Restaurant Renaissance in Lacombe, Alberta

This classic flat-iron building is the showpiece of Lacombe's lovingly restored historic downtown

This classic flat-iron building is the showpiece of Lacombe’s lovingly restored historic downtown

Lacombe has long been my favourite Alberta town (it’s officially now a city, but with only 12,000 residents, it still has that small-town feel). What I particularly like is the preservation and restoration of many downtown brick buildings and stately Edwardian houses that line its wide, shady streets. You can read all about it in my Day Trips From Calgary book (new edition scheduled for 2017).

Now, there’s another reason for pulling off the frenetic Highway 2, halfway between Calgary and Edmonton. In the past couple of years, Lacombe has seriously stepped up its culinary scene, perhaps even surpassing the dining wilderness of the nearby, much larger Red Deer.

Want to know what the inside of those historic Lacombe houses looks like? Just step into Morrison House Café, where two rooms of a 1919 colonial-revival residence have been converted into an elegant space offering good soups and sandwiches on house-baked breads and croissants. Save room for some delectable oatmeal cake or bread pudding.

Morrison House Cafe is located in a stately, historic downtown Lacombe house

Morrison House Cafe is located in a stately, historic downtown Lacombe house

Speaking of elegant, Sweet Capone’s is a wee downtown shop specializing in Italian pastries such as cannoli, pesche dolci (peach cookies) and Florentines. Sound a bit fancy for a town built on farming? Would you believe there are lineups for these confections, which often sell out by early afternoon?

Sweet Capone's is on historic, brick row in downtown Lacombe

Sweet Capone’s is on historic, brick row in downtown Lacombe

This is what people line up for: cream-filled Italian cannolis

This is what people line up for: cream-filled Italian cannolis

Queues are also de rigueur for the big, oven-roasted turkey and beef sandwiches at Eastside Eatery, in a Lacombe industrial park. I wrote about this fast, affordable, fabulous place in last week’s post.

The sandwiches are big, fast and tasty at Eastside Eatery

The sandwiches are big, fast and tasty at Eastside Eatery

Cilantro and Chive is a recent transplant, moving to downtown Lacombe after its lease expired in Ponoka, to the near north. It features innovative, chef-driven takes on standards, witness the braised duck wings, pulled-pork mac ‘n cheese, bison burgers and smoked trout and kale spaghettini.

Lovely soup and sandwich at Cilantro and Chive

Lovely soup and sandwich at Cilantro and Chive

Here’s the clincher. Lacombe now boasts its own craft brewery, Blindman Brewing, cooking up things like cask-conditioned sour beers and Belgian-style saisons.

I wonder how much those Edwardian houses are selling for?

Morrison House Cafe
5331 51 Avenue, Lacombe, Alberta
Tuesday to Saturday 11 am-3:30 pm. Closed Sunday and Monday
403-789-1234

Sweet Capone’s
5010 50 Avenue
Tuesday to Saturday 10 am-4 pm. Closed Sunday and Monday
403-789-7778

Eastside Eatery
3, 4013 53 Avenue, Lacombe, Alberta
Weekdays 8 am-3 pm. Closed weekends
403-782-7435

Cilantro and Chive
5021 50 Street
Monday to Wednesday 11 am-9 pm, Thursday to Saturday 11 am-11 pm. Closed Sunday
403-782-2882

Blindman Brewing
Bay F, 3413 53 Avenue
Opens at 2 pm Tuesday to Friday and at noon Saturday. Closed Sunday and Monday
403-786-2337

Can a Made-to-Order Sandwich be Quick? You Bet

The woman in black is the sandwich magician at Lacombe's Eastside Eatery, assembling this beauty in under a minute

The woman in black is the sandwich magician at Lacombe’s Eastside Eatery, assembling this beauty in under a minute

Anyone who says made-to-order sandwiches take too long to assemble in a busy lunch spot obviously hasn’t been to Eastside Eatery, in the central Alberta city of Lacombe.

If they had, they’d soon realize that, for efficiency’s sake, you don’t have to make all the sandwiches in the morning, wrap them in suffocating plastic and stack them in a refrigerated display case, where they slowly get soggy and invariably don’t taste all that fresh when unravelled for consumption several hours later.

