world’s biggest “kitchen party,” the International Shellfish Festival, is held the third week of every September.

Best seafood snacks: Claddagh Oyster House
(131 Sydney Street; tel: 902-892-9661)

Saint John, NB

Chowders, lobster rolls and “buckets o’ mussels” hit the spot in this Bay of Fundy city. Take the ferry across the water and you disembark in Digby, Nova Scotia, home to the world’s best scallops and an eternal supply of fried clams and ketchup.

Best fish and chips in the market: Lord’s Lobster (City Market, 47 Charlotte Street; tel: 506-652-8990)

35 kinds of burgers: Elwood’s Pub (112 Prince William Street; tel: 506-657-3001)

Quebec City and Montreal, QC

Casual dining in Quebec is as distinctive as everything else. This is the land of casses croûtes, take-out joints that offer poutine (gravy over curds and fries) with a choice of steamies or toasties (hot dogs). Tourtière (meat pie) is standard, and Montreal has put its stamp on smoked meat and bagels like nowhere else. In spring, Quebeckers flock to cabanes à sucre for sugaring-off parties — the only place on our list with a popular dish combining snow and maple syrup.

Original French street food: Casse-Crêpe Breton (1136 St-Jean Street, Quebec; tel: 418-692-0438).

Best poutine: Au Bonnet d’Âne (98 St-Jean Street, Quebec; tel: 418-647-3031) and La Banquise (994 Rachel Street East, Montreal; tel: 514-525-2415)

Famous bagel rivalry: Montreal’s Bagel Shop (263 Saint-Viateur Street, Montreal; tel: 514- 276-8044), and Bagel Factory (74 Fairmont Street, Montreal; tel: 514-272-0667)

Montreal smoked meat: Schwartz’s Deli (3895 Saint-Laurent Boulevard, Montreal; tel: 514-842-4813)

Ottawa, ON

Describing a “beavertail,” a fried pastry that resembles the appendage of a familiar amphibious mammal, will never do it justice. Try it with sugar and cinnamon, apples or chocolate, you’ll understand why Ottawans rave about this confection. Just look for crowds at outdoor stalls in downtown’s Byward Market, and watch as regulars slather on heartier toppings like bacon, chilies, or garlic.

A Winterlude hit, all year-round: Beaver Tails (69 George Street; tel: 613-241-1230)

Toronto, ON

Toronto’s size and cosmopolitan nature cement its position as Canada’s leading cornucopia for “street food,” whether it’s an old-style Yonge Street hot dog stand or one of today’s heady mix of cuisines and cultures. Last year, bylaws restricting that privilege to “pre-cooked meat products in tubular shape served on a bun” were overturned and there are talks of launching a design contest for a hip new street-food cart.

Best place for discoveries: the food court at Downsview Park Merchant’s Market (40 Carl Hall Road, North York) with over 400 retailers, no chains, and cuisine that ranges from Afghan to Zambian. Take the Spadina subway line.

Winnipeg, MB

Long winters and patio summers are reasons why Winnipeg has so many restaurants. Immigrant neighbourhoods created the city’s diverse palate; the rye bread is the best in Canada. The local chain, Salisbury House (21 around town), has referred to its burgers as “Nips” since the 1930s. Homesick expatriates still return for platters of “nip’n’chips.”

Famous institution: Kelekis (1100 Main Street; tel: 204-582-1786) started out as a popcorn wagon a century ago. The shoestring fries are worth the lineup.

Saskatoon, SK

This city has long made a virtue of its namesake berry, a prairie cousin to the more robust blueberry. Local Aboriginals once used the fruit to season bison meat. Visit and you can try Saskatoon berry preserves, pies, candy, cakes, cider and wine. Buffalo burgers on the hoof can be seen roaming ranches outside town.

For buffalo burgers with Saskatoon berry relish: Berry Barn (830 Valley Road; tel: 306-978-9797)

Edmonton, AB

The smell of frying pierogies (stuffed dumplings) makes everyone feel instantly Ukrainian. Edmonton, with its Eastern European heritage and plentiful diners, is the perfect place to indulge and acculturate. The city also has a longtime local chain, Burger Baron, which serves the best franchise burgers in Canada.

