Sunday, April 29, 2012


There are different sorts of drinking establishments.  If you feel like being glam you might head to the Bengal Lounge or Clive's where you can sip an expertly made cocktail in elegant surroundings.  Nothing wrong with that!  But lets face it; sometimes getting all dolled up is just too much effort.  After a difficult work week I often just want to hoist a pint with die-hard friends and feel the day's tensions melting away. This is when I head to Big Bad Johns.

Walking in to Big Bad John's for the first time is a surreal experience. One reviewer describes it as a combination of deep dive bar, carnival haunted house and an episode of Hee Haw.  I'd say that is pretty apt. All sorts of bric-a-brac adorn the walls from business cards to ticket stubs. Bras and lacy under things dangle from the ceiling.  The whole place is softly lit by strings of multi-coloured Christmas lights. Great music emanates from the stereo - classic country crooners like George Jones and Loretta Lynn.

Take a seat at the burlap-covered stump and you can enjoy a cold draft and munch on the free peanuts. If fellow customers get obnoxious you can lob peanut shells at them. If you are lucky the burly overalled owner will be there and he'll hand you your pint with a sassy remark.  Drinks incidentally are stout and reasonably priced.  BBJ's regulars are an enchanting mix of artists, writers, punk rockers, regular folk, and people who resemble Ozark hillbillies. That's the magic of it.  You won't find pretentious indie hipsters here!  
When I have friends visiting from out of town I always take them to Big Bad Johns.  They invariably love it.  I have many fond memories of passionate conversations in this tiny, lively watering hole.  Like Arnie said, "I'll be back!".  

Big Bad Johns on Urbanspoon

Saturday, April 28, 2012


A previous visit to Montreal left me with regular cravings for Jewish deli but to no avail.  Well, now that we have The Village Cafe in Victoria I can have my Motzah and eat it too!

Village CafĂ© is one of those breakfast all day kind of joints.  If you have moved on to lunch don’t fret.  You can devour a bagel with lox, cream cheese and capers.  If smoked meat is more your thing order a Reuben sandwich traditionally served on steamed rye bread. Village Cafe has their smoked meat shipped from Montreal.   I wouldn’t have it any other way!

Steve and I visited this eatery on a sunny Saturday morning. As we perused the menu we were greatly tempted by items such as latkes (crispy potato cakes served with apple sauce and sour cream) and cheese blintzes (fluffy crepes stuffed with ricotta and homemade blueberry compote served with fresh fruit).  We ended up ordering one sweet and one savory dish each.  I went for the Challah bread French toast and Steve opted for "Dan's smoked hash" which consists of oven roasted potatoes, cheese, diced Montreal smoked meat, green onion, free-range eggs and toast.

Both our dishes were delicious, particularly the hash.  I loved the addition of the smoked meat but you can order this dish without if you prefer. The toast accompanying the hash was excellent. I didn't get a chance to ask if they bake their bread in house.  It definitely tasted homemade.  I would absolutely order the hash again.  The Challah French toast would satisfy anyone with a sweet tooth.  Eggy, slightly sweet Challah bread is the best choice for French toast!

You can order half portions if you have a smaller appetite or want to sample multiple dishes.   Work off the calories with a stroll on nearby Willows beach.  Service is friendly and attentive.  This is a bright cheerful eatery with sunshine streaming through the windows and lots of art on the walls.  The Village Cafe is licensed too so if you feel like a mimosa with your latkes or a cold beer with your Reuben you can indulge.  

I will be back to the Village Cafe soon to try some other dishes and to get my smoked meat fix.  They have more traditional breakfast items such as omelettes and bennies also.  Nitrates be damned!

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The Village Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, April 17, 2012


My husband and I have a tradition. Whenever we take a road trip we always pick up sandwiches from Italian Food Imports on the way.  This deli has the best paninis in town.  Don't be daunted by the long line ups of hungry patrons. Counter staff move with lightning efficiency. You'll be in and out before know it.  If you are in the mood for a hot lunch try the pasta. The rose sauce is excellent.  

Italian Food Imports is a haven for the Italianophile.  While your sandwich is being made you can stock up on Grana Padano parmesan, premium pastas, artichokes, olives and Italian proscuitto.  Proscuitto is dry cured seasoned ham. Wrap a thin, silky slice around a chicken breast or salmon fillet, tuck in a fresh basil leaf, then bake or bbq.  Delicious!  

This deli has counter service. Staff are welcoming and refreshingly devoid of hipster ennui. There are a few tables for eating in if you want to devour your sandwich right there.  I certainly wouldn't blame you.  Once you visit this deli, you'll see why they have a loyal following. Bon appetito!   

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Italian Food Imports on Urbanspoon

Monday, April 9, 2012


Devour on Urbanspoon

Devour, the tiny restaurant located across from the public library downtown has a loyal following.  I head there early to nab one of the few available tables but take heed, all of their dishes are available for takeout.  

Devour lives up to its namesake by offering fresh, creative, delicious things to eat.  The price points are affordable when you consider the quality.  This is the kind of food you could easily be paying $30 a plate for at a fancy restaurant. The menu changes daily. Samples of past menu items include duck salad rolls, beef skewers and romesco sauce and smoked salmon tartlet.

On my first visit to Devour I ordered the flat iron steak sandwich with gorgonzola cheese. My greens were topped with fresh strawberries and slivered almonds.  Its nice to eat somewhere where the side salad is not just an afterthought!   My steak was served on a scrumptious chewy baguette with the cheese oozing tantalizingly on top.    On a subsequent visit to this eatery I feasted on vegetarian Moussaka with polenta.  This dish would be particularly comforting on a cold, rainy west coast day. If you are craving sweets try a lavender shortbread cookie or a lemon square.  Devour often has homemade ice cream or semi-freddo on the dessert menu. Order at the counter and the friendly staff will deliver your food to your table.

