Comox’s Twisted Dishes Cafe

Exterior sign of Twisted Dishes Cafe, Comox, Vancouver Island, British ColumbiaSo here’s the question: how can you not be intrigued by a café that goes by the name of Twisted Dishes? It certainly piqued our interest, so we wandered in one teeming-rain afternoon for lunch.

Located on a side street in Comox, Twisted Dishes Café is a small, intimate space totally lacking in any sort of pretence.  There is eclectic décor on the walls that ranges from modern art to vintage mailboxes and stained glass windows. The warmth and welcome envelopes you as you step through the door, and continues as you order at the counter near the back of the café.

Curried yam soup at Twisted Dishes Cafe in Comox, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Curried yam soup and a pesto BLT sandwich

We didn’t arrive until after the traditional lunch hour rush, but there were still customers lingering over their meals. There was absolutely no sense that staff members were anxious about tables needing to be turned, and we liked that – a lot.

After ordering we found a table near the front window, expecting to wait a bit for our meals. We had just settled down with the local paper when the food arrived – it couldn’t have been more than 7 or 8 minutes from the time we placed the order.

Twisted Dishes Cafe owner Dan Locust, Comox, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

New café owner Dan Locust, hard at work in the kitchen

We had decided to split a PBLT – a traditional BLT with the flavourful addition of pesto.  The sandwich was most definitely not your average BLT – the combination of pesto and a sublime ciabatta bun bundling all the ingredients together left us licking our lips.

Interior of Twisted Dishes Cafe, Comox. Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Interior view of the café, which seems to appeal to all age groups

We had each ordered a different soup.  My mushroom soup with roasted sage, garlic and oregano looked a little on the less robust side, but the burst of fungi flavour that settled on my tongue was truly rapturous.

My husband ordered the curried yam soup with broccoli, zucchini and roasted bacon integrated in to it.  Gorgeous colour and a starburst of flavours combined to entrance the eye and the palate. While I loved the mushroom soup I found myself, as I often do, envying my husband’s choice.

Mushroom sage soup and pest BLT sandwich at Twisted Dishes Cafe, Comox, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Mushroom sage soup and Pesto BLT sandwich

The day we visited was the first day of independent operation for new owner Dan Locust.  He had previously worked in the café as the baker, and we have assurances that little, if anything, will change. Judging by the meal we enjoyed at Twisted Dishes this is a wise move – the past three years have seen the development of a devoted following and continuing with the popular breakfasts, innovative lunch menu and casual ambiance should ensure continued success.

            Further information about Twisted Dishes Café can be found at the website:

http://twisteddishes.com/

Price rating: $$

Twisted Dishes is located at 146 Port Augusta Street, Comox

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 49.672533  Long. -124.925929

N 49 40.352  W 124 55.556

Posted in COURTENAY/COMOX VALLEY, KID FRIENDLY, WHEELCHAIR ACCESS, WHERE TO EAT | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Little Qualicum Falls Provincial Park – 1,100 acres of heaven

 

Middle Bridge at Little Qualicum Falls Provincial Park, Vancouver Island

Middle Bridge crosses the river above the upper falls

It has been more than 40 years since I visited Little Qualicum Falls Provincial Park on central Vancouver Island.  In those days things were pretty rudimentary – rough trails, outhouses, and flat rocks along the riverbank used as picnic sites. I am happy to report that things have changed for the better, making this spectacular park more accessible to visitors.

Upper falls at Little Qualicum River Provincial Park, Vancouver Island

The upper falls – spectacular from above…

Upper falls, Little Qualicum River Provincial Park, Vancouver Island

…and below

Little Qualicum Falls park was designated in 1940. It encompasses almost 1,100 acres (440 hectares), reaching all the way to massive Cameron Lake. Our recent foray to the park on a lovely early spring day reminded me of why this place has stuck in my mind all these years, even though I have not been a frequent visitor. It is, quite simply, magnificent.

