Summer eating. This season is all about fresh – foods, air, vistas. Our region has no shortage of patios, sidewalks, and verandas serving amazing food. We’ve also got lots of choices when it comes to take out. I’m curious about your experiences: What’s a favourite summer picnic feast memory?
|Picnic at the Filberg Lodge grounds on Comox Bay|
Events and tours
Mark August 11-12 on your calendar: the 2nd Annual Comox Valley Farm Cycle Tour [+FB] takes you off the highways and onto the byways of this lush valley. This really was a highlight from last year’s summer eating. Kudos to the Comox Valley Cycling Coalition for organizing it again – with the collaboration of the local Farmers’ Market [@CVFarmersMarket +FB] and the Comox Valley Farmers’ Institute. Check the FB page and website for more information about this 2-day opportunity to do some healthy, outdoor, family-friendly local food fun. Note that there are 3 tours this year ($15 for 1 tour; all 3 for $25; no charge for kids under] and that online registration is encouraged. For out of town visitors, “Farm Cycle Tour and Stay” packages as well as bike rental opportunities will be available.
If you like the cycle/local food thing, check out the “West Coast Foodie Tours” offered by Island Joy Rides [1-855-830-8522 / 250-830-8522 @Islandjoyrides +FB]. Guided and self-guided tours of the Comox Valley, Campbell River, and Quadra Island are available. Their focus: the wineries, farms, spas, local food scene, First Nations’ culture, not to mention the natural beauty of the region.
|My gal, about to lead me down the garden path on our way to the
Saturday Comox Valley Farmers’ Market.
If cycling is a little too strenuous, perhaps one of Gaetan Palardy’s Island Gourmet Trails [250-650-1956 @GaetanPalardy +FB] tours fits the bill. During the summer Gaetan offers her weekly Saturday “Appetizer Tour” of the Comox Valley. The 4-hour tour starts at 9am at the Farmers’ Market, makes stops at DKT Farm Market [www.logcabinandbunkhouse.bc.ca], Shelter Point Distillery, and Bluemoon Winery [250-338-9765, 4905 Darcy Road @BlueMoonWinery].
Palardy is also front and centre with the French Cooking Classes at Bluemoon Winery Wednesdays July 4-25. Palardy and Edith Jacob from Key Language Solutions offer weekly cooking classes as a great way to brush up on French and learn more about this rich gastronomic culture. FMI: contact Edith at 250-338-9789 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Note that Bluemoon Winery is hosting Full Moon Feasts throughout the summer. Contact them directly for more information.
The Flavours event happens on September 23. That’s at the very beginning of Fall, but I’m thinking that all of my summer grazing will be foreplay for what’s being called the “North Island’s Gourmet Picnic.” With host-sponsor Coastal Black Estate Winery [250-337-8325 at 2186 Endall Road, Black Creek @CoastalBlack + FB], and with the support of the North Vancouver Island Chefs’ Association, the North Island College Foundation will present the first annual culinary festival. It’s billed as a “family and foodie focused celebration.” As well as giving us a sample of some of the wonderful food available in this region, Flavours raises funds for scholarships and bursaries for NIC Culinary Arts students. Tickets ($45 per person) are available via the website, at the NIC Foundation (Comox Valley campus), or at Coastal Black. Follow the chatter on Twitter by searching for (and #tagging) #FlavoursSept23.
Eating out of doors…
I’m hearing good things about Surfside Fish n Chips [250-702-4800 Comox Marina Park +FB], particularly the fish tacos. This is a fair-weather food station open April-September – or “as long as the sun shines.” The fare: fish n chips (yup), sandwiches, fresh fish tacos, salmon burgers.
Up the street Martine’s Bistro [250-339-1199, 1754 Beaufort Ave, Comox] has a beautiful warm weather venue: roll-up garage-style doors for the restaurant that open onto a large patio with a view of Comox Bay and the Beaufort Range beyond, and should we get some seriously hot weather.
Avenue Bistro [250-890-9200, 2064 Comox Ave +FB + @AvenueBistro] boasts another patio with a similar view. The summer focus is fresh local seafood, starting with local oysters on the half-shell with classic mignonette. Don’t like ‘em that fresh? Try the Beer Battered Hollie Wood Oysters with Shrimp Remoulade. Lots more on the menu as Chef Aaron Rail & co. visit the docks daily for the bounty of the waters surrounding the Comox Valley. Summer wines: AveB is featuring the Wild Goose Rose from Okanagan Falls (July) and the Beaufort Vineyard & Estate Winery [250-338-1357, 5854 Pickering Road, 10 minutes north of Courtenay] Blanc de Noir (August).
Downtown Courtenay has experienced some fantastic examples of what can happen when things get “outside the box” – when people and play are the focus rather than cars. Elevate the Arts and the two Car Free Sunday events have been a boon to local businesses. I’m really liking what Mark and Danielle at Union Street Grill [250-897-0081, 477-5th Street, Courtenay +FB @UnionStreetGril] are doing with this energy. They’re hosting Thursday evening “neighborhood nights” and are working with City Hall to get some Sunday “street dining” happening in the parking stalls. The food is good here, and the willingness to play and create fun food experiences is exciting.
