Category Archives: Alberta

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

The Queen of Empanadas

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Hot from the oven goodness at Calgary’s Empanada Queen

How do you find overlooked, out-of-the-way dining gems? Sometimes just by paying attention and asking questions.

For instance, I was recently checking out newly opened Outcast Brewing, itself in an incongruous industrial location in southeast Calgary. I noticed, at an adjacent table, a pizza box containing a mess of gorgeously browned baked goods.

“Where did you get those?” I asked, knowing Outcast doesn’t have a kitchen. “At Empanada Queen,” the guy replied. “It’s only about a block away.”

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Empanada Queen is a hole-in-the-wall operation in southeast Calgary

So with a fine pint of Best-ish 2.0 IPA sloshing around my empty stomach, I headed over to the Queen, in a little, equally out-of-the-way industrial location.

I ordered a couple of empanadas—a ground beef/sliced egg and a chicken chimichurri, each a nice-sized snack at only $4.25. It took seven minutes in the oven to reheat one, giving me time to sit at a table and watch a small crew of women filling, folding and crimping these Chilean beauties.

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Making the empanadas from scratch

They came out hot, flaky and tasty. I was happy once again to trust in serendipity.

Tip: At home, reheat in the oven, not the microwave;the latter toughens the pastry.

Note: You can also find the Queen’s empanadas at nearby Born Colorado Brewing‘s taproom

Empanada Queen

A case full of empanadas to take home

Empanada Queen
4412 Manilla Road SE, Calgary
Monday and Wednesday to Friday 9:30 am-6:30 pm, Tuesday 10 am-6:30 pm, Saturday 10 am-6 pm. Closed Sunday
403-235-0686

At Calgary’s River Cafe, Bacon and Eggs is an Art Form

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Perfection in bacon and eggs at Calgary’s divine River Cafe

Bacon and eggs. Pretty much every morning eatery serves this, and there’s usually nothing to get excited about, as long as the eggs and bacon are cooked to the customer’s liking.

So when bacon and eggs are elevated to an art form, as they are at sublime River Café in Calgary’s downtown Prince’s Island Park, it’s worth noting, and applauding.

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A team of chefs at work

Offered only during weekend brunch, their “fresh farm eggs any style” would scarcely merit your attention alongside more alluring options like brioche French toast or smoked salmon and wild rice cakes. But it’s the painstaking attention to quality and detail that makes this dish exceptional.

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Brioche French toast is another delightful choice

I don’t know if the eggs are organic and free range, but they are perfectly cooked over easy. Overall, perhaps the least notable item on the plate.

You really start to take notice at the bacon: thin slices of house-cured Berkshire maple bacon. Please don’t ruin this by ordering it overly crispy.

Then there’s a pocket of brightly coloured, honey-dressed fingerling potatoes, a massive leap above your typical hash browns. The obligatory toast is yet another step up—wood-grilled sourdough rye.

When each ingredient is this well thought out, and executed by River Café’s small team of chefs, $17 almost seems a bargain for bacon and eggs.

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River Cafe is in a delightful park setting in Calgary’s downtown core

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

Porridge Reimagined at Sidewalk Citizen

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New-age porridge at Calgary’s Sidewalk Citizen Restaurant

If there’s a restaurant breakfast in desperate need of a refresh, it’s good old porridge. The standard recipe, for eons, has been oats, milk and brown sugar. In other words, sugary pablum for the masses.

So, it’s delightful to find porridge reimagined at the splendid new Sidewalk Citizen, a Mediterranean-inspired restaurant in Calgary’s Central Memorial Park.

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The main dining area is in a gorgeous solarium

The only traditional ingredient here is oats, though they are organic, steel cut and local. The dominant presence is softened, red fife wheat berries (also organic and local), which add some nice texture compared with your standard gruel. Sliced apples, toasted almonds and a dash of cinnamon fill out the bowl, with a little cup of almond milk on the side.

