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New menu at Upstreet Craft Brewery

By Ann Thurlow

I’m excited to try the new menu now being offered by Chef John Pritchard at Upstreet Craft Brewery. Pritchard has left Terre Rouge and is now making tapas, small plate flavour bombs that pair well with Upstreet’s excellent beer. Initial selections include potatoes wrapped in bacon and sage and a Middle Eastern plate with hummus, baba ganouche and tapenade. Prichard’s great genius is his ability to coax maximal flavour out of very simple ingredients; expect other choices as he’s inspired. The plates are meant for sharing. But I imagine, with food as good as his, that might not happen.

Upstreet Craft Brewery, at 41 Allen St in Charlottetown, has tapas available Tuesday to Saturday from 4 to 10 pm. 

Cook well, eat well

Chris Sallie of Island Food Skills Initiative

Chris Sallie (photo: Ann Thurlow)

Chow
by Ann Thurlow

When Chris Sallie was a student at Holland College’s culinary applied arts program, he noticed something that surprised him. He realized that a substantial number of people simply didn’t know how to cook. And he realized that lack of knowledge was a big impediment to eating nutritious food. “If you don’t know what to do with broccoli, you’re not going to buy broccoli, right?”

He is leaning on a table at the Charlottetown Farmers Market, his eyes gleaming with passion. Over the past summer, the Market played a big part in program he calls the Island Food Skills Initiative. It began in 2013 as a student project in culinary school; since graduation he has kept it going. His mission: to give people the tools to cook their own, nutritious meals.

This is not his job—he calls it a hobby. He’s now a full time political science student at UPEI. What he does is find partners who want to work with him on projects that fulfill his mission.

For example: he spent Saturdays this summer at the Market, demonstrating how easy it is to cook a simple meal from scratch. He has taught what he terms “food literacy” at an elementary school, taken kids on tours to see things like clams being dug or cheese being made. He partnered with a local group to collect pots and pans and kitchen implements for people whose disincentive to cooking was the lack of actual tools to do it.

This winter, Chris will teach basic cooking to a group of people with mental challenges.

Food literacy? It’s really nothing more complicated than learning what fresh, unprocessed foods are and what to do with them. He wants people to understand that there are a lot of good foods out there and a lot that can be done with them.

Though he’s a big fan of farmer’s markets, they aren’t exactly what he’s promoting. He has had a lot of support from Sobey’s. He doesn’t want people to think that markets they might not be able to get to are the only way to eat well. His emphasis is on simple skills and variety. “Look at it this way,” he says. “You can learn to cook a hundred things. Then you mix them up and suddenly you have a thousand things.” And that, he points out, is a pretty varied, nutritious and delicious diet.

To follow the various projects of the Island Food Skills Initiative or to partner on a project, visit the Facebook site and like it.

Ann Thurlow could be described as one of The Buzz’s most well-seasoned writers, having contributed stimulating articles on a variety of topics relating to Island culture over the years. For the past little while her focus has been on food, and her columns have introduced Buzz readers to numerous fascinating people and places who contribute to the enjoyiment of food on PEI. We are pleased to present the first of her expanded food reports in a column which she has simply titled “Chow.” Enjoy the first few bites— Editor

 

Magical Fruit

One Great Bite
by Ann Thurlow

We arrive at the Canoe Cove community centre just as a fresh pot of Kay’s beans comes out of the oven. I hold out my plate, gratefully accept two big ladlefuls, some sausage, some cheese, some coleslaw. On the long communal tables are bowls of pickles and good, homemade bread.

The man across the table eyes the heel—the best part, he claims. Outside in the night the trees shudder as they give up the last of their leaves to the wind. “Winter’s coming,” says the man. Good night for a scoff, then. It’s Saturday; we’re having beans.

It's a thing here

One Great Thing
by Ann Thurlow

If you go to a concert in this province, chances are good the performer’s grandmother will be there, too. It’s a thing here; you’re never surprised when a musician stops tuning, peers into the crowd and calls out “Hi, Nanny!” So, here is Whitney Rose at the Trailside and there, in a ringside seat, is her biggest fan. There she is, singing along to every song her beloved granddaughter wrote. Her eyes are closed, her head thrown back. I keep peeking over—she knows every single word.

Arrivederci, Sirenella

By Ann Thurlow

Many years ago I went to Sirenella and spotted two friends having supper. I didn’t even know they knew each other and yet here they were, clearly on a date. It must have worked; they got married. And, now that Sirenella is gone, I wonder where the young romantics will go instead.

Or the old romantics, come to that. Sirenella was the kind of place you took your date to woo them, the kind of place where you went to celebrate a birthday or an anniversary or, simply, good food.

Over the years owner Italo Marzari built a stunningly loyal following, both through the restaurant and through the cooking classes he held in the winter. I once got to go to a dinner Italo held for his students; someone actually stood up and bowed when he walked into the room. There were people who went to Sirenella almost every week, people who had the closest thing to their own table.