Stairway on trail at Little Qualicum Falls Provincial Park, Vancouver Island

Well-constructed stairways assist hikers on the uphill and downhill portions of the trail

The park offers 3.75 miles (6 kilometres) of hiking trails.  We opted for the loop walk that commences from the beautiful picnic area in the day use portion of the park. Trails for both the upper and lower falls meander off in to the woods from there, so we decided to head for the upper falls first.

Canyon on Little Qualicum River, Little Qualicum Falls Provincial Park, Vancouver Island

The river wends its way through steep canyons

The trails, while well-maintained, do have some rough spots.  Good footwear and a keen eye are necessary to ensure that you stay upright on your adventure. There are several well-built sets of stairs on this route, and the Middle Bridge, across the upper falls, is a picture.  There are several viewpoints on the way up to the bridge – it helps if you are a bit of a mountain goat to get to some of them, but they are worth the effort.

Bridge at lower falls, Little Qualicum Falls Provincial Park, Vancouver Island

The bridge at the lower falls

Views from the sturdily-built bridge are pretty spectacular, but the best view of the massive upper falls is from a viewpoint a ways down the trail on the other side. There is so much water crashing through the Little Qualicum River right now that the spray from the falls can be felt at this viewpoint, which is many feet above the river. Things are quieter in the summer of course, but the spectacle and roar of hundreds of thousands of gallons of crystal clear water tumbling over sheer rock face is breathtaking.

Lower falls at Little Qualicum River Provincial Park, Vancouver Island

The lower falls

From the upper falls we headed down the trail to the lower falls, where another sturdy bridge offered a crossing as well as great views up-river.  While the lower falls aren’t as impressive as their larger cousin they are certainly worth the effort to view.

Picnic area at Little Qualicum Falls Provincial Park, Vancouver Island

The beautiful picnic site offers tables and a covered eating area

Back across the river we hiked uphill and back to the parking area. All-told our adventure took about 1 ½ hours.  This walk can most certainly be done in much less time but as usual, we stopped a lot to enjoy the scenery, take photos, and marvel at the power of the natural world. For us, that’s what it’s all about.

Dogs are welcome at Little Qualicum Falls park, but must be kept on leash due to the risk of interaction with wildlife. The loop hike is ‘do-able’ for anyone who is reasonably fit.

Further information on Little Qualicum Falls Provincial Park can be found at the website:

http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/bcparks/explore/parkpgs/little_qualicum_falls/

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 49.29339899999999   Long. -124.598672

N 49 17.604  W 124 35.920

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Nanaimo’s The Nest Bistro – more space, same wonderful food

Hertel Farm pork spring rolls at The Nest, Nanaimo, Vancouver Island

Spring rolls

More space and a different view are about the only things that have changed at one of our favourite Nanaimo eateries, The Nest Bistro.  And that’s a good and happy thing!

Interior view of The Nest Bistro, Nanaimo, Vancouver Island

The interior at The Nest’s new digs – upscale casual, on two levels

The Nest Bistro moved from its tiny venue in the Old City Quarter last year into a larger spot perched on the edge of a cliff just up from the waterfront.  Floor-to-ceiling windows along the front of the building afford city vistas and the two-level arrangement seems to be working out well for the restaurant.

View from The Nest Restaurant, Nanaimo, Vancouver Island

The view from The Nest’s new perch on a cliff

We arrived at 5 p.m. on a Saturday, expecting to be the only patrons that early.  We were surprised to see several other parties already seated and ordering.  Clearly, the change of location has not affected the popularity of The Nest.

Forest Mushroom Risotto at The Nest Bistro, Nanaimo, Vancouver Island

Forest Mushroom Risotto – too good for words, and lots of it!

We began our meal by sharing the Hertel Farm Pork Spring Rolls  – a generous serving of four substantial and tasty pieces accompanied by a dipping sauce. Crispy but not greasy, they were full of flavour and plenty of pork.  For $10, great value for the money.

