Monday, 18 September 2017

Dairy Queen: Keeping Barrie Cool Since 1959

My father was a hard working man and my mother didn't drive. At the end of a long, hot summer day, the kids were all begging for a swim somewhere but Dad would have preferred just to put his feet up. Understandable. But once in a while, we prevailed and the station wagon was loaded up with the customary towels, buckets and shovels, the old plastic webbing type folding chairs and the bathing caps that I hated so much.

What a joy it was to splash about in the cool lake water and then dig deep holes in the sand. We created some very elaborate sandcastles, surrounding them with long, snaking moats and topping the parapets with flags fashioned out of discarded drinking straws. The fun was eventually ended either by a wave of Dad's arm or by the beginning of a thunderstorm.

We packed up and drove away feeling refreshed and just a bit hungry, and we all hoped that Dad would say the most magical words of all. "You don't want to stop here and get a hamburger, do you?" He always asked this question at the last minute, just as it looked like we were about to drive right past Dairy Queen. I tell you, to a bunch of soaking wet kids straight out of a lake, after an hour or two of fresh air and horseplay, these were the best burgers ever! Wet bathing suit, sandy feet and a charbroiled DQ hamburger eaten in the back of Pontiac Laurentian  station wagon - what a great memory. So the answer to Dad's question, as if anyone doubted it, was always a very loud yes!

Recently, I took advantage of Barrie's fantastic waterfront and took a dip in Kempenfelt Bay. One hot afternoon seemed like the perfect day. The white board at the life guard station read Welcome to Centennial Beach. Weather: Sunny 41 C. Water: 25 C. I waded into the sparkling water with two of my grown sons and we all agreed that it was a great day to be a citizen of Barrie. We took a moment to consider where the water's edge used to be (pre 1967) just below the new condominium towers, and to acknowledge the brilliant thinkers and planners who made this jewel their Centennial project.

Centennial Park just keeps on getting better too. Have you checked out the new boardwalk? We stopped and ate a picnic lunch under a shady tree before our swim. Yes, yes, I know - Mom says no swimming for an hour after you eat! Our time in the lake was more splashing and floating than full-on swimming. Olympians we are not.

After that, we decided to do something daring. Well, daring for me that is. I am a self-confessed chicken and never attempt anything remotely dangerous, but kayaking looked to me like something even I could do. So we took a walk down to the Happy Paddling boat and board rental trailer and signed up to give it a go. What a blast! The coolest (by any definition of the word) activity to do, in the scorching city of Barrie today, was to paddle a kayak straight through the mist of the Rotary Fountain at Centennial Park.

How do you cap off a perfect summer day? The same way as always, of course - with a visit to DQ. You would never know it, because she had a face-lift not long ago, but this Queen has been serving up goodies on the corner of Bradford and Vespra Streets since 1959. Everything from the counter and walls inside, to the signage, and the the painted yellow lines in the parking lot are freshly done and new. But the shop and parking lot are still as small as they ever were, which somehow seems nice to me. Maybe it is nostalgia talking, but to me nothing says says summer more than seeing the door of a DQ propped open to allow the queue of ice cream and burger seekers to spill out onto the sidewalk.

So today, we each got a strawberry cheesecake Blizzard. Oh my stars, who invented this? What evil genius decided to combine little chunks of cheesecakey goodness with gooey-sweet strawberry syrup and swirl it into ice cream? We certainly savoured our little after beach treat here, as so many, many other Barrie folks have in the last 58 years in this place.

From those early days of banana splits and dipped cones, Dairy Queen seems to get better and better too. Remember when the Dennis the Menace gang were on all the DQ advertising, and by saying scrumpdillyishus would get you a 49 cent peanut buster parfait? Well, now you can even find poutine in Canadian DQs too. It would seem that the familiar favourites still remain while the new food items just cozy up to the old ones on the menu board. Sounds brilliant to me. So tell me about your good memories, what yummy treat have brought you down to the DQ on Bradford Street over the years?


Saturday, 12 August 2017

Summer Time in the City: New Fun Things to Try (and Eat) in Barrie

I love water! I like to be in it, on it, near it, whether it be sea or lake, as the cool blue of a body of water refreshes me in both body and soul. When I read that Barrie was getting a new water attraction this summer, I was pretty excited. Splash On Water Park sounded fantastic!

Anybody who knows me knows that I am a self-confessed chicken and that most roller coasters and amusement park rides scare the daylights out of me. So Splash On, with its soft, brightly coloured bouncy platforms, looked to me like something even this recycled teenager, with scaredy cat tendencies, could do. So I went.

