The shops I wish we had in New West

If New West's fairy godmother offered to fast-track a few new shops, here's what I'd wish for ... (Photo: suttonhoo on Flickr)
If New West’s fairy godmother offered to fast-track a few new shops, here’s what I’d wish for … (Photo: suttonhoo on Flickr)

I have many favourite boutiques and restaurants in New West, and it seems to me there are more opening all the time. But if I had a fairy godmother who would fast-track a few new businesses for me, here is what I would wish for:

A truly great coffee shop
New West does not lack for coffee shops, but it does lack for great coffee. A JJ Bean would be awesome, or better yet, something like Raw Canvas in Yaletown, which combines great coffee with a great creative space (and turns into a wine bar / lounge at night!). I want it down on Columbia Street, which just seems like the right place for a cool cafe.

An indoor play space for kids (that is also comfortable for parents)
While restaurants and cafes with adjacent play areas are popular in other parts of the city (Kinder Cafe in Coquitlam, Rocky Mountain Flatbread on Main, Cafe Deux Soleils on Commercial), there isn’t anything in New West or nearby. There are also large indoor active play areas, Koko’s Activity Centre in Port Moody, Crash Crawly’s in Coquitlam and Jungle Jac’s in Pitt Meadows, but all of these are awful for parents – and far away to boot. I would love to see a fun place where kids can play on a rainy day and parents can sit in a comfortable chair and chat with each other over good quality coffee and snacks. Bonus points if the food is healthier / more interesting than just hot dogs and pizza. I had thought that the space where Dynamic Health and Fitness is now in Royal City Centre would have made a great large indoor play space, but River Market would be another good bet for a mid-sized space. A restaurant with a small play area could be done anytime by any of our existing restaurants. Yes, it’s fewer tables, but you wouldn’t believe the number of times I’ve overheard local parents (mostly moms) pining for such a space in New West.

A hip greasy spoon diner
Back when Will and I lived downtown (years ago!), we’d often head out to The Templeton for a hearty, hip breakfast on Granville St. This weekend when we were considering where to go in New West for breakfast, there was nowhere that quite fit the bill: independents like the Coming Home Cafe and The Hideout Cafe were likely to be closed (it was Remembrance Day) and we were left with various chain restaurants or the greasiest of greasy spoons (cheap, but no atmosphere and mediocre food). We ended up at The Boathouse for brunch, which was good in its own way, but we spent the meal daydreaming about what a great Columbia St. eatery would be like. Re-Up/Fathom sometimes has brunch on the weekends, and it is very good. Maybe the owners could be convinced to open a breakfast joint on Columbia next?

A brew pub
Last night Twitter erupted in disappointment when word got out that Brown’s Social House would be the pub tenant at the Brewery District in Sapperton. New West has a nascent craft beer community, including some intrepid home-brewers, and a local brew pub was on their wish list. I’m sure Brown’s will become a popular destination for a certain type of night out, but for now Hops remains the beer geek’s pub of choice in New West. But if there are any brew pub entrepreneurs out there reading this: Sapperton wants YOU.

A gift shop for men
We’ve got Brick and Mortar Living, Lofty Living, Cadeaux and Sonse Design (among others) where you can find a lovely little something for a woman, but men are much harder to shop for. I’d love to see someone open a Brick and Mortar-style boutique with little things for men to covet and women to gift. Ideally it would tap into the Art of Manliness movement – most men’s gift stores I’ve seen are full of unimaginative, uninspired garbage. In my opinion, this sort of store would do well on Columbia St., to tap into the wedding market and give brides something really nice to buy for their husbands, or grooms to select for their groomsmen.

An independent toy store
Yes, we had one of those (two if you count the oddly named & situated Kids Kloset), but since Pedagogy Toys closed, there’s been nowhere to go locally to buy gifts for kids. I love shopping at toy stores, and I would love to see someone give an independent toy store another go. I think a toy store would do well uptown. There are lots of parents and grandparents out and about during the day, heading to Moody Park and the Library, and I could see a lot of walk-by traffic from folks in the area to do banking, grocery shopping or other errands. A toy store in the vein of the Village Toy Shop in Port Moody would be perfect.

A neighbourhood coffee shop on 12th St
Poor, poor 12th St. It has struggled for so long and is in quite the slump right now. The hill really limits how far people will walk the street, especially without a chain of awesomeness to draw you up, one store at a time. Amber’s Choice is a nice cafe at the top of the hill, but if you’re around 6th Ave or below, it’s a long way to hike for a coffee and a muffin. John Ashdown’s old cafe, Village Coffee Lounge, was in a perfect spot for neighbourhood customers, and as a resident of the West End I certainly feel its absence. I’d love to see more tightly clustered retail on 12th St., particularly around the nexus of 12th St and 6th Ave, anchored by a great community cafe.

