Author: Shirley & Mike Wong
“Imagining the world has stopped.”
-The Rolling Stones (from “Get Off My Cloud”)
At North Van’s newest, The Workshop Vegetarian Café, we push open the door. It feels like we’ve come home, greeted by our favourite kind of welcome: a seductively mouthwatering, intense fragrance.
We have to ask the chef behind the counter – aproned and sporting a Yankees ball cap – what the heck he’s making. He looks up, a finger points to a giant pot steaming on the stove. Inside, a homemade broth simmers, which surely must accompany their popular handcrafted ramen and udon.
The Workshop Vegetarian Café just opened in mid-September. And on Stop 102 of our Search for Vancouver’s Best Coffee, their concept is an intriguing one. Here you’ll find a miscellaneous group of chefs, bakers, nutritionists, educators and artisans joined by a singular passion: to create delicious organic and local vegetarian food. (Note: We discovered they also boast several vegan and gluten free options.)
And if you’re lucky enough to get a chance to sample their gorgeous Japanese-inspired food? Just know that there’s more than just surface beauty here. They’re big supporters of fair trade, eco-friendly policies and sustainable farming.
From a Vancouverite perspective, vegetarian/vegan/gluten-free offerings have become so widespread, that frankly it doesn’t feel like a food-specific, niche market anymore.
And the more we try these foods around town, the more convinced we’ve become that results usually exceed expectations of those limiting descriptions. We’re tasting more “healthy” food that’s flavourful and creative – with the added bonus of being fresh and feel-good.
The Workshop Vegetarian Café is on Pemberton Ave., in an area mostly populated by industrial businesses. If you’re familiar with the North Shore, they occupy a centerpoint of sorts: blocks from Marine Drive, Capilano Mall and West 1st Ave.
Mike used to work in this area years ago. Wishful thinking that a unique place like this was around then, as a coffee break option.
This morning, we spot their rustic sandwich board. It’s a logo with the letter W made into a carrot graphic, hinting at their vegetarian roots.
The Workshop Vegetarian Café is a very cute corner café, rectangular with red brick and covered in small windowpanes, kind of like a greenhouse. Some of the windows are popped open on this cold day.
When we step in, it’s a warm design, with predominantly light wood. To our right, is a charming little room that’s their retail space. There’s a refrigerated case with prepared lunch/dinner items for the hungry and hurried. Check out their combo special ($9.99): three side dishes plus organic brown rice or organic greens.
In this section, their made-from-scratch, organic and vegan/vegetarian/GF prepared food goes full spectrum. Some examples: croissants, popsicles, ice cream sandwiches, udon soup, brown rice mochi (a Japanese rice cake), Matcha latte mix, granola, konbu-flavoured brown rice, spiced nuts, hot chocolate mix.
It’s fun and impressive to see the miscellany, kind of like an alternative corner grocery store come to life. The fact they also sell handmade items like cards, lends a uniquely eclectic atmosphere.
We turn to our left, where there’s lots of two-seater tables and counter seating. They use a combination of wooden boxes and pastel steel chairs. At the long wooden counter, a chef is making food. A second staffer greets us and takes our order.
Their counter has a good selection of pastries, nicely displayed on glass cake stands. Most options appear vegan and organic. The pretty Japanese creations stand out from your average café. There’s Matcha or chocolate mochi cakes ($2.50, gluten free); Matcha adzuki swirls ($3.95, vegan and organic); Matcha trail mix ($2.50).
I decide on a Vegan Cinnamon Roll ($3.95, organic). It’s thoughtful that they offer it with or without the vegan cream cheese icing; I have it with icing.
For more options, check out their blackboard menus. There’s the Noodle & Rice menu with their own organic and handcrafted ramen, udon, rice noodles. Mike opts for the Smashed Avocado Toast ($7.99, with two slices of natural yeast bread) on the All-Day menu.
If you’re looking for a deal, they offer combos. The Morning Set ($9.99) includes a coffee/tea, two sides, organic yeast bread and soup of the day.
We ask what brand of coffee they use, and we’re told it’s LosBeans. They serve drip and espresso brew by the Delta roaster. They’re a company that emphasizes sustainable farming practices and environmentally friendly coffee production (through reduced use of water and fuel).
Mike orders a drip coffee ($2.75, regular) and asks what countries the beans are from: LosBeans created a custom Organic Workshop Blend. The staffer doesn’t know, but says it’s a medium-dark roast.
If you’re like me and enjoy trying flavoured lattes, you’ll feel like you’ve hit the jackpot here. They have eight lattes – all using organic milk – with some creative flavours like Tumeric Ginger and Pureed Mango Chai.
I pick the Yuzu Ginger Latte ($3.99, small). Yuzu is a Japanese citrus fruit, so this sounds interesting.
Our drinks arrive first. Mike says his coffee is chocolaty and nutty: good, although a bit light for his taste, which he concludes may be because it’s drip. If you prefer a stronger brew, he recommends trying an Americano.
The Yuzu Ginger Latte arrives in a sunny ceramic mug, topped with a cheery crescent of yellow yuzu skin (resembles a lemon). It’s citrusy, sweet and foamy: the ginger flavour is upfront and delicious. I’m wowed, would love to start every day with this drink.
It doesn’t taste heavy like a typical latte, which makes me feel good after all those hefty Christmas dinners. When I get to the bottom of the cup, I see slices of yuzu skin which adds to the handcrafted feeling of this drink.
The Vegan Cinnamon Bun, served on a ceramic plate hand painted with carp, really surprises me. They bake them daily, and you can tell, from how fresh it tastes. It’s soft and springy, and the icing is delicious. I would never have guessed this was vegan.
I head to the counter to watch the chef assemble the Avocado Toast. He’s carefully placing rocket leaves, baby tomatoes and sliced radishes on top. Then he spoons on dark liquid and tells me it’s a hot oil.
When we sink our teeth in, it’s sublime, distinct from other toasts. The yeast toast is pleasantly thin but dense, almost like a rye bread, but not as dark. The avocado is a generous serving, creamy cold and smooth. The vegetables taste crisp and fresh, the nutty sesame oil lifting it to another plane.
This early Saturday morning, there’s no other customers. We don’t mind, it’s perfectly serene, with soothing music, the sound of food being prepared, a snappy breeze wafting through the window. Yes you can follow the crowd and head here for lunch. But I kind of like the idea of starting the day here, stomach empty, mind clear.
VANCOUVER BARISTA REVIEW
Name of coffee: LosBeans’ Organic Workshop Blend
Location of roaster: Delta, B.C.
Price: $2.75, regular size
Brewing method: Drip brew
Roaster’s tasting notes: n/a
Mike’s comments: Milk chocolate with a nutty finish. Short aftertaste. Overall, a light coffee.
- A winning concept. Highly recommend, regardless of whether you’re vegetarian. We’d return to explore more of the menu.
- A dedicated latte menu.
- Cozy and eclectic ambience, unexpectedly found in an industrial area.
- Friendly service.
- Would love to see staff show some more knowledge about their coffee, which shares their same values.
Seating availability: 4.5/5
OVERALL RATING by VANCOUVER BARISTA: 4.56/5
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296 Pemberton Ave, North Van
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