Motorists road-tripping through the Fraser Valley can spot Chilliwack airport from Highway 1, due to the light planes descending gently toward the airstrip that parallels the road. A five-minute drive brings you to the terminal. Free parking! That’s enough to prove this is no ordinary airport.
The restaurant occupies one end of the small building and overlooks the tarmac. In good weather, an attractive patio puts diners almost close enough to chat over the fence with the pilots. It’s a surprisingly busy little spot, with pleasure crafts coming and going every few minutes and helicopters performing their delightful vertical takeoffs. On a clear day, there’s a panoramic view of the mountains beyond the runway.
Inside, it’s a cheery space with a green-and-white-tiled floor and staff who greet many of the patrons by name. Vintage photos of aircraft line one wall, and servers bustle through the small space. When I arrived around noon one Sunday morning en route to Harrison Hot Springs, the place was packed and there was a lineup going out the door.
Jacqueline Dziuba, who runs the restaurant with her two sisters, bought the place last fall when long-time owner Barbara Mitchell retired. Dziuba didn’t touch the popular menu, and worked alongside Mitchell in order to learn her pie secrets.
A magnetic signboard lists the pies that are available that day. Dziuba and her sister Judy make more than 60 types of pie from scratch, offering over 20 varieties each day. (A piece costs $3.99 to $4.99.) The selection is over the top: coconut cream, banana cream, blueberry, bumbleberry, caramel apple, strawberry rhubarb, peaches and cream, lemon meringue, pumpkin, peach”¦ As if that’s not enough, there’s homemade cheesecake.
But first, lunch.
The menu features typical roadside-diner fare: burgers, sandwiches, and all-day breakfasts. But this is no greasy spoon. The cooks still faithfully follow many of Mitchell’s mom Selma’s recipes, like the one for the potato salad. Hash browns are of the hard-to-find variety—grated and grilled on both sides (although the kitchen will oblige with pan fries or even McCain’s taters if requested). Many of the offerings have a fun, retro appeal, like the baron of beef dip, the patty melt, and a Cold Plate of sliced meats. Most entrées ring in at under $10, and there’s a kiddie menu for the back-seat gang.
I had the spinach salad, which was outstanding. It was just like something your mom would serve at home, with no skimping on the quality or quantity. The huge bowl of greens was strewn with bits of cauliflower and mushroom, chunks of hard-boiled egg, and the amount of real bacon that would be sprinkled on by someone who loves you. The zingy, slightly sweet creamy dressing—again, Selma’s recipe—elevated the salad from good-for-you to simply delicious.
The Reuben sandwich (with Swiss cheese, corned beef, and sauerkraut) was also good, and came with a satisfying mound of curly fries. The mushroom burger I had the following day was just average, however, with an unremarkable patty.
But really, the reason we returned on our way back to Vancouver was to have another piece of pie. Sour cream lemon—what a revelation. Think an opaque lemon filling made doubly tart with lemon zest and sour cream. And yes, nothing but real whipped cream on top.
The crust on the bumbleberry pie I had on the way up wasn’t the best I’ve ever had. But the crust on the Bing cherry was lighter and flakier, with a luscious whole-fruit filling. Oh, and the Matterhorn of ice cream you get for some extra change makes the dessert totally sharable—if you’re willing.
Or, you can take a whole pie home ($18 to $24). Call ahead and give them at least a day’s notice, and you can savour the flavour of your vacation when it’s over. With these pies, it’s easy to see why the Airport Coffee Shop could be not just part of the journey, but the destination.
Access: Going eastbound on Highway 1, take Exit 119, turn left onto Yale Road, and follow the signs to the airport. Travelling westbound, take Exit 120, turn right onto Young Road, and follow the signs.