A chronicle of my journey into the beige inferno of Swiss Chalet

by Aidan Morgan

restaurantsSwiss Chalet
2615 Gordon Road
3 out of 5

Back in the ’80s and ’90s, in that simpler time when phones were attached to walls and people fancied-up their pizzas with mandarin orange pips, Regina had its very own Swiss Chalet. When it closed, we entered a period of mourning that historians refer to ASC (After Swiss Chalet). As the years went by, our memories of Swiss Chalet slowly took on the sweet, shellacked glaze of their rotisserie chicken. Some of us forgot the flavour of their dipping sauce. Others spent their fortunes and their sanity trying to recreate that substance at home (or they went to Calgary and stopped in at the nearest Chalet).

Well, rejoice and stuff, because Swiss Chalet, the prodigal chicken and ribs outlet, has returned. Rising up from the asphalt plain of the Southland Mall parking lot, the restaurant now sports a 21st-century look and feel. The dark booths and wooden accents have been replaced with open areas, high ceilings and a thousand shades of taupe and beige.

The menu rambles a bit, with salads and pastas and seafood on offer, but the real business of Swiss Chalet is, as always, their rotisserie chicken and pork ribs. It tastes pretty much as I remember — not great, but certainly not bad. These are competently executed and inexpensive meals, which sometimes is what you need.

Anyway, here’s a handy itemized list of the things we ate at Swiss Chalet.

Quarter Chicken & Half Rack BBQ Side Ribs ($19.99) According to Swiss Chalet agitprop, they sell more ribs than any other restaurant chain in Canada. This is because people love adequate ribs? Maybe Swiss Chalet can make that claim by dint of sheer restaurant density, and as soon as Outback Steakhouse becomes Backcountry Ribshack they’re screwed. Whatever the case may be, the ribs at Swiss Chalet are reasonably priced ($13.99-$23.99) and function as effective conveyors of animal protein. You start with animal protein outside your body and end with it inside your body. It’s a slow, sloppy magic trick with lots of sauce and a pile of ragged bones left behind.

I tried to order the back ribs (because back ribs afford me the perfect opportunity to belt out lines from “Baby Got Back”) but the kitchen had run out (no doubt owing to the Sir Mix-a-Lot convention in town), so I went for the side ribs. According to the menu, they’re “meatier”. But all I know is that you look like a complete fool when you hold them up and say “Baby Got Side” with that I-know-this-isn’t-funny-but-you-see-where-I’m-going-with-this tone of voice.

As for the chicken, I have one suggestion: the dark meat is $1.50 cheaper than the white meat. Order the dark. Because white chicken meat looks and tastes like wet gyprock by comparison.

Cheese Perogies ($6.99) Hard, deep-fried crescents of dough zealously guarding their bounty of hot cheese. Might be baby armadillos.

Rotisserie Chicken Spring Rolls ($6.99) A product straight out of focus group test hell. A marketing feedback loop so overwhelming that all flavour is obliterated. Comes with plum sauce.

Garlic Cheese Loaf ($6.99) Nine-hundred calories of bread, sun-dried tomatoes, cheese and a sprinkling of green onions. Share it with a table of 300.

Chalet Style Poutine ($4.99) It’s kind of unassuming, and a poutine aficionado might turn up his or her nose at the dish, but if you’re going to dress up some fries, this will do just fine. The gravy is salty, the cheese is curd-y, and the dish is just big enough to be satisfying. You can also swap out your gravy for Chalet Sauce, which is probably not extracted from the boiled remains of Swiss avalanche victims. Best to not think about it. Just order some Chalet Sauce and forget about what I said. Add chicken for $1.99.

Health Check™ West Coast Salad ($11.99) This is a thing that I ordered on one of my visits for reasons that probably seemed good at the time. And I can’t say that I didn’t enjoy the breast of Rotisserie Chicken with a “medley of dried fruits, Mandarin oranges, red onions and crunchy mixed nuts” placed tenderly on a bed of lettuce and brutally drowned in “fat-free Tuscan Italian Fat-Free dressing.” But I’m probably not going to order it again.

Steak? Let’s be honest. You don’t come to Swiss Chalet for the steak (it’s not even on the regular menu). But a particularly perverse Knight of Appetite decided to try it out, medium-rare. It was thin, greyish, and possibly one of those Frankenstein affairs consisting of multiple pieces of meat pressed into a steak-like shape and bonded with glutamate.

Tuscan Tomato Linguine ($12.99) Like most pasta dishes in chain restaurants, the tomato linguine is completely serviceable and undistinguished. The tomato sauce tastes of tomato sauce (but not tomatoes), the linguine is cooked adequately, and the garlic toast doesn’t make a lot of sense, but there it is, so you may as well eat it.

Caramel Chocolate Pocket Things ($4.99) I don’t know if I got the name right, because the entire table was too damn busy eating these things to think of recording the details. Pockets of sugar-dusted deep-fried dough with a blazing hot chocolate-caramel mixture inside, these things were so good that, on our first visit, we had to order them twice. Because (I’m convinced) the staff ate the first order. Our server assured us that it was a “mix-up,” but we took it as an encouraging sign.