Still Standing

Crave-worthy foods from Canadian small towns

From Persian donuts to wheel pizza, here are Canada's best small town snacks

From Persian donuts to wheel pizza, here are Canada's best small town snacks

Persians, wheel pizza and Nanaimo bars, oh my! (CBC)

In the first season of Still Standing, we found out that Crowsnest Pass, Alta., is the birthplace of Kentucky Fried Chicken gravy as we know it today.

The town was home to Kay Kerr — who passed away last year at 95 — and she was well-known as a "gravy pioneer" after she developed a recipe that reduced the cooking time of KFC-style gravy from 30 minutes down to two minutes. It was Colonel Sanders-approved (he even flew her to Kentucky and had her stay at his home for a week) and Kerr's recipe is still used by KFC today.

Much like the people of Crowsnest Pass are proud of Kerr's gravy, citizens of small towns across Canada are proud of their unique food offerings. So we asked Still Standing fans to share some of their town's specialties:

Persians (Thunder Bay, Ont.)

The Persian is a popular Thunder Bay pastry that is essentially a deep-fried cinnamon bun covered with pink icing. (Jeff Walters/CBC)

As Katrina O says: "Thunder Bay is not a small town, but Persians are their claim to fame."

Persians are oval-shaped, cinnamon-bun-like sweet rolls with a distinct pale pink icing made of either raspberries or strawberries. They're Thunder Bay's signature pastry and they're very popular at fundraisers and social events.

Legend has it that the Persian got its name after a U.S. general John 'Blackjack' Pershing, who fought in the First World War. However, there are many competing claims as to exactly when and how the Persian was created, and its recipe remains a secret (strawberry or raspberry icing — which one is it?!).

The man who put Persians on the map for Thunder Bay was Mario Nucci. He owned a chain of popular local coffee shops called The Persian Man, as well as Nucci's Bake-a-Deli and Bennett's Bakery.

Fries with the works (O'Leary, P.E.I.)

Some folks from O'Leary, P.E.I., vividly remember when the CBC series On The Road Again paid a visit to the town two decades ago — it was when their prized food invention 'Fries with the works' took the spotlight.

Wendy Lynn J says her mother invented the popular P.E.I. dish — sometimes called "FWTW" — which is a combination of French fries, fried hamburger, fried onions, gravy, and peas. If you really want to go all out, you could also add some mushrooms, green onions, tomatoes, carrots, sour cream, and grated cheese.

Pictou County pizza (New Glasgow, N.S.)

Brown pizza from Pictou County is highly-prized. (CBC)

Sure, pizza is delicious, but pizza with Pictou County's brown sauce is a unique experience.

Pictou County is well known for its famous "brown sauce style of pizza". Rhonda Cougias of Acropole Pizza says: "It's not your typical pizza sauce, the red sauce that you see. It's a brown sauce. It's got vegetables in it, herbs and spices. It's a secret sauce." Still Standing fan Andrea S describes it as having a "spicy" taste.

While many pizza places offer different variations of brown sauce pizza, Doug and Angela Bonvie of Pictou County Pizza have carried on their family's recipe after they were the first to make this specific style of pizza in the '60s.

One grocery chain in Nova Scotia carries Pictou County Pizza's famous sauce so you can have that authentic "brown sauce" taste on your own homemade pizza.

Wheel Pizza (Antigonish, N.S.)

Wheel Pizza is iconic to Antigonishers. (Teena D/Yelp)

Since we're on a pizza roll, let's talk about Wheel Pizza in Antigonish! One Facebook user, Patricia G. K., even went so far as to say "No offence, Pictou County, but your pizza's got nothing on the Wheel Pizza in Antigonish."

The Wheel Pizza & Sub Shop is an iconic eatery in the small Nova Scotia town — so iconic it even stays open during brutal storms that schools, government offices, and businesses dare not stay open through.

"People need to eat," said Mike Hassin to The Chronicle HeraldIn his 35 years owning the pizza shop, Hassin says he has only been shut down by the weather once. The walls of the Wheel Pizza are covered in selfies from around the world that Antigonishers have taken with Wheel Pizza boxes — from a soldier in Afghanistan, a bride and groom, a SWAT team.

Expect long lines for their cheese-smothered pies and their takeout combo, the "Athlete Special" of lasagna and garlic cheese bread for $7.

Dutch fries (The Pas, Man.)

According to several reviews, the homemade fries at Dutch Drive-In have people visiting from all over Canada. The hand-peeled potato slices are cooked and re-cooked, which sounds like the most irresistible deep-fried snack, especially with some gravy. Dutch fries have been described as the defining food to The Pas, the same way cheese steaks are to Philadelphia.

Fries not your thing? Dutch Drive-In also has ice cream, foot-long hot dogs, and milkshakes for a perfect movie evening in your car.

Nanaimo bars (Nanaimo, B.C.)

There are many Nanaimo bar variations, consisting of different types of crumbs and icing flavours, like mint, peanut butter, and coconut. (Lauri Patterson/iStock)

Our fans on social media were very adamant that Nanaimo bars from Nanaimo, B.C., be added to this list! The famous no-bake dessert consists of layers of a wafer crumb base, custard-flavoured butter icing, and chocolate.

As CBC Life writes, though the Nanaimo bar's origins are not quite clear, the classic recipe first appeared in B.C. in the 1950's, though the city of Nanaimo has claimed it as its own. While there have been name variations (the New York Bar, the London Fog), Nanaimo has held strong in its namesake – the city's website has the quintessential award-winning recipe and offers a self-guided tour where you can taste many of the variations and celebrate the chocolatey history of Canada.

Did you know?...

  • The McFlurry is a small-town Canadian food invention! The frozen treat from McDonald's celebrated its 20th anniversary last year in its birthplace, Bathurst, N.B. with its red-and-white anniversary flavour: Red Velvet with Oreo cookie pieces. The original McFlurry was created by franchisee Ron McLellan in 1995.
  • McCain fries, the largest producer of French fries in the world, was established in 1957 in Florenceville, N.B.

Does your small town boast any special food favourites? Let us know in the comments section below!

Originally published May 2016.