In town eats Victoria - Pig BBQ versus Smoking Bones · 11.06.12 by colin newell
In a city seemingly built for meat eaters, there are a couple of stand outs – with a caveat or two. And they are Pig BBQ at the Atrium and Smoking Bones at the Hudson.
Chatting on the social network (twitter) today, I mused that in an active comparison between two of the more visible and successful smoked meat vendors, one of them kind of stood out.
But seeing how limited Twitter is for a truly meaningful conversation – or as a medium for getting ones complete opinion out, I offer this additional analysis.
On one hand, Pig BBQ is more of a no frills joint with semi-communal seating, order at the counter, take a seat and wait for your grub to be called out. What they do: pulled pork, pulled brisket, pulled chicken, specials like a yummy schnitzel sandwich or the frequent fried chicken on a waffle. Sides include palatable if slightly sweet baked beans and satisfying blocks of deep fried mac n’ cheese and the predictable corn bread and slaw. The digs are not fancy. In fact, they initially felt “cold” to me the first few visits. Repeated visits… well, I felt more at home.
Andrea and I can have a very satisfying quick lunch by sharing one sandwich, 1 mason jar of home brewed ice tea and two sides – typically the beans and the mac n’ cheese. This mid-day repast sets us back under 15$.
I was a regular visitor to the “Bones” when it was out in the West Shore – initial impressions were: “This is the best stuff I have put in my mouth…” over time some of the small things started to slip – but it was not the meat. I loved ribs. And I do have one or two favorite recipes I do at home – The long marinade grilled ribs that I do at home I am particularly proud of – but this isn’t about me. “Bones cook shack” does the meat quite well – where it falls off the bone for me are in the sides and some of the foundation items… like the bread. Ah. The bread. Here is the thing folks – if you are offering things like hush puppies, fried oysters, and good ole deep baked beans and Po’ Boys… well get the ingredients right.
To me (and this is just my opinion) the fried oyster basket tasted suspiciously like previously frozen bad boys from CostCo. And the cocktail sauce on the side seemed like it came out of a bottle. If it did not come out of a bottle, fine – at least formulate it like it is unique and attention getting… not like it was done on the cheap with too few good ingredients. I had a Oyster fry up at the “Crow and Gate” pub south or Nanaimo near Cedar, B.C. yesterday. 6 plump oysters fried to perfection served with two kinds of salad, a home made tartar sauce, a fresh but mass produced large dinner roll and a pad of butter. The Oysters from the Crow and Gate are light years ahead of the somewhat overcooked mini-oyster nuggets that “Bones” tries to pass off as an appetizer.
To their credit, “Bones Cook Shack” does a lot of things… well, OK – but they do not leave me gasping for joy. My thought is that perhaps they are trying to do too much with the space that they have – and it is a big space.
In all visits I have found the service to be spot on, the wait staff are well informed, knowledgeable and friendly. So, it is not about what’s happening on the floor – it is a bit of a disconnect in the kitchen – perhaps with the quality of some of the supplies.
In summary, I think that Smoken Bones Cook Shack could be consistent and amazing. Their signature meats are generally pretty good – well prepared, sauced and presentation. The most common complaint that I have heard that I do not necessarily agree with is with the plating… or the lack of it. I have heard it said that everything is served in plastic containers on wax paper – have not noticed this particularly – nor would it bother me if they did.
In comparing the two; PIG BBQ and Smoken Bones Cook Shack… it has to be acknowledged that they are two distinctly different “beasts” – and in the end analysis, PIG wins by not trying to be too many things with too many big ideas. The meat is tasty and is presented commensurate with the environment in which the products are prepared and delivered.
How could Smoken Bones Cook Shack step up? A: Take a good look at the menu. Trim it a bit – maybe a couple of items – or rotate some things and do them with a bit more authenticity and a dollop more pizzazz.
B: Step up on the bread. Bake it yourself if possible. Nothing destroys an Oyster Po’ Boy sandwich or pulled pork than dull tasting factory bread.
C: A message for all restaurants – outsource your sauces and breads at your peril. Think we do not notice? We do.
Colin Newell is a Victoria resident, IT Guy and food/drink writer – his writing has graced the internet since 1995
2012 On the road - Vancouver B.C. Food and Drink Part 1 · 7.06.12 by colin newell
Some of the things that set Vancouver, British Columbia apart from many cities… and pardon the oft borrowed real estate phrase “location, location…” are its size, its diversity and its idyllic location smack dab in the one of the Planet’s most gentle and dreamy climates.
