silver-star-black-pine-social-tuna-tataki-closeup

Is the North Okanagan the Next Great Foodie Destination?

silver-star-black-pine-social-tuna-tataki-closeup

Beautifully plated tuna tataki is one of the après-ski choices at Black Pine Social. (Adrian Brijbassi photo for Vacay.ca)

The North Okanagan just may be the next great Canadian food destination. It certainly has all the key ingredients to make it happen.

To start with you have downtown Vernon and a handful of exceptional locally owned restaurants that should entice you to take to the road for a gastronomic getaway.

For a city of only about 40,000 people, Vernon has enough great eats to thrill any foodie traveller. From a coffee house that doubles as a wine bar on the weekends to what is undoubtedly one of Canada’s best restaurants for authentic southern barbecue to alpine delights at SilverStar Mountain Resort and much more, the city has plenty of high-quality places to sample.

Outstanding Places to Dine in Downtown Vernon

Easily walkable, downtown Vernon is the place to start your culinary exploration of the North Okanagan. The only thing it seems to be missing — for now — is one of those guided walking tours that are just about everywhere these days. In the meantime, here is information on the number of restaurants I enjoyed during my recent visit.

Ratio Coffee and The Juice Wall

alyssa-hinds-with-focaccia-pan

Executive pastry chef Alyssa Hinds of Ratio Coffee kneads focaccia inside the cafe’s kitchen, where menu items are made from scratch. (Adrian Brijbassi photo for Vacay.ca)

Rare in British Columbia is the coffee shop that turns out its own cuisine. Ratio does it, does it very well, and does it with playful creativity. Example: The Juice Wall, launched in 2023, turns the same cafe space into a wine bar on Friday and Saturday evenings. The menu ingredients are sourced locally from regional farms and used for The Juice Wall’s shareable plates like charcuterie. As with any good wine bar, you’ll find unique by-the-glass and bottle options — now’s your chance to try Slovenian keltis, a pinot gris-style grape.

A special event in early 2024 at The Juice Wall included proceeds being sent to superstar chef Jose Andres’s World Central Kitchen to aid efforts to feed people impacted by the Palestinian conflict.

ratio-coffee-strawberry-cream-eclair-coffee

Ratio Coffee features excellent beverages and European-style pastries like this strawberries and cream eclair. (Adrian Brijbassi photo for Vacay.ca)

As she preps sourdough — from a starter that the cafe has nicknamed Steve — pastry chef Alyssa Hinds says she was drawn to Ratio Coffee because of its European approach to cafe culture. Delicious treats are made in-house, including a variety of croissants, choux pastries, and eclairs. Oh, and donuts that are only available on Fridays and are reputedly a cult fave in Vernon.

Station BBQ

station-bbq-platter-with-chili

Station BBQ choices include award-winning chili, pulled chicken, Andouille sausage, St. Louis cut ribs, and 17-hour slow-cooked beef brisket. (Adrian Brijbassi photo for Vacay.ca)

The aroma of her restaurant distracts me while I converse with Tania Wisse. It’s mid-afternoon and we are the only diners in Station BBQ, the 10-year-old restaurant that is next to Ratio Coffee and the Vernon train station. We are speaking during that odd time between lunch and dinner — still the smell of the restaurant convinces me that there should be a lineup out the door.

When the scent draws closer, I’m convinced Station BBQ needs to be on every foodie’s list in Canada. The barbecue is that good. The brisket is rubbed with salt and pepper, in true Texas pit style, and slow-cooked for at least 17 hours, resulting in a tender serving that easily pulls apart when confronted with your fork. Like the brisket, the pork ribs are popular items. They’re cut St. Louis style — meaning taken from the meaty belly of the pig, where there is more fat and more flavour — and seasoned the way any enthusiast would want. Not to be overlooked is the Andouille sausage, which is thin and packed with the taste of Louisiana. Even more authenticity can be found in the table-side sauces, which are all made in-house and give a particular nod to an influential barbecue style, including what’s reputed to be the cuisine’s original sauce from North Carolina.

station-bbq-tania-wisse-sign-fg

Tania Wisse started Station BBQ with her husband, Eric, with the goal of serving the genuine flavours of the U.S. south in the North Okanagan. (Adrian Brijbassi photo for Vacay.ca)

“Barbecue is a loose term. We think of it just as something we have on the back deck. But once you understand the product and the process of making barbecue, it’s life changing,” says Wisse, who co-owns Station BBQ with her husband, Eric. He is the operation’s visionary and pitmaster, having worked and trained at some of the leading barbecue restaurants throughout the southern United States.

In 2014, the couple brought the genuine and globally beloved tastes to the North Okanagan when they opened Station BBQ, giving travellers a good reason to make a trip to Vernon.

The Med

the-med-pork-chop

Among The Med’s attractive dishes that are evocative of Europe is the Tuscan Pork Chop. (Adrian Brijbassi photo for Vacay.ca)

Originally from England, proprietor James Fradley arrived in Canada with his parents and sister via Portugal. After a cross-country trip that began in Ontario, they chose Vernon for their home and together pursued the dream of the family patriarch, Andrew. An accomplished home cook, he wanted to launch a restaurant that celebrated the gastronomy of six countries of the Mediterranean region: Italy, France, Spain, Greece, Morocco, and Portugal. Having succeeded, he has turned the reins of the business over to his son.

“My father felt there was space in this market for food that was evocative of European roots and that was one reason we chose to settle here. But of course it’s, visually, a spectacle. It’s where blue meets mountain meets blue again — and I remember thinking that was just tremendous,” James Fradley says of the North Okanagan.

