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Astroturf, all-day breakfast and Congee

  • Jul. 27, 2022 1:30 a.m.

Who doesn’t like a picnic on a sunny day? Although, I haven’t seen too many sunny days, lately. A secluded spot at the beach is not too hard to find amid all this rain and these overcast skies, but maybe we should take our picnic indoors. And I know just the spot, where tables are set under copses of two-dimensional birch trees, and where AstroTurf grows up the walls and even on the ceiling.

Mid-block, east of Vancouver Street, on the south side of Fort Street sit a pair of Tudor style shops right out of merry olde England. Ignore them. Nothing worth eating there (bicycles and shoes). PiCNiC Too is next door, in a kind of cowboy-Tudor building, apparently suffering an identity crisis. The only sign is a sidewalk sandwich board that features a pink picnic table. That’s a clue. Within is a DIY masterpiece.

Aside from the wallpaper and AstroTurf mentioned above—there’s even a table with an inexplicable strip of AstroTurf glued right down the centre—the walls are covered in the world’s largest QR code, made the analogue way from strips of kindling. Behind, one might spy a bit of golden filagree peeking out. Closer inspection reveals hexagonal Chinese paper placemats glued to the wall before the kindling was installed: DIY invention at its best.

PiCNiC Too offers all-day breakfast and lunch of mostly sandwiches, salads, hash (not the smoking kind) and bowls. Of the latter, one that caught my attention was the Congee ($13). I can’t think, off-hand, of any other place in town that offers congee, although it is certainly among the most consumed prepared meals on the planet, particularly throughout East and Southeast Asia. In its most basic form, it is rice that has been slow-cooked in water until the grains break down producing a thin porridge. Sounds appetizing, right? Its popularity has something to do with the availability of its only two ingredients, its ease of preparation and the satisfying way it sits on the stomach; and, of course, it’s cheap.

PiCNiC’s $13 bowl is not cheap—but there is nothing basic about it. This congee starts with brown rice that does not fully dissolve in the house-made, collagen-intense chicken bone broth in which it’s cooked. The result is a creamy, nutty-tasting, oatmeal-like texture. But there’s more. Add on top, a poached egg, a dollop of green onion pesto, which is a delight when mixed into the congee below, kale crisps, pumpkin seeds, dice-sized cubes of roasted yam, pickled onion, ribbons of carrot and a nest of radish strings. This is very tasty and very comfortable food, to which I added a 2%Jazz coffee.

PiCNiC Too is also comfortable on our environment, serving up its fare in compostable containers, and with compostable cutlery. There is a reason that the only bin is a compostables bin.

And, should the sun show itself and the temperatures rise, and should the wind die down, well then, PiCNiC Too has a delightful open-air, on-street patio lined with authentic picnic tables, with attached benches all standing on yet more AstroTurf. Or, order a picnic-to-go from an assortment of charcuterie-style boxes designed to travel to that not quite so secluded spot on the beach. What’s a picnic without a little salt in the air?