From cheese and chocolate to seafood and foie gras — where to begin is the toughest decision
The Sunshine Coast is part of the Lower Mainland and yet a world away, accessible only by ferry or seaplane. Sechelt, Roberts Creek, and Powell River are among the communities that dot the 180-kilometre stretch of rainforest and sea from Howe Sound to Desolation Sound.
Gibsons might be best known for the starring role it played on Canada’s longest-running TV show, The Beachcombers — Molly’s Reach is still there, and so is the restored Persephone tugboat — but these days it’s got a new landmark, the Gibsons Public Market, which opened last year. A mini Granville Island, the marketplace has chocolate, cheese, fish, and milkshake vendors. Fast gaining loyal fans is the Butcher Express, an offshoot of nearby Gibsons Butcher.
Founders Adam and Shannon Vanderwoerd specialize in ethically raised, all-natural meat. Their chewy beef jerky sometimes sells out before lunch; double-smoked bacon-burger patties are a juicy mouthful; and house-made sausages, such as chicken-rosemary and spicy-Italian, are a local favourite.
A stone’s throw away from the market is the longstanding Smitty’s Oyster House at Smitty’s Marina, where you can see fishermen unload their catch — oysters, scallops, halibut, crab and salmon. Dining here might make you want to hop on a trawler yourself.
While the arid Okanagan region is well-known for its wine and juicy fruit, it’s also home to a growing group of cheesemakers.
Overlooking Okanagan Lake tucked in among Naramata Bench vineyards, Poplar Grove Cheese makes Frenchstyle fromages like a hand-turned double-cream Camembert and a toothsome Tiger Blue. At Upper Bench Winery and Creamery, in Sicamous, a layer of black ash lies under the white rind of the tart, sharp-tasting Belle Marie; sun-dried tomatoes, onion, and garlic stud its semi-soft Italian Gold. Not far from the shore of Okanagan Lake is Carmelis Farm, purveyors of several types of goat cheese.
One spot that stands out for gastronomic excellence is Waterfront Wines Restaurant. Don’t let the name fool you; there’s no water view here. And once you’ve experienced one of Mark Filatow’s organic meals, you’ll be a fan. Formerly of Tofino’s Wickanninnish Inn and Bishop’s Restaurant in Vancouver, Filatow proudly showcases small, local producers, nearby suppliers like Sweet Life Farms, Arlo’s Honey Farm, and Wild Moon Pork, with its pasture-raised Berkshire heritage pigs. A highly technical and creative chef, Filatow serves steelhead trout filet with vegetable-and-prawn ragout and corn gnocchi and presents master-stock braised-beef cheek in an aromatic soy-and-anise broth with steamed yam dumplings, broccolini, and bright organic carrots.
If some people eat to live and others live to eat, this is a place that caters to the latter.
The forests of the Selkirk Mountains kiss the waters of Kootenay Lake in Nelson, which simultaneously attracts hip youngsters (or young hipsters?) and celebrates its past with walking tours of hundreds of heritage buildings. Nelson may have earned the title of Canada’s Best Small Arts Town, but it’s also a mecca for the culinary art of chocolate.
Belicious Pure Chocolate Alchemy is a small-batch chocolatier specializing in certified-organic bars made from single-origin cacao. These Rainforest Alliance-certified treats are unique in that they contain nutrient-dense superfoods such as maca and reishi and are sweetened with coconut sugar. Nelson’s Chocofellar follows European traditions for its hand-made and hand-wrapped bonbons. Meanwhile, rose-salted caramels, organic-peppermint truffles, and organic-pomegranate Turkish delights are among the made-by-hand confections at Doodlebug Chocolates.
Beyond addictive sweets, Nelson is a foodie heaven, with more restaurants per capita than Manhattan.
Cantina del Centro serves everything from corn-crusted calamari and crunchy tuna tostadas, to panko-crusted avocado and chicken mole negro. To help bring the flavour and spirit of Latin America to downtown Nelson, the cantina features a selection of more than 70 types of mezcal and tequila.
Tea time, island style
Within the fertile Cowichan Valley is Westholme Tea Company, the first and only commercial tea farm in Canada.
The 11-acre organic tea farm produces limited harvest, single origin, hand-processed terroir tea made from homegrown leaves. Husband and wife team Victor Vesely and Margit Nellemann, also operate a tea shop, tea room and gallery. Among the pair’s various types of tea are Tree Frog Green Spring Harvest, a citrusy, smooth green tea, and Swallow Tail Oolong, with notes of honey. Then there’s Maple Quail’s Nest, a caffeine-free roasted- twig tea that is made with stems of West Coast big-leaf maple trees and twigs from tea plants, giving the drink a nutty flavour and woodsy finish.
If a visit to the Westholme farm is reason enough to travel to Cowichan, so is a stop at one of the region’s most beloved restaurants. Right on the water overlooking a marina is Genoa Bay Café. Salt Spring Island mussels, Humboldt squid, and wild sockeye salmon are on the West Coast-focused menu; there’s also grilled lamb sirloin with walnut-mint pesto, freerange chicken, and certified Angus prime rib, among other meaty dishes. A wine list that leans to the Cowichan Valley and the Okanagan, tranquil surroundings with water lapping at the shore, and eagles soaring overhead: the café is quintessentially B.C.
By Gail Johnson