Calgary Birthday Round-up: The Big Cheese, Model Milk, Blue Star Diner and Una Pizza

Back in June, well-timed with my birthday, Mack and I took a mini-break in Calgary. I relish any opportunity to further explore their culinary scene (something impossible for visitors to keep up with), but I think we made a fair dent that weekend.

The Big Cheese Poutinerie

The Big Cheese Poutinerie was voted “best poutine” in Calgary in the recent FFWD poll, so we thought it was worth checking out.

The Big Cheese Poutinerie

The Big Cheese Poutinerie

They had quite a few more options than La Poutine, many with an intense variety of topping options, such as mac and cheese, Scottish curry and corn dogs. We ordered the most basic traditional (just curds and gravy) and the Notorious P.I.G. (Carolina pulled pork, double smoked bacon and
Italian sausage).

We brought our poutine boxes to their adorable backyard patio, fenced in and graced with trees, and dug in.

The Big Cheese Poutinerie

Mack loves poutine!

The fries weren’t as crispy as we would have liked, and the Quebec curds didn’t squeak, but the Notorious P.I.G. was still darn tasty (and our favourite of the two). I liked the sweetness from the bacon, which helped offset the rest of the meat.

The Big Cheese Poutinerie

Traditional

The Big Cheese Poutinerie

Notorious P.I.G.

Model Milk

We’d heard some great things about Model Milk, which at the time, seemed like Calgary’s “it” restaurant. As a result, we were really looking forward to try their spin on Southern comfort food.

Model Milk

Look for the cow!

We loved the name upon hearing its origins – Model Milk is an homage to the building’s history as Model Dairy. Some of the plant’s fixtures, such as the viewing window into the bottling area, were preserved in the conversion to a restaurant. As a result, the dining room presents as a gorgeous marriage of the industrial with rustic. The pendant lights above were a lovely touch above our table, but the best seat in the house was undoubtedly at the chef’s table beneath a skylight.

Model Milk

Interior

Model Milk

Chef’s table

Q Water (a water filtration system sold as an alternative to imported bottled water) seems to be all the rage, but the administration of it (i.e., the cost) varies greatly between restaurants, to the point where it’s entirely up to the diner to clarify. I was reminded of this at Model Milk, when we accidentally ended up with pricey Q Water because I didn’t ask when given the choice between “sparkling” and “still”. The tab? $3 a person for water.

Model Milk

Q Water

Their menus had similar numbered iterations to what we were familiar with at Three Boars, and similarly, although there were a few vegetarian options to choose from, the chefs appeared to like all incarnations of meat.

The veal croquette starters ($12) were crispy without being oily, and we loved the texture and the interplay of sweet and spicy in the apple chili glaze.

Model Milk

Veal croquettes

My dish, named pig ($28), was quite the showstopper. Aptly put, tenderloin was wrapped in sausage then wrapped in bacon, and presented so moist and tender that it literally fell to pieces when sliced. Even more a compliment to the chef, it didn’t leave me with a fatty mouth feel. I also enjoyed the refreshing sides of crushed edamame and mint and a pea, celery and apple salad.

Model Milk

Pig

Mack liked his halibut cheeks ($27), prepared with a crunchy potato crust and a creamy tartar sauce. The underlay of potatoes were a bit of a hit and miss – some were well cooked, while others were hard and glassy.

Model Milk

Halibut

Given the menu changes so frequently, I’d be hard pressed to say what’s for dinner at Model Milk today, but based on our experience, I’d love to be surprised on our next visit!

Blue Star Diner

Opened by the same folks behind Dairy Lane, we knew we would be in good hands at Blue Star Diner, a relatively new restaurant in the quaint community of Bridgeland.

The crowd outside told us we were in the right place, and though it was a cold and drizzly out, we didn’t mind the half hour wait, tempered by the offer of hot coffee to sip.

Blue Star Diner

A typical Calgary brunch line-up

Once inside, we marvelled at the charming interior – baby blue paint, crisp glass display shelves, funky chalkboard walls, and perhaps my favourite accent – framed photos of the farmers Dairy Lane sources from.

Blue Star Diner

Interior

Local was definitely all over the menu as well – I really appreciated that the names of producers were highlighted prominently. The newest producer to join the ranks, Broek Farms, was even profiled on a tabletop card.

The servers were friendly and efficient, though Mack’s one small complaint was that the coffee refills petered out after our plates were delivered (his litmus test for brunch service). But in a way, the food more than made up for that minor misstep. My order of stuffed French toast ($12.75) was one of the best brunch dishes I had in recent memory, an irresistible combination of Sylvan Star gruyere, mushrooms, herbs and hollandaise.

Blue Star Diner

Stuffed French toast

Mack’s Broek pulled pork eggs benedict ($15) featured perfectly soft poached eggs, and pork that kicked back and complemented the tangy hollandaise.

Blue Star Diner

Pulled pork eggs benedict

Though I have quite a few diner favourites in Calgary, Blue Star Diner is now hovering near the top. It most definitely deserves another visit the next time we’re in the city.

Una Pizza + Wine

We had enjoyed our meal at Ox & Angela earlier this year, so wanted to try its brother establishment with an equally good reputation, Una Pizza.

At 5:30pm on a Sunday, it was already hopping, and we snagged just about the last of the open seats. We elected to sit outside to drink in the rays, given it was the only sunny break that entire weekend. With its vantage of 17 Avenue however, it also made a great people watching spot.

Una Pizza & Wine

On the patio

Una Pizza is actually open until 1am every day, quite a feat and commitment by the owners to ensure quality late night dining exists in Calgary. The menu offered quite a range of non-pizza dishes, many with a Spanish flair, but we stuck with the pizza side of things.

Una Pizza & Wine

Two-tiered pizza

I chose the mushroom pizza ($20), layered with roasted criminis, smoked mozzarella, truffle oil and arugula. I could taste the time taken to cook down the mushrooms, and the flavour combination was good enough to inspire me to replicate it at home.

Una Pizza & Wine

Mushroom pizza

Mack’s red pizza to my white featured san marzano tomato sauce, prosciutto, provolone and arugula ($18). He noted the crust was much different than Edmonton’s go-to independent pizza joint, Famoso, firmer, crispier and not wood fired. That day, it really hit the spot.

Una Pizza & Wine

Prosciutto pizza

We loved the vibe of Una – fun and vibrant, it reminded us of Tres Carnales. Though the food took a little longer than expected (we had ordered just after the small party next to us, but by the time our food arrived, they had already finished their meal), Una is the type of place where you linger over a glass of wine and catch up. We’ll be back.

A much belated thanks to Mack for a great birthday weekend!

One thought on “Calgary Birthday Round-up: The Big Cheese, Model Milk, Blue Star Diner and Una Pizza

  1. Great post! I absolutely LOVE everything about Calgary, especially their food scene. I had the chance to try UNA pizza the last time I was there and totally agree with you – I love the vibrant scene and the food was delicious! Also tried out a great brunch place, OEB, next door to Diner Deluxe.

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