The Dining Room

As a rule, Greg and I generally avoid the seasonal ‘Licious campaigns. We’d rather support our local restaurants when they’re not so busy, and ‘Licious is always crazy for most participating establishments. This year, however, we’ve been attending a few things in the Winterlicious Culinary Events Series, one of which was The Dining Room event at Campbell House.

Designed as a sort of two-step dinner theatre, guests first eat dinner in the basement dining room (two lovely rooms with fireplaces and period furniture) and then move up to the ballroom on the 2nd floor of the museum to watch Down n’ Out Productions perform the 1982 hit play The Dining Room. The play features 6 actors portraying 57 characters in 17 vignettes, all set around a formal dining room table. Playwright A. R. Gurney is said to have created an anthropological study of the WASP, and indeed, the scenes mostly feature well-to-do upper and middle class families throughout the 20th century, exploring the role that the dining room and the dining room table play in that culture. My only complaint about the play was that, for anyone not familiar with it, they’ll spend most of the first act trying to piece together the different vignettes to make sense of who is supposed to be who, and that’s quite distracting until they realize that this is indeed, vignettes, and not a linear play with recurring characters.

But of course, the food is why we were really there.

With a menu inspired by A Century of Canadian Home Cooking by Carol Ferguson and Margaret Fraser, guests had the option of mixing and matching a starter, main and dessert from the 1930s, 40s or 50s. Billed as a modern interpretation of classic dishes using local and sustainable ingredients, the menu from David Vallee’s Hearth and Garden will not likely carry over to the new lunch service that will be starting at Campbell House in mid-February. But Executive Chef Margaret MacKay, who works with Hearth and Garden for their special events, managed to create a menu of dishes that most of us (well, most of us who are WASPs) grew up with.

Vegetable Beef and Barley Soup  (1930s)
Cheese Dreams with Bacon (1940s)
Oven BBQ’d Spare Ribs (1950s)
Cream of Tomato Soup (1950s)

Chicken with Dumplings (1930s)
Swiss Steak with Pickled Beets (1940s)
Meat Loaf (1950s)
Macaroni and Cheese (1950s)

Sour Cream Raisin Pie (1930s)
Bread and Butter Pudding (1930s)
Orange Chiffon Cake (1940s)
Nanaimo Bar (1950s)

We had the cheese dreams (which I had never heard of before) and the spare ribs to start. The macaroni came in two different versions made with different cheeses, and the dumplings in the chicken and dumplings were more like fluffy gnocchi than the gooey globs of dough I remember from my childhood. The orange chiffon cake was pretty basic but the inclusion of half a candied orange totally made this dish, and the sour cream and raisin pie was a hit with Greg. If this is what Vallee and Mackay can do with old recipes, I’m really interested to see what they’ll have to offer at lunch.

The Dining Room continues to run tonight and tomorrow night; dinner at 6pm, performance at 8pm. Tickets are $45 and include HST. Available from Campbell House or by phone 416-597-0227.