New Sunterra Market Cafe a Fast-Food Winner

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A crew of cooks making quick, delicious meals at Sunterra Market & Cafe

Sunterra Market is a Calgary institution, a truly farm-to-fork operation with six locations selling upscale groceries and surprisingly inexpensive meals.

With the recent opening of Sunterra Market & Café on Kensington Road NW, it has taken the next leap in its evolution as a full-service restaurant. Indeed, it may well have moved into the forefront of quick, high-quality, affordable meals in the city.

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The latest Sunterra is a combination of an upscale market and fresh, fast, affordable food

Yes, like other Sunterra Markets, this outlet sells a selection of quality groceries—including Valbella bacon and fresh, imported pasta—and meals to go ranging from ribs to salads and desserts.

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Chef Ben offers a sampling of a glazed Modena ham

But where the café stands out is in its short list of made-to-order items (prepared by a bevy of open-kitchen cooks), which you can eat at one of a dozen wooden tables or order to go. Take, for example a breakfast sandwich—eggs, Modena ham and cheddar—on one of the better butter biscuits I’ve encountered, for only $4.99. Or an unusual, stuffed flatbread—egg, prosciutto and fior di latte—almost enough for two at $6.49. And compare that to the $18 one often pays for breakfast in Calgary.

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A substantial Piadina flatbread breakfast sandwich

One standout “Piadina” flatbread sandwich ($7.99) contains rotisserie chicken (from a tile oven full of them rotating away), provolone and pesto. And there’s a list of fresh pastas, including a prosciutto carbonara with a wine-reduction sauce ($9.49).

We spent a good half hour one evening talking with Chris Alladin, Sunterra’s senior vice president of operations, who designed much of the café’s concept. He excitedly showed us the entire operation, offering samples of warm-from-the-oven biscuits and slices of pan-crisped ham.

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Chris Alladin was a driving force behind the market cafe

With some 125,000 vehicles a day passing by on nearby Crowchild Trail and Kensington Road, Alladin figures lots of folks will pull in for a quick bite to eat or a meal to take home—from early-morning breakfasts to nighttime dinners.

Given the high quality of the food and the decidedly inexpensive prices, I wholeheartedly agree. I’ve already visited three times in a week, and it’s a seven-kilometre drive.

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A short menu of lunch and dinner items

My only quibble is an odd ordering system, whereby you fill out your order on a sheet and hand it to a roving assistant, who then places the order with a cook, while you go elsewhere to pay. Why not just verbally place your order where you’re paying?

Sunterra Market & Cafe
2536 Kensington Road N.W., Calgary, Alberta
Daily 6:30 am-9 pm
403-685-1535

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House-made Pita Highlights Calgary Shawarma Spot

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At Beirut Street Food, pretty much everything is made in house, including the pita breads

There are perhaps a couple of dozen shawarma restaurants in Calgary, including the iconic Jimmy’s A&A Deli and the fast-expanding Jerusalem Shawarma. To stand out among the city’s Middle Eastern grilled-meat joints, you need something different.

The excellent Beirut Street Food, which opened in southeast Calgary in 2017, does just that. First, owner Ramzal Salem and her staff roll out and grill their pita wraps throughout the day, guaranteeing a flavourful freshness that’s miles ahead of bagged pitas. Second, unlike the standard shawarma setup—vertical spits of slowly-rotating, stacked meat slices—Beirut cooks its marinated beef and chicken over a horizontal bed of burning charcoal, providing a unique, smoky flavour.

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Another unique feature: a horizontal spit over a charcoal fire

Add your choice of made-in-house veggies and sauces—hummus, garlic and a weeping hot sauce—and you’ve got a healthy-sized shawarma ($11 regular, $13 large) that ranks amongst the best in Calgary. You can pair your wrap with other fine Lebanese standards such as tabouli or fatoush salad or falafel balls, chased with a honeyed square of baklava.

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Adding veggies and sauces to the shawarmas

In a crossover nod to a great Canadian tradition, you can get your shawarmas served over poutine: fries, cheese and gravy. Me, I’m going for another puffy piece of pita bread, hot off the rounded grill.

