Vancouver’s Best Breakfasts

There are so many ways to start the day right, from butter-rich, flaky croissants to plump pork and crab dumplings to a simple (but umami-rich) shot of espresso. The city’s best haunts for an inspired morning meal awaitA  is for A.M.The streets are deserted. It’s dark and cold. This is the moment, around 4 in the morning, when things start humming at Terra Breads. Scones and cinnamon rolls are prepped and baked first to greet the 7 a.m. regulars. Then come the breads: sourdough, baguette, rye, pumpkin seed, fig and anise-everything with its own temperature, timing, and temperament. The bakers work quietly, lest one false move collapse the fragile ecosystem of yeast and water, sugar and spice. Surprisingly little coffee is consumed-they tend to reach for the grinder only after an exceptionally late night (getting to bed at, say, 9 or 10 p.m.). When the first-wave of customers departs and the delivery truck’s gone, there’s a moment of calm. Perhaps some “lunch.” Then, after a little prep for tomorrow, these flour-dusted elves leave for an entire afternoon of freedom-and daylight.B  is for BaconIt’s simple: happy pigs make for better bacon. And at Vancouver Island’s Sloping Hill Farm, owner Dirk Keller emphasizes the good life for his Hampshire and Berkshire breeds. They enjoy a vegetarian diet free of hormones and antibiotics, and are able to socialize and engage in instinctive pig behaviour such as rooting, wallowing, and foraging. The result is darker, more marbled, and more flavourful. Try it at Trafalgar’s Bistro on W. 16th Ave. where Sloping Hills flat pancetta and back bacon appear on the brunch menu.C  is for CroissantsBest croissant in the city? We picked up plump pastries from a few of our favourite bakeries (plus one grocery store to keep things interesting) and asked chef Choquette, who grew up in Laval, Quebec, dipping croissant in his morning cappuccino, to blind taste and rank them. The winner? A young upstart, Jackie Ellis of Beaucoup Bakery & Café, who abandoned her career in graphic design to study pastry in Paris.1. “You can tell at first look this has many layers. The caramelization is gorgeous; it’s perfectly baked. When you pull it apart it absolutely shatters, and you can smell the butter. The interior is a beautiful buttery yellow colour.” THE WINNER: Beaucoup. $32. “You can see all the layers, which I like, but it’s a little heavier and a little sweeter, maybe from the butter they use? It’s very good though, lovely taste. I had to revisit this and the first croissant a few times to make my decision.” Thomas Haas. $2.503. “This has a nice wedge shape, it smells good, buttery yellow on the inside, nice flavour. And you can taste the butter, rich and a little sweet, really clear on the palate. No complaints, but it doesn’t jump out to me like the first two. Thierry. $2.954. “This croissant is a classic shape, the way it curves a little into the crescent moon, which is nice. It’s a little dense, and the pastry is whiter on the inside compared to the others. Still crispy on the outside, but a little sweet to my taste.” Faubourg Paris. $2.755. “This had trouble in the proofing stage, probably rose like a big balloon. It’s very, very dense, very white, doesn’t taste like much, more like a dinner roll than a pastry. It comes from a supermarket perhaps?” There’s no foolin’ MAC. MarketPlace IGA. $1D  is for Dim SumWhile there’s a time for large, clanging dim sum restaurants, Golden Paramount Seafood Restaurant (8071 Park Rd.), a small, elegant room in Richmond, offers an altogether more civilized experience. The owner, Mary Chau, who is a master dim sum chef, prepares many of the items herself. Dumplings of crab and pork in a translucent wrapper highlight the delicate sweetness of fresh seafood. Deep-fried won tons are crisp but never greasy. Stir-fried sticky rice, with preserved meats and dried shrimp, has the prefect plumpness of a good risotto. It attracts a crowd of well-coiffed Chinese ladies who break out the good jewellery for lunch with the girls. Reservations are an absolute must.E  is for EggsFor both weary travellers and keyed-up business types, hotel breakfasts offer reassurance, continuity, and a solid foundation to get through the day. Bacchus at the Wedgewood serves over-easies and Benedicts aplenty, but chef Parson, who worked at London’s five-star Claridges Hotel and