Category Archives: Vancouver

Meat & Bread: Simply Superb Sandwiches

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Succulent meatball sandwich at Calgary’s Meat & Bread

As a longtime Calgarian, it pains me to promote any import from Vancouver, even though I briefly lived there many years ago. But when said import considerably elevates Cowtown’s sandwich game, who am I to protest?

The sandwich shop in question is Meat & Bread, which I enthusiastically reviewed shortly after it opened in Vancouver’s Gastown district in 2010. It delivered everything I look for: delicious, innovative sandwiches, made to order yet produced so efficiently that the lunchtime line moves swiftly.

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The lunch-hour line moves quickly

Such a sandwich shop was sorely lacking in Calgary, at least until a Meat & Bread location opened in June in the historic Grain Exchange Building, along downtown’s busy 9th Avenue. While it’s a franchise (there are currently two other locations, in Vancouver and Seattle), it’s in the capable hands of Eric Hudson and wife Bao Nahn. Most importantly, the experience and quality is essentially the same as at the flagship restaurant in Vancouver.

The keys to success are deceptively simple. First, there’s a very short menu of sandwiches—on fresh ciabatta buns—including a few standards, such as the outstanding signature porchetta, with its crunchy cracklings, and a barbecue beef. On a recent Friday, I opted for the special: three substantial, moist pork and beef meatballs topped with parmesan aioli, a chopped herb condiment and kale ($9.50).

Second, everything is freshly made each day by skilled “chefs, not sandwich artists,” featuring quality ingredients. Indeed, there’s no freezer on the premises.

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A friendly, efficient crew

Finally, and crucially at lunch hour, there’s a highly efficient crew assembling these four or five sandwiches. Such that our counter order is delivered to a high table in scant minutes.

The sides are similarly limited—a daily soup and a salad and a handcrafted chocolate bar for dessert. Nice to see a small selection of beers from Calgary microbrewers.

“It’s simple,” the company’s mantra goes, “we make sandwiches.” What more do you need?

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An innovative way of labelling dry provisions

Meat & Bread
821 1 Street SW, Calgary, Alberta
Monday to Saturday 11 am-5 pm. Closed Sunday

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Purebread Baking Up a Storm From Whistler, B.C.

 

Amazing fig loaf studded with hazelnut slices from pure bread

Amazing fig loaf studded with hazelnut slices from Whistler-based purebread

At the Sunday farmers’ market in Vancouver’s fashionable Kitsilano neighbourhood, there are short lines for various produce, like plump raspberries and blueberries and crisp beans. But the longest queue is for the baked goods at purebread. I figure people know superior stuff when they see, and taste, it. And purebread’s “lineup” is exceptional. Shoppers can choose from some 16 types of bread, including a fig loaf studded with hazelnuts, a rosemary lavender, a touted sour cherry chocolate and, just for fun, a disfunction ale.

purebread's star-studded lineup at the weekly Kitsilano Market in Vancouver

purebread’s star-studded lineup at the weekly Kitsilano Market in Vancouver

But who can stop there? A cinnamon brioche tempts, a cherry scone beckons, a dense slice of crumbly cornbread melts in the mouth. These treats have vanished down throats, with only a small trail of crumbs, by the time we reach the leafy side street. Usually, success stories like this start in the big city and then perhaps migrate into the surrounding hinterlands. But purebread was launched at a market in the nearby resort town of Whistler. It’s a family enterprise that required the use of eight ovens in a high school home-economics classroom to produce the initial baked offerings. But for five years, the prized goods have been transported to weekly markets in the Vancouver area, with a city bakery set to open this fall.

Yeasty folks serving up breads and baked treats at the Kitsilano Market

Yeasty folks serving up breads and baked treats at the Kitsilano Market

purebread
1040 Millar Creek Road, Whistler, B.C. and nine Vancouver-area markets from spring to fall (Note: Purebread’s Whistler Village location has been closed because of a late 2013 fire) Daily 8:30 am-5 pm (Whistler location)

Purebread on Urbanspoon

Beautiful B.C. Coast Road Trip

A dusky sunset along Vancouver's Jericho Beach.

A dusky sunset along Vancouver’s Jericho Beach.

Here are some photos from a great summer road trip to B.C.’s coast, including Vancouver Island and its satellite Gulf Islands. Blog posts on specific great eateries along the way will commence next week.

