Fabulous Farm Gate Store on B.C.’s Mayne Island

Farm Gate Store on B.C.'s Mayne Island is a wonderful combination of grocery and eatery

Farm Gate Store on B.C.’s Mayne Island is a wonderful combination of grocery and eatery

Here’s how good the grilled sandwiches are at *Farm Gate Store, a little place along a country road on Mayne Island, one of B.C.’s southern Gulf Islands. While delivering the sandwiches to our shaded picnic table, our server slips and drops them onto some construction dirt. She sheepishly heads back inside to make them afresh. Me? I would have just wiped them off and dug in.

The caramelized onion sauce brings this fantastic ham-eggplant sandwich together

The caramelized onion sauce brings this fantastic ham-eggplant sandwich together

What makes these meat or veggie sandwiches ($7 apiece) so delectable? Layers of ham, melted Havarti, truly ripe tomatoes and wilted eggplant, all loaded onto Seeded Hearth bread, from Victoria’s Portofino Bakery. The clincher is a sauce of caramelized onions, balsamic vinegar and cream cheese, bringing everything moistly together. A similarly moist, dense carrot and coconut muffin, in a rectangular shape, finishes off our scrumptious lunch.

The carrot and coconut muffin is a mini loaf

The carrot and coconut muffin is a mini loaf

Farm Gate’s logo sums things up: “Local people supporting local agriculture.” The place is indeed a  hangout, islanders chatting amongst themselves and with owners Don and Shanti while picking up plump berries, bunches of basil and organic lamb and chicken, nearly all of it from nearby farms. The farm, too, is where Shanti grows and cuts flowers for stunning bouquets that sell for only $11.

Co-owner Shanti arranges her farm-cut flower bouquets, a bargain $11

Co-owner Shanti arranges her farm-cut flower bouquets, a bargain $11

This is what a country store should be: local, friendly, exceptional.

Farm Gate Store
568 Fernhill Road, Mayne Island, B.C.
Daily 10 am-6 pm, except 10 am-5 pm Sunday

Folks (and Seagulls) Flock to Victoria’s Red Fish Blue Fish

Finally reaching the front of the line at Victoria B.C.'s Red Fish Blue Fish

Finally reaching the front of the line at Victoria B.C.’s Red Fish Blue Fish

Driving into crowded downtown Victoria is good practice for standing in line at celebrated Red Fish Blue Fish—a recycled cargo container on a wooden pier in the city’s inner harbour—unless you strategically arrive near opening or closing. Otherwise, be prepared to wait for up to an hour, while enjoying the marine life around you.

Putting the finishing touches on tuna tacones

Putting the finishing touches on tuna tacones

The good news is the wait is worth it, the line moving slowly because each meal is made to order. The halibut and chips ($14 for a substantial single piece) is outstanding, the fish bursting with fresh-caught flavour and juiciness beneath a somewhat greasy, crispy batter. The albacore tuna tacone, seared till just pink and wrapped in a little tortilla stuffed with slaw, pea shoots and lemon-pickled onions and seasoned with spicy spot prawn mayo, is equally good.

Despite the crowds, Red Fish Blue Fish is still paying attention to the little details that add up to great, fresh fish meals.

There are some fries buried beneath this huge piece of halibut

There are some fries buried beneath this huge piece of halibut

Red Fish Blue Fish
1006 Wharf Street, Victoria, B.C.
Daily 11:30 am-7 pm (3 pm if the weather’s inclement)
Red Fish, Blue Fish on Urbanspoon

Lovely Seaside Dining at Point No Point Resort near Sooke, B.C.

Smoked albacore tuna salad at Point No Point Resort, west of Sooke, B.C.

Smoked albacore tuna salad at Point No Point Resort, west of Sooke, B.C.

