Category Archives: Sandwiches

Meat & Bread: Simply Superb Sandwiches

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Succulent meatball sandwich at Calgary’s Meat & Bread

As a longtime Calgarian, it pains me to promote any import from Vancouver, even though I briefly lived there many years ago. But when said import considerably elevates Cowtown’s sandwich game, who am I to protest?

The sandwich shop in question is Meat & Bread, which I enthusiastically reviewed shortly after it opened in Vancouver’s Gastown district in 2010. It delivered everything I look for: delicious, innovative sandwiches, made to order yet produced so efficiently that the lunchtime line moves swiftly.

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The lunch-hour line moves quickly

Such a sandwich shop was sorely lacking in Calgary, at least until a Meat & Bread location opened in June in the historic Grain Exchange Building, along downtown’s busy 9th Avenue. While it’s a franchise (there are currently two other locations, in Vancouver and Seattle), it’s in the capable hands of Eric Hudson and wife Bao Nahn. Most importantly, the experience and quality is essentially the same as at the flagship restaurant in Vancouver.

The keys to success are deceptively simple. First, there’s a very short menu of sandwiches—on fresh ciabatta buns—including a few standards, such as the outstanding signature porchetta, with its crunchy cracklings, and a barbecue beef. On a recent Friday, I opted for the special: three substantial, moist pork and beef meatballs topped with parmesan aioli, a chopped herb condiment and kale ($9.50).

Second, everything is freshly made each day by skilled “chefs, not sandwich artists,” featuring quality ingredients. Indeed, there’s no freezer on the premises.

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A friendly, efficient crew

Finally, and crucially at lunch hour, there’s a highly efficient crew assembling these four or five sandwiches. Such that our counter order is delivered to a high table in scant minutes.

The sides are similarly limited—a daily soup and a salad and a handcrafted chocolate bar for dessert. Nice to see a small selection of beers from Calgary microbrewers.

“It’s simple,” the company’s mantra goes, “we make sandwiches.” What more do you need?

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An innovative way of labelling dry provisions

Meat & Bread
821 1 Street SW, Calgary, Alberta
Monday to Saturday 11 am-5 pm. Closed Sunday

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Old-School Diner in Snowville, Utah

Mollie's Cafe is a classic diner just off the interstate in tiny Snowville, Utah

Mollie’s Cafe is a classic diner just off the interstate in tiny Snowville, Utah

A woman peers over the high counter as I enter Mollie’s Cafe in Snowville, the last Utah outpost on the I-84 west before it enters Idaho.

“Are you a salesman?” she asks, perhaps noticing the nylon briefcase slung over my shoulder. “Because if you are, I’m not buying.”

“But, hey,” I counter, “aren’t you selling something? Like, maybe, food?”

“I’m just the cook,” she laughs.

Lots of barstools and red vinyl booths. What's not to like?

Lots of barstools and red vinyl booths. What’s not to like?

Mollie’s is the kind of place you enter as much for the colour, the character and the conversation as the food—and the food’s pretty damn good for a classic country kitchen.

I go for a classic BLT on sourdough, lots of crunchy bacon to offset the tomatoes. Nicely done, with a side of chunky vegetable and beef soup. There’s nearly a dozen fresh fruit and cream pies to tempt, but with hours still to drive, I don’t want to fall into a food coma.

The classic diner fare is bountiful and affordable

The classic diner fare is bountiful and affordable

Of course, the soup comes with crackers

Of course, the soup comes with crackers

Mollie’s Café
15 Main Street, Snowville, Utah
Daily 6 am-10 pm
435-872-8295

High Seas Coffee on the Alberta Prairie

High Seas Coffee is in the middle of central Alberta farmland

High Seas Coffee is in the middle of central Alberta farmland

I’m not expecting a coffee roaster in a rural Alberta village. Certainly not in a community of 725 souls, with a strong Mennonite heritage.

But then Linden, 100 kilometres northeast of Calgary, has always punched above its weight. Witness a strong agricultural manufacturing industry. And, from a culinary perspective, the longstanding Country Cousins, which attracts folks from Calgary and beyond for its Mennonite meals (think sausage, perogies and cabbage rolls) and legendary peanut butter pie.

So I guess I shouldn’t be surprised to find High Seas Coffee serving fresh-roasted java in a little main-street café. It opened this spring, when Krista Boese took over the former Global Grounds, adding it to an existing roasting business she started with her brother Tyler.

Yes, High Seas is a local hangout, with customers chewing the fat around a cluster of tables. But it also has a big-city vibe that includes small-batch roasting of fair-trade organic beans (pick up a pound of Farmers Blend) and cold-brew coffee.

