Category Archives: beer

My Go-To Eats and Drinks in Calgary

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The best restaurant space in Calgary: The ATCO Blue Flame Kitchen Cafe

I didn’t do many longer road trips this year. And when I did, they were firmly focused on hiking and backpacking, with road-food eats and drinks squeezed in where possible.

So instead of ending the year with my favourite new places of 2019, I’ve decided to highlight go-to spots in my hometown of Calgary. Places that I keep returning to because they are consistently good, comfortable, reasonably priced, independently owned and fairly close to where I live or frequently journey.

Breakfast Sandwich: Sunterra Market

The new Kensington Road location has a select supply of Sunterra’s usual, upscale groceries. But it’s the little, open kitchen that’s the highlight, with chefs quickly preparing grilled sandwiches and plates of pasta. The standout is the breakfast sandwich—eggs, glazed Modena ham and cheddar on a fresh-baked butter biscuit—for only $5.

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At Sunterra Market Cafe, a chef offers a sample of the glazed Modena ham that goes into the fabulous breakfast sandwich

Sunterra Market & Cafe
2536 Kensington Road N.W.
Daily 6:30 am-9 pm
403-685-1535

Coffee: Caffe Beano

Amidst all the third-wave coffee houses in Calgary, it’s an old standby I keep returning to, at least when I’m in the 17th Avenue SW neighbourhood. The Americano is full bodied (local Fratello Coffee Roasters beans) and the date bran muffin—black with molasses and impossibly moist—is the best in the city. And then there’s the colourful cast of characters who convene at the rabbit’s warren of tables every morning.

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The date bran muffin at Caffe Beano is impossibly black with molasses

Caffe Beano
1613 9 Street SW
Weekdays 6 am-10 pm, weekends opens at 7 am
403-229-1232

Brunch: River Café

I usually hate weekend brunch lines, menus and prices. But I make an exception for this elegant but relaxed space, a true oasis in the middle of a downtown park, where mercifully one can make reservations. The chefs have elevated standards like bacon and eggs and French toast to an art form. It’s the place to take a visitor or friend for a special breakfast or lunch; the dinner prices are out of my league. Honourable Mention: Deane House (also owned by Sal Howell) is equally enchanting and historic but was closed for much of 2019 because of flood damage. The good news is it’s reopening in late January.

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Brunch at River Cafe is an enchanting experience

River Cafe
25 Prince’s Island Park SW
Weekend brunch 10 am-3 pm
Reservations online or at 403-261-7670

Sandwich: ATCO Blue Flame Kitchen Café

The steak BLT might be the best deal in Calgary—$10 for a big sourdough baguette loaded, and I mean loaded, with tri-tip steak, provolone, bacon, lettuce, tomato and roasted garlic butter. It’s really two meals for the price of one. The real draw, though, is the most outstanding dining space in Calgary: 100 metres long, under a high wood ceiling. It’s almost a mini version of Calgary’s dazzling new downtown library.

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The steak BLT at ATCO Blue Flame Kitchen Cafe is cheap and bountiful

ATCO Blue Flame Kitchen Cafe
ATCO Commons Building, 5302 Forand Street SW
Weekdays 7 am-3 pm. Closed weekends

Healthy Lunch: Community Natural Foods

This little lunchroom inside the health-food store has been around long enough that I take it for granted. But the buffet-style lunch features lots of healthy, affordable options from burrito bowls to burgers, both grass fed and plant based.

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Greenery lines the dining space at Community Natural Foods

The Community Cafe at Community Natural Foods
1304 10 Avenue SW, Calgary
Weekdays 9 am-7 pm, Saturday 9 am-5 pm, Sunday 10 am-4 pm

Fast-Food Feast: Jerusalem Shawarma

After a long day of hiking or backcountry skiing, I often arrive back in the city in late afternoon or early evening, famished but with nothing in the fridge to assuage my hunger. The solution? A quick stop at my nearby Jerusalem Shawarma outlet, where a regular-size ($11), bountiful chicken shawarma wrap, loaded with veggies, garlic sauce and hummus, is ready in minutes. It may not be my top-ranked shawarma spot in the city, and it’s had some recent health issues, but it’s still quick, close and hits the spot.

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

Jerusalem Shawarma
480, 5255 Richmond Road SW, one of numerous Calgary locations
Daily 11 am-10 pm

Craft Brewery: Cold Garden Beverage Company

I made it a mission in 2019 to test many of the over 40 craft breweries that have sprung up in Calgary in the past couple of years. Cold Garden is definitely the coolest spot, with colourful walls, comfy couches and pooches aplenty. The beer is pretty damn fine as well, at some of the best prices in the city.

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Cold Garden Beverage Company boasts the funkiest, dog-friendly craft-beer taproom in Calgary

Cold Garden Beverage Company
1100 11 Street SE
Tuesday to Thursday 11 am-midnight, Friday-Saturday 11 am-1 am, Sunday 11 am-midnight. Closed Monday
403-764-2653

Honourable Mention: Annex Ale Projects has been around less than three years but is consistently experimenting with its brews; plus its taproom is a lovely spot for hanging out. Their new Howling Fantods (8.5% alcohol) is a double IPA favourite.

