Category Archives: pancakes

$18 Breakfasts Still Abound in Calgary

Blue Star 3

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).

Blue Star 2

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

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A Classic Small-Town Utah Diner

The Parowan Cafe is a classic small-town Utah diner

The Parowan Cafe is a classic small-town Utah diner

I once, in younger years, literally jogged up Brian Head Peak, an 11,300-foot mountain near Cedar Breaks National Monument in southern Utah. If I’d been better informed, I would have first headed to nearby Parowan Cafe to carbo load for the wheezing run.

It’s a classic small-town diner, in business for some 80 years in well-kept, wide-street Parowan (hey, it’s Utah). The menu covers breakfast and lunch classics such as a hot sandwich with mashed potatoes and gravy.

My steaming, three-egg omelette arrives stuffed with crumbled bacon and melted cheddar and a generous helping of hash browns to fill out the platter. Then there’s my “side” of two pancakes, each covering a dinner plate. I could have run a marathon on these cakes alone.

Breakfast for one: Carbo loading for a major run

Breakfast for one: Carbo loading for a major run

It’s a slow morning, with many of the regulars off for the opening of a deer hunt with black-powder rifles. So the cook and waitress come out to chat for a while, no doubt eying my pathetic attempt to make a dent in the hotcakes. They’re just too damn big to hide under a napkin.

“May all who enter as guests leave as friends,” a sign at the back reads. I think we’ve got that covered.

Could have used a car wash after this muddy run up Brian Head Peak

Could have used a car wash after this muddy run up Brian Head Peak

Parowan Cafe
33 North Main Street, Parowan, Utah
Daily 7 am-9 pm, except 8 pm closing Sunday

World Famous Cafe in Boulder City, Nevada? You Bet

The World Famous Coffee Cup—in Boulder City, Nevada—is a classic diner

The World Famous Coffee Cup—in Boulder City, Nevada—is a classic diner

What’s a classic diner without a table full of old timers? The regulars are already stirring their coffees and kibitzing when I arrive, 6ish am, at the World Famous Coffee Cup, in Boulder City, on the outskirts of Las Vegas.

“The teacher always said if you don’t know how to spell a word, look it up in the dictionary,” one observes. “But if you don’t know how to spell it, how can you look it up?”

There’s a long counter begging to be sat at, so I grab a stool and take in my surroundings. The place is lined with old Nevada plates, a surfboard and water skis and stacks of photos.

The vintage neon sign completes the look

The vintage neon sign completes the look

As I scan a menu of diner standards—biscuits and gravy, omelettes, burgers and the like—the waitress swings by with a pot of good coffee (Colorado River Coffee Roasters) and takes my order of a short stack of pancakes.

“Can I get those with blueberries?”
“No problem. Would you like sugar-free syrup?”
“However did you guess?”

A few minutes later, the “short stack”—two plate-size cakes—arrives straight off the grill. They’re steaming hot, slightly crispy on the edges and bursting with berries. The scoop of butter on top melts into a puddle. Perfect.

A perfectly cooked "short stack" of pancakes

A perfectly cooked “short stack” of pancakes

“You know, hummingbirds and helicopters shouldn’t be able to fly,” one of the regulars notes.

Think they’d mind if I joined them?

World Famous Coffee Cup (made more famous by a Guy Fieri visit)
512 Nevada Way, Boulder City, Nevada
Daily 6 am-2 pm

Taking an Affordable U.S. Road Trip With the Battered Canadian Loonie

Am I loony to be considering a U.S. road trip?

Am I loony to be considering a U.S. road trip?

It’s a great time to be an American, especially if you’re travelling to Canada. The soaring greenback is a big reason why Whistler, B.C. is enjoying a stellar ski season and Canmore’s vacation condo market is hopping in an otherwise bleak Alberta economy.

By contrast, it’s a terrible time to be a Canadian considering a U.S. vacation. The realization that it’s going to cost you $1.45 Canadian to buy one measly American dollar is enough to make most northerners curl up in the fetal position till the snow starts melting in, say, May.

But it’s still possible to have a reasonably affordable trip stateside, particularly if you make it a road trip rather than a flight to a destination resort. Mind you, the approach I suggest leans much more to the dirtbag than the five star. You have been warned.

Fill er up

The biggest advantage for a U.S. road-tripping adventure is the cost of gasoline. It’s traditionally been a bargain, given the much lower gas taxes south of the border. But even with the badly wounded loonie, you might still save some money.

It depends on where you live and where you’re traveling. In Alberta, for example, you can fill up right now for under 80 cents (Cndn) a litre, compared with more than $1 in B.C. Western U.S. prices range from about $1.76 (US) a gallon in Denver to $2.60 in Los Angeles. Obviously, there’s a price to pay for living on or visiting the west coast of either country. I call it a smug tax.

