Superlative Salt Spring Island

The Blue Horse Folk Art Gallery is what Salt Spring Island is all about

The Blue Horse Folk Art Gallery is what Salt Spring Island is all about

Salt Spring Island is the largest and most populous of the Gulf Islands, with 10,000 somewhat itinerant residents and this lovely description: “An argument surrounded by water.” No surprise, it’s home to an abundance of artists, witness a 30-studio tour spanning the island. The tour includes such epicurean delights as Salt Spring Island Cheese, Gulf Islands Brewing and Heather Campbell’s Salt Spring Island Bread. All the fixings for a great, waterside picnic.

To sample the many good eats without the driving, head to Ganges (the island’s biggest community), park your car and amble around. The spring-to-fall Saturday Market—vendors must “make it, bake it or grow it”—is famous but mobbed with people and cars. I prefer the smaller Tuesday version, which still features plenty of fabulous produce, such as Foxglove’s bursting-with-flavour orange cherry tomatoes and strawberries.

Perhaps the most colourful place for a meal is Tree House Café, where the outdoor tables are wrapped around an enormous plum tree, with stacks of blankets to stave off the harbour chill. Somewhat pricy lunch highlights include the veggie burger and lamb meatball stew.

The tables at Tree House Cafe are nestled beneath the branches of this huge tree

The tables at Tree House Cafe are nestled beneath the branches of this huge plum  tree

Tree House Cafe
106 Purvis Lane, Ganges, Salt Spring Island
Daily 8 am-10 pm
Tree House Cafe on Urbanspoon

In artsy Ganges, you’ll find good coffee shops on nearly every block. My aesthetic picks are Cafe Talia, in a lovely old, wood-sided telephone exchange, and Blue Coffee Can (aka Slow Espresso), a mini-shipping container, owned by Mt Maxwell Coffee Roaster (“We roast coffee as an excuse to drink more coffee”). Salt Spring Coffee‘s roasting operations have been kicked off the island, but they still run a shop in town, featuring a killer apple-blackberry pie. In a nod to islanders’ health consciousness, many of these coffee emporiums serve power spheres, delectable little uncooked treats featuring carob, peanut butter, coconut and the like.

Cafe Tali is in an old telephone exchange building

Cafe Talia is in an old telephone exchange building

Mt Maxwell Coffee is served at this little Ganges shack

Mt Maxwell java is served at this little Blue Coffee Can shack

All hands on deck for this luscious blackberry pie at Salt Spring Coffee

All hands on deck for this luscious apple-blackberry pie at Salt Spring Coffee

At Jana’s Bake Shop, the wonderful smell that greets you at the door makes you want to order pies, butter tarts or chocolate walnut brownies. It’s small-batch baking, so get there early before it’s all gone. Just south of town, El Loco Taco is a Mexican food truck, in the Seabreeze Inne parking lot, serving up bountiful burritos like a marinated pork with lime-pickled onions, pineapple and a Baja sauce that packs a punch.

At Jana's Bake Shop, this fragrant fruit pie has already been sold, alas

At Jana’s Bake Shop, this fragrant fruit pie has already been sold, alas

In Gulf Island communities like Salt Spring, folks must often pursue two or more occupations to make ends meet. For Fernwood Road Cafe co-owner Jennifer Shaw, it’s more about the lives she left behind, including one as a corporate lawyer, to fulfill a dream of running an eatery with husband David. Sure, it means 16-hour days, but she still gets to practice her cake-decorating skills, wear shorts and Crocs and enjoy an “office” view overlooking a seaside pier.

Co-owner Jennifer Shaw is running the espresso machine and tiny kitchen at Fernwood Road Cafe

Co-owner Jennifer Shaw is running the espresso machine and tiny kitchen at Fernwood Road Cafe

Good, reasonably priced breakfasts here include baked egg dishes and thick slices of whole-wheat French toast. Oh, and if you see a regular without a shirt, don’t worry. It’s just one of the island characters.

Whole-wheat French toast at Fernwood Road Cafe

Whole-wheat French toast at Fernwood Road Cafe

Fernwood Road Cafe
325 Fernwood Road, Salt Spring Island
Daily 9 am-5 pm, except a 10 am opening on Saturday
Fernwood Road Cafe on Urbanspoon

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