Category Archives: Calgary

Calgary’s Best Coffee House?

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Caleb Leung and his wonderful new Sought and Found Coffee Roasters in Calgary

Despite living in Calgary a long time, I’ve never had a favourite local coffeehouse. A lot of good spots but, for various reasons, not places I frequent. Until now.

Ironically, all I needed was to look for the right name: Sought and Found Coffee Roasters, which officially opened, just north of downtown Calgary, in January. It’s lovingly owned and operated by Caleb and Kitty Leung; he got his coffee roasting/tasting training in Tulsa, Oklahoma, of all places.

First, Sought X Found’s space is gorgeous, with lots of repurposed wood along the coffee bar and a micro roaster (only six pounds at a time) towards the back. While the room is long and fairly narrow, there’s no sense you’re sitting on top of each other. The place is full of nice touches—a row of children’s books for reading, old window frames on the side wall, hand-written descriptions on the packages of fresh-roasted beans for sale.

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The coffee bar features gorgeous repurposed old wood

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Nice little touches throughout the space

Everything is carefully thought out and beautifully executed. That certainly applies to the coffee.

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Slowly and patiently producing the “hand brew” coffee

My Sumatra pour over (or “hand brew”, as they call it) is patiently filtered into a glass carafe. Unlike a lot of “third-wave” coffee shops, with lightly roasted beans, this cup is full of complex flavours the tasting notes describe as oak, whisky and cacao. Whatever. It’s still worth savouring even when allowed to cool.

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Kitty Leung delivers my hand-brew coffee

The coffee is not cheap. A hand brew or a large espresso and organic milk (the latter from Vital Green Farms in southern Alberta’s Picture Butte) is $5.50. But hey, if speed and volume is paramount to you, there’s a Starbucks across the street. Here, you’re paying a little more for superb quality and a leisurely experience.

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The little coffee roaster only produces six pounds at a time

The food menu is simple, featuring croissants from Calgary’s Butter Block (a croissant sandwich with prosciutto and fresh mozzarella and jelly is $7) and chocolate. The non-coffee drink options are similarly few but well chosen: loose-leaf teas and Japanese green matcha and houjicha teas.

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Roasted beans for sale, children’s books to read while sipping

My only complaint is Sought X Found is not close to where I live. Otherwise, I’d be here every week.

Thanks to Mike Haden for alerting me about this place.

Sought X Found Coffee Roasters
916 Centre Street North, Calgary, Alberta
Monday to Friday 7:30 am-5:30 pm, Saturday 8:30 am-6 pm. Closed Sunday
403-830-7278

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Swarms of Shawarma at this Calgary mini-chain

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

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.

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Here’s my single chicken shawarma plate, with hummus and garlic sauce

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.

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Massive falafel balls, cooked to order

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.

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The takeout box is almost obligatory

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.

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Folks were scavenging this delectable container 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.

Jerusalem Shawarma
Unit 111, 722 85 Street SW (and five other Calgary locations)
Daily 11 am-10 pm
403-474-8994

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

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