Serving the “Mack Burger”: Loungeburger

Before we realized we’d even have a shot at getting our mitts on an Alley Burger while in Calgary, we were craving beef. A quick search on Chowhound led us to Loungeburger, an upscale casual joint whose lineage we couldn’t help but link with Edmonton’s Delux.

It was insanely packed – or maybe it has just been a while since we had to compete for seats during the Saturday night rush hour. The restaurant does accept reservations (which, of course, we did not have), but curiously also honoured reservations in their so-described first come, first served lounge. We waited about half an hour before being ushered to a table.

As mentioned, Loungeburger falls into the genre of restaurants popularized by Joey’s, Earls and Cactus Club, sharing the traits of pulsating background music, dim lights, and servers in form-fitting clothing. But perhaps because of its burger-forward menu, this restaurant also seemed to draw its share of families with young children.

The dining room, dressed in all wood and shades of brown, was not appealing. My friend Jill would have called it regretful feng shui, but to me, it just did not have a sense of flow – with oddly placed columns, a raised enclosure in the centre of the space, and a poorly planned combination of open tables and booths, I couldn’t help but think they should have consulted the designers of Local Public Eatery (a great example of how to combine the best of booth and table worlds). Thankfully, the food didn’t reflect our opinion of the décor.

Though Loungeburger isn’t quite a one-note restaurant (they do offer a range of appetizers and non-burger options), their burger menu is mighty impressive. Not only are there eighteen different burgers, but with the possibility of customizing your own, the true count is endless. They also serve six kinds of fries, alongside ten different dipping sauces (at extra charge).

The lounger ($23) Mack chose was made for him– with a 1/2 pound blend of Kobe and triple A beef stuffed with applewood smoked cheddar and bacon (two of his favourite things!), it’s a wonder his photo wasn’t on the menu itself. And boy, did it live up to his expectations – it was a hefty burger, with an acceptable amount of grease, and in between bites of bacon, beef and cheese, Mack declared it “money.”

Loungeburger

The Lounger with homestyle fries

Loungeburger

Mack digs in

My burger was a little more straightforward – I embraced the opportunity to try a Kobe beef burger ($21), sandwiched between Loungeburger’s pretzel bun. It was a satisfying meal, but for me, nothing really out of the ordinary. The beef had a nice rounded flavour, and like Mack’s patty, had a perfectly charred crust. I just wasn’t sure I’d be able to distinguish the Kobe from any other type of beef. I was also expecting a little more from the pretzel bun – it certainly looked good, with a twisted top and a nice sheen. And though its dense interior was able to hold together with the assault of the patty’s juices, it reminded neither of us of a pretzel. The curly fries were the best of the two kinds we ordered, and tasted like those served at Arby’s.

Loungeburger

Kobe beef burger with curly fries

Service was steady, and our waitress deserved props for her efforts to try and fix our wobbly table. Based on that, and the fact that they didn’t disappoint on their namesake dishes, we would definitely return. Especially on nights when the Alley Burger isn’t in session.

Loungeburger
#270, 14 Avenue SE, Macleod Trail South, Calgary
(403) 250-2747

For the Love of Sharing: Taste

Some time ago, Bruce and Sarah recommended that Mack and I try Taste, the next time we were in Calgary. Located in the same building as Hotel Arts (which we stayed at the last time we were in Calgary), we were sorry to have missed it, but vowed not to make the same mistake again.

It was just a short walk from our hotel, just south of the Fairmont, but because of their subtle signage, we really had to know what to look for. The dining space was probably slightly larger than Corso 32 in Edmonton, but had a similar vibe, intimate and laid-back. There were a mix of table options: high, bar-height arrangements, most of them open for communal dining; banquet seating against the window; and where we ultimately decided to sit – at the bar.

Similar to our experience at The Slanted Door, our choice was affirmed by the friendly and knowledgeable bartender (it was also neat to get a peek behind the counter – where the Flames game was being live-streamed on a laptop). The bartender filled us in on the monthly overhaul of the wine list, changed to keep things fresh – it could be based around a region or type of grape, for example.