At Vancouver's Jericho Beach, the sand is just across the water from the downtown skyline

At Vancouver’s Jericho Beach, the sand is just across the water from the downtown skyline

Filling growlers at Vancouver's Brassneck Brewery

Filling growlers at Vancouver’s Brassneck Brewery

Brassneck Brewery co-owner Conrad Gmoser.

Brassneck Brewery co-owner Conrad Gmoser

The guys behind uber-cool Timbertrain Coffee Roasters in downtown Vancouver

The guys behind uber-cool Timbertrain Coffee Roasters in downtown Vancouver

Coffee and a muffin at Terra Breads in Vancouver's Olympic Village

Coffee and a muffin at Terra Breads in Vancouver’s Olympic Village

At Stick in the Mud coffee-house, in Sooke on Vancouver Island, these friendly, caffeinated guys are anything but that

At Stick in the Mud coffee-house, in Sooke on Vancouver Island, these friendly, caffeinated guys are anything but that

Stick in the Mud owner with a vintage sculpture

Stick in the Mud owner with a vintage sculpture

Bear sign near Sooke, B.C.

Bear sign near Sooke, B.C.

In lieu of a Mayne Island taxi service in perfect Gulf Island lingo

In lieu of a Mayne Island taxi service—in perfect Gulf Island lingo

Exploring tide pools on Salt Spring Island

Exploring tide pools on Salt Spring Island

I've always seen "Closed" signs on stores. But on Salt Spring Island, "Shut" was all the rage

I’ve always seen “Closed” signs on stores and restaurants. But on Salt Spring Island, “Shut” was all the rage

Sponge Bill’s Road Trip

Overlooking Strait of Georgia on Mayne Island

Overlooking Strait of Georgia on Mayne Island

Normally on a road trip, I overnight in Walmart parking lots, quiet campgrounds, government forest lands or fleabag motels. Anywhere, really, where I can lay my head, and it’s free or sufficiently cheap that I can focus my resources on what matters most, namely good food and drink.

So it’s nice, for a change, to take a summer’s journey where aesthetics are paramount, as are lingering, poignant conversations and much laughter. In other words, landing on the doorsteps of friends and relatives and not paying a cent for accommodation on a two-week holiday from Calgary to Vancouver Island and all the way back again. Let’s call it for what it was: Sponge Bill’s road trip.

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Wet-Coast Food Fight

Chomping down on a seared-tuna tacone at  Go Fish in Vancouver, one of four great west-coast food cities

Chomping down on a seared-tuna tacone at Go Fish in Vancouver, one of four great west-coast food cities

Let’s have some fun. What’s the best food city for road trippers in the Pacific Northwest? Heck, let’s throw San Francisco into the mix, though leave out Los Angeles, a beast of its own.

These ratings are subjective, the research somewhat sketchy. It’s primarily based on a recent road trip I took down the west coast. I spent only a few days in each of Vancouver, Seattle, Portland and San Francisco. But I ate and drank like a trencherman, sufficient, I trust, to gain a “gut” feel for what these cities offer the car traveller seeking good, independent and affordable fare. Remember, I’m not talking about high-end cuisine in this blog.

If you disagree strenuously with my assessments, please leave a reply.

Before we dive into the cuisine, I’d like to acknowledge the west coast is the epicentre of North America’s coffee culture. But for me, none of the four cities really stands out, maybe because I’m not all that partial to the lightly roasted beans au courant at so many hip cafes.

Like many San Francisco cafes, Four Barrel has the aesthetic nailed

Like many San Francisco cafes, Four Barrel has the aesthetic nailed

1) Portland: The Little City That Could

In my mind, the clear-cut winner. In fact, it’s the only one of these four cities that I’d go to just for the food. It’s that good. The biggest reason is the some 700 food carts (i.e. stationary trucks), spread throughout the city and doing more innovative things than most brick-and-mortar restaurants. Not that Portland’s regular restaurants are shabby, with top-rate, affordable joints like Pok Pok and Little Bird.