And if you can tolerate the risk of having perpetual gray skies for your visit and enough rain to wash any irregularities out of Vancouver’s weather beaten sidewalks, then maybe, just maybe, this is the place for you.
Andrea and I had a weekends attendance scheduled at Vancouver’s EAT Vancouver food expo at the newly refurbished B.C. Place as media – and although not as glamorous as the Portland SCAA event from a month or so ago, it seemed worth the time to book a room at one of our favorite Delta hotels downtown… and then travel by B.C. Ferry to the mainland from Victoria.
Normally, it is Andrea who is on University business and I go along for the ride… so they are day trips, or even better, single overnight getaways… allowing me the luxury of checking out the latest and greatest in Vancouver coffee or lunch culture.
Because trust me folks, Vancouver never lets you down when it comes to coffee cruising and the lunch places are infinite in number and you could never explore all of them in a lifetime.
So, after an hour or so at the EAT Vancouver show – which seemed to be little more than a showcase for Starbucks, Tim Horton’s and McDonald’s latest syrup based beverages – an event only buoyed up by the Western Canada Barista preliminaries, we high tailed it out of there. So, we missed some WBC action. That’s life.
During this particular visit we decided to get caught up on some of the new cafe’s in town and some of the more interesting lunch places – and some slightly different dinner joints.
1st stop was Meat & Bread – 370 Cambie near Hastings – In all fairness I have been here a couple of times already on a previous visit. The formula is simple. Bread… and meat. Fresh out of the ovens. At least the meat part. I believe that the ciabatta buns come from a bakery. OK I guess. The meat? Well, it is slow roasted and their signature sandwich is “Porchetta” which is pork belly – the yummy part of the pig. My first sandwiches were the pork belly, hot out of the oven, infused with a salsa verde, salt and pepper likely… dead simple and drop dead tasty. I think the key here is to be drop in at opening or within the cycle of one pork round coming out of the oven – that you do not get stuck with getting the “tailing” or the last part of the beast suring its final chop up. I noticed a slight drop in the “pop” of the sandwich if your “slices” were toward the tail end of the round being prepped.
I also had the Moroccan lamb on a next visit – and it was crazy delicious. I grew up on a small sheep farm and the lambs never tasted quite like this – then again, they weren’t slow roasted in a great big oven and had their goodness nursed out of them by young food savvy 21st Century hipsters.
On our most recent visit, Andrea and I shared the Porchetta and the Chicken sandwich. OK. Here is where the whip comes down. Avoid chicken sandwiches unless you are prepared to keep them silly simple. Chicken takes on the flavor of whatever is applied to it. So, if you go a little crazy with the saucing, like Meat and Bread did with this particular interpretation, then the whole chicken experience is going to be lost. Avoid it. Get the Porchetta and share the daily special if it looks interesting. They also do an attractive looking Meatball sandwich and a simple grilled cheese. There is generally a soup and a salad and you can drink water (free), beer, wine or soda for a modest fee.
Question is: Is this the best sandwich you will ever taste? Close, but not quite. For Vancouver, maybe yes. But as Andrea and I were to find out, there were more delights between slices of bread to be discovered in Vancouver on this visit!
Coffee for Cool Vancouver Cats – It is pretty clear that Revolver Coffee at 325 Cambie Street (right across the street from Meat and Bread) is leading the pack in the hip factor in Vancouver. They do a variety of classic Western coffees (Oregon, Calgary and San Francisco) a variety of modern ways; like Aeropress and Koava Cone – as well as the basic espresso based drinks… really, really, really well. You can get a small pot of coffee (enough for 2-3 refills) for around $3 depending on the “breed” of the bean prepared 1 way or a variety of ways. They even have a high rollers “flight” menu selection; 1 coffee 3 ways or 3 coffees 1 way – where you, the drinker, can test your coffee taste buds on picking which is which… for $9 or so. And that is a LOT of coffee sipping!
While in Vancouver for an earlier visit I stopped in at Matchstick Coffee in East Vancouver to sample their wares… Lucky me, I was the 1st person ever to sample their in-house roasted coffee. Honored. Truly.
Matchstick is a very spacious room with very clean lines that reminded me of some of the neatest new cafes in San Francisco – friendly and highly educated staff as well. they are tucked away at 639 E 15 Ave – you might need to hunt a bit to find them – they are right near a park/green space not far from the corner of Fraser (I think on the North west side of the intersection.
Matchstick is clearly one of those cafes that is truly focused on the quality of the bean that they roast and serve and the direct relationship with the farmer and their community – it is becoming a more prevalent philosophy in the coffee business and that is a good thing.
