June 26, 2016

Famous Original Pizza, Downtown Victoria

I think calling your pizza joint 'Famous' is hubris, especially when there's only one in the chain.

I think calling it 'Original' when your knocking off the New York style seems odd, even if you acknowledge you are inspired.

I think calling it 'Pizza' is spot on.

The venue is hot, and narrows, funnel like into the gloom.  Up front you have big picture windows, brightly showing the city passing by on Yates Street. As you walk up to order, though, it gets darker, and the venue thins to narrow booth and a skeeball corner.  The heat from the lamps and ovens starts to wash over you, and the aroma of freshly baking pizza hits you.

You can see the pizza's ready to buy by the slice, but you do have to ask what they are... there's no signage or labels up to tell you whats currently on offer.  The harried staff must get bored of folks whats up and ready.  In between serving, pouring drinks, massaging the dough, prepping the sauce and piling on the toppings.

The pizzas here are BIG thin-crusted pies.  Generous but not deep on the toppings, baked onto a just thick enough base.  The base, in fact, is the single greatest thing with these pizzas.  Crispy at the rim, but soft in the centre, so you have to fold the slice to get enough structural support to eat the point. The point oozing with cheese and a flavourful tomato sauce base, and maybe anchovies, or bacon or pepperoni, or a medley of vegetables.

That base... it just has a freshness to it, and a mouthfeel to it that's a delight.  Often the crust is the worst part... here, it's not the -best- but after the rich toppings, there's something pleasant about the way the crust just crunches.

I'm not sure it's famous (yet) or original (really).  But I guess 'The Good NY-Style Pizza' isn't quite the marketing dream.

It's good pizza. Probably the best ready-to-go place in town.  A slice is a deal at $3.75... and you can wash it down with a decent craft brew as well. I would recommend getting your face around a slice.  And they have anchovies.

June 12, 2016

Crows Restaurant, Gorge Road, Victoria

The Crows restaurant is in the Ramada on Gorge, in the same space that used to be occupied by the Cecelia Creek Restaurant. The Creek did really good food when it first opened, but was marred by a very odd attitude to splitting bills and taking cards.  They had a change of ownership last year, but that seems to not have saved the venue; and it's now under a brand new name; and another set of owners.

So, we headed of for brunch on Sunday morning, as two of my friends have moved within walking distance.  No lines, but there was a good number of people eating in there. Quietly busy.  Which is probably the sweet spot for any brunch joint. Enough to keep things lively, but not crammed in so it's a rushed, painful experience.

The coffee is brewed dark and strong, and has kept wired until 11 o'clock. Cream is sadly single server creamer in plastic cartons, which doesn't jive with the hipster mason jars of brown sugar and a tiny coffee spoon. The water is provided in big glass bottles, so no waiting for the servers to keep you hydrated.  Much prefer little jugs of milk or cream.  It seems more homely and welcoming.

The menu is extensive, but doesn't over stretch itself into too many options.  You have a variety of benny's, a variety of traditional meat/eggs/potato combinations, some waffley/pancakes and a small set of specials.  Including Shakshouka, poached eggs in Moroccan tomato sauce, with garlic bread.  Which sounded awesome, but the Trueman grabbed my eyes.

Spoons and Floyd's have their own 'dealer's choice' options, and the Trueman is the Crows version.  Choose either breakfast or lunch, omnivore or veggie, sweet or savoury, and for $11, the chef will send out something random.

I like random. I like surprises. I also liked the $11 price tag.  So I went for that, and got a plate of potatoes and double deck burger bun stuffed with a sausage+chicken omelette, with big chunks of tomato.

The Trueman
It was indeed delicious, as promised, and not so huge my stomach muscles were over stretched.  A hearty breakfast, not an idiot sized one.  I did have to ask for ketchup and hot sauce (neither were offered), but the mole spicy sauce was worth asking for, and added a pleasant level of heat and pepped up the eggs just how I like them.    The potatoes were cooked to a dark crisp.  They looked burnt and not incredibly appetizing... until I tasted them, and they were crunchy yet soft on the insides.  I am not sure it was intentional to have a couple of stray yams pieces in there as well, but there they were, and they seem like a happy accident.

Two of my friends ordered the Goat Benny, which was reported back as tasty, with a good (not great, but good) Hollandaise.  The sausages that came with Crow's nest (French toast with eggs) were huge fat boys.  Reported back as juicy and full of flavour, though they also looked like they had been over-cooked, they weren't.

