A century ago you might walk into a diner or cafe for lunch and order a Blue Plate Special. You would get a reasonably priced meal of meat and some vegetables (no substitutions!) that might have been served on a plate with a blue willow pattern. The Blue Plate Special became a popular generic term for any inexpensive full meal, usually different each day.
Also about a century ago Joe Fortes was Vancouver’s first official lifeguard. Originally from Trinidad and Tobago the well loved English Bay lifeguard was named Citizen of the Century in 1986. There is a Joe Fortes Memorial Drinking Fountain in Alexandra Park, a Joe Fortes Branch of the Vancouver Public Library, and a restaurant that bears his name: Joe Fortes Seafood & Chop House.
My brief research doesn’t indicate whether Joe Fortes ever ate a blue plate special but you, dear reader, have the opportunity to partake of the Blue Plate Bonanza at Joe Fortes Seafood & Chop House. For a limited time five plates are offered every weekday for the very reasonable price of $11.95 per plate. It’s a beautiful restaurant, plenty of daylight from the skylight and large windows, immense art pieces on the walls that might make you think you are in Impressionist era France, and a popular large rooftop patio that is scheduled to open again April 9th for the warm weather months.
The Seafood Pot Pie is like a seafood chowder topped with a large puff pastry. Hearty but not heavy, its individual seafood and vegetable elements retain their flavour and texture nicely. The golden pastry is tender and flaky enough to be cut easily, not so tender that it crumbles. This might be a good time to mention that the seafood at Joe Fortes Seafood & Chop House is Ocean Wise. This means that the seafood has been harvested responsibly and is recommended by the Vancouver Aquarium as an ocean friendly seafood choice.
When trying foods with Thai in the name there’s a slight wariness about the possibility of excessive heat from spices. I was very happy that the Thai BBQ Chicken was delightfully flavoured without spicy hotness. The chicken was tender, moist. The bbq sauce slightly sweet with a faint hint of charcoal from the grilling. I also liked the rice quite a bit, it too had a slight sweetness.
The Panko Crusted Haddock takes the original description of a blue plate special (meat with potato and vegetables) and elevates it to a much higher form of special. Fresh green beans and carrot, potato and some amazingly good haddock. The crisp panko crust, fresh flaky haddock, and a chunky tomato topping... this dish is worth a return trip.
Crispy Fried Chicken. Three words that I love to see on a menu. When this dish arrived I was surprised at the generous size of the chicken. I detected a bit of heat in the chicken coating, perhaps black pepper, that Jenn did not notice. The chicken itself was tender and yummy. Also on the plate were coleslaw and beans. I thought the beans had a sweet molasses flavour that was very good.
The West Coast Fish Cakes are made with salmon, cod, trout, haddock, and potato. The accompanying tartar sauce with a lovely dill component was an excellent companion. A marvelous combination. Green beans and carrot round out the dish. The fish cakes were great and had an excellent meaty fish to potato balance.
The basic Blue Plate menu item is $11.95. There is an option to add an appetizer or a dessert item. If you get two courses add $7, if you add both appetizer and dessert add $10. Speaking of dessert we tried both offerings, Vanilla Crème Brulee and Vanilla Gelato. The custard of the crème brulee was lightly flavoured, the caramel layer on top had a nice contrasting slightly burnt flavour. The gelato was bursting with vanilla, not the bland vanilla of supermarket ice cream but the wonderful delicious vanilla of childhood dreams. This was two scoops of heaven.
For the duration of the Blue Plate Bonanza each of the five lunch items is available any day of the week but not weekends. Once the Bonanza is over the items are still available on the lunch menu but only one dish per day, Monday through Friday. Don’t fret if you can’t make it to the restaurant between March 12th to 23rd, but you are going to have a difficult time deciding which day of the week you want to visit as each of the offerings is excellent. Executive chef Wayne Sych deserves praise for the quality menu. If pressed to pick a favourite I might choose the Panko Crusted Haddock. Or the West Coast Fish Cakes. Or....
Joe Fortes Seafood & Chop House has some new cocktails on the drink menu. These are available any time, not just during the Blue Plate Bonanza. From the Fresh & Cool selections Jenn picked the Umeshu Cooler and I the Pompelmocello Collins. Umeshu is an appealing Japanese liqueur made from ume fruit. The cooler also has Punt e Mes, fresh lemon and ginger. Jenn liked this quite a bit. Served in a rock glass with an enormous ice cube it will likely be a very popular drink when patio season arrives. My choice, the Pompelmocello Collins, was like summer in a tall glass. Sparkly and grapefruity, easy to drink and easy to love. Also from the Fresh & Cool selections was a drink called Medicinal Purposes. Made with Grey Goose Poire, St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur, fresh lime and Fentiman’s tonic this concoction is just what the doctor ordered. It doesn’t taste like medicine but this light refreshing drink will have you feeling better should you be ailing in any way. Or just thirsty. Another category of drinks is Herbs & Spice. True North is a fruity tasting drink that has Okanagan Spirits Aquavitus in it. I’ve had shots of Aquavit before at Christmas dinners and it has a strong distinct flavour. The combination of honey syrup, fresh lemon, lime and orange juice in the True North does much to soften and enhance the Aquavit. One more drink selection from Herbs & Spice is Delightful Warning. Aptly named as it has 2.25 oz. of alcohol, this rum based drink has a slight after taste of black licorice for some reason. I enjoyed it, perhaps a bit too much. The beer menu has also been refreshed and there are several solid tempting choices from local craft breweries.
Each of the staff members we talked to were warm, friendly, and more than competent. Thank you to our server Heather, bartender Mark, and Assistant General Manager Jason for a great dining experience.
Joe Fortes Seafood & Chop House is located at 777 Thurlow, Vancouver. Reservations are recommended. The Blue Plate Bonanza ends March 23, each dish will still be available after that but only on a specific day of the week.