Low Tide Properties acquired the Wenonah Apartments, a beautiful heritage building at 11th and Main, in 2013. The building houses history, stories and long standing residents. One of our residents is Elizabeth Bryan, the heart and soul behind Dock Lunch. We asked her a few questions about what makes Main Street – and the Wenonah – so special to her.
You have a strong connection with this building – what do you love most about it?
How do I count thee ways?
To me, the Wenonah IS Vancouver. It was my home when I first moved here twenty years ago and now is my livelihood. This building and it’s street are the best sum of my relationship with this city. My closest friends have shared this roof, my neighbours count among them, my business was born here.
Before Dock Lunch was my cafe, it was my unconventional apartment, host to hundreds of dinner parties, breakups, family and ambitions in flux.
What is it about Main Street that resonates with you?
Two (of my five) sisters lived on and started businesses on Main Street. They’ve moved back home, but my daily Dock shopping takes me up and down Main Street (from Ble to Brassneck to Yek o Yek to August to Windsor to Fish Counter!) with my silly cart, past their old apartments and storefronts. I like that. I love the beautiful weirdos who are drawn here.
Why do you think this building is important to the neighborhood?
I love that this building stands in defiance of a citywide mandate to not let anything age gracefully. Vancouver loves to tear down, lick it up, slick it up. New (and bad) design/construction will continue to trump faded elegance and character. Why does Vancouver hate the Old so much? Patina is beautiful. People who wander inside the Wenonah/Dock Lunch say that “they don’t feel like they’re in Vancouver anymore”. They’re hungry for something that stood here before they did. Older, solid, less fickle.
This building has sheltered a lot of people who’ve helped define Mount Pleasant, both as it was and as it is becoming. Under new ownership it’s been given a second life. It nods back to the past with it’s stoic front, boasting new stained glass windows that are a perfect fit with it’s 1912 heritage. It is making room (retail and residential) for the changing face, changing economy of Main street in a way that is progressive but also respects it’s original intention to house and provide for its inhabitants and the community. It is changed but unchanged, a symbol of the neighbourhood itself.
What lead to you opening Dock Lunch in 2012?
Honestly? In November 2011 the high-rise Rize development was approved in flagrant disregard to the Mount Pleasant Community Plan. I was involved in an eight-day open council at City Hall where a thousand community members spoke in opposition and offered alternatives to the height of the proposed development. Despite near unanimous community protest of RIZE, it was a done deal well before our conciliatory audience. The whole experience left me feeling demoralized and jaded. I was looking to move East to Fraser, Hastings Sunrise… hell, I was even considering Montreal and Berlin, anywhere that didn’t smell to me of Main Street’s fresh whiff of “sell out”. I wanted to do something in retaliation but I was looking at it the wrong way. Mount Pleasant didn’t owe me anything. The best declaration I could make of my fealty to Main wasn’t a monologue at City Hall but a personal, public business built in the spirit of the ones being swallowed up. My former landlord was a selfless, good man who gave me a foothold. My new landlords are supportive and gently mentoring as I navigate my new business. When God was handing out landlords, I got lucky.
What is your favourite part of your job?
There’s a lot of glory in food right now, this has been a long time coming and it’s fair. It’s largely been the work of women, the underclass and ethnic minorities. And now these groups are finally being celebrated, through food, for their work ethic, ingenuity and care.
Another thing I find rewarding (and stabilizing) is the profound patience, flexibility and appreciativeness of our customers (see below) and the kindness of our suppliers and repairmen. No matter how problems are piling up, a visit to Windsor Meats, Cobbs Breads or from my smiling-in-the-face-of crisis electrician or plumber throws things into perspective and reminds me life is pretty damn good overall.
How has the food scene evolved in the neighborhood during the time you’ve been here?
There was nowhere to eat when I moved to Main Street! Now there is so much and the standard much higher. Neighbourhood Chinese restaurants that have stood the test of time like the Sunny Spot, Congee House and Longs are finally getting the due they deserve. Anh and Chi redesigned and proved a three-generation restaurant could be a Hot New Spot and the Acorn, Wallflower and Meet on Main took up Foundation’s torch to offer comfort and high-end vegetarian food to a demographic with little option till recently. One of my greatest Main street wishes came true when the Fish Counter opened in 2013.
But in 2000 there was little here but a smattering of ghetto sushi and papered, peeling fronts selling odorous food supplies to unseen buyers. Lugz was the only coffee shop in the area and Slickety Jim’s (original location) the only restaurant. My boyfriend at the time got a job there. He started at 6am and worked the breakfast line. One of the owners found herself between apartments and crashed at mine for a few months. I ate there often. Monsoon opened and became the first destination dining of the era on Main Street. I still miss it. Aurora soon did the same; serving thoughtful farm to table food in room that foreshadowed last year’s ubiquitous coffee shop design. It was a victim of its own prescience, ten years too early to entirely work. But I loved the food and service from local blues man Rich Hope (now at the Belmont Barber Shop), who I always considered Main Street’s finest ambassador. The Reef opened in 1999 and I worked there for ages. Their mandate of hyper-detailed service for what was essentially street food opened my eyes about what people really want in the end. Simple food, Soul Food, comfort food, mom’s food… but also to be noticed, fussed over, remembered. I began to realize how much many people dislike the decision making part of dining out. At Dock, we’ve done away with that. The customer has little, if any, choice. This radical, defining practice was born of necessity: we don’t have a kitchen or storage that can handle a large inventory. Plus, we don’t want to fix on a menu. We want to tell the evolving stories of our own foodways and we press our customers to share favourite food memories so that we may draw from their stories too. People have 1-4 choices when they come here and we change our menu every single day. This adds to the feeling of going home for dinner and having a plate set in front of you in which you had little say but suddenly realized you were craving.
