If they dont already, I suspect plenty of Vancouverites will one day look back at the invention of the Granville Entertainment District (GED) in the 1990s and shake their heads at city hall.
In concentrating so many nightclubs and liquor-primary licenses in one seven-block stretch, our town nabobs however earnestly trying to shake Vancouvers everlasting No Fun City image created a powerful magnet that has since attracted just about every suburban yahoo in the Lower Mainland keen to get their booze-soaked lark on in the big city.
Its a strange place to open a restaurant that isnt decidedly awful, so bonus points to brothers Hesam and Shahab Ghaemi (ex-Crime Lab, Century Restaurant & Bar) for giving it a go with StackHouse, the brand-new burger bar on the GEDs southernmost stretch. The restaurant, which entertains roughly 40 seats, joins a small club of worthwhile eateries neighboured by competitors that actually give a damn.
Why is good food so hard to find on Granville while other areas of the city enjoy superior cooking with far fewer restaurants? I suspect it might be because the customers who anchor their evenings here tend not to give a damn, either.
Indeed, to walk Granville to StackHouse on any given night is to suck the soured fruits of city halls inept social engineering and wonder if the folks at The Economist ever left their hotels when they once again scored Vancouver No. 1 in their annual Worlds Most Livable Cities index. Did they never see the nightly, SkyTrained-in parade of steroidal suburbanites shot-gunning Red Bull, scarfing terrible pizza by the slice and taking turns vomiting and urinating all the way from West Georgia to Drake?
With the name of the game being greasy fuel for booze-filled bellies, its not particularly difficult to play and win. The Brothers Ghaemi come very close to acing it, rising above the competitive fray without ever really leaving it.
Aside from a few perfunctory salads, sides and sliders, the menu is all about the burgers, of which there are 10. These come on pillowy brioche buns and include a Dungeness crab version, which is basically an over-sized panko-crusted crab cake ($18); an avocado-topped 5 oz. ahi tuna steak smeared with miso aioli ($16); lamb and venison patties respectively layered with goat cheese and Stilton (both $17); a surprisingly good vegetarian slab of mushrooms, tofu and edamame capped with arugula ($14); and the best chicken burger I may have ever had a dreamily creamy respite of truffle mayo and soft, Camembert cheese ($15).
Three of the four beef burgers could be similarly inspired, but theyre the same 6.5 oz. prime rib patty with chipotle aioli, butter lettuce, Guinness cheddar and either a mushroom dice or pancetta or both, as in the feeble case of their signature burger ($15). The fourth, a rotund bean bag of Kobe-style chuck, was nowhere near as indulgent as it should have been under its tidy pile of caramelised onions. A good, reliably wow-delivering patty of this caliber demands ancillary fireworks like Roquefort or a stuffing of foie gras, but this was dressed much the same as the others ($21).
The fries suffice provided one does not order the poutine.
Poutine, Ive come to learn, is not seasoned fries served with local bocconcini topped with truffle demi-glace. It never has been and never will be. The cheese need only be simple curds that squeak on the molars, and definitely not stringy, misshapen globs of unnecessary salad decoration. Instead of a spoonful of horrendously over-salted anti-matter, the gravy should be a flowing St. Lawrence of fry-drowning brown that tastes of roasted pan drippings and flour ($8).
Such are the inviolable fundamentals of a national treasure that shouldnt be sacrificed unless the sacrifice works (as with the blue cheese and pink peppercorn version at Chambar). Adding to poutine is alright with anything from ribbons of meat to niblets of corn, but subtracting or substituting almost always invites disaster. Few, if any, do poutine right on the GED, a state of affairs that StackHouse should embrace as an opportunity and not an invitation to get unnecessarily creative.
Its early still. Theres plenty of potential and lots left to explore, including a fierce-looking cocktail list from Calabash hand Derek Vanderheide.
The sleekly modern room with its repeating knife motif gels with the concept, and the various Renaissance prints of bizarre animals are just weird enough to not be incredibly off-putting. The bar is a looker, and the tables at the plate glass window promise prime people-watching. Its a Craig Stanghetta job, so if you like the looks of Meat & Bread and Bao Bei (and the hanging driftwood chandelier in the back room at LAbattoir), youll probably dig it too.
The service exudes that how can we do things better attitude that is rare in these parts. The answer is all around them, evident in the food and beverage programs of their competitors. If they continue aiming higher than their surrounds, Id imagine a future of broad, sunlit uplands delivering exactly what weve come to expect of Granville, only much better.
Stackhouse Burger bar, 1224 Granville, 604-558-3499, StackHouseBurgerBar.com