Vanfoodster's Cinnamon Bun Challange 2020

For one reason or another, we rarely seem to complete a Vanfoodster challenge (living in Aldergrove is part of the reason) but this time, we did it! It was the perfect challenge for the month of October 2020 as it has been Vegetarian Awareness Month (as you may or may not have been aware) and generally, cinnamon buns tend to be meat-free! As we often say, our worst day cinnamon bunning is better than our best day fishing (is that the saying?). What I'm trying to say is that there are no losers! These were all great and other than the calories and extra working out thus required, we enjoyed this challenge immensely!

We started at Solly's Bagelry where a very practical handle was added to the Lollybun making it a hands-free experience! It was essentially 2 thin cinnamon buns with a layer of cream cheese icing between. Three cinnamon hearts had been added for a nice bit of colour. It was a tasty shareable treat and perhaps produced the least guilt in terms of sugar/fat consumption of all the challenge entries. 
Our travels soon took us to Hugos Churros and Tacos at McArthur Glen Outlet Mall where I am convinced that the name outlet mall incorrectly suggests that deals are to be had. Anyway, the challenge entry at Hugo's was basically a churro rolled up into a convenient cinnamon bun shape. Served with amazing chocolate and caramel sauces (and hot out of the fryer) this made us curl our toes in delight!
A drive up to Deep Cove always requires a nice walk along a beautiful waterfront and the best accompaniment for that is good coffee and an amazing cinnamon bun. This was Mharie's choice for #1 in the challenge. The bun itself was lighter than some of the competition while the cinnamon sugar and cream cheese icing were present in general amounts. Worth the drive!
Our final stop was at Italia Bakery for the Maple Glazed Pumpkin Bun. On our stop guess who we ran into? Yes the challenge master himself was there tasting this impressive entry. As an advocate of eating pumpkins rather than carving and wasting them, I was pleased that this cinnamon bun was pumpkin-based complete with pumpkin seeds sprinkled on top. This was my choice for the top choice in the challenge.
Anyway, that's what we have to say about this challenge.
Unfortunately, next month's challenges, the Burger Challenge and the Fried Chicken Challenge run headfirst into World Vegan Month which will be taking priority in this space.

Covert Cafe - Deep Cove - Vegetarian Awareness Month

In reality, we were not drawn to Covert Cafe by promises of vegetarian food but by Vanfoodster's Cinnamon Bun Challange (a summary of which will be our next posting before the end of the month).

I have only been to Deep Cove a couple of times before but it is a picturesque little community at the south end of Indian Arm. Once you get into town it is not hard to find Covert Cafe (despite the name) as there is basically one main road leading to the waterfront. I am kind of wishing that I had taken a picture of the front of CC that puts it more in the context of this charming village (try Street View!). 
It was almost lunchtime and we were feeling a bit peckish when we arrived so rather than head straight to dessert, we decided to try a Vegetarian Panini. This was a really good sandwich! Spinach, red bell peppers, and artichoke as well as melty gruyere on some nice grainy bread!
They have a number of tempting baked treats to offer here and we decided to try one of their Fudge Brownies. It was rich and delicious. We were a little thrown by a greenish mark on the bottom (we knew it wasn't anything bad) that turned out to be an M and M which they have included in the recipe! Nice idea!
And finally came the main event! With cinnamon buns timing is everything! Fresh from the oven this not small bun was full of warm melty cinnamon sugar and cream cheese icing. It was nothing short of amazing! I am still wrestling with whether this is #1 or #2 in the challenge but for the record, Mharie picks it as #1!
This tiny charming cafe has only one table open these days (and a couple of outside tables if the weather suits) but most people came in to get their goodies (and frankly really good coffee) to go. The washroom was not working which was more than a little bit inconvenient but there is a public washroom in the park not far away.
Our baker's grandmother who came from Italy has been the inspiration for all that you can enjoy here and you can read their story on the Covert Cafe website. The folks who run the place were very friendly and responded enthusiastically to our interest in their craft.
Food                            4 out of 5
Comfort                       3 out of 5 (the washroom thing)
Service                        4 out of 5
Value                           4 out of 5

Covert Neighbourhood Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Solly's Bagelry - Vegetarian Awareness Month

 We've been to Solly's Bagelry once before in the spring of 2019. At that time we had heard that Solly's was preparing hamantasch for the Feast of Purim. We don't celebrate the feast but celebrate anything that we have never tasted before (more on hamantasch later). This time it was Vanfoodster's Cinnamon Bun Challenge that brought us to Solly's.

