Mother’s Day makes me think of buffet brunch at a fancy hotel, even though I’ve never been taken to one—at my own insistence. The idea of sitting down in a packed dining room next to everyone else’s little orangutans to pay too much money to eat too much food just doesn’t do it for me.
White Spot is out; the home of Pirate Paks is a treat for the kids, not their parents. Little Nest (1716 Charles Street) is always a solid bet—the food is so good that a lot of childless people go there despite the central play zone—but it’s also more of an everyday place.
If I had my pick, I’d celebrate seven years of whining and sleep deprivation (and that’s just me during the work week) by hitting the following spots for brunch.
Thomas Haas Fine Chocolates And Patisserie
(128–998 Harbourside Drive, North Vancouver)
The original location is as tiny as a truffle but just as pretty. Look up at the red wallpapered ceiling and you’ll feel like you’re sipping your latte right inside a box of chocolates.
Pastries simply don’t get better than this. You might find yourself torn between the pull-apart roll with fresh berries or the perfectly prepared pain au chocolate. (So many places seem to plop a chocolate bar in the middle of the croissant; Haas’s version is true to the ones in Paris, the chocolate a seamless layer of the delicate, buttery roll.) Mama sure never cooked like this. And never mind the kids—show me a grownup who can resist peeking in the little slots where Haas hides chocolates for the taking.
Devastating for moms everywhere is the fact that it’s closed on Mother’s Day, as it is every Sunday. (Same goes for the Kits location at 2539 West Broadway.) However, I’m still including the café here because it’s so outstanding it warrants a celebratory visit on Saturday instead. If you can’t get a table at the North Van location, get your treats to go and walk to the nearby waterfront park, which offers a spectacular view of Vancouver harbour with freighters so close you can almost touch them.
(2297 East Hastings Street)
I love this little place, and not just because I don’t have to line up for an hour in the driving rain to wait for a table like so many people choose to do right across the street at the Red Wagon. Sister restaurant to Campagnolo on Main Street, this cozy spot is warm and welcoming, the food fantastic, and the service excellent.
On weekends it offers a small but stellar selection of brunch dishes. All of the meats are cured at Campagnolo, so items like the frittata with dry cured pork belly or the pizza San Benedetto—a true Neapolitan pie with thinly sliced, dry cured pork shoulder along with eggs and silky Hollandaise sauce—positively pop with flavour.
The lunch menu is available as well for those wanting other options, like the standout Margherita pizza or what could be the ultimate brunch dish, spaghetti carbonara. Chef de cuisine Nathan Lowey uses guanciale (dry cured pork jowl) in it, to ambrosial effect.
Cactus Club Cafe English Bay
(1790 Beach Avenue)
Okay, okay, it’s a chain, but for my money, the value is excellent. With generous portions and consistently delicious dishes plus the new location’s breathtaking view, Ocean Wise menu, and efforts to be green (it’s aiming for LEED Gold certification with features like a “living” energy-efficient roof), what’s not to like?
Kids are always content with standbys like mini burgers or panko-crusted Fraser Valley chicken, while a must-have for moms is the buttery sablefish, which is surrounded by asparagus, shiitake mushrooms, sliced fingerling potatoes, and cilantro, all brought together in a Peking duck broth poured tableside. Two salads are also killer contenders: the Bandara, with feta cheese, dates, chow mein noodles, and a honey-lime vinaigrette; and the Rocket, which has a Parmesan-crusted chicken breast nestled under a big heap of arugula in a piquant lemon-caper dressing.
(556 Beatty Street)
Chambar’s neighbour and sibling is famous for its Liège waffles, but I’m more enamoured with savoury offerings like the tagine, a gorgeous combination of poached eggs, sun-dried black olives, merguez sausage, and a kicking tomato stew, or the paella, which melds curried orzo with Hungarian chorizo sausage, roasted corn, and red pepper.
This is fresh, flavourful stuff prepared extremely well and with care—just the kind of food so many moms aspire to make themselves.