Murray’s Pond Club
1464 Portugal Cove Rd.
Portugal Cove, NL
Ph. (709) 895-6585
When spouse suggested we have Sunday dinner at Murray’s Pond Fishing and Country Club, I was reminded of something I’d read about the club a long time ago. Thirty-two years ago, this month, to be exact.
In March of 1985, columnist Allan Fotheringham wrote a piece for Macleans with the title, “The parties on The Rock.” A large swath of it described a raucous costume party he attended at Murray’s Pond Club. As these things usually do, it ruffled more than a few St. John’s feathers. Nobody, as I recall, disputed what Fotheringham said went on at Murray’s Pond that night. They were more upset that he would go back to the mainland and write about it, and in a widely read national magazine no less.
Thinking that a columnist like Fotheringham wouldn’t write about it sounds a bit naïve, but, it was over thirty years ago. The outrage, if real and not faux, was unwarranted. It was – albeit given the full Fotheringham treatment – just an entertaining composition about a somewhat raucous Newfoundland party. Now, there’s a shocker for you. Raucous parties? Newfoundland?
No doubt you’re eager for a taste of what Fotheringham wrote in that 1985 Macleans column. Here’s a tidbit, but first a little set-up is required. The costume party was in full swing and a male schoolteacher, no doubt well lit, as we say, and a woman dressed as a stripper – yes, I’m afraid so – engage in a floor show.
“Encircled and encouraged by the throng, he attempts to remove – in syncopated fashion – the fashionable lady’s fashionable dance-hall array. It is a wild adagio, garter belts peeking, a game that is a little more than a game, everyone wondering just how far it can go.…The respectable stripper whirls and escapes, only to return for another escape. The teacher rips off his shirt. His wife dives at him to restrain him.”
Whew, well then, it seems I’ve missed out on a lot as far as Murray’s Pond is concerned. I’ve only visited the club twice in my life. Previously for a Blind Date with a Star dinner and recently for our Sunday meal. Both were very sedate affairs, although on Sunday one of the larger tables did break into a verse of the Happy Birthday Song. Shocking, isn’t it? I nearly fell off my hotel convention chair.
In recent years, the club has stepped up its catering operations and, apart from private and members only functions, it often does lunches, brunches and special holiday meals that are open to the public. For example, on Good Friday, April 14th, Murray’s Pond is having a Friday Fish Fry. In addition to fish – deep-fried, pan-fried and fish cakes – there’ll be flipper pie.
Speaking tangentially, I wonder if the Roman Catholic Church has ever classified seal as a fish, so worshippers can eat seal during Lent? At one time the Church categorized puffins as fish, and, as Scientific American confirms, also beavers and capybaras. (A capybara, by the way, is a very big rodent. Some have grown to weigh 150 lbs.) Considering those concessions, I should think seal would be a shoe-in for the piscine designation.
Now, back to Murray’s Pond. A more regular event, at least since February 5th – and continuing until May 7th – is the Sunday Jiggs Dinner. It costs $19.95 per person and includes coffee, tea and dessert. The menu spins every Sunday from Jiggs with beef, to Jiggs with turkey, to Jiggs with roast pork. We landed, so to speak, on Jiggs with roast beef.
Murray’s Pond Fishing and Country Club has been around for over 100 years. As mentioned, it’s a membership club – I’m told the yearly membership fee is quite reasonable, especially the all-inclusive “Rainbow” family membership – and while winter months are pretty much restricted to clubhouse socializing and dining, in more clement months, when sunsets there are glorious, you can take part in fishing, beach volleyball, swimming in a heated pool, badminton, soccer, basketball, paintball, laser tag, fly fishing lessons and fly tying lessons.
The original single story clubhouse was essentially a small country cottage, built sometime around 1830. It had a fairy tale look about it, with frilled roof, decorative flourishes, tiny veranda and only one large window for viewing the picturesque pond. Eventually, the cozy cottage was replaced by the more practical, large, two story structure of today.
In winter, when Murray’s Pond itself is frozen white, its banks also white with snow, the outdoor Adirondack chairs look as uninviting as they ever will, and the long Murray’s Pond Club wharf, protruding outward on a rock-solid surface, appears extrinsic. Even the handsome shoreline gazebo seems to be saying, “I don’t belong here. Can I please come into the warm?”
Inside, the club has several rooms. One is a smallish space with fireplace that can accommodate a few dozen people. That’s the room where I first dined at Murray’s Pond a few years back. A larger, long room, with plenty of dance floor, is where big events like weddings take place. It shares a common bar with the smaller room.
On Sunday, we were seated in the long room, by a window. It has most of those windows you see overlooking the pond as you drive by on Portugal Cove Road. In the afternoon and evening the sun pours in through those windows. That’s why each is equipped with a large blind in case it gets too bright.
The avuncular Darryl Harding, General Manager, greeted us cheerfully, and to me he made the aside, “you would show up on the one day I’m serving frozen carrots.” (I put that in for those of you who think restaurants are somehow warned about my visits.) Harding needn’t have worried about the carrots. One serving of carrots does not a negative review make.
Murray’s Pond’s Jiggs Dinner with roast beef was exemplary. Visually, with food layered on food and then more food, it looked like a proper scoff. Oh, did I mention lashings of gravy over everything? If you were purchasing this meal in one of those cafeterias where they price your food by weighing it, our plates would have cost a fortune.
Sweet mustard pickles and bottled beets, essential Jiggs condiments, were in great supply. After somehow managing to find space for a spoonful of each on my plate I dug in. Yes, “digging in” is the appropriate expression. It’s how you eat Jiggs Dinner. If the plate contains eight things, then you try to get a portion of all eight in your mouth at the same time. Your teeth, tongue, palate, taste buds and tonsils should all be dancing to a wonderful melody of flavours. It’s what makes Jiggs so comforting, so satisfying, so good.
Apart from the usual Jiggs Dinner ingredients – salt meat, pease pudding and the like – I must mention the roast beef and raisin duff. I was prepared for beef that was a little dry and perhaps not as tender as I like. Murray’s Pond delivered the opposite. The roast beef was juicy, full of flavour and a pleasure to eat.
Constant and cushiony
Darryl Harding told me that the light, cushiony duff is constant, but each week he alternates the fruit in the duff between blueberries, partridgeberries and raisins. Steamed puddings were a Jiggs Dinner thing in my house, but I liked Murray’s Pond’s inclusion of a baked version soaked in rich gravy.
Sunday’s desserts table included lemon meringue pie, Creamsicle cake and New York style cheesecake, with a choice of toppings. I tasted the lemon meringue pie and it was ideal. A fitting, citrusy, palate cleansing conclusion to a true Newfoundland and Labrador scoff.
Okay, now I have to go lie down.
Price Dinner for two with tea, tip and tax costs approximately $50.
Sound level Moderate.
Open Sunday from 12 p.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Credit cards All major.
Parking Building’s parking lot.
Beverages Murray’s Pond Club offers a selection of popular wines, beers, spirits, soft drinks, water, tea and coffee.
Wheelchair access Yes.
* Fair * * Good * * * Excellent * * * * Exceptional