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Staying sharp

Submitted by Ann Thurlow

A couple of years ago a good friend gave me a really good cooking knife. I had never had such a thing. I opened it and used it, factory-sharp to slice through a lemon. I was stunned; it was like passing a warm knife through butter. But, like all things do, it has dulled with age. So I’m looking forward to taking it to The Cook’s Edge, an intriguing looking spot on the corner of Sydney and Pownal. I feel as if my knife and I will be in very good hands. I worry only that I see the knives on sale there and my head will be turned by a newer, flashier model.


Terre Rouge, Take Two

Manager Dennis Ellsworth has a master plan

by Ann Thurlow

Dennis Ellsworth (photo: Ann Thurlow)When Dennis Ellsworth, the musician, was touring in Ireland last fall, he found himself in a tapas restaurant in Galway. Small plates, outstanding flavours and a chance to think about his next, surprising, adventure: taking over the helm at Terre Rouge.

Ellsworth is actually no stranger to professional kitchens. He’s been behind the grill in his own place (the late and very much lamented Just Us Girls) and in the kitchens of others (Cedars, the Belvedere Golf Club).

He knew he was taking on a challenge. Terre Rouge has had a mercurial reputation—stunning food but unreliable openings and closings, rumours of break-ups and disagreements. Ellsworth will have to provide both a steady hand on the tiller and the kind of buzz a restaurant needs.

First up, he kept the services of Mike Clarke who has been Terre Rouge’s unheralded man in the kitchen for some time. Next, he wants to change the vibe of the place—less fine dining, more great food in a casual atmosphere. He’s going to try to keep the prices low—the kind of place where, as he puts it, you can go on a date, have three courses and a bottle of wine but not break the bank.

Right now, it’s a work in progress. He’s changed the lighting—no more track light, hanging Edison lights instead. The big chalk boards will slowly be replaced by works of art. The shelves and coolers that used to house pastries and charcuterie are gone. Ellsworth hopes to replace them with a bar.

Which is another part of his master plan. Soon, he plans to offer fancy cocktails—not your Dad’s whiskey sour, but the kind of drinks with muddled this and exotic that have become the stock-in-trade of big city mixologists. He also plans (and here’s where that Irish tapas bar comes in) to offer an increasing number of appetizers—small, tasty plates for sharing. His vision: that people who might not want to come for a whole dinner might drop by for a nice drink and a snack.

Meantime, the smaller menu is still packed with tasty choices. At lunch, there’s a delicious cod tongue taco and flatbread with jerk chicken. At dinner, Ellsworth is excited about the Korean barbeque pork chop. And for those who love that delicious, silky bone marrow, relax; it’s still on the menu.

Though many of the changes are still on the horizon, Ellsworth hopes that the Sunday brunch will give customers a taste of the new Terre Rouge. There are some tried and true items on the menu (the ubiquitous Eggs Benedict) and some new things: chicken waffles or a kale salad with house-smoked bacon. It’s the kind of occasion you could bring the family to; the kind of place where you could linger over a cappuccino or a Mimosa.

(And if you don’t order the smoked potatoes, you’re nuts).

What is it that being a musician teaches a person about running a restaurant? Dennis Ellsworth talks about running the business part of his music career. But in the end, he believes, both come down to creativity. “And that’s my strength,” he says.

A Danish Valentine

—Submitted by Ann Thurlow

A not-so-subtle hint to my love: for Valentine’s Day this year, I want Danish pastries. A Danish used to be the sophisticated go-with for coffee; a cheese Danish was thing of beauty. Then someone figured out how to mass produce them and they became lard with jelly.

But now, two exceptional PEI bakers have put a new spin on the Danish. John Dale, at breadworks takes the usual route, fruit and pastry, and makes it fresh and savoury and only slightly sweet. And Angelika’s German Bakery takes it up a notch: glazed fresh fruit, crackley puff pastry and a creamy filling. Valentine’s Day is on a Sunday this year and the pastries are only available Saturday. So—perfect.

