Edmonton’s Coffee Scene Perking Up

Coffee Bureau is just one of the new cafes that has popped up in Edmonton

Coffee Bureau is just one of the new cafes that has popped up in Edmonton

Until recently, Edmonton’s coffee scene was best described as slumbering. But suddenly, it’s jolted to double-shot life, to the point where it’s surprisingly surpassed Calgary.

Consider that four (that’s right, four) new, independent coffee shops have opened in the first half of this year. Indeed, two— Coffee Bureau and the basement Lock Stock Coffee, attached to Red Star Pub—are across the street from each other on formerly moribund Jasper Avenue.

Lock Stock Coffee is a little basement space attached to Red Star Pub

Lock Stock Coffee is a little basement space attached to Red Star Pub

A third, Barking Buffalo Cafe, has joined the action on fashionable 124 Street, where Credo added a second outlet a year earlier. The last of the new arrivals, Little Brick Cafe and General Store, is part of Nate Box’s growing empire, which includes two newish downtown locations, Burrow (in an underground light-rail transit station) and District Coffee.

Little Brick Cafe is in a charming historic building in the Riverdale neighbourhood

Little Brick Cafe is in a charming historic building in the Riverdale neighbourhood

If there’s a theme to this caffeinated surge, it’s this: Hole-in-the-wall spaces with limited seating and a firm focus on crafting fine espresso-based drinks and offering just a few baked treats. It’s also interesting that the roasts in these places lean to the dark side, a pushback, perhaps, against the lighter beans long fashionable in aficionado coffee circles.

Coffee Bureau is symbolic of the new-look Edmonton cafe. It’s elegantly spare, containing maybe a dozen seats at pine tables and benches along the front window and a side wall decorated with good, local art. Yet it doesn’t feel cramped. The nice, darker espresso beans are from Edmonton’s new Ace Coffee Roasters and the muffins and croissants from Garneau’s Leva Cafe.

Featuring beans from Toronto micro roaster Pilot, Barking Buffalo Cafe is a unique combination of coffee shop and clothing designer/retailer Salgado Fenwick. It’s another caffeinated 124 Street option to those who don’t want to line up for the uber popular, excellent bakery Duchess.

Barking Buffalo Cafe shares space with a local clothing designer/store

Barking Buffalo Cafe shares space with a local clothing designer/store

Not to be left out, Edmonton’s south side will soon be joining the fun. The Woodrack Cafe is set to open on 109 Street later this year, and long-time local roaster Transcend Coffee will move into the new Ritchie market in 2016.

Will all these new coffee shops survive? Who knows. This much choice doesn’t seem to have hurt Seattle or Portland.

One thing’s for sure. Edmonton is embracing micro coffee shops with a religious fervour. Perhaps that explains why, of the new entries, only Little Brick is open on Sunday.

Kicking Horse Coffee Kicks Ass With Hometown Cafe

 

Fabulous, plant-surrounded patio at Kicking Horse Coffee Cafe in Invermere, B.C.

Fabulous, plant-surrounded patio at Kicking Horse Coffee Cafe in Invermere, B.C.

Kicking Horse Coffee is one of the biggest independent roasters in Canada, its signature black bags of organic, fair-trade beans found in major grocery outlets across the land. So you’d think if I was journeying to the café in their home base of Invermere, B.C., I’d be writing about the coffee.

Sorry. I mean my 12-ounce Americano  is certainly delicious, the dark, dense roast tickling my tastebuds. And certainly the beans from the nearby roasting facility are fresh as can be.

But what strikes me most is the café’s ambience. Inside, the long space is fashionably black, with nice lighting and long strips of wood fronting the counter. It’s a lovely refuge from the heat of a summer’s day in this lakeside resort town in the Columbia Valley.

The cafe's cool, stylish interior

The cafe’s cool, stylish interior

 

The bathroom walls illustrate the various brands of Kicking Horse roasts

The bathroom walls illustrate the various brands of Kicking Horse roasts

Even more impressive is the landscaping surrounding the outside patio; tall, waving grasses interspersed with trembling aspen and drought-resistant perennials. I just sit in this oasis and savour the coffee, not even bothering to peruse a menu of cookies, fresh soups, sushi and artisan breads. Next time.

