When I was growing up in Edmonton, eons ago, I used to walk through the city’s Little Italy en route to football games at Clarke Stadium, home of the Eskimos (recently rebranded the Elk).
It was my first introduction to an ethnic neighbourhood, highlighted by tidy homes fronted by gardens. At the centre of this exotic district was the Italian Centre Shop, a rambling grocery store and coffee bar, where I first saw espresso shots being downed and people lining up for Italian meats, cheeses and sandwiches, often devoured in the park across the street.
The shop opened in 1959 under Frank Spinelli, who successfully pushed for legalizing homemade wine in Alberta. Daughter Teresa took over the business in 2000 and later opened two other Edmonton stores. A Calgary location was added in 2015, allowing me to finally re-experience this Italian institution in my adopted hometown.
While the Calgary store lacks the Edmonton location’s history, its deli is still impressive, boasting more than 100 types of cheeses and Italian meats and 40 kinds of olives.
Like all the locations, it has a café, Spinelli Bar Italia, where you can savour all manner of espresso-based drinks, pizzas, pastries and sandwiches. That’s what I head for, ordering a grilled ciabatta loaded with porchetta, hot genoa salami, Havarti cheese and roasted red pepper—a sizable, delightful lunch for only $8.
Of course, I have to toast the rekindling of all these memories by tossing back an espresso.
Italian Centre Shop
9919 Fairmount Drive SE, Calgary
Daily 7:30 am-9 pm