Category Archives: breakfast

Sinful, Toasted Cinnamon Buns

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Toasted cinnamon bun from motel restaurant in Beaverlodge, Alberta

Over the years, I’ve eaten a lot of cinnamon buns; that’s cinnamon rolls if you’re American. Indeed, I have recipes for two classic Edmonton cinnamon buns—the Tuck Shop’s and Mayfair Golf Club’s—which perfected the mix of gooey goodness, without being overly bready, and without any of that nasty icing.

But en route to a recent backpack in northern Canada, I twice encountered something I hadn’t seen before: toasted cinnamon buns. These were both offered at hotel restaurants, one in Beaverlodge, Alberta and the other in Tumbler Ridge, B.C.

I can see how toasting could improve a cinnamon bun that was a day old or a little doughy. And it’s one way of reheating them without resorting to a microwave. I didn’t see how these ones were prepared, though I assume they were sliced horizontally and toasted in some kind of oven.

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Despite all the packaging, our favourite toasted cinnamon bun, at Tumbler Ridge Inn Restaurant

We got them to go, which may not have been the friendliest thing for the planet. They emerged from the kitchen each in large white plastic bags containing a cinnamon bun in a Styrofoam box, four packets of butter and, in one case, several packets of cream cheese. They were then attacked with plastic knives and forks, as well as fingers.

I’m not sure how many calories were consumed in this starch-sugar-fat feeding frenzy. It’s a good thing seven hours of hiking ensued.

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Regular cin buns at Soups in Beaverlodge

 

 

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Superb Brunch at Calgary’s Deane House

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Calgary’s Deane House is a lovely historic building flooded with morning light

I usually hate weekend brunch. Because of the late-morning opening, there’s invariably a line of folks who, once seated, tend to order mimosas, dally over eggs benedict, endlessly refill coffee cups, engage in long conversations and generally just linger long after the bill has been presented—all prolonging your wait. Also at brunch, the usual breakfast menu is souped up, jacking up prices.

But even a curmudgeon like me must make an exception for the Deane House, in a recently restored historic building near downtown Calgary. First, they take brunch reservations, which pretty much eliminates the wait. Second, the service is casual but professional.

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Poached eggs on a bed of potato rostii and winter squash

Third, prices are Calgary reasonable for the quality and imagination of the food. Yes, there’s a croque madame for $22, featuring duck rillettes and a local duck egg. But maybe the best dish on the menu, poached eggs on a bed of potato rostii and winter squash, is $16. And a smoked Arctic char eggs Benedict is $18, and char is never cheap.

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Smoked Arctic char eggs Benedict

But what truly makes the meal reasonable and the experience exceptional is the setting. The house is situated along the banks of the Elbow River and surrounded by a block of lawns and “edible” gardens, giving the space room to breathe, much like its sister restaurant, River Cafe, on Prince’s Island. Add to that the charms of a 1906 house, with its collection of distinctive rooms and vintage furniture.

Sitting at a table in an enclosed, wraparound veranda bathed in light sifting in through large windows, it’s a place on an early spring morning I don’t want to leave.

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The Deane House is right along the Elbow River pathway

Deane House
806 9 Avenue S.E., Calgary, Alberta
Weekend brunch 10 am, lunch weekdays 11 am, dinner 5 pm daily
403-264-0595

How About Duck Confit and Cabernet Cherries for Breakfast?

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Prep & Pastry is a bright Tucson breakfast joint with some eclectic dishes

“What’s your signature breakfast dish?” I ask the waitress at Prep & Pastry, a joint with a varied menu in central Tucson.

Without pausing, she replies: “The duck confit skillet. It’s what everyone comes for and writes about on Yelp and TripAdvisor.”

Sold.

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Now here’s something unique at breakfast: duck confit with Cabernet-braised cherries

The $12.75 dish certainly stands out from the same-old breakfast standards. When have you heard of ingredients like Cabernet-braised cherries and goat cheese mousse… at any time of the day, let alone seven in the morning? The standouts, though, are the slightly salty, shredded duck, excellent roasted fingerling potatoes and a couple of over-easy eggs. As a bonus, it’s served in a cast-iron skillet.

