Revelstoke’s La Baguette the Perfect Road Food Stop

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The quick-serve counter at Revelstoke’s fabulous La Baguette

The drive from Calgary to Vancouver is a 975-kilometre, 10-hour-plus push that I endure a couple of times a year. To relieve the tedium and replenish the batteries, it’s nice to have a few go-to places along the way for good coffee and a quick, wonderful bite to eat.

One such place that I nearly always stop at is La Baguette, in Revelstoke, B.C. It ticks all my boxes for what constitutes great road-food dining on a long-distance drive.

First is its location. Revelstoke is about a 4.5-hour drive from Calgary, an ideal distance for a break, coffee refill and snack or meal. Second, La Baguette is just a couple of minutes off the Trans-Canada Highway, with on-street parking.

Third is the flexibility. La Baguette is both a bakery and café/restaurant. That allows me to quickly pick up an Americano, a fresh croissant or a hearty turkey-yam wrap from the counter (my only complaint is sometimes the line moves a little slowly). La Baguette has recently expanded, adding a little sit-down restaurant with largely the same menu, if you want a longer break.

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The bar in the new, sit-down restaurant

None of this would matter if the food wasn’t memorable. As I’ve stated in previous posts, La Baguette is one of my favourite bakeries/cafes in western Canada. The food is exceptional, the prices are reasonable (that turkey-yam wrap is about $7 and satisfies two reasonable appetites) and, most difficultly, the high standards are consistently met.

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The “healthy bread” might be the best toast I’ve ever had

And despite a relatively short menu, there’s always something interesting and unusual to try. Like the exquisite healthy toast (featuring spelt flour, coconut and dates), poached eggs over crispy potatoes, pulled siracha chicken on a brioche bun or a Montreal-style bagel topped with pork rillette.

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Montreal-style bagels loaded with interesting goodies

Did I mention the new restaurant has a little bar, featuring well-curated craft beers on tap, like the exceptional Twin Sails offerings from Vancouver suburb Port Moody?

That’s the only problem I have with this new sit-down café. It’s creating havoc with my driving schedule.

 La Baguette
607 Victoria Road, Revelstoke, B.C.
Daily 6:30 am-7 pm (8 pm in summer)
250-837-3755

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Sauce Italian Kitchen & Market Does It All

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Our terrific server, Melissa, presiding over the restaurant at Calgary’s Sauce Italian Kitchen & Market

My typical formula for a successful independent eatery can be boiled down to three words: Keep it simple.

Do a few, signature things very well. Don’t have a long menu. Stick to your expertise, don’t stray into other areas.

It’s a good thing Jenna Bazzana doesn’t listen to the likes of me.

The owner of the rather new Sauce Italian Kitchen & Market, in southwest Calgary, happily tackles all sorts of businesses under one, expansive roof. There’s a market. There’s a café. There’s a full-fledged, elegant restaurant. There’s a bakery. There’s a coffee roastery. There are evening events, as well as catering. Need I go on?

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The coffee shop and bakery is just one of the businesses Sauce operates under one roof

And by all appearances, this little food empire is a smashing success. At mid-week lunch, the restaurant is buzzing, with the open kitchen churning out plates of wood-fired pizza and house-made pasta featuring Rosie’s (Jenna’s mother) Bolognese sauce; you can also buy it in the deli to take home. Two of us dig into flavourful bowls of clam linguini (a great deal at $12), while I savour a roasted vegetable and eggplant parmigiana ($15), which comes with a large, mixed-greens salad—almost a meal in itself.

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Big bowl of clam linguini

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Eggplant parmigiana with a monster side salad

It’s a friend’s birthday, so we score a complimentary piece of house-made cannoli. And as I’m leaving, I pick up a pound of fresh-roasted coffee, while eying all the cold cuts and cheeses that go into the deli’s paninis. Next time.

