Here We Go A Waffling

waf·fle 1 (wfl)n.A light crisp battercake baked in a waffle iron.
waf·fle 2  (wfl) Informalv. waf·fled, waf·fling, waf·flesv.tr. - To speak, write, or act evasively about.

Something strange happens as you walk along Robson St approaching Denman in downtown Vancouver. It may take a moment to detect the conspicuous absence, but as you walk past the McDonalds on the corner of Robson and Bidwell, the smell that overtakes your senses is not that familiar greasy fry.  By some miracle, the tiny Nero Belgian Waffle Bar located next door has eclipsed that ubiquitous aroma with the sweet sugary scent of their delightful delicacies.  And if the smell alone isn’t enough to lure you inside the small but very pleasant interior, the friendly Belgian owners and their incredible talent for making their most famous national dish should convince you.

The first time we stumbled upon this I myself was not convinced. I didn’t even order a waffle. You see, I don’t consider myself a waffle lover by any stretch. In days gone by, I would have voted pancake every time – hands down. But I have been converted and I have now visited Nero for breakfast every weekend for the past three weeks. I have tried the Savoury Brussels waffle with Bocconcini, cherry tomatoes, cucumber salsa, olive oil and lemon zest, the Parisienne waffle with brie cheese, walnuts, honey, and added strawberries, the sweet and chewy Liege with Belgian chocolate, and the light and crispy Brussels waffle with ice cream and strawberries.

I quickly put aside the notion that this is something I could create myself by procuring a waffle iron of my own. These guys do it so well, that I am happy to return again and again rather than try in vain to recreate the perfection they seem to achieve unfailingly. And as an added bonus, the espresso and atmosphere make it a great choice for a coffee stop! There’s nothing to waffle about here! I will bring everyone I can to this cozy little wooden sided secret spot. I’m even inviting you right now!

Visit Nero at 1703 Robson Street, Vancouver, BC.

Masthead photo courtesy of digiyesica’s photostream on Flickr

Olympic Neighbourhoods – The West End

Vancouver-westendAs a key media outlet for the 2010 Olympics, the Daily Gumboot is excited to bring you our “Olympics Neighbourhoods” series. Here’s how it works: each week, Managing Editor, Kurt Heinrich, and Editor-in-Chief, John will profile a different Vancouver neighbourhood with a specific focus on things that might interest out-of-town visitors who arrive in The Couve for the Olympics. We will do this between now and the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver and the story will be told be the Gumboot’s editors asking and answering the five questions below. These are the straight goods that you can’t get from VANOC, the Ministry of Tourism or the City of Vancouver. Let’s get to it!

1. Where is this neighbourhood exactly, and how do I get there?

JOHN: You know what? Lindsay McKeeman (see the video below) did such a great job that I think I’ll let her walk us all through the colourful journey that is the West End of Vancouver. Here is a map of the neighbourhood. Have fun with it!

LINDSAY: The West End of Vancouver is on the downtown peninsula neighbouring Stanley Park and the areas of Yaletown, Coal Harbour and the central downtown district. Encompassed within the West End is the vibrant Davie Village, or as I affectionately refer to it as the “gaybourhood”, which is home to the city’s gay community and annual Pride Parade held August 1st.  The West End also serves as the corridor to Stanley park, and an entry point to the Seawall.

2. Why should a tourist/traveler be interested in it?

LINDSAY: The West End, while still downtown, offers a close-by residential refuge from the busy bustling downtown business core. In addition this neighbourhood is home to a multitude of restaurants, pubs, cafes and clubs along Davie and Denman streets. If you continue West down Davie Street, you’ll find yourself at the ocean in English Bay. Walk down towards the water and you’ll link up with the Seawall as it snakes along the water to Stanley Park. The Seawall, on a clear day, is one of the most beautiful places to run or stroll, in Vancouver.

JOHN: The laughing statues – created by Yue Minjun – are a must see and you can find them in the Morton Triangle at Davie and Denman. It’s called A-maze-ing Laughter and it will certainly make you chuckle.

3. What good and/or unique things are there to eat?

LINDSAY: Want just a baked potato for dinner? no problem.  How about a baked potato with 40 different topping options? Mr Kumpir has you covered! What if you’re more of a sweet tooth? Again no problem, within the same block of Denman St there are cookie, cupcake, and cream puffs stores to satiate your search for sweets! One item restaurants aside, there are tonnes of cheap Sushi spots along Robson and Denman, including Akira Sushi. Akira Sushi, for what it lacks in esthetics makes up for in its cheap, good quality sushi. Highlights include the toro sashimi, gomae, and black rice rolls! Lolita’s south of the border Cantina, another favourite along Davie Street has super tasty soft taco’s, I recommend the halibut and “oceanwise” ceviche.

