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?
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.
Rebecca Coleman (@rebeccacoleman) November 05, 2014
Chewies Oyster Bar (@ChewiesOysters) November 05, 2014
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:
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.
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).