Panko-crusted chicken breast stuffed with Brie and sauteed mushrooms at The Nest Bistro, Nanaimo, Vancouver Island

Panko-crusted chicken breast stuffed with Brie cheese and sautéed mushrooms

We moved on to our main courses – for my husband,  a beautiful panko-crusted chicken breast stuffed with sautéed mushrooms and Little Qualicum Brie, accompanied by perfectly cooked seasonal vegetables.  I ordered the most delectable forest mushroom risotto, which was accompanied by prawns and fresh vegetables.  The serving was generous to the point of crazy – I brought about half of it home to enjoy another time. The risotto had a lovely earthy mushroom flavour infused throughout – every mouthful brought expressions of delight from me.

Dessert (which, truth be known, we shouldn’t have ordered, but it was a special occasion) was every bit as scrumptious as the preceding courses.  I ordered the beautifully dense and delightful ginger cake, accompanied by whipped cream and a generous dispensation of caramel sauce.  All I can say about it is it’s no wonder The Nest is famous for this dessert – the perfect balance of spice and sweet is something to savour.  My husband, ever a fan of the humble apple, ordered the baked apple.  It arrived nested in a light pastry blanket and left him with a very happy smile on his face.

Ginger cake with caramel sauce at The Nest Bistro, Nanaimo, Vancouver Island

To-die-for Ginger Cake

We finished our meal with a really excellent cup of decaf Creekmore’s coffee, roasted here on the Island. It was one of the best decafs we have experienced, indicative of the fact that The Nest crew is dedicated to getting it all right, now matter how minor an order might seem.

The move to new premises appears to have been a good thing for The Nest – more space for more people to enjoy the superb food that has always been a tradition at this great local spot. Overall, The Nest is one of the best ‘value for money’ deals on Vancouver Island – superb culinary offerings in an upscale-but-not-stuffy setting, complimented by great service. The depth of culinary experience of both owners shines through in every aspect of this popular place.  Who could ask for more?          wheelchair-lMore information about The Nest Bistro can be found at the restaurant’s website at:

http://www.thenestbistro.com/

Price rating: $$

 The Nest Bistro is located at 77 Skinner Street, Nanaimo

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. : 49.168704  Long.: -123.939014

                                                       N 49 10.122  W 123 56.341

 

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Parksville’s Bread and Honey Food Company

Bread and Honey salmon chowder and melted cheese sandwich, Parksville, Vancouver IslandThe old saw about everything old is new again appears to have come full circle in the case of the Bread and Honey Food Company in Parksville.  One of our very favourite Parksville eateries during its first four years when it was owned by the dynamic team of Laurie Robertson-Hooper and Val Sorensen, the place fell out of favour with us and quite a few others when it changed hands.  Happily, yet another alteration in the ownership has brought Bread and Honey back to life.

Things have changed, of course.  Opening hours, menu, ambiance have all had a shaking up.  Where once this sweet place was only open weekdays, new owners Michael and Angela Sproul now offer weekend brunches.  The daily-changing blackboard menu popularized by the originators of Bread and Honey has given way to an extensive printed menu that includes everything from breakfast to appetizers to lunch and alcoholic beverages.  The pretty original French country style has morphed in to a glossier, more modern esthetic.  And the clientele seems to have changed too – a bit of a younger demographic, although we certainly weren’t the only ‘older’ patrons the day that we dropped in for lunch.

Fried Chicken Sandwich at Bread and Honey Food Company, Parksville, Vancouver Island

The Fried Chicken Sandwich – a yummy amalgamation of flavours

We arrived at 11:30, thinking that would be a safe bet to get us away in time for a later appointment in Nanaimo, and assuming that the place would be pretty empty.  Not so – most tables were occupied and there was a pleasant upbeat vibe. It took 30 minutes for our lunch to arrive, which still left us time to get to Nanaimo. But if you are in a hurry you might want to save Bread and Honey for a more leisurely experience when you have more time.

Lunch, however, was well worth the wait.  My husband ordered a cup of seafood chowder and the grilled cheese sandwich.  The chowder was a creamy blend chock full of good ingredients and bursting with flavour.  The sandwich, a combination of brie and Swiss cheeses, preserves and arugula, was a satisfying combination with an interesting twist from a regular old cheese sandwich.