The menu at Taste is built upon the idea of small plates meant to be shared, a concept that might be a dime a dozen at the moment. What sets Taste apart, however, is the fact that their kitchen (if one could call it that) consists of a few hot plates, and nothing more. Perched at the bar, we had a great view of the kitchen masters, churning out dish after dish, unhampered – and unfazed – by their cubbyhole workspace and its lack of standard appliances.

Taste

The kitchen (my apologies for the terrible/lack of photos – we were playing with Mack’s new camera, which you would think would result in better photos, but this was the outcome of a combination of poor lighting and setting unfamiliarity)

The duck meatballs ($15) were served with crispy spaghetti – their version of spaghetti and meatballs. It was our favourite dish of the night, fatty and flavourful, with just the right amount of whimsy. We thought the duck would also make a great slider patty, sandwiched between a tiny brioche bun.

Mack also really enjoyed the mac n’ cheese ($10) with aged cheddar and parmesan. It wasn’t as rich as some we’ve had in recent memory, but we liked the crunchy topping.

The mini beef tacos ($15) were a great idea in theory, but just didn’t work for me. The crispy wonton shells shattered into pieces at first bite, and though the beef tataki was well seasoned, the texture, combined with the carrot slaw and the crumbled wonton skins, wasn’t appealing. Mack didn’t mind these so much.

Taste

Mini beef tacos

The gnocchi ($10) were nice and light, perfect little bites that convinced me that pasta actually could work well in small portions. But though I loved the fragrant top notes of the truffle oil, it completely overwhelmed the wild mushrooms.

We sprung for the most adorable dessert – three different creme brulees served in three tiny ramekins. Between the lemon, lime and blueberry, with nicely caramelized tops, we both preferred the lime custard.

The menu changed on March 7, and has been reviewed by a slew of Calgary food bloggers, who were invited for a, erm, taste (they also have photos that you can actually discern). In addition, they offer fun weekly events such as a discounted menu on Tuesdays, and sausage party Thursdays – how can one pass that up?

Taste
1210 1st Street SW
(403) 233-7730
Monday-Saturday 11:30-late

The No Line Brunch: Big Fish

In perusing Chowhound threads to determine a brunch spot while in Calgary last month, I came across the suggestion of Big Fish, a restaurant run by the same folks behind the ever-popular Diner Deluxe. Posters commented about the restaurant’s under-the-radar quality, meaning that one could snag a seat without a gratuitous wait. We were sold.

Arriving at Big Fish on a Saturday morning, we got exactly what we expected – a table upon arrival. (other pluses – the restaurant has a decent-sized parking lot, and even takes reservations). There were two other parties when we sat down, but the restaurant was no more than half-full during our stay.

Big Fish

Interior

The dining room was flush with natural light, and cozy, with well-worn wooden furniture. I could easily see why the family seated behind us had chosen this as the venue for a birthday celebration – in many ways, it felt like eating in a friend’s kitchen, laid-back and comfortable. The service mirrored the room, friendly but relaxed (and our coffee mugs were never empty!).

In spite of the restaurant’s name, Big Fish does have a few brunch options devoid of seafood. I chose two of them. First, the wild mushroom, truffle, basil and white cheddar scramble on duck confit hash ($15). It was a rich, filling dish (my first time enjoying duck for breakfast), with a generous cap of melted cheese on top. The pea shoots were a nice touch, but I was hoping for something more than smashed, boiled potatoes for the hash.

Big Fish

Wild mushroom, truffle, basil and white cheddar scramble on duck confit hash

The second was due to my indecisiveness, and a bit of a Gilmore Girls moment – the Urban Baker raisin brioche French toast with orange curd and maple syrup sounded too good to pass up, and the server said it was all right to order just a slice. And yes, it was worth the indulgence, the citrus providing just the right burst of freshness to balance out the butter and syrup.

Big Fish

French toast with orange curd and maple syrup

Mack ordered the eggs benedict with dungeness crab ($14). Like me, he would have preferred crispy potatoes, but he did say that the smashed potatoes willingly soaked up the runny yolks. And the most telling picture of all: he finished his plate.

