Local Lunches Under $10: Caines “Nighthawks at the Diner”

"I will not suggest fresh herbs, as the delightful lack of gentrification at Caines is well worth the trade off of a little cilantro."

“…Ahead of a slow moving coldfront, cold blooded
With, with tornado watches issued shortly before noon Sunday
For the areas including the western region of my mental health
And the northern portions of my ability to deal rationally
With my disconcerted precarious emotional situation
It’s cold out there .” – Tom Waits, Emotional Weather Report 

It’s not a late night joint, so I’ll admit it might seem odd at first that Caines Grocery and Deli on the far east end of Duckworth would put me in mind of the Tom Waits album Nighthawks at the Diner.

Not that it closes early, but in this city a demure shut down time of midnight just doesn’t cut it if you want to be a darling of the nighthawk, owl, or whatever other late night bird you relate to. So what is it then that brings the boozecan troubadour to mind? Look at the album cover and you’ll get it, I think.

Sure , no one is wearing a newsboy cap and smoking a cigarette inside like Tom is there, but that little deli, even in its freshly renovated state , is the closest thing you will see to the world of 1975 counterculture on a downtown main drag anymore.

Food isn’t much more expensive than on the album covers’ menu in the window, which advertises a breakfast special for $1.89. I couldn’t find anything over 9 dollars on the menu, and this includes filling dinner trays. Eating my meal next to a cooler of frozen pizzas and beer didn’t hurt the ambiance either, and the low prices/high quality combo guarantees that you will experience a mix of neighbourhood residents ranging from well-dressed office types, to hung over students who will remind you of your younger self after a hard night needing a cheap meal.

Here is where it all comes together, when your mind starts to hum the strum of a stand up bass and the lyrics to Tom’s tune “Emotional Weather Report” float through your head, and you remember being heartbroken some early morning , broke and sad, and having enough money to get breakfast at Caines. It made everything okay, no matter how cold it was outside. Sadly, they no longer serve breakfast.

Turkey Soup $4.99: A victim of its own success, the only criticism I can make is that the broth is so well done  that the turkey flavour could stand to be cut with more of the carrots, celery, and onions that, along with curly noodles, complete the bowl. Plenty of turkey. I will not suggest fresh herbs, as the delightful lack of gentrification at Caines is well worth the trade off of a little cilantro. Easily the cheapest way to ‘broth’ in St John’s. If you’re into that sort of thing.

Stuffed Chicken Dinner $8.99: Moist chicken stuffed with passable stuffing (maybe too much of it), clouds of mashed potatoes, carrots and turnips not overboiled, and a gravy that manages to be tasty and rich without being too salty or thick. A huge amount of food.

More from Felicity Roberts

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