I found another old place to eat. This one is in Kitchener. It wasn’t, when it started, but it is now, because the city has eaten it up, and people from the city are going out there to eat up. It first opened in 1927, so it’s three years older than the Harmony Lunch I wrote about earlier.
Currently owned by a Greek-Canadian and his wife, it has changed hands several times over the years, getting bigger and better. It’s called Pioneer BBQ, because it’s near the Pioneer Tower memorial, from my Magical Mystery Tour.
From center to center of many towns in Southern Ontario is five miles, because that was as far as a set of horses pulled a stage-coach, thus, the “stage” in stage-coach. Five miles south of the center of Kitchener, there used to be a small village named Centerville, long since annexed and existing now only as a subdivision name.
Five miles further south, there was never a “village”, but always a point of commerce. This is just about five miles north of the center of our neighbor city, another stage-coach hop. The two burgs have sprawled towards each other, till now the boundaries abut.
The area has grown into a conglomeration of hotels, various bars and fast-food joints, restaurants, big-box stores, Cineplex and gas-stations. Poor little Pioneer huddles behind/between the Tim Hortons/Subway strip mall which faces one big road, and the tire store/furniture/ electronic games store strip mall which faces the other main street. It fronts on the main access road to the next town, fighting for its business with the Golden Arches across the street, and can be seen from the back of the Costco parking lot.
Continuing in the fight to confuse locals and visitors alike, two-lane, little Pioneer Tower Road comes up from the river. When it reaches the old highway, it blossoms into a 4/6 lane street, now named Sportsworld Drive, where our eatery is located. A half a mile south, it passes into the city of Cambridge, and becomes Maple Grove Road.
Just at that border, in 1927, the Preston/Kitchener Street Railway ran. Folks used to take an electric-trolley ride out that far for a Sunday trip in the country, and stop in for some fine eatin’. At first, it was just the parlor of the home of the wife of a Railway Manager, which got turned into a dining area. Later their living room became the sit-down counter.
In the 70s and 80s, a liquor licence was obtained, and a large roofed deck was added to the other side of the “house”, to segregate the smokers. It could only be used for a few months each year, so, in the 90s, it was closed in, insulated and a fireplace and heat vents added. Smoking in Ontario restaurants has since been banned.
This is Home Cookin’ at its best, or pretty darn close. Pulled pork, beef, or chicken sandwiches, with pickles almost as good as ours, sturdy salads, onion rings with onion, not tons of coating and a whisper of onion, thick, crisp, browned steak fries.
They serve a variety of burgers and combos. They have steaks, spaghetti, fish and chips, cold sandwiches and hot sandwich plates. This is a real Mom and Pop diner. At an ordinary restaurant, a turkey sandwich would contain a couple of thin slices of processed turkey loaf. The wife ordered a turkey sandwich and was asked, “White meat, or dark?”, and got slabs of turkey thigh meat.
They must employ at least one, or more, near-world class bakers – doughnuts, tarts, muffins, brownies, 5 or 6 kinds of pies, and CAKES, with caramel and/or chocolate drizzled over them. Ya gotta keep moving past the display case, or you gain weight. Everything, including the pastries, is available for take-out.
Like Harmony Lunch, I’ve never seen or heard of Pioneer BBQ advertising. They’ve survived by word of mouth. Slowly, as more and more people grow familiar with the area, because of the surrounding shops, their clientele increases.
The food is delicious. The service is tight and friendly. The prices are reasonable for the healthy blue-collar size servings. The noise level was low, the day we went there. Even with the (relatively) new owners, they still like doing things the old-fashioned way, which is fine by me. I took a business card as a reminder to compose this post. The first thing I noticed is that they don’t have a website. Our waitress told me that some of the young preppies ask where the Wi-Fi section is – and everyone laughs!
(It’s inevitable, and unavoidable. Between composing and publishing this post, we invited the son out for lunch here during his vacation period. It gave me another great restaurant meal, and a chance to take photos of the pastries. They still don’t have a website, but as we approached the door, we could see the new sign, “FREE WIFI.” A couple almost as old as us sat next to us, not saying a word, but each diddling a new Smartphone. The son said, “If I ignored you, at least I’d do it to your face!”)
We sometimes take the daughter out for lunch before we all go shopping at Costco. We’ve hit a nearby Wendy’s a couple of times, and have been thinking about the all-you-can-eat Indian buffet, across the highway, but this place is definitely on our go-back-to list.
They’ve got old-fashioned food for us old-fashioned fogies. It’s nice to know another local eatery is still going strong after almost 87 years. I’m willing to throw myself on a plate of poutine to keep them going. (And that gold cake with caramel sauce, could we take a slab of that home? Please?!) Diet??! What diet? 😕