by Andrew Sprague
I’m Dining Out Here
My love affair with restaurants began in the early eighties at Myron's Old Spain on Kent Street in Charlottetown. I was four or five and the waitress knew my dad. I can't remember specifically what she did, but she made me feel pretty good about myself. I think she tickled me at one point. When she brought the food I could hardly contain my excitement. The chicken fingers and fries were piled oh-so high. They were deep fried, which was unheard of at home. My drink of choice was a bottomless glass of Coca-Cola on ice. She brought it in a real glass. I couldn't have imagined a better food and drink combo at the time. My first bite of chicken finger tasted like golden. It was at that moment I decided restaurants were awesome.
In the mid nineties I got a job as a waiter at a new restaurant in Charlottetown called Piazza Joe’s. For the next six years I served food. My experience out front gave me a tremendous appreciation for the delicate timing and stress management necessary to be a good server, not to mention everything it taught me about food, wine and the human body’s capacity for alcohol and sleep deprivation. I also learned about the razor thin margins that keep restaurants afloat. On two occasions I lost work when restaurants closed their doors.
Then one evening in the fall of 2003 I crashed a staff party at the old Buzz office below what’s now Castello’s on Victoria Row. I got into a conversation with Peter Richards about an experience I’d had at a restaurant around the corner. I remember telling him how the red wine was served chilled and that the waitress was quite surprised when I asked why. I guess I left an impression because it wasn’t long before I got a call from Peter. He wanted to chat about doing a restaurant piece, and he had me in mind.
My first piece wasn’t a restaurant review at all. It was called The Buzz Restaurant Referendum. We took votes on which restaurants were the best in a number of categories including best club sandwich, best waiter and best martini to name a few. I stole the concept in its entirety from The Coast in Halifax. But since it hadn’t been done here before it was, for all practical purposes, a new idea. It was a fun project but we haven’t tried to do it again.
My first column was about Off Broadway. At the time it was considered one of the classiest restaurants in the city. I used the column to declare my disdain for striploin and julienne vegetables. It was poorly-written and poorly-conceived, but it was a start, and it didn't get me fired. Plus I got to use the column as a way to show my ex-girlfriend I was dating again.
Since then I've written about a hundred columns and I've been given a lot of freedom by my editors. Some have been straight up, albeit polite, restaurant reviews. Others had absolutely nothing to do with food but still took place in something resembling a restaurant. For one column years ago I relayed a story about three friends and I getting drunk in Summerside. That's it. Not exactly what you'd call dining out.
I've been given freedom of location as well. On several occasions I filed my column from out of province. There have been articles from Edmonton, Thunder Bay, Calgary, Sudbury, Ottawa, Antigonish, Campbellton, Saint John, Halifax and Quebec City.
On two occasions I've had to provide disclaimers. The first was for my July 2005 column on Dayboat. Bobby and Laura Shapiro invited me and a guest to join them and Chef Gordon Bailey for dinner on the house. They never said they were looking for a column in return, but let's face it, it was understood. Anyway, I took them up on the offer and invited the Buzz's own Yanik Richards to join me. Long story short, they spoiled us rotten. So much so that “Spoiled rotten” became the title of the column, and the whole truth: bribery, corruption, influence peddling and all, became part of the story.
The other disclaimer was for the October 2010 column on Loompa Dogs and owner Graham Putnam. Graham is one of my best friends and I wanted to be very clear that my love of Loompa Dogs was in no way influenced by our relationship. Graham's back with Loompa Dogs this summer, on the corner of Queen and Grafton. Check facebook for details.
There's no question that my work with The Buzz has provided opportunities. One example would be my book Taste. There's no way I would have ever been given the chance to be part of that project without The Buzz. It's also given me a bird's eye view of the evolution of the Island's culinary scene and all the people that put it together. And what an evolution it’s been. When I think back ten years I’m sometimes blown away by how far we’ve come as a culinary destination. There is so much more available now than ever before, and doing it locally has become the focus rather than the fallback. It’s been great to be a part of it.
It’s also been great to be a part of this magazine. There’s no better day than Buzz day. Here’s to another 20 years.
Andrew Sprague is…
Andrew Sprague is a proud Islander, food lover, writer and father. He lives in Charlottetown with his wife Jinny and works in communications with the province. He can often be found in his natural habitat on a patio or at the corner of the bar in a pub at happy hour, holding court. Andrew graduated from Algonquin College in Ottawa in 2001 with a diploma in radio broadcasting. His first internship turned into a four city, six year whirlwind with CBC Radio. He's a founding member of the comedy group Sketch 22 and has been known to embarrass himself on stage from time to time. In 2006 Andrew compiled recipes and wrote text for the pictorial cookbook Taste: Recipes from Prince Edward Island's best restaurants from Nimbus Publishing. Wayne Barrett and Anne MacKay provided the photos for the book which is now in its second edition. Andrew is especially fond of bacon, microphones, small breweries and rousing political debate. But there are few things he likes more than a delicious meal made with local food at a local restaurant with local ownership.