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Beirut Street Foods is a bright spot in southeast Calgary

Beirut Street Food
Bay C, 7220 Fairmount Drive S.E., Calgary, Alberta
Monday to Thursday 10 am-6:30 pm, Friday-Saturday 10 am-7 pm. Closed Sunday.
403-512-7772

Ferry Fast Breakfast on B.C. Ferries

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Piping hot, fast breakfast at 6 am on B.C. Ferries

I’m not accustomed to lining up for breakfast at 6 a.m. Indeed, at that hour, I’m often the first customer in the restaurant door.

But on an ungodly early-morning B.C. Ferries sailing to Vancouver Island, there’s already a line snaking down the hallway by the time I emerge from the subterranean parking deck. As a visiting Albertan, I’m at an obvious disadvantage to the savvy locals, who are out of their vehicles the second they stop and scrambling up the labyrinthian staircases to the cafeteria.

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The breakfast line forms as soon as the ferry is loaded

Rather than be the 30th person in line at the Coastal Cafe, I wander up to the serving area, just to observe how the kitchen staff is going to handle this hungry, thirsty mob. With great efficiency, it turns out.

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The kitchen is a flurry of synchronized action

It’s a coordinated symphony of movement, with a team of hustling cooks and a “conductor” barking out occasional requests for, say, eggs over easy or hollandaise sauce and salsa on the side. So, yes, they do “made to order”.

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Eggs Benedict and an ocean view: can’t beat that

Now, on a packed ferry, speed and volume is obviously going to trump quality. But my eggs and hash browns are surprisingly good, fresh and hot—for a price that’s quite reasonable (about $12) compared with the ferry ride itself. When I can make my own push-button Americano, to boot, it all adds up to a pretty decent breakfast.

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A made-to-order Americano is just a button push away

The seamless operation is something your typical brunch spot could learn from, especially on a winter weekend, when you’re shivering in a line going out the below-freezing door. On the ferry, the whole breakfast rush is over in about 30 minutes, with satiated customers retreating to their seats and screens.

Luke What’s in Calgary’s Spectacular New Downtown Library

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Calgary’s new Central Public Library is a stunning, $245-million building

You can’t beat owning a coffee shop smack in the middle of world-class architecture—especially if you don’t have to (directly) pay for it. That’s the envious position of Lukes, which won the bid to operate a café and restaurant in downtown Calgary’s stunning new Central Public Library.

I’m sure café owners Gareth Lukes and Eric Hendry don’t mind playing second fiddle to the $245-million library as an attraction. After all, when half a million people have visited the library in its first few months of operation, plenty are going to sit down for a coffee or bite.

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The library and the cafe (lower left) are attracting lots of visitors

I won’t dwell on the splendours of the library, other than to offer a few pictures and urge anyone in or visiting Calgary to make the pilgrimage downtown. Suffice to say, it’s as much a public gathering space—complete with theatre, meeting rooms, children’s play area and recording studios—as a place to check out some of the library’s 450,000 books.

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The library is a linchpin of Calgary’s emerging downtown East Village

The Lukes café is a little coffee bar at the far end of the library’s second level, flanked by tables, big windows and gorgeous, soaring wood. It’s a perfect place to pause for a coffee (primarily Bow X Arrows beans) and baked treats from Manuel Latruwe and Pretty Sweet while looking out at downtown’s rapidly developing East Village. It would be nice if they offered real, reusable cups, but I guess they’re at least compostable.

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The cafe is little more than a kiosk at the north end of the second floor

The Lukes restaurant is only accessible from the outside, west flank of the library. The 50-seat space is designed by Franks Architecture, with a scattering of tables and vines growing up one wall. Highlights of the eclectic, innovative menu include bone broth, roasted-beet salad, roasted chicken sandwiches, organic oatmeal and savory porridges such as pumpkin risotto.

