Friday, August 12, 2005

'Delicious all-beef baked to a peak of flavours' was what caught my eye. It took a while. I must have been pouring over the seven page 8.5x17 full colour laminated menu for ten minutes.

"This place has got to have meatloaf," I thought to myself. "It says 'All Your Favourites! All Day Long!' on the sign out front."

That's when I saw it. It would be too cliche to say out of the corner of my eye. It was more like it was smack dab in front of me on one of those acrylic table sign holders. 'Early Bird Dinner Specials (3-7 pm)' and right below it 'Homestyle Meat Loaf'.

"Waiter, I'm ready to order!!"

This was the auspicious beginning to my meal at Smitty's in London, ON.

Smitty's Family Restaurants seem to be a chain of aneurysm inducing kitsch factories first founded in Alberta, but it was attached to my hotel so why not. Kinda like Denny's but Canadian.

Mine was attached to the Best Western Lamplighter in London. The Best Western was pleasant. They gave me a King Suite for the price of Queen Regular so I can't complain. But Smitty's could only be described as a zit protruding from a pleasant mid-market hotel.

Smitty's is that oddly placed rotunda on the right. What the hell they were thinking no one knows. Inside was much worse. The interior was wood panelled and most of the lighting was provided by miniature wagon wheel chandeliers.

It wasn't the most tempting of dining establishments, but as I said it had a lot going for it. It was attached to my hotel.

Back to the narrative, I had just ordered the early bird dinner special meatloaf when it had hit me.

"Crap! What have I done," I thought. Everything else listed on the specials menu had been represented on the normal laminated dinner menu except the meatloaf. No meatloaf sandwiches, no dinner entree meatloaf, not even meatloaf and eggs for breakfast. It's like the menu had just gone into some sort of meatloaf twelve step program and come out dry and born again.

"I am in a franchise eatery that only serves meatloaf 4 hours a day and that is on the discount menu. I am soooo screwed." That is when my server reminded me of the soup and salad bar and off I went.

You see, Smitty's Early Bird Dinnner Specials appeared to have been created by some wholesaler turned restauranteur. Here is what the small print said,
All Smitty's Early Bird Dinner Entrees come with the following:
Unlimited soup and salad bar, fresh baked rolls, daily vegetable, choice of potato, dessert of the day & a bottomless cup of your choice of coffee, tea or soft drink.
Even on paper that seems like a lot of food. You should have seen the plate.

I moseyed over to the soup and salad bar and helped myself to a half cup of what turned out to be the blandest Cajun Corn Chowder I have ever tasted and heaping plate of greens with pickled vegetables and fresh cucumber and tomato topped with a small amount of French dressing. I also grabbed a fresh baked roll before tucking in.

Before I knew it, my ginormous square plate arrived. Filling every ounce of space was:
  • a slice of meatloaf covered in sauteed onions and drizzled with gravy
  • a large scoop of really creamy mashed potatoes also drizzled with gravy
  • a really big pile of green beans glistening with butter and tossed with steamed peppers and carrots
Immediately, I dove into the 'loaf, breaking off a healthy fork full, making sure I captured a couple of onions and a smear of gravy. As it hit my tongue I instantly knew; yup, the answer came to me. 'What answer?' you ask. The answer to the question, "How can a franchise restaurant afford to make meatloaf everyday in hopes of selling some during an exclusive 4-hour window?", of course.

What I put into my mouth looked like meatloaf. It was a rectangular slice of ground meat that had been baked with a mixture of spices. It smelled like meatloaf. Hell, I would say that every single one of my senses except for taste would have judged it to be meatloaf.

But if I had closed my eyes before placing that succulent morsel into my gob, my brain would have announced something else completely. It had been a very long time since I had tasted Salisbury Steak. A very very long time, but not long enough to forget that distinctive flavour.

I don't know how they did it. I could hazard a guess why, but how still alludes even my imagination. Somehow the head cook at Smitty's in London, ON uses his Salisbury Steak mixture (which is on the regular menu) to concoct some sort of meatloafy substance.

And I ate it.


spezbaby said...

A couple of footnotes to the story of my London, Ontario meatloaf.

The reason I was flummoxed by the portions and amount of food was simple. Each Smitty's Early Bird Dinner Entree cost the low, low price of $8.95 plus tax. I couldn't believe it.

Also, Smitty's seems to be the real growth industry as they have about 115 locations in Canada. If they had internet at the tables it would be like a license to print money.

Finally, they just opened one in Mount Pearl.


Cormac said...

Bravo, Pierre! Bravo!

You will, of course, not be the least bit surprised to learn that I have dined at the Smitty's in Mount Pearl. Ever since the Smitty's chain set me right in Halifax after a large night on the town, I can see no good reason not to offer them my custom.


Sami Lama said...

Was there unidentifiable organic matter hanging from the ceiling of Smitty's (memories of Miami)?

athena said...

I loathe Smittys with all my soul...and so I'm happy to see that you survived.

But its a total blight on the Canadian landscape IMO.