Blowers & Grafton – Halifax Street Food
10550 82 Ave.
Food: 4 of 5 Suns
Ambience: 3.5 of 5 Suns
Service: 4.5 of 5 stars
Dinner for two excluding tip, taxes or beverages: Basic (i.e. pizza for two), $20; loaded $50
11 a.m. to midnight seven days a week; Fri. and Sat. to 2 a.m.
Blowers & Grafton is an intersection in downtown Halifax.
Haligonians flock to “Pizza Corner” as the bars close down to soak up internal alcohol via pizzas and donairs – originally from three competing pizzerias, today from many more nearby street food outlets.
This is not mythology: Friends who have studied in Halifax attest to many a late-night pizza/donair party around Blowers & Grafton.
It’s also true that what’s now known as a donair – a North American variation on the Turkish doner-kabab, Greek gyro or Arabic shawarma – was invented in Halifax.
In the early ‘70s, an enterprising Greek-Canadian Halifax pizzeria owner adapted the traditional Greek gyro to North American tastes – replacing pressed lamb with spicy pressed beef, replacing mildly astringent Greek tzatziki with a sweet sauce of condensed milk, sugar, garlic and vinegar.
He called it a donair, and the name stuck for shaved beef doused in sweet sauce and wrapped in a pita. Donairs became popular across North America.
Halifax’s The King of Donair (which opened an Edmonton franchise six months ago) has a legitimate claim to having invented the donair.
Halifax city council proclaimed the donair to be Halifax’s “official food” in 2015.
All of which sets the context for Edmonton’s new “Halifax Street Food” restaurant Blowers & Grafton.
No Blowers & Grafton restaurant actually exists in Halifax. The owners simply used the name (a clever idea) to open a “Halifax street food” restaurant in Calgary two years ago, expanding to Edmonton’s Whyte Avenue this past August.
Here’s the thing: While the donair/fried fish/seafood sandwiches give Blowers & Grafton an identity, it’s the sum of the parts that count.
Blowers & Grafton is producing the best bar food in town.
Our party of four went for the seafoods and donair – when in Rome, etc.
For seafood, B&G’s classic Fish N’ Chips ($17), three mini Lobster Rolls ($22), and, too much fun, the Donair Pizza ($20) – pizza with donair meat and that sweet, sumptuous, sticky, milky sauce.
Everything was amazingly good! Nothing was overly deep-fried – the primary reason, I think, that the former Atlantic Trap ‘n’ Grill closed it doors. That place had character, but the grease could literally be felt in the air.
The lobster torpedo rolls were fresh, toasted but cooled before being stuffed with generous chunks of lobster in a cold lobster/mayo/dill “salad”. Cool on cool, in a soft, soft bun; it worked beautifully.
Given all this Halifax donair business, we had to try something donair, hence the donair pizza.
Oh my, the lashing of condensed milk sauce was perfect, combined with donair beef, onion and tomato toppings and a crispy crust took this pizza to the edge of a perfect savoury sweetness. Watch out, it’s addictive!
Finally, the beer batter on the two big haddock fillets within the fish ‘n’ chips was perfect, the temperature perfect, the kitchen-made tartar sauce perfect, the double-fried chips better than those at Harvey’s.
With the lobster rolls, we asked if a house salad could be substituted for its usual (homemade) potato chips. No problem said our cheerful, attentive and knowledgeable server. What came as a side salad was a thing of beauty, with arugula, cherry tomatoes, blueberries (!) and candied walnuts in an interesting balsamic dressing. If this is bar food, I’m in.
The atmosphere/décor is too modern for my liking, with imitation brick, a faux wood ceiling and contemporary but boring wood tables. The bar area itself is pretty. Floor-to-ceiling windows let in plenty of natural light.
Blowers & Grafton has been discovered – it filled up quickly on a Saturday lunch and is usually busy, we were told, over the dinner hour. Line-ups start when it morphs from restaurant to musical pub in mid-evening.
I’ll brave the crowds … when the urge for a genuine Halifax donair, or donair pizza, kicks in, what else can I do?
Edmonton’s “official food”
This “official food” business: I do not understand why local foodies keep pitching green onion cakes as an “official food” for Edmonton.
Unlike Halifax and donairs, green onion cakes have no historical connection to Edmonton. They weren’t invented or adapted here. The average Edmontonian likely hasn’t tried one.
Green onion cakes were popular when my friend Siu To sold delicious, straight-off-the-griddle green onion cakes at city festivals. He continues to make limited quantities as a retirement project at his Green Onion Cake Man on 118 Avenue. The rest? Pfffew – nothing but greasy imitations!
If Edmonton has a legitimate candidate for an “official food” it would be Ukrainian/Central European kubasa (kielbasa) sausage and perogies (pierogi, pirogi, pirohy, pyrohy). But the argument over official spellings, recipes and pronunciations would be just too exhausting.