Railtown Cafe serves up epicurean eats in simple style

For day diners in Vancouver, it’s always seemed like you can’t have it all.

Fancy pants lunch places with gourmet eats overcharge and come with fussy table service. Food carts are fun, but there’s the whole "Where do I sit?" dilemma, especially as the weather changes.

The hip, meat-happy deli joints opening everywhere also lack seats and cater to carnivores. And most of these places do not have baked goods or coffee, should you need a pick-me-up.

Let’s face it: if you’re hungry around noon there’s limited choice, leaving many a poor Vancouverite to brown bag it.

Railtown Cafe, situated in the up-and-coming Railtown design district, is an exception. The cafe is open 7 am to 3 pm, has seating and serves epicurean fare. In short, it’s changing day diners’ expectations.


Railtown Cafe at 397 Railway Street attracts office workers from nearby Hootsuite and Aritizia headquarters. (Image: Railtown Cafe)
 
How did this anomaly come to be? Railtown is what happens when a bunch of world class chefs - OnePlanet Catering and the Bocuse d’Or team - play around in a test kitchen with sous-vide prep methods. The result is a sophisticated yet simple cafe menu. Sandwiches and salads are enhanced with extra tender, flavourful proteins - if you choose to add meat.
 
I just tossed around two French terms and only 20% of Canadians are bilingual. The Bocuse d’Or team, led by the talented Alex Chen, represents Canada at the Bocuse d’Or, a global culinary showdown that takes place in France in January 2013. Twenty-four superchefs will convene to duke it out for world’s best.
 
Sous-vide (French for "under vacuum) is a method of cooking wherein raw food is sealed in airtight bags and immersed in a water bath. The meat cooks at extremely low temps (65C) for a long period of time - sometimes days. The sous-vide method is championed by rockstar chefs like Heston Blumenthal. Juices and fats stay in the cut and recirculate, like an ongoing natural marinade, resulting in succulent meats/fish. You're more likely to find sous-vide meats served at a Michelin-starred resto than in sandwich. Until now.


"The Chop" salad with sous-vide pork for $12. (Image: Taraneh Ghajar Jerven)

At the Railtown Cafe opening festivities August 8, I tried nearly everything on the menu board. Diners can build their own salad or pick one from the menu. I went for The Chop: golden beets, boiled egg, tomato, cheddar, bacon bits + the choose your own protein option for $12. The chef recommended sous-vide pork. In sheer juiciness, it surpassed almost every pulled pork sandwich I’ve downed.
 
Despite the gourmand meat cuts, vegetarians are not neglected. Railtown’s build your own salad bar ingredients include the finer veg choices: shaved fennel, mozza balls, garlic focaccia croutons, summer corn, edamame...you get the idea.
 
The Pork- tender shoulder, jalapeño, cilantro, pickled vegetable aioli, french baguette- and the Reuben - braised brisket and thousand island coleslaw with gruyere on rye. (Image: Taraneh Ghajar Jerven)

As for sandwiches, the hearty chicken club (sous-vide bird, 72-hour bacon, tomato and avocado on housemade focaccia for $9) outshone the rest. The reuben - braised brisket and thousand island coleslaw with gruyere on rye ($9) - was a close second.


The Salmon: poached salmon salad, nicoise garnish, wild arugula, potato & olive bread. (Image: Railtown Cafe) 

The most surprising coup for the kitchen was the salmon sandwich (also $9). Poached salmon salad melts into the potato and olive bread in a way pan seared salmon can never achieve. I swooned for the delicate layers of fresh fishiness mixed with peppery arugula and nicoise garnish. I accessorized it with a gazpacho shot.


Get a dozen cinnamon sugar doughnut holes for $3. (Image: Railtown Cafe)

If you happen to drop by Railtown for breakfast, you can choose from the full gamut of espresso/tea drinks. I’m more interested in the pastry. The doughnuts hit the right balance of crisp outside, light inside that some of the doughnut newbies in town can’t quite manage. You can also order a dozen doughnut holes for only $3 - a deal in this town.

Cookies (peanut butter, oatmeal, chocolate chip) have the requisite underlying saltiness butter-rich treats need and are good enough to leave out for Santa.

It goes without saying that Railtown sources everything it can locally, from herbs (grown on site) to protein and even the table tops - reclaimed wood from Gastown Hotel.
 
It’s no surprise that the pretty people from nearby Aritzia’s headquarters and the slick Hootsuite office staff have already made Railtown Cafe their breakfast/lunch destination.
 
Next time you’re tempted to walk and eat a Japadog, don’t risk the terimayo carnage. Head over to Railtown Cafe for some damn fine classic lunch fare.

Railtown Cafe is a renovated warehouse space with reclaimed furniture by Union Wood. (Image: Railtown Cafe)