June 29, 2014

17 Mile House, Sooke

It's vacation time for me, as my mother is in town.  That means lots of sight seeing and lots of eating out.  Which means plenty of blog entries coming up.  If I can remember all the good and bad things about places I have been.

One place is easy.  The 17 Mile House, on Sooke Road.  My mum, the Brunette of my acquaintance and I retired there for a repast after doing a few odd chores in the Brunette's vegetable patch. Mum and I had earlier having circumnavigated the lower end of the island via Duncan, Lake Cowichan and Port Renfrew.  The road between Lake Cowichan and Port Renfrew is fun sort of drive, quiet and narrow, with sweeping turns, narrow bridges and lots of logging trucks.  Makes it interesting to zip down in a fun to drive car.  Which I have.  There's also a big old spruce tree (the Harris Creek Spruce) and the Harris Creek Gorge that are nice places to stop and get in some nature.

But on to the pub.  The 17 Mile House has existed for over 120 years.  Which in Canada is a very long time for a place to be around.  The building was a stopping off point for hunters and sportsmen heading out to the wild west coast of the island.  Now it serves drivers from Sooke and Langford in search of a pub rather than a glittering new music bar.

The furnishings and fittings include an original tiled floor, a large square bar in the middle of the building, and lots of little snugs and nooks to hide away in.  And conspire on how to catch the giant salmon that you just KNOW is out there.

Or you can go into the garden, and grab some sun.  Which we did, in full view of the horseshoes pitch and the volley ball court.  No-one playing either on our visit.  Instead it was a quite backyard with about two other groups in there minding their own business.  So the Brunette and my mother got to chatting over a beer (a Shock Top Belgian White and Guinness) as they'd never met before.

I drank a diet coke, and got to the ordering.  A west coast club with fries, promising smoked salmon and prawns and some lemon pepper cream cheese.  The Brunette ordered the same, while mum indulged her love of fresh Pacific Halibut.

The sandwich was grand, a piled high triple stacked affair with well smoked salmon with plenty of flavour and the sea-touched saltiness of the shrimp going great with the cheese.  The fries were thin cut, and crispy.  Not the grandest in the world, but the sort of fry that you don't notice until they've all been eaten.  You'll not send these fries back for retraining.  But they won't be making the valedictory speech at potato school.

The Halibut was adjudged to be full of flavour, being cooked in a Cajun spice mix.  British Halibut seems to be mushy and bland, while the good stuff out here has a firmness to the flesh that makes it a joy to eat.

So success all around.  Cold beer, hot food, good service, old-style pub.  Go there if on your way out to Sooke, or beyond.

17 Mile House on Urbanspoon

June 21, 2014

Hanks Untraditional BBQ, Downtown Victoria

The only question I have about Hanks is what exactly is Untraditional about it. Only because I want to know the ethos behind the place, and apparently there used to be a short written page about Hanks' methods.  I am guessing the combination of flavours and a step away from 'just' smoky, sweet sauces on tender slow cooked meat.

The answers I have is that this place is delicious.  After a run with Andrea (who will be pleased to see her name written down in my blog after an absence of several weeks) we were discussing where to eat, that wasn't Be Love.  So of course, instead of the vegan, gluten free, sugar free place, we went for meat.  And beans.  And cornbread.  Oh, the cornbread.

Situated on Douglas, in a spot that seems to have housed a series of off-the-wall but failed eateries, it's a cosy place. One long bar over looking the counter and kitchen, in which (I assume) Hank was busy prepping meat for the next day.  We sat down at the bar, asked for the World Cup highlights and tried to work out the quotes about 'babies, you gotta be nice to each other' on the wall between the Pearl Jam posters. Kurt Vonnegut, if you don't know.  I didn't.

We eventually actually read the menu in it's glory.  Sandwiches of pulled beef, pork or chicken, or plates of pulled and spiced meats, served with sides.  Protein is great, but sides make the BBQ for me.  I went for the beef shoulder, cooked with hot peppers and onions.  I sided it with collard greens, baked pinto beans and cornbread.

The beef was tender and juicy and with a lovely hotness to it from the peppers.  There was that BBQ flavour underlying it, but amped up in a different direction.  The greens had some heat too, just enough to be noticable to me, without breaking into a sweat.  The beans were wholesome, earthy forkfuls of pulses.  Just not quite mush, but on the way there.  And the cornbread was crumbling into pieces, slighty sweet and very buttery.  Like a savoury cake, moist not dry.

Yum.  After finishing my plate, I noticed the chalk board full of specials.  Oh well.  I instead scrounged a bit of Andrea's pork and beans (belly pork on top of those house baked beans), which was a simply perfect mix of wholesome and gluttonous.  And the Mac'n'Cheese was cooked al dente, with some punch to the cheese.  No mounds of nuclear orange Kraft dinner.

At $15 for the plate, this was a great meal deal.  A ginger ale from Phillips rounded things of nicely for me.  As did the doggy bag of a second slice of cornbread.  I think Hank wanted to get rid of it before closing.  And I am assuming the pleasant, affable guy behind the counter was really the owner, and the owner is called Hank.  I don't imagine West Coast Canadian's being called Hank though.