The incredibly rich food-cart scene pushes Portland to the top of my west-coast food list

The incredibly rich food-cart scene pushes Portland to the top of my west-coast food list

An elegant dish of succulent clams at Little Bird

An elegant dish of succulent clams at Little Bird

Bonus points: Because the city proper has less than 600,00 people, it’s the easiest of the four to get around, with lots of free streetside parking outside downtown. Plenty of good, innovative microbreweries, too
Cons: Lots of greenery but not the mountain views or oceanside locations of other west coast contenders
Quirks: You can’t fill your own gas tank in Oregon

2) Vancouver: The Jewel of the Pacific Northwest

All those Hong Kong investors may have pushed Vancouver real estate prices through the stratosphere. But the resulting influx of immigrants has also led to an invasion of Asian cuisine. That’s what propels it to my second spot. The suburb of Richmond may well be the Chinese food capital of North America. The city itself has lots of good fresh noodle places, matched by great Japanese ramen and izakaya joints. Throw in some great breakfast diners and vegetarian restaurants to round out the mix.

Fabulous charcoal miso ramen at Motomachi Shokudo

Fabulous charcoal miso ramen at Motomachi Shokudo

Bonus points: It can be miserably gray and wet during long stretches of winter (mind you, so can Seattle and Portland). But when it clears to reveal stunning views across the water to nearby mountains, this may be the world’s most glorious city
Cons: Undoubtedly the smuggest city in Canada

The beach, the ocean, the mountains. You just can't beat Vancouver on a sunny day

The beach, the ocean, the mountains. You just can’t beat Vancouver on a sunny day

3) San Francisco: No doubt shocked it’s not number one

San Fran doesn’t make it easy for the road tripper to love. It starts with the toll bridge into the city and the near impossibility of finding streetside parking downtown. The good news is that once you find your way into the Mission district, you can walk to a lot of good eateries—so long as you don’t mind a little harassment, filth and noise. Hey, it’s the big city.

San Francisco's Mission district is certainly steeped in character

San Francisco’s Mission district is certainly steeped in character

I might be shot for saying this, but the Chinese food is a notch below Vancouver’s, though Mission Chinese Food is certainly pushing the creative boundaries. And the StrEatfood Park is a pale imitation of the food-cart scene in Portland. If it’s any consolation, there’s way more good Mexican choices than the other three cities combined. And where else can you get that Gold Rush classic, the oyster-laden hangtown fry?

Bonus Points: Hard to beat that S.F. aesthetic: the Golden Gate Bridge, the Embarcadero, the steep hills, the iconic architecture
Cons: If you hear a basketball bouncing down the streets of the Mission district, it could soon be smashing through your parked car window

There's no contest on the architecture front

There’s no contest on the architecture front

4) Seattle: Super Bowl champ doesn’t make it to the culinary finals

Seattle certainly has a vibrant food scene, and there’s the presumed dominance of its coffee world. But someone has to finish fourth, and there was no single food culture here that bowled me over. The Tom Douglas restaurant empire reigns supreme, though many of the star chef’s joints stretch the boundaries of affordable. This is the place for an oyster or Dungeness crab feed.

Elliott's Oyster House is a great place to sample fresh oysters, especially during oyster happy hour

Elliott’s Oyster House is a great place to sample fresh oysters, especially during oyster happy hour

Bonus points: You can’t ignore Pike Place Market, even though it’s overrun by tourists. There are lots of more down-to-earth farmers’ markets throughout the city
Cons: My dining choices seemed to be really spread out, requiring lots of driving
Quirks: Those funny little parking meter stickers you have to attach to side windows. All those residential streets with little, vegetated peninsulas and circles that give your driving forearms a good workout

Sure it's overcrowded. But there's no market quite like the one in Pike Place

Sure it’s overcrowded. But there’s no market quite like the one in Pike Place

To give Seattle its proper due, I’ll be devoting the next couple of weeks to posts from some of its finer road-trip eateries.

The 5 Strangest Things I Ate and Drank on Road Trips in 2013… Good Mind You

The centrepiece of this gorgeous appetizer at Kama'aina Grindz is those pink pieces of grilled spam

The centrepiece of this gorgeous appetizer at Kama’aina Grindz, in Everett Washington, is those pink pieces of grilled spam

When I’m road-trip dining or drinking, it sometimes takes a sizable leap of faith to order something completely off the tastebud charts. But such adventures often lead to memorable culinary discoveries. Here are five that stood out in 2013.