My husband, and son and I went down to Centennial Park one finally thunderstorm-free evening. Looking out at the water park a few yards from the beach, we could see a swarm of young kids clambering all over the structure. They were obviously enjoying the sunny late afternoon fun, and their parents were enjoying the cheaper after 5 p.m. admission price.

We signed up, paid up and got our wrist bands and life jackets. Off we went, swimming out into the bay, which had reached a swimmable temp in time for mid August, as is typical of this deep part of the lake. We climbed aboard the inflatable structure and I immediately learned 2 things. The park is far more wobbly than I imagined and much slipperier!

Very soon after this, and after several unexpectedly rapid dunks in the lake, I began to think that I might just be a little too old for this. Maybe. Just maybe. My theory is that if a 10 year old falls down 50 times, they will get up and run around laughing and jumping with no ill effects, but if a 50 year old falls down 10 times, they may not be able to go to work tomorrow.

My back told me that I should perhaps just stay in the lake next time I wiped out, and I listened. I enjoyed a nice dip in Kempenfelt Bay and got plenty of entertainment from the antics of the kids, jumping and hollering like kids should do in the summer. After my own 23 year old kid had had enough, we decided to go for a burger.

Our plan was to have dinner at the beach outpost of Kenzington Burger, but we didn't realize that they had opted not to open for the 2017 season due to the construction happening around Centennial Park this year. The near finished product looks great, by the way!

Not to worry, Barrie's inventory of fun dining establishments is endless, and we quickly had a Plan B in mind - State & Main in the new shopping plaza at Cundles and Duckworth.

Nothing like a swim to make you ravenous! After changing into dry clothes at home, the three of us headed over to State & Main, part of a young chain of Canadian restaurants with a rather American sounding name.

We knew that a dear family friend had started working at State & Main, and we saw her walk across the patio as we parked our car. Of course, we just had to ask the hostess to seat us in Della's section!

What a great menu! If you have read a few of my blog posts, you will remember that I am a quasi-vegetarian. A lot of the time, my choices are limited to a veggie burger or fish and chips. At State & Main, I was actually torn between a number of wonderful-sounding dishes - Long Beach fish tacos, jalapeno mac and cheese, Pacific Rim noodle bowl. In the end, I chose the applewood salmon club.

So this is no ordinary diner clubhouse. Nope. Described as oven roasted applewood salmon, served on a toasted brioche bun, with roasted red pepper aoli, lettuce, tomato, peppered bacon, and fresh avocado, it sounded fabulous. Bonus: most menu items come with 2 sides! I picked quinoa salad and fries with dill dip.

The boys had heard tales of a legendary grilled cheese burger and never really considered any other options. They both chose fries with dill dip and caesar salads. My husband later got some bonus bacon strips after I removed them from my sandwich. (Crazy vegetarians!)

The plates were beautifully presented. Each white rectangular platter arrived with neatly placed and garnished colourful food items. Everything was prepared perfectly from the light golden touch on the grilled cheese burger buns, and the well-baconed caesar salads, to the tempting quinoa and the most finely shredded, bright green lettuce I have ever seen on a sandwich.

How can you tell if I or my family thoroughly enjoyed our meal? If we are already trying to figure out how to recreate it at home, it must have been a hit. What is in that dill dip anyway? Is it mayo, sour cream and fresh dill? I must have this for all of my french fries in the future! I guess we will be buying some loaves of un-sliced white bread very soon, because a grilled bread bun definitely trumps a plain burger bun. (Apologies for saying trump - ugggh.)

 Casual fine dining meets bar at State & Main in northeast Barrie. Dating couples, young dudes having beer and wings, celebrators of granddad's birthday, slightly damp post water park diners all enjoyed the vibe on the patio as the sun set over Little Lake. Give it a whirl. Ask for Della!

Player's Diner Slips into the History Books

In the days before the internet, if you were looking for a new job, you checked the back pages of the Barrie Examiner and looked in the want ads in the classified section. If you wanted to be quick off the mark, you picked up a copy of the paper at Player's on Dunlop St. because this shop was first in town to get the Examiner every day as it was printed just around the corner at 16 Bayfield St. I am sure that I found more than one job that way myself.

I wonder how many passersby never knew that there was a little diner in the back half of the store, or how many others popped in for cigarettes or a greeting card and were surprised to find a row of stools and little tables, high-schoolers with their Coke and fries, downtown shoppers taking a break for coffee and pie.

