Sunday August 26, 2007
Restless Sunday-- phone calls made but no one is answering. Back to the Basics: a Solo Burger Quest. And where else to go on this restless Sunday but back to The Old Neighborhood? Yes, Queen Street West is calling my name. I’m not headed to any of the so-hip-it-hurts bistros or clubs-- I don’t want a burger with @#$%*@ shaved truffles on it, I just want a big ol’ honest hamburger and I know just where to get it. I call the restaurant first to make sure it’s open. This is Sunday, after all, and the long arm of The Protestant Church still reaches into many of Toronto’s nooks and crannies. The phone rings a few times-- my heart sinks-- and then a dude picks up and shouts, “BELLWOOD!” They’re open.
Outside is quiet and cool. Summer winding to a close. The streetcar trundles me uneventfully along Queen Street. A little four year old girl sits boppin’ to her ipod. Music ends and she lifts off her headphones and turns to her mother: “I want Mickey!” A crazy lady changes seats five times.
I step off the streetcar and land smack dab in the middle of Queen Street memories. I lived here for five years in a rooftop shack built atop a fabric store. Below me was an alcove where my homeless friends-- Greg, Stephanie, Punker Dave-- would gather to drink and smoke and shoot the shit. I did my drinkin’ on my rooftop deck (about the same size as my shack) with Saira, my friend and neighbor and bartender, who would knock on my door around five o’clock with a tray of martinis in her hands: “It’s cocktail hour!” Friends would drift by with more booze and the evening would slowly unwind, sun slowly setting behind the public housing across the alley. Good times!
If you’re heading West along Queen Street West, you’ll hit The Bellwood Grill right before you come to Trinity-Bellwoods park. (Hmm... makes sense.) Inside The Bellwood is strictly no frills: a long lunch counter and a few tables. Two T.V. sets blaring. I opt for the (empty) patio: four picnic tables on a concrete slab. Cinderblock wall and a sky blue fence. Birds rustle in the trees. The leaves are changing color, fading to brown. Fall nostalgia rushes in. School days long since over but the anxiety dreams return like clockwork near the end of every August. It’s usually a variation of sitting happily in High School on report card day. I get my report card and panic: there on my transcript is a class (usually math) that I didn’t know I had and therefore have never attended in my life. My mark? Zero Percent, a whopping big fat goose egg. The dream then continues with me running around freaking out trying to find the classroom and talk to the teacher and see if we can somehow straighten this whole mess out. I run through the crowded hallways and get hopelessly lost, hallways slanting downward, stairs appearing and then disappearing-- and then finally in my dream I pause and say, ‘wait a minute-- this report card must be okay because I already graduated from high school. Wait a minute! I’ve already graduated from University!” With this realization all tension dissipates and I wake up, relieved to be done my schoolin’-- or at least my formal schoolin’. If you’re lucky, you never stop learning.
On the patio: a cool breeze and darkening clouds. Can I gobble down my burger before the rain hits? It’s so quiet and peaceful here, tucked away from the steady hum and hubbub of Queen Street West. My fall nostalgia becomes tinged with loneliness: I miss my friends, I miss my wife. I’ll see them all (friends and wife) soon but as the postcard says, I wish they were here.
I just caught a whiff of grilling meat and my caveman instinct awakens-- grab my club and start swingin’, vaulting over fallen bodies to get at that sweet, sweet meat. Yep, I have done the improbable and ordered a Sixteen Ounce Burger. Many times have I passed by the chalk menu on the sidewalk outside The Bellwood and thought, ‘man... sixteen ounces. I’ll have to come back someday when I’m really, really hungry.’ Guess what? That’s right! Today is the day.
The burger arrives in all its sixteen ounce glory. Oh man it smells good and it looks good: toasted bun, huge thick patty garnished with lettuce, tomato, pickle, onion and mustard, the whole burger cut in half for easy handling.
THE FIRST BITE: hot and nourishing. There’s something mixed with the meat but it tastes good. Black pepper? The first half goes quickly, leaving me smacking my lips, a salty aftertaste tingling on the tongue. I breathe deep and dive back in. It’s a Beef Extravaganza!
This is one seriously beefy burger. It’s definitely about the meat. This is a take-no-prisoners burger not intended for lightweights. I stare down at the last bite sitting on the white oval diner-style plate and for a minute I think about walking away but I know I won’t. I gobble down the last huge meaty bite and then sit stunned. I should’ve brought a hammock in case I lapse into a beef coma. Yep, I’ve got Post-Meal Nap Syndrome in full effect. I want to stretch out atop the picnic table and fall asleep. I want to fall back into the straw and doze with the dogs like they did back in Medieval times.
The friendly server pops in to see how I’m doing. I crack wise about taking a nap and she laughs. “There ya go! I’ll bring you a pillow.”
All right-- gravity is pile-driving me into the ground. Better go pay and walk it off. At the counter the grillman squints at me. “What did you have?” A burger, I tell him. Fries? No fries. The grillman nods. “Five bucks.” Five bucks? FIVE BUCKS!? I hand the server a two-dollar tip. This has been the best deal so far, by far. I say goodbye to the grateful server and step back into the flow of Queen Street West: an ocean of hipsters and graffiti. Ahead of me is a cute Asian woman with a tattoo an antique gramophone on her back. It’s a sign. I walk into Rotate This, buy some albums and then head for home.