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.
Tree House Cafe
106 Purvis Lane, Ganges, Salt Spring Island
Daily 8 am-10 pm
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.
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.
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.
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.
Fernwood Road Cafe
325 Fernwood Road, Salt Spring Island
Daily 9 am-5 pm, except a 10 am opening on Saturday