Category Archives: Calgary

Meat & Bread: Simply Superb Sandwiches

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Succulent meatball sandwich at Calgary’s Meat & Bread

As a longtime Calgarian, it pains me to promote any import from Vancouver, even though I briefly lived there many years ago. But when said import considerably elevates Cowtown’s sandwich game, who am I to protest?

The sandwich shop in question is Meat & Bread, which I enthusiastically reviewed shortly after it opened in Vancouver’s Gastown district in 2010. It delivered everything I look for: delicious, innovative sandwiches, made to order yet produced so efficiently that the lunchtime line moves swiftly.

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The lunch-hour line moves quickly

Such a sandwich shop was sorely lacking in Calgary, at least until a Meat & Bread location opened in June in the historic Grain Exchange Building, along downtown’s busy 9th Avenue. While it’s a franchise (there are currently two other locations, in Vancouver and Seattle), it’s in the capable hands of Eric Hudson and wife Bao Nahn. Most importantly, the experience and quality is essentially the same as at the flagship restaurant in Vancouver.

The keys to success are deceptively simple. First, there’s a very short menu of sandwiches—on fresh ciabatta buns—including a few standards, such as the outstanding signature porchetta, with its crunchy cracklings, and a barbecue beef. On a recent Friday, I opted for the special: three substantial, moist pork and beef meatballs topped with parmesan aioli, a chopped herb condiment and kale ($9.50).

Second, everything is freshly made each day by skilled “chefs, not sandwich artists,” featuring quality ingredients. Indeed, there’s no freezer on the premises.

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A friendly, efficient crew

Finally, and crucially at lunch hour, there’s a highly efficient crew assembling these four or five sandwiches. Such that our counter order is delivered to a high table in scant minutes.

The sides are similarly limited—a daily soup and a salad and a handcrafted chocolate bar for dessert. Nice to see a small selection of beers from Calgary microbrewers.

“It’s simple,” the company’s mantra goes, “we make sandwiches.” What more do you need?

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An innovative way of labelling dry provisions

Meat & Bread
821 1 Street SW, Calgary, Alberta
Monday to Saturday 11 am-5 pm. Closed Sunday

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Sauce Italian Kitchen & Market Does It All

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Our terrific server, Melissa, presiding over the restaurant at Calgary’s Sauce Italian Kitchen & Market

My typical formula for a successful independent eatery can be boiled down to three words: Keep it simple.

Do a few, signature things very well. Don’t have a long menu. Stick to your expertise, don’t stray into other areas.

It’s a good thing Jenna Bazzana doesn’t listen to the likes of me.

The owner of the rather new Sauce Italian Kitchen & Market, in southwest Calgary, happily tackles all sorts of businesses under one, expansive roof. There’s a market. There’s a café. There’s a full-fledged, elegant restaurant. There’s a bakery. There’s a coffee roastery. There are evening events, as well as catering. Need I go on?

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The coffee shop and bakery is just one of the businesses Sauce operates under one roof

And by all appearances, this little food empire is a smashing success. At mid-week lunch, the restaurant is buzzing, with the open kitchen churning out plates of wood-fired pizza and house-made pasta featuring Rosie’s (Jenna’s mother) Bolognese sauce; you can also buy it in the deli to take home. Two of us dig into flavourful bowls of clam linguini (a great deal at $12), while I savour a roasted vegetable and eggplant parmigiana ($15), which comes with a large, mixed-greens salad—almost a meal in itself.

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Big bowl of clam linguini

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Eggplant parmigiana with a monster side salad

It’s a friend’s birthday, so we score a complimentary piece of house-made cannoli. And as I’m leaving, I pick up a pound of fresh-roasted coffee, while eying all the cold cuts and cheeses that go into the deli’s paninis. Next time.

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Finishing things off with some house-made cannoli

Sauce Italian Kitchen & Market
3326 17 Avenue SW, Calgary, Alberta
Restaurant: Sunday to Thursday 11 am-10 pm, Friday-Saturday 11 am-11 pm
403-727-7627

$18 Breakfasts Still Abound in Calgary

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Good, upscale breakfast at Calgary’s Blue Star Diner

I’ve lived in Calgary since 1980 and have thus witnessed numerous booms and busts. So while a number of food and drink places invariably fold with each crash, especially downtown, I’m no longer surprised when much of the restaurant scene chugs along as if nothing’s happened.

So it is with the most recent oil-price collapse, especially at breakfast. Calgary has long been one of the more expensive places to order breakfast in western North America. Think $15 for a good, though fairly standard morning feed. And yet people are perfectly happy to line up for these breakfasts, especially on weekends and even in winter.

An outsider might think such lineups would disappear and prices cut in the wake of this latest recession. No such luck. A quick survey of popular Calgary breakfast spots shows prices of $16 to $19 for more upscale morning offerings like lox waffles, meatloaf hash and tofu scrambles. One place even charges $14 for a breakfast sandwich and $15 for pancakes.

Thus it was when we recently visited Blue Star Diner in the city’s trendy Bridgeland district. At 8 am on a Saturday, it wasn’t lined up but still busy.

I often like to order breakfast offerings that venture well beyond the tried-and-true bacon and eggs. Blue Star certainly delivered on originality, and we were soon happily munching on slow-cooked brisket and grits ($17.50) and corned lamb hash and cornbread ($18.50).

