We arrive at the Modern Cafe on the busiest night Nanaimo has seen in a year. Cruise ships, concerts and prom night have collided in a perfect storm of hippies, hipsters and boisterous wannabe bar-stars.
After a period of waiting in the entryway (perhaps they want to let us absorb the ambiance) we’re seated at small booth near the entrance.
It’s my wont to refer to front-of-house staff as servers instead of waitresses. Not tonight. Tonight, the term “waitress” takes on a whole new meaning for me while “server” loses any it had.
I leaf through a menu of standard west coast surf & turf. Pasta, prawns, steak, haddock…
Wait a sec… haddock? Isn’t haddock the crap they use in Captain Highliner’s fish sticks? (it is). I figure that the world must be out of halibut and cod and move on.
When our waitress (who I will call “Shannon”) shows up, it’s to tell me that they don’t have the pale ale I’ve selected. Good news though, they just got back from a sweet kegger and have some leftovers that I might enjoy.
I pick the lesser of two evils. From then on, it’s a long night of watching and waiting while Shannon performs a ballet of avoidance, going out of her way to ignore us at every opportunity. I remark that I may not be cool enough and suggest throat-punching a hipster and stealing their scarf to see if it helps.
Shannon finds time to bring us a single pint and glass of water to share. We remind her that we’re both thirsty and send her back for the remainder of our order. She returns (eventually) and with a twinge I order the $15 hamburger.
You should assume at this point that there was a lot of waiting in between when we ordered and when the food arrives. When it does arrive it’s impressively huge. A voice across the table remarks, “How am I gonna fit my mouth around that?” Insert obvious punchline.
The burger is good. Really good. $15 good. The beef is well flavoured, evenly cooked, and appropriately saucy with healthy portions of fresh veg and stringy mozza. The fries are just how I like ’em.
I eagerly devour my meal with the grace of a komodo dragon, put my napkin down on my plate and push it off to the side. Shannon walks by the table, deftly ignoring my empty plate and pint glass. She does this 15 more times, and would have again if another staffer hadn’t taken it away.
The Modern continues to morph into a 20 something martini bar while the upscale eatery I wanted disappears disappointingly into the rising volume of a bad iPod playlist. Does that make me old? Maybe. What it doesn’t make me is a returning customer.
Food or Fail rating: Fail