How to combine Taste Vancouver, BCATW and Gastown? Take a walking and tasting tour.
Having Taste Vancouver join the BC Association of Travel Writers (BCATW) as an industry sponsor is a bit like having dessert first…such a treat for us travel writers to be fed (if one can’t be feted, being fed is the next best thing). With that in mind, let’s savour a reverse-order tour of Gastown… starting with dessert.
Rogers’ Chocolates is the oldest Canadian chocolate company and they have a 125th anniversary tin-full with a photograph of Gassy Jack (aka John Deighton/riverboat captain) in Maple Tree Square, telling his stories as publican at Deighton House which burned down in the Great Fire of 1886. We tuck a truffle in our pockets and thank Charles ‘Candy’ Rogers for a legacy of Victoria Creams. We’ll burn off the calories, dancing ’round our keyboards, later.
Maple Delights products come from Quebec (not to be fools’ gilded by a broad-leaf-maple version). We sample their early-season, slow-sapped light syrup; their most-popular medium syrup used for pancakes and waffles; their strongest amber syrup, followed by a maple-cookie chaser. Chase it down yourself, with one of their online recipes.
Soft Peaks is Vancouver’s only organic soft-service ice cream, made with Avalon milk and no artificial sweeteners (but a variety of toppings). We try a twist of vanilla with chocolate sauce but we’ll surely return for a ‘Salty Himalayan’, a TimTam flaky ‘Mudslide’ or a ‘Honeycomb Peak’.
Trees Organic Café is what Brent our actor/guide suggests is a ‘victory lap’ with raspberry cheesecake on the ready. Little did we know we’d be doing four laps on the dessert track.
Situated in the historic (1895) Hudson House and adjacent to the highly-photographed (yet less historic, 1977) Birk’s Clock, Trees Organic is Gastown’s epi-centre, for shopping and bon vivant (good living).
Backtracking to historical trivia, Brent makes numerous stop points of interest: pointing out structural supports for the brick and stone buildings (requisite after the Great Fire)…showing us how the Maple tree in Maple Tree Square was not only Gassy Jack’s water cooler, but that of the whole town…a place to convene, share stories, or tack up a poster … how the 1960s Project 200 to build a freeway along Vancouver’s waterfront was thwarted…how the bricks that rebuilt Gastown after the fire were ballast for ships returning from China that got stacked along the waterfront…how that fire ravaged the young city in 20 minutes with 28 killed or drowned…and how the loggers, hunters, fishers and miners top three staples were…whiskey, tobacco and beer at that very Hudson House where we stand, savoring cheesecake…how 130 years can change everything…but you’ll really need to do the tour to feel, feed and fete the ancestors that made it what it is today.
Peckinpah’s Carolina-style Barbeque does up smoked meats daily. Their pulled pork and pork ribs come from sustainable local pigs (best racks in town) and their fried pickles come from happy cukes (until they are dipped in vinegar according to Connor, the comedic host). Located in the only surviving building of the Great Fire of 1886, the Byrnes Block, Connor’s gassing (joking and storytelling) is within sight of Gassy’s statue…must be in the air.
At Bao Down, Chef Carleton serves up a fresh bao, or steamed buns. Mine’s got shiitake mushroom in a slather of sauce, kale ‘n’ sprouts. Steamed bao or street sandwiches; sidekicks like kimchi fries or a Nono Noodle Bowl; this Powell Street fusion restaurant aims to please.
We take in some beer-battered fish n’ chips (the chips are hand cut and double cooked) at 131 Water Street, sometimes known as ‘131’. From casseroles to cannallonis, this kitchen & bar’s got it all.
And at Brioche, we scoop up tortellini’s tomato sauce with crusty bread that’s baked daily. The apple-pear torte looks to die for, but there’s no going back now, and the traditional antipasta, cioppino, and homemade soups make coming back for breakfast, lunch or dinner a tangible option at this West Cordova eatery.
We begin, and now we complete this rewinding newsreel, at Steamworks, admiring the downstairs brewery’s Douglas Fir beamworks, brickworks and beer. We watch the process via masher, kettle, fermenter, cooling & separating tanks to the final carbonation; it’s steam-powered daily since 1995.
Pretty sure I had my first Kolsch-style ale which is fermented like ale but matured like lager. Pretty sure, because it went down so smoothly, balancing bitterness with body…a bit like Taste Vancouver’s Gastown Tour…a raucous history of pioneer toughness that leaves us with an appreciation of our past, fused in the present.
Author, Joan Boxall, is a freelance blogger and travel writer. Joan was on the BCATW’s Organizing Committee for this year’s symposium (Prizes Wrangler, 2015 & 2016).