Dish

Carnivore knowledge

Friday-night steak feast makes the Bruce Hotel a meat-lover’s mecca

Martin’s brown country-style blazer and big rancher hat mean one of
two things: either the Bruce locals will love him or, as some of us have
surmised, they’ll wanna kick the crap out of the big-city university
pretty boy for his mocking ways.

If the latter happens, it won’t be the first time.

“Have I ever told you about the last time I was in Tofield?”
Martin says of his birthplace, just a hop, skip and jump from Bruce.
“Within 30 seconds, someone called me faggot.”

Luckily, we have numbers on our side this time in case something goes
down. A large group of us have gathered for a road trip to the Bruce Hotel,
located about 95 kilometres down Highway 14 (East). Martin had been talking
the place up for more than a year now, regaling us with stories of the best
steak he ever had. You see, Friday is steak night at the Hotel and we
carnivores are salivating at the prospect of this venture into the Alberta
countryside.

“I want to be able to pick my own cow… like a lobster,”
Steve says ambitiously.

Most of the group piles into a rented van, while the lady and I follow
along in our wheels. Other than the fact that they almost pluck a deer on the
road, the drive goes well. I arrive in Bruce a couple minutes behind the
rest, but I have no need of directions seeing as the hotel is the
town’s major building, kinda like a scaled-down version of the CN Tower
in the Big Smoke or the Space Needle in Seattle. Terrific aromas waft through
the air the moment we walk up to the place, and inside it’s completely
packed. The room is like a huge cottage, complete with props: cattle skull,
rodeo pictures and horseshoes. And if that doesn’t convince you that
this place is authentic, the poster reminding folks to get their horses
checked for West Nile will. I haven’t seen too many of those on Whyte
Ave.

We take up a full corner of the joint and the waitress proceeds to get us
started. There’s a definite system at work here. She asks us each our
names and then orders our meals accordingly. When it’s all done, you
walk up to the counter and say something like, “Dave here… what do I
owe?” The name part is also important because everyone gets called into
the kitchen individually to get their steak.

I like that.

Steaks are the only item on the menu on Fridays—but why the hell
would you want anything else? They start with baby-like four-ouncers and
proceed from there. The largest is 16 ounces; it costs $20.99 (GST included)
and like the other sizes, it comes with an unlimited spread of salads, sides
and desserts—dill and cream potatoes (wicked, by the way), franks and
beans, corn, mushrooms and onions, at least seven salads, pickles, fresh
fruit and an assortment of goodies for the sweet tooth from the lemony
poppyseed cake with butter icing to the cappuccino Nanaimo bars and
Hershey’s kisses. And free coffee!

“Sixteen or go home,” yells Steve.

At 35, I’m not susceptible to peer pressure, but I can feel the heat
this time. Many of us go 16 but the news is bad: a huge group was in earlier
and cleaned most of the massive cuts out. We “settle” for the
next-biggest choice, the 12-ounce.
Our names begin to get called and though we don’t chow down all at the
same time, everybody looks pretty damn happy cutting into the beautiful
slabs. Our visiting English buddy Chaz earns a few glares when he orders his
steak “really, really well done.” (Brits, eh? Not exactly the
culinary geniuses of the world, and Chaz proves it by eating garlic bread
with HP sauce and cookies as his appetizer.) I ask for mine medium rare and
though it could be a touch redder, my knife glides through the sublime meat
like it’s cream cheese. Martin’s lucky—it’s indeed a
fantastic steak.

It’s a fun atmosphere too. The staff, who are quick to announce any
and every type of celebration, interrupts us periodically. There’s an
anniversary and a birthday, which means we’re all required to sing.
“And sing it loud or I’ll make you sing it again!” the
waitress says at the top of her lungs.

Someone even tells a mad cow joke to the crowd, which I didn’t
actually hear. But I laugh just at the idea of it.

“Where the hell are we?” Tess asks following the BSE
crack.

My motor skills are diminishing with each bite of steak and the rest of
the table is definitely slowing down as well as the plates empty. The staff
is more than apologetic about the lack of sixteens. They’re genuinely
concerned if we’ve been satisfied. We appreciate it and insist that in
retrospect, maybe the 12-ouncer was the better way to go anyway. I drag my
stuffed carcass up to the counter and pay for “Kate and Dave 1.”
(As always, there was at least one other Dave around.)
Karl, who runs the place along with wife Deb—a wedding picture of the
happy couple adorns a wall near our tables—tells me they’ve owned
the place for about six years now. He originally hails from Cape Breton but
the Easterner looks like he’s right at home in Wild Rose Country. They
have it more than good in Bruce. Karl invites us back for a special rib night
coming up later on in April and I insist I’ll be paying another visit.
Really nice guy.

I know it’s time to leave when a sauced-up cougar [Dave! Again with
the cougar remarks? Didn’t you read Your Vue this week? —Ed.]
takes a stab at karaoke, singing “Stroke It.” With the mic in her
hand (and what seems like a significant amount of liquid courage) she says
something along the lines of “It’s not how deep the fish are,
it’s how you wiggle the worm.”

Cheque, please?

Most of the gang goes into Tofield for additional beers. I pass, opting to
get my sleepy girlfriend home. I do see Martin two days later, though. He
made it outta there alive. But that’s only because he left the hat in
the van. V

Bruce Hotel
Bruce, AB • (780) 688-3922 • reservations recommended

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