How’s this for a perfect lunch experience? At Point No Point Resort, west of Sooke, B.C. on southern Vancouver Island, there’s great food, of course. It starts, perhaps, with a bowl of chowder ($7) packed with clams and rockfish, followed by a smoked albacore tuna salad ($14) or an enormous quesadilla ($12) featuring an unusual filling of squash, edamame beans, pumpkin seeds and melted aged cheddar.

But it’s hard to keep your eyes focused on the meal when nearly every table in this charming old house is a window seat overlooking the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Is that a pod of orca whales cutting through the distant waves? Just pick up the binoculars stationed at every table and scan the waters below.

It's hard to concentrate on lunch when there's orca whales swimming in the strait

It’s hard to concentrate on lunch when there’s orca whales swimming in the strait

Finish your stay with a walk down through salt-sprayed forest to an ocean bay on Point no Point’s private trails, open to luncheon diners.

How about a post-lunch walk down to a private beach?

How about a post-lunch walk down to a private beach?

Point No Point Resort
10829 West Coast Road, Shirley, B.C.
Lunch available to non guests 11:30 am-3:30 pm
Point no Point on Urbanspoon

For a more laid-back dining experience, head to Shirley Delicious Café, just down the road in a colourful little building with a garden out front and cheerful owners Phillip and Sheena and staff inside. Try a roasted leek sandwich or a breakfast burrito and latte before going on a seaside stroll in nearby French Beach Provincial Park.

Shirley Delicious Cafe
2794 Sheringham Point Road, Shirley, B.C.
Daily 8 am-5 pm
Shirley Delicious on Urbanspoon

Edmonton’s Duchess Bake Shop is the Sweet Bomb

Sinfully delicious confections at Duchess Bake Shop in Edmonton

Sinfully delicious confections at Duchess Bake Shop in Edmonton

If I had to choose just one affordable Edmonton eatery, my pound-for-pound champion would have to be Duchess Bake Shop, on increasingly trendy 124 Street. Yes, there is a smattering of fine quiches and open-faced sandwiches called tartines and batards, the latter topped with such things as roasted eggplant spread and hazelnuts.

But this five-year-old shop is the place to go for baked sweets and a pot of tea or French-press coffee. Even the names are decadent: apricot bourbon pecan Danish, rhubarb galette or a raspberry-studded confection aptly called l’amour.

These bombes are to die for

These bombes are to die for

Everything is fantastic looking and even better tasting. Indeed, I haven’t seen its equal in my extensive food forays throughout western North America. As owners Giselle, Garner and Jacob note on their website, everything is made daily from scratch, “using no mixes, no preservatives and no shortcuts.”

A nice touch is the elegantly dressed and solicitous young servers. And when was the last time you saw a barista wearing a tie?

Maybe it was a bow tie. In any event, Duchess, it’s time to take a bow, or curtsy. You’re my number one hit in all of Edmonton.

The elegant space is matched by the servers

The elegant space is matched by the chic servers

Duchess Bake Shop
10720 124 Street NW, Edmonton, Alberta
Tuesday to Friday 9 am-8 pm, Saturday 10 am-6 pm, Sunday 10 am-5 pm. Closed Monday
Duchess Bake Shop on Urbanspoon

Fantastic Falafels at Thirsty Camel in Nanaimo, B.C.

Ilan Goldenblatt makes his fantastic falafels to order at  The Thirsty Camel in Nanaimo, B.C.

Ilan Goldenblatt makes his fantastic falafels to order at The Thirsty Camel in Nanaimo, B.C. Photo: Helen Corbett

Customers sometimes tell Ilan Goldenblatt about the best falafels they’ve ever eaten… elsewhere. But once they’ve sunk their teeth into the tender falafel pitas he painstakingly makes from scratch at little The Thirsty Camel Cafe, in Nanaimo, B.C., they invariably revise their opinions.

It starts with the oil. Most falafel-frying joints change their cooking oil every now and then, perhaps filtering it more frequently. But Ilan begins each day with new oil. He wants it this fresh because his chickpea-based balls are only formed (with a custom, Israeli-made device) when ordered. Into the virgin oil they are briefly plunged, emerging slightly green, from the parsley and cilantro, and with just enough surface crunch to mask the silky tenderness inside. No dry, stale falafel balls these. No siree.

