Salt Spring Island has been foodie heaven since the late 1800s. Back then, Hope Bay was the ferry landing for boats that took fresh produce grown on the island to the markets in Vancouver. Salt Spring has always been known for its laid-back vibe. The 60s and 70s never left Salt Spring and there are artists at the Saturday Market that still sell a selection of beautiful tie-dyed shirts. Artisan foods created on the island are so well regarded that the island’s brochure of artist’s studios and workshops include winemakers artisan bakers, cheesemakers and now even a brewery along with painters, sculptors, wood-turners, and weavers. All of these artisans are inspired by the beautiful island, the seas around it, and the casual lifestyle.
For years, I limited myself and my crew to the areas I could walk to from my boat when moored in Ganges Harbour. The Saturday “Market in the Park” at Centennial Park is the best in the islands, with over a hundred food vendors and artisans selling their food and art products. For those who miss Saturday, there is a farmer’s market in the same location on Tuesday afternoons. You can provision your boat at the farmer’s markets and be cooking many unusual meals with fresh seafood, unusual mushrooms, heirloom tomatoes, ripe melons, berries, a variety of sprouts…the list goes on. There are four artisan bakeries represented at the outdoor market with luscious desserts from the Rendezvous French Patisserie to bread from the Salt Spring Island Bread Company and the Bread Lady. By the way if you desire some of her bread, it is best to get to the market early. Her breads are almost always sold out by noon.
Fresh baked goods are popular at the Ganges Market.
Flowers are another big seller at the Ganges Market.
This is a good introduction and overview of what to expect on a deeper foodie tour of the island. When the market is closed, many sell from their shops and studios around the island and many items are available at Thrifty Foods in the harbor.
If you miss the market on Saturday or Tuesday and still want to sample a taste of Salt Spring, reserve a rental car (or motor scooters) at Salt Spring Auto Rentals (250-537-3122) at the Salt Spring Marina. They provide you with a map showing over 40 artisan studios including the wineries, cheesemakers and other traditional artists. A single day rental should cover it. The distances are short and the island is beautiful.
Salt Spring Island Cheese Company
A definite stop should be the Salt Spring Island Cheese Company, toward Fulford Harbour. Set up like a winery, windows on the side of the building allow you to see the cheesemakers making beautiful goat cheeses. You can pet the goats, and then stop in the store to taste 20+ different varieties of cheese they make. Purchase some cheese and bread along with your favorite beverage and sit down at one of the many outdoor tables on the beautiful grounds. Afterwards, treat yourself to a hand-scooped, goat milk gelato.
Salt Spring has three wineries; Garry Oaks Estate Winery, Salt Spring Vineyards and Mistaken Identity Vineyards. Some charge for their tastings and credit the charge to a purchase. The settings are beautiful and you get a full sense of the wine when you see where it is made and have a chance to meet some of the personalities behind the label. Mistaken Identity Vineyards can be reached without a car by taking a 1.5-mile hike up Lower Ganges Road starting above the Salt Spring Marina. Often the wineries will have scheduled food events and winemaker’s dinners, or an afternoon of music at the winery. Check their websites for a listing of upcoming events.
If beer is your preference, stop by one of B.C.’s smallest breweries, Salt Spring Island Ales, where you can purchase their local brew in bottles or growlers. Like seemingly everything else on the island, it is organic and uses locally grown ingredients, including Salt Spring Island grown hops.
Salt Spring Island Ales beer tasting
The attention and passion for good food extends to the restaurants. The English manor at Hastings House offers a five-star dining experience that is one of the top on the west coast. Prior guests include movie and sports stars, royalty, and heads of state, whom they have entertained for almost 35 years. A four-course dinner is a pricey-though-special experience with a menu including many items grown right on the island. Before dinner, stroll the beautiful grounds and walk through the gardens. Don’t be surprised if you see the chef or sous-chef gathering herbs or vegetables and fruit for dinner. Almost everything is prepared fresh in their kitchen including all of the baking for breads, crackers and desserts. Come early and enjoy a cocktail in the Manor House or in a relaxing Adirondack chair on the grounds overlooking the harbor.
