Gathering Place Cafe is one of the more unique spots within the pantheon of the Victoria restaurant world. Convenience store/lunch counters may be a dime-a-dozen in Eastern Canadian capitals, but Gathering Place is probably the only place in Victoria that fits into the category. Up front you've got your garden-variety convenience store—complete with Arizona Ice Tea, narrow aisles, and maybe a toothbrush and some foot cream or something. In the back you've got a cluttered coffee counter, keno, seating for twenty, and a bunch of storage material stuffed away in the corner. If there is another place like this in Victoria, I've never heard of it.
The burger here is perhaps as much of an anomaly as the cafe itself. I was fully expecting an offering akin to that of Camosun or UVIC, but oh did I get so much more. Gathering Place defies the odds by serving up a home-made patty on a surprisingly fresh and squishy white roll. The patty is a thick and gelatanous little number that throws quite the textural curveball to your tongue. It's almost as if you're eating a jello-burger salad (albeit lighter on the jello end than your average jello salad). You think to yourself as you take the first bite, "Is this even a burger? Should I think this is disgusting, or awesome?" Well yes it's different, but when you overcome the oddness of the patty—this is a pretty satisfying burger for the price.
In fact, in terms of Chinese-Canadian restaurants, gelatanous patties are apparently quite commonplace. According to friend and colleague Miles Bissky, the vast majority of burger patties found at Chinese/Western restaurants have the same sort of tapioca-feel that the unit served at Gathering Place has. His theory (and I suppose mine as well) is that a little sugar is added to the beef to create the odd and slightly off-putting texture.
Gathering Place tops their patty with a slice of American cheese, a mixture of mayo and green relish, and the usual vegetable suspects. This mix, and the freshness of the white roll used to house everything, manages to downplay the bizareness of the burger patty. As much as I feel like I should hate this burger because the patty barely resembles anything remotely conventional... I just can't. This burger is weird as hell for people (like myself) who aren't accustomed to the anomalies of Chinese-style burgers, but fuck if it wasn't a pretty good tasting deal for six bucks.
VERDICT: The needle exchange is gone. The crazies have all moved a block over. Stop being a pussy and give this place a try: there's no other dining experience in Victoria like it.
ps. A quick note on the diverse clientele that frequent this establishment: no one else was in the cafe when we first sat down, but we were soon joined by a few other thrify diners. Most notable among the bunch were an ederly asian man and a 20-something effeminate looking dude who were dining together. The elder gentleman was waxing poetic about Tommy Douglas as the younger man looked totally bored. It was great people watching.