Day 1 in Halifax: Hitting 60% of my Maritime Wish List at the Famous Pizza Corner in February

I just attended a conference in Halifax.  I only had a few days so I wanted to make sure I hit the laundry list of things I wanted to do in the Maritimes in the middle of February:

  • Drink local beer
  • Eat a donair
  • Visit pizza corner
  • Have a lobster roll
  • Hit at least one restaurant from “You gotta eat here”.

The first interesting thing about Halifax is the fact that the airport is 45 km away from the city.  Between these points is an abundance of land which could easily accommodate a hundred airports.  One explanation from a cab driver (who had a strong resemblance to Burton Cummings) for keeping the airport well away from the coast is the tendency for sea birds to fly into windshields or engines of incoming planes. Regardless, any cabbie probably won’t complain given it’s a sixty dollar cab ride for a one way trip downtown.

I arrived at the Westin which looked like a cross between an apartment building and an old hospital but was reasonably nice on the inside.  After checking in, I grabbed my toque and scarf and headed out to brave what Halifax had to offer.  I was looking to watch the second half of a soccer game, so a quick search of urbanspoon identified Maxwell’s Plum as a pub with a large number of local beer and football on the tube.  On the way, I looked like Q-Bert as I tried to navigate around the poorly maintained sidewalks in between snowbanks that were higher than  my waist while a mix of ice and snow pelted my face. After walking about a kilometer,  I trekked up the last hill which had to be at least a 60 degree angle and arrived at my destination.  I sat at a small table near the bar with a good view of the game and an equally good view of the clientele which looked like the same as what you would see at a Tim Horton’s in Ontario. The crowd was young and old but all glowed with that down home aura. Discussions included hockey, knitting and the weather.  The Thursday frosty glass special was Hell Bay English Ale from Liverpool, NS, so I ordered it thinking it was a fitting start given I was watching a team with the same name on the tele. The glass was certainly frosty and contained a beer with a nice balance of bitter and carmel flavours.

I went with the burger special for $6.99 and added an egg for $2 which I later realized was kind of ridiculous.  The platter arrived, which brings me to my second interesting observation about Halifax; the restaurants seem to like using dishes with their names chiseled or painted on them.  The burger and fry platter (on the aforementioned  plate which looked that something from Maximilian II and not Maxwell’s Plum) was decent, falling somewhere in the middle of the best and worst I have ever had.

$6.99 Burger Platter with a $2 egg
$6.99 Burger Platter with a $2 egg

I also ordered a sampler of Spruce beer, an organic brewery from Cape Breton which included  Bitter Get’er India Black IPA, Kitchen Party Pale Ale, Cereal Killer Oatmeal Stout and Ready Yer Knot Regatta Red Ale.  In addition to the ingenious names, they carried some ingenious flavour.  In particular, I enjoyed the Bitter Get’er and the Kitchen Party for their complex and crisp, fresh flavours respectively (far and middle right).

Spruce Brewery Sampler $12.95
Spruce Brewery Sampler $12.95

Afterwards, I donned the water garb again and headed down the road a block to the famous pizza corner.  I mean, there’s a big difference between this late night party zone at 3 am on a Saturday night in July versus a frigid afternoon in February but I needed to see what the hype was about.  Not surprisingly, the intersection was barren of all activity except for blowing snow.  There was a big red DO AIR sign (the N was burnt out) on the storefront  across from my next destination, the Sicilian. Known for it’s big slice, which surely appeals to the post-bar Halifax drunkards, they also offer a donair.  A donair is a Canadain twist on a Doner, a turkish dish made of a combination of meat cooked by rotisserie.  The Canadian version is slathered with a sweet sauce and served in a warm pita. Being a bit of a traditionalist, I would have liked to go to the site of the first Canadian donair, but the King of Donair left the pizza corner a few years back and my already frozen face wouldn’t have been able to handle the walk to their new location.  I carried them back to the hotel and on the way noticed a couple of things.  First, like other local food destinations whose their foundations lay in mom and pop establishments,the pizza corner is starting to be infiltrated by the tentacles of half-ass cookie cutter chain restaurants. I mean, there are still the small, locally owned joints like a Filipino restaurant with a sign on the door saying we are getting out of dodge until the end of February, but the familiar logos of Smoke’s poutinerie and Subway are creeping closer. Second,  I appreciated getting the heads up about the possibility of falling ice outside a burrito restaurant just down the road.  I normally tend to pay little attention to my surroundings but was grateful for the warning when I looked up and saw this:

Beware of Falling Ice
Beware of Falling Ice

After another tumultuous walk, this time back to my hotel, I tore into my pizza corner treasures. The Sicilian’s version of the Halifax doniar ( I got mine minus tomato but with onion) was delicious and as sinful as Lucky Luciano himself.  There was enough sweet in the sauce and spice in the meat to please all “corners” of my mouth. The BBQ chicken pizza wasn’t bad either.  Mission accomplished for day one.