Big Fish

Eggs benedict with dungeness crab

It’s odd, the line that separates brunch from lunch. While that line is formed to some degree by the time of day, day of the week, and menu items, atmosphere also plays a big factor, at least for us.  Though the food was solid at Big Fish, the space just didn’t have that buzz, that intangible weekend zest for life that our favourite restaurants do. Half the fun of brunch is the people-watching, after all! For that reason, though it’s probably not rational to choose line-ups over reservations, unless we needed to secure a table in advance, you’ll likely find us back at Dairy Lane or Over Easy instead.

Big Fish
1112 Edmonton Trail Northeast
(403) 277-3403

The Charcut Alley Burger Experience

Is there anything more appealing than a gourmet burger purchased in a dark alleyway? There must not be, given the resounding success of Charcut’s foray into their version of street food, sold from the side door of their swanky downtown restaurant.

Many people (including Andree and Jerry) have blogged about Charcut’s novel idea, which involves tweeting out the availability of their “alley burgers” on select Fridays and Saturdays. For $5, diners wait in the alley next to Charcut for the chance to buy an individual version of their Share Burger. Of course, it’s never just about the food, as Mack and I discovered first hand.

Thanks to Andree, we found out that Charcut would be offering their alley burger that night at ten (two Saturdays ago). At 9:30, we put on our winter gear and headed downstairs; we happened to be staying at the Le Germain, the building that Charcut is housed in.

Charcut Alley Burger

The alley

We joined the five people in line ahead of us, but we didn’t have to round out the back for long. In the half hour that followed, more and more people arrived, some in pairs, many in small groups. A truck illegally parked in the alley, its driver jumping out to join the fray. The woman behind us shivered in shoes without socks – her partner didn’t inform her that their bite to eat involved spending some time outdoors first. We also spotted a Mariott employee further back in the line. All in all, we estimated that there were about forty people waiting.

Charcut Alley Burger

The line

Except for those dragged unknowingly (like the sock-less woman), the crowd – ourselves included – were a bit self-congratulatory – no doubt there were numerous Facebook updates made, tweets sent and photos captured in that alley, everyone wanting to share the fact that they were in line to snag a limited edition burger. But as the clock ticked down, it was difficult not to get caught up in the anticipation, watching the door for any sign of movement – not as individuals, but as a hungry hoard.

I think it’s remarkable that Charcut has built up this amount of buzz in the community, using nothing more than the social media tools available to them – already, the Century Hospitality Group in Edmonton is looking to do something similar in the coming months.

Just after 10pm, a staff person peeked his head out – he commented that there were more people than he was expecting in line. A few minutes later, he returned, flipping up an adorable “open” sign (in the shape of a pig, naturally), and wandered down the line collecting money, remarking that he felt very much like a drug dealer. Unfortunately, he had to cut the line off halfway – apparently, they only had enough burgers for the first twenty people.

Charcut Alley Burger

No burgers for you!

With a bit too much glee, we took our burgers upstairs to enjoy. The juicy, flavourful patty and the thick slice of melted curd cheese hit the spot (never mind that it was the second burger for each of us that night – hello, gluttony!). We were also not sure if it had to do with the “alley burger” package, but the meat tasted less like sausage and more like a well-formed patty this time, as opposed to our encounter with it in Share Burger-form.

Charcut Alley Burger

Mmm…burger

Almost regardless of the burger, if you are in Calgary, I’d recommend the alley experience – it was like nothing else we’ve ever done before.

Recap: Weekend in Calgary

At the end of July, Mack and I decided to escape to Calgary for a weekend, eluding the boxes and avoiding the general chaos that surrounded us after the move. I had good intentions to write a series of posts about all of our epicurious encounters down south, but as you can guess, I put it off. I figured – better late than never, and better something than nothing at all.

Belmont Diner

It’s no secret that Mack and I adore diners. so it wasn’t a surprise that our first stop ended up being a diner.

Belmont Diner in Marda Loop had been on my hit list for some time (operated by the same people behind Galaxie Diner and Myhre’s Deli), and though our driving schedule meant we would reach our destination towards the end of their operating hours on Saturday, their all-day breakfast menu meant we wouldn’t be penalized for our late arrival.