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A flight of beers at Annex Ale Project

Happy Hour: National Westhills

What could be better: A great selection of local beers on tap (60 brews in all) and fine grazing, all at happy-hour prices every day of the week? National has me covered, and it’s only a five-minute drive away. My current go-to deals are a 16-ounce pint of Last Best’s Tokyo Drift IPA ($5), the two-patty Clive Burger and fries ($13) and the mesquite bacon and mushroom pizza ($9.50).

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The Happy Hour pizza and burger goes splendidly with a pint of local craft beer at National Westhills

National Westhills
180 Stewart Green, one of four Calgary locations
Daily happy hour 3 pm-6 pm
403-685-6801

Cold Beer Store: Calgary Co-op

There’s a Co-op liquor store a few blocks from my house, and like most (all?) such Co-op outlets, it’s made a concerted effort to fill the cold-beer room with an impressive selection of local craft brews. In fact, I could probably try a different beer every week for a year without repeating my pick.

 Co-op Wine Spirits Beer
4860 Richmond Road SW, one of two dozen Co-op outlets in Calgary
Daily 10 am-10 pm

Searching for Strong, Flavourful Mexican Beer

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Pablo, our beer guide at La Pintada in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico

Mexican beer still wallows where American suds once languished: weak, low-alcohol piss with no flavour or buzz, unless imbibed in quantity.

That still seems to be the case south of the Rio Grande, where shelves are brimming with bottles of Pacifico, Corona, Dos Equis and Modelo. All containing thin, indistinguishable liquid, the only merits of which are “cold” and “wet”. Best guzzled, not sipped and considered.

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A typical thin, flavourless Mexican beer

Can you imagine squeezing a wedge of lime into a bottle of unfiltered west-coast ale to lend it some flavour? Didn’t think so.

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The label was more colourful than the contents

Thus on a recent early-winter sojourn to the resort community of Cabo San Lucas, I made it a mission to find some good Mexican craft beer. Well, more of a quest than a mission, as by the time the daily beer thirst hit, it was rather hot to be roaming the dusty streets of downtown, where any craft beer was to be found.

But I was in luck, mostly because of a newfound friend, who had done most of the scouting for me. It turns out that arguably the best beer hall in Cabo was only 10 minutes away from our resort, via a mostly shaded, narrow sidewalk and a quick final dash across a busy street.

Our destination, La Pintada, has some good food, featuring thin-crust, stone-oven pizza, grilled fish and Mexican dishes like my flavourful organic chicken mole enchiladas. But the real draw was a list of some 10 craft beers on tap at the restaurant bar, called Ramuri.

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The stone-oven pizza was mighty fine

Some were from Baja Brewing, a few blocks away. But the highlights were pints of IPA from further afield; great, complex stuff, especially on a two-for-one happy-hour deal.

One was Perro Del Mar, a pungent, unfiltered beer (7% alcohol, 80 IBU) from Cerveceria Wendlandt, a brewery way up north in Ensenada. Another, Lycan Lupus (5.7%), from Fauna Brewery in Mexicali.

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But we were here for the craft beer, including this excellent Perro Del Mar IPA

We topped things off with a shared bottle of potent Astillero—an Imperial IPA, from Agua Mala in Ensenada, weighing in at 7.1%. We then staggered home in the late-afternoon heat for a siesta.

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A list of the beers on tap and in bottles

La Pintada
Corner of Camino Real and Boulevard Lazaro Cardenas, Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
Daily 1 pm-10 pm, except closed Monday

All hopped up for my visit to Cabin Brewing

Cabin Brewing

Cabin Brewing is another fine craft brewery in southeast Calgary’s Barley Belt

I almost need a seatbelt to strap me in for my beer tasting at Cabin Brewing Company, another craft brewery in southeast Calgary. That’s because for my flight of four small brews, the weakest I choose weighs in at 6% alcohol.

Call me a cheap drunk, but I am drawn to beers with lots of character, complexity and depth. That often seems to equate to a higher alcohol content. Whatever.

Put it this way. At the other end of the scale is the fabulous Lost & Won Wee Heavy, a Scotch ale that came in at a knee-staggering 10%. True to the tasting note, it is “rich, complex, malty, with notes of toffee and caramel.”

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A flight of full-flavoured beers

My second favourite is the full-bodied, Trappist-style Abbot Belgian Dubbel (7.8%), a collaboration with nearby Banded Peak. Third is the Runaway Double IPA (8%), the only brew where I seem to notice the alcohol content.

In the interests of moderate consumption, I don’t finish what’s in my four little glasses. And I extend my stay with an excellent, hand-sized New Zealand steak pie ($8).

In all, Cabin Brewing is another fine stop in southeast Calgary’s burgeoning Barley Belt.

