Category Archives: Victoria

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

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Get Sartori Harvest IPA Before It’s Gone. Oops. Might Already be Too Late

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Sartori Harvest IPA is a once-a-year fresh-hop beer

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.

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Cascadia Liquour has a great selection of other 22-ounce bombers

$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.

 

Fabulous Focaccia at Victoria’s Fol Epi

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Good luck not devouring this stunning focaccia—from Fel Epi in Victoria—in one sitting

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.

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Fol Epi is on a little Victoria harbour, next door to Caffe Fantastico Coffee Roasters

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.

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The boule was also exceptional

Fol Epi
101, 398 Harbour Road, Victoria B.C. (one other Victoria location)
Daily 7:30 am-5 pm
250-477-8882

Folks (and Seagulls) Flock to Victoria’s Red Fish Blue Fish

Finally reaching the front of the line at Victoria B.C.'s Red Fish Blue Fish

Finally reaching the front of the line at Victoria B.C.’s Red Fish Blue Fish

Driving into crowded downtown Victoria is good practice for standing in line at celebrated Red Fish Blue Fish—a recycled cargo container on a wooden pier in the city’s inner harbour—unless you strategically arrive near opening or closing. Otherwise, be prepared to wait for up to an hour, while enjoying the marine life around you.

Putting the finishing touches on tuna tacones

Putting the finishing touches on tuna tacones

The good news is the wait is worth it, the line moving slowly because each meal is made to order. The halibut and chips ($14 for a substantial single piece) is outstanding, the fish bursting with fresh-caught flavour and juiciness beneath a somewhat greasy, crispy batter. The albacore tuna tacone, seared till just pink and wrapped in a little tortilla stuffed with slaw, pea shoots and lemon-pickled onions and seasoned with spicy spot prawn mayo, is equally good.

Despite the crowds, Red Fish Blue Fish is still paying attention to the little details that add up to great, fresh fish meals.

There are some fries buried beneath this huge piece of halibut

There are some fries buried beneath this huge piece of halibut

Red Fish Blue Fish
1006 Wharf Street, Victoria, B.C.
Daily 11:30 am-7 pm (3 pm if the weather’s inclement)
Red Fish, Blue Fish on Urbanspoon

Best Pizza in the Mountain West

Can I get this entire pizza, from Pizzeria Prima Strada in Victoria B.C., in my gut? You bet

Can I get this entire pizza, from Pizzeria Prima Strada in Victoria B.C., in my gut? You bet

Over time, I’ve become a sucker for thin-crust pizzas. Preferably, the dough has some sour sourdough starter and has been rested/proofed a while. The decorated pizza should then be cooked in a smoking-hot brick oven for scant minutes, emerging slightly blackened on the bottom and puffy and leopard spotted along the edges. The true test of a great, chewy-but-still-soft-in-the-middle crust is I could eat it all by its lonesome.

I’ve also learned to love simplicity—a few outstanding, house-made ingredients that complement and don’t overwhelm that fine crust. So, no more three kinds of oily meat, blankets of greasy cheese or hearty ladlings of indifferent tomato sauce; heck, increasingly, I don’t want any sauce. As for ham and pineapple, just banish it to Hawaii, please. Instead, I’m all over freshly-made mozza and sausage and maybe something I’ve never tried before: dried cherries, yes, peanut butter, not so much.

I’ve organized these by best pizza in each mountain state and province, extending the latter to include British Columbia. The list is by no means exhaustive, a starter in pizza parlance. For instance, I’ve yet to try two Arizona standouts: Pizzicletta in Flagstaff or Pizzeria Bianco in Phoenix. By all means, let me know about your favourites.

Mountain States

Utah
At Pizzeria Seven Twelve, in Orem, the focus is on fresh, creative ingredients like hand-pulled mozzarella, house-made sausage and roasted fennel and cauliflower, all riding atop a thin, bubbly crust with a nice tangy flavour from the sourdough starter. The servers wear t-shirts hammering home that point with single words on the front—simple, local, inspired. Check, check, check. Definitely check it out.

