• Gail Johnson

Bel Café , Earls Ambleside, Colony: 3 Metro Vancouver eateries to check out

Updated: Jul 30, 2020

The Salmon Sushi Salad at David Hawksworth's Kitsilano Bel Cafe.

Last week was a busy one for eating out—in between writing, taking boys to swimming/soccer, teaching classes, and getting my youngest son re-started on piano lessons--and starting myself again after, oh, three decades!--I hit three new places. Nothing daring in terms of food offerings but a trio of solid options.

A little while back Hawksowrth Group opened its second Bel Café location in Kits (1780 West Third Avenue). You can’t argue with its tagline that's emblazoned on the exterior wall: "I’m nicer after I’ve eaten."

The place has a sleek, fresh look, with soft blue banquettes and lots of white and grey for a kind of chic industrial feel and an abundance of natural light.

The team is just in the midst of a menu change, but one item that it won’t be taking off is the Sushi Salmon Salad. It’s essentially deconstructed sushi roll, with small, rectangular pieces of nori topping a colourful jumble of wild salmon, rice, and – I love this touch – jalapeno peppers. I don't care if it's pouring horizontal rain come January; I will go back just for this bright, summery dish.

There are lots of sweet and savoury pastries, as well as Standard Kombucha, Nectar cold-pressed juices, herbal iced-teas from O5 Tea, and epresso-based drinks made with 49th Parallel beans. Hallelujah for good coffee.

Note that there’s no Wi-Fi here, so if, like me, you were hoping to sneak in a few paragraphs or emails while you were enjoying David Hawksworth’s cooking, you’re outta luck. Usually you can pick up a Shaw or Telus signal, but not here; there ain’t nothin’. I get it; they don’t want people overstaying their welcome. But as someone who works from “home” I sure do appreciate being able to bang out a few words whenever I can. Sad face.

Two spots on the “Northern shores” that will suit family dinners, relaxed gatherings, or happy hour outings with pals: Colony Northwoods and Earls Ambleside Beach.

Colony is in the burgeoning North Van area just off Dollarton Highway, sometimes referred to as Maplewood Flats. I was initially bummed to hear a sports bar was going in there, but was pleasantly surprised to see that neither the size nor volume of the screens is overbearing. The place has huge ceilings with a design that evokes the pillars of the nearby Ironworkers’ Memorial Crossing.

Even though it’s pub food, the place uses some good ingredients like Rossdown Farms free-range chicken. There are healthy bowls and vegan options (even a veggie corn dog, if you're into that sort of thing); I liked the Nashville hot-chicken sandwich and the crunchy broccoli salad with mushrooms and almonds.

It’s an unpretentious spot that's probably going to be a goldmine, a great alternative to Browns in Lynn Valley. (This part of the North Shore, east of Lonsdale, is desperate for new eateries.)

Pink lemonade photo

Summer's over, but you can still sip Frozen Pink Lemonade at Earls' Ambleside Beach.

You can’t go wrong with Earls; you know you’re going to find something for everyone, whether it’s your grandparents, your kids, your date, or your colleagues. I love the fact that the Ambleside Beach location has an entire section dedicated to plant-based dishes (like the spicy tofu tacos) and that it has introduced interesting non-alcoholic drinks, like the Spring Gimlet (with Seedlip Garden alcohol free spirit, cucumber, rosemary and fresh lemon). Mind you, the vodka-based Frozen Pink Lemonade is tasty way to pretend it’s still summer.

And while there are new items on the menu (such as the chorizo mussel pot, salmon zen bowl), it still has classic standbys like chicken tenders, which have been on offer since the place first started. (I remember serving them myself when I got my first restaurant job at Earls Tin Palace in Edmonton many, many years ago. Every time my youngest son orders them, which is every time we go to Earls, I have to have a bite, and dammit, I’m not too proud to say I like them dipped in plum sauce. I’m also willing to admit I miss the Mocha Kahlua Ice Cream Pie.)

Like I said, the North Shore really needs new and more varied places to eat; it's really saying something when Browns has a lineup over 90 minutes long.

Your turn! Have you tried any new or newish spots lately? What did you think?

The new Earls has lots of plant-based options, like spicy tofu tacos.

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