Belmont Diner

Mack loves his Coke

Though we had a decent experience at Belmont, I think our visit to Galaxie Diner coloured our introduction to Belmont. The layout and menu were strikingly similar to Galaxie, and unfortunately, my burger ($10.75) was dry. Thankfully, the bottomless(!) hash browns saved the plate – though they don’t look like much, the slightly crispy potatoes were nicely seasoned with an interesting blend of spices.

Belmont Diner

Burger

Mack had better luck with his hearty “everything” Calgary sandwich ($12.25), which also included a side of bottomless hash browns.

Belmont Diner

Calgary sandwich

While we would eat at Belmont again if we were in the area, based on this meal, we wouldn’t go out of our way to return.

Phil & Sebastian Coffee Company

After lunch, we wandered into the nearby location of Phil & Sebastian. This storefront opened in late November 2009, and based on the excitement exuded by the food folks down south, it was evident Phil & Sebastian has long outgrown their original booth at the Calgary Farmers’ Market.

Phil & Sebastian Coffee

I love their packaging

There is no question is it an absolutely stunning space. With a high ceiling, a clean white and black colour scheme and interesting light fixtures (a huge, Pixar-like arm lamp near the door, and of-the-moment Edison bulbs), I wouldn’t think twice about relocating my mobile office here.

Phil & Sebastian Coffee

Phil & Sebastian at the Marda Loop

Charcut

It’s hard not to salivate when reading about a 35 pound poutine, made with 3kg of cheese curds and fries simmered in duck fat. So although the family-style serving wouldn’t be in the cards for us, I knew a visit to Charcut would be, after reading Julie Van Rosendaal’s post.

Charcut opened in February in the swanky new Hotel Le Germain downtown, the name reflecting the “custom-built rotisserie and charbroiler” (char) and “featured vintage-style slicer and hand-crafted charcuterie eating bar” (cut). We would have loved to sit at the back of the restaurant, facing the kitchen (and the charcuterie cooler, complete with two pig’s heads), but they were unfortunately full that night.

Charcut

How cute is the porcine paper clip?

I wasn’t too fond of the “ranch” touches in what could have been a sleek dining room – a cow mural, wooden beams, and wagon wheel light fixtures featuring mason jars – but I suppose they reminded diners of the rustic nature of the food.

Charcut

Interior

The menu isn’t extensive, but changes every day (old menus are recycled into dish liners), and prominently highlights local producers. We decided to share three dishes, which although seemed doable at the time, filled us up in no time due to their sinfully rich nature.

Charcut

Amuse bouche of turkey terrine and peaches atop a brioche crostini

The lamb croquettes ($15) were delightfully crispy, and were lovingly smoked, which enhanced the flavour of the meat.

Charcut

Lamb croquettes

The share burger, “Charcut style”, consisted of a roasted garlic sausage patty, cheese curds, and a fried egg ($2.5/oz, minimum 9oz). It was interesting to try a sausage patty, dense and fatty as it was, but it was overcooked, making it even more difficult to eat. The brioche and egg, on the other hand, were perfect, the latter fried to a wobbly, yolk-bursting precipice.

Charcut

Share burger

And the poutine ($8)? Heaven. The truffle oil assaulted our senses first, and gave way to fries that had been simmered in duck fat and drenched in a generous amount of cheese curds. The gravy was a bit thin (Mack prefers it thicker), but truly, it’s a dish to fight over.

Charcut

Duck fat poutine

The trend of throwback desserts caught us, as it did at Farm. We couldn’t pass up their animal crackers, accompanied by a garden rhubarb and summer berry crème brulee ($8). The shortbread cookies didn’t taste quite like those boxed crackers of our youth, but went really well with the warmed custard (it was actually warmed through! a pet peeve of mine with restaurant crème brulees). Mack especially liked the softened fruit, which was distributed evenly throughout the custard.

Charcut

Crème brulee

It’s worth noting that the kitchen was efficient, and that service was attentive but respectful. But regardless, need I say it again? Duck fat poutine.

