This Fresh-Roasted Calgary Coffee is a Real Pick Me Up

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Calgary’s Mount Pleasant Roastery sells its fresh coffee beans via a picket-fence box

Many of you have no doubt encountered those little wooden boxes, on country roads, where you can purchase local fruits and vegetables, on the honour system.

Well, this concept has migrated to the big city, with fresh-roasted coffee sold out of little red boxes on a white-picket fence in a northwest Calgary neighbourhood. Hallelujah!

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There’s usually a couple of bean types available, on the honour system

Rick Eden and Larissa Riemann, through their Mount Pleasant Roastery, are roasting high-quality beans in small batches in their garage and selling them to neighbours and passersby through a couple of fence-line boxes, as well as online. Here’s a nice story about their little business.

As someone who often roasts his own beans in a wee Behmor roaster, I’m delighted to find a local roaster producing small quantities of Guatemalan, Honduran and Brazilian beans, with the roasting date hand printed on the bag. True freshness is hard to find in coffee beans and makes a huge difference in taste.

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The hand-printed roasting data is a sign of freshness

To date, I’ve only sampled the Guatemalan Carrizal, advertised as a medium-dark roast, though closer to a dark roast, which I like in a world misguidedly devoted to the lighter end.

Because the fence-box beans are sold on the honour system, you can pay whatever you want. Online sales mention a bargain $10-per-pound price, but given the quality, I’d suggest a healthy tip.

Mount Pleasant Roastery
515 18 Avenue NW and 601 19 Avenue NW (5 Street fence), Calgary, Alberta
Around the clock, as long as coffee’s available
403-470-5812

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Working up an Appetite on Vancouver Island’s Remote Coasts

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The Crab Shack is at a water-taxi crossing on the fabled West Coast Trail

In less than a week this spring, I visited two of the most remote restaurants in all my road-food journeys.

Actually, for one eatery, there was no road leading to it, just a nearly 50-kilometre, rugged hiking “trail”. Talk about working up an appetite.

Both destinations were the result of back-to-back backpacks along Vancouver Island’s spectacular coast: the iconic West Coast Trail and the not so famous North Coast Trail.

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Ordering plates of seafood at the Crab Shack

The road-less spot, the Crab Shack, was reached in the middle of our West Coast Trail traverse, after three nights of dehydrated meals cooked on a backcountry stove. So to see live crab being lifted in a pot from deep water was more than enough to get the saliva glands going. In fact, we hardly needed the shell crackers to tear the poor creatures apart.

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Our well-dressed cook lifting a pot of live crabs from the depths

If wrestling with a crab isn’t your thing, there’s the option of fresh-from-the-water halibut or ling cod. And no one was passing up the carbo-loading option of massive baked potatoes, loaded with toppings.

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A whole crab, ready to devour

The Crab Shack is a family business of the Ditidaht, one of three First Nations that partner with Parks Canada to operate and maintain the West Coast Trail. The little, almost-floating restaurant is located at the end of Nitinaht Narrows, where a short boat ride is needed to continue on the trail. The feast propelled us for the finishing seven kilometres of that day’s hike.

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The Crab Shack is ably run by Shelley.

Our second, remote eatery—the Scarlet Ibis Pub—was reached shortly after finishing more than 80 kilometres of hiking on the North Coast Trail. The pub is midway along a two-hour shuttle bus ride back to Port Hardy on a dusty gravel road in the middle-of-nowhere northern Vancouver Island. It’s located in Holberg, population 35, whose claim to fame was once having the world’s largest floating logging camp.

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The Scarlet Ibis Pub is in the middle-of-nowhere northern Vancouver Island

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After 80 km of hiking, this loaded plate of fish and chips went down in about five minutes

The Scarlet Ibis has been run for decades by its colourful owner, though she has the place up for sale, if you’re interested. But we’re here for the food and drink and, if anything, are even more famished than at the Crab Shack.

The overflowing platters of fish and chips disappear as quickly as two rounds of Lucky beer. Lucky us.

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Our host, cook and raconteur

Scenes From a Vancouver Island Road Trip

A few pictures from a Vancouver Island road trip in which we did the North Coast Trail and West Coast Trail as back-to-back, seven-day backpacks. In the process, we covered the island from its northern tip to its southern shores.

