By Michael White
Jewkarta was founded upon two key criterion: (1) we highlight independent Greater Vancouver restaurants; (2) we pay for our meals, and our favour can’t be bought.
Which isn’t to say we’re above being whores if an offer appeals to us, so long as we confess to having accepted it. So, when Cactus Club Cafe offered us an opportunity to try its new weekend brunch menu at the English Bay location, we replied, “Is this Saturday soon enough?”
Some people turn their noses up at Cactus, but the Vancouver-spawned “casual fine” chain achieved its multi-million-dollar success (and has repeatedly claimed Gold in the Best Chain category of the Vancouver Magazine Restaurant Awards) for a reason. From Victoria to Toronto, it always punches above its weight, delivering accessible but expertly balanced flavours and presentation with stunning consistency. (Side note: Jewkarta’s first date was at the Coal Harbour location, and our experience was good enough to nullify a somewhat disastrous post-meal first kiss.)
At first glance, Cactus’s brunch menu is surprising in its brevity and simplicity, suggesting none of the subtle but inventive flourishes for which longtime advising chef Rob Feenie is renowned: three different eggs benny (traditional, avocado, and prawn); two brunch bowls that riff on their dinner/lunch menu’s hugely popular Modern Bowl; an eggs-bacon-potatoes plate; a fried-egg sandwich; and little Belgian-style waffles. The End. (Of course, various espresso drinks and daytime-appropriate cocktails are also available.)
Fortunately, while the menu itself lacks surprises, what did surprise us was the extent to which the deliciousness of everything makes up for that. Avocado Benny ($15.75), served on good multigrain bread rather than the time-honoured English muffin, was exemplary, the eggs perfectly poached and accompanied with the most ethereal hollandaise either of us can recall having anywhere in Vancouver. The “smashed” potatoes alongside were what all diner potatoes aspire to be: crunchy exteriors yielding to tender innards, showered with enough salt that we didn’t need to reach for the shaker.
Meanwhile, the Brunch Power Bowl ($15), which sounds annoyingly virtuous (it’s vegetarian; a vegan variation is also offered), was dynamite: an artfully presented, perfectly calibrated jumble of those same poached eggs in the company of quinoa, diced avocado and roasted yam, corn, bell pepper, shredded kale, and halved grape tomatoes. The contrasting acidity of house-made salsa, chipotle aioli and pickled red onion brought everything together like the stereotypical chef’s kiss. This is a dish that is more than the sum of its parts.
Despite being so clearly inspired by nearby Café Medina they should pay royalties, the Belgian waffles ($4.50 each) were the sort of thing you find yourself craving again later in the day — hot, betraying the explosive crunch of pearl sugar, and with a sidecar of real whipped cream. Choose from one of three toppings: salted caramel, berry compote, or maple syrup ($1.25).
At the time of this writing, Cactus is offering brunch at two locations only — English Bay and Burnaby’s Station Square — but the aim is to expand to other outlets if it proves popular enough. Despite the pandemic, brunch remains a competitive sport in Vancouver for which the masses are willing to wait a long time in the rain. Cactus is a welcome new addition to the landscape — so much so that we’d happily pay with our own money next time. We may be part-time whores, but we have principles.
(Photo: Kley Klemens)