Thursday, 19 November 2015

A Tale of Many Breakfasts Part 2: Diners

 I don't know if this is a city-specific thing, but Vancouverites have a weird habit of lining up for meals that may not be bad, but certainly aren't worth waiting for. Sophie's Cosmic Cafe? Stepho's on Davie? The Red Wagon? They're okay, guys. Not great, not exceptional. Just okay. But hey, if you want to waste your time lining up, go ahead. I'll be across the road at some underappreciated breakfast haunt, getting served the best breakfast ever in record time. 

You can add Jethro's Fine Grub to that list of places I won't be lining up at any time soon. I've been curious about this place for a while now: it's in my 'hood and it's always jumping on weekends. Last Thursday I took my mom there for brunch, and was left wondering what the fuss was about. We're both Benny freaks, so it was smoked salmon bennies for both of us. Utterly unremarkable (and expensive) bennies. A plain, lightly toasted English muffin (not crisp enough to stand up to the double onslaught of egg yolk and Hollandaise sauce), a piece of meh smoked salmon, a decent egg, some ok sauce. Nothing terrible, nothing great. Rounded out by some very dull potatoes and absolutely no extras: an unattractive presentation. 
I must admit that I spied shamelessly on other diners' meals and the pancakes looked insanely huge, as did a breakfast burrito. But I prefer my pancakes thin and crisp (actually, I basically just prefer crepes and am always sorry when I order pancakes and waffles for breakfast). Coffee The service was very friendly and pleasant, but because the room itself has absolutely no atmosphere, it's not a place I'd want to linger. Which, given their lineups, is probably the idea. Sorry Jethro's but I've had better meals in far cheaper spots. 

Which brings me to Joe's/Nelly's Grill(s).
Confusingly named, because Joe's used to be on West 4th, but is now located on Main Street. While the one on 4th Avenue is now Nelly's (apparently a relation to Joe). Get it? Don't worry about it. Just go there if you want an affordable, no-frills breakfast that won't bankrupt you.
My sweetie and I go to Nelly's (I still think of it as Joe's) on 4th quite regularly and I always get The Brit because I'm charmed by a breakfast place that serves baked beans with toast and eggs. As a child of British parents, I ate beans-on-toast every week ("please put the beans beside the toast, mummy, so it doesn't get soggy"), so this dish is pure nostalgia. I tell a lie though, because last time I got some kind of hash and it was fan-freakin'-tastic. Poached eggs, nice salty fried potatoes and veggies... Sorry Brit, I've found a new fave. Service is brisk and friendly, and prices are decent. This is a no-frills-no-trendy-no-lines kinda joint. You don't have to go out of your way to go here, because your own 'hood probably has something similar. But these guys do it well. 
Joe's/Nelly's is at 3048 Main St and 2061 w.4th Ave
Photo courtesy of my sweetie, who is never too busy
eating to social-media the hell out of something.

Hey, speaking of doing it well, Sunshine Diner is kicking ass and taking names when it comes to breakfast. Can you get past the way-over-the-top '50's diner decor, complete-if that is the word- with life-sized Elvises and Marilyns frolicking in plastic rigor mortis splendour? Well okay, I guess that's part of the charm, along with the sawed-off Chevy reservation desk just inside the door. Though he lives oh-so-close, my guy had never been to Sunshine, and it had been years for me. So off we went, on a late Saturday morning. Although there was a lineup, we were both appeased by the free coffees that materialized for all of us who were waiting outside (there's not much room to wait inside). It's the little touches like that that make for good customer service. Also, we only had to wait about 10 minutes, which is respectable. 
Yeah, we both ordered Bennies. I had a half order of the Popeye (avocado, cream cheese, a delicious mushroom slice, asparagus and spinach) and my guy had the Blackstone. These were Bennies done right: crispy muffins, delicious Hollandaise, perfect poached eggs. Served, cutely, with a bowl of crispy brown potatoes and a really nice fruit bowl: not your usual tired melon chunks but banana, apple, even blackberries. Presentation: on point. Major kudos for getting the carbs absolutely right and making us feel as though we were making a healthy choice by including a really good fruit bowl. This attention to presentation and balance (fruit to counter the fat and starch) was what was so sorely lacking at Jethro's. Sunshine could have cruised by on its kitsch, so I'm glad to see they're so much more than vaguely creepy plastic Elvis statues. 
Sunshine Diner is at 2649 West Broadway, in Kitsilano.

I'm going into Show Mode this week, as I'm in a musical that's opening on Tuesday. I foresee a lot more eating out in my near future. Stay tuned...

Sunday, 15 November 2015

A Tale of Many Breakfasts: Part One

I've been eating out non-stop.

Blame my schedule, which is not conducive to home cookin' right now, or blame a sudden upsurge on the financial front, but I've definitely been chowing down at a LOT of restaurants lately. Unfortunately, a lot of it's the stuff-this-late-night-donair-down-my-gullet-at-11pm kind, rather than quality eats. I even had a convenience store tuna sandwich the other day, and that is about as low as you can go. 

