On sunny days, I like to make my way across the harbour to pick up a coffee or meal at one of the wonderful little restaurants and cafes that pepper downtown Dartmouth. If nothing else, the ferry ride offers an easy adventure and the chance to breathe in a little more salty air than usual.
Alderney isn't the only landing---a familiar fact for any peninsula-dwellers who happen to be Value Village aficionados, NSCC students or hospital employees. So I switch routes to try out the Woodside restaurant Pilot's Pub. An easy few strides from the ferry terminal, the pub is big, with a woody bar in the front, a rosy pink dining room in the back and a deck that sprawls along the length of the back, with views of the harbour.
My first visit is on a warm afternoon. We sit watching Theodore Tugboat make his way around distant waters outside. A server drops off a huge menu that, on the weekend, includes brunch. After a lot of page-flipping and omelette-ogling on our part, another server shows up at our table to hear our decisions. We pick lunch, ordering the Philly cheese steak ($8.99) and the mushroom melt burger ($8.99), each of us adding a 10-ounce Garrison brown ale ($4). We also both opt to switch the frozen fries out for ones with a homemade beer batter.
After a wait our food is delivered, but it's clear that the servers---at this point we are on our third new face---have forgotten we each ordered a beer. Our latest server apologizes and heads off to grab our ales.
The cheese steak is not great. The cuts of meat are more like roast beef, and the sandwich is sadly lacking in cheese. The melted cheese on the burger is also on the thin side, overpowered by a small pile of bland sauteed mushrooms and a dry beef patty. No matter how much I slather on, the side of bistro sauce---a garlicky, horseradish mustard/mayo mix---fails to make a dent in the lack of juiciness.
Luckily the caramel sweetness and slight bitterness of the eventually delivered Garrison turns out to be a nice complement to the flavours of the sandwiches. The French fries are also really good. They are light and crispy, if a little oily; the definite highlight of our meals. Still, we leave disappointed.
A week later we give it another shot, this time ordering some of the house specialties: the double sirloins ($8.99) and the coquilles St. Jacques ($11.99). This time we just get a few canned sodas ($2).
I order the sirloins medium-rare, but I get them medium-well. The server never returns to see if we are happy, so eventually I shrug it off and dig in. They are still slightly juicy, and the bacon adds some enjoyable smoke and saltiness, but overcooked as they are, they can't help but disappoint.
The coquilles St. Jacques ($11.99) is a pleasant bowl of comfort food. A handful of tiny, tender bay scallops sit on a bed of mashed potatoes, both covered in a garlic mushroom sauce and a gooey mess of melted cheese. The potatoes themselves are actually quite bland, but the tasty sauce is rich with garlic. The accompanying Caesar salads, however, are just OK. Crisp romaine lettuce, real bacon and an average creamy sauce are done a disservice by shredded mozzarella, a poor replacement for Parmesan.
When we are finished, our server finally re-emerges, noting she forgot to come back, wandering away again without a word, returning only to drop off the bill. We pay and head off, ready for another ride on the ferry.
It wasn't all bad at Pilot's Pub, but from food to service, it was far from great. It might be a passable neighbourhood pub, but I can't say it was worth a trip.