Category Archives: Alberta

Happy Hour Every Day in Calgary

Happy Hour

Happy Hour at the National at Calgary Westhills

When it comes to cheap eats, it’s hard to beat happy hour.

It’s a win-win situation. The customer gets food and drinks at discount prices, and the restaurant gets customers during an otherwise slow part of the day, usually late afternoon and sometimes late at night.

In Calgary’s beleaguered economy, consumers are increasingly looking for bargains and restaurants for customers. So it’s great to discover, just five minutes from my house, two quality establishments offering lots of happy-hour specials every day of the week.

National and Earls are practically next door to each other in WestHills Town Centre, a typical sprawling suburban mall. And in late afternoon, both are hopping busy, thanks to their happy hours.

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Earls has the most happy hour offerings I’ve seen

National is a thriving Calgary operation, with four locations, specializing in lots of craft beers and good bar food—think burgers, chicken wings, fish and chips and smoked brisket sandwiches. The majority of seating is at long, communal tables, so you’re cheek to jowl with your neighbours, many of them families. It’s a festive, noisy atmosphere, especially at happy hour, so don’t expect an intimate dinner.

Happy Hour

West Hills is one of several National locations in Calgary

On to the happy-hour deals, available 3-6 pm daily. There’s a smattering of cocktails and house wines but, really, you’re here for the craft beer. National lists some 60 brews, mostly local and from B.C. And they’re mostly available at happy-hour prices of $5 for 16 ounces (normally $8.50). Just make sure you’ve ordered your second pint before six, assuming you’re not driving.

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The National’s happy-hour menu

My go-to happy hour foods are the substantial Clive burger ($13 instead of $17.50), featuring two Alberta grass-fed patties and a heaping cone of fries; seniors or kids could easily split this. Another shareable is a lovely mesquite bacon and mushroom pizza ($9.50 instead of $18), an eight-slice steal of a deal. A friend recommends the crispy chicken sliders (local Sunrise Farms)—three for $11 instead of $14.50.

Happy Hour

The substantial mesquite bacon and mushroom pizza is only $9.50 during happy hour

Earls is a much bigger operation, with nearly 70 locations in Canada (eight in Calgary alone) and the U.S. It started in 1982 as a spinoff of the Edmonton-based Fullers. In my experience, it has always produced good, innovative meals at reasonable prices, straddling the boundary between fine dining and a relaxed, family atmosphere.

Happy Hour

These chicken tacos are $6 during Earls happy hour

Unlike the paltry happy-hour offerings at many restaurants, Earls has gone all out on such specials, available, with some variations, at all its outlets. At my Westhills location, happy hour goes from 3 to 5 pm and 9 pm to close, with a list of 18 discounted food items, ranging from $4 garlic fries to $19 Cajun chicken. The dozen drinks includes their proprietary Rhino draught ($5.50 instead of $8.25 for 18 ounces).

Some of the standout deals are the street chicken tacos (reduced from $13.25 to $6), the eight-inch margherita pizza (down from $6.50 to $4) and the crispy ribs ($8 instead of $13).

Happy hour

And the margherita pizza is only $4

I’ve never had a local dine-and-drink hangout, preferring to experience the vast diversity of choices available in western North American. But with deals like these, you might spot me tipping a pint at these two joints.

National Westhills
180 Stewart Green SW, Calgary
Daily happy hour 3 pm-6 pm
403-685-6801

Earls Westhills
140 Stewart Green SW, Calgary
Daily happy hour 3-5 pm and 9 pm to close
403-246-7171

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This Fresh-Roasted Calgary Coffee is a Real Pick Me Up

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Calgary’s Mount Pleasant Roastery sells its fresh coffee beans via a picket-fence box

Many of you have no doubt encountered those little wooden boxes, on country roads, where you can purchase local fruits and vegetables, on the honour system.

Well, this concept has migrated to the big city, with fresh-roasted coffee sold out of little red boxes on a white-picket fence in a northwest Calgary neighbourhood. Hallelujah!

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There’s usually a couple of bean types available, on the honour system

Rick Eden and Larissa Riemann, through their Mount Pleasant Roastery, are roasting high-quality beans in small batches in their garage and selling them to neighbours and passersby through a couple of fence-line boxes, as well as online. Here’s a nice story about their little business.

As someone who often roasts his own beans in a wee Behmor roaster, I’m delighted to find a local roaster producing small quantities of Guatemalan, Honduran and Brazilian beans, with the roasting date hand printed on the bag. True freshness is hard to find in coffee beans and makes a huge difference in taste.

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The hand-printed roasting data is a sign of freshness

To date, I’ve only sampled the Guatemalan Carrizal, advertised as a medium-dark roast, though closer to a dark roast, which I like in a world misguidedly devoted to the lighter end.

