Calgary Under $10 Lunch: Tokyo Station

A classic Kuro ramen at Calgary’s Tokyo Station

After the usual Christmas splurge, a January resolution, for many of us, is to curb spending. So what better time to resume my Calgary Under $10 Lunch series?

Like many Japanese dishes, such as sushi, ramen tends to be rather pricy for the cheap-eats seeker. Indeed, one celebrated Calgary ramen restaurant has daily lineups for its $18 bowls of noodle goodness, which usually quickly sell out. Good for them.

But to meet the under-$10 rules of this series, I venture to Tokyo Station, a few steps removed from busy 14th Street in southwest Calgary’s Beltline district. It’s a little street market shop that sells Japanese packaged snacks, ice cream and tapioca tea and is affiliated with Tokyo Street Market next door.

Tokyo Station is on a little Beltline side street

But the heart of its lineup is five styles of ramen, each for $9.99 and featuring different bases—miso, kimchi, laksa and shio—and chock full of house-made skinny noodles, beef brisket, pork belly chashu, a seasoned egg and green onion.

While a couple of the soups are sweat-inducing spicy, I opt for a milder, classic Kuro ramen, with a tonkotsu base, black garlic oil and dry seaweed. It’s a lovely, lacquered bowl full of delicate flavours, enjoyed on Tokyo Station’s shaded front patio.

I could have ordered a side dish of a sweet bun, pork dumplings, fried octopus or chicken wings—each for $5.49—but that would have put me over my self-imposed limit. And all I was looking for was a great light lunch.

A fairly spartan interior

Tokyo Station
1505 15 Avenue SW, Calgary
Daily 11 am-9 pm

Pathway to Sanity

Pathway along the oh-so-urban Sarcee Trail

For decades, I drove along Sarcee Trail in southwest Calgary, oblivious to the people walking, running and cycling along the parallel pathway. And why would I notice, given a nearby gym and beckoning mountain trails to satisfy my exercise and alpine spiritual needs?

Then Covid struck, and my world shrunk, along with everyone else’s. Now, nearly two years into the pandemic, I’ve walked and run along that pathway and nearby streets a couple of hundred times.

I’m sure the powerline’s not affecting my brain

For one thing, that’s meant not having to jump in my car and drive every time I want to exercise or hit the trails. For another, it’s meant learning to appreciate the urban beauty of pathways and walkable neighbourhoods, despite overhead power lines and the steady hum of nearby traffic. So here’s a year of pathway photos, mostly on or near Sarcee Trail. Incidentally, all the shots are from my camera that also happens to make phone calls: the iPhone 12 Pro. Best $1,400 I’ve spent.

Summer poppies
Batallion Park
One of Calgary’s great, overlooked attractions: the skies
Neighbourhood blossoms
Fall leaves
Early winter along Glenmore Reservoir
Walking wear for winter deep freeze
Winter follows me indoors

Taking advantage of fresh snow
Nose Hill
Sarcee sign
Sarcee car wash
Shopping cart in the Elbow River
Wolfe and the Sparrows statue

If it’s a Food Made in Canmore, Rusticana’s Likely Got It

A sampling of the locally produced foods in Canmore’s Rusticana Market + Deli

On the rare occasion when I used to enter Rusticana in downtown Canmore, I never viewed it as anything more than a glorified convenience store.

But on a recent tip from my sister, I discovered this 40-year-old corner store has been rebranded as a market and deli—a well-curated space for finding all sorts of locally produced foods.

Uprising Craft Bakery has you covered

Like sourdough breads and other baked goods from Uprising Craft Bakery. Fresh sausages and splendid frozen tourtieres from Valbella Gourmet Foods. Coffee beans from Banff Roasting Company and Mountain Blends. Fresh pasta from Canmore Pasta Co. Frozen samosas from Mad Dog Café. Hand-made chocolates from Le Chocolatier. Gourmet sauces from Bow Valley BBQ. Frozen pizzas from Rocky Mountain Flatbread Co. Cookies from Bare Bistro. Raw foods from Hear Me “Raw”. Healthy prepared meals from An Edible Life. The list goes on and on.

Obviously, the mountain town of Canmore (population 15,000) is a great food and restaurant place, arguably the pound-for-pound champion in Alberta. Now, thanks to Rusticana, it’s getting easier to pick up a lot of these great products in one stop.

Rusticana Market + Deli
2, 801 Main Street, Canmore, Alberta
Daily 6 am-11 pm

Olds, Alberta Barbecue Joint Filled the Pit in my Stomach

Brisket burnt ends sandwich at The Pit in Olds, Alberta

When you’re in the heart of Alberta’s cattle country, you might expect beefy restaurant offerings beyond steaks and burgers.

