Category Archives: breakfast

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.

Annex Ale Calgary

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

At Calgary’s River Cafe, Bacon and Eggs is an Art Form

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Perfection in bacon and eggs at Calgary’s divine River Cafe

Bacon and eggs. Pretty much every morning eatery serves this, and there’s usually nothing to get excited about, as long as the eggs and bacon are cooked to the customer’s liking.

So when bacon and eggs are elevated to an art form, as they are at sublime River Café in Calgary’s downtown Prince’s Island Park, it’s worth noting, and applauding.

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A team of chefs at work

Offered only during weekend brunch, their “fresh farm eggs any style” would scarcely merit your attention alongside more alluring options like brioche French toast or smoked salmon and wild rice cakes. But it’s the painstaking attention to quality and detail that makes this dish exceptional.

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Brioche French toast is another delightful choice

I don’t know if the eggs are organic and free range, but they are perfectly cooked over easy. Overall, perhaps the least notable item on the plate.

You really start to take notice at the bacon: thin slices of house-cured Berkshire maple bacon. Please don’t ruin this by ordering it overly crispy.

Then there’s a pocket of brightly coloured, honey-dressed fingerling potatoes, a massive leap above your typical hash browns. The obligatory toast is yet another step up—wood-grilled sourdough rye.

When each ingredient is this well thought out, and executed by River Café’s small team of chefs, $17 almost seems a bargain for bacon and eggs.

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River Cafe is in a delightful park setting in Calgary’s downtown core

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

Porridge Reimagined at Sidewalk Citizen

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New-age porridge at Calgary’s Sidewalk Citizen Restaurant

If there’s a restaurant breakfast in desperate need of a refresh, it’s good old porridge. The standard recipe, for eons, has been oats, milk and brown sugar. In other words, sugary pablum for the masses.

So, it’s delightful to find porridge reimagined at the splendid new Sidewalk Citizen, a Mediterranean-inspired restaurant in Calgary’s Central Memorial Park.

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The main dining area is in a gorgeous solarium

The only traditional ingredient here is oats, though they are organic, steel cut and local. The dominant presence is softened, red fife wheat berries (also organic and local), which add some nice texture compared with your standard gruel. Sliced apples, toasted almonds and a dash of cinnamon fill out the bowl, with a little cup of almond milk on the side.

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The porridge features local, organic grains and oats

This so-called Ashora is a moderate-sized dish ($12), with each complex mouthful to be savoured. Should you want something approaching the normal breakfast plateful, I’d suggest an order of sprouted seed rye bread ($6), an equally revolutionary take on toast—a dense concoction of spelt and rye flour, sprouted rye and red-fife wheat berries, sunflower, pumpkin flax and sesame seeds, dark beer and buttermilk. Add toppings like rose jam ($2.50) or whipped tahini butter ($3), and you have a small, unique meal in itself.

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Other-worldly seed toast

As you can see, it’s mostly an a la carte menu, meaning that when I throw in some brewed Phil & Sebastian coffee, my breakfast tally approaches $25. Still, it’s a unique, flavourful morning meal, served in a spectacular wood-line solarium, the latest, innovative offering from the Sidewalk Citizen team.

Sidewalk Citizen

There’s also seating beside the open kitchen

Sidewalk Citizen Restaurant
340 13 Avenue SW, Calgary
Tuesday to Thursday and Sunday 8 am-10 pm, Friday-Saturday 8 am-11 pm. Closed Monday
403-263-2999

New Sunterra Market Cafe a Fast-Food Winner

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A crew of cooks making quick, delicious meals at Sunterra Market & Cafe

Sunterra Market is a Calgary institution, a truly farm-to-fork operation with six locations selling upscale groceries and surprisingly inexpensive meals.

With the recent opening of Sunterra Market & Café on Kensington Road NW, it has taken the next leap in its evolution as a full-service restaurant. Indeed, it may well have moved into the forefront of quick, high-quality, affordable meals in the city.

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The latest Sunterra is a combination of an upscale market and fresh, fast, affordable food

Yes, like other Sunterra Markets, this outlet sells a selection of quality groceries—including Valbella bacon and fresh, imported pasta—and meals to go ranging from ribs to salads and desserts.

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Chef Ben offers a sampling of a glazed Modena ham

But where the café stands out is in its short list of made-to-order items (prepared by a bevy of open-kitchen cooks), which you can eat at one of a dozen wooden tables or order to go. Take, for example a breakfast sandwich—eggs, Modena ham and cheddar—on one of the better butter biscuits I’ve encountered, for only $4.99. Or an unusual, stuffed flatbread—egg, prosciutto and fior di latte—almost enough for two at $6.49. And compare that to the $18 one often pays for breakfast in Calgary.

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A substantial Piadina flatbread breakfast sandwich

One standout “Piadina” flatbread sandwich ($7.99) contains rotisserie chicken (from a tile oven full of them rotating away), provolone and pesto. And there’s a list of fresh pastas, including a prosciutto carbonara with a wine-reduction sauce ($9.49).

