Railtown Cafe

Restaurant: Railtown Cafe
Cuisine: Cafe/Sandwiches/Salads/Coffee
Last visited: July 21, 2012
Location: Vancouver, BC (Gastown)
Address: 397 Railway Street
Transit: WB Powell St FS Jackson Av
Price Range: $10-20

1Poor 2OK 3Good 4Very good 5Excellent 6FMF Must Try!

Food: n/a
Service: n/a
Ambiance: 3
Overall: n/a
Additional comments:

  • Sandwiches/Soups/Salads
  • Sous vide meats
  • Salad bar
  • Baked goods
  • Daily specials
  • Healthy options
  • Very casual
  • Pay at cashier
  • Affordable
  • Coffee/tea
  • Vegetarian friendly
  • Communal seating area
  • Catering available
  • Eat In/Take out
  • Mon-Fri 7am-3pm
  • Closed on weekends

**Recommendations: Tomato Gazpacho, Salmon Sandwich, Reuben, Honey Basil Watermelon Green Tea

Good bye One Planet Catering… I draw a tear with that one because I supported their environmentally friendly initiatives and philosophy, but it was a costly business model to keep up. On that note, I’m welcoming Railtown Cafe which has taken over its spot. It’s located on the edge of Gastown in a somewhat sketchy area that is also considered an up and coming part of town. It’s a breakfast and lunch time cafe attracting nearby locals and they are hosting their open to the public grand opening party tomorrow!

Railtown Cafe Grand Opening Party

Date: Wednesday, August 8
Time: 5:30pm-8:30pm
Location: Railtown Cafe, 397 Railway St
RSVP with confirmation to FB, t: @railtowncafe, or e: marli@railtowncafe.ca

I went to visit them last week and they were already on their feet with a good crowd. It’s a pay at cashier cafe, but there is a small seating area. So far it had the off the beaten track location, hand crafted wooden communal table, and oh yes the indoor micro herb garden… all things I mentioned in my 10 Characteristics of a Hipster Restaurant post. Well the micro herb garden was in my 10 Characteristics of a Hippie Restaurant, but you get my drift. It was another one of those places, but I felt almost cool enough to be there and not like I needed a membership. It might have helped that I knew the people behind it though, which brings me to my next point.

It’s hard for me to step outside of this one and come from a neutral perspective because I know the people who opened it. I also don’t normally blog about restaurants in the first 1-2 months of opening because there are always kinks to be worked out in the beginning. On the other hand, when you open for business it’s all fair game.

The purpose of my post though is more to give you an idea of what to expect and let you know about their grand opening. Therefore I kept my “ratings” out and left my comments to a minimum. I didn’t even come here to eat, but chatting around a table is so much more eventful when food is being served.

It is a casual cafe, but with a full on professional kitchen and team of chefs with strong culinary backgrounds. These chefs are definitely capable of a lot more, but given that this is a cafe the focus is on fresh homemade sandwiches and salads. It joins the growing list of sandwich shops in Gastown including Finch’s Tea & Coffee House, Brioche, Meat & Bread, Big Lou’s, and Dirty Apron, just to name a handful of local favourites.

The cafe operates under Etuvé Sous-Vide which is a company that commercially makes sous-vide prepared proteins and sauces for restaurants. It’s actually located in the back of the cafe. Therefore unlike many of the newer sandwich shops featuring butchery, this one specializes in something a bit more unexpected – sous vide. It is a method of cooking vacuum sealed food in plastic bags. The bags are placed in a water bath at controlled temperatures over a long period of time until cooked. Think of it as “poaching” 2.0.

The result is incredibly tender and moist meats that don’t lose their flavour or nutrients (often risks that come with traditional poaching). It also uses less oil, butter and fat than many other ways of cooking meat. The technique can be used on all sorts of ingredients, but they showcase it with the proteins here. The other big benefit to using sous-vide products is that everything will be consistent. So unless they’re finishing off the meat with an extra step or reheating things, the meat you order here should never be dry.