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Finishing things off with some house-made cannoli

Sauce Italian Kitchen & Market
3326 17 Avenue SW, Calgary, Alberta
Restaurant: Sunday to Thursday 11 am-10 pm, Friday-Saturday 11 am-11 pm
403-727-7627

$18 Breakfasts Still Abound in Calgary

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Good, upscale breakfast at Calgary’s Blue Star Diner

I’ve lived in Calgary since 1980 and have thus witnessed numerous booms and busts. So while a number of food and drink places invariably fold with each crash, especially downtown, I’m no longer surprised when much of the restaurant scene chugs along as if nothing’s happened.

So it is with the most recent oil-price collapse, especially at breakfast. Calgary has long been one of the more expensive places to order breakfast in western North America. Think $15 for a good, though fairly standard morning feed. And yet people are perfectly happy to line up for these breakfasts, especially on weekends and even in winter.

An outsider might think such lineups would disappear and prices cut in the wake of this latest recession. No such luck. A quick survey of popular Calgary breakfast spots shows prices of $16 to $19 for more upscale morning offerings like lox waffles, meatloaf hash and tofu scrambles. One place even charges $14 for a breakfast sandwich and $15 for pancakes.

Thus it was when we recently visited Blue Star Diner in the city’s trendy Bridgeland district. At 8 am on a Saturday, it wasn’t lined up but still busy.

I often like to order breakfast offerings that venture well beyond the tried-and-true bacon and eggs. Blue Star certainly delivered on originality, and we were soon happily munching on slow-cooked brisket and grits ($17.50) and corned lamb hash and cornbread ($18.50).

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Corned lamb hash and poached eggs

I must say it was delicious, with lots of locally sourced ingredients, excellent execution and attention to detail. I’ll always happily pay a little more for quality. Still, $45 for breakfast and coffee for two? Sheesh.

Blue Star Diner
809 1 Avenue NE, Calgary, Alberta
Daily 8 am-10 pm
403-261-9998

Great Ramen Shop in Edmonton

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There’s a lot of delicious complexity in this pork ramen bowl at Edmonton’s Prairie Noodle Shop

I’m a big fan of eating at restaurant counters, because it gives me a front-row view of the kitchen.

At Edmonton’s fabulous, newish Prairie Noodle Shop, I’ve discovered another benefit of sitting on a high counter stool: it’s only a few inches from bowl to mouth. All the better to slurp up that liquid and noodle goodness without wearing it.

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A fabulous chunk of roasted pork belly goes into my ramen bowl

Really, there is no elegant way to attack these gorgeous ramen bowls. Just lift your chin occasionally to admire the beautiful composition and then dive back into exploring all the complex flavours and textures.

The big plastic spoon is needed to savour the rich pork broth, simmered for 16 hours and, in my case, jacked up with miso, garlic and house-made chili oil. The chopsticks are required to grab the slender ramen noodles, the tender chunk of roasted pork belly, the smoked, shredded pork shoulder and the half umeboshi egg. Then it’s back to the spoon to scoop up niblets of sweet sesame corn.

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The spoon is one of the tools needed to attack this big bowl of goodness

There’s a lot going on in this big bowl forged by chef/owner Eric Hanson—a bargain really at $15.50 for this much originality and quality.

Prairie Noodle Shop
10350 124 Street, Edmonton, Alberta
Monday 11 am-2:30 pm, Tuesday to Saturday 11 am-2:30 pm, 4:30 pm-10 pm. Closed Sunday
780-705-1777

It’s Well Worth the Drive to Mile One in Pemberton, B.C.

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Mile One Eating House co-owner and chef Randy Jones runs a professional kitchen in Pemberton, B.C.

I’m sure there are some fine, inexpensive places to eat in Whistler, B.C. Indeed, I often head to purebread, which produces perhaps the best bread and baked goodies on the west coast. Mind you, I always stop at their little Function Junction location, a little ways south of the madness that is central Whistler.