We spent a good half hour one evening talking with Chris Alladin, Sunterra’s senior vice president of operations, who designed much of the café’s concept. He excitedly showed us the entire operation, offering samples of warm-from-the-oven biscuits and slices of pan-crisped ham.

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Chris Alladin was a driving force behind the market cafe

With some 125,000 vehicles a day passing by on nearby Crowchild Trail and Kensington Road, Alladin figures lots of folks will pull in for a quick bite to eat or a meal to take home—from early-morning breakfasts to nighttime dinners.

Given the high quality of the food and the decidedly inexpensive prices, I wholeheartedly agree. I’ve already visited three times in a week, and it’s a seven-kilometre drive.

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A short menu of lunch and dinner items

My only quibble is an odd ordering system, whereby you fill out your order on a sheet and hand it to a roving assistant, who then places the order with a cook, while you go elsewhere to pay. Why not just verbally place your order where you’re paying?

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

Ferry Fast Breakfast on B.C. Ferries

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Piping hot, fast breakfast at 6 am on B.C. Ferries

I’m not accustomed to lining up for breakfast at 6 a.m. Indeed, at that hour, I’m often the first customer in the restaurant door.

But on an ungodly early-morning B.C. Ferries sailing to Vancouver Island, there’s already a line snaking down the hallway by the time I emerge from the subterranean parking deck. As a visiting Albertan, I’m at an obvious disadvantage to the savvy locals, who are out of their vehicles the second they stop and scrambling up the labyrinthian staircases to the cafeteria.

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The breakfast line forms as soon as the ferry is loaded

Rather than be the 30th person in line at the Coastal Cafe, I wander up to the serving area, just to observe how the kitchen staff is going to handle this hungry, thirsty mob. With great efficiency, it turns out.

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The kitchen is a flurry of synchronized action

It’s a coordinated symphony of movement, with a team of hustling cooks and a “conductor” barking out occasional requests for, say, eggs over easy or hollandaise sauce and salsa on the side. So, yes, they do “made to order”.

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Eggs Benedict and an ocean view: can’t beat that

Now, on a packed ferry, speed and volume is obviously going to trump quality. But my eggs and hash browns are surprisingly good, fresh and hot—for a price that’s quite reasonable (about $12) compared with the ferry ride itself. When I can make my own push-button Americano, to boot, it all adds up to a pretty decent breakfast.

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A made-to-order Americano is just a button push away

The seamless operation is something your typical brunch spot could learn from, especially on a winter weekend, when you’re shivering in a line going out the below-freezing door. On the ferry, the whole breakfast rush is over in about 30 minutes, with satiated customers retreating to their seats and screens.

Best Road Trip Food & Drink of 2018

Sought and Found 4

Best Coffee: Caleb and Kitty Leung make exacting coffee in their gorgeous Sought and Found Coffee Roasters in Calgary, Alberta

Vancouver Island 4

Best coffee mugs: Katy Fogg’s sublime, hand-thrown mugs, at Tin Town Cafe in Courtenay, B.C.

East Calgary 13

Best brunch: Deane House, Calgary

La Baguette muffin

Best muffin: La Baguette, Revelstoke, B.C.

Edmonton coffee 21

Best doughnut: Made-to-order Portuguese-style doughnut at Edmonton’s Ohana Donuterie

Southeast Arizona 36

Best Bakery: Don Guerra’s Barrio Bread in Tucson, Arizona

Vancouver Island 17

Best bakery treat: Focaccia bread at Fol Epi in Victoria, B.C.

BreadMeat 3

Best sandwich: Meat balls on ciabatta at Meat & Bread in Calgary

Southeast Arizona 11

Biggest Feed. A tie: Sandwiches for three (three days!) at Salt Lake City’s Grove Market

B.C. West Coast July 2018 17

And the Oinker At Bubba’s Big Bites in Chilliwack, B.C.

Grande Prairie 1

Best Mexican: Owner James Nelson and his made-to-order corn tortillas at El Norteno in Grande Prairie, Alberta of all places

Southeast Arizona 231

Best hot dog: Can’t beat the Sonoran hot dogs in parking lot Ruiz in Tucson

Sunshine Coast 49

Best beer: Belgian-style Townsite Brewery in Powell River, B.C.

Vancouver Island 27

Best burger: Chucks Burger Bar, in Sydney, B.C.

Edmonton coffee 6

Best complimentary breakfast: The Le Creuset pots were the clincher at Hyatt Place Hotel in Edmonton

Atco Cafe 6

Best restaurant architecture: ATCO Blue Flame Kitchen Cafe in Calgary

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Best farmers’ market: cSPACE in Calgary

Market Bistro Canmore 5

Best service: Brande at Market Bistro in Canmore, Alberta

Southeast Arizona 255

Best gas station experience: Maverick in Fillmore, Utah

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Best foraged food: Wild huckleberries on Monkman Pass Trail near Tumbler Ridge, B.C.

Southeast Arizona 272

Best dining experience: As always, incomparable Carmen making fresh tacos in Hamer, Idaho