East Side Social: A Lesson in the Evolution of My Homophobia

I think I’m still homophobic.

Before you cast stones and banish me to hell, let me explain.  I believe there has been an evolution in the definition of homophobia over the past two or three decades.  As a high school student at an all guys school in Sudbury, Ontario in the late eighties, I sat around the lunch table with a bunch of social rednecks and laughed at  gay jokes like the rest of them.  I had little regard for the struggles associated with homosexuality. First, I naively thought that none of my friends could possibly be gay.  Secondly, I believed that in fact nobody in Sudbury was gay and that the whole movement was a trendy urban phenomenon.

After high school, I was keen to get out of Sudbury (much like my gay friends it turns out)  and I pursued my post-secondary education  at the University of Guelph.  Guelph was interesting in the sense that it was quite dichotomous; one one side were flocks of macho agricultural students and on the other were the advocates for social justice in which gay and lesbian rights lead the charge.  Add the learnings from my first year sociology course, and I grew to realize that I needed to tolerate people who were different than me in whatever way that was.  Still, I was leery to full embrace the movement because, while I was being taught the need for tolerance in order to live in a utopia, my science courses challenged me to believe that everything, whether it was faith in God or same sex attraction, required a biological rationale.  If you could show me that brain size or the expression of a specific gene could explain why I don’t steal or why I would prefer men over women then I would be much more accepting.  I never found definitive evidence which continued to allow me to live in a bubble and live with the mentality that,although I was in the midst of gays and lesbians, I still really didn’t know many so I really need to understand.

Years later, with the advent of social media and other means of communication, I learned that many of my schoolmates and,  in fact, a few of my  closer high school friends were now overtly gay. It was a bit of an epiphany and really the first time when I truly understood my self-righteous nature.

There is no question that in the past few years, gay rights have been at the forefront.  The explosion of the pride movement and changing legislature catalyzed by a proactive federal and provincial government have set the stage for mass social acceptance of anybody regardless of gender, race, age and, of course, sexual orientation.  During this movement, I have further evolved along my homophobic spectrum to a point where I think I finally get it.

So, why am I still homophobic and why the hell am I writing this stuff on a food blog?  It’s simple; I had a dining experience which put things into perspective.  I met a couple of work colleagues for dinner at Eastside social.  Located in mercurial Leslieville, Eastside offers a seafood heavy menu in the trendy prohibition decor. Since it was still summery outside, we opted for the quaint back patio and were introduced (or at least playfully warned) about our waiter for evening.  Eccentric to say he least, we was a 53 yo gay guy who hails from…yes….Sudbury, Ontario.  I relayed that this was my hometown and for the remainder of the night we had conversations about our native neighborhoods, porchetta bingos at the Beef ‘n Bird, Tarini’s meat shop and why we both got the hell out.

Fighting the desire to order off the small but impressive cocktail menu, we each ordered a pint each from the small draught menu (I went with the Junction Conductor’s ale). His passion for life mimicked his passion for the food.  He quickly agreed when we suggested the sardine crostini to start.  For the main, he proudly boasted that there wasn’t a bad offering but in particular recommended the fish tacos and octopus. We agreed and also added the crab stuffed leeks to the mix. One of my colleagues had a seafood allergy, so, although there was an arctic char special, it was suggested that he stick to land dwelling protein for safety purposes.  When he asked about the hanger steak, the waiter explained it was quite good, especially since it was seasoned with a rub and that he likes anything which involves rubbing meat.  My normal reply would have been “Why do you think I’m ordering the char?” but a total lack of confidence in the given situation killed it and I simply laughed.  This is why I think I’m still homophobic; my phobia lies in my confidence about being straight. For some reason I have it in my head that I should be apologetic about liking woman; a philosophy which upon reflection is simply ridiculous.

As for the meal, the sardine crostini was brilliant in its simplicity and presentation.  The crab stuffed leeks were quite interesting in that they were almost a modern spin on the famed Crab Louis salad.  The fish tacos were smartly served on corn tortillas and gently breaded so the flaky fish instead of everything else was the star.  The octopus was charred a little more than I prefer but still very tender and seasoned beautifully with olive oil and citrus (personally it’s nice to see a generous portion of octopus minus the potato and/or olive which seems to grace most of the other menus in town).  Each of the dishes, however, was served with the waiter’s confidence which almost forced me to agree that the meal was great and maybe even better than it actually was.

As mentioned, the whole experience got me thinking.  The biggest barrier I had in the past was the need to believe that people needed to make decisions for reasons which are rooted in science or logic or whatever you want to call it and that by making decisions outside of norms will draw attention so a person needs to consider this when deciding what to say or do.  That couldn’t be further from the truth. Some people seem to think that our forefathers fought for the freedom of our country with some sort of stipulations. I don’t think even the most conservative veterans put their lives on the line for some Canadians..they did it for all Canadians.  They were protecting the freedom and liberty of us all and last time I checked, this meant making whatever decisions we want.  If someone wants to wear pajamas to Walmart, so be it.  If sometime was to tattoo their mother’s name on their shoulder or the first letter of Paul to Corinthians on their forearm then so what.  If a little girl decides she’s going to escape poverty and blow the world away, she has the ability to do so.  What took me years to understand was whether a person chooses to be gay or is biologically gay is a moot point..the fact is they are gay and have a right to be.  In saying that I came to realize that I can be confident and proud about the fact that I’m straight in the same way I’m proud to be of Irish or English descent.

