the true stories
There is a restaurant in North Vancouver called the Tomahawk Barbecue. I think it has been around since the 1940's and one may still find it there today. It was one of the first places my father took me to after we moved to Canada. The other one was The Only Seafood House on Hastings Street in downtown Vancouver. He remembered them from his old merchant sailor days and likely frequented them when on shore leave from the ship terminals. The Tomahawk was the last place I ever had a meal with my father and that occasion was the last time I ever heard him laugh or saw him smile.
It was a smallish place with a quaint stone front and a warm cozy interior. There was lots of cedar and log-cabin style architecture on the inside, a fireplace and a little fish pond. The ceiling and walls were festooned with a prodigious collection of First Nations artifacts. Carvings, totems, war bonnets, pipes, pots and many other items held your attention while you sipped one of the best cups of coffee to be had on that side of Burrard Inlet.
There was a bar with stools and a few snug booths as well as several small tables. The paper place mats depicted a comical map of Canada. It was from these mats I first got the physical lay of my new land and the psychological programming of the still popular stereotyping of the different provinces and cities.
The hamburgers were all named for authentic Indian Chiefs that had befriended or traded with the founder of the restaurant. The piece de la resistance was an item called the Yukon Breakfast. This plate would have inspired either a poem by Robert Service or a novel by Jack London had either of these men chanced upon it in their day. I had read both of these authors as a lad and my imagination was running wild when I first spied the menu back in 1969.
Just below the description of the meal, a bit of small print caught my eagle-eye. It was a challenge and to a boy like myself it was a challenge that I intended to meet. This plate was the most expensive and the most expansive on the menu and thus, the proprietor promised that any man who could finish it, could waive the fee. I smiled inwardly. I had been accused of having worms and a hollow leg by my grandfather for years. I figured this was going to be my lucky day. I asked my Dad if I could give it a go and he answered in the affirmative.
The waitress returned a few minutes later with everyone's meals and ten minutes later with mine. I sat regarding a platter the size of a hub-cap before me. I wore the same look I would wear many years later when negotiating the last few hundred feet of the ascent of the West Lion. First, I just admired the beauty of the mountain. Then I looked at the rock I had to climb.
On an oven-warmed ceramic platter had been placed four big squares of Texas toast dripping with real butter. On top of this base and completely covering it was a matrix of perfectly pan-fried hash-browns. The next ply was one of thick sliced Canadian back bacon and again, rather than following some food manager's rules of portioning, the number of pieces was dictated by how many it happened to take to completely cover the potatoes.
Lying on top of this platform of delectable pork protein was a roof of eggs, done over easy and four of which hid the bacon entirely. I had my coffee re-filled, doused the eggs with Tabasco and put a moat of Worcestershire around the rim, crossed it with maple syrup and put several strategic dabs of marmalade in case the going got rough. After dusting her down with salt and pepper, I attacked.
The toast was what thwarted me that day. I absolutely couldn't put that last piece down and have never been too fond of breads in the first place. It was the protein I was insatiable for. My father was a gentleman about it and kept his remarks in the realm of respect for my having done my best. I vowed to try again and again, until I could accomplish this Great White North rite of passage. I remember this as being the first time that I realized that perhaps not everything is bigger in Texas.
Years went by and my folks split up. I kept in touch with my estranged father. He had a girlfriend whom he claimed was the daughter of an old shipmate. She was my age and he had found her on the downtown east-side streets where she turned tricks for drug money. He was working hard to get her clean and eventually found her employment as a waitress on Lonsdale across from the Burrard Drydock and Shipyards at The Mayflower Cafe. They lived together in a succession of basement suites and I used to visit once in a while and play my guitar for them.
One Sunday morning my father phoned and asked me to accompany them to the Tomahawk for breakfast. I was seventeen and hadn't eaten there since I was twelve. I remembered my failed attempt at the Yukon and I knew that this time I could pull it off. I walked to his place and we drove over to the restaurant. It was a lovely sunny day and the house was packed.
Tourists, families and old North Shore hands filled every available seat. All the way over in the car we had been talking up the place to the gal and she was excited to see what a real lumberjack's breakfast looked like. I assured my Dad that he had definitely just saved some money this time because I was bigger and hungrier than ever before. He grinned and said, “We'll see.”