Michelin-starred Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons, loves oeufs en cocotte. To make at home, butter a ramekin and pre-heat oven to 325ºF. In a pan, sweat finely chopped shallot with a half-clove of garlic, three vine tomatoes skinned, deseeded, and roughly chopped, merguez or chorizo sausage, olive oil, and basil. Spoon the sauce into ramekins, crack an egg into each cup, and bake 10 to 12 minutes.F  is for Fresh SqueezedAnyone who remembers working out to Jane Fonda will tell you that juicing ain’t nothin’ new. Juice bars like W. Fourth’s Sejuiced, downtown’s OrganicLives, and any outlet of Whole Foods offer healthful blends, but it’s two relative newcomers, The Juice Truck and The Juice Box, that have the cold-pressed craze (meant to more efficiently extract all the goodies from fruit and veg)-and they deliver to your front door. Juice Box concoctions like Light Green ($11)—apple, cucumber, celery, kale, parsley, lemon, and ginger…all the good stuff—are also available at select retailers.G  is for GreaseA while back, HP Sauce—worried by a mix of heart-smart diet changes and encroaching Starbucks culture—launched Save the Proper British Café “to give the Great British public the chance to do their bit.” Response was tepid and HP moved to Holland, but the point remains: neighbourhood diners can’t forestall the march of gentrification, not while charging $3.95 for two eggs, bacon, and toast. How long can charmers like the Cambie Café (2301 Cambie St.), the Nice Café (154 E. Eighth Ave.), and Dockers Diner (1869 Powell St.) stand their ground? “If you like home cook’n,” boasts Dockers, “This Is The Place!” Must we give that up?H  is for Hair of the DogCaesars are a no-brainer, ditto Red Eyes, but the Ramos Gin Fizz (a drink so worthy you should use its full name whenever possible. Like the Holy Roman Empire. Or Phillip Seymour Hoffman) is a hangover cure with pedigree. Born in New Orleans in 1888 in Henry Ramos’s Imperial Saloon, the Ramos Gin Fizz is the only drink that can challenge the legendary Sazerac as the official cocktail of the Big Easy. But where the Sazerac is all iron fist, the RGF is a velvet glove and, frankly, is best taken at breakfast. Light and frothy, with a fresh hit of citrus, it’ll set you right when you feel so wrong.Directions:Combine one egg white, 1½ oz. half-and-half, 2 oz. gin, ½ oz. fresh lemon juice, ½ oz. fresh lime juice, 1 tbsp. confectioners sugar, and 3 drops orangeflower water in a cocktail shaker loaded up with ice and shake and shake and shake. Strain into an Old-Fashioned glass and top with sodaI  is for InstantIf the world is going to insist on seeing us as pipeline-fightin’, hemp-wearin’, granola-lovin’ hippies, we should at least have access to quality local cereal. Ben Harapat, the Granola King, has been a farmers market fixture since he (goes the lore) industrialized a recipe created by a 100 Mile House commune in 2002. He is slated to appear any day now on Dragons’ Den, which has lately seen a swell in healthy cereal providers like local Holy Crap!, a DD alum and, at $11 for 225 grams, a steep investment in nutrition, though only two tablespoons provide 10 percent of daily iron and fat, and a sixth of required fibre (hence the name). Tip: let it soak for a while. Hulled hemp seeds are tough!J  is for JoeStart your day at one of the 49th Parallel cafés and your barista could be owner Vince Piccolo, who still likes to keep his hand in pulling shots for customers. Since opening his first Caffè Artigiano in 1999, he’s seen a shift in taste from the sweet caramel of dark roasts to today’s more complex balance of bitter, sweet, acid, and umami. He’s an espresso man himself, no sugar, no stirring. “I like to enjoy the layers as they come, from the crema all the way to the bottom.” True to his heritage, he believes there’s something to starting the day standing at the bar with a brioche and an espresso, chatting with the crowd, indulging in the moment. “It gives me a lot of joy. Or even to sit with an espresso and just take my time. Those are my few moments of solitude before the day takes over.”K  is for KimchiWhen kimchi (spicy, fermented cabbage loved by chefs for its pickle-y twang) appears in Korean breakfasts, it’s certainly not like this. At Miura Waffle and Milk Bar, the signature waffle sandwich, $8.95, combines it with egg salad and bulgogi (soy-, garlic-, and mirin-marinated barbecued beef folded into the