A large mixed-use development at 22nd St. SkyTrain
Here’s the biggest item on my wish list. I want to see 22nd St. SkyTrain station built up. Last year, three of the five or six houses immediately next to the SkyTrain were up for sale at the same time, and I was holding my breath hoping a developer would buy them – alas, not how that story turned out. Still, I think a smaller-scale Plaza 88 ‘Shops at New West Station’-type development would be great there. The proximity to downtown on the SkyTrain is awesome from that station, just 25 minutes to Waterfront and less than 20 to the edge of downtown. The price per square foot vs. travel time to downtown work would be ideal for many folks. Plus, it would provide some walkable and useful businesses for the existing local residents in the area – and potentially lift the fortunes of some of the 20th St businesses as well (which suffer from the same issues as 12th St).

There’s more of course. I’d love to see more wearable street fashion, not just bridal, and more of a visible arts presence. I miss having an art supply store on the street (years ago Full Spectrum Art Supply bowed to the bridal market and turned into Paper Poet, a wedding invitation & papercraft store), and I often wish for an independent bookstore of the type I enjoy in La Conner, WA (The Next Chapter, check it out if you are ever in the area. Fireplace, comfy chairs, decent coffee and an expertly curated selection of titles).

But that’s me. What would you like to see?

Coming Home Cafe is zany, colourful and lovingly retro

The Coming Home Cafe
The Coming Home Cafe

A cash-only diner with serve-yourself coffee ready to pour from a hot plate, the Coming Home Cafe may be low on frills but it doesn’t skimp on the flourishes. Homey meals like mac ‘n cheese are spiced up with gourmet additions like chorizo, and on that hot plate coffee is Kicking Horse Coffee – quality stuff. Inside, the decor is the kind of thrift-store chic you’d see in an art-school major’s first college flat. It’s zany, colourful and lovingly retro.

I’ve heard a lot of people rave about the Coming Home Cafe, but I’m not often around that part of Sixth. Until recently I’d only stopped by for a brief coffee on the patio, but after seeing a bunch of people mention the cafe on Twitter and in the comments on various posts, I made a point of coming by again.

I’m using Coming Home’s free wifi to write this post now on my second visit this week. Last time I had the divine pulled pork sandwiches (flavourful, topped with coleslaw on a just-crispy-enough bun). Today though, I’m trying the mac ‘n cheese special mentioned above. The nostalgic classic is decadently creamy and cheesy, and that chorizo gives it a nice touch of spice. The prices seemed a mite high at first glance until I tasted the quality ingredients – and saw the note on the board that all prices include HST. Mains range between about $6-8 for the most part, and the coffee starts at $2.75 (but includes a free refill with meal).

I haven’t tried the all-day breakfast yet, but the menu looks great, and I would expect the quality would be as good as lunch. There are also a few nice options like gluten-free bread and options like adding tofu or sauerkraut when you build your own breakfast.

As an aside, if I ever write a post on remarkable bathrooms of New West, the Coming Home Cafe would make the list. Their washroom is a cheeky corner featuring decoupaged paper with bathroom trivia and a few hilarious diagrams. It’s not the fanciest washroom in New West, but it’s definitely memorable!

I have only three quibbles with the restaurant: like most mom-n-pop stores in New West, it’s closed on Mondays (annoying to discover when you’re standing outside the door, as I did on my first attempt to revisit this place), there’s no debit or credit card processing (if you bring out the plastic you’re directed to the G&F Financial cash machine across the street) and the music is terrible. The fiercely poppy mix is not at all my cup of tea (though some of it is so bad it edges towards ironic goodness). The first two points can be overcome with a little planning, and the last can be endured (and I suppose could be a plus for fans of autotune and MC Hammer / Black Eyed Peas mashups).

It’s a short walk from the centre of Uptown, but The Coming Home Cafe is worth going a little out of your way. The food is excellent, the service is friendly and the atmosphere is creative and fun.

Coming Home Café on Urbanspoon

Friendly, affordable eats at Couzies on Carnarvon

Couzies on Carnarvon. Photo: Daniel Fortin.
Couzies on Carnarvon. Photo: Daniel Fortin.

I try to eat a heathy breakfast of oatmeal and fruit most mornings. While this is probably what i should be eating, sometimes I crave something a bit more. Since moving to the other side of downtown, I’ve been frequenting Couzies on Carnarvon.

Couzies is a tiny little restaurant sandwiched between two currently vacant warehouse spaces on Carnarvon between 8th and 10th street. The seating indoors is limited but they have a large patio that will be great once the temperature warms up.

For breakfast they have a variety of wraps, eggs benedict and my favorite Couzies breakfast: 2 eggs 4 pieces of bacon, hash browns, toast and tomatoes for $5.99. Aside from breakfast, they have a pretty substantial lunch menu with everything from creative paninis to Coney Island hot dogs.