When I pull up to Eastside, a somewhat spartan place in a Lacombe industrial park, it’s late in the lunch hour and thus the usual line is gone. In fact, I walk right up to the counter and, after a brief glance at the overhead menu, order a roasted turkey sandwich on whole wheat.

Forget the industrial look. The focus here is fast, fresh and affordable

Forget the industrial look. The focus here is fast, fresh and affordable

“Would you like mayo, mustard, cranberry sauce and lettuce with that?” asks the friendly cashier. “OK.”
“Cheese, peppers, tomatoes, onions, pickle?” “Sure, load her up.”
“Stuffing?” “Would you recommend it?” “Absolutely. It’s homemade.”

I then pull out my debit card and go through the prompts to pay for my sandwich. As the receipt is printed and passed to me—say, 45 seconds after I’ve ordered—the assembler hands me the sandwich on a plate.

“Where did you get that from?” I ask suspiciously. “It was already made, wasn’t it?”
“No, I just made it.”
“How could you make it that fast?”
“I have to be quick, for when it’s really busy.”

The sandwich—a sumptuous bargain at $7—is rather enormous; a veritable Thanksgiving dinner crammed between two pieces of fresh bread. And it isn’t just filled with fixings. There must be an entire, shredded turkey breast in there.

But true to its name, The Gobbler, it disappears in about the time it takes to make.

A jaw stretcher? Heck, I can hardly get my hand around this beast

A jaw stretcher? Heck, I can hardly get my hand around this beast

Eastside Eatery
3, 4013 53 Avenue, Lacombe, Alberta
Weekdays 8 am-3 pm. Closed weekends
403-782-7435

World Famous Cafe in Boulder City, Nevada? You Bet

The World Famous Coffee Cup—in Boulder City, Nevada—is a classic diner

The World Famous Coffee Cup—in Boulder City, Nevada—is a classic diner

What’s a classic diner without a table full of old timers? The regulars are already stirring their coffees and kibitzing when I arrive, 6ish am, at the World Famous Coffee Cup, in Boulder City, on the outskirts of Las Vegas.

“The teacher always said if you don’t know how to spell a word, look it up in the dictionary,” one observes. “But if you don’t know how to spell it, how can you look it up?”

There’s a long counter begging to be sat at, so I grab a stool and take in my surroundings. The place is lined with old Nevada plates, a surfboard and water skis and stacks of photos.

The vintage neon sign completes the look

The vintage neon sign completes the look

As I scan a menu of diner standards—biscuits and gravy, omelettes, burgers and the like—the waitress swings by with a pot of good coffee (Colorado River Coffee Roasters) and takes my order of a short stack of pancakes.

“Can I get those with blueberries?”
“No problem. Would you like sugar-free syrup?”
“However did you guess?”

A few minutes later, the “short stack”—two plate-size cakes—arrives straight off the grill. They’re steaming hot, slightly crispy on the edges and bursting with berries. The scoop of butter on top melts into a puddle. Perfect.

A perfectly cooked "short stack" of pancakes

A perfectly cooked “short stack” of pancakes

“You know, hummingbirds and helicopters shouldn’t be able to fly,” one of the regulars notes.

Think they’d mind if I joined them?

World Famous Coffee Cup (made more famous by a Guy Fieri visit)
512 Nevada Way, Boulder City, Nevada
Daily 6 am-2 pm

Fast-Food Gourmet Burger in Victorville, California

Just your basic, fast-food sirloin, brisket burger at Apollo Restaurant in Victorville, California

Just your basic, fast-food sirloin, brisket burger at Apollo Restaurant in Victorville, California

Talk about false first impressions. I initially figure Apollo Restaurant, in Victorville, California, is just another faded burger drive-in joint in a dusty desert parking lot.

When I step inside, though, I’m quickly overwhelmed. I can negotiate the seven burgers on the big board, ranging from a fiery Mexican to a two-patty Narcissist. But I’m then handed a sheet listing a dozen other burger permutations, which can be further customized to please.

Help! Finally, I take the path of least resistance and order a basic Classic ($3), adding just crispy bacon and caramelized onions.