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Corned lamb hash and poached eggs

I must say it was delicious, with lots of locally sourced ingredients, excellent execution and attention to detail. I’ll always happily pay a little more for quality. Still, $45 for breakfast and coffee for two? Sheesh.

Blue Star Diner
809 1 Avenue NE, Calgary, Alberta
Daily 8 am-10 pm
403-261-9998

Caravel a fine addition to Calgary’s craft brewing scene

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Caravel is one of Calgary’s newest, largest craft breweries

When Vladislav and Victoria Covali started making beer at home in their native Moldova, they gathered wild hops from the forest. Other ingredients were purchased at farmers’ markets.

That’s in sharp contrast to today. Vladislav and partner Chris Travis are owners of one of Calgary’s newest and largest craft breweries, Caravel, in an industrial park near the city’s airport. The 19,000-square-foot facility is full of gleaming tanks and grains purchased from as far away as Germany.

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A gleaming row of kegs

Caravel is brewing three, unfiltered standards—a European-style lager, an Irish red and an award-winning Hefeweizen—along with seasonals like an IPA and a Scotch ale. Drop by their taproom to sample these fine beers and to fill up a growler.

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Caravel partner Vladislav Covali has come a long ways from his Moldova home beer-making days

Caravel Craft Brewery
12, 10221 15 Street NE, Calgary
Tuesday to Thursday 2 pm-9 pm, Friday 1 pm-9 pm, Saturday 11 am-9 pm, Sunday 11 am-5 pm. Closed Monday
Facebook: @CaravelCraftBrewery

A wobbling cycle hop at Calgary’s newest craft brewery

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Bike tour lands at Calgary’s newest craft brewery, Annex Ale. All photos by Helen Corbett

Annex Ale Project just opened on a commercial side street in southeast Calgary. So how busy can its taproom be on a warm spring Saturday afternoon, especially on a weekend when the annual Calgary International Beerfest should be siphoning off the hard-core aficionados?

The swigging crowd at Annex is actually not too bad when we arrive. But mayhem soon descends, when some 75 cyclists wobble into the parking lot. They’re on a three-microbrewery cycling tour, part of the citywide Jane’s Walks weekend. And they’ve certainly worked up a thirst, forming a long line to the counter, where co-owner and brewmaster Andrew Bullied and staff are scurrying to fill pints and taster glasses.

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Before the cyclists descend

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After

We’ve already staked out counter seats, where we can enjoy the show while sampling Annex’s four, small-batch brews on tap: a pale ale, a bitter, a sour and, our favourite, the Prologue IPA (7.8%). We also try a Calgary first, their delightful, all-natural root beer along with a novel bowl of salty cheese strings.

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Tasters’ choice. Annex’s flights feature generous 6-ounce pours, all for $10

It’s a nice, bright space (a former woodworking shop) in Calgary’s Manchester district, with long tables along spacious front windows and a big glass garage door, which can be opened on hot days. In back, a gleaming row of steel tanks harbours batches of brewing beer.

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The business end of the brewery

Annex is a fine addition to Calgary’s booming craft beer scene. Soon enough, you’ll be able to fashion a full day of beer hopping on a bike.

Annex Ale Project
4323 1 Street S.E., Calgary, Alberta
Taproom  hours:  Thursday 3 pm-10 pm, Friday 3 pm-11 pm, Saturday noon-11 pm, Sunday noon-5 pm. Closed Monday to Wednesday
403-475-4412

Perfect Pre-Concert Drink-and-Dine Spot in Downtown Calgary

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Lamb burger and lentil soup at Sandstone Lounge in Calgary’s Hyatt Regency Hotel

It’s a familiar conundrum. You’ve got tickets for a downtown concert or play and want to meet for a drink and a bite before the show. But where to go that’s not too expensive, formal, busy, slow or loud?

Well, in downtown Calgary, my go-to place is the Sandstone Lounge in the Hyatt Regency Hotel, a hop and a skip from the cultural hub Arts Common. It ticks all the boxes of what I’m looking for in a pre-show drink-and-dine spot.

First, it’s casual and comfy. Seating is at small tables, by the fireplace, at the vintage long bar (especially if you’re flying solo) or, in summer, on the outdoor patio amongst historic sandstone buildings along Stephen Avenue Mall.

Second, you don’t have to shout to be heard, with quiet jazz on the sound system. Third, the service is always understatedly professional. On a recent visit, the waitress subtly unwrapped just the soupspoon from the napkin-wrapped utensils.

The critical fourth, Sandstone’s food and drink, is consistently good. There’s a whack of cocktails and wine selections, and it passes my craft-beer test with a nice list of local pints, including a fine, not-to-hoppy White Raven IPA from Edson’s Bench Creek Brewing.

The varied lounge menu ranges from house-spiced nuts to charcuterie to haddock bites. I go for a great lamb burger—featuring all-natural meat from Lambtastic Farms in Vulcan, Alberta—topped with balsamic onion relish, cumin gouda and tomato garlic aioli. This time, my side is a piping hot lentil soup, though the rice-flour-coated fries are darn good, too.

For downtown dinner-time Calgary, it’s reasonable value: $25 for burger/soup and a pint. All in all, an efficient yet relaxed prelude to a fantastic concert, featuring Blackie and the Rodeo Kings and special guest icon Ian Tyson.

Sandstone Lounge: Hyatt Regency Hotel
700 Centre Street SE, Calgary
Daily 10:30 am-midnight
403-717-1234