Brunch with Gassy Jack: Chill Winston

This guest post was written by Mack, an Edmonton-based geek who fancies himself a part-time foodie. You can find him online at his blog, and on Twitter.

My friend Megan and I were without our trip planner extraordinaire (Sharon) for our trip to Vancouver a few weeks ago, so we didn’t have a plan for where to go or what to eat. After much indecision on Sunday morning, we eventually hopped on the bus from UBC and made our way toward Gastown. We wandered around for a bit and eventually decided on Chill Winston for brunch. I had walked past it on previous trips to the area, but had never ventured inside.

chill winstonchill winston

We quickly scanned the menu and decided to stay. The interior definitely fit the description of a “restaurant lounge”. I loved the big, comfy chairs and the nice big windows (you can see the statue of Gassy Jack just across the street). Had Sharon been with us, I know she would have gushed about the exposed brick along inside. The most memorable feature for me was the washrooms, however. Instead of your traditional, completely separated men’s and women’s rooms, chill winston has a big room with a giant tap in the middle, and lots of individual stalls. Unique and kind of interesting.

chill winston

The brunch menu is new apparently, and is described as a “winter brunch menu”. It also points out that Winston only uses eggs from organically-fed free-range chickens. I ordered the Eggs Benedict ($11) – two soft poached eggs and ham on a toasted English muffin topped with citrus tarragon hollandaise. I thought it was really tasty, and combined with the potatoes, it definitely hit the spot.

chill winston

Megan opted for the Ham, Cheese, and Tomato Omelette ($14) – three eggs, grilled ham, tomato concasse, and Gruyere. I expected the omelette to be bigger, but Megan seemed to enjoy it all the same. The fruit was a nice addition to both plates as well, despite being out of season.

We hung around for quite a while after our meals, not in any hurry. The restaurant wasn’t very busy, but it was still nice to not feel rushed – the staff cleared our plates but didn’t try to push us out the door.

If you’re looking for somewhere to stop in Gastown for a drink or something to eat, consider checking out Chill Winston. And for the locals – you can preorder lunch for take-out online! Very cool.

Chill Winston 
3 Alexander Street
Vancouver, BC, V6A 1B2
open everyday, 11 AM to 1 AM

Kitsch Worth Exploring: Sophie’s Cosmic Cafe

Brunch is my favourite type of meal, and though the food served during this time can, in most instances, be duplicated fairly easily at home, there’s something about waking up on a weekend morning to have breakfast in a brightly lit, bustling, comfortable diner. I’ve sought out most of the restaurants that fit this bill in Edmonton, and have slowly started to branch out to Calgary, but all travel situations provide me with an additional opportunity to sample diners frequented by the locals.

I turned to the Georgia Straight Golden Plates awards to point me in the right direction, and found Sophie’s Cosmic Café. The website didn’t provide menu details, but the kitschy décor cinched it for us.

Located in the pedestrian and window-shopping-friendly Kitsilano neighbourhood, it was packed with just a few tables to spare at 11am. We were seated within minutes, giving us a brief moment to take in the incredible square footage of collected “junk” displayed on walls and every nook and cranny available – I was certain I could’ve spent hours up close with the garage sale all call.


Mack poses appropriately with a Mr. T jewelry collection

The menu options posed a challenge to us, with many tempting dishes. In the end, I opted for the thick-cut French toast to be served with sausages ($9.95), while Mack heeded my suggestion and ordered the scrambled eggs and pastrami, served with hashbrowns and toast ($10.95).

Mack used the word “efficient” to describe our experience at Sophie’s, and I can’t disagree with him. Our food arrived after no more than ten minutes after the waitress took our order, and unlike Nellie’s, our waitress continuously topped up our mugs with coffee without being asked. Moreover, a request for water was filled immediately. The food was great as well – the sausages, crackling and crispy on the outside, but juicy and soft on the inside – were the best I’ve had at a diner in recent memory. The French toast was indeed thick-cut, so much so that the very centre of the bread hadn’t had enough time to soak in the egg mixture before being thrown onto the pan, but that was a minor complaint. Mack thoroughly enjoyed his breakfast as well, with the scramble relieving his craving for eggs.

Thick-cut French Toast and Sausages

Pastrami and Eggs

Sophie’s Cosmic Café is a fun, friendly and fast diner that’s worth the visit, and even better, is situated in a neighbourhood worth sticking around for later.

