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Events continue at the Seniors Active Living Centre, Bell Aliant Centre, UPEI, Charlottetown: Janua [ ... ]

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Barefoot in the Park

Review by Ann Thurlow 

One of the most fun things you can do at the theatre is watch an actor fully inhabit his role while at the same time giving a sly wink to the audience. Sure, he’s going to offer you the straight goods, but also knows his character is wacky and he doesn’t mind sharing the fact.

It takes a good actor to pull that off and, in Watermark Theatre’s production of Barefoot in the Park, that’s Ian Deakin. He plays the kooky, yet oddly a little sad upstairs neighbor to newlyweds Paul and Corie Bratter (Jordan Campbell, Leah Pritchard). Don’t get me wrong — they’re really good, too. But Deakin kicks it up a notch and it’s fun to watch.

The play is vintage Neil Simon — a comedy about relationships, full of zingy dialogue and zany antics. We meet the newlyweds as they’re moving into their first apartment. Pritchard plays Corie with a kind of manic excitement and some great physical comedy and that’s infectious; we’re rooting for her new furniture to arrive and the hole in the roof to be fixed. By the third act the mania starts to wear a bit. But Corie is drunk by that point so maybe it’s excusable. 

Husband Paul (Campbell) is her perfect foil — he’s a straight-laced young lawyer who’s wrapped up in his career; hence the tension in the story. Another great foil is Jerry Getty, who plays the telephone repair man. It’s a small part, but Getty is great; his wry observations give voice to what people in the audience are thinking.

Perennial favourite Gracie Finley is back to play Corie’s mother, Ethel Banks. No one delivers a one-liner better than she does and I’d pay good money just to watch her do a double take. In the small business of her part she’s great. But in the big picture — who is Ethel, anyway — she’s a bit inconsistent.

Special mention to set designer Bill Layton for creating a rundown New York apartment in such a small space and finding the props (the play takes place in the sixties) to inhabit it. And double kudos to Bonnie Deakin for the sixties style costumes. A Mondrian sweater! A pillbox hat! No idea how she dug them up, but they’re terrific.

Will Barefoot in the Park change your life? Of course not — it’s a Neil Simon play, it’s not meant to. But the Watermark is the very most comfortable place to watch a show in the province. You’re in the hands of an accomplished cast and crew. You’ll relax, you’ll laugh and maybe, somewhat ruefully, you’ll relate.

You’ll have a great summer evening and that’s exactly what’s supposed to happen.

—Select dates at Watermark Theatre. Tickets/info at

A real gem

If It’s Alright With You — The Life and Music of My Father, Gene MacLellan

Review by Ann Thurlow

Performed by
Catherine MacLellan, Chris Gauthier, John Connolly, Remi Arsenault, Dale Desroches

Directed by
John Connolly and Chris Gauthier

Written by
Catherine MacLellan and Bob Mercereau

The show
If It’s Alright with You is Catherine MacLellan’s tribute to the music of her father, Canadian music legend Gene MacLellan. She tells the story of his creative yet difficult life through his songs, through stories and slides and once, beautifully, through his own words. More than just a series of songs, this is a story — a daughter’s tribute to her gifted and complicated dad.

The performance
Take some of PEI’s finest musicians, add a talented singer and legendary music. What do you get? A show without fault. The music, especially Chris Gauthier’s guitar solos, is breathtaking, the pacing is tight, the story is engaging — both sweet and sad.

Best thing
Have you ever seen Catherine MacLellan rock out? It’s worth the price of admission to watch her let loose on some of her Dad’s later, more rock and roll influenced tunes.

Final thought
This show is so much more than I expected. It’s a story with a dramatic arc. You’ll learn things about Gene MacLellan you never knew, you’ll hear music that will be new to you. Even if you aren’t familiar with the MacLellan family, you’ll love this show. It glistens with good energy and talent. It’s heartfelt — a real gem.

—Select dates at PEI Brewing Company. Tickets/info:

A Tasting Menu

by Ann Thurlow

If here are now two places in Charlottetown to get cardamom ice cream, which may be all you need to know about the exploding food scene in this town. Every year the number and variety of restaurants has grown but this spring feels like it has yielded a bumper crop. This list is by no means all of them (and I’ll look at some more next month). But it’s a good example of the variety of choices and how sophisticated our palates have become.

