Brunch is the new dinner in laid back Victoria, BC. Come for the beaches, stay for the biscuits
Breakfast at Agrius in Victoria - perogies, bacon, eggs and hollandaise. (Cinda Chavich photo)
By CINDA CHAVICH
The queue forms early outside Victoria’s Jam Café, a polite but hungry horde waiting for that first jolt of java and something poached or scrambled alongside a fresh buttermilk biscuit.
It’s the same scene at The Blue Fox, a popular breakfast joint set among the historic storefronts on Antique Row. You can’t get a table at Shine and it’s standing room only at Agrius - just another typical Tuesday morning in The Brunch Capital of Canada.
Where, when and what people eat says a lot about a place, whether it’s the soju-soaked street eats in Seoul or the lively brasseries of Paris.
A plant-forward morning mea at Nourish is a healthy option (Tourism Victoria photo)
Victoria is a relaxed, historic, wandering from boutique to beach kind of city, where locals linger over late breakfasts that stretch into the afternoon, almost any day of the week.
According to the Food Network, “every second restaurant is a brunch place in Victoria,” making it ground zero for egg-heads and the perfect place to explore the latest food trend, “brinner” (a.k.a. breakfast for dinner).
Rebecca Wellman celebrates this Victoria obsession in her new book, First, We Brunch, an ode to the city’s best places to break the fast. It’s an essential guide for exploring Victoria’s casual café culture, whether you’re shopping in the eclectic downtown core, taking in the manicured gardens, or biking down a tree-lined suburban street.
“Victoria is a breakfast/brunch/lunch town above all else,” says Wellman. “We love our morning meals in Victoria.”
The local photographer has spent a decade chronicling the city’s food scene, and takes readers to dozens of her favourite restaurants, bakeries and cafes. Included are profiles of some of the city’s fine producers of morning meal essentials - from fresh eggs and artisan sausages, to the best bacon, locally-roasted coffee and tea – plus the spots locals go to grab a big breakfast sandwich on the run, and recipes collected from city chefs.
Explore the historic capital city's culinary scene by bike or on a walking tour (Tourism Victoria photo)
With its growing collection of craft brewers and distillers, hip cocktail bars and cool cycling culture, Victoria is often compared to Portland, Oregon. Victoria’s restaurant scene is urbane but clearly west-coast casual, less Machiavellian and Michelin, more cool and collaborative.
It’s the kind of place where artisan bakers mill the organic flour for their breakfast breads at co-operative mills, small butchers create fresh sausages with pork from free-ranging island pigs, and everyone has a good selection of local craft beer (and spirits) behind the bar. The proliferation, and success, of these small scale, artisan products and micro-eateries is a function of the island lifestyle and mentality, where supporting other small entrepreneurs in a circular system becomes a necessity.
“I think maybe there’s an economic factor, too,” Wellman concludes. “Victoria has a lot of students and young entrepreneurs who may not have the funds to do big dinners, but they do breakfast and lunch meetings here every day.”
“The most prominent demographic in the brunch crowd is 20- to 35-year-olds,” she adds. “Brunch makes a very leisurely group gathering – it’s almost as though it’s replaced dinner.”
And that’s what makes exploring the casual morning and afternoon food scene here so enticing.
The range of morning options is vast, from the dedicated breakfast joints like Jam Café, Mo:Lé, Floyd’s Diner, The Village, or the Blue Fox, to chef-driven restaurants like Agrius, Vis-à-Vis, and Saveur that have expanded their menus with eclectic breakfast fare. First, We Brunch is a good guide to what you’ll find, from waffles and French toast, to all manner of breakfast tacos, wraps, frittatas, and bowls, morning meals that veer far beyond the usual bacon-and-eggs.
Nearly every breakfast spot has it’s own take on eggs benedict — vegetarian versions, smoked salmon or smoked meat versions, poached eggs perched on crab cake or latkes, and all smothered in the requisite buttery (or vegan) hollandaise.
Breakfast in this still very British corner of Canada can veer into very traditional territory, too – think potato scones with black pudding, rashers and eggs at Shine Café or the Blue Fox’s classic eggs, bacon, sausages, fried potatoes and grilled tomatoes and mushrooms.
