Category Archives: Jasper

My Best Road-Trip Meals and Drinks of 2014

This simple but superb BLT at Magpie Cafe in Sacramento, California was one of the best sandwiches I ate in 2014

This simple but superb BLT at Magpie Cafe in Sacramento, California was one of the best sandwiches I ate in 2014

Two themes dominated my 2014 road-trip eating adventures in western North America. One was the preponderance of top-end chefs setting up shop in food trucks and churning out imaginative, excellent and most affordable fare (maybe the release of the fun movie Chef is an instance of art imitating life).

The other theme is how geographically diverse these winners are. Yes, the ethnic cauldron of Los Angeles produced many of my top choices. But so did unheralded southern Washington; take a bow Walla Walla and Tri-Cities. So did a lot of places not considered culinary hotbeds. I’m thinking of you Logan, Utah, Idaho Falls and Salmon (both in Idaho), and Mayne Island, a tiny place in B.C.’s Gulf Islands.

Best Breakfasts

Restaurant breakfasts are often the least healthy meal of the day. The holy pairing of grease and carbs bring together eggs cooked in butter, fat-laced bacon, oily hash browns and yet more butter smeared on a whack of toast. Alternatively, you can toss a pound of gluey, syrup-drenched pancakes down the hatch.

Waffles are pretty traditional but certainly enticing looking

Waffles are pretty traditional, but this one is certainly enticing

So it’s nice to see more eateries throwing a healthier curve at the morning equation. Heck, when well done, it can even taste better than the old comfort fare, without the post-meal need to curl up in the fetal position.

Lotus Cafe is a treasure in touristy Jackson, Wyoming. Where it really shines is its imaginative breakfast bowls, like a sprouted buckwheat granola or a raw acai with a ton of fruit and other healthy goodies. Even the oatmeal is unique, featuring nutmeg and cardamom and a topping of pecans, dates and figs.

A beautiful stamped-tin ceiling is just one of Lotus Cafe's many charms

A beautiful stamped-tin ceiling is just one of Lotus Cafe’s many charms

Lotus Cafe
145 North Glenwood Street, Jackson, Wyoming
Daily 8 am-9 pm (reduced winter hours)
The Lotus Cafe on Urbanspoon

Ironically, there’s not a lot of bacon on the menu at Bacon & Eggs in Walla Walla, Washington. And you can get tofu or egg-white omelettes. But what catches my attention, and taste buds, is the Texas eggs, served atop brown rice and black beans, with a heavenly slice of house-made cornbread.

A delicious, healthy bowl of Texas eggs

A delicious, healthy bowl of Texas eggs

Bacon & Eggs
503 East Main Street, Walla Walla, Washington
Thursday to Tuesday 8 am-2 pm. Closed Wednesday
Bacon & Eggs on Urbanspoon

Not often does a lowly breakfast sandwich make me swoon. But it certainly does at Crumb Brothers Artisan Bread & Cafe, in Logan, Utah. It’s the excellence of all the ingredients—from an ethereal ciabatta bun to lemon aioli—plus the painstaking execution that propels it into the stratosphere.

Breakfast sandwiches don't get any better than this

Breakfast sandwiches don’t get any better than this

Crumb Brothers Artisan Bakery
291 South 300 West, Logan, Utah
Weekdays 7 am-3 pm, Saturday 8 am-3 pm. Closed Sunday
Crumb Brothers Artisan Bread on Urbanspoon

Best Coffee

Yes, the fresh-roasted coffee is great at Iconoclast Koffie Huis in Edmonton, Alberta. As is the ultra-cool coffee bar, built from repurposed wood in this old warehouse. But it’s the half-hour conversations with co-owner Ryan Arcand and assorted regulars that make this a great coffeehouse in an era of heads glued to screens.