The Med, which opened in 1997, takes regional ingredients and spins them into recognizable European dishes. Portuguese chouriço sausage is an appetizer that is uncommon in B.C., so is the substantial Tuscan pork entree, which features a massive chop made with basil and almond pesto, and served with potato gnocchi.

the-med-chandelier

Elegant decor enhances the appeal of The Med, which is focused on bringing the tastes of Europe and North Africa to diners in downtown Vernon. (Adrian Brijbassi photo for Vacay.ca)

A restaurant that veers away from the farm-to-table trend, The Med is eager to educate customers on the flavours of Europe and North Africa, and has garnered a devoted following during its 27 years in operation, Fradley says.

“We’re finding people are more open to being educated on — and are excited by  — the cuisine you may not expect to find in a small town in B.C.,” he points out while behind the bar of the elegant restaurant decorated with chandeliers, steel-mesh curtains that serve as room dividers, and a piano in the centre. “Once a month we have a feature menu that takes a culinary tour around a specific part of the Mediterranean. It’s like a deep dive into each of the six Mediterranean countries we focus on.”

The Med’s wine list is notable because, like its food, it features many international options, even though the North Okanagan is in the heart of Canada’s renowned wine-growing region. Fradley estimates that 70% of the bottles come from outside of the country.

“One of the things we pride ourselves on is our education of good quality wine from Europe. We have bottles that bring great value and pair well with our food, so it’s a fit for us and our diners,” Fradley adds.

Marten Brewing

marten-brewery-beer-flight-closeup

Marten Brewing has a wide selection of beer that will please aficionados. (Adrian Brijbassi photo for Vacay.ca)

Experience craft beer with all the flavour and style you have come to expect from B.C. breweries. Marten delivers outstanding beer and serves excellent food to go with it. Try the fish and chips, made with beer-battered blue cod (aka lingcod) or the unique pizza choices (like apple and brie). The brewery has seven mainstay beers and a number of rotating options. A pint of the Evolution Is Inevitable stout will remind you of why craft beer has exploded in popularity. Made with coffee, chocolate, and cacao cold brew, it’s a full-flavoured beer that’s one of the best I’ve tasted in B.C.

Other Notables: Midtown BistroEatologyBonsai BagelsThe Curry PotIntermezzoThe DenLong John’s, and D’Argento

Outstanding Places to Dine at Silver Star

The beloved local mountain of the North Okanagan features fantastic après-ski dining along with acclaimed winter sports activities and amenities. Here are some of the selections to try when you’re up on the hill.

Black Pine Social 

silver-star-black-pine-social-chef-jarred-sauve-window

Executive chef Jarred Sauve brings creative flair to the après-ski cuisine at Black Pine Social. (Adrian Brijbassi photo for Vacay.ca photo)

Executive chef Jarred Sauve plates Alpine cuisine that he calls “close to fine dining but still casual”. Favourites include ramen, chicken karaage, pappardelle with braised venison and elk, and duck confit. Ideal for après ski, the sumptuous dishes also have plenty of creativity.

The gorgeous tuna tataki includes pickled blueberries for an extra dose of acid and sourness that balances the sweetness of the fish. In a complete breaking of the mold, the fish and chips spins heads as it alters perceptions of that menu staple. Instead of battered cod or haddock, Black Pine Social serves cured salmon placed on top of a potato pavé that is cooked in duck fat and then deep fried. A remoulade sauce and gravlax finish it off. Throughout the menu there are culinary influences of Italy and Japan, and sometimes they are mingled together. “They go hand in hand and are closer in technique than people might think,” Sauve says of the two cuisines that are among the most popular in the world.

Not to be outdone are the cocktails. Just as creative as the food, the drinks add to the fab après-ski experience that makes you feel you’re living the good life.

Bugaboos Bakery and Cafe

Every mountain village has a delightful mainstay bakery and Bugaboos is that place in Silver Star. The bakery turns out cinnamon rolls and croissants that are gobbled up by skiers and snowboarders in the morning and nourishing sandwiches and soups for a midday break from the slopes. Overlooking the gondolas and chairlfits with panoramic views of the Monashee Mountains, Bugaboos includes stunning scenery to go with its treats.

Red Antler

A big, bustling pub, the Red Antler is a crowd favourite for après ski. Come here for your pints of beer with friends, pre-dinner cocktail, or to dine on the menu of recognizable plates: burgers, tacos, nachos, chicken wings, and more options that will satisfy your hunger.

DiVine Cellar at The Bulldog Hotel

Located underground at The Bulldog Hotel, DiVine Cellars is a speakeasy-style venue that has reopened for the first time since the pandemic during the 2023-24 winter sports season. It seats about 40 people and its cocktail menu has twists on the classics.

Other Notables: Pizza GrattaSpice House

Note: This article was originally published in ExploreNorthOkanagan.com.

Adrian is the editor of Vacay.ca and VacayNetwork.com. He also edited "Inspired Cooking", a nutrition-focused cookbook featuring 20 of Canada's leading chefs and in support of the cancer-fighting charity, InspireHealth. "Inspired Cooking" was created in honour of Adrian's late wife and Vacay.ca co-founder, Julia Pelish, who passed away of brain cancer in 2016. Adrian has won numerous awards for his travel writing, travel photography, and fiction, and has visited more than 55 countries. He is a former editor at the Toronto Star and New York Newsday, and was the social media and advocacy manager for Destination Canada. His articles have frequently appeared in the Huffington Post, Globe & Mail, and other major publications. He has appeared on national and local broadcasts, talking about travel, sports, creative writing and journalism. In 2019, he launched Trippzy, a travel-trivia app developed to educate consumers about destinations around the world.