Dessert devotees will scream for gourmet ice cream tour in Vancouver
Tour guide Julie R. carries servings of soft serve ice cream to customers during a gourmet ice cream food tour in Vancouver, B.C., on Thursday August 17, 2017. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)
VANCOUVER -- What's better than a scoop of ice cream on a hot summer day? Three scoops, an ice cream sandwich, soft serve drizzled with chocolate syrup and a vegan charcoal banana coconut confection, of course.
That's what participants devoured on a recent Gourmet Ice Cream Tour in Vancouver, one of several culinary walking tours offered by Off The Eaten Track. A tour guide ushered dessert devotees to four different ice cream purveyors, with stops along the way to learn about the sights and history of three unique neighbourhoods.
The tour began at Railtown Cafe in -- where else -- Railtown, an up-and-coming neighbourhood east of the more well-travelled Gastown. The cafe sells house-made ice cream, sorbet and vegan options made by pastry chef Alex Abley, who previously worked for famous Vancouver chocolatier Thomas Haas.
Hungry guests were each given a bowl containing strawberry and dulce de leche ice cream, as well as citrus pear sorbet. Most participants agreed the light, refreshing sorbet was the standout, although nine-year-old Taylor Smith from Winnipeg appeared torn choosing a favourite among all the delectable flavours.
The tour guide then took the group to see a few of the sights in Railtown, allowing for some calories to be burned off before the next stop. She showed off a bright blue house built at the turn of the 20th century that still sits alone among the industrial cranes and shipping containers of the busy port.
With a history lesson out of the way, the group's attention returned to ice cream. Guests were taken to the beautiful Cadeaux Bakery, also in Railtown, where perfect, fresh-baked pastries line a display case. Here, the group was introduced to the bakery's ice cream sandwich, a signature creation that is made in a different flavour every week.
The group sampled the classic vanilla sandwich. Marc Henri, dubbed a "cookie connoisseur" by his wife Brie Henri, said the chocolate cookies encasing the filling were perfectly made -- firm, flavourful and not too crumbly.
"I don't want a cookie to fall apart. I want to savour it," he said.
The next stop was in Gastown at Soft Peaks Ice Cream. The shop serves organic soft-serve ice cream with unique toppings, including local honeycomb, Himalayan pink salt and sweet and sour Yuzu marmalade. Guests dove into a cup of creamy vanilla soft-serve topped with chocolate syrup and Tim Tams, an Australian chocolate biscuit.
At this point, some people were starting to feel stuffed, but were determined to eat the final treat waiting for them. Ellie Postin, from Southampton, England, was unequivocal when asked if she would make it to the end.
"Absolutely," she replied.
The big finale was waiting for guests at Virtuous Pie, a vegan pizza-and-ice cream restaurant in Chinatown. The tour guide asked whether they wanted a classic or adventurous flavour, and those who chose to walk on the wild side were not disappointed: they received either a bright-yellow scoop of turmeric black pepper or a tar-black serving of charcoal banana coconut.
Both unusual flavours were surprisingly tasty and had strong hints of coconut, one of the bases of the vegan dessert along with cashew milk. Even Smith, the youngest participant, dug into the charcoal banana coconut with aplomb.
For the less daring, the final flavour was an old favourite: mint and dark chocolate chip.
Bonnie Todd, founder and owner of Off The Eaten Track, launched the company in 2012 in Vancouver and later expanded to Victoria. Tours in Vancouver also include a brunch tour, an "urban eats" tour of Railtown and a "sip, savour and shop" tour of Main Street in East Vancouver.
"When I decided to launch the company, the philosophy was to take people out of touristy neighbourhoods and show them a part of Vancouver that wasn't necessarily obvious," said Todd.
"That's how I like to travel. I didn't want to get caught up in the tourist traps. I wanted to find out where the locals ate. Hence the name 'Off The Eaten Track,' and that's why we launched in really local neighbourhoods."