The showcase eating experience
As I previously discussed in my “Jimmy’s Pub” post, every town has it’s local “go-to” establishment, where a newbie in town can go have a bite of food, a sip of beer, and get the skinny on what the town is all about.
Each community worth it’s salt also has it’s “showcase” dining establishment. This is the place you take the out-of-town friends you are looking to impress with a display of local authenticity and good taste. These places capture a certain spirit of the community in the décor, atmosphere, and of course very much in the food itself. Let me cite just a few examples of what I mean:
Sushi Bars – Tokyo’s Fishy Foodie Joints
While living in Tokyo my most memorable culinary encounter was eating sushi from a restaurant on the edge of the Tsukiji Fish Market, the largest in Asia and the heart of the Japanese fishing industry.
The place was as quintessential Tokyo as a karaoke bar, with dockyard workers squished shoulder to shoulder with Japanese businessmen inside the tiny shop or sitting on up-turned crates outside the door. Behind the counter a trio of stoic sushi chefs, unfazed by the constant flow of customers, prepared freshly caught sushi that puts the common California roll to shame.
Smoked Meat Diners – Montreal’s O.G. Eateries
In Montreal, restaurant capital of Canada & home of the Smoked Meat Sandwich, the iconic Schwartz’s Deli is considered to be the perfecter, if not orignator of this classic sandwhich. When I meandered into this 60 year old establishment during a college trip I felt like I’d stumbled into a Dr. who time warp!
Gruff men in white aprons and deli caps prepared traditonal “no frills” smoked-meat sandwhichs (smothered in mustard with a sliced pickle on the side) to customers sitting on bar stools along a diner counter that hadn’t changed since the 1950’s. I swear I could still smell the cigarette smoke engrained in the orange vinyl bar stools and booths that predated indoor smoking bans! While it may not have been fancy, it’s working-class authenticity and simple and tasty fair was refreshing in a city of food snobbery.
Italian Ristorantes – New York CIty’s Family Kitchen
Finally, while in New York City last year for a friend’s wedding, my hosts took us to all sorts of foodie joints in the “city that never sleeps”, from fancy cocktail bars in Manhattan to trendy specialty restaurants in gentrified Greenwich Village. However, the “showcase” to me was dinner at Numero 28, an Italian Trattoria restaurant the night before the wedding, bringing the whole wedding party and both families together for the first time.
Run by a 70+ year old Sicilian matriarch and her family, we were served some great pastas, thin crust pizzas covered with fresh basil, and of course paired with some amazing red wines! Most importantly our hostess made the place feel like her home dining room with her classic Italian maternal personality, making friends of complete strangers, strengthening ties amongst families, and making everyone feel a little bit more at home in this sprawling city.
The Travel Bug: A key ingredient in Culinary Success
So after talking about all these essential metropolitan eateries, it might seem harder to imagine how a small town like Creston might have anything to offer in comparison. Yet, I’d argue that one restaurant in particular punches well above it’s weight, landing in the “showcase” category with it’s larger urban rivals; The Real Food Café.
Opened in 2009 by the globetrotting Scotch-English duo of Jamie O’neill and Lisa Elsworth, the Real Food Café quickly tapped into the wealth of locally grown and sourced foods in Creston. It seems odd at first to think it took two expats to pick up on Creston’s local abundance.
However, having bounced around kitchens between Boston to Alaska and even as far as Bulgaria, Lisa and Jamie developed an ability to work with what was at their fingertips as well as an appreciation for locally sourced foods. After living in Bulgaria for a few years in the 90’s, Lisa said she was particularly inspired by the locals. Still reeling from the collapse of Communism and a lack of imported goods, they would simply use “real food” from their backyard gardens to create magnificent and healthy meals, even making “cabbage taste like chicken” recounted Jamie nostalgically.
After living in Bulgaria for a few years in the 90’s, Lisa said she was particularly inspired by the locals… they would simply use “real food” from their backyard gardens to create magnificent and healthy meals.
Following their travels in Bulgaria and elsewhere, the duo became inspired to create a quality eating experience in a community that could supply for itself! So when Lisa & Jamie moved to Creston in the spring of 2009, their international exposure gave them that “fresh” perspective to see what most local knew, but no had tapped into: a plentiful supply of ingredients ready to work with!
From then on it’s became common to see the two proprietors taking a break from work to meander through the Creston Valley Farmers’ Market , loading up on fresh goods for the restaurant. Consequently their menu offers up signature dishes that proudly tout “local ingredients”, from the classic Valley Salad and Fields of Glory Burger to rotating “seasonal dishes” that chef Jamie imaginatively creates according to the harvest calendar. Needless to say their local supplier list on their website reads like a who’s who directory of farms in the area.
The Verdict: Global Fusion & Local Taste at a Refreshingly Affordable Price
So now of course you are probably asking “how is the food then?”. Well according to traveller-friendly Yelp or Trip Advisor reviews the Real Food Café is consistently ranked as a top restaurant in Creston and the Kootenays, with a 4.5 out of 5 on Trip Advisor! And its not just out-of-towners that write the reviews! Ask any local and their likely to personally recommend it as one of their favourite restaurants as well.
What’s also so surprising is the diversity and imagination of the menu itself, serving not only staples like Burgers and pasta, but also Asian inspired dishes like Chicken Curry and Tikka Masala, as well as many vegetarian and gluten-free options!
However, I myself have to heap praise on Real Food Cafe not just for sourcing locally; when most people think of a restaurant that specializes in locally sourced ingredients they imagine small servings and big price tags. As a “semi-independent” young male I’m always conscious of my budget and my belly. And Real Food Café caters to folks of all wallet sizes and waistlines!
When most people think of a restaurant that specializes in locally sourced ingredients they imagine small servings and big price tags…Real Food Café caters to folks of all wallet sizes and waistlines!
When I feel the mid-month pinch I know that I can still afford a hearty Fields of Glory Burger, and when I feel like splurging after my pay cheque I’ll go for a Chutney Salmon sockeye filet, described as a “glazed & grilled with tomato relish, topped with home-made chutney with fried potatoes over a beurre blanc sauce” for a mere 16.25!!! In my humble opinion it sometimes feels like a crime to eat so lavishly for such a reasonable price.
Finally, aside from the menu, the restaurant also has exceptional service thanks to Lisa and her serving team, music that always suits the mood, and an ever-changing display of local art that catches your eye and shows off Creston’s oft-hidden arts community! Last but not least, their back deck is probably the best outdoor spot to find yourself during a hot day in the summer, offering a bit of quiet serenity in the middle of town.
So next time you are looking to try something truly fresh and filling or showing off to your guests, be sure to stop in at the Real Food Cafe! I can promise you that it won’t disappoint and you’ll likely be back many times to come, bringing new fans with you to fawn over the food fresh from your home!
Real Food Café is located at 223 10th Ave N, Creston, BC, For more information please call (250) 428-8882 or visit www.realfoodcafe.ca367 × 653