Sorry, We’re Open – Northern B.C. Style

Endless daylight hours on Atlin Lake... restaurant hours, not so much

Endless daylight hours on Atlin Lake… restaurant hours, not so much

You’d best do some planning if you’re hoping to get something to eat or drink in Atlin, a charming mountain community in northern B.C.

We’ve just come off two weeks of sea kayaking on B.C.’s largest natural lake, Atlin Lake, and are stoked to get some fresh-roasted java from Atlin Mountain Coffee‘s little roadside cart in this funky little town with its own music festival. Pulling up around lunchtime, we are stunned to discover they’re only open 9 am to noon weekdays. What the …?

Okay, we find a small grocery store that sells their beans, and make a lovely pot of cowboy coffee on a picnic table overlooking the marina. Thus caffeinated, we do a fabulous, short hike up Monarch Mountain, already festooned in wildflowers, with superb views over both Atlin Lake and the town of Atlin.

Monarch Mountain hike boasts a fabulous view over Atlin Lake and the town of Atlin, B.C.

Monarch Mountain hike boasts a fabulous view over Atlin Lake and the town of Atlin, B.C.

Coming down in late afternoon, we stop by the provincial liquor store to pick up some beer. Sorry, closed at 5 pm. Double WTF. Fortunately, the pub at lakeside Atlin Mountain Inn has just opened for the evening, and we savour some frosty Yukon Brewing beer on the deck. No kitchen, though, just a sleeve of Pringles chips to nosh on.

We squeeze in an evening wrap at Jenz.

We squeeze in an evening wrap at Jenz.

We manage to sneak into Jenz Cafe just before its 7 pm closing and scarf down some tasty wraps, mine featuring bison smokies. At about 10 pm, we get back to home base in Whitehorse (Yukon Territory), still rather peckish after days of backcountry cuisine. The first two takeout pizza joints we phone are closed for the night. Well, at least Boston Pizza is sticking to southern hours, and the beer from the fridge tastes mighty fine.

Closer to Whitehorse, we do a hike the next day on the Sam McGee Trail near Carcross. It’s a tremendous, scenic route, capped by a cappo and fresh-baked goodies at Caribou Crossing Coffee, featuring Bean North beans.

Caribou Crossing Coffee is in one of several Carcross buildings with a Tagish First Nation theme

Caribou Crossing Coffee is in one of several Carcross buildings with a Tagish First Nation theme

No problem figuring out the hours here. It’s open 9 am-6 pm everyday during the summer season. Hallelujah!

Heike Graf runs the first-rate Caribou Crossing Coffee

Heike Graf runs the first-rate Caribou Crossing Coffee

Tacos Punta Cabras a Tiny Spot Pumping out Big Flavour in Santa Monica

Grilling hand-made tacos at Tacos Punta Cabras in Santa Monica

Grilling hand-made tacos at Tacos Punta Cabras in Santa Monica

Talk about hole in the wall. *Tacos Punta Cabras is so small that when I ask if they have a bathroom, the order taker sends me through the kitchen, with a shout of “Coming through!”

It’s a good way to see how the food’s being prepared. At Punta Cabras, it’s authentic and oh-so fresh, with a cook pressing little balls of fresh corn nixtamal into disks and then grilling them in rice bran oil on a small stove.

The dining area is the definition of hole in the wall

The dining area is the definition of hole in the wall

My lightly breaded shrimp taco is similarly fresh and chewy, the crowning touch the two house-made salsas: an arbol with some bite and a pineapple. At $3.75 per taco ($6 for a heaping tostada), it may cost more than at many taquerias. But it’s a small price to pay for such quality.

Tacos Punta Cabras
2311 Santa Monica Boulevard, Santa Monica
Monday to Saturday 11 am-8 pm, except 9 pm Saturday. Closed Sunday
Tacos Punta Cabras on Urbanspoon

Jumpstart Your L.A. Day With Some Excellent Coffee

Fabulous muffin and coffee at Caffe Luxxe in Santa Monica, California

Fabulous muffin and coffee at Caffe Luxxe in Santa Monica, California

The Los Angeles region has certainly jumped on the hipster coffee bandwagon pioneered by wetter coastal climes to the north. There’s now no shortage of spartan digs, with baristas in tight jeans and fashionable eyewear dispensing pour overs and cold brews.

But for a metro area of gazillions, there’s surprisingly few indigenous places roasting beans, especially now that Handsome Coffee’s been bought out by San Francisco’s Blue Bottle. Of course, there’s longstanding Klatch, but it’s based out in the relative L.A. hinterlands.

One exception is Caffe Luxxe, which bills itself as a local, artisan coffee roaster. What’s nice, from my perspective, is its signature Testa Rossa embraces the darker side, which many “third-wave” roasters have abandoned in favour of lighter beans. It’s most pleasant sipping a smoky Americano in a high-ceiling Santa Monica cafe, while chewing a scrumptious apple crumble muffin from nearby bakery Huckleberry and listening to soft jazz and conversation among friends.

A pleasant place to while away the morning.

A pleasant place to while away the morning.