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Fabulous, hole-in-the-wall bakery near Tin Town in Courteney

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Sumptuous home-made ice cream and waffle cone at Love’s in Cumberland B.C. (more about the town’s burgeoning food scene in an upcoming post)

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At a pub in Port Hardy, our launching point for the North Coast Trail

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Wonderful sand beach at Irony Creek on the North Coast Trail

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Wolves on the same beach, chasing a deer

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We did manage to survive

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After a week-long backpack, this disappeared in a few minutes at Bin 4 Burger Lounge in Langford

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Bumper service at Gardenside Acres “Tent and Breakfast” Campground, near Brentwood Bay

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One of the many infamous ladders on the West Coast Trail

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Sea anemones in tidal pool

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Enough of this hiking!

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We’re stoked for post-backpack pizza near Sooke, but they’re closed Wednesdays. Aaargh!

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Early June snowstorm at Rogers Pass on the way home

Avenida Offers Upscale Food Hall Dining in South Calgary

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Takori is one of about 15 vendors in Avenida Food Hall & Market offering meals

As its name suggests, the relatively new Avenida Food Hall & Market is a bit of a hybrid. It features lots of upscale food vendors, some with a food-truck vibe, plus an array of healthy groceries you’d expect to find in a farmers’ market.

Seeing as its in deep southeast Calgary and given the uneven track record of food markets in this city—and particularly in this downtrodden economy—I was curious to see how busy it would be at a weekday lunch hour (like other Calgary food markets, it’s only open Thursday to Sunday). And like many other restaurant establishments in Calgary, its meals are not cheap, ranging from about $10 to $16.

When I arrive, around 11:30 am, it’s pretty quiet. But by noon, there are small lines forming at a number of vendors. Though Avenida is a long ways south of downtown on Macleod Trail, there are obviously enough office and commercial businesses around to form a reliable clientele. It’s a bright, modern, clean space, with lots of room for moving around.

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The food hall also offers fresh produce

About 15 of Avenida’s some 40 vendors offer meals, with a distinct ethnic focus. Mexican, Thai, southeast Asia, Indian and Japanese dishes are all represented.

On my first visit, I join the short line at Takori, which aptly describes itself as an Asian fusion taqueria, making pretty much everything in house. As in tacos loaded with slow-roasted bulgogi beef brisket, smoked pork belly and kimchi, and Korean fried chicken. Fortunately, Takori allows you to mix and match, so I’m able to order one of each, for a reasonable $11.50. It’s a delightful meal that certainly stretches the usual Mexican taco boundaries.

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Takori specializes in fusion tacos

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As in delicious tacos loaded with slow-roasted bulgogi beef brisket, smoked pork belly and kimchi, and Korean fried chicken

My second visit takes me to Arepas Ranch, a family-owned Venezuelan stall that makes cornmeal patties overstuffed, in my case, with shredded beef, black beans, cheese and plaintain. It’s a hefty pocket ($12) full of gooey goodness that demands three napkins.

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Arepas Ranch is a Venezuelan joint

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My cornmeal arepas is stuffed with shredded beef, black beans and plaintain.

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Expat Asia will definitely be on my radar on my next visit to Avenida

Avenida Food Hall & Market
12445 Lake Fraser Drive SE, Calgary, Alberta
Thursday to Sunday 11 am-8 pm. Closed Monday to Wednesday

Will That be Paper, Plastic or Compostable?

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At Calgary’s ATCO Blue Flame Kitchen Cafe, the soup is served in a compostable bowl

A recent little trend I’ve noticed in Calgary eateries is the use of compostable dishes and utensils, in place of the usual ceramic and metal.

It’s most noticeable at the gorgeous ATCO Blue Flame Kitchen Cafe, where my soup is served in a container made of renewable plant materials—post-consumer paper fibre from sugarcane and a polyethylene, corn-based lining known as Ingeo.

At Grumans Deli (Britannia location), there’s a prominent sign explaining why all its food and drinks is served on compostable “packaging”. “Grumans cares about the environment,” the sign says. Though when I ask why they’ve gone this route, servers at both places just mention the lack of space for electric dishwashers; there’s obviously also labour, equipment and hot-water cost savings from not having to wash dishes.