Taste of India

It wasn’t that long ago that you had to go to a larger city for Indian food. This interesting and multi-layered cuisine got a boost in popularity in Charlottetown when the Churchill Arms started serving British curry. Authentic aficionados also sought out Indian food at Papa Joes’s on Wednesdays. Now, suddenly, there are three more spots, the latest of which is A Taste of India. The name tells the story. Indian cuisine is varied and composed of many types and combinations of spices and flavours. A Taste of India gives you a chance to try them all—curry, briyani, korma, vindaloo…it’s a good education. You can have your food as mild or as hot as you want; we had medium and found it pretty tame. The naan bread is delicious—blistered and pliant—but the menu is basically gluten free. Indian food leans a lot on vegetables so you could easily have a very tasty meat-free meal. A plus: cardamom ice cream. 129 Kent Street, Charlottetown

Garden Café

This little café on Kent Street has been a number of things over the years—most recently it was Handan’s. New owners Onnie and Samuel have added a light and bright garden décor and have bravely decided to offer some of the Iranian dishes that Handan’s served. There are also some additions; I had a wrap that was so pretty that it was hard to eat it. Glad I did, though. It was tasty and very fresh, full of lovingly treated vegetables. My friend had Handan’s chicken curry, which was delicious. The bright room and the light are lovely The new owners are kind and very eager to please. Just being around that energy makes a person happy; the good food is a bonus. 88 Kent Street, Charlottetown

My Plum, My Duck

Sarah Forrester Wendt (photo: Ann Thurlow)There has been a lot of clamour for a vegan restaurant for a while and now, it’s here. Sarah Forrester Wendt, formerly of the Inn at St. Peter’s, has brought her chef skills to the cuisine she has always loved the best: plant based and macrobiotic food. Maybe you’re thinking “that’s not for me.” I invite you to think again. You like soup, right? You like interesting and unusual salads. Go for lunch and try both. Or go for dinner and check out the vegan charcuterie where you taste buds will be completely fooled (and delighted) by vegan “cheese” and cold cuts.

Chef Sarah also has a way of making simple foods taste rich and special – a plate of roasted vegetables sings in her capable hands. And, if you’d rather, the menu features one meat and one fish dish. A plus: (sometimes) Non-dairy cardamom ice cream. 218 University Avenue, Charlottetown

Sugar Skull

When The Hopyard opened, it was going to be a great bar with good snacks. And it is. But chef Jane Crawford’s creative cooking kind of won the day; lots of people now go for the excellent and ever-changing food menu as well as the good beer. Now, she and her partners have put their considerable skills to a new spot. The Sugar Skull Cantina offers a mix of margaritas and tacos, served outside. You sit at a communal picnic table, under a string of lights and order from the extensive margarita menu and the more modest (but delicious) taco menu. The latter veers invitingly from tradition—think Asian duck or pulled pork. This will probably always be more of a bar than a restaurant, but even if you’re not a drinker it’s a fun place for a bite. Pro tip: street corn appetizer—eat it hot. 83 Water Street

Gallant’s Seafood

On the wharf at Stanley Bridge, chef and seafood purveyor Tyler Gallant has established a fun and delicious spot for all the seafood the Island offers. It used to be Carr’s seafood shop. Gallant still sells fresh fish but has added a few prepared items. Those who know Tyler from the farmer’s market or through his catering company will recognize his crab cakes, lobster quiche and satisfying chowder. He also sells cooked lobsters and is not all averse to cracking one for you to enjoy while you sit outside and watch life go by. There are also some nice side salads; the newly trendy Brussel sprout slaw is made delicious in Gallant’s hands. Table space is limited but it’s there. Everything available can be packed for take out. But if you can, grab some great chowder and a table and eavesdrop on life on the wharf. It’s about as Island as you can get.

Inspired by Tyler Gallant, I’m heading out of Charlottetown for a look at some of the other great eating the Island has to offer.

The usual

One Great Thing
by Ann Thurlow

The skinny kids are darting around, serving coffees and avocado toast. It’s overcast; customers cling to their drinks like life rafts. Then, in comes the pipe band. No instruments, but sharp pleated kilts, crisp jackets, silver ornamentation. They sit, they are waiting for something—resplendent among the raggedy jean jackets. Then one of the women spots someone outside.

She puts on her two-foot-tall black furry headdress. She fastens it under her chin. No one it the coffee shop blinks an eye. It’s Saturday. It’s PEI. If there’s a drum major in the house, that’s just fine.

