- Dock Lunch
- 152 East 11th Ave., Vancouver, British Columbia
- Southern-inspired café
- Additional Info
- Lunch, Tuesday to Saturday from 11:30 until 3 p.m. (or until it’s sold out); brunch, Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m.; Dinner, Fridays from 7 p.m. No reservations.
A string of bells above the doorway tinkle cheerfully as a new customer enters Dock Lunch. Owner Elizabeth Bryan, a tiny bundle of energy in denim overalls and her new "Jane Fonda shag" (as she had earlier described her haircut to another customer) bounces across the dining room.
"Hello! Come in. How are you? Would you like a ginger beer?"
It's hard to tell whether the new customer is a regular or here for the first time. Every guest is treated like a dear friend at this cozy little café that looks like a little old lady's living room with its white doily tablecloths, rickety wooden chairs and bookshelves filled with cookbooks.
At another table, Ms. Bryan describes today's feature: posole. "It's a traditional Mexican soup that actually originated in the province of Sonora …" she breathlessly trills. "The thing that makes it unique is the hominy, which is dried corn maize that has been soaked in lye and sundried. You cook it slowly until it bursts like corn kernels, but instead of tasting like popcorn, it has this beautiful tender-firm dough texture, similar to gnocchi."
The hominy is indeed a beautifully chewy anchor to this deeply flavoured soup that is thick with green peppers and cabbage, rich with roast turkey and piquant with red chilies.
Twenty minutes later, Ms. Bryan has to apologize to another customer who saw the posole advertised on Instagram.
"Sorry. I only made 12 bowls. It's so spicy, I didn't think that many people would order it."
She does, however, have tacos. Two types: fish and pork. The fish is Ocean Wise ling cod from the nearby Fish Counter. Thinly coated in masa flour and lightly seared on a cast-iron skillet, it melts in the mouth. The pulled-pork pibil is a slowly braised Filipino recipe that is pan-grilled to render out the fat and give it a toothy glaze.
But that's all there is. After the tacos run out, she'll close down the restaurant and start prepping for the next day. There really is no other restaurant quite like this in Vancouver. Ms. Bryan doesn't advertise or have a website. She posts her daily menu on Instagram. She makes enough for about 20 covers a day. When the kitchen runs out, she closes.
It may sound terribly indulgent – she just cooks what she pleases. But the experience feels incredibly generous. This is a true labour of love born out of a passion for warm, old-fashioned hospitality and hearty, home-style food.
Ms. Bryan grew up in Victoria, where she founded Pacific Island Gourmet Magazine in 1993 at the tender age of 22. She later sold the publication for $1 to her drinks editor, Gary Hynes, who grew it into the widely respected EAT Magazine.
She moved to Vancouver to work in the film industry and moved into the eclectic space where the restaurant is now located, an old brick commercial building just off Main Street. She thought her apartment, with its loft bedroom above the kitchen and basement maze filled with junk, was a live-work space. And she had always dreamed of opening a restaurant.
"I used to get pangs of envy when I saw other restaurants open in the neighbourhood," she explains. "I didn't want to work in the film industry forever. I wanted a job I could do until I was 70 years, pink-cheeked and plump."
So in 2012, on Main Street's Car-Free Day, she opened up her living room windows and started selling sandwiches to people on the sidewalk. She continued doing that for three weeks, until a city official shut her down. And then began the long process of turning her apartment, which actually wasn't sanctioned for residential occupancy, into this one-of-a-kind restaurant.
It took two years and 10 Vancouver Coastal Health inspections to get up to spec. In the meantime, she had to move out, but left most of her furnishings behind.
Dock Lunch has been open for a year. I began hearing about it five months ago.
After several failed attempts (I always got there too late), I made it for my first time last Saturday for chorizo eggs Benedict – a delicious dichotomy of light and healthy aerated olive oil hollandaise on classic Southern buttermilk biscuits made with lard and butter, folded three times.
I sat at a little table and chatted with my neighbours. Ms. Bryan sat down with some other customers and we all started giggling about Outlander and other good (and bad) sex scenes in literary adaptations. It felt so cozy and homey. And I hope it stays that way until the lovely Ms. Bryan is pink-cheeked and plump.