Victoria Victuals

Variety in dining establishments, culinary choices, and price ranges made our week long stay in Victoria not only very yummy, but fairly economical food-wise.

Travellers Inn - Express

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by btwood2 on June 24, 2006

Driving around Victoria, we seemed to come across another Travelers Inn around every corner. Since there are 14 of them in Victoria, that’s not too difficult. We chose Travelers Inn Express because it seemed to have everything we needed and wanted for the lowest price, offering a discounted weekly rate of C$535 (August 2005). Less the GST tax rebate so kindly offered to foreigners. The two-story, 27-room centrally located Express is only a 5-minute drive from downtown and the Inner Harbor. And just around the corner from an Extended-Stay Travelers Inn.

Small touches were what I particularly appreciated at Travelers Inn. Such as plates, bowls, a couple of coffee mugs, and flatware for two, serrated steak knife, even dish towel! Besides the coffee pot, an extra pot just for heating hot water (presumably for tea). Plenty of electric outlets and strategically placed lights, all with simple switches that didn’t take a course of study to figure out how they worked. A long ledge extending from the bathroom counter all the way to the shower/tub made it easy to store all our bathroom stuff. Shampoo, conditioner, make-up remover, and even a cute little sewing kit, compliments of Travelers Inn.

Breakfasts and the occasional leftover were easy to fix/heat up in our room, thanks to convenient presence of fridge, microwave, and coffeemaker. We brought our own small toaster.

We quickly devised computer stations for us both; enough chairs and flat surfaces so that neither of us had to sit on the bed or anything too makeshift. So we downloaded and edited our photos at the end of each day in comfort. The unfortunate deficiency was that we were unable to connect to the advertised wireless Internet from our rooms. They hadn’t as yet got the bugs out of this relatively new (a month or two) system. Apparently it’s working at some of their motels but not at others. To Travelers Inn’s credit, they sent techies over to try to solve the problem, but to no avail. I walked over to the Extended Stay Travelers kitty-corner from the Express, where I was welcome to use their desktop for guests to take care of email. Bob was able to get his laptop to connect in certain locations of the Express parking lot, closer to the street, and in their office.

Club Phoenix Gym was only a couple of blocks down the street, and guests are allowed free use. Mostly, we were too busy sightseeing, but I managed to squeeze in one workout.

Décor is standard motelese, but everything was clean and in working order—phones, cable TV, bath and shower, even air-conditioner. This vintage 1961 motel was completely renovated only a couple of years ago, in 2003. Our nonsmoking room was downstairs. The motel filled up on weekends, but parking and upstairs noise was never a problem. We could pick up a free daily newspaper in the lobby every morning. Staff was friendly and accommodating.

Travellers Inn - Express
626 Gorge Road East
Victoria, British Columbia, V8T2W6
(250) 370-1000

Eating Well But Cheaply in Victoria

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by btwood2 on June 23, 2006

We didn’t go hungry during our week in Victoria. Watching budget and waistlines, we only ate breakfast out twice, choosing to make use of fridge, toaster, coffeemaker, and microwave in our motel room at Travelers Inn for our first meal of the day. Once we took off exploring, though, we were fair game for restaurants. Mostly, we chose spontaneously, based on what appealed to us visually, and of course, our pocketbooks.

Online, Victoria Dining Guide offers down-loadable menus (in pdf) of more than 50 popular restaurants. Victoria Visitor’s Choice has a Dining section describing at least as many eateries. Both have ads and photos that will make your mouth water. Both of these guides are in hard copy as well, easy to pick up at the Visitor Centre on the Inner Harbor or wherever you’re staying.

Variety the spice…: We didn’t dine at any really high-end places, but Victoria has its share. Yet even very fancy-looking places often have dinner choices under C$30 per entrée. Victoria’s international feel is enhanced by its eateries, not only the expected selections of Pacific Northwest cuisine, seafood, and English-style pubs, tea houses and fish ‘n chips places, but also Hungarian, Dutch, Caribbean, Chinese, East Indian, Greek, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Mediterranean, Southeast Asian, Thai, Nepalese and Tibetan, Mexican, Vegetarian, and Organic.