Iconoclast's roaster is in back of the coffee bar in this refurbished warehouse

Iconoclast’s roaster is in back of the coffee bar in this refurbished warehouse

Iconoclast Koffie Huis
11807 105 Avenue, Edmonton, Alberta
Weekdays 9 am-5 pm, weekends 9 am-5 pm
Iconoclast Koffiehuis on Urbanspoon

Honourable Mentions: They both boast custom-built Slayer espresso machines and excellent coffee. Where they differ is in their decidedly unique locations: SnowDome Coffee Bar in a Jasper, Alberta Laundromat, and Strom Coffee, inside a refurbished Airstream trailer in Richland, Washington.

Best Bakery

purebread is based in the B.C. resort town of Whistler. But I encountered it at a Vancouver farmers’ market, where folks were lined up to buy its creative roster of breads—how about a sour cherry chocolate, a Disfunction Ale or an amazing fig loaf studded with hazelnut slices? The sign of a great bakery is when you can’t stop buying… or eating. Indeed, the crumbly slice of cornbread vanishes before we’ve walked a hundred feet.

Amazing fig loaf studded with hazelnut slices from pure bread

Amazing fig loaf studded with hazelnut slices from pure bread

purebread
1, 1104 Millar Creek Road (another location in Olympic Plaza), Whistler, B.C.
Daily 8:30 am-5 pm
Purebread on Urbanspoon

Best Sandwich

In a crowded list of contenders, tiny food truck The Goodwich, in downtown Las Vegas, stands out. Why? Because co-owner and high-end chef Josh Clark believes you can take almost any first-class ingredients and slap them between two slices of bread to create amazing, affordable sandwiches.

Josh ... is putting high-end ingredients into most affordable sandwiches at The Goodwich, in Las Vegas

Josh Clark is putting high-end ingredients into most affordable sandwiches at The Goodwich, in Las Vegas

The Goodwich
1516 South Las Vegas Boulevard, Suite A, Las Vegas
Tuesday to Sunday 11 am-10 pm, except 4 pm closing Sunday. Closed Monday
The Goodwich on Urbanspoon

Honourable Mentions: Magpie Cafe, in Sacramento, California elevates the generic BLT to godly status with orange heirloom tomatoes, thick slices of bacon and caper aioli on a fresh baguette. Simply excellent. Yes, the oven-roasted turkey on sourdough is outstanding at grungy Junkyard Bistro in Salmon, Idaho. But what slams it out of the park is the fabulous side of chunky potato salad.

Best Burrito

This deserves its own category in 2014, since I spent some time in the global burrito hotbeds of San Francisco and Los Angeles. The best of the best was longstanding, family-run La Azteca Tortilleria, in East Los Angeles. The killer ingredients include a fresh-ground, toasted corn tortilla, good steak and, the kicker, a whole chile relleno dipped in egg and then fried. I hoover down this messy puppy in the front seat of my car in under five minutes.

Siblings Chris and Cynthia Villa at Los Angeles's La Azteca Tortilleria

Siblings Chris and Cynthia Villa at Los Angeles’s La Azteca Tortilleria

La Azteca Tortilleria
4538 East Cesar East Chavez Avenue, Los Angeles
Daily 6 am-3:30 pm except closed Monday
La Azteca Tortilleria on Urbanspoon

Best Food Truck

At El Fat Cat Grill, in Kennewick Washington, chef-owner Felix Sanchez is mixing Mexican and Asian influences to come up with tasty, affordable gems like crispy tortillas smothered in pork, chipotle mole sauce and jalapeno coleslaw.

Chef Felix Sanchez mixing Mexican and Asian influences at his El Fat Cat Grill truck Asian fare

Chef Felix Sanchez mixing Mexican and Asian influences at his El Fat Cat Grill truck
Asian fare

El Fat Cat Grill
539 North Edison (behind the Edison carwash), Kennewick, Washington
Weekdays 11 am-7 pm. Closed Saturday and Sunday
El Fat Cat Grill on Urbanspoon

Best Burger

Almost as good as the fresh-ground, perfectly cooked burger at The Bird, in Jackson, Wyoming, is the full page of the menu advising you how to order your meat. Let me summarize: Don’t dare ask for well done.