Caffe Luxxe
925 Montana Avenue, Santa Monica, California
Weekdays 6 am-6 pm, weekends 6:30 am-6 pm
Caffe Luxxe on Urbanspoon

If you don’t mind venturing into the downtown L.A. area, Blacktop is a wee coffee bar in the funky Arts District. Its lovely little street-front patio is a great place to sip an espresso and then saunter over to frequent-visiting, outstanding food truck Guerilla Tacos. You’d hardly know you were in the heart of the giant city.

Yes, this is the downtown Los Angeles area at Blacktop Coffee

Yes, this is the downtown Los Angeles area at Blacktop Coffee

Blacktop Coffee
826 East 3 Street, Los Angeles
Daily 7 am-7 pm
Blacktop Coffee on Urbanspoon

Happy Huckleberry in Santa Monica

Huckleberry is a fun, happening place in Santa Monica, California

Huckleberry is a fun, happening place in Santa Monica, California

Santa Monica’s Huckleberry can get kinda loud. Not pounding music loud. More happy customers chatting with friends and enjoying a late breakfast or lunch loud.

Oh, it can get pretty busy, too, with people lining up at the counter to order a brisket hash or a lentil ragu with poached eggs for breakfast or a butternut squash salad for lunch. I opt for a recommended warm turkey meatball sandwich ($12), hold the extra burrata cheese. Great choice. The meatballs melt in my mouth, the tomato sauce slops my chops, the soft bread making everything pillowy smooth.

Warm turkey meatball sandwich certainly hits the spot

Warm turkey meatball sandwich certainly hits the spot

It’s not cheap. But like it’s sister Santa Monica restaurant Milo & Olive, the first-class food is mostly made from scratch and imaginatively put together. If you’ve got room, the baked treats will weaken your resolve, I assure you.

Huckleberry
1014 Wilshire Boulevard, Santa Monica, California
Weekdays 8 am-8 pm (lunch starting at 11 am), weekends 8 am-5 pm
Huckleberry Café on Urbanspoon

Give Pete’s Breakfast House a Chance in Ventura, California

Fabulous short-order cooks pumping out breakfasts at Pete's Breakfast House in Ventura, California

Fabulous short-order cooks pumping out breakfasts at Pete’s Breakfast House in Ventura, California

*Pete’s Breakfast House (“All we are saying… is give Pete’s a chance”) is as much about the experience as the food, good as the latter is. The diner-like place—not far from the surfing beach in Ventura, California—is slamming busy on a Saturday morning, but I slide right into a vacant counter seat, one benefit of travelling solo.

“It’s like this every morning,” the guy beside me says as he finishes off a plate of corned beef hash. The unfazed waitresses chat with customers and leisurely take orders. By contrast, the kitchen area beside me is an orchestrated frenzy of movement, a team of cooks steadily plunking steaming plates onto the counter, and one guy feeding the toaster like a San Francisco parking meter.

I get the pancake sandwich—with bacon atop two buttermilk blueberry cakes (they’re always better with blueberries) and, underneath, two over-easy eggs.

Blueberry pancakes over eggs. Yum!

Blueberry pancakes over eggs. Yum!

“Do you want your eggs on a separate plate? Some people don’t like them touching,” the waitress offers. No, let’s stack everything together; the wet oozing of elk yolks into thick pancakes actually works surprisingly well.

“You want more coffee?”
“When you’ve got a sec.”
“That’s not going to happen today.”

Surfers of all ages and sizes congregate on Ventura's beaches

Surfers of all ages and sizes congregate on Ventura’s beaches

Here's what oceanside camping looks like outside Ventura

Here’s what oceanside camping looks like outside Ventura

Pete’s Breakfast House
7055 East Main Street, Ventura, California
Daily 7 am-2 pm

Surfing into Ruddell’s Smokehouse in Sunny California

Ruddell's Smokehouse is right on the beach in Cayucos, California

Ruddell’s Smokehouse is right on the beach in Cayucos, California

Ah, a lovely afternoon at the beach in sunny Cayucos, California, midway between San Francisco and Los Angeles. After a couple of hours riding the waves, I walk up the warm sand, strip off my wetsuit and tussle my bleached hair. Time for some waterside grub.

Who am I kidding? I just step out of my car and wander a hundred feet down the street to Ruddell’s Smokehouse after a few hours of freeway driving.

At least, Ruddell’s has earned its beach cred honestly. It’s been serving up smoked-meat tacos and salads to real surfers from a little shack near the town pier since 1980.

The smoked choices include salmon, chicken and pork loin. But I go for the signature albacore tuna taco, topped with a mini salad of lettuce, celery and apple and a nice splash or three of their hotter, house-made sauce. At $6, it’s not cheap for a taco but big enough I mistake the rolled-in-foil bundle for a little burrito.

Ruddell's signature smoked albacore tuna taco

Ruddell’s signature smoked albacore tuna taco

As I tuck in, I close my eyes, listen to the pounding waves and smell the sea salt air. I can almost feel myself catching that wave. Can’t I at least pretend?

Ruddell’s Smokehouse
101 D Street, Cayucos, California
Daily 11 am-6 pm
Ruddell's Smokehouse on Urbanspoon