Just around the corner, Mad Chef Cafe [492 Fitzgerald Avenue (250) 871-7MCC (7622) @MadChefCafe +FB] offer a sidewalk patio that’s the perfect place to enjoy a beverage on a warm day. When the sun’s out, it’s sun baked (thankfully, with an awning). Flavours are large, as are the portions. Thirsty Thursdays features their signature big glass, big habenero flavoured Caesar (def vying with for the best Caesar in town, IMHO).
In 2012, however, the honour of “Best Caesar in Town” goes to mixmaster Benny at Fluid Bar & Grill [1175 Cliffe Avenue 250-338-1500 + FB]is now the official home to this year’s Best Caesar in Town. He faced off against 5 other contenders at the Flying Canoe Pub [1590 Cliffe Ave, Courtenay, 250-331-4006 +FB @FlyingCanoePub] on June 14 as part of the BC Shellfish Festival [250-890-7561 bcshellfishfestival.ca @BCSFestival +FB activities and convinced the 3 judges (yes, I was one of them) that the Fluid Caesar really rocks. So does Fluid’s food menu – and, the face that I get good food late there most nights of the week. In the daytime, check out Fluid’s sunny side up Cliffe-side patio.
South along Cliffe, Thai Village Restaurant [2104 Cliffe Avenue, Courtenay, 250-334-3812 + FB] celebrates summer with a quiet patio festooned with fresh herbs and hostas, and a menu redolent of their own Thai Basil.
Summertime at Atlas Café [250-338-9838, 250-6th Street, Courtenay www.atlascafe.ca +FB] offers a choice of outdoor sun, shade, or indoor dining for their stellar menus and service. End of June sees an cocktail and martini list. This summer a rotating weekly wine features is an opportunity to sample great BC wines.
Outdoor eating in the Courtenay isn’t complete without savouring a garden-fresh margarita in the garden patio at Tita’s Mexican Restaurant [250-334-8033, 536-6th Street, Courtenay +FB]. Congrats to 4 year staffer Erin Fricker – she’s been promoted to Kitchen Manager. Erin started as dishwasher is now coming up with fun specials and amazing tacos. Watch for a new taco every week, watch for fresh stuff from the kitchen garden – and enjoy the shade of the fig trees when summer arrives. This is my absolute favourite spot for nachos and margaritas on Vancouver Island.
Outside of town, check out picnic and outside eating opportunities at two of the region’s estate wineries: Beaufort Vineyard & Estate Winery [250-338-1357, 5854 Pickering Road www.beaufortwines.ca] in Grantham (just north of Courtenay), and Coastal Black Estate Winery [see above, in Black Creek, and site of this year’s #FlavourSept23 event].
Summer eating wouldn’t be complete without a day trip or two. One I strongly recommend is the two-ferry journey to Hollyhock [Cortes Island, 800-933-6339 www.hollyhock.ca +FB @HollyhockLive]. The place is beautiful, but it’s the kitchen that’s my real reason for making a day (or 2) of it. While you’re there, soak in the stunning garden, source for many of the amazing flavours. Powell River is a stretch for this column, but one our regular readers and commentators gets over to the sunny side of the Strait regularly and reports on very good Indain cuisine at Nurul’s Authentic Indian and Fusion Cuisine [7259 Alberni St. 604-485-4743 www.nurul.ca @NurulsNR +FB ] His verdict: the Daal Gosh with lamb is excellent, the service is good, lots of folks were enjoying the lunch buffet. He’s a knowledgeable source on Indian cuisine and highly recommends it.
In Cumberland there’s a blossoming of food venues, with Belinda Jones’s Gatehouse Bistro [250-336-8099, 3rd & Penrith] regularly selling out for their “national cuisine of the week” features on Saturday nights. Contact Gatehouse directly for their weekly email update. Seasonal venues like Painters Lodge [250-286-1102 1635 McDonald, Campbell River, ] and April Point Resort [250-285-2222900 April Point Road, Quadra Island] can be hit or miss, depending on who’s cooking and serving this year. The first words this season about Painters are very positive about the pub fare. Anyone care to report on the fine dining? I think the water taxi across to April Point is reason enough to find out what’s going on in that dining room. In Courtenay, it’s nice to see that La Cabana de Marcos [1320 Cliffe Av. Courtenay 250-703-2639 +FB] has re-opened a little closer to downtown. Let’s hope they’ve got room for their popular musical events.
I collect information about the local food scene from a variety of sources, including my twitter feed and particularly the Facebook page at Eating and Drinking in the Comox Valley (and beyond).. I’m inspired to try new things, write about new places, by what you tell me. Drop me a note. Tell me what you like, and why you like it. And, this summer, I’d love to hear about your favourite summer picnic feast.
3 July 2012