Wednesday, August 10, 2005

An Encounter with Spaghetti Benders

Dinner at "The Spaghetti Benders" was memorable. Some of the best Italian food I've ever had.

The ferry reached North Sydney about 5:30 this morning. I had slept on a couch for a few hours, and was actually feeling rested. Jeff, on the other hand, had tried to rest in a recliner chair, dressed only in t-shirt and shorts. He complained of being chilled, which is rare for him.

We went down to the vehicle deck early and were able to open a door, accessing the deck before it was officially authorized. We were the only ones in sight, and quietly and leisurely unfastened the bikes and prepared to debark. It was a good fifteen minutes before the ship came to a complete standstill and everyone (else) was allowed on the deck. Unfortunately, we were not up forward with the other bikes, and so had to wait for many of the cars to leave before we could get out.

It was my idea to drive the roughly 12 miles to Sydney in search of a motel. I assumed, since it was a larger city, we would stand a better chance of finding something decent. The welcoming sign "Steel capital of Eastern Canada" was not an encouragement. Tired and edgy, we were not getting along too well. Searched for an hour on that side before giving up and returning to North Sydney. In the heavy, muggy air and scattered fog, nothing looked very appealing.

We ended up trying the motel right near the ferry entrance, but it was full of seniors, three tour buses worth! Jeff wanted a "traditional breakfast." I was growing less patient and more grumpy by the minute. This was all too complicated. I just wanted to ride away from this place. Forget resting.

At last, we found a tolerable restaurant at “The Clansmen” motel. After some fresh blueberry pancakes, coffee and juice, I was feeling a bit more civil. We then headed south once again. After 12 miles or so, we came upon the "Seal Island Motel." An older, somewhat run-down establishment, but it looked okay. Numerous motorcycles, including a BMW 1150GS were parked there, so it couldn't be too bad. We took a room at $99, plus tax. Since they were allowing us to check in at 8:00 a.m., we were getting 28 hours for our money, so it didn't feel like such a rip-off.

The first order of business: get some rest - three hours. As rain was anticipated, we felt justified in laying over. "And we need to recover from all the riding of the past few days." But with the poor weather, the "Cabot Trail" ride, one of our original plans, now looked questionable.

In the afternoon, I went down the road to a "CAP site" just a mile away. Located at a local school, it is part of Industry Canada's Community Access Program, providing internet access to rural communities. For $2, visitors can set up in the school's computer lab and access the internet. Staff are on hand to assist. It was very warm inside the school today.

My computer showed the wireless connection at 11 Mbps, the same I've seen in many places, but the system was much faster today. I asked a young technician about some of the problems I've been experiencing. He said it was possible some of the circuits I used were only operating at dial-up speeds, or that the servers were actually blocking communications.

A very sad e-mail from Jessica today tells of losing a good friend in a motorcycle accident Friday.

Another, from Lisa Hayes, includes the announcement by Michael Othites that 35 more employees are being laid off from Woodbridge Winery, as a result of changes that will help the winery "operate more effectively and efficiently, and will position it for continued growth." The corporate world abounds with hired guns who will perform the dirty work from which spineless, greedy board members and executive officers cower. "Better their head than mine."

I posted photos from the past five days, wrapping up just before the 7:00 p.m., the CAP center closing time. Within walking distance of the motel are two restaurants that looked interesting. Jeff and I set out to explore them. The first we came to was "The Spaghetti Benders", right next to the motel. From outside, the smell of garlic was inviting. We went in “to look at the menu,” but based only on the aromas, it was clear we were staying. It is a very simple, small rectangular building, but with some elegant touches in the dark, candlelit interior. The sound of a woman singing Portuguese fado gently filled the room. Everything on the menu looked good.

“They took all the bad stuff off the menu!”

To start, we ordered bruschetta. Served on a thick homemade toast, all the ingredients were garden fresh and flavorful. Excellent! A Caesar Salad, though not traditional, was among the best I've tasted; fresh and garlicky, with small homemade croutons full of flavor. The Chicken Risoto was, without a doubt, the best I’ve ever had. Jeff said the same of his spaghetti with meat sauce. It was almost a religious experience. We were talking marriage here - any of the three owner-chef-sisters would do!

A couple came to the door late, knocking, then looking around through the windows, then knocking again. None of the staff paid any attention. The man seemed to give up, but the woman kept knocking. Embarrassed, I finally got up and tried to open the door, but couldn’t.

Finally, one of the servers relented and let the woman in. The woman then seemed to suck the entire staff’s attention, placing an order to go. It was quite annoying, as it clearly impacted the service to the customers who still remained at their table.

We had to compliment the chef. "Georgette" came to our table. “The garlic keeps the men away,” she said, apparently referring to her difficulty finding the right man. Identifying myself as being from the Napa Valley wine country, I tried to impress her. I know good Italian food, and this is perhaps the best I’ve ever tasted!

We learned that the three young sisters, Georgette, Angela and Nadia (family name Saker) have had the restaurant 12 years, 10 years in this location.

For dessert, we tried Georgette's Chocolate Cheesecake and Angela's Strawberry Shortcake. (Each sister contributes their specialty to the menu.) The cheesecake was simply incredible.

After "the annoying couple" left, Georgette reappeared with her sisters and we praised their work. They joked aloud about that "crazy woman."

"She wanted a bottle of wine to go. We can't do THAT!"

“We closed early. We had a long day, it was hot, and we were in a bad mood. We can do what we want.." they all chimed in "BECAUSE WE HAVE NO MONEY,” and laughed.

Angela added “and then I see this customer going to the door to let that woman in, and I’m thinking ‘oh, no!’"

As another group of guests was leaving, they bantered back and forth about Georgette’s ill-fated dating career. It seems everyone she has met was either gay or lesbian. Then the sisters proceeded to discuss some of the candidates. It was a riot, being spectators to their family comedy. What fun.

Walked back to the motel, quite pleased with the way the day had turned out.

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