After joking around outside while waiting for our turn we were seated at a table right square in the middle of the dining area. We were all in our best jeans and shirts and I had never seen that girl looking better than on that day. She had gained enough weight to look nourished and the color was coming back into her skin with the returning strength of her youth. Her hair was nice and clean and she smelled good. She laughed a lot but it was a ladylike laugh now and the sarcastic edges were dissipating.
I immediately checked the menu to see if the deal was still in effect for the free Yukon Breakfast to anyone who could put one down. It was and I ordered and got ready to put on a show for my father and his girl. It had been about six years since I'd tangled with the Yukonator. This time, yours truly was going to win. I even contemplated having some apple pie after since the meal was going to be free. I set to eating like a bitch wolf after feeding ninety-nine pups.
We were having the best time any of the three of us had had in a long while and our happiness spread throughout the joint. Soon other people were offering jokes and encouragement to me to get the job done. In good time, I was rounding third and headed for home. Learning from past mistakes, I had cleverly eaten the toast first and rendered it down with several cups of coffee. The hash-browns were as easy to eat as air is to breathe. The back bacon and the eggs were taken alternately. In this way, each served as a reward for the other to the overwhelmed palate.
About an egg and one half plus the corresponding bacon away from a clean plate, two feet shot into my lap nearly knocking the stuffing out of me. The coffee mugs flew onto the floor and the water glasses tipped over, emptied and rolled to join them in pieces. My plate levitated but came down again intact with a solid thud. Directly across from me I could see that the girl was perfectly horizontal and stiff as a two by six. Her neck rested on her own chair which listed at a crazy angle.
My father told me in a clear soft voice to grab her ankles. As I gathered her shoes and gripped her legs, he dropped some cash on the table, pocketed a bottle of Tabasco Sauce and got a hold under her slim shoulders. We wove our way through a sea of wide-eyed, horrified Sunday morning diners. Like a crack first response team we trudged out to the small parking lot. As I was trying to form the words to ask what the precious hell had just happened, my Dad told me to put her feet down and lean her against the car.
He reached inside the car and pulled out a bottle of water and a small bottle of Valium. He poured a bunch of the pills into his hand and worked open her mouth. The gal swallowed them like a goldfish gulping cornmeal and as I stood watching she went from brick-hard to butter-soft right before my eyes. She apologized and with perfect lucid control of her faculties got into the car and explained to me what it's like coming down off that kind of addiction.
When my mother re-married, her and her new husband happened to rent a house directly across the street from the Tomahawk. My father had moved to another town and I never saw him again. When I was twenty I got married to a gal from the States and we occupied a spare bedroom in that rental. My young wife got her first Canadian job as a waitress at the Tomahawk. After a few months my wife got another waitress job at the Mayflower Cafe on Lonsdale. She never met my father and I never told her the story of those two establishments. Four months after the wedding, my father was dead.
Many decades later I found myself waiting for my Suzuki to be serviced a few blocks away from the old Tomahawk. I was in my fifties now and hadn't been in the place for over thirty years. Something drew me over that direction. I had a smoke in the parking lot and regarded the old house I'd lived in when I'd gotten married the first time. I went on in the restaurant and noticed how much smaller everything seemed. I smiled when I saw that the place mats were the same and that the Yukon was still on the menu.
Only two things were different. The prices would have raised the eyebrows of an attorney and the free deal challenge was gone. I decided to do what had to be done, irregardless. When my plate came, I saw that a third thing had changed. The dimensions of the legendary meal had dwindled to a point whereupon it no longer deserved to carry the name it bore. I scarfed up that Yukonette with only two cups of coffee as solvent. Most female letter-carriers I know would have needed two of those plates just to make it through to lunch in a good mood. It didn't really bother me though and as I paid the bill I remembered that bottle of Tabasco my father had scooped and I figured we were all square now.
Copyright © 2019 by Michael A. Hawes. All Rights Reserved.
Michael Hawes was born in Texas, raised in Louisiana and lives in British Columbia.