I know, at a place called Meat & Bread, you should be ordering meat. But all the delicious meat sandwiches on offer at this downtown Calgary location—crackling porchetta, meatball, corn beef and chicken—weigh in at about $12.50.
For the quality and quantity, it’s still a great deal, at one of my favourite sandwich shops in Calgary, located in the historic Grain Exchange Building. But for the purpose of this series—Calgary lunch for less than $10—I have to go for the one vegetarian option on the menu, an eggplant Parmesan sandwich, for $9.
It features roasted, organic eggplant, kale, marinara sauce and Parmesan aioli, all crammed into a fresh ciabatta bun. Even if you’re not normally a fan of eggplant and kale, you should like this soft, flavourful blend. You can add a dip, such as a habanero cilantro cream, for $1.50, but it’s not essential and does push the tab over $10.
The eggplant sandwich makes for a light lunch, which if you’re famished, can be complemented with a fine soup or salad, but again it adds $5 to the cost.
Every now and then, I encounter a food invention that blows my mind. Like the wood-fired garlic knot at Milo & Olive in Santa Monica. Or the healthy toast at La Baguette in Revelstoke.
All the better when this discovery is completely serendipitous, at a place I don’t know exists until I walk in the front door.
Welcome to French 50 Bakery, at the edge of downtown Okotoks in southern Alberta. It’s attached to Bistro 1882 French restaurant, in an historic former post office, its exterior clad in pressed tin.
French 50 is kind of like a pop-up restaurant, open only on Saturdays, although doing a brisk online, pick-up business. Owners Marie and Brad bake a range of fabulous, crusty sourdough breads, such as the pain campagne, a whole wheat naturally raised loaf that I order.
What catches my eye is a display case of delectable sweet treats: a chocolate ginger scone, a pain au chocolate and various pandans and caneles. Just look at the mouth-watering picture below.
But then my decision is instantly made for me. It’s a mixed-berry cross between a croissant and a muffin, quite naturally called a cruffin. Why have I never seen this before?
The taste lives up to the visual promise: the shattering lightness of a croissant, the moist density of a muffin and the sweet flavour burst of berries. Worth every penny of the $4.50 cost.
After I wolf the cruffin down on the spot, my server picks up a napkin and gently asks, “Would you like to me to wipe those spots off your face?”
French 50 Bakery 52 North Railway Street, Okotoks, Alberta Saturdays only 8 am-1 pm 587-429-5906
I’ve had an itch lately for samosas, those South Asian fried triangle pastries, filled with spicy meats or vegetables.
The problem is one of my go-to shawarma places no longer makes them. And an East Indian grocery store that sells them for an absurdly low price is hell and gone across sprawling Calgary.
But thanks to a friend’s tip, I found some tasty samosas at Foothills Hospital of all places. Cravings Bagels is a tiny café tucked into the medical centre’s North Tower/Grace Women’s Health Centre. The eclectic menu includes bagels, grilled cheese sandwiches and Greek salads, alongside Middle Eastern specialties such as falafels, shawarmas and donairs, the latter three ranging in price from $6.50 to $8.
But on this day, I headed straight for the samosas, ordering one beef and one potato (my favourite), devouring them on a bench outside the hospital’s emergency entrance. It was a perfect, nice-sized snack for $5, bumped up to $7.50 for a light lunch of three.
My only challenge was getting past a screener who wondered why I was going (only a few steps) into the hospital without a medical appointment during a Covid outbreak. Fair enough. Picking up takeout samosas just wouldn’t have cut it, had I not agreed to some questions and a temperature check.
I’m sure the samosas were hotter than my forehead.
Cravings Bagels 1441 29 Street NW, Calgary (Foothills Hospital North Tower) Weekdays 7 am-3 pm 403-283-2776
You’d think it wouldn’t be hard to find a decent restaurant salad in Calgary for less than $10. After all, there’s no necessity to add chicken or some other pricy protein to your greens.
But you’d be wrong. I’ve spent hours of online research, perusing local restaurant menus in search of imaginative salads at decent price points. And I’ve largely failed.
Salads in this city generally fall into two categories: uninspired and overpriced, sometimes both.
I recently purchased, for about $9, a takeout Greek salad at a Calgary market. This was your typical, tired Greek salad, lowlighted by insipid, orange, Roma tomatoes. Vine-ripened tomatoes, bursting with flavour, have been widely available for more than a decade. They can be used to enliven a Greek salad.
On the other hand, there’s the sprouting of national power-salad chains. Their bowls typically feature aspirational ingredients like mesclun, quinoa, roasted yam, pita chips, kale (of course) and a ginger sesame vinaigrette. Good stuff, I’m sure, but at, say, $15, a little outside my lunchtime budget.
Enough ranting. I finally found a salad, at Community Natural Foods, which satisfies my quest for interesting and affordable. The Veg Head is a lively mix of baby greens, cherry tomatoes, roasted chickpeas, red quinoa, pumpkin seeds, nutritional yeast and preserved lemon dressing. At $10.39, it’s just slightly above my $10 bar, though adding extra toppings can quickly increase the price.
My salad purchase marked the reopening of a reimagined cafe at Community Foods, following a long pandemic closure. But instead of loading my salad plate buffet style, I now have to order at an electronic kiosk, similar to the self-checkouts at grocery stores. Not sure how that will work on busy days with neophytes trying to figure out the system.
The food court continues the long-time health food store’s tradition of offering fine burgers, burritos, smoothies, pizzas and power bowls at affordable prices. Plus they know how to put together a salad.
Community Natural Foods 1304 10 Avenue SW and two other Calgary locations Monday to Saturday 9 am-9 pm, Sunday 9 am-7 pm
It’s not hard to find a budget burger in most cities and towns. Just head to an old-school drive-in and, for $6 or $7, order a nondescript patty disguised by the usual fixings in a fall-apart bun.
The real challenge is discovering a bargain burger that stands out. Which is why Boogie’s Burgers is my go-to under-$10 burger joint in Calgary.
Yes, in some ways it fits the classic description of old-school burger barn. It’s been around since 1969, and has the standard menu of burgers every which way and an equally long list of milkshakes.
What’s different is the quality and imagination of ingredients. The patties are 100% Alberta beef and the toppings generous, including fried mushrooms and fried onions on even the most basic burger.
The other thing that impresses me is the heft. I often judge food by its weight, and Boogie’s doesn’t cut corners here. My bag of single-patty Fay’s Burger ($7.50, featuring two slices of bacon) and “small” fries ($2.60, hand cut from Hutterite colony potatoes) easily weighs two pounds and takes a hearty appetite to demolish.
Finally, I’m told my order will take 10 minutes to prepare, even though the place is all but empty. That’s okay. It means everything is being made to order, not sliding off a warming tray.
Boogie’s Burgers 908 Edmonton Trail NE and one other Calgary location Monday to Saturday 11 am-9 pm, Sunday noon to 9 pm 403-230-7070