The general verdict was to visit again.  It was a good price, and they were more than happy to split bills and let us pay in any way we saw fit.  The need to do it as one big bill seems to have gone with the new ownership.  Thank goodness.  The visual presentation possibly needs a bit of a tweak, but this was a solid breakfast, with no lines, no mucking around and decent size servings to keep you going all day.

The Crows space doesn't seem to have changed much.  Lots of big wooden tables, plenty of space and light making a farm house/country kitchen feel.  The owners are supportive of the gamer community in Victoria, hosting a regular Board Game night every month (see facebook for more details).  Being tied to the hotel as well should keep a good flow of customers through as well.

May 29, 2016

Gabriel's Gourmet Cafe, Nanaimo

Myself and the Brunette of my Acquaintance headed up to Newcastle Island for the May stat holiday.  Newcastle is my favourite of the BC campsites I've been too.  You can't drive in, so have to limit what you drag over.  This means there's no huge RVs looming over you, and no cars heading off at 5am as the driver has sobered up enough to head home.  It's quiet, and the sites have more space around them.

But there's still a shop, and lots of trails to walk, and the lights of Nanaimo are right there.  So you can head into the city if you've run out of beer, lost a can opener or just need to get back to the concrete jungle.  The foot ferry over costs $9 return, so you really have to want to make the day trip, but it's a comfortable safety blanket.

So we had a very nice relaxing weekend, cooking over the open fire some incredibly tasty burgers from Glenwood Meats.  All the wood smoke and good quality beef made for great outdoors feed.  The bean stew we made also was enhanced by wood fire and the fresh air.  And chicken we slapped directly on to the grill after weekend marinating was so tender and moist.

So after all that good food, the Monday morning we struck camp and headed in the city to grab breakfast before we headed home.   Gabriel's Gourmet is on the main street through Nanaimo.  They believe in local food from local farms and producers.  They tell you in great length on their website.  The cafe is full of pine wood, and fresh herbs growing on shelves, and art made from rusty old saws. They have a small patio, and about space for 20-30 inside.  You head to the back, order then get seated.  Means you have to think on your feet on what to order, but that probably speeds things up, and the wait staff not having to dance around through the coffee and perusal of long menus for twenty minutes will increase turn over.

I went for the Weekend Benny, which was a delicious pile of kale and bacon in a chive-enhanced Hollandaise.  Country potatoes rounded it out.  Every forkful was full of bright, rich flavours.  The bacon was thick cut, and cooked to just crispy.  Rounded out with coffee that was neither weka nor over strong, the day continued to maintain it's lvel of good.

The Brunette got the eggs on corn cakes with a mess of beans and salsa. The mouthfuls I tried were on par with the with the Benny.  Cooked well to combine the flavours, but not over cooked to a much.  And her daughters salmon wrap had perfectly cured salmon, with that rich, sea-salt sweetness that says to me it's great.

Overall, an excellent meal.  Kept me going until Duncan, where I did need to top off the caffeine with a can of Rockstar coffee.  Not a patch on the hot brew served in Nanaimo, or boiled up on the stove at the campsite, but the jolt was needed.

May 15, 2016

True Confections, English Bay, Vancouver

Two of my old university friends came over to see family in Vancouver a month ago, and asked me to come say hello.   As I wanted to take a quick bike tour of False Creek for a project I'm working on), I combined the two things.  And added in a visit to meet another Vancouverite (The Marmot).  In one day.

Travelling to and from Vancouver, in one day, by ferry is a lot of time sitting on ferries and buses and skytrains.  I drove Schwartz Bay, and then went over on the 9 am ferry.  I decided the 7 am was for the birds. Plus, the coach service into Vancouver is now a lot less regular.  Which seems like a big shame, as it was cost effective way to get from Victoria to Vancouver, when ever you needed with out having to wait for transit at both ends.  That turns a three hour plus journey into five hours or more.

The winning way is to take a float plane.  Of course, that also costs more, but it is the best view of the lot.

I got into town around eleven thirty and hiked over to City Cycle Tours, and picked up a bike.  Disc brakes, thick tyres, well maintained.  I zoomed off over the Burrard Street Bridge and did the cycle path around False Creek from Kits to English Bay, via the Science Museum.  A really fun ride.  Mostly flat, lots of scenery across the Bay, and interesting sights.