As Victoria’s brunch service extends well into the afternoon (or all day), eye-opening cocktails are often on the menu, making a long, late breakfast the equivalent of an early dinner. Expect morning mimosas sparkling with island bubblies, creative coastal Caesars bristling with spears of local seafood, boozy specialty coffees and citrusy margaritas, along with some unique concoctions, like the spicy tomato, orange and beer Michelada at Fuego Old Town Eatery or the citrusy Breakfast Uppercut cocktail with barrel-aged local gin and Earl Grey tea and mint syrups at Northern Quarter.
Most of these independent eateries are clustered in the city’s historic and walkable downtown area, so you can always indulge in a long, relaxing lie-in, and a late morning feast.
Standing in line for brunch, next to a techie and a tourist, a student and a senior, offers an immersion in the coastal capital’s casual, inclusive vibe.
It’s a great way to slow down and smell the roses – and the coffee.
Classic French toast topped with wild BC blackberries for breakfast (Cinda Chavich photo)
VICTORIA’S BEST BRUNCHES
Whether it’s tourists, young entrepreneurs at breakfast meetings, or a weekly coffee klatch, Victorians love to gather for a morning meal. Here are a few favourite spots to line up with the locals to break the fast in style.
WHERE: 542 Herald Street
WHAT: With it’s funky décor and killer menu (think buttermilk biscuit hash with ham, banana and Nutella-stuffed French toast, or pork belly onion jam benedict) this popular spot has non-stop lineups but is worth the wait. In Old Town, on the edge of the downtown design district.
WHERE: 1028 Blanshard Street
WHAT: This little cheese-centric bistro started with a passionate cheese monger and a simple cheese/charcuterie board and raclette menu. But the new chef has added Sunday brunch to the mix (they call it an "unbrunch" as there's not an egg benny in sight) but it's not to be missed — a sous vide egg in a nest of crisp potatoes napped in a creamy brie sauce, or a beautiful terrine of beet-cured salmon gravlax with rye, and a tasting board of mimosas is a good place to start!
WHERE: 732 Yates Street (with the original Fol Epi bakery location across the harbour at Dockside Green)
WHAT: Fol Epi is an artisan bakery making stellar loaves and pastries using house-milled flours and, with the addition of Agrius restaurant downtown, now offers daily brunch items ranging from perogi hash with lardon and brisket to croque madame grilled ham and cheese topped with a fried egg.
WHERE: 3110 Douglas Street (original location at the Hotel Z) and 642 Johnson St. (downtown)
WHAT: Rotisserie chicken is the specialty here and it turns up on many of the breakfast items, from the Mexi Benny and breakfast tacos, to the breakfast hash with pulled mole-spiced chicken, black bean salsa and eggs atop a crispy pillow of shredded hash brown potatoes.
THE BLUE FOX
WHERE: 919 Fort Street
WHAT: Breakfast all day (starting at 7:30 a.m.) is the claim to fame for this longtime local haunt, where you will likely need to line up for their breakfasts of Ambrosia apple oatmeal, buttered banana cream griddle cakes, Salish Salmon omelet, and a dozen versions of eggs benedict.
WHERE: 1019 Blanshard Street
WHAT: Be Love specializes in healthy, raw and vegan cooking (Pure Nourishment, as they say) so expect to be “elevated” by their morning menu that runs from raw sprouted buckwheat Superfood Granola to the vegan benny with smoked tempeh with raw cashew nut ‘hollandaise’.
WHERE: 2518 Estevan Avenue in Oak Bay (and two other neighborhood locations, Royal Oak and Torquay)
WHAT: Locals love The Village restaurants for their creative all-day breakfast dishes (one of the spots that helped the city earn its Brunch Capital title), whether it’s the spicy green or red shakshouka with eggs or the variety of bennies, served on local Mount Royal bagels or potato latkes.
NOURISH KITCHEN & CAFE
WHERE: 225 Quebec Street
WHAT: With it’s takeaway bone broth bar and creamy, turmeric-hued vegan hollandaise on eggs benny (with bacon, chorizo or tempeh and a side of seasonal vegetables like kale, mushrooms and baked sweet potatoes), Nourish offers healthy breakfast choices for both vegans and committed carnivores, in a cosy, historic house near the harbour.
WHERE: 658 Herald Street
WHAT: Chef Robert Cassels specializes in French-inspired, contemporary cuisine and elegant tasting menus, but also does beautiful brunch dishes. Come for his breakfast risotto with maple crème fraiche, banana bread French toast, and the breakfast egg sandwich piled with duck bacon and duck confit, and served with rosti potato.
This story originally appeared in the Globe and Mail newspaper