Saturday, 30 August 2014

Sláinte! The Local Gastropub

Most of my family has been away in our birthplace, Scotland, this summer. I have been home and actually spending quite a bit of time writing travel articles about Argyll, my particular part of that beautiful land, for an about to launch website called Treksavvy. So I was more than due for a wee taste of home when I dropped into the Local Gastropub with my husband and son.

We arrived just before 5:00 pm on a warm summery day, expecting to find a Friday crowd taking up every table, but we were just ahead of the rush it seems and had no trouble finding a cosy booth for three. The windows were flung open to allow the breeze in, and from our booth we could see the more colourful Barrie-ites pass by on the sidewalk. The Gastropub prides itself on its wide selection of local craft beers so my husband ordered a glass of the very light sounding Flying Monkeys Anti Gravity beer. Produced just down the street, you can't get much more local than that!

Me, well I've been on a cider kick for many years now, actually since I was an apprentice chef at an inn in Scotland back in 1984. All the staff were allowed a drink after work, right down to the 15 year old Irish girl washing the pots. I always got a half pint of the sweet cider on tap. Until recently, your choices here in Ontario were few. Strongbow was more or less it and your flavour choices were zero. I was cheered by a recent trip to the local Liquor Store where I found umpteen brands, (Somersby, Molson Canadian, Alexander Keith, Thornbury and Rekorderlig) and some cool flavours like blackberry and wild berry. This Local had a new one for me to try - Waupoos. A product of Picton, Ontario, this cider was light, sweet and delicious! Their website shows a peach one - whoa baby!

The Local Gastropub has a neat, eclectic menu. It's an offering of all things fresh, local, fun, flavourful with a few tastes of the auld country tossed in and given a Gastropub twist. Where else can you get haggis lollipops with orange marmalade bbq sauce or an ecclefechan butter tart mess? Other more familiar faves with expat Scots are cod and chips with house made spicy ketchup and tartar sauce, or the ploughman's salad (sometimes known as a shepherd's lunch in Scotland). My husband and I ordered the cod and chips. Our son opted for the plainest poutine on the menu.

The poutine arrived in a very hot little cast iron skillet. It was topped with asiago cheese, a neat variation, and piping gravy. The fries were golden and crispy, and the kid enjoyed the unusual poutine with the almost parmesan-y flavour - it all disappeared anyway!

Our fish and chips was presented almost traditionally styled - there was a newspaper below, but perhaps health reasons dictate that a food safe liner be placed on top of that. Too bad. How I love a takeway fish supper from a real chippy wrapped in newspaper! The steam from the hot food gets trapped and everything goes just a little bit mushy. That may sound awful to the uninitiated, but it's a good memory for me.

The Local's cod and chips was very good, I must say. The batter was quite light and crisp. The fish was nice and the tartar sauce was the perfect accompaniment.  The spicy ketchup wasn't overly hot at all, in fact I'm sure I detected a sweetness in it. Molasses? Honey? I should have asked. Great fresh cut fries.

Our server offered us dessert and we almost never order any. But four simple words reeled us in - deep fried Mars Bar. In our most recent travels in Scotland, our son was on a mission to try this legendary confection, but somehow it never happened. What is it about the Scots and deep frying? I recall my first trip back after our immigration to Canada. I was 17 years old and we stopped for lunch in a small west coast fishing village. I was looking for something sort of Canadian to eat and ordered a hamburger. Well, didn't the darn thing come battered and deep fried! It wouldn't have been so bad if the frying oil didn't taste strongly of all the fish they mostly fried there. I am happy to report that the deep fried Mars Bar at the Local Gastropub was nothing like that culinary disappointment of 1981, and was an absolute dream. Inside the (not fishy!) batter was the creamiest melted chocolate bar ever, served with a dollop of vanilla ice cream and garnished with a fresh strawberry. Mmmmmm.

We only had an hour there, in early evening, but I think this must be a beehive of fun later on when the locals who frequent this local Local come out and really get going. I can imagine the laughter and live music pouring through the open windows. I can hear the debates - Rangers or Celtic, Leafs or Habs? I must give it a try some night. It looks like a comfortable spot to hoist a pint. Located at 27 Dunlop St. W., Barrie.

Friday, 1 August 2014

Herb n Sage With Anne

Anne and I were great friends in high school, years ago. I won't specify how many years ago, but let's just say big hair and leg warmers were a thing. Anne and I were so close that we called each other sister-in-laws, as we were dating brothers at the time. She married hers. I did not. Sadly, we lost touch for some 30 years. So you can imagine my joy at reconnecting with my long lost friend, a couple of years ago, through social media! Our first get together was at William's Coffee Pub and we caught up for three hours! We were surprised they didn't kick us out!

Recently, we decided it was time for another lunch and gab fest, so we went looking for a new venue for our chatting and chewing. Herb n Sage had been on my mind recently, having been recommended by an acquaintance, so we made plans to meet there at 2:00 after my shift was done. That late lunch turned out to be an ideal time. When I arrived first, there was only one occupied table inside the restaurant and they soon departed. Mid afternoon, between lunch rush and dinner, is perfect for gabby girls who tend towards marathon lunches!

Anne arrived perhaps 10 minutes after I did and we had our pick of cozy booths, so we picked one near the back and settled in. A very friendly young server brought us menus and explained the specials. Barrielicious was going on and they offered a back bacon on a bun special with app, drink and dessert for $15. I'm mostly vegetarian (other than fish, eggs and dairy) and Anne doesn't each much meat either, so we passed on that offer. We both ordered caesar salad to start, fish and chips and a tall iced tea.

The caesar salad was one of the best I've tasted in a while. It actually had flavour! So many restaurants drizzle on the dressing, while healthier that may be, it doesn't impress me much. I like a caesar that has a bite. That homemade dressing was awesome!

Enter the fish and chips. Nice big, crispy pieces on good fries. The two things that stood out were the house cole slaw and the tartar sauce. The tartar sauce? No, you wouldn't expect a tartar sauce to be a stand-out item on it's own, but it wasn't your from-the-jar diner condiment, but lovingly home made and loaded with flavourful dill. A very nice touch.

The server returned and offered us dessert, as they always do. And I always politely decline. But Anne was looking interested and once the server said those two magic words that combine so well - cheese cake - I was hooked. There's always room for cheesecake ... and every flavour is a good flavour! I was expecting a slice of something dreamy, but Anne and I got our own little personal pan cheesecakes in a round dish, fluffy whipped cream piped around the edges. Anne got cherry. I got mixed summer berry. I don't know what I was anticipating, but it was not the collection of fresh fruit I received. Not canned, not frozen, but straight from the field good. Heaven in a bowl!

How did we eat so much??? I suppose when you drag a meal out for two or three hours in an otherwise empty eatery, it's possible. We felt a little guilty but the meal was absolutely delicious and the company so good, who could blame us? I asked our server if all of this is house made food. Yes, all but the desserts, she replied. Obviously, they have chosen a fabulous dessert supplier then. I wonder who it is?

As two technologically challenged diners struggled to take a selfie or two (don't laugh), our ever helpful server came by and we asked her if she would help us out - end our suffering, really! She snapped a couple of great pics for us. Thank you, young server. I didn't get your name, but you were wonderful. Herb n Sage is wonderful too.