The "rules" at The Bird

The “rules” at The Bird

The Bird
4125 South Pub Place (South Highway 89), Jackson, Wyoming
Monday to Saturday the bar opens at 4 pm and the kitchen at 5 pm, Sunday opening is 10 am
The Bird on Urbanspoon

Best Pizza

Una Pizza + Wine’s Twitter feed lets you know how long the wait is at this exceedingly popular little joint in Calgary, Alberta. So best arrive early to order an outstanding, thin-crust pie—like roasted crimini mushrooms with smoked mozza and truffle oil—along with a mountainous kale Caesar salad topped with a boiled egg.

Una Pizza + Wine
618 17 Avenue SW, Calgary, Alberta
Daily 11:30 am-1 am
Una Pizza and Wine on Urbanspoon

Best Exotic Cuisine

Korean food is celebrated for its barbecue, plus all those interesting little dishes that come as appetizers. But at Hangari Bajirak Kalgooksoo, in Los Angeles’s Koreatown, the standout is a huge bowl of Manila clam kalguksu with a boatload of engorged, hand-cut noodles.

Clams and hand-cut noodles in this lovely bowl at Hangari Bajirak Kalgooksoo

Clams and hand-cut noodles in this lovely bowl at Hangari Bajirak Kalgooksoo

Hangari Bajirak Kalgooksoo
3470 West 6 Street, Suite 9, Los Angeles
Daily Monday to Saturday 10 am-10:30 pm, Sunday 10 am-10:30 pm
Hangari Bajirak Kalgooksoo on Urbanspoon

Best Fusion

Guerrilla Tacos owner-chef Wes Avila is storming the Los Angeles food world with a truck that’s spinning out stunning delights like a summer squash taco with runny chile and cashews.

Wes Avila concocts a summer squash taco at his Guerrilla Tacos truck

Wes Avila concocts a summer squash taco at his Guerrilla Tacos truck

Guerilla Tacos
826 East 3 Street (other area locations), Los Angeles
Wednesday 10 am-2 pm, Thursday-Friday 9 am-2 pm, Saturday-Sunday 9 am-1 pm
Guerrilla Tacos on Urbanspoon

Best Sushi

I don’t often get sushi on a road trip: it’s expensive and, all too often, generic. But at Koi Sushi—in a food court, next to a Walmart in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico—chef-owner Angel Huerta Ramirez fashions amazingly creative plates of affordable fare, featuring local wahoo and other creatures of the sea.

This wahoo sashimi plate was to die for

This wahoo sashimi plate was to die for

Koi Sushi
Plaza San Lucas, Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
Daily noon-9 pm

Best Pie

I don’t eat dessert. But when I’m offered a taste of a wee blueberry-raspberry pie with a port reduction sauce, at The Street Grill truck in Richland, Washington, I ignore spiking blood-sugar levels and keep shovelling till there’s not a crumb left.

The Street Grill
300 Knight Street (John Dam Plaza), Richland, Washington
Monday to Saturday 11 am-5 pm. Closed Sunday

Cast your eyes on this blueberry-raspberry, port-reduction pie and jump in your car.

Cast your eyes on this blueberry-raspberry, port-reduction pie and jump in your car.

Best Beer

Among the many pints and 22-ounce bombers I sampled on the road, the standout was a complex, flavour-filled Widmer Brothers Brewing (Portland) ale aged in bourbon barrels.

Widmer Brothers Brewing
955 North Russell, Portland, Oregon
Sunday to Thursday 11 am-10:30 pm, Friday-Saturday 11 am-11 pm
Widmer Brothers Pub on Urbanspoon

Honourable Mention: The combination might seem odd, but Wild Rose Brewery’s (Calgary, Alberta) seasonal cherry porter was a knockout. I stocked up on the one-litre bottles while they lasted.

Best Experience

At Farm Gate Store, on B.C’s Mayne Island, the divine grilled sandwiches are just the exclamation point on a fabulous rural shop that features local produce, meat and killer flower arrangements.