Slow-roasted barbecued brisket, for example, would seem a natural. But beyond a few outliers, like Calgary’s award-winning Tool Shed Brewing, there isn’t an abundance of barbecued beef or, for that matter, pork or chicken.

So, it’s nice to find The Pit, serving in-house smoked meats in Olds, an hour’s drive north of Calgary. The Pit does the full slow-cooked roster: pulled pork, pulled chicken, Montreal-smoked meats and brisket sandwiches.

The Pit owner Kevin Stromsmoe

What caught my attention was a brisket burnt ends sandwich, stuffed inside a glossy bun with house slaw and BBQ sauce. To clarify, the ends aren’t literally burnt. They’re just the bits trimmed from the smoked brisket. While a tad chewier, they are certainly a more flavourful delicacy.

It was definitely a three-napkin job getting all this messy goodness past my cheeks and down the eagerly awaiting hatch.

Where the meats are smoked

The Pit
870-6700 46 Street, Olds, Alberta
Wednesday to Saturday 11:30 pm-7 pm, Sunday noon to 7 pm. Closed Monday and Tuesday

A Coffee Date I Can Certainly Embrace

This southern Alberta-produced coffee is happy to show its roasting date

Back when I was a bit of a coffee snob (what, I still am one?), I used to ask upscale café owners what date their packaged beans had been roasted.

The invariable answer, which skirted the question, was: “Oh, it’s fresh.”

Well, maybe it was, but where was the proof? Unlike most of the food and beverage industry—which dutifully proclaims the date when the product was packaged or was “best before”—the coffee business mainly ignores the question.

The line of defence seems to be that their just-roasted beans are packed inside vacuum-sealed bags and are thus fresh for a considerable period. A Starbucks bag I bought in September 2021 says “Best before 28 January 2022” and then goes on to say, “Use within a week of opening.”

This Pincher Creek coffee wasn’t roasted months ago. Note: It took me three months to post this blog

So, it’s putting a lot of faith in that vacuum-sealed bag to keep those beans reliably fresh for nearly five months.

I’ve been sporadically roasting my own beans for many years. So I think I have a pretty good idea what fresh coffee smells and tastes like and, just as importantly, looks like.

For several days after coffee beans are roasted, they produce a visible bloom of bubbles when ground and then brewed in a drip system. It’s the carbon dioxide that’s being emitted (though hopefully not in volumes destined to destroy the planet). You can also notice this emission of gases if you store your fresh beans in a Ziploc bag; a few hours later, there’s more air in the bag.

This CO2 bloom indicates just-roasted beans

My point is that when I brew a cup of coffee from a bag of sealed beans that were roasted months ago, there’s no bloom. The one thing I and Starbucks agree on is that once opened or, in my case, roasted, coffee beans only stay fresh for about a week.

The good news is more roasters, especially small and independent ones, are now stamping their bags with a roasting date. Which means we all stand a better chance of getting fresh beans. I’d say it’s about blooming time!

Cilantro & Chive Tops Lacombe Hit List

Lacombe’s Cilantro & Chive combine’s a big-city menu with a small-town vibe

Whatever you do, don’t call Lacombe small town.

Sure, the population of 14,000 would suggest town status. But the central Alberta community is officially a city. And the excellence of its architecture, history, and eats and drinks suggest a place punching well above its weight, certainly in the midst of farmland.

Exihibit A is Blindman Brewing, one of the top craft breweries in Alberta, always willing to push the boundaries of what makes interesting beer.

Exhibit B is Cilantro & Chive, whose imaginative restaurant fare is the equal of most big-city heavyweights. Consider the weekly lunch special I recently ordered: three Yorkshire puddings, stuffed with prime rib and deep-fried onion. Or regular menu offerings like braised duck wings or beef brisket grilled cheese. Who else does that?

Prime rib stuffed Yorkshire pudding. Yum!

Certainly I haven’t seen any place in five years of touring western North America that offers some 200 types of canned or bottled beer. Most of it Alberta produced.

About half the beers, mostly Alberta brewed, on offer

So the next time you’re considering a day trip from, say, Calgary or Edmonton, put Lacombe on your list. It’s my favourite Alberta town. Oops, city.

Cilantro & Chive
5021 50 Street, Lacombe, Alberta (and now a Red Deer location, 1927 50 Avenue)
Opens at 11 am weekdays, 10 am weekends