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

Sorry, We’re Open – Northern B.C. Style

Endless daylight hours on Atlin Lake... restaurant hours, not so much

Endless daylight hours on Atlin Lake… restaurant hours, not so much

You’d best do some planning if you’re hoping to get something to eat or drink in Atlin, a charming mountain community in northern B.C.

We’ve just come off two weeks of sea kayaking on B.C.’s largest natural lake, Atlin Lake, and are stoked to get some fresh-roasted java from Atlin Mountain Coffee‘s little roadside cart in this funky little town with its own music festival. Pulling up around lunchtime, we are stunned to discover they’re only open 9 am to noon weekdays. What the …?

Okay, we find a small grocery store that sells their beans, and make a lovely pot of cowboy coffee on a picnic table overlooking the marina. Thus caffeinated, we do a fabulous, short hike up Monarch Mountain, already festooned in wildflowers, with superb views over both Atlin Lake and the town of Atlin.

Monarch Mountain hike boasts a fabulous view over Atlin Lake and the town of Atlin, B.C.

Monarch Mountain hike boasts a fabulous view over Atlin Lake and the town of Atlin, B.C.

Coming down in late afternoon, we stop by the provincial liquor store to pick up some beer. Sorry, closed at 5 pm. Double WTF. Fortunately, the pub at lakeside Atlin Mountain Inn has just opened for the evening, and we savour some frosty Yukon Brewing beer on the deck. No kitchen, though, just a sleeve of Pringles chips to nosh on.

We squeeze in an evening wrap at Jenz.

We squeeze in an evening wrap at Jenz.

We manage to sneak into Jenz Cafe just before its 7 pm closing and scarf down some tasty wraps, mine featuring bison smokies. At about 10 pm, we get back to home base in Whitehorse (Yukon Territory), still rather peckish after days of backcountry cuisine. The first two takeout pizza joints we phone are closed for the night. Well, at least Boston Pizza is sticking to southern hours, and the beer from the fridge tastes mighty fine.

Closer to Whitehorse, we do a hike the next day on the Sam McGee Trail near Carcross. It’s a tremendous, scenic route, capped by a cappo and fresh-baked goodies at Caribou Crossing Coffee, featuring Bean North beans.

Caribou Crossing Coffee is in one of several Carcross buildings with a Tagish First Nation theme

Caribou Crossing Coffee is in one of several Carcross buildings with a Tagish First Nation theme

No problem figuring out the hours here. It’s open 9 am-6 pm everyday during the summer season. Hallelujah!

Heike Graf runs the first-rate Caribou Crossing Coffee

Heike Graf runs the first-rate Caribou Crossing Coffee

Tacos Punta Cabras a Tiny Spot Pumping out Big Flavour in Santa Monica

Grilling hand-made tacos at Tacos Punta Cabras in Santa Monica

Grilling hand-made tacos at Tacos Punta Cabras in Santa Monica

Talk about hole in the wall. *Tacos Punta Cabras is so small that when I ask if they have a bathroom, the order taker sends me through the kitchen, with a shout of “Coming through!”

It’s a good way to see how the food’s being prepared. At Punta Cabras, it’s authentic and oh-so fresh, with a cook pressing little balls of fresh corn nixtamal into disks and then grilling them in rice bran oil on a small stove.

The dining area is the definition of hole in the wall

The dining area is the definition of hole in the wall

My lightly breaded shrimp taco is similarly fresh and chewy, the crowning touch the two house-made salsas: an arbol with some bite and a pineapple. At $3.75 per taco ($6 for a heaping tostada), it may cost more than at many taquerias. But it’s a small price to pay for such quality.

Tacos Punta Cabras
2311 Santa Monica Boulevard, Santa Monica
Monday to Saturday 11 am-8 pm, except 9 pm Saturday. Closed Sunday
Tacos Punta Cabras on Urbanspoon

Jumpstart Your L.A. Day With Some Excellent Coffee

Fabulous muffin and coffee at Caffe Luxxe in Santa Monica, California

Fabulous muffin and coffee at Caffe Luxxe in Santa Monica, California

The Los Angeles region has certainly jumped on the hipster coffee bandwagon pioneered by wetter coastal climes to the north. There’s now no shortage of spartan digs, with baristas in tight jeans and fashionable eyewear dispensing pour overs and cold brews.

But for a metro area of gazillions, there’s surprisingly few indigenous places roasting beans, especially now that Handsome Coffee’s been bought out by San Francisco’s Blue Bottle. Of course, there’s longstanding Klatch, but it’s based out in the relative L.A. hinterlands.

One exception is Caffe Luxxe, which bills itself as a local, artisan coffee roaster. What’s nice, from my perspective, is its signature Testa Rossa embraces the darker side, which many “third-wave” roasters have abandoned in favour of lighter beans. It’s most pleasant sipping a smoky Americano in a high-ceiling Santa Monica cafe, while chewing a scrumptious apple crumble muffin from nearby bakery Huckleberry and listening to soft jazz and conversation among friends.

A pleasant place to while away the morning.

A pleasant place to while away the morning.

Caffe Luxxe
925 Montana Avenue, Santa Monica, California
Weekdays 6 am-6 pm, weekends 6:30 am-6 pm
Caffe Luxxe on Urbanspoon

If you don’t mind venturing into the downtown L.A. area, Blacktop is a wee coffee bar in the funky Arts District. Its lovely little street-front patio is a great place to sip an espresso and then saunter over to frequent-visiting, outstanding food truck Guerilla Tacos. You’d hardly know you were in the heart of the giant city.

Yes, this is the downtown Los Angeles area at Blacktop Coffee

Yes, this is the downtown Los Angeles area at Blacktop Coffee

Blacktop Coffee
826 East 3 Street, Los Angeles
Daily 7 am-7 pm
Blacktop Coffee on Urbanspoon

Happy Huckleberry in Santa Monica

Huckleberry is a fun, happening place in Santa Monica, California

Huckleberry is a fun, happening place in Santa Monica, California

Santa Monica’s Huckleberry can get kinda loud. Not pounding music loud. More happy customers chatting with friends and enjoying a late breakfast or lunch loud.

Oh, it can get pretty busy, too, with people lining up at the counter to order a brisket hash or a lentil ragu with poached eggs for breakfast or a butternut squash salad for lunch. I opt for a recommended warm turkey meatball sandwich ($12), hold the extra burrata cheese. Great choice. The meatballs melt in my mouth, the tomato sauce slops my chops, the soft bread making everything pillowy smooth.

Warm turkey meatball sandwich certainly hits the spot

Warm turkey meatball sandwich certainly hits the spot

It’s not cheap. But like it’s sister Santa Monica restaurant Milo & Olive, the first-class food is mostly made from scratch and imaginatively put together. If you’ve got room, the baked treats will weaken your resolve, I assure you.

Huckleberry
1014 Wilshire Boulevard, Santa Monica, California
Weekdays 8 am-8 pm (lunch starting at 11 am), weekends 8 am-5 pm
Huckleberry Café on Urbanspoon