Once in English Bay, I met up with my friends and their tiny baby.  We had lunch at the Sylvia after a short walk around the local area.  And then dessert at True Confections.

Where our friendship was put to the test.

Apparently friends don't let friends eat carrot cake.  Not when sky-high towers of New York style cheesecake are on offer.  Thing is, I really like carrot cake, and I've been told True Confections makes the best desserts in town.  They are a dessert-only cafe, set up 1989 to serve just for the sweet course.  And they've been going ever since.  The space isn't that large, seating about 40 people.  They don't take reservations. Just turn up, eat pie and drink coffee.  A nice little niche, especially as you can often go to a great restaurant where dessert is just an after thought.

They weren't that busy, and made room for the bairn's pushchair, though we were kinda stuffed into one corner.  But we had a good view of the street, and massive array of sweets.  After much arguing about what to eat, and recriminations about carrot cake, we got some coffee, and drinks and food.

The Carrot Cake, I can report, is not worth losing a friend over.  It is excellent. Just not the central blissful nirvana that would mean writing off close to twenty years of friendship.  But after trying a forkful, they did decide they could at least see why it was a valid (if still questionable choice). It was moist, light and tasty, with a good slathering of cream cheese frosting on top.

The cheesecake was rich and glorious.  Thick wodges of cake on a buttery biscuit base (yes!), served with a fruit sauce that combined a sweetness and tartness to balance the unctuous cake.

All very good.  And friendships saved. And babies cooed over. And old times remembered.  Great to see those guys again.

So afterwards, I headed back on my bike to the Tour shop, happy with some exercise to balance the calories of the day, and headed to see the Marmot on Main.  We also caught up, and talked business and friends and the future. And she then graciously gave me a ride back to Tsawwassen in time for the last ferry home.

So you can do Vancouver in a day, complete the first stage of a work project, see two sets of old friends AND solve a bunch of puzzles for the Puzzled Pint.  I just wouldn't want to do it every day.

It was a long day.  But good for the soul.

True Confections, 866 Denman Street, Vancouver, BC

May 01, 2016

McRaes Bistro, Saanich

Myself and the brunette of my acquaintance took an evening stroll down Shelbourne.  We headed for McRae's for a pint and bite to eat, enjoying a spot of sunshine on a glorious May 1st.  We had decided it'd be nice to see a different local bar from Maude Hunter's.  And I really needed a beer to unwind from a long day.  So a short walk and we found the bistro half full and buzzing.  There was space on the patio, but no-one up front to seat people.

I just deleted many paragraphs on how long it took to get seated and served a beer. I re-read it.  It wasn't actually interesting.  Summary: it was close to twenty minutes.  The two servers were busy, the bar staff were busy, and no-one seems to have given the front of house staff a quick overview of how to deal with days when there's too much to do.  The experience is what your are selling when eating out. Make the customer feel welcomed and comfortable, and that goes a long way to making them happy and coming back again.

Good food and cold beer also helps but isn't enough on it's own.  So while getting served a pint of cold Hop Circle and Pimms Cup took far too long, there's no complaints on the beverages.  The Pimms came with a suitably large slice of cucumber and a shaving of lemon.  Something that always helps.  The pint of Hop Circle was $5.00, which is a great price for a good beer.  So that made up for the wait.  A little.

On to the food.  A Salmon Flatbread and McRae's salad.   The flatbread was side-plate sized, but smothered in cream cheese, big chunks of smoked, pink fish and a pile of arugula. Had to shove that aside and put it in the salad.  The bread was crisp on the base, but the dough was soft on top, golden and slightly chewy.  A really pleasant mix of textures. The fish and cheese were complimented with capers, making a savoury, salty mouthful that just combined things right.

The salad was a big.  I always think $10 for a bowl of greens is a little excessive, but they did a good job here, with some sunflower seeds, dried cranberries, shaved carrots and beets.  Lots of greens, from a variety of lettuce leaves. And tasty dressing, which was slightly sweet, but mostly tangy flavour.  I just guessed it had balsamic vinegar in it, which on review of the menu is correct:  a maple balsamic dressing.

Sitting out on the deck with a cold beer and good food and good company is a very pleasant way to spend a sunny Sunday.

http://www.mcraesbistro.com/ - 1652 McRae Avenue Saanich, BC