Sophie’s Cosmic Café
2095 4th Avenue West
(604) 732-6810

An Exquisitely Choreographed Dance: Vij’s

Vij’s has a reputation that precedes itself. Between its consistent top-five Canadian ranking, celebrity sightings, and tales of its mythically long wait times, perhaps owner Vikram Vij was blessed with foresight in choosing the large tusked animal as its symbol – there is no doubt that great expectations are the elephant in the room.

Exterior lineup (you know you’re in Vancouver when you see at least two other people pull out their wireless devices to check for internet)

Even though we had eaten a full meal not three hours prior, we joined the line about 20 deep outside Vij’s at around 5:15. When their doors opened fifteen minutes later, some of the line stragglers behind us failed to be seated, and faced with a wait time of at least an hour and a half, chose to head elsewhere. Others however, through the course of our meal, either chose to lounge in the bar at the rear of the restaurant, or, when that was full, took their drinks out onto the outdoor patios to wait it out. We were glad not to be amongst that crowd.

My only minor complaint about the restaurant was their lack of more than one bathroom – for the number of people frequenting the restaurant, I would think regulations would stipulate at least two stalls per gender.


After the waitresses swept through the room, efficiently doling out menus, glasses and tin carafes of water to each table, we were also given a free cup of warm chai, and throughout the moments of menu perusal, three hot samples to try from a basket offered by a gregarious server (a pakora, a fry, and a spiced chip of some sort). It was the beginning of the Vij’s welcome: hospitable efforts that made us feel like guests instead of diners.

Chai (the cups were too cute)

I already knew I wanted to try the spicy paranta ($11.50) made with ground crickets that I had read about in the Globe a few months back, and I remembered the praise always heaped upon the wine-marinated lamb popsicles ($26.50). For our second entree, I thought a vegetable-based dish would round out our meal nicely, so opted for the cabbage, potato and bell pepper in coconut, blueberry and cilantro masala with homemade crispy noodles ($24).

Our wait was pleasant, and though I was disappointed that we didn’t see any celebrities (Shermie had waited alongside Eric McCormack on her last visit), our door-side table did provide many opportunities to gawk at the patrons that did pass through (a Buddhist monk and two Southern beauty queens walk into Vij’s…). The paranta arrived, complemented by a turnip salad. Had the menu not mentioned crickets, I would have assumed, from both the taste and the texture, that the thin bread was made from whole wheat flour. The turnip was nicely prepared as well, albeit too spicy for my palate.

Paranta made with roasted, ground cricket and chapati flour

Our entrees, served with a bowl of rice and a basket of naan bread, were the stars of the show. The lamb popsicles were our favourite, perfectly grilled and immersed in a creamy fenugreek curry sauce. I’ve been scarred in past experience with lamb, but if it were always cooked to such tender conditions, I’d opt for lamb over pork anytime. The masala received a more mixed review, as I found the potatoes a tad undercooked, but the unusual addition of blueberries were a nice sweet treat.

Naan bread

Lamb popsicles


The entire evening was a satisfying blur of attentive waitresses, a thorough attention to detail, and a surreal feeling that accompanied my first dining experience that felt wholly like an exquisitely choreographed dance. Unlike our meal at The Blue Pear, where being tended to by several people resulted in a scattered and haphazard impression of the service, the fact that multiple waitresses had a hand in our evening made us feel more at home and taken care of. Perhaps that had to do with the little things – immediately bringing us a cooling bowl of raita when I mentioned offhand that one of the dishes was a bit spicy; a mere forty-five seconds between an empty basket of naan being replaced by a fresh basket; and most impressive of all, the use of a plate warmer to ensure that the food to be consumed didn’t lose their heat upon transfer to an individual’s plate.

Suffice to say, our experience at Vij’s survived the hype. Bravo to the staff, and keep up the great work.

1480 11th Avenue West
(604) 736-6664

Rob’s Renaissance: Cactus Club Bentall 5

I will admit I had a good chuckle when I initially read about Rob Feenie’s appointment as a “Food Concept Architect” for the Cactus Club chain. His punt from grace seemed complete – the tale of his dispute with the co-investor in his highly-praised Feenie’s and Lumiere restaurants provided much fodder for gourmand gossip, and after being forced out, his acceptance of a job that at the time seemed beneath him was surprising if not downright sad. I had visited Feenie’s for brunch last year, and though I wasn’t too impressed, probably couldn’t judge him too harshly without feasting on his supposed masterpieces being served next door at his signature Lumiere eatery. Last month, a review in the Globe & Mail started to pique my interest in his Cactus Club creations, in what the writer deemed to be Feenie’s renaissance, Lumiere-lite, if you will, in having to work with a finicky clientele interested in trendy food for a reasonable price, it seemed he was hitting it out of the park.