Located on Main near King Ed, we got here easily using transit. It wasn't too busy mid-Saturday afternoon but we opted to get our treats to go. Their logo says, "Jewish Baking at its finest. What's not to like?" Indeed!
Solly's entry in the Cinnamon Bun Challenge is the Lollybun. A little embarrassing to order but worth the effort. This was essentially 2 thin cinnamon buns with a layer of cream cheese icing between them. This was a nicely, not too sweet but cinnamony bun which we opted to eat with a knife and for rather than using the stick!
We also got a regular cinnamon bun to go and a cinnamon Babka. As soon as I saw the word Babka, I thought of the little bakery that showed up a few times on Seinfeld and we had to try it to see if it was worth fighting over. And it was! Babka would make a good gift for the hosts if you were invited to dinner.
We had a Potato and Onion Knish as well. You have to love food that begins with a silent K and since this is Vegetarian Awareness Month, it should be noted that all of the above treats contained no meat. Next month is World Vegan Month and these items may not qualify due to the presence of eggs and butter, but we're good this month.
A quick peek at the Hamantasch from March 2019. The little triangle-shaped pastries are typically prepared for the feast of Purim and filled with various sweet fillings such as prunes and chocolate. I don' remember what these had in them specifically but I know we enjoyed them.
Solly's has a small area for eating your baked goods and soup or bagels if you choose. Which reminds me of course, that we'll have to go back for bagels sometime. Nice folks and a decent selection of baked goods and some specialty seasonal items.
Food                     4 out of 5
Comfort                4 out of 5  (kind of homey)
Service                 4 out of 5   
Value.                   4 out of 5

Solly's Bagelry Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

The Arbor - Vegetarian Awareness Month

There are vegetarian restaurants that just don't have meat on the menu and serve cheese quesadillas instead and then there are vegetarian restaurants that use some real creativity and provide an experience where nothing feels like it is missing. The Arbour is one of quite a few Vancouver examples of the latter. We chose to use transit to reach their location on Main near 23rd but there is street parking available.

Not a huge dining room but certainly sharp looking. We definitely weren't too warm as they kept the front door ajar (OK, we were kind of cold and kept our jackets on for much of the time).
But as usual, we came for the food, this time vegetarian food! One of the first things our server asked us was if we had any allergies. No one had ever asked before but Mharie is allergic to flax seeds. As it happens, they use flaxseed oil to make their mayonnaise and some sauces so a good thing she asked (we are supposed to be the ones asking but sometimes we forget unless we are buying bread or at a bagelry). Anyway, that made ordering a little more complicated but that still beats the trauma of a trip to the emergency room or having to use an epi-pen. 
We started with a couple of outstanding appetizers. First was the Fried Oyster (mushrooms of course) which were crispy and amazing. I have said repeatedly in this space that there is no reason that a vegetarian restaurant cannot have a deep-fryer! These were served with a creamy dill sauce that I selfishly had to myself while our server accommodated my flax allergic partner with a side of hot sauce.
Next up was Buratta. I feel like buratta as an appetizer is almost always around $20 but here was $12 so that's good. This was more than delightful with brown butter, chantarelles, capers and thyme and some crusty bread as a vehicle. Don't miss out on this.
It took a couple of tries but we were able to order the BBQ Burger without the flaxseed oil mayonnaise on the slaw. With crispy shallots, slaw, avocado and house barbeque sauce, this was a pretty good burger but the patty itself was on the dense side. In addition to lots of slaw and condiments, there was a generous helping of really good fries (couldn't order them as Togorashi style because of flaxseed oil), and a great salad of lots of arugula and sunflower seeds.
Last up was the Southern Fried Artichoke Sandwich. My mouth has been watering since the first time I read this on their menu. I will admit that in my head I saw a po-boy type sandwich spilling over with deep-fried artichoke but that is not quite what this turned out to be. The actual presence of artichoke was a little bit sparse (the photo actually represents it quite well). I understand that artichokes are quite expensive and labour intensive and the price of the sandwich is quite reasonable but somehow that part just missed the mark. Overall, it was still a pretty good sandwich with lots of slaw, avocado, cheese, jalapeno, eggplant bacon and a really good ciabatta bun. Despite my whining, I would order it again and recommend that you try it too!
Really friendly service and well-executed social distancing protocols, it's hard not to like this place for the atmosphere despite out little problems.
Food                3 1/2 out of 5
Comfort           2 1/2 out of 5        (did it have to be that cold?) 
Service            4 out of 5
Value               3 1/2out of 5

The Arbor Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Ramen Bella - Vegetarian Awareness Month

For anyone who is wondering, yes the word 'and' does have an 'n' in it as in, Bells and Whistles...  Ramen Bella has no 'and' in its name so there is no worry (this is all a reference to the uploading of my previous post with a spelling error in the title that had me questioning my fitness to be posting at all). Bella Ramen is a relatively new ramen joint in Langley, the land of few ramen joints. My brother was in town briefly and we decided to check the place out.

