White Gravy’s Review
“The world moves on, with or without you” — Unknown
Walking into the Blackfoot Truckstop Diner is like stepping back in time.
For over 60 years, the diner has been serving up hot food 24/7 to hard-working men and women.
And in many ways little has changed.
I have an affinity for places like this. I spend a lot of time on Alberta highways, and often find myself grabbing a bite at a small-town diner where veal cutlets with deep brown gravy are the signature dishes.
And burgers are always on the menu. Always. Sometimes they are great, and other times they are terrible.
So where does the BF truck stop land?
The menu boasts quite the list of options:
Burger on a Bun
Trucker Special Burger
Chili Burger & Fries
Near as I can tell what separates each of these choices is whether or not it includes cheese, bacon, or both.
I went for the Cheeseburger … or was it the Cheeseburger Deluxe? I can’t honestly recall.
A soon as this burger arrives you’ll recognize it. The oddly “flower shaped” patty that is the hallmark of a frozen burger and oddly tastes a bit more like sausage than beef. The pre-cut bun, most likely from Engels bakery. The adequately fresh toppings and standard cheese.
It’s the same burger as you would have received at the Zellers in-store restaurant, or at an early Flames game at the Corral.
There’s some nostalgic qualities in play for sure, but they quickly fade away, leaving behind a decidedly mediocre burger, that will enact its unpleasant revenge in the hours that follow.
This isn’t a good burger.
And that’s OK. Because you don’t go to the Blackfoot Diner for the food. You go there for the atmosphere. This is a place where old friends meet each other to catch up. It is a place where the neighbourhood locals gather.
There are few diners in Calgary like this remaining. As Calgary’s food scene has evolved into something better by almost any measure, we’ve left behind places like this.
The world has moved on and left the Blackfoot Truckstop behind.
And I can’t figure out if that’s a good or bad thing.
Perhaps neither. Perhaps both.
Maybe you, too, have that aunt who has been wearing the same muumuu for summer casual wear since you were a kid. The flamboyance of embarrassingly oversized coloured floral patterns offset by its perfect functionality for keeping cool and keeping covered.
Summer is here and I am sure my aunt will be in the garden wearing her flowers while digging in the dirt. The same old T-shirt strips will be hung on the same repurposed hockey sticks to tie up her tomatoes. The same sun-faded seed packets will be on little wood stakes to mark her rows. Plastic bottles, with those twisty hole baby powder lids, will be present, filled with pesticides and fertilizing powders that have long since expired and are very possibly illegal at this point (“You don’t just throw things away because something newer comes along”). My aunt uses rakes and hoes made the old-fashioned way, built to last. Tools passed on to her from her parents and maybe even their parents before that. This all falls into a scene that is so established for me over the years that it’s beyond normal, beyond comfortable — it just is what it is and I don’t question or criticize it.
The Blackfoot Truckstop has been in my life almost as long as my aunt’s fading muumuu. Do a little research and you will find that Edna, the founding owner-operator of the Blackfoot Truckstop, went to extraordinary lengths of thrift and care to bring this business into the world. It was founded on ideas around taking care of people and providing enduring sustenance for those on the long road away from their family. This meant good hearty food at a fair price.
Again, not unlike my aunt’s muumuu the Blackfoot Truckstop has never been on point where cultural and fashion trends are concerned. It’s still decked out in vintage trucker folk-art mixed with a late ’80s, early ’90s renovation that pushed a little ’50s fluorescent diner into the mix. Kind of a Conway Twitty meets James Dean kinda thing if those two had been ridden a little harder and put away wetter.
The waitresses taking our orders in faded pink jumpsuits still deliver plates with a, “Here you go honey.” And I should be clear that these are the same waitresses wearing the same pink jumpsuits that were not faded when I met them. Actually the pink jumpsuits predate me so I may be way off and the brand new jumpsuits might have been red?
I ordered the Trucker Special Burger, which I believe used to be the Trucker Deluxe. I remember the Trucker Deluxe, from the way-back day, as being two hand-formed patties, a slab of back bacon, two slices of processed cheese, tomatoes, lettuce, mustard and relish on a pretty standard sesame seed bun. Before the uprising of foodie culture this was a formidable stack of sexy legend. Its contemporary, the Trucker Special, is an out-of-the-box frozen patty that looks like a brown cartoon bubble, a strip bacon cut in half to look like two slices, a slice of tomato that has not seen the sun since it was picked green and a leaf of iceberg lettuce that is so limp that the hull of the Titanic would have held.
Being critical about the Trucker Special Burger feels a little like telling my muumuu-wearing aunt she looks like a walking ball of wallpaper. Feels wrong. So instead of being critical, I’ll be honest: the Trucker Special Burger at the Blackfoot Truckstop, trying to be nice, is average. But the fix is simple — go there after last call and order The Working Man’s Breakfast.
My aunt and the Blackfoot Truckstop are an endangered species. My aunt’s muumuu has faded and is functioning threadbare way beyond any fashion statement it might have once made. In a similar vein, the Blackfoot Truckstop is hanging onto the way things ought to be in a time when they should have been taken down by an artisanal pepper mill that lets you pay for your spice with a poem and a $50 monthly subscription.
(Illustration by Jeff Bray.)
Wonderbun is considering eating all burgers in a muumuu to show respect for the moo moos. White Gravy strictly adheres to a “one cheeseburger per week” rule. And by “strictly adheres” he means completely ignores.