Because the fence-box beans are sold on the honour system, you can pay whatever you want. Online sales mention a bargain $10-per-pound price, but given the quality, I’d suggest a healthy tip.

Mount Pleasant Roastery
515 18 Avenue NW and 601 19 Avenue NW (5 Street fence), Calgary, Alberta
Around the clock, as long as coffee’s available
403-470-5812

Avenida Offers Upscale Food Hall Dining in South Calgary

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Takori is one of about 15 vendors in Avenida Food Hall & Market offering meals

As its name suggests, the relatively new Avenida Food Hall & Market is a bit of a hybrid. It features lots of upscale food vendors, some with a food-truck vibe, plus an array of healthy groceries you’d expect to find in a farmers’ market.

Seeing as its in deep southeast Calgary and given the uneven track record of food markets in this city—and particularly in this downtrodden economy—I was curious to see how busy it would be at a weekday lunch hour (like other Calgary food markets, it’s only open Thursday to Sunday). And like many other restaurant establishments in Calgary, its meals are not cheap, ranging from about $10 to $16.

When I arrive, around 11:30 am, it’s pretty quiet. But by noon, there are small lines forming at a number of vendors. Though Avenida is a long ways south of downtown on Macleod Trail, there are obviously enough office and commercial businesses around to form a reliable clientele. It’s a bright, modern, clean space, with lots of room for moving around.

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The food hall also offers fresh produce

About 15 of Avenida’s some 40 vendors offer meals, with a distinct ethnic focus. Mexican, Thai, southeast Asia, Indian and Japanese dishes are all represented.

On my first visit, I join the short line at Takori, which aptly describes itself as an Asian fusion taqueria, making pretty much everything in house. As in tacos loaded with slow-roasted bulgogi beef brisket, smoked pork belly and kimchi, and Korean fried chicken. Fortunately, Takori allows you to mix and match, so I’m able to order one of each, for a reasonable $11.50. It’s a delightful meal that certainly stretches the usual Mexican taco boundaries.

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Takori specializes in fusion tacos

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As in delicious tacos loaded with slow-roasted bulgogi beef brisket, smoked pork belly and kimchi, and Korean fried chicken

My second visit takes me to Arepas Ranch, a family-owned Venezuelan stall that makes cornmeal patties overstuffed, in my case, with shredded beef, black beans, cheese and plaintain. It’s a hefty pocket ($12) full of gooey goodness that demands three napkins.

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Arepas Ranch is a Venezuelan joint

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My cornmeal arepas is stuffed with shredded beef, black beans and plaintain.

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Expat Asia will definitely be on my radar on my next visit to Avenida

Avenida Food Hall & Market
12445 Lake Fraser Drive SE, Calgary, Alberta
Thursday to Sunday 11 am-8 pm. Closed Monday to Wednesday

Will That be Paper, Plastic or Compostable?

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At Calgary’s ATCO Blue Flame Kitchen Cafe, the soup is served in a compostable bowl

A recent little trend I’ve noticed in Calgary eateries is the use of compostable dishes and utensils, in place of the usual ceramic and metal.

It’s most noticeable at the gorgeous ATCO Blue Flame Kitchen Cafe, where my soup is served in a container made of renewable plant materials—post-consumer paper fibre from sugarcane and a polyethylene, corn-based lining known as Ingeo.

At Grumans Deli (Britannia location), there’s a prominent sign explaining why all its food and drinks is served on compostable “packaging”. “Grumans cares about the environment,” the sign says. Though when I ask why they’ve gone this route, servers at both places just mention the lack of space for electric dishwashers; there’s obviously also labour, equipment and hot-water cost savings from not having to wash dishes.

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I’m not sure how I feel about this trend. On the one hand, it’s good that such establishments are promoting environmental responsibility and not simply throwing dishes in the trash, destined for landfills. And it’s much better to be packing leftovers or takeout in paper boxes than in Styrofoam containers, which might take hundreds of years to break down.

Mind you, it’s best to dispose of these compostable dishes in the restaurants’ compost bins, because for some reason the City of Calgary’s composting pick-up program doesn’t allow compostable cups and dishes in its green bins.

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I don’t know about you, but I can never figure out what waste goes where. Hint: the soup bowl (above) goes in the left bin

On the other hand, compostable dishes are still single use, even if they end up as soil. I haven’t seen a good study arguing the environmental footprint merits of one-use compostable dishes versus washing regular dishes innumerable times, though me thinks the latter would win that debate.

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Compostable utensils et al at Calgary coffee shop Sought & Found

And there’s simply the aesthetics. Eating soup with a plastic spoon out of a “paper” bowl is just not as pleasing as porcelain. And while you can, and should, use your own travel mug at coffee shops that just offer plastic-lined paper cups, I don’t think we’ve reached the point of bringing our own washable dishes and utensils to our favourite eateries. By the way, Berkeley, California has just passed a regulation charging consumers 25 cents for every disposable cup they get at a coffee shop.

