Author Archives: bcorbett907

About bcorbett907

I'm a Calgary-based writer who enjoys exploring the landscapes, and menus, of western U.S./Canada

Patios Perfect Choice for Pandemic Dining and Drinking

Patios like this lovely one at Bitter Sisters Brewery are the way to ease oneself back into on-premises dining

Well, it was long since time I ventured out into the local restaurant scene mid-pandemic, other than to order a modicum of takeout. I still haven’t eaten inside the four walls of a restaurant but feel increasingly comfortable stepping onto an airy patio.

In truth, it all felt pretty normal sitting on a sunny, early-fall patio at Bitter Sisters Brewery, a fairly new craft brewery that recently reopened in southeast Calgary. Yes, there were the ubiquitous hand sanitizer bottles at the entrance, masked servers, regularly scrubbed tables and few indoor diners. But otherwise, it was business as usual on a spacious patio, with about 10 of 16 well-spaced tables occupied by folks enjoying the mid-day heat with some pints and bites.

Things were much quieter indoors

The brewery nicely covers the craft basics: a handful of ales, a rotating sour and a potent, Belgian-yeast saison. Of course, I went for the Second Chance IPA.

But the real revelation was a diverse food menu ranging from a fried burrata starter to a Buddha Bowl salad to a Nashville fried chicken sandwich. Again, I stuck to the middle with an excellent, custom-blend beef burger with an onion ring tucked beneath the brioche bun and a mess of Kennebec fries. A three-napkin job, to be sure.

A hinged jaw helps devour this onion-ringed top burger

Here’s hoping the revived success at Bitter Sisters and other food and drink places in Calgary can be sustained during the long, upcoming winter, when most patios will undoubtedly be shuttered.

Have you started returning to restaurant patios or indoors? If so, any favourites you’re frequenting? Let me know.

Bitter Sisters
510 Heritage Drive SE, Calgary
Opens daily at 11:30 am, except 3 pm Monday
403-287-8811

Calgary Crispy Chicken Sandwich Hits the Spot

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In the heart of Calgary’s Taiko Canteen is a cool mini-golf course

There’s been a surging interest in fried-chicken sandwiches in Calgary. It no doubt reflects the booming popularity of Popeye’s latest offering at its fast-food outlets throughout North America.

But there are a number of independent Calgary shops with southern-style fried-chicken sandwiches on the menu. I thought I’d survey a few of them. But after just my first stop, I might already be prepared to declare a winner: Taiko Canteen.

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The drinks and kitchen (in behind the window) area

The canteen is a bricks-and-mortar marriage between two food trucks, Taiko Taco and Zilfords Fried Chicken, in a sprawling, darkish space in industrial southeast Calgary. The menu is a mash-up of tacos, hot chicken, poke bowls and local craft beers and cocktails—with a mini golf course and music hall thrown into the mix for good measure. In other words, a lively hangout for young’uns.

But on to the main event: the fried chicken sandwich ($12), with sauces ranging from mild to “lave juice”. The breading here is no afterthought but a main focal point that, once fried, becomes a crispy, crunchy, beguiling cover for tender chicken thighs, all crammed into a toasted brioche bun. Exceptional.

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The fried-chicken sandwich is crunchy nirvana

The $5 tacos range from pork belly to coconut-crusted tofu, stuffed inside a unique, spongy bun that definitely doesn’t fall apart like a traditional tortilla. The contents are certainly flavourful, though I think I still prefer the conventional wheat or corn tortilla wrap.

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Unusual taco wraps, too

Taiko Canteen
107, 3851 Manchester Road SE, Calgary
Tuesday-Thursday 11 am-9 pm, Friday-Saturday 11 am-late, Sunday noon-8 pm. Closed Monday

Neighbourhood Coffee Shop in Southwest Calgary

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Beet cashew toast one of the innovative offerings at Calgary’s Neighbour Coffee

Do you ever get tired of third-wave coffee? You know the kind: Single-origin, fair-trade, lightly roasted, precisely weighed beans, with perfect-temperature water slowly poured over said beans to produce a hand-crafted brew.

So it’s nice to stumble upon Neighbour Coffee, which like its name is an unpretentious, relaxed spot in an out-of-the-way strip mall in the Altadore community of southwest Calgary.

Sure, it covers some of the coffee-shop trends—cold brew, avocado toast, brown-rice bowls and even bone broth. And yes, they do have an Instagram account.

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Yes, there is avocado toast

But this sister café of nearby Our Daily Brett veers away from the historic, exposed-brick look by being located on the ground floor of a new office building. And it’s a bright space, with a blond-wood motif and light pouring in through large windows.

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A bright, relaxed atmosphere

Indeed, Neighbours is a fine place to read a book while sipping a latte (featuring Anchored Coffee beans, curiously from Nova Scotia) and grazing on a wild salmon tostada or a beet-cashew toast.

Okay, maybe it is a bit trendy. But it doesn’t feel like it, and it doesn’t seem to have been discovered by the coffee cognoscenti. Yet.

Neighbour Coffee
4038 16 Street SW, Calgary
Weekdays 7 am-5 pm, weekends 8 am-4 pm

Soup’s Always On at Primal Grounds

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African peanut soup and “half” egg sandwich at Primal Grounds Cafe

In all my road-trip travels through western North America, I don’t recall many cafes specializing in soup. So it’s great to find, only a few blocks from my house, Primal Grounds Café & Soup Company.

Here, you can choose from three daily house-made soups plus peruse a big cooler packed with some 40 types of frozen soups to take home.

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Just some of the frozen soups available for takeout

The latter covers a vast spectrum—including chicken mulligatawny, Moroccan lentil, chipotle lime sweet potato, Lebanese cauliflower and Doukhobor borscht (about half the soups are dairy free, all are gluten free).

