Category Archives: British Columbia

Cumberland, B.C. a Road-Food Hotspot

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Housed in an old trailer, Love’s Ice Cream is part of the exciting food and drink scene in little Cumberland, B.C.

Move over, Canmore, Alberta. You’re being supplanted by Cumberland, B.C.

The “village” of 3,750 residents near the east coast of central Vancouver Island is being discovered. By mountain bikers, attracted to more than 80 kilometres of single track in the surrounding Cumberland forest. By people looking to boat and fish in the nearby Strait of Georgia or ski the deep snow at also nearby Mount Washington.

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Cumberland Brewing attracts bikers and sun lovers to its patio

By folks looking to move to an attractive, small community, with affordable housing. Oops… used to be affordable. Prices for newer houses have jumped, in many cases, to more than $500,000; still cheap by Victoria or Vancouver prices.

Like the mountain community of Canmore, Cumberland’s economy used to be based on coal mining. When the mines closed, people in both places wondered about their future. Turns out tourism isn’t a bad replacement.

Cumberland isn’t nearly as crowded as Canmore, but locals note that it’s a lot busier than it used to be, especially on weekends when outsiders pour into town from Courtenay, Comox and further afield. As is the case in many such “service” communities, there aren’t a lot of good-paying jobs.

As a road-food warrior, I was stunned by the number and quality of good, independent, affordable places to eat and drink in downtown Cumberland. Within two blocks on main street (Dunsmuir Avenue) are at least half a dozen excellent places I’ve tried (or hope to get to on my next trip west). For cheap eats, that beats Canmore, in my books.

As a quick overview, here’s a pictorial guide to what’s cooking in Cumberland.

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Riders Pizza is well connected to the Cumberland biking scene

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The cooks at Biblio Taco are concocting innovative fare like chicken mole and seared tuna tacos

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Village Ice makes Hawaiian-style shaved ice with real fruit and house-made syrups

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They’re also in a cute little parking lot building

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A flight of beer at Cumberland Brewing

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Who doesn’t like fresh-ground chuck and brisket burgers?

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At Love’s, the ice cream (from local, grass-fed milk) and cones are made from scratch.

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Cumberland Village Bakery is a fixture on Dunsmuir Avenue

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After all that food, you might need a coffee

 

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Working up an Appetite on Vancouver Island’s Remote Coasts

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The Crab Shack is at a water-taxi crossing on the fabled West Coast Trail

In less than a week this spring, I visited two of the most remote restaurants in all my road-food journeys.

Actually, for one eatery, there was no road leading to it, just a nearly 50-kilometre, rugged hiking “trail”. Talk about working up an appetite.

Both destinations were the result of back-to-back backpacks along Vancouver Island’s spectacular coast: the iconic West Coast Trail and the not so famous North Coast Trail.

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Ordering plates of seafood at the Crab Shack

The road-less spot, the Crab Shack, was reached in the middle of our West Coast Trail traverse, after three nights of dehydrated meals cooked on a backcountry stove. So to see live crab being lifted in a pot from deep water was more than enough to get the saliva glands going. In fact, we hardly needed the shell crackers to tear the poor creatures apart.

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Our well-dressed cook lifting a pot of live crabs from the depths

If wrestling with a crab isn’t your thing, there’s the option of fresh-from-the-water halibut or ling cod. And no one was passing up the carbo-loading option of massive baked potatoes, loaded with toppings.

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A whole crab, ready to devour

The Crab Shack is a family business of the Ditidaht, one of three First Nations that partner with Parks Canada to operate and maintain the West Coast Trail. The little, almost-floating restaurant is located at the end of Nitinaht Narrows, where a short boat ride is needed to continue on the trail. The feast propelled us for the finishing seven kilometres of that day’s hike.

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The Crab Shack is ably run by Shelley.

Our second, remote eatery—the Scarlet Ibis Pub—was reached shortly after finishing more than 80 kilometres of hiking on the North Coast Trail. The pub is midway along a two-hour shuttle bus ride back to Port Hardy on a dusty gravel road in the middle-of-nowhere northern Vancouver Island. It’s located in Holberg, population 35, whose claim to fame was once having the world’s largest floating logging camp.