Fiestaval 2010

On our way home from dinner, we stumbled upon Fiestaval, Calgary’s Latin Festival. Olympic Plaza was filled with food and product vendors, and we were able to catch the tail end of their last performer of the day.

Fiestaval

Olympic Plaza

Between the crowd and the energy (people were dancing in the square), it’s hard to deny that Calgary has their own festival culture.

Fiestaval

These pink gophers still crack me up

Over Easy Breakfast

Located just down from Diner Deluxe (one of my Calgary favourites), Over Easy has become a popular breakfast destination.

I loved the chalkboard ceiling just bursting with colour, and the equally fun “We Got Huevos” t-shirts (similar to the cheeky “Line Tamer” shirts at Diner Deluxe). Our server was exceptionally friendly and ensured we were never left wanting for coffee, and was notably excited when we told her it was our first visit to the restaurant.

Overeasy Breafkast

Ceiling

Unlike Belmont Diner, Over Easy has an extensive menu, and one I could see locals returning to many times without compromising variety. And though they got my pancake order wrong, it was a happy mistake – the waffle was sweet, crispy and finished with icing sugar and berries, was like having dessert for breakfast.

Overeasy Breafkast

Fruit-topped waffle

Mack’s blue plate special (actually served on a blue plate), featured a nice amount of fruit, and wonderfully crispy bacon.

Overeasy Breafkast

Blue plate special

We’ll be back!

Sun & Salsa Festival 2010

We ended our weekend at the Kensington Sun & Salsa Festival, which I had added to our itinerary once seeing it on Andree’s blog.

Our introduction to the festival wasn’t pleasant – we couldn’t find parking in the neighbourhood for the life of us. Driving around in circles, it seemed to us that the entire city of Calgary had decided to drive to the event that day (our original plan was to take the C-Train there, but as it was our last stop, it didn’t make too much sense to backtrack on transit). We eventually secured a spot, and wandered into the grounds to see what all the fuss about.

Kensington Sun & Salsa Festival

Kensington

It was actually pretty cool – patrons were invited to sample over 40 salsas put together by local businesses and organizations, with proceeds from the taco chips going to charity.

Kensington Sun & Salsa Festival

The salsa from Naked Leaf was more chutney than salsa – a jasmine-infused peach salsa – but it was creative an unique

Though many stations were out by the time we made our rounds, our favourite was the salsa by Higher Ground – mild, tomato-based, but tasty.

The streets were closed to cars, and were packed shoulder to shoulder with people. A haphazard mix of booths lined the streets (with no method to the madness – non-profits placed at random in between municipal election candidates and private businesses), as well as outdoor food vendors. Though I think the food could have taken some attention away from the salsa (especially when the salsa stations weren’t clearly marked), the salsa didn’t seem to be the focus of the event anyway – instead, the intention was to bring people into the neighbourhood and to promote the area merchants.

Kensington Sun & Salsa Festival

Sun & Salsa

It was a fun event, and really, such a great idea – kudos to the organizers!

Chocolate + Bacon: Epiphanie Chocolate

As we walked past several storefronts to Myhre’s Deli, we noticed Epiphanie Chocolates (did I mention that the entire little block, with its small corner grocer, a décor shop, and of course, a chocolatier, is utterly charming?).

Never having been able to resist chocolates, we stepped into the small store, and found that its simple but elegant décor (complete with a window seat peppered with brightly coloured cushions) reminded us somewhat of Bling. It turned out the shop’s chocolatier, Debra Fleck, is originally from Edmonton, having opened the business in November with her husband John.

Interior of Epiphanie, with John Fleck in the background

Their focus is on truffles, although other products (such as pop-rock filled guitar moulds, drinking chocolate, and a selection of single-origin vanillas and cocoa powders) can be found on the shelves. The display case held nearly two-dozen varieties, some of them brilliantly decorated in bright, tropical colour coatings or adorned with miniature designs. At $2 each, the prices are comparable with Kerstin’s Chocolates and Sweet Lollapalooza in Edmonton. John offered us a few samples – ginger, earl grey and strawberry, and we found the latter to be our favourite, with a smooth, not overwhelmingly sweet centre, still containing crunchy strawberry seeds.

