Calgary Mini-Break: All That’s Fit to Eat

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!

Phil & Sebastian's

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.

Analog Cafe

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.

Sidewalk Citizen Bakery

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

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.

Rocky's Burger Bus

Poutine from Rocky’s Burger Bus

Bensonhurst Pizza

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.

Bensonhurst Pizza

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.

Briggs

Classic breakfast

Mack’s breakfast perogies ($13) was the better dish, if not only for its unique nature and, well, a generous sprinkling of crispy bacon.

Briggs

Breakfast perogies

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.

River Café

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.

River Cafe

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.

River Cafe

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.

River Cafe

Roasted halibut and fiddleheads

I enjoyed the dessert of s’mores ($3), and in particular the buttery house-made graham cookie.

River Cafe

S’more

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!

Calgary Food Recaplets

One day, I might catch up on all of the back posts I intend to write…but I’m not there yet. Here are a few of the food-related places Mack and I checked out while in Calgary a few months back that didn’t fit into my previous posts.

Kingsland Farmers’ Market

Though I know our own farmers’ market scene has its own share of politics, the fact that Calgary’s ups and downs has played out in the public eye made it all the more intriguing to me as a non-resident. When I read that several vendors were breaking free from the Calgary Farmers’ Market to start their own (what has become the Kingsland Farmers’ Market), I knew checking it out would be at the top of our Calgary to-do list. Mary Ellen of Greens, Eggs and Ham has been selling at Kingsland for a number of months now, and has been providing us with updates along the way, so it was even better to be able to see it in person.

Kingsland Farmers' Market

Kingsland Farmers’ Market

It’s another Calgary market that is open on multiple days – Thursday to Sunday. Most of the vendors seemed to have permanent stalls, selling everything from produce to meat to wine and prepared food.

Kingsland Farmers' Market

Interior

It was a decent space, a converted car dealership, with high ceilings accented by nice wooden beams. With the large number of hot food vendors, it was great that the farmers’ market also had a large, bright seating area set aside – I can imagine friends meeting up for a bite to eat at the market, which would be a great draw for those not necessarily looking to shop. The same area also housed craft vendors – separation much appreciated by those just looking to do their grocery shopping.

Kingsland Farmers' Market

Greens, Eggs and Ham

Like the Calgary Farmers’ Market, the Kingsland Market also allows the sale of imported produce. Mary Ellen told us that they operate on the bullseye diet – goods that can’t be sourced locally can be brought in from elsewhere. She commented that Calgarians seem to prefer the “one-stop shop” farmers’ market.

Kingsland Farmers' Market

The tropical fruit table

We didn’t want to buy too much, given we would be in Calgary for a few more days without cold storage options, but we did pick up a bag of pretzel buns from Rustic Sourdough Bakery (they were miles above the pretzel bun we had at Loungeburger), plus two cute “pies on a stick” from Sugar Pie Bakery. What can’t be served on a stick these days?

Kingsland Farmers' Market

Pretzel buns

Kingsland Farmers' Market

Sugar Pie Bakery

Phil & Sebastian at Chinook Centre

I’m not sure I ever considered the possibility of one of the third wave darlings like Transcend or Credo ever setting up shop in one of our major shopping complexes, but after stumbling upon Phil & Sebastian in Chinook Centre, I’m wondering if that day might be closer than we think.

Phil & Sebastian

Phil & Sebastian

Open since September, the Phil & Sebastian is located in the newest wing of Chinook, but is also accessible from a street entrance. It was absolutely hopping, with many patrons (like us) stopping by for a caffeine boost to break up an afternoon of shopping, but it seemed many others were oblivious to the mall’s connection.

Phil & Sebastian

Interior

We loved the design, with the central coffee bar dominating the space, an open invitation for patrons to watch their coffee being made, and to interact with the baristas.

Coppeneur

The space vacated by Kismet on Stephen Avenue has been turned into a charming chocolate shop. Coppeneur is a micro-batch bean-to-bar chocolate maker, based in Germany (some of their products are carried by Kerstin’s Chocolates in Edmonton). This is their first retail location in North America.

Coppeneur

Coppeneur

I always enjoy browsing for chocolate, and this occasion was no exception. We picked up a mixed package of their cuvee bars, which were almost too beautiful to consume – barks of dark, milk or white chocolate studded with everything from almonds to cocoa nibs to pink peppercorns. Worth a visit – particularly because they were one of the few storefronts downtown actually open on a Sunday!

Coppeneur

Cuvee bars

Spoon Me

The cheekily named Spoon Me is a frozen yogurt chain with twenty locations in the U.S., and two locations in Calgary. We stopped in for a snack at the Kensington branch just before heading back to Edmonton.

It was a delightful space to spend some time in, bursting with natural light, bright wall colours, and funky furniture. The bathroom walls were decorated with decals playing off their name, such as “May the spoon be with you!” and “You can’t handle the spoon!”. The fun continued with their fill-in-the-blank napkins.

Spoon Me

Frozen yogurt treat

At $5 for a small (with three toppings), it was on par with other frozen yogurt bars, but between the interior and the laugh we had reading through some of the napkins pinned up to the wall, it was well worth it.

Spoon Me

And it just keeps on growing…

I really appreciate that such a lovely food city is only a few hours from us – and though we share many similarities with Calgary, it always feels a bit like a world away. I’m looking forward to our next trip down already!

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!