A Two-Day Drive for a Piece of Pie in Richland, Washington

Storm Coffee is set up in a beautifully restored Airstream trailer in Richland, Washington

Storm Coffee is set up in a beautifully restored Airstream trailer in Richland, Washington

This is a story that begins in Jasper, Alberta and ends a month and thousands of kilometres away in Richland, Washington. Ostensibly, the quest is a failure, but as is often the case, the accidental result is equally rewarding, if not more so, than if everything went according to plan.

The Jasper beginning is in laundromat/café SnowDome, which pulls a wicked espresso from a custom Slayer machine with walnut paddles, built in Seattle. Intrigued, I check the Slayer website, which features one of its machines in a beautifully restored 1964 Airstream trailer in Richland, part of the Tri-Cities area of southeast Washington.

I’m planning a long road trip that will pass through the area, so I pencil in a must-see visit to Strom Coffee. I’m also impressed by owner Kelly Nelson’s attention to detail, witness the house-made coffee syrups, organic dairy products from grass-fed cows, availability of cashew milk and refusal to drown their meticulous shots in milk or sugar. But when I arrive expectantly on the trailer doorstep, a sign announces they’re closed for the day (a reminder to check Twitter feeds more often). Say it ain’t so!

So I wander over to a nearby food truck, *The Street Grill, whose owner, Rebecca says of Strom, “He’s never closed.” And yet, he is.

The Street Grill makes great artisan burgers in Richland, Washington

The Street Grill makes great artisan burgers in Richland, Washington

With nothing better to do, I order one of her artisan burgers—hand fashioned from a Windy River Meat blend of brisket, short rib and chuck, with a little butter added to the mix, southern style, to add some flavour to the lean cuts. Perfectly grilled, with crispy onions aboard and stacked inside an excellent, custom bun that holds its shape, it reminds me of the lightly adorned burgers we used to make at home, only better.

Everything's better with a little butter, including this fresh-ground burger at The Street Grill

Everything’s better with a little butter, including this fresh-ground burger at The Street Grill

Almost as an afterthought, Rebecca asks if I’d like to try a sample of one of her almost tart-sized, thin pies. This is a blueberry-raspberry version, with a reduction sauce from a local winery’s Syrah port.

I rarely eat pie, but this looks so good, I try a bite. And then another. And another. Oh, my God, is this good! I drag over a new-found food friend, who wolfs down an entire mini pie in perhaps a minute. We agree, it’s probably the best pie we’ve had in maybe, FOREVER.

Cast your eyes on this blueberry-raspberry, port-reduction pie and jump in your car.

Cast your eyes on this blueberry-raspberry, port-reduction pie and then jump in your car. It’s that life-altering good

Rebecca then interrupts the reverie with the news that this might be a pie that’s only available to the winery, Barnard Griffin, and its patrons. Someone’s got to stop her.

The Street Grill
300 Knight Street (John Dam Plaza), Richland, Washington
Monday to Saturday 11 am-5 pm. Closed Sunday

Strom Coffee
300 Knight Street (John Dam Plaza), Richland, Washington
Monday to Thursday 6:30 am-3:30 pm, Friday 6:30 am-2 pm. Closed Sunday

A Pearl of a Waterton Lakes National Park Place

 

The cinnamon buns at Pearl's Cafe come with a twist: a caramel, bacon topping

The cinnamon buns at Pearl’s Cafe come with a twist: a caramel, bacon topping

I make a beeline for Pearls Café, in Waterton, for one reason. They use beans from my favourite roaster, Cupper’s Coffee & Tea, in nearby Lethbridge. Indeed, my double-shot Americano has that distinctive, smoky Cupper’s flavour that I so admire, though of course it could be a wee bit stronger.

A fine Americano, featuring beans from Lethbridge's Cuppers Coffee & Tea

A fine Americano, featuring beans from Lethbridge’s Cuppers Coffee & Tea

But the coffee is just what gets me in the door. As I’m sipping my java, I watch a tray of cinnamon buns emerge from the oven. It includes a species I’m unfamiliar with, one decked out in caramel and bacon.

The culinary temptations don’t end here. The French toast choices include caramelized apples stuffed inside Texas toast. It’s called Apple Pie, thus rolling breakfast and dessert onto one sinful plate. At lunch, there’s a panini combining, get this, short ribs and sloppy Joe’s.

I swear, all I wanted was coffee.

Pearls Café
305 Windflower Avenue, Waterton, Alberta
Daily 7 am-9 pm
Pearls on Urbanspoon

Wicked Wieners of Waterton

Brothers Jon and Max Low parading the dogs at their Wieners of Waterton

Brothers Jon and Max Low parading the fresh dogs at their Wieners of Waterton

The name pretty much says it all: Wieners of Waterton. Brothers Jon and Max Low (I love all those three-letter names) have kept things dead simple—four kinds of dogs, a couple of fries and a few breakfast items. That’s it.

Of course, if you’re only going to do one thing, best do it well. And the Low boys have it nailed, judging by the early-season lunch line at this shoehorn joint, with counter service and just eight window-side stools. I figure the presence of a few Waterton Lakes National Park workers in the line is a good sign of WOW’s street creds.

I could go for a quarter-pound Nathan’s dog for $6, large soft drink included. But when I see a locally made smokie, for a couple of bucks more, is there really any choice? The juicy smokie has a nice, crisp skin, with some flavourful seasonings bursting through on that first bite. But what brings everything together is the little details—the house-baked, lightly toasted bun and toppings that include Wiener’s own sweet tomato sauce, pickled onions and carrots and, if you want a little more crunch, some potato chips.