Co-owner Shanti arranges her farm-cut flower bouquets, a bargain $11

Co-owner Shanti arranges her farm-cut flower bouquets, a bargain $11

Farm Gate Store
568 Fernhill Road, Mayne Island, B.C.
Monday to Saturday 10 am-6 pm, Sunday 10 am-5 pm

Best Meal(s) of 2015

Why would I drive 1,100 kilometres (620 miles) for a meal? When it’s the best Mexican food I’ve devoured all year and served by wonderful owners Bertha Moreno and daughter Jessica. I thus trek all the way from Calgary not once but twice in a three-month span, to Morenita’s Mexican Restaurant, in Idaho Falls of all places.

Bertha Moreno and daughter Jessica serve up fabulous fare at Morenita's Mexican Restaurant

Bertha Moreno and daughter Jessica serve up fabulous fare at Morenita’s Mexican Restaurant

Sure, I was headed on to other destinations. But nothing made me happier in 2014 than plunking myself down at a nondescript Morenita table and letting Jessica keep bringing me fantastic plates of inventive Mexican food. Like an unforgettable taco ranchero—an open, crispy corn tortilla piled with sauteed pork loin, salsa fresca and avocado, doused with house-made sauces, all for $2.50.

Traditional tacos and tostadas elevated to star status

Traditional tacos and tostadas elevated to star status

Things were going so well, I threw caution to the wind and ordered a sampler bowl of menudo, something I swore I’d never touch again after a rubber-band greasefest with my appalled sisters in some dusty Mexican village. Here, the broth is perfectly seasoned, the little hominy balls a delightful surprise and the, gulp, beef tripe sufficiently tender I might order it again. Just not for a year or two.

Morenita’s Mexican Restaurant
450 Whittier Street, Idaho Falls, Idaho
Monday to Thursday 10 am-9 pm, Friday-Saturday 9:30 am-9 pm, Sunday 9:30 am-8:30 pmMorenita's Restaurant on Urbanspoon

An Elk to Go With the Syrah in Jasper

A complimentary elk sausage appetizer starts things off right at Syrahs of Jasper

A complimentary elk sausage appetizer starts things off right at Syrahs of Jasper

What often separates great from good dining is the little extras. And what could be better than something you didn’t order or pay for, at least not directly?

At Syrahs of Jasper, it’s the complimentary items the server delivers while you’re deciphering the menu. First, there’s the flavourful slice of elk sausage, with a shaving of apple and some sauce, artfully presented on a little ceramic spoon. Then there’s the melt-in-your-mouth, wee cheese and salt biscuit with soft butter. Only a couple of bites but a delightful alternative to the typical basket of bread.

Of course, the main event has to live up to the expectations created by these charming starters. And chef/owner Jason Munn—competing in the crowded world of fine dining in touristy Jasper—pulls things off nicely. I lick up every morsel of a succulent smoked bison ragout on house-made gnocchi ($18), while a vegetarian friend tears with gusto into a lentil loaf cloaked in roasted tomato gravy ($20). Of course, as the restaurant name suggests, there are half a dozen listed syrah wines to complement your dinner.

A moist flavourful lentil loaf

A moist flavourful lentil loaf

All things considered, it’s not that expensive, especially if you steer clear of high-end items like the $55 elk tenderloin (I wonder if tourists mistakenly think it’s from the same critters grazing along nearby roads). If nothing else, it’s a chance for road trippers to step up in class and celebrate a five-day backpack, without anyone looking askance at our soiled hiking pants. Because we sure didn’t have warm biscuits served on linen in the backcountry.

How about a succulent smoked bison ragout on house-made gnocchi?

How about a succulent smoked bison ragout on house-made gnocchi?

Syrahs of Jasper
606 Patricia Street, Jasper, Alberta
Daily 5 pm-10 pm
Syrahs of Jasper on Urbanspoon

Chicken Sandwiches and the Chicken Man in Jasper’s Patricia Street Deli

Patricia Street Deli owner Glen Leitch is a fun-loving guy

Patricia Street Deli owner Glen Leitch is a fun-loving guy

I’ll make things simple for you. When you walk up to the counter at Patricia Street Deli, in Jasper, Alberta, just order the chicken sandwich. Roasted on a back-wall rotisserie, the meat is moist, tender, delicious. It’s a most reasonable $8.25 for a substantial sandwich in a Canadian Rockies’ resort town.