Lovely tall-grass landscaping

Lovely tall-grass landscaping

Kicking Horse Coffee Cafe
491 Arrow Road, Invermere, B.C.
Weekdays 7 am-5 pm, Saturday 8 am-5 pm, Sunday 9 am-4 pm
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Slow-As-You-Can Food in B.C.’s Slocan Valley

The salad fixings are grown right out front at Slocan B.C.'s charming Lemon Creek Lodge

The salad fixings are grown right out front at Slocan B.C.’s charming Lemon Creek Lodge

On most restaurant menus, “garden salad” is usually just a marketing slogan. But at Lemon Creek Lodge in B.C.’s laidback Slocan Valley (motto: Slow as you can), the lettuce, zucchini and other greenery come straight from the deer-proof raised bed boxes out front.

You can certainly taste the just-picked freshness of the beautifully arranged salad plates—with perhaps a roasted garlic dressing—that come as an opening act with most dinners. The theme continues with hand-made pasta forming the base of the evening’s seafood special and helping attract a local crowd to this decidedly out-of-the-way restaurant.

Co-owner Judy Derco getting breakfast ready for our group

Co-owner Judy Derco getting breakfast ready for our group

We’re staying overnight in this character lodge. Like the food, it’s hand built, with post-and-beam construction and a rustic theme. Breakfast is included, and co-owner Judy Derco is up early, fixing us bacon and eggs, waffles and a coffee cake featuring blueberries and, of course, garden zucchini. Sweet.

Waffles with strawberries and cream

Waffles with fresh fruit and whipped cream

Lemon Creek Lodge
Slocan, B.C.
Thursday to Sunday 5 pm-8 pm. Closed Monday to Wednesday

Some Schnitzel With That Butter Chicken?

Goldie Sanghera runs the show at Paramjit's Kitchen in Revelstoke, B.C.

Goldie Sanghera runs the show at Paramjit’s Kitchen in Revelstoke, B.C.

Here’s something you don’t see every day: Indian and German food under one roof.

But when it’s Parmajit’s Kitchen, in Revelstoke, B.C., it makes sense to see schnitzel alongside beef vindaloo. That’s because owner/chef Goldie Sanghera combines an Indian heritage with classical training in the kitchens of Austria.

On this occasion, we’re going for a big feed of Indian takeout to satiate our hunger pangs after a tough, week-long backpack in nearby mountain wilderness. So we order cauliflower and potato curry, saag paneer, spicy beef keema and some chicken korma, along with a whack of naan and rice. It all goes down splendidly, and rather silently, with a few bottles of local Mt. Begbie Brewing Co. Tall Timber ale and Nasty Habit IPA.

A smorgasbord of Indian flavours

A smorgasbord of Indian flavours

Parmajit’s is known affectionately by loyal locals as Pam’s, in honour of Goldie’s mother, who still makes kitchen appearances. It’s a small downtown joint, with customers also hunched over plates of Thai classics like pad thai and coconut curry.

As we heft our takeout bags, a guy lifts his head long enough to declare: “Best schnitzel in the west.” Next time.

Paramjit’s Kitchen
116 1 Street West, Revelstoke, B.C.
Monday to Thursday 11 am-8 pm, Friday 11 am-9 pm, Saturday 4 pm-9 pm. Closed Sunday
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Pigging Out at Edmonton’s Farrow Sandwiches

Mason jar pour-overs at tiny Farrow Sandwiches in Edmonton

Mason jar pour-overs at tiny Farrow Sandwiches in Edmonton

Following in the footsteps of Vancouver’s Meat & Bread and fellow Edmontonian Elm Cafe, Farrow Sandwiches is bringing a decidedly minimalist approach to the city’s Garneau neighbourhood.

Like the former, Farrow offers a rotating menu of just four sandwiches, along with some high-end coffee. Like the latter, the space is tiny. Tiny as in three high window seats and a counter, a coffee-making space and a wee grill that collectively spans a few paces. Think food truck with indoor ordering.

