Food and Beverage

Quiet Charm in Cumberland / for The Village by Amanda Oliver

Vancouver Island, British Columbia is a traveler’s dream: lakes, rainforests, mountains, glaciers, ocean, and more. It amazes me to think about all of the geographical wonders on one island in the Pacific Northwest. There’s a reason they called it “Beautiful British Columbia”. For a girl who grew up in a large city near Lake Erie, never seeing the ocean until she was fourteen, it’s something of a paradise. 

It’s a wonder, then, that my favorite place on the island is a street. It’s even more surprising that it’s a very quiet street in a town with a population of just over 3,000. But, after seven collective months spent exploring Vancouver Island, Cumberland has won me over more than everything and everywhere else.

Maybe it’s the blueberry fritters and cronuts (a croissant-donut pastry) at Cumberland Village Bakery or the sweet owners at Tarbell’s Deli who always engage me in conversation when my boyfriend and I make the trek up north from our home in Nanaimo. It could also be the allure of Delphine Flower & Garden in its small, but bold blue house with sustainably grown seasonal flowers hanging from the sides and organic offerings lining the sidewalk just out front. Mostly, it’s the way Dunsmuir Avenue, the main street of the village, has seemingly everything in its three blocks – a trendy hair salon, a coffee shack, a café located in an old post office, a deli and a meat shop, an organic market, a pizza parlor, an independent book store, a chocolate shop, a theater, a liquor store, a hostel, a vintage clothing shop, and more. I’ve lived in Buffalo, Brooklyn, and DC, traveled across most of Eastern Europe, and there isn’t an area I can think of in those locations that contains so many options with the charm and friendliness of Cumberland. 

Step into the side streets and you’ll discover an oversized food truck in the form of a double-decker bus with offerings of British-style Fish and Chips. Wander another street up and over and take in a colorful wall by local graffiti artist Gillian Brooks.

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Waking in the village, after dinner at The Waverly Hotel and a night of rest at the Riding Fool Hostel, is a peace reminiscent of a favorite childhood vacation spot. For me, it reminds me of the small cottage my family and I rented once a week every summer in a small town in Western New York. There is a quiet and stillness to the streets before the first coffee shop opens and, even then, it’s neighbors greeting neighbors and residents opening up shop or heading to work for the day. A quiet bustling I have found only one or two other places in several years of world travels. 

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Another wonderful thing about Cumberland? You’re a few minutes drive from Comox Lake and surrounded by mountain biking trails. Mountain bikes can easily be rented from Dodge City Cycles, which is also on Dunsmuir. The wilderness and geography of Vancouver Island is not lost to the village streets, Cumberland is nestled inside of it all.

If you find yourself on Vancouver Island, and you really should, consider breaking away from the trendy and heavily populated Victoria to the Comox Valley. When you make the first turn down Dunsmuir into the heart of Cumberland and spot The Grind coffee shack on your left, you’ll start to understand this village’s allure...and you may never want to leave.

Originally published on The Village. All photos by Nicholas Kupiak.

Hey Happy & Jam Cafe / Victoria, British Columbia by Amanda Oliver

Whenever Vancouver Island comes up back home in the states, anyone remotely familiar with the Island asks, "Victoria is there, right?" There are a lot of reasons Victoria is one of the only pieces of the Island outsiders know -- it's the capital of all of British Columbia, nearly half of Vancouver Island's residents live within its city limits, and the food, coffee, and shopping rival much larger cities.

Three weeks ago, I traveled from Nanaimo to Victoria for a weekday trip with my friend Carly. We ate a delicious lunch at Jam (try the Red Velvet Pancakes with cream cheese drizzle or The Charlie Bowl for something a bit more hardy) and, even though it was a Tuesday, there was still a line outside. There is always a line outside of this place. Thankfully, a table for two wasn't a wait! 

Carly cruising the menu

Carly cruising the menu

The Charlie Bowl for me, the vegetarian Huevos Rancheros for Carly

The Charlie Bowl for me, the vegetarian Huevos Rancheros for Carly

I'm kicking myself for not trying the Blueberry Lemonade Waffle on special, but it was a savory kind of morning. Next time!

After lunch we took a wander around the city and I spotted a hanging sign that said "HEY HAPPY" on it. I hadn't noticed it last time I visited Victoria and I checked with Carly, who used to live in the city and frequently returns for day visits, if she had seen it before. She answered that she hadn't and we popped over for a look. Inside, we were immediately greeted by one of the friendly baristas of Hey Happy Coffee. On the counter were a few bottles of cold brews and a glass jewelry case like holder for croissants, donuts, and other sweet options. Any place that values and displays treats like they would the Hope Diamond is OK with me! We were crunched for time, so I grabbed two bottled cold brews (they have a regular and a cherry-infused one -- it's only a slight flavor "Not Dr. Pepper coffee or anything" as the barista told me) and promised myself I'd be back.

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Last weekend, Nicholas and I came down to Victoria and I was more than excited to actually get to spend some time in the cafe this visit -- they have gorgeous wood seating built into the wall opposite the coffee bar, a small area to buy beans, mugs, and other coffee things, and some of the friendliest city cafe staff I've ever encountered. Not to mention the menu options...Coconut Milk Iced Latte, Mint Julep Espresso, Honey'd Latte (with local honey)...

We watched from our seats as they prepared beans specifically for Nick's iced coffee from the the day's brew sheet and concocted my Mint Julep Espresso. For snacks we grabbed a chocolate croissant and a vegan cookie and patiently waited for our drinks.

My mint julep espresso came in an adorable little chalice? metal shot glass? and was delicious. Hints of fresh mint and a perfectly made shot of espresso over ice. I'm no coffee expert, mostly it just gives me the steam I need to face life as the opposite of a morning person, but I've never tasted anything quite like it...and that's definitely a good thing. Nick's iced coffee was exactly what he needed after a three hour cyclocross adventure on his bike.

Mint Julep Espresso

Mint Julep Espresso

Photo by  Nicholas Kupiak

If you find yourself in Victoria (ferries run from Vancouver, Seattle, and Port Angeles daily) be sure to check out these two places in the downtown area. Your belly will thank you.