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Vancouver foodies rejoice: there are three new restaurants in town that have us here at Granville buzzing.
315 Carrall St.
9 a.m. – 6 p.m.
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Nelson the Seagull, which “landed” in Gastown in May, is named after the Dawn & Des Linbergh folk song “The Seagull’s Name Was Nelson,” which I’m listening to while I write this and will probably hum for days to come. The spacious bakery/cafe has a simplicity in aesthetics and a menu that results in pure tasty.
Co-owner Lee Snelgar said she expected Nelson to be a coffee-centric desto, but the lunch rush proves otherwise. That’s a nice compliment.
Nelson has a brunch menu, but I arrived after noon, when you can choose from three sarnies: Carnivore (pastrami with creamy boerenkaas cheese and verdant cilantro pesto), Herbivore (predictable but top-notch hummus, with roasted tomato and fresh avo) and Ploughmans. I’d skip the Ploughmans at $6.50 and go for Nelson’s plentiful Picnic Board instead, which at only $10, comes with enough meat, cheese, bread, preserves and dipping oils to share.
Co-owner Lee Snelgar chops leeks for tomorrow’s soup in the open-plan kitchen.
Everything on the menu, from the crusty sandwich bread to the almond milk in the coffee, is done in-house. If you don’t believe me, stop by and watch them make/bake your order. It’s an open-plan cafe; the kitchen is totally visible in the rear of the space.
While budget yet artisan snacks—available during the day—in Gastown are enough of a draw, I’d also like to commend Nelson the Seagull on the decor. Lee Snelgar, brother Jonathan and Jodie Balfour, the third owner, kept the original mosaic floor, adding a saggy sofa, a communal farmhouse-style table, plus industrial metal chairs snagged from an old factory. My favourite bits are the old school roller skates I spotted hanging in the washroom, which is large enough to take a lap in.
The Electric Owl beacon outside the old American Hotel on Main
928 Main Street
4 p.m. – midnight Mon to Fri
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Rarely do I get everything I want in one place, except, you know, in my marriage. The Electric Owl might not match marital bliss, but it’s a close second.
The Owl is a concert venue on the ground floor of the old American Hotel on Main that contains everything you’d need for night out on the town, including a liquor store on the way out. If anything, the Electric Owl is in danger of being too cool, but that hasn’t hurt the Waldorf.
Nutty Yams with Tosa Tuna Tataki and Daiymo Whiskey Sour
Pick any seat in the house and get a view to the live act on stage—even in the restaurant, where chef Phong Vo does Vietnamese-infused izakaya. While the fusion aspect was puzzling, with dishes that are either straight izakaya or exclusively Vietnamese, the Coco Curry Don with chicken or tofu is from Vo’s family recipe and the tiger prawns, wrapped in handmade pork sausage, make for some good eats.
Booze-wise, I tried the Daimyo Whiskey Sour with roasted pineapple and I was happy. The bartender whipped the requisite dollop of egg white into a ginger scented breeze. My parting advice: don’t do the teriyaki poutine, but do soak up the booze with the ideal salty-sweet snack—roasted yams with walnuts and nori.
Classic spaghetti carbonara from Campagnolo Roma (Image: Robert Belcham)
2297 Hastings St. East
5 p.m. – 10 p.m. Wed to Sun
I like that Campagnolo Roma, the third Robert Belcham and Tom Doughty restaurant, is in the formerly Italian ‘hood Hastings-Sunrise, and I like that these two rock stars of Van eats made the prices East Van friendly. The Vancouver Sun review mentioned that the venue wasn’t pretty, but I assure you, it is.
It’s possible to have too much of a good thing, so I asked Ted Anderson, the Campagnolo Roma chef de cuisine, what made Roma different from sister restaurant Campagnolo on Main. He explained that Roma’s menu reflects the “Contemporary classic dishes and techniques of Roman cuisine,” whereas Campagnolo is about Emilia-Romagna (Northern) Italy and Piedmont.
The pizzas at Roma are the real deal, with a thin yet chewy crust and perfectly acidic tomato sauce. Order a traditional Roma, pungent with anchovies, or opt for naughty Diavoloa, with spicy salami and provolone, all $15 and under. Add a runny egg for only $1 more.
The pasta mains have all the regional, seasonal ingredients we take for granted from hip Van restaurant owners, and I’ve heard that the freshly-made pasta dough is on sale at the Main Street Station Farmers Market. Since I’ve already added the “I can make my own pasta” badge to my home-chef apron, the opportunity to buy Roma pasta is one shortcut I welcome.