I’m eating in, so I order a heaping bowl of African peanut yam soup, chockfull of veggies, and a “half” egg salad sandwich, featuring thick slices of organic cracked rye and molasses bread. It’s a filling, delicious lunch for only $12; no room for the famous carrot cake.

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Here’s the complete list

Primal Grounds has been around southwest Calgary for more than 30 years, moving not long ago into the current location in a Glamorgan mall that includes a London Drugs and a Jerusalem Shawarma outlet.

The next time, I’ll have to reacquaint myself with Primal Grounds’ legendary turkey and cranberry sandwich, chased with a cup of coffee made from local Noble Tree Roasters beans. And I’ll start working my way down the long, long list of excellent soups.

Primal Grounds Cafe
5255 Richmond Road SW, Calgary
Monday to Saturday 7 am-7 pm, Sunday 7 am-6 pm
403-454-5282

Seeking Tacos in Cabo

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1 & Only Taco is a delightful little taco stand in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico

It’s hard to throw a rock in Mexico without hitting a taco stand, shop or truck. When in Cabo San Lucas every few years, I try to hit a few such taco spots. The challenge is finding the winners among the multitudes.

Tacos Gardenias is always a reliable go-to—a large, shaded space with fine seafood tacos and shrimp molcajetes, It’s fun and flavourful loading up on all the condiments and sauces laid out on the table.

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Tacos Gardenias is always a reliable taco shop in Cabo

But when I can hit a hole-in-the-wall, family operation only a couple of blocks from where I’m staying, I’m all in.

Actually, I walk past it a couple of time before seeing the tiny sign, 1 & Only Taco, tacked onto a much larger Baja Seafood sign. To further obscure matters, the business end of the taco shop is hidden behind a little bar.

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Sarah cooking my lunch in a little kitchen

But it’s all good once I’m inside, greeted by the exceedingly friendly couple that own the shop. I take a seat at a little table and chat with Frederico while Sarah prepares my lunch: lightly breaded fish and shrimp tacos and a beef taco; they’re temporarily out of the smoked marlin.

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Frederico is the engaging front man

Three brimming tacos for $6 US. As fresh and tasty as any you’ll find in Cabo.

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Fish and beef tacos

1 & Only Taco
Camino Real 2506 S/n, Cabo Sand Lucas, Mexico
11 am-8 pm Monday-Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, noon-8 pm, closed Wednesday and Friday

Battling the Perils of Packaging

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Costco’s packaging version of Russian nesting dolls

My resolution for 2020 is to have less. Not fewer calories and pounds, per se. Not a smaller waist but less waste.

Specifically, I want to reduce the amount of packaging that comes into, and goes out of, my house and my life. Much of it is completely unnecessary, used solely for the convenience of manufacturers, shippers and warehouses.

There is some validity to the argument that, say, a cardboard box protects against damage to many shipped goods. But it’s usually as much about display as protection. Does a bottle of single-malt Scotch need to come in a decorative box? Does an anodized flashlight need to be packed in a large cardboard and hard plastic shell that requires industrial scissors to open? Good luck if you have arthritic hands.

I ordered this (pictured) shepherd’s crook—a self-massaging device of indestructible plastic—and it arrived from Amazon in a cardboard box almost big enough to ship a bicycle.

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This self-massaging device came in an Amazon box fit for a bicycle

I love Costco, but it is a flagrant abuser of over packaging. You’d think when you’re buying in bulk it would mean less overall packaging—three normal containers in one. But no. Costco gives you the three normal containers and then stuffs them all in a cardboard box, like this yogurt package. For good measure, each yogurt container has a metallic, seal under the lid, to be stripped off and tossed away before digging into the contents.

At Christmas, I received Apple TV, a device that basically allows you to watch programs from your computer on your TV. The relatively small device came nestled in a cardboard box, with more cardboard platforms inside and strictly decorative strips of plastic around each of the components and cords. I fired off an email complaint to Apple. No reply.

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Can you spot the actual Apple device in this sea of packaging?

Apple used to be in the business of photo printing. Each Christmas, I’d order half a dozen calendars of my photos. Within a week, the calendars would arrive, in a single package but with each calendar packed in its own cardboard sleeve. I switched to Costco this year, and each calendar was wrapped in plastic. Sigh.

Until recently, consumers and companies could rationalize that all this excess packaging was recyclable. But the making of every unnecessary cardboard box requires resources and creates emissions. And we’re becoming increasingly aware of the horrors of plastic waste that China and other countries won’t accept from our civilized shores.

What to do? For one, lobby governments at all levels for regulatory changes, which will have a much bigger cumulative impact on things like single-use plastics. But I’m afraid that with excessive packaging, it may take a lot of individual efforts to move the dial.

My personal agenda includes directly contacting manufacturers and retailers. Apple may not reply to my email, but if hundreds or thousands of individuals do the same, they (and other companies) should start taking notice. Second, I’m going to start refusing to buy excessively packaged goods, whenever possible, and letting the retailer know why.

Third, I’ll be looking to reduce my own need for packaging. How? By making my own yogurt and my own popcorn. By buying unwrapped unboxed heads of lettuce. By giving up clamshells of produce.

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Just say no to this never-disintegrating styrofoam version of the restaurant doggie bag

The list is long, the temptation to shrug and carry on as usual hard to resist. But it has to start somewhere.

“There is an easy-to-understand obsceneness for me in using a bag for 10 minutes, from a store to my home, and the possibility that it will remain on the planet for a thousand years.” NYT columnist Charles Blow

“The only mode of attack is to deal with a heavy decrease in the production of plastics, as opposed to dealing with them after they’ve already been created.” Max Liboiron, Memorial University, Newfoundland