Prep & Pastry
3073 North Campbell Avenue (one other Tucson location)
Weekdays 7 am-3 pm, weekend brunch 7 am-3 pm

$18 Breakfasts Still Abound in Calgary

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Good, upscale breakfast at Calgary’s Blue Star Diner

I’ve lived in Calgary since 1980 and have thus witnessed numerous booms and busts. So while a number of food and drink places invariably fold with each crash, especially downtown, I’m no longer surprised when much of the restaurant scene chugs along as if nothing’s happened.

So it is with the most recent oil-price collapse, especially at breakfast. Calgary has long been one of the more expensive places to order breakfast in western North America. Think $15 for a good, though fairly standard morning feed. And yet people are perfectly happy to line up for these breakfasts, especially on weekends and even in winter.

An outsider might think such lineups would disappear and prices cut in the wake of this latest recession. No such luck. A quick survey of popular Calgary breakfast spots shows prices of $16 to $19 for more upscale morning offerings like lox waffles, meatloaf hash and tofu scrambles. One place even charges $14 for a breakfast sandwich and $15 for pancakes.

Thus it was when we recently visited Blue Star Diner in the city’s trendy Bridgeland district. At 8 am on a Saturday, it wasn’t lined up but still busy.

I often like to order breakfast offerings that venture well beyond the tried-and-true bacon and eggs. Blue Star certainly delivered on originality, and we were soon happily munching on slow-cooked brisket and grits ($17.50) and corned lamb hash and cornbread ($18.50).

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Corned lamb hash and poached eggs

I must say it was delicious, with lots of locally sourced ingredients, excellent execution and attention to detail. I’ll always happily pay a little more for quality. Still, $45 for breakfast and coffee for two? Sheesh.

Blue Star Diner
809 1 Avenue NE, Calgary, Alberta
Daily 8 am-10 pm
403-261-9998

Tucson’s 5 Points is Definitely On Point

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5 Points breakfast: Great eggs over mustard potato pancake and grilled, shaved ham

Every now and then on my road-food travels, I run across a joint that’s a perfect match of ambience and food quality, a spot that’s just a delight to be in, on all counts. 5 Points Market & Restaurant, just south of downtown Tucson, is that kind of place.

First, the location. 5 Points shares a historic building that was once a rag factory. Inside, it’s all lovely wood and exposed brick, with tables at the front, a little grocery at the back and an open kitchen in between. Right in front of the espresso machine (using local Café Aqui beans) is a mouth-watering display of decadent sweets, highlighted by a three-inch-high fruit pie.

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5 Points is in a historic downtown Tucson building

But we’re here for breakfast, showcasing foods that are local, fresh and natural. The menu manages to be both original and brief: only eight items long. How about a breakfast salad, featuring butternut squash, roasted poblanos, over-medium eggs and heirloom greens? Or a bandito blanco, with poached eggs atop a mustard potato pancake and grilled, shaved ham? All perfectly executed and arranged.

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An open kitchen and a nice little market in behind

So how good is 5 Points? I’d say if you’ve only got one Tucson food stop to choose, I’d make it this one.

The only worrisome thing is, as we are eating, I see a magazine ad listing the 5 Points Building for sale. Just please, don’t touch this gem of a restaurant.

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Exposed brick and lots of natural light in the eating area

5 Points Market & Restaurant
756 South Stone Avenue, Tucson, Arizona
Daily 7 am-3 pm
520-623-3888

Best of Tucson on a spring road trip

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Descending the lovely Blackett’s Ridge trail, with the sprawl of Tucson behind

Many western Canadians, desperate to escape the ever-lingering vestiges of winter, often take spring road trips to U.S. hot spots like Palm Springs or Scottsdale or Moab. But after recently spending 10 early-April days in Tucson, I’d like to recommend the southern Arizona city as a worthy springtime destination for outdoor activities.

Sure, the temperatures can creep into the 30s Celsius (90s F), though the desert nights cool off remarkably. The trick is starting your hike, bike ride or other outdoor activity as close to sunrise as you can manage, get in a few hours of exercise and then spend the rest of the day more idly in the shade or air-conditioned comfort. Once the sun sets, you can re-emerge in the glorious night-time air for, say, a shirt-sleeve patio drink/dinner or outdoors concert.

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The trick to springtime Tucson hiking is staying out of the mid-day sun

You’ll definitely need a car to get around Tucson, which in that great western tradition of embracing sprawl, spreads in all its low-density glory to the very edges of a broad valley. Sneeze when you’re passing through Tucson’s downtown and you might miss it. (On the other hand, Tucson has long been a pioneer in fighting light pollution so as to preserve the night skies for area observatories.)

