Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Skip the Meal . . .

and go right to dessert. That’s what we should have done.

I’ve had a craving for bar food. You know, foods that are covered with cheese, deep fat fried, and/or generally unhealthy. So when I stumbled upon the menu for Texas Gate Dining Lounge in Cochrane, AB, the appetizer menu seemed to fit the bill.

Texas Gate is a large sprawling place that serves as a pool hall, sports bar, music venue, and restaurant. The day we stopped in for lunch, there were a couple of guys playing pool in the far side of the room and a few lonely diners (Well, they looked lonely in that huge room). And, on the flat screens, was a replay of a golf match from 1983 featuring “Young Johnny Miller.” Were any of us really that young?

One of the day’s specials was fish and chips, and Chuck made this his choice along with a bowl of clam chowder. The chowder was OK with chopped bacon and lots of chopped clams and celery. The bacon was a surprise. Fat back or salt pork is a standard addition to many white chowders and one that is seldom seen outside of New England. I like the smokey flavor the bacon gives chowder and wish more restaurants would add it. But the chowder was thicker than I like (Yeah. It was his chowder, but I am the one writing the evaluation.), and the clam taste was overwhelmed by the celery.

His fish (two pieces) and chips were also OK but certainly not memorable. The fish appeared to be coated in a beer batter which resulted in a nice crisp shell. But the fish underneath, while not overcooked, wasn’t remarkable. Fortunately, Texas Gate managed to do what seems to be impossible – cook hand-cut fries crisp. These may have been the best part of his meal.

Wanting bar food, I looked to the appetizers section of the menu where I had my choice of: dry (breaded) ribs, wings, potato skins, mozzarella sticks, Chinese pork dumplings, nachos, ponchos (lattice fries smothered with nacho fixings and served with salsa and sour cream), an appetizer combo platter, and poutine. Poutine is a dish consisting of French fries topped with fresh cheese curd and then covered with a light chicken, veal, or turkey gravy that is mildly spiced with pepper. These were invented in Quebec and are now popular all over Canada. So popular that they are even sold in high school cafeterias - egad. I am not sure I have seen a menu since we arrived that doesn’t list poutine, and I probably will have to try them before we leave. But today wasn’t to be the day.

What I really wanted were wings. Messy and spicy wings. So I chose an order of a dozen wings (honey garlic, BBQ, teriyaki, jerk, salt and pepper, hot, or suicide) served with carrots, celery, and ranch dip. Trying to judge the hotness of the hot, I asked the server if hot wings would make my lips numb, eyes water, and nose run. She then asked if I was familiar with Frank’s Hot Sauce, because that was the sauce used on the hot wings. Those crazy Canadians. Breaking new culinary ground. So I ordered them hot and not suicidal.

The wings were, in fact, pretty good. They were large, not drowned in sauce, and still slightly crisp from frying. But they were slightly overcooked and, had it not been for the hot sauce, would have been a bit dry. Still, it had been a while since I had eaten wings and these satisfied my bar food craving.

According to the web, Texas Gate Dining Lounge is the hot after-work spot in Cochrane. I think it is the accou-trements that bring in the customers, and not the food, and only rate Texas Gate as a 3.0 dining spot.

But now it was time for dessert and we knew just the place—MacKay’s Ice Cream on Main Street (shown in the mural painted on the wall of the store next door). “MacKay’s was launched in 1946 when Jimmy and Christina purchased the town’s general store, the ‘Red and White’. Main Street was the highway through to the Rockies at the time but was moved to the 1A to allow traffic to bypass the town. Ingenuity brought the people back to the town’s streets when Jimmy and Christina started making ICE CREAM in 1948.

“By the mid 1970s, thousands of people were visiting MacKay’s (far right in the photo, right) and not only from Calgary but around the globe. The all-time record day was in August 1976 when the shoppe logged 4,500 ICE CREAM fans.... MacKay’s is the premier tourism draw for the Town of Cochrane, a regular destination for day visitors from Calgary, as well as a popular stop for tourists on their way to the Rocky Mountains. MacKay’s has been visited by people from all over the world, including Malaysia, South America and even Iceland and Siberia!”
(From Mackay’s web site.)

Jimmy died in 1983 and daughters Rhona and Robyn suddenly found themselves running the family business. To improve their knowledge they took courses at University of Guelph (in Ontario) and Penn State University. You may have heard of the two famous graduates (via correspondence) from the Penn State Creamery program - Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield of Ben & Jerry's.

MacKay’s ice cream contains 17% butterfat while most ice creams contain 10% butterfat. MacKay’s has recipes for over two hundred flavors of ice cream with the best-selling flavor being chocolate, followed by vanilla and strawberry. Some of their more innovative flavors include: Purple Yam, Avocado and Black Cherry, Chai Tea, and Mayan Chocolate as well as Limoncello Sorbet.

We wandered in about mid afternoon, and there was a line of twenty-plus snaking through the store and out the front door. I suspect that most of the customers were, like us, first-timers, because everyone needed time to study the extensive list of flavors available that day. The plan was for us to each order a single in a cup and share. Then my astute (OK, does shrewd sound better?) powers of observation kicked in. A single cost $3.75, a double $6.50, and a triple $7.95. For only forty-five cents more, we could order a triple instead of two singles. Way to go.

After lengthy negotia-tions, we finally selected our three flavors – White Chocolate Raspberry Truffle, Columbian Coffee, and Tropical Mango. All three were delicious, but the Tropical Mango, with its bits of icy mango, was the real winner. Some have described the mango’s taste as being the mix of orange, pineapple, and peach. I just think that mango tastes like mango and am not about to try being deeper than that.

A few days later, we returned for another triple. This time it was the Tropical Mango (again), Saskatoon berry (which tasted to me like a cross between a blueberry and raspberry), and Chocolate Espresso Cheesecake. Again, all were great, but the Tropical Mango narrowly bested the Saskatoon Berry.

While no ice cream will ever equal Wilcoxson’s (of Livingston, MT) huckleberry, MacKay’s rates a solid 4.5 on the Addie scale.

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