Interior of Bread and Honey Food Company, Parksville, Vancouver Island

The French country ambiance of old has changed to a more modern vibe

I ordered the fried chicken sandwich and was pleasantly surprised at the great flavour amalgamation. A tender, juicy and crispy fried chicken breast was nestled  amongst a profusion of lettuce, tomato, pickles and buttermilk ranch dressing. The pickles really made that sandwich, jacking the flavour combinations into the stratosphere.

So, while we still long for the good old days of the original Bread and Honey we are delighted to find that this great little hole in the wall is doing well and bringing new food concepts to what is obviously an adoring public. It’s nice to see a young couple realizing their dream while bringing something new and fresh to the restaurant scene on the Island.

            Further information about Bread and Honey can be found at the website:

http://www.breadandhoneyfoodco.com/#!home/mainPage

The Bread and Honey Food Company is located at #4, 162 Harrison Avenue, Parksville

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 49.320194  Long. -124.315156

N 49 19.212 W 124 18.909

 

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Pure, sweet maple syrup – Island style

Maple Syrup_edited-1Most of us are familiar with the sweet, sticky substance called maple syrup, which traditionally is harvested from sugar maples in eastern Canada.  But a new (and very delicious) product – bigleaf maple syrup – is being discovered and promoted right here in British Columbia.  We trekked down to Duncan for the Bigleaf Maple Syrup Festival to learn more.

Sapsucker demonstrates tapping a bigleaf maple for sap at BC Forest Discovery Centre, Duncan, Vancouver Island

Sapsucker Louis demonstrates how to tap a tree

The festival spans two days and is run out of the BC Forest Discovery Centre (http://bcforestdiscoverycentre.com/). Our afternoon adventure began with a video outlining the careful – and sometimes tedious – process of boiling down the bigleaf maple sap into syrup.  It is a procedure that requires many hours and very close attention. And it certainly explains why pure maple syrup is the price it is – it takes 68 litres (71 quarts) of sap to create a single litre (1.05 quarts) of finished syrup.

Tapped bigleaf maple at Duncan, Vancouver Island

Tapped!

Our next stop at the festival was with Louis, the Sapsucker (which is what maple syrup enthusiasts call themselves).  Louis took us on a guided tour of one of the walking trails at the site, taught us how to identify bigleaf maples even when there are no leaves on them, and showed us the basics of tapping the trees.

Cooking down bigleaf maple sap at the Bigleaf Maple Syrup Festival, Duncan, Vancouver Island

Cooking down sap takes many hours, an outdoor venue and careful attention

Bigleaf maples are apparently pretty much indestructible – Louis pointed out several tap holes from past years that had healed over nicely.  Sugar maples, the common sap producer in Quebec, are much more delicate and can be easily killed.  So, it stands to reason that the bigleaf variety of maple would be the one of choice if maple syrup producers had their ‘druthers’.  At this point harvests are done from wild trees in the forests of B.C., but perhaps down the road it won’t be unusual to see cultivated bigleaf maple farms.

Vendor at Bigleaf Maple Syrup Festival, Duncan,. Vancouver Island

One of several vendors at the Bigleaf Maple Syrup Festival

Louis demonstrated the tapping method – a simple drill hole into the tree, insertion of a spigot and drip tube, which feeds in to a covered plastic bucket.  The covers are necessary here on the west coast because of bear activity in the wilds.

We also learned from Louis that weather and sunshine exposure have a great influence on the amount of sap that a tree will yield. Time of year for tapping is a consideration as well – late winter and early spring are the best.

Bigleaf Maple Syrup foodstuffs at Duncan, Vancouver island

Bigleaf maple syrup can be used in a variety of ways

Following the introduction to tapping we wandered back to an open field where various vendors and bigleaf maple syrup enthusiasts had set up booths.  Much to our surprise there were a number of vendors selling bigleaf maple syrup, produced from trees on their properties.  Tasting opportunities abounded and we discovered that, although the syrups all came from the same species of tree, flavours varied based on where those trees were located.  We are fans of the dark syrup and stronger flavour, but there were also lighter, amber syrups available. Terroir, apparently, has everything to do with the finished product, as it does with tea and wine.

