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By Shirley Culpin January 17, 2016 #php comments_number('0 Comment', '1 Comment', '% Comments'); ?> #php echo wpb_get_post_views(get_the_ID()); ?>
We always face a conundrum when we are trying to decide on a place to dine out in the Comox Valley on Vancouver Island. There is a plethora of restaurants offering everything from fine dining to casual cafes. Most of our favourites (including the six below) feature local products to some degree or another, assuring fresh and flavourful dishes to delight our tastebuds.
A long-standing favourite of ours is Locals at the Old House in Courtenay. Operated by husband and wife team Ronald and Tricia St. Pierre, the restaurant has always focused on using as much locally-produced food as possible (thus, the name). Small farmers all over the verdant Comox Valley have benefited greatly from Locals’ quest to serve ‘food from the heart of the Island’, and so have the restaurant’s many patrons. The menu features the freshest of fresh produce, seafood and local meats and cheeses.
Adding to the allure of Locals is its location – the historic Old House, settled amongst beautiful gardens that run down to the Courtenay River. An area favourite, the house has really come into its own since the St. Pierres took it over in 2013 and poured several months worth of renovations into it. Beautiful indoor spaces feature fireplaces and rustic décor, and an outdoor patio with a retracting roof and heaters makes al fresco dining possible for much of the year. Locals is truly the embodiment of beautiful food in a beautiful location – a great spot if you are looking for fine dining.
Three of our favourite menu items at Locals include the crab and shrimp stack, the chicken and garlic soup (the first culinary effort Ronald ever created for Tricia) and the beef medallion tower, which is available only on the weekend brunch menu.
At the other end of the spectrum is the wacky Mad Chef Café. With a motto like ‘Insane Food with Attitude’, you have to know that you are heading into a very different experience. Also recently relocated, the Mad Chef’s new digs in downtown Courtenay are what can only be described as ‘industrial décor’. Bright green and orange and metallic finishes dominate the space.
In addition to the varied, wild and madcap menu, diners at The Mad Chef are treated to innovative food combinations that could only come from the brain of… well… a mad chef. Two of our perennial favourites are the crab and scallop burger and the Shroom of Doom pizza. If you’re looking for something a little out of the ordinary, this is the place.
The middle of the pack food and décor-wise in the Comox Valley is occupied on our ‘favourites’ list by a foursome offering great food at fair prices in diverse settings.
Bisque restaurant is another husband-and-wife team operation run by Steve and Maralee Dodd. Located in a little strip mall on a side street, bisque features only ten tables in a clean, modern setting. The ambiance is intimate, relaxed, welcoming and unpretentious.
The fresh west coast-inspired menu has made fans of a lot of the locals, and with good reason. Servings are generous, service is always attentive and friendly and the menu and ever-changing daily specials are delicious and intriguing. Chef Steve seems to have a very special touch with anything seafood – the bisque is a rich broth of crab and shrimp stock blended with white wine, cream and brandy. It is the fundamental nature of everything good that comes from the ocean and sets my mouth to watering every time I think about it. Likewise, the seafood linguine – huge portions of prawns, mussels and scallops atop house-made pasta and swimming in a sauce that prompts me to sop up the remains with some of the excellent bread.
Avenue Bistro, just across the river in Comox, is a big favourite of many, and a recent visit there has prompted us to put the place on our preferred list as well. Casual ambiance combines with good service and portions large enough to keep anyone satisfied. If the coconut yam soup is on the daily special menu, grab at the opportunity to savour it. And Avenue’s chicken cordon bleu burger, a scrumptious combination of crispy fried chicken breast, camembert, ham, arugula, tomato, red onion and smoked paprika aioli bursts with a happy combination of flavours that will set your tastebuds to singing.
Located just up the hill from the downtown core of Courtenay is Common Ground Café – another historic old house that has been tenderly rejuvenated by a local commune. Several years of rehabilitation and collecting found objects have resulted in a cosy, earthy space that oozes warmth and welcome. Much of the excellent food that arrives on the tables comes straight from the commune’s farm, ensuring freshness and variety. One of our favourites – the spinach cranberry nut salad – comes loaded with nuts and all sorts of other healthy ingredients. Portions are huge, and the service is friendly and efficient. Common Ground is a local hot spot, so be prepared to wait if you arrive during peak meal times – but be aware that the experience is worth waiting for!
For those who are gluten-sensitive, there is a delightful and undeniably cute gluten-free café right on the main drag into Courtenay, just before the turnoff for the bridge to Comox. Sweet Surprise Gluten Free Café and Bakery is run by a mother/daughter team and, in addition to featuring breads and other baked goods, also offers delicious daily gluten-free specials for a casual lunch or coffee break. Home-made soups and specialties like macaroni and cheese with chicken and spinach and yummy stratas feature on the blackboard menu. It’s a great spot for a hearty, healthy meal, even if you aren’t following a gluten-free regime.
Note: We realize that there are many other outstanding dining options in the Comox Valley but finances and our expanding waistlines dictate a certain degree of prudence on our part. So many places, so little time! Do you have a favourite restaurant in the Comox Valley? Share with us in the comments below!
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