Author Archives: bcorbett907

About bcorbett907

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

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

My Go-To Eats and Drinks in Calgary

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The best restaurant space in Calgary: The ATCO Blue Flame Kitchen Cafe

I didn’t do many longer road trips this year. And when I did, they were firmly focused on hiking and backpacking, with road-food eats and drinks squeezed in where possible.

So instead of ending the year with my favourite new places of 2019, I’ve decided to highlight go-to spots in my hometown of Calgary. Places that I keep returning to because they are consistently good, comfortable, reasonably priced, independently owned and fairly close to where I live or frequently journey.

Breakfast Sandwich: Sunterra Market

The new Kensington Road location has a select supply of Sunterra’s usual, upscale groceries. But it’s the little, open kitchen that’s the highlight, with chefs quickly preparing grilled sandwiches and plates of pasta. The standout is the breakfast sandwich—eggs, glazed Modena ham and cheddar on a fresh-baked butter biscuit—for only $5.

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At Sunterra Market Cafe, a chef offers a sample of the glazed Modena ham that goes into the fabulous breakfast sandwich

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

Coffee: Caffe Beano

Amidst all the third-wave coffee houses in Calgary, it’s an old standby I keep returning to, at least when I’m in the 17th Avenue SW neighbourhood. The Americano is full bodied (local Fratello Coffee Roasters beans) and the date bran muffin—black with molasses and impossibly moist—is the best in the city. And then there’s the colourful cast of characters who convene at the rabbit’s warren of tables every morning.

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The date bran muffin at Caffe Beano is impossibly black with molasses

Caffe Beano
1613 9 Street SW
Weekdays 6 am-10 pm, weekends opens at 7 am
403-229-1232

Brunch: River Café

I usually hate weekend brunch lines, menus and prices. But I make an exception for this elegant but relaxed space, a true oasis in the middle of a downtown park, where mercifully one can make reservations. The chefs have elevated standards like bacon and eggs and French toast to an art form. It’s the place to take a visitor or friend for a special breakfast or lunch; the dinner prices are out of my league. Honourable Mention: Deane House (also owned by Sal Howell) is equally enchanting and historic but was closed for much of 2019 because of flood damage. The good news is it’s reopening in late January.

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Brunch at River Cafe is an enchanting experience

River Cafe
25 Prince’s Island Park SW
Weekend brunch 10 am-3 pm
Reservations online or at 403-261-7670

Sandwich: ATCO Blue Flame Kitchen Café

The steak BLT might be the best deal in Calgary—$10 for a big sourdough baguette loaded, and I mean loaded, with tri-tip steak, provolone, bacon, lettuce, tomato and roasted garlic butter. It’s really two meals for the price of one. The real draw, though, is the most outstanding dining space in Calgary: 100 metres long, under a high wood ceiling. It’s almost a mini version of Calgary’s dazzling new downtown library.

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The steak BLT at ATCO Blue Flame Kitchen Cafe is cheap and bountiful

ATCO Blue Flame Kitchen Cafe
ATCO Commons Building, 5302 Forand Street SW
Weekdays 7 am-3 pm. Closed weekends

Healthy Lunch: Community Natural Foods

This little lunchroom inside the health-food store has been around long enough that I take it for granted. But the buffet-style lunch features lots of healthy, affordable options from burrito bowls to burgers, both grass fed and plant based.

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Greenery lines the dining space at Community Natural Foods

The Community Cafe at Community Natural Foods
1304 10 Avenue SW, Calgary
Weekdays 9 am-7 pm, Saturday 9 am-5 pm, Sunday 10 am-4 pm

Fast-Food Feast: Jerusalem Shawarma

After a long day of hiking or backcountry skiing, I often arrive back in the city in late afternoon or early evening, famished but with nothing in the fridge to assuage my hunger. The solution? A quick stop at my nearby Jerusalem Shawarma outlet, where a regular-size ($11), bountiful chicken shawarma wrap, loaded with veggies, garlic sauce and hummus, is ready in minutes. It may not be my top-ranked shawarma spot in the city, and it’s had some recent health issues, but it’s still quick, close and hits the spot.

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Assembling a massive beef shawarma wrap at Calgary’s Jerusalem Shawarma

Jerusalem Shawarma
480, 5255 Richmond Road SW, one of numerous Calgary locations
Daily 11 am-10 pm

Craft Brewery: Cold Garden Beverage Company

I made it a mission in 2019 to test many of the over 40 craft breweries that have sprung up in Calgary in the past couple of years. Cold Garden is definitely the coolest spot, with colourful walls, comfy couches and pooches aplenty. The beer is pretty damn fine as well, at some of the best prices in the city.

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Cold Garden Beverage Company boasts the funkiest, dog-friendly craft-beer taproom in Calgary

Cold Garden Beverage Company
1100 11 Street SE
Tuesday to Thursday 11 am-midnight, Friday-Saturday 11 am-1 am, Sunday 11 am-midnight. Closed Monday
403-764-2653

Honourable Mention: Annex Ale Projects has been around less than three years but is consistently experimenting with its brews; plus its taproom is a lovely spot for hanging out. Their new Howling Fantods (8.5% alcohol) is a double IPA favourite.

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A flight of beers at Annex Ale Project

Happy Hour: National Westhills

What could be better: A great selection of local beers on tap (60 brews in all) and fine grazing, all at happy-hour prices every day of the week? National has me covered, and it’s only a five-minute drive away. My current go-to deals are a 16-ounce pint of Last Best’s Tokyo Drift IPA ($5), the two-patty Clive Burger and fries ($13) and the mesquite bacon and mushroom pizza ($9.50).

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The Happy Hour pizza and burger goes splendidly with a pint of local craft beer at National Westhills

National Westhills
180 Stewart Green, one of four Calgary locations
Daily happy hour 3 pm-6 pm
403-685-6801

Cold Beer Store: Calgary Co-op

There’s a Co-op liquor store a few blocks from my house, and like most (all?) such Co-op outlets, it’s made a concerted effort to fill the cold-beer room with an impressive selection of local craft brews. In fact, I could probably try a different beer every week for a year without repeating my pick.

 Co-op Wine Spirits Beer
4860 Richmond Road SW, one of two dozen Co-op outlets in Calgary
Daily 10 am-10 pm