Dining on the road

Karl Wells
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A look at some of the places you might consider during travels across the island

I travelled across the island recently. This gave me an opportunity to try some eateries in which I’d never dined and also to revisit restaurants I’d not checked in years.

My next few columns will highlight some gems and point out the good and not-so-good aspects of other dining spots.

Red Hawk Diner

Badger

As you pass through Badger on the Trans-Canada Highway, you’ll see a dark bungalow with white trimmed windows and dominating front steps with wheelchair ramp. On the roof of the building is a red, white and blue sign with the words, Red Hawk Diner (sandwiched between Pepsi logos). There are a few restaurants in the area, so make sure you look for the one with the wide wooden steps and ramp.

I had no idea what Red Hawk Diner would be like. The building’s exterior yielded no clues. When I closed the door behind me and turned around I was happy to discover a charming, well appointed, scrupulously clean bistro. It was bright with sunshine coloured walls and burgundy wainscotting. Either end of the room featured flat screen televisions fixed high in the corners.

Framed works by a local photographer gave additional visual appeal. Light was provided by wall sconces, and reflected back from a white ceiling. Lightly stained hardwood flooring competed for attention with handsome black tables and dark vinyl booths that lined the perimeter of the room.

It was lunchtime and I was in the mood for something basic, which was just as well since Red Hawk Diner wasn’t about to offer me anything outside the comfort zone of a short order cook. I asked for a bowl of pea soup and a club sandwich.

Service at Red Hawk Diner is fast and friendly. Within minutes I had a bowl of piping hot homemade soup and a sandwich in front of me.

The soup was delicious and had the scent of salt meat. I don’t think there’s anything quite like salt meat for putting taste in a pot of pea soup. The consistency of the soup was perfect for me — not too thick and not runny. The club sandwich was also well made.

Nothing was missing and the bacon was crispy, as it should have been.

Albatross Hotel

Gander

It had been many years since I visited the Albatross Hotel dining room in Gander. Currently, the dining room is the most attractive part of the hotel. The room features earthy tones, comfortable seating, low lighting and tables dressed for serious dining. Service is stellar in the Albatross dining room. I found the wait staff to be very welcoming and willing to do whatever necessary to make the dining experience pleasant.

Comestibles at the Albatross reminded me of the type of food you might find in chaffing dishes at a buffet. You know, when chicken breasts slathered with barbecue sauce are piled on top of one another in a pan and a pair of tongs is provided to allow you to pick one up and put it on your plate. Another tray might contain steamed mixed vegetables with a slotted spoon for scooping them up. It is likely there’d also be a soup urn filled with turkey, beef or chicken soup, and soup bowls to the side.

Of course, there was no buffet at the Albatross, but my observation was born out of two facts. The food, as presented to us, looked like someone had, albeit carefully, just picked up items individually from a buffet line and put them on our plates.

Then there was the taste of the food. Mostly it was properly cooked and reasonably decent (buffet food can be good), but the lack of creativity obvious in its presentation did not make it a thrill for the eyes. Neither, subsequently, was it a special treat for the taste buds.

Starters

Albatross’s soup of the day was turkey vegetable and it was exactly right. I also tried the cod au gratin and, while it could have contained a little more cod, it was not disappointing. Another starter was cod tongues. The tongues were prepared in the usual way: lightly dusted, seasoned and pan fried. They came with a wedge of lemon and tartar sauce. I like tongues to be a bit crispy on the outside (personal preference) but I still enjoyed them and I’m sure many others would have as well.

The chicken and rib combo featured a skinless, boneless half chicken breast covered with barbecue sauce and a small serving of pork ribs covered in barbecue sauce.

The chicken was moist and the ribs were succulent and flavourful. A baked potato also tasted good. The cauliflower, carrot and brussels sprouts mixture was a frozen product that had been heated up. The mixture had little, if any, taste.

I longed for a piece of fresh broccoli or carrot.

A special that evening was grilled cod with lemon and tarragon.

The plate also contained scooped mashed potato and the aforementioned unappealing vegetable medley.

Even though I appreciated the cooking skill shown by the cook in keeping the cod tender and delicate, I could not enjoy it.

There was an unpleasant taste present that I believe was associated with the cooking oil. It was not the fish flesh, the lemon or the dried tarragon that caused the odd taste. Process of elimination pointed a wagging finger at the cooking oil.

In next week’s column, I’ll tell you about a wonderful new eatery in

Corner Brook and I’ll also describe a visit to a once trendy and famous west coast restaurant.

For regular updates on “One Chef One Critic,” my Telegram Dining Out column and the latest developments on the local culinary scene, please follow me on Twitter @karl_wells.

Karl Wells is an accredited personal chef and recipient of awards from the national body of the Canadian Culinary Federation and the Restaurant Association of Newfoundland and Labrador. He is also a restaurant panellist with enRoute Magazine. Contact him through his website, www.karlwells.com.

Organizations: Trans-Canada Highway, Albatross Hotel, Canadian Culinary Federation Restaurant Association of Newfoundland and Labrador

Geographic location: Gander, Corner Brook

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