Joanne was helping out at the new restaurant. When she set the first plate on the table, I thought that it represented enough for both of us, as it was that large. A moment later, she brought a second.
We tucked in. Joanne told us she sometimes cooks the specials, and made this from one of her own recipes. When Sheila described the chicken pot pie to Don Connolly on the CBC a few days later, he said he too had recently had an excellent chicken pot pie at a restaurant. He suggested that it might be time for a cook off.
Chicken pot pie is deceptive. You make it by taking some cooked chicken, adding it to a pot with fried up onions, flour and spices, cooking the ingredients with cream and broth and vegetables, putting it in a dish topped with a pie crust, and baking it. You can do all of those things, however, and it won't taste like Joanne's chicken pot pie. There's alchemy involved.
Joanne is the mother of Cindy Weare Ross, who runs the Hollow Log Cafe. This newspaper wrote about the cafe when it opened a few weeks ago, but I had to see it for myself, as we were away when it opened during the Queens County Fair.
We had driven past the old Medicine Cabinet Pharmacy building on Caledonia's main street many times during the spring and summer, wondering what was going to happen to it. The story was that a restaurant was going in there, and in truth, work was being done on the building. Yet the tourists came and went and still it had not opened.
After we had finished our chicken pot pie, which we had had along with a Greek salad, Cindy sat down with us and told us that it had been harder than they had thought to get the restaurant ready to open, what with the parade of inspectors that had to be satisfied. The other big issue was the closing of the Bowater mill, which made Cindy and her family worry that the operation might not be viable.
In the end, they had the same spirit that seems to infect all of Queens County these days - they decided that the community needed this more than ever. They went ahead, counting on the support of local people to make the thing a success.
The Hollow Log is truly a family affair. Joanne and her husband, Roger, preside over a growing family empire. They founded R and C Weare Logging, a pulpwood and logging company, over thirty years ago, and today it does cutting work across the province. The C in the title stands for Chris Weare, their son, and brother of Cindy.
Chris Weare is married to Jennifer Spencer Weare, the new principal of the North Queens Schools. They have three children and live in a house they built on a hill overlooking Caledonia, and it was Jennifer who chose the colour scheme for the new restaurant. I will get to Jennifer in another column; her mother, Nancy, worked at Kejimkujik for many years, when it was a real national park, open all year.
Cindy Weare told me that she and her family had played with the idea of opening a restaurant for some time. She had taken the hospitality course at the Nova Scotia Community College and had run a fish and chip wagon at the Caledonia Corner. It was, after all, in the family, as her grandmother had run Weare's Restaurant where Noah's Convenience Store and gas station is now located.
She said the family was the driving force behind the Hollow Log Cafe. The building was purchased when the drugstore moved. Cindy's father Roger said when the building came up for sale that they should buy it, even though they had not as yet decided on a use for it, as it was one of the last properties in the centre of the community.
When the decision was made to turn it into a restaurant, renovations got underway. Everything was stripped from the building and the structure was rebuilt so that now, even people who once worked in the pharmacy cannot believe how big it is. Cindy says the kitchen is too small, however, and plans are that next year they will enlarge it.
Renovations began last spring and when the restaurant was ready, Cindy became the manager. She already was the bookkeeper and payroll supervisor for the logging business and after the options were explored - one being the idea of hiring someone to run the restaurant - Cindy stepped into the role.
Other members of the family are still involved. Joanne is in and out, helping with the cooking and baking and working in the kitchen. There are eight people employed in the restaurant, one of the cooks being Bonnie Smith, who used to have her own restaurant in the village. The Hollow Log has a set menu, including an all-day breakfast whose eggs, bacon, toast and hash browns dish has to be one of the great bargains left these days, at $4.95.
Each day there is a special, and Cindy says that people have been checking the restaurant's Facebook page, where the special for the day is always listed. A pulled pork panini was the special the other day, but we had the soup for lunch, which was exceedingly tasty. It won't be long before we go back.
- Tom Sheppard can be reached at email@example.com