Though I was certain they didn’t take reservations, I called to make sure, and indeed, the new Cactus Club Bentall 5 (the only location thus far that serves Feenie’s signature dishes) seated only on a first come, first served basis. I asked what time I would have to be present to beat the rush on a Friday evening, and she advised me to show up at 4:30pm.


While Mack and I weren’t sure we could make such an early dinner time, we ended up there just before 5 after visiting the Vancouver Aquarium and Stanley Park. There was a wait for patio seating, but as we weren’t picky, we were led almost immediately to a cozy booth in an area situated between the kitchen and the bar, right in the thick of things.


The restaurant was grand, but not off-putting. Two levels of seating were graced with natural light that flowed through the floor-to-ceiling windows, accenting the sparkly newness of it all – the dark, leather-bound seats, a beautiful high-standing glass wine case, and a wide, spacious bar frequented by the label-adorned business class. The room was bustling, busy in a way that made diners feel self-congratulatory in their restaurant pick, and even more so when stumbling into the bathroom, which featured not only automatic taps and flush toilets, but a plastic-wrapped toilet seat that instantly revolved with “fresh” material at the touch of a button.

The menu, as expected, featured a mix of salads, burgers, and larger entrees very similar to what might be expected at Earls. Rob Feenie’s touches were not clearly marked, so we checked with the waitress, who pointed to the panko-breaded chicken breast salad and butternut squash ravioli ($16), as two examples. I couldn’t resist the ravioli, salivating at the mere idea of truffle oil, while Mack decided on a seafood pasta dish, the prawn and scallop spaghettini ($19). Having been on a slider kick the last few months, we also ordered the mini burgers ($11) to start.

Mack checking for wifi…and success!

While we waited for our first course, I sipped on a “better than sex” (their description, not mine) bellini, and Mack enjoyed a beer. When our burgers arrived, they looked so delectable that we were sad they didn’t serve them in fours. We quite liked them, though to be honest they were nothing special – simply scaled-down versions of a bar staple.

Mini Burgers

Our entrees, on the other hand, made the meal. The ravioli was exquisite (and Giada-esque) – aromatically infused with truffle oil, dotted with crumbled amaretti cookies and pine nuts, and filled with sweet pureed squash – it was like having a dessert course for dinner. Mack similarly liked his spaghettini, attractively presented with the noodles twirled and topped with a scallop and shrimp, he was pleased to find two more of each buried underneath. The food was also deceivingly filling, but not to the point where we were uncomfortably full.

Butternut Squash Ravioli

Prawn and Scallop Spaghettini

I can say without hesitation that our experience at Cactus Club Bentall 5 was a great one. And to Rob Feenie – I owe you an apology: if you ever decide to make a lateral move to Earls, I may be made a believer yet.

Cactus Club Bentall 5
588 Burrard Street
(604) 682-0933

Vancouver 2008 Wrap-up

Though I don’t feel we did enough over our four days in Vancouver to make the trip wholly worthwhile, at least the reason for our trip – to watch Michelle and Steven get married – was a fun day out. As well, Mack and I now know the areas that we would like to explore in further detail in the future – Gastown and Kitsilano to name a few. Below, a day-to-day recap of our trip, minus the restaurants that I will cover in greater detail.


After finally getting something to eat at a not-worth-mentioning salad bar, Mack and I walked to Stanley Park to visit the Vancouver Aquarium. It’s been years since I was there last, so many, in fact, that my memory failed to recall how absolutely tiny the attraction is. We were done touring the underwater galleries in no time (granted, we didn’t have the little-kid awe or curiosity we used to have), but I was most looking forward to the open air displays. My little otter friend Milo “Jack” was there, and though we stayed to listen to the brief beluga presentation (while actually spying on the Stockwell Day-lookalike), watch the otter feeding, and attempted to get a glimpse of the dolphin show, I was overall disappointed with how small the aquarium was. It was definitely not worth the $24.95 admission we paid at the door.

Stanley Park


Mack with flowers

Swimming to the light!



In a bubble

Milo the sea otter!

There he goes!

The beluga is wearing a sweater (and yes, we were too cheap to buy anything)

After dinner at the newest Cactus Club, we headed to the Chinatown Night Market, a daily summer event likely held to try to bring traffic in to a neighbourhood otherwise abandoned in the evening. Given that we passed through an area featuring interesting buildings (the $10 a night hostel with chicken wire on the windows was notable for the wrong reasons), I wasn’t surprised at the mostly deserted streets en route to Chinatown. At any rate, we were greeted by a modest collection of booths selling everything from cheap trinkets and toys to home décor items and undergarments (at the unbeatable price of 10 for $10!). Of course, we zoomed in on the food, despite having just eaten a satisfyingly filling dinner. The dumplings were too irresistible (and cheap) to resist, being pan-fried right before our eyes, and a serving of vegetarian noodles seemed the perfect to top off our post-meal snack. The noodles were unfortunately lukewarm, but the dumplings tasted as good as they looked.

