Robson Street has its share of tourist shops selling maple syrup, smoked salmon, and shirts emblazoned with totem poles and beavers, spots that Vancouverites roll their eyes at if they notice them at all.
If only travellers could take home a slice of Canadiana that’s being served up at Timber Gastropub. It’s a place that local food lovers seeking a down-to-earth dining experience will want to make a point of visiting too.
The kitchen in the chillaxed joint is helmed by Chris Whittaker, who’s also executive chef right next door at Forage in the Listel Hotel. Given that restaurant’s success, the Listel leaped at the chance to open another venture when the art gallery that previously occupied the Timber space closed last year.
You will not find items like sea-urchin mousse or oyster emulsion here, nor will your plate be decorated with edible flowers or dots of pretty purées. Hallelujah. This is distinctly Canadian comfort food done well. Timber is, much like Canucks themselves, unpretentious and easy to like.
You’re greeted at the front door by Deaner, a stuffed beaver; peeking out of the Jervis Street window is a fake goose named Terry. (They’re named after the shotgunning headbangers from the 2002 Alberta-set mockumentary Fubar, which gained a cult following.)
Servers wear plaid shirts, jeans, and tool belts as aprons; there’s a Coleman cooler here, a pair of snowshoes there. It might sound like too much, but the Canadian theme is fun, not overdone.
Check out the seat backs made of reclaimed wood from Fraser Common Farm, a cooperatively run community farm in the Fraser Valley; the banquettes, meanwhile, are upholstered with old Canada Post mailbags. The music is heavy on the True North: Neil Young, 54-40, Gordon Lightfoot (and, thankfully, no Nickelback). The only thing missing is a video loop of Canada Vignettes like “The Log Driver’s Waltz”.
Whittaker is a champion of sustainability, forging strong relationships with local growers and helping implement the hotel’s strict zero-waste and energy-reduction policies. As at Forage, all of the seafood on Timber’s menu is recommended by the Vancouver Aquarium’s Ocean Wise program. With a knack for unfussy dishes that please the palate, he’s a chef for up-and-coming talent to look up to.
And while the items on Timber’s menu, such as mushroom poutine, mac ’n’ cheese, perogies, ketchup chips, and—death to dieters—deep-fried cheese curds, are not fancy (with prices ranging from $3 to $20), the quality of the fare is first-rate.
Take the tourtière, a French-Canadian meat pie that traditionally takes centre stage at late-night Christmas celebrations in Quebec. It’s typically made with pork and beef, but Whittaker’s version is loaded with ground bison and elk, the meat piping hot within golden, buttery pastry. Served in a mini cast-iron pan with a side of zingy house-made ketchup, this hefty serving would satisfy a lumberjack.
Bison shows up again in a honkin’ burger, the thick patty topped with Gelderman Farms bacon, grainy mustard, caramelized onion, and cheddar cheese. For carnivores seeking something a little lighter, consider the chopped-steak salad. Medium-rare slices of meat, along with slices of a smoked and pickled egg and a trio of huge onion rings, top iceberg lettuce with a Jersey blue-cheese dressing.
House-made bannock comes with a dark-purple chutney made with haskap. The berry gets its name from the Japanese word for Lonicera caerulea, a fruit-bearing shrub; it’s also known as blue honeysuckle or honeyberry. It tastes a bit like a cross between a raspberry and a saskatoon berry.
Even the cocktails have a Canuck twist. The Tree Planter is a pleasing gin-based drink with Douglas fir syrup, lime juice, whisky bitters, and a pinch of pepper; maple-infused bourbon, meanwhile, is mixed with black-walnut bitters and fresh orange juice and peel in the Lumberman’s Arch.
The wine list is straightforward: six varietals each of red and white, including Covert Farms’ MDC and Road 13’s Old Vines Chenin Blanc. I love that the drinks list has an entire section dedicated to caesars. People living in this part of the West End—who, up until now, haven’t had a pub to call their own—will flock here for the draft offerings: 10 in total, all from around here, including Postmark Brewing’s IPA and Strange Fellows Brewing’s Saison. A flight of four is $15. Then there’ s a flight of whisky for $19. (Rest assured, Fubar fans, that cans of Old Style Pilsner are also available.)
The dessert roster is a patriot’s dream too. You’ve got Timber Bits, little doughnut holes dusted in icing sugar and plopped on a spoonful of the resto’s version of Nutella. The oozing, warm butter tart with rye ice cream is spritzed with Canadian Club for a potent reminder you’re north of the border. It’s the best damn butter tart I’ve ever tasted.
You can even order a Nanaimo bar—one that’s been deep-fried. As Terry and Deaner would say: give ’er!