The folks at Teafarm (http://www.teafarm.ca/) were also set up at the festival, offering free cups of their Mad Hatter Tea blended with the local maple syrup – a refreshing and different take on ‘the way of tea’, for sure.

Bigleaf maple syrup on pancakes, Qualicum Beach, Vancouver Island

Mmmm! Is there anything better than pure bigleaf maple syrup on pancakes?

Of course, we ended up purchasing small bottles of a number of varieties of syrup, which immediately got served over pancakes at breakfast the next day.  There is still some left and I am thinking it would be very lovely over something simple like a really good vanilla ice cream – the local syrup seems to be thicker than the product from out east and would make an excellent addition to a special dish. One vendor was offering a variety of maple syrup-added foodstuffs that included a maple salad dressing, jam and maple whipped butter – clearly the uses for this sweet local product are varied.

Although the Bigleaf Maple Syrup Festival is over for this year, it’s worth keeping an eye out for the 2017 version.  And if you happen to see any bigleaf maple syrup for sale in your travels, be sure to purchase a bottle – you won’t regret it, guaranteed!

The Bigleaf Maple Syrup Festival is held at the B.C. Forest Discovery Centre in Duncan at 2892 Drinkwater Road.

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 48.802032  Long. -123.715267

N 48 48.122  W 123 42.916

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Avenue Bistro in Comox offers upscale casual dining

Crispy chicken cordon bleu burger at Avenue Bistro, Comox, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Chicken cordon bleu burger and coconut yam soup

We recently piled in to Comox’s Avenue Bistro for a late lunch that not only saved me from cooking a big supper, but left our palates in a very happy state.

After hearing and reading about Avenue for many years – but never getting around to eating on the ‘other side’ of the Courtenay River – we stepped through the door of Avenue ravenous.  One of the big problems with the Courtenay/Comox area – and what a nice problem to have – is that there are so many great places for a meal that it is difficult to try them all.

With it being January we obviously weren’t going to eat on the spacious outdoor patio, so chose a table near the window, away from the darker interior tables and booths.

It took us a while to work our way through the tantalizing menu. I was trying to decide whether to order a couple of the tempting starters – both the polenta stack and the Togarashi crusted albacore tuna stacks caught my eye – or one of the pizzas that had set set my mouth to watering.  But then I got down to the list of sandwiches and that was the end of my indecision.

Avenue Bistro interior in Comox, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The interior of Avenue Bistro

I ordered the chicken cordon bleu burger – a sublime combination of crispy fried chicken breast, local camembert cheese, Tannadice ham, tomato, arugula, red onion and smoked paprika aioli. The burger came with the soup of the day, a silky and luscious coconut yam soup that left me thinking I needed to ask for the recipe.

My husband chose the West Coast Clubhouse – a combination of salmon, wild Pacific shrimp, avocado mash, tomato and greens on toasted foccacia.  The sandwich arrived with an abundance of skinny fries.

Needless to say, we both had full and happy stomachs at the end of the meal.  There was so much food on my side of the table that I didn’t quite finish the burger.

West coast clubhouse sandwich at Avenue Bistro, Comox, Vancouver Island

West Coast Clubhouse

It was good to see on the Avenue menu that they use many locally-produced foodstuffs – a trend that seems to have really taken hold in the Comox Valley. The ramped-up flavour and freshness of everything from meat to cheeses to greens shines through when meals land on the table.

Avenue describes itself as an upscale casual eatery, and I would say that’s a pretty accurate definition for this place. The menus are varied and offer lots of interesting and flavourful dining options, and the physical space, while perhaps a little on the dark side, is comfortable and welcoming.

