The Chicken Roost
This barn-themed restaurant opened in 1948 and closed in 1986. It is fondly remembered for such dishes as chicken-on-a-bun and lobster salad, as well as its gregarious proprietor, Max Mintz.
Brenda Martin, 59, remembers “heavily varnished wooden tables, pitchforks for coat hangers on either side of the booths (and) chicken-and-rooster salt-and-pepper shakers.
“I always ordered the chicken on a bun with their homemade barbecue sauce. Chicken was piled a mile high and hard as I tried, I could never finish it,” she wrote. “It was absolutely delicious. It was the big reward for a successful completion of another set of swimming lessons at the old YWCA which used to stand on the corner of MacNab and Main.”
Pamela Fisher, 67, was a nursing student at St. Joseph’s Hospital in the late 1960s, and says the Chicken Roost would draw a student crowd eager to get out of their residences in the evenings.
“We’d get a toasted Danish and cup of tea,” said Fisher, now a Hamilton Mountain resident. “We didn’t have enough money to eat a meal there. That was an evening out that didn’t cost us a lot of money. My allowance was $14 a month.
“My friend got married in 1969 at the Adas Israel Synagogue. The Chicken Roost catered their wedding.”
Burlington resident Karen Pettit, 69, remembers the Chicken Roost for its dessert.
“After a yummy chicken entrée … there would have to be dessert — a chocolate éclair filled with ice cream, and hot chocolate sauce poured over. The dessert was wonderful … absolutely wonderful!”
For Hamilton resident Andrea Rado, 50, dinner at the Chicken Roost is one of her earliest childhood memories.
“In the spring of 1969, I celebrated my fifth birthday at the Chicken Roost … sitting at a long wooden table in the centre of the restaurant, decorated with balloons, my entire kindergarten class, wearing party hats, feasted on the Chicken Roost’s specialty: chicken on a bun with fries accompanied by their signature chocolate milkshakes. The highlight of the meal was a chocolate cake made by the restaurant with five sparklers. To my delight, the entire restaurant, including the staff, sang ‘Happy Birthday.’
“Throughout our meal, we heard The Jackson Five, Sonny and Cher and Bobby Sherman from the jukeboxes located at every table — one song for a dime, three for a quarter. Although the chicken humour on the walls escaped us as five-year-olds, my parents were always entertained by the subtle innuendos.
“That Chicken Roost birthday party is etched in my mind as one of my earliest childhood memories. Whenever I think of that special afternoon, I’m reminded that Hamilton in the late 1960s and early 1970s truly was a magical place to grow up.”
Bill Hutchinson first set up shop on the beach strip in 1946, moving his restaurant twice after that. The current location opened in 1990. There is also a second location at 325 Bay St. N.
“In July 1961, I started my first full-time position at Firestone Tire and Rubber Co. on Burlington Street, near Kenilworth,” wrote Brampton resident Doreen Lund, 70. “We all used to hop in to our cars and off to Hutch’s for lunch. It would be quick but fun, as we’d sit and chat or dip our toes in the sand or lake. It was always busy, but the food and service was always great.”
One reader — who didn’t sign her handwritten letter — shared memories of being about 10 years old in the late 1950s, piling into her family’s Chevrolet to go and get fries, burgers and shakes from Hutch’s on the beach.
“When dad was an employee of Stelco, and when he worked the 3 to 11 p.m. shift on the weekends, mom and us kids would pile into the car and drive down to Stelco, pick dad up at 11 p.m. and head down to Hutch’s for a burger on a hot summer night. That’s when we were allowed to stay up late. I remember the burgers were bigger than me, the large plate of fries fed all five of us, the sodas so delicious. But most of all the prices: $0.25, $0.50, $0.75. Oh my! If we only could go back.”
Kresge’s opened its Hamilton location at the northeast corner of King and Hughson Streets in 1930, featuring a long, marble lunch counter. The store closed in 1994.
Bob Thayer, now 71, was what he called an “uptown boy” back in the 1960s, living at the Royal Connaught and frequenting many of the downtown establishments.
