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.
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.
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 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
There’s a good case for making Edmonton the number two coffee hot spot in western Canada, behind Vancouver. Of course, Edmontonians aren’t as precious about how they roast and prepare their coffee as the wet coasters.
Still, there are always new coffee shops popping up in Alberta’s capital. After profiling half a dozen places a couple of years ago, I figured it was time for a fresh visit up north.
The first stop was The Colombian Coffee & Roastery, next door to the venerable Vi’s for Pies in the city’s leafy Glenora neighbourhood; the roasting happens at the back of the long, narrow space. It seemed like an odd, generic name, until I learned co-owner Santiago Lopez was from Colombia and that some of the roastery’s beans come from a family farm there. Talk about farm to cup.
The place was hopping on a dreary Saturday morning, with lots of folks ordering avocado toast to go with steaming mugs of java. Good stuff, evidence that if you build a good coffee shop in a nice district, the neighbours will come.
Somewhat harder to find is ACE Coffee Roasters, on a little side street south of Whyte Avenue in Edmonton’s Strathcona district. It’s a lovely, spacious place with high ceilings, exposed ductwork and a gleaming marble coffee bar.
My Americano was one of the better ones I’ve had in Edmonton. The coffee is nicely chased with donuts baked at partner Café Leva in Garneau.
In the attached space, separated by a glass wall, is the company’s Caffe Tech, where you can drop a few grand on high-end home and commercial espresso machines. Think I’ll just let the expert barrista pull the shots for me.
The Columbian Coffee & Roastery
1, 10340 134 Street NW, Edmonton, Alberta
Weekdays 7 am-6 pm, Saturday 8 am-6 pm, Sunday 9 am-3 pm
ACE Coffee Roasters
10055 80 Avenue, Edmonton, Alberta
Wednesday to Sunday 8 am-4 pm. Closed Monday and Tuesday
Grande Prairie’s El Norteno is certainly the best taco shop in northern Alberta, if not a much wider area. I mean, how can you beat corn tortillas that are rolled out and grilled after you place your order? All the fillings are excellent, especially the fish, enhanced by house-made toppings.
But owner James Nelson certainly upped the ante when he suggested we try a plate of tater tots, or as he called them Mexican poutine. Yes, it was deep-fried tater tots, loaded with slaw, cilantro and house-made salsa and guacamole and aioli sauce.
The result was surprisingly fresh tasting and fantastic. We hoovered down a plate, alongside a couple of tacos each.
It was so good we made a point of returning on our way back through Grande Prairie. The plate of tots disappeared in about a minute.
Note: Grande Prairie’s food scene continues to get more interesting. In the stall next to El Norteno, at the downtown Farmers’ Market, is Off the Wheaten Path, a gluten-free, vegan kitchen offering bowls, wraps, root veggies, and plant-based pizzas. Unfortunately, it wasn’t open when we passed through. Next time.
10032 101 Avenue, Grande Prairie, Alberta
Monday 11 am-3 pm, Tuesday to Friday 11 am-8 pm, Saturday 11 am-8 pm. Closed Sunday
Off the Wheaten Path
10032 101 Avenue, Grande Prairie, Alberta
Wednesday-Thursday 8 am-4 pm, Friday 8 am-8 pm, Saturday 10 am-3 pm. Closed Sunday to Tuesday
On the menu of Calgary’s Jerusalem Shawarma are listed several family plates. Here’s a tip: Just order a one-person serving, and you might still feed a small family.
My chicken shawarma plate ($13.95) arrives with an alarming quantity of food. There’s about a pound of delectable, slow-marinated and shaved chicken served on a bed of rice. Filling out the oversized platter are wedges of garlic potatoes, healthy scoops of creamy, fresh hummus and garlic sauce and a choice of salad: Greek, Russian, corn or fatuch. After five minutes of feasting, I come up for air, scarcely putting a dent in my dinner.
My companion’s bountiful falafel plate is weighted down by six sizable falafel balls, deep fried to order. “The best I’ve ever had,” she says between mouthfuls.
While waiting, we watch shawarma and donair wraps ($11-12) being assembled. Here, copious amounts of meat and toppings—including tahini, red cabbage, parsley, banana peppers and pickles—are loaded aboard a large pita, rolled and heated in a press. The resulting logs are bigger than any burrito I’ve ever seen, easily feeding two moderate appetites.
Whatever you order, odds are good you’ll be asking for a leftovers box. Though I notice plenty of folks heading back to the counter, post feeding, to toss down a honey-laced piece of baklava.
Jerusalem Shawarma is a fast-casual joint, where you order at the counter and then retire to a row of booths, unless you’re getting takeout. Owned and operated by five Abufarha brothers originally from Jerusalem and using their grandfather’s recipes, their mini chain has expanded in a few years to six Calgary locations. Growing almost as fast as my belly.
Unit 111, 722 85 Street SW (and five other Calgary locations)
Daily 11 am-10 pm
I’m a big fan of eating at restaurant counters, because it gives me a front-row view of the kitchen.
At Edmonton’s fabulous, newish Prairie Noodle Shop, I’ve discovered another benefit of sitting on a high counter stool: it’s only a few inches from bowl to mouth. All the better to slurp up that liquid and noodle goodness without wearing it.
Really, there is no elegant way to attack these gorgeous ramen bowls. Just lift your chin occasionally to admire the beautiful composition and then dive back into exploring all the complex flavours and textures.
The big plastic spoon is needed to savour the rich pork broth, simmered for 16 hours and, in my case, jacked up with miso, garlic and house-made chili oil. The chopsticks are required to grab the slender ramen noodles, the tender chunk of roasted pork belly, the smoked, shredded pork shoulder and the half umeboshi egg. Then it’s back to the spoon to scoop up niblets of sweet sesame corn.
There’s a lot going on in this big bowl forged by chef/owner Eric Hanson—a bargain really at $15.50 for this much originality and quality.
Prairie Noodle Shop
10350 124 Street, Edmonton, Alberta
Monday 11 am-2:30 pm, Tuesday to Saturday 11 am-2:30 pm, 4:30 pm-10 pm. Closed Sunday