Sous vide is a very old technique that was rediscovered in the mid-1960′s and while chefs have been doing it ever since, the word or idea has never really caught on to the vast majority. Most people still don’t know what it is even if they’ve had it before. Chances are you’ve had something sous-vide if you’ve been to an upscale or fine dining restaurant. It’s a preferred cooking method at high end restaurants, but technology and education (or successful marketing) is making sous vide a well known “trend”. I think it might actually start to stick around this time. It’s something I included in my Vancouver Food Trends 2012 post as well.

And there is the salad bar, but it isn’t do-it-yourself. I’m not much of a salad bar person, but this one looked good, fresh, and had lots of variety. I’m a very “I could do this at home” person, so I would rather try their other menu items. However if the salad bar featured sous vide vegetables, or exotic vegetables, it would get my attention… and money. It would be something different, but I am a very small representation of the bigger market.

On the table:

**Salmon Sandwich 

  • Poached nicoise garnished, wild arugula, pesto on potato and olive bread $9
  • It’s the “tuna sandwich” of the West Coast.
  • It was a tuna niçoise salad in a sandwich, but instead of tuna it was with sous vide salmon, which is way better.
  • It was a soft bread with olives from Swiss Bakery which complemented the olives in the filling.
  • It was filled with salmon, hard boiled eggs, green beans, red onions, fennel fronds and a bit of dill.
  • The salmon was moist and had a naturally creamy texture from being sous vide rather than a flaky dry one.
  • It didn’t rely on gloppy mayo for that creaminess and there was a nice crunch from the other vegetables.
  • This I would order again.

Chicken Club

  • Warm chicken breast, 72 hr bacon, avocado, tomato on focaccia $9
  • It was a Californian style chicken club with the added avocado, which I think it always a bonus.
  • The focaccia is the only sandwich bread made in house and it was moist with a good chew and flavour.
  • The chicken was really tender and succulent from being sous vide, but I wanted more of it.
  • They took the time to sear it as well which is always nice after being sous vide, but it can be a risky step. Luckily this one was not overcooked.
  • The bacon was thick, well cured, tender, good quality, and meaty rather than thin and crispy, but I wouldn’t mind more filling or a bit more avocado.

Pork Sandwich 

  • Tender shoulder, japaleno, cilantro, pickled veg aioli, on french baguette $9
  • The pork was fine, but the bread was really chewy and tough which just distracted me from the incredibly tender pork.
  • It’s not a BBQ house so don’t expect a traditional pulled pork done on a grill or prepared in a smoker.
  • The pork was sous vide so it was very tender and moist, but just not like a pulled pork from a barbeque house.
  • It was inspired by a banh mi (Vietnamese sub), but it didn’t taste Asian.

**Reuben Sandwich

  • Braised beef brisket, thousand island slaw, gruyere on rye $9
  • This seems to be the favourite.
  • It’s a non-traditional Reuben with Gruyère instead of Swiss cheese and slaw instead of sauerkraut.
  • There was a generous amount of beef brisket and since it was sous vide it was incredibly tender. I barely had to chew it.
  • It was salt cured, but also not too salty. It wasn’t a saucy or heavily seasoned brisket so the flavour was quite natural, simple and not oily.
  • It had a good amount of marbelized fat so there was good flavour without being too fatty.
  • Again, it’s not a BBQ house so don’t expect a grilled beef brisket with smoky flavours and a crispy charred bark.
  • I almost didn’t care for anything else in the sandwich, but the meat.
  • The Gruyère was a nice upgrade from Swiss, but I would have loved more of it because it got a bit lost.
  • The sandwich served hot with the Gruyère melted would have been even better though.

Veggie Sandwich

  • Roasted tomato, peppers, mozza, wild arugula, pesto on focaccia
  • I didn’t end up trying this.

