Update, March 28, 2012: Ma Miller's Pub has become Twin Peaks, a Hooters-style pub. There is some debate as to whether this location is part of the US Twin Peaks chain or has cribbed their logo. The US site does not list a Canadian arm. I haven't been to Twin Peaks yet but I assume the food is average and the view...inspiring.
My grandmother, bless her soul, tried for most of my young life to teach me important values, things like “cleanliness is next to Godliness” and “never judge a book by its cover”. Unfortunately these lessons were lumped in with other material that forbade things much closer to my heart: “stop eating, you’re going to explode” and “if you fart in church again God will send you to hell”. Poor lesson planning like this meant that many of her pearls of wisdom were thrown out with the mental bathwater and the older I get, the more I realize that some those things would have served me well after she was gone. My entire school career would have been considerably more illustrious had I not judged many books by their covers. At the time, I reasoned if a weighty tome was named "Dithering Heights" or "A Short Walk Up a Hill" and had a cover that featured demure women in frocks sitting down to tea, they were unlikely to include scenes of frantic mud-wrestling in which those frocks were torn asunder as the women vied for the love of wealthy Lord Pennyfeather. My time thus saved I would replace the book on the shelf and continue on to the volumes with that had more promising covers, were considerably smaller and most importantly, could be held in one hand. There is no spot on the honor roll for the student who writes a book report on “Sherry Has Low Standards & No Knickers On”.
Ma Miller’s Pub in Goldstream is a fine example of a book that, if judged by cover alone, would have been left on the shelf and that would have been an injustice. Remembrance Day, 2009, my wife Nicky, Max, Dan & I found ourselves out at Goldstream to observe the salmon spawning. Nicky was born and raised in England, meaning that the only wildlife she’s seen wears hoodies and bums cigarettes at the bus stop so she finds interesting even the most mundane aspects of our ecosystem. It all ended in tragedy this time, when after seeing the rotting fish corpses that lined the stream she realized how the cycle of fish-spawning ends.
Hours later we found ourselves at Ma Miller's doorstep. With few windows to the outside and a forbiddingly Germanic front, Ma Miller's looked imposing on a rainy day, like the kind of tucked-away local that serves angry, cedar-scented men in flannel shirts who enjoy nothing more than roughly sodomizing unwelcome newcomers. Our appetites overwhelming our common sense we continued inside into what turned out to be a very full pub. Our status as interlopers was confirmed when half of those present, a group mainly made up of elderly men wearing medals, stopped what they were doing and eyed us warily. Once they’d figured out that we weren't the hated Kaiser or worse, their wives come to take them home, we were ignored entirely and left to find a seat. In Victoria there are a number of pubs that try to sell the “British pub experience”. With mood lighting and polished brass, they seem to be trying to evoke an atmosphere of European sophistication and poise when in actual fact it all puts me in mind of a marching band huddled inside a cave. The package comes across as forced and somewhat ridiculous, like casting Madonna as, well, the Madonna. In contrast, Ma Miller’s weathered wood & brass setting feels like a cozy neighborhood pub in Little Pudding without even seeming to notice. Before long the bartender came by to take our drink order and we found out that he, because of staff illness, was the bartender, host, and wait-staff for the afternoon. As bald as a newborn and forced to run back and forth like a man possessed, I wouldn't have been surprised to learn that he'd started his shift with a full head of hair. Yet in the midst of what seemed to be absolute chaos he was a good guy. We never got the impression that we were an annoyance or had the wrong clothes on, as can happen if you stumble Into ceRtaIn downtown barS at tHe wrong Times.
The menu was standard pub fare, burgers, Max had the BBQ Bites, bits of seasoned deep-fried pork; Dan had a club wrap and Nicky, ever the light eater, the fries. Because of his handicap and the number of customers he had to serve it's not fair to take the barman to task for our dining experience being a bit like "Waiting for Godot”, our drinks arriving about the time Vladimir starts fiddling with his hat and the meal itself arriving sometime during Act 2. My pizza ($10), when it did arrive, was great and beat the pants off most pub pizza. The mushrooms were fresh, by God there was Cheddar cheese and the meat came from a real cow rather than swarms of African midges. The crust was crisp and not too thick, the sauce canned but pleasing nonetheless and the overall effect was that I ended up eating the entire 10” pizza in one sitting. Nicky & Dan were similarly satisfied with their meals although loud chewing and preoccupation with eating precluded my getting any further details. Afterwards Nicky did that the gravy tasted like “curry sauce” but that was as far as I’ve got. The lone holdout, that Grinchiest of Grinches, was Max. His pork bites ($8.95) were “dry”, “tasteless” and “represented the sad reality that a perfectly good pig had given its life for nothing.” He ate them of course but clearly he wasn’t happy about it. He’ll be the first to admit that there are only so many things one can do to deep-fried pig but a little salt goes a long way.
Grandma’s been gone a while now and although we had our differences, I miss her. She was part of a different time; a time when not everyone marched to the beat of the same drum, when cleanliness was next to Godliness and everyone was created equal so long as they clipped their nails. Ma Miller’s, I think, belongs to a similar time. It’s comfortable, friendly and priced low enough that you’ll still be able to afford that Phil Ochs record and take Mary-Ellen to the sock-hop. If you find yourself in Goldstream on a lazy Sunday afternoon, stop in and have a drink. Just keep your eyes peeled for orange suspenders.
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