Calgary’s Best Coffee House?

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Caleb Leung and his wonderful new Sought and Found Coffee Roasters in Calgary

Despite living in Calgary a long time, I’ve never had a favourite local coffeehouse. A lot of good spots but, for various reasons, not places I frequent. Until now.

Ironically, all I needed was to look for the right name: Sought and Found Coffee Roasters, which officially opened, just north of downtown Calgary, in January. It’s lovingly owned and operated by Caleb and Kitty Leung; he got his coffee roasting/tasting training in Tulsa, Oklahoma, of all places.

First, Sought X Found’s space is gorgeous, with lots of repurposed wood along the coffee bar and a micro roaster (only six pounds at a time) towards the back. While the room is long and fairly narrow, there’s no sense you’re sitting on top of each other. The place is full of nice touches—a row of children’s books for reading, old window frames on the side wall, hand-written descriptions on the packages of fresh-roasted beans for sale.

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The coffee bar features gorgeous repurposed old wood

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Nice little touches throughout the space

Everything is carefully thought out and beautifully executed. That certainly applies to the coffee.

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Slowly and patiently producing the “hand brew” coffee

My Sumatra pour over (or “hand brew”, as they call it) is patiently filtered into a glass carafe. Unlike a lot of “third-wave” coffee shops, with lightly roasted beans, this cup is full of complex flavours the tasting notes describe as oak, whisky and cacao. Whatever. It’s still worth savouring even when allowed to cool.

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Kitty Leung delivers my hand-brew coffee

The coffee is not cheap. A hand brew or a large espresso and organic milk (the latter from Vital Green Farms in southern Alberta’s Picture Butte) is $5.50. But hey, if speed and volume is paramount to you, there’s a Starbucks across the street. Here, you’re paying a little more for superb quality and a leisurely experience.

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The little coffee roaster only produces six pounds at a time

The food menu is simple, featuring croissants from Calgary’s Butter Block (a croissant sandwich with prosciutto and fresh mozzarella and jelly is $7) and chocolate. The non-coffee drink options are similarly few but well chosen: loose-leaf teas and Japanese green matcha and houjicha teas.

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Roasted beans for sale, children’s books to read while sipping

My only complaint is Sought X Found is not close to where I live. Otherwise, I’d be here every week.

Thanks to Mike Haden for alerting me about this place.

Sought X Found Coffee Roasters
916 Centre Street North, Calgary, Alberta
Monday to Friday 7:30 am-5:30 pm, Saturday 8:30 am-6 pm. Closed Sunday
403-830-7278

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Tucson’s Best Coffee

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Tucson’s Presta Roasters has one of the nicest entrances to a coffee shop I’ve ever seen

Now, this is what I call dedication. As I’m sipping a sumptuous Americano at Yellow Brick Coffee, in a Tucson industrial area, co-owner David Perreira is carefully tending a machine that roasts just five pounds of beans at a time.

This, folks, is not mass production. It takes a lot of roasting sessions to yield the 150-250 pounds of beans a week that goes to discerning Tucson restaurants, brew pubs, subscribers and dedicated folks willing to venture to this out-of-the-way location.

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David Perreira tends his tiny roaster at Yellow Brick Coffee

David and sister Anna are sufficiently passionate about tracing the source of their single-origin beans that they often visit growers in far-flung places such as Kenya. It’s all part of the process of wooing discerning customers, five pounds at a time.

Yellow Brick Coffee
3220 South Dodge Boulevard, #1, Tucson
Weekdays 7 am-2 pm. Closed weekends
520-226-4068

Presta Coffee Roasters, in central Tucson, is my definition of what a cool, elegant coffee shop should be.

The first impression is the sleek, streamlined design: a slat-covered, dappled-sun walkway leading to a reflective, glass-walled entrance. Inside, a John Prine duet is playing on the eclectic soundtrack, while a William Wegman photo book, of his dressed-up Weimaraner dogs, rests on a Danish coffee table. Racing bikes are mounted high on a wall, reflecting owner Curtis Zimmerman’s former life as a professional cyclist; a “presta” is a high-pressure valve on road bikes.

