…. well Fish ‘n Chipping that is.
You can find delicious food everywhere and anywhere, and if you’re like me you like to look everywhere and anywhere for it. I like to head off the beaten path to the good ol’ classics in little towns and villages where I order some of my favourites or stumble across something new. In keeping with this tradition, I set out to my old stomping ground, the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory, to hunt down some of my go-to comfort food — fish and chips.
Tyendinaga is located in Hastings County and the community takes its name from a variant spelling of Mohawk leader Joseph Brant’s traditional Mohawk name, Thayendanegea. It’s where I went to public school and is rich with agriculture, history, recreation and food. This is why the Bay of Quinte is so special. You find your way into a small town, where you sit down for a bite and you chat with people. Everyone has a story.
The First Stop – Ruby’s Fish & Chips is Really a Diamond in the Rough
My first stop is Ruby’s Fish & Chips. Located at 656 Norway’s Side Road and it’s tucked into the side of the owner’s house. You walk in and there are 4 tables and a small television. That’s it. And, that’s when I meet Lorne Loft. After closing down a body shop on Highway 2, the owners decided to retire. With no desire to sit still, and following their love for socializing with the locals, they opened up Ruby’s Fish & Chips, which originally was set to open in Picton. “After we retired, we had to do something..” says Lorne “..you can’t sit still and do nothing.” I brought my dad with me, who loves fish and chips just as much as I do, and we both ordered the one piece halibut meal and a cheeseburger for my son. Lorne’s wife heads to the kitchen and prepares our meal. The lightly battered fish comes and we dig in. Tartar sauce is provided on the table which is a godsend since most places give you a small paper cup then charge you extra for it. It’s hard to focus on the crispy fish when my mind keeps wandering to the small blackboard behind the counter listed with today’s homemade pie offerings. Pecan, cherry and strawberry/rhubarb. It makes me want to order one of each.
Throughout our meal we chat with Lorne about when he was younger. How hard he worked to provide for his family. We even spoke about how he and his wife built their first house together by hand. Suddenly, it makes me realize that coming for lunch at a place like Ruby’s is not just about the food. You come to chat with a friend even if it’s someone you’ve just met. We settle up and I ask Lorne how busy they are. He replies that they are busy enough. They don’t need to be jam packed everyday. He loves seeing the familiar faces come through the door.
The Next Stop – York Road Restaurant @ Ward’s Gas Bar
The next stop we hit is the York Road Restaurant at Ward’s Gas Bar. This place has been around forever and I know I’ve got the right place when “Fish and Chips” is painted on the restaurant window. We park the car and head in. I love this restaurant – big comfortable seats, holograms on the wall and a menu that makes ordering as difficult as possible because everything sounds amazing. Again, I get the one piece halibut and it’s great. Hand-battered (batter that’s made in house!) and big, chunky french fries. I want to save room for dessert but how can I when the portion sizes are that size?!
There’s a reason places like this are around forever – it’s because the food is simple, portions are great and the service is friendly. This is the type of place you can take the whole family including grandma because there’s something for everyone to order and enjoy. You can visit a place like this anytime. Growing up we would come after church, post baseball game, anniversaries, birthday parties or a hangover breakfast that doesn’t break the bank and comes with bottomless coffee.
As a chef I completely support good ingredients, ethically sourced and prepared with love, but sometimes you just want a club on white, side mayo, a tomato juice and a rice pudding. And that, folks, is what makes these nooks and crannies, these mom and pop shops and the diners so special. It’s about the food, but mostly it’s about the people you are with and where you are.
More about Matt
Matt is a father, local chef, owner of EAT w/ Matt DeMille and host of CBC’s digital food series, All Things Food, exploring the stories, philosophies and creators of the most delicious food in Canada, airing in late 2017.
To learn more about Matt and his interactive dining experiences click here.