In March of 2014, Vancouver institution Solly?s Bagelry celebrated its 20th year of serving its signature Brooklyn-style bagels. In honor of the anniversary, we spoke with the founder and current owner Leah Markovitch about how she kept true to her grandmother's traditional recipes over the course of two decades.
Solly?s Bagelry exudes a homespun charm. Markovitch describes the delis as places where people could feel comfortable kicking off their shoes and relaxing. The antique furniture, mismatched sets of chairs, and soundtracks of old jazz and Jewish songs exemplify Solly?s Bagelry's laid-back and nostalgic spirit.
What's Not To Like?
Markovitch grew up baking and cooking alongside her grandmother, who taught her to create traditional Old-Country meals with simple but flavorful ingredients. When faced with an unfamiliar dish, Markovitch would ask her grandmother, "Will I like this?", and she invariably received the same response: "What's not to like?"
Solly?s Bagelry continues to use many of Markovitch's grandmother's generations-old recipes today, making everything from challah to knishes from scratch. None of the dishes can be considered haute cuisine or upscale street foods, but they emphatically aren't meant to. Instead, Markovitch says that her grandmother's family recipes showcase the sort of flavors that can only come from rustic, traditional home cooking.
"What's not to like?" now serves as a slogan at Solly?s Bagelry.
Taking inspiration from the Jewish delis of Brooklyn, Solly?s Bagelry boils and hand-rolls more than a dozen styles of bagels, which move straight from the deck ovens to the display cases. This style of bagel is famous for its texture, which is noticeably chewier than many deli or caf? bagels. Although they might seem different at first, Markovitch recommends trying one of these signature creations "if you want to taste tradition."
Markovitch recognizes how fortunate she is to have access to butter, chocolate, and other ingredients that would have been considered luxurious delicacies for past generations of Eastern Europeans. She uses these ingredients to add richer and heartier flavors to certain creations, and she even takes a bit of artistic license by creating inventive items, such as samosa knishes and chocolate matzah. However, she is quick to point out that, even when experimenting, Solly?s Bagelry never strays too far from the original recipes, and tradition is still the baseline. Some of the items' flavors may have changed a bit, but Markovitch says, "there's not too much that my grandmother would be surprised at."
In the dining room, the rhythmic pounding of a bodhrán hand drum mingles with the joyful melodies of a tin flute, flooding every inch of the space with an ebullience punctuated by onlookers’ clapping hands and tapping feet. The diners have left the feasts spread across their tables mostly untouched, their attention glued to the band in the midst of their lively song. Such moments aren't a rarity at Donegal's Irish House, but are an almost nightly occurrence at the jovial eatery that brings locals together to make new friends and share in internationally inspired meals.
Champions of fostering an atmosphere of community and friendship, the affable staff goes out of its way to make guests feel welcome, thanks to attentive service and an ever-changing calendar of events that keep inviting guests back. On select evenings, patrons can convene at Donegal's to watch a Canucks game or to see local bands. As guests chat and mingle in the dining room, the kitchen buzzes with chefs concocting Irish standards such as shepherd's pie and international cuisine that includes perogies and sausage, jambalaya, and butter chicken. Donegal's signature dish remains the whopping blarney stone burger, a 7.5-pound charbroiled Canadian beef patty that gets its eater a commemorative T-shirt and a place on the wall of fame if it's eaten within two hours with no help. Unsuccessful competitors, meanwhile, find their snapshot displayed on the wall of shame, under the most personal entry from their dream journals.
Ken Hueston grew up with a penchant for bones. According to the Goldstream News Gazette, he began his formal education in pursuit of paleontology, but he soon found that although his instincts were correct, they were slightly misguided?his place was not among dusty and brittle dinosaurs, but in the steam of a kitchen. There, his commitment to local ingredients, handmade cuisine, and chef education would earn him the B.C. Chamber of Commerce's Entrepreneur of the Year award in 2008, a spot on enRoute's Best New Restaurant list, and a 2012 feature on Food Network Canada's You Gotta Eat Here.