We decided to zero in on one of their feature items, priced at $2.31 each – the double-smoked bacon truffle. It was covered in a Calgary Herald article just a few weeks ago, along the same lines of an Edmonton bacon-centric article that appeared in the Journal in February. Mack and I were fortunate to have tried Kerstin’s chocolate-covered Berkshire pork bacon last year, so the flavour combination wasn’t new to us. Epiphanie’s version involves double-smoked bacon from Valbella and Davao, a dark milk chocolate from the Philippines. I have to say I loved the little pink pig atop the truffle.

Double-smoked bacon truffles

Just like with Kerstin’s concoction, however, in spite of the salty-sweet interaction, the chewy, almost-crunchy texture of the bacon and the velvety chocolate did not make for a pleasing match, at least for us. It’s definitely worth a try (especially because it is all the rage right now), but the next time I’m at Epiphanie, I think the strawberry truffle will be my treat of choice.

Epiphanie Chocolates
1417 11 Street SW, Calgary, AB
(403) 370-4592
Monday- Saturday 10am-6pm

Montreal Smoked Heaven: Myhre’s Deli

On Friday, Mack was asked by fellow prominent Edmonton Next Gen-er Ken Bautista to join him on a social media panel at the Canadian Arts Summit, being held this year at The Banff Centre. With accommodations and travel taken care of, and no plans tying him to Edmonton for the weekend, how could he say no? I jumped right on board, eager for the opportunity to get away, and we were off.

We left on Saturday afternoon, and planned to stop somewhere in Calgary for lunch. The BlackBerry came in handy to look up hours of operation, and after some site surfing, we chose Myhre’s Deli (formerly The Palace of Eats), situated in the Beltline District. Galaxie Diner next door (operated by the same folks) is one of our favourite diners in Calgary, with their heaping portions, lively atmosphere and open kitchen. While waiting in line for a seat at Galaxie, we had some time to peer in the windows of the deli, which specialized in Montreal smoked meat sandwiches. It looked like something we had to come back to try eventually.

Myhre’s Deli

Myhre’s Deli is a small but warm restaurant, lined with comfortable, unpretentious wooden furniture, a retro-inspired wall menu, and furnished with an antique cash register. It was empty save for one table when we arrived, and without a soundtrack overhead, was a tad too quiet for my taste – almost completely opposite of our experience at Galaxie Diner.

In any case, the service was quick – we were presented with our order of 6 oz. regular ($10) and 8 oz. full ($12) Montreal smoked meat sandwiches nearly right away, slathered with our choice of a half dozen mustards. Contained in the same basket were tiny paper cups of lightly-dressed coleslaw and BBQ chips – it made for a nice presentation.

Our order

When we picked up the sandwich half, we found it to be absolutely stacked with sliced meat (from Quebec Smoked Meats). It was warm and so juicy that a single bite resulted in a cascade of moisture. The house blend mustard had quite an unexpected kick to it, but the refreshing coleslaw helped to calm down my palate. My only issue with the sandwich was the pick-out-of-your-teeth softness of the bread, though Mack thought that was chosen specifically to contrast the chewy texture of the meat.

A regular sandwich

With fast, efficient service and tasty sandwiches, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Myhre’s Deli. I just hope they crank up the music next time!

Myhre’s Deli
1411 11th St. SW, Calgary, AB
(403) 244-6602
Open daily 11am-4pm

For the Love of Nostalgia: Diner Deluxe

On a slushy Saturday morning in Calgary, Mack and I made our way to Diner Deluxe, which has the distinction of being my favourite brunch purveyor in the city. I love the nostalgic feel of the place, the 70s furniture, the pastel walls, and how the kitchen spills into the dining area. It also helps that Diner Deluxe inaugurated me into Calgary’s brunch culture (something Edmonton is sorely missing), and subsequently led me to Nellie’s, Avenue Diner, Dairy Lane and Galaxie Diner, among others.