Location An industrial area, just east of Macleod Trail and across the street from Born Colorado Brewing

 Ambience A nice, log-cabin feel, complete with a hanging canoe

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A woodsy cabin ambience

 Food Fine little New Zealand meat pies, warm pretzels and cheese and charcuterie boards

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A nice little New Zealand-style meat pie

Favourite beer Lost & Won Wee Heavy Scotch ale

Beer availability Cans and growlers onsite and in cans at area liquor stores.

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Here’s what’s on tap

Cabin Brewing Company
505 36 Avenue SE, Calgary
Monday to Thursday 3 pm-9 pm, Friday-Saturday noon-10:30 pm, Sunday noon-6 pm
403-244-3331

Taking the High Line to Craft Beer

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High Line Brewing is a cozy mainstay in Calgary’s Inglewood neighbourhood

At three years old, High Line Brewing is a veritable veteran on Calgary’s craft beer scene. The space is small, with the focus squarely on small-batch beers, brewed behind a glass door, and twists like hopped sours and barrel-aged saisons.

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The muffin tin holder for a flight of beers is a nice design touch

Location Just off busy 9th Avenue in Inglewood’s burgeoning beer district

Ambience The small, intimate space is belied by a high ceiling and a glass garage door that opens onto a little patio

Food Bring your own or order free delivery from nearby Without Papers Pizza

Signature beer Among a plethora of IPAs, the New-England style Talking Hops (7.4%) is a hazy, grapefruity standout

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High Line Brewing
113, 1318 9 Avenue SE, Calgary
Monday to Thursday 4 pm-10 pm, Friday-Saturday noon to midnight, Sunday noon-6 pm
403-827-6985

Outcast in Name Only

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Outcast Brewing is an exciting new entry in Calgary’s craft beer world

In our capitalist world, competition is generally assumed to be a dog-eat-dog affair. You’d think things would be particularly cutthroat in Calgary’s craft beer scene, considering there are more than 50 such breweries vying to get their products in restaurants and bars, on liquor store shelves and down fickle customers’ gullets.

Instead, things are downright socialist, with many breweries collaborating on experimental brews, producing beers in competitors’ tanks and generally being supportive of each other.

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The cloudy Best-ish 2.0 is arguably my favourite IPA of the year

This is especially true of Outcast Brewing, which opened recently in southeast Calgary’s so-called Brewery Belt, home to a dozen small beer makers. Prior to having their own brewery and taproom, owners Patrick and Krysten were contract brewing (i.e. making their beer at other breweries) at places such as Cold Garden. And they’re keen to keep the cooperation going.

“We’re in it together. Everybody promotes everybody. We’re all friends. I’d like to see more collaboration,” says Patrick in this insightful, hour-long podcast.

Of course, all this experimentation and collaboration has led to some interesting, high-quality brews. Outcast’s current lineup includes a wheat beer with a “boatload” of raspberry and blueberry, a breakfast stout, a cider and a pumpkin nitro.

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The current list of Outcast’s diverse offerings

Location In a warehouse area at the south end of southeast Calgary’s brewery-dense “Barley Belt” district

Ambience De rigueur open ductwork with beige walls and comfy cushions

Food Unusual packaged snacks

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Not your typical craft-beer snacks

 Signature beer Best-ish 2.0 An outstanding, hazy IPA: “The most hops we’ve ever put in a beer. Hopped with azacca, citra, simcoe and Idaho 7, this is a flavour explosion.”

Availability Some cans, mostly growlers

Bumper sticker “Arguably the best brewery on Manitou Road SE”

Outcast Brewing
607 Manitou Road SE, Calgary
Sunday to Wednesday 4 pm-9 pm, Thursday, noon to 9 pm, Friday-Saturday noon-10 pm
403-477-5478

Meat and Beer Meet at Calgary’s Brew-be-cue

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Craft beer and southern barbecue meet at Paddy’s Barbecue & Brewery

As the name Paddy’s Barbecue & Brewery suggests, the food shares equal billing with small-batch beers, the latter often in collaboration with other brewers. Brisket, turkey, sausage, chicken and pork ribs are slow roasted daily and offered by the pound (or in a sandwich), accompanied by sides like baked beans and potato salad.

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Location Just east of Macleod Trail and south of Burnsland Cemetery. Small outdoor “paddio”

Ambience Warehouse chic: metal, cement and open ductwork

Food All the fall-off-the-bone, house-roasted southern barbecue you can imagine

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The barbecue earns equal billing with the beer

Signature beer Award-winning (2019 Alberta Bear Awards) Black Lager Schwarzbier (5.3%, 29 IBU), with hints of chocolate and coffee

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A diverse roster of beers

Factoid Named after Paddy Sorrenti, whose family runs Sorrenti’s Catering

Paddy’s Barbecue & Brewery
3610 Burnsland Road SE, Calgary
Wednesday to Friday opens at 11 am, weekends opens at 11 am. Closed Monday and Tuesday
403-651-7150