I hope this place flourishes.  It'll get compared to 'pig', but whereas pig does down home BBQ in great mounds of meat, this is a step above into a more foodie-centric experience.

Hanks Untraditional BBQ on Urbanspoon

Edit : Thanks to Rayna from Quench Wines, I now know: a) The Untraditional bit is from the Asian influences to the food, and b) Hank is the owner Clark's dog.

Edit 2 : Hank's got back to me : We call our bbq untraditiomal because we use very different cuts of meat, fresh local vegetables and make everything from scratch including hot sauces, ketchup etc!  We don't really fall into any traditional bbq region!

All the mysteries are solved.

June 15, 2014

The Garrick's Head, Downtown Victoria

When I first came to Canada, the Garrick's Head seem to be run by three people... two guys behind the bar and a female server who doubled as security, greeter and bus boy.  I have seen her escort the largest guys out, and deal with the drunkest of customers while the barmen wiped the counters down and slung out beer as fast as possible.

In those days, Garrick's was a small back street bar, with an assortment of students, professional drinkers, tourists and working stiffs.  I liked it's lack of pretension to be anything but a place for beer, liquor and pub food.  Though the food was normally not very good unless they'd got in a consignment of Jalapeño poppers from Walmart.  Those were tasty... but deep frying frozen food should be competently done by all.

I had several happy evenings drinking local brews and watching sports centre after a Salmon Kings game, or wrapped up in the corner by the wood fire, drinking local brews with friends, or sitting on the small patio, drinking local brews and watching the world go by.

Now, the Head has tripled in size, taking over the old clothes store on the corner of Government and Bastion Square, opening up a huge long bar with an impressive line up of beer.  Now you can get around 50 different beers on tap, ranging from American Standard Lagers, to high octane, high hopped Northwest IPAs and all you'd want in between.  It's a fantastic line up.  It's not a cheap line up (a pint will cost you around $6.75 before taxes and tips) but I can't think of where else you'd get a dizzy array of choices.  Sometimes it's a little much, with I think nine different rotating taps.  If you can decide between three different specials, an old favourite seasonal and  rarely seen imports from Oregon, it can be hard to pick.  On, the calamity, having a choice! Pro-tip : choose them all.

The choice was made harder at first when the list of specials could only be seen on a scribbled note or above the main bar on a slowly rotating flat screen list.  Nowadays the servers seem to have a neatly printed list they carry with them, so finding the special beer you'd always wanted is much less of a hit or miss affair.  Beer is well kept here and well served.  No complaints on that score, and through the efforts of some craft beer enthusiasts who have worked there, many of the staff know their beer types now, and I'm not going to be offered 'light or dark' when I ask what's on special.

The front area has an array of TVs showing the sports, much like the old bar did in the back.  I watched the greatest NFL play off game ever back in January, cheering along the Seahawks with several dozen others, while drinking local brews at the bar.

The downside of the new area is the noise.  Given the large expanse of glass, wood floor and flat ceilings, the noise levels in the new bar can escalate and echo upwards and upwards, so speaking across a table is a shouting match.  I wish more places would consider the acoustics when putting together a bar.  I never like to shout when drinking.  Unless, I guess, it's a NFL game on.  But that's different.  A little bit of time and effort could dampen the general background noise and make it a better place to chat, without losing the atmospheric buzz of a busy joint.  The back area is still quieter and more relaxed and still has the old veneer of a pro-drinkers pub.  It's just a veneer, but I hope they don't scrape it off any time soon.

Food wise, things have improved.  The back area bar is now all kitchen.  This allows for more range than deep fried Jalapeño poppers and burger patties.  I've had a great fresh cod fillet sandwich there, and the fries are hot, chunky and just right to snack on with a beer.  It's a little over priced, if you ask me, $9.50 for a green salad or $13.25 for a club sandwich.  It's not the sort of food that I think is worth paying over the odds for.

You are not going here for the food. Or the variety of people. It's for the beer and the people you come in with.

Garrick's Head Pub on Urbanspoon

June 08, 2014

Amrikko's Indian Cuisine, View Royal

If Paneer Poutine doesn't exist as a thing yet , please can someone make it exist on Vancouver Island.  A quick search suggests I am not the first to think of it, though, so I have hope. Paneer is the cheese used in Indian cuisine, made quickly by adding an acid to milk, which separates it into curds and whey.  Instead of taking this mixture to a tuffet, the curds are separated, drained and chilled, making a simple cheese.  I guess the whey is used to make terrible tasting protein drinks for body builders.  The resulting cheese is simple, tasting not unlike a cottage cheese with no watery run off. And it works very well with a curry sauce.

In the case at Amrikko's, the curry sauce was a creamy sauce made with peas, ginger and garlic.  And a combination of Indian spices with some bite, but not enough to draw blood.  A little nip or two to remind you it was there.  This Mattar Paneer was the highlight of the dinner we had.  And it made me think it would do well draped over a bed of hand cut, fresh fried potatoes.