For the better part of a century, a smoke shop stood on this spot at 20 Dunlop St. E. Many remember it as the United Cigar Store with its unforgettable wooden Indian statue out front. I have often heard it mentioned but never saw it. I suppose the figure would almost be considered politically incorrect these days, but in the past it was a common symbol of a tobacconist just like the barber's red and white pole was a symbol of his trade.

By the 1970s, the name above the door was Player's. When I first remember it, the colour of the sign was teal blue, the same shade as the packaging of my brand of smokes (oh yes, I did), Player's Light cigarettes. Was the store named after the brand? I still wonder about that. I am pretty sure that those cigarettes were less than $2.00 back then.

As word spread recently of Player's impending closure, long time Barrie residents took to social media to share their sadness and also their brilliant memories of the last cozy Downtown coffee shop left over from Barrie's small town days.

I remember the juke boxes at the tables. If the song skipped, it was my job to go down and hit the side of the big one in the basement - scary basement! - Sandy O.

I remember my mom taking me there between grades 1 - 4 as a treat. The fries and gravy were the best. I loved being able to sit right at the counter. I felt like a big girl. - Samantha L.

The United Cigar Store ... I would go with my Dad in the early 50s for a grilled cheese ... great memories. - Valerie M.

Jean's pies were awesome! - Mary-Ellen G.M.

It must have been like homecoming week in the final days of Player's Diner. Many nostalgia seekers, myself included, stopped in for one last bite, to reminisce and to say goodbye to Moe, the last owner, who is retiring. Promenade Days was in full swing outside as my husband and I popped into the quiet of the little diner.

Our waitress, (and she really was a waitress in the traditional Mel's Diner sort of way), served us coffee as we scanned the old school, low tech menu above the open kitchen. Toasted western sandwiches. Homemade pie. Cheeseburgers. Liver and onions. (Sorry, but yuck!) Milk shakes. All the old favourites were there.

I ordered a mushroom omelette with home fries and Ron got an egg salad sandwich with fries smothered in gravy. Our food was cooked on a flat top grill and an ordinary household type stove by Moe's wife, Ranjeet. One cook, one server, plastic blue checked table cloths, 7-Up menu board, a phone book and leatherette stools - we will never see the likes of this again in Downtown Barrie.

Saturday, 7 January 2017

Out-dressed by Chavo Crepes

Hair un-brushed, no make-up on, not even any socks despite sub zero weather. I was heading to the bus terminal this morning with Margaret, just dropping her off and then popping back home, or so I thought. Dammit, we missed the bus! With another bus coming in an hour, we could either go home again or kill 60 minutes in Downtown Barrie. We decided on option #2 and went to look for a coffee shop. As we strolled past Memorial Square, I spied a warm and friendly Open sign on Chavo Crepes across the road at 74 Dunlop Street. "Hey, let's go there!"

Margaret wasn't sure. She figured that nearly every menu item would most certainly contain Nutella. Meanwhile, I was looking for something breakfasty, and I was picturing some sort of cheese crepes rolled up and sauced, served fast-food style in a venue much like the short-lived Beaver Tails farther down Dunlop St. You know - somewhere that no one would notice that I had just jumped off the couch to give someone a ride, skipping most of my beauty routine, and looking more unkempt than I would have liked.

Um yeah. Chavo Crepes is very nice inside. Very, very nice. We were greeted by a tall man who reminded me of waiters I have seen in Paris, and he waved us to a seat near the back of the long narrow restaurant. Slim and chic, very elegant, some of the prettiest lighting I have ever seen, I was not expecting such a stylish interior.

We ordered tea. What we were not brought was a stainless steel teapot and a white ceramic mug, but instead a tray of tiny, colourful tins, all of them decorated with unique names and designs, and each with the words Smell Me printed on the lid. So we smelled them. Every tin was a small treasure chest of fruity, spicy goodness, floral scents, nutty aromas - not your grandma's tea collection! Very hot water served in a tall glass mug arrived on a saucer, accompanied by a long spoon and a small ramekin to sit the tea bag. My apple chai tea ingredients were encased in a drawstring bag which floated in the water and slowly turned it from clear to amber brown. Margaret's tea turned rosy pink.

The menu was diverse and appealing with lots of non-dessert crepes on offer. Our crepes, both smoked salmon with a homemade dill-cheese spread on buckwheat, were simply amazing! They were artfully presented,topped with capers, red onion and lemon, and served with a spring mix-apple salad drizzled with a house Bulgarian style pesto dressing.

We savoured every last bite, then lingered over our delightful tea, almost missing a another bus! What unexpected little jewel we stumbled across today. Thank you so much for a lovely brunch from the frumpy girls at the second last table. We promise to be back and be more presentable next time!