Figuring out your fill-up cost involves converting litres to American gallons and then converting Canadian dollars to those $1.45 American ones. For a fill-up of 50 litres (13.2 U.S. gallons), it will cost an Albertan $40 and a British Columbian more than $50, at home in Cndn. dollars. That same amount of gas will cost you $33.68 in Denver and $49.76 in L.A., in converted Cndn dollars.

You can't fill your own tank in Oregon but filling up likely won't cost any more than in Canada

You can’t fill your own tank in Oregon but filling up likely won’t cost any more than in Canada

The bottom line is the cost of gasoline isn’t going to be a deal breaker for deciding whether to hit the U.S. road or plan a staycation. And if you’re in Oregon, where you’re not allowed by law to fill your own gas tank, the attendant will usually clean your windows.

Skip the hotels and motels

I once did a month-long road trip where my total cost of accommodation was $50. How did I pull off this magic trick? Other than two nights of camping and a couple parked on urban side streets, I mostly stayed in 24-hour Walmart parking lots for free.

I’d much rather sleep in the great outdoors, preferably in a magnificent state or national park campground along the crashing ocean or beneath a lofty canopy. While it’s going to cost you about $30 US a night to camp in the redwood forests of northern California, you can find more spartan digs for maybe $10 elsewhere. Do a bit of sleuthing and you can discover national forest or Bureau of Land Management (BLM) spots for free. Running water and toilets, however, may be optional.

Still, it’s a much more pastoral experience than parking in the distant corner of an asphalt Walmart parking lot, with blinding street lights and roaring vehicles and motorized street sweepers at all hours of the night. A camper of some sort, with curtains, is the best way to keep the glare and din at bay. In a pinch, though, good ear plugs and an eye shade will suffice if you’re curled up in the back of your car.

Welcome to the Walmart Motel. Cost $0

Welcome to the Walmart Motel. Cost $0

While you’re tossing and turning, just think of the $50 to $100 a night you’re saving by not booking a motel bed, TV and rattling air-conditioning unit. And who needs a shower? If you’re desperate, you can always make do with the sink in a Walmart washroom, open around the clock.

Affordable dining

Until fairly recently, I figured eating out at American restaurants was 10 to 20 per cent cheaper than in Canada, even with the exchange rate (portions are generally bigger, too). But when you’re paying upwards of 40 per cent to exchange loonies into greenbacks, that advantage has more than disappeared.

Of course, the cheapest feeding solution is to buy groceries and cook them wherever you’re staying. But since this is a road-trip dining blog, let’s look at a few ways you can still eat out somewhat affordably.

A succulent burger and fries at Mountain Sun in Boulder, Colorado will set you back about $13 (US)

A succulent burger and fries at Mountain Sun in Boulder, Colorado will set you back about $13 (US)

  1. Beer and burger – At Moab Brewery, on the doorstep of Arches National Park in Utah, a burger and fries is $9 (US) and a 16-ounce pint of their ale $4.25. By comparison, a burger and fries in the Alberta resort towns of Canmore and Banff will set you back about $16 (Cndn), washed down with a $7.50, 19-ounce pint. So even with the steep conversion rate, the equivalent total cost in Canadian dollars is $19.20 Moab and $23.50 Banff. Obviously, prices will vary in different places, but clearly not a deal breaker.
  2. Better breakfasts – Breakfast is generally the best value, both in cost (often under $10 in the U.S.) and volume; you might not need to eat lunch. Omelettes don’t seem much cheaper stateside, but you can often find a stack of pancakes for $5 or $6.
  3. Stock up on sandwiches – You can find some monstrous, made-to-order, delicious sandwiches in many U.S. delis and cafes. At the Sandwich Spot in Palm Springs, the humongous Grand Slam—featuring turkey, ham and roast beef—was $8. I gave half to a street person, but it would have fed me for two days. A half sandwich at Grove Market deli, in Salt Lake City, was $7 and still weighed nearly two pounds. It was $8 for a similar behemoth at Compagno’s Delicatessen, in Monterey, California.
This delicious half sandwich was only $8 at Campagno's Delicatessen in Monterey, California

This delicious half sandwich was only $8 at Campagno’s Delicatessen in Monterey, California

I could go on, but I have to wipe the drool off my face… and grab a road map.

Cutting the Calories (and Carbs) at Restaurants

Doesn't this salad bowl, at Canmore's Communitea, just scream healthy and delicious?

Doesn’t this salad bowl, at Canmore’s Communitea, just scream healthy and delicious?

It’s early January, so most New Years’ resolutions have yet to be abandoned. Among the most enduring of these early-season pledges are to a) lose weight and b) eat more healthy foods.

But how do you manage this on a road trip, when cafes and diners are seducing you with groaning plates of pizza, burgers, fries, pancakes and pints? Comfort foods, they certainly are. Slimming, definitely not.

