The Tallest Poppy and the Power of a Fried Chicken Sandwich
28 degrees in July, a dull hangover, and no time for the fried egg sandwich I know will fix me.
Sam and Lou played the patio till late the night before. A thoughtfully constructed and outrageously fun set that one just had to raise a glass and a glass and a glass to.
I want a slow morning. I want to eat a breakfast sandwich and lay in a field of cold green grass, but I have a meeting in 15 and errands to run.
I begrudgingly re-sign a lease, lose all faith in humanity at a Canadian Tire, and bike like lighting out of the hellscape that is industrial St. James. Zooming down a neglected bike path, I hit a pothole that wants me dead. I stay on course, but my stomach is shaken and my hatred for this city’s streets is startled awake.
I mean to curse the road. That one lane. That exact pothole. But it’s hot and I'm tired and my face is puffy, and I curse the whole damn city.
Hours later, I meet my best friend for dinner at The Tallest Poppy.
My stomach is still asking for greasy bread when Abi brings two fried chicken sandwiches to the table. Fergassa, packed with green onions and cheddar, is topped with mayo, pickles, a slice of tomato, and famously seasoned chicken. All served with gusto, plenty of hot sauces, and fresh lemonade.
Between bites, my friend and I exchange the news of our latest maladies and neuroses. Nightmares and stomach aches and the lines around our eyes. I want to tell them about the pothole and how I hate this city, but my mouth is full.
What a mighty fine sandwich. And doesn’t the light look nice against that mural? And hey, I know that person across the street. What a good person they are. And Abi refills our glasses.
I ask him what makes The Poppy so great. “Talia,” he tells me. “Talia, Talia, Talia. She started this place from nothing. She used to have dinner parties at her house, all southern comfort food, and if you knew her at all, you were invited. You could bring a friend, and we’d all eat together.”
It’s such a joy to dine with those you love. And I’m grateful Talia, with her tremendous recipes, knows this too. While these dinner parties have evolved past the walls of Talia’s own home, every meal at The Poppy still feels like one prepared by dear friends. And the busy West Broadway restaurant feels as tender as an old home where all the curtains are drawn.
I wouldn’t call it a “dining experience.” There are no hidden strings, no bright lights, no FX. This is food, sincerely. The chairs at the table let you slump, if you must slump. There’s no dress code. The grub, while outstandingly flavourful, is simple and familiar. Even if these dinner parties never moved beyond her home, Talia Syrie would still be a chef to celebrate for the way she brings this city together.
Talia is also the name of my friend. The one who sits across from me on this summer night, eating chicken sandwiches on Sherbrook St. The one who indulged with me in cheesecake ice cream only to listen to me complain about my stomach hurting for the rest of the night (with unwavering sympathy, I might add).
Talia and I finish every last crumb, pay, and head home—the sky turning pink above us.
Turns out, you don’t have to adore every inch of concrete in a city for it to be a place worthy of your heart. You only have to love at least one person who lives there. Then feed them and let them feed you.