The Thirsty Camel's falafels are smothered in house-made tahini

The Thirsty Camel’s falafels are smothered in house-made tahini and sauce

The six warm falafel balls are then stuffed into a thick pita fold, along with cool cucumber, house-made tahini and a sauce that’s got a camel’s kick if you think medium heat is just that. Ilan and his staff have been pouring love into their falafels and other Middle Eastern fare for 10 years. You can taste it with every mouthful.

The Thirsty Camel Cafe
14 Victoria Crescent, Nanaimo, B.C.
Monday to Wednesday 11 am-3 pm, Thursday-Friday 11 am-7 pm, Saturday noon-4 pm. Closed Sunday
Thirsty Camel on Urbanspoon

If you have a hankering for sourdough bread, best make a beeline for Bodhi’s Artisan Bakery, on a leafy Nanaimo street. They make a good half-dozen varieties of sourdough, including a garlic asiago and an olive. They also produce fine cheese scones, pumpkin muffins and dripping cinnamon buns, if you’d like a sumptuous treat to go with an excellent espresso, crafted from Cowichan Valley Peaks Coffee beans. It’s all best enjoyed on a shady patio, where a half hour slips by as smoothly as the coffee goes down.

The cinnamon buns go down nicely with excellent coffee at Bodhi's Artisan Bakery

The cinnamon buns go down nicely with excellent coffee at Bodhi’s Artisan Bakery

Bodhi’s Artisan Bakery
5299 Rutherford Road, Nanaimo, B.C.
Tuesday to Friday 8 am-4:30 pm, Saturday 8 am-6:30 pm. Closed Sunday and Monday
Bodhi's Artisan Bakery on Urbanspoon

 

Of course, no Nanaimo food review would be complete without the iconic Nanaimo bar

Of course, no Nanaimo food review would be complete without the iconic Nanaimo bar, this delectable one served by Bistro at Westwood Lake

Purebread Baking Up a Storm From Whistler, B.C.

 

Amazing fig loaf studded with hazelnut slices from pure bread

Amazing fig loaf studded with hazelnut slices from Whistler-based purebread

At the Sunday farmers’ market in Vancouver’s fashionable Kitsilano neighbourhood, there are short lines for various produce, like plump raspberries and blueberries and crisp beans. But the longest queue is for the baked goods at purebread. I figure people know superior stuff when they see, and taste, it. And purebread’s “lineup” is exceptional. Shoppers can choose from some 16 types of bread, including a fig loaf studded with hazelnuts, a rosemary lavender, a touted sour cherry chocolate and, just for fun, a disfunction ale.

purebread's star-studded lineup at the weekly Kitsilano Market in Vancouver

purebread’s star-studded lineup at the weekly Kitsilano Market in Vancouver

But who can stop there? A cinnamon brioche tempts, a cherry scone beckons, a dense slice of crumbly cornbread melts in the mouth. These treats have vanished down throats, with only a small trail of crumbs, by the time we reach the leafy side street. Usually, success stories like this start in the big city and then perhaps migrate into the surrounding hinterlands. But purebread was launched at a market in the nearby resort town of Whistler. It’s a family enterprise that required the use of eight ovens in a high school home-economics classroom to produce the initial baked offerings. But for five years, the prized goods have been transported to weekly markets in the Vancouver area, with a city bakery set to open this fall.

Yeasty folks serving up breads and baked treats at the Kitsilano Market

Yeasty folks serving up breads and baked treats at the Kitsilano Market

purebread
1040 Millar Creek Road, Whistler, B.C. and nine Vancouver-area markets from spring to fall (Note: Purebread’s Whistler Village location has been closed because of a late 2013 fire) Daily 8:30 am-5 pm (Whistler location)

Purebread on Urbanspoon