419 Main Rd.
Goulds, St. John’s
Ph. (709) 745-8005
As a child, my memories of Goulds, or da Goulds as I called it then, are of visiting family friends who had a summer cabin at Fourth Pond. Sharper, more vivid memories of Goulds were made during summers when my Uncle Art visited from New York. He loved the ponies and the only thing we had close to what he yearned for – and it wasn’t that close – was the little Goulds racetrack that featured harness racing, with betting. It was the betting that was the real attraction for Uncle Art.
At the time, there was a popular little roadside take-out called Betty’s Drive-In on the main road, in what was then, the Town of Goulds. Betty’s was in a tiny wooden building. You’d drive onto the parking lot, walk up to the take-out window and order your food. Eventually, you’d receive your meal through the same window. Betty’s sold chips, fish and chips, hamburgers, things like that.
Betty was Betty Ward. She and her husband, Reg Ward, owned and operated the drive-in. They opened Betty’s 55 years ago – yes, 55 years ago, in 1962 – and it’s still there at 419 Main Road under the name, Keith’s Diner. Keith is Reg and Betty’s son. (A vintage 1960s black and white photo of Keith as a boy hangs by the counter today.) Their daughter, Debbie, is a cook. She does most of the cooking at Keith’s Diner.
Chowing in a Chevy
Apart from the change in name, from Betty’s to Keith’s, some physical changes happened. The building grew to accommodate indoor dining. Sitting in the Ford Comet or Chevy Impala to devour your plate of chips, dressing and gravy was no longer necessary. Not that there’s anything wrong with chowing down in a Chevy.
Keith’s is a comfortable diner with a corner fireplace to keep things toasty in winter, and air conditioning to help combat the heat of our sweltering summers – oh, sorry, I meant that one sweltering day we have here every second summer.
Keith’s can easily accommodate forty customers, or more. In a concession to its simple roots and roadside diner status, condiments are in a caddy on your table, along with paper placemats that advertise stuff – like, hmmm, home financing – and a roll of paper towels for wiping the grease, gravy or ketchup off your face and hands. Don’t expect napkins, or as we used to say, serviettes. “Dis ain’t da Ritz”, as someone else used to say.
It’s a regular folks restaurant, with lots of happy patrons who know the staff, know the menu like the backs of their hands, and who do, literally – I saw it – walk through the door wearing a big old smile. Keith’s Diner knows what it is. It doesn’t pretend to be anything else, nor does it want to be anything else.
Wanting some munchies to get things going, we ordered a portion to share of Keith’s boneless Buffalo bites. The word Buffalo is a misnomer in this case. There was nothing spicy about the bites, nor were they similar, in any way, to Buffalo wings – except both originate from chickens.
Keith’s so-called Buffalo bites did possess a hidden gem, although you’d never say it from their appearance. The roundish bites were on the dark side and had a firm, crusty, shell-like exterior. They looked liked specimens collected on a geology expedition.
Underneath the humdrum shell was the most tender, juicy, flavourful white chicken you could wish for. This planned or unplanned surprise had me viewing Keith’s Buffalo bites in a completely different way. Think of the shell as a key element of the cooking technique, necessary to yield mouth watering chicken breast meat.
They say a good homemade soup, especially chicken soup, is good for what ails you. Keith’s beef vegetable soup is my kind of medicine. The savoury liquid in which cubes of beef and root vegetables glistened, had the aroma of all that was good, robust, deep and good tasting in the beast. And the vegetables were so flavourful I’m guessing they were grown in Newfoundland soil, if not Goulds.
Our server told us it would be 10 minutes or so wait on the burger, because Keith’s made the patties from freshly ground beef. We said, “Sure, not a problem”. Fifteen minutes later I bit into a remarkable cheese burger. In fact, I hadn’t tasted a burger this good in years. Keith’s masterpiece tasted exactly like the kind of burger you’d make after schlepping home with your tray of prime ground beef, shaping the patty, and carefully frying it on a hot stove.
Ordinary v. extraordinary
Keith’s burger was proof that what resides between the two halves of the bun is everything. Without the texture and flavours of quality, fresh ground beef, it’s simply an ordinary sandwich, and very, very far from the extraordinary.
A side plate – actually, it was a full dinner plate – of chips, dressing, green peas and gravy was heavenly. It would have made a worthy contender in a match against even the most formidable poutine. (By the way, Keith’s makes poutine too.) When you think about it, maybe poutine is a Newfoundland invention. All Quebec did was add those silly cheese curds.
Keith’s fish and chips was also very good. I did find some parts of the fish to be cooked a little too much. It’s a tricky business deep frying battered fish. A few seconds one way or the other can make a huge difference.
I had no doubts, however, about the cod and the potatoes, from which the chips were made, being utterly fresh. In this respect, Keith’s hasn’t changed since Betty and Reg opened the original restaurant. Uncomplicated fare, freshly prepared from fresh ingredients. Even Raymonds wouldn’t argue with that.
Price Lunch for two with tea, tip and tax costs approximately $40.
Service Cheerful, efficient and informative.
Ambiance Like a typical roadside café.
Sound level Moderate.
Open Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 12 a.m.
Reservations Walk-ins are welcome.
Credit cards All major.
Parking Building’s parking lot.
Beverages Soft drinks, water, tea and coffee.
Best bets Cheeseburger, fish and chips, Buffalo bites.
Wheelchair access No.
* Fair * * Good * * * Excellent * * * * Exceptional