‘Skillfully layered flavours’ at Atlas Café

The Atlas menus have evolved as a result of listening to customers and the clientele changed too

THE FRIENDLY FACE that Atlas patrons rarely see belongs to chef Jon Frazier.

THE FRIENDLY FACE that Atlas patrons rarely see belongs to chef Jon Frazier.

Some people are carnivores. Others are vegetarians.

Count Atlas Café co-owner Sandra Viney as a selectetarian.

“When you have that plethora of beautiful halibut, tuna … how can you not sample?” rhetorically asks the former strict vegetarian as I and my lunch guest eagerly awaited our food on a recent sunny afternoon.

An excellent question, to which Scott and I had no answer at our table.

Viney and Trent McIntyre have operated the Atlas in downtown Courtenay since 1995.

“I saw there was a need,” Viney says in her inimitable Aussie accent. “There wasn’t such a plethora of wonderful coffee shops and cafés as we do have now.”

The Atlas carved out such a niche in the local restaurant scene that they bought out a next-door neighbour in 2000 and expanded their square footage, adding a liquor licence and bar at the same time. They’ve also added a patio in the rear that is a pleasant escape on a warm day.

“The landlord loved it because it cleaned up his backyard,” Viney laughs.

The Atlas menus have evolved as a result of listening to customers, says Viney, adding that the clientele changed, too.

More than a decade ago, women frequented the Atlas but not men — until fresh sheets appeared and so did men dining on lamb, steak and such.

Well, Scott and I were hungry men at the Atlas, so we dived right in.

I opened with a chicken Caesar salad. Well, actually, I opened with a glass of delectable chardonnay, but the salad was right behind, and complemented the wine wonderfully.

Scott began with a spinach salad, which he seemed to enjoy enormously.

At the urging of server Kristen Schultz, I opted for enchiladas as my main course. I don’t eat much beef these days but, after this beef practically melted in my mouth, I’m wondering why I don’t sample it more often.

Chef Jon Frazier is a genius, I was reminded when I decided where I would make my opening foray into a mouth-watering presentation of enchiladas, Atlas style.

The different colours made it look like a piece of art and I hesitated because it looked so perfect. Hesitated for a long second or two, at most.

Although I was sorely tempted by the enticing red sauce, I began with a taste of the cream sauce oozing from under the nearest enchilada.

It was as creamy as I expected, but then a second — more pungent — wave of flavour reached my tongue, and then another.

Frazier had layered the flavours so skillfully that the smoky chipotle never overwhelmed an otherwise delicate cream sauce, but complemented it. Even the chardonnay held up.

I don’t remember much else, aside from Schultz’s friendly and helpful yet not too-attentive service, and the sensation of a totally satisfying meal.

Scott also appreciated his main course — sundried tomato-breaded true cod, tzatziki sauce, basmati rice, spinach greens and pesto dressing.

No doubt we shall return, and should really check out the Atlas sister establishment, the Avenue in Comox.

In case you’re wondering, Viney says the name of the Atlas derives from the international flair of the dishes, to which Viney says the cafe adds a “spin” to traditional presentation.

The Atlas Café, recently named by BC Living magazine readers as the best café on Vancouver Island, is open Mondays to Thursdays from 8:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays from 8:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Sundays from 8:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. They’re closed on most public holidays.You can phone the café, located at 250 Sixth St. in downtown Courtenay, at 250-338-9838. Visit the website at atlascafe.ca.

They take reservations for parties of six or more.