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The porridge features local, organic grains and oats

This so-called Ashora is a moderate-sized dish ($12), with each complex mouthful to be savoured. Should you want something approaching the normal breakfast plateful, I’d suggest an order of sprouted seed rye bread ($6), an equally revolutionary take on toast—a dense concoction of spelt and rye flour, sprouted rye and red-fife wheat berries, sunflower, pumpkin flax and sesame seeds, dark beer and buttermilk. Add toppings like rose jam ($2.50) or whipped tahini butter ($3), and you have a small, unique meal in itself.

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Other-worldly seed toast

As you can see, it’s mostly an a la carte menu, meaning that when I throw in some brewed Phil & Sebastian coffee, my breakfast tally approaches $25. Still, it’s a unique, flavourful morning meal, served in a spectacular wood-line solarium, the latest, innovative offering from the Sidewalk Citizen team.

Sidewalk Citizen

There’s also seating beside the open kitchen

Sidewalk Citizen Restaurant
340 13 Avenue SW, Calgary
Tuesday to Thursday and Sunday 8 am-10 pm, Friday-Saturday 8 am-11 pm. Closed Monday
403-263-2999

All hopped up for my visit to Cabin Brewing

Cabin Brewing

Cabin Brewing is another fine craft brewery in southeast Calgary’s Barley Belt

I almost need a seatbelt to strap me in for my beer tasting at Cabin Brewing Company, another craft brewery in southeast Calgary. That’s because for my flight of four small brews, the weakest I choose weighs in at 6% alcohol.

Call me a cheap drunk, but I am drawn to beers with lots of character, complexity and depth. That often seems to equate to a higher alcohol content. Whatever.

Put it this way. At the other end of the scale is the fabulous Lost & Won Wee Heavy, a Scotch ale that came in at a knee-staggering 10%. True to the tasting note, it is “rich, complex, malty, with notes of toffee and caramel.”

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A flight of full-flavoured beers

My second favourite is the full-bodied, Trappist-style Abbot Belgian Dubbel (7.8%), a collaboration with nearby Banded Peak. Third is the Runaway Double IPA (8%), the only brew where I seem to notice the alcohol content.

In the interests of moderate consumption, I don’t finish what’s in my four little glasses. And I extend my stay with an excellent, hand-sized New Zealand steak pie ($8).

In all, Cabin Brewing is another fine stop in southeast Calgary’s burgeoning Barley Belt.

Location An industrial area, just east of Macleod Trail and across the street from Born Colorado Brewing

 Ambience A nice, log-cabin feel, complete with a hanging canoe

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A woodsy cabin ambience

 Food Fine little New Zealand meat pies, warm pretzels and cheese and charcuterie boards

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A nice little New Zealand-style meat pie

Favourite beer Lost & Won Wee Heavy Scotch ale

Beer availability Cans and growlers onsite and in cans at area liquor stores.

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Here’s what’s on tap

Cabin Brewing Company
505 36 Avenue SE, Calgary
Monday to Thursday 3 pm-9 pm, Friday-Saturday noon-10:30 pm, Sunday noon-6 pm
403-244-3331

Taking the High Line to Craft Beer

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High Line Brewing is a cozy mainstay in Calgary’s Inglewood neighbourhood

At three years old, High Line Brewing is a veritable veteran on Calgary’s craft beer scene. The space is small, with the focus squarely on small-batch beers, brewed behind a glass door, and twists like hopped sours and barrel-aged saisons.

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The muffin tin holder for a flight of beers is a nice design touch

Location Just off busy 9th Avenue in Inglewood’s burgeoning beer district

Ambience The small, intimate space is belied by a high ceiling and a glass garage door that opens onto a little patio

Food Bring your own or order free delivery from nearby Without Papers Pizza

Signature beer Among a plethora of IPAs, the New-England style Talking Hops (7.4%) is a hazy, grapefruity standout

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High Line Brewing
113, 1318 9 Avenue SE, Calgary
Monday to Thursday 4 pm-10 pm, Friday-Saturday noon to midnight, Sunday noon-6 pm
403-827-6985