Today at Smoken Bones Cookshack, after a brief absence, Ken is back as head chef, bringing with him a fresh dose of creativity and heeding the traditions of artisanal cooking, forming his menu's burgers, cheeses, and bacon by hand, without additives. Ken and his apprentices prepare everything on site, using scratch cooking techniques, including smoking food with local Vancouver island woods. Featured on You Gotta Eat Here, their pork and beef ribs, pulled pork, and beef brisket stake out the spotlight, though the Cookshack has not forgotten seafood, chicken, and stacked sandwiches. The emphasis on all-natural methods also extends past the cuisine and into the smoking process itself, which employs wood from Vancouver fruit and alder trees.
The forest figures heavily into the restaurant's decor too: in between praising the venue's bacon ice cream, Heed the Hedonist recounts "exposed ducts and exposed wood everywhere, including a plywood bar that was fashioned from a Douglas Fir that had blown down during a windstorm." Big-screen televisions augment the natural appeal, broadcasting sports on game nights, and live blues music twangs during special events.
For nearly a quarter of a century, Oliver Twist Pub has provisioned patrons with to-go and bar-side libations alongside feasts of eclectic pub fare. Inside the welcoming two-storey pub or on the open-air patio, patrons sup on hearty burgers, steak, and seafood, or pastas and rice bowls inspired by cuisines from around the world, washing down meals with frosty brews on tap. As the Canucks complete blind passes and flawless toe loops and football and baseball players battle it out on the nine HDTVs, the air buzzes with the excitement of nighttime activities ranging from karaoke and DJ sets to poker tournaments and music bingo.
Oliver Twist’s attached liquor store equips on-the-go customers with a full range of lottery prizes, wines, liquors, and a walk-in chilled beer cave that mimics the Neanderthal frozen brew palaces of the Ice Age.
In Browns Socialhouse, backed leather stools and cushy booths flank tables. On the walls, oversize illuminated signs reading EAT and Liquor shine brightly against the cozily lit dining room. Mixing social-house comfort with a contemporary edge, the decor at Browns Socialhouse mimics the style of its food. Chefs hand cut and double-cook fries to pile alongside their steak sandwich or housemade, hand-pressed burgers. They've got an eye for detail—for example, they char-grill their dry-aged pepperoni before piling it atop pizzas with pepperoncinis and asiago. The selection ranges from international favorites—such as street tacos and shrimp-and-chicken pad thai, among other—to updated pub eats, such as fish ‘n’ chips featuring pacific halibut dunked in a Sapporo beer batter. Every Saturday, Sunday, and on holidays, the chefs set their roosters to crow earlier so they can rise and mix up batches of their own hollandaise for brunches. They crack only free-range eggs for their brunch dishes, which include corned-beef hash and prosciutto eggs benedict with goat cheese.
Aromas of spicy garlic, honey-roasted pork cheeks, and hot soups flood the dining room at Hakkasan Contemporary Chinese Cuisine, wafting an olfactory preview of the menu's contemporary Chinese cuisine past diners' tables. Although the chefs rely on traditional Cantonese spices and cooking techniques, their goal is to elevate Chinese fare—without masking the dishes' regional roots—by integrating eclectic ingredients such as foie gras and Berkshire pork loin. They also complement the Eastern flavours with Western presentations, carefully sculpting and arranging every entree on its plate to create a thoroughly refined dining experience, and one that has earned praise from the Richmond Review and the Vancouver Sun. In addition, Hakkasan won Best Service Award from the 2011 HSBC Diner's Choice Awards.
The restaurant's signature tasting menus rotate seasonally, which allows the chefs to incorporate fresh bounties of locally sourced produce, organic greens, and free-range chicken. Additionally, the à la carte menu tempts diners with its own selection of entrees, including a fragrant quail-and-fungus soup that double boils inside of a young coconut for three hours.