Print Edition: January 25, 2012
537 Johnson Street
In a city like Victoria, with restaurants around every corner and on every block, it’s hard to know where to go. Often word-of-mouth seems to be the most appropriate resource for wannabe foodies, but wannabe foodies on a budget often have a harder time. As delicious as many of the seafood places look on Wharf Street, a thirty dollar plate of pasta is not exactly a plausible eating situation.
Willie’s Bakery Café, though, was oddly recommended during a panel session with several comic artists. Gareth Gaudin, owner of Legends Comic and Books in Victoria and creator of the Magic Teeth daily comic, recommended Willie’s because, well, because the name was so closely linked a certain theme that runs through his own stories. Thankfully, the name isn’t a secret innuendo that comes out in the menu selections – it’s just a healthy eating, fresh food, delicious all-day breakfast café.
Any place that has “freshly squeezed orange juice” obviously does their due diligence in making sure the rest of their menu is fresh. Twice, I visited this Johnson Street establishment to enjoy their brioche French toast, topped with strawberry rhubarb compote and maple cream cheese. Add a side of maple bacon and a pot of Mighty Leaf tea and flavour, service and atmosphere perfection is achieved. The ultimate foodie trifecta.
801 Government Street
After Willie’s set such a high standard for unique flavours, fresh ingredients and drool-inducing presentation, The Soda Shoppe across the street from The Empress was a bit of a downer. Granted, a waffle here was only $5 compared to twice that at Willie’s, but its presentation seemed to shout from the rooftops that it was only $5. The plate was half an inch bigger than the waffle, it was topped with whipped cream, certainly, but the two toppings that accompanied it were packaged jam and syrup instead of the obviously homemade compote at Willie’s. The sandwiches weren’t fairing much better. A turkey and Swiss panini with just that – turkey and Swiss, placed on a plate with nothing else around it. Just this sad little panini with no food friends. Perhaps it was the expectations set for Victoria’s cuisine. Perhaps I thought the impressiveness of The Empress and the harbour would somehow trickle through their old doors, but sadly The Soda Shoppe seems only to be worth going to if you’re getting a soda and want to say you’ve done it.
50 Bastion Square
Although first described to me as a vegetarian restaurant, the menu — including a salmon burger — suggests more of a pescetarian outlook on eating. The idea of going to a restaurant that doesn’t have beef anywhere on the menu seemed a little out of the box for me, but I went with it and definitely wasn’t disappointed. With one page of the menu entirely devoted to smoothies and many more entrée options offering infused flavours, it was clear that Rebar knew what they were doing health-wise.
Before the meal began, we were offered the standard bread basket with focaccia that was anything but standard. For some reason, most people tend to make focaccia a hard, flaky, biscotti-like appetizer, but Rebar made theirs soft, buttery and so wonderfully melt-in-your-mouth that balsamic vinegar wasn’t even required. For dinner, I ordered the salmon burger and unlike most salmon burgers that are trying to be burgers, this one was a perfectly cooked salmon filet placed on top of a soft, flaky bun, sided with yam fries – proper yam fries, cut so that it’s obviously from an oddly shaped yam, not from a uniform, rectangular one.
With local brews, like Phillips Beer from Victoria, and vegan, vegetarian and pescetarian options, Rebar is modern food without trying to make it clear that they’re modern food. They offer amazing options on their menu and it’s only afterwards that you realize the herbed almond burger was actually made entirely of herbs and vegetables without a trace of beef – although Ron Swanson could probably tell the difference.
With everything going right—from the brews to the burgers—the only valid option seemed to be to take as many desserts to go as could fit in my eco-friendly bag. Vanilla chocolate chunk cheesecake? Yes. Sour cherry pie? Absolutely. White chocolate coconut tart? Bring it on.
If you want a meal that will leave you feeling like you’ve done something healthy—like just gone for a run, instead of just eaten a giant three-part meal—Rebar is the place for you. Check it out just off Government Street on Bastion Square and you will not regret it.