Bike friendly coffee in a city of Bikes at 1262 Burrard (access via a back alley or near the Pattison Lease return lot!) Mussette Caffe is quite simply unique! The name Mussette is based on the simple cloth bag that long distance bike racers and tourists carry their food and drink in. And Mussette is simply an oasis in a neighborhood governed by car powered commerce. It took me a couple of passes but it was worth the search. Seriously, I should draw a map – it is not obvious how to get there. When you do, you will never forget.
Coffee at Mussette is provided by the legendary 49th Parallel Roasters and baked things come from the bakery next door. Brilliant. Coffee is competently brewed by passionate staff anyway you wanted it. I think I spied cones and Aeropress units. Good times!
The IT factor and losing sight · 8.05.12 by colin newell
Having spent 4 days in Portland, Oregon recently – at the annual SCAA event, I had the opportunity of wandering in and out of the coffee envelope… checking out street life, retail and everyday happenings for the average resident…
With some thoughts to comparing what I saw in Portland to what I see in Victoria and Vancouver…
Within Victoria’s (and Vancouver’s) cafe scene are examples of a magical factor that every cafe covets – the IT factor. That ability to draw line-ups day after day, hour after hour, week after week for all time.
Victoria has a few cafes like this; Discovery, Cafe Fantastico, 2% Jazz, Fernwood coffee to name a few. The Stick in Sooke is a caffeine oasis in Sooke some 24 miles to the West. Drumroaster coffee at Cobble Hill north of Victoria totally has the IT factor nailed to the wall with an endless source of IT energy. It. The it factor. The ones that do not have it covet it. The ones that do treasure it and nurture it… protecting it.
OK. Now let’s leap from the “it factor” in coffee… to retail.
When Andrea and I were in Portland Oregon (and in San Francisco late in 2011) we did a lot of retail and people watching. And the one thing that struck us was the popularity, and near hysterical adoration towards the APPLE store. Sure, they have some super neat products; I know, I now have an iPhone – having just replaced a phone from 2005 or so.
The Portland APPLE store is in the middle of the downtown mall amidst stores that were utterly deserted and dead quiet apart from a few staff that were wandering around. Walk into the APPLE store and you are surrounded by people and staff — and energy… it factor energy.
Again, I get it. Lots of neat cool desirable stuff.
But why has everything else become so unexciting (apart from coffee, food and great beer — still in Portland right at the moment!)?
Have we as a species stopped being excited about a lot of stuff or is this just a bad case of my distorted perspective.
Something like this happened in the early seventies (if I recall correctly) – People actually lost interest in the Apollo moon missions. Most of my readers are likely too young for this… but it was true. After a moon mission or two, people stopped watching the launches and the journey. Can you imagine? And we never go there anymore – largely in part to the cost.
The World is a place of wonder – and I think many of us are not paying enough attention to those things that are truly great, interesting and exciting.
Lucky for me, I have a passion for food and coffee – and although I often find it challenging to find new ways to get excited about coffee — and consequently excite new people about cafe and coffee culture… I still manage to do it.
Because, dang it, a great cup of coffee is GREAT. It is fun and exciting and makes me feel excited about lots of stuff that many of us, it seems, find mundane.
So. Look around you. Re-engage. Find the it factor outside of the most common realms… like computers, gadgets and phones.
Starting with a great cup of coffee or a neat coffee shop.
2012 explosion of coffee flower power · 24.04.12 by colin newell
I cannot be happier for my little coffee “farm” in my living room in Rockland, Victoria B.C. Canada – one of my plants is on its second bloom this year – which is wild.
This is not Hawaii. This is not Costa Rica.
This is Victoria.
I guess I still have a green thumb.
Click on any photo for the bigger view.
Coffee plant background: Many folks who love coffee would like to have a coffee plant to admire – here is the skinny on coffee plants. They are not dramatic. They are not colorful. They are largely green and, if you are lucky and treat them right, they will bloom once a year and produce a few “cherries” – these cherries you can pop in your mouth and chew the fruit off – and then spit them out and dry them.
Most people I talk to say, “Hey, do you roast your beans?”
Well no. I have had some pretty good harvests but roasting coffee is way more complicated than picking the beans and tossing them in the oven or in a frying pan or popcorn maker.
Coffee is a very labor intensive crop – from the ground up – and if you have any inclination to grow some plants and create your own steady supply of java…
Well, you might be better off moving to Hawaii.
Coffee plants require special care – they are moderately fragile. They like a certain amount of light and the right amount of “food” and water – and soil with really good drainage.