My only regret about this little eatery is that they aren’t open weekends!  I’ll guess I'll just have to get my fix mid week!

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Sunday, April 8, 2012


Fan Tan Cafe is a fun little eatery nestled in the heart of Chinatown. This place has ambiance to spare. Lighting is soft, the tables are candle lit  and they play groovy jazz music.  Cheerful paintings adorn the walls. The menu features mainly Cantonese cuisine with a few Szechwan dishes if you like it spicy!

Fan Tan Cafe is one of the best bargains around for lunch if, like me, you occasionally crave "white folks" Chinese food. What can I say?  It’s a guilty pleasure and I daresay a great hangover cure.  For only 7.50 you can make your own combo plate.  Choose three items from a lengthy list. Try ginger tofu or that venerable favourite sweet and sour pork. If you abhor this sort of thing take heart, this restaurant also makes many authentic Chinese dishes that Asian people will actually eat.  Try the beef and ginger chow funn - tender slices of lean beef sauteed with oyster sauce and bok choy on a mound of saucy rice noodles.    On a rainy day order a bowl of wonton soup topped with crispy duck. Wash it down with plenty of green tea.  In the evening you can order a martini and lounge in front of the colourful goldfish tank while you wait for your pot stickers to arrive.

Service at Fan Tan is friendly and fast.  This is a good place to eat lots without breaking the bank!  There are lots of choices for omnivores and vegetarians alike.  Find out why this restaurant has been a fixture in Chinatown for over twenty one years.

<a href=""><img alt="Big Bad Johns on Urbanspoon" src="" style="border:none;padding:0px;width:200px;height:146px" /></a> Fan Tan Cafe on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, April 4, 2012


I have an inexhaustible fascination with gourmet food shops.  My fridge overflows with every sort of unusual condiment and I dream of having a well stocked pantry.  Charelli's is an old fashioned European style cheese shop, a tiny space packed floor to ceiling with every imaginable delicacy.  The friendly staff let you taste their wares and they have an uncanny knack for picking out your perfect cheese - sort of like Juliet Brioche in Chocolat.  We first found out about Charelli's at the annual Taste of Fernwood event. There we got to try the best cheese fondue we'd ever had.  We finally got around to visiting their little shop on Foul Bay road.  Charelli's is chock full of yummy things ideal for pantry or picnic - pastas imported from Italy, lemon curd, spices, European specialty items, locally made chutneys and truffle oil to name only a few.  

We took home two cheeses to try, a pungent but heavenly soft Quebec goat cheese and a hard nutty Comte from France.  Both were amazing but it was the Comte that impressed us most.  The smoky, slightly sweet nutty flavor made a fantastic grilled cheese sandwich.  We also took home a jar of Canadian made salted caramel sauce.  It’s heavenly spooned on to Greek yoghurt or slathered over German waffle cookies (the waffle biscuits can also be purchased from Charelli's). 

We'll invariably be back to this charming old world deli. This is a great place to pick up a hostess gift or just to treat yourself.  We'll soon be adding a fondue set to our kitchen clutter!

Charelli's Cheese Shop and Delicatessen on Urbanspoon

Sunday, April 1, 2012


Recently a friend recommended I try a brand new eatery located beside Pink Bicycle burger joint (thanks Rob!). I have only visited Clay Pigeon once but I just have to give kudos!  This bustling little restaurant serves up sandwiches that are far from ho hum.  I didn't get a chance to ask the server whether they make their charcuterie in house. There are some adventurous items on the menu (bison tongue Reuben anyone?).  Vegetarians take heart; there were some delicious veggie options too.  Try the ratatouille baguette with goat cheese.

It was tough to decide what to order. The lunch menu consists of soup, sandwiches, salads and some playful choices of side dishes such as homemade root chips (delicious!). Steve went for that venerable classic, the grilled cheese. I chose the porchetta sandwich with apple and fennel pickle. We shared an appetizer of deviled eggs.  The eggs were quite tasty with a good hit of curry in the filling.  I was ecstatic to see these on a menu.  The humble deviled egg needs to make a comeback!  Steve's grilled cheese was very tasty but we both agreed that it was my sandwich that was the piece de resistance. A baguette brimming with tender roast pork served warm so the juices trickled down my forearm to the plate.  Porcine heaven!  Bread makes or breaks a sammie for me and the baguette was very tasty with a dense chewy crust and soft interior.  I was a bit nervous of the fennel pickle.  Ordinarily I'm not a fan of fennel. In its raw state it’s too acrid, too much like raw onion but I was pleasantly surprised here. The fennel was mild and, along with the apple and gave the sandwich the most sublime crunch and sweetness.  It just took everything over the top. 

Clay Pigeon also serves breakfast and dinner. I plan to be back for both, albeit not at the same time!  We noted at the time of our visit that you can purchase breakfast sandwiches to go or to eat in for a paltry 5-6 bucks.  Why have an egg McMuffin when you can have a more substantial offering with premium ingredients for nearly the same price?  They also have gluten free options for folks with celiac disease (or those ascribing to the gluten phobia epidemic sweeping North America).

The Clay Pigeon Restaurant on Urbanspoon
I'll undoubtedly be back to Clay Pigeon to try other items or just to have that porchetta sandwich again!  I can't wait to see what else they come up with next.

<a href=" alt="The Clay Pigeon on Urbanspoon" src="" style="border:none;width:104px;height:34px" /></a>