Sicilian Pizza and a Halifax Donair
Sicilian Pizza and a Halifax Donair

My Take

Although hardly under ideal circumstances, I began my quick trip to Halifax by knocking three of the five musts off my list.  I weathered an east coast storm, drank some delicious local brews, hit pizza corner, avoided an icicle avalanche and dripped a sloppy donair all over my hotel desk.  I love the east coast philosophy of screwing roll up the rim after 5 pm  and communicating over a beer instead of coffee  whether you are a wannabe hipster named  Evan, a hockey fan named Peter or a gramma named Mabel.  I also love their ability to recognize that you are a tourist and then kindly tell you to “come back when the weather’s better now”.  Before I went to bed I took one last look over the pier from my hotel window and thought “ya…I  bitter get’er done”.

Maxwell's Plum on Urbanspoon

Sicilian Pizza Donairs & Subs on Urbanspoon

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Review:Vancouver:Falconetti’s

When I first heard the name Falconetti’s, I had in my head it was spelt “Falcon Eddy’s”.  Maybe I was thinking of the 1988 winter Olympics in Calgary,  where the appearance of Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards (you live in Philadelphia or Atlanta, eagles and falcons aren’t that different, right?)  He was the iconic British ski Jumper who left memories as endearing as the Jamaican bobsled team.  I was hoping this place wasn’t quite the same as them..a lot of hype without a lot of talent.

Upon arrival at this DDD located on Commercial Drive in Vancouver, I was lucky to get a seat on the rooftop patio.  The mountainous view was spectacular and other reminder of  Olympic games of the past  (I’d say I could almost see Eddie flying through the air but he wasn’t that good.)

Falconetti's Rooftop View (Free)
Falconetti’s Rooftop View (Free)

So, in homage to the Olympic games, I embarked on an  esculent heptathlon in an effort to taste the best of what the joint had to offer.

The 60 m event was an $8 Cucumber Love -Beefeater Gin, Muddled Cucumber, Lime Juice, Brown Sugar & Soda). I finished it in record time and found it quite refreshing, especially amidst the warm Vancouver afternoon.  Alternatively, there was a number of local pints on tap, ranging from Storm to Russell to Granville.  Not a bad start to the meal.

Falconetti's Gin ($8)
Falconetti’s Gin ($8)

The long jump was the artichoke dip.  It’s a standard bar food that can be really good or really bad.  This one was somewhere in between and a little steep (yes, more mountain analogies) at $13.  After a great start, I fell a bit down the rankings with this effort.

Spinach Dip $13
Spinach Dip $13

The shotput was the poutine (both involve a heavy ball…one is steel and the other sits in the pit of your stomach  for hours after eating). I recently had a discussion with a friend of mine about 5 foods I’d want to be stuck with on a desert island if food preparation and safety weren’t an issue.  I thought long and hard and came up with spicy tuna sushi, rice pudding and cheese right away and was a bit stuck on the last ones. I’d like to add Kennebec fries to the list.  I’ve professed my love for the Kennebec potato in previous blogs and am quite pleased to see their recent migration to the centre of the universe( aka Toronto). It’s also good to see that the poutine has traveled west.  Falconetti’s hits the mark with this modest $8 offering which let the fries shine.

Poutine $8
Poutine $8

I needed the afterburners for the 60 metre hurdles..the afterburner burger that is, I’m a consistent sucker for a burger topped with jalapeno anything.  The burger was a little less than what I expected. The bun was great.  The biggest hurdle was an abundance of beef which was a bit more done than I like and not enough burn. The side salad was absolutely delicious, consisting of mixed greens (including kale) oranges, pecans, roasted corn and soy beans with a citrus vinaigrette.

After burner burger $13
After burner burger $13

The pole vault has to be the sausage (insert phallic joke here).  My indecisive nature lead me to order the sampler which is an opportunity to try 3 different signatures sausages (hot italian, chicken thai and polish)  with a few dipping sauces.  Seen as the signature dish of Falconetti’s , I was hoping this would be the standout event.  The hot Italian was classic and delicious although it didn’t have eye watering heat.  The other two were less orthodox (Thai chicken and Polish beef) and less tasty.  Although it was moist (which is tough for a chicken sausage), I was seeking more intense thai flavour.   The Polish were a bit dry and didn’t have memorable seasoning or taste.

Sausage Sample Platter $14
. Sausage Sample Platter $14

The finishing event, the  1000 metre run, was the key lime pie.  Although I did not snap a picture, it was excellent.  The tart filling was the star and was balanced nicely by the crust and topping.

My Take

Any joint endorsed by Guy Fieri should be in medal contention.  In this heptathlon, Falconetti’s fared well in many events and faltered a bit in others,  To start, the drink menu, highlighted by solid cocktails and decent local beer, got me out of the gates quickly. The spinach dip was overpriced with only an average jump.  The poutine with Kennebec fries was delicate and well- balanced and didn’t leave me feeling like I just ate a shotput . The afterburner burger fizzled a bit but the side salad got me over the hurdles. Regarding the sausages, touted as the pinnacle event,  the bar was raised to world record levels although it was a decent effort. The final event, the key lime pie, put the whole meal into medal contention.  Although not a gold medal performance, at the end I’d put this heptathlon of bar food on the podium of decent DDDs.  Eddie would be proud.

Verdict– 4 Guyz

Falconetti's East Side Grill on Urbanspoon