By CHRIS DAGENAIS / CONTRIBUTING WRITER
For the complete article with photos and links, visit http://www.nsnews.com/lifestyle/taste/culinary-tour-highlights-bowen-island-offerings-1.21222427
There isn’t time for a fancy intro; I have a lot of ground to cover with no less than 11 venues to consider in this column.
Recently, I was lucky to be sent on a Bowen Island culinary adventure with my family and was blown away by the variety and quality of dining options there. Paired with unique places to stay, Bowen Island proved to be a fantastic short-haul destination for a food-centric weekend getaway.
Visiting the island as a North Shore local escaping for a quick, restorative break is an overlooked experience, I suspect, and one I highly recommend; you’ll feel like you got away, but without the hassle of flights, luggage, currency exchange, passports or exorbitant spends.
We took an afternoon BC Ferries sailing across the bay to Snug Cove, Bowen Island’s port of call; it’s only a 20-minute trip, but still enough to give that sense of escape sought of any holiday.
As the kids were reporting grumbling stomachs and my caffeine tanks were nearly depleted, our first destination upon arrival was Artisan Square, a three-minute drive up the central artery from the port, and a charming hilltop thoroughfare that is home to the Bowen Island Arts Council, a gallery, pottery works, jeweller, tattoo studio, gym, yoga practice, and more.
Purveyor of handmade, organic chocolates Cocoa West Chocolatier has a diminutive but inviting shop in which a colourful collection of treats is produced and sold, including the signature Domino truffle, a silken and rich dark chocolate ganache “double six” rectangle with liquid maple caramel.
We popped into Artisan Eats Café and Fine Foods for a snack and were crippled by indecision in the face of mountains of tempting baked goods and sandwiches, salads and coffees. We ultimately settled on croissants, muffins and cappuccinos and hit the spacious, sun-baked patio to eat. Artisan Eats is an airy, welcoming space that also does breakfast on weekdays and brunch on weekends. cocoawest.com; artisaneats.ca
From there we took a meandering, tree-lined road to our accommodations at the beautiful and serene, spiritually rejuvenating Xenia Centre, a tucked-in-the-woods retreat comprised of wooden cabins of varying sizes, a central communal cabin with dining areas, well-appointed kitchen, sitting room and patio, and all manner of spaces in which to walk and calm the mind.
Among these spaces is a meditation room set beside an imposing, somehow melancholy looking thousand-year-old Douglas fir tree affectionately named Opa (it is one of only two old growth trees that remain on the island), an infrared sauna, and an intriguing, bas-relief stone labyrinth that had the kids perplexed by the counterintuitive, looping passage to its centre. Xenia is a treasure of a retreat, one I had not heard of before our stay, but one I would like to seek out again one day in the future, when my mind is in need of unburdening. xeniacentre.com
I left the rest of the Dagenais crew at Xenia and set out to meet Jody Lorenz, Bowen Island resident, foodie, and owner of Bowen Island Tours, which guides visitors across the island exploring different themes depending on the package selected.
Not surprisingly, my tour was restaurant-focused and packed an ambitious number of venues into a whirlwind three-hour culinary odyssey in and around Snug Cove. I was one of eight participants on the tour, which got underway with a stop at The Snug Café, a family-run casual diner with pleasant outdoor seating.
Benefiting from Jody’s insider knowledge, we cut right to the chase at this principally breakfast and lunch eatery, sampling the venue’s excellent, densely packed sausage rolls, made in-house, which featured an expertly realized flaky, buttery pastry and well-seasoned beef filling. Snug Café is open exceptionally early on weekdays and is a good choice if you want to milk every last minute of your weekend getaway and depart on an early Monday ferry sailing. snugcafe.ca
From there we hit up the minuscule Candy in the Cove, which claims to be the world’s smallest candy shop, though its square footage does not preclude a massive inventory of sweets, including rare salted licorice treats, sold in bulk.
We explored some historic cabins left over from the island’s early 20th-century golden years as a high-end sojourn destination for wealthy socialites before we headed to the fantastic Rustique Bistro, a very special space with one of the nicest garden patios I’ve experienced in recent years.
Here, hyper local ingredients feature on a classic French menu that includes charcuterie, salads, bisque, duck confit, lamb shank, and a food-friendly wine list. An old but functional Citroen DS sits parked in the grass, adding to the old world, appropriately rustic charm. Rustique is definitely worth a visit, especially if you can score a patio seat. rustiquebistro.wixsite.com/rustiquebistro1
Also worth seeking out for dinner is the warm and stylish Barcelona Tapas and Wine Bar, which specializes in traditional Spanish shareable fare, but using what’s seasonal and local at any given time. Bracing, fresh Albarino and ripe and round Rioja in bottles meet a thoughtful B.C. wines-on-tap program designed to complement dishes like locally made Chorizo Marinated in Red Wine, House Smoked Pacific Sardines, and, my favourite of the tour tasting, Grilled Octopus with Romesco. btwb.ca
A jaunt down near the water revealed a boardwalk lined with more dining options including the Lime & Moon Pie Company, maker of remarkable, fresh-from-the-oven organic pies, and hip, minimalist space Branch and Butter, serving luscious open-faced sandwiches using sourdough from Gastown’s Birds and the Beets, as well as a selection of Earnest Ice Cream. limeandmoon.com; branchandpeople.com
The family came to collect me after my epic journey and we picked up a beautiful bottle of red wine by Laughing Stock Vineyards from the exceptionally well-curated selection of wines, spirits, and beers on offer at the Bowen Island Beer & Wine Store.
We headed back to Xenia for a restorative, quiet night.
The following evening the whole family enjoyed sunny patio dining at the positively teeming Doc Morgan’s, perhaps Bowen’s best-known local, and home to casual pub fare, cold beer, and lively chatter. A metal bucket of freshly sourced peel-and-eat prawns was a meal highlight, as was the multi-layered and super fresh, chip-topping Mexicali dip. docmorgans.ca
Bowen Island Food Tours are $79, with three per cent of proceeds donated to Bowen Island Food Bank. I recommend a tour on your first night of a weekend getaway to help you figure out where to go for dinner the next night. bowenIslandtours.com
Chris Dagenais served as a manager for several restaurants downtown and on the North Shore. A self-described wine fanatic, he earned his sommelier diploma in 2001. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.