Category Archives: Bakeries

Restaurant Renaissance in Lacombe, Alberta

This classic flat-iron building is the showpiece of Lacombe's lovingly restored historic downtown

This classic flat-iron building is the showpiece of Lacombe’s lovingly restored historic downtown

Lacombe has long been my favourite Alberta town (it’s officially now a city, but with only 12,000 residents, it still has that small-town feel). What I particularly like is the preservation and restoration of many downtown brick buildings and stately Edwardian houses that line its wide, shady streets. You can read all about it in my Day Trips From Calgary book (new edition scheduled for 2017).

Now, there’s another reason for pulling off the frenetic Highway 2, halfway between Calgary and Edmonton. In the past couple of years, Lacombe has seriously stepped up its culinary scene, perhaps even surpassing the dining wilderness of the nearby, much larger Red Deer.

Want to know what the inside of those historic Lacombe houses looks like? Just step into Morrison House Café, where two rooms of a 1919 colonial-revival residence have been converted into an elegant space offering good soups and sandwiches on house-baked breads and croissants. Save room for some delectable oatmeal cake or bread pudding.

Morrison House Cafe is located in a stately, historic downtown Lacombe house

Morrison House Cafe is located in a stately, historic downtown Lacombe house

Speaking of elegant, Sweet Capone’s is a wee downtown shop specializing in Italian pastries such as cannoli, pesche dolci (peach cookies) and Florentines. Sound a bit fancy for a town built on farming? Would you believe there are lineups for these confections, which often sell out by early afternoon?

Sweet Capone's is on historic, brick row in downtown Lacombe

Sweet Capone’s is on historic, brick row in downtown Lacombe

This is what people line up for: cream-filled Italian cannolis

This is what people line up for: cream-filled Italian cannolis

Queues are also de rigueur for the big, oven-roasted turkey and beef sandwiches at Eastside Eatery, in a Lacombe industrial park. I wrote about this fast, affordable, fabulous place in last week’s post.

The sandwiches are big, fast and tasty at Eastside Eatery

The sandwiches are big, fast and tasty at Eastside Eatery

Cilantro and Chive is a recent transplant, moving to downtown Lacombe after its lease expired in Ponoka, to the near north. It features innovative, chef-driven takes on standards, witness the braised duck wings, pulled-pork mac ‘n cheese, bison burgers and smoked trout and kale spaghettini.

Lovely soup and sandwich at Cilantro and Chive

Lovely soup and sandwich at Cilantro and Chive

Here’s the clincher. Lacombe now boasts its own craft brewery, Blindman Brewing, cooking up things like cask-conditioned sour beers and Belgian-style saisons.

I wonder how much those Edwardian houses are selling for?

Morrison House Cafe
5331 51 Avenue, Lacombe, Alberta
Tuesday to Saturday 11 am-3:30 pm. Closed Sunday and Monday
403-789-1234

Sweet Capone’s
5010 50 Avenue
Tuesday to Saturday 10 am-4 pm. Closed Sunday and Monday
403-789-7778

Eastside Eatery
3, 4013 53 Avenue, Lacombe, Alberta
Weekdays 8 am-3 pm. Closed weekends
403-782-7435

Cilantro and Chive
5021 50 Street
Monday to Wednesday 11 am-9 pm, Thursday to Saturday 11 am-11 pm. Closed Sunday
403-782-2882

Blindman Brewing
Bay F, 3413 53 Avenue
Opens at 2 pm Tuesday to Friday and at noon Saturday. Closed Sunday and Monday
403-786-2337

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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

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

Raising the Bakery Bar in San Francisco

Gorgeous, gooey gougere at glorious Tartine Bakery & Cafe in San Francisco

Gorgeous, gooey gougere at glorious Tartine Bakery & Cafe in San Francisco

Tartine Bakery & Cafe, in San Francisco’s Mission district, has 5,600 Yelp reviews and counting. So it doesn’t need any help from me. Still, that many people can’t be wrong, and a Canadian coffee roaster I respect suggested it as the one place I should visit on my road trip down the U.S. west coast.

Lots of tempting treats at Tartine

Lots of tempting treats at Tartine

The line, in mid-morning, is short and fast moving, and I scarcely have time to decide whether to get a buttermilk currant scone or a decadent brioche bread pudding brimming with fresh fruit. Instead, I go with a gorgeous gougere, the light, flaky pastry encasing a soft, croissant-like filling of Gruyere cheese.

I might have to add a 5,601th review.

