I had the good fortune to meet my wife’s grandmother. I first met her in 2004 in Whickham, a small municipality just across the Tyne River from Newcastle in Northern England.
She was an impressive individual, filled with knowledge and a sly wit even in her old age. She was one of the first women to graduate from Edinburgh University’s lauded medical school and my impression was that she struck a rare balance between the progressive and the traditional.
On the latter front, for example, she was a believer in the sanctity of the family meal and hosted my wife DJ and me, along with eight more of the immediate family, for a traditional Sunday lunch at a local inn on that first visit in 2004. The centrepiece of the meal was roast beef, cooked considerably north of medium, I’m afraid, though the combination of the company and the location mostly assuaged my grievance with the kitchen. Atop the sizeable table, large platters of steamed vegetables and roasted potatoes sat alongside boats of brown gravy and ramekins of horseradish.
A pint of some low–ABV regional ale accompanied the lunch and, as DJ’s grandmother held court and sought updates from her various kin around the table, I remarked internally at how different this family tradition was from my own. Growing up as an only child of a single mother, these large family to-dos were rare and, in fact, required thousands of miles of travel to affect, so I was much more familiar with a smaller interpretation of a Sunday meal.
The last time I saw DJ’s grandmother was at our wedding in Edinburgh in 2006. She passed shortly after. Though my exposure to her was limited, she has left behind a legacy that is perhaps most immediately apparent to me in the family meals that DJ and I attempt, from time to time, for our own little clan of five, each of our three children now familiar with the concept of a Sunday lunch or dinner of roast something or other, and a feast of colourful sides.
In our contemporary city, where kitchens deconstruct and reinterpret traditions to give them new life, it is increasingly challenging to find one of these old fashioned meals on offer on a Sunday.
In my experience, the best bet is a pub, and there are a number of stalwarts on the North Shore that, like DJ’s grandmother, strike a balance between progressive and traditional, their cuisine offering a range of fare from pulled pork tacos to nightly specials like roast beef with Yorkshire pudding. It is this latter that I have sought out over a few recent Sundays at Sailor Hagar’s, a long-running brew pub that, until my recent quests for traditional Sunday meals, had fallen off my radar since my pre-Christmas review back in 2014.
On Sunday evenings starting at 5 p.m., Sailor Hagar’s features a dinner special of baron of roast beef priced remarkably low at $13; most dinner items on the regular menu are priced in the $15 to $20 range. Roast beef is presented thinly sliced, served with a reliable pinkness, as it should be, and is simply but adequately seasoned with discernible shards of coarse salt applied before plating. Vegetables and mashed potatoes serve as sides. The accompanying pan jus has a nice depth of flavour and is the ideal partner to my favourite part of the meal, the Yorkshire Pudding.
I have attempted and failed to make good Yorkshire Pudding at home enough to appreciate the skill required to realize versions as golden and supple as those supplied by Sailor Hagar’s. The Yorkies were knotted and gnarled, as is tradition, with a faint resemblance to muffins, but with fallen centres that were at least three shades of golden brown lighter than the toasted exterior. Pulling them apart revealed just the right degree of elasticity.
This particular Sunday roast may not break any new culinary ground, and I am sure there that are countless examples of more complex preparations around town involving sous-vide wagyu beef, roasted morel jus, and Yorkshire macarons, but I remain a fan of this humble weekly special in all its honest simplicity.
Of course, Sailor Hagar’s offers more than its Sunday specials, with contemporary pub fare along with live sports, a billiards table, and darts, as well as a lineup of its own craft beers. I revisited the pub on the tail-end of Sunday brunch this past weekend to try a bit more of the current menu. I asked my server about the lineup of Sailor Hagar’s branded brews. She told me that the Sailor Hagar’s liquor store, located just down the street from the pub, used to be a brewery. Many of the same recipes that once informed that long-shuttered brewery are today produced by Howe Sound Brewing in Squamish exclusively for the brew pub.
I paired a pint of malty, hoppy Bengal IPA ($6.15) with a starter of straightforward hot wings ($13), served with the requisite blue cheese dip, and sticks of carrot and celery. The wings were exactly what they are supposed to be: hot, fleshy, and thoroughly spiced. Branching away slightly from the standard pub menu fare, I ordered a Cobb Salad ($14) and was rewarded with a sizeable dish comprised of bacon, tomato, celery, blue cheese, avocado, boiled egg, baby lettuce, and house made ranch. Smart, subtle little touches on the dish, like the egg being just over soft boiled so as to add a touch of additional richness to the dressing, or the crispy crumbles of bacon positioned at the upper edge of the sloping bowl so as to cascade down into the salad with every new bite, suggested a seasoned kitchen that knows how to deliver against expectations for well-made pub fare.
If my goal is to showcase Vancouver’s diverse culinary scene to out-of-town guests, I am not likely to take them to any pub, Sailor Hagar’s included. However, in between my gallivanting around this or that new room, or reporting on so-and-so’s brand new spring menu, I will do well to support the old stalwarts from time to time, the bastions of tradition, precisely in order to ensure that things like Sunday roast remain part of the dining culture.
Sailor Hagar’s Brew Pub, 86 Semisch Avenue, North Vancouver. Sailorhagarspub.com. 604-984-3087.