The industrial soundtrack might be enough to make an oldster like me just grab my butcher block-wrapped sammy and head to a streetside picnic table or my car, anyway. (I was the oldest customer by a factor of at least two, but I can generally hang with the young’uns.)

Besides, in a place like this, it’s all about the food. I go with the popular, breakfasty Grick Middle ($7), the only constant on a menu that includes a daily vegetarian option. When it’s this simple, the details count and they nail them with a chewy Portuguese roll, thick strips of bacon, a slightly runny egg, rosemary aioli and a knockout tomato jam.

A fabulous egg and bacon sandwich on Portuguese, with a tomato jam kicker

A fabulous egg and bacon sandwich on Portuguese, with a tomato jam kicker

There are three types of non-espresso coffee, all from high-end beans like Stumptown and Drop Coffee. One is brewed (“fast”), one is “slow”—a pour-over into a big Mason jar—and the third is a cold brew. The two young owners of this new eatery obviously have a passion for sandwiches and coffee and are wisely sticking to their expertise.

Farrow Sandwiches
8422 109 Street, Edmonton
Weekdays 8 am-4 pm, weekends 9 am-4 pm. Closed Tuesday
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Stella’s Inn: Open When You’re Hungry

Old-world charm and hospitality at Stella's Inn in Beaver Mines, Alberta

Old-world charm and hospitality at Stella’s Inn in Beaver Mines, Alberta

Now this is what exceptional service looks like.

We’ve just finished a six-day, often scorching backpack along the spectacular Great Divide Trail, going north from Waterton Lakes National Park. Our tongues are practically scraping the trail as we reach our car at the Castle Mountain Ski Resort, in deep southwest Alberta.

So we’re sure looking forward to a celebratory beer and burger at Stella’s Inn, a little pub and café (recommended by a friend) in the charming hamlet of nearby Beaver Mines, just south of Crowsnest Pass. But as we pull up to the old wood building just before noon, the parking lot is suspiciously empty, and a little “closed” sign seems to seal the deal. Nonetheless, one passenger hops out to make sure and returns a minute later, waving us to come in. “She doesn’t officially open till 4 pm, but she’ll make us lunch.”

When you've been skiing at Castle Mountain for half a century, they name a poster after you

When you’ve been skiing at Castle Mountain for half a century, they name a poster after you

In we go through a darkened pub framed with historical posters from the ski resort, where Stella has skied since the hill opened in the mid-1960s. The inside dining area opens onto one of the nicest decks you’ll find anywhere—shaded by tall, deciduous trees, festooned with flowers, patrolled by a lithe but deaf 21-year-old cat and flanked with views across ranchland to the Front Ranges of the Rocky Mountains.

Can you beat this patio—and all to ourselves?

Can you beat this patio—and all to ourselves?

Best of all, we’ve got this lovely “middle of nowhere” place to ourselves, a private engagement if you will. Well, it’s hard to beat the first sips of beer served in frosted mugs. Then Stella (officially Susan White and self described as “innkeeper, chef, bottle washer”) disappears into the kitchen to prepare our burgers. My friends go with beef, and I consider haddock, but how can I ignore a crab cake burger?

Now here's the way to end a six-day backpack

Now here’s the way to end a six-day backpack

Not long after, three beautiful plates arrive, artfully decorated with oven-roasted fries, a little watermelon salad  and burgers nestled inside ciabatta buns. My goodness! I know everything tastes better after a few days on the trail, but this would be a knockout even after an hour of driving.

It doesn't get any better than a crab cake burger with oven-roasted fries

It doesn’t get any better than a crab cake burger with oven-roasted fries

“I don’t like to boast, but I am a good cook,” allows Stella as I peruse an ever-changing dinner menu that, the night before, included lamb shank and featured an offering with truffle oil.

“What are your hours?”
“Oh, just phone ahead, and I’ll make sure I’m open.”
“Who are your customers”?
“A lot of tourists as well as fishermen and duck hunters,” who also stay at the inn.

I guess if you make food this good and keep an open-door policy, they will find you.

Stella’s Inn
Beaver Mines, Alberta
Hours vary. Phone 403-627-9798