Too often I put off my travel posts, which usually results in the good eats never being shared. Hopefully I’m reversing the trend now!
Last weekend, Mack and I headed down to Calgary for a much-needed break. Though the weather we encountered was more winter than spring, it was still nice to step away from our usual routine for a few days. While a dead car battery threw a wrench in some of our plans, we still managed to hit up more than a few places.
Coffee and Snacks
We’re always a little jealous of Calgary’s coffee scene – notably of Phil & Sebastian’s. It’s wonderful to find them all over the city – from mature neighbourhoods (Mission) to farmers’ markets (Symons Valley) to shopping centres (Chinook Mall), we’re never far from great coffee. We’re fortunate that District Coffee Co. in Edmonton now carries their beans, so it means we don’t have travel as far to pick up a bag!
Pick-me-up from Phil & Sebastian’s
Analog Café by Fratello Coffee Roasters is one of our new favourites that opened last fall. It’s become a welcome haven on 17th Avenue after a day of shopping.
Afternoon coffee at Analog
As well, Analog carries pastries by Sidewalk Citizen Bakery, the darling of the baked goods scene in Calgary. We made the effort to check out the bakery’s main location, just off MacLeod surrounded by light industrial buildings. It was worth it for their flaky, buttery cheese sticks alone.
Pastry case at Sidewalk Citizen Bakery
We also usually end up visiting at least one farmers’ market while in town, and this occasion was no different. Crossroads Market renovated a portion of their building to accommodate more food vendors – hopefully in the summer the stalls will be filled with more produce vendors, as I find the import-happy Chongo’s is a poor substitute. At any rate, we decided to share an order of poutine from Rocky’s Burger Bus, parked outside of the market, for lunch (one of the items that made Julie van Rosendaal’s 2014 list of 25 Best things to Eat).
Rocky’s Burger Bus
It was comforting to see the container of russets on the windowsill of the bus, and as expected, the fries tasted fresh and remained crispy in spite of its gravy bath. We did find the gravy to be on the salty side, but it was still pretty tasty.
Poutine from Rocky’s Burger Bus
Open for about a month, Bensonhurst Pizza joins an already crowded club of Calgary pizza joints. However, Bensonhurst distinguishes itself by not specializing on one type of pie, but offering a variety of styles, including Neopolitan, Sicilian, Californian, New York and Chicago. Bensonhurst is named after one of the neighbourhood’s in Brooklyn’s Little Italy, so the menu is rounded out by other American-Italian favourites – meatballs, lasagnas and the like.
We were advised that a 9-inch Chicago-style pizza ($18) would be enough for two, and warned that it would take 35 minutes to make. I’m not sure it was worth waiting for. I’m not one for overly greasy pizzas, but this one ran the other end of the spectrum, with a crust so dry it reminded us of bread. As a result, it could have used much more cheese, if only to provide a bit more fat for flavour.
Chi-Town Classic with pepperoni and mushrooms
While we liked the concept of offering multiple pizza varieties, Bensonhurst might have to make sure the execution is better to encourage repeat business. Hopefully this was just a blip attributed to their newly-open status.
Briggs Kitchen & Bar
Briggs Kitchen & Bar wasn’t our first choice for brunch, but being walking distance from our hotel and having the option of reserving a table was enough to sway us.
With Top Chef Canada alum Xavier Lacaze in the kitchen, I hear that dinner seats are hard to come by, but on that morning, the tables were few and far between. The industrial chic room, with buffed concrete floors and dark metal fixtures lent themselves more to an after-dark dining experience, but we expected as much. Their brunch menu is small and more sophisticated than most.
Case in point, my classic breakfast ($11) was comprised of ratatouille, prosciutto and fried eggs. I would have preferred the addition of some varying textures (crispy prosciutto, perhaps?), and likely should have waited several moments before diving in – the cast iron skillet kept the dish piping hot.
Mack’s breakfast perogies ($13) was the better dish, if not only for its unique nature and, well, a generous sprinkling of crispy bacon.
Of note, our server was excellent, chipper and upbeat, and made sure our coffee was always topped up. It was a different kind of brunch than what we’re normally used to in Calgary, but one we’d return to, particularly if our group required reservations.
I’m a little embarrassed that it took us this long to finally get to River Café, a restaurant consistently regarded among Calgary’s best. And I’m happy to say it didn’t disappoint.
Tucked in Prince’s Island Park, requiring a five minute walk from the nearest parking lot (or for us, a half hour walk from our hotel), River Café should be one of the examples cited in conversations about Edmonton’s river valley development. I recognize that our river valley poses a gradient challenge Calgary doesn’t face, but I was more than a little surprised that a room full of people, many dressed in their weekend finery, were more than happy to brave the cold for a cozy dinner.
The room’s décor, lined with vintage cross-country skis, snowshoes and canoes, borders dangerously close to kitschy, but it somehow manages to remain on the charming side of cabin chic. Between the roaring wood hearth and the unseen forno oven in the kitchen, we smelled like campfire by the end of the night, cementing the concept of River Café as an urban getaway.
Mack at River Cafe
The food was memorable, starting with a white gold burrata ($15) – a made-in-Calgary item that seems to be appearing on menus all over the city. It featured a healthy serving of the fresh cheese, served with pickled cucumber and rye crisps.
White Gold burrata
Our server sold the night’s feature so well that Mack and I both decided to order it. Heralding spring, the al forno roasted halibut and fiddleheads ($39) was perfectly cooked and was such a joy to eat. It’s rare that we select the same entrée, and even more uncommon that we don’t regret it.
Roasted halibut and fiddleheads
I enjoyed the dessert of s’mores ($3), and in particular the buttery house-made graham cookie.
The service was fantastic – besides an initial delay in taking our order, ended on a note so warm and familiar we wanted to return for brunch in the morning. Needless to say, we’ve earmarked at least one of our next meals in Calgary already.
It was definitely another successful food-filled mini-break!