This pie from Pizzeria Seven Twelve has it all: hand-pulled mozza, house-made sausage and sourdough crust

This pie from Pizzeria Seven Twelve has it all: hand-pulled mozza, house-made sausage and sourdough crust

Pizzeria Seven Twelve
320 South State Street, Orem, Utah
Lunch Monday to Friday 11:30 am-2:30 pm, dinner Monday to Thursday 5 pm-10 pm and Friday-Saturday 5 pm-11 pm. Closed Sunday
Pizzeria Seven Twelve on Urbanspoon

Arizona
It’s a tossup (sorry, bad joke), with entertainment winning the day at Screaming Banshee Pizza in Bisbee and The Parlor Pizzeria taking the flavour crown in Phoenix.

I’ve always thought if you’re going for wood-fired pizza, you might as well get a front-row seat and enjoy the show. Sure enough, as soon as I sit down at Screaming Banshee Pizza and start sipping a hearty Kiltlifter Scottish ale, the pizza maker starts rolling out discs of dough and tossing them ceiling-ward three or four times. I’m so entranced, I don’t notice my own Screaming Banshee pizza ($15) getting lifted from the 760-F. oven with a long-handled wooden paddle. It has a lovely, lightly charred crust strewn with creamy fresh mozzarella, strips of fennel sausage and caramelized onion. After a game effort, I’m still left with half to go.

Enjoy the show at Screaming Banshee Pizza

Enjoy the show at Screaming Banshee Pizza

Screaming Banshee Pizza
200 Tombstone Canyon Road, Bisbee
Tuesday-Wednesday 4 pm-9pm, Thursday to Saturday 11 am-10 pm, Sunday 11 am-9 pm. Closed Monday

At Parlor Pizzeria, it only takes five minutes in a 460 F. oven for my eight-inch Forager pizza to emerge, with, no surprise, a bubbly char on the thin crust. The topping is a compelling, rich mix of wild boar meatball, rabbit sausage and finocchiona. Add some radicchio, thinly sliced fennel and rosemary, and I’ve got a first-rate, six-slice pie for only $10, knocked down to $6 during happy hour (3-6 pm).

Boar meatball and rabbit sausage highlight this gem at Parlor Pizzeria

Boar meatball and rabbit sausage highlight this gem at Parlor Pizzeria

The Parlor Pizzeria
1916 East Camelback Road, Phoenix
Monday to Thursday 11 am-10 pm, Friday-Saturday 11 am-11 pm. Closed Sunday
The Parlor Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

New Mexico
Any surprise that Santa Fe takes the pie here? At Rooftop Pizzeria, you can dine in-house or, even better, head down the elevated hallway to Marble Brewery’s Taproom and enjoy a pint with your pizza from a patio seat overlooking the historic downtown plaza. I pick a New Mexican theme for my plentiful 12-incher—green chile with a fair kick, toasted piñon nuts and a blue-corn crust—alongside tender chunks of chicken, cotija and asadero cheese and alfredo sauce ($13.50). I must say, it goes down nicely with a 21.5-ounce tumbler of Irish Red.

This Rooftop pizza has a New Mexico twist with a blue-corn crust, pinon nuts and green chile

This Rooftop pizza has a New Mexico twist with a blue-corn crust, pinon nuts and green chile

Rooftop Pizzeria
60 East San Francisco Street, Santa Fe
Sunday to Thursday 11 am-10 pm, Friday-Saturday 11 am-11 pm, with slightly reduced winter hours
Rooftop Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

Montana
There’s no contest here. As previously mentioned in my Best of 2012 road food post, the guy sitting next to me at Bob Marshall’s Biga Pizza, in Missoula, says it’s the best pizza he’s ever tasted. Here, they use a sourdough starter, known as biga (bee-ga), add fresh, ingenious ingredients like fig paste and toasted hazelnuts and slide it all into a 650 F. brick oven for about eight minutes. I get a half and half—one side their award-winning sausage, cherry chutney and smoked gouda (my favourite of the two), the other a medley of local squash and pumpkin. I wash it down with a pungent, Missoula-produced Kettlehouse Cold Smoke Scotch ale.

This half cherry chutney standout at Bob Marshall's Biga Pizza is in my top three favourite pizzas

This half cherry chutney standout at Bob Marshall’s Biga Pizza is in my top three favourite pizzas

Bob Marshall’s Biga Pizza
241 West Main Street, Missoula
Lunch weekdays 11 am-3 pm, dinner Monday to Thursday 5 pm-9:30 pm, Friday-Saturday 5 pm-10 pm. Closed Sunday

Colorado
I can’t say I’ve tried enough pizza in this great culinary state to yet declare a winner. Here are some places chosen as much for character as fine pizza. One is The Sink, a graffiti-laced rabbit’s warren on the University of Colorado campus in Boulder (try the Buddah, featuring tofu, spinach and artichoke hearts). Moonlight Pizza & Brewpub and Amica’s Pizza are two good reasons for making the pilgrimage to Salida, my favourite Colorado town. Oh, they also both make their own beer.

