Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Lunch at the Pioneer House south of Duncan

The Pioneer House is an iconic log building in the Whippletree Junction shopping district just south of Duncan BC. It's a huge and impressive structure in the old frontier log style, and I had the pleasure of dropping by for lunch this past Sunday on one my many trips to and from Victoria.

It was a spring break Sunday and the joint was jumping, but I managed to get a table for 1 quite quickly. There were lots of families there enjoying Sunday brunch, some large tables of 8 or more and a steady stream of diners coming and going. Any place that serves Phillips Blue Buck on tap is aces in my book, so I relaxed with my frosty mug of locally-brewed nectar and enjoyed the folksy decor while I waited for my meal.

The menu is quite extensive, typical west coast pub and diner fare, but they also offer a mexican food menu for those who like it spicy. I ordered the lunch special, a BLT with Swiss cheese and a bowl of curried chicken and rice soup, plus a side of fries and gravy. The sandwich was as tasty as  expected, not much you can do with a BLT, but the soup was very good, obviously home made with big chunks of chicken, lots of vegetables and a tasty curry flavour. Even the fries and gravy were perfectly done, worthy even of a mighty poutine.

The Pioneer House should go into your list of must visits for a casual hearty meal when travelling up or down Vancouver Island

Monday, March 5, 2012

Parksville Untapped, A Sudsy Event.

This was the second year for the beer tasting and food pairing night of the Parksville Untapped event, an annual epicurian extravaganza that's threatening to change the impression of this small mid-Island city as a stodgy, no-fun retirement community. Last year's incarnation was at Tigh Na Mara but this year it switched to the Beach Club, allowing the former to host Swirl, the wine-tasting portion of this 4 day festival.

I'm not sure how many tickets were sold in total, but they were completely sold out by the day of the event. The theme this year was a western one, with the serving staff, and many of the guests, dressed up in jeans, plaid shirts, hats and boots. Hay bales and other cowboy motifs littered the room. A great live band was set up, banging off the country covers to an appreciative crowd.

The real star of the event was the beer, all of them craft style from BC and many of them from Vancouver Island itself. Some winners in my opinion were the Howe Sound 'Total Eclipse of the Hop' IPA and Nanaimo's Longwood Brew Pub Framboise, not to mention the boilermakers made with Glenfiddich and Cream Ale from R&B Brewing. Other brewers on hand were the Canoe Brew Pub, Lighthouse Brewing, Driftwood Brewery, and at least a dozen others. The food, prepared by the chefs of both the Beach Club and Tigh Na Mara, was plentiful and delicious, with pork sandwiches pulled from a complete roast pig, local oysters on the half-shell, chili, a chocolate and fruit fountain as well as chocolate from Nanaimo's Rockey Mountain Chocolate Factory, and local sausage sliders.

The mood of the crowd cheered and livened as the beer and food flowed freely and the casual western atmosphere helped make this event a must attend social event in the mid-island. Mark it on your calendar for next year, late February 2013 in Parksville. Watch the website for dates and details.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

10 Stops To Make Between Victoria and Parksville

I've been driving from Parksville to Victoria and back at least once a month for the past 12 years and I know the route like the back of my hand. Here are 10 of the many stops you can make to make this beautiful 2 hour drive even more enjoyable.

I usually bypass Nanaimo on my way down to Victoria. There's lots to see and do in this small city of 80,000 but that's an article all its own, but these attactions are all within a km or so off the highways

1) Nanaimo River Swimming Holes - South Nanaimo. This is a beautiful river for a quick swim to wash off the heat of the road. There are lots of public access points either east or west off the highway.

2) Wildplay Parks and Bungy Zone - South Nanaimo. This is a zipline, bungy and Monkido climbing park just off the highway. It's at 35 Nanaimo River Road, Vancouver Island, BC.

3) Transfer Beach - Ladysmith. This is a family oriented salt-water beach with a play area, concession and amphitheatre for live music.

4) Craig St. Brew Pub - Duncan Features hand-crafted beer and delicious food located at 450 Swift Street in the downtown core.

5) Pioneer House and Whippletree Junction - South of Duncan A number of specialty shops and restaurants set within 14 restored buildings from the early 1900s.

6) Forest Discovery Museum - Duncan - This is an interesting look into the history of the forest industry and its technology, just off the highway north of Duncan

7) Russell Farms - Mt. Sicker Road Chemainus - A farm market, full service deli and ice cream parlour.

8) Serious Coffee Mill Bay - I almost always stop here for a quick jolt before hitting the Malahat. Try the sausage roll and an Americano.

9) Malahat Lookouts - Stop and stretch your legs for a glorious view of the Saanich inlet. You have to turn left to cross the highway if heading south to Victoria.

10) Goldstream Park - take a stroll through this old-growth temperate rainforest and marvel at the eagles and yearly salmon run in mid to late October till early December. Gorgeous year round.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

12 Hours in Victoria

It's an easy two-hour drive south to Victoria from our home in Parksville, and we recently made an impromptu trip down for a 12 hour anniversary celebration.

We began our evening with a wonderful dinner at Nautical Nellies, a steak and seafood restaurant on Wharf Street. The place was packed on a Tuesday evening, but they managed to seat us, without a reservation, after a short wait . We started with the 10 piece Sashimi appetizer which included raw Albacore and Red Ahi tuna, salmon, snapper and scallops. It was fresh and delicious. My companion is an oyster freak and ordered 4 Effingham oysters and would gladly have ordered more. As a main course I had the 7 oz New York steak with crab cake and garlic prawns. The steak was flavourful and the crab cake was amazing. My companion had the lobster tail with prawns, seafood fritters and a seafood risotto. We finished with a flourless chocolate torte. The entire meal was a winner.

After all that rich food we walked the 2 blocks over to Swan's. It's my favourite brew-pub in Victoria, partly because of the beer but even more so because of the outstanding atmosphere brought on by the amazing collection of art on every wall. The had live bluegrass on stage and while the beer was good, the waitress was a little cranky so we picked up a nightcap at the onsite beer and wine store and headed back to our hotel.

We stayed at the Bedford Regency Hotel thanks to a last minute online deal, just $59.00 for a standard queen room in this downtown heritage building. It's right across from the Bay Centre and within easy walking distance of the Inner Harbour or any other downtown attraction. The room was cute and unique, not your standard cookie cutter budget hotel room, the bed was comfortable and clean, it had a walk-in shower with dual shower heads and a handy little office area. There's a bar/lounge on the second floor, though we didn't partake and a coffee shop in the lobby. The online off-season rate was fantastic but it would be well-worth the standard rate at any time of year, so we look forward to staying there again.