Though it went just as well with a pile of a naan breads (Garlic and Plain).  Cooked thin, with doughy centre and crisp, bubbly outer layer, the bread was a throw back to my twenties. The cheap, fast and good curries after hours in various places in the United Kingdom.  The Lovely Brunette of my Acquaintance even had a bottle of Kingfisher beer to seal the image in my mind.  This curry though was at a more stately 6pm, after a day digging in an allotment garden.  Not after five pints and an argument about whether the Madchester scene was better or worse than the new wave of Britpop.

At the junction of Helmecken and the Old Island Highway, Amrikko's is unassuming from the outside, and functional inside.  Neat and tidy booths and tables.  No flock wall paper, just clean paint, simple decoration and big octagonal windows.  A light space, not dingy.  It's for feeding the family not for boozed up students.  The smiling owner seated us and talked much about his association with the UK.  A place he seemed to have a lot of time for, though he'd never visited his relations there.

We ordered drinks and a round of Onion Bhaji's to start.  The bhaji was chips of onion, battered bright orange and a flavoured with turmeric.  Not the small round balls I was expecting.  But damn fine, with a yoghurty mint sauce, the initial hunger pangs were staved off.

We went vegetarian for the main courses, sharing naan, some basmati rice (done how it should be, so not much to say about it... it's rice, a food I love and can only really say much about when it's wrong), above mentioned Mattar Paneer and Navrattan Korma.  The last dish was disappointing.  Partly, I suspect, ordering two creamy dishes was a mistake, but also because it lacked the same punch of flavours, or the snap of the vegetables. Lumps of potato were mixed in with carrots and mini corn and yam.  It wasn't bad, it just didn't inspire me, and was really all about the mouth feel, rather than the mix of flavours and aromas I love about a curry.  The Brunette liked the korma more than me, but was the one who suggested two creamy dishes might not have been the best choice.

However, I miss a good curry. And considering the good sides, the excellent Paneer and the overall ambiance, I will be going back for some meat based curry, and more half remembered nostalgia of breaking naan bread after nights dancing to jangly guitars records.

Amrikko's Indian Cuisine on Urbanspoon

June 01, 2014

Fluid Bar and Grill, Courtenay

Driving South again from a trip to the North End of the Island, food was needed by occupants of my car. Not least the driver who was starting to see hot-dogs and not trees at the side of the road.  And there's a lot of trees up that end of the island.  So that's many hot-dogs, and that's just a bit weird.  So, my passengers looked up places to eat in Courtenay and we pulled off the highway into Fluid, just outside the centre of town, hoping for easy, fast diner-style food.

You've been inside Fluid, probably.  Not this one, but in a bar and grill just like it.  Maybe it was Earl's in down-town Victoria, or the Rugby Club in Vancouver, or a Cactus Club somewhere else.  The decor is brown stained wood, glass and stone work walls.  There's high definition flat screen TVs showing the sport channels.  The bar area is wide and open and full of backlit liquor bottles.  The servers are young, pretty and wearing black dresses that they might wear out on a girls night out.  It's that sort of place.

It sells Caesars as a special.  This one came with a half a pepperoni stick, an olive, a pepper, a Kinder egg, a small bracelet, a hammock and a life time subscription to the Reader's Digest. Among other things.  It was a big glass of spicy tomato-based booze.  And went down well with the drinker, which was not me. I was driving and stuck to diet coke to keep focused and water to keep hydrated.

Food choices were many, but simple variations on a theme : salad, sandwiches and pizza.  The baked Mac and Cheese with bacon also falls into the theme of comfort food, I guess.  And was cheesey, bacony and hot.  It would have been much improved with a little bit of spicy sausage to pep it up, but it worked.

On the burger/sandwich list there was a Quinoa burger (aka the Birkenstock burger) with added black beans and cumin.  I love a veggie burger that isn't made from fake meat.  I also love one with added bacon.  So I ordered it. And though my friends laugh at this choice often, this waitress understood me.  I liked our waitress, she seemed a little more competent at food service than most servers at these sorts of places.  Or may I just liked she understood that sometimes you want the flavour and goodness of vegetables with the added power of bacon grease.

The burger was served in a Pretzel bun with a good pile of salad and chipotle mayo.  And no skimping on the bacon.  A decent, wholesome veggie burger, with a rough cut, earthy taste and the soft, slightly mushy texture of cooked black beans.  The mouth feel of beans is something I like about pulses.  The slight grain in the flesh of the bean, wrapped with the light resistance of the bean skin.  It just feels right.  And if it feels right, it might just be good for you.

The fries on the side were just so-so.  I wouldn't write much more about them.  I also forget what the owner of the Caesar had to eat.  I think he was too busy reading the newspaper that came with the cocktail and playing with the small kitten they lend you when you order it.  He'd have kept it, but I have a strict no pets policy in my car, so it was regretfully returned to the smiling server.

We headed back south, with food in our bellies, and the stop had served it's purpose.  The roadside scenery looked much more like the Pacific North-west again.

Fluid Bar and Grill on Urbanspoon