Located at the corner of Fraser Highway and 204th, parking around the corner on Fraser Hwy is your best option. They weren't too busy when we arrived so we were seated right away.
First of all, and this is quite impressive, they have a vegetarian option called  "The Green". I ordered it with an egg but it comes with bok choy, corn, sweet potato, shitake and something called tomato onion chips. All this in a pretty impressive and rich vegetable broth. I'm generally a big fan of ramen and this wasn't quite the rich pork stock that I am used to but it but this was very good and sometimes you have to sacrifice a little for the sake of the planet.
Don't worry though, RB has plenty of choices and my brother enjoyed, "The Black." A rich chicken and pork broth with a generous 4 slices of aburi (torched) chashu, black garlic oil and the usual fixins'. I heard no complaints about it and lt certainly looked good.
Finally there we had an order of Croquette. Tasty, crispy, naturally vegetarian and served with katsu sauce. There is not really anything else on the menu for the vegetarian other than a salad. Having a couple of choices is better than nothing though and they did do a good job on the vegetarian ramen.

For the most part, they are sticking to a simple menu with ramen, a couple of rice bowls and a few appetizers. Doing a few things well is not a bad approach. They have a nice little airy dining room. Service is friendly and they are doing a good job with the social distancing protocols. No complaints and since this is the closest ramen place to home, we will probably be back!
Food                3 1/2 out of 5 (a couple more vegetarian items wouldn't hurt my feelings)
Comfort          4 out of 5
Service            4 out of 5
Value               3 1/2 out of 5

Ramen Bella Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Bells And Whistles - Vegetarian Awareness Month

Sometimes the trick to Vegetarian Awareness Month is finding places with vegetarian choices but being able to keep your carnivore friends happy as well (and making them aware!). I've wanted to visit Bells and Whistles for a long time but I pictured having one of their famous burgers and not a veggie burger.

Located just of Kingsway on Fraser Street, parking was easy and we arrived just before noon on Sunday and were seated right away. They have a weekend brunch menu but serve some items off their regular menu including the Veggie Burger which I ordered with onion rings.

B and W makes its veggie patty with quinoa, almonds and chickpeas and it is one of the best veggie patties that we have had. 
It took on a nice crust like a good beef patty while being tender and not too dense inside. The flavour was good but not too forward so that the toppings and condiments could be appreciated. Complete with Green Goddess, tomato, red onion, sprouts, and feta, I think that they might have something here! BTW, the onion rings were excellent as well. Big slices of onion with a crispy batter.
Mharie ordered the Chicken and Waffles off the brunch menu and was pleased! There wasn't a ton of chicken but I don't think that you want to get too loaded down at brunch. The whole dish was actually a perfect portion. The waffles were crispy as was the chicken (obviously brined) which was a piece of breast meat. They were topped with chili yogurt (interesting!) and maple syrup.
There is a lot more on the menu that would have liked to try both vegetarian and otherwise. Food-wise this place is a solid step above chain type places that you might be tempted to compare them to. 
They have their social distancing stuff together including masks, sanitizer, spacing and contact tracing info. We were comfortable with it all. Service was welcoming and efficient. The room is spacious and airy with lots of light. We'll be back!
Food                    3 1/2 out of 5
Comfort               4 out of 5
Service                 4 out of 5
Value                    3 1/2 out of 5
Bells and Whistles Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Nine Dumplings - Vegetarian Awareness Month

Some time ago, we discovered a guy who has been on's "Never heard of it" list, upstairs at Robson Public Market. He is a bit of an unheard-of legend around here having run a little place on Kingsway where people went for Szechuan type snacks and beer. Then he ran Nine Fishes in Richmond, famous in its own right.

So when we saw Nine Dumplings, something rang a bell and there was the man. I showed him the picture from Scout Magazine and he confirmed that this is his latest venture. It is another successful one as you can tell by the accolades posted on the wall near their food stall counter. This is kind of an artisanal undertaking as their dumplings are handmade and colour-coded for your convenience!

We ordered 6 Vegan Dumplings (observing Vegetarian Awareness Month) and 6 Pork Kimchi Dumplings (for my partner who chooses not to observe as is her right). The vegan dumplings had a very tasty filling of fermented tofu, cabbage etc and the dumpling wrapper itself was just hearty enough to contain the filling. You can order your dumplings a couple of different ways and we chose steamed. Mharie confirms that the pork and kimchi were very good also.
Next up was Vegan Szechuan Mala Cold Noodle with Spicy Peanut Butter Sauce and Vegetable. Almost half of the menu here is vegan (keep in mind that we are in the West End) including some soups, stir frys and noodles. The noodles in this dish had some nice chew and the sauce made me sweat just a bit with that lovely numbing of Szechuan peppercorns. There was lots of zucchini and peanuts to round out the dish.
There are a few tables and a few other food stalls. Pretty casual but pretty quiet with some decent eats available at a decent price. There is a lot more to try on this menu.
Food                     4 out of 5
Service                 4 out of 5
Comfort                3 out of 5
Value                    4 out of 5
Nine Dumplings Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Mello - Vegetarian Awareness Month

We don't eat a lot of doughnuts so when we do, it seems like it's OK to splurge a little bit. Mello is a bit of a splurge but they serve something well beyond the ordinary.

