It’s not just the wind that blows through Crowsnest Pass, in Alberta’s southwest corner. Most travellers, too, just breeze by, other than to briefly gawk at the immense boulder rubble from the Frank Slide, fill their gas tanks and maybe get a coffee and blueberry-lemon muffin at Cinnamon Bear Bakery & Café (8342 Highway 3). But there’s plenty of mountain scenery and rich coal-mining history to soak up here, plus a couple of first-rate, distinctive eateries to hit along a short stretch of Highway 3 in Coleman.
I’ve finally found an opportunity to use the old line: “Waiter, there’s a fly in my soup.” To do so, however, I’d have to buy and then drop a tied streamer into my chowder at *Crowsnest Cafe & Fly Shop, a unique combination of food and fly fishing. One half of the light-filled, wood-floored old house is devoted to flies, rods, reels and cleated boots, the other to dining tables.
The meals are definitely no afterthought here, with owner Susan Douglas-Murray crafting scratch-made breakfasts and lunches in her small, open kitchen. My generous bowl of steaming, slightly spicy soup is chockfull of roasted root vegetables, while the accompanying wrap is pork tenderloin marinated in a black bean sauce, baked and then rolled inside a lightly toasted tortilla. It’s terrific stuff, especially if I need fuel for an afternoon’s fly fishing with her husband, guide Alan Brice (“trout psychologist”), on the storied Crowsnest River.
Crowsnest Cafe & Fly Shop
8501 Highway 3, Coleman, Alberta
Winter hours Wednesday to Sunday 8 am-5 pm
I’m not sure what’s more unusual about *The Blackbird Restaurant—the authentic Mexican cuisine it’s serving in the tiny community or the high ceiling, 1905 church this new dining spot is located in. Is it further blasphemy when bearded co-owner Brock Jellison arrives at my lunch table and, without asking, starts pouring from a wine bottle into my glass? Actually, it’s just water (turning wine into water?).
This just sets me up for the next surprise: the excellent tacos that chef Alejandro Verdi is turning out from his small kitchen. There’s one with tender chunks of chicken and a piquant house-made green mole sauce and another with marinated flank steak that’s cooked a perfect medium rare. Sure, the $4 price tag for each is higher than at a streetside taqueria down south, but the size and quality of ingredients and preparation make this darn good value in the frozen north. Even if they have to deal with customers asking for forks.
The Blackbird Restaurant
7914 20 Avenue (Highway 3), Coleman, Alberta
Daily 11 am-9 pm, except closed Tuesday. Cash only