14 Sep kick ass diner: The Craftsman
Ramona stares out the window and pauses before answering my questions about The Craftsman Restaurant that is going on 26-years-old in December. It’s a cottage country institution and she’s ruminating about how things have changed since the beginning. (Located on highway 28 South in Paudash– the small town just before Bancroft). Breakfast: smoked salmon burrito with capers and homefries. Drool.
She’s cupping her coffee mug tight—as if it will help with her answer like a Jeannie in a bottle. Sometimes I want to interject when a minute has passed, but I don’t. This is the urbanite in me who hasn’t checked my iphone for the entire three hours of our talk. She stares and pauses with any question that requires some thought. Wearing moon shaped earrings and a funky purple and black wrap, she is comfort personified. “Someone once called my style unconventional,” she says. No one in Bancroft dare say this. Bancroft is full of all kinds: blue-collar and artsy. “We (including hubbie Jim) were accepted the minute we moved here.”
We talk about the diner’s food–comfort food with a twist. Jim, the chef, adds flair to the basics. Case in point: spruce tip salad dressing. You heard correctly. Jim takes the tips off spruce trees and has added the dressing on the menu from time-to-time.
When I arrive on a late Friday night, he makes me a watermelon and tomato salad with a basal olive oil dressing. It’s a bursting garden in your mouth!
My entrée is salmon with a zucchini fritter garnished with their heirloom spinach –from their own garden. It includes red spinach. Never even knew there was such a thing. It’s served with homefries, and a salad with balsamic and tangerine dressing.
“Years ago regulars wouldn’t eat what you’re eating,” says Ramona. “But now they want to switch it up more… now they often come in having tried it all and say: “I don’t know what I want…make me something.” Twenty-six-years ago when they began, the regulars were more ‘meat and potatoes’ type of eaters; many worked for Bell, Hydro or the Ministry of Natural Resources. But, cut backs mean many of those people have left. “The customers over the years are more eclectic.”
But the actual restaurant hasn’t changed that much: it has evolved. Antiques cover their walls. Jim’s doing, says Ramona. “Sometimes we get older regulars that have been coming for a long time and they give us something. ‘Here, this is something so you remember us.’” Henry and May, regulars in their 80s, even had their wedding reception here. “They’re gone now,” says Ramona.
Her daughter worked here in the summers and swore she’d never move back once she left. Oh, the youngins. Familiar refrain.
Not only has she moved back, but she asks about picking up shifts.
One time it got so busy at the diner, Ramona had to call in help from her daughter and sister in Barrie: “They dropped everything and came…it was so much fun all of us working together.”
Many kids that moved away and began families are moving back, she adds. They’re also returning to things like gardening and more of a ‘live off the land’ kind of life like it was when Ramona arrived decades ago. “More customers ask about what is in the food now.”
Here is a pic of the gang.
Community is everything up here, especially considering it takes a lot of creativity and resourcefulness to make a living. When summer is gone and the diner is closed, the town goes into a bit of shut down mode.
But you never get lonely. When Jim had surgery years back, people came by to ask if Ramona needed help with things like taking out the garbage or meals. When one local gardener grew too many green beans every year, guess who got the extras?
It’s that kind of place.
She laments the simple life when they first arrived: back then you could raise chickens and if you had an extra, you could give it to your neighbour. Or, you could sell the eggs to the grocery store.
Everything is regulated now.
Driving out Sunday, the sun came out.
Looks like a regular house, doesn’t it? Feels like it, too. I had breakfast with Ramona. After a giant hug, she thanks me. For what? “After you asked about where all the antiques came from and about the place, that night, Jim and I went around the place and reminisced.” I want to thank Jim and Ramona for reminding me about how good a small town can feel and how this place is the heart of that good feeling.
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