- Name: OEB Breakfast Co.
- Location: 1137 Marinaside Cres., Vancouver
- Phone: 604-423-3447
- Website: eatoeb.com
- Cuisine: All-day breakfast
- Additional information: Open daily, 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.; accepts reservations.
- Rating system: Cheap Eats
- Name: Douce Diner
- Location: 1490 Pemberton Ave., North Vancouver
- Phone: 604-980-2510
- Website: doucediner.com
- Cuisine: All-day breakfast
- Additional information: Open Monday to Friday, 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.; no reservations
- Rating system: Cheap Eats
Breakfast used to be such an easy, albeit slightly boring meal when dining out. The choices were eggs, bacon, pancakes and maybe an omelette if one felt like getting fancy. The portions were plentiful, the prices were cheap and the coffee was bottomless. It was mostly consumed in greasy spoons, between the hours of 6 a.m. and 10 a.m.
Oh, how breakfast has changed.
Vancouver, the city that (up until about five years ago) brunch forgot, is enjoying an eggsplosion of all-day breakfast joints. From caviar crêpes to fried chicken and waffles, the choices are endless and the lineups are long.
No more so than at OEB Breakfast Co. – the first Vancouver location of the Calgary-based chain, where the menu contains a staggering 57 items. How many ways can you cook a simple egg?
There is nothing simple about this huge Yaletown restaurant, the largest in the group with 85 seats inside the bright and breezy dining room and another 45 on the waterfront patio. The restaurant has been packed since it opened in May.
Mauro Martina, OEB’s founder and executive chef, is an Italian who was raised in Germany. Tired of working long shifts, not seeing his wife and making other people rich, he opened the first OEB in 2009 in Calgary, with a sprawling menu of creative dishes that couldn’t easily be made at home.
The concept worked surprisingly well in a city where the downtown empties out after business hours. And in the flush days of Calgary’s oil-and-gas boom, lobster and caviar on toast was a slam-dunk.
OEB’s lobster and caviar dishes are apparently even more popular in Vancouver. So popular, in fact, that they are all sold out before noon.
The signature breakfast poutines are well done. The trademarked Soul in a Bowl comes with two poached eggs over crispy potato wedges cooked in duck fat draped in brown butter Hollandaise with squeaky Saint Cyrille curds and slow-cooked bacon lardons. You can fancy it up in a multitude of ways – with duck confit, seared scallops, roast pork and black truffles or lobster scramble.
Any dish with meat is a good bet. OEB takes great pride in sourcing naturally raised meats and working with local butchers to exact specifications without any preservatives or fillers. The veal bratwurst is creamy and subtly spiced with a snappy natural casing. Rabbit and pork mortadella is thick sliced, speckled with crunchy Sicilian pistachios and seared to golden crisp.
But if the waffles and lox are any indication, you might want to steer clear of dishes that sound overly creative. The Atlantic salmon was fine – lightly cured and slippery. But the buttermilk waffles were so sweet against pickled red onions, it screeched through the mouth like nails across a chalkboard. Something went terribly wrong.
If ordering something sweet, go all out. Get the French toast stuffed with cheesecake and Bailey’s crème Anglaise. I made the mistake of ordering the Not So Boring Brioche French Toast, which was actually incredibly boring. The brioche was dense, doughy and so thick that it obscured the subtle spicing of orange-blossom extract and Sri Lankan cinnamon.
If you’re craving something less ostentatious, head to North Vancouver, where Top Chef alumna Dawn Doucette has opened Douce Diner.
As with Mr. Martina, Ms. Doucette decided on a daytime operation in order to spend more time with her family, although the hours will soon be extended into early evening now that the restaurant has received a liquor licence.
The throwback art-deco design is as cute as polka-dot pinafore, appointed in glossy-black and pastel-pink tiles with flashes of chrome.
In the kitchen, Ms. Doucette also places great emphasis on using farm-fresh ingredients and local suppliers. But whereas the OEB menu is grand and aspirational, Douce Diner offers a petite selection of familiar comfort foods that makes it almost impossible to order badly.
Eggs Benny comes with avocado, smoked salmon or very good fried country ham (sliced thin and rich with fat) on square buttermilk biscuits that are both dense and fluffy. The Hollandaise is thick and creamy, but brightly lifted with lemon. Old-school hash browns – a loosely shredded mound of white fluffy potatoes with oodles of crispy bits and sweet bursts of onion – are not the least bit photogenic. But when you stir in a runny yolk and drizzle a bit of house-made hot sauce on top, they taste oh-so-satisfying.
You can’t go wrong by ordering a side of perfectly salted skinny fries, dumped in hot oil straight out of the freezer so that the exterior gets crisp while the insides pillow up soft and creamy. Or white beans cooked in ham hock and finished with vinegar.
Buttermilk waffles are thin, offering a mouthful of golden crunch in every bite. They make a fine pedestal for super-crispy panko-fried chicken, darkly seasoned with hot sauce and a double dredging in flour to keep the meat moist and juicy. Country-style gravy, poured over top, is extremely thick and chunky with sausage, balancing the sweet lightness of the waffle with savoury heft.
For a small menu, there is a surprising amount of repetition. Homemade granola with thick yogurt, lemon curd, fresh berries, toasted coconut and refreshing mint is a perfect spoonful of crunch, sweet, salty and tart. But you might not want to order it alongside French toast, which has a similar flavour profile, although the thick-cut challah bread is pretty awesome with its light, airy belly strapped in by a deep-brown lace of custardy batter.
Simple and small or big and fancy, breakfast in Vancouver is definitely no longer boring.