Avenue Bistro is located at 2064 Comox Avenue, Comox.  Further information on Avenue Bistro can be found at the website:

http://www.avenuebistro.ca/#modernfood

 Price rating: $$

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat.: 49.675972  Long. -124.938160

N 49 40.558    W 124 56.290

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Parksville’s Top Bridge Regional Trail

Suspension bridge at Top Bridge Community Park, Parksville,Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The suspension bridge at Top Bridge is a popular destination

It’s a little confusing trying to decide where to start out, but Parksville’s Top Bridge Regional Trail is worth the effort of spending a few minutes on-line to figure out how to access this pretty network of hiking trails, mountain bike tracks, suspension bridge and meandering riverside walks.

View from Top Bridge Community Park suspension bridge, Parksville, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

View from the bridge, looking up-river

Top Bridge is accessible from several points in the Parksville area, giving visitors a variety of choices as to how far they want to hike and what their preferred activities may be. The trail stretches for 5 kilometres (3 miles) between the very beautiful Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park up to the bottom tip of Englishman River Falls Provincial Park.  Those looking for a bit of a less strenuous outing might want to consider beginning their adventure from Tuan Road in the industrial park (3.5 kilometres, or 2 miles) or it is possible to drive almost right to the suspension bridge on both sides.

Fishermen at Englishman River, Parksville, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The Englishman River is a popular destination for anglers

We began our exploration at the end of Allsbrook Road, where Top Bridge Community Park bumps up against Englishman River Falls Provincial Park.  We scrambled down one of the steep mountain bike trails rather than taking the road down to the 81-metre (265 feet) long suspension bridge.  Completed in 2007, the bridge spans the Englishman River and offers pretty views in all directions.

Man and Irish Setter on Top Bridge Trail, Parksville, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Pretty views abound along the trail, along with sheer rock faces that run right down to trail level

We discovered after crossing the bridge that it is also possible to drive almost right up to the bridge on the other side, (Chattel Road) where a spacious parking lot acts as the jumping-off point for adventurers of all ages. Easy access to the river means folks  – and their dogs – are able to enjoy the rushing water and the many interesting rock formations that, in some spots, run right down to the riverbed.

Englishman River, Parksville, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The Englishman River is beautiful even on a winter’s day

At the end of the parking lot nearest the bridge we found the trail that would lead us all the way to Rathtrevor Beach.

Suspension bridge viewed from Englishman River, Top Bridge Regional Trail, Parksville, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Looking up from the river at the suspension bridge

While the trail is a little rough in spots it is very well constructed – good solid footing and substantial railings and stairs made the hike very enjoyable. We marveled at the sheer rock faces running right down to trail level, and dreamed of returning during the warmer months for a picnic on the riverbank.  There are several quiet swimming holes, and even in the dead of winter we saw anglers on the opposite bank. The Englishman is a good spot for fishermen hoping to catch salmon, winter steelhead and cutthroat trout.

Top Bridge Regional Trail, Parksville, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

One of the sheer rock faces on the trail – massive and very impressive!

The Top Bridge Trail wends its way up hill and down dale, through some private property, under Highway 19 and concludes (if you do the entire hike) in the heart of Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park.  We didn’t do the whole trail, but plan in future to work our way up from the Rathtrevor end.

Mountain bike trail at Top Bridge Mountain Bike Park, Parksville, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

If you are looking for a workout you can scale some of the mountain bike trails….

There is also a comprehensive mountain bike circuit on the Chattell Road side of the bridge, and many minor trails lead off the main one, either into the forest or down to the river.  Plenty of opportunity for exploring and enjoying the wild beauty of this pristine area, thanks to the foresight of the Nanaimo Regional District.

            Further information on Top Bridge Regional Trail, including an excellent map with trailhead markers,  can be found at:

http://www.rdn.bc.ca/cms.asp?wpID=2614

GPS co-ordinates for the Chattell Road access point to the trail are:

Lat. 49.297843  Long. -124.266254

N 49 17.871  W 124 15.972

 

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Qualicum Beach’s Butlers at the Mansion

It has taken a while, but what has had the possibility of becoming one of Qualicum Beach’s premier dining spots has finally reached its full potential. Butler’s at the Mansion is located in an historic century-old home that is part boutique hotel, part privately-owned condominiums and part restaurant.

