A Cheap Eats pick: Where you can dine well for less than $30 before alcohol, tax and tip.
How much can one really say about a simple sausage parlour that doesn’t make its own sausages? Is it even a restaurant? I had my doubts, which is why it took me so long to visit Bestie. Boy, was I wrong.
Inspired by German street food and located in the unassuming heart of Chinatown, Bestie serves up more than just finely crafted sausages. It is actually a soulful, chef-driven gem offering a beery, cheery, clearly defined focus, nourishing side dishes and modern oom-pah-pah chic.
First impressions? The 25-seater is as cute as a cuckoo clock. Clean and minimalist with pale wood panelling, straight-back benches and one perfectly hung fern, it’s no wonder that Bestie has become the recent darling of so many online design magazines. You can’t help but smile while bouncing on sunshine-yellow and horizon-blue cushions, leaning over the copper-top bar or huddling around the Black Forest cuckoo clock waiting for Mr. Little Lederhosen to lift his stein when the pendulum strikes the hour.
I sometimes accuse restaurants of lacking a distinct personality. It is, I admit, an esoteric criticism that’s hard to pin down – until you run across a place like Bestie that oozes singular charm.
Owned by first-time restaurateurs Dane Brown and Clinton McDougall, Bestie is a reflection of their unabashedly excited, ego-free adorableness. Take a few minutes to watch the video on the restaurant website. Watch Mr. Brown cautiously manoeuvre a band saw for the first time. Look at Mr. McDougall flicking his hair and bouncing boxes or doing just about anything. I didn’t see their Indiegogo video, but I can completely understand how they raised $10,000 on the crowd-funding site in five short days (they planned for 35 days). And now Bestie accepts Bitcoins. How cool is that?
Bestie specializes in currywurst, which is most easily described as the poutine of Berlin. Allegedly born in the wake of the Second World War, the dish starts with a proper German bratwurst pork sausage that is steamed, fried, sliced and seasoned with hot curried ketchup served atop fresh-cut fries. The spicy sauce apparently harks back to the rations left behind by American (ketchup) and British (curry powder) troops. It’s an ooey-gooey scrumptious mess.
I suggest you order it “schranke style” (or animal style, for In-N-Out burger fans in the know). This gives it an extra sprinkling of green onions and a squeeze of house-made mayonnaise.
Bestie sources its sausages from the Oyama Sausage Co. on Granville Island – and why not? Oyama’s classic pork thuringer is silkiness defined. This artisanal butcher of fine ground meats is the envy of foodies across the country. There is no equal in Canada. For a local sausage restaurant to attempt to outdo the master would be ludicrous. Bestie knows better.
As it should when it comes to sauerkraut. Of all its outsourced ingredients, this is one (and a major one) that definitely falls short. The pickled cabbage comes in satiny soft ribbons, fermented by a small producer in the Fraser Valley. It’s more sweet than tangy. At first, the restaurant tried making its own, but couldn’t keep up with demand. I understand the logistics, but they may want to ask their farmer to add an extra splash of wine or vinegar.
And it makes a difference because with all of their other select ingredients, Bestie takes such great care. Mr. Brown and Mr. McDougall were fortunate to recruit Colin Johnson, a fine-dining chef who trained with Simon Hopkinson at London’s Bibendum before spending the past 10 years as the corporate chef for Andrey Durbach and Chris Stewart (Parkside, Pied-à-Terre and La Buca).
Mr. Johnson doesn’t throw his pretzel board together. He takes the best of what is locally available – densely chewy, daily baked pretzels dipped in lye from the Swiss Bakery – and matches them with the most pleasantly funky “stinky cheese sauce” (a blend of German tilsit with fontina and cheddar for background and smoothness).
To his board he adds the roundness of mulled red-wine cabbage, the tang and sweetness of pickled cauliflower and raisin salad, the earthiness of smashed Chinatown cucumbers and the heat of mustard, both an imported German smooth brand and a house-made grainy Bavarian.
His weekly changing salads (baby kale and Anjou pear), soups (potato and leek) and veg (beets with horseradish crème fraîche, all for example) are inspired. His smoked-ham and cheese fries are addictive. His enthusiasm is infectious.
Drinks? It’s more than just beer – though Bestie’s four taps from local breweries are perfectly in tune. For something completely different, may I suggest a flight of schnapps, a saison (beer) bourbon cocktail or a homemade ice tea?
Bestie leaves nothing to chance. If you’re going to do one thing, you had better do it well. Bestie excels at being the best little sausage shop in town.