The small-town coffee shop and roastery even has a patio

The small-town coffee shop and roastery even has a patio

The short menu starts with fresh-baked pastries like Danishes, cinnamon rolls and croissants. Heartier fare includes a French toast breakfast sandwich and a lunchtime pulled-pork Cubano sandwich.

You can even text in your order so it’s ready for pick up on your rural road trip. But I’d much rather grab a corner seat, sip an excellent Americano and soak up some small-town character.

High Seas Coffee
107 Central Avenue, Linden, Alberta
Monday to Saturday 6 am-6 pm. Closed Sunday
403-546-2007

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

Can a Made-to-Order Sandwich be Quick? You Bet

The woman in black is the sandwich magician at Lacombe's Eastside Eatery, assembling this beauty in under a minute

The woman in black is the sandwich magician at Lacombe’s Eastside Eatery, assembling this beauty in under a minute

Anyone who says made-to-order sandwiches take too long to assemble in a busy lunch spot obviously hasn’t been to Eastside Eatery, in the central Alberta city of Lacombe.

If they had, they’d soon realize that, for efficiency’s sake, you don’t have to make all the sandwiches in the morning, wrap them in suffocating plastic and stack them in a refrigerated display case, where they slowly get soggy and invariably don’t taste all that fresh when unravelled for consumption several hours later.

When I pull up to Eastside, a somewhat spartan place in a Lacombe industrial park, it’s late in the lunch hour and thus the usual line is gone. In fact, I walk right up to the counter and, after a brief glance at the overhead menu, order a roasted turkey sandwich on whole wheat.

Forget the industrial look. The focus here is fast, fresh and affordable

Forget the industrial look. The focus here is fast, fresh and affordable

“Would you like mayo, mustard, cranberry sauce and lettuce with that?” asks the friendly cashier. “OK.”
“Cheese, peppers, tomatoes, onions, pickle?” “Sure, load her up.”
“Stuffing?” “Would you recommend it?” “Absolutely. It’s homemade.”

I then pull out my debit card and go through the prompts to pay for my sandwich. As the receipt is printed and passed to me—say, 45 seconds after I’ve ordered—the assembler hands me the sandwich on a plate.

“Where did you get that from?” I ask suspiciously. “It was already made, wasn’t it?”
“No, I just made it.”
“How could you make it that fast?”
“I have to be quick, for when it’s really busy.”

The sandwich—a sumptuous bargain at $7—is rather enormous; a veritable Thanksgiving dinner crammed between two pieces of fresh bread. And it isn’t just filled with fixings. There must be an entire, shredded turkey breast in there.

But true to its name, The Gobbler, it disappears in about the time it takes to make.

A jaw stretcher? Heck, I can hardly get my hand around this beast

A jaw stretcher? Heck, I can hardly get my hand around this beast

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

A Blockhead Goes to Banff

Joining the masses, overlooking Banff Avenue in Banff National Park

What am I thinking? Walking into the gaping maw of Banff townsite on a sunny summer Friday. During the height of a historic tourist season.

I do have an excuse, of sorts: doing research for a new edition of my Day Trips From Calgary book (out next year!). And if I’m already there, rubbing shoulders with the hordes, might as well eat.

So I head in late morning to what I call restaurant row: three narrow joints within a span of about 50 feet on Caribou Street. At longstanding Coyotes Southwestern Grill, folks are cutting into slabs of sourdough French toast, dipped in free-range, organic eggs. It looks tempting, but I’m more interested in lunch.

Lining up on restaurant row on Caribou Street

Lining up on restaurant row on Caribou Street

Next door at Tooloulou’s, they have both meals covered, serving big plates of eggs, po’ boys and other Cajun cuisine. But the line is out the door, and I don’t do well with waiting.

Fortunately, a few doors down, tapas-focused Block Kitchen + Bar has just fired up the lunch grill, and other than one occupied outside table, it’s just me, co-owner Andy Burke and the cook. Perfect.

It takes no more than five seconds of menu scanning for my eyes to fix on a winner: a house-roasted pork belly naanwich, with pea shoots, house pickles and tangy mango sauce, plus a mess of fries on the side. This honking big sandwich is delicious and, for a resort town, great value for $15.

The pork belly Naanwich was a delectable, filling meal

The pork belly Naanwich is a delectable, filling meal

Indeed, I nibble on it all afternoon as I drive around the town’s tourist hot spots, before heading up to Lake Louise, where the traffic is so heavy I have to park a kilometre down the road from the fabled lake. What am I thinking?

Block Kitchen + Bar
Corner of Caribou Street and Banff Avenue, Banff, Alberta
Daily 11:30 am-2 am
403-985-2887