Author Archives: bcorbett907

About bcorbett907

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

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.

Vancouver Island 8

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”.

Nootka Trail 174

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.

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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.

Calgary Library 3

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

La Baguette muffin

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.

BreadMeat 3

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

B.C. West Coast July 2018 17

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

Monkman iPhotos 17

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

ATCO Blue Flame Kitchen Now Has a Gorgeous Cafe

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Calgary’s ATCO Blue Flame Kitchen has a gorgeous setting

For more than 80 years, the heralded ATCO Blue Flame Kitchen has provided culinary advice, mostly over the phone, to generations of Alberta cooks. “How do I cook a turkey?” “Do you have a good recipe for beef stew?” “How do I salvage a burned pot roast?”

Now, it’s putting its money where its mouth is by opening a gorgeous café in south Calgary. There aren’t many restaurants anywhere that can match the architectural splendour of the ATCO Blue Flame Kitchen Café.

The curving, 100-metre-long space has a vaulted wood ceiling, with tables scattered throughout and light streaming in the side windows. It’s a place you want to just sit and savour a cappuccino for an hour. Plenty of neighbourhood residents seem to be doing just that, mixing in with workers in ATCO Commons, the headquarters office of this global infrastructure company.

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It’s counter service and a concise menu

On the first of what will no doubt be many visits, I just order a reasonable Americano and an excellent bowl of mulligatawny soup ($5), packed with chunks of chicken. Other enticing items on the concise, affordable menu include an omelette-style breakfast sandwich ($5.50), a steak BLT on a sourdough baguette ($10) and a curried cauliflower bowl ($9).

Only two minor quibbles. Everything is served on disposable ware, though much of it is recyclable or compostable. I suppose this works well for those taking food up to their ATCO office; there’s also a grab-and-go section of the café.

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A fabulous $5 bowl of mulligatawny soup. Pity it’s not in a real bowl

Parking is also a bit of an issue. There are visitor spaces around the building (all full when I visited late morning), and you’re supposed to register with the building front desk if you’re using them. Otherwise, it’s street parking about a block away.

It might also help to use Google Maps if you’re not familiar with the area. ATCO Commons overlooks the south end of Crowchild Trail a few blocks north of Glenmore Trail.

It took me a few minutes of driving around to find it. But I’m glad I did. It might well become a favourite local haunt.

Atco Cafe 1

The spacious cafe is inside ATCO’s global headquarters in southwest Calgary

ATCO Blue Flame Kitchen Cafe
ATCO Commons Building, 5302 Forand Street SW, Calgary, Alberta
Weekdays 7 am-3 pm, Saturday 9 am-2 pm. Closed Sunday

The Cactus Speared Cact-I

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Prickly pears are just one of many cactus species ready to spear you

There’s only one rule—besides carrying enough water—about hiking in the southwest American desert: Don’t fall.

The reason isn’t so much to avoid landing on unyielding rock as it is about impaling yourself on razor-sharp spines of the cacti that infest places like the Sonoran Desert near Tucson, Arizona.

Actually, forget about falling. You don’t even want to brush against or accidentally grab any of these thorny bastards, which are all too happy to abandon their desert homeland to hitchhike on your clothing or, all too often, your flesh.

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You don’t have to step off the trail to get attacked

Let me count the many species of cactus set to make your life miserable. There’s the majestic saguaro, whose multiple arms are not recommended for hugging. There’s the aptly named jumping cholla, whose stems easily break off and attach to the poor sucker who merely grazes them. There’s the ironically named teddy bear cholla, which is not so cuddly. There’s the barrel cactus, the hedgehog cactus, the fishhook cactus, the half dozen species of prickly pear.

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Not so cuddly teddy bear cactus

Have I forgotten any? The spindly ocotillo, with its gorgeous red flower tips, is technically not a cactus, but try telling that to anyone who accidentally embraces its many spines.

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Don’t reach too close to that ocotillo

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Hey, is that saguaro giving me the finger?

I was properly wary about colliding with any of the cacti that line the fine desert hiking trails around Tucson, and had successfully avoided any contact through most of two hiking-intensive visits to the southern Arizona city. But all it takes is a moment’s inattention to learn a severe lesson.

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Don’t get distracted by fruit or flower

I didn’t actually fall into a cactus. I was just descending a little rock step, focused on my footing, when I brushed against a prickly pear. There was no sharp pain, just a twinge not unlike a mild sliver. The problem was getting the barbs out, which you want to do  immediately, before they really start bothering you.

The thing about prickly pears is not the obvious long spines. It’s the tiny, fuzzy orange things called glochids that are the problem. As in the dozens of these little spears that launched themselves through my shirt, sticking me like a pincushion.

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It’s not the obvious long spines of the prickly pear you have to worry about

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It’s the little, fuzzy orange glochids that do the most damage

Luckily, I had a companion with sharp eyes and a nifty pair of of Uncle Bill’s tweezers. She spent a good five minutes plucking all the tiny spines out. And then, a short distance down the trail, another few minutes getting the ones she’d missed, the ones irritatingly still stuck to shirt and skin. We were still finding stray soldiers an hour later.

It wasn’t my only close encounter with glochids on our November trip. One day, I, found a few stuck mysteriously in the top of my head, despite wearing a hat and not falling on my noggin. Good thing I’m bald up there.

Tucson 2017 30

The up-close saguaro spines have a lulling, geometric pattern to them