This article originally appeared on BC Living on Nov. 7, 2017.
Refresh and recharge during holiday shopping sprees with a snack—or a meal—at a Robson favourite
Fresh air, twinkle lights, outdoor strolls: escaping the mall to treasure hunt along Robson Street in Vancouver’s downtown core can provide plenty of rewarding shopping experiences. This season, the area’s warm, welcoming nooks offer up opportunities to take a well deserved break. Several locally-based businesses put out the doormat to usher in weary consumers and keep hunger at bay.
Here are six top spots to seek refuge this holiday season…
1. Breka Bakery – 818 Bute Street
Carb addicts and coffee lovers alike can stop in to Breka to refresh—at any hour. “We’re open 24/7,” says store manager Raimonda Baksanskaite. “We never close!”
The Bute Street location—one of four in Vancouver now—can’t really say they specialize in one specific menu item… because there is so much on offer. “You can get everything here—from breakfast to soups and salads, light snacks to proper dinners,” says Baksanskaite.
Aside from that variety, Breka also focuses keenly on an offering that is right out of the oven. “Everything is fresh–baked each morning. We don’t sell anything one-day old.”
The eatery’s international flavour offers customers favourites from a number of different heritages. “We’re a more European-style bakery,” explains Baksanskaite. “You can find German Bienenstich cake and traditional Jewish challah every Friday. Other shops don’t offer the same options.”
For the holiday season, the traditional dried fruit and nut bread, Stollen, returns to the menu as do pumpkin pies, shortbread cookies and other festive pastries.
2. Zefferelli’s – 1136 Robson Street
Classics that prove their worth are to be treasured. Second-floor mainstay Zefferelli’s has held its prime location with aplomb for nearly three decades and owner Alberto Lemmo has his suspicions as to why.
“It is always nice to take a break,” he offers. “Zefferelli’s is cozy for a glass of wine or a nice pasta. It’s a matter of sitting down and recharging your batteries.” Never more so for consumers than during the holiday season. “Come upstairs and warm up, dry out,” he continues. “Get away from the hustle and the bustle.”
Continuing its beloved tradition, the restaurant excels at fresh pastas (with portions they note would “make Mama proud”) and a wine list that’s extraordinarily unpretentious and adored. “We want it to be accessible,” Lemmo explains. “We want you to find your favourite.”
3. Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory – 1017 Robson Street
Sometimes you don’t need a full meal to get you back in the mood to bargain hunt. A bite of something sweet can do the trick.
“We love that people can come in and smell what is cooking,” says Kate Mustard, sales and marketing manager for Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory. “It’s a wonderful place to come in and get away from the weather and lose yourself in the chocolate world.”
The newly redesigned space offers customers a more open, welcoming way to shop for sweets and treats of all kinds. “Our goal was to remove barriers for the customers–to provide a better experience overall,” says Mustard. “Lighter, brighter and more open.”
This holiday season provides even more incentive to stop in. Besides grabbing a chocolatey snack for yourself, you may just spot something that crosses off a name on your list. “We want the holiday to be reflected in our product. We have lots of different items that are coming in,” promises Mustard. The Pinnacle box is new for holiday, complete with signature chocolates, foil bells, their beloved popcorn treat known as “Rocky Pop” and more.
4. Joe Fortes Seafood and Chop House – 777 Thurlow Street
When Joe Fortes Seafood and Chop House opened its doors in 1985, Brian Mulroney was Prime Minister, “We Are the World” was number one and Out of Africa was playing in theatres just down the street. While culture and politics have changed, the restaurant has bowed to few pressures and grown into its lofty position as one of the city’s most treasured culinary landmarks. “It’s an institution,” surmises general manager Chris Meyer. “There is no other restaurant in the city that looks like this: the architecture, the room, the patio… it’s a warm, inviting place.”
Named, of course, for the city’s first official lifeguard—a storied West End resident—the space welcomes shoppers for a lively meal or an impressively diverse happy hour at the bar daily. (Fresh $1 oysters and $5 cocktails are well-priced favourites.) And regulars know the holiday decor abounds as Christmas approaches. “We’re in the entertainment business,” says Meyer. “It’s vibrant and fun.”
Shoppers can come in from the cold to appreciate the inviting, jovial room. “Enjoy the ambience. Forget about your shopping woes for a bit,” encourages Meyer. Especially true on Boxing Day when Joe Fortes reopens (after a brief holiday closure) to offer sale weary souls delicious comfort.
5. Cafe il Nido – 780 Thurlow Street
Housed in the historic Robson-Thurlow mainstay known as The Manhattan, il Nido has maintained both charm and grace in its nearly 30 years serving a dedicated, loyal fan base, with both highly praised plates and a little education.
“Italian cuisine, as we know it, doesn’t exist in Italy,” explains owner Franc Felice. “It’s all regional in Italy. You go to the north, you go to the south. You have specialties all over.” And the incorporation of that treasured variety has helped the eatery stay well populated and highly rated. “Our clientele isn’t looking for just garlic and tomato sauce. We create an ambience with what’s available,” explains Felice. “We try to blend everything like an art.”
And this season that artful promise may just provide a rather continental air to a local respite from harried shopping. “Get away from the cars and the noise on the street,” Felice urges. “In Europe, folks want to come in off the street. It’s an escape.”
6. D’oro Gelato e Caffe – 1222 Robson Street
Four years ago, Robson’s resident gelato purveyor went in for a little refresh—and emerged a whole new, authentic self. Co-owner Kristina Sonney of D’oro explains it best.
“We wanted to offer an old-world experience in a new-world setting,” she says. And dedication certainly trumps disposable here. In Italy, diners vote immersion over brevity, so D’oro decided to provide plenty to appreciate: grilled paninis from Commercial Drive’s beloved La Grotta del Formaggio, coffee from Seattle’s acclaimed Caffé Umbria (fourth generation roasters with proud Italian heritage and an eye on the finest blends) and even a “lab” backstage that whips up handmade gelato and sorbetto on-site. “Producing our product in an in-store lab allows us to offer fresh gelato and take into consideration demographics and flavors by location,” explains Sonney.
This December, expect a panna cotta flavour to be whipped up and added as a seasonal offering in addition to a continuing effort to provide a dessert that delights and perhaps even surprises. “Gelato—on average—has half the fat of ice cream,” says Sonney. In addition, gelato is churned with less cream and less air. The result is more dense, more flavourful and, at D’oro, more rewarding.