Bayfield Street might appear today to be an endless sea of chain restaurants and fast food joints, but mixed in there have been some eateries that I miss very much, and wish I could visit just one more time.
I often read, on social media about the great love folks had for Mad’s Restaurant at Bayfield and Ferris. When I first remember that location, it was a Smitty’s Pancake House, which took up almost the entire ground floor of the building that now houses a Subway on one end and Baskin Robbins on the other.
Truth be told, Smitty’s is not exactly a fond memory of mine. My part-time job there during my college years was a chaotic experience with some interesting characters for co-workers, more than one attempted robbery and a cassette player controlled by one cook who insisted on playing Jethro Tull tapes non-stop every day.
Next door, was another eatery that holds much better memories for me.
"They're lined up out the door. Move faster!" These are words that no line cook wants to hear – not me anyway – on a busy Saturday night when you are already working as fast as you can, but we would quite often hear these words from the kitchen manager of the Crock and Block when I worked there. It was always very busy.
That was just over 30 years ago, and "the Crock" appeared to be holding its own against the many other restaurants that had popped up along Bayfield Street. That changed one year ago this week when our customary family celebration venue closed forever.
There always existed a high standard of customer service, and staff was expected to come through for the customer no matter what. I remember a crazy night when I was manning the boiler which was covered with all manner of expensive steaks, each being cooked to specific degrees of doneness, when the broiler went on fire. I expected to be taken off the station or perhaps see someone run over with a fire extinguisher, but no – a supervisor came and pulled out the burning tray from under the grill and put in on the tile floor. I continued to cook standing pretty much in the flames! No one in the dining room went without their perfectly done steak that night.
One day, I walked to work from my home on Ferris Lane just after a tremendous thunderstorm had passed. The power was out but I arrived for my 5 p.m. shift nonetheless. Most of the staff was huddled in the manager's small office, taking turns phoning family members by candlelight. I wasn't sure what was going on but someone finally said, "There was a tornado and the horses from the racetrack are running down the 400!" I was sure that my prankster co-workers were making things up. After all, tornadoes don't happen around here!
The last time I ate there, the interior of the Crock and Block looked the same as it always had with cozy booths, rustic posts and beams lined with antique copper pots and pickling crocks and stained-glass accents. The dinnerware used to be the Blue Willow pattern, my personal favourite, but those appeared to be gone. The royal blue linen napkins remained, as did the ramekins of individually freshly baked bread served to each customer.
Opened in 1972, once the location of a place called the Burger Chef, the Crock and Block had seen a lot of changes on the Golden Mile. Smitty's Pancake House was just to the north of it, and Pondersosa (now Red Lobster) was located to the south.
Who remembers Hobo’s? I recall Reuben sandwich platters and baskets of deep fried shrimp. I also recall getting dolled up with my college girlfriends – all of us just teens from outside of the ‘big city’ – and going to Hobo’s to sample some of the fancy drinks on their bar menu. Chocolate mudslides, Singapore slings, strawberry daiquiris – we were really living!
Do you remember where you were when you first tried chicken fingers? I do! It was real chicken breast strips, served at Casey’s, which was next door to Hobo’s.
How about the ‘Canada Cooler’? This was the first of the pre-mixed bottled cocktails out there, and they were the big deal in the summer of 1985 when I was working at O’Toole’s Roadhouse. Century 21 has an office in that spot today, and some of you might remember that this was a Howard Johnson Restaurant before that.
I certainly wouldn’t mind having one of O’Toole’s deep-fried veggie baskets with a side of thick blue cheese dressing right now!
Each week, the Barrie Historical Archive provides BarrieToday readers with a glimpse of the city’s past. This unique column features photos and stories from years gone by and is sure to appeal to the historian in each of us.