Highlight on Hornby: Panz Veggie
One of my former classmates from the Department of Sociology at UBC recently invited me to join a new activist organization, Pedestrians Promoting Hornby Business (PPHB). I checked them out and was impressed with their mandate:
We promote large-scale pedestrian commercial activity on Hornby Street. As Hornby becomes a vital hub for commerce and pedestrianism downtown, this street – with its brand new separated bike lane – will become a model for the rest of Vancouver, and the country, to follow.
In this city, the main criticism against separated bike lanes is that they are bad for business. It is up to us to prove we can change our spatial paradigms and learn to enjoy first-rate urbanism in Vancouver. The Hornby area has the potential to become a unique and dynamic space in Vancouver. We will organize dinners, café meetings, fundraisers, bike rides and numerous other events and social gatherings in the area.
So, being a radical sociologist who is, unfortunately, too lazy and apathetic to ever actually do anything radical, I took action for once in my poor, pathetic life. I joined their facebook group and even signed up to attend the first organized event to promote Hornby businesses, which was dinner at Mona’s Lebanese restaurant. Mmm, Lebanese…
All of a sudden, the event was changed and we were going to Panz Veggie Chinese restaurant. WHAT?! This did not sound appealing at all. I looked up Panz reviews on Urbanspoon. The reviews (at least the recent ones) were mostly positive, but still…vegetarian? I looked up the Panz Veggie website and saw some testimonials, which read to the effect that even non-vegetarians would like the place. But I also learned that Panz Veggie was not just vegetarian, it was vegan! Oh the horror! I was feeling pretty pissed that I agreed to go, back when I thought it was Lebanese, and was now stuck going to a vegan restaurant. Grrr.
To slightly re-phrase my response to a question about whether I would be reviewing non-beef burgers in my Mission: Best Burger:
Vegan? Oh hell no. This is all about the hot beef injection. I’m gonna die of a cow hormone overdose.
Hopefully this puts my disappointment in perspective for you.
That said, when I inquired into why the sudden change of venue, I found out that Mona’s had actually closed down that week, another casualty of the financially-ailing Vancouver restaurant industry. That made me feel really shitty about my little temper tantrum and it also impressed upon me the importance of PPHB and the work they do.
So vegan Chinese food it was.
Panz Veggie looks small on the outside, but it is nice, cozy, and fairly spacious inside as the restaurant opens up a bit more in the back. Sheila, the owner, was very welcoming and an open and honest interview subject. Although many business owners might consider the new Hornby bike lane a threat to their financial solvency, Sheila was optimistic that, in the long run, it was good for the neighbourhood and for the city. What a great attitude! Too bad she runs a vegan restaurant, I thought.
There were about 10 of us that night, planning to order and pay separately. Fortunately, the head server Allen convinced us to eat family style. YES! There is no other way to eat. I say that, of course, because it allows me to try a little bit of everything.
First up were the spring rolls, which were a little greasy, but still very good. I think what made these so different (in a good way) is that the veggies tasted so fresh. Panz Veggie sources their produce from local vendors whenever possible, and this difference can be tasted.
But I wasn’t impressed yet because spring rolls seem like an ideal vegan food. Could a vegan restaurant really impress me? Turns out, yes.
Next up was the vegan wonton soup. This is what Panz Veggie is famous for because vegan wonton soup is hard to come by, so I hear. One taste of this wonton soup and I was amazed, shocked, wowed. No MSG, fresh broccoli and mushrooms, savoury broth, and tender wontons. Mmm mmm. Sure, the wontons were filled with tofuey stuff, a little detail that did not bum out this hardcore carnivore. (How is this possible?! I’m not sure.) This was really good soup! We ordered one large serving for $10 and everyone at the table was able to have one small bowl (I had two).
Next came a flurry of delicious dishes. I’m afraid that, while I made sure to try everything, I wasn’t able to hear all the names or get pictures of all the dishes. But this is what I do know: the three mushroom chowmein, the peanut dish (stir fry), the “romance of three mushrooms,” the spicy soya spirals with eggplant and spinach, and the cashew dish (stir fry) were all fantastic. I would recommend them and go back for them.
The only dish that I didn’t care for was Buddha’s Feast, which was the dish that I picked out. My bad. Fortunately, others at the table finished it off, so I guess it was just my personal preference.
At the end of the meal, we received complimentary desserts, which were gelatinous red bean squares that made me want to hurl. Ugh, I ate too much. This was the last thing I wanted to eat right then. It looked so slimy. I was going to pass, but everyone was taking a serving. I dutifully took a square and shoveled a bit of thick coconut milk sauce on top.
Wow, delicious! Somehow, despite the look of it, despite my initial repulsion, despite how full I was, this dessert was sweet and satisfying. I would definitely order it again.
A vegetarian at the table said that she’d tried a lot of vegetarian restaurants in Vancouver and Panz Veggie “tops them all.” At one point, she said, “I’m so impressed with the attention to detail!” She then pointed out how all the bean sprouts in a particular dish had been tied in a knot. What the…? She asked if I’d noticed how all the carrots had been cut like flowers. Um, no, I clearly lack observational skills.
I did notice the value. All dishes were only $10 each (or less). Each dish is of a sharable size. If you go with a friend, I’d suggest that you order one appetizer or soup and one main dish to share. Any more than this will probably be too much. When the 10 of us went, we ordered 10 dishes, as well as the spring rolls and soup. We could not finish everything and still the total bill only ended up costing each person $12. Value: I love it!
My final words on Panz Veggie: the testimonials are true—even non-vegetarians will love it. I can’t wait to go back.
1355 Hornby Street
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