Posted on December 1, 2010
Eating My Way Through Nanaimo…
As someone who loves to eat, cook, discover, sample and savour any and all food, Nanaimo wouldn’t normally be the first city that comes to mind as a culinary mecca. What I was recently very pleased to discover is that the downtown core of the Harbour City is a virtual smörgåsbord of food options paying homage to all corners of the globe.
While Rebecca and I had only 24 hours to explore Nanaimo on our recent visit, it’s safe to say that we made the most of our time and visited a solid handful of these delightful dining establishments. Here’s a quick round-up of some of our stops.
Visiting this historic landmark is a true treat for those enchanted with 1930s glamour. Recently reigniting the passion of this former Chinese food hotspot, Diner’s Rendezvous offers tasty and locally-sourced food within an ambient dining room that has been carefully preserved.
Originally owned by the Wong brothers, this was long ago Nanaimo’s top spot for fast and authentic Chinese food. The former prices astonished us!
While our hostess with the most, Chelsea, opted for the Little Black Dress – a pasta dish including squid ink pasta imported from Italy, both Rebecca and I washed down our lemon chicken meals with magnificent martinis.
If you make your way to Diner’s Rendezvous, don’t leave without peeking your head into the adjacent dining room and catch a glimpse of the ceiling of stars.
After our hearty dinners, the three of us ladies managed to save room for dessert. Little did we know that, once we made our way to the retro glow of Modern Cafe’s neon, we’d have difficulty picking out what we each wanted. Logic dictates that three girls = three martinis and three desserts.
After toasting the evening with our sweet Nanaimo bar martinis, we grabbed our forks and dove into the vodka raspberry crème brulée, a decadent chocolate brownie and creamy peanut butter pie. I’m a sucker for anything with peanut butter, so there’s no need to point out which of the three was my favourite.
Mon Petit Choux 101-120 Commercial Street [Website]
Despite how full our bellies were the night before, by morning Rebecca and I were ready for a scrumptious breakfast to get energized for the day. I find French culture entirely charming and was ecstatic to learn we’d be visiting Mon Petit Choux for breakfast.
While Rebecca and Chelsea dug into their respective Croque Madames, I savoured smoked salmon on scrambled eggs with house made crème fraîche, capers, rosti, and a fresh-baked baguette with house preserves. As I sipped my carefully brewed americano, I couldn’t help but daydream for a moment that we were sitting in a Parisian café without a care in the world.
Mon Petit Choux bakes up its European pastries seven days a week and has undoubtedly become a popular café among locals. Despite how satisfied I was with my breakfast, I couldn’t help but stuff a croissant in my purse for later. You’d need to travel to France to find one better.
True “foodies” find hole-in-the-wall treasures hard to pass up and the same couldn’t be more true than of Pirate Chips. Wedged on a corner across from Diner’s Rendezvous, this tiny pirate ship on dry land has become infamous for Nanaimo’s best poutine and other deep-fried delicacies.
Rather than a sensible lunch, us ladies ordered both the deep-fried Mars bar and a deep-fried Nanaimo bar to share. Beyond brutal for the waistline but oh-so-perfect on our taste buds. The eclectic decor kept me both interested and amused. It’s difficult not to want to call them deep-friend Nanaimo B’arrrrrrrs.
What started as a sugary-sweet trend has become an integral part of almost any neighbourhood. Cupcakes are no longer a quick boxed treat, but instead have become a highly sought-after luxury dessert that’s pleasing to palates of all ages.
Gone are the days when chocolate and vanilla ruled the bakery shelves. A Wee Cupcakery was launched with ideas of gingerbread and red velvet and strawberries and ambrosia dancing in owner Medina’s head.
A Wee Cupcakery also specializes in vegan, gluten-free and sugar-free options. Each and every cupcake is made with only fresh milk, eggs and indulgent Belgian Callebaut chocolate. Don’t pass by the heart-framed window of this tiny shop without stopping on your next walk through Nanaimo’s Old Quarter.
2 Chefs Affair B-123 Commercial Street [Yelp]
Nanaimo’s newest venture on the food front comes from Dan and Tammy – a husband and wife team of chefs. Dan sizzles up the meals while Tammy whips up dessert. The menu is small but the ingredients are fresh and made with a whole lot of heart.
My side salad and pulled beef sandwich with gooey cheese was the perfect portion and warmed me to my belly on an otherwise cold, rainy and dreary day. Even more enticing was the pleasant and personal service offered by the staff at 2 Chefs Affair.
If you’ve ever questioned whether or not Nanaimo is a culinary paradise, allow me to go on record and confirm that it very much is. In fact, I would go on to say that the excitement around eateries in the area is only gaining momentum as consumers seem more interested on both hand-crafted foods while sticking to the globally famous 100-mile diet. Many of the places Rebecca, Chelsea and I insist on locally-sourced food from all points across Vancouver Island. It’s a wholly refreshing way to enjoy a meal out.
And for those who have ever wondered if the Nanaimo bar comes from the city by the sea, make no mistake that this three-layered dessert calls Vancouver Island home. While the origin is still somewhat mysterious, the City of Nanaimo seems to have nailed down the original recipe and posted it online. If baking isn’t your thing, those brave enough can embark on the Nanaimo bar trail, a walking tour of various cafes and bakeries throughout downtown Nanaimo that offer their own spin on the Nanaimo bar. These stops include:
1. Mon Petit Choux – a lighter, whipped version of the classic bar with Parisian panache.
2. Pirate Chips – deep-fried. Enough said.
3. Tea on the Quay – take your Nanaimo bar to go, stuffing the bar-flavoured ice cream in a waffle cone.
4. Jakeob’s Ice Cream Parlour – the most decadent of options, a stacked Nanaimo bar sundae is sure to induce a sugar coma.
5. Minnoz Restaurant – hop into the Coast Bastion Hotel’s adjacent restaurant for a deluxe cheesecake version.
6. A Wee Cupcakery – not surprisingly, Nanaimo bar-flavoured cupcakes come out of the oven a few times a week. Call ahead to verify.
7. Modern Cafe – vanilla vodka, crème de cacao, espresso and coconut syrup laced with chocolate offer a Nanaimo bar with a true kick!
8. Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory – this fudgey favourite is hard to pass up!