Pizza in Victoria: Since my husband can’t seem to go even a week without a pizza meal, we were on the lookout for pizza places, and found three promising ones. City-wide (and international franchise) Sarpino’s Pizzeria offers not only specialty, gourmet, and create-your-own pizzas, but lasagnas, spaghetti, ravioli, and tortellini. Twelve-inch pizzas C$14-15. Three Romeo’s, one just a couple of blocks down the street from our motel, would be the place to order for a crowd. Their gimmick is two-for-one priced pizzas, making the average price of one 12-inch pizza between $C12-14. If you create your own, or just buy one, though, the price goes up to C$19 for a basic cheese pizza. Pastas, burgers and other specialty dishes are also available. We ended up getting our pizza at Second Slice, of which there are only two. Not only do they have gourmet pizzas, two-for-ones, and special deals, but their extra-large (16-inch) three-topping pick-up special only set us back C$10. Generously topped with pepperoni, onion and green pepper, it had a decent crust and tasty sauce. Their locations: 1310 Douglas and 1680 Douglas.

Chinatown has lots of restaurants, serving Chinese as well as other foods. While there one evening, we noticed people sitting at the outdoor tables at the QV Café-Bakery, across the street from the Gate of Harmonious Interest. This eatery, a favorite of locals, is open 24 hours, with many appetizing deli and bakery selections on display behind the glass counters. The following morning, we went there for breakfast. Bob had sausage, bacon, scrambled eggs and fried potatoes. I had a fresh croissant with egg and veggie fillingdelicious.


Member Rating 5 out of 5 by btwood2 on June 24, 2006

Our first evening in Victoria found us wandering along the bustling waterfront of Inner Harbour, trying to decide where to eat. The street side tables at Garlic Rose were almost all filled, people eating from heaping plates. Across the street, Wharfside Eatery looked equally inviting, with balcony seating overlooking the harbor. We even peeked through the window of Canadian chain Pita Pit, where a young woman was deftly filling meats and veggies into pita bread and rolling them up wrap-like to serve. But it was clever Chandlers that lured us indoors with free appetizers, generously served to passers-by at their front entrance. Wild B.C. King salmon on cream cheese with dill did the trick. After a glance at their menu, we decided to stay. We sat in one of the upstairs dining rooms, attractively furnished, with most of the tables in glossy oak finish, a few covered with tablecloths. The floors are hardwood, also buffed to high polish, and floor tile matching the wall tiles, in terracotta and dark blue. Other walls are rough brick. We sat at a center table.

Behind us, a fireplace, though on this balmy night the windows were soon opened wide, unscreened, by a server. "I guess they don’t have any insects in Victoria" commented my wise-acre husband. Maybe not, because none appeared throughout the course of our meal. On the high shelving around the dining room lay and stood old books. From the six-person booth in the corner came sounds of conversation in German, creating an international feel.

To start out, we ordered a couple of pints of Vancouver Island Brewery’s Piper’s pale ale and an appetizer of stuffed mushroom cups. The copper-colored ale was smooth and malty, a perfect accompaniment to the broiled brown mushroom cups filled with crab and shrimp in a cream cheese sauce. These were served in the cutest circular dish with hollow depressions for the mushrooms.

Our shared main course was grilled salmon fillet with creamy reggiano cheese sauce, sweet local hand-peeled shrimp, artichoke hearts, roasted red and yellow peppers, and sun-dried tomatoes. This scrumptious entrée was served with seasoned rice and asparagus spears, cooked just right. Two more pints of Piper’s and our first Yorkshire pudding, a giant moist puffy baked creation, guaranteed our complete satisfaction. Our cost (with tax, without tip): C$58.

Chandlers has been voted Victoria’s best seafood restaurant 8 of the last 10 years. Salmon is their specialty, notably wild B.C. red Coho and Chinook (King) salmon—prepared in appetizers and entrees in a wide variety of ways, including grilled, poached, and battered. Wild halibut, shrimp, prawns, crab, lobster, scallop, calamari, and escargot dishes, plus giant seafood combo platters are offered as well. Not in the mood for seafood? Various chicken entrees and certified Black Angus steak dinners are on the menu too.

