Summer's almost over? Pshaw! It's hard to believe Labour Day is right around the corner as we sail across Howe Sound with the bright sun beating on our backs and a balmy breeze whipping through our hair.
If you're planning a final getaway before the rains descend, come escape to Bowen Island, where the opportunities for fine feasting are rife. The bucolic day trip is a mere eight nautical miles (15 kilometres) from Vancouver and easily accessible by ferry from Horseshoe Bay or water taxi from Granville Island.
Though I've moored here at least a dozen times over the years, I'm ashamed to admit that I rarely sauntered past the Snug Cove boardwalk - until earlier this summer, that is, when a culinary capsize forced me to venture further ashore.
Doc Morgan's Pub & Restaurant had always been my default place to dine. With its enormous plates of fish and chips, frosty pints of local brew and two outdoor decks overlooking the marina, it was a pleasant spot to drop anchor.
Sadly, new ownership has knocked this sundowner sanctuary off course. When we visited in early July, the fish batter had ballooned into the pasty proportions of a doughy Pillsbury boy. The formerly juicy burgers had withered into fibrous, flavourless pucks sandwiched between pitifully stale buns. The excellent duck breast salad and several other previously enticing menu items had disappeared. The crispy fried oysters were served soggy. And the service, while always slow, seemed unashamedly sloppy.
"Oh, yeah. I guess you need cutlery," one waitress snickered, having already neglected to bring the water that we had twice requested.
Yes, well, I guess we won't be returning.
When one door slams shut, another opens, or so the saying goes. And after sampling some of the other delightful dining options on the Happy Isle (as this ruggedly forested resort area was known during its heyday in the first half of the last century), my only regret is that it took this long to find them.
Blue Eyed Marys, located on Snug Cove's main drag next door to Doc Morgan's, is the height of cabin country fine dining. In other words, shorts are passable, but bikini tops - or ties - would definitely feel out of place.
The elegantly informal room, comfortably appointed with wrinkled white linen and big sprays of wild flowers, has been going strong since 1999. The laid-back bistro is owned by the husband-and-wife team of general manager Stephen Biddiscombe and chef Carol Wallace. The latter, who apprenticed and worked for many years at Vancouver's acclaimed Bishop's restaurant, creates her short but sweet (and affordably priced) monthly changing menu of graceful comfort foods with local, seasonal products.
Think boldly seasoned, melt-in-your-mouth buttermilk fried chicken ($19) with smoky house-baked beans and lightly wilted Swiss chard. Or a seafood kebab ($23) pierced with a generous portion of perfectly undercooked shrimp, scallop, halibut and salmon, accompanied by a thick slice of tender zucchini-potato cake drizzled with sweet chili vinaigrette.
Save room for desserts. The summer berry cake ($8), made with buttery pound cake, is topped with a scoop of vanilla frozen yogurt and delicately sweetened raspberry caramel, while the triple chocolate ice-cream sandwich ($8) with its chewy double-chocolate-chip cookies doused in dark hot fudge sauce is so sinful it could seduce a diabetic.
A few doors down, the Snug Café is a great little find. In June, the popular family-owned coffee shop began offering a full dinner service, available Thursday to Saturday.
We wandered by one sun-drenched afternoon when the BBQ was being fired up on the leafy courtyard patio. Two backpacking minstrels were strumming and singing in exchange for a meal. And the boisterous joint felt a lot more welcoming than it did during its eerie cameo on Harper's Island, the murder-mystery miniseries that was filmed here on Bowen.
The pulled pork sandwiches (currently available only as an appetizer) are slowly smoked at the nearby Alderwood Farm. The lip-smacking moist meat, slathered in a tangy barbecue sauce and piled high on a soft potato bun, was served with crunchy coleslaw.
Everything on the dinner menu, which ranges from $10 to $16 and could include anything from burgers and ribs to beef Wellington and Thai curry, is homemade. Even the margaritas, shaken with juiced limes and fresh strawberry puree, taste wholesome.
But of all my new Bowen Island discoveries, Artisan Eats Café & Fine Foods definitely tops the list. This new locals hangout opened last February. It's about a 15-minute walk from the harbour, up a steep hill, in Artisan Square. But the spectacular views and tasty charcuterie in this bright, airy post-and-beam boîte is well worth the sweat.
The casual restaurant and deli is operated by Christophe Langlois and Julie Cree, who also own the splendid Tuscany Pizza and Mediterranean Cuisine in Snug Cove, along with Thierry Mohrbach, a chef from northern France who has spent the last six years working for Granville Island's Oyama Sausage Co.
A renaissance man of sorts, Mr. Mohrbach cures the meats, blends the patés and grinds the sausages that are featured on the menu and sold behind the grocery counter. He also bakes the bread, makes his own madeleines and grills up fabulous burgers, panini and brunches.
Eggs Benedict ($13), nestled in lemony hollandaise, come with house-smoked ham or crispy, herb-stuffed crab cakes. The massive Sunday brunch special ($14) is served with fluffy lemon-ricotta pancakes, scrambled eggs, fruit wedges, wet-cured bacon that is remarkably light on the salt and snappy breakfast sausages bursting with marjoram.
You could always drop in to pick up some takeout sandwiches before heading out to Lake Killarney (the trails can be reached right across the road). But after a two-hour hike, which wends through pine forest, past salmon ladders and across meadows, a glass of crisp chardonnay from the chalkboard list makes for an even more refreshing, guilt-free descent.
Doc Morgan's Pub & Restaurant: 439 Bowen Island Trunk, 604-947-0108; Blue Eyed Marys: 433 Bowen Island Trunk, 604-947-2583; The Snug Café: 445 Bowen Island Trunk, 604-947-0402; Artisan Eats Café & Fine Foods: 539 Artisan Lane, 604-947-0190