A few pictures from a Vancouver Island road trip in which we did the North Coast Trail and West Coast Trail as back-to-back, seven-day backpacks. In the process, we covered the island from its northern tip to its southern shores.
As its name suggests, the relatively new Avenida Food Hall & Market is a bit of a hybrid. It features lots of upscale food vendors, some with a food-truck vibe, plus an array of healthy groceries you’d expect to find in a farmers’ market.
Seeing as its in deep southeast Calgary and given the uneven track record of food markets in this city—and particularly in this downtrodden economy—I was curious to see how busy it would be at a weekday lunch hour (like other Calgary food markets, it’s only open Thursday to Sunday). And like many other restaurant establishments in Calgary, its meals are not cheap, ranging from about $10 to $16.
When I arrive, around 11:30 am, it’s pretty quiet. But by noon, there