Some of you may remember an obscure cooking program on Shaw Cable Channel 10 in the 90s featuring a German couple named Barb and Ernie. Well, I remember watching it, and though I can’t tell you anything specific about the show, I do recall much butter being used in the dishes produced. Anyway, I’ve passed by the Bavarian facade of Barb & Ernie’s Old Country Inn (9906-72 Avenue) too many times to count driving southbound on 99 Street, and I thought it was about time I went in and actually tried the food. Mack joined me Sunday afternoon in my quest to satisfy my morbid curiosity.
I had tried to make a reservation for brunch earlier in the week, but the gentleman on the phone told me they didn’t accept reservations for the morning. He advised that I try to come either before 10am or after 1pm to avoid the rush. As neither Mack or I are early birds, we decided on the latter suggestion, arriving just before one o’clock. We were pretty lucky, as we were seated almost immediately and with Ernie’s special brand of hospitality: he pointed to the table at which we would dine. After we were settled, he approached us to play out a cheesy but well-worn and likely popular bit, handing me the menu with a “For you, Beautiful,” while to Mack, he said, “…And you.”
It’s difficult to judge Ernie, as his intentions are pure, and there’s no doubt his restaurant is popular in part because he is so ingrained in the Old Country Inn experience, but as someone who appreciates a low key brunch of quiet conversation, this wasn’t the place to be.
The restaurant did have extensive breakfast offerings, however, including a page of “healthy choices.” I decided on a Barb & Ernie special of one hotcake, eggs, and sausage, while Mack chose the bacon and mushroom omelet. I actually should have asked for the menu back in retrospect, as I hadn’t finished reading the chronology of their business and family life in Edmonton detailed on the front page.
The food arrived after a limited delay, and suffice to say, the portions were huge! The meal itself wasn’t spectacular (even being less greasy than I expected), but as the prices are comparable to Denny’s, this is a better bet if you have the stomach for it (tried as I might, I could only finish half of the hotcake). On the downside though, this isn’t a place to linger for coffee refills, as Ernie was eyeing our table soon after our plates had been cleared.
Barb & Ernie’s isn’t for everyone, and actually, come to think of it, besides those who personally know the family, I wonder how most people aren’t intimidated by his over-the-top gregarious nature. While I realize a restaurant is more than one person, he’s undoubtedly the face. And because of this, it’s hard not to think of the Old Country Inn as just that – a stopover, a tourist attraction, and a living museum for Ernie’s hospitality.