Strip Club Cooks Up Gourmet Menu

My name is Leeesa,” came the purr, “it’s so nice to meet you. Can I interest you in a lap dance?” There were no takers at our table, and we sheepishly admitted that we were just here for a meal. Her tone immediately brightened. “Have you tried our new menu? We’ve got an awesome new chef, and the food is sooooo good!” It’s not often that Lisa’s services are passed over in favour of what’s coming out of the kitchen, but now that chef Stuart Irving (Cobre, Bin 941, and Wild Rice) has taken over at the No. 5 Orange strip club at Main and Powell, foodie looky-loos may be counted amongst the beer-and-boobs crowd.

Irving is in the process of building a new Latin restaurant, Cuchillo, just a few blocks east on Powell Street, set to open any day; reworking the menu at the club was a convenient layover gig. He got to know the staff and management at the No. 5 when he was running his former restaurant, Cobre, a few blocks west on Powell (where Rodney’s Oyster House now stands). “The cooks would come in early on their own time and get all the prep done by 3:30 p.m. so we could go squash a coupla pitchers at the 5 before we’d open Cobre for service. It was a great motivator. So good that we were going, like, three or four times a week. It was ridiculous!”

Tony Ricci and Chuck Choo, who have owned the club for almost a quarter-century, saw an opportunity when Cobre lost its lease and Irving was between projects. “They wanted to make a change-they’d had the same guy cooking there for forever, and the food program, such as it was, had fallen into deep, deep decline-to put it nicely. It was a nightmare. So they asked if I would create a simple menu, something that people wouldn’t get sick from and would entice them to stay and eat.” Keep reading…

A modest proposal, sure, and the menu-succinct and predictable: burgers, onion rings, and the like-stays true to its bar-food roots, but there’s a catch: everything is sourced from the same purveyors that appear on fine-dining menus across town. Sausages for the gourmet hot dogs (eight varieties, including a Japanese wasabi dog and a veg option) come from Woodlands Smokehouse, Two Rivers Meats, and Cioffi. The Pittsburgh-style half-pound burger is sandwiched with fries in a Cobs Bread bun. Even run-of-the-mill deep-fried chicken wings are free-range and come in mouth-puckering dill-pickle flavour.

The most distracting part of having a meal at the No. 5 is not, as you might expect, the nude women wiggling up and down a pole at centre stage. It’s the black lights, which lend a radioactive glow to everything on the plate. (Squeaky cheese curds on the poutine were particularly luminescent.)

Surprisingly it’s not the regulars who are giving the kitchen the most grief (nothing on the revamped menu costs more than $11). “It’s surreal,” said Irving, “working in this little shoebox space, to be cooking like crazy only to turn around see two naked girls standing there going, ‘Hey ya’ll, can you make me some chicken wings but hold this and substitute this…’ I thought I’d dealt with fussy customers before. Try cooking for, like, these dancers, man. They’re so picky. Normally I’m much nicer to naked women, but when they’re whining in my busy kitchen I just want to be like, Shut up! Get out of here! Just order off the menu like everyone else!”