THOUGHTFUL VEGETARIAN COMFORT FOOD
The Arbor, Vancouver’s newest vegan, comfort-food eatery, is a consolidation of backgrounds ranging from The Acorn (owners Scott Lewis and Shira Blustein) to Farmer's Apprentice and Royal Dinette (Sommelier Paul McCloskey) as well as Bishop’s (Chef Rob Clarke). Fortunately, in pursuing their new endeavour, the team did not retreat from a philosophy of ecologically minded, freshly produced ingredients. The focus on quality transferred over from their respective backgrounds flawlessly, all while creating a complementary inverse to The Arbor’s vegetarian fine dining sister restaurant just five storefronts up Main Street: the still-popular Acorn.
Barely a year old, their new eatery maintains a strong relationship with well-versed quality but boldly ventures down the deep-fry path. Lip-smacking, deeply-satiating foods like poutine, burgers, fried oysters, pulled pork, and southern fried sandwiches don't have to be sourced from junk. And in The Arbor's case, they don't even have to be sourced from animals.
Using local ingredients like wildcrafted BC oyster mushrooms, the restaurant uses a play on words to recreate some of North America's most beloved finger foods. Their Southern Fried Artichoke Sandwich utilizes avocado mousse, vegan cheese, spicy flax-based mayo, jalapeños, and artichoke hearts (among other veggie-friendly ingredients) to obtain that nostalgic, sauce-heavy, deep-fried kick. It does this so well that Scout Magazine dedicated a sole feature to this single item, and both Trip Advisor and Yelp have posts about it being the best in the city.
A wild and cultivated 'fungi' flatbread with spinach and balsamic red onion is as satisfying as any other high-end pizza, but costs half as much. You're also able to swap in a gluten-free crust adding even more density and character to your order. The Arbor's Pulled Jackfruit Steamed Buns are another endearing menu bon mot. Chef Clarke hopped on the train of using barbecue jackfruit rather than pulled pork, which has such similar taste and texture, you could indubitably convince a carnivore it was the real thing. Jackfruit also grows easily and resiliently so it is sustainable. This item is also unique in its rare feature: the buns are made in-house and without milk so they are vegan through-and-through. More often than not, Chinese bao style buns are shipped in from international bakers, so The Arbor fashioning their own is exemplary of just how far the kitchen takes that extra step.
But if we were to propose an Arbor doppelganger award, the Arburger would easily land first place. Composed of walnuts, lentils, mushrooms, and spices, this 'dry-aged' burger patty looks just like the real thing. However, with an eggplant bacon, macadamia cheese alternative, and the option for either a vegan or gluten-free bun, it is nothing like your average truck-stop hamburger.
We’re impressed by The Arbor’s ability to inject their own identity into the stream of vegetarian restaurants in the city. Differentiating themselves from their neighbouring sister, they serve 95% plant-based fare in a relaxed, unassuming atmosphere (you can always opt for dairy in place of vegan cheese). With a motto of “real food for comfort”, they promote a straightforward attitude and this casual dining experience is amplified by their no-reservations policy. You can eat in or take out, accommodating those quick lunch breaks at work. We also appreciate their consistency in providing the same operating hours every day of the week.
The 1,000 square foot eatery approximately seats 70 people, which includes a 28 outdoor seating option in the warmer months. Summertime is truly incredible here as the industrial garage door swings open and expands the dining space to overflow onto the Main Street patio. Their best-kept secret (which we slightly hate to share…) is the exquisite garden courtyard in the back.
The three owners, with the help of family and friends, created the design of The Arbor. Whether intentional or not, when we think of the restaurant, it has two very distinct zones that are characterized by pace. On the entrance side, it’s expeditious for the grab-and-go, whether for a coffee and pistachio cookie break or a spicy bbq flatbread to go. For the busy dinner rushes, this area doubles as the perfect spot to sit with a Negroni until a table opens up – we realized this while hoping to snag a table at The Acorn one day! There’s also prompt service here since the take-out counter acts as the bar.
The design in this area reflects this momentum with considerable movement from directional lines. They have added vivacity to the black abstract bar with white plank highlights and subway tile coves, which are now homes for potted plants. Suspended over the counter is the Pipeline Series fixture created by local designer Cain Heintzman from ANDLight. The linear light induces a swift aesthetic as its orientation curves with the bar.
There’s a notable energy shift in the dining area - a calm, soft approach to the room with a contemporary ambiance. The space is airy and almost studio-like, flooded with light in the daytime. The ceiling design carries over from the entrance with chevron lines of whitewashed salvaged wood, but excitedly, punctured with an array of dark beams accentuated with LED strips. We later learned that the Parisian restaurant Le Mary Celeste inspired this leaf petiole concept. A large span of mirror on the wall opens up the small serving space and the concrete floors keep a cool touch. Beautiful, modern banquettes are simplistic with light timber plank backs and alternate in grounding grey and blue cushion seats. The reclaimed wood tabletops are the handiwork of Paul’s Mom. The most striking feature in the room is the triangle-shaped recessed niches with ledge detail that display work from the talented and local ceramic artist Maggie Boyd.
Throughout the place, you can spot vintage notes: painted white well-versed chairs, a displayed stained glass window piece on the wall, a “well” to hold the house white wine on ice in a venerable ceramic sink. A popular trend, and one we love to see, is the large old school menu board mounted above the bar. In the evening, the place glows from the milk glass pendants furnished from Paul’s Mom’s store in Kelowna.
When we initially heard about the launch of this open-all-day bistro, the idea that it would place a heavy focus on neighbourhood kinship made sense. Owner-Manager-Sommelier, Paul McCloskey was so well-loved by his Farmer's Apprentice denizens, they even pursued him down to Royal Dinette, almost like culinary groupies. On numerous occasions, we've heard former staff urge that "Paul has got to open his own restaurant." Now that he finally did, he’s impressed nearly everyone with his keen eye for selecting natural wines and bringing together friends and family.
The Arbor's vino list isn't grandiose or pretentious. While still approachable, it certainly isn't run of the mill. With options like a 2014 Langhe Nebbiolo from Serralunga D’Alba by Giovanni Rosso, the attention is there, but with The Arbor, the environment is different. A house red and house white invite the i-don't-give-a-fuck crowd, but the selection of low-intervention products and small-scale producers prove something else: even if he's not upselling billionaire developer-come-foodies a bottle of vino, McCloskey still maintains an intelligent passion and unassuming fondness for the oaky inebriant.
We recently visited the bustling eatery with a friend who was on a new year health kick. Having committed to a cleanse and arriving to dine fresh off a spinning class, she was delighted to discover The Arbor had recently introduced a few more resolution-friendly dishes.
Vegan in focus, they all feature winter veggies like beets, squash, cauliflower, and eggplant, as well as equally flavourful additions like sauteed mushrooms and cashew sauce. These dishes are all plant-based which sticks with the saloon’s mandate, but they circumvent too-delicate dining by offering portions large enough to keep everyone more than satisfied.