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Racing bikes on the wall at Presta Coffee Roasters

And the coffee. An achingly slow cold-brew drips into a large bottle. A Chemex carafe fills, a pour-over drains. My Americano half fills a desert-coloured stoneware mug. Nothing is hurried.

Like the other patrons, quietly sipping their drinks while immersed in a book or screen, I melt into my seat, not wanting to leave.

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Fresh-roasted coffee to go

Presta Coffee
2502 North 1 Avenue, Suite 100 (one other Tucson location)
Tuesday to Sunday 8 am-4 pm. Closed Monday
520-333-7146

Build it Right and They Will Find You

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Roma Imports is out in the middle-of-nowhere industrial Tucson

One of the unexpected pleasures of getting to obscure food and drink establishments is driving through interesting neighbourhoods you’d otherwise never discover.

Of course, heading into the boondocks means occasionally getting lost or turned around. And in every new city I explore for great, cheap eats, there’ are at least a couple of times I mutter, “This café can’t possibly be located on this residential/industrial street.” Until suddenly, there it is.

Such thoughts come to mind as we’re trying to find Roma Imports, an Italian deli and grocery southeast of downtown Tucson. We’re driving around an industrial district, with no sign of any place selling food. Just as I’m thinking we’re lost, thar it be, all by its culinary lonesome.

This is definitely the right place, judging by the line of cars out front and the stream of customers emerging with plastic bags of takeout. This impression is confirmed as soon as we enter the front door.

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The deli looks small until you keep walking back and back

The building is narrow but goes on forever. On the right are coolers filled with fresh Italian meats and cheeses and scads of interesting appetizers (roasted garlic, prosciutto-stuffed figs, balls of fresh mozzarella, cauliflower fritters). The long left flank is jammed with frozen takeout items: lasagna, tiramisu, curries, cookies, saag paneer.

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Italian deli sandwiches don’t get better or cheaper than this

Way at the back are tables, where we tuck into hefty Italian sandwiches ($8), featuring plentiful meats and cheeses stuffed into crusty slabs of baguette. There’s enough for two meals here. We then load up on sufficient marinated goodies for a light supper of appetizers.

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Roma has scads of interesting, unusual deli items

As we head out, I ask our server how long Roma has been in this out-of-the-way location. “About 18 years,” she says. So, if you build the best Italian deli in Tucson, people will find you, even if, like me, they’re not sure where they’re going.

Roma Imports 
627 South Vine Avenue, Tucson, Arizona
Monday to Thursday 9 am-6 pm, Friday-Saturday 9 am-8 pm. Closed Sunday

How About Duck Confit and Cabernet Cherries for Breakfast?

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Prep & Pastry is a bright Tucson breakfast joint with some eclectic dishes

“What’s your signature breakfast dish?” I ask the waitress at Prep & Pastry, a joint with a varied menu in central Tucson.

Without pausing, she replies: “The duck confit skillet. It’s what everyone comes for and writes about on Yelp and TripAdvisor.”

Sold.

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Now here’s something unique at breakfast: duck confit with Cabernet-braised cherries

The $12.75 dish certainly stands out from the same-old breakfast standards. When have you heard of ingredients like Cabernet-braised cherries and goat cheese mousse… at any time of the day, let alone seven in the morning? The standouts, though, are the slightly salty, shredded duck, excellent roasted fingerling potatoes and a couple of over-easy eggs. As a bonus, it’s served in a cast-iron skillet.

Prep & Pastry
3073 North Campbell Avenue (one other Tucson location)
Weekdays 7 am-3 pm, weekend brunch 7 am-3 pm

A Fast-Food Burger Chain I Can Support

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In-N-Out Burger is lifted right out of the 1950s

Fast-food chains are the antithesis of what I promote in this road-food blog, which is good, independently owned, affordable restaurants.

