Avenida Offers Upscale Food Hall Dining in South Calgary

Avenida Food Market 2

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.

Areas 2

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.

Avenida Food Market 9

Takori specializes in fusion tacos

Avenida Food Market 12

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.

Areas 1

Arepas Ranch is a Venezuelan joint

Areas 4

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

Avenida Food Market 7

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

Advertisements

Will That be Paper, Plastic or Compostable?

Atco Cafe 7

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.

compostable containers 8

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.

compostable containers 2

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.

Sought and Found 13

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.

compostable containers 7

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

Sunterra 8

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.

Sunterra 1

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.

Sunterra 4

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.

Sunterra 12

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.

Sunterra 7

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.

Sunterra 6

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

House-made Pita Highlights Calgary Shawarma Spot

Beirut Street Food

At Beirut Street Food, pretty much everything is made in house, including the pita breads

There are perhaps a couple of dozen shawarma restaurants in Calgary, including the iconic Jimmy’s A&A Deli and the fast-expanding Jerusalem Shawarma. To stand out among the city’s Middle Eastern grilled-meat joints, you need something different.

The excellent Beirut Street Food, which opened in southeast Calgary in 2017, does just that. First, owner Ramzal Salem and her staff roll out and grill their pita wraps throughout the day, guaranteeing a flavourful freshness that’s miles ahead of bagged pitas. Second, unlike the standard shawarma setup—vertical spits of slowly-rotating, stacked meat slices—Beirut cooks its marinated beef and chicken over a horizontal bed of burning charcoal, providing a unique, smoky flavour.

Beirut Street Food (1)

Another unique feature: a horizontal spit over a charcoal fire

Add your choice of made-in-house veggies and sauces—hummus, garlic and a weeping hot sauce—and you’ve got a healthy-sized shawarma ($11 regular, $13 large) that ranks amongst the best in Calgary. You can pair your wrap with other fine Lebanese standards such as tabouli or fatoush salad or falafel balls, chased with a honeyed square of baklava.

Beirut Street Food (2)

Adding veggies and sauces to the shawarmas

In a crossover nod to a great Canadian tradition, you can get your shawarmas served over poutine: fries, cheese and gravy. Me, I’m going for another puffy piece of pita bread, hot off the rounded grill.

Beirut Street Food (3)

Beirut Street Foods is a bright spot in southeast Calgary

Beirut Street Food
Bay C, 7220 Fairmount Drive S.E., Calgary, Alberta
Monday to Thursday 10 am-6:30 pm, Friday-Saturday 10 am-7 pm. Closed Sunday.
403-512-7772

Ferry Fast Breakfast on B.C. Ferries

Sunshine Coast 54

Piping hot, fast breakfast at 6 am on B.C. Ferries

I’m not accustomed to lining up for breakfast at 6 a.m. Indeed, at that hour, I’m often the first customer in the restaurant door.

But on an ungodly early-morning B.C. Ferries sailing to Vancouver Island, there’s already a line snaking down the hallway by the time I emerge from the subterranean parking deck. As a visiting Albertan, I’m at an obvious disadvantage to the savvy locals, who are out of their vehicles the second they stop and scrambling up the labyrinthian staircases to the cafeteria.

Vancouver Island 8

The breakfast line forms as soon as the ferry is loaded

Rather than be the 30th person in line at the Coastal Cafe, I wander up to the serving area, just to observe how the kitchen staff is going to handle this hungry, thirsty mob. With great efficiency, it turns out.

Sunshine Coast 53

The kitchen is a flurry of synchronized action

It’s a coordinated symphony of movement, with a team of hustling cooks and a “conductor” barking out occasional requests for, say, eggs over easy or hollandaise sauce and salsa on the side. So, yes, they do “made to order”.

Nootka Trail 174

Eggs Benedict and an ocean view: can’t beat that

Now, on a packed ferry, speed and volume is obviously going to trump quality. But my eggs and hash browns are surprisingly good, fresh and hot—for a price that’s quite reasonable (about $12) compared with the ferry ride itself. When I can make my own push-button Americano, to boot, it all adds up to a pretty decent breakfast.

Vancouver Island 10

A made-to-order Americano is just a button push away

The seamless operation is something your typical brunch spot could learn from, especially on a winter weekend, when you’re shivering in a line going out the below-freezing door. On the ferry, the whole breakfast rush is over in about 30 minutes, with satiated customers retreating to their seats and screens.

Luke What’s in Calgary’s Spectacular New Downtown Library

Southeast Arizona 19

Calgary’s new Central Public Library is a stunning, $245-million building

You can’t beat owning a coffee shop smack in the middle of world-class architecture—especially if you don’t have to (directly) pay for it. That’s the envious position of Lukes, which won the bid to operate a café and restaurant in downtown Calgary’s stunning new Central Public Library.

I’m sure café owners Gareth Lukes and Eric Hendry don’t mind playing second fiddle to the $245-million library as an attraction. After all, when half a million people have visited the library in its first few months of operation, plenty are going to sit down for a coffee or bite.

Southeast Arizona 14

The library and the cafe (lower left) are attracting lots of visitors

I won’t dwell on the splendours of the library, other than to offer a few pictures and urge anyone in or visiting Calgary to make the pilgrimage downtown. Suffice to say, it’s as much a public gathering space—complete with theatre, meeting rooms, children’s play area and recording studios—as a place to check out some of the library’s 450,000 books.

Southeast Arizona 32

The library is a linchpin of Calgary’s emerging downtown East Village

The Lukes café is a little coffee bar at the far end of the library’s second level, flanked by tables, big windows and gorgeous, soaring wood. It’s a perfect place to pause for a coffee (primarily Bow X Arrows beans) and baked treats from Manuel Latruwe and Pretty Sweet while looking out at downtown’s rapidly developing East Village. It would be nice if they offered real, reusable cups, but I guess they’re at least compostable.

Calgary Library 3

The cafe is little more than a kiosk at the north end of the second floor

The Lukes restaurant is only accessible from the outside, west flank of the library. The 50-seat space is designed by Franks Architecture, with a scattering of tables and vines growing up one wall. Highlights of the eclectic, innovative menu include bone broth, roasted-beet salad, roasted chicken sandwiches, organic oatmeal and savory porridges such as pumpkin risotto.

Calgary Library 10

The cozy restaurant is on the outside, street level of the library

Calgary Library 9

The living wall is a nice touch

 

Lukes Central Library
800 3 Street SE, Calgary, Alberta
Library opens 9 am Monday to Saturday, noon Sunday