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Emma's fishcake heaven 

Emma's Eatery in Eastern Passage is a wonderful mish mash of old and new that's appealing

I have a vested interest in fishcakes, having written a book on them a few years back; the collection of recipes required extensive testing and tasting, and I know fishcakes about as well as anybody can. So when word of an Eastern Passage eatery that starred fabulous fishcakes came wafting along, I knew I had to get a taste.

Emma's is the baby of former marketing professional Kim Stacey (she chose her middle name Emma to headline the moniker). Unable to find a local gathering breakfast-lunch spot, she opened one herself.

Emma's interior is an interesting blend of modern and traditional, right down to the customers. For a dining room with less than 30 seats, the demographic spread here today is broad: over there, a table of four hip youngsters, tattoos and piercings all the way; over here, a family of four with two small tots; against the far wall, two silver-haired gentlemen, faces lined with lives long lived.

On the walls are strikingly stark, modern photos of food-related things---a single fork, a row of jars. A hand-painted daisy on the facing of the bright green cash counter reflects the cheerfully warm atmosphere, heightened by the friendly faces of our server and of the proprietor herself, who comes from the kitchen to chat with the regulars and see how we're all doing.

The small menu is also diverse, with the favourites of French toast, bologna, and fishcakes sharing the breakfast spotlight with egg-white omelets. Lunch offerings include fried haddock and a chicken and avocado grilled sandwich and veggie lovers wrap.

The coffee burner with the constantly brewing pot holds fair trade coffee, and there is a nice selection of healthy tea blends available. All in all, a remarkable balancing act.

Of course, we order the fishcakes; sadly, they are sold out of salt cod cakes today and only have haddock (usually, there's a choice). When it comes to traditional fishcakes, I'm firmly in the salt cod camp. The taste is unbeatable, quintessentially east coast, and haddock is a pale imitation. In this case, the haddock holds up admirably, tossed with potato and onions---very "down home," unrefined and rustic. And the green tomato chow (.99) from Pat's Preserve's (another Eastern Passage business) is the perfect complement.

Fishcakes and eggs ($8.99) will give you two fishcakes, two eggs, home fries and toast. The eggs are cooked perfectly easy over, as ordered; the home fries are just that: chunks of real potato (not frozen), fried 'til golden brown. A hearty breakfast, but not the biggest one on the menu---that belongs to the Fisherman's Breakfast with three eggs, three meats (bologna, ham, bacon or sausage), hash browns and toast.

Like the fishcakes, the leek and potato soup ($5.50/bowl) is rustic. Although it's pureed, it's not the silky smooth-textured broth of fine dining locales; instead, it's a thick, lumpy, bumpy, and altogether marvelously flavourful "meal in a bowl." The leek is boisterously, beautifully loud, joined by a tang of sour cream drizzle on top and only slightly muted by the potato. With the soup comes a rough-hewn, heavy homemade biscuit that's oh-so-good.

The made-to-order smoothie ($3.99) is tart, as one might expect from a lime-kiwi combo, and just thick enough to slurp through the straw.

We really enjoy our time at Emma's, I think that by perfecting this balancing act, Stacey has created a diner that can appeal to just about everyone.

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