The North Shore seems to specialize in the export of casual dining franchises.
Cactus Club began here. So did Earls. Now you can find outlets of these mainstream brands far and wide. I notice that as I make my way home from road trips throughout this province, many communities in which I stop to refuel boast one or the other of these mass-appeal hives of contemporary socialization.
In 2004, at the corner of Lonsdale Avenue and 18th Street, a new casual eatery sprang to life to almost immediate acclaim.
I was living just a few blocks away at the time and, as a young-ish person in those days without the responsibilities of parenthood and the burden of a mortgage to temper my indulgences, I spent many an evening hanging out at the cool, buzzing room, with its stylish brick walls, leather seats, a neon sign encouraging me to Eat and, if memory serves, another that offered the following ambiguously conspiratorial advice: Don’t Get Caught.
Its vibe felt not unlike the other aforementioned chain venues, but there was something appealing about its independence; it was born of the Shore and lived only on the Shore.
Times have changed, for me and most certainly for Browns, which has spread far and wide since opening its doors on Lonsdale. If I’m being totally honest, I feel kind of old in that space now, surrounded by a hip young set with haircuts I don’t really get and an uncanny ability to visually document every waking moment on Instagram.
The lone Social House has become a veritable Social Urban Sprawl with more than 50 locations spanning across Canada, from B.C. to Ontario.
The growth has been rapid-fire, but I have to hand it to the operation: they have managed to retain their esthetic throughout their expansion. I have visited a number of their locations and can say that I categorically know I’m at Browns in every single one of them. I most recently went to check out the newest installment in the Social House empire, located at Lonsdale Avenue and West Second Street on a strip of the street that will soon be dominated by food joints; a high-end breakfast joint/bakery, a new sushi place, a juice bar, and another Windsor Meats/Meatery are all slated to open within the next few weeks, pretty much right next door.
This is the third Browns Social House on the North Shore and, as expected, it is equipped with the brand’s signature style, vibe and menu.
I was actually thwarted in my first effort to visit because wait times for a table were pushing an hour on a partly cloudy weeknight. I may not fit Browns’ quintessential customer profile, but I have to hand it to them, they clearly know how to sell their wares to the dining public. The place was absolutely hopping, taking names on their digital waitlist.
Put your name down and you’ll get a text when your table is ready; download the Nowait app on your phone and you can see how many parties remain ahead of you and get revised estimates on how long before you’re seated.
Browns enjoys this traffic backlog despite the fact that a stone’s throw from here a few of my favourite, long-running independent spots were not yet at capacity. But I digress; it is not my intention to get political or polemical about the eternal Big Box versus Little Guy battle that unfolds nightly in every part of this city. Regular readers already know where I stand on that debate.
No, the truth is, Browns does a very good job of what it sets out to do and I admire their consistency. My wife DJ and I descended on the place for Sunday brunch and scored a comfy booth seat after a 25-minute wait.
It must be said, some of Browns food is absolutely delicious, like their Mac & Cheese with Kale and Cauliflower. Served in a cast iron skillet, the rich and creamy pasta, sold as an appetizer, is a comforting, decadent treat that I’d probably actively seek out again. Another appetizer of General Tao’s Chicken was also tasty and well prepared, though I’d put this dish squarely in the better-suited-for-the-evening category, its salty, spicy, tangy and sweet notes almost begging to be washed down with a frosty pint.
DJ chose the Belgian Waffles with Blueberry Compote. The sizeable dish featured two dense and cake-like golden waffles liberally topped with vanilla whipped cream and served with a side of maple syrup. It’s pretty hard to find fault with that setup and I have to admit, I needed a second, and then a third “sample” of her dish just to ensure I was adequately equipped to write about it here.
I ate half an order of Linguine Carbonara as my main, typically one of my favourite pasta indulgences, and found Browns’ version to be remarkably restrained, subtle and true to form.
Too often Carbonara comes off as a saltier version of Alfredo, but here the kitchen respected the vital differences between the two recipes and presented al dente pasta tossed in a light sauce of butter, parmesan and egg (no trace of cream, as it should be), with crispy pancetta, green peas and a side of garlic bread.
With two glasses of Mimosa (made with freshly squeezed OJ and priced at just $5 each) our meal was $59 before gratuity.
Browns Social House Lower Lonsdale is located at 103 Second St. West. North Vancouver. 604-770-3295. brownssocialhouse.com
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The Salmon House, West Vancouver’s venerable seafood institution is marking its 40th anniversary with a special Burrowing Owl Estate Winery Dinner.
Salmon House executive chef Mario Fortin has developed a custom menu to pair with Burrowing Owl wines and the evening will be hosted by winery founder and proprietor Jim Wyse. Tickets are $125 per person. Contact 604-926-3212 for more information.
Chris Dagenais served as a manager for several restaurants downtown and on the North Shore. A self-described wine fanatic, he earned his sommelier diploma in 2001. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.
North Shore News dining reviews are conducted anonymously and all meals are paid for by the newspaper.