Food column by Allan Reid
It’s not tugs parked out front of the new Tug Eatery, but Harbour Ferries, green and yellow. I’m sitting on the 3,000-square-foot patio, under broad umbrellas, roses blossoming on my left, the glimmering waters of the upper harbour narrows on my right, watching pedestrians cross the new Johnson Street Bridge while Harbour Air floatplanes pass low overhead on their in-bound approach. Seems the perfect spot for a light lunch on this warm if slightly smoke-hazed day.
Tug occupies the lowest level of the Mermaid Wharf Condominiums, where a pair of port-holed doors leads into a spacious dining room decorated in comfortable earth-neutral colours. A glossy black piano and a guitar on its stand patiently await the local musicians that, according to the poster, come here to play. Across the floor, a full bar is backed in smooth wood.
A month ago, on my first visit, Ariel, our gracious server described the Radler so tantalizingly well that I couldn’t refuse: Vancouver Island Brewery’s Islander Lager accentuated with squeezed-just-in-time grapefruit juice. Very refreshing for a sunny summer day too hot to lure us back outside. Instead we were made to feel quite at home, learning that Ariel is the little sister of co-owner Sarah. In fact, everyone working at Tug, and a good portion of the customers too, are family or friends of Sarah and her partner Kal, two landlords-turned-restaurateurs after their former tenant, Fishhook, pulled out. It took guts to open a new restaurant, during the uncertainty of the pandemic, in the space just vacated by another established joint that didn’t survive.
Dennis selected the Eager Beaver Burger ($18), named for Sarah and Ariel’s father, who is sitting at a nearby table. The burger is stacked high with a Two Rivers beef patty, bacon, aged cheddar, lettuce, pickles, tomatoes and Tug Sauce set on a Portofino Brioche. It comes served with salad or crinkle fries.
I opted for the Ucluelet-caught Red Snapper Fish and Chips ($21, or $16 for just one piece). House-made tartar sauce and more crinkle fries accompany two puffs in deep brown batter, thin as paper, that literally shatter when cut, exploding fragments of crisp across the plate and table. Had these fish spent a little less time swimming in hot oil, they might have arrived light and flaky, but the fillets inside are moist and mildly flavoured. But what struck us most is the way that Sarah and her family and friends made us feel like we belong here.
Today, our second visit, the patio is too inviting, and a dry Roche Rosé (rterroir.ca) seems just right to accompany a pair of Rockfish Tacos ($15). Each is built on a six-inch soft round and loaded with shredded cabbage, cilantro, house-made pickled jalapeño salsa and a secret bright yellow sauce, atop which sits a battered nugget of locally caught rockfish. Messy, fresh, a little spicy and perfect for a light lunch or an appetizer to share. Dennis opted for the Salt ’n’ Pepper Chicken Wings ($16) freshened with a spritz of fresh lemon.
It is a wonderful patio, spacious and sectioned into intimate corners defined by the flowering shrubs that also counterpoint the busy and somewhat industrial neighbourhood: Point Hope Shipyard across the narrows, high-mast sailing ships moored nearby, harbour planes flying over the new bridge, under which the powerful little workhorses—from which the Tug Eatery takes it’s name—ply the calm sparkling waters. And we raise a toast to a fine day.
You can find Tug Eatery online here.