Night Market

Trolling for trinkets

Pork and chive dumplings


Vegetarian noodles

On our way back to Triumf House, we stopped in Yoko Yaya (88 West Pender Street), a store very similar to Daiso in Aberdeen Centre – a mecca of $1-3 treasures (a word Mack would undoubtedly dispute to be used in this context). I was only able to wander the store for 20 minutes, as Mack’s threshold of pain was waning.


Though we took a few wrong turns, we made it to the church on time. The ceremony was brief but nice, and we stayed a short while for group pictures. Because we had quite a lengthy period of time to kill before the reception, the lot of us Edmonton folk headed out early to the Metropolis at Metrotown, also home of the Fortune House Seafood Restaurant where we were due at 6pm (I am thankful to the organizers of the wedding who had the foresight to book a restaurant in a mall, providing an easy way to pass the time for out-of-town guests).

We decided to skip the mall offerings and walked to the nearby IHOP (5137 Kingsway). Mack is forever waxing poetic about the addictive nature of their eggs, but after my experience, I’m hard pressed to distinguish IHOP from my local Denny’s. While I was intrigued that my ham and three-cheese omelette contained a splash of their “famous” pancake batter, I couldn’t distinguish what flavour, if any, was added because of that. The pancakes themselves, not gussied up with anything except butter, were also pretty ordinary.

Mack taking a hit of syrup

Dickson with his…salad

Mack’s Ham & Egg Melt

My Supreme Ham & Cheese Omelette


The sad-looking waffle (“It’s not IHOW.”)

We had enough time to take in a screening of Tropic Thunder (I loved Robert Downey Jr. with his over-the-top method acting satire) before heading to the restaurant.

The dinner was comprised of the traditional 10 courses of mainly seafood dishes. Thankfully for me, there were enough vegetables mixed in so I didn’t go hungry.

Party favours

Mack & I

Jane & Yi-Li

Dickson and Violet demonstrate the perfect pout

Megan and Mack eat “air” (or so they thought of the deep-fried chips)

The crispy-fried pork dish was my favourite…talk about a diet-busting entrée

Stan & Felix demonstrate their “gangster” pose

The wedding party’s table toast

Group shot – congrats Michelle & Steven!

We then headed outside for a few more pictures…just like old times.

The girls

The guys

Everyone being random



Our only day of drizzly, grey, typical Vancouver weather was spent mostly eating and lazing around. We headed to Granville Island, the place where I spent my only free day in Vancouver over a year ago. Though Mack tried to dissuade me from doing so, I was keen to retry the Fresh Tomato and Cheese pizza from Bridges (1696 Duranleau Street), a dish I had confidently labelled in 2007 as the “best pizza I ever had”. The pizza was actually quite different than the one I remember – dusted with cornmeal, and (as it was summer) featuring a lot more tomatoes than the winter version, this pizza was less cheesy and chewier than the other. Mack’s halibut fish and chips were great – enrobed in a light and crisp batter, they made for a nice lunch.

Tomato and Cheese Pizza

Fish and Chips

We walked around the Granville Public Market, oohing and ahhing (at least, I was) at all of the wonderful produce available. The only downside of visiting such markets is having to restrain myself from buying everything, knowing that we wouldn’t be able to carry or eat our purchases before they would spoil.


Champagne grapes

I heart hydrangeas

We also wandered into the Net Loft and Kids Market, two buildings that I hadn’t been to before. The loft specifically was great, with a kitchen wares store, a cookbook shop, stationary store, and even a hat boutique that was so packed it was difficult to move between the shelves.

Mack by the harbour

After dinner at Vij’s (which absolutely deserves its own post), we chilled out at Blenz with tea and wifi for Mack and a paper for me.

Always on his iPod



Following a great breakfast at Sophie’s Cosmic Cafe, we headed to Gastown for a walking tour. Having been on walking tours in several cities now, I can say I quite enjoy them. I never remember the small details or facts, but I find it’s a great way to be introduced to a part of town by a local.

Gassy Jack statue

Hotel Europe (looks like the Gibson Block in Edmonton)

The famous steam-powered clock

As always, it was nice to get away, but the trip was too short. You can read Mack’s summary post here, and see all of the photos from our trip here.