Butlers occupies two large areas of the main floor of the Crown Mansion.  Both the hotel and restaurant retain the grace and beauty of a well-built, well lived-in home.  Coffered ceilings, beautiful fireplaces, crown moldings and wainscoting reflect the luxury and comfort of bygone days. The beautiful restoration makes it entirely possible to imagine what it must have been like in the early 1900s when the likes of John Wayne, Bob Hope, Rita Hayworth and the King of Siam were guests of General Noel Money.

Dining room at Butlers at the Mansion, Qualicum Beach, Vancouver Island

Fine dining in a beautiful setting

Happily, that elegant and sumptuous ambiance continues at Butlers.  Fine linens and glassware and warming fireplaces combine with beautiful upholstered chairs, great service and wonderful food to enhance a special meal out.

We recently enjoyed dinner at Butlers on a dreary winter evening, starting with a large serving of calamari, then following on with our main courses.  Always a soft touch for anything with saffron in it, I fell victim to the luscious Linguine al Pesce – a brimming plate of pasta topped with a bounty of shrimp, scallops and prawns napped in a saffron lemon cream sauce.  Again, very generous portions – I took some home for lunch the following day.

Seafood linguine napped in a saffron lemon cream sauce

Seafood linguine napped in a saffron lemon cream sauce

My husband opted for the pork tenderloin with fresh blackberries in a blackberry demi-glace, served with roast potatoes and seasonal vegetables – a dish that he deemed very flavourful and, again, very filling.

We finished the evening with an amaretto crème brulee that still makes me wonder at the beauty of it.  A silky, rich custard with just the very slightest hint of amaretto – a transcendent dessert experience if ever there was one.

While Butlers prices are in line with any other fine dining establishment, a special that is offered each Tuesday and Wednesday night will get you a three course meal from a set menu for $29 – great value for the money, and a good way to explore the many lovely facets of the place.

Amaretto crème brulee

Amaretto crème brulee

I have to admit that when Butlers first re-opened in the early summer of 2015 I wondered at the introduction of an ‘Italian’ style menu – it just didn’t seem to fit the physical surroundings of early 20th century Qualicum Beach. By the time we were finished with our meal I was convinced that, while perhaps a little odd, the arrangement works.  The current operators are former owners of a very successful Italian eatery in the Comox Valley, and when they moved to Qualicum they brought their entire staff with them. The end result is great food and service in a truly magnificent setting – and really, who cares about anything other than that when it comes to dining out?            wheelchair-lFurther information on Butlers at the Mansion can be found at the website:

            http://crownmansion.com/restaurant/

Price rating: $$

Butlers at the Mansion is located in the Crown Mansion,  292 Crescent Road East.

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 49.354477  Long. -124.433550

N 49 21.269  W 124 26.013

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Brickyard Park – a hidden treasure in Nanoose

Bench ViewIt’s not very big, but there is a treasure of a park tucked away in the Nanoose area that is a secret favourite of the locals.  Brickyard Park is a five-acre (2 hectare) chunk of rocky waterfront outcrop that offers spectacular views of the Winchelsea Islands, wildlife viewing, swimming, scuba diving and kayaking….or a place to simply sit and contemplate life.

View of Winchelsea Islands from Brickyard Park

Rudimentary trails at Brickyard Park lead to beautiful views

The park was dedicated by the developers of the upscale Fairwinds development in Nanoose.  Surrounded by expensive waterfront homes perched on the cliffs on either side, Brickyard Park (or Brickyard Bay, or Brickyard Cove, as it is sometimes known) is overseen by the Nanaimo Regional District.  The trails are rudimentary at best, but a little exploration reveals pretty views from various points, and a wealth of vegetation ranging from Garry Oaks to arbutus trees.

