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Canadian Cafe, Eh?

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I've lived in the U.S.A. for more than half my life now, but I still grapple with the issue of cultural identity and a sense of national heritage. This is further complicated by the fact that my people and my motherland suffer from what I see as a lack of culture beyond a handful of longstanding stereotypes that I feel oftentimes at a loss to counter or defend, unless I am taking exception to them as personal affiliations. For example, I am not a hockey fan, I don't pepper my sentences with "eh!" and, no, I don't know your cousin Jim from Calgary. Probably because I've never been to Calgary. My point: It isn't easy being Canadian in the USA. So I have turned to find comfort in Monrovia, in the native foods of my countrymen, at the Canadian Cafe.

Wait a minute.

What the hell is Canadian cuisine?

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I don't even know. Maple syrup? Molson's and Labbat's beer? Canadian bacon? Am I shamefully neglecting to connect to my homeland via its hallmark national dishes? This required on-site and immediate investigation.

The Canadian Cafe in Old Town Monrovia bears little resemblance to any place I recall from my formative years in Toronto and Vancouver, but it does have the charm of a neighborhood favorite meets truck-stop spot. The walls are covered in pictorial tributes to the Great White North (travel posters for beautiful Saskatoon and enticing Yellowknife, etc.) and the sound system plays real Canadian music (kd lang, a kids' chorus spelling out C-A-N-A-D-A, the national anthem, and--my favorite--Bryan Adams). The color scheme is a flag-raising duo of red and white. I was hoping my server would be dressed like a mountie or a moose or beaver, but, alas, she was just a regular gal. I drank in the schmaltz--and a big glass of water (no beer here...sacrilege!)--and perused the menu.

Here you'll find that the food of my people is basically greasy spoon fare: Burgers with "special sauce" (unfortunately, although the menu calls it a BC Burger, that does not mean they mimic BC's legendary White Spot chain of family restaurant's "Triple O" sauce that I adore), hot dogs, breakfast dishes, and fries. (Who knew?) There's a full page of Toronto Deli Sandwiches (here I was thinking it was Montreal Smoked Meat that was the big deal), and an expanse of items featuring Peameal bacon. This is what we on this side of the 49th parallel know as Canadian bacon, and I will let the Canadian Cafe folks explain it:

Peameal Bacon, the Real Canadian Bacon, sometimes called Back Bacon, is made from boneless pork loins, cut from the leaner portions of the loin. The external fat is trimmed to within 1/8 of an inch to make this a very healthy product. Smokeless and tender, it is sweet pickle cured and rolled in a traditional cornmeal coating.

But the restaurant's calling card is something called Poutine.

Ah, poutine. I first encountered this truly Canadian (well, actually French Canadian, and I will leave my feelings about separatists and the Quebecois in general aside) when I did an exchange program through school in grade 7 with some kids in Quebec City. The second we hit town, we hit the local mall's McDonald's, and they ordered it up. I promptly was grossed out, and that cemented my dislike for the dish. And although, for some long-forgotten reason, "poutine!" is one of my boyfriend's favorite words to exclaim at random and serves as an occasional term of endearment (go figure), I still don't like it. Oh, you're wondering what it is? Well, it's fries. Topped with cheese curd. And gravy. People swear by it, and the Canadian Cafe is known for it, but I just can't go there. If that's the national cuisine of my homeland, I just might turn in my passport.

So what did I order? Well, they said that their Rotisserie chicken sauce was just like that served at the Swiss Chalet chain of chicken restaurants (think Koo Koo Roo with table service), and I had been thinking of Swiss Chalet just the other day, and that sealed the deal. I had a 1/4 chicken dinner, white meat, with cole slaw, fries (hold the cheese curd and gravy, thankyouverymuch!), and a biscuit. Was it just as I remembered? Hmmm. The chicken was super moist and delicious, and the sauce had the Swiss Chalet's twang but missed the mark on consistency, as theirs was a bit more gelatinous than the sauce I remember. The biscuit was a biscuit (not a sweet Chalet dinner roll, darnit!) and the coleslaw quite decent and creamy.

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My citizenship did not provide for a discount, although I seemed to be the only Canuck dining during this particular lunch hour, so I did get asked some "Canadiana" questions that I fumbled to answer. (I have no idea why a fried bologna sandwich would be called a "Newfie." This could be because I've never had a fried bologna sandwich. Am I a traitor to my people?) Guests can, however, pay with Canadian money on an even exchange, which I'll keep in mind next time I come back home with a pocket full of loonie and toonie coins.

Will going to the Canadian Cafe awaken your inner Canadian? I'm not sure. It may stir untapped longings in you to visit Regina or Moosejaw, and, if you're brave enough to place the order, determine your stance on the vital and divisive political issue of poutine. I did not feel the umbilical cord-like tug of the motherland, but I did have a very pleasant lunch. You be the judge...eh!

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Canadian Cafe
125 East Colorado Boulevard, Monrovia
(626) 303-2303