Big Lou's Butcher Shop

Big Lou's Butcher Shop is one of new restaurants that opened up in the new year; the restaurant is located in a couple of blocks from Chinatown, and is from the owners of the nearby Two Chefs and a Table. While the food is similar to Meat & Bread, in terms of being a sandwich joint, the place is unique because it is primarily a butcher shop first and foremost.

The space and design of the restaurant and shop has a charmingly old-fashioned, yet graphically modern feel. The meat display is wonderfully attractive, with meat laid out in a most pleasing way. The meat itself is locally sourced.

There is also a selection of pickles (asparagus, bean), and various spice rubs.

While the store is quite spacious, the eat-in dining area is quite minimal, consisting of just a bar facing the wall and some (quite uncomfortable) stools. The butcher art is quite a nice touch.

Here's the porchetta sandwich ($9), with a Boylan Black Cherry soda, which Brigid ordered. The sandwiches came attractively wrapped in custom printed paper and white string. The pork itself was very flavourful - juicy and well-seasoned. While the sandwiches had bits of crackling, the pieces that were included where quite hard, nearly teeth-breakingly so. In comparison with the porchetta sandwich at Meat & Bread, Big Lou's version is not as good, due to many tiny reasons; however, it is still a pretty good sandwich.

Amanda got the Bulgogi chicken ($9), which didn't look like what you would find in a Korean restaurant. However, Amanda reported that this was pretty tasty, although she wasn't fond of the grilled long stalks of green onion that was in the sandwich, which were stringy and hard to bite off. To be honest, I'm not sure about the 'Bulgogi' and the 'Bahn Mi' on the menu - it seems a little out of place, especially considering there are a few really amazing & cheap bahn mi places just a few blocks away.

I had Big Lou's Chicago Style sausage sandwich ($7.50), with house made sausage, pickles, mayo, pickled peppers and mustard. This had some problems. While the sausage itself was tasty, with hints of fennel, the outside didn't have that crunch and pop that a well seared sausage has - it was instead really chewy. There was also way too much mayo and pickled peppers. These elements, along with the mustard and pickles, made the sandwich taste really unbalanced.

While the location is a little out of the way, Big Lou's is certainly worth a visit. The store's commitment to local food and product is certainly admirable, and hopefully there will be a few tweaks here and there to make the space more inviting and the food a little more refined.

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I love teas. It's one of my favourite drinks, and I love especially the sheer variety of teas - you can try tons of teas and still be astounded at a new flavour that you didn't even know existed. Somehow, there doesn't seem to be many tea places on the East Side of Vancouver, so when Shaktea opened up a few years ago, it was pretty unique. Now, we've visited here a few times - most of the time to get some loose tea; but we hadn't gone there for tea service in a long while.

The interior of Shaktea is filled with warm colours and had a cozy feeling. Aside from a few choice seats near the window, there is not much seating at all. However, the display of jars of tea is pretty neat.

They also always have three pots of tea to sample: usually an herbal one, a rooibus  or honeybush one, and a black tea, all sitting in three glass teapots.

It was moderately busy when we arrived, and we managed to snag one of the last couple of free tables. We were given the menu right away, but it took almost 15 minutes to actually place our order. Even though other people all around us were placing orders, the servers seemed to forget about us. In the end, we actually had to flag someone and ask her if we could order.

From the time we were there, service seemed to be a problem; people would sit there without menus, without having orders taken, and given 'reserved' tables with a warning that they couldn't stay very long. The service wasn't too joyful.

I got the matcha latte, which arrived in a unique ceramic bowl (around $4). This was delicious - creamy and with a nice green tea flavour. One of the nice things about this place is that they always give you a few mini gingersnaps with your tea. It's a really great touch.

Shane had the Earl Grey latte ($4.25), which arrived in a small tea pot. The tea was unsweetened and had a very aromatic and wonderful Earl Gray flavour. The amount of creaminess was perfect. The teas did take a very long time to arrive though.

We also ordered a chocolate pistachio cookie ($1.95). Unfortunately this was very dry and lacked a distinct pistachio flavour.

The teas at Shaktea are great. And if you can find a time when they're not busy, so much the better. However, they do need to improve on the customer service aspect if they want to garner customer support.

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Vera's Burger Shack - Main St

I always have mixed feelings returning to the Main Street area. One reason is that when I lived there about five years ago, it was not so trendy and hipster-y as it is now. It's become a little too popular these days. But I also have pangs of jealousy because there is so much cool new stuff that wasn't there before, like the new community centre and library, and all sorts of up-and-coming restaurants.  Vera's Burger Shack is one of those places that wasn't there when we were around. So when we were in the neighbourhood and after unsuccessful attempts to visit Benkei Ramen on 5th (closed) and Lucy's Eastside Diner (too busy), we ended up at Vera's for lunch.

Now we had gone to another Vera's years ago but never actually been back for a while.

The restaurant occupies a place that used to be a cafe, as I recall (Pedro's Coffee?), and the interior feels a little like a worn old shoe. Not that the place isn't clean or anything (well, there were crumbs at our table...), but it had the feeling of being used too many times. However, the seats were comfortable enough.

The menu is pretty extensive, ranging from basic burgers, to specialty burgers, to hot dogs and sandwiches. The choice is pretty dizzying at first. Of course, the price of the burgers is just for the burger itself; the sides are not included.

I went for The Natural Burger ($7.89), which features organic beef. The good thing at Vera's is that you can customize your burger with whatever toppings you want; this time, I went for pickles, tomato, lettuce, hot peppers, and mustard. All in all the burger was good: the bun was soft but toasted, and the meat itself had a good flavour. The patty was juicy, if a little overdone and lacking in seasoning.

Shane got the Power Burger ($8.69), which featured a fried egg, fried onions, and cheese.  This one was pretty good; the egg had an appropriately gooey yolk, and the whole thing was a yummy mess. Of course, with this kind of burger, the patty becomes second fiddle, which may be a good thing in this case.

Both of us shared a side of fries ($3.99 for the combo with drink). This was a disappointment. The fries were dry and had an unappetizing puddle of oil at the bottom of the basket. It just wasn't good, and it may speak to a lack of care in the preparation of the food. I mean the reason that a person would choose Vera's over McDonald's or some other joint is that they care about the quality of the burger, right? I'm not sure if we felt that difference, to be honest with you.

Will we return to Vera's? Maybe.

But would it be our first choice? No.

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