Like most people, I don’t enjoy being proven wrong. I am capable of admitting it though, and when it happens (fairly regularly) it’s usually because of math, sports, and/or directions. That last one is consistently my downfall, meaning I’m particularly smug on the VERY rare occasion my sister gets mixed up and I know the way).
Just recently I was proven wrong, though this time it involved food, and oddly enough was quite a thrilling defeat. That’s because a meal I expected to be average was extraordinarily good, so I have no choice but to say this:
Brown’s Social House, you got me.
As a chain, I expected you to be all glam on the menu and disappointing on the plate. I was wrong, ok? I WAS WROOOONG. Man, ease up, this is hard enough already.
My cousin Linda and I met up for a pre-Christmas lunch at Brown’s, which is in the Ironwood Plaza. There are locations across western Canada, with many restaurants in the Lower Mainland and one recently opened as far away as Regina. I am forever skeptical of big chain restaurants, believing them to be too usually occupied with leather lounges, fancy light fixtures, and pretentious-sounding menus, rather than the food itself. If my plate costs $20 and doesn’t taste good, I don’t care what kind of light I’m sitting under or just how pink the pink Hawaiian sea salt is, because before any of that, I WANT GOOD FOOD. And yes, apparently I am the Chain Restaurant Scrooge.
Still, I like to think of myself as an open person (Scrooge at the end of a Christmas Carol), and so I thought “You know what? It’s local(ish), I’ve eaten at many Asian chains so far, and I’d best not be knocking it ‘til I’ve tried it.”
So I tried it. And now I ain’t knockin’ it. In fact, I am quite likin’ it.
Brown’s is a busy, upbeat place, and friendly place. Their menu is fairly concise, but since I was having a hard time choosing, I asked my server for some help. She suggested the potato-crusted halibut ($17.45) from the ‘Healthy Social Bowls’ section, and said she usually swaps braised red cabbage with goat cheese for the almond rice, so I did the same. Linda had the wonton soup with blackened chicken ($13.95), and we split a plate of chipotle lime chicken street tacos ($10) with guacamole added for a buck.
The street tacos were simple and good; two soft, warm tortillas filled with chunks of spicy marinated chicken, slices of green cabbage, and fresh tomato salsa. It was all really tasty, but here’s the big news – the guacamole was the best I’ve ever had in a restaurant. It was pure. Green. All killer. No filler. It was the real deal, and it kicked those tacos up ten notches.
Then came our entrees. My big shallow bowl held a piece of super-moist halibut, which had been coated in shredded potato and fried so the outside was crunchy. Below it was some spicy tar tar sauce, which was wicked good company for the fish. The large portion of salad (‘cowgirl salad,’ also available as a main) had mixed greens, walnuts, dates, black beans, feta, salsa, and was perfectly dressed with a miso apple vinaigrette. Finally, my server’s suggestion to swap the rice for cabbage was sheer genius. The cabbage flavourful, tender, covered in a generous amount of goat cheese, and my only wish for it was that it had been braised with apples or apple juice, just to add a bit more sweetness.
Here’s why I loved this dish so much: everything on the plate tasted wonderful on its own, and everything on the plate tasted wonderful mixed together. It was thoughtfully prepared, thoughtfully plated, seasonal, and for those of you who can’t eat wheat, also gluten-free! It wanted for almost nothing, and yes, that DID surprise me.
I didn’t taste Linda’s wonton soup, but it looked good – a big hearty bowl filled with wontons, noodles, bean sprouts, vegetables, a breast of blackened chicken, and a small jar of chili flakes on the side, should the diner wish to spice it up a little.
We finished off our lunch with a piece of ‘old school chocolate cake,’ which was decent. When I read “old school” on the menu, I pictured the kind of big cake wedge you’d see in a 1950’s cookbook, but this piece looked sliced out of the 2000’s. The layers of cake were iced with ganache, and while it was satisfying, I wouldn’t go back just for this.
She even included the recipes for some of them, which are decades-old and from my Dad’s mom’s side of the family (the one with five daughters all given boy nicknames). Just like the photos she gave me, I cherish these recipes, and have been enjoying shortbread and Nanaimo bars each night before bed. If I gain weight this year, I can happily blame it on this lovely reconnection with family history.
Thanks to Linda for the wonderful goodies, and to Brown’s, for proving me wrong!
Cash and cards accepted
Vegetarian options available