Classic Café East
73 Duckworth St.
Ph. (709) 726-4444
“You’re still here!”
Chef Fred Reardon was surprised we were still on the premises. He did a double-take when he bumped into us as we were leaving Classic Café East. My companion checked his watch. The time, 4:30 p.m., confirmed our lunch had lasted three hours. It was the best kind of lunch, sustained by good food and conversation.
Forty-two-year-old Reardon was 34 when I first met him. He has grey hairs now. Understandable when you consider that he’s been running his own restaurant for 13 years. Keeping a downtown food service business afloat isn’t easy, especially “in the current economic climate”, or, to be plainer, crapshoot.
Reardon’s unpretentious café is an ideal spot for lunch (or breakfast) and a catch-up with old friends or former work colleagues. Although he’s quite capable of producing fussier food, Chef Fred enjoys making Classic Café East cuisine, which he describes as “home-style” – Pan-Fried Cod instead of Trout Meunière Amandine. He would also tell you his food is affordable, and he’d be right.
The Money Shot
Retired newsman, Glenn Deir, was my guest – a colleague when I worked for the CBC. As we shared each other’s food – a spoonful of chowder for a few cod tongues, some French fries for a scrap of Figgy Duff – we talked, and talked. Our conversation was mostly about his first novel, an enjoyable, breezy read entitled, “The Money Shot”. (Available from Breakwater and most booksellers for $19.95.)
The satire is about a local TV news reporter with CBC’s Here & Now. Sebastian Hunter is a first-class jerk (my word). Sebastian is based on Deir (he’s not a jerk) and reporters with whom Deir has worked, mainly here in St. John’s, but also at CBC Halifax and NTV. Glenn Deir worked for Geoff Stirling as a reporter in his formative years, when most folk still referred to NTV as CJON.
“I would argue that there has to be a Sebastian in every newsroom.” Deir said. “You’ve got to have that sort of driving person, the driven reporter, who breaks stories. And if you don’t have a Sebastian, you don’t have a very good newsroom. You could even have two, but you can’t have too many of them because then there’d be open warfare.”
True, but, cripes, Sebastian Hunter is a special piece of work. He’s pathologically cruel, ruthlessly ambitious, immoral, cheats regularly on his fiancée (with several women) and leaks negative stories about colleagues to the media. He’s an amalgamation of many reporters, a Frankenstein monster, if you will. Wait, maybe I’m not being fair to Frankenstein. At least his monster had a few redeeming qualities.
Sebastian Hunter, salivates to be transferred from the local backwater to a “National” posting in Ontario, and would most definitely have turned-up a twitching, wrinkled nose at our Cod Tongues – too common, greasy, bad for the waistline. But, we both agreed that Chef Fred’s were highly desirable, as well as the garnish of a dozen or so irregular cubes of fried, rendered fatback. Terrestrial and marine flesh, moderate in fattiness, turned into palate pleasing ambrosia.
Seafood Chowder, the dairy based kind, was excellent. Classic Café’s soup was thick, yet buttery smooth as opposed to the sometimes stodgy, flour thickened, trades school introductory cooking course kind. Chef Reardon’s richly flavoured olio of fish and vegetables with its clean hint of sea salt made a pleasing impression from mouth to tummy.
Fish ‘n Brewis, chopped up with thinly sliced sautéed onions was described, by Classic Café East, as “our most popular local dish”. Having tasted, I would never dismiss the claim. Although I enjoy the freshly boiled or steamed salt fish and hard bread classic, it’s the leftovers, cut and fried in butter that I adore. If fried at the right temperature, and just long enough, the fish and brewis gets a little golden and crispy at the edges. The flavour reminds me of socarrat, that crisp bottom layer so critical for paella perfection.
Conversation picked up as we waited for our hot sandwiches. Curiosity gnawed. I was surprised Glenn Deir had set his satire (or, as he called it, “a torqued-up version of a newsroom”) in an actual newsroom, at a real network, and, in a few instances, had used familiar names. References to a fellow named, Peter Mansbridge, may ring a bell, or three.
“They say write what you know. I could have fictionalized it but I said, oh what the hell, lets have a little bit of fun. You’ll notice I don’t ever mention St. John’s in the book. I don’t ever mention iconic landmarks, like Signal Hill. Obviously, I describe parts of St. John’s because I find it easier to describe what I know. It just seemed more devilishly fun to set it inside Here & Now and the CBC.”
“Would you like malt vinegar for those fries?” interrupted our server, as she delivered my Hot Turkey Sandwich with fries.
I decided the white vinegar on the table would be a nice change. As I was spritzing and salting them, my author guest asked if I’d give him “just a few”. (I knew there’d be remorse when he chose salad over fries to go with his burger.) He had Figgy Duff coming. I smelled an opportunity for some trading, so I cheerfully offered him as many fries as he would care to enjoy. We suspended our chatting to chew.
It was a polite sandwich, with crusts cut off. Thankfully it wasn’t open-faced. A Newfoundland hot turkey sandwich should employ two slices of bread, fresh turkey meat (white, dark or both), dressing and chips. Peas and carrots are optional. Classic Café East scored on all the essential ingredients for a quite decent hot sandwich.
Wafting, intermingled Figgy Duff and Spotted Dick aromas preceded the puddings’ arrival. The Spotted Dick was all mine, but I also had dibs on a nubbin of Glenn Deir’s Figgy Duff. Both were delicious examples of traditional Newfoundland cuisine and in keeping with Chef Reardon’s favoured home-style cuisine. These were not the kind of puddings Mrs. Patmore would have served the Earl of Grantham in the upstairs dining room at Downton Abby, but rather, below stairs, where simple but often tastier fare was served to household staff.
Guest’s Figgy Duff was as spicy as his novel. The Spotted Dick was sufficiently spotty. Thank goodness for raisins. As an accompaniment, I think custard sauce is ideal for these puddings, but the café’s hard sauce and whipped cream were good tasting choices too.
It’s not my place to give stars to novels. Restaurants are another matter. Based on my latest experience, Classic Café has risen from two stars to three.
My thanks to Glenn Deir for his company, and for the complimentary copy of “The Money Shot”. The tale of self-obsessed Sebastion Hunter will make you scream for the creep to be taken down many pegs, to receive the heaviest possible dose of comeuppance. It wouldn’t be fair of me to reveal the ending; for that, you’ll have to read the book.
Price Lunch for two with coffee (no alcohol) tax and tip costs (approximately) $60
Service Friendly, well-informed servers provide excellent service.
Atmosphere A bright, traditional café with the vibe of a regular haunt. A place where parkas and scarves have been hung often enough to wear down the finish on coat hangers that dangle on a wall, in plain view.
Sound level Moderate.
Open Sunday to Tuesday from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., Wednesday to Saturday from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Reservations Accepted and walk-ins are welcome.
Beverages Classic Café East carries an unornamented collection of wines and spirits. Juices, soft drinks, tea, coffee, and hot chocolate are also available.
Wheelchair access Access from outdoors is not possible without major assistance. Tables are easily accessed. Restrooms, located downstairs, are not accessible.
* Fair * * Good * * * Excellent * * * * Exceptional