Chandlers Seafood Restaurant
1250 Wharf St.
Victoria, British Columbia, V8W 1T8
(250) 385-3474

17-Mile House Pub

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by btwood2 on June 24, 2006

Driving by this Tudor-style inn in the forest on the way to Sooke, west of Victoria, I was immediately attracted to it. On the way back, approaching the dinner hour, on my urging we stopped to check it out. We weren’t sorry.

Decorative dark half-timbering on light gray walls containing small-paned windows gave the building a fairy-tale feel. The pub door was invitingly propped open, and ivy and ferns were partially overgrowing the steps. Inside the front room, floor covered with colorful tiles and rich woods predominating on walls, tables, and bar, we found the coziest nook imaginable, cushion covered seats and window view into greenery outdoors. With some old books lying around, it felt just like home; we knew we had to stay and eat.

But first things first. As we settled comfortably into our window seats, the server informed us about their beer selections. This is a pub, after all. Soon we were sipping hearty Okanagan Spring extra special pale ale. Well, not all that pale, actually, more of a copper-colored brew. We couldn’t resist ordering a foot-o-rings to nibble on. The golden beer-batter fried onion rings were indeed stacked 12 inches high on a dowel atop a serving platter with mustard sauce, barbecue sauce, and creamy honey-garlic sauce – yumm!

A sign in front of the establishment tells us that this historic building dates from 1900 (some other sources state 1894), when Edward Cutler built this room-and-board inn, called British Ensign Hotel, for stagecoach travelers and hunters. Mary Jackson bought the place in the 1920s, changing the name to Royal Ensign Hotel and later, 17-Mile House. (It’s 17 miles from Victoria’s city center.) It became known for the occasional brawl, the area’s only telephone, and the presence of a ghost after the somewhat mysterious death of Mary Jackson’s boyfriend.

Ownership changed again in the 1940s, when "Ma" Wilson took over. She ran the pub with an iron hand, limiting beers to no more than two for married men and drivers of cars containing children. The Wilson family still owns 17-Mile House. In 2003, 17-Mile House Liquor Shoppe opened across the parking lot, offering beer, wine, ciders, coolers, spirits, liqueurs, and Cuban cigars.

Taking a walk around rooms inside, we saw antique furniture, ancient piano, radios, and gramophone player, a red billiards table, old photos, and other interesting wall-hangings. Other diners were enjoying the balmy weather and garden around the outdoor patio in back as we returned to our cozy corner for our entrees. Saturday was prime rib night, so Bob’s order was a no-brainer and hands-down winner. Reasonable prices and bigger-than-usual appetites caused us to splurge, with me ordering from the Fresh Sheet. The big plate of smoked salmon, scallions, mushrooms, and sugar-snap peas on bowtie pasta in a lemon-caper cream sauce was delicious, but too much for me to finish in its entirety. It made a tasty brunch dish the next day, heated up in the motel microwave.

17 Mile House
5126 Sooke Rd.
Victoria, British Columbia, V9C 4C4
(250) 642-5942

Elephant & Castle

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by btwood2 on June 24, 2006

Anything but low profile, Elephant & Castle glitters in bright lights three stories high, on its corner of the Bay Centre shopping mall building (100+ stores) between Government and Douglas Streets, one block inland from Bastion Square and the Inner Harbour. E&C, as this publicly traded chain is known, began in Vancouver in 1977. At last count, there were 23 locations in the US and Canada. Their motto: Bang On! is defined on their napkins as "excellent; exact; right on."

Their name, Elephant and Castle, is derived from a pub of the same name (dating back to 1765) in a south London district of the same name. Its popularly asserted that the name is a corruption of Infanta de Castile, Spanish royalty betrothed to either Edward I, or Charles I. More likely, though, its origins lie with a London craft guild of the 13th century. The guild, known as Cutlers Company, made scissors, surgical instruments, and knives with ivory handles. An elephant with a howdah (elaborate seat used by hunters) on its back, was the medieval emblem of this trade guild. Today’s North American E&C elephant looks more like it’s carrying a small castle turret on its back.

