It’s hidden gem time.
Vancouver is a city that celebrates its best restaraunts and its best chefs. But there are others, off the beaten track, that are crushing it, and just aren’t as well known.
The Portly Chef is one of those. I’m going to admit to you straight up: I’d never even heard of The Portly Chef until about a year ago.
It’s located on Lonsdale, a little higher up than I normally go when I’m in North Van. It’s tiny–the space has just about 14 tables, give or take. It’s easy to pass by or miss. But you shouldn’t, and here’s why.
Chef /Owner Jeff Batt (the titular Portly Chef–though he lost weight and isn’t quite as portly any more) does some amazing food. His drunken sablefish is epic. His fish tacos are off the charts. And they’ve just started serving brunch on the weekends.
Full disclosure: I found out about The Portly Chef from my friend Emily, who started dating Jeff a while back. They are now engaged and running the restaraunt together. Emily runs the front of house, and Jeff is the chef, although Emily was deeply involved in the creation of the brunch menu, as it is, after all, her favourite meal of the day.
I am becoming more and more enamored of restaurants that do a different brunch. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I love my eggs benny and waffles, especially if they are done well, but my palate wants to be challenged sometimes, it craves something different. Which is why I loved my recent experience at Bao Down.
At The Portly Chef, you’ll find brunch items that are off the beaten path. They contain elements of your favorite brunch dishes, but with a delicious twist.
But first, coffee. They have a full espresso bar, and coffee comes from a small Canadian company called Better Blend. It’s yummy.
If you require something… er… harder, you’re welcome to try a mimosa or a Caesar garnished with olives and bacon. Yeah. They don’t call it the Portly Chef for nothing.
Speaking of Portly, that theme carried on through the meal. Oh, sure, you could have a Caesar Salad, or you could try the Dueling Beets Salad. But this is brunch! What you want is indulgence! Carbs! Bacon!
The sprout zeroed in on the Breakfast Poutine immediately. Poutine is one of his favourite food groups. This one has a bed of pomme frites, smothered in peppercorn gravy, cheese curd fondue, pickled red onions, and “what what” sauce (a chipotle mayo) and topped with 2 poached eggs. Needless to say, the yolks from those eggs added nicely to the sauce. This is a true hangover breakfast.
I opted for the Brussels Sprout Hash. Now, I get it, Brussels Sprouts are divisive. People usually love them or hate them. I’m not a huge fan of the Brussels Sprout, but if it’s done right, I like them. These were roasted and crispy, and the hash included potatoes as well as onions, bacon lardons, and a sweet house-made sausage that filled my mouth with fennel happiness. The whole mess is topped with 2 poached eggs and hollandaise. It was one of those dishes that was filled with layers of flavour that you just kept discovering as you ate it. This is an exceptional brunch dish–everything I look for.
We also tried the Mint and Chevre Omelette. Topped with a mound of peppery arugula, there must have been about a half a pound of goat cheese both inside and piled on top of the omelette! If you love chevre, this is the omelette for you.
By this point, we were really full, but we were still craving a sweet ending to our brunch. Enter the waffles. A big stack of Cheesecake Waffles. They make a cheesecake filling that is ricotta-based, and then they bake it for dessert. But here, they just make extra, and use the unbaked filling as a creamy filling between layers of crispy waffles. There’s also a compote of strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries, and to top it all off, maple syrup. This dish was sweet, yes, but not too sweet. The tang of the cheesecake kept it from being over the top. And I have to commend the waffles. The most challenging thing about making waffles is keeping them crisp, especially after you pile wet filling on them. These stood up to the test, and tasted delicious, too.
The location is a bit obscure, but trust me when I say, The Portly Chef is worth seeking out. I need to go back, in fact, as I didn’t have enough room to try the Truffled Mushroom and Chevre Waffles. Savory waffles are my jam. Metaphorically speaking of course!
1211 Lonsdale Avenue
Open for brunch Saturday and Sunday from 10:30 to 2 pm.