A perfect breakfast

A perfect breakfast

Tartine co-owner and baker extraordinaire Chad Robertson also has a restaurant, Bar Tartine, and is opening a second bakery, The Manufactory, in the exquisite, historic Heath Ceramic building in San Francisco’s Mission district. It will go well with the funky Blue Bottle coffee kiosk in the same space.

Tartine Bakery & Cafe
600 Guerrero Street, San Francisco
Opens at 7:30 am Tuesday to Friday, 8 am Monday and Saturday, 9 am Sunday. Closes at 7 or 8 pm, depending on whether the moon is full and the mood strikes them. Restaurateurs of the world, can you please think of your poor customers and simplify your hours? Is that too much to ask?
Tartine Bakery on Urbanspoon

Befitting San Francisco’s socially conscious nature, Arizmendi Bakery is a cooperative. Not content just to produce good scones, muffins and breads (try the cheddar jalapeño breadsticks), Arizmendi, a loose affiliation of various local bakeries under the same name, has a mandate to create a positive workforce and develop skills.

I’m here for the $2.50 slice of the day’s thin-crust lunchtime pizza, which today comprises just three toppings: house-made tomato sauce, tangy goat cheese and fresh basil. There may be fancier creations of chef-driven pizza palaces in San Francisco, but this humble pie hits the spot, and does a world of good.

Pizza slice of the day at Arizmendi Bakery

Pizza slice of the day at Arizmendi Bakery

Arizmendi Bakery
1286 Valencia Street (and several other area locations)
Weekdays 7 am-7 pm (except closed Tuesday), weekends 8 am-7 pm
Arizmendi on Urbanspoon

An Indian-Food Remedy in Edmonton, Alberta

You have to filter through all the flavourful pistachio bits to get to the heart of this lovely chai at Edmonton's Remedy Cafe

You have to filter through all the flavourful pistachio bits to get to the heart of this lovely chai at Edmonton’s Remedy Cafe

I seldom eat Indian food on a road trip. It’s not that I don’t love the rich, complex dishes typical of this cuisine.

It’s just that it tends to be fairly expensive—often exceeding $15 per plate, lunch or dinner—for my travelling budget. Plus the atmosphere is generally dark and formal.

So it’s delightful to discover Remedy Cafe, Zee Zaidi’s growing little kingdom of Indian food joints in Edmonton, Alberta. The eats and drinks are great, the prices most affordable and the spaces bright and roomy, with a counter-service, fast-food vibe (though the bathrooms in the flagship, 109th Street store require a long hike to the nether reaches of the building).

You can certainly order standards like samosa appetizers and butter chicken, served in a copper bowl, with a side of naan. But the lunchtime highlights are the substantial wraps, featuring traditional Indian and Pakistani dishes like tandoori chicken or chana masala stuffed inside a toasted tortilla, with some dipping sauce to spice things up to your heat tolerance. It’s a unique, tasty, stuff-your-gut meal for about $9.

A filling, spicy chicken wrap with a nice dipping sauce

A filling, spicy chicken wrap with a nice dipping sauce

Wash things down with a range of original-recipe chais, steeped over several days, or coffees produced in little siphon pots or through a pour-over filter. Later in the day, join the university crowd swigging from a roster of 70 types of beer.

Remedy Cafe
8631 109 Street (four other Edmonton locations)
Weekdays 7:30 am-midnight, weekends 8 am-midnight
Remedy on Urbanspoon

A short drive to the east, hole-in-the-wall Boulangerie Bonjour is doing one thing extremely well, and that’s making sourdough breads. I love the tangy taste and slight chewiness of a good sourdough, and Yvan Chartrand and team certainly delivers with its wild yeast culture, or levain. The organic wheat and rye grains are from Alberta farms and milled at the bakery, where the loaves are baked on a stone oven hearth.

A fine roster of sourdough loaves to choose from at Boulangerie Bonjour

A fine roster of sourdough loaves to choose from at Boulangerie Bonjour

The only problem is choosing: A traditional loaf, a rye raisin walnut or a sundried tomato and olive? Best to get a raw-milk cheese to go with it, though it’s hard to beat the simplicity of just toasting a slice, or two or three, with a generous smearing of melted butter.

I just want to tear into this sourdough baguette

I just want to tear into this sourdough baguette

Boulangerie Bonjour
8608 99 Street, Edmonton
Tuesday to Friday 8 am-5:30 pm, Saturday 7 am-5 pm. Closed Sunday and Monday
Boulangerie BONJOUR on Urbanspoon

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