The atmosphere inside is great as well. It feels very comfortable. I can tell even after only going a few times that this little place has its full cast of regulars, from the construction workers to the old-timers enjoying their coffee. Everyone seems to get along and chime in on the conversation that makes its way around the small seating area of this great little spot.

It’s not modern, it’s not flashy, but the food is good and the people are friendly. If you get hungry in the morning and don’t feel like oatmeal, check it out!

Couzie's on Carnarvon on Urbanspoon

Amelia Cafe reviewed in the Sun

Previously mentioned in Tenth To The Fraser’s guide to “blunch” in the Royal City, Amelia Restaurant on 12th St. is a local greasy spoon phenomenon. Vancouver Sun reporter Shelly Fralic, who I hear is also a New Westie, shared her review yesterday in the Sun:

One of the reasons it’s been a neighbourhood fixture for decades is the All-Day Breakfast Special which, for $3.50, delivers a pile of eggs, bacon/ham or sausage, perfectly crisp home-made pan fries and toast, or, if you’re hungrier than the average bear, a $4.95 Workman’s Special, serving up a whopping three eggs, two pieces each of bacon and sausage, pan fries and toast.

What you won’t get at Amelia, which is known in its neck of the woods for the huge yellow and pink awning protecting the corner of 12th Street and 7th Avenue (and is often confused with Amelia Cafe, another local greasy spoon, a half mile away on 6th Street), is ambience.

The restaurant, which seats about 70, is stark inside, sort of clinically depressing, with little decor beyond some fake flowers in vases and chalkboard menus tacked up on the baby pink and baby blue walls.

But it’s clean and bright, with Arborite tables, kitchen-style chairs and that nostalgic thick china dinnerware that is so reminiscent of the classic greasy spoon.

Source: Vancouver Sun | The greasy spoon trail takes us to New Westminster’s Amelia .

For the record, here’s what our Ruth Seeley had to say about Amelia on 12th and the other Amelia on 6th St:

Amelia Restaurant @ 640 12th St. (604-522-3288)

Amelia’s has gone considerably upscale since my last visit a year ago, despite the endearingly outdated sign that promises free delivery. Amelia’s doesn’t deliver. It does, however, serve cheap and cheerful breakfasts, including a weekday perogie breakfast for around $6, a bagel breakfast, and real desserts like Mud Pie (should you be interested in taking the high-caffeine, high simple carbs, high fat breakfast route). Last time I was there I was tempted by the Monte Cristo sandwich – not too many places around serve ‘em. Its devotees won’t hear of eating at the other Amelia’s. They sort of sniff when you ask, ‘on 6th?’ Bad coffee.

Amelia Café @ 538 6th St. (604-520-3836)

Sometimes you can’t get into Amelia’s on 6th, which is what first sent me to Jim’s. Great breakfast specials here though if you can wait to eat till 10 or 11AM – I like the French toast, poached eggs and sausage special – with watery coffee, about $6. I try to avoid the coffee here. And there is a Starbucks right across the street.

Breakfast and Blunch in New West

This is a guest post by Ruth Seeley of No Spin PR.

I’m more likely to go out for breakfast than for any other meal these days. Working from home, it means I can give my day a little ‘shape’ by getting up early, reading, writing, tweeting, pitching, greeting, etc. for three or four hours, then take a shower break and head out to do errands, get some fresh air, and have breakfast.

On bad days this sometimes doesn’t happen till 2 or 3PM, however, so I’ve had to invent a term to cover this late fast-breaking meal. I’m going with ‘blunch’ – deal with it.

Coming Home Café 753 6th St. at 8th (604-288-9850)

Cash only, but kick-ass food, small-portioned, bio-eco-friendly breakfasts. Great organic coffee, multigrain fruit breads, fresh eggs, funky furnishings – definitely worth a visit.

And that’s what I wrote before revisiting it. This morning I had a breakfast sandwich of two scrambled eggs, turkey, brie, and roasted veggies (eggplant, peppers, zucchini, mushrooms) with fruit salad (cantaloupe, red grapes, honeydew melon, dragon fruit, pineapple) and coffee – good KickAss coffee – for $8. I was so impressed I had to have a breakfast square as well, so I could continue to savour the coffee. As they say, ‘Like visiting Grandma if Grandma make KICK ASS Coffee!’ – maybe someone could tighten that slogan up a bit?

I keep trying to buy the cute little leopard print tub chairs from the café owners, but they seem determined to hang onto them. We’ve agreed I’ve got visitation rights though. Open seven days a week.

