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.
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.
The Arbor’s ability to inject their own identity into the stream of vegetarian restaurants in the city is impressive. They serve 95% plant-based fare in a relaxed, unassuming atmosphere. The 1,000 square foot eatery seats approximately 70 people. In the summer, the industrial garage door rolls open, allowing the dining space to overflow onto a sidewalk patio facing Main Street. Their best-kept secret is the courtyard garden in the back: an oasis that is lush with foliage and flowers. A delicate ambiance from festooned lights above illuminates the patio in the evenings, creating an unparalleled glow amongst the trees.
The three owners, with the help of family and friends, created the design of The Arbor. It has two very distinct zones that are characterized by pace. On the right-hand entrance side, service is expeditious for a morning coffee and pistachio cookie or a lunch-time 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. Service here is prompt because the take-out counter doubles as their 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 house potted plants. Suspended over the counter is the Pipeline Series fixture created by local designer Caine 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, which is flooded with light in the daytime. The ceiling design carries over from the entrance with chevron lines of whitewashed salvaged wood, but excitedly, its 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 owner McClosky's Mom. The most striking features in the room are the triangle-shaped recessed niches with ledge detail that display work from local ceramic artist Maggie Boyd.
Throughout the space, you can spot vintage notes: painted-white, well-versed chairs, a stained glass window piece displayed 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 McClosky'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.
A version of this article originally appeared in HAZEL NOIX on January 28th, 2018.