There's an illustration of a bok choy with a Mona Lisa smile - yes, the vegetable - on one side of the menu card at Brassica in Gibsons. On the reverse, it's a stoic purple cauliflower perched in the top corner above the list of smaller starters.
Sure, there are lots of veggies - locally grown ones, at that - on the menu at the recently-opened restaurant on Gower Point Road, but these are from the family Brassicaceae, from which Brassica derives its name. And in a way, it's one of the many gentle signals that illustrate not only that this Lower Gibsons restaurant finds beauty and joy in produce but also that "family" has a lot of meanings here.
Brassica began as an offshoot of sorts, General Manager Rhian Charette explains, as a sort of inevitable vehicle of expression for the incredible bounty of ingredients that were coming from area purveyors. The concept, helmed in the kitchen by chefs and spouses Jack Chen and Hilary Prince, had to get its start as a temporary pop-up in nearby Davis Bay while the permanent space was being built out.
The restaurant is the front portion of the Coho Commissary facility, and is more than just a casual companion - it's more like a friends-who-are-family set-up. Coho, the Vancouver-based business that offers commissary kitchen space to food entrepreneurs, has space in its facility for Brassica's overflow production and at the front of Brassica is a retail space showcasing Coho members' products from the Sunshine Coast and its other facilities. In fact, you might be able to spy one of Brassica's team members hand-making the same Parisian gnocchi that will end up on your plate with early mushrooms, local greens, a rich fontina cheese sauce and a perfectly poached egg at work in the space.
Chen, who handles the savoury side of the menu, and Prince, the pastry chef, have planted themselves on the Coast for their family's next chapter following years spent at high-profile Vancouver restaurants, chiefly L'Abattoir, and the now-defunct Coquille, among others in their careers. For his part, Chen honed his skills and craft at Michelin-starred restaurants in Europe and the U.S., and once back in Vancouver went on to work at restaurants like The Pear Tree, Bishop's, Farmer's Apprentice, and Royal Dinette.
What's on the menu at Brassica
It's no wonder, then, that there is a bit of what you might label a "city sensibility" or, more acutely, a "Vancouver sensibility," to the Brassica menu. Designed to be ordered and enjoyed family-style for dinner with the lunch menu including plates that work well as solo dishes, as the midday crowd often prefers, Brassica's dishes reflect what's in season and will change accordingly, but the pricing remains approachable.
The Brassica team works closely with area farmers for sourcing proteins and produce, and, as Charette attests, the relationships aren't just paperwork; often those same Sunshine Coast purveyors will dine at Brassica and get to experience what they've produced on their plates. Speaking of plates, many of the dishes used are made by Roberts Creek ceramicist Beth Hawthorn.
The details really tell the story here, and that's true for the food. What looks to be a small-ish burger is actually a decadent, rich study in the balance of meaty meets creamy and tangy, thanks to an in-house hand-grind of brisket, chuck, and bacon for the patty that comes smothered with raw and caramelized onions and melted cheese on a housemade buttery seeded bun, served with thick-cut spears of triple-cooked fries that are crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside.
Sweet chunks of roasted squash come atop a generous schmear of fresh cheese with nuts, herbs, and bit of spice, while roasted beets glisten like crimson jewels under a veil of locally-grown micro greens and on a blanket of sesame dressing with a punch from dukkah, a Middle Eastern spice blend. Golden-fried beignets are dusted with seaweed and come with an addictive dipping sauce of miso and nutritional yeast. For dessert, a slice of Chelsea tart, a silky custard-like filling made with an often-discarded product: whey.
Around the room, Brassica's connection to caring for what is grown and making use of every bit and bob they can is plainly evident, thanks to shelves lined with all manner of preserves, pickles, and other concoctions. Pickled bull kelp awaits a future dispatch, as do vinegars made with peppery nasturtium flowers or cider from nearby Banditry. And they're not just for display, assures an employee. Neither is the artwork, which the same employee says is currently that of two local artists - and it's all for sale.
In the little store area - where you can buy adorable soft plush characters of members of the brassica family, like kale, radish, and, yes, bok choy - a mom is shopping with her toddler and a newborn strapped to her chest. Charette excuses herself to go say hello; the longtime Sunshine Coaster has a tandem job as a doula, and she helped usher the littlest one into the world. It somehow makes perfect sense.
Brassica is a special spot in Lower Gibsons, and seems to be at the forefront of a slowly-changing tide in the region's food scene that is shifting the focus to building and sustaining community.
Up the road is Sunday Cider, another crew of ex-Vancouverites doing small-batch artisanal ciders with heirloom fruits from the Okanagan and their growing Gibsons property. Not far from them, the Shortcut crew run a breakfast and lunch trailer operation parked next to a farm; they feature Mamma Musey's pierogis on their menu, which are made at the Coho Commissary.
Within a stone's throw of Brassica is the revitalized Molly's Reach, and Beachcomber Coffee's flasghip location - both are core businesses in town. Charette also reveals that across the street in the building under construction a wine bar is poised to move in, an exciting development and further indication Gibsons is set to become a beacon for food fans, while giving its residents and purveyors even more sense of connection...like family.
Brassica is located at 292 Gower Point Rd in Gibsons, B.C. The restaurant is open Tuesday through Saturday from noon to 8:30 p.m. serving lunch from noon to 3 p.m., happy hour from 3 to 5 p.m., and dinner from 5 to 8:30 p.m.