Mild evening weather and good people-watching on Government Street led us to choose outside seating. Informed by our server that Thursdays were Margarita nights, we proceeded to order a couple on the rocks. No sooner had we begun sipping our drinks (a little on the weak side) when a frizzy rainbow-wigged clown in plaid red knickers and puppy-dog slippers began entertaining from the sidewalk next to E&C. (No, the drinks weren’t spiked with hallucinogens!) The white-faced, red-nosed clown’s routine included a red wagon, happy-face balloon, raggedy clown doll, child’s umbrella as props, and gentle interaction with passersby. One of the more colorful and amusing buskers eking out a living on Victoria’s streets.

Soon the clown moved on and we began to study the menu, a good selection of classic pub food, starters, salads, soup, burgers, and several sandwiches and wraps. Of course with all hype about Bang on, Bob had to try Bangers, Beans, ‘n Mash. I selected the less exciting chicken pot pie, which came with house salad. Other tempting selections included Guinness Irish stew and pub-style onion soup.

My chicken pot pie arrived in a tureen with the crust partially submerged by baking liquid, but it was tasty enough, containing an assortment of veggies. The salad was fresh but unremarkable. Bob liked his bangers (English sausages), covered with beef gravy and accompanied by red-skinned garlic mashed potatoes, baked beans, and apple chutney. The portions were quite conservative. We polished them off with no trouble at all, satisfied but not overly stuffed, not usually the case when we go out to eat and both order entrees. Total cost (with tax, without tip): C$35.

Elephant & Castle Restaurant
100 Victoria Eaton Centre
Victoria, British Columbia
(250) 383-5858

The Blue Poppy Restaurant

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by btwood2 on June 24, 2006

We spent an entire day at Butchart Gardens, and eventually got hungry. The fine dining and tea room in the Dining Room Restaurant are found in the original Butchart home, Benvenuto. This was a bit too pricey for us, though, and we were trying to squeeze supper in between the late afternoon outdoor theater performance of the Pied Piper, and the evening concert by Kitangus, which was to begin at sunset.

Blue Poppy Restaurant was closer to what we were looking for. Its mid-price range and cafeteria-style service was good for our budget and time constraints. Located in a conservatory-type structure with high glass ceilings, the dining area is flooded with outside light, like a sort of giant greenhouse. Off-white and cream-colored tables, chairs and walls add to the open airy feel.

Stairs lead down into the spacious dining room, which is filled, as one might expect at Butchart, with plants. Hanging from rafters, growing in big pots on the ground, and covering any available flat surface, the area is a riot of green leaves, even small trees, and bright-colored blooms, most of them flawlessly spectacular. A large window on one side allows views up into the Show Nursery, where more spectacular growing flora thrive.

The dinner menu on the wall (begins at 4pm; lunch runs from 11am) offers five substantial entrees, a variety of salads and soups, desserts, and a children’s menu. Dinners ranged from C$7.95 to C$13.95, including fettuccine marinara, thick hearty beef stew (using lean Canadian beef), grilled BC salmon, barbecued pork baby back ribs, and chicken.

We split a roasted half chicken, potatoes au gratin, and veggie medley (broccoli, cauliflower and baby carrots). A delicious vegetable beef chowder and green salad with watercress rounded out our meal. Every dining table is adorned by a vase of freshly cut flowers.

Though wine and beer (on tap) were available, we only had water with our meal. Total cost: C$24. Only a few other diners were present, so it was a quiet, peaceful and pleasant meal in very clean and pretty surroundings. Images of the rare and vibrantly blue Himalayan blue poppy for which this restaurant is named hang on the walls as photographs, and are embedded in stained glass windows of the restaurant.

Blue Poppy Restaurant
The Butchart Gardens
Victoria, British Columbia, V8M 1J8
(250) 652-5256

De Dutch Pannekoek House

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by btwood2 on June 24, 2006

De, pronounced "dŭh" (spoken short and crisp) means the in hollands. Pannekoek means pancake. When I saw in a local dining guide that there were two restaurants in Victoria named De Dutch, I said to Bob, "Let’s go!" The De Dutch we chose for breakfast was towards Saanich north of Victoria, in a small outdoor shopping mall. (The other one is located in the Best Western Carlton-Plaza downtown.) The neon sign includes a white windmill, but De Dutch’s exterior is otherwise plain.