But a western U.S. hamburger chain, In-N-Out Burger has long attracted a cult-like following among hip food lovers. And when I saw Anthony Bourdain extolling the virtues of In-N-Out’s thin, crispy patties, I figured I had to check it out.

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In-N-Out is a family run, Southwest US, chain based out of California

After a couple of years of procrastinating, I finally find myself pulling into an outlet in Kingman, Arizona during a long drive between Tucson and Las Vegas. And I must say, I’m suitably impressed.

Now, don’t expect a gourmet burger made from freshly ground sirloin, cooked medium rare and topped with blue cheese and charred hot peppers. But this California-based, family run southwest U.S. chain is definitely a good step above the usual fast-food suspects.

The first thing I notice when entering the spotless premises is the 10 or more cheerful staff behind the counter, each wearing a white shirt, paper hat and red aprons secured at the back with a giant safety pin.

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My companion says the place reminds her of the 1950s. Which makes sense, considering In-N-Out was founded in 1948 and has kept many of its practices and ingredients unchanged over the years.

The second thing I notice is the concise menu: three types of hamburgers along with fries, shakes and a few other drinks. That’s it!

I order the double cheeseburger, for a whopping $3.60. When the most-pleasant attendant asks if I’d like onions, I jokingly ask if they’re caramelized. “No, but would you like them grilled?” he responds.

To me, this indicates the burgers are cooked to order—a suspicion confirmed by the several minutes it takes for the food to be ready. Everything is nicely presented, with the burgers half exposed above the paper wrapper.

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The burger wrapper tells the story

The burgers are straight forward—adorned with lettuce, tomato and sauce—but well executed with toasted buns and flavourful, nicely crisped thin patties. The thin fries could be hotter but are otherwise tasty, as is a vanilla shake you could stand a spoon in.

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Nice, crisp, inexpensive burgers

My overall impression is “fresh”, both for the food and the fresh-faced staff. Simple, but simply well done.

In-N-Out Burger
1770 Beverly Avenue, Kingman, Arizona
Daily 10:30 am-1 am, except 1:30 am closings Friday and Saturday

Swarms of Shawarma at this Calgary mini-chain

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Assembling a massive beef shawarma wrap at Calgary’s Jerusalem Shawarma

On the menu of Calgary’s Jerusalem Shawarma are listed several family plates. Here’s a tip: Just order a one-person serving, and you might still feed a small family.

My chicken shawarma plate ($13.95) arrives with an alarming quantity of food. There’s about a pound of delectable, slow-marinated and shaved chicken served on a bed of rice. Filling out the oversized platter are wedges of garlic potatoes, healthy scoops of creamy, fresh hummus and garlic sauce and a choice of salad: Greek, Russian, corn or fatuch. After five minutes of feasting, I come up for air, scarcely putting a dent in my dinner.

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Here’s my single chicken shawarma plate, with hummus and garlic sauce

My companion’s bountiful falafel plate is weighted down by six sizable falafel balls, deep fried to order. “The best I’ve ever had,” she says between mouthfuls.

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Massive falafel balls, cooked to order

While waiting, we watch shawarma and donair wraps ($11-12) being assembled. Here, copious amounts of meat and toppings—including tahini, red cabbage, parsley, banana peppers and pickles—are loaded aboard a large pita, rolled and heated in a press. The resulting logs are bigger than any burrito I’ve ever seen, easily feeding two moderate appetites.

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The takeout box is almost obligatory

Whatever you order, odds are good you’ll be asking for a leftovers box. Though I notice plenty of folks heading back to the counter, post feeding, to toss down a honey-laced piece of baklava.

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Folks were scavenging this delectable container of baklava

Jerusalem Shawarma is a fast-casual joint, where you order at the counter and then retire to a row of booths, unless you’re getting takeout. Owned and operated by five Abufarha brothers originally from Jerusalem and using their grandfather’s recipes, their mini chain has expanded in a few years to six Calgary locations. Growing almost as fast as my belly.

Jerusalem Shawarma
Unit 111, 722 85 Street SW (and five other Calgary locations)
Daily 11 am-10 pm
403-474-8994