“You could get a hamburg and French fries for 50 to 75 cents in 1961,” said Thayer, who now lives in Stoney Creek. “I went into Kresge’s all the time. As soon as they saw you coming, they’d say ‘a hamburg for this guy,’ or ‘a hotdog.’ They already had your order in.
“Every time you went into one of these places, you saw the same people, it was a friendly environment. At Kresge’s and Woolworth’s, there were people who spent 35 years at the lunch counter.”
On the north side of King Street, facing Gore Park, Woolworth’s featured an 82-stool lunch counter with a microwave, for “atomic-age service.” Westdale’s 92-year-old Minna Loewith, now 92, from Westdale, had her first job working there.
“I worked as a soda jerk scooping out sodas, sundaes (and) banana splits, as well as hard ice cream (which had a variety of flavours in five-pound cartons). I never heard these strange words before and had to be careful not to get them mixed up. I’m sure that I made many mistakes but I tried my best and they didn’t fire me.”
Dan Kuzoff, a Macedonian immigrant, opened the Majestic Restaurant in 1933. The restaurant was expropriated for the construction of Jackson Square in 1969.
Bob Robinson, 79, grew up in Westdale and remembers spending a lot of time at the Majestic because he worked as an Eaton’s parking lot attendant nearby.
“We were all dressed in uniforms with the Eaton’s cap on … I used to go to the Majestic at lunch. The standard at that time was the hot beef sandwich. That was the staple of young people.”
The legend continues at 694 Spring Garden Rd. in Burlington, where Easterbrook’s stands much as it has for decades.
Robert Moore now lives in Ancaster, but grew up in the Aldershot area. He remembers how affordable everything used to be in the 1950s.
“When I was young, we used to go for a treat and order a hotdog for 20 cents. I would ride up on my bike and buy a pop and a bag of chips and get seven cents back from a quarter.”
Back In the 1960s, there were several locations of the White Grill in Hamilton. ’s downtown. Hamilton Mountain resident John Miller, 64, says he used to hang out at the one on Gore Park.
“Back in the 1960s in Hamilton, I thought I was a hippie. I guess I really wasn’t, but we used to hang out around Gore Park. Right near the Upper James bus stop, it used to be on the south side of Gore Park, was the White Grill. It was manned by a guy named Louis at the cash register, and two nice middle-aged ladies named Kay and Helen. They were a matronly pair.
“We used to go in there and sit at the Arborite tables and it was four tunes for a quarter on the jukebox. Steppenwolf was big on the jukebox at the time. It was nothing fancy. It was very un-corporate. Those were good times. The downtown was a destination at the time.
“We used to go in there and there was actual chinaware. at the time.
“Gore Park was something else. This was before the huge apocalypse when the city started ripping trees out of Gore Park in 1983. At that time, there was one long wooden bench from one end of the park to the other.”
Judith Hayman’s father, Pat Marshall, ran the White Grill in the Lister Block. The 63-year-old west Mountain resident says she remembers spending time much time spent with her father down at “the store.”
“The White Grill served up terrific hamburgers, French fries (never quite as good when they stopped using lard!), and sandwiches. They introduced downtown to the joys of Montreal smoked meat. Oh, they did dinners too, but honestly I don’t recall sampling many of those. But those fries …
“Dad taught me the business side of restaurants as well: the long hours, the constant battle to control costs, the concept of the cost of service. I never aspired to run a restaurant, but surely learned a love of good food.
“Dad was at ‘the store’ from about 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., then went back to close at 11 p.m. Sometimes he’d be called in during the evening with a problem. Inevitably, I got to be his princess, and, dressed in my best outfit and black patent shoes, would go downtown with him. Usually, it was a fairly quick fix. Sometimes, for bigger issues, he’d be in on a Sunday, when the store was closed. Then I would stock the paper goods and other supplies. I learned how to use the soda fountain and the milkshake machine. And, because there was no washroom in the restaurant, only upstairs, I got to freely roam the empty closed Lister Block.”
