BY CHRIS TIESSEN 

‘Why’s everyone watching me?,’ I ask TOQUE Partner Cai – nervously. My fork, loaded with rice and chicken, hovers at my mouth. ‘It’s the hot sauce,’ Cai replies matter-of-factly. ‘They’re waiting to see whether you can take it.’ I look at the folks around us, outside the Big Jerk Caribbean Catering and Bakery food truck, and notice that at least one appears to be in distress. A hot sauce victim, for sure. 

And I’m next. 

But not just yet. Before I dig into what threatens to send me off on some sort of nasty trip, let me take a step back. To mellower times. Earlier in the evening. At this: Waterloo’s ‘Solstice Sampling’ food crawl – hosted by the BIA and City of Waterloo’s Arts & Culture division. ‘This 

is going to be like some awesome scavenger hunt,’ I had excitedly told Cai once I’d had a chance to peruse the event maps and stamp cards we were given at Uptown’s main square. ‘But with food as the treasure.’ 

We were about to embark on an event geared at (re-)introducing participants to an assortment of Uptown’s culinary establishments. For a taste of what local eateries have to offer. 

We headed south from the square down King Street to where we’d decided to begin: Copper Branch – one of Uptown’s vegetarian places. Power bowls. Portobello and beet burgers. Chili. Smoothies. Organic coffees and teas. And, for us, spicy buffalo soy wings with hot sauce, sriracha coleslaw, and aioli. ‘These look just like the vegan wings on ‘Hot Ones’,’ 

I muse, alluding to one of my fave ‘First We Feast’ series – with host Sean Evans. Cai and I tear into the wings – great with aioli and even better on the restaurant’s King Street patio – before sauntering up King to Marbles Restaurant

Each time I visit Marbles – a Fat Sparrow Group joint – I’m glad I came. The cozy patio tucked just off King. The building itself – a century-and-a-half old former livery stable brilliantly restored. Exposed brick walls. Tin ceiling. The patio’s absolutely packed with both ‘Solstice Sampling’ participants and regulars, so we tuck in at the bar. Cai orders a Wellington ‘Kickin’ Back’ Session IPA while I grab an ice water. And we enjoy the Marbles sample: a ‘Vegan Speducci’: a skewer with eggplant, zucchini and cherry tomato drizzled with Korean barbecue coconut citrus ‘crema’ and topped with toasted sesame seed. 

And so the evening goes. There are crowds of event participants everywhere, chewing and chatting and laughing – and making their way to the next culinary destination. At Pure Juice Bar + Kitchen we enjoy a couple samples of ‘Sweet Dijon Ambrosia’ (oven roasted chicken, ambrosia apple, cranberries, toasted almonds, aged white cheddar and arugula on quinoa topped with honey Dijon vinaigrette). Down King at Abe Erb, we demolish tasters of the brewpub’s ‘Short rib poutine’ (slow- braised beef short rib, hand-cut fries and ‘Men in Night’ stout gravy with Quebec cheese curds). Corn dogs and coleslaw are the order of the day at Harmony Lunch. We down a few pulled pork sliders at Stark + Perri. And, for dessert, ice cream at Scoop du Jour

Oh yeah, and then there was that chicken and
rice at Big Jerk. With hot sauce. How did I fare?
Let’s just say that if, for whatever reason, I ever
ended up on Sean Evans’ ‘Hot Ones’, I think I’d 31make it pretty far. (The ‘Last Dab’, though – no way.) Great for me. Perhaps not so exciting for those folks hoping to see me suffer. 

While Cai and I sit on a picnic table enjoying our ice cream, I think back on the evening. This scavenger hunt for food. Across the expanse of Uptown. I grew up here. In Kitchener- Waterloo. Worked for years at the Subway location right here on King. My back-in-the day staples? The Jane Bond. Ethel’s. The Huether. Angie’s Kitchen. (Harmony, of course.) All still here. All still distinctive and special. But now surrounded by so much more. Arestaurant for every night of the week. Month, even. All you have to do is hunt for them.