Category Archives: Calgary

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

Shocking: A Great Calgary Breakfast With No Lineup

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Here’s the breakfast lineup at Grumans Delicatessen at 9 am on a Saturday. Photo: Helen Corbett

The other day, I heard local restaurant review legend John Gilchrist, on his weekly CBC Radio Eyeopener segment, mention a two-hour lineup for Saturday breakfast at the new OEB location, in the heart of downtown Calgary. Two hours!

Now, I consider OEB the consistently best, most creative breakfast joint in Calgary. Enough so that I’m willing to wait, say, 15 minutes—while sweating in a winter parka—for a table at its original, Edmonton Trail site. Beyond that, I’m outta there.

The problem is most other good Calgary breakfast places also have lineups, unless I arrive when their doors crack open. Which is never earlier than 7 am and on weekends at the ungodly late hour of 8, when far too many folks are up and about.

You’d have thought Calgary’s recession would have whacked these lineups, especially when a lot of these “diners” are still charging  $16 or more for their upscale breakfast offerings. You’d have thought wrong.

Which is why Grumans Delicatessen is my go-to breakfast spot in Calgary. Even though they don’t open till 8 am on weekdays and 9 am on weekends. Even though you have to pay for downtown street parking after 9 every day but Sunday.

Why do I love it? Because every time I show up for breakfast, there’s never more than a handful of occupied tables. Even though the food is always excellent, innovative, plentiful and, by Calgary standards, affordable.

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The house-cured lox Benedict, with potato latkes is just $14. Photo: Helen Corbett

The only reason I can figure for this morning vacancy rate is Grumans is a little out of the way, at the unappealing eastern edge of downtown Calgary. Also, perhaps downtown workers don’t want to stop, that close to the office, for breakfast. Grumans is considerably busier at lunch, when office workers show up for the best smoked-meat sandwiches in the city.

But the breakfast fare is equally good, featuring Jewish deli standards like potato latkes, lox Benedicts and that Montreal hybrid, smoked-meat poutine. The best deal is the breakfast special: two eggs, double-smoked bacon, latkes, toast and good coffee, all for a grand total of $9, if you order before 9 am.

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This early-bird breakfast is $9, including good coffee; maybe the best morning deal in Calgary

With prices and food this good, you should be running down to Grumans. On second thought, maybe not. I don’t want to stand in line.

Grumans Delicatessen
230 11 Avenue SE, Calgary, Alberta
Weekdays 8 am-3:30 pm, weekends 9 am-3:30 pm.

A Vegetarian Upstart in Calgary’s Cattle Country

Roasted artichokes with pear and chestnut is just one of the innovative vegetarian dishes at Calgary's White Rose Kitchen

Roasted artichokes with pear and chestnut is just one of the innovative vegetarian dishes at Calgary’s White Rose Kitchen

Calgary is cattle country, as much for mythological reasons as for all the area ranches and feedlots. So from a culinary perspective, it’s no surprise to find an abundance of steakhouses and hamburger joints.

Or, conversely, a scarcity of vegetarian restaurants. In a city of a million carnivores, you’d be hard pressed to find half a dozen places serving tofu, tempeh and turnips.

Thus, it’s nice to see a new restaurant—White Rose Kitchen, in a onetime Bowness gas station—devoted to creative, flavourful dishes like roasted artichoke, pear and chestnut; braised broccoli rabe and fig; and fennel confit salad.

White Rose is named for an old Bowness gas station that once stood here

White Rose is named for an old Bowness gas station that once stood here

It’s not cheap. Small (mostly appetizer sized) plates are $12 and big plates $18. But chef Dwayne and partner Alberta Ennest (who also operate Big Fish and Open Range) have certainly upped the ante on the often-staid veggie world.

A veggie flatbread is one of the day's lunch specials

A veggie flatbread is one of the day’s lunch specials

This being Calgary, however, the world of beef hasn’t been entirely abandoned. A sister, attached operation is The Coal Shed Smoke House, a stationary truck where meats are smoked, grilled and braised. The resulting chorizo sausage, beef short ribs and bison burgers are mostly intended for take-away dining, though there are a handful of tables in the hallway leading to White Rose.