Indoors, plenty of Delft blue decorations contrast against pastel yellow walls. Wall clocks above Delft blue plates show Saanich and Amsterdam times. The brick fireplace with floral Delft blue vases on the mantel was inactive, but likely gets good use in winter. At the entrance, a small winkel (store) section sells cute Dutch souvenirs such as Opa key chains, Delft blue items, and goodies like zoute drop (licorice), King pepermunt (hard peppermint candies), and other Dutch favorites.

We took a seat at a sunny window table, where we were amused to find a glass cup holding packets of de sugar and de sweetener. In fact, we were to find that de prefaces just about everything on the menu! De bakon, de ham, de sausage, de veggies, etc. Hastily and unimaginatively, we decided to split a Denver omelet (de nver? – nee!) with Gouda cheese at least. And krentebrood (raisin bread) toast on the side.

Only after we got done ordering and were halfway through our tasty and veggie-packed omelet did I spy on the back of the menu along with lunch items, de Uitsmyter, my father’s favorite Dutch breakfast and one I’ve always loved too. An open-faced slice of toast is topped with ham, Gouda or Edam cheese, and a sunny-side-up egg. De Dutch’s version includes two of these plus a tossed green salad for only C$6.99. Doggone it! Six kinds of burgers are offered for lunch under the Frying Dutchman section, plus wraps, sandwiches, even a quesadilla, venerable Dutch pea soup, and salads.

A word must be said here about pannekoeken, De Dutch’s signature dish. These plate-sized (12 inch diameter) pancakes, thinner than American pancakes, but thicker than crepes, are served in endless (well, more than 50) combinations and permutations. Some are sweet (example: strawberries and whipped cream) and others not (example: de Boer a hearty but artery-clogging concoction with hash browns, ham, bacon, bratwurst, eggs, and Hollandaise sauce). Dutch-Canadian John Dys started De Dutch as the Original Dutch Pannekoek House in Vancouver, in 1975. Canadians loved it and 30 years later there are 22 franchised De Dutch restaurants mostly in B.C. and western Canada.

With an extra side of toast and two coffees, our meal came to C$18.

De Dutch
4011 Quadra St.
Victoria, British Columbia, V8X 1K1
(250) 479-8208

The Old Spaghetti Factory

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by btwood2 on June 24, 2006

The Old Spaghetti Factory has been near and dear to our hearts since the 1980s. We often dined in their original Fresno, California restaurant, situated in a vintage 1925 raisin packing plant. The place had plenty of atmosphere, so popular with locals that we usually had to wait to be seated. We’d order a liter of house burgundy in the funky old bar, then move into the cavernous dining room when called. Seating ranged from decadently comfortable overstuffed chairs, to modified short beds with ornate headboards, to a full-sized railroad dining car. They’ve since moved "uptown" to newer but less interesting digs.

The very first Old Spaghetti Factory opened in Portland, Oregon, according to OSF lore, on a cold and rainy night in January 1969. Guss and Sally Dussin chose an old building in the low-rent warehouse district for their new Italian restaurant. Sally decorated with garage sale treasures, much of the furniture and wall art antiques. The restaurant made enough profit that year to open two more OSF’s in 1970.

Also in 1970, the first Canadian Old Spaghetti Factory was opened by Vancouver relatives of the American Dussins. Though to my eyes they’re virtually the same in terms of décor, menu, and bang-for-your-buck prices, there’s no official connection between the two chains.

Old Spaghetti Factory U.S. version is found in 14 states, heaviest presence in California with 15 locations. Old Spaghetti Factory Canadian version is found in four provinces, with five of its eleven restaurants in British Columbia.

Victoria’s Old Spaghetti Factory has a most auspicious location on one end of historic Crystal Garden. We decided to give it a go towards the end of our stay, but Bob and I got our wires crossed. I thought we were to meet there at the restaurant; he understood we’d meet at the car. So I was well into our liter of burgundy, enjoying people-watching from a patio table, when a somewhat disgruntled Bob arrived. But a glass of Sawmill Creek red soon had him mellowed out.