It’s hard to imagine it now but twenty-three years ago, when Sirenella opened, our taste for Italian food had not matured much beyond spaghetti and meatballs. And, almost incredibly, I believe it was the only place in town to get a cappuccino.

When I worked late on a cold night, I used to like to go to Sirenella for a bowl of minestrone and a glass of wine. It was comforting to be there in the candlelight, couples murmuring to each other, Andrea Bocelli on endless loop in the background. A little grated cheese for your minestrone? Why sure! Some cracked pepper? Bring it on!

When we heard Sirenella was closing, we went for one last dinner—more a pilgrimage than a meal. Italo stood at the door, accepting deep regrets and best wishes from everyone who arrived. Over the twenty-three years, we’ve become passably good Italian cooks at our house. But we’ll never make Ravioli Duchessa di Parma and will never again taste those delicious Mussels in Love (which they began serving with a fork and a spoon, which was smart because everyone just ordered them for the broth).

There are lots of places to get cappuccino now. And these days almost everyone owns a pasta maker. It should have been the case that Sirenella became passe—the same old thing. But somehow, it never did. Italo Marzari took an old garage and turned it into something reliably special. It never stopped being true to itself and never lost its place in our hearts.

Buona fortuna, Italo. Et grazie.

Beanz 20th

By Ann Thurlow

Another remarkable achievement: Beanz Espresso Bar celebrated its twentieth anniversary in November. Again, it seems pretty astonishing that once espresso was a novelty. But it was and people flocked to see what it was all about. Since then, Beanz has become much more than a coffee joint, thanks completely to the incredible, tireless energy of Lori Kays and her husband, Doug. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen either of them sitting down. Maybe they’re fuelled by those delicious and highly addictive peanut butter Nanaimo bars. But more I suspect it is an unwavering devotion to quality and to the community they serve. Beanz has hosted Purple Ribbon pinning bees, Pride coffee houses, a Fringe Festival production. They sell a mean sandwich and always include a pickle and a carrot stick, which is welcome and endearing.

Beanz is what every little city needs: a locally owned, bright and dependable mainstay. And, it must be said, a place that offers up excellent squares.

La Sazon de Mexico

By Ann Thurlow

I’m looking forward to the return of La Sazon de Mexico to Timothy’s Coffee Shop. Want real deal Mexican food? Claudia Deagle serves it up every Wednesday. She’s just back from a trip to Mexico with new spices and inspiration for new dishes. Eat in or take out—best antidote to winter I know.

Comfort in a church

A visit to #5 Café in Murray Harbour

by Ann Thurlow

Wade Little of #5 Cafe (photo: submitted)You walk into #5 Cafe in Murray Harbour and the first thing you feel is wonderful. Maybe it’s that aroma—what is it? Something warm and sweet is brewing somewhere. Maybe it’s the beautifully repurposed Presbyterian church, full of stained wood and whimsy. Maybe it’s the way all the other diners seem so relaxed, as if they are lingering over a wonderful meal. Whatever—you just suddenly feel like you’re very good hands.

Adrian Ballinger gets us started with coffees. Up in the kitchen, which is open to the restaurant and used to be the altar, chef Wade Little is busily turning out plates. The two came originally from New Zealand, worked in kitchens in the US. They came to PEI largely because they had the sense something interesting was happening with food here. And Murray Harbour?

“Every time we got in the car, we just seemed to head east,” says Little.

They bought the old church and spent a year renovating it—using or recycling as many of its beautiful elements as possible. And then, in a small town at the end of the Island, they opened a café.

It’s not as improbable as it sounds. #5 is most definitely a café, not a fine dining establishment. Little had two aims when he opened: to serve food that is affordable and to serve food that is clean—by which he means as free of additives as possible. Yes, you’ll see French fries on the menu; you may also, as I did, see a man deliver the potatoes the restaurant uses to make them.

There are lots of familiar things on the menu: chili and panini and salads. And there are some new delights, like a fruit sandwich or a soup made with bok choy and chardonnay. The point, Little feels, is to coax maximal flavor out of simple ingredients, something at which he shines. Hence the potentially prosaic mushrooms on toast that becomes dreamy with balsamic, pepper and cream. Or the lemon and ginger cake that will stop conversation dead.

#5 has had a good first summer and has attracted diners from across PEI. Here’s the challenge: they plan to stay open almost all winter, too.

They have two rationales. One, a catchment area of about 11,000 people who might wish for a bit of novelty or a little treat in the long winter months. Second, and most exciting, they have just launched a line of chutneys and jams under the label Little and Ballinger. These are not your grandma’s jams. There’s pear and chili, carrot and brandy, wildberry and cracked pepper. They are meant to be used in cooking or as an accompaniment for a savoury like cheese. Think chicken breast pan seared in pear and chili jam, wildberry and cracked pepper with pork.

Little says they plan to be making the jams all winter (hence, I suspect, that wonderful aroma when I first walked in). So, he figures, if they’re there anyway, the might as well be open to diners.

A brave and welcome choice, as winter looms. It’s a nice boost for a small, quiet town. And from those of us who often crave a shortbread and butter cream yo-yo cookie— thanks.

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