In the end, confidence is a virtue, whether it is expressed as an establishment or as a person. Claims  such as “The Best Wings in Town” or “Sudbury’s Best Fries” have been effective and primarily unproven claims of restaurants for years because they are rooted in confidence.  Despite the aforementioned waiter, an experienced owner and a swanky decor designed by celebrity stylist Cherie Stinson, perhaps the biggest swagger Eastside Social has is setting up with some success within the boundries of the stubborn Leslieville scene.

On a personal note,  I can get up in front of a group of 200 and speak.  I can lead a team building discussion with ease.  So why can’t I declare my frank heterosexuality in the midst of a confident gay man?  Maybe it’s because I’m still homophobic. In this regard, next time I come here I’ll confidently order the char and better yet, switch to the chicken shortly after.

Eastside Social Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Sandwiched Between the Young and Old at BarVolo

BarVolo got me thinking about what I was doing in 1985, the year it was established.  I was a 12 year old elementary school student whose diet consisted of cooked ham on white, apples and a thermos full of fruit drink.  The highlight of my school day was sniffing copies of handouts from the ditto machine like a drug addict.

Here’s a few other food things that happened in 1985

  • James Beard died at the age of 81.
  • New coke was released only to be scrapped later the same year, spawning the old but new Coca-Cola classic.
  • James Dewer, inventor of the twinkie in 1930, died.
  • Raspberry Beret by Prince hit #1 on the charts.

Source:   http://www.foodreference.com/ (a good reference site for food geeks).

BarVolo is a small brewpub located near Yonge and Wellesley.  There are a handful of tables and a bar area that stands 15 comfortably. It has a vibe of a old schoolhouse, the centrepiece a large blackboard boasting over 30 types of beer (and a couple of wines and ciders) ranging from house brew to hearty stouts and porters. Otherwise, you can order well over a hundred bottles including some rare and expensive choices from the cellar.  They don’t take reservations, so you leave your name, slink up the bar and hope for the best.  A look around at the crowd suggested that I was among the 5 or 10 people in the entire bar that was probably alive in 1985.

One of my highlights is the fact that they serve 6 different cask ales including  their own black ESB.  It was a good punch in the mouth although the aftertaste was a little acrid. Next,  in homage to my daughter,  I ordered the house ale swag out (imperial stout with swag). As an uncool parent, I have been instructed that I cannot use the words YOLO or swag in any context at any time. She never said I couldn’t drink it though.  It turned out to be a killer version of a great winter beer.  The 8.5 percent alcohol was subdued by the intense malt and hop flavour.  Great balance.

When you ask for food, you are handed a laminated menu and a pen to check off any of the many menu offerings. It consists mainly of snacks and nibbles including cheeses, pates, terrines and charcuteries. Condiments are also available for a price. You can also grab one of a half dozen sandwiches if you want. I opted for a taste of each of the major categories, which they arranged on a platter. Included were smoked duck sausage ($5), clothbound cheddar ($5.50), venison terrine ($5), a brooklyn’s finest pickle ($3) and peanut bacon fudge ($5).  I also ordered some hot trap mustard on the side ($1.50).  It was a delightful mix of taste and textures.  The duck sausage was melt in your mouth delicious.  The pickle was spicy with a distinct crunch.  The cheddar was firm and salty; a true reflection of an artisan cheese which deviates a bit from the original.  The terrine was decent but didn’t burst with the cherry and nut flavours I was promised.  The sourdough bread (from nearby Woodlot) and mustard were wonderful compliments, nicely adhering  the diversity of tastes on the plate.

I ordered the fudge because it was the only thing that slightly resembled a dessert on the entire menu.  Whether it was the contrast of the sweet against the salty and sour flavours of the rest of the plate or the fact it was just delicious fudge, I thoroughly enjoyed it.  The specks of bacon scattered among the sweet yet savory peanut flavour just worked.

Platter with pickles, mustard, venison terrine, fidge, duck sausage and cloth bound cheddar
Platter with pickles, mustard, venison terrine, fudge, duck sausage and cloth bound cheddar

The fish board was equally delicious.  Smoked salmon, trout and pickled herring were served with a FANTASTIC horseradish sauce and a unique but delicious slaw that I’m still trying to figure out.  The pickled egg and beans added some nice acid to the board.

Fish Platter $18
Fish Platter $18

My Take

BarVolo is a great venue for those who want a little food with their beer (which includes 6 casks and a number of house brews).  That said, the grub is far from substandard although some may be reluctant to pay $3 for a pickle and a buck and a half for a ramekin of mustard (sounds like a lyric from the Tragically Hip’s Little Bones in a time where Gord Downie still had hair and most patrons were still in diapers).  There’s a spectrum of menu items packaged in bite size and sharable morsels which can appease a solo diner or a table of 6.  The biggest issue is whether a table of 6 is even possible.  The place is small and doesn’t take reservations, leaving those waiting to frolic in a holding tank the size of new coke’s popularity. It’s more crammed than cozy. Plus, I get a tad annoyed when establishments boast about how big their lines are on facebook and twitter, especially when they don’t have the greatest means of dealing with them.

Although 1985 produced some nasty and forgettable things, barVolo wasn’t one of them.  Despite the fact that it’s inundated with clientele who weren’t exposed to Reaganomics or the Flames’ only Stanley cup win, there was some solace when a trio of 60 something hipsters walked in, looked at me and likely wondered if I was alive the last time the Leafs won the cup.  Regardless of whether one can relate to Pierre or Justin Trudeau or anybody in between, those who appreciate good beer with salty snacks (I didn’t try the sandwiches) will enjoy barVolo.  After all, the small confines physically don’t allow for a generation gap anyway.   YOLO, right?

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