For me, spam conjures up long-repressed memories of canned luncheon meats from when something healthier like, say, baloney was unavailable. So I’m curious to see what noted chef Dean Shinagawa can do with an updated version, called spam musubi, at his new, *Kama’aina Grindz in Everett, Washington. And I’m floored to find it, dare I say, delicious, the soy-marinated “meat” crisply grilled, perched atop rice and wrapped in seaweed—a 1960s’ sushi square if you will from this Hawaiian-Asian master. Needless to say, this spam dish is beautifully presented and a $5 bargain appetizer. The only thing I can ask, Dean, is where were you 40 years ago?

Kama’aina Grindz
2933 Colby Avenue, Everett, Washington
Monday to Thursday 11 am- 7 pm, Friday-Saturday 11 am-8 pm. Closed Sunday
Kama'aina Grindz on Urbanspoon

I’ve heard of blackened fish and blackened chicken. But blackened soup? Or bamboo charcoal dark miso ramen, to be more precise. In Asian cultures, charcoal powder is considered a tonic for digestion, skin problems and aging. But the flavour? At Motomachi Shokudo, a top Japanese ramen house in the west end of downtown Vancouver, the soup is delightful—beautifully presented in a large ceramic bowl, with curled noodles, a soft-boiled egg and barbecued pork. But the revelation is the dark, pungent broth, highlighted by the smoky charcoal powder.

Charcoal soup at Vancouver's Motomachi Shokudo. Much healthier and better tasting than it sounds

Charcoal soup at Vancouver’s Motomachi Shokudo. Much healthier and better tasting than it sounds

Motomachi Shokudo
740 Denman Street, Vancouver
Daily noon to 11 pm, except closed Wednesday
Motomachi Shokudo 元町食堂 on Urbanspoon

A lot of culinary innovation is happening on the food-truck scene. So it’s no surprise that Portland, with some 700 stationary food “carts”, is at the forefront. Of the many interesting cart creations I sampled on a recent Portland visit, perhaps nothing overcame my “not bloody likely” reflex quite like PBJ’s Grilled, which you may have deduced stands for grilled peanut butter and jam sandwiches. In my case, it’s the award-winning grilled Oregonian—a medley of challah bread, Oregon hazelnut butter, Rogue Creamery blue cheese and house-made marion berry jam (duck is an add on). Don’t know why, but it lives up to the cart’s motto: “Deliciously addictive.”

Keena assembling my  hazelnut butter, blue cheese and marion berry jam sandwich at PBJ's Grilled

Keena assembling my hazelnut butter, blue cheese and marion berry jam sandwich at PBJ’s Grilled in Portland

PBJ’s Grilled
SE 12 Avenue and Hawthorne Boulevard (also at 919 NW 23 Street), Portland
Tuesday to Sunday opens at 11 am. Closed Monday
PBJ's on Urbanspoon

I’ve had chiles added to chocolate. So it was probably just a matter of time before they showed up in one of my beers. It’s actually on a Portland sidewalk, where I encounter Burnside Brewing brewmaster Jason McAdam grilling some Scotch bonnet peppers and peach halves on a little Weber charcoal grill. They’re being used to dry hop a version of the brewery’s Sweet Heat Ale, which when sampled definitely has some citrus notes, along with a searing punch to the back of my throat.

Grilled  peaches and Scotch bonnets for a spicy, citrusy beer at Burnside Brewing in Portland. What will they think of next?

Grilled peaches and Scotch bonnets for a spicy, citrusy beer at Burnside Brewing in Portland. What will they think of next?

Burnside Brewing
701 East Burnside Street, Portland
Monday to Thursday opens at 3 pm, Friday to Sunday at noon
Burnside Brewing Co. on Urbanspoon

Talk about fusion, or maybe confusion. How about some booze and barbecue added to breakfast? At The Red Wagon Restaurant in Vancouver, it’s the stack of pancakes layered with pulled pork and topped with, get this, Jack Daniels maple syrup. The result is filling and unique—the salty, moist pulled pork nicely complemented by the sweet bourbon syrup. I’m just hoping the alcohol has evaporated before I hit the mid-morning streets.

How about some pulled pork layered between these  pancakes, with Jack Daniels maple syrup as a sweetener?

How about some pulled pork layered between these pancakes, with Jack Daniels maple syrup as a sweetener?

The Red Wagon Restaurant
2296 East Hastings Street, Vancouver
Weekdays 8 am-9 pm, weekends 9 am-9 pm
The Red Wagon on Urbanspoon