Spring has sprung and plants popped up all over, and not just in gardens and on menus, but in our local dining scene wholesale restaurants devoted to them are a-sprouting. Krafty Kitchen is about to open a plant forward sister restaurant right next door (Orchard Room), and just recently Kelowna’s Frankie We Salute You launched the anticipated new vegetarian and vegan eatery in the new food oriented complex carved out of the former VW dealership on the 97.
The Pedigree: Renowned Roots
Devoted vegan, vegetarian, or Vancity expats may know of the team behind Frankie We Salute You (the cute name is a hat tip to owners, Brian and Christina Skinner's grandfathers, both named Frank, who cultivated their family gardens) by their previous project, the first refined vegetarian restaurant in that town, the celebrated The Acorn. There, Chef Brian Skinner brought his high end Michelin-starred experiences (Noma no less, among them) and sensibilities to a veg friendly province craving a finer experience than the usual crunchy brown rice and tempeh scene. He has echoed Noma’s famed chef René Redzepi’s remarks that vegetables, in and of themselves will be the "lead guitars, the lead singers" on the plate, when he claims for FWSY that he "doesn’t want to use fake meats made with wheat gluten. Instead of beating around the bush, I’m hoping I can make collard greens and broccoli into something absolutely delicious. I’m hoping to create dishes where the next day, people are still thinking about it."
Locally you may know of Skinner for his Gold Medal Plates victory hosted right here in town several years back. Or if you're someone who's just trying to avoid factory farming, animal cruelty, or lowering your impact on the ecosystem by eating less meat, you can appreciate this chef as a welcome practitioner of the non-preachy, omnivore-aiming, ingredient-embracing, plant based movement that really wants to give vegetables their due (think Yotam Ottolenghi, Mark Bittman, René Redzepi, even Jamie Oliver).
The Space: The District Market – Strip Mall Dining Hall
Not surprisingly, this place signals a strong willingness to be part of the community. Looking at their suppliers and local approach, it's great to see newcomers embrace the local bounty. And, ironically, you know a Kelowna restaurant is serious about becoming part of the local scene when it does not open up downtown. I say this regretfully but when a savvy new arrival does their market research, forgoes faux downtown density in the form of AirBnb condos (my supposition), instead aiming to nourish a local community on the regular, it's not that shocking that a highway strip mall near the Landmark Centre feels a little closer to the action in this sprawl fest of a town.
What strip mall dining doesn’t do for charm, it perhaps makes up for in authenticity. I mean suburban strip malls bursting with immigrant cuisine from Hakka to Hong Kong to Hyderabadi, in Toronto and Vancouver have put those cities on the international foodie radar. And even on the bougie, whiter side of things, celeb chef Ludo Lefebvre has created a beloved French bistro, literally the cartoon version of charming urbane boîte, in the most banal of Los Angeles strip malls. So when this new food focussed facility, calling itself the District Market, opened up in the repurposed VW dealership, with lots of parking spots, beside the highway and the doughnut city office park on the make, what is more Kelowna than that? Local af.
We were seduced by the bold bright graphics of their signage, just the acronym set against contrasting blocks of bright colour – a veg place that is not too on the nose with all those greens and nature tones, but instead its own confident identity. And once inside it is cheerful and crisp. Another one of those clean minimal spaces, that, tbh is starting to feel less like a choice and more like obeyance to a trend: food looks great grammed on the pale wood tables – check; geo colour blocks in that bold bright vs. pastel combo – check; linear cantilevered sconces, and copper (oh sorry rose gold) lamps – check; tropical leaf motif – check… all housed in an airy, hard surfaced room with sound so bouncy you can't hear the music.
The message is that it’s not designed to have folks lounge around for long. Which is a shame especially if Frankies is to be a brunch and dinner spot. Aesthetically it looks like lunch (especially given the office park surroundings), but fits well for those needing some tasty clean fuel and a gram. However, compared to the low-end casual "green" fare offered by the chains in the District Market (Freshii, Quesada) this is Chez flippin' Panisse.
The Food: Rustic Over Refined
Us British Columbians sure like our veggies, depending on who you ask, we are up to three times more than the national average veg or vegan, and many more I suspect are working their way their way there, thanks to menus like these.