There's a locally made smoke buried under all these fixings

There’s a locally made smoke buried under all these fixings

Wieners of Waterton
301 Windflower Avenue, Waterton, Alberta
Daily 7 am-9 pm
Wieners of Waterton on Urbanspoon

Roping Some Mexican Grub in Alberta’s Cattle Country

 

There's a real general store here in Twin Butte, along with a fine Mexi-American restaurant

There’s a real general store here in Twin Butte, along with a fine Mexican restaurant

I’m deep in the heart of southern Alberta ranching country, sitting in a character, low-ceiling diner and listening to a country soundtrack. So of course, at Twin Butte Country General Store, l’m dining on… steak? Burgers? Um, actually, Mexican cuisine.

There’s a story here, about how a transplanted southern Californian, Larry Davis, renovated this historic general store, started cooking primarily Mexican food and then turned things over to his daughter, Jeny Akitt, who carries on the tradition, along with hosting good live music from touring musicians. Just trust me, it works.

The lunch/dinner menu includes enchiladas, chimichangas, burritos and tacos. But I’m here at breakfast, deciding on a Mexican scrambler but abandoning my initial choice of a “senorita” size for the more manly full size, with a side of grilled tortillas. This combination of scrambled eggs, melted cheese and chorizo sausage over nice home potatoes arrives in a little, scalding cast-iron skillet, ensuring everything stays hot for the duration of inhaling. Why don’t more breakfast places do this?

A Mexican scrambler served piping hot in a cast-iron frying pan

A Mexican scrambler served piping hot in a cast-iron frying pan

Twin Butte is along a gorgeous stretch of Highway 6 that winds through lightly treed foothills and front-range mountains south of Pincher Creek. Most folks follow it hell bent for Waterton Lakes National Park. But it’s worth pausing, however briefly, at this little slice of Mexico.

Twin Butte Country General Store
Highway 6, Twin Butte, Alberta
Daily 10 am-10 pm, closed Tuesdays in winter
Twin Butte General Store Restaurant on Urbanspoon

An Elk to Go With the Syrah in Jasper

A complimentary elk sausage appetizer starts things off right at Syrahs of Jasper

A complimentary elk sausage appetizer starts things off right at Syrahs of Jasper

What often separates great from good dining is the little extras. And what could be better than something you didn’t order or pay for, at least not directly?

At Syrahs of Jasper, it’s the complimentary items the server delivers while you’re deciphering the menu. First, there’s the flavourful slice of elk sausage, with a shaving of apple and some sauce, artfully presented on a little ceramic spoon. Then there’s the melt-in-your-mouth, wee cheese and salt biscuit with soft butter. Only a couple of bites but a delightful alternative to the typical basket of bread.

Of course, the main event has to live up to the expectations created by these charming starters. And chef/owner Jason Munn—competing in the crowded world of fine dining in touristy Jasper—pulls things off nicely. I lick up every morsel of a succulent smoked bison ragout on house-made gnocchi ($18), while a vegetarian friend tears with gusto into a lentil loaf cloaked in roasted tomato gravy ($20). Of course, as the restaurant name suggests, there are half a dozen listed syrah wines to complement your dinner.

A moist flavourful lentil loaf

A moist flavourful lentil loaf

All things considered, it’s not that expensive, especially if you steer clear of high-end items like the $55 elk tenderloin (I wonder if tourists mistakenly think it’s from the same critters grazing along nearby roads). If nothing else, it’s a chance for road trippers to step up in class and celebrate a five-day backpack, without anyone looking askance at our soiled hiking pants. Because we sure didn’t have warm biscuits served on linen in the backcountry.

How about a succulent smoked bison ragout on house-made gnocchi?

How about a succulent smoked bison ragout on house-made gnocchi?

Syrahs of Jasper
606 Patricia Street, Jasper, Alberta
Daily 5 pm-10 pm
Syrahs of Jasper on Urbanspoon

Chicken Sandwiches and the Chicken Man in Jasper’s Patricia Street Deli

Patricia Street Deli owner Glen Leitch is a fun-loving guy

Patricia Street Deli owner Glen Leitch is a fun-loving guy

I’ll make things simple for you. When you walk up to the counter at Patricia Street Deli, in Jasper, Alberta, just order the chicken sandwich. Roasted on a back-wall rotisserie, the meat is moist, tender, delicious. It’s a most reasonable $8.25 for a substantial sandwich in a Canadian Rockies’ resort town.

Going down the sandwich assembling line

Going down the sandwich assembling line

Where you’ll have to make decisions is the toppings you load on the house-baked wheat or white bun. Maybe shredded beats and carrots, pickles, lettuce, sprouts, five kinds of cheese…. you get the idea. Make sure to add one or more of their spreads—say, cranberry chutney, pesto or chipotle.

Chicken sandwich with a lot of fixings on a house-baked whole wheat roll

Chicken sandwich with a lot of fixings on a house-baked whole wheat roll

As good as the sammies are, they may be eclipsed by an irreverent crew headed by chief jester and owner Glen Leitch. Have your wits and comebacks at the ready. The only bad news is you’ll likely have to eat your meal outside of earshot of this hole-in-the-wall, mostly takeout joint.

Actually, Patricia Street Deli keeps pretty simple hours... at least I think they do

Actually, Patricia Street Deli keeps pretty simple hours… at least I think they do

Patricia Street Deli
610 Patricia Street, Jasper, Alberta
Daily 10 am-5 pm
Patricia Street Deli on Urbanspoon