How to eat chicken-fried gator? Chomp it quickly

The fried gator is buttery soft, surrounded by a thin layer of crunchy batter.

This is a story about food: about longing, and the yearning for comfort. There are many words, but no photographs; you have been warned. May the words flow with you, and may hunger strike at your desire for more …

Comfort food, comfortable chomps

It all began innocently: a sudden rush, a deep craving for comfort food: southern-style fried chicken and waffles.

Really, you ask? “Chicken and waffles”?

Yes, really; depending on what I’m feeling, I crave all kinds of comfort food; for example …

•   Wonton/wuntun noodle soup, because that’s my childhood in Vancouver.
•   Peameal bacon sandwich, with years in The Big Smoke (Toronto).
•   “Juicy Lucy” burger with a side of tater tots, after 2 years in the Twin Cities (Minneapolis/St. Paul).
•   “Empanada de pino” and “cazuela de mariscos”, after 5 years in Chile.
•   Döner and currywurst, because 13 years and counting aren’t enough in Germany.

Getting back to “chicken & waffles”, where am I going to find that in Vancouver?

I’m at a seminar about social-media by Rebecca Coleman, and she writes a lot about food. I inform her of my quest, and her recommendation is swift, straight to Chewie’s.

They have two locations: one downtown by Coal Harbour, and the other in Kitsilano. Their online presence leads me to their brunch menu, helpfully listing “chicken and waffles.” But I chomp at the bit, when Rebecca also mentions chicken-fried alligator, and Chewie’s has weekday half-price happy-hour.


SOLD! Where do I sign up?

I soon realize this first visit to Chewie’s is going to be different: no camera, no photographs. Why?

I want the experience to be free of burdens: to photograph the setting; to photograph the food as it’s brought to the table; to find the “right light”; that I need a shot, any shot, a perfect shot.

I simply remove the idea from my mind, and I’m free.

But is an online post worth reading if there aren’t any photographs, especially if there’s food?

Some would say “no”, but that’s my challenge and opportunity, to see if what I describe can hold people to the end of this post.


Full with 2 Apps … Gator App Included

It’s 330pm on a Thursday afternoon, and I see soon after entering their Coal Harbour location that it looks busy, alive with sounds of activity from conversations and cooking. With the time and day, the place is at about one-third capacity, which is fine because I won’t feel rushed, dining on my own. Some well-dressed business people have occupied a couple of tables at the end, getting their weekend off to an early happy start.

I’m in time for their half-price Happy Hour, applicable to their “First Bites” appetizers. Appetizers have tended to be small in other places, and I’ve already decided I want two. There’s more writing afterwards; instead of beer, it’s hot tea.

Little time passes, and these two items are brought to the table at the same time.

1. Pan Seared Calamari: B.C. Humboldt squid (not breaded) with smoked paprika aioli, and cucumber and onion jalapeño mint-vinaigrette salad.

Because it’s easier to hide the quality of the squid behind breading, I prefer calamari unbreaded. The mollusk is sliced strategically for the guests; from a distance, the calamari plate is served almost like penne pasta in a creamy sauce. “Best seafood penne ever!” A closer look shows it’s bite-sized squid in small tubes; no knife is necessary. Removed are the little tentacles so often disconcerting to some, but I find I miss the wae tentacles.

The squid “tubes” are cooked perfectly: undercooked and it’s too chewy, overcooked and the tubes hang limp on the fork. The smooth creamy spicy aioli complements the flavours of the pan sear and the deep sea. The accompanying cucumber and onion salad provides another counterpoint with fresh garden textures and the jalapeño vinaigrette pushes out a slightly sour edge balancing the oil used in the sear and the cream in the aioli. Eating a couple of tubes with the salad in the same forkful works very well.

2. Chicken-Fried Gator & Hush Puppies: buttermilk-soaked chicken-fried alligator, corn hush puppies, jalapeño jelly

I’m sure the first thing anyone thinks on first sight is: hey, chicken fingers with fried carb! But I know I’ll have “fingers & fries” as comfort food, too.

Both gator strips and hush puppies appear golden, fried at the right temperature for the right amount of time; neither is burnt or undercooked. The first bite blows away the thought of “chicken fingers”. Marinated for hours in buttermilk, the strips of alligator meat is lightly breaded and fried. Tearing easily, the meat is not chewy; the soft gator is a nice contrast with the crispy exterior. As the batter is lightly salted, the jalapeño jelly dip for the gator adds another sweet-and-spicy layer to the flavours. Instead of the ubiquitous fries, that “fried carb” are tasty savory spheres of fried cornmeal batter. They have a touch of sweet, reminding me of Tim Hortons’ Timbits, but I can see from the open kitchen the hush puppies are made upon order. The accompanying salad garnish composed of crispy bitter arugula leaves and sweet thin slivers of beet provide additional balance to flavour and texture.

As appetizers go, each is sufficient as a starter to be shared among two or three people, and with two full-sized appetizers consumed, I am very content. The hot tea is a great choice in hindsight, as the sharp bitter drink cuts through and helps to “wash down” the fatty food. The tea I’ve consumed at hundreds of dim sum/yum cha sessions have served me well.

I enjoyed both, but my favourite is the gator. If you must have images, you can bank on the Internet:

Chicken-fried gator :
Rebecca Coleman for VanCity Buzz | Eatiful | Gastrofork

Pan fried calamari :
Food and Wine with MyWinePal | Eat With Jenny | Jeremy Lin (in Flickr)


Inevitably, return for more

I’ll have to go back and try their crabcakes; it’s only fair to compare and contrast against the famous crabcakes I had in Baltimore. I have to go back for weekend brunch to dig into their chicken and waffles. And they have oysters: lots of `em. That makes another return visit …

I visited Chewie’s Coal Harbour on 6 November 2014, and I shelled out my own clams for all food and drink. After paying the bill, I informed the staff of my visit as an interested and hungry travel-writer. This post appears on Fotoeins Fotopress at fotoeins.com.

