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Turkey Legs, Hockey Sticks and Canadian Patriotism

By Kerri MacDonald
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October 11th, 2010

How does turkey taste with a side of hockey?

David Cioppa wasn't sure the two would complement one another. But on Saturday night, as he watched about 100 Canadian ex-pats chow down in front of the N.H.L. season opener, the combination seemed to fly.

Mr. Cioppa is the Canadian-born chef at Windfall Bar & Restaurant on West 39th Street, between Fifth Avenue and and Avenue of the Americas. Last winter, in a fit of patriotism brought on by the Olympic playoffs, he was inspired to create "Canada Cabin," a weekly "Hockey Night in New York." (Any good Canadian ex-pat knows the theme song for "Hockey Night in Canada," the weekly hockey program broadcast Saturday nights on the CBC.)

The start of the N.H.L. season coincided with the three-day Canadian Thanksgiving weekend, with the holiday falling on the second Monday of October -- that's Oct. 11 this year, which is also, of course, Columbus Day in the United States. Canadian Thanksgiving tends to go largely unnoticed in the States. But by Monday afternoon, a staff member at Windfall said, the bar had received more than 10 calls from Canadians looking for a repeat turkey feast.

To no avail: during the week, Windfall puts its Canadianisms aside and caters to a mostly business-oriented clientele. But telltale signs remained midafternoon, as a hockey game played on one of the bar's new big-screens and a Molson Canadian sign leaning against the entrance read, "Happy Thanksgiving!!!"

Mr. Cioppa pushed to institute Canada Cabin in response to the lack of bona fide Canadian hangouts in New York.

Cathy Calve, an administrator for the Canadian Association of New York, said she didn't know of any official turkey dinners in the city on Monday, although she had heard about Saturday's event.

At Zabar's, the Upper West Side gourmet food shop that offers a traditional Thanksgiving meal, no orders came in for Canadian turkeys --- or turkeys for Canadians. Across Central Park, Butterfield Market's staff said it didn't offer a specific Canadian Thanksgiving meal, although (American) Thanksgiving meals are available for order any time.

Joseph Laurro, who works at Ready to Eat Catering on Hudson Street, said a few neighborhood Canadians ordered turkeys last year. But there weren't any orders this weekend.

"I know there is a Canadian Thanksgiving," he said. "Is that coming up?"

It was on the weekend that Mr. Cioppa gave the holiday its due at Windfall. He offered a menu featuring the traditional Canadian turkey dinner -- which follows its southern neighbors' footsteps almost to a tee -- along with maple pecan pie and Canadian draft beer for just under $18.

"People were literally standing with their plates and eating Thanksgiving dinner," he said.

Mr. Cioppa said it took a little convincing to get Tom Trimmer, Windfall's owner, to contend with a clientele he claims is 98 percent Canadians -- a shift from the establishment's Midtown weekday crowd.

"My bosses were a little bit nervous at first," said Mr. Cioppa, who was born in a British Columbia mountain town. ("A whole bunch of crazy, hockey-loving Canucks -- they're gonna trash the place.")

Canada Cabin is also the only time the bar is open on weekends.

"Certainly it's good for business, but what this is about is the whole idea of home away from home," Mr. Cioppa said, betraying a Canadian accent. "The Canadians love to drink and they love to have fun, but they're not rowdy."

The bar's Saturday menu includes Canadian specials like poutine --- a gravy-drenched symphony of fries and cheese curds --- as well as dishes made from Canadian ingredients, like wild salmon from British Columbia and east coast crab. Canadian drafts go for $4 -- $2 less than on weekdays --- on hockey nights. And Caesars, the country's answer to bloody Marys, are available every Saturday night during the N.H.L. season.

Mr. Cioppa said that when some rogue Yankee fans began to plead for a channel change during Saturday's feast, the crowd fought back. The Yankees came on only after Hockey Night had ended.

"It was nuts," said Breda McSweeney, a server who wore a temporary maple leaf tattoo on her chest over the weekend.

"There were three different games playing," she said. But was the crowd too much?

"Oh, no," she said. "They were all very easygoing."

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