The door is a nondescript green. There is no window, no address, and it sits in an alley-like recess. The only identifying characteristics are an odd symbol–a “c” with zig-zag lines above and below, and four simple letters painted above the jamb: “E X I T.”
The door is indeed an exit, but it is also an entrance. When you pull on the heavy brass handle, you reveal an old, dark wood staircase going up. Entering and climbing the stairs, you go from full, warm, sunlight, to the kind of coolness most often felt in a Victorian home. There is the slightest air of dampness.
The room at the top of the stairs is small. There is barely room here for 10 tables, all dark wood, to match the dark wood work on the bar, and framing the windows. This is Campagnolo Upstairs.
Open for just a few months, Campagnolo Upstairs has a speakeasy, prohibition-era quality about it. If you didn’t know it was there, you’d have a hard time finding it. The symbol that marks the door, in fact, is inspired by an old-timey pictographic hobo code. Originally created by vagabonds, these markings would direct fellow hobos to necessities and temptations including fresh water, safety, food and alcohol.
Campagnolo Upstairs opened in February, and it is both a hidden gem for late-night cocktails, as well as handling overflow from its downstairs sibling, Campagnolo. The dinner menu features Italian comfort foods like beautifully prepared pastas made with hyper local ingredients. The cocktail program is overseen by Peter Van De Reep, who is one of the city’s best.
A few weeks ago, they launched a weekend brunch. Brunch at Campagnolo Upstairs is much like going to a friend’s house on the weekend for coffee, mimosas and waffles. The space is incredibly warm and intimate, the service is easy and friendly, but the drinks and eats are probably elevated beyond anything your friends can make, unless, of course, your friend is a professional chef.
Chef/Owner, Robert Belcham is well known for his love of the pig (he recently designed a beer in partnership with R&B Brewing that included filtering it through charred pig bones), so it’s no shocker that pork and his house-made charcuterie plays a pretty strong role in the menu. There is, for example, a Croque Madame made with his own Mortadella, or a hash with eggs, tomatoes, potatoes, mushrooms and his own Cotechino sausage.
For the brunch purists amongst you, there is a simple-but-well-prepared classic eggs and bacon, an omelette with chèvre, or bacon flapjacks that come with bourbon-infused maple syrup. I enjoyed the house-smoked Wild BC Salmon Benedict. Served on house-baked scratch biscuits, the eggs were poached perfectly, and the hollandaise had a fabulous mustardy bite.
My favourite dish had to be the Hazelnut Crepes. Thin crepes smeared with Nutella, and rolled around gently sautéed, sliced, Pink Lady apples are served on a plate with a scattering of caramelized hazelnuts and dollops of honey chantilly cream. My dream brunch dish.
Weekend brunch is my favourite meal of the week. The best ones are deceptive: they appear simple on the surface, but underneath that simplicity, there is depth of flavour that comes from putting a lot of care into the prep. And love. Lots of love. Which is exactly what you’ll find at Campagnolo Upstairs, behind the green door.
Address: 1020 Main Street, Vancouver (behind the green door)
Brunch served Saturday and Sunday mornings from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Open for dinner 6 p.m. to late all other days of the week