The view from Hastings House
Just down the street from Hastings House is an unassuming hotel called the Harbour House. Look closer at the signs and you will see the small print, “Restaurant and Organic Farm.” Unless you are already aware, you would not know what lies behind the hotel building. You are welcome to walk back and enter the wooden gate to the gardens off the back parking lot. On the gentle hillside are three acres of raised beds, greenhouses, berry bushes and fruit trees. Please make sure the gate closes behind you, so the goats don’t get out. To the right is the chicken coop with healthy chickens out conversing in their yard. Up the hill to the left is an old cabin festooned with hanging garlic, drying in the sun. Trays of fresh picked onions are set near the cabin’s entryway. Bees are working on producing fresh honey in the hives. This is an incredible garden producing fresh produce in three plantings throughout the year. It has its own staff that ranges from 3-6 people to tend and harvest. They produce so much that they sell fresh to many of the other restaurants on the island. They also have their own farm honor stand in the back of the parking lot near the entrance to the gardens, open from 9:30 – 3:00. Pick out the fruits and vegetables you like, or baked goods, jams and even fresh eggs. Total your bill and leave the money in the jar. This is my new secret find – now shared. For years I did not know it was there. A great place for farm fresh produce on days when the open-air market is not operating, and walking distance from the harbor and the marinas.
Harbour House gardens
Many food options are available at Harbour House.
The passion and commitment of the owners, chef, and staff of Harbour House comes through in the ever-changing menu for their restaurant. Chef Brooke Winters will regularly sit down with the farm staff to plan what should be planted, when a crop will be harvested, and then she plans her menus and special dishes accordingly. Any meal at Harbour House will send you into Foodie Heaven.
The list of great food places goes on when you walk around the town of Ganges. Barb’s Buns is a great bakery and has outstanding breakfasts and lunches. Many of the locals meet there. Embe Bakery, up Fulford Ganges Road from the marinas, is a traditional bakery loaded with items to tempt you. Sausage rolls and meat pies are displayed along with the selection of breads, pies, cookies and other sweet items. Picnic tables are outside on the covered deck to enjoy your purchase before it ever makes it back to the boat.
Walk over hungry and peruse the shops along Centennial Park. Fresh Pasta and Pizza, a vegetarian restaurant, looks delicious based on the pictures in the window. Pomodoro, across the street, has excellent pizza. So many choices…
The liquor and wine store over looking the water next to Centennial Park is called “The Local.” It has one of the best selections of wine in the area, especially B.C. Wines. Buy six bottles or more and they will take 10% off. This is the place to stock up before you head north if you are a US boat with a limited wine supply after clearing Canadian Customs. They will deliver your wine to the marina, too.
In Centennial Square, just down the street from Mouat’s, there are two fine restaurants that make up this months restaurant review. Auntie Pesto’s Cafe, and new-this-season The Gathering. Auntie Pestos offers wonderful pasta dishes and other Italian themed items on its menu. This is substantial Italian soul food overlooking the boats moored at Centennial Wharf. Across the street, The Gathering carries a unique and fun theme with board games for you to play at your table while waiting for food or after dinner. Innovative tapas appetizer plates are priced at $6. Equally enticing entrees are $12-$16. The plates are small, actually just right. Desserts are to die for. See the review in this issue of Waggoner eNews for more.
Last, but still worthy of merit, the restaurants on the waterfront. Below Hastings House and above the Salt Spring Marina, Moby’s Pub is under new management with a great pub style menu and a killer view over the harbor. Calvin’s is still special and has been pleasing old timers for years.
Still hungry? The Oystercatcher or Shipstones is along the boardwalk, often with live music for lunch and dinner. Above the Coast Guard dock, burgerbar537 presents gourmet burgers and inside or outside seating. In this same area is the quaint Tree House Cafe with indoor and outdoor seating literally wrapped around the trees. Great for breakfast, lunch or dinner. In addition to its great food, The Tree House Cafe is also notable for its live music. Music is a passion for owner Mark LeCorre and he has created a venue for small groups to perform that will get you toe tapping and put a smile on your face. Highly recommended, even if it is just for dessert. It is no wonder the small and cozy Tree House Cafe seems to have a line and waiting list for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It is worth the wait.
The Tree House Cafe
While you can put this all on your planning list for next season, there is a food event you might want to consider for a fall cruise to Ganges. On Friday and Saturday, September 27th and 28th, the Salt Spring Chamber of Commerce will be hosting Sip & Savour Salt Spring – A Festival of Local and Regional Food & Wine – where the three local wineries will be paired with some of the best chefs on the island. In its third year, it promises to be a first class event with the best the island has to offer.
Salt Spring Island really is Foodie Heaven. There are just too many choices.