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I’m not sure how I feel about this trend. On the one hand, it’s good that such establishments are promoting environmental responsibility and not simply throwing dishes in the trash, destined for landfills. And it’s much better to be packing leftovers or takeout in paper boxes than in Styrofoam containers, which might take hundreds of years to break down.

Mind you, it’s best to dispose of these compostable dishes in the restaurants’ compost bins, because for some reason the City of Calgary’s composting pick-up program doesn’t allow compostable cups and dishes in its green bins.

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I don’t know about you, but I can never figure out what waste goes where. Hint: the soup bowl (above) goes in the left bin

On the other hand, compostable dishes are still single use, even if they end up as soil. I haven’t seen a good study arguing the environmental footprint merits of one-use compostable dishes versus washing regular dishes innumerable times, though me thinks the latter would win that debate.

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Compostable utensils et al at Calgary coffee shop Sought & Found

And there’s simply the aesthetics. Eating soup with a plastic spoon out of a “paper” bowl is just not as pleasing as porcelain. And while you can, and should, use your own travel mug at coffee shops that just offer plastic-lined paper cups, I don’t think we’ve reached the point of bringing our own washable dishes and utensils to our favourite eateries. By the way, Berkeley, California has just passed a regulation charging consumers 25 cents for every disposable cup they get at a coffee shop.

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Soup lid at ATCO Blue Flame Kitchen Cafe

Even the restaurants that have embraced compostable dishes might agree with my aesthetic sentiments. After all, on the websites of the above-mentioned joints, the photos show food and drink served in regular, washable plates, bowls and cups.

Your thoughts?

New Sunterra Market Cafe a Fast-Food Winner

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A crew of cooks making quick, delicious meals at Sunterra Market & Cafe

Sunterra Market is a Calgary institution, a truly farm-to-fork operation with six locations selling upscale groceries and surprisingly inexpensive meals.

With the recent opening of Sunterra Market & Café on Kensington Road NW, it has taken the next leap in its evolution as a full-service restaurant. Indeed, it may well have moved into the forefront of quick, high-quality, affordable meals in the city.

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The latest Sunterra is a combination of an upscale market and fresh, fast, affordable food

Yes, like other Sunterra Markets, this outlet sells a selection of quality groceries—including Valbella bacon and fresh, imported pasta—and meals to go ranging from ribs to salads and desserts.

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Chef Ben offers a sampling of a glazed Modena ham

But where the café stands out is in its short list of made-to-order items (prepared by a bevy of open-kitchen cooks), which you can eat at one of a dozen wooden tables or order to go. Take, for example a breakfast sandwich—eggs, Modena ham and cheddar—on one of the better butter biscuits I’ve encountered, for only $4.99. Or an unusual, stuffed flatbread—egg, prosciutto and fior di latte—almost enough for two at $6.49. And compare that to the $18 one often pays for breakfast in Calgary.

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A substantial Piadina flatbread breakfast sandwich

One standout “Piadina” flatbread sandwich ($7.99) contains rotisserie chicken (from a tile oven full of them rotating away), provolone and pesto. And there’s a list of fresh pastas, including a prosciutto carbonara with a wine-reduction sauce ($9.49).

We spent a good half hour one evening talking with Chris Alladin, Sunterra’s senior vice president of operations, who designed much of the café’s concept. He excitedly showed us the entire operation, offering samples of warm-from-the-oven biscuits and slices of pan-crisped ham.

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Chris Alladin was a driving force behind the market cafe

With some 125,000 vehicles a day passing by on nearby Crowchild Trail and Kensington Road, Alladin figures lots of folks will pull in for a quick bite to eat or a meal to take home—from early-morning breakfasts to nighttime dinners.

Given the high quality of the food and the decidedly inexpensive prices, I wholeheartedly agree. I’ve already visited three times in a week, and it’s a seven-kilometre drive.

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A short menu of lunch and dinner items

My only quibble is an odd ordering system, whereby you fill out your order on a sheet and hand it to a roving assistant, who then places the order with a cook, while you go elsewhere to pay. Why not just verbally place your order where you’re paying?

Sunterra Market & Cafe
2536 Kensington Road N.W., Calgary, Alberta
Daily 6:30 am-9 pm
403-685-1535