Founded in 1950, the Plainsman was famous for its buffet, which was a novelty at that time. The now decrepit empty building still stands empty at Highway 5 and Millgrove Side Road, but in its heyday, it was a true hot spot.
“As I got a little older, there were times when we were celebrating a special birthday or anniversary and it had to be at the Plainsman,” recalls Hamilton Mountain resident Marilyn Edworthy, 63. “My father had been in the war and had little patience for waiting in general, so he liked moving at his own pace at the Plainsman. I can still hear him saying to us, ‘Don’t forget, go for the expensive food first.’”
Opened in November, 1963, and still open today, Capri has been putting a little dough ball in the middle of its pizzas since the beginning.
But it’s their lasagna that 68-year-old Milton resident Barry Kory remembers, ever since he first tasted it in 1966.
“I was in residence at McMaster. My buddies and I randomly called to order take out from Capri to go with the beer on Friday nights. I will never forget the steaming, cheesy lasagna (sometimes ordered with meatballs) arriving in those round, foil takeout containers, accompanied by a fresh Italian bun.
“I was hooked!
“Ever since then I have visited Capri on John Street dozens and dozens of times over 49 years, my graduation party with my late parents being one memorable moment. I took my ex-wives and my kids when they were young, celebrated a New Years Day, and many times feasted on my sacred lasagna before we attended my Tiger Cats’ home games.
“Wherever I have travelled I keep saying ‘Capri makes the best lasagna in the world.’
“Two years ago my partner Caryl totally surprised me by throwing a secretly-planned 65th birthday celebration in the Capri banquet room… I arrived and was absolutely stunned to be greeted by so many of my friends, family and many others associates from my past! There was even a photo display board with selected glimpses from my past. Absolutely bowled me over!
“And what did I have from the menu? Lasagna… the best in the world!”
Black Forest Inn
Opened in 1967 by Fred and Rosa Oberreiter, the German/Austrian restaurant at 255 King St. E. has long been famous for schnitzel, goulash and other European dishes. It’s now run by Fred’s son Wolfgang Schoen and his wife, Gabi.
It’s the type of place that families come back to over decades, said Marie Trainer.
“Our favourite was the cordon bleu dinner with fried potatoes and vegetables,” she wrote in an email. “The soup and salad, which were served first were sooooooo good. I never had room left for the rest of the meal, so I always went home with leftovers so I had a wonderful lunch the next day.
“Our three boys grew up going with us to our favourite restaurant,” said Trainer, who is in her late 60s. “We often took friends with us, relatives and visitors from afar. The Black Forest was a part of our life … My eldest son took his bride-to-be there the night he proposed to her.”
The stonewalled restaurant at 525 Barton St E. has been feeding Hamiltonians for more than 70 years and was the first to bring “pizza-pie” to the city.
Barry Crombie, 71, grew up in the north-east end and says one of the things he remembers most about “the Troc” was the staff.
“They were like your mother: ‘What, you didn’t like your food? Why aren’t you eating?’
“The owner would walk around and chat with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth with an ash about an inch long. The food was always excellent. The spaghetti and meatballs was excellent, but oddly enough they had the best T-bone steaks in town.
“Most of those ladies weren’t family, but they were mature … They would tease you and joke with you and they remembered their customers.
“You’d be lined up on a Friday night. It was always full: lawyers, politicians, business people … If you went there on a Friday evening in the 1970s, there would be a couple of lawyers, judges, families. The tables would turn over two or three times in the evening.”
Mother’s Pizza first opened in 1970 in Westdale, growing to several locations before shutting down in the early 1990s. More recently, business partners Brian Alger and Geeve Sandhu bought the brand and revived the chain, in Hamilton at 701 Queenston Rd. — putting favourites like cinnamon ice cream and Hula Hula pizzas back on the menu.
East-end resident Cathy Penney, 55, says going to Mother’s was “an event.”