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purebred’s fabulous hazelnut fig bread

Whistler is certainly not organized for the road tripper looking for a quick bite or beverage. Between the tourist hordes, all the side streets off the highway, the confusion about where to park and the baffling naming of pedestrian retail spaces—Village Square, Village Stroll, Village Lane, Village Green, Village Idiot—I usually just give up and get the hell out.

Instead, I often head 30 km north on Highway 99 to Pemberton, where I can easily locate, and find nearby parking at, my favourite restaurant in the region, Mile One Eating House.

Yes, there’s a growing lineup on a weekday night in late September (Tip: get there early). But it’s well worth the short wait at this family-run, chef-driven spot that produces fabulous, locally sourced burgers (they recently even bought their own, historic cattle ranch), upscale poutine and the best, gourmet mac ‘n cheese I’ve ever tasted.

I normally go for the divine Southern Comfort mac ‘n cheese—B.C. chicken breast, smoked bacon and brocolini in a creamy aged cheddar/mozza sauce. But there’s a Wednesday night special: a burger and craft beer for about $12. How can I resist?

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Best mac ‘n cheese I’ve ever eaten

My Mile One burger features a five-ounce Cache Creek natural beef patty, smothered in smoked bacon, aged white cheddar and beer-braised caramelized onions, all stuffed inside a house-baked buttermilk bun. It’s so thick I have to cut it in half to funnel it into my gaping mouth. Still, it’s a messy, two-napkin job, washed down with a fine bottle of Russell Brewing’s Punch Bowl IPA.

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The delicious, jaw-stretching Mile One burger

Mile One’s got everything I’m looking for: high standards, excellent ingredients and hard-working cooks, in an open kitchen. And despite the crowd, there’s enough of a personal touch to keep things casual and friendly.

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Lots of regional craft beer available

Right across the street, with parking right in front, is another road tripper’s delight: Mount Currie Coffee. Yes, they also have a Whistler location. But when it might take me 10 minutes just to find it, is there any comparison?

Mile One Eating House
7330 Arbutus Street, Pemberton, B.C.
Wednesday to Sunday 11 am-9 pm. Closed Monday and Tuesday
604-384-3842

Mount Currie Coffee
7331 Arbutus Street, Pemberton
Monday to Saturday 6:30 am-6 pm, Sunday 7 am-6 pm
604-894-3388

Great Mexican Tacos in Grande Prairie, Alberta

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Great fish tacos at El Norteno in Grande Prairie, Alberta

I keep finding great Mexican food in the strangest of places. Like Idaho, home of my two favourite Mexican road-food stops: the incredible one-woman show in tiny Hamer and the fantastic fare at Morenita’s in Idaho Falls.

You can add to that list El Norteno, way up yonder in the northwest Alberta city of Grande Prairie. As an oil and gas/farming centre, GP is well stocked with steakhouses, pizza places and lounges. But tucked inside a downtown farmers’ market is a little stall churning out tacos.

Now, these aren’t just any tacos, but Ensenada Baja-style tacos, which apparently means corn tortillas, batter-fried fish and no lettuce. The most impressive thing for me is that once you place an order, the sole guy running the show grabs a mound of masa harina (corn dough) and runs it through a tortilla press before flipping the resulting disks on the grill. It doesn’t get any fresher than that.

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Fresh-pressed corn tortillas with every order

Meanwhile, he’s flash frying basa filets and charbroiling pork loin, which are placed inside the grilled tortillas and topped with onion, cilantro and house-made salsa and guacamole. Good, flavourful stuff.

At about $12 for three, filling tacos, it’s not Mexican food-truck cheap, but still good value for northern Alberta. And yes, the corn tortillas start falling apart as they are crammed into our gaping mouths. But for me, that’s just a sign they’re truly authentic.

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It’s a little one-man show

El Norteno
10032 101 Avenue, Grande Prairie, Alberta
Monday 11 am-3 pm, Tuesday-Friday 11 am-8 pm, Saturday 10 am-3 pm. Closed Sunday
780-832-8093