Hey there, time traveller! This article was published 14/1/2017 (1736 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
‘God is great, and God is good, and we thank him for our food; by his hand we all are fed; give us, Lord, our daily bread."
When Jollibee, the Filipino-flavoured fast-food chain, opened its inaugural Canadian outlet at 1406 Ellice Ave. last month, select members of the Manitoba Food Bloggers association were granted an opportunity to be among the first Winnipeggers to sample dishes such as "juicylicious" fried chicken, jolly spaghetti and peach mango pie.
One of the people on the guest list was Donald McKenzie, the "Donald" behind the restaurant review blog Dining with Donald (www.diningwithdonald.com). McKenzie, who has been following this city’s culinary scene since 2012, was aware the so-called "McDonald’s of the Philippines" was coming to town, and was anxious to see what all the fuss was about.
One hitch: McKenzie is an Anglican priest, and was supposed to lead a mass the same afternoon as Jollibee’s grand opening.
"It happened on a Wednesday, when I was doing a noon Eucharist at Holy Trinity (Anglican Church)," McKenzie says, seated inside a St. Mary’s Road coffee shop, a few blocks away from his home parish of St. Philip’s Anglican Church. "Problem probably isn’t the right word to use, but the biggest problem or thing for me when it comes to events like (Jollibee) is the time commitment. Often when something like that comes up, it conflicts with my schedule as a priest."
McKenzie has heard it before: when he is critiquing restaurants, how disparaging can he be, given The Bible tells us to "love thy neighbour," even when "thy neighbour" mixes up your drink order, or forgets you take your steak medium rare?
"Occasionally, people will introduce me to somebody who runs a restaurant and say, ‘He does food reviews. He’ll come and write nice things about your place,’" McKenzie says. "Well, maybe not. If something’s really bad, I usually choose not to write about it, which is one of the advantages I have as an independent blogger. Nobody’s telling me, ‘Hey, you haven’t given us a story in two weeks.’"
Fine dining wasn’t high on the Grant Park High School alumnus’s priority list when he was growing up. Because he and his five older brothers were heavily involved in evening church activities, dinner was more about what time it hit the table, he says, than what it looked or tasted like.
"Five o’clock was supper and 5:05 (p.m.) was late supper," he says with a chuckle. "Meals had to get done quickly, so we could get out of the house on time. But when I was 25, I went on a mission trip to southern Ontario, where I was part of a group living in a house. When it came time to cook, nobody wanted the job so I volunteered. That’s when I really started getting interested in food."
About 10 years ago, McKenzie began posting his Sunday sermons online under the banner Bubsblurbs — Bubs being his childhood nickname. From time to time, he would change things up a bit, and muse about a play or concert he’d attended, or a new dining spot he’d visited. Over time, he noticed he was writing more and more about his food ventures, so he made the decision to devote a second blog entirely to that subject.
McKenzie’s prose hasn’t gone unnoticed by some of Winnipeg’s most respected food journos.
"Donald is one of the city’s most prolific, enthusiastic and honest restaurant reviewers," says Shel Zolkewich, founder of the Manitoba Food Bloggers Facebook group. "We can always count on him to remind us about a place we’ve been meaning to visit, or check out the newest spot on the block."
Tim Turner, the president of Burger Club Winnipeg, concurs.
"I’m a big Donald fan," he says, when reached at his home near Ste. Anne. "I’ve been reading his posts for years."
"I keep my ears open," McKenzie says, when he is asked how he decides where to chow down next. "I just did Baraka Pita on Main Street and as soon as I did that, a friend told me I have to try Best Pizza & Donair on Pembina Highway. So somewhere along the line, I’ll have to get there, too."
McKenzie, who has posted close to 250 reviews to date, has a few go-tos. If he’s visiting a Vietnamese restaurant, for example, he’ll order pho religiously, he says. Ditto an Indian establishment and anything-curry. He’s not a big burger fan, he admits, but if he had to pick a favourite, he’d opt for the two-patty King Burger at Mrs. Mike’s. And when it comes to more exotic fare, he enjoyed the python stew he had at Café Ce Soir, on Portage Avenue ("Texture-wise, it reminded me somewhat of stew beef — quite tender, but with a bit of chewiness to it," he wrote, in an April 2013 entry billed as Snakes on a Plate.)
Because he generally dines alone ("When you’re dining with Donald, you’re dining vicariously with Donald," he deadpans), there is one thing hosts and hostesses tend to do that always makes him want to raise, well, heck.
"Being a single person going out to eat, I do judge a restaurant by how anxious (staff) is to push me off to the lounge or the bar, instead of giving me a table for two," he says. "The other day, a place was hesitant to give me a table and I was like, ‘OK, you’re off your peak hours and three-quarters of your tables are empty. This shouldn’t be a problem.’"
During Lent, McKenzie plans to combine his vocation with his pastime, by penning a six-week series he’ll call Eucharistic Eating.
"It will reflect on our daily eating habits, as well as the concepts of feasting and fasting," he says.
"My goal has been to do more reflections on theology and food. That’s the thing that interests me the most."
Dave Sanderson was born in Regina but please, don’t hold that against him.