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The cozy restaurant is on the outside, street level of the library

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The living wall is a nice touch

 

Lukes Central Library
800 3 Street SE, Calgary, Alberta
Library opens 9 am Monday to Saturday, noon Sunday

Going With My Gut in Nogales, Arizona

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Great, affordable Mexican seafood at Cocina La Ley in Nogales, Arizona

Before I hit a new town or city on a road trip, I usually do considerable online research on the best places to eat. But sometimes it’s best to just wing it.

Such is the case when we approach Nogales, a city of 20,000 on the Arizona-Mexico border south of Tucson. The critters in the car are hungry, and Nogales is only five minutes away.

Just time for a quick “best restaurants in Nogales” search on TripAdvisor. Up pops Cocina La Ley, where one reviewer said he was the only gringo in the place. Perfect.

So off a main street we turn onto a little gravel road past an auto body shop to a little slope-roofed concrete building, with a bunch of cars around it. Double perfect.

Inside, we join the fast-moving lunch line and order mainly shrimp and breaded fish tacos, for about $2 apiece; the place is also noted for its shrimp-laden cocteles (cocktails) and soups. No sooner do we take our seats at a table, than the food arrives on Styrofoam plates. We adorn our little tacos with toppings such as pico de gallo and squirts from bottles, ranging from mild to searing, and dig into our excellent fare.

 

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Delicious seafood tacos

Seeing our plates quickly cleaned, our sharp-eyed server/table cleaner orders us a few more tacos, which again appear out of nowhere. We hardly have time to soak in the busy atmosphere of local families enjoying their meals.

So, thanks to TripAdvisor for leading us to a wonderful, inexpensive lunch. But don’t take every review seriously. “This isn’t a place for ambience,” one visitor commented. Au contraire. The place is dripping with it.

Cocina La Ley
226 West 3 Street, Nogales, Arizona
Daily 8 am-4 pm
520-287-4555

Best Road Trip Food & Drink of 2018

Sought and Found 4

Best Coffee: Caleb and Kitty Leung make exacting coffee in their gorgeous Sought and Found Coffee Roasters in Calgary, Alberta

Vancouver Island 4

Best coffee mugs: Katy Fogg’s sublime, hand-thrown mugs, at Tin Town Cafe in Courtenay, B.C.

East Calgary 13

Best brunch: Deane House, Calgary

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Best muffin: La Baguette, Revelstoke, B.C.

Edmonton coffee 21

Best doughnut: Made-to-order Portuguese-style doughnut at Edmonton’s Ohana Donuterie

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Best Bakery: Don Guerra’s Barrio Bread in Tucson, Arizona

Vancouver Island 17

Best bakery treat: Focaccia bread at Fol Epi in Victoria, B.C.

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Best sandwich: Meat balls on ciabatta at Meat & Bread in Calgary

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Biggest Feed. A tie: Sandwiches for three (three days!) at Salt Lake City’s Grove Market

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And the Oinker At Bubba’s Big Bites in Chilliwack, B.C.

Grande Prairie 1

Best Mexican: Owner James Nelson and his made-to-order corn tortillas at El Norteno in Grande Prairie, Alberta of all places

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Best hot dog: Can’t beat the Sonoran hot dogs in parking lot Ruiz in Tucson

Sunshine Coast 49

Best beer: Belgian-style Townsite Brewery in Powell River, B.C.

Vancouver Island 27

Best burger: Chucks Burger Bar, in Sydney, B.C.

Edmonton coffee 6

Best complimentary breakfast: The Le Creuset pots were the clincher at Hyatt Place Hotel in Edmonton

Atco Cafe 6

Best restaurant architecture: ATCO Blue Flame Kitchen Cafe in Calgary

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Best farmers’ market: cSPACE in Calgary

Market Bistro Canmore 5

Best service: Brande at Market Bistro in Canmore, Alberta

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Best gas station experience: Maverick in Fillmore, Utah

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Best foraged food: Wild huckleberries on Monkman Pass Trail near Tumbler Ridge, B.C.

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Best dining experience: As always, incomparable Carmen making fresh tacos in Hamer, Idaho