“First, you would enter the saloon doors and the smell was something that I think the majority of pizzerias are lacking. You started to salivate like the proverbial Pavlov’s dog. When you went to their original restaurant, there was a good chance you would see one of your fellow Westdale High comrades reaching in the oven to check the bottom crust for doneness. There was an intimacy. It was a neighbourhood place.
“You would be seated under a faux Tiffany lamp with a plastic, checked tablecloth over an old dining room table surrounded by mismatched rickety chairs. It didn’t matter. You patiently waited for the silver pedestal to reach your table. On it, a pizza with large bubbles of dough and heat-blistered cheese that you looked forward to popping. At least I did.
“If it was just two of you, sometimes you’d get the Singer sewing machine table and you’d rest your feet on the pedal. You’d be presented with a frosty mug of whatever pop you ordered.
“When it was too cold to go out, you would have it delivered and that would be a major event as well. This wasn’t the day of two-for-one or buck-a-slice. This was a hard-working family ordering something special that came to their door.”
This Chinese restaurant at 25-27 King St. W. was owned by Tommy Hoan. Barbara Collins, 71, grew up in Dunnville and remembers eating at the Grange whenever her family came to Hamilton.
“I remember going up the arc staircase and there was a big mirror with a green dragon in it,” said Collins, who now lives in Port Maitland. “My father was in construction and he travelled around and I think he and his friends went there first. He insisted my mother, brother and I go there, so she dressed me up and we went downtown. We had to wear gloves.
“You’d go up and it was kind of dark. I still remember two of the waitresses. It was a long way to go from Dunnville, but it was worth it. It was big, and there were these drapes and little Chinese lights. The fellow who owned it would sit in the back.
“The food was delicious.”
Alison Gibson of Ancaster remembers stopping into Renner’s for a hot chocolate at the counter in the 1940s — even though as a Strathallan College Strathallen student, she had been told never to go there in her school uniform.
“Our headmistress Janet Virtue — yes, that was her name, and what a marvellous person she was — might have known what I didn’t until much later: that Evelyn Dick was often seen there making her assignments.”
Delta Bright Spot
The Delta Bright Spot at 1145 Main St. E. was one of many in the Bright Spot chain owned by restaurateur Russell Williams. The Delta location remains operational today.
Hamilton Mountain resident Bob Morris, 88, remembers eating there late at night on Dec. 31, 1944, on his second date with his future wife.
“We cannot remember what we had, but likely it was a hamburger and a Coke — I could not afford anything more! From the Capital or Palace theatre we had taken the streetcar to the Delta, ate at the Bright Spot and then walked in the snow to her house.
Once boasting several locations around the city, P-Wee’s Pizzeria ended its long run in 1994. At that time, partner Michael Veri opened Maccheroni Cucina al Fresco at one former P-Wee’s location, 1560 Main St. W., and continued serving the chain’s famous pizza recipe.
Veri, 64, was only a kid when his cousin first started P-Wee’s in 1957. He remembers going coming into to the Main Street West location, which used to be a hardware store, and watching the kitchen staff tossing the pizza dough.
“You’d walk in and there was a big huge square counter, it was all glass and you could see the guys throwing the pizzas in the air,” Veri told the Spec. “All it had was some Arborite tables and a Canada Dry pop machine. It was the only pizzeria around for McMaster University and was always packed … 12-inch pepperoni pizzas were $1.85.”
Since 1969, Shakespeare’s haslong been known for fine dining in downtown Hamilton, serving steaks and seafood as well as more exotic meats such as rarer meats including caribou, venison and wild boar.
Claire Hargread, 49, remembers taking a cab from Ancaster to go to Shakespeare’s once a month with her family.
“Franco and Luigi were the ultimate in hosts. They never failed to light your cigarette immediately, your wine was filled up after one sip. They wore tuxedos. On top of that they had their junior waiters, they were less polished, but even more accommodating … They were just so kind. Not fawning, or deferential, but they treated you with the utmost respect.
