You don’t have to venture too far off from celebrated Vancouver vegan high-dining spot The Acorn to see what its owners are getting up to with their decidedly more casual, comfort-food-serving sister spot, The Arbor Restaurant. It’s literally just down the block, about five storefronts away. Admittedly, the acclaim fostered onto The Acorn since its opening in 2012—from awards to its still-nightly line-ups along Main Street—had owner Shira Blustein contemplating what it would be like to take the restaurant’s vegetable-forward menu outside of the city, but the chance to lease a neighbouring property, one that just happens to have a handsome back patio perfect for summer lounging, seemed irresistible.
“We always thought that we would open another Acorn in LA or New York; we were looking further away. But, obviously, right next door is convenient,” Blustein says, as a lunch rush quickly fills the dining room of the just-opened Arbor. “It seemed like an opportunity that we couldn’t pass up,” she continues. “That’s when we really started to brainstorm about what The Acorn was doing, what it was providing to our customers, and where we could find ways to provide other things.”
After securing the location, partners Blustein, Scott Lewis, Paul McCloskey (formerly of Farmer’s Apprentice), and Acorn chef Rob Clarke began plotting out an “inverted Acorn.” The Arbor is a casual alternative to the haute cuisine atmosphere of The Acorn—it is a place where you can grab a veggie burger and a beer on the fly instead of booking the night off for a special occasion (or waiting an hour for a table). “People come in from Surrey or Richmond, because The Acorn is doing something quite unique,” Lewis explains of the “destination” reputation of their first venture. “The Arbor is as well, but it’s formatted more as a neighbourhood spot where people can come in and grab a quick bite on their way home from work, or grab take-out for the family. We’re seeing a lot of regulars who live just down the street.”
Running with the mantra “real food for comfort,” Blustein explains that The Arbor’s menu features a series of appetizers and entrees modelled after the “things that pull your heartstrings.” Rather than work with the now-normalized, densely-textured soy protein patty you can find in your supermarket aisle, the signature Arburger is a dry-aged, quarter-pound patty made in-house using fresh-sourced ingredients from a host of local farms and suppliers, and can be topped with cheddar or dairy-free macadamia cheese, eggplant bacon, and more. Other feel-good options include the pillowy, pulled-pork-replicating jack-fruit steamed buns, deep-fried broccoli popcorn with a tamarind glaze, and a hearty mac n’ cheese (your call on traditional pasta or rice noodles).
“You can go anywhere in this city and get comfort food, but most of it is being served out of a bag, or a box, or a freezer,” Blustein contends, adding that The Arbor is a “better bridge” for bringing the carnivorous on-board with veggie cuisine than the high-concept plates of The Acorn. “You look at the menu and you have tacos, burgers, mac n’ cheese, pizzas—they’re instantly inclusive menu items.”
Also relaxing customers is a drink list pairing meals with anything from Naramata reds and chardonnays, to local brews from Four Winds and 33 Acres, to on-tap ciders and stiff cocktails (plus non-alcoholic beverages including kombucha and iced tea). All of this is to say that The Arbor is a welcome and welcoming addition to Vancouver’s expanding vegetarian restaurant scene, a place for longtime herbivores and those seeking a quick, though high-quality, meatless experience. “I think that people have a much more open mind to it, but there’s still a long way to go. You still have pushback from customers who walk in and ask where the meat is,” Blustein says. “My mission isn’t to turn anybody vegetarian. We’re just aware of the world we live in. Eating meat as much as people do is completely unsustainable.”