Have you noticed any interesting food trends?
This might not be a trend per se but it’s really interesting to me that in the last few years balanced whole plates have shifted to menus of mix and match a la carte single items. If you want a side of green or starch with your chop it’s a separate order. With a price tag that requires it’s own orbit. This and miniscule “share” plates makes me crazy. It’s interesting to me because, while infuriating, I totally get it. I can imagine the analysis and hand wringing that prompts it: “Restaurant margins, especially in Vancouver, are impossible! We’re dyin’ here!” But it still feels like a transparent trick to flesh out a bill. I’ve really tried to avoid this at Dock, serving the kind of plates I grew up on: filled from edge to edge with Big Protein, starch, vegetable or salad, even house condiments and pickles are on the plates. But I’ve had those hand wringing conversations with myself too. My prices have been and have to creep up. The staff and I come from the Starving Artist School of Dining Out and we die a little every time we have to price something at it’s real value. It looks high from the outside, but we want to stay alive too. Let there be no doubt, no matter how much you may have paid for a meal out, the restaurant undercut itself.
This conversation is very trendy in restaurant circles. Just ask David Chang.
THANK GOD the gluten free trend is well over. That was the worst! I didn’t really indulge it at Dock (except in real cases) so I was spared, but still…THE WORST!
Dock diners are the best in this regard: they are the least picky, most agreeable, flexible, on board bunch. That’s why they remain a select, loyal brigade.
Can I see a menu?
We have two things
Okay I’ll take the first
We sold out of the first
Great, I didn’t really want the first one anyways, I’ll take the second!
Controlling, picky diners simply do not find us. Or they do and write a blistering yelp review, which is fine. I’m controlling too, I would never be happy at a Dock Lunch. (Unless I was on vacation and caught totally off guard… then maybe I could be happy at a Dock Lunch kinda place) That’s the kind of customers we have. Cup half full and life-is-an-adventure-holiday types. I love them. I want to be them. They are teaching me the way.
On a separate note, I really want Filipino food to trend in Vancouver as it has elsewhere on the continent!
Would you care to share a recipe with us?
I’ve picked two. Instead of elaborate food items that would take hours to prepare and require special shopping these are useful recipes readers will actually make instead of just musing that they might one day if the stars align. Savoury and sweet, these versatile finishing sauces have the ability to elevate simple dishes (and store bought food) into dinner party fare. Any person can memorize and make quickly with ingredients on hand.
Brown butter vinaigrette, yields 2 cup
I cup of unsalted butter
1 garlic clove
1 small to medium shallot
1TBSP Maille Dijon
3/4 tsp salt
I generous TBSP of red wine vinegar
Brown butter in pan till melted, toasty golden brown and smelling nutty. Takes a rough 20 min on low heat. Milk solids will start to separate, butter will foam then subside. Stir occasionally so as not to burn. Once you’ve browned, remove from heat to cool to room temp. (Don’t let it re-solidify). Pulse garlic and shallots and salt in processor or blender till they are a paste. Add mustard and vinegar, pulse to combine an then with motor running add brown butter in a slow steady steam to emulsify. Done.
A perfectly balanced sauce for fish, chicken or grilled vegetables. We like it on trout, sprinkled with almonds, slivered lemons and parsley for our own take on trout Amandine.
Salted Caramel Bourbon Sauce:
1c. Granulated sugar
6TBSP salted butter cut into pieces
1/2c. Heavy (whipping) cream
1tsp. Salt — we use smoked salt
Few glugs of bourbon
Heat sugar in saucepan over medium-low heat — spread across the bottom of pan in an even layer to that the most mass can receive the most surface area heat, don’t over-stir (you will end up with hard sugar rocks) try just swirling in the pan or gentle moving across the bottom with a flat wooden spoon. Once it begins to darken and liquify at the edges, bring your spoon back into action: pulling the edges into the centre and letting the centre flow out till evenly melted. Now add the butter in pieces till bubbling. Pour cream in in a thin stream and stir allowing to boil for one minute. Remove from heat, add bourbon and salt and allow to cool.
Served over pie, pound cake or ice cream, even store bought stuffs! Makes for a memorable dessert.
Low Tide has enjoyed countless lunches at Dock Lunch and we are happy to have Elizabeth as a resident. If you would like to be her neighbour, we are leasing a beautiful space two doors down. You can learn more about it here.