Friday, June 06, 2008

Restaurant Review/Rant: The Colander & The Colander Express

I am probably going to get death threats for posting this. But, I'm willing to take the risk.

Trail has a locally famous eatery called The Colander. Around WWII or shortly thereafter, there was an enormous migration of Italians who settled in Trail because there was well-paying work to be found at Cominco. The Italian immigrants have given the city a bit of cultural flavour. There is a Columbo Lodge, and Italo Canadese club, an Italian-run and influenced local grocery store, and if you look through Trail's phone book, you'll see that there are dozens of Italian surnames listed. If you go to the local graveyard and mausoleum, you'll see a lot of Italians are buried there. Growing up in the area, I remember shopping in Trail and hearing Italian spoken on the streets, and I knew that some people, especially the oldest in the community, barely spoke any English. Why bother when you could have your services, social networking, and neighbours all speaking Italian? And what better way to make your mark in the new world by starting a restaurant featuring Nona's famous spaghetti recipe?

The Colander (no web site, unfortunately) is a local icon. Boasting "authentic Italian" food, it has a sparse menu consisting of spaghetti, meatballs, chicken, potatoes, salad, buns, and spumoni for dessert. I believe they do ribs now, too. There is also a fast food version of The Colander in the mall, The Colander Express. It is here that I ate last night, in the vastly uncomfortable food court at Waneta Plaza. (The food court, incidentally, contains only two other places to eat and both are pretty bad.)

You can't really grow up in this area without knowing about The Colander and eating there at least once. I've eaten there several times, but not for a good 15 years. There was little atmosphere; you went in and were seated on uncomfortable, rickety chairs at long trestle tables with paper table cloths. The floor was cement, there was little adornment on the walls, and what was on the walls was cheap and silly-looking. There were some dividers set up so you had the feeling that there were smaller rooms within the big room, but the noise told you otherwise. It's basically a big hall/warehouse hybrid and thus the atmosphere wasn't that of a mom & pop bistro. It had more the atmosphere of a church potluck, only the menu was limited, church pot lucks are a little more jolly and pleasant, and the food is much better. And the kids tend to be better behaved.

My family was never fond of The Colander. My dad thought it was a waste of money because it lacked what, in his wannabe upper crust opinion, a proper restaurant should have, namely atmosphere, or at least an attempt at atmosphere, a decent menu, and decent food. In the three times I ate at The Colander that I can remember, it was always the same greasy spaghetti, greasy potatoes, and greasy chicken. The same people always dined there, and though it was a lot of food for not too much money, I could never really understand what the draw was. Although I don't consider myself to be too much of a food snob, I still don't get The Colander, and after eating at it's mall rat offspring last night, I am not inspired to give it another chance.

The Colander Express boasts sandwiches and various other items in addition to the famous spaghetti and meatballs. Having had a sandwich for lunch at work, I decided, against my better judgment, to have the spaghetti. What a huge mistake.

For $6.50 (or thereabouts) I was given a whack of spaghetti noodles, a generous ladle of The Colander's famous sauce, two meatballs, and a spoonful of that dreadful Parmesan cheese that looks like white powder and doesn't require refrigeration. Flavour-wise, I could have had something more tasty from a can of Chef Boyardee. The slick of tomato-coloured oil that coated my meal was unappealing to the eye and hard on the stomach. Had I not opted for meatballs, the dinner would have been over $1 cheaper, but when I actually ate the meatballs (which weren't that big), I didn't think they were worth the extra money. The meal sat heavily in my gut, which took a while to settle down. It was, in a word, terrible.

And this is part of what I don't get: everyone loves The Colander. It is consistently the best reviewed, most recommended place around. And I just don't understand why!

It doesn't help that I've been to Italy. I spent two months there and went from north to south, to Sicily, to Rome, to Milan, to Lago di Como. The food I ate during my trip came from a variety of sources; bakeries, delis, restaurants, bistros, pizzerias, grocery stores, market stalls. None of it ever, ever remotely resembled anything like what The Colander produces. Either this group of immigrants came from a very remote, specific part of Italy where this kind of food was common, or they were just bad, backwards cooks. And, I ate a hell of a lot of gelato in Italy - like every day, practically - and never once did I see spumoni. And do not get me started about antipasto!

