A few pictures from a Vancouver Island road trip in which we did the North Coast Trail and West Coast Trail as back-to-back, seven-day backpacks. In the process, we covered the island from its northern tip to its southern shores.
I’m not accustomed to lining up for breakfast at 6 a.m. Indeed, at that hour, I’m often the first customer in the restaurant door.
But on an ungodly early-morning B.C. Ferries sailing to Vancouver Island, there’s already a line snaking down the hallway by the time I emerge from the subterranean parking deck. As a visiting Albertan, I’m at an obvious disadvantage to the savvy locals, who are out of their vehicles the second they stop and scrambling up the labyrinthian staircases to the cafeteria.
Rather than be the 30th person in line at the Coastal Cafe, I wander up to the serving area, just to observe how the kitchen staff is going to handle this hungry, thirsty mob. With great efficiency, it turns out.
It’s a coordinated symphony of movement, with a team of hustling cooks and a “conductor” barking out occasional requests for, say, eggs over easy or hollandaise sauce and salsa on the side. So, yes, they do “made to order”.
Now, on a packed ferry, speed and volume is obviously going to trump quality. But my eggs and hash browns are surprisingly good, fresh and hot—for a price that’s quite reasonable (about $12) compared with the ferry ride itself. When I can make my own push-button Americano, to boot, it all adds up to a pretty decent breakfast.
The seamless operation is something your typical brunch spot could learn from, especially on a winter weekend, when you’re shivering in a line going out the below-freezing door. On the ferry, the whole breakfast rush is over in about 30 minutes, with satiated customers retreating to their seats and screens.
All too often in Canada, restaurant burgers are cooked to the edge of shoe leather. It’s no doubt the result of kitchens not wishing to violate government health regulations that stipulate burgers must be cooked to an internal temperature of at least 71 C. (160 F.), eight degrees Celsius above medium rare.
So it’s a pleasure to discover a place like Chuck’s Burger Bar, in an industrial area of Sydney, B.C., near the Victoria airport and ferry terminal. Chucks manages to walk the fine line between burgers that are regulatory acceptable and still juicy and flavourful.
As the name suggests, it’s a spot owned by a guy named Chuck, and the predominant, half-pound burgers (about $9) are from fresh-ground Angus chuck, “grilled to medium.”
From a plethora of complimentary toppings, I choose pea shoots, sautéed onions and roasted garlic mayo, along with some sautéed wild mushrooms ($2.50 extra). It’s a delightful combination, with a shared mountain of Yukon gold fries ($5) and a local pint.
Chuck’s is a small space that usually fills up quickly, this night with young locals. It’s a great, affordable place to get a last-minute bite before boarding a ferry or airplane.
Chuck’s Burger Bar
2031 Malaview Avenue West, Sidney, B.C.
Monday to Saturday 11 am-10 pm. Closed Sundays
There’s nothing like scarcity to help sell a product. Just ask the single-malt Scotch industry, always happy to roll out a “one-time-only” cask of a peaty 12-year-old. Craft beer companies certainly play their part, with a roster of seasonal brews and one-off concoctions.
But when you can marry scarcity with a good story, you’ve really hit marketing gold.
Take the case of fresh-hopped beers, also known as wet-hopped or harvest ales. Typically, hops added to the fermentation process have been dried. But fresh hops are usually added within hours of being picked in the field. So by definition, fresh-hopped beers are only available during the late-summer or early-fall hop harvest.
Victoria’s Driftwood Brewery, perhaps best known for its fine Fat Tug IPA, has an entry in the fresh-hopped market: Sartori Harvest IPA. During the hop harvest at Sartori Cedar Ranch, near Chillwack, B.C. (just east of Vancouver), bags of Centennial hops are rushed to the brewery.
“It’s vital to get the hops into the brew kettle within hours of picking, while their oils and resins are still raw,” says a breathless video on Driftwood’s website. “This is our one chance to brew with the flower in its most natural form.” And, to rub things in: “Sartori’s fresh hops have a delicious profile unique to the patch of land they cultivate in the Columbia Valley, making this limited release singular and remarkable.”
I was already sold on this story, when a beer specialist at a Cascadia Liquor outlet in Victoria told me that Sartori Harvest had just hit the store shelves and would be sold out within days.
$7 for a 22-ounce bottle? I’m in. I spent a good half hour letting the complexities of this ale roll around my mouth. And the next morning, I rushed back to Cascadia to pick up a couple more Sartoris to take home.
So what does Sartori Harvest IPA taste like? Guess you’ll have to wait till next year.
I have a new favourite bakery treat.
It’s the focaccia bread at Fol Epi, a fabulous little organic bakery in Victoria, B.C.
It kind of resembles a little pizza—puffy and blistered and, when I ordered it, adorned only with slices of roasted chanterelle mushrooms. Anything more would be a distraction from this soft, chewy delight with its complex flavours.
I kept tearing off chunks of this simple masterpiece and stuffing them in my mouth. I wanted to save some for my host, but gluttony was getting the better of me. At $7, it’s a nice-sized lunch for one or snack for two… but, really, you don’t want to share this.
What makes the focaccia and Fol Epi’s other breads and pastries memorable is the attention to quality. Their heritage red fife wheat and rye grains, from Saskatchewan, are stone ground on site and the resulting loaves, baguettes, croissants, cookies and other treats baked in a wood-fired brick oven.
On the way out, I grabbed a lovely loaf of boule, a French country bread, to take back to my friend. Because the only thing left of the focaccia was crumbs.
101, 398 Harbour Road, Victoria B.C. (one other Victoria location)
Daily 7:30 am-5 pm