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The Scarlet Ibis Pub is in the middle-of-nowhere northern Vancouver Island

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After 80 km of hiking, this loaded plate of fish and chips went down in about five minutes

The Scarlet Ibis has been run for decades by its colourful owner, though she has the place up for sale, if you’re interested. But we’re here for the food and drink and, if anything, are even more famished than at the Crab Shack.

The overflowing platters of fish and chips disappear as quickly as two rounds of Lucky beer. Lucky us.

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Our host, cook and raconteur

Scenes From a Vancouver Island Road Trip

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.

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Fabulous, hole-in-the-wall bakery near Tin Town in Courteney

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Sumptuous home-made ice cream and waffle cone at Love’s in Cumberland B.C. (more about the town’s burgeoning food scene in an upcoming post)

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At a pub in Port Hardy, our launching point for the North Coast Trail

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Wonderful sand beach at Irony Creek on the North Coast Trail

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Wolves on the same beach, chasing a deer

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We did manage to survive

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After a week-long backpack, this disappeared in a few minutes at Bin 4 Burger Lounge in Langford

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Bumper service at Gardenside Acres “Tent and Breakfast” Campground, near Brentwood Bay

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One of the many infamous ladders on the West Coast Trail

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Sea anemones in tidal pool

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Enough of this hiking!

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We’re stoked for post-backpack pizza near Sooke, but they’re closed Wednesdays. Aaargh!

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Early June snowstorm at Rogers Pass on the way home

Ferry Fast Breakfast on B.C. Ferries

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Piping hot, fast breakfast at 6 am on B.C. Ferries

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.

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The breakfast line forms as soon as the ferry is loaded

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.

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The kitchen is a flurry of synchronized action

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”.

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Eggs Benedict and an ocean view: can’t beat that

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.

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A made-to-order Americano is just a button push away

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.

Best Road Trip Food & Drink of 2018

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Best Coffee: Caleb and Kitty Leung make exacting coffee in their gorgeous Sought and Found Coffee Roasters in Calgary, Alberta

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Best coffee mugs: Katy Fogg’s sublime, hand-thrown mugs, at Tin Town Cafe in Courtenay, B.C.

East Calgary 13

Best brunch: Deane House, Calgary

La Baguette muffin

Best muffin: La Baguette, Revelstoke, B.C.

Edmonton coffee 21

Best doughnut: Made-to-order Portuguese-style doughnut at Edmonton’s Ohana Donuterie

Southeast Arizona 36

Best Bakery: Don Guerra’s Barrio Bread in Tucson, Arizona

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Best bakery treat: Focaccia bread at Fol Epi in Victoria, B.C.

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Best sandwich: Meat balls on ciabatta at Meat & Bread in Calgary

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Biggest Feed. A tie: Sandwiches for three (three days!) at Salt Lake City’s Grove Market

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And the Oinker At Bubba’s Big Bites in Chilliwack, B.C.

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Best Mexican: Owner James Nelson and his made-to-order corn tortillas at El Norteno in Grande Prairie, Alberta of all places

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Best hot dog: Can’t beat the Sonoran hot dogs in parking lot Ruiz in Tucson

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Best beer: Belgian-style Townsite Brewery in Powell River, B.C.

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Best burger: Chucks Burger Bar, in Sydney, B.C.

Edmonton coffee 6

Best complimentary breakfast: The Le Creuset pots were the clincher at Hyatt Place Hotel in Edmonton

Atco Cafe 6

Best restaurant architecture: ATCO Blue Flame Kitchen Cafe in Calgary

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Best farmers’ market: cSPACE in Calgary

Market Bistro Canmore 5

Best service: Brande at Market Bistro in Canmore, Alberta

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Best gas station experience: Maverick in Fillmore, Utah

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Best foraged food: Wild huckleberries on Monkman Pass Trail near Tumbler Ridge, B.C.

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Best dining experience: As always, incomparable Carmen making fresh tacos in Hamer, Idaho

Chuck Out This Great Victoria-Area Burger Bar

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The bountiful burgers at Chuck’s Burger Bar, in Sydney, B.C., are juicy and flavourful

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.

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Chuck’s is in an industrial area near the Victoria airport and ferry terminal.

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
778-351-2485