The carnivorous Coal Shed Smoke House sits next door

The carnivorous Coal Shed Smoke House sits next door

But this commingling has its limits. You’re not allowed to smuggle your Coal Shed beef brisket, on a paper plate, into White Rose’s calm vegetarian space.

White Rose Kitchen
6512 Bowness Road NW, Calgary
Monday to Saturday 11:30 am-9 pm, Sunday 10 am-9 pm
403-455-8055

A Perfect Way to Fill Your Pie Hole

The sour cherry hand pie at Calgary's Pie Hole is a devastating combination of buttery pastry and tangy berries

The sour cherry hand pie at Calgary’s Pie Hole is a devastating combination of buttery pastry and tangy berries

Contemplating some pie? You’re no doubt fixated on the contents. Will it be apple or key lime? Chicken or beef?

Sure, the crust is important. But critical?

Well, it certainly is when you bite into the splendid offerings at Calgary’s charming new Pie Hole. Virtually everything on the short menu is cocooned inside the daily, made-from-scratch pastry. There’s fruit pies, meat pies, quiches and perfect, snack-sized hand pies of sweet and savoury varieties.

Take your time getting to the inside of  these delicacies, because the pastry is worth savouring like a fine wine. There’s a lot to consider here: the slight crunch, the flakiness, the butter. Ah, the butter. Pie Hole goes through some 30 pounds a day of this elixir, and it makes all the difference in the richness of the pies.

Golden brown pastry shells awaiting their contents. Though I think you could eat these beauties on their own.

Golden brown pastry shells awaiting their contents. Though I think you could eat these beauties on their own.

This is not to say the innards don’t matter. The chicken pot pie ($8), for instance, contains tender chunks of chicken, gravy and all the requisite vegetables. A winter quiche might feature tomato, fresh herbs and chevre.

And then there’s the sour cherry hand pie ($5), a devastating combination of tart Saskatchewan berries and that amazing pastry. You can take it, or anything else, home with you. But I’ll bet it’s gone by the time you reach the car, crumbs trailing you across the parking lot.

Pie Hole partner Torin Shuster after a 12-hour shift of pie making. Now that's dedication

Pie Hole partner Torin Shuster after a 12-hour shift of pie making. Now that’s dedication

The Pie Hole
8 Spruce Centre SW, Calgary
Wednesday to Sunday 9 am-6 pm. Closed Monday and Tuesday
403-452-3960

Monogram Diagrams the Way to Create a Fine Calgary Coffeehouse

Words at the bottom of the enamel mugs are one of the many nice touches at Calgary's Monogram Coffee.

Words at the bottom of the enamel mugs are one of the many nice touches at Calgary’s Monogram Coffee.

Build it splendidly, and they will come.

That’s certainly the case at Monogram Coffee, situated in an isolated strip mall in Calgary’s Altadore neighbourhood, miles from any centre of commerce. Yet the obscure location hasn’t stopped local java aficionados from finding and frequenting this little cafe, which has already expanded since opening last year. It doesn’t hurt that it’s handy to a dog park, with space outside to hitch the pooch while getting your caffeine fix. Continue reading

Calgary Baker’s Sandwiches Are No Croque

The brioche bread makes this scintillating croque monsieur at Calgary's Manuel Latruwe bakery

The brioche bread makes this scintillating croque monsieur at Calgary’s Manuel Latruwe bakery

The conventional image of a croque monsieur is a béchamel-soaked ham sandwich, baked till the blanketing cheese (say a Gruyere) bubbles over.

But it took a trip to Calgary Belgian baker Manuel Latruwe for me to realize the essence of this caloric confection is the bread. Which in this case is a wonderfully soft, house-made brioche, offsetting the sandwich’s crunch (croque) and adding a layer of richness to this French standard. Continue reading