Restaurant review: Abbotsford brunch spot Little Brother serves up simple, fresh food
Where: 33758 Essendene Ave., Abbotsford
More info: Open 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., Wednesday through Sunday; littlebrother.ca
From its white walls with oversized windows that allow natural light to stream into the space, to the dishes that arrive artfully arranged on the blond-wood tabletops — and even the restaurant’s perfectly curated Instagram feed — Little Brother is every bit a modern-day eatery.
But, according to Spence Croteau, the co-owner and chef of the Abbotsford restaurant, the food is all about embracing an Old World way of eating. Albeit one that has become somewhat new again.
“We like to say our food is ‘real food’ or ‘food as it was 100 years ago,’ in a lot of ways,” Croteau says. “Find great ingredients, make as many items as you can yourself and think about the experience of the guest when they are eating.”
Come to think of it, the old-as-new mentality is also how Croteau met his business partners, Kristina and Johannes van Bommel van Vloten, who also own the popular local destination Oldhand Coffee. That is to say, they met in person.
“I actually met Kristina at a job fair of sorts as I only planned to be back in B.C. for a year and was just looking for a part-time gig working with food without having to commute to Vancouver,” he explains. “We started doing cocktail nights where I would come up with a different menu each night, Joh would make up some killer cocktails and Kristina would make sure everyone who came had a blast. They were really successful and we all had a lot of fun doing them. We called them Shoot the Moon because we had no idea if people would show up at first.”
A partial view inside Little Brother in Abbotsford. Aleesha Harris/Postmedia Aleesha Harris / PNG
During this time, Croteau told the couple about his ambitious five-year plan, which included opening a concept restaurant just like Little Brother.
“Fast forward about six months and we had a lease signed for a location and about a year after first meeting, we opened Little Brother together,” he says of the eatery, which opened its doors on Sept. 12, 2018.
The trio wanted the space to become a destination in the revitalized downtown core, one where people could enjoy, “having a big brunch spread and a bottle of bubbles,” or, “a quick breakfast made with really great ingredients and a cup of coffee.”
Focusing on fresh ingredients and simple dishes, Little Brother’s menu offering is rather reserved. You won’t find a multi-page booklet of dishes here.
The Bacon and Eggs Tartine at Little Brother in Abbotsford. Aleesha Harris/PNG
“On a daily basis small changes occur: we will swap out the fruit we serve on our French toast and yogurt, our pasta is always something different,” Croteau says of the offering. “Every handful of days and we do wine by the glass and snacks every Friday night and that menu is completely different every week.”
The eatery’s proximity to Fraser Valley farms, which offer a bounty of fresh vegetables, meat and more, provides a powerful incentive to keep mixing things up and trying new ingredient additions.
“When I moved to the Fraser Valley after living in Edmonton for many years, I was almost shocked by the variety of ingredients grown here and how readily available they are,” Croteau says. “Our primary produce supplier, Local Harvest in Chilliwack, is literally an eight-minute drive from my house and everything they grow is amazing …
“They have such a conviction to grow things the right way and provide high-quality organic produce to as many people as possible. It’s very inspiring to see all the work they do. When we see the hard work that goes into the ingredients, it makes us incredibly proud to work with them and serve them to our guests.”
In addition to procuring their produce from Local Harvest, the Little Brother kitchen sources their ingredients from other local providers including organic red fife and all purpose flour from Anita’s Organic and cream for their cultured butter from Birchwood Dairy. That’s right, the butter — and the bread — is all made in-house.
“It’s also difficult and very expensive to find high quality butter in Canada, so we decided to make our own,” Croteau says. “Even our toaster — it’s not a practical choice on my part — but we grill every piece of toast over live charcoal. It just tastes so much better. It’s like toast when you go camping.
“People seem to appreciate the care and thought we put into something as simple as bread and butter. I think it’s our ‘statement dish.’ It shows that with some thought and technique, something ordinary can become very special.”
While enjoying our dishes, which included the Omelette Classic ($10) which features a sizable roll of eggs cooked simply with butter and salt) alongside a slice of toasted sourdough, the comment was made more than once that we could have used another slice. Slathered in the tasty butter, it‚ was worth the drive to Abbotsford, alone.
Brioche Pain Perdu at Little Brother in Abbotsford. Aleesha Harris/PNG
But, the omelette was pretty great, too.
“A classic French omelette is much more delicate and really shows off the eggs — we get ours from Maple Hill,” Croteau says. “It also takes a very capable hand to execute it well. There’s nothing to hide behind in this dish. It’s just really great eggs cooked and seasoned perfectly. One error in ingredient or technique and it falls flat.”
During our brunch, we also tried the Mightnight Sausage ($8), a shareable side dish that features two house-made sausage links seasoned with black garlic and ginger, served with a dollop of Dijon mustard. Plump and juicy, the sausages had a unique flavour that had our dining party all saying, ‘Mmm!’
“I was determined to have a breakfast sausage that would shock people,” Croteau explains. “Not that there’s anything wrong with those weird little diner sausages everyone is used to, but I wanted something distinctly different and incredibly delicious.”
The “secret weapon,” he says, ended up being the black garlic.
“It’s popular in contemporary cuisine now and can be found at any decent Asian grocery store — but we make our own,” he says. “We basically cook local, organic garlic at 60-degrees Celsius for two months until it turns jet black. The flavour deepens a lot — it gets sweet and very savoury. It’s reminiscent of soy. We also use fresh pork from Lepp Farm Market. It’s ground the day we make the sausages, every Wednesday — affectionately known as ‘Weenie Wednesday’ in our kitchen.”
As for the restaurant’s most popular dishes, Croteau pointed to the Croque Madame and Mushrooms and Toast as two consistent crowd pleasers, along with the Bacon and Eggs Tartine ($12) an “everyday classic” featuring two eggs and bacon lardon on toasted sourdough.
“(It’s) popular, partly just because the word ‘bacon,’ but also because it’s really great bacon that we braise in apple cider vinegar and sear to order,” he explains.
My favourite dish of the meal, though, was the sweet-tart-and-utterly addictive Brioche Pain Perdu ($10), which featured two slices of buttermilk French toast topped with fromage blanc, berry compote and a whey caramel. It wasn’t overly rich or sickly saccharine, but it was sticky and delicious.
Little Brother, I will be back.