Sunday, January 20, 2013

Paul's Motor Inn - is this Victoria's best diner?

With all the three older boys gone for the evening and a VERY long work week for Sheila, we decided to go out for dinner on Friday night with Max.   This gives us a number of constraints because Max is only four and half.

We wanted decent burgers with a beer and a restaurant that would be accommodating to a little boy that can be very demanding.   We also did not want to spend a lot of money or go fast food - for some reason here in BC fast food restaurants are not licensed, it would be better to have a beer at MacDonald's than a Coke or shake.  I also had no desire to have go a long way to get dinner or be hassled with parking such as at the Fernwood Inn or Big Wheel Burger.

We ruled out Denny's, the Pantry and ABC Country Restaurant because we have not been impressed with the quality of the food at those places.  The restaurants that made the cut were Montana's, Kelsey's and White Spot.   The three of them are not all that cheap, we would be lucky to end the evening spending less than $60.  We decided on the White Spot on Douglas, our experience there had been good in the past though nothing really out of the ordinary.

As we got to the restaurant parking lot I suddenly realized there was Paul's Motor Inn across the street.  It never jumps out in my mind when we are thinking of a place to go, but I had a coffee meeting with someone there about six months ago and I liked the atmosphere and the burger I had for lunch.   I was willing to go back.   It also worked for Sheila because she was looking for the sort of place that would feature in Guy Fieri's show Diners, Drive Ins and Dives.

This place has the classic booths that are right angles to the aisle the waitress walks around the restaurant in - really old school.   The place has not changed much over 55 years since it opened, but the food has changed, it is much better than one would expect from a 1960s motel diner.  It has the cred that places like Floyd's and Spoons want for their places, this is the real deal, this is a real diner.

On Friday night they had three specials on:

  • $11.00 Pork Tenderloin Sandwich - the tenderloin on ciabatta with apple chutney, fontina cheese, lettuce and tomatoes served with choice of side
  • $13.00 Paul's Deluxe Bacon and Cheese Burger with fries and a local beer.
  • $10.00 Rustic Bread Salad - greens topped with a herbed vinaigrette  grape tomatoes, baby mozzarella, focaccia croutons, olives, red onion and parmaesan cheese

With the decent sized portions they serve, these specials are real deals.   I wrote them down how they had them up on the board because they clearly are thinking about good quality ingredients when they make the food.  I saw the bowl of the salad, it was a meal.

We both had the burger special.   Our burgers were clearly hand formed in the kitchen and not something premade they had brought in.  The bacon was generous and well cooked.   The fries were not from a large Sysco bag of frozen fries.   I had gravy with the fries, the waitress asked "Turkey or beef?"   They make their own in house gravy, not brown powder in a bag.

Max had the kid's cheese burger and it was a portion larger than he could eat.   His kid's meal was about the same was would pay at White Spot or Montana's but it offered more food.   The ice cream was a generous scoop of strawberry.  In general it is a very good restaurant for kids.

Max got a better page to colour than most places and better crayons than White Spot.  Most places try to offer their kid's colour page/menu/place mat that is intended to work from age 2 to 12 and really does not work for anyone.  Paul's offers just a good page to colour, something even an ADHD adult would enjoy while waiting for their food  On a side note, if the White Spot Pirate Pak was still like it has been when I was a kid, it would be a good reason to go there with a small boy, but these days there there is no interaction left with the Pirate Pak.

The waitress was one more reason I was impressed with this place, she was attentive and pleasant to talk with.  She also took pride in her restaurant.  She also knew her regulars and greeted them.

Our decision to ditch White Spot for Paul's was a good one.   We also managed to only spend $37 for the meal with the tip and HST - they seem to include HST in their prices.

Can I do better at home?  Maybe but not much better and certainly for the price it is a deal.   Making decent fries at home is a pain and rarely to I have gravy for the fries because that is one thing too many to manage for a burger and fries dinner at home.  

We will be going back not only because of the good burgers, but also to try the rest of the menu - it is four pages of diner classics with modern twists.  You have your steak sandwich, turkey pot pie, turkey dinner with all the trimmings, baby beef liver, Reuben, Clubhouse and mushroom meatloaf together with things like the falafel burger, fiesta sticks (think a deep fried quesadilla) and a Thai wrap.

Paul's Founder Paul Arsens with Bob Hope in the Dominion Hotel
The History of Paul's from the website:

Paul Arsens was a true trendsetter in the restaurant and hotel industry in Victoria. The Motor Inn started with a family style restaurant named, you guessed it - Paul’s Restaurant in 1958. This was just one of many businesses this Ladysmith entrepreneur opened in Victoria. Shortly after the success of the restaurant, Paul and his wife Artie, decided that they would try their hand at a motor inn. So they set about building Paul’s Motor Inn with 78 rooms that would be attached to Paul’s Restaurant.

1956 ground breaking for the restaurant
Paul was always up for doing something different and humourous - at times he would have his billboard advertising hung upside down or sideways to attract more attention. He once got international attention in the Boston Globe and New York Times by having restaurant guests decide what price they would pay for dinner, and even went so far as to have them ring in their own bills and make their own change!

No wonder we are such a unique and fun loving group.


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