By Michael Lowe
So what does a food writer, and self-confessed all-around food nerd, do with a day off? The answer is simple – wander about area restaurants eating great food and meeting the people who bring it to us.
My food walkabout in the downtown core begins with a stop at Yayee Thai Street Food on St. Paul Street. I was hoping to catch up with owner Usaporn Pharoongapinant, the previous owner of Chang Noi’s Thai Cuisine, a place I had reviewed about eight years prior. I was delighted when she greeted me as I entered the bright and colourful eatery. She immediately directed my attention to the day’s menu (photos top) and offered suggestions. It was an easy decision — I agreed to try whatever she recommended.
A beautiful plate (photo above), as pleasing to the eye as it is to the palate, consists of a salad of matchsticks of crisp granny Smith apples, garnished with chopped peanuts, and a mildly spicy red curry chicken and Jasmine rice. Garnished with Thai basil, with its distinctive licorice notes, tangy red chilies, and drizzled with fish sauce with garlic, it is a warm, savoury comfort dish that I must have again soon. The whole dish is washed down with a refreshing glass of lychee juice, which balances the heat nicely. The quality of the food at Yayee is remarkable, not to mention a great value. I bid Usa, as she is called by anyone who knows her, a fond farewell and head off to my next destination.
I had been looking for an opportunity to drop in to Odd Bird, and this was it. Also located on St. Paul Street, it was just a short walk up the main drag. I grabbed a seat at the copper-clad bar facing the open kitchen and perused the chalkboard menus. My eyes were immediately drawn to the fried chicken sandwich. Opting for the hot, spicy “Nashville” version (photos above) is the way to go if you can take the heat. The coating has a nice crunch; the meat is moist and tender – highly recommended. A cold glass of 26 Acre cherry cider sure helped keep the spice to a manageable level. You’ll hear more from me on the Odd Bird in the near future.
The savoury part of my day ends with a last minute drop in to a now one-year-old favourite, Bolete. I always feel a certain calm as I sip a chilled glass of wine at the bar and watch the kitchen crew do their thing. This time I am in the mood for seafood and the menu offering on this day makes the selection easy. Medallions of top quality, soft and delicate albacore tuna are paired with nutty black rice and garnished with scallions, cilantro and chilies (photo above) — a fresh and satisfying dish indeed.
A day of dining like this would not be complete without something sweet. A short walk from Bolete is Hometown Ice Cream. Proprietor Linda Vandewetering (at left, above photo) meets us as we enter and takes us straight to the freezer to taste samples of her natural, homemade ice cream. Flavours change with the seasons but this day we enjoy toasted coconut, cardamom and carrot cake to name just a few.
Other specialties include waffle pops, fresh-baked cookies designed specifically for ice cream sandwiches, and various tarts, pies and cakes (photos below). You might see Hometown Ice Cream at local handmade markets or look for their blue trailer at local supper markets in the summer months. They also will cater to your need for sweet treats at private events and weddings. We left with a pint of cold creamy cardamom ice cream to enjoy at home.
So there’s the scoop on a delicious day in downtown St. Catharines. These are but a few signs that the revitalization downtown seems to be taking hold. I know I’ve been spending more time there than I have in years. Park your car, walk around, eat and drink, and, most importantly, get to know the fine folks behind the scenes.
Yayee Thai Street Food
Unit B, 281 St. Paul St.,
52 St. Paul St.,
176 St. Paul St.,
Hometown Ice Cream
142 St. Paul St.,