batter), topped with an umami-rich sauce-a delicious detour from trad bacon and eggs. Miura is on to something: David Chang, one of America’s most influential chefs, has a kimchi and blue cheese croissant on the menu at his Momofuku Milk Bar in Brooklyn.L  is for LineupsIs there anything more disheartening than pulling up to your favourite breakfast joint and seeing a crowd of hungry jackals pacing outside? Lineups suck, so if you’re going to commit to the wait, better be sure it’s worth every bite. Bizarrely overhyped, themed diners have no place here; we’ve only got eyes (and patience) for Cafe Medina for those cast-iron skillets full of Moroccan spice, and Jethro’s for the mammoth, inventively topped stacks of pancakes.M  is for MarketWe’re loving the resurgence of the neighbourhood corner store, especially when staffed and stocked by young, clever foodies like you’ll find at Le Marché St. George in Riley Park, at The Mighty Oak in South Cambie, and at the new Finch’s Market on East Georgia Street in Strathcona. Stock up on smartly sourced pantry staples, sit and chat with the neighbours, read a book, enjoy a macchiato or two. These are the kind of spots where you just might walk out with half a dozen pain au chocolat and a linen tablecloth from Lithuania along with your farm-fresh eggs. And who says that’s a bad thing?N  is for “Nah”For some, waking up is the lowest point of the day, and the hours that follow are a delicate dance. Delivering a light slap on the cheek to anyone too bright and bubbly before 10 a.m. (looking at you, Starbucks barista) would be a thousand times more satisfying than facing a bowl of gummy porridge. Putting one foot in front of the other is enough. Eating food? Straight up nauseating. But breakfast for dinner: now we’re talking. Get it at Dunn’s Famous where Bennies and hashes are served with their signature smoked meat until 11 p.m.O  is for OyamaBrave the Granville Island crowds and the surrounding thicket of shoppers at the family-run Oyama Sausage kiosk and you’ll be rewarded the city’s most amazing selection of cured meats, pâtés, terrines, and, most important to breakfast, sausage. But you already know this; what you need is a list to tame the overwhelming selection. Owner Christine van der Lieck offers her top five picks: “Chipolatas are an English breakfast sausage that pack a punch with seven herbs and shallots for depth and sweetness; Maple Breakfast are smaller, quick frying sausages infused with maple syrup; marjoram and sea salt give Nürnberger sausage a springy lift; Gaucho Chorizo, an Argentinian-style sausage, offers just the right amount of spice and zip; and Apple Chicken is mild and sweet, perfect for wrapping in a pancake or crepe.”P  is for PapersTweeting in the Blenz lineup-efficient, yes. Romantic, no. Finesse into the day, and the century, at The VAG café over a cappuccino and the Sunday Times flown in each Monday to kittycorner Chapters. Both open at 9; that early, it may well be just you, the paper, and Chopin on the speakers. Bliss.Q  is for QuaintFor those of us without an English garden or a steady supply of pressed linens, early-morning charm can be a rare bird. Which makes the lovely Cafe Bica all the more worthy. Owners Rose Cunningham and Alda Pereira always have soft-boiled eggs and toast soldiers on the menu; add an Intelligensia coffee and a blueberry, almond, and candied-lemon scone and you’ll feel compelled to sit in the pretty room and natter away the day.R  is for Room ServiceAt the busiest hotel downtown, Sunday morning is a tour de force of omelettes, Benedicts, bacon, sausages, gravlax, soups, waffles, pastries, puddings, cheeses, fruits, sauces, and more. To prevent the kitchen from descending into madness, planning is key. The Pan Pacific already has its Mother’s Day order on the books: 110 dozen eggs (720 for Benedicts, 600 for omelettes), 720 sausages, 900 slices of bacon, 102 pounds of potatoes, 150 pounds of roast beef, 96 pounds of salmon. The pastry team starts at 4 a.m. Everyone else is on task by 6. Come 10:30, it’s game on.S  is for SyrupThere’s something wonderfully trashy about pancakes from a box swimming in Aunt Jemima, but the real thing deserves real dressing. Pantry wizard Tyler Gray introduced us to Noble syrups (Tonic #2, infused with vanilla bean and chamomile, $24.95, is gloriously decadent), now de rigueur in boutique grocery shops, but we love the earthy (less