Cultivation: Abbreviated explanation A coffee plant from a seedling, if raised in your home can take 5 years before it blooms. I speak from experience. And when it blooms, the flowers appear for around 1 – 5 days. There is a lot of waiting for a brief explosion of color. The flower are white, small and moderately fragrant.
When the flowers fall off, the small seed buds soon appear – the Cherry.
They start green, become yellow and then Red over a period of weeks or a month or so. When they are ready you can gently pull them from the stem.
Coffee fruit: Every coffee cherry contains 2 “beans” covered in slimy mucilage after you remove the fruit. OK, so you can clean that off in cold water. Then they need to be dried until there is a certain percentage of moisture in the bean. How do you do that? You could use a low oven – but you also need a method of measuring moisture content – fairly accurately. We won’t go into those tools here because I am sure that I have almost lost you.
The silver skin: Coffee beans have a flak jacket type coat called the silver skin. You need to remove this before you roast. You can do this by hand.
But wait, there is more! Coffee beans have one more coating – called chaff – yet another layer that comes off when you roast – and it floats in the air landing where you cannot get to it. Cool huh? In bigger roasters, there are chaff collection gizmos that handle this.
Roasting: Coffee roasting is smokey, fussy, messy and maddening. I know, I have done my fair share. There are lots of online resources and You-Tube tutorials about coffee roasting. Go look.
A better idea: Grow the coffee plants. Feel good about them. You are better off raising a coffee plant than having a pet or getting a rabbit or kitten for your children. Coffee plants are kind of like teenagers. They need care and feeding and do not seem to do anything – and you need to wait an eternity for anything interesting to happen. They seem to be at their most productive and fecund when they are teenagers – which for coffee plants can be a good thing. For teens, not so much.
Portland Oregon SCAA 2012 quick look · 22.04.12 by colin newell
Portland Oregon – a small city and a great big town with a much bigger heart – resting near the junction of the Willamette and Columbia rivers, this North west gem hosted the SCAA 2012 convention.
Photo upper right – the calm before the storm. And the benefit of the press pass!
And by all accounts it was one of the best. For me, it was my first. I have been to my fair share of Seattle coffee fests and Canadian coffee expo’s but this was definitely the bigs.
Portland Oregon is a great place to get acquainted with coffee culture – and to meet up with all the movers and shakers in the coffee biz – because everyone was here.
Photo – Deidrich was king of the roasters at SCAA 2012. Lots of eye candy – lots of interested buyers!
And the city and its coffee brewing folks are a natural back drop to an event this size and of this caliber.
Talking to Matt Milletto of the American Barista School he noted, “Portland is my hometown and we are bursting with pride to be hosting the SCAA…” I have met Matt a few times at various events – and it is always a delight to get “re caught up.”
Andrea and I spent a lot of time walking the trade floor before opening time on Friday morning (Thank you SCAA media/press passes!). It is interesting behind the camera and on the floor prior to opening to feel the palpable energy and to see everyone ready to roll a solid hour in advance of door crashing.
Photo – The newer, bigger, better ESPRO brewer!
In the opening salvos of the SCAA I was busy looking for a comprehensive theme or buzz phrase that would describe what I was seeing and hearing.
“Innovation, evolution and optimism…” came to mind. Times have been tough with the economy the last few years but to be honest, there is nothing wrong with the coffee economy. Nothing at all. There are reasons for this – not really going into that too much here.
There is (or has been a lot of) innovation in the coffee industry the last couple of years and it was all on display here. Some things surprised me. Most everything pleased me. Every kiosk had something going on. There were no duds or lackluster displays. In fact, some of the displays and presenters had some things going on that utterly blew my mind. That will be revealed in my photo mosaic of what I saw.
Rancilio U.S.A. were preaching the virtues of the programmable brew profiling using a kind of old school technology called “Pulse width modulation…” PW Modulation goes back decades but I have never heard it applied to espresso making… so bravo for that!
Bonavita! I talked to Todd of Bonavita and his engineer/inventor associate (I will key in his name later) and the big buzz was about the constant/programmable temperature kettle with non-volatile memory. A snippet about that on the audio piece I will key in. Photo of this lovely device below!
Evolution – Some items that caught my eye:
Alan Adler of Aerobie Industries and the legendary Aeropress. I could not have been happier to see Alan – and I arrived just in time to follow him sprinting to an Aeropress competition on the floor. At 72 years of age, Alan Adler has more energy than the average teenager – and it was delightful to talk to a living legend and to a man who has made such a huge contribution to coffee culture.
Alan and his beautiful grand daughter Constance (who works in marketing for Aerobie) and the rest of the team were always busy at their little booth.
