In the era of BC (Before Children), I was something of a foodie. After a trip to Thailand in my early twenties, I threw myself headfirst into cooking from cultures all over the world. The stranger the ingredients, the crazier the recipes, the happier I was! I enjoyed visiting hole-in-the-wall grocery stores where I could find dusty jars of little-known substances hidden on corner shelves. I was cooking and eating quinoa and adzuki beans long before they became popular here.
Every Friday, I would read the Ottawa Citizen's food section (which I believe now runs on Wed or Thurs), and flip to the restaurant review by Anne Debrisay. I was hooked on her description of food, and in awe of her ability to pick out whether certain ingredients in a dish had come from the freezer or a can (which I can now do myself - it just takes a little practice!) I realized that good food is like good wine - sometimes you want to pay a little extra for the cream of the crop.
Enter child #1. First of all, I haven't read the newspaper in two years. I catch up on my news by listening to CBC radio, which sadly, does not have a food critic. And those nice restaurants I used to drag hubby to? It's really hard to enjoy an expensive meal when your toddler is screaming and wiping spaghetti on a nearby window.
My goal lately has been to find local establishments that make good quality food, but are still open to little toddlers peeking through swinging kitchen doors. Usually these are places that don't break the bank when you decide to go out for a meal. In an ideal world, they are family-run establishments with fresh ingredients and prices ranging from $7-$15 for an entree. They also have a decent beer and wine list for those parents in need of a drink.
What I didn't realize when we re-located to Orleans, Ontario, was that I now live in Suburbanville, where local establishments are big box restaurants. And here's the thing about these places (no naming names): the food is cookie cutter. Every town/city you travel to, the meal you purchase from these franchises will taste exactly the same. That might be nice for some people, but personally, I like variation. I'm delighted when a meal I bought last week tastes different this week, because the cooks have decided to get creative and throw in a few different ingredients.
Furthermore, these restaurants-in-a-box tend to load their dishes with three things: sugar, salt and fat. It makes it taste better, of course, but leaves me gasping for water all night long. My body groans whenever I chow down on an industrial dinner, and I know I'm not doing myself (or my family) any service.
We're not food snobs, and we sometimes stop at one of these places for the convenience (especially the ones that sell coffee!!). However, I'm fully aware that I'm getting low quality food at low prices, and I don't think doing this occasionally is going to kill me.
What does bug me is when I want to eat out (or take-out) and there is nothing within a 10km radius worth paying for. I would have to drive into downtown Ottawa, find and pay a babysitter, and drop a good deal of money just to get my fix.
It makes me wonder - why do suburbanites put up with this? Why aren't we demanding better food and making it easier for family establishments to start a business here? Why do we have to rely on these restaurants-in-a-box if we want a fun night out? We're the closest in the city to surrounding farming communities, and yet we eat processed chicken shipped in from Timbuktu.
I do not have time to start a restaurant, and frankly, I would be really bad at it. BUT, I do have time to do a little bit of research here in Orleans and find out if there's anything I might be missing. Part Deux of this series will look at some specific places in the neighbourhood that have been recommended to me, and I'm going to do my own foodie critique right here in this blog. Let's see what we can uncover (and hopefully it's not more salt, sugar and fat, 'cause frankly I've had enough of all that!)
I would love to hear from those of you living here in Orleans. Where do you eat out?