When a place is busy at lunchtime on a cold, wet, miserable Wednesday then you know it has to be good, and Buster’s Sea Cove in St Lawrence Market most definitely is (Anthony Bourdain, take note – you must have passed within yards of it on your way to drool over bacon butties). The place does not look like anything special, I admit. In fact, with the cramped seating area and noise – orders are shouted around a compact, open kitchen by a team so perfectly in sync that you’d think they were a boyband – I can understand anyone turning tale and heading somewhere else. Buster’s looks far removed from a seafood Shangri-la, but we’d done our usual trek around the city and this lady (nor her shoes) wasn’t for turning.
And thank goodness. Being a weekday, the queue wasn’t long and our order was taken quickly by a man at a till (is he a waiter? Do we tip?). There is nothing pre-made. Food is freshly cooked to order and within a couple of minutes, we were being handed over a crab salad sandwich ($6.75) and halibut in a bun ($9.95) by one of his colleagues (is he a waiter? Do we tip?). Each gigantic sandwich was accompanied by a mountain of coleslaw – I can hear you groaning but forget that mayo-heavy muck: this is sharp and refreshing with a light vinegry taste and is the perfect accompaniment to the fish. My crab salad sandwich was delicious but it was the halibut which was the real discovery. Snow-white flakes of fish in a crisp batter. It puts Harry Ramsdens in the shade.
We’ve been back several times since – the haddock has been declared not as good as the halibut, but still worth it, while the Boston blue fish comes a close fourth with the crab salad nicking third. The tuna melt, sadly, came well below the other runners but you can’t win them all.
Our visit one Saturday, however, sent our hearts diving into our empty, gurgling stomachs upon seeing a queue winding itself almost to the middle of the market. It shows how much we like Buster’s that we were prepared to put in the wait, but our dispair was in vain. A man (is he a waiter? Do we tip?) with a headset goes along the line taking orders and shouting them through to the kitchen so that by the time you arrive, it is practically being plated.
Sadly, we liked our original selection so much that we have yet to try other options on the menu, which includes lobster roll and the cleanest, ungreasiest fish and chips I have ever seen. They will be partaken of before the end of September, I promise. Purely in the name of Canadian Wry, you understand…