A historical and gastronomical adventure through Gastown with Gassy Jack
On a scorching summer day we began our tour of Gastown, Vancouver's first downtown core. Led by "Gassy" Jack Deighton, for which Gastown drew it's name, those on the tour were eager to learn more about Gastown's history while delving in to its culinary diversity.
Not specific to Gastown (or particularly important to the neighbourhood) we began at Starbucks at Waterfront where we sampled their new "Refreshers" and an oatmeal raisin cookie.
We found ourselves at Waterfront Station where we learned about the paintings bordering the inside of the building.
Then it was time for a snack at Rogue Kitchen & Wet Bar. After a good chunk of time that allowed a chance to get to know each other, we were offered a sample of Lobster Mac ‘n’ Cheese. It was explained to us as "high class meets down south" with its four cheese blend, generous lobster chunks, fresh parsley, traditional macaroni noodles and toasted Parmesan cheese top. It felt like a lot of love went in to this dish.
Following Rogue was a trip to Steamworks, a restaurant brew pub known for their delicious craft beer. We sampled the Ginger Beer which was not too heavy in ginger flavour but definitely prominent in aroma and aftertaste. It's carbonated with a slight caramel taste and boasts an amber color despite being slightly lighter bodied.
After our drink it was time for something sweet. Roger's Chocolates was stop number three of the tour and where we sampled a salted caramel chocolate. It may be an overused combination of flavours in the world of chocolates, but due to the high quality of their chocolate, it proved to be a pleasing treat. Surprisingly no one left the tour with a bag full of chocolates.
Like true Canadians (even if just for the day) we stopped next at Maple Delights. Probably a less regularly frequented shop to locals as it is to tourists it was nice to pop in for a visit. The smell of maple enveloped the room and made the maple popcorn, maple syrup, maple tea, and maple grand marnier syrup taste that much stronger in flavour. A true experience of eating with our eyes first, with maple treats on every shelf and maple ice cream in the freezer, then with our noses and finally our mouths.
Stop number five was Brioche, a quaint café tucked away in Gastown. Here we had the opportunity to sit down and enjoy the company of each other and ourselves as we found that there was only room for our group to fit in the café. Our feet got a break from walking, as our minds got a break from history.
Eduardo Belardello, head chef and owner of Brioche, offered us a three-cheese tortellini with meat sauce. Their pasta is made from scratch and you can taste the love in every bite. The cheese held it's own against the ground beef and tomato sauce, creating a trio of different flavors having a party in your mouth. It was served warm with a side of French bread drizzled with olive oil. The portion sizes were fair and allowed for a good feeling of whether you would revisit the restaurant or not. Based upon that dish, I would without hesitation.
Trees Organic claims to have the best cheesecake in Vancouver. Do I agree with that? No. But it is delicious, creamy, and one of the better ones I’ve tried in the city. They make a few notable kinds including their Sin Cheesecake, a sour cherry, marble cheesecake and their “flavours of the month” that are usually well crafted. The bite size portion of strawberry cheesecake that we sampled during the tour was one of their limited releases.
Next we stopped at the famous Gastown Steam Clock to learn about its history. Apparently it was built to harness the steam coming from underground while preventing those living on the street to sleep on top of the grate in an attempt to keep warm.
The history didn’t end there as we ventured in to our next stop on the tour.
In 1886 there was a controlled fire that went array in Yaletown, known as the great fire that destroyed the new city. "Flames were moving faster than the horses could run," explained our Gassy Jack. Due to it's fierceness it quickly spread to Gastown, destroying all but two buildings including the Regina Hotel, which now boasts the Water Street Cafe. It survived because it had running water in all of the rooms, which were cleverly turned on in a successful effort at flooding out the fire in the building. The restaurant that now occupies the Regina Hotel, has been open since 1988, and reflects its Italian heritage with a myriad of pasta dishes, while incorporating West Coast culture, with its large selection of seafood dishes. They bring in fresh fish daily, which they butcher themselves. During our visit we sampled some west coast crab cakes that have been on the menu since the day they opened. They contained Pacific baby shrimp, fresh Dungeness crab, and were topped with corn salsa and a garlic aioli.
While the tour was mostly focused on food we did make what seemed like a random stop at a shoe store. But not just any shoe store, John Fluevog’s flagship store that also shares the space with John's Design Studio and HQ. The glass, greenhouse-esque building has an interesting feature (the wall) that I won’t entirely spoil. “Gassy Jack” posed with a “Katy Perry” shoe as he called it while some of ladies tried on some shoes.
Although an interesting stop historically it seemed to be not the best choice, proven by the fact that half the tour went to grab a beer at our next stop, Peckinpah.
Peckinpah Restaurant offers Carolina style BBQ and showcases a medley of locally sourced meat in different styles; from beef brisket to pulled pork. Liam, the store manager informed us that in order to keep their pulled pork moist they soak the meat in chili vinegar. He said this as we were sampling it which made it hard for me to taste the BBQ flavour I’m familiar with and only noticed the acidity of the vinegar. That said, it was very moist and I’d love to go back their for a full portion and a true Peckinpah experience.
Behind the bar is also an impressively stocked bourbon bar with 25 different varieties, making Peckinpah have the largest selection of bourbon in Vancouver. Liam Lux, the restaurant manager even took a moment to pose with his impressive selection.
As we strolled through Gaoler's Mews we discovered Gastown Tea Company, originally Après-midi Premium Teahouse.
I felt immediately relaxed upon entering, loving the vibe, the customer service, the smell, the décor and the comfortable seats by the big windows. They have a sniffing station to smell some of their over 80 finest loose leaf teas before choosing which one to drink. With names like Sweet Ending and Fruit Symphony Tea, they have every type of tea your tea totaling self could imagine, and then some. We had the iced Sweet Ending with an oatmeal cookie. The cookie was moist and chewy, like every freshly made cookie should taste, while the tea was as flavorful in its taste as it was to my olfactory system.
As someone who feels that they've covered every inch of Vancouver I'm shocked that I've never been to this little gem before. Gastown Tea Company is a place appropriate for a date or for an afternoon tea with a friend where you could situate for hours. It was a shame that we didn’t have more time to spend there but they had to wrap up the tour, appropriately at the Gassy Jack statue around the corner.
The Gastown Food Tour was an interesting way to spend a weekday afternoon for a local or for a tourist. The amount of food, the information told through a Gassy Jack impersonator and the organization that goes in to it is well worth the $39 it costs to go on it. Don’t go in expecting to shuffle your feet as you stroll through Gastown though as it’s fairly fast paced and you feel slightly like a hurdled group of sheep. The fast pace is justified by the amount of information they cover in a short time and to match the fast pace many of us are used to in Vancouver.