Trail never was the culinary capital of the Kootenays (I'd have to say Nelson always was and still is) but it's much better than it used to be. If you're coming to town, let me know and I'll gladly recommend some other places where a way better meal will be served to you. Hell, I'll even cook for you and it'll 1000% better than The Colander.

Failing that, there is Dairy Queen.

NB: Photo from here. There don't seem to be many pictures online; there is probably a good reason for that.


mister anchovy said...

does every town in the mountain west have a Dairy Queen?

Wandering Coyote said...

Pretty much. And a subway. I love a Blizzard!

Judith said...

You're absolutely right! I hiked around Italy and experienced only good, simple food- nothing like the infamous Colander!Why don't you tell your WC friends about the last time I treated you and your brother to Colander for dinner? Maybe that's why baby brother was born with bright red hair? Just joking.Mother of WC

Wandering Coyote said...

Mom: Um, I don't recall that particular incident...Did it involve sauce where sauce oughtn't be? I thought Jem inherited his red hair from England Grandma...

sassy said...

Judith - your comment about the food in Italy struck a chord with me. I was there a few years ago and travelled from the south (in the heel of the boot) up to Rome - and never, ever a bad meal. Yes, simple and so good.

WC - don't know if you have been to Italy yet, but being a foodie, I think you would love it, expecially the places away from the large cities.

haha, whenever I purchase a lottery ticket, I think of all the things I would do for people WHEN I win. You are now on my list for an Italian destination of your choice.

Got a little o/t here, please forgive me.

Wandering Coyote said...

Sassy: the last paragraph mentions that I spent two months in Italy! Still, I'll take that Italian destination if you ever win the lottery. Yeah, the food in Italy, the REAL Italian food, is so completely different to anything I've had in North America. This stuff at The Colander is nasty, NASTY I tell you! It's absolutely NOTHING like what I had in Italy. I just don't get it!

sassy said...

Sassy: the last paragraph mentions that I spent two months in Italy!

[red faced me] that I read this post and missed that.

One of the things about the food in Italy is that they seem to care that it is fresh - perhaps that speaks to one of the differences.

Off to get my 649 tickets, wish us luck :)

Aqua Rae said...

No death threats but a very different opinion of the Colander. My experiences there may be more out of nostalgia but they are favorable none the less. I remember gathering there with my rather large family, at least 20 or so, and being seated behide one of the partitions. The noisy atmosphere and the crusty bun just added to the anticipation of the feast to come. This was an once or twice a year special treat for us. We ate ridiculous amounts of Spaghetti, JoJo's, Chicken, sausage and salad. I really enjoy the sauce and have many Italian relatives that do actually make something simular however no two are alike. (And yes I have one too) I even served Collander Spaghetti at my wedding reception although in the Riverbelle location. Over rated - probadly yet it's still one of my favorites.

Wandering Coyote said...

Hi Aqua Rae: thanks for visiting and leaving a comment!

Nostalgia is a huge reason why we love so many different foods. My mom makes to die for ham & pea soup that brings back all kinds of warm memories, so I can totally understand why the Colander holds a special place in your heart. As for me, I never really had those kinds of experiences to up the the whole Colander experience to something more special.

busk47 said...

I am a Trail ex pat with family who still reside here. Whenever I come home there is always a visit to the Colander. True, sometimes the food can be greasy, but that is good gravy for the crusty, buttered buns. The sauce is what draws folks in there, as well as the quantity you can consume...(NEVER wear tight clothing when you go). What really draws me is the atmosphere, or lack there of. I love the noise of the place, and bumping into old aquaintances and talking across tables. It is a mess hall, but it brings back good childhood memories, that I can now create with my own kids. This is one restaurant where I don't have to tell my kids to keep their voices down. Anyways, it is fathers day, and we have a 6:45 reservation...3000 calories here I come!!!
PS. For those in the know, the Waneta Plaza joint is called "The Mallander".


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