“The best table was by the fireplace. It was always dark. You’d get there in the summer, around 8 o’clock, and it was still bright outside, but it would take a while for your eyes to adjust inside. At the end of the meal, there was always a brandy snifter that was about two feet high, full of candies and jelly beans. You’d take what you want with a massively long thin spoon. My family was English, Franco and Luigi would always put extra licorice allsorts in.
“It was expensive, but it wasn’t pretentious.”
Russell Williams, owner of the Bright Spot chain, opened a restaurant under his own name in Hamilton in 1932. The restaurant’s current location, at 20 Plains Rd. E. in Burlington, opened in the 1950s. The Williams family sold the business in the early 1980s, but the restaurant continues to operate today.
“On pay days, we would head for Russell Williams for lunch,” recalls Delhi resident Susan Wilson, 76. “Four of us would go to Williams after collecting our pay at the Bank of Commerce. It was just a short walk across the Gore Park. It was a sort of unwritten rule that you could have an additional 15 minutes extended lunch on pay days.
“Williams was reasonably priced and the food was great … The mac and cheese, French fries and coleslaw were the best fare. Wish I could eat like that now!”
A roadside restaurant that’s been a Stoney Creek staple for six decades, the Innsville is reminiscent of hearkens back to a time when tourists would cruise Highway 8 looking for a roadside inn to lay their heads overnight. East-end resident June Wilkinson, 85, says she used to go there for prime rib dinner every Saturday.
“Downstairs we had our regular table, where there was a great dance floor and great music. The tables always had red linen tablecloths and candles. The one wall was covered with barn boards and the ambience was wonderful.”
After 40 years, the Tivoli Restaurant on James Street North closed in 1992.
“I can still recall, on a Saturday afternoon, my best friend and I thinking we were so cool walking in wearing our hip-hugger bell-bottoms and Joe Cocker tops, sliding into one of the red-coloured seats in a booth,” says Joanna Ferko, 61, of Hamilton. “As we put a quarter into the tabletop jukebox, we would select a favourite song, maybe “Green Eyed Lady” by Sugarloaf, and order our usual: a chocolate milkshake so thick and smooth and the fries so crispy tasting even better with all the added salt and vinegar. The best in the city.”
The Royal Connaught
The hotel opened in 1916, its Golden Horseshoe dining room often serving the city’s most well-heeled locals and visitors. The hotel closed in 2004 and is now being made into condos.
Bernice Robitaille of Grimsby worked at the Connaught for 28 years as a waitress.
“I served Pierre Trudeau,” said the 89-year-old. “I had to wear white gloves when I waited on him.”
L’Escargot was a hot spot in the Delta, thanks to the dishes of chef cooking by famed chef Andre Donnet. It closed in 1999 after 20 years.
“We went there every second week for a nice meal,” recalled Audrey Jolley, 83, who lives on the west Mountain. “Andre and Jean would always come by the table and say a greeting. One time my husband said, ‘Why don’t you ask them up for dinner?’ When you’re in that business you have no social life … no one asks the chefs up for dinner. We served them hamburgers and are still friends today.”
The Tien Kue was a high-end Burlington Chinese restaurant that closed to make way for the Skyway Bridge.
Bill Chow’s family was the owner of the restaurant.
“My family was the original owner of the Tien Kue Inn. My dad’s Canadian name was Bing Chow,” said the west Mountain resident, 47. “He was open from 1959 to 1982 until it got expropriated.
“It was an old house and they built an addition onto it. About 300 seats. There’s another one open in Miami under the same name; my dad and my cousins opened it in 1972. They opened restaurants in Cambridge, Kitchener-Waterloo, under the Tien name.
“When the Tien Kue was open, it was the place to go for the high society of Hamilton, Burlington, Oakville. The definition of Chinese food has changed. Before it was upscale; you’d see people come in wearing fancy dresses.
“I worked there from when I was 12. I was a dishwasher … I grew up quickly. I remember working New Year’s, I cried a little bit, ‘I’m growing up too fast!’
“A lot of new immigrants used to come and bring their cuisine and culture with them. The people who ran the Grange, Pagoda, Lee’s all came from the same area in China. Our generation saw how hard our parents worked and went off to our own occupations.”