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Soup lid at ATCO Blue Flame Kitchen Cafe

Even the restaurants that have embraced compostable dishes might agree with my aesthetic sentiments. After all, on the websites of the above-mentioned joints, the photos show food and drink served in regular, washable plates, bowls and cups.

Your thoughts?

New Sunterra Market Cafe a Fast-Food Winner

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A crew of cooks making quick, delicious meals at Sunterra Market & Cafe

Sunterra Market is a Calgary institution, a truly farm-to-fork operation with six locations selling upscale groceries and surprisingly inexpensive meals.

With the recent opening of Sunterra Market & Café on Kensington Road NW, it has taken the next leap in its evolution as a full-service restaurant. Indeed, it may well have moved into the forefront of quick, high-quality, affordable meals in the city.

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The latest Sunterra is a combination of an upscale market and fresh, fast, affordable food

Yes, like other Sunterra Markets, this outlet sells a selection of quality groceries—including Valbella bacon and fresh, imported pasta—and meals to go ranging from ribs to salads and desserts.

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Chef Ben offers a sampling of a glazed Modena ham

But where the café stands out is in its short list of made-to-order items (prepared by a bevy of open-kitchen cooks), which you can eat at one of a dozen wooden tables or order to go. Take, for example a breakfast sandwich—eggs, Modena ham and cheddar—on one of the better butter biscuits I’ve encountered, for only $4.99. Or an unusual, stuffed flatbread—egg, prosciutto and fior di latte—almost enough for two at $6.49. And compare that to the $18 one often pays for breakfast in Calgary.

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A substantial Piadina flatbread breakfast sandwich

One standout “Piadina” flatbread sandwich ($7.99) contains rotisserie chicken (from a tile oven full of them rotating away), provolone and pesto. And there’s a list of fresh pastas, including a prosciutto carbonara with a wine-reduction sauce ($9.49).

We spent a good half hour one evening talking with Chris Alladin, Sunterra’s senior vice president of operations, who designed much of the café’s concept. He excitedly showed us the entire operation, offering samples of warm-from-the-oven biscuits and slices of pan-crisped ham.

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Chris Alladin was a driving force behind the market cafe

With some 125,000 vehicles a day passing by on nearby Crowchild Trail and Kensington Road, Alladin figures lots of folks will pull in for a quick bite to eat or a meal to take home—from early-morning breakfasts to nighttime dinners.

Given the high quality of the food and the decidedly inexpensive prices, I wholeheartedly agree. I’ve already visited three times in a week, and it’s a seven-kilometre drive.

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A short menu of lunch and dinner items

My only quibble is an odd ordering system, whereby you fill out your order on a sheet and hand it to a roving assistant, who then places the order with a cook, while you go elsewhere to pay. Why not just verbally place your order where you’re paying?

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

House-made Pita Highlights Calgary Shawarma Spot

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At Beirut Street Food, pretty much everything is made in house, including the pita breads

There are perhaps a couple of dozen shawarma restaurants in Calgary, including the iconic Jimmy’s A&A Deli and the fast-expanding Jerusalem Shawarma. To stand out among the city’s Middle Eastern grilled-meat joints, you need something different.

The excellent Beirut Street Food, which opened in southeast Calgary in 2017, does just that. First, owner Ramzal Salem and her staff roll out and grill their pita wraps throughout the day, guaranteeing a flavourful freshness that’s miles ahead of bagged pitas. Second, unlike the standard shawarma setup—vertical spits of slowly-rotating, stacked meat slices—Beirut cooks its marinated beef and chicken over a horizontal bed of burning charcoal, providing a unique, smoky flavour.

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Another unique feature: a horizontal spit over a charcoal fire

Add your choice of made-in-house veggies and sauces—hummus, garlic and a weeping hot sauce—and you’ve got a healthy-sized shawarma ($11 regular, $13 large) that ranks amongst the best in Calgary. You can pair your wrap with other fine Lebanese standards such as tabouli or fatoush salad or falafel balls, chased with a honeyed square of baklava.

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Adding veggies and sauces to the shawarmas

In a crossover nod to a great Canadian tradition, you can get your shawarmas served over poutine: fries, cheese and gravy. Me, I’m going for another puffy piece of pita bread, hot off the rounded grill.

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Beirut Street Foods is a bright spot in southeast Calgary

Beirut Street Food
Bay C, 7220 Fairmount Drive S.E., Calgary, Alberta
Monday to Thursday 10 am-6:30 pm, Friday-Saturday 10 am-7 pm. Closed Sunday.
403-512-7772