Riverside Café: Whistler's best greasy-spoon diner you've never heard of 

'It's a little bit like the Cheers of breakfast cafés,' says chef-owner

click to enlarge PHOTO SUBMITTED - diamond in the rough Riverside Café is one of Whistler's best-kept secrets.
  • PHOTO submitted
  • diamond in the rough Riverside Café is one of Whistler's best-kept secrets.

Riverside Café is so off the beaten track that its owner didn't even know the longtime locals' haunt existed until months before he purchased it.

"I've lived in town for nine years and only found out about it about two years ago, maybe six months or so before I bought it," explained Nikita Kornilov, who became chef-owner of the laidback breakfast spot in 2015.

Kornilov is used to the café's under-the-radar status by now, and even plays a little game when he goes out for dinner in the village.

"I like to ask my server if they've ever heard of the café and I realize people who've been in town for years sometimes have never been by," he said. Tucked away in the Riverside Resort campground near the Mons industrial site is certainly not an ideal location for a restaurant, but the customers who have managed to find it have unearthed a hidden gem to call their own.

"We definitely get a lot of the local regulars," said Kornilov, who appreciates the chance to get to know his customers.

"It's nice to be able to have a conversation with people who come in and not just serve people namelessly. I love being able to have a little conversation and see how people's day's going. It's a little bit like the Cheers of breakfast cafés."

Kornilov, perhaps unsurprisingly, came to Riverside from another beloved locals' spot, Citta's, after it changed hands in 2014. Untrained before he took the job nearly 10 years ago, Kornilov learned the tricks of the trade from the pub's longtime chef who took a shining to the young cook. Then, Kornilov was offered the kitchen manager position ahead of the 2010 Olympics, and jumped at the chance.

But it didn't take long before the chef realized being his own boss was more his style.

"I got kind of tired of working for other people," he said. "I just wanted to have a different kind of atmosphere: something more open, and find a couple good employees and a good chef."

Riverside's menu reflects the no-fuss, down-home approach Kornilov takes to his cooking. You won't find the gourmet frittatas or avocado toast that have become all the rage in Vancouver's trendiest brunch places here. Just simple, classic diner fare that is cooked in the time it deserves. (For my money, Riverside's hollandaise is the best in Whistler, and their massive Lumberjack Breakfast is the perfect cure to an epic hangover. Oh, and they squeeze their own orange juice!)

"We try not to just pump food out as fast as possible," Kornilov continued. "We take our time with it to make sure it's looking good and tasting good before it goes out to the customers and not just thrown on the plate and sent out."

That dedication to getting things right means, unlike a lot of restaurants in town that see ridiculously high turnover, Riverside's small staff is able to ensure the consistency of every plate they send out. Because I'm a creature of habit, I tend to order the same thing— the three-egg omelet stuffed with ham, peppers, mushrooms and cheese — and I'm always amazed when, inevitably, it not only tastes identical but looks exactly the same every time. It's the great challenge of cooking simply: without the bells and whistles that some restaurants employ as a smoke screen, you better hope you're making damn good food, and that's exactly what Riverside is all about.

For more information, visit www.riversidecafewhistler.ca.

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