All this means is it takes awhile to drive anywhere, especially with traffic lights that leisurely go through their cycles. But the traffic never gets L.A. or Phoenix hellish, though it really shouldn’t given the city proper has a population of just 530,000 (1 million metro).

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Typical Tucson commercial street

On to the activities. I’m not a cyclist, but an amazing number of road bikers either live in Tucson or make dedicated trips to the city. They range from racers here for serious winter training to those seeking more leisurely rides along the tremendous 100-plus-mile Tucson Loop, which winds through the city.

The real test piece is the 26-mile-mile grind up Mount Lemmon, a climb of nearly 6,000 feet. Followed by a blazingly fast descent (average 4.3% grade), which obviously delights roadsters but would scare the road-rash bejesus out of me.

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Three of a bunch of people cycling the steep highway up Mount Lemmon

But we’re here for the hiking, and it’s wonderful in spring. There are hundreds of miles of trails scattered around the five mountain ranges surrounding Tucson, highlighted by the two chunks of Saguaro National Park that bookend the city. The trails go up ridges, follow washes and explore valley flats.

It’s principally Sonoran Desert hiking, featuring a wonderful foursome: the magnificent Saguaro (suh-wahr-owe) cactus, the orange-tipped, whip-like ocotillo and various forms of cholla and prickly pear cactus. Just don’t stumble onto them or accidentally grab their nettlesome thorns, or you’ll be like the dog that challenged the porcupine. Many of these species come into magnificent bloom in early spring, though the saguaro waits till May or June.

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Looking over the I-10 from the steep hike up Picacho Peak

But what about the food, Marathon Mouth? Of course, being this close to the border, there’s a good selection of Mexican cuisine, including the Tucson classic Sonoran hot dog, best served by parking-lot vendors. There’s also some great coffee roasters and a few fabulous microbreweries.

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Tucson’s famed Sonoran hot dog is better than anything you’ll find at a ballpark… and a lot cheaper, too

I’ve selected some favourite eats and drinks in my best-of-Tucson list below, with individual reviews coming in the weeks ahead.

Best museum: Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, Tucson Mountain Park, 2021 North Kinney Road

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A giant agave (I believe) and saguaro at the fabulous Desert Museum

Best tour: Boneyard bus tour of mothballed war planes, Pima Air & Space Museum, 6000 East Valencia Road

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One of hundreds of mothballed war planes seen on the Boneyard bus tour

Best dawn hike: Blackett’s Ridge, Sabino Canyon

Best two-ecosystem hike: Agua Caliente Hill, eastern edge of Tucson

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Tucson’s Agua Client trail climbs above the cacti into treed grasslands

Best road cycle: Mount Lemmon

Best city pathways: Tucson Loop

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Cycling more than 100 miles of paved pathways on the Tucson Loop

Best through streets masquerading as country roads: Orange Grove and River Road

Best current events publication: Zocalo

Best local grocery: Bashas’

Best sunset view with a beer: overflow parking lot Sabino Canyon Recreation Area

Best farmers’ market: Rillito Park (Sundays)

Best live music venue: La Cocina, 201 North Court Avenue

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Downtown’s La Cocina is the perfect shirt-sleeved nighttime place for a brew and bluegrass

Food and Drink

 Best breakfast (also best restaurant): 5 Points Market, 756 South Stone Avenue

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5 Points Market is my #1 Tucson pick for best breakfast and lunch

Best coffee: Yellow Brick (3220 South Dodge Boulevard) and Presta (2502 North 1 Avenue) a tie, with the latter getting bonus points for cool factor

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Presta Coffee Roasters is cutting-edge cool, with great java to boot

Best lengua tacos: Taqueria Pico de Gallo, 2618 6 Avenue

Best Sonoran hot dog: Ruiz, 1140 South 6 Avenue

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Parking-lot Ruiz serves up great, cheap Sonoran hot dogs

Best sandwich/deli: Roma Imports, 627 South Vine Avenue

Best craft brewery: Iron John’s Brewing Company, 245 South Plumer Avenue

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The tasting room at microbrewer Iron John’s is the place to sample Tucson’s best beer

Best beer selection: Plaza Liquors & Fine Wine (2642 North Campbell Avenue), with honourable mention to Whole Foods (three Tucson locations)