By Kristi Alexandra
In a time when $22 avocado toast is the norm, even going out for a casual brunch can feel pretty bourgeois. Fortunately for residents of Burnaby Heights, The Gray Olive Cafeteria has brought classic, casual fare to the neighbourhood — while still maintaining the class.
Located at the corner of Hastings Street and Carleton Avenue, the cafeteria-style, 20-seat eatery opened its doors in February of 2017, serving up comfort food with a refined twist. Founded by brothers Brian, Steve, and Jeremy Wong, the trio of siblings attests they just wanted to dish up mouth-watering food that recalls simple home-style cooking.
“We’re such a food-driven family,” Steve, the youngest brother, tells WestCoastFood at the Hastings Street eatery, “all of us are so food-driven. Our mom would cook all our meals and even my friends would come over just to eat dinner with us. All of us are just really into good food, well-cooked meals at home, and, of course, Brian’s a chef. It just works.”
Menu offerings include the “G.O. Breaky Sandwich” which is a breakfast sandwich that includes eggs and smoked shallot aioli, daily house soups with handmade cheddar and chive biscuits, and the inimitable sous vide chicken and waffles. And that’s just a start.
“I bring the experience,” says Brian, The Gray Olive’s executive chef. With around a decade of hotel and fine-dining knowledge under his apron, Brian crafts and hones the cafeteria’s menu.
“There’s no one cuisine that I don’t like. A lot of the menu items here are from past experiences and dishes I like to eat. I pay homage to certain dishes I like to eat and certain cuisines. Chefs are very much artists and the best stuff comes out when we’re very inspired.”
One particularly inspiring dish is the roast chicken sandwich, which is Brian’s take on an everyday beef dip. Pulled chicken, pea shoots, pickled red onion, havarti, and a black pepper aioli are sandwiched into a crusty baguette, served up with an indulgent gravy to dip.
With all those luxurious ingredients, one might think these kinds of plates belong more in an upscale pub than in a “cafeteria,” but the brothers attest their clientele are loving the tasteful, homey vibe.
“I think [the word cafeteria] signifies a more casual setting,” Brian explains. “I want it to be that you go up and order, and you pull things off the shelf and you bring it to the till as opposed to a sit-down restaurant. For many reasons. For one, the space here is very intimate, but we wanted to give that feeling that it’s very comfortable in here. It should be very relaxing and casual, and we’re not fine dining. It’s something fun and relaxed and something that people can connect with.”
His brother Steve agrees, pointing to the energy of The Gray Olive’s neighbourhood.
“I think it works because of this specific environment in The Heights,” Steve reveals. “It’s such a tight community so the minute we got here, it kind of felt like maybe we were the outsiders in this tight-knit community, but once we opened up, people filed in pretty quick.”
It could be the cafeteria’s signature kitchen sink dish — two eggs atop sauteed vegetables, green onions, sausage, bacon, cheese, and their very own G.O. potatoes. It could be the Gray Olive’s clean, modern ambiance. Or, it could be it’s the only place you can enjoy a palate-pleasing, Instagrammable avocado toast, and still save to buy a home. At $5 a pop, their mashed avocado with oven-roasted tomatoes, drizzled in a balsamic reduction on sourdough is practically a steal.
One can only hope to snag a seat at the Hastings Street canteen, as they’re usually as stuffed as a roasted chicken sandwich.
The Gray Olive Cafeteria
Open from 8 am to 3 pm on weekdays (closed Mondays), and 9 am to 3 pm on weekends.