Just one

One Great Bite
by Ann Thurlow

Say these words after me: salted, licorice, caramel. Say them long and slow, as if you were using them to seduce a lover. And that’s exactly what it’s like to eat a candy of the same name. The devilish chef at the Maroon Pig in Georgetown makes them. Devilish? You want to say no—you must! But a silky voice whispers in your ear. Just one! Close your eyes and take small, sweet bites. For a minute, all the bad stuff will go away. The candy will soothe you like a sweetheart’s tender kiss.

How I learned to cook: Robert Pendergast

Robert Pendergast is a caterer, a chef and an oyster shucker extraordinaire.

“After high school, I went to university in Montreal. I didn’t much like school, as it turned out. I dropped all of my courses but one. I began wandering around the city, tasting all the amazing food—or at least what my pocketbook would allow. I tried to follow chefs, emulating what they did. I tasted things I had never had before. When I bought food, I talked to people like the butchers, asking them about specific cuts of meat and what to do with them. And I brought the food home and tried out recipes on my roommate.

“I never did finish university, so I’ll never be smart. But I’ll always eat well.”

The spices of life

Owner of the Himalayan opens The Spicey Chef

by Ann Thurlow

Anuj Thapa of The Spicey Chef (photo: Ann Thurlow)If a person is curious about food and encouraging by nature, that person (being me in this case) might go to check out a restaurant (The Spicey Chef in this case) to see what it’s like and help it along. This is where the person gets a surprise or two. Number one: though only open two weeks, the place is packed. Number two: the menu is so diverse it almost defies description. Thai? Mexican? Indian? All of those plus, in a few memorable instances, at least two of the above.

If you are a fan of the Himalayan, you may already know Anuj Thapa. He moved to PEI from Nepal, shortly after visiting here as a tourist. He came back just a few months later to open a restaurant, found a spot and opened a place serving Indian food. It didn’t take long to become popular. It was that popularity (the Himalayan is small) and a desire to, as he put it, play around with spices that led Thapa to open a second spot.

Several years ago, Thapa had experience working in a Thai place and he liked the spicy, layered flavours. His chef spent several years working in a Mexican kitchen. And, of course, there’s Indian, the backbone of the two restaurants.

Thapa is proud to point out that the two menus share only one item—momo, which is a traditional Himalayan dumpling. Everything else, from the pico de gallo with house made corn chips to the Malabar fish curry are unique to the Spicey Chef. Some dishes are somewhat similar; I’m a big fan of Tibetan chicken at the Himalayan and the Manchurian chicken is somewhat the same, except no breading on the chicken and a tomato sauce that is deep and rich beyond belief. And the butter chicken at each place has a different recipe, each a new take on what has become a popular dish.

And speaking of popular, the Spicey Chef’s butter chicken nachos have become far and away the most popular dish on the menu. It is exactly what you think it is and it has people coming in droves to order it.

I myself am a soup fan and seldom have I had soup that has such layers and varieties of textures and tastes. I have had mulligatawny and Thai Tom Yam and would find it hard not to order them again and again. Though, truthfully, everything I’ve had is pretty delicious. It’s going to be fun to continue to explore the menu and to see if I can pick out all the spices in the 65 Spice chicken.

This is creative cooking and I (and, apparently many others) am happy to welcome The Spicey Chef to town.

The Spicey Chef is at 85 Belvedere Ave. in Charlottetown, right across from the Superstore.

Some kind of magic

One Great Bite
by Ann Thurlow

Even though they're both pretty great, you don't usually say spring and peaches in the same breath. 

Unless you are friends with Paul Offer and he, by some kind of magic, gives you a homegrown peach in May. He grows them, I don't know how, and he sells them. But don't go looking for those big buxom things you find in late, ripe summer. These pretties are sweet and delicate as the breath of a baby. Though they taste like a peach, they are as fragile as a cherry blosson. You sniff the skin and are besotted.

Events Calendar

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Fräulein Klarinette

Piano and clarinet recital at UPEI’s Dr. Steel Recital Hall January 26
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January 29–February 3
City Cinema 14A, coarse language, substance abuse
Dir: Ethan Hawke, US, 129 m [ ... ]

Bluegrass at the Carriage House

February 3
Beaconsfield Carriage House Janet McGarry and Wildwood, a favourite PEI band, will be fea [ ... ]

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