“Dad, can you come over, right now?”
That may have been what Kendra said when she called.
But she’s a fifth-generation Newfoundlander, so it’s more likely her words were, “Whatta ya at? It’s tangly here!”
And Stan’s response may have been, “I’ll be der da Rackley.”
On Victoria Day Monday, the town of Woody Point was quiet as a snowflake and cold enough it would have been no surprise to feel one.
We wanted to see this picturesque town of 250 people in the heart of Gros Morne National Park, buy a small jug of laundry soap and eat a good seafood lunch.
We were camped about 20 minutes away at Elephants Head RV Park at Trout River, where the night before, our waitress at the excellent Seaside Restaurant told us Merchant Warehouse Retro Cafe & Wine Bar was owned by the same family. Seaside’s original owners started the place in 1979 and now their daughter Jenny and her husband, self-taught chef Stan Parsons, are carrying on the legacy. They’ve garnered positive reviews from The Globe & Mail, (“Seaside Restaurant is known for its “tongue and cheek special” (flawless fried morsels of cod’s most underrated parts)”, National Geographic Traveler, even The New York Times. In 2009 Seaside was inducted into Newfoundland Labrador’s Restaurant Hall of Fame.
Arriving after 7:30, on their second day of opening for the season, we were lucky to get a table. Seaside, and many restaurants in rural Newfoundland, close early. We waited upstairs for a bit, not a hardship given the beach and ocean view. Apologetic, our waitress, a seven-year veteran at Seaside, explained that she was at home and got the call to come in and help. Saturday, Seaside had only eleven people for dinner. But Sunday when we arrived, the downstairs was full and people were still coming.
“Did you get to eat your own dinner?” we asked.
“Not yet,” she said, “and I cooked a good one, too. A Jiggs dinner with chicken. But it’ll be there when I gets back.”
We both ordered the lobster—the sweetest we’ve ever eaten, because, as she said, it was freshly caught in deep, cold water. It came with a Caesar salad with a tasty homemade dressing and our first Newfoundland buns.
Shaped like a mini loaf of bread and made from brioche dough, Seaside’s buns have just the right amount of sweetness to complement lobster. (They were the best we had in Newfoundland.) “Our baker has been workin’ on twiggin’ this recipe for about three years and I told her to stop; she gots it perfect.” After a slice of partridgeberry pie, our waitress gifted us two buns to take home.
The next day, Magellan, whose orange camera bag matched the jug of Tide he was carrying, spotted the Merchant, and in we went.
The place was empty. A beautiful young woman asked us if a high table by the window overlooking Bonne Bay in the licensed section back of the 50’s style diner would be alright. Magellan joked with her that it was a good thing no one else was in the restaurant because his clothes needed that Tide.
We thought she was running the place alone, but when we ordered drinks (“Not sure if I ever have but sure, I can make you a virgin Caesar”), she said the cook was there, too.
I wandered around the eclectic collection of family photos, nautical and fishing paraphernalia, local art and a framed poster for the Woody Point Writers’ Retreat. “This place is incredible,” I said to Magellan. “They hold a writers’ festival here that attracts people like Meg Wolitzer.” Kendra says the place has live entertainment almost every night in the summer.
Two young women arrived. Followed by a middle-aged couple. Then twenty young people clad in parkas and toques began pouring in, along with a handful of others a generation older.
“Looks like students on a tour,” I said to Magellan.
Gros Morne is where the theory of plate tectonics was proved, internationally renowned as the earth’s “soul” (its mantle)—and they were geology students and professors from Queen’s University here to see this.
“Hey, that’s Stan, the chef from Seaside who left at the same time we did last night,” I said, looking at the man who came in next. Stan recognized us. “I was cleaning toilets and all of a sudden this group arrives and now I’m serving tables,” he said. (The Parsons family also own rental units in Woody Point.)
The place was hopping with chatter, laughter and camaraderie.
A table of three young couples arrived. “Seat yourselves up and I’ll be with ya. In two hours,” quipped a newly arrived waitress, older and with a grin on her face—Jenny: Kendra had called in both parents to help out. (Jenny’s a retired phys ed teacher; can you imagine what fun her classes were?)
There was no rushing around, no hurried panic. Stan chatted with the geology professor and stopped at our table again. He told us the Merchant, originally a fish warehouse that burned down in 1922, was rebuilt for his great-grandfather as a storage facility for the family’s retail business. Stan and Jenny spent six years restoring it. He was even prouder that Kendra had come home to help run the Merchant after working as a flight attendant for Air Transat.
Pouring drinks, Kendra was “busy as a nailer” as they say in Newfoundland. “I had them put in an extra piece of cod and another container of coleslaw for you,” she smiled when she delivered our Seafood Basket. “Enjoy.”
Pints of beer, plates of fish n’ chips, thick sandwiches and mugs of coffee were being delivered to a full house in the big room. “I dunno what to charge you for a virgin Caesar,” Jenny laughed as she cleared the table and went to get our bill.
“You remembered your Tide!” Kendra called out to Magellan as we were leaving.
“Yeah, I knew you wouldn’t have time to find me if I left it. You’re busier than on an Air Transat flight to Mexico!”
You can read more about this family and Merchant Warehouse Retro Cafe & Wine Bar and Seaside Restaurant here.
According to the Heritage Newfoundland website, in Newfinesse, the word “some” means very good.
Woody Point Writers Festival This year its 19th festival featured Wayne Johnston (The Colony of Unrequited Dreams, the story of Newfoundland and Joey Smallwood’s efforts to make it part of Canada, is among the best books written in Canada), as well as Mary Walsh, William Prince, Martha Wainwright…
Wolitzer, Meg. This is what her website says about my favourite book of hers, The Wife: “Now a major motion picture starring Glenn Close in her Golden Globe-winning role! One of bestselling author Meg Wolitzer’s most beloved books—an “acerbically funny” (Entertainment Weekly) and “intelligent…portrait of deception” (The New York Times).