I still don't know how I feel about the changes to Chinatown. I'm not keen on the hipster barbershop and the Tim Horton's but development marches forward. Mello isn't exactly authentic Chinatown either but there they are on East Pender near Main. At least they serve something pretty amazing. As for my observing Vegetarian Awareness Month, the doughnuts we had were meatless!
We arrived pretty early and they didn't have their full selection available but that made choosing a lot easier. We had 2 cream-filled brioche doughnuts that were Strawberries and Cream and I think maybe Tiramisu. These were both spectacular but they should be at $4.75. The cream fillings were totally fresh and not too sweet. We thought that the tiramisu doughnut was actually better than tiramisu dessert!
We also had a couple of Old Fashioned doughnuts. I think that we both enjoyed these even more than the brioche doughnuts. The regular old fashioned was only $3 so you don't have to spend $4.75 on everything here. These were both probably twice the size of what you get at TH (and by the way, don't bother). The matcha flavour was pretty distinct. Excellent again!
Cashless, take out only and room for a socially distant line up to stretch out the door which I'm sure it does at times Pretty good drip coffee as well. I expect that if things ever get back to normal this might be a great place to sit down and enjoy a break with a friend or a laptop.
The staff there are friendly and patiently accommodated my setting up in the window to take some pictures. If you are looking for a nice treat, you could do worse than Mello!
Food                    4 1/2 out of 5
Comfort               3 out of 5 (it will be nice when you can sit down in there)
Service                4 out of 5
Value                   3 1/2 out of 5

Mello Donuts Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

The Naam - Vegetarian Awareness Month

As part of Vegetarian Awareness Month, I thought it would be appropriate to draw attention to the grandfather/mother of all Vancouver area vegetarian restaurants, The Naam near 4th and MacDonald. It has been around for 50 years now and to my eye has changed little at least since I was first there maybe 30 years ago. 

This is not a slick modern plant-based restaurant and menu like an Arbour or Heirloom. It is more of a funky, environmentally conscious (not saying the others aren't) dare I say hippyish, back to the earth humble pedigree. And it was serving plant-based food long before that became a thing and back when Frances Moore Lappe's book, Diet For A Small Planet was first around. We arrived just at noon on Saturday and were seated right away. We did notice that before too long people were waiting for tables given the more limited capacity these days.
I always try to stay away from the Mexican food at vegetarian joints because wrapping beans and rice in a flour tortilla is something that I can do at home. So we started with Stuffed Chapati which turned out to be a glorified taco. It was still pretty good featuring avocado and cheese. Each dish came with lots of carrot and beets so we felt like we got most of our vegetables for the day here. At each appearance of cheese on the menu, we were given a vegan cheese option (which we chose) so our meal was actually vegan! The chapati had a nice semi-crunchy texture by the way.
Next up was their Thai Noodles or vegan Pad Thai. This was a really enjoyable tasty dish. Lots of peanuts but the ginger, garlic, miso, jalapeno flavours really made this dish of noodles, tofu, sprouts and cabbage. We call this dish a winner.
Somewhere under this well-packed plate of food is a Tempeh Reuben. Tempeh is an Indonesian fermented soy product that is formed into a sort of cake or slice. Apparently, I have never had tempeh before and I was not enamoured of it. I bought a package of it later (Yves makes it) to experiment and see what can be done with it as it is a healthy product used regularly by millions of people as a source of protein. I found it a little dry and too chewy.
When folded up into a sandwich, it did not resemble a Reuben. As you know a Reuben is pan-fried like a grill cheese sandwich and that would have gone a long way towards making me happy. Still, when the yellow mustard was added, this was a pretty good sandwich with lots of sauerkraut, cheese, mushrooms, salad and a pretty good bun. It came with potato wedges and miso gravy for dipping. The miso gravy might have been our favourite single element and we will definitely be trying to re-create it at home!
We love the old wood floors and old mismatched wooden chairs and tables here. It is homey and humble.
There are curious nooks and crannies and an eating area outside that is definitely not contrived or stylish but somehow very comfortable. The folks who work here are friendly and somehow seem to match their environs. If you have never been to The Naam, you need to make it a stop for the sake of history at the very least.
Food                    3 out of 5
Comfort               3 1/2 out of 5
Service                3 out of 5
Value                   3 1/2 out of 5

The Naam Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Are you guys eating again? At some point Marie and I became the kind of people who take pictures of everything we eat, whether in a restaura...