I am partaking in a journey where I will appraise every non-franchise restaurant in town and review their food as well as their service. It is an attempt to expand my mind and appetite. Simultaneously, I will also be taking what I learn from these establishments and attempting to remake them with my extremely limited skill.
I might be bothered by Nancy O’s coarse decor if it wasn’t intentional. Whenever I look around the dining area or partake in its washroom, I’m half expecting the floor to list and weave from rolling tides. It couldn’t be more rustic if its toilet was a wooden bench with a hole leading to the ocean. After my initial lunch review, a few friends had criticized my appraisal, dismissing Nancy O’s as a hipster bar. Considering my generation penned the term, I shouldn’t feel out of place. My desire for nostalgia forces me to remember Nancy’s spiritual predecessor, an avant garde cafe called The Other Art.
Anyone 36 years and older just stopped dead and chuckled with the remainder scratching their heads. The Other Art Cafe was a small establishment from the early nineties with open mic nights where local artists could belt out poems and play various instruments. I always imagined a Michael Myers-type (the comedian; the other would be…detrimental) with a beret and a cashmere scarf barking out beatnik to listeners. Other Art probably would have found more success if it had opened a few years later. I didn’t appreciate The Other Art back then but I do appreciate Nancy O’s now, a thought apparently shared by a lot of people. Judging it inappropriate for intimidate fine dining does not exclude it as one of the best restaurants in town. In the afternoon, you’re still required to order from the bar. Shifting to the evening, the establishment converts like Metroplex to a cozy local cafe, sacrificing one of its tables in favor of a stage.
Nancy O’s succeeds in spite, perhaps even due to its decor. The sitters at my table took a moment to admire the oversized photographs of old Prince George iconography, realizing few people would appreciate our memories of driving over the old wood and iron single lane bridges which served as our exclusive arteries over the Fraser. I stress “few people” because it became relatively obvious early this evening that myself and those at my table were the oldest patrons this day, which happens to be one of those open mic nights. Alas, by the time someone gathered the courage to entertain, we’d paid our bills and exited, but this doesn’t affect my overall impression of the establishment. When I look back to The Other Art, I don’t remember its cuisine fondly. I also weighed 110 lbs more back then and my idea of gastronomic bliss were pizza pops and a six-pack of Dr. Smooth…because apparently teenagers were powered by benzene back then. I admit it’s entirely possible my recollection may be skewed.
I could be equally as dismissive about Nancy O’s if its attraction was solely based on its display of novelty acts. But it had earned promotion to phase 2 based on its food, and during dinner, it confirms that initial faith. Being somewhat a glorified cafe does prohibit the levels of fine dining one could expect at North 54 or White Goose. Nancy O’s offers mostly burgers and slightly overpriced appetizers, bringing me back to my old argument that appetizers shouldn’t cost more than a meal. From the dinner menu, my sister ordered the blue cheese burger while I went out on a limb on the maple soy steelhead salmon. Here I went again, ordering a fish dish. But once again, let me emphasize that this was not me goading Nancy O’s to fail. This was a test proving prior conviction. As for the appy, we all ended up ordering the deep-fried risotto balls, the best value given they were the special and as such the cheapest appy offered that evening. So did Nancy O’s meet my elevated expectations? Yes, it most certainly did. The salmon was flakey, cooked perfectly, and lathered in a sweet soy maple sauce so delectable, it couldn’t have been more appealing if it had been milked from mermaids. I heard nothing but praise from the burger eaters. My desert was an apple crumble spring roll awash in various creams.
Amidst the plethora of family establishments and Chinese buffets, restaurants more fitting for the back alleys of an Orwellian dystopia, Nancy O’s offers something few other places can boast—and actual fucking personality. I would normally disregard its attempts at innovation given the stage is incredible undersized with few people able to actually appreciate it and one table so close to the music, it would be impossible to even carry on a casual conversation if a band played. But Nancy O’s still offers an incredibly unique experience augmented rather than crippled by its quality of food. A full meal was reasonably priced, with a full dinner, including dessert clocking in around 40 bucks. And good food it was. What Nancy O’s needs to be is bigger, with a decent stage centrally orientated for tables to encircle. I don’t mean some colossal dinner theater, just maybe twice the width. If Nancy O’s is able to create so much character with a place this small, imagine if it was larger.
Would it lose its charm? Laymen physics would tell us larger bodies would attract more (not true in social situations), but in truth, it’s as much about density than physical size. In that situation, Nancy O’s is a neutron star—a tightly wound mass of packed particles with every ounce worth the weight of Everest. I won’t defend accusations of it being a hipster bar. If you dislike it for that reason, than ignore it; go to a boring sports pub and drink the last lingering shreds of your character away. Nancy O’s could be called a pub if said pub was located in Belfast, but here, I would still call it a restaurant and one I wouldn’t mind returning to.
OVERALL: 8 out of 10