Brick remnants in Brickyard Park, Nanoose, Vancouver Island

Remnants of brick from a century ago are still seen embedded in pathways and tree roots

The name for Brickyard Park comes from its history.  In 1911 enterprising pioneers in the area began hauling clay from the surrounding fields to the tiny protected bay area. Barges hauled coal to the site to fire the kilns, and were then utilized to haul away the finished bricks to world markets.  More than a century later there are still remnants of the bricks to be found embedded in tree roots and some of the pathways.   The clearing of the clay laid the base for what is now the local golf course, although it took many years before that facility and the surrounding residential development would become a reality. Original plans to develop a high-end community on the 1350 acres now known as Fairwinds were spawned in 1929.  But, of course, there couldn’t have been a worse time for developers to be planning such an initiative and over the years the land reverted to livestock pasture.  The property changed hands a number of times, and more recent developments have seen the original dream becoming reality.

Pebble beach at Brickyard Park, Nanoose, Vancouver Island

The small pebble beach offers safe swimming and pretty views

We spent about an hour knocking about at Brickyard Park on a sunny Sunday afternoon, and saw only two other people.  There are benches perched in various locations that allow different views of water, outlying islands and mountains – a perfect spot for a picnic on a warm day.  The small bay where the brickworks was actually located offers a pretty, protected gravel beach.  And a wander up through the forest reveals bits of brick and moss-covered footings that were obviously part of the actual brickworks.

Benches at Brickyard Park, Nanoose, Vancouver Island

Benches are located at several locations, offering varying views

While the walking at Brickyard Park isn’t particularly arduous the trails are, as mentioned earlier, pretty rudimentary.  To get to the best observation spots be prepared to take your time and work your way over rocky outcrops. Good footwear is a must.  It will all be worth the effort and extra care though – this sweet little hideaway park is one of the Island’s most enchanting.

Sign To get to Brickyard Park you need to get to Amberwood Lane, which is off Andover Road in Nanoose.  There is a sign for the park at the trailhead.

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 49.275667  Long. -124.120206

N 49 16.540  W 124 07.212

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Courtenay’s Locals at The Old House earns highest LEAF certification for environmentally friendly ‘green’ practises

Exterior BestWe begin this brand new year with a story with a bit of a different twist.  But it is the kind of feature that nonetheless has an impact for many reasons – we are writing this week about the first restaurant in British Columbia to earn the top level of LEAF certification – and that restaurant is right here on Vancouver Island.

LEAF is the acronym for Leaders in Environmentally Accountable Foodservice.  Founded in Calgary in 2009, the non-profit organization is a third party certifier of sustainability for food service establishments.  The association has three levels of certification, with Level III being the highest.  Locals at the Old House in Courtenay has been working its way up the LEAF ladder for a number of years, and has now reached the highest level of official recognition.

LEAF considers hundreds of matters when a restaurant applies for certification, with the aim of reducing overall environmental impact of the food service industry. One of the major goals is to encourage restaurants to patronize area growers and suppliers. Locals was one of the first ones on the Island out of the gate on that front so it had a running start.

Locals earned its Level I certification while still at its old location in a strip mall, but a move to the beloved Old House on the Courtenay waterfront in 2008 inspired restaurant owners Ronald and Tricia St. Pierre to strive for an even ‘greener’ status.  Extensive renovations at The Old House and implementation of new systems that better supported green practice brought the restaurant up to Level II certification.  More recently Locals reached the pinnacle of certification from LEAF with yet more fine tuning

Tricia and Ronald St. Pierre continue to strive for improvements at Locals at The Old House

Tricia and Ronald St. Pierre continue to strive for improvements at Locals at The Old House

The past year has seen Locals build upon its improvements with a number of adjustments. A switch to a green eco-logo line of certified products from Planet Clean, upgrading of kitchen equipment with Energy Star appliances and development of their own kitchen food scrap management strategies all contributed to the higher certification from LEAF.

The St. Pierres are never content to rest on their laurels, however. Just last month during a meeting with Tricia she was mentioning that Locals is now giving thought to how to reduce their water usage – another laudable goal that puts the Locals folks in the forefront not only for exquisite food, but social responsibility.

            Further information on LEAF, including a list of certified restaurants (Locals is actually the ONLY restaurant certified in all of British Columbia at this point) can be found at:

http://leafme.ca/

 

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