The vast majority of diners at the bustling Pelican Grill appear to be regulars – many of them seniors – and they are treated here with affection and kindness. I’ve been witnessing their warm welcome, their fussing over, and I fully understand why they flock here.
The elderly gent beside me orders fish and chips and a glass of Beau’s on tap. He jokes about how his doctor has warned him away from his weekly battered, deep-fried fish and fries. But it makes him happy, and so, what harm? Besides, the Pelican people know him by name, know he likes his water without ice, and greet him like a long-lost friend.
The fish and chips make me happy enough too. A generous portion, beer battered, the halibut flakes in moist petals beneath a crunchy brown casing, and the fries are fresh. They’re on the soggy side, but I rather like soggy chips. The plate is finished with a paper cup of standard coleslaw and one of tartar sauce – neither exciting, but fine enough.
The art on the brown and butter-coloured walls makes me smile too. Striking photos of Pelican personalities – cooks, servers, and owners, even some of those regulars – posing proudly with various swimmers.
I’d order the smoked salmon again. A luscious product, made in-house, rich and flavourful, served with traditional garnishes. And the clam chowder isn’t bad – nothing remarkable, but not bad.
As for the rest. Well, frankly, I’d forgo it.
It is a rare kitchen that can make a great lobster bisque and this isn’t one of them. The orange bowl tastes mostly of tomato paste and cream, with croutons doused in traces of burnt garlic, and with flakes of lobster meat lending not much more than a bit of chew to the pool. It’s not offensive; it’s just far from special.
What I suspect is seasoning mix debases the crab cakes, which are otherwise impressively dense with crab. But they are also salty, sharp and dusty-tasting, rendering these cakes for me inedible.
There is a tendency in fish shops to offer shortcut products on their store shelves – jars of cocktail sauce, seafood spice mixes, tempura batter powder, and so on – designed to make less work for the fish buyer. Fine. But I wish they’d keep it out of their restaurant. I taste mixes in the crab cakes, the calamari. And what I suspect is a jarred (and jarring) garlic product seems to run amok throughout this food.
The red Thai coconut curry of shrimp is ruined by it. It is offensively over-garlicky, salty, raw-tasting. Where’s the Thai basil, the ginger, the fish sauce? The vegetables in the curry are the same ones we find on every dinner plate – carrots, peppers, bok choy, even parsnips, which hardly belong in this dish.
The flavour of the cedar plank beneath the salmon is undetectable, and the fish itself, though moist, is bland. The maple syrup glaze on the surface of the fish seems to have escaped, and has leached into the roast potatoes, which does them no favours. A grilled piece of marlin is a tasteless, nameless protein, beneath a mound of stringy spinach reeking of garlic. The risotto with which it is served is an amateur effort that tastes mostly of sharp wine and cream.
White fish, mussels, and shrimp in generous supply plump the bouillabaisse, but the broth is dull, lacking a sea flavour, and tasting mostly of tinned tomato.
A maple crÃ¨me brÃ»lÃ©e is more pudding than custard, but is comforting nonetheless.
The Pelican Grill has been around a long time, and its hospitality and convivial atmosphere have been the constant. The food has certainly had finer moments over the years. This isn’t one of them.