I’ve traveled to and through British Columbia so many times, I can’t even count anymore. Usually, the Okanagan or Vancouver Island is my destination but two weekends ago, a few food/travel writers and I were invited to stay, play and eat in Fernie, and, oh how we did. It’s amazing how much you can pack in to 24 hours.
The drive from Cranbrook to Fernie takes one hour but it goes quickly because the scenery on the way keeps your brain and your camera-clicking fingers occupied.
Fernie is located in the Elk Valley, has a population of roughly 5,000, and is one of Canada’s most popular destinations for downhill skiing. The area, like Cranbrook, is an outdoor adventurer’s wonderland: hiking, mountain biking, fishing, camping, golfing, etc. For my group, though, eating was the main activity.
In one day (17 waking hours), we ate and drank at nine places. Our first night started with oysters and charcuterie at the newly renovated Cirque restaurant in the Lizard Creek Lodge, and ended with vodka shots in the lodge’s Ice Bar.
After a fun night involving (possibly too much) vodka, we needed a big breakfast to set us straight. Thankfully, the Loaf was open and waiting for us with carbs and coffee. The Loaf is a bakery/ restaurant on Fernie’s popular 2nd Avenue, a pretty street lined with historic brick buildings.
Fernie has been rebuilt twice. A fire in 1904 razed most of the downtown and then again in 1908. The rebuilt brick buildings have been well-maintained and are much of the reason behind Fernie’s charm.
I was pleasantly surprised at Fernie’s small but mighty food scene. It was inspiring to listen to passionate people like James Heavey, owner of the Beanpod. James and his wife, Mary, make chocolate straight from the bean, a method practised by only a handful of chocolatiers in the country. It took the Heaveys three years to find the right farmer in Ecuador with the right cacoa bean operation to supply the duo with the quality product they wanted. On average, it takes five days to make a batch of chocolate. The end result is exquisite chocolate with a beautiful texture and depth of flavour. The Heaveys also roast coffee, so the Beanpod is a 2-for-1 food stop.
Across the street is the fantastic Le Grand Fromage, a small grocery store with a selection of 200 (+/-) cheeses and the condiments, crackers, and food paraphernalia to accompany them. The store also carries locally cured meats. You feel very European when you’re in this store, especially with the exuberant, knowledgeable Nancy rattling off names of cheeses in her pronounced French accent.
Sweet and savoury treats are a few doors down at Crumb’s Cakery & Cafe. Amy Cardozo is a self-taught baker, a paramedic by trade, Founder of the Sparwood Farmer’s Market Society, and a mother of four.
Amy makes a mean Jamaican patty, stellar cupcakes and magazine-worthy fondant cakes; in fact, her peony petal cake was recently featured in Blush Magazine.
All food and no drink makes for one very thirsty crew, so a tour of the Fernie Brewing Co. was in order. Learning about beer is always fun—how can it not be when your task is to sample, savour and deliberate the brew’s qualities and characteristics.
The Brewery was first housed in the family barn in 2003. In 13 years, they’ve moved, expanded and are looking at expanding again. I was an instant fan of the Big Red Caboose (red ale), and the First Trax Brown Ale also impressed. I was impressed too with their after-brewing practise of passing on the spent mash to local farmers for livestock feed. No waste. That’s smart.
The Brewery is on the northeast side of Fernie which means you’re only 17 minutes away from Funky Pizza in Sparwood where Rick Cardozo serves up fabulous fish and chips. The pizza gets rave reviews, but Cardozo says people come from Vancouver and the States to have his halibut fish and chips. If people are going through customs at the Montana/BC border just to eat fish and chips, you know its got to be good.
We tried it, and yes, I can see why people come from far and wide. That halibut was so meaty, it was almost like eating a steak.
There must be something in the crystal clear, glacial water around Fernie that nurtures the creativity in people. Our host, Danielle Cardozo, born and raised in Fernie, is an accomplished chef (among other things). In 2014, Danielle competed on MasterChef Canada. Her sister is the Amy of Crumb’s Cakery and their father, Rick, is the owner of Funky Pizza. The whole family has impressive culinary talent. Then there’s, Dan Worth, another local food celebrity. Dan competed on Chopped Canada just this month. He didn’t win the big prize, but credits the experience for forcing him out of his comfort zone and inspiring him to be more creative. We got to taste that creativity in the treats at his Happy Cow ice cream shop.
Dan uses BC fruit and local ingredients to make his ice cream and sorbet. Hard to say which flavour was the favourite, but the ‘Honeycomb’ made with local honey and homemade sponge toffee was pretty dreamy. Mind you, so was the Maple Bacon, oh, and the peanut butter and chocolate concoction called Johnny’s Addiction. And the strawberry!… and the toasted coconut…
It was a very satisfying and enlightening day, but we had one meal to go before we left for Cranbrook, and that was at the Stanford Resort.
There’s no denying it; the dining room at the resort is in dire need of a renovation and culinary excitement is not what comes to mind when you enter the room. I anticipated a meal of wings, burgers and barbecued ribs. What I did not expect was to be presented with the best Indian food I’ve ever had in my life.
The restaurant is actually called the Tandoor & Grill and the kitchen’s secret weapons are two delightful Nepalese men named Kashob and Dilip. These two humble, hardworking chefs possess unparalleled culinary skill. I would go out of my way to feast here again. The food looked beautiful, and tasted even better.
Two weeks later, and I’m still craving everything in those pictures.
I had my eyes opened to what Fernie has to offer. I’m happy that the people in this small town are committed to making food and drink that takes handwork, honesty and creativity to prepare. People with passion and sincerity—that’s what I took from my Kootenay encounter. You have a lot to be proud of, Fernie. Thanks for having me.
More on the Kootenay tour can be found here in my post on Cranbrook.