Skinner wants to cook for omnivores. And woo us he does, but not so much the same way the more refined The Acorn did, but with delicious workaday hearty fare. Sorta like a post blue-collar bistro, instead of European meaty peasant food like cassoulet, coq au vin, and other braised cheap cuts, the lift is from international hearty quotidian staples known more for their spices, textures and contrasts, as its hero – enter laksa, charmoula, bulgogi. Nourishing comfort food that a salt-of-the-earth patron grandfather Frank would approve of. For instance the cauliflower, a current meat-subbing cruciferous menu hit, grilled to smoky perfection is set off nicely by a hella lemon-tangy charmoula held down by nice creamy almond-based cotija cheese with those perfectly round pearls of middle eastern couscous – mouthfeel central!
As much as I appreciate this approach, I did find myself really loving the more refined or prepared elements over the whole "minimally-intervened" ones. While I did enjoy that cauliflower main, the in-house alchemy going on behind the gorgeously fluffy cotija (more like a mascarpone) and chermoula were the real superstars rather than the "meat" of the dish (this could be my bias, expecting a richer fattier protein there – my paradigms shift slow when it comes to food). Ditto for the same cheese on the simple asparagus tacos. Same for the decadent miso ranch on the elemental bbq broccoli salad. And while I could inhale platefuls of the chickpea fries straight, that pea wasabi mayo is next level freshness and zip – a great alternate to the tired aioli. Oh, and that carrot popcorn seasoning, instant addiction.
Moreover their more technique-finessed dishes like the chickpea fries are massive standouts: light as a feather and uniquely satisfying enough to warrant its own visit. Socca fans will do right to pair these with a rosé and some olives for a downright Niçoise experience here. The mushroom burger too was meaty savoury goodness, proving they definitely know how to extract the most out of a mushroom – we’ll be back for the shroomy terrine, bulgogi mushrooms and shiitake ragu. The accompanying sesame fries are a thin-cut delight (on the thin-fry scale, way better than McDonalds but not quite as good as Okanagan Street Food – but sesame oil doesn't kill a duck).
I'd be remiss not to mention to all you virtue bowl lovers out there, that the Grilled Avo Bowl is their sole token crunchy cliché. But hey there's a reason things become cliché. The ever-likeable combo of sticky brown rice, grilled avocado, sautéed greens, adzuki bean tempe, spicy pickled onions, and Thai cashew dressing will not disappoint the traditional set.
Those new to replacing their meat will be pleased with the informative service. First off there's plenty of it (which I actually love when it's purposeful like theirs is) and it is really warm. When we visited during the soft launch, they encouraged questions, and when they didn’t know right away they were happy to get detailed answers from the bar and kitchen. Moreover the servers were honestly interested in diners' feedback, a great approach – a super communal vibe like you, the diner are part of building something here.
The Drinks: Local Libations
Not exactly a place for long conversations or luxe self-care, and since you probably drove here (trails and the pedestrian overpass also lead there) the oner you partake in here will certainly be a quality one. The wine list is concise and well chosen with natural wines like the nature-loving Okanagan Crush Pad's output, Coolshanagh, garagiste TH Wines, small single lot Bella, and the interesting exploratory workshop wine, Chic Fille from Joie Farm.
The beer list is a pithy edit of the seasons' trendy offerings: a Dageraad Sour, a rotating tap from the fine and experimental Field House brewery in Abbotsford along with Vice & Virtue's latest, and cans of session lager (hipster for light) from Moon Under Water. In keeping with the growing orchard to glass trend, a couple great Okanagan ciders from Naramata Cider Co. and Scenic Road are a great pair.
Frankie We Salute Your Approach
For sure meat-centric eating is not a sustainable or even healthy practice, and even for those trying to cut down, it's hard to avoid. We really need more plant-based options. Factory farming is a massive and powerful force, so winning over omnivores is crucial.
Yes 50 billion animals are slaughtered for food each year, and mainstream meat production is a leading cause of deforestation and climate change. No matter how easy it may be to put it out of our minds it's becoming impossible to ignore – that feeling that you are probably on the wrong side of history and our grandkids will blame us for the toxic mess and entitled mindset we perpetuated, but we still love our charcuterie and bacon right? It's so tastyyyyy – well I'm sure a limited electoral franchise, culturally enforced domestic housewifery and slavery were pretty enjoyable to their benefactors too.
So when you really think about it, the vegan purists have every right to preach. However I'm not so sure it really helps the cause. Thankfully, we have chefs that speak to your inner meat-eater and not only nerd out with all those advanced-level soy, sprouted grains and ferments for the converted and purists. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but us omnis need a great gateway drug if we're ever gonna get to the good place. For that, Frankie We Salute You!
Frankie We Salute You is open every night from 5pm until close, with weekend brunch happening between 10am - 2pm.