The giant bison head mounted to the wall still calmly surveys the dining room at Finch & Barley, the way it did five years ago when I first visited this spot, my first review for this paper,
ts eyes, though literally lifeless, somehow betray a certain hard-won wisdom. If, half a decade ago, its presence in a hip, contemporary restaurant was ironic in that self-consciously kitschy sort of way that was popular then, its continued, unflinching stoicism surely means something else today. The bison has graduated from tongue-in-cheek relic to a symbol of unlikely resilience, a testament to the leap of faith required of the Finch & Barley ownership, which opened a Gastown-like venue on a relatively obscure and industrial block of East First Street, far enough in the wrong direction from Lonsdale to be a foot traffic pariah and drive-by curio; “I wonder what that place is all about?” and then, seconds later,
“Oh look, another frozen yogurt shop! Cool.”
And yet here we are, considering the restaurant for another review, all of us, bison included, a bit wiser for all that has unfolded since 2013, back when good tacos were a novelty in Vancouver, craft beer was still in its nascent days, craft distilling virtually unheard of, and taxidermy on exposed brick felt edgy.
Finch & Barley has weathered the storms of change, not by fighting to stay relevant according to the trends du jour, but rather by sticking to its foundations as a purveyor of on-point comfort fare with a faint Persian lift, smart cocktails, a cracking soundtrack and generally easy vibe. Live music and comedy nights notwithstanding (the latter are on indefinite hiatus, from what I can gather), Finch & Barley has operated on the same simple but sound principle from the beginning: people like to eat and drink well and would strongly prefer to enjoy the space in which they do it.
I dropped in on Finch & Barley for brunch with my daughter, Blondie, who was three years old when I was last here for a meal (not counting a handful of events that the venue has hosted over the years). I felt an unexpected pang of nostalgia as soon as we were seated, the first patrons in the space for the day, soon followed by throngs more.
When she was three, there is no question in my mind that Blondie would have cho-sen the Blueberry Pancakes Breakfast for her meal, featuring two pancakes, two free range eggs prepared however you want them, a fruit skewer, and choice of bacon or ham, or the banana and strawberry stuffed, maple glazed French Toast. I would have had to help her out, of course, and would have waddled out of the restaurant burdened by three kilos of rich food and incalculable shame.
This time around, after remarking on the aforementioned bison bust and neighbouring pheasants, Blondie asked our server for a glass of mango juice and an order of Breakfast Taquitos, or two tightly rolled, deep-fried flour tortillas stuffed with scrambled eggs, cheese, and bacon, hold the banana peppers thanks, perched atop thinly sliced, crispy new potato hash browns with rosemary.
I still had to help out a little as the portion was substantial, but Blondie held her own as our conversation gravitated towards summer vacation plans and the insufferable blight on childhood that is math, rather than Peppa Pig and knock knock jokes, as would have certainly been the topics of choice in 2013.
The taquitos were accompanied by a generous dollop of sour cream and coarsely chopped pico de gallo, neither or which were, in my estimation, essential to the meal, given the creamy cheesiness of the eggs and the complexity of flavour contributed by slivers of pleasantly smoked bacon. I thoroughly enjoyed Finch & Barley’s potato accompaniment, not so much hash browns as semi-circular home fries, nicely seasoned and enjoyably crispy.
While I was tempted to try the Veggie Hash, made with poached organic, free-range eggs, spinach, caramelized red onion, red peppers, and Macedonian feta cheese, my inner glutton got the better of me, perhaps craving the overindulgence of years past, and I went in the complete opposite direction, ordering Breakfast Poutine instead. The poutine is made with beautifully seasoned, impossibly rich lamb gravy (likely a byproduct of dinner service, where both a Pulled Lamb Sandwich and Braised Lamb Shank feature), generous mounds of cheese curd, fries, two free range organic eggs, and, for an additional fiver, pulled lamb meat. I naturally went for the latter addition and had to sit back a few times during my meal to appreciate, with my eyes closed and belly expanding, the absurd perfection of this shamelessly indulgent and utterly unnecessary dish. Washed down with a potent and perfumed Rosemary Caesar, my Finch & Barley brunch was a real treat and welcome reacquainting with what this restaurant does so well.
The evening menu, alongside a dramatic shift in lighting and music, transforms the venue into a decidedly more adult retreat, with a menu that lends itself well to sharing, featuring dishes like Zattar Chickpeas with marinated kale, Crispy Cauliflower with avocado tahini dip, Gulf Tacos with Caspian marinated cod, Beef Tenderloin with rosemary parmesan potatoes, and a selection of sizeable flatbreads with creative toppings such as lamb meatball, fig and fennel, or sweet potato and leek.
Our brunch, including two mains, a Caesar, a juice, and a coffee, was $46 before gratuity.
Finch & Barley, 250 East 1st Street. Finchandbarley.com. 604-770-1000.