The good thing about my schedule is that my work doesn't start 'til afternoon. Which leaves a lot of time for breakfast. Oh, the breakfasts I've had lately! 
I admit, these are all on the fancy-breakfast end of the spectrum. No cheapo greasy spoons here. But with Reno's closing (although a note on the door says they'll reopen in 2016), my go-to greasy spoon is out of commission. On, then, to the following places, which range from coffee bars to actual restaurants. Here is Part One, which deals with places that are not so much breakfast joints but manage to do a mean brekkie anyway...

33 Acres Brewing Company
So.Much.White.  It's a Hipster thing.  Photo courtesy of a site called Wit & Delight
I'm not sure I'm totally qualified to review 33 acres, given that
a) I dislike beer and 
b) I've never tried their weekend brunch waffles, although I hear good things. 

In my defence, 33 Acres- located at 15 West 8th- has pretty minimal seating, and I dread the idea of waiting in line for breakfast, as I've mentioned before. However, if you go of a weekday morning the place will be mostly peaceful and while the waffles are unavailable it doesn't really matter because there is still a limited but delicious selection of breakfast-y items. 
Yes eggs (poached being the only option), yes toast (chewy, hearty bread from Nelson The Seagull)... but if you're me, you've met your true love in the Muy Caliente. Get it on a buttery, flakey biscuit: sliced avocado and poached egg with a drizzle of honey, a sprinkling of sea salt, and the most delicious sweet/spicy red pepper jelly on the side. It's my new favourite brekkie, no lie. One day, I WILL be back later in the day to check out their food truck pairing (different ones park out there every day of the week), as well as 33 Acres' own charcuterie plates and their house cider (sadly only available in-house at this point). The coffee is also wonderful. I'm on the fence about their aesthetic because it's so very, very Hipster- all white tiles and sparseness with copies of Kinfolk Magazine for sale. If you follow Socality Barbie on Instagram, you'll know what I mean when I say that she would be very much at home photographing her cappuccino here.  However, I have to admit it's a lovely space to sit in on a sunny morning, so I guess I'm more Hipster than I'd like to admit. 

Matchstick Coffee
Photo courtesy of Matchstick's website
Speaking of Hipster aesthetics, my local coffee bar would be the prototype. White tiles? Check. Warm wood to contrast the sterile whites? Check. Actual record player providing the house sound? Yup. Coffee being made in pretentious glass beakers? Oh yeah. Yet I can no longer mock them, because dammit, they are way too good! Not only their cappuccinos, which I love, but their baked goods and breakfasts as well. Buttery muffins (they tend to stick to 2 or 3 flavours), interesting savoury scones and- I'm serious here- THE best croissants I've ever had. I have strong opinions on croissants and these are incredible, the best mix of a buttery interior and a flakey exterior. Before 11 you can also have baked beans and poached eggs with their delicious toast, which is also of the heart-chewy variety. Matchstick has 2 locations: my local, which is where Fraser and Kingsway meet, and Chinatown, at 213 east Georgia. 

Marche St. George
Okay, by this point in the blog I'm having a battle within myself between the part of me that hates, just hates this trendy need to have everything be sparse and white or grey, as if colour and clutter were somehow gauche, and the part of me that really likes some of these places, despite their desperate trendiness. Check out Le Marche St. George's online store if you don't believe this is a thing. I looked at their textile page and immediately felt as if I was Dorothy in Kansas, seeing the world only in shades of grey. I like colour. I like it a lot, especially in my home. I would hate it if my room didn't have its red Persian rug, or my blue-and-red quilt.
On the other hand...
I love biking to the actual market (located on the corner of 28th and St. George Street in east Van) and eating a cheesy crepe while sipping coffee and listening to their excellent musical choices. You won't find eggs-and-bacon here, but the crepes are fabulous. They also sell very pricey and delicious indulgences like: drinking vinegar! Which is a thing (another trendy, trendy thing) I love, and I happily coughed up a twenty for a bottle of Pok Pok apple drinking vinegar, which is amazing when mixed with: sparkling water, a squirt of lime and a spoonful of pomegranate seeds. Or with vodka and cranberry. 
You can get a sweet or savoury crepe at Marche St. George (or a flatbread, or a croissant, or a pot pie) and if you're lucky (seating is very limited) you can sit inside, or head outside and grab a table out there if the weather's warm. Local parents obviously love this cafe, which is awesome, but it means that at certain times of day the cafe is filled with strollers and hip-but-still-exhausted moms. . In contrast to its uber-white-coloured online presence, the actual market gets major points for being warm, cluttered, wooden and welcoming. 

Stay tuned for the next installment of A Tale of Many Breakfasts, where I'll review Jethro's Fine Grub and The Sunshine Diner! Both refreshingly free of the colour white!