It is 2015. A week and a half in to the new year. Predictions hang, like puffs of warm breath, unanswered in the winter air. These ponderings range from the whimsical (e.g., Is "ugly food" in?) to the practical (e.g., Have food trucks overshot their carrying capacity?) to the poignantly urgent (e.g., How will the city of Edmonton address downtown's growing food desert?).
Virtually every diner-cum-food blogger/writer wonders, up and beyond these musings, what this year will bring in terms of new restaurants. We all wait, like sharks scenting prey in the water, for that telltale hint that something new is about to happen, and race to see who will be first to "scoop" the joint.
The decidedly unglamorous restaurants are too often spurned. The family-run cafe with the dowdy, outdated decor is overlooked in favour of the next big media preview. That place that's been around forever, the one that still serves solid chow after all these years, never makes it into the ranks of user-review websites like Yelp or UrbanSpoon. Nor do these under-the-radar spots beget social media frenzies, as if constant presence in this realm is a reliable indicator of proficiency. Such is the case for Island Curry Takeaways, its home no more exotic a locale than a desolate Fort Road strip mall.
It is dark and quiet tonight, and Island Curry Takeaway's photo-adorned windows gaze blankly over a mostly empty parking lot. Inside is equally quiet, punctuated only by the mechanical whirrings of kitchen equipment. Congenial owners and an intriguing menu chase away any lingering doubts, though, and soon a steaming platter of Curry Goat appears at the table. Here, a kaleidoscope of spices turn, roll and bloom. Simple white rice tames the fire (spice level is negotiable, but "medium" is recommended). Devilish bones necessitate dental dexterity for extricating the juicy, gamey goat, and it is well worth the effort.
Smoky-sweet Jerk Chicken mingles with cool, crunchy coleslaw and a few sprigs of cilantro. Robust rice and beans underneath and toothsome and satisfying. A bite of chicken mixed with creamy coleslaw and al dente rice is, quite simply, just right.
But it won't elicit frenzied instagram posts or races to see who blogs about it first, and that is a pity. The owner-operators' names are unknown and won't be name-dropped in earshot of others. It isn't fair, but it is characteristic of this era of food/foodie culture.
Indeed, the freshly-minted can be spectacular and beguiling. Intoxicating in their vortex of rapid-fire tweets and photos. Mesmerizing in their culture of quasi-celebrity bestowed on both writer and chef. Deliriously cyclic in the trading of good reviews in exchange for edible rewards and recognition. Time and circumstance will dictate the long term tenure of the new and flashy. Certainly, some will settle at a comfortable cruising altitude, but others will fall to earth as quickly as they appeared. It more than behooves the writer to give long-established restaurants their due, for there is good reason why they are still here.