**Gazpacho

  • Marinated shrimp, cucumber, avocado Small $4 Large $6
  • It’s a chilled soup and it’s very refreshing for the summer.
  • This, I’m actually craving and it was a definite highlight for me.
  • Typically gazpacho is red, but this was made from yellow and/or green tomatoes.
  • It was a Californian or West Coast style gazpacho rather than an authentic Spanish gazpacho.
  • The thin slices of cucumber and crunch of chopped succulent prawn on top was a great touch to make it a meal.
  • It was less acidic than most Spanish gazpachos and it was well balanced, aromatic, fresh, and creamy.
  • It was made with puréed green tomatoes, onions, garlic, avocado, cucumber and fresh herbs.
  • Traditional gazpachos are chunkier and almost salsa like, but this was smooth throughout.
  • It was tangy and bright from lime and apple cider vinegar, but it was not sour or sharp and very well rounded.
  • It was surprisingly smooth in texture and flavour and it had good depth.
  • I would actually take this to go and enjoy it at home with a side of prosciutto wrapped cantabella melons. The combination together would be heavenly.

**Tomato Soup

  • Summer basil, olive oil croutons Small $3 Large $5
  • The toasted croutons were from the house made foccacia bread.
  • The soups I tried were winners here and they definitely go beyond typical “cafe” standards.
  • This tomato soup was made with red tomatoes, fresh herbs, onions, garlic and no cream, but the texture was still creamy from the ingredients.
  • It had the texture of a bisque without being a traditional bisque.
  • It was olive oil based so it was much lighter than cream and butter and it was perhaps finished off with a touch of butter.
  • It had balanced acidity and sweetness and was again smooth in texture and flavour.
  • This would be great hot or cold.

The Louis Salad

  • Jumbo shrimp, romaine, asparagus, egg, cucumber, green goddess dressing $12
  • I didn’t really eat much of this to comment, but it was a salad to me.

**The Salmon Salad

  • Perfectly poached, shaved fennel, green beans, olives, orange, segments $12
  • It was the West Coast version of a Tuna Niçoise Salad, and this was a salad that had my interest.
  • I would order this again and that’s a big deal coming from me.
  • It was fresh, light, well textured and hearty with a good ratio of ingredients and 3 pieces of salmon.
  • Fennel and oranges go hand in hand and with the salmon it was excellent.
  • Salmon is one of the best ways to showcase the wonders of sous vide and it was the highlight in the salad.
  • Sous vide salmon results in a creamy salmon that literally melts in your mouth like custard.
  • When a salmon is flaky that’s considered overcooked for me and I prefer my salmon always slightly undercooked, custardy and glossy.
  • Sous vide salmon can make you overlook farmed salmon, which isn’t bad if it’s cooked right.

Donut Glazed/Sprinkled, Donut Holes

  • Regular size $2.50
  • Donut Holes: 1 dozen cinnamon & sugar $3
  • I haven’t jumped on the doughnut craze, but these were more standard than gourmet.
  • These were yeasty doughnuts rather than cakey ones.
  • I prefer Lucky’s or Cartem’s out of the newer speciality doughnut shops, but those are also pricier and considered artisan.

Sticky Buns

  • Brown sugar & pecan $3.50
  • This was really soft, moist and tender with a hint of cinnamon and it wasn’t too sweet.
  • I prefer a more buttery flavour in the bread and more pecans, but I really liked the texture.

Blueberry Lemon Muffin

  • $3
  • This was probably my favourite baked good out of the 4 I tried.
  • Usually I want the huge muffin top and this one didn’t have one, but the top was still crispy which is the best part.
  • It was a well made “muffin” which was really just a cupcake with a crispy brown sugar crumble topping.
  • I give it that it still had a muffin like spongy texture, but it was a disguised cupcake… like most muffins.
  • It was bursting with fresh blueberries and was really moist and perhaps made with buttermilk.
  • It was a solid blueberry lemon muffin.

**Honey Basil Watermelon Green Tea

  • Small $1.75 Large $2.50
  • The iced tea changes daily.
  • If it was a hot day and I was in the area I could come back for this drink alone.
  • It was really refreshing and not too sweet and sugary. I hate syrupy iced teas and this was not at all.
  • It was light without being watery or bland and it had good, pure, real and honest flavour.
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