Most venerable diner: the High Level (10912 88th Avenue; tel: 780-433-0993)

Calgary, AB

Cowtown is all about a certain animal; even ginger beef, that mainstay of Chinese takeout, was invented here in the 1970s. More uniquely, most neighbourhoods now contain at least one Vietnamese noodle shop or banh mi (sub joint), testimony to the city’s increasingly diverse population.

Peter’s Drive-in (219 16th Avenue Northeast; tel: 403- 277-2747) has been known across Alberta for decades.

Vancouver, BC

Although Lotus Land is essentially one large, rainy, coffee emporium, it’s the local enthusiasm for raw fish and seaweed that catches attention. The city’s west coast locale means that Vancouver is full of cheap sushi bars with menus and prices that bedazzle visitors — you’ll eat better than a high-end restaurant for a fraction of the cost.

Street vendors here have the widest range of wares
and garnishes in Canada.

Victoria, BC

Quick eats in genteel Victoria are traditionally anything but. This is an anglophile town where unhurried afternoon tea is still served and shops are devoted to cocoa, scones and jam. Oyster burgers are common, and the smoked and candied sockeye salmon are world-renowned. The Nanaimo bar, a popular dessert made mostly of butter and sugar, is a Vancouver Island original.

Get your hands dirty: Ferris Oyster & Burger Bar (536 Yates Street; tel: 250-360-1824)

Whitehorse, Yellowknife and Iqaluit

All three of Canada’s northern centres are good places to try traditional Aboriginal or Inuit snacks. Best known are jerky, bannock (pan-fried flatbread), pemmican (compacted meat, fat and fruit), and the High Arctic’s muktuk (whale skin often eaten with soy sauce). Expensive junk food is flown into even the remotest places.
 

AMERICAN TRADITIONS

All of the US cities below are at most a day’s drive from the Canadian border. Bring passports as well as an appetite.

Boston, MA

The nickname, Beantown, says it all. In a city where serving Boston baked beans is a birthright, try a legume-less favourite, the New England Boiled Dinner. If that sounds a trifle prosaic, there’s a treat in store: Boston Cream Pie, originally known as Parker House Pie after the hotel that created it in 1856. Widely served, it’s an update of the 17th-century Pilgrim “pudding-cake.”

Still going: Parker House Hotel (60 School Street, tel: 617-227-8600)

Buffalo, NY

In 1964, local bartenders Frank and Teressa Bellissimo deep-fried chicken parts headed for the stockpot. In a sizzling instant, Buffalo wings were born! The Bellissimo’s Anchor Bar recipe and sauce have long since gone global; restaurants in their hometown feature the wings at every opportunity — always with hot sauce, celery and blue cheese.

The original: Anchor Bar Restaurant (1047 Main Street; tel: 716-884-4083)

Detroit, MI

Aside from site-specific dishes like “tire-change stew” or paczkis (Polish fruit-filled doughnuts), Detroit is a shrine to the coney, a chili dog that comes in all shapes and sizes. The Italian and Mediterranean varieties are deep-dish and couscous-topped, respectively. Locals also like to recommend the Tim Horton’s across the bridge in Windsor, Ontario.

Chicago, Il

In this classic blue-collar city, casual cuisine is a serious business legendary for its connoisseurship. Learn the vocabulary of the hot dog by visiting lunch counters to absorb local lore on such essentials as natural casings, sport peppers and Italian meats. Only tourists use ketchup or act surprised at servings of what looks like ricotta cheesecake — it’s Chicago style deep-dish pizza, Al Capone’s favourite.

Best all-night sausage joint (natural casings, Viennese and Italian meats): the Wiener’s Circle (2622 North Clark Street)

Minneapolis, MN

Naturally, our last destination is all about dessert. Settled by Scandinavians, Minnesota has a tradition of small-town chocolatiers and basement candy making. Bring that sweet tooth to the big city and the result is Minneapolis, the hometown of the “Danish” and many other contributions to the 20th-century’s sugar rush. Make sure your dentist comes along (or at least your dental floss) as you steer through “heritage” candy or test pastry like rock-sugar rolls and munkkis, giant glazed turnovers.

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