Heritage Grill on Urbanspoon The Heritage Grill @ 447 Columbia St. (604-759-0819)

Breakfast till noon. Decent coffee (second only to Coming Home Café, actually, in the coffee rankings). Nice breakfast for about $8 – sausages, crispy home fries, properly poached eggs, toast. Blunch at The Heritage Grill offers infinite possibilities: the crab cakes with avocado, apple and cilantro salsa, the roast turkey with cranberry sauce and Brie on ciabbatta, fresh mescalin mix salads with a saucy dill vinaigrette – mmmmmmmm.

Mom's Cafe on Urbanspoon Mom’s Café 821 12th Ave. at Edinburgh (604-524-2088)

Nice folks, including Mom, who nods and smiles and soaks up the sunshine. Mom’s is never crowded, the service is great, there are two tables right in the window and it’s on a quiet part of 12th so you can just sit there and slowly wake up. Breakfast specials (like the Truckers Breakfast, 2 eggs, bacon, toast, home fries) start at $3.25 (till 11AM, coffee or tea included). Best deal in town. Closed Mondays. Phone number’s changed since brochures were printed.

The Two Amelias

Amelia on Urbanspoon Amelia Restaurant @ 640 12th St. (604-522-3288)

Amelia’s has gone considerably upscale since my last visit a year ago, despite the endearingly outdated sign that promises free delivery. Amelia’s doesn’t deliver. It does, however, serve cheap and cheerful breakfasts, including a weekday perogie breakfast for around $6, a bagel breakfast, and real desserts like Mud Pie (should you be interested in taking the high-caffeine, high simple carbs, high fat breakfast route). Last time I was there I was tempted by the Monte Cristo sandwich – not too many places around serve ‘em. Its devotees won’t hear of eating at the other Amelia’s. They sort of sniff when you ask, ‘on 6th?’ Bad coffee.

Amelia Café @ 538 6th St. (604-520-3836)

Sometimes you can’t get into Amelia’s on 6th, which is what first sent me to Jim’s. Great breakfast specials here though if you can wait to eat till 10 or 11AM – I like the French toast, poached eggs and sausage special – with watery coffee, about $6. I try to avoid the coffee here. And there is a Starbucks right across the street.

Jim's Cafe on Urbanspoon Jim’s Café @ 518 6th St. (604-522-1288)

Cheap and cheerful with booths. Standard breakfast/greasy spoon fare. Stick with the traditional breakfasts and you can get in and out of Jim’s in 20 minutes for $6 or $7. Same bad coffee as Amelia Café.

Youngs Cafe on UrbanspoonYoung’s 612 12th St. (604-525-1238)

Classic greasy spoon, mixed Chinese/Canadian menu. Odd assortment of photos of the famous. I sat by Janis Lyn Joplin, B. Jan. 19, 1943. D. Oct. 4, 1970.

See Jim’s, the two Amelia’s, Mom’s.

International House of Pancakes (New Westminster) on UrbanspoonIHOP 514 8th Ave. @ 6th St. (604-521-3212)

I’ve headed to IHOP in mid-afternoon for ‘blunch’ a couple of times when I’ve forgotten to eat, for one reason or another. They make the best Philly Cheese Steak Sandwich I have ever had – with choice of onion rings, French fries, hashed browns and more. Not sure why I’ve headed back to IHOP twice to have one for breakfast, but I have. Whether it’s their specialty pancakes, French Toast, or just a standard bacon/sausage/ham/toast/eggs breakfast, IHOP delivers US-portion sized breakfasts and decent coffee served in carafes. The question is whether you want to pay $15 for breakfast or not, and sit along with Middle Canada (sorry, but if you’re looking for ‘edgy,’ head for The Heritage Grill and pray). Watch out for lineups on Sunday mornings. I prefer to go in mid- to late afternoon so I can have a booth to myself.

Moonrakers Neighbourhood Pub on UrbanspoonMoonraker’s

Again, when it’s more like blunch than breakfast, I sometimes head to Moonraker’s for their Reuben. It’s a fat, juicy smoked meat/pastrami sandwich on a nicely textured rye bread, with just the right amount of gooey Swiss cheese. It may well be the perfect antidote for both #snowmageddon and #fogmageddon. Certainly the little backroom library is charming. You never know what charming little tome you may encounter there. I hadn’t noticed the lingering smell of smoke, but it is a sports bar, so best for when you’re in a world of your own and the rowdiness just seems like background noise.

The Pantry 425 6th St. at 4th (604-421-7115)

Really good waffles – two and a half inches high – with something sinful on top, like ice cream or whipped cream or both – solid, non-intrusive service – decent coffee – a little pricey for what it is, but don’t cross it off your list entirely.

Waffle House on UrbanspoonWaffle House 636 6th St. (604-524-8118)

My visit to the Waffle House was completely unmemorable in terms of food and coffee (I would have either remembered or gone back if either had been good-to-great). What I do recall about my visit there was that it was noisy and crowded.

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