So here are seven road-food strategies for keeping the calories, carbs and love handles at bay.

  1. Think outside the bun

After a gnarly hike or eight-hour drive, there’s nothing more rewarding than a juicy burger and fries, jolting your system with upwards of 1,000 calories. Diminish that stomach punch by asking for the burger without a bun and replacing the fries with a salad or some steamed/sautéed veggies. You can still load up the patty with fixings like caramelized onions, mushrooms, avocado, bacon and, okay, a slice of cheese. Hey, fat ain’t the culprit here.

You could chop maybe 1,000 calories here by foregoing the bun and fries

You could chop hundreds calories here by ditching the bun and fries

  1. Beware the breakfast bomb

There’s nothing like starting the day with a meal designed to put you in a coma. How about a stack of hubcap-sized pancakes or three thick slices of French toast drowned in syrupy toppings? Or a plate of eggs with the requisite double-starch dose of hash browns and toast? Please, just give me a two-egg omelette—with sautéed veggies and maybe some bacon and cheese. Nothing else, except a lethally strong cup of coffee.

Horror story 1: There's another monster lurking under this platter-sized pancake

Horror story 1: There’s another monster lurking under this platter-sized pancake

Horror story 2: The typical double-carb dose of toast and hash browns

Horror story 2: The typical double-carb dose of toast and hash browns

How about a delightful a la carte omelette instead?

How about a delightful a la carte omelette instead?

  1. Minimize the Mexican

Whenever I go Mexican, I steer well clear of the ubiquitous all-inclusive platters, two-thirds of which are mounded with starchy rice and gluey, refried beans. These “fillers” are generally ghastly, gas inducing and guaranteed to provoke a midnight run to the bathroom. Much better to order a la carte items like tacos or a burrito smothered only in house-made salsa or green chile sauce.

  1. Sacrifice the sandwich

I must admit, the sandwich is my go-to lunch choice while on the road. All those layers of meats, cheeses and sauces make a delectable medley, especially when squeezed between two slabs of house-made focaccia bread. But if counting calories is paramount, I’ll ask to hold the bread and place those proteins atop a bed of greens.

  1. Go bowling

Salads are generally healthy, especially if you can avoid caloric-heavy dressings. But they are often a boring presentation of wilted greens adorned with sliced carrots and insipid tomato slices, finished off with an astringent vinaigrette. So I embrace the rising trend of bowls, filled with interesting, healthy, tasty things like warm brown rice, grated beets, toasted nuts and radish sprouts, all tossed with, say, a sesame-ginger dressing.

      1. Ditch the dessert

Cloyingly sweet. Excessive calories. Over priced. What’s to like? Declining dessert brings a bonus benefit: You won’t head into the night with a blood-sugar rush.

Why not finish things off with a six-inch-high slab of flapper pie?

Why not finish things off with a six-inch-high slab of flapper pie?

              1. Stick with spirits

Did you know a shot of whiskey contains zero carbs? A glass of wine maybe four grams? A pint of flavourful craft beer, on the other hand, might well top 20 grams of carbs and 200 or 300 calories… You know what? Screw it. No need to go overboard on these resolutions.

Everything’s Coming Up Pink at Livingston, Montana Cafe

Chorizo tacos a delightful breakfast special at Pinky's Cafe in Livingston, Montana

Chorizo tacos a delightful breakfast special at Pinky’s Cafe in Livingston, Montana

It’s a tough act replacing a dining institution, known as much for its colourful owner as the excellence of its food. Such is certainly the case with Pinky’s Cafe, a breakfast landmark in Livingston, Montana, a short drive north of Yellowstone National Park.

When I visited a few years ago, I was greeted and served by Pinky himself—a relaxed, gregarious guy with a white ponytail—while wife Terri ably tended the morning grill. When I returned this fall, the name was the same, but they were gone.

I was starting to get all nostalgic… that is, till my breakfast special arrived on the table. Chorizo breakfast tacos! Eggs, sausage, pico de gallo and a squirt of sauce, all loaded aboard a couple of little tacos. Great, imaginative stuff. I mean, if you can bring burritos to the breakfast table, why not tacos?

The tacos are the brainchild of newish owner Morgan Milton, a trained chef who spices up the morning menu with offerings like bacon-stuffed waffles, banana-walnut pancakes and bacon caprese omelettes. Apparently, his mother does the baking, so the family tradition continues.

You know it's funky when even the bathroom carries on the pink theme

You know it’s funky when even the bathroom carries on the pink theme

So does the relaxed, small-town atmosphere, with a mix of locals and tourists filling the tables in this colourful little place.

Yes, Pinky is gone. But long live Pinky’s!

Pinky’s Cafe
109 South Main Street, Livingston, Montana
Tuesday to Saturday 8 am-2 pm, Sunday 8 am-12:30 pm. Closed Monday