Going down the sandwich assembling line

Going down the sandwich assembling line

Where you’ll have to make decisions is the toppings you load on the house-baked wheat or white bun. Maybe shredded beats and carrots, pickles, lettuce, sprouts, five kinds of cheese…. you get the idea. Make sure to add one or more of their spreads—say, cranberry chutney, pesto or chipotle.

Chicken sandwich with a lot of fixings on a house-baked whole wheat roll

Chicken sandwich with a lot of fixings on a house-baked whole wheat roll

As good as the sammies are, they may be eclipsed by an irreverent crew headed by chief jester and owner Glen Leitch. Have your wits and comebacks at the ready. The only bad news is you’ll likely have to eat your meal outside of earshot of this hole-in-the-wall, mostly takeout joint.

Actually, Patricia Street Deli keeps pretty simple hours... at least I think they do

Actually, Patricia Street Deli keeps pretty simple hours… at least I think they do

Patricia Street Deli
610 Patricia Street, Jasper, Alberta
Daily 10 am-5 pm
Patricia Street Deli on Urbanspoon

Clean Clothes and Great Java at SnowDome Coffee Bar in Jasper, Alberta

Wash your clothes while you savour a fabulous java at SnowDome Coffee Bar in Jasper, Alberta

Wash your clothes while you savour a fabulous java at SnowDome Coffee Bar in Jasper, Alberta

It’s such an obvious concept, I’m surprised more enterprising businesspeople haven’t thought of it. I’m talking about a laundromat combined with a coffee shop. You’ve got a captive market of folks waiting an hour or more to clean their clothes. Might as well sell them a cuppa and maybe something to nibble on.

But Coin Clean Laundry in the mountain resort town of Jasper, Alberta has taken things a step further. The java in their SnowDome Coffee Bar is so good, you can happily go there with no intention of putting a load in—the quiet hum of all those stainless machines just an interesting backdrop while you’re sipping in a comfy chair.

You know owners Shelley and Sam are serious about their coffee when they’re using a high-end, custom-made Slayer Espresso machine, with its walnut paddles. (Slayers are made in Seattle by a company headed by Jason Prefontaine, whose family owns the Calgary-based Fratello coffee business; no surprise, Fratello beans are used here.) The robust Americanos were so good, I could never stop at one.

Comfy chairs with a barista operating the exacting Slayer Espresso machine in the background

Comfy chairs with a barista operating the exacting Slayer Espresso machine in the background

SnowDome also bakes some fine fruit muffins and cookies (try the Warden). They do charge for Wifi and to use the in-house computers but, hey, they are dealing with the tourist crowds. If you need to clean your body, too, after a weeklong backpack, there’s  coin-operated showers in back.

SnowDome Coffee Bar
607 Patricia Street, Jasper, Alberta
Daily 7:45 am-8 pm
SnowDome Coffee Bar on Urbanspoon

Across the street from SnowDome, Jasper Liquor Store & Wine Cellar seems a misnomer. I mean, sure, owner D.J. Bowen’s got a couple of thousand wine labels on hand. But what hooks me is the 700 kinds of beer in a spacious, refrigerated room. It’s one of the best beer selections I’ve seen in Alberta.

Just a small sampling of the 700 types of beer available at Jasper Liquor Store and Wine Cellar

Just a small sampling of the 700 types of beer available at Jasper Liquor Store and Wine Cellar

I’m enthralled with so many compelling ales, lagers, IPAs, lambics and stouts that I’m shivering when I emerge. The biggest find is a hopped mead from Water Valley, Alberta’s Fallentimber Meadery, the honey smoothing the hoppier tones and producing a drink that’s delightfully different.

Jasper Liquor Store and Wine Cellar
606 Patricia Street, Jasper, Alberta