I find the wait, while the same in duration as some of the other places (anywhere from twenty to forty-five minutes), is tempered with chairs to sit on and self-serve coffee to ease the time. And of course, all of what we look for is there: quick kitchen-to-table service? Check. Coffee refills without request? Check. Heaping portions? Check.

On the back of the menu (too cute)

The rosemary potatoes in my egg and sausage breakfast were outstanding, crispy and flecked with herbs. The portion of sausage included was also quite generous. Mack’s stuffed French toast was a little unevenly prepared, with gobs of cheese in certain sections, but overall, he liked the indulgent dish.

Two Eggs with Sausage, Multigrain Toast and Hashbrowns

Sourdough French Toast Stuffed with Canadian Bacon and Smoked Cheddar

Though Mack said he preferred Galaxie (our counter/courtside seat to the flattop stage didn’t hurt), he liked Diner Deluxe as well. In the end, perhaps it’s a good thing we don’t have as many brunch eateries in Edmonton – I wouldn’t have the travel excuse to fall back on as a reason to visit them all!

Diner Deluxe
804 Edmonton Trail NE, Calgary
(403) 276-5499

Comfort Food at its Best: Farm

Oh, Farm. I’ve wanted to go to Janice Beaton’s jewel of a restaurant for so long that I almost can’t believe it’s only a year old.

Beaton is a noted Calgary-based cheesemaker who ran a successful cheese and charcuterie shop in Kensington for year. She decided to close the shop recently to focus on Farm, and though I only have one experience to base it on, I’m excited to see Beaton take an already wonderfully-executed concept to the next level.

A twenty-minute trek on foot from our hotel brought us to the bustling interior of Farm, a tiny storefront that is very easily missed. We joined a small line of about eight individuals, and were told that our wait would be no longer than twenty minutes. As we inched closer to the front of the line, we were amazed that each new server we encountered stopped to greet us and ask if we had been taken care of already. This, coupled with the option to order wine to accompany our wait, were small but appreciated gestures of welcome that helped set the warm tone for the evening.

We surveyed the décor as we sipped our wine – people were packed into Farm like the best kind of restaurants, in a get-to-know-your-neighbour kind of way. To that effect, Farm even has a communal table lit with two funky chandeliers, and though we didn’t mind our Founding Farmers dinner with shared seating, we were happy to have been treated to a more intimate affair that night.

I loved their exposed kitchen (complete with counter seating), the colourful chalkboard on the back wall declaring their ever-changing specials, and the carpe diem quotation that met patrons upon entry: “The tragedy of life is not that it ends so soon, but that we wait so long to begin it.” It was a sign that we should make the most of our visit. And we would.

Mack at Farm

One of Farm’s celebrated menu features are their cheese and charcuterie offerings. Going beyond a baguette-pairing though, the kitchen also pairs each selection with a special accoutrement. We were both feeling pretty starved, so decided on five selections ($25), and leaned on our expert server for guidance. He added to our choice of 3 year old cheddar and Valbella prosciutto with recommendations of double-cream brie, and bunderfleisch and venison salami also from Valbella.

The platter was beautifully put together, with each of the meats artfully arranged into vertical towers. Our server explained each of the pairings, some of them which seemed offbeat at first encounter: pickles with the bunderfleisch, mustard with the salami. We felt a bit like Ratatouille’s Remy in the scene when he experiments with taste and flavour combinations, particularly when we found our favourite – aged cheddar with grape jelly. While it seems strange, the initial sweetness gave way to the salty burst of the cheese, a perfect pairing. The prosciutto was another favourite, though sans the olive accompaniment, at least for me. The bunderfleisch was new to both of us, but had a rich flavour and texture that stood up well against the sharpness of the cheddar.

Cheese and Charcuterie Platter

We were a bit afraid our entrees, ordered up front, would be delivered while we were still making our way through adult cheese and crackers. But we should have given more credit to the restaurant, which expertly timed everything, and we needn’t have worried.

Our stomachs were ready for Farm’s comfort-food mains, which, as Andree wrote about last week, are meant to be shared. The Spring Creek Ranch short rib ($18) was fall-apart tender, and melted in our mouths. The creamy celery root puree was lovely as well, a nice change from the usual potato mash. I just wish there had been more of it!