No Connection, Unpaid, My Own Opinions Disclosure: No Connection, Unpaid, My Own Opinions. I did not receive any compensation for writing this content and I have no material connection to the restaurant or food mentioned herein (cmp.ly/0).

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My Heidelberg: science and Christmas in Anatomiegarten

It sounds like an unusual pairing, for science and Christmas to come together in a place called Anatomiegarten, or Anatomy Garden, in the German university town of Heidelberg.

During the Christmas season, the Anatomiegarten is host to one of the key Christmas market locations along Heidelberg’s main street (Hauptstrasse). Prominent are two names from a historical and scientific perspective in Heidelberg.

Robert Bunsen & Gustav Kirchhoff

Anatomiegarten, Hauptstrasse, Heidelberg, Germany, fotoeins.com

That above is a bronze statue of Robert Bunsen. Who is he? Remember those “bunsen burners”?

German chemist Robert Bunsen (1811-1899) in collaboration with Gustav Kirchhoff pioneered the field of spectroscopy1, detecting new chemical elements (cesium, rubidium), and determining the composition of many substances, including the chemical composition of the Sun and stars with the spectroscopic method. He also designed some equipment for the chemistry laboratory, including the Bunsen burner in 1855. Bunsen’s colleague, Gustav Kirchhoff2 (1824–1887), was a German physicist who was also well-known for developing electricity- and radiation-theory.

Anatomiegarten, Hauptstrasse, Heidelberg, Germany, fotoeins.com

Robert Bunsen: professor in Marburg, Breslau, and Heidelberg; director of the (university’s) chemical laboratory; founder of chemical analysis; developed the chromic-acid battery and fused-salt electrolysis for the production of magnesium; created spectral analysis technique with Gustav Kirchhoff; discovered the chemical elements of cesium and rubidium (1860).

Anatomiegarten (Anatomy Garden)

By most appearances, Anatomiegarten is small and easy-to-miss by most visiting Heidelberg; even long-time residents miss out as well.

Why is this square called “Anatomy Garden”? The buildings immediately surrounding the square provide some insight.

Anatomiegarten, Hauptstrasse, Heidelberg, Germany, fotoeins.com

Anatomiegarten with Bunsen statue in front of Friedrichsbau: north side of Hauptstrasse

The Bunsen statue marks the location of Anatomy Garden on the north side of the Hauptstrasse. Behind the statue is the Friedrichsbau. Built initially as a monastery, the building was purchased by (and named after) Baden’s Grand Duke Karl Friedrich the First in 1804. By 1864, the building was converted into a science complex, once home to Heidelberg University’s various science departments including mathematics, physics, physiology. The building is now home to the university’s institute of psychology (Psychologisches Institut der Universität Heidelberg). Behind the Friedrichsbau is a 19th-century university building built to house the departments of anatomy and zoology.

Anatomiegarten, Hauptstrasse, Heidelberg, Germany, fotoeins.com

From Anatomiegarten’s Bunsen statue to “Haus zum Riesen” building: south side of the Hauptstrasse

Across from the Bunsen statue on the south side of the Hauptstrasse is the Haus zum Riesen, made famous with the scientific work by Bunsen and Kirchhoff.

Once occupied by a hotel destroyed in 1693, a Baroque palace was built in its place in 1707 using stones from one of the collapsed structures at the nearby Castle. By the turn of the 19th-century, the building housed the hotel “Zum Riesen”, a brewery, and a distillery. By the middle of the 19th-century, the university began to use space in the building, accommodating the departments of anatomy, physics, and zoology. Today, the building is used by various companies for commercial and office space.

Anatomiegarten, Hauptstrasse, Heidelberg, Germany, fotoeins.com

Memorial plaque on the wall of “Zum Riesen”

Near the southeast corner of Hauptstrasse and Akademistrasse, the plaque on the wall of “Zum Riesen” reads:

“In diesem Hause hat Kirchhoff 1859 seine mit Bunsen begründete Spektralanalyse auf Sonne und Gestirne gewandt und damit die Chemie des Weltalls erschlossen.”

“Within this building in 1859, Kirchhoff and Bunsen determined a spectral analysis of the sun and nearby stars, opening the study of the chemical composition of the universe.”


Anatomiegarten is home to one of Heidelberg’s Christmas markets along the Hauptstrasse. While you admire the lights and sip on a Glühwein, consider for a moment the square’s backstory, including the university’s history and study of physics, chemistry, physiology, and anatomy.

Towards the western end of Heidelberg’s Hauptstrasse, Anatomiegarten is a 10-minute walk from the city’s central tram and bus hub at Bismarckplatz.

1 Spectroscopy is the process and study of obtaining a spectrum with the separation of light into its components. For example, a rainbow is a naturally-occurring spectrum of “visible colours” as sunlight is refracted by water droplets acting as prisms. Work by Kirchhoff and Bunsen led directly to the study of the chemical properties of objects in the universe by comparing their spectra with the spectra of known chemical elements found on Earth.

2 I found Kirchhoff’s grave in a visit to a cemetery in Berlin’s Schöneberg, where the Brothers Grimm are also laid to rest.

I made all of the photos above on 23 November 2012. This post appears on Fotoeins Fotopress at fotoeins.com.

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