Food Truck Festival – Let’s Go Eat

The good news is the first ever Food Truck Festival is coming to New West, and it is already shaping up to be amazing. The bad news, for me, anyway, is I can’t make it! But you should be putting August 10 on your calendar and head to Columbia Street and make sure you go hungry.

Kaboom BoxThe first ever Food Truck Fest here in our city, dubbed Columbia StrEAT, will feature beer gardens (woohoo #brewwest!)  live entertainment, and 15-20 food trucks on a closed Columbia Street between 4th Street and 6th Street from 3 pm to 9 pm. Food trucks confirmed include Guanaco Truck, Casalinga Carts, Beljam’s Waffles, Aussie Pie Guy, Holy Perogy (who some of you might remember from Summerfest a few years ago – oh my!) and Kaboom Box.

With New West quickly becoming a bit of a food hot spot, a Food Truck Festival – long considered to be some of the best portable restaurant incubators -makes perfect sense.

Aussie Pie Guy

We all know that Robert Fung, of the Salient Group and developers of the anticipated Trapp +Holbrook, has committed to New West. He’s the lead sponsor for this Saturday’s Pecha Kucha Volume 3 (and seriously, you should be coming to that if you aren’t already – it’s free and open to all!) is signed up as a sponsor. “Downtown New West continues to catch people’s attention as a great urban neighbourhood and dynamic place to live. There’s a strong sense of community here that is filled with the energy that comes from people sharing the knowledge that they are part of something special,” says Fung.

JJ's Trucketeria“The Columbia StrEAT Food Truck Fest is an amazing testimony to how progressive this town is, and how ready it is to blow the culinary and entrepreneurial doors off! Salient is really excited to be a part of this event and, with Trapp+Holbrook, to be part of the Columbia Street evolution. If you don’t already live here, get used to coming to Downtown New West for great food and a great sense of belonging. This event is a wonderful example of the atmosphere and excitement people can expect in Downtown New West.”

Check out the BIA’s Facebook page for more info.

Meet Peter Ladner: February 4th

As most of you know, I’ve been involved with the Royal City Farmers Market since 2009 and I’ve developed an interest in urban agriculture. We have two hens now producing all the eggs we need to feed our family of three, and after a totally engaging talk at the RCFM AGM from John Gibeau last week, I’m pretty convinced we need a home bee hive to start producing our own honey. I’ve started consuming some really great books to help me get the most out of my city lot here in New Westminster because while food feeds my belly, books feed my brain.

The Urban Food Revolution: Changing the Way We Feed Cities, by Peter Ladner, a former Vancouver City Councillor, is a book on my to-read list. I’ve been told by a few friends that it is a great book, and I’m looking forward to getting into it.

 

From the publisher’s website:
Our reliance on industrial agriculture has resulted in a food supply riddled with hidden environmental, economic and health care costs and beset by rising food prices. With only a handful of corporations responsible for the lion’s share of the food on our supermarket shelves, we are incredibly vulnerable to supply chain disruption.

The Urban Food Revolution provides a recipe for community food security based on leading innovations across North America. The author draws on his political and business experience to show that we have all the necessary ingredients to ensure that local, fresh sustainable food is affordable and widely available. He describes how cities are bringing food production home by:

  • Growing community through neighbourhood gardening, cooking and composting programs
  • Rebuilding local food processing, storage and distribution systems
  • Investing in farmers markets and community supported agriculture
  • Reducing obesity through local fresh food initiatives in schools, colleges and universities.
  • Ending inner-city food deserts

Producing food locally makes people healthier, alleviates poverty, creates jobs, and makes cities safer and more beautiful.The Urban Food Revolution is an essential resource for anyone who has lost confidence in the global industrial food system and wants practical advice on how to join the local food revolution.

Sounds great, right? River Market is presenting Peter Ladner during the RCFM February winter market this coming Saturday. You can pick up a copy of his book and have it signed, and listen to Peter Ladner speak. The book signing is from 1-2pm and the talk starts at 3pm. Both take place inside Wild Rice. I know I’ll be timing my lunch break to take advantage of this opportunity!

A legend in the making? T2F reviews Waves Coffee House, Columbia & Begbie


Waves Coffee House – 715 Columbia Street, New Westminster

Open Monday-Sunday (and holidays), 6am-12am

View Wireless Internet Cafes in New Westminster in a larger map

In a decision which must go down in history under the column “why didn’t we think of this before?” New Westminster’s first Waves Coffee House location opened June 1st in the first floor of the Westminster Trust Building, in the former Provincial Government Office space at the corner of Columbia and Begbie.

