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Leisure Lodge memories accompanied by craving for pig tails

Many who remember dancing under the stars at Leisure Lodge will recall enjoying the nightclub's Waterloo County fare

It sure is good to be back in Cambridge after three decades living in BC and revisiting many of the old familiar landmarks that were once vibrant and alive.

My first walk about was the trail in Riverside Park and this was one of my favourite retreats between work shifts at the Knotty Pine.

Sitting at one of the many park benches and enjoying the solitude this parcel of land still delivers today.

Fishing in the Speed river, wandering though the lovely gardens, checking out the bird ponds, taking in a baseball game with amusements like a petting zoo and the model train ride along the nature trails.

The park's past was once very active during the day and evenings with lots of sport activities and family picnics.

I recall the night air being filled with the sounds of the Johnny Kostigian big band and the vocal stylings by singer Joan Case reverberating from the Leisure Lodge stage.

Back then it was a premier nightclub which had its beginnings back in 1948.

Leisure Lodge was built over three years by a tool maker Olaf Waimel, his brother Hants and friends who were tired of travelling around southern Ontario looking for a place to dance and party.

Ollie used a parcel of his family farm land for construction. The foundation walls and huge river stone fireplace hearth were chiselled from the Speed River limestone and freshly cut, huge knotty pine logs were felled for the interiors walls, bar and furniture.

The nightclub, with its polished dance floor, seating and back-lit stage had a capacity of 300 patrons. By the 1950s, the nightclub became very popular with the touring big bands and that success helped Leisure Lodge grow in stages with new additions, including a huge outdoor dance pavilion that could now accommodate up to 1,000 people for dancing under the stars. 

Back then, Leisure Lodge had a proper dress code and dinner jackets and a tie were required.

With a No Alcohol Ban Law in place until the 1960s, sodas and Shirley Temples were the only drinks available, along with jugs of cold ice water for a dollar. Local constabularies would turn a blind eye to the beverage flasks and bottles being smuggled in to add to the party atmosphere.

I remember driving up under the swooping mid-century modern canopy and seeing the hundreds of city folks shuffling into the different rooms.

In the early days, a small dining room was to the one side of the stage and the menu was limited to simple Waterloo County fare, mostly sandwiches like ham, egg salad, fried chicken and roast beef with snack baskets of pretzels, chips or peanuts.

In the '60s the menu expanded to offer diners pigtails, barbecued pork ribs, cabbage rolls and roast beef.

The Breslau Hotel's head chef and my dad, Con, helped form the menu in the '60s with Ollie.

Lots of graduation, retirement and birthday parties dined from the lavish buffet before dancing the night away.  

By 1968 Olaf had his fill of running the place and it then changed ownership a few times.

Lots of rock bands and different forms of entertainment like the Amazing Kreskin took to the stage, but it wasn't long before the Lodge was in a steady, failing decline. 

In 1979, Leisure Lodge hosted the Miss World Nude Contest.

It soon closed afterwards and the rumour was it was going to be turned into a camp ground by the owners.

In 1980 fire struck and the nightclub the city remembered as a Waterloo region hot spot was now just a scar in the earth. 

The question that needs to be considered carefully before you read any further is can you eat the rear end of a pig?

If you answer is no, then I suggest you leave the page now. 

On the other hand if you answered, of course and you love Pennsylvanian Dutch Mennonite Cuisine, stick around because this sauce recipe will become a barbecue staple in your home.

Here is the recipe for the Leisure Lodge's barbecue cooking sauce found in my dad's recipe book.

Leisure Lodge Barbecue Sauce (For Pig Tails and Ribs, recipe below)

Start by reducing 48 oz of root beer soda by two thirds.

Then add one 48 oz. can of unsweetened pineapple juice added to the reduced root beer liquid and brought to a rolling simmer and again reduce down by 2/3rd’s

These are the next ingredients that will be added to the root beer and pineapple juice reduction.

2 cups of fresh tomato ketchup 

1 cup yellow mustard 

1/2 cup apple cider vinegar 

1/2 cup Worcestershire sauce 

1 cup of dark soy sauce 

1 cup brown sugar packed 

Stir and mix in well.

Resume a rolling simmer and be sure to stir often so that the bottom is not scorching. It bubbles like thick syrup so keep a wooden spoon and clean up cloth handy.

Slowly let the sauce simmer. By now it should taste like a good sweet and savoury syrupy sauce with a good vinegar kick.

The viscosity should be satiny-smooth and it should slowly drip off the spoon. When this is achieved the basting roast sauce is done.

Pig Tail and Rib Rub

Make a simple rub for the tails and rib meat using a tablespoon each of smoked paprika, mustard powder garlic powder, kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper.

Massage each pig tail or ribs with this spice rub let them rest to take on the flavours.

The smoked paprika in the spice rub adds a zesty smoke flavour to the basting sauce.

Place in an open roast pan placed in the oven and set a timer for 1 hour at 400 degrees.

Now arrange, bringing the bottom of the pan tails or ribs to the top and letting the charred top bathe (confit) in the fatty pork juices for another hour.

You should have the start of some charred pork to which you add a large, chopped raw onion mixing in along with 3 bay leaves.

Cover with the barbecue sauce, roasting in the covered pan for the next two hours at the lower 325 degrees. 

You should now have some fall-off-the-bone sweet and sour tails and ribs. 

Plate up with some sauerkraut and mashed potatoes and enjoy this Leisure Lodge Taste of the Past. 

Chef Wayne Conrad Serbu writes monthly for CambridgeToday. The former executive chef also shares recipes and memories from his more than five decades in the hospitality industry on his blog, the kitchenman.