If you ever thought Calgary was oversaturated with farmers’ markets, think again.
When the Calgary Farmers’ Market opened its long-awaited second location last week, in the city’s west end near Canada Olympic Park, there were 35,000 shoppers and gawkers who passed through its doors, a vendor told me… in one day!
Its high-ceilinged, 55,000-square-foot indoor building, and its some 75 vendors, seem capable of handling such mobs. I’m not so sure about the traffic.
When I visited on a glorious Friday morning, a week later, it was a game of musical cars, with multiple motorists waiting for someone to leave so they could park. The traffic spilled over from the paved lots to a gravel yard to the north.
It’s not like everyone was rushing to save money. I saw lots of meals, from the various food vendors costing $15-plus dollars. The produce and other foodstuffs are nice but not exactly cheap, for anyone expecting a rural, bare-bones experience.
But this is Calgary, where folks are accustomed to, and maybe even expect, upscale farmers’ markets. Indeed, it’s a pleasant place to shop, wander and meet with friends.
And the aisles are sufficiently wide to avoid the indoor traffic jams—known as stroller Fridays— that plagued previous incarnations of this market.
I’m not sure there’s a foolproof formula for a successful restaurant, especially after all the shutdowns and draconian regulations of the past two-plus years. But if there is, I’m betting it has something to do with pies.
It’s hard to resist the temptation, and aroma, of fresh-baked fruit pies, witness the allure of places like Shuswap Pie Company in Salmon Arm, B.C. or Pie Junkie, and their butter-rich crusts, in Calgary.
But to prove that a pie-laden concept can work even in the boondocks, I present as evidence The Miners’ Café, in the forested foothills of west-central Alberta.
Where? An hour’s drive west of Rocky Mountain House. Where’s that? More than two hours north of Calgary.
Let’s put it this way. Nordegg is a former coal-mining town that’s been elevated from ghost town to hamlet, population less than 100.
And yet, there were half a dozen people in line ahead of me, when I pulled into The Miners’ Cafe on a recent summer’s weekday.
Some, like me, were ordering mid-afternoon soup, sandwiches and coffee. But it seemed pretty much everyone was also getting a wedge of peach-apple or strawberry rhubarb to stay or to go. Others were loading up on whole pies, fresh or frozen, of blackberry-apple or ginger-pear.
I mean who’s going to compete with $22 for a whole, frozen pie? Or a deep-dish pie that packs in nine cups of fruit?
It’s enough to make you jump in your car and drive a long, long way north and west.
The Miners’ Cafe 619 Miners Crescent, Nordegg, Alberta Daily, mid-morning till 4:30 or 6:30 pm 403-322-0314
I’m sure I should have been. And not because of any bad behaviour.
It’s because of the countless times, throughout western North America, I’ve nursed a cup of coffee over two hours of catching up on email, doing online research, writing blog reviews or just killing time.
But I certainly set a personal best/worst recently, although arguably with good reason.
We had just come off the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail, a four-day backpack in the southwest corner of Vancouver Island. The last day, we had started hiking, sans breakfast or coffee, at 5 am because of a predicted heavy rain beginning around 7 am.
It was a good call because the rain started in earnest just after we hit the trailhead. Still, we were reasonably damp by the time we walked the 2.5-kilometre road into the small community of Port Renfrew.
Normally, not a big deal. But because of our super-early start, we had about eight hours to kill before our shuttle bus arrived. And standing still for that long—even under a protective awning or tree and even with a change into dryer clothes—would be a chilly experience or worse.
So thank God for Coastal Kitchen Café, one of only a couple of restaurants in Port Renfrew. We dumped our packs on the patio, then marched into the mercifully warm café and set up camp, so to speak, at a far table.
There we sat for the next six hours—warming up, drying out and watching the steady rain out the window. Every half hour or so, one of us would venture up to the counter and order something to eat or drink. Just to show we were paying customers.
It was also a great way to work through a menu. Everything was first rate, from a breakfast sandwich featuring house-smoked pulled pork to a spinach-fruit smoothie to a bowl of hot fries. And lots of cups of good, steaming hot coffee.
Throughout these six hours, no one asked how long we were planning to stay, even during surges of activity that filled all the indoor tables. They pretty much just ignored us.