glamorously packaged) birch syrup from Sweet Tree Ventures ($14.95).T  is for ToastHousemade bread, lavishly buttered and served with fresh fruit preserves? Can’t be beat. At brunch, Granville Island’s Edible Canada pleases with Swiss Bakery multigrain with Okanagan’s Summerland Sweets jam ($4) and Kitsilano’s Fable Kitchen serves housemade toasted brioche with preserves. (You have to ask.) For all-day butter bliss, hit the motherlode at Point Grey’s Mix the Bakery. Off-menu, they’ll slice any bread, toast it, and serve with their splendid housemade jam, $2.50.U  is for Under $5Know what? Bon’s Off Broadway is still the place when cheap and (gr)easy is the order of the day. Be prepared: the service is impersonal, the décor is atrocious, and you have to help yourself to water and coffee (a tall task when the head’s throbbing), but the $2.95 special does the trick. At Yummy Sushi, lovely Lillian-one half of the husband/wife team running the place-will deliver two eggs, hash browns, toast, and five (!) pieces of bacon for $2.99. Kitsilano’s Café Zen, run by mother/daughter duo Natasha and Katie Mechlis, corners the upscale-yet-still-under-five-buck market. Get there before 10 and you’ll be treated to two eggs, hash browns, toast, and bacon, ham, or sausage for $4.99.V  is for VictoryTo perform like an elite athlete you gotta eat like one. Prior to a big match, DeMerit keeps it simple: eggs with toast, a small bowl of oatmeal with sugar and berries, some OJ, water, and a coffee to get him moving. Ally Gallop, outpatient dietitian at St. Paul’s Hospital, says that eating a variety of foods from all the food groups will help an efficient body run. “When we exercise, 85 percent of our oxygen-filled blood goes to our muscles to help them work. The gut is not a priority, so any undigested food can make one feel nauseous,” she says. “That’s why the timing of a meal and its contents are so important. Eating signals the brain to start the engine.”W  is for WafflesYes, we know real Belgians start the day with bread and cheese, but a weekend kicks off better with pearl sugar and whipped cream. One tip: Lièges are dense like brioche and rounded; Brussels are leavened and rectangular. Three picks for sweet tooths: the white chocolate Liège with lemon zest at Patisserie Lebeau; the Liège Breakfast- two waffles made à la minute, with berries and dark chocolate-at Waffles & Berries; and the $7.50 special at Nero Belgian Waffle Bar, a Brussels with orange pieces and Spekuloos spread, plus (unsweetened!) Americano.X  is for X FactorWe coaxed a few breakfast-obsessed chefs to share their pro tips. Corey Sullivan at Twisted Fork suggests pumping up hollandaise with a white wine reduction and a chiffonade of fresh tarragon. Brad Miller at The Red Wagon recommends adding chilies, chorizo, or smoky paprika to everything from eggs to potatoes for an extra kick. And Iron Chef Rob Feenie of Cactus Club restaurants suggests a morning meal inspired by the South of France: Merguez sausages cooked in fresh tomato sauce with olive oil and basil, topped with a grating of pecorino cheese.Y  is for Yolk’sRespect to the Egg McMuffin, but the king of breakfast sandwiches comes from a roving baby-blue food truck. At Yolk’s order medium-poached free-range eggs with roasted portobello mushroom and fresh arugula, topped with hollandaise, sandwiched between buttery toasted English muffins ($6.95). Or swap out the mushrooms for bacon or honey ham, hollandaise for cheddar, and add a stick of roasted potatoes drizzled with lemony, truffle-y oil. Heaven.Z  is for ZZZ…Late nights lead to late “mornings.” We get it. Thank the stars for all-day breakfast. Choose your own adventure at Heirloom, South Granville’s pretty vegetarian room where à la carte items range from coconut milk black beans to soy-free apple-and-sage “sausage” (breakfast until 3:30 p.m.). Meat lovers should head directly to Deacon’s Corner- big-plate specials like two giant buttermilk pancakes with pulled pork and eggs, or a crispy fried steak with country gravy, will set you straight (breakfast until 5 p.m.). The North African Shakshuka dish (poached eggs in spicy roast pepper and tomato sauce) at Harvest Deli in Kits is hearty and grease-free (breakfast until 9 p.m.).Filed Under: Best of Vancouver, Breakfast, Eating and Drinking, Eating Out, Food, Brunch, Eggs, Recipe, Things to Taste, Downtown, East Side, West Side, Kitsilano, Gastown