Nanaimo has a few different nicknames: the Hub City, the Harbour City, and the Bathtub Racing Capital of the World. Combine a couple of those with a nod to its numerous watering holes, and you get the Hub, Tub and Pub City. But the city’s biggest claim to fame, of course, is the Nanaimo Bar, the delicious dessert that is famous across Canada and beyond. Vancouver Island‘s second largest city has embraced its eponymous dessert fully, even going so far as to set up a self-guided walking tour, complete with a printed brochure that highlights 34 stops offering Nanaimo Bar treats, experiences and souvenirs. On a recent visit to see Nanaimo’s newest craft brewery (more on that later), I decided to check out a few stops on the Nanaimo Bar Trail.
My first stop was Pirate Chips, a charming, pirate-themed restaurant where I actually had a deep fried Nanaimo Bar. That’s right: deep fried! Go big or go home, right? Apparently, anything can be deep fried, but my own experience with deep fried desserts prior to this was limited to doughnuts. Pirate Chips takes a traditional Nanaimo Bar, dips it in cinnamon-flavoured batter, and then deep fries it and serves it with ice cream and whipped cream. Beyond decadent and oh so delicious!
After a short walk during which I am sure I burned off
nearly all barely any of the calories I had just consumed, I learned a bit of history at the Nanaimo Museum. The museum’s display on Nanaimo Bars explained that the earliest known reference to the dessert (at least by name) can be found in Edith Adams’ prize cookbook (14th edition), published in 1953.
After another calorie-munching walk (yeah right), I stopped at Fitzwilliam Gate, a charming covered arcade with several shops and offices tucked inside, including my destination: Bocca Café. Here I sampled a traditional Nanaimo Bar–along with two additional flavour variations: peanut butter and salted caramel. Yummy all round!
That was all the sugar I could handle for one afternoon, but later that evening I managed to sneak in one more stop on the Nanaimo Bar Trail: the Modern Café. After a fabulous dinner, I enjoyed a special Nanaimo Bar martini for dessert.
The other reason for my trip was to visit Nanaimo’s newest craft brewery, White Sails Brewing, which opened late last year. Brewer Tyler Papp has done a great job with his early recipes. White Sails’ downtown location was once the site of the old Newcastle Hotel, which was built in the late 1800s by John Mahrer, the original brewmaster of Union Brewing (at the time one of the biggest breweries on the west coast). The brewery has an open beerhall-style tasting room that features brick and wood and a big, welcoming fireplace.
Check out this video interview of my visit for more information about the brewery. Nanaimo is also home to Wolf Brewing, the Longwood Brewpub and the Longwood Brewery, which is featured in this post on new Vancouver Island breweries.
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