But the surprises aren’t over. I’m told the burger meat is ground in house each day from sirloin, chuck and brisket and then hand formed. With this purity of patty, is there any choice but to go medium rare?

My only quibble is the bun quickly falls apart. Oh well, all the better to savour the superior beef without many distractions.

As I’m about to tuck in, a woman at a neighbouring table sees me typing notes on my iPad. “You a reporter?”

“No, just a burger blogger.”

Her companion admits to eating here three times in the past week. Her parting advice: “Get ready to enjoy life.”

Apollo Restaurant
14950 7 Street, Victorville, California
Monday to Wednesday 10:30 am-8 pm. Thursday to Saturday 10:30 am-9 pm, Sunday 11 am-7 pm
760-245-4900

Marathon Mouth Ebook Free This Week Only

My Marathon Mouth road-trip ebook is absolutely free this week

My Marathon Mouth road-trip ebook is absolutely free this week

Who said there’s no such thing as a free lunch?

In this case, you actually do have to pay for your meal. But the “expert” recommendations of all the best, affordable, independent places to eat and drink during a road trip in the western U.S. and Canada are—for a moment in time—absolutely free.

That’s right. For a week only, I’m giving away free copies of my Marathon Mouth ebook (normally still a bargain at $10 or less). It covers nearly 900 great cafes, diners, coffee shops, bakeries, food trucks and brewpubs. So no matter where you are, there’s a fine, informal place for a bite or gulp nearby.

The book uncovers lots of character places like L.A.'s Grand Central Market

The book uncovers lots of character places like L.A.’s Grand Central Market

This fully interactive ebook (some 500 pages in length) is more than just an eating guide. It’s also a travelogue, offering scores of driving routes, many of them meandering off crowded interstates and winding through fantastic landscapes: mountains, coastlines, rain forests and deserts. If you’re into self-propelled outdoor activities—like hiking, biking, paddling or climbing—I’ve got lots of suggestions for jaunts both short and long.

Plus, there's lots of great driving routes, like through Death Valley

Plus, there’s lots of great driving routes, like through Death Valley

But surely, there must be a catch? Just one, and it takes no more than a couple of minutes of your time. In exchange for a free ebook, I ask that you consider writing a brief review on Amazon.com, (Amazon.ca in Canada), Apple iBooks or Chapters/Indigo.

One of the great things about dining on road trips is finding fantastic hole-in-the-wall places like this Mexican stand in Hamer, Idaho

One of the great things about dining on road trips is finding fantastic hole-in-the-wall places like this Mexican stand in Hamer, Idaho

If you’re interested in a free book, please email me at info@billcorbett.ca and I’ll send you the ebook in your choice of a Kindle (Amazon) or iBooks (any Apple device) file. Note: Even if you don’t have a Kindle, Amazon has a free app that allows you to read ebooks on your computer.

This free ebook offer only lasts until Wednesday, August 31. After that, you’ll have to cough up a bit of dough. Still, it’s less than a burger and fries.

Not Going Slow as We Can in B.C.’s Slocan Valley

Lovely garden patio at Mama Sita's Cafe in Winlaw, B.C.

Lovely garden patio at Mama Sita’s Cafe in Winlaw, B.C.

Things are decidedly laid-back in southeast B.C.’s Slocan Valley, labeled Slow As You Can by locals.

So we’re quite prepared for leisurely service at Mama Sitas Cafe, a colourful, highway-side spot in tiny Winlaw. We use the time, after ordering, to soak in the culture, such as folks in dreadlocks wandering in and out of the attached natural foods co-op.

Still, we’ve just completed a punishing, six-day backpack in nearby Valhalla Provincial Park and are rather famished. Thus, we’re pleasantly surprised when our server promptly delivers teeming, affordable plates of taco salads and burgers fashioned from local, organic beef.

Working up an appetite boulder hopping in Valhalla Provincial Park. Photo: Marg Saul

Working up an appetite boulder hopping in Valhalla Provincial Park. Photo: Marg Saul

It’s all good stuff, wolfed down in record time. No way I’m going slow as I can.

This burger disappeared in about five seconds

This burger disappeared in about five seconds

Mama Sita’s Cafe
5709 Highway 6, Winlaw, B.C.
250-226-7070