4. What can I do for fun in this neighbourhood.

LINDSAY: During the Olympics Vectoria Elevation will be lighting up the night skies over False Creek and English Bay in a myriad of patterns, that you can go online and control and create yourself! http://vectorialvancouver.net/

(I feel like I’ve talked about the seawall and restaurants, but those can be included too)

JOHN: English Bay is the home of the annual Polar Bear Swim (superfun and super cold), and, hey, let’s not forget the dancing. But that’s on New Year’s Day. If you just want to jump in the water when it’s cold, though, that’s cool too.

5. What are your three favourite things about the West End?

LINDSAY:

1) English Bay, and surrounding beaches, including sunset, second and third beach offer up some of the best spots in Vancouver to sit with some food, a bottle of fine wine and watch the sun set over the strait of georgia.

2) People watching. Oh yes, walking up Davie street or running along the Seawall offers some of the best people watching in the city. Whether it be drag queens in full costume or wide eyed tourists taking in the sites, there is never a dull moment in the West End.

Urban Density and the West End get along really, really well...

Urban Density and the West End get along really, really well...

3) Going for a Run along the Seawall. Again, while I feel like I’ve harped on this spot a lot already, I’m still quite new to Vancouver and the West End, so going for a run along the Seawall still leaves me breathless, for two reasons; its beauty, and quite frankly the length of that damn thing! If you’re feeling ambitious, technically you could run all 22km of that beauty!

JOHN: my favourite thing is that the West End is located right next to my home town of Merville! I guess that’s why Kurt put it in…not because he made a mistake. But we’ll get to that next week. I also like the dancing and weaving through pedestrians who walk on the bike path – for shame, pedestrians…

Sauerkraut, Perogies and Old Gents

Sampling the fare of different ethnic communities around town is a personal goal of mine this year.

Sort of like a mid-year New Year’s reunion.

It all came about after dropping off our two South America-bound correspondents at the airport. On the way back I drove by the Vancouver landmark “Deutsches Haus“, which sits plumply (yes, a building can sit plumply – especially a German/Bavarian Building) off 33rd and Victoria.

Driving buy I realized it has been a long time since I sunk my teeth into Bratwurst, Spaetzle, Currywurst, Blaukraut, and the old fried favorite – Wiener Schnitzel. What better way to celebrate the German community its heritage in Vancouver than to round up a posse and head down to Deutsches Haus to see what tasty times await.

It’s also neat to do so, not at the latest trendy eatery off Main or Broadway, but rather in a den that local Germano-Vancouverites (that word has now been copyrighted by your’s truly) keep coming to decade after decade. It’s kinda like the Legion experience for those of you have ever frequented a Royal Canadian Legion and had the honor of chatting and sharing beers with some of our veterans in their home away from home.

It also wet an appetite to explore similar old school ethnic bastions that I know are hidden across the city, and which are rally points for dozens of other communities.

A few months ago, I visited one such place in Strathcona during Vancouver’s East Side Culture Crawl. That day we hit up the a Ukrainian church basement and filled up on buttery homemade perogies (assembled, I like to dream,

painstakingly by old, thick and boisterous Ukrainian grandmas who while surviving Stalin, famine and the 5 Year Plans, managed to perfect the best perogie recipe in history), rich sweet and sour cabbage rolls, and hearty and salty Ukrainian sausage. It was a blast, made even better by the diversity of community that turned out and the great hosting of the local Ukrainian community.

The French cultural centre is another great example of delicious French cuisine imported to Vancouver (though its a bit more high class than the aformentioned examples – not a big surprise right?). There you can wander around the community centre and see what theatre, shows, and films are coming up until you’re seated by a dainty francophone hostess who sketches out le menu du jour from memory and helps you select which entre to enjoy (will it be filet mignon or a salad de fruits with fresh baguette?oooooh the hemming and hawing). All this can be enjoyed for an incredibly reasonable price considering the quality of the meal and experience.

I’m looking forward to see if the Germans can measure up to the Ukrainians and French when it comes to tasty food and unique atmosphere. I’m hopeful they’ll knock the sox off both of them, but knowing the culinary history of the German people, Im not willing to put more than a handful of change on it.

And if you have any suggestions of delectable restaurants that host and represent a cultural community in the Lower Mainland, let me know. I’d love to try em.