Kuo Kau Kau
The Hoan family, owners of The Grange and the Ricksha Tavern, also owned the Kuo Kau Kau (formerly the Chopstick Restaurant). The Kuo Kau Kau was torn down by the city in 1968 to build the Claremont Access.
“My favourite was the Kuo Kau Kau on the edge of the Mountain, gone now of course with the new access,” says George Cordiner, 69, of Burlington. “It was so romantic — your own little room, piped-in music, overlooking the lights of the city. They even knocked on your door before entering — not that they had to! Too bad someone couldn’t build another somewhere on the edge of the Mountain.”
The Rendezvous Restaurant, the first in what would become a drive-in and restaurant empire, opened on Plains Road West in the 1930s. Its name was changed to Bloomingdale’s in 1988.
Jim dePass, 69, who lives in the east end, writes: east-end Hamilton “Back in the 1960s, the Rendezvous Restaurant was probably the original drive-thru in Hamilton. The Rendezvous served hamburgs, hotdogs, fries, KFC and fish.
“The Rendezvous was the original KFC in Hamilton and I remember one day when the REAL Col. H.D. Sanders visited the restaurant to promote the KFC brand. He was quite a character if I remember correctly.
“As an employee at the Rendezvous, I remember cutting up the chicken on a band saw. In those days, the chickens were delivered whole and it was our job to cut each bird up into nine pieces.
“On one particular day, (co-owner) Doug Swire picked me up at the Upper James store and drove me down to the Parkdale store. After cutting up about 800 to 900 birds at the Parkdale store, I was asked to take the small Mini Minor delivery truck back up to Upper James and help them with the cooking there. Around 7 p.m. I thought my day was finished and I started to clean up to go home. Much to my dismay, I was told I could not leave until I had cut up some birds at the Upper James store as they were just about out of chicken. After cutting up about another 400 birds at Upper James, I finally got to go home. Upon arriving home, my Mother asked if I was hungry as she had saved me some dinner. You guessed it. What she had to offer was chicken.”
The Pines Hotel
Once a Stoney Creek fixture, the Pines was around as early as the 1930s, and patrons would dress up in their finest attire to dine there.
Dennis Maguire of Stoney Creek particularly remembers Christmas dinner there in 1967.
“Our family enjoyed a turkey dinner at The Pines Hotel while my wife, Dora, was waiting to give birth to our daughter Susanne at the Mount Hamilton Hospital,” says Maguire, 76. “She suggested that I leave the hospital and enjoy my meal with my family as our baby would not be arriving any time soon. She gave birth to our daughter later that evening.”
The Honey Dew
This restaurant, famous for its signature orange drink, was located on the south side of Gore Park from 1942 until 1971.
“When I was a little boy, my grandmother, Elizabeth Laflin, used to take me to the Honey Dew,” says Colin Cousins, 61, of Brantford.
“Gram liked to sit right in the front window, to the right of the door, and keep an eye out for her friends, who would frequently join us. We were waited on by Gisela and she seemed like an old friend.
“Sometimes, there would be other waitresses, and they always treated Gram with great respect and kindness. There would be times when ‘our’ table would be occupied by someone else, but these were often people Gram knew, and she would greet them graciously, then wait for them to leave so we could claim our rightful place!
“I remember that this was a different time, and, although I am only 61, there were observable differences from now. For instance, the ladies (and I use this term respectfully!) always wore hats and dressed up to go downtown. Cigarettes were elegant and tea and coffee were taken in cups, not mugs.”
Bob Zombory, 75, remembers Martin’s, a fixture on Barton Street, which began as a sports bar run by wrestler Martin Hutzler. It then morphed into a steak and seafood restaurant under second owner Sam Sutter.
“There was Martin’s Steak House located at 946 Barton St. E., where professional wrestlers would go to eat steak after their wrestling matches,” writes Zombory, now of Port Orange, Fla. “On occasion, my dad would take me there to see the wrestlers and how they would be friends eating out together.”