Category Archives: Uncategorized

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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This Fresh-Roasted Calgary Coffee is a Real Pick Me Up

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Calgary’s Mount Pleasant Roastery sells its fresh coffee beans via a picket-fence box

Many of you have no doubt encountered those little wooden boxes, on country roads, where you can purchase local fruits and vegetables, on the honour system.

Well, this concept has migrated to the big city, with fresh-roasted coffee sold out of little red boxes on a white-picket fence in a northwest Calgary neighbourhood. Hallelujah!

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There’s usually a couple of bean types available, on the honour system

Rick Eden and Larissa Riemann, through their Mount Pleasant Roastery, are roasting high-quality beans in small batches in their garage and selling them to neighbours and passersby through a couple of fence-line boxes, as well as online. Here’s a nice story about their little business.

As someone who often roasts his own beans in a wee Behmor roaster, I’m delighted to find a local roaster producing small quantities of Guatemalan, Honduran and Brazilian beans, with the roasting date hand printed on the bag. True freshness is hard to find in coffee beans and makes a huge difference in taste.

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The hand-printed roasting data is a sign of freshness

To date, I’ve only sampled the Guatemalan Carrizal, advertised as a medium-dark roast, though closer to a dark roast, which I like in a world misguidedly devoted to the lighter end.

Because the fence-box beans are sold on the honour system, you can pay whatever you want. Online sales mention a bargain $10-per-pound price, but given the quality, I’d suggest a healthy tip.

Mount Pleasant Roastery
515 18 Avenue NW and 601 19 Avenue NW (5 Street fence), Calgary, Alberta
Around the clock, as long as coffee’s available
403-470-5812

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.

https://www.restaurantji.com/bc/holberg/scarlet-ibis-/

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Our host, cook and raconteur Linda

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

Avenida Offers Upscale Food Hall Dining in South Calgary

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Takori is one of about 15 vendors in Avenida Food Hall & Market offering meals

As its name suggests, the relatively new Avenida Food Hall & Market is a bit of a hybrid. It features lots of upscale food vendors, some with a food-truck vibe, plus an array of healthy groceries you’d expect to find in a farmers’ market.

Seeing as its in deep southeast Calgary and given the uneven track record of food markets in this city—and particularly in this downtrodden economy—I was curious to see how busy it would be at a weekday lunch hour (like other Calgary food markets, it’s only open Thursday to Sunday). And like many other restaurant establishments in Calgary, its meals are not cheap, ranging from about $10 to $16.

When I arrive, around 11:30 am, it’s pretty quiet. But by noon, there are small lines forming at a number of vendors. Though Avenida is a long ways south of downtown on Macleod Trail, there are obviously enough office and commercial businesses around to form a reliable clientele. It’s a bright, modern, clean space, with lots of room for moving around.

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The food hall also offers fresh produce

About 15 of Avenida’s some 40 vendors offer meals, with a distinct ethnic focus. Mexican, Thai, southeast Asia, Indian and Japanese dishes are all represented.

On my first visit, I join the short line at Takori, which aptly describes itself as an Asian fusion taqueria, making pretty much everything in house. As in tacos loaded with slow-roasted bulgogi beef brisket, smoked pork belly and kimchi, and Korean fried chicken. Fortunately, Takori allows you to mix and match, so I’m able to order one of each, for a reasonable $11.50. It’s a delightful meal that certainly stretches the usual Mexican taco boundaries.

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Takori specializes in fusion tacos

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As in delicious tacos loaded with slow-roasted bulgogi beef brisket, smoked pork belly and kimchi, and Korean fried chicken

My second visit takes me to Arepas Ranch, a family-owned Venezuelan stall that makes cornmeal patties overstuffed, in my case, with shredded beef, black beans, cheese and plaintain. It’s a hefty pocket ($12) full of gooey goodness that demands three napkins.

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Arepas Ranch is a Venezuelan joint

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My cornmeal arepas is stuffed with shredded beef, black beans and plaintain.

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Expat Asia will definitely be on my radar on my next visit to Avenida

Avenida Food Hall & Market
12445 Lake Fraser Drive SE, Calgary, Alberta
Thursday to Sunday 11 am-8 pm. Closed Monday to Wednesday

Will That be Paper, Plastic or Compostable?

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At Calgary’s ATCO Blue Flame Kitchen Cafe, the soup is served in a compostable bowl

A recent little trend I’ve noticed in Calgary eateries is the use of compostable dishes and utensils, in place of the usual ceramic and metal.

It’s most noticeable at the gorgeous ATCO Blue Flame Kitchen Cafe, where my soup is served in a container made of renewable plant materials—post-consumer paper fibre from sugarcane and a polyethylene, corn-based lining known as Ingeo.

At Grumans Deli (Britannia location), there’s a prominent sign explaining why all its food and drinks is served on compostable “packaging”. “Grumans cares about the environment,” the sign says. Though when I ask why they’ve gone this route, servers at both places just mention the lack of space for electric dishwashers; there’s obviously also labour, equipment and hot-water cost savings from not having to wash dishes.

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I’m not sure how I feel about this trend. On the one hand, it’s good that such establishments are promoting environmental responsibility and not simply throwing dishes in the trash, destined for landfills. And it’s much better to be packing leftovers or takeout in paper boxes than in Styrofoam containers, which might take hundreds of years to break down.

Mind you, it’s best to dispose of these compostable dishes in the restaurants’ compost bins, because for some reason the City of Calgary’s composting pick-up program doesn’t allow compostable cups and dishes in its green bins.

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I don’t know about you, but I can never figure out what waste goes where. Hint: the soup bowl (above) goes in the left bin

On the other hand, compostable dishes are still single use, even if they end up as soil. I haven’t seen a good study arguing the environmental footprint merits of one-use compostable dishes versus washing regular dishes innumerable times, though me thinks the latter would win that debate.

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Compostable utensils et al at Calgary coffee shop Sought & Found

And there’s simply the aesthetics. Eating soup with a plastic spoon out of a “paper” bowl is just not as pleasing as porcelain. And while you can, and should, use your own travel mug at coffee shops that just offer plastic-lined paper cups, I don’t think we’ve reached the point of bringing our own washable dishes and utensils to our favourite eateries. By the way, Berkeley, California has just passed a regulation charging consumers 25 cents for every disposable cup they get at a coffee shop.

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Soup lid at ATCO Blue Flame Kitchen Cafe

Even the restaurants that have embraced compostable dishes might agree with my aesthetic sentiments. After all, on the websites of the above-mentioned joints, the photos show food and drink served in regular, washable plates, bowls and cups.

Your thoughts?