Tapas at Upstreet

Review by Ann Thurlow 

Yes, you might be saying (if you read the article about Terre Rouge), but what happened to John Pritchard? He went to Upstreet Brewery, that’s what. And now, along with your craft beer, you get tapas to whet your appetite for more beer or, in my case, even more delicious food.

Traditionally, tapas are offered in bars in Spain to encourage customers to order more drinks. They are always savoury, often satisfyingly salty. It’s old hat in Spain, but a new, hot idea in Canada.

And, as usual, when faced with a new idea, Pritchard does not disappoint. His flavours are rich and inventive and are much more than you’d ever expect from the humble ingredients. Don’t believe me? Order a pickled egg. That sad denizen of old fashioned bars turns into something magical in Pritchard’s hands: a lightly pickled eggs, with what he calls Seoul-town mayonnaise and a little Maldon salt, which adds an addictive crunch. There are two eggs in every order—I could go all Cool Hand Luke and eat a dozen of them.

In theory, these tapas are for sharing. It’s easier to do with the crispy squid rings, where there are lots of them, than it is with the beer-poached potatoes with bacon and blue cheese. These little bites are just too delicious to pass around. And I managed to snag one ham and cheese croquettes from my friend’s plate but got the “oh, you think so?” look when I tried for another.

There are dips: cod brandade, which is whipped cod, cream and olive oil, served with red pepper and bread or melty goat cheese with tomato sauce. These are perfect with beer; the maltiness enhances the already great flavours.

There are currently twenty-one items on the menu and it’s not hard to imagine making a meal of them. There’s a smoked haddock stew with kimchi (which I have not tried) and sandwiches. My friends had a Cubano and a Reuben and said both were delicious.

For the less adventurous, there are familiar things: hummus, house-cured charcuterie (big plate of meat), mussels and the ubiquitous grilled cheese.

Here’s how it works: you pick up a menu on the table, you order your food and your beer at the bar. A little while later, someone will bring your food. It’s not a restaurant, per se, so don’t go expecting restaurant service. And it’s a bar—so don’t go expecting an intimate tete a tete, either.

The best thing is to take a bunch of friends, order a lot, and be prepared to be impressed, yet again, by John Pritchard and the evolving delight that is Upstreet.

Upstreet Craft Brewing is at 41 Allen St. Charlottetown. Tapas are available Tuesday to  Saturday, 4 to 10 pm.

She’s everywhere

The culinary enterprises of Emily Wells

by Ann Thurlow

Emily WellsYou would be forgiven if you believe there is more than one Emily Wells. How else to explain the fact that she seems to be attached to so many projects involving good food? Restaurants, catering, home food delivery—they’ve all got her name on them. Ambitious? Sure. But to simply call it that would miss the point.

Though she’s been cooking professionally for thirty years, Wells really endeared herself to loyal eaters during her stint as chef at The Dunes. She left a couple of years ago to open her own place—what she now calls The Mill in New Glasgow. She wanted to appeal to the lucrative summer  trade. But what really caught her eye was the large basement where she saw the beginnings of an outstanding prep kitchen.

She understands the seasonal nature of the Island restaurant business—she has a seasonal business herself. But she also believes absolutely—passionately—that the business has to evolve to offer more than just seasonal employment to the province’s 

any talented chefs.

“I’ve worked with a lot of really great people. I want them to be able to have a life here, to have families, to earn a decent living doing what they love,” she says.

Last summer she began cooking meals in the Mill’s kitchen to be sold at the pre-theatre restaurant at Harmony House in Hunter River. And, together with some partners, she opened Local 343, a sweet little spot on Water Street in Charlottetown. It offers both take-out food and a restaurant. Because there’s no room for a kitchen, the food is substantially prepared at The Mill.