The atmosphere rivals the Buddah pizza at The Sink in Boulder

The atmosphere rivals the Buddah pizza at The Sink in Boulder

Wyoming. Okay, I’ve only eaten pizza at one place, Lander Bar in downtown Lander. But it gets high marks for character, largely because of the boisterous, young crowd and my seatmates: three local women with a ranching heritage and a penchant for chewing tobacco. As for the pizza, it was a fine chicken and artichoke medley thrown down with a Five Pound brown lager from Lander Brewing next door. If you’ve noticed a theme here, it’s that pizza goes down well with a good craft beer. Sorry, wine just doesn’t cut it for me.

Again, the liveliness of the Lander Bar kept pace with the pizza

Again, the liveliness of the Lander Bar kept pace with the pizza

Lander Bar
126 Main Street, Lander
Monday to Saturday 11 am-2 am, Sunday noon-10 pm. Note: The Gannett Grill is open daily 11 am-9 pm

Canadian West

Alberta
As the name suggests, Una Pizza + Wine obviously breaks my beer-and-pizza rule. It’s also somewhat expensive ($15-20 per pizza) and often has a lineup (though it does Tweet about how long the wait is). But it’s worth bending some rules for one of the top-rated restaurants in Calgary, somewhat unusual for a place largely dedicated to pizzas. Creativity, first-class ingredients and execution are the reasons for its popularity, plus it’s a fun, noisy place to hang out. Our pizza choice is a puffy crust covered with roasted cremini mushrooms, smoked mozzarella, fresh arugula and the trump card, splashes of fragrant truffle oil. Una has also transformed the predictable Caesar salad into a mountain of kale topped with crisp Serrano ham, garlic panko, an organic egg and shaved pecorino Romano.

Una Pizza + Wine
618 17 Avenue S.W., Calgary
Daily 11:30 am-1 am
UNA Pizza and Wine on Urbanspoon

Coco Brooks also breaks some of my rules. It’s not thin crust, it’s a little heavier on the cheese and its toppings are by no means leading edge. Indeed, it pumps out the little cardboard boxes of pizza with industrial efficiency. But the Egg n Bacon is a guilty pleasure, with the soft, puffy filling offset by just a slight crunch of smoked bacon and melted mozza and aged cheddar. And at $6.29, it’s maybe the best value on this list for an individual-sized pizza.

Egg n bacon works spectacularly well at Coco Brooks

Egg n bacon works spectacularly well at Coco Brooks

Coco Brooks
640 42 Avenue SE, #80 (two other Calgary locations)
Monday to Thursday 8 am-8 pm, Friday 8 am-9 pm, Saturday 9 am-8 pm
Coco Brooks - Highfield Industrial Park on Urbanspoon

British Columbia

Getting the pizzas ready for the 850 F. oven at Pizzeria Prima Strada

Getting the pizzas ready for the 850 F. oven at Pizzeria Prima Strada

Here’s how Pizzeria Prima Strada, in Victoria, earns its Italian certification for thin-crust Neapolitan pizza. It begins with a well-aged sourdough starter, mixed with fine-ground Caputo flour from Italy and left to rest for two days. After it’s stretched out and loaded with toppings, it goes into a 650 F. wood-fired oven for a minute, is turned and then finished for another minute in the 850 F. section. “The cook’s eyes are on the oven at all times,” the waitress tells me. My Salsiccia Piccante pizza ($15 for six substantial slices) features house-made fennel sausage, roasted peppers and mozzarella. But it’s that deliciously chewy, leopard-spotted crust that makes it a home run for me.

The sourdough crust at Pizzeria Prima Strada is among the best I've tasted

The blistered sourdough crust at Pizzeria Prima Strada is among the best I’ve tasted

Pizzeria Prima Strada
230 Cook Street (one other Victoria location)Sunday to Thursday 11:30 am-9 pm, Friday-Saturday 11:30 am-10 pm
Pizzeria Prima Strada on Urbanspoon