Kyra, Joyce and Kyle (and the rest of the Baratza team) continue to take some great coffee grinding ideas to new heights with better gear boxes, better burrs, getting the bugs out of the old machines and delivering a much more reliable product as a result.
Optimism – From Kyle of Baratza: “Sales have never been better…” Reg James of EspressoTec.com “This has been a very good year so far…”
Here is the thing about coffee: You cannot eat pizza every day, but when you get hooked up to a great cup of coffee, you have to have it every day… without exception.
In our next installment, we will get down to some of the meat and potatoes of the Portland coffee, food and beer scene — and more on 2012 SCAA!
2012 Easter Tofino return to food coffee life and love · 9.04.12 by colin newell
Andrea and I have been popping into Tofino since the 90’s – we were married there – at the Middle Beach Lodge… and have been eating and drinking everything ever since.
Many things can be said about Tofino: Wild west coast getaway for storm watching… food lovers paradise (largely true)… Rainforest enclave resistant to over development (most definitely)…
What cannot be said about Tofino and the neighboring area is this: It is a coffee destination. And yes, I know, one cannot say that about many places in Canada – One does not expect leading edge coffee in places like Hinton, Alberta or Gravelhurst, Saskatchewan, but one is always pleased when great coffee appears in out of the way places. My supposition is this: Tofino should have great coffee. It needs to have great coffee. Great coffee belongs here.
But on some level, it seems, the community resists change and it rejects trends that, on the outside, would not appear to potentially harm the spirit of the community.
The food marketplace of Tofino is on an upwards spiral in terms of ingenuity and creativity as outlined here in an earlier blog.
How is the coffee doing circa 2012 first quarter?
Well. It has not changed much. There are no Discovery Coffee’s, Habit’s or Cafe Fantastico’s in Tofino. There is no Stick in the Mud in Tofino. There could be and the potential is so great, the opportunity so palpable and right now. If I did not have a day job and I was a little braver, I would drop what I was doing and dive right in.
Few communities are more ripe for a “great cafe” – like the ones we take for granted in Victoria, Sooke, Cobble Hill, Nanaimo, Vancouver, Seattle, etc… than Tofino, British Columbia.
Now do not get me wrong – I have a soft spot for the present and the future – and the future is somewhere where great Tofino coffee exists – because it is not in the here and now. At present, there are cafes and kiosks that attempt to break that greatness barrier – it just has not happened yet. Sure, by all means call out your favorite places and claim that they are dope. I have been there… and they are not.
This weekend it was at the advice of Anya of Discovery Coffee that I swoop into The Tofitian to check out their espresso shots from the Cimbali espresso machine. Out of the gate I ordered a single. It was served at the bottom of a 8 fluid ounce cup… in the form of a 3 1/2 fluid ounce shot. Observation: If you have espresso on the menu (and you are charging $2 for a single shot, serve a single in a 2 fluid ounce espresso cup.)
The shot was fairly balanced but not brewed at the ideal temperature – and, at it turns out was Lavazza espresso – containing around 15% Robusta. Cool shot. Easy to drink but dull as a butter knife. But wait, The Tofitian serves Discovery Coffee – or so I thought – looking around, I did not see it mentioned anywhere.
I asked “Do you serve Discovery Coffee?”
Barista reply: “It’s an option…” (A very pleasant and informed barista BTW)
I ordered a shot of DISCO, a single… because that is why I was there.
This time, another 2+ fluid ounce shot into a 8 fluid ounce cup. Brewed cool and served tepid. Drat.
Here is the thing: I did not see the words “Discovery Coffee” anywhere in the Tofitian – or “Lavazza served here…” I guess I must have missed the secret handshake or something.
Verdict: The espresso machine at the Tofitian needs to be tweaked, calibrated or moderized. Espresso cups need to be purchased. Labeling needs to be fine tuned.
The Tofitian feels a bit like a shack – it is associated with a Surf wear store that is in a different building in a cluster of rag tag buildings that feel somewhat itinerant. Kind of harsh but that is the deal. The parking lot is rough pot filled gravel – would it be outrageous to pave it to level it some?
Once again, I leave Tofino after an awesome weekend confused, befuddled and frustrated. I ask: Can one deploy a great cafe in a place like Tofino? Yes – but it is not going to be a kiosk or cart. It is going to be a newer building with some environmental controls. There is so much going on here – so much potential – so little of it realized. But there is the future.
Do not take my word for it – jump in with your voice. Hey – people are hitting Tofino constantly – I would love to hear their opinion – and your opinion.