In a building full of small businesses, within spitting distance of newly remodeled Hyack Square, and at the foot of what could be called “Bridal Row,” it seems strange that this prime location in a heritage building has only now attracted a chain coffee shop. What remains to be seen is what this new coffee spot brings to the neighbourhood.

A made-in-Vancouver chain, Waves Coffee House locations provide coffee, deli-style food, desserts, tea, and an array of the popular drinks in coffee house culture: chai lattes, red tea lattes, matcha, blended iced coffee drinks called Frappes, and Waves’ specialty, fruit Frappes in five flavours. Thirteen locations have opened across the Lower Mainland since the flagship store at Richards and East Georgia opened in 2005.

My previous experiences with Waves have placed it out of my top 5 for coffee chains – the locations I’m familiar with have often been crowded and in poor condition, with a generally unmemorable atmosphere. Their coffee is occasionally burnt and certainly wouldn’t satisfy a true coffee connoisseur, but in general better taste and value than Starbucks. Pluses for the chain include frequent promotions (including free ‘Canadiano’ beverages on Canada Day), discounts and a much larger variety of drinks for the non-caffeine drinker than most other locations. I am told by a friend in the know that Waves’ matcha tea lattes are among the best available from Western coffee shops.

With this in mind, I set out to see this new location for myself – and because Waves’ food and drink is familiar enough, my main goal was to find out how this location fits with downtown New West, and to find out where it sits on our map of Wireless Cafes. A second goal was to learn how Waves Coffee Houses line up with competition in New Westminster.

One of the first things you notice is that this location has some serious curb appeal. Along with a well-chosen location in one of downtown’s most iconic buildings – ‘the city’s first ‘skyscraper,’ built in Beaux-Arts style in 1912 for Westminster Trust and Safe Co. – the shop blends well with the building’s architecture, and actually uses the large bank windows and high ceilings to great effect. The first thing I noticed on Friday’s very hot afternoon was a row of customers enjoying frosty beverages at a high counter in front of a huge open storefront window facing Begbie St. It screamed out to me CHILL OUT HERE, and of course I obeyed the impulse.

The next thing I noticed upon entering from Columbia Street is the absolutely stunning high ceilings – complete with white mouldings and modern chandeliers that lent a bit of a heritage flair to Waves’ standard brown/taupe/blue decor. The space itself is a long, narrow and airy room with ceilings that appear to be a full 20ft high. There is a combination of seating styles, including the high bench seats along the front store windows, a very few small tables and chairs, and in the back, a larger living-room-style area with pleather club chairs gathered around a gas fireplace.

What sets Waves apart from the rest is that it is one of the few coffee chains which provides completely free and unlimited wireless internet access, and this New West location is no exception. The day I was there, the internet connection was fast, easy to connect to (no proxy or sign-in page, and an easily-recognizable SSID, Waves), and the power outlets were plentiful! I spotted at least four obvious to the naked eye, installed in strategic locations in each of the different seating types.

In other locations, free wireless internet has been the cause of some problems, such as being overrun by students who stick around working on their laptops all day, buying little and monopolizing the best seating from paying customers. This location may also suffer a similar fate, but is bigger in seating and square footage than most I’ve seen and appears to be aimed more toward the local business clientele. So – easy, free, and fast internet and plenty of power outlets, that’s two checks off my list of non-negotiables for a proper wireless coffee shop.

In addition to its above-average decor and architecture, it appears that this location has even more to offer the local population than standard: along with the Waves head office in the back, there is also a 12-14 person conference room off of the back “living room” area which can be booked by local customers and businesses. Waves’ also offers catering for local meetings, which may be a welcome addition to the street where many of New West’s businesses and offices are located.

Another refreshing change for me was the lower counters. I’ve seen this trend in other coffee chains as well, moving toward a more open and accessible counter and bar where customers can watch their beverages being made, and customers with disabilities (or short) can actually reach the till and their own drink at the bar. A small detail, but much appreciated. This location also had far more staff than I would have expected, but they were all well-trained, cheerful, and accommodating.

The food is what you’ll find at any Waves location, but it is exceptional when compared to other chain coffee shops. Waves Coffee Houses seem to focus more on providing fresh snacks and light lunches to go along with their large drink menu, and though I’m not sure how much of it is prepared on-site, they do have a large kitchen, and none of the sandwiches, paninis, or wraps were served in packaging. Waves’ paninis are popular, and like their other wraps and sandwiches, are served warm from the grill on a real china plate. Their long glass deli cabinet also holds several rows of some very yummy looking desserts, and what with this location’s long trading hours (6am-12am each day), it makes it very competitive with smaller restaurants on Columbia for the evening crowd – perfect for a snack and a chat after a walk around the Quay, or to stop for a drink with the pooch mid-walk. Certainly the business folks in that part of town will enjoy finally having some good, quick and apparently fresh lunch options for a change.