And now, again with partners, she is offering a new home or office food delivery service called YouMeal. Her meals are also part of a community supported agriculture box. And, yes, she caters.

Because everything is prepared at The Mill, all of this takes a tremendous amount of planning. She wants to offer food that is as locally sourced as possible, is healthy, travels well and is at a price that allows her to pay both her staff and her suppliers a fair wage and yet still be affordable. To do this, she relies on her favourites—North American takes on foods like tangine and curries, Asian delights like pho. It’s worked; The Mill was this year’s recipient of this year’s Taste Our Island award.

But that was the summer. Now, in the dark days of winter, comes the test: is it possible to buck the seasonal trend, to pay chefs a living wage and to make food that people will flock to eat. To meet the challenge, she has created a little empire. And there she is, balancing it all on a passionate conviction that everything she truly believes in will help her to succeed.

Luo Family Restaurant

Review by Ann Thurlow

For the past few months I have looked at the “Open” sign flashing at the end of my street and resolved to check it out. The Luo Family Restaurant opened to little fanfare and appears to have a small but steady clientele.

What it does not have is the sort of acclaim it deserves. Because man oh man, this place is good. And now I’m kicking myself for waiting so long to try it.

It’s in the space once occupied by the beloved Interlude Café. All the fanciful decorations are gone; the walls are painted a bright, cheerful yellow. The menu is traditional Chinese. You’re not going to get sweet and sour chicken balls (though there are some sweet and sour dishes), but you will find many familiar things like the great take on kung pao chicken.

Because the place is small, you can hear and smell everything being prepared. I was tempted, the first time I went, just to order what was being cooked because it smelled so good. But we stuck to the menu and ordered pork in black pepper sauce and an eggplant dish.

I have written before about my great love of eggplant. And, I must say, this is about the most delicious eggplant I’ve ever had. It is vinegary and garlicky in nearly perfect combination; I kept having just one more bite way after I was full.

The pork was also spectacular, as were the dishes we had on the next visit—kung pao chicken and shredded pork. The servings are large—one plate plus rice would easily serve two at lunch, though I don’t believe I could pick just one.

Another bonus: as in many Asian restaurants, you get an extra treat from the chef. One visit we had kimchi—not as fiery hot as the Korean variety, but still really good. The next time we were brought bean gum with chili after the meal. I can hear you being dubious—I was, too. But it turned out to be delicious: slightly chewy, spicy and cool and a surprisingly good pick-me-up after a big meal. And at the third visit we got a kind of potato slaw and a little dish of mild and sweet fried pumpkin.

There are many good looking things left to try: fragrant noodle soups, in particular. The service is friendly and extraordinarily kind. After the good food and lovely treatment, you leave feeling lovely and warm and happy.

Interestingly, there’s another Chinese restaurant going in right next door. I hope it’s as great as this one.

Luo Family Restaurant 223 University Avenue is closed Mondays and is licensed. 

A simple narrative

One Great Thing
by Ann Thurlow

My current favourite book is written by a six year old. It’s about a car that goes to the car wash and it has everything a good story needs: a problem (a dirty car), tension (a line at the car wash!), a solution and a happy ending. There are only pictures; you draw your own conclusions. I love this book because it proves what I deeply believe: everyone can tell a story if they just rid their minds of all the noise. A simple narrative can astonish you and will tell you everything you need to know.

One more kick at the can

One Great Bite
by Ann Thurlow

That’s it. Time to say good-bye to vivid fall vegetables and hello to many recipes for parsnip. (Not that I don’t love you, darlin’. But we are seeing a lot of each other.) One more kick at the can, though. We’ll slice up the brightest orange pumpkin we can find, fry it up with a sweet, late-season onion and dust the whole thing with a little mace, just to be sassy. Soften it with stock, puree it with lots of cheese. Because we’re celebrating, right? It’s a final, rich toast to soil, sun and the dazzling foods of autumn. 

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