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Saturday, February 23, 2008

The Pre-Game Meal

As far as I can tell, there's never really been a great tradition of sports & food in Vancouver. There are no Fenway Sausages, Candlestick Fries or Safeco Grilled Salmon Burgers. In fact, the food in our sporting venues has been downright awful. For proof, try to complete this sentence without using the word "beer": When you go to GM Place, you have to try the _________.

I've all but given up on our stadiums and arenas. Instead, I look for pre and post game options ... or "during" as in the case of sports on television. So it was that I found myself at Vera's Burgers on Commercial Drive for round 1 of the UEFA Champions' League knock-out phase. Vera's subscribes to Setanta so I was able to catch the Manchester United v. Olympique Lyonnais match while noshing on burgers and other fried foods. Not the same as crappy PNE hot dogs at old Empire Stadium, but not bad for atmosphere in a pinch.

Strangely enough, the closest thing we ever had to real "sports" food could be found at Swanguard Stadium with the USL1 version of the Whitecaps. Kiwi Pies were at one time sold under the bleachers as a convenient hand-warmer and snack all-in-one. Sadly they've gone out of business. One hopes that if the Caps ever get their waterfront stadium they'll remember Kiwi Pies, and also have a look at BMO field in Toronto for inspiration.

My second sports-related meal took place before last night's Vancouver Giants' game at the Pacific Coliseum. To say that the food at the Coliseum is brutal would be an affront to all things brutal. The nostalgia of eating PNE hot dogs wore out LONG before the indigestion did. Ever since the Giants took over the venue in 2001 things imporved marginally with the addition of White Spot. But as good as a Tripple-O might be, it is not a food synonimous with hockey.

Son Ryan & I have developed our own pre-game meal tradition in the form of Vietnamese at Phô 66. Since it's right at the corner of Hastings & Boundary it's perfectly suited for Giants nights. Service is prompt, prices are reasonable, and you get something you'd never get at the Coliseum. This night, Ryan had his favorite bowl of wonton soup, and I had the grilled pork hash with vermicelli. The phô is also good, but we've been branching out lately.

Our seats for the evening were rink-side ... literally. If you've never seen hockey this close, you really need should. It's a lousy place to really see the game, but it gives you a terrific perspective on how fast they skate and how hard they hit. And the boards in front of you make a great place to rest your beer.

As we enjoyed a 3rd period pretzel, I couldn't help but wonder how much better the game would have been with a really good burger, or perhaps a decent slice of pizza. But what I really should have been doing was paying attention to the game. If I'd been doing that I would have noticed the bone crunching body-check that launched my beer into my lap.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Follow Your Nose

My job has me spending a fair amount of time driving around town, visiting clients, picking up materials and yes - looking for places to have lunch. I'm one of those people who likes finding that out-of-the-way place nobody has discovered yet, but makes the best something-or-other. Often these sorts of places are not hidden at all, but sitting there as I drive them by day after day.

Such is the case with Nathan's Grill in Burnaby. As far as I can tell, Nathan's entire advertising strategy comes in the form of small roadside signs with the words "Nathan's Grill" and an arrow printed on them. If you drive anywhere near 8-Rinks or the Douglas Road area of Burnaby you may have seen them yourself. Don't get me wrong. I'm not making fun of this approach. Hell, it worked for hundreds of roadside joints in the American mid-west, and for whatever tourist attraction makes its home in Bridal Falls on your way to Hope. It also worked on me.

I finally got around to following those signs last week ... and it's a damn good thing the signs are there. I think any GPS system would give up on trying to navigate the labyrinth of roads that weave their way through one of the many light industrial zones in Burnaby. 5 turns into the trip I began to wonder how any restaurant could survive out here. But being the adventurous type, I persevered.

Pulling into the parking lot at Nathan's I solved one piece of the puzzle. About 3/4 of the parking spots were filled with "Location Caterers" trucks. Nathan's is the steady side of a cyclical catering firm which also means the food should be solid ... another possible answer to the mystery of why/how this place survives among the warehouses.

I was almost expecting a grimy diner-style place ... the sort you would find above the office of a lumber yard. Nathan's is nothing of the sort. It's more of an Earl's-meets-diner sort of room, with dark tile on the floor, plasma televisions on the wall and as many trucker caps as you'd see at a Punk'd reunion. Oh yeah ... the music selection was enjoyable if a bit loud (a theme you'll see repeated in this blog.) If you're in the area, it'd be a great place to watch a Canucks PPV.

Menu is the usual selection of burgers and sandwiches. The day sheet featured a mushroom soup (shown above) a couple of pork-chop type mains, and a cheesecake desert. I however had stopped my gaze at the pastrami sandwich.

The soup was the real star here. Simply seasoned but nicely prepared, it was a perfect way to warm up after a cold and wet morning. The sandwich was thick with pastrami, red wine cheddar and tomato. A little on the salty side (another theme you'll see repeated) but satisfying. The fries were okay ... you won't miss them if you don't order them.

All in all a nice discovery, and one I'll be returning to for breakfast. They're open at 7:30am, and any place that caters to the movie industry and the hard-working sort that ply their trade in these industrial areas has to do a good breakfast.
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Nathan's Grill
6390 Darnley Street
Burnaby, BC
Phone: 604-291-9926

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Comfort Food - Delivered

Friday nights are no-cook nights for my wife and I. Often it means stopping off somewhere for cocktails after work. Sometimes I'll stop off at Cioffi's and grab some charcuterie, cheese and marinated eggplant. Janine often stops off a the BCLDB to add to our collection of $15 wines. Tonight, it was pizza and lasagne ... and a bottle of the aforementioned wine.

This is NOT gourmet. It's crappy pizza that arrives with a shimmering layer of sausage greese and half the cheese stuck to the lid of the box. It's crappy lasagne that is less "lasagne" and more "a pile of noodles in a aluminum foil pan covered in Ragu and "cheese". It's a delivery guy who's just a kid who's busting his ass to earn enough money to keep his '82 Civic on the road.

But no-cook nights aren't about "great" anything (except maybe the wine which was an '05 Ten Mile). No-cook nights are about celebrating the end of the week and remembering to take a few moments with each other and simply slow down. It's about not having to do dishes and letting the dogs get sauce on their snouts.

Oh yeah - it also means pizza for breakfast.
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