Humour

Cheap(er) eats

Dining out in Halifax on a modern student budget

Cheap(er) eats
Photo by Patrick Fulgencio
written by John Hillman
March 4, 2016 12:01 am

 

The Coast released its Cheap Eats issue this past week. As a big fan of eating and a longtime impoverished student, I’m always keen to learn about new ways to stuff my face in public that don’t end with the phrase “okay guys, on the count of three…”

The Coast’s feature thus had my complete attention for nearly ten full seconds—right up until the moment I encountered effusive praise for $10 crepes. It was at this point I realized I was not reading a guide aimed at my uniquely destitute demographic, but rather a roadmap for North-End yupsters looking to rekindle fuzzy college memories of life before gastropubs.

As a result of this disappointment, I’ve decided to put together my own guide to budget dining in Halifax: a student-focused set of recommendations that take into consideration the unique blend of crippling debt and utter shamelessness that so many members of our campus community so wonderfully exemplify.

So, if you are desperately looking to stretch out your student-loan remnants/spare kidney market value over the next month and a half until you can get a real job, feel free to consider the following tips that will help you eat like Chris Christie on a John Kasich budget:

 

Pretend to attend a conference.

This is easily the classiest way to dine out on a student budget. Dalhousie hosts a lot of conferences, and most of these are very well catered. We’re talking seedless grapes and fancy little sandwiches—maybe even alcoholic beverages if you scout properly. Not to make other departments jealous, but around the law school, I’ve even seen the caterers wheel out those fancy crepes that The Coast writers are so fond of.  Invest in a dress shirt and tie, spend 30 seconds Googling the subject of the conference you’re crashing, and you’ll soon find yourself surreptitiously stuffing your pockets full of cheese cubes just like all of the real post-graduate conference attendees!

 

Just because it’s in the garbage can doesn’t mean it’s garbage.

Lots of terrible student jobs bring one in close contact with picky eaters. This may present the creative student with some unconventional dining options!

I used to work at a local elementary school just up the street from Dal. Every Tuesday and Thursday were Quiznos days, and all of the participating children would get delicious six-inch subs. As sweet as this arrangement was, there were always a few impatient kids who wanted to go straight to playing and managed to slip their subs into the lunchroom garbage without any of the staff noticing.

While cleaning up the room after the kids returned to class, one of my co-workers and I always made a point of raiding the garbage. Any of the subs with the wrapper still intact were fair game, welcome replacements for our own depressingly repetitive ramen-based meals.

Not everyone shared our excitement over our bountiful harvests. Fellow coworkers typically recoiled from our offers to share our finds. When my fiancée found out about the practice, she gazed at me in horror and asked if I had been raised by Golden Retrievers.

You know what though? Everyone else’s delicate sensibilities just meant more subs for us. We each made out with about $10 worth of sweet, sweet Quiznos twice a week—a princely ransom that proves one person’s trash might well be another starving, underpaid student worker’s primary source of whole grains and protein.

 

The phrase ‘all you can eat’ has powerful legal implications.

A few places around town still foolishly offer ‘all you can eat’ buffets, despite my many attempts to help them see the economic folly of such open-ended offers. The price of admission can be a little steeper than some of the other budget meals around town, but as my friends with commerce degrees are always telling me, you’ve got to spend money to make money.

I once turned a night at the $15 Pizza Delight buffet into an $80 orgy of pasta, pepperoni, and poor decisions.  Results may vary, but with a little pre-game fasting and a carefully prepared cave suitable for post-meal hibernation, buffets can be among the best possible bangs for your student buck.

 

Poutine: What doesn’t kill you only makes you fatter.

If your budget is running low, and the stray dogs on your walk home are starting to track your bony frame with hungry eyes, there is no better caloric return on your investment than a big ole greasy plate of poutine. According to the Toronto Star, there are 1422 calories in a small serving of Smoke’s bacon poutine. That’s the caloric equivalent of nearly three KFC Double Downs, a sandwich so horrifically gratuitous that it prompted more concerned think pieces than a Trump primary victory. AND THIS IS ONLY THE SMALL SERVING. Given that the ‘Wow-size’ option is roughly the diameter and density of a typical black hole, we’re talking wait-out-the-zombie-apocalypse levels of calories at a very wallet friendly $10.99.

 

You could read this last tip, or you could save yourself some time and just head directly to the Westcliffe Diner.

I have no idea how The Coast keeps forgetting about the Westcliffe Diner (located on the corner of Oxford and Bayers Road). Last year, they failed to include them in Burger Week. This year, they left them out of the Cheap Eats issue.

To all of the starving students out there, I want to make one thing absolutely, utterly clear: there is no better option for cheap eating in the city than the Westcliffe Diner.

After reading this, all of the other tips in this guide are moot. Just go to the Westcliffe. There’s none of the moral ambiguity of pretending to be a German nano-particle researcher at one of Dalhousie’s conference receptions. None of the scornful looks from peers you get while dumpster diving. None of the essential organ shutdown you experience after inhaling $80 worth of pizza or a Wow-sized poutine.

Have you ever paid $5.25 for a cheeseburger and fries platter? Not some flimsy frozen patty, or a greasy little meat monster that will leave you running for the restroom ten seconds after ingestion. No, I’m talking a hearty, lumberjack-sized slab of freshly packed quality ground beef, grilled to perfection by professionals who have been doing this daily since you were a sobbing little gourmand in a high chair dreaming of life beyond Gerber puréed peas.

I don’t even know why I’m still writing this. If you’ve never been to Westcliffe’s, go. Now. You’re going to want to make it there before my February Gazette cheque clears—I’ll be rolling in shortly to consume all that lies in within my path, as predictable and unrelenting as the high tide. (Sure we only got paid for two issues last month, but you’d be surprised how many platters that’ll buy.)