The long paper menu is similar to the U.S. version, with drawings of sale items (furniture, soap, clothing, shoes) from turn-of-the-century catalogs lining the sides. Curious and classy antiques line the floors and walls indoors. What makes OSF such a winner for us, though, is their all-inclusive entrée policy: included in the price is choice of minestrone soup or tossed green salad and bottomless sourdough bread basket, and spumoni ice-cream and choice of coffee or tea.

Bob ordered his favorite: spaghetti, meatballs and chorizo sausage with extra meat sauce. I ordered the "manager’s favourite", which allows you to choose two of the six specialty sauces with your spaghetti. Love those butter clams in béchamel, and mushrooms in marinara. Though the Mizithra cheese and browned butter sauce is terribly tempting as well. For the truly wishy-washy, a potpourri of spaghetti with three sauces can be ordered. Besides spaghetti dinners, a respectable variety of Italian-North American favorites graces the menu.

Old Spaghetti Factory
703 Douglas Street
Victoria, British Columbia, V8W 2B4
(250) 381-8444

For the Love of Pita

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by btwood2 on June 24, 2006

When we saw the little Pita Pit shop on 1221 Wharf Street on our first night in Victoria, we figured it might be a chain, but had no idea that it’s such a large one, with over 200 "pits" in Canada and the U.S. (Since our Victoria experience, it seems like we run into them everywhere.)

What caught our eye about Pita Pit was not its impressive exterior. Next to a similar hole-in-the-wall sized pizza joint aptly named The Joint, both have a bit of a shabby look to them. Neither was it cartoonish wide-eyed cuke, and squeeze-mustard bottle characters painted between the windows, or the fire-alarm red tomato-face stuck up above. No, it was the young woman we viewed through the large plate-glass window, quickly and deftly grilling bite-sized chicken and veggies, then rolling them up in a pita after tearing the bread apart in some nimble-fingered way so that it ended up neatly looking like a wrap.

We might have eaten there right then, were it not for the fact that they don’t accept credit cards, and we hadn’t yet exchanged our U.S. cash into C$’s. We were determined to return another night, however.

In the meantime, we stumbled upon another pita-wrap place a block up from our motel on Gorge Road East. MegaWraps is less quirky, and comes off more professional and streamlined. It’s also a chain, with over 150 locations in Canada and the U.S. As it turned out, we ended up sampling both Pit and Mega pitas, and liking them both. I had falafel wrap-pitas in both places, and not surprisingly, MegaWraps serves the better one. MegaWraps’ roots are Arabic; Pita Pit’s are Greek. Only MegaWraps offers the absolutely essential tahina sauce with falafel; this is an addictive creamy sauce made of sesame seed paste (tahini), lemon juice, garlic, and salt.

On the other hand, "Petey" and his gang at the Pit kinda grew on me after a while. (Petey is a giant stuffed-pita cartoon-character, one of many on the Pit’s walls.) Those walls by the way, are anything but subtle in bright basic primary greens and reds. At the Pit in Victoria, and later in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, Bob and I sampled chicken, club, and steak pita-wraps, all tasty and satisfying. Another nice feature of Pita Pit is Greek specialties, such as Souvlaki and Gyros pita-wraps, and tzatziki sauce, a light, tasty yogurt-cucumber sauce.

The theme that predominates in both Pit and Mega establishments, refreshingly, is the same: healthy fast foods. Mega’s motto is: Where health and taste meet without compromise. Their latest promotion is their online WeightBusters Program. Pita Pit’s motto: Fresh thinking, healthy eating. The first Pita Pit started in Kingston, Ontario in 1995. Businessman Andy Odeh started the first MegaWraps 3 years later, in 1998. Both are continuing to expand like gangbusters. This year, 2006, the PitaBago National Tour rolled through five Southern states and Washington, D.C. from March to June, searching for new franchisees.

Dining in Victoria, British Columbia

Victoria, British Columbia

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