Spring Creek Ranch Short Rib with Celery Root Puree and Roasted Beets

Mack’s choice of spicy mac and cheese ($10 for a small) was a winner – the nutty, crunchy breadcrumb topping made the dish for me alone. The sauce was also of a perfect consistency – neither runny or too stiff, with the addition of spice a welcome twist (counterbalanced by the side of sweet pickles). The size of the dish was an indication of how rich it was, and though Mack probably wanted to eat two portions, we were glad to have the short rib to balance it out.

Janice’s Mac ‘n Cheese

Our server was excellent, and provided some of the best service that I have had in a while. He was personable, good humored, and knowledgeable. And it was his concession that ultimately pushed us to order from the dessert menu – he offered to warm the chocolate chip cookies (5 for $5) for us.

Imagine capping off your comforting meal with homemade cookies – it was a revelation. Paired with a cup of strong Fratello coffee (locally-roasted, of course), we couldn’t have been happier. Even if they weren’t the best cookies I ever had (I would have preferred them to be sweeter), the fact that they were warm, and available at a full-service restaurant, was the icing on our proverbial cake.

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Before we left, we took a moment to explore the small shop behind the restaurant that sells cheese, meats and condiments. Though we didn’t need a reason to come back, we’ll be sure to bring a cooler the next time we do. Oh, Farm. I can’t wait for my next visit.

Farm
1006 17 Ave SW
Calgary, AB T2T 0A5, Canada
(403) 245-2276

Walk ’til you Drop: CrossIron Mills

With some time to kill before dinner on Friday, we made the most of my conference hotel and venue being on the north edge of Calgary and merged with the weekend traffic towards Balzac.

CrossIron Mills, which holds the distinction of being the largest single-level shopping complex in Alberta, has put Balzac on the map, for better or for worse. Driving into the mall, Mack commented that the surrounding grey, bulldozed landscape reminded him of Mars – barren and void of life. I had to agree, but I am certain that within a year, the empty space will be populated with other big box retail.

Similar to other malls in Calgary like Chinook, anchor tenants are accessible via their own external entrances. This provides great convenience for the focused shopper, though as the centre’s location isn’t really that conducive to a quick stop, the gateways are rendered less effective.

 

Food court

The mall is divided into six “neighbourhoods”: fashion, ranch, resources, fossil, sport and to come in 2010, entertainment. Each district has a décor scheme that ties that distinguishes that particular wing, with a seating area highlighting the theme.

In the ranch neighbourhood

Sport seating area (with LCD panels up above, and replica trophies)

 

Pro Hockey Life‘s stick cluster

As far as shops go however, there aren’t that many unique retailers. Jim commented that Cork is a decent wine shop, and I noted that the South St. Burger Co. looks like it is worth checking out, but the majority of stores can be found elsewhere, within transit-accessible city borders.

Mack keeping cool in a pod chair (I can’t recall the name of the furniture store; they had some funky pieces though)

One exception to this statement is the 150,000 square foot Bass Pro Shop – it seriously blew our minds. Stepping into the building that stretched forever upwards, I half-expected Vince Vaughn to pop out, dressed in full-on fishing gear, as if we were on the set of a comedy.

Bass Pro Shop

From the antler-lined entranceway to the the two-storey waterfall, the massive fish-filled tank, and the taxidermy display reminiscent of a wildlife museum, it’s an outdoorsman’s paradise. Anything you could possibly need for fishing, hunting, camping or boating is available in the store, and while I’m certain their selection is good, the fact that the store is a tourist attraction in itself doesn’t hurt matters either.

Fish tank (we didn’t stay for the feeding time)

General store (with ice cream and other classic goodies)

The store is a bit of a playground as well, as evidenced by their shooting gallery. Fun could be had for just 50 cents, and well, Mack couldn’t help himself.

Duck!

We didn’t stay at CrossIron Mills quite as long as we could have, but it was enough to experience the mall. All in all, Bass Pro Shop is worth a visit for the pure spectacle of it – the rest is nothing you haven’t seen before, or couldn’t get elsewhere.