The Outport’s located in a strip mall on Topsail Road, just across from Sun Valley Drive. Inside, it looks like the kind of place where tourists might be asked to kiss a cod, or shown items for sale like, tins of Newfoundland fog, plush puffins, mummer dolls, Newfoundland and Labrador flags, that sort of thing.
A Newfoundland outports motif becomes obvious as soon as you enter. Murals and built-ins speak to a rural theme. We were seated at a bright, comfortable window table. Our server, the same pleasant lady who has served us on previous occasions, was welcoming and chatty. She’s worked at the Outport for 18 years and reminds me of a favourite aunt – of course, she’s far too young to actually be my aunt.
The Outport bills itself as a bistro that sells “traditional home-style food.” I pondered that as I studied the easy-to-read menu encased in easy-to-clean plastic. Traditional home-style food means different things to different people. It depends on your generation and cultural background. There’s one feature, however, that’s common to all, no matter how old you are or where you come from. Home-style food makes us feel good. In other words, it’s comfort food.
Like most of its type, the Outport sells a variety of dishes, including: chicken fettucine alfredo, chicken parmesan, Philly steak sandwiches, poutine and French onion soup. It’s all comfort food, and gloriously so. But, it’s probably not all the kind of food that most would consider staples of the home dinner table. So, perhaps restaurants that promote traditional home-style dishes should instead say, “we sell comfort food.” Just a thought.
Ordering seafood chowder is always interesting because unlike, say, French onion soup, fish chowder never seems to be the same from restaurant to restaurant. Some make it thick, some make it soupy, some make it taste of the sea, some make it taste of the land with a hint of the sea.
The Outport’s seafood chowder tasted, through and through, of pristine ocean. Mainly because of the thick liquid part. It was as smooth as Häagen Dazs vanilla ice cream and contained an essence of exquisitely fresh seafood. It was meaty, too. By that I mean it was laden with large – by chowder standards — pieces of fish. It was easily one of the most enjoyable chowders I’ve had.
Pan-fried cod with French fries also came with sliced carrots. Carrots so big that if he were handed one, Bugs Bunny would have thought he’d died and gone to beautiful, bunny heaven. I’m guessing they were Newfoundland carrots. Only the locally grown “supersized” roots seem to make it to market around here. Carrots and readymade French fries were good.
Delicate pan-fried cod was really what this plate was all about. From its salty, peppery, gold exterior through its silky textured interior, it was a treat. A covering jackpot serving of crispy scrunchions practically obscured the handsome fillet, but added to the overall flavour.
A quintessential comfort food dish for many, and not only Newfoundlanders, is fried liver. Some have it with onions, some have liver, onions and bacon and still others have all-of-the-above with gravy. Italy has several traditional recipes.
If you were from Venice, you might have grown up watching your mama make fegato garbo e dolce. The calves’ liver would have been coated with egg wash, dredged in breadcrumbs and fried in sizzling butter. Just before eating, it would have been anointed with a gentle drizzle of sweet lemon juice.
I love liver and onions. I like most offal, but liver is my favourite. The Outport’s liver and onions came with the option of adding both bacon and gravy. The gravy came in a boat so I could pour on as much as I wanted. The onions were fried just to the point where they’d developed a nice sweetness, and the liver to where it was tender with just a hint of firmness. Excellent mashed potatoes and more of those carrots from the Land of the Giants made this a fine dish.
|The Outport’s desserts were a mixture of homemade and store bought. Of the homemade selections, how could I not have chosen the coconut cream pie? For me it’s the most irresistible dessert ever created. Piping fresh whipped cream along the edge of my piece of pie was like gilding the lily. I appreciated the presentation, but all I wanted or needed was to taste that fabulous coconut custard filling with toasted coconut flakes on top. The experience didn’t last nearly long enough.
Before leaving I told our materteral server that, in my opinion, the Outport’s cooking had improved tremendously since our last visit. She beamed and offered that the current cook is a relative of the owner. Apparently, he’d served in the military. I assumed as a chef, in which case cooking for a restaurant of 35 or 40 would be child’s play to him. I’d heard the military provided its cooks with excellent culinary training. Now I’ve tasted the proof.
Price: Dinner for two with tea, 18 percent tip and tax costs approximately $75.
Service: Friendly and attentive.
Ambiance: Warm, upbeat and familiar.
Sound level: Moderate.
Open: Monday to Friday from 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.
Reservations: Accepted and walk-ins are welcome.
Credit cards: All major.
Parking: Building’s parking lot.
Beverages: A modest selection of popular wines, beers, spirits, and the usual soft drinks, juices, water, tea, coffee and hot chocolate.
Best bets: Seafood chowder, liver and onions, coconut cream pie.
Wheelchair access: No.
* Fair * * Good * * * Excellent * * * * Exceptional
Karl Wells is an accredited personal chef, author of “Cooking with One Chef One Critic” and recipient of awards from the national body of the Canadian Culinary Federation and the Restaurant Association of Newfoundland and Labrador. Contact him through his website: www.karlwells.com Follow him on Twitter: @karl_wells