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“There’s no sauce,” wrote Cervantes, “in the world like hunger.” And what better way to spark a hunger than to set out on a road trip? It need not be an epic journey; we’re blessed with first-rate culinary destinations within a weekend’s striking distance. And what could be more intrepid than seeking out unheralded, off-the-beaten-path purveyors of regional flavour? Pack an overnight bag and saddle up: there are miles to be travelled and meals to be marvelled over.
Fat Jack’s Diner, Fraser Canyon, B.C.
If you ever pressed the 12B buzzer and took the stairs up to chef Todd Baiden’s now-defunct underground restaurant, you’re well aware of his legendary, six-course guerrilla dining experiences. Those evenings were something to look forward to (bookings were typically months out) and they still are, though you’ll have to block off a couple days to make one happen. Now, instead of South Main traffic, it’s the mighty Fraser River that flows past his — above-board — establishment.
Of his decampment: “The opportunity arose and I thought, ‘You’d be an idiot not to do it,’ ” says Baiden. The new joint, Fat Jack’s Diner in his aptly named Mighty Fraser Motel, is about 70 klicks north of Hope — a couple hours’ drive once you’ve left the city. But by the time you’re winding along the TransCanada high above the Fraser Canyon, you’ll be perfectly primed for those first mind-blowing bites.
For something hearty like his Quail and Three Sisters Veg with quinoa and a maple-infused jus. He pulls the beans and squash straight from his garden. He’s still happy to lay your palate out with a multiround culinary beat-down if you let him have his way. (Those who’ve gone off-menu, omakase-style, report excellent results.) But he’s also proud of his rendition of the diner classics: the seven-ounce burger is homemade — the beef from a rancher in neighbouring Cache Creek — and the barbecue sauce is a true family secret named for his father, Fat Jack.
There’s no need to cab home at the end of the evening. Stick around and smack a few golf balls out into the chasm. Lounge by the outdoor firepit and watch the stars drift over the mountaintops. Simply retire to your room, then wake up to a killer breakfast. Don’t pack: you’ll likely be hanging around, working up the hunger for a late lunch. — Masa Takei
The Herbfarm, Woodinville, WA
Woodinville was a bedroom community north of Seattle known mostly as the headquarters of the massive Chateau Ste. Michelle winery when the Herbfarm restaurant opened in 1986. But its radical approach to locavorism — a word that didn’t even exist when they started practising it — helped transform the sleepy town into the mini Napa that it is today. The kitchen is now helmed by Chris Weber (born the year it opened), who oversees a nine-course tasting menu ($179 to $225, including wine pairings) that changes themes every three weeks or so. Until October 12, Indian Summer is playing, which might match charred pears and brown butter kohlrabi; it will be replaced by A Mycologist’s Dream, with its attendant focus on fungi. But Weber always keeps it grounded by drawing on local resources: grains from Eastern Washington, Kumamoto oysters from the West, and people from all over. — Neal McLennan
Stone Soup Inn, Cowichan Valley, B.C.
In a literal cabin in the woods a few kilometres from Lake Cowichan, Brock Windsor — the Donald Judd of chefs — grows, raises, or otherwise hyperlocally sources the building blocks for the minimalist five-course menus he crafts Thursdays to Saturdays ($65, plus $35 wine pairings). This is not the place to come for a perfect Béarnaise — though one gets the feeling Windsor could whip one up easily enough — since it would be tough to comprehend why anyone would want to obscure the taste of a vegetable he picked that morning. Instead, surrounded by livestock and gardens that sooner or later make it to the plate, you give yourself over to the gentleman farmer idyll and eat in and of a certain place. — Neal McLennan
Fat Jack’s Diner 50865 TransCanada Hwy. near Boston Bar, 604-206-7295
Distance 221 km/2¾ hours
Stay The attached Mighty Fraser Motel, from $75
The Herbfarm 14590 NE 145th St., Woodinville, WA 425-485-5300
Distance 215 km/2¼ hours
Stay Willows Lodge next door, from US$425
The Stone Soup Inn 6755 Cowichan Lake Rd., Lake Cowichan, 250-749-3848
Distance 113 km/3¼ hours
Stay The attached B&B, from $138
Related Reading: Keeping It Weird and Wonderful, A Long Okanagan Weekend