Make yourself at home at Gastown eateries

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      When Erik Heck lived in Gastown, he would walk past the century-old Winters Hotel and dream of opening a restaurant in the neighbourhood. Two years ago, the chef got a chance to open his own restaurant, the Flying Pig, with business partner John Crook, in nearby Yaletown. The casual eatery serving “nouveau Canadian” comfort food was a success, and as luck would have it, an existing restaurant space in the Winters Hotel became available this year.

      “You can kind of tell that it used to be the lobby of a hotel when you walk into the space,” Heck tells the Georgia Straight by phone about the second location of the Flying Pig (102 Water Street), now two months old. “It’s got nice, high ceilings and the original tin roof on the bar side of the restaurant.”

      While the Flying Pig is part of a recent surge in comfort cuisine in Gastown—alongside restaurants like Catch 122 (122 West Hastings Street), HouseXGuest (200–332 Water Street), and Acme Café (51 West Hastings Street)—Heck prefers to describe his dishes as “approachable”.

      “Sometimes when people call something comfortable or simple, it’s almost a negative connotation, but there’s just as much effort that goes into it,” he says. “We use a lot of local flavours, which you could say is comforting to people because they understand them.”

      Among the Flying Pig’s menu items—which include lobster and prawn risotto, roast half chicken, and pulled-pork poutine—Heck’s favourite is a pea soup made with ham hock, bacon, chickpeas, and lentils.

      “The pea soup was the first one that John [Crook] and I put together,” Heck recalls. “We sort of wanted it to feel like you were going to a house party, like you’re a guest at our dinner party.”

      Stepping into nearby Lily Mae’s (12 Powell Street) certainly feels like visiting someone’s home. Exposed brick walls, vintage chandeliers, and a wooden staircase leading up to the mezzanine make this cozy 26-seater feel even more intimate.

      “Our concept is a European-inspired café,” Armand Tencha, who co-owns Lily Mae’s with partner Jeff Jefkins, tells the Straight. “We try to do comfort food, but not your everyday comfort food. It’s a little healthier.”

      Similar to Heck, Tencha and Jefkins started living in Gastown long before they opened a restaurant in the neighbourhood.

      “There are some very high-end restaurants in Gastown,” Tencha says. “But in the past five or six years that we’ve lived here—we’ve lived here for 10 years—I’ve noticed such a reinvention and revitalization.”

      Lily Mae’s, which is named after Jefkins’s mother, opened last fall, and the menu items—which range from French onion soup to eggplant parmigiana—are drawn from the owners’ mixed European heritages. When asked about his favourite dish, Tencha picks beef bourguignon off the winter menu without hesitation.

      “But at the moment, I would have to say any of the features,” he adds. “We’re doing rabbit this week, and I grew up with game meats, so we’ll have venison as well.”

      A block from Lily Mae’s is the recently opened Tuc Craft Kitchen (60 West Cordova Street), on the ground floor of a new residential development completed last year. The restaurant—which is co-owned by restaurateurs Colin Ross and James MacFarlane, with chef Roy Flemming—means another option for comfort food in Gastown.

      “We love the area. It’s always been our favourite place to hang out, and our goal was to be a place that people in the neighbourhood could come,” Ross, who also co-owns a Milestones restaurant with MacFarlane, says by phone. “We wanted to create a really comfortable environment where you could get really good quality food and drink, but without the pretentious price or atmosphere that often goes along with that.”

      Accordingly, dinner mains run $14 to $19, with the exception of a 12-ounce rib-eye steak priced at $28. The comfort theme here skews European peasant food—a shepherd’s pie and pork-belly crackling are among the lunch offerings, and dinner includes a slow-roasted vegetable ragout and chicken confit.

      “The red bandit [meunière] is definitely one of my favourites. It’s a B.C. rock fish that we pan-sear with thyme, and then it’s served on cabbage slaw and a semolina gnocchi cake,” Ross says. “It’s very simple, but I love the fact that the fish is delivered every day, and we know the fisherman who caught it.

      “It brings me back to spending time on the coast as a kid and fishing for rock fish. For me, it’s nostalgic,” Ross adds.

      And isn’t that what comfort food is all about?




      Jun 26, 2013 at 11:10am

      I can't remember - what were we eating before all of this skewed/with a twist/not everyday comfort food? Uncomfortable food?