“It’s five o’clock in Toronto and 1953 on PEI” That’s a joking reference one my girlfriend’s friends makes to how quaint Canada’s smallest province can be. My post from last week went through some of the highlights from our meals in big-city Charlottetown at restaurants that could easily compete in Toronto. Today I’m going to look at our more nostalgic meals. Nostalgia for a time before I was born in a place I’ve only been to once before.
There’s something about red-sand beaches and wide, blue skies that fade into the ocean that bring out the best on the faces of native Islanders. I’d offer photographic evidence to prove this but my travel companion hates having her picture taken enough that I don’t dare ask her permission to post one. After spending the end of an afternoon–after 4PM is the best time to go when noisy children have tired and their grandparents are heeding the call of the early-bird dinner gong–on one of the north shore’s national park beaches we decided to climb over the dunes and search for a local restaurant.
Jo-Joe’s Takeout in Rusticoville is the natural destination on that part of the island for a simple, casual meal. The takeout food is a sort of add-on to their main business of deep sea fishing tours. We had the scallops which like most of the fare is deep-fried and served with fries and the clam chowder. Not culinary brilliance but definitely good value for a hearty meal inspired by the local seafood. The harbour view from the parking lot and requisite old-time lobsterman (seriously) on the front porch reminiscing about the days when lobster fishing was done by hand completed the idyllic picture.
PEI is blanketed in pretty white churches (I gave up counting at about sixteen early on in day two) and one of our reasons for visiting was to attend a wedding in one of the biggest, and oldest white churches, located in one of the five Rusticos (South, Anlgo, North, -ville, and just plain Rustico). At the ceremony, I’m pretty sure we were sitting in front of Joe and Joey Gauthier who are closely related to the bride and own Joey’s Deep Sea Fishing. So, take that as both an indication that everyone on PEI is somehow related to each other and as a revelation of potential bias on my part.
Our last island day had us travel towards Montague, partly on the Points East Coastal Drive. The road signs on PEI’s main tourist highways have an extra-cute icon on them that must serve two purposes: Locals are alerted to the likelihood that another Ontarian will have parked his car on the shoulder just over a hill so he can complete the 75-photo set of white churches; and these Ontarians will know that when the starfish changes to a red beach they’re really lost and are heading back towards Charlottetown.
Gillis’ Drive-in was part of what brought us eastwards. This drive-in is the ultimate recreation of what shows like Beverly Hills 90210 (the colour scheme is note-perfect the same as Nat’s Paech Pit) taught us about the 1950s hamburger joint. The car-hop waitresses (mercifully) don’t have to wear roller0-skates but other than that they’ve achieved a nostalgic pinnacle here.
The bacon burger platter was satisfying but diners will best spend their retro calories on the dessert side of the menu. Traditionalists will find a banana split, adventurous kids the “worms in dirt”, and the truly gluttonous a deep-fried Mars bar. My black cherry milkshake was thick enough to stand up in the straw and had the right amount of flavour without being too sweet. A definite winner.
Actually, these two meals in many ways did recall what I ate as a kid when visiting PEI on a family trip–except that there is no way I would have strayed from chicken fingers to try the scallops. In some places PEI is consciously trying to be like 1953 and succeeding easily.
We made a couple of more stops in Charlottetown but Gillis’ was our last full meal on The Island but, fear not, I’ll be back later in the week with another post about mussels and lobsters from the Confederation Cove Mussel Company.
Jo-Joe’s Seafood Takeout: Rusticoville, PEI; 902-963-2295.
Gillis Drive-in: 5207 AA MacDonald Highway, Brudenell (just outside Montague), PEI; 902-838-2031; open 7 days a week from 11 AM to 11 PM.