We finally did pack up and leave, near closing time, but only to move across the street to the Renfrew Pub, where we knocked back celebratory pints of beer along with local rock-cod fish and chips and poke bowls. Here, too, we were treated graciously, albeit for only a couple of hours until we dashed out into the unceasing rain to finally catch our bus back to Victoria.
So, a big thank you to Coastal Kitchen Café and Renfrew Pub for saving our bacon.
It hardly seems fair that the B.C. mountain community of Revelstoke enjoys such advantages. Aforementioned mountains. Stellar powder skiing. Charming houses with steep metal roofs to shed all that snow.
Okay, there are a few downsides. Often gloomy skies in winter. Soaring real estate prices (like many B.C. cities and towns). High-density developments threatening the charming neighbourhoods. Lack of affordable housing for tourism-industry staff.
But there’s a reason for this Revelstoke boom. It’s simply a great place to live.
Perhaps the most obvious sign of this unfairness is an abundance of places to eat and drink for a town of 8,200 residents. A quick sampling: fabulous Woolsey Creek Bistro, Paramjit’s Kitchen (Indian), Village Idiot pizza and Mt. Begbie Brewing, one of B.C.’s early craft beer makers.
But it’s the plethora of bakeries that pushes Revelstoke over the top. Modern Bakeshop & Café has been churning out great baked goods since 2005. And I’ve stopped at La Baguette more times than any other place in all my Marathon Mouth travels. Indeed, it’s one of my favourite bakeries in western North America.
Now, there’s a third contender: Terra Firma Kitchen. Ostensibly, it’s a farm-to-table restaurant, with plentiful ingredients from its nearby farm. But it’s the bakery we’ve come to check out, specifically its naturally leavened sourdough bread, of course featuring local ingredients. I devour an excellent savoury scone and start tearing into the fabulous loaf before we even leave town.
Our last stop is at Local Food Initiative, a block-long, outdoor Saturday farmers’ market that can rival most big-city markets. There’s Stoke Roasted Coffee at one end and the lined-up Monashee Spirits Distillery at the other.
In between are three or four (I lost count) vegetable growers, where we load up on big bags of various organic salad greens from market fixture Wild Flight Farm, out of Mara, and local First Light Farm. They’re harvesting these greens in early June, when the seedlings in my Calgary garden are scarcely peeking out of the ground.
It’s really isn’t fair. Damn you, Revelstoke!
Terra Firma Kitchen 415A Victoria Road, Revelstoke, B.C. Daily 7 am-4 pm 250-805-0646
Local Food Initiative Farmers’ Market First Street East between Mackenzie and Orton Avenues, Revelstoke Saturday 8 am-1 pm till mid-October
I think most people would agree the past couple of years have been the worst of times. Let’s see: A never-ending pandemic, lawless blockades, travel restrictions, Russian invasion of Ukraine, through-the-roof inflation, out-of-control guns and courts to our south. Did I mention climate change and the threat of heat and smoke this summer? It’s all pretty depressing.
Which is why it was so cheering, the other day, to see the cashier at my nearby Calgary Co-Op liquor store look at the diverse selection of local ales I was buying (for reasons why, refer to the paragraph above) and declare: “It’s the golden age of beer.”
Usually, I’d rather crawl over broken glass than wait in line at a restaurant. My line-busting strategy includes showing up when the place opens, arriving at the end of a meal cycle (such as 2 pm for lunch) and never going for weekend brunch.
But as Covid restrictions reach their meaningful end, it’s kinda nice to see folks at 11:30 am lining up for lunch at Calgary’s beloved Jimmy’s A&A Mediterranean Deli. It’s a testament to the loyal following for the colourful Jimmy and his giant, excellent shawarmas. “It’s the bomb,” says a waiting fire fighter.
Not much has changed over the years, other than metal siding replacing the stucco of this former corner store. The long, darkened interior is still jammed full of Middle Eastern foodstuffs, more than most delis. Jimmy’s is also still primarily a takeout place, with most folks ignoring the smattering of plastic tables and chairs on the sidewalk.
Like most restaurants post pandemic, prices have gone up. But when my “medium” chicken shawarma tips the scales at a kilo, the $14.75 charge still offers great value, especially when this food bomb essentially feeds two. But of course, I’ve devoured the whole thing within minutes of getting back in my car.
Jimmy’s remains one of the best and most colourful cheap-eats experiences in Calgary.