My concerns with this location were few: the ubiquitous blended-ice Frappe drinks caused quite a loud blender noise, and the high ceilings tended to echo the sound throughout. On a hot day a conversation might be obliterated by the demand for Frappes. I also have a concern that this visually stunning location could soon go the way of the Mt. Pleasant and Commercial Drive locations, suffering from serious wear and tear. Some locations struggle with visits from the local street population who can sometimes leave the bathrooms vandalized or unusable. These bathrooms are kept locked with a punch code available from the counter, likely for just this reason. Given Columbia Street’s own struggles with itinerant folks, and the long hours that this location is open, it remains to be seen whether a location this fancy can be maintained over time.

This is the sort of place you’d take your friends after you bought an expensive condo in the old post office building, to convince them of what a hip and up-and-coming place New West really is. “See? Even our coffee shops are a little bit different,” you might say. It also struck me that this would be a perfect apres-cinema spot, given its late-night hours and nice conversational seating – now all we have to do is get a cinema back into downtown. Even more likely, I see Waves supplanting Starbucks on 6th and Columbia as the spot to collapse with your future mother-in-law and your maid-of-honor after a long walk up and down Columbia Street, as you post-mortem your bridal gown options.

In all it was a pleasant experience, and the sound of the train whistle from the Begbie crossing nearby made me smile. The diversity of customers was really something, with seemingly every age demographic represented. Interestingly, though, the only real demographic that I didn’t see were business people.

The long-awaited ‘new’ Orange Room – reviewed

A few days ago, Will and I made our way down to The Orange Room, which recently reopened under new management. It has long been a favourite haunt of ours, so we came with high expectations and a little fear that the elements that made The Orange Room so great (delicious menu, friendly service, live music, stylish atmosphere) might be missing under different management.

Orange Room on Urbanspoon

We came away reassured, though our experience was somewhat marred by new restauranteur growing pains (more on that later). It was exciting to have a whole new menu to try. The standout was the pistachio-encrusted tuna steak skewers, which were rich and savoury. We also enjoyed the ‘Coquille Saint-Orange Room’ – Scallops in garlic butter and white wine sauce with mushrooms, onions and sizzling gruyere cheese. The potato yam pavé was less to my taste. It’s a layered yam and potato cake with cream, garlic and herbs. It wasn’t bad, but I didn’t feel it stood up to the unique flavour of the other dishes.

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There were lots of interesting little flourishes that show the new owners have put in a lot of thought about the experience they want to create at The Orange Room. For example, they are passionate about sourcing local suppliers, so the beer on tap is from Surrey’s Central City Brewery. Because it’s a brand many people are unfamiliar with, The Orange Room offers beer tasters served in diminutive drams no bigger than a shot glass. It’s just enough to tell that, for example, the pale ale isn’t to your taste, but the ‘winter ale’, though unexpectedly pale, is pleasantly smooth with a hint of apricots.

Sampling isn’t yet available for wine or other drinks, but our server hinted that a wine tasting concept could be on the horizon. Given the local focus, we put in a good word for adding Pacific Breeze‘s wines to the list – we visited the Stewardson Ave. ‘Garagiste‘ winery recently as well and were very impressed with both the bold taste of the product and the local story behind it.

The changes made to the ‘old’ Orange Room are subtle but worthwhile improvements. Re-envisioning the Orange Room as a tapas restaurant makes the menu feel more cohesive. The lighting seems brighter, and the decoration has been pared back somewhat. The room itself is the same deep reddish-orange, and the the furniture is the same, yet the space has been gently reworked to provide more kitchen space and better traffic flow among the tables.

Now, about those growing pains… although the menu looked delicious, many items were marked as unavailable, whether sold out or pending supplier relationships. The service was pleasant, but slow. When we went, the kitchen was backlogged with orders and so it took a long time to get our food. We spotted one of the new owners, Zoe Watters, zipping around the tables, working behind the bar and then finally donning a chef’s hat and apron to get things moving behind the scenes. Despite the frantic pace, Zoe took a few minutes to chat with us while we paid the bill and told us that they’ve been much busier than they expected. It seems we were not the only ones hungering for the Orange Room’s return.

All in all, we were pleased with our experience. The problems we encountered were unfortunate, but understandable given that the owners are new to the restaurant business. The Orange Room delivered the goods where it counts, in atmosphere, menu and charm. Live music isn’t currently offered, but we were assured that it was coming soon. With a little more time to work out the kinks, the Orange Room will remain a beloved local eatery. In the meantime, it’s well worth the visit.

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