|Welcome... to Jurassic BBQ Park, at Hog Shack in Steveston - Photo by Wasabi Prime|
Is it scary that I'm letting a giant platter of meat be the opener to this post? Well, take a breath, count to three, and think of warm fuzzy puppies to calm your meat anxiety/excitement. Of all the delightfully delicious discoveries one can make in Canada, a good barbecue joint is probably the last thing you'd think of stumbling across. The Hog Shack Cook House is right near Fisherman's Wharf in Steveston, serving up farm critters over ocean dwellers -- pork and beef ribs, beef brisket, chicken, all smoked in-house and done in the Kansas City-style of BBQ, with a slow-cooked smoke flavor, a tomato-molasses based sauce, and generally a little more evenly balanced between sweet and spice. It wouldn't be fair to say there's no seafood on the menu -- they do offer calamari and local prawns, but come on, you're here for BBQ. Invertebrates have nothing on mammals -- Darwinian deliciousness rules. The beef rib "Dino Bones" are epic caveman food, named aptly because they look like someone took the Flinstones' pet, Dino, out for a long walk into a smoker and doused him in BBQ sauce. The real secret treat are the burnt ends from their smoked brisket. It's pretty much that -- the carbon-encrusted nuggets of flavor that usually flavor side dishes like baked beans, but Hog Shack periodically Tweets that the burnt ends are available to order and the thundering hooves you hear is the crowd of people converging on this place to get a plateful of the off-the-menu treat. They're very adventurous souls, putting whatever temps their curiosity into the smoker -- you can get smoked cubes of Spam, which will pretty much rock your world. Another off-the-menu carnivorous delight are the pulled pork pancakes. Shreds of soft pork, soaked in the house BBQ sauce, covering a stack of sweet, fluffy pancakes. Kaboom. Congrats, Hog Shack, you just blew my mind.
|Eat, drink, be merry. Repeat. - Photos by Wasabi Prime|
They're also big beer nerds, which I can appreciate. They have the benefit of being right in the heart of Pacific Northwest craft brew Beertopia, with the lion's share of good beers to offer, but they know how to pick beers that go well with intensely-flavored meals, so they offer interesting things like the Hitachino Nest White Beer, a Japanese beer done in the Belgian Wit style, a lightly citrus-flavored brew with a little spice of cardamom, and it probably has one of the cutest beer labels I've seen in a while. Owls make things better. This is just a simple fact that you're going to have to accept. You don't see Harry Potter walking around with a cormorant, do you? Owls = Better.
|Rocanini rocks my coffee socks - Photos by Wasabi Prime|
You need a breather after all that protein. And very likely a nap, but if you take on the Rambo attitude of eating with all-American gusto, you'll sleep when you're dead, soldier, so find the quickest way to get a kickstart of caffeine to keep the food momentum going. I have to say, I was glad there was not a Starbucks on every corner of Steveston and Richmond. Maybe every other-other corner, but not like how it is here in Washington, where the wily and agile Starbucks roam free and multiply in their native territory, a jittery wild herd of half-caf/double-foam cappuccinos. I'm pleased to say there's a charming and lovely specialty coffee shop that would bring a tear to the eye of any coffee nerd, Rocanini Coffee Roasters. Their roasting facility is in Vancouver, but their beautiful, brightly-lit cafe is in Steveston. It reminds me of many places in Seattle, with the smart minimalist interiors, decorated with a mix of modern and vintage pieces.
|Cold brew coffee - where even the caffeine needs a chance to chill out for a bit - Photos by Wasabi Prime|
I had my usual latte, along with a wonderful buttery almond croissant, but Rocanini gets extra coffee nerd cred for having a cold brew setup, which is this complicated-looking tower of glass and wood on their counter that looks like how Steampunk geeks would want their coffee before jumping on their recumbent unicycle. Cold brew is just another way to extract the flavor from the grounds, but using cold water to slowly absorb the richness of the coffee with less of the acid or bite that heated brewing methods tend to develop. Having a tall tower that lets gravity do a lot of the work to draw the water through the grounds helps speed up the process a little, and let's face it, the equipment just looks wicked cool. While this method takes more time, it yields a more smooth cup of coffee that's all the more enjoyable as an iced drink.
|A glass of wine and bountiful treasures of the sea at Tapenade Bistro - Photos by Wasabi Prime|
I've been going through all these creature comforts as a reason to leave the States behind, and I could say another reason is seafood, but that would be a little silly as we can get plenty of seafaring meals around here. But not all of them can prepare the food as delightfully as Tapenade Bistro. The menu is Mediterranean-styled, but that's just a quicker way of saying fresh flavors, simply-prepared and being respectful of the local ingredients with a nod towards sustainability. It's very close to the way a lot of Seattle area restaurants treat their food, especially seafood, which benefits so often from a light hand for seasonings and sauces. At the time of this visit, the spot prawns were in season, so it was prawn-a-palooza celebration everywhere, with all the local restaurants offering it on their menus. But Tapenade knew to give the little creatures their due, and served them up steamed with piles of fresh herbs, potatoes, sausage and fresh lemon. A bit like a crawfish boil, but in an elegant way, even if it's not the most elegant way to eat them -- which is to say, dig in like there's no tomorrow. Paired with the prawn feast was a really clean, light crab salad over a crab cake, which, like a Double Rainbow, is Double-Crustacean-OMG good. Everything just felt wonderfully garden-fresh, like no aspect of this celebration of land and sea edibles was overlooked. I was pretty much ready to rip up my passport and say, home is where my full and happy stomach is.
|When cupcake mania strikes! - Photos by Wasabi Prime|
So all the savory delights of Steveston seemed well-investigated, but what about the sweet? Surely one cannot live on smoked Spam and buttery spot prawns alone... although it would be pretty nice, wouldn't it? Cupcake mania hasn't just stayed local to the US -- the frosted mini-cake craze has jumped the border and invaded Canada with a sugar high as well. Sure, the Seattle area has its share of cupcakeries, but walking through Steveston, there was a moment of comfort to see the sign for Bell's Bake Shop, and its lemony walls with sprinkle-hued polka dots. Maybe it was the wall color that reminded me of my old childhood bedroom, or the vintage chairs that were like the chairs in my grandparents' kitchen, but the place had a worn-in feeling of home. No fussy princess-themed, sparkly maribou-feather wonderland. You didn't feel like Tinkerbell up and exploded the way some cupcakeries doll up their shops. Bell's was like a nostalgic afterschool treat in someone's kitchen, and the seasonal rhubarb cupcake I had sure would have gone well with a tall glass of milk.
I thought about staying. I let my brain stray into the danger zone of, "You don't need a pesky ol' visa -- no one will even know you left the US and never came back...right?" But the drive back across the border to US-terra-firma was a reminder that Richmond, and more specifically Steveston, is not that far away. Its seaside village charm and ample restaurant choices make me think it's a place ripe for invasion by Cher or P. Diddy, so head up there while it's still pristine and untouched by annoying celebrities looking for the next great city to ruin. Hurry. Pack your bags right now. I hear the Diddy is a wily one. And if you want to let fate or luck guide your hand, you can still enter to win a food trip to Richmond -- just head over to Richmond's Ultimate Food Experience to enter for a chance to party and eat like a rockstar.