Saturday, June 03, 2023

Eating off the Hill: Sophie's Cosmic Cafe in Kitsilano

After my train journey back in April and a few days in the Comox Valley, I had some time in Vancouver my flight back to Ottawa. 

It was a chance to have lunch with an old friend and, rather than dining downtown, he coaxed me out to Kitsilano for lunch at a popular neighbourhood spot: Sophie's Cosmic Cafe.

I got there first thanks to Uber and grabbed a booth; I had been worried it would be hard to get a table but while it was busy, I got there before the lunch for got a spot no problem. 

They have an extensive brunch menu but, as you know, I'm not a big breakfast guy, and had enough eggs on the train to last me for awhile. The lunch menu is a little more limited, but the Sophie's Cosmic Workout Burger calls my name. It's described as a 6oz lean beef patty topped with mushrooms, bacon, tomato, lettuce, mayo, with your choice of cheese. Served with fries and house salad.

I eyeball their fries on another table and decide just salad -- Caesar -- for me please. My friend gets the same burger but passes on the salad for fries-only, so I tell the waitress that he's welcome to my ration of fries. He also gets a milk shake, which he says they are known more. I stick with Diet Coke.

Service is efficient and we don't need to wait too long for our meals to arrive. I am advised to report the milk shake is excellent. The Diet Coke was, well, it was Diet Coke.

The salad was creamy and garlicky and I certainly didn't need the fries to go with it. The burger was cooked well, the bacon crispy and mushrooms sauteed nicely. Lunch filled me up so I didn't need to buy any disappointing ball park food at the Canadians matinee at the Nat that afternoon.

All in all, a good lunch with good company at a local greasy spoon. Perhaps a smidge more bougie than your typical greasy spoon (shows more in the breakfast menu) but on point for the Kits neighbourhood.

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Friday, June 02, 2023

Eating off the Hill: Fish and Chips at Surfside in Comox

 I always say when you’re having fish, get as close to the ocean as possible. If you can dine outside and smell the salt air, even better.

Whenever I’m back home in the Comox Valley I always get fish and chips. Usually I’m back in the winter, but recently during a spring visit I was back in time for the opening for the season of Surfside, a fish and chip truck in the part next to the Comox Harbour.

They have an extensive menu, from traditional fish & chops to po’ boys, tacos and oysters. I’ll have to try a po’ boy on a future visit to see how they compare to New Orleans, but on my first visit I stuck to my standard: halibut and chips, sub onion rings for the chips. I also got a cup of chowder, which came with grilled garlic bread.

They cook it fresh, which was fine because I wasn’t early. It also gave me time to check their math, as even with tax it didn’t seem to add up. I wasn’t expecting it to be cheap, but this was a little crazy. Turns out they did get the math wrong by almost $10, which I got back when I asked them to run the numbers again. So do check their math, as that’s too much to let go.

Only other negative was Diet Pepsi instead of Diet Coke, but we can live with that.

I took my food to a picnic table in the park and dug in. The chowder was tasty and warmed the heart. The onion rings were thin and crunch, as I like them. Some places go too heavy on the batter; they did not. Slaw was slaw. Halibut was delicious, flaky, yummy. My favourite for fish and chips.

A good lunch on a nice day in the park with a breeze off the harbour, but not cheap and check their math.

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Tuesday, May 30, 2023

7th Inning Stretch at the Blue Jays Game in 2023

On May 20, 2023, Blue Jays fans sing OK Blue Jays and Take Me Out to the Ball Game during the seventh inning stretch at Rogers Centre in Toronto.

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Tuesday, May 16, 2023

Day 5 on VIA Rail's The Canadian: Vancouver at last

Day five of my transcontinental journey began in my home province of British Columbia, with the Rocky Mountains having passed behind us in the darkness of night. Which, without any city lights, is really dark. As I lifted the shades for my glimpse of home I was greeted with -- a graffiti-emblazoned freight train in the Kamloops rail yard.

Thankfully, it would get better. This part of BC always reminds me of Montana, and as we chugged out of the yard I was greeted by the hilly, rocky, brown terrain of the BC Interior. And lots of water, from lakes to the Thompson River, which flows into the Fraser River all the way to the Lower Mainland.

I went down the train for one last breakfast -- usually its served almost on arrival to Vancouver early morning. But we're still about eight hours behind schedule, so we'd get one more meal after this. I opted for the banana pecan pancakes with real maple syrup. Inexplicably they had no pecans, but the pancakes were still banana-y and delish. And as it was my last breakfast onboard I got two proteins -- bacon AND sausage. Living the dream. Train calories don't count, right?

While bummed to have missed most of the Rockies, usually this stretch through BC would be in the dark Westbound, with arrival in Vancouver around 8AM. So to see BC in the day was an opportunity, and really was a treat.

We followed the Thompson River until it flowed into the Fraser -- these are the rivers that built BC. They spawn the salmon that supported Indigenous communities and later vibrant commercial and spots industries as well. They supported the mighty BC forestry sector, floating logs downriver in the early days.

We got to see where the Thompson flows into the Fraser, each river a different colour as they meet before eventually blending together further downstream.

For many miles, the CN and CPR tracks ran on parallel sides of the river. We went through tunnels and by water falls. We passed by Hell's Gate, where a sudden narrowing of the river due to a rock slide caused by track construction was an early ecological disaster, at a heavy cost to salmon migration. 

It was a pleasure to watch as the landscape changed from barren to forested, from brown to green, reminding me of the diversity of my home province. 

We had a bonus lunch, as this was an unplanned for meal. During our extended stop in Saskatoon the chef went foraging for extra supplies, and we were presented with an impromptu menu to our amusement.

They had lunch covered, though they told me with a laugh they'd have had a hard time if they had to serve dinner as well. Impressive though they could still provide four options, including a veg. I went with the beef on a bun -- the cheese shred was an interesting choice but overall I enjoyed it a lot. Both our dining car crews were amazing, from the chefs to the wait staff, and they all earned their optional tips.

Over lunch we made it to the Fraser Valley, passing through Chilliwack and into BC's agricultural heartland. Farm fields would give way to signs of the forestry industry coming into Surrey, crossing the Fraser into New Westminster and finally a round about route to back into Vancouver station around 4PM. 

And just like that it was over as I deboarded the train for the final time, looking back before I went to get an Uber to Horseshoe Bay and a ferry to Vancouver Island. Rushing to catch a sailing, like all good BCers do.

I'm so glad I had this experience. I'm not sure I would do it at the cash price, but if circumstances allowed I would totally do it again. Despite all my research and videos watched, it still defied my expectations.

I brought many snacks and podcasts and e-books to entertain me. Didn't need them. First of all, they fed us so much I was never hungry. Time slows down on the train. You'd linger over a meal, talking with the strangers you're sat with, not realizing nearly two hours have passed. And it's amazing how the days can fly by just enjoying the scenery out the window. 

From the lakes of cottage country to the woods of Northern Ontario, from the plains of the prairies to the snow-capped peaks of the Rockies, on down along the mighty rivers of BC, Canada is a huge and varied and beautiful country.

And I met many interesting people, and managed to avoid any political debates despite the first part of every new conversation being what do you do, and the answer being I work for an MP. I didn't offer what party, and no one asked. 

I talked about clean energy with a businessperson travelling from Winnipeg to Saskatoon. 

About teaching and support for special needs teachers with a retired teacher from Northern Ontario. 

About the skilled trades with a guy from Edmonton. 

One retired gentleman told me he reminded me of a former mayor of Calgary -- I think he met Naheed Nenshi? He assured me it was a compliment and I took it as such. Must be the glasses?

I had two meals with a woman from Quebec City who has taken this trip nearly 200 times and speaks no English. We managed to communicate despite my atrocious grammar and limited vocabulary. She too generously complimented by French -- it made me more determined to do the French lessons we're offered at work.

I didn't care that we were late. As I said, it was about the journey. And what a journey it was. I'd do it again, though in a bedroom rather than the cabin for one. I wouldn't mind redoing Jasper onward in daylight.

Until then, a business trip to Toronto awaits. By train, of course. 

But next epic journey will be The Ocean to Halifax, to complete my coast to coast train journey. Hopefully one day soon. 

Can't wait.

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Monday, May 08, 2023

Day Four on VIA Rail's The Canadian: Onward to the Rockies

You will recall that in our last installment we were stuck for most of the day in a largely closed for the holiday Saskatoon. Thankfully, I was woken in the wee hours by the shaking of the train as we finally got the green light to pull out of Saskatoon, and I resumed my slumber glad for the resumption of progress Westward.

Day four was supposed to begin with an early morning arrival into Jasper, gateway to the most scenic part of the journey -- the Rocky Mountains. Instead of breakfast, the menu would be brunch a little latter in the morning following departure from Jasper.

Instead, we were about a half day behind, scheduled for Edmonton around midday and Jasper in the evening. The meal schedule stood though, so as we traded the prairie for oil fields I headed down to the dining car for brunch.

I enjoy a good meat pie with gravy, and while nothing fancy this did hit the spot. I would have gone with veg instead of hash browns though. While it's the bridge to breakfast, it made the whole meal a little carby. 

Meal done, it was back to my cabin to enjoy the Alberta scenery. And ponder which came first -- this company or The Handmaid's Tail?

But onward we chugged towards Edmonton, and a delayed connect with an old friend from Ontario, David Graham, who now works for CN as a train traffic controller -- great job for a lifelong rail fan like him. He shot some video of our train I've included in my video -- check out his site for tons of train content. Good to see you again, David!

After our Edmonton stop I grabbed a Diet Coke from Saskatoon, some pringles from the prestige bar, and snagged a set in the fancy dome car. West of Edmonton the landscape quickly changed from prairie to forest, and the flatness of the plains gave way to rolling foothills as we chugged ever closed to Jasper and the Rocky Mountains.

It was at dinner time that the scenery really started to get interesting. While I pondered between the lamb chops and the Cajun salmon (choose the former, should have done the latter) we were treated to striking mountains, and the eagle-eyed dining staff pointed out wildlife sightings. 

Love dinner with a view!

It was late evening when we finally pulled in to Jasper, with an hour and a half to explore before departure. The scenery around Jasper was spectacular. The town itself was a flatter Whistler -- a tourist town with the same stuff as other tourist towns. So I walked around, took some pictures, bought an orange at the grocery store and enjoyed it on a park bench. It was thoroughly enjoyable, an a welcome dose of vitamin C.

Oh, and I saw a bear.

As we reboarded the train to continue the journey to Vancouver, the sun was already going down. Sadly, this would be it for the Rockies for us. Because of our Saskatoon delay we would go through the most scenic part of the trip at night, and wake up in Kamloops in the wee hours.

This doesn't make me regret the trip, but the bit of the Rockies we did see coming into Jasper did only wet my appetite. I may want to try to do the Jasper to Vancouver portion again one day, to complete the experience.

Off to bed one last time. Tomorrow, my home province!

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