Firehouse Grill takes top prize

Andrew Gregory, sushi chef, builds one of Firehouse Grill’s Fighting Buddha Roll sushi platters. - The News Bulletin
Andrew Gregory, sushi chef, builds one of Firehouse Grill’s Fighting Buddha Roll sushi platters.
— image credit: The News Bulletin

It’s hard to quantify what makes a great restaurant.

The food had better be good for sure, but it also has to be a place that lets people feel at home while they’re enjoying the experience of being out on the town with friends, a date, or a ball team. A place where staff and atmosphere invite you in and make you welcome and comfortable while you’re there.

Mike Atherton wanted to do something new after working in a casino for nine years. He’d never owned a restaurant, but he teamed up with Dean Andrichuk, a chef from Calgary, and they opened the Firehouse Grill in 2007, in historic Nanaimo Fire Hall No. 2.

“I liked a lot of the other restaurants, but I also wanted to try something a little bit different and that’s what we’ve done here,” Atherton said.

The Firehouse Grill has built some local fame for its sushi that won the 2012 Best of the City best sushi category. There are 91 seats in the restaurant, but regulars fill up the 10 bar seats first because that’s where the sushi chef hands out samples of new ideas he’s experimenting with.

But the restaurant’s unique main menu – Atherton describes it as West Coast fusion and features pastas, steaks, seafood and jambalaya – helped win the 2012 Best of the City overall best restaurant category.

For nine years, Andrichuk was the head chef of a successful Louisiana, Cajun, crab shack-style restaurant in Calgary.

“They went down to New Orleans and got a lot of their menu items from down there,” Atherton said. “So now we’ve got a smoker here and a lot of the food out of the kitchen comes out smoked and we’ve even included that into the sushi, so the sushi is very fusion style. It’s North Americanized sushi. It’s not traditional.”

The red brick walls, wooden floors of the fire hall, built in 1893, augmented with fixtures and photographs from the period contrast with modern black and white furnishings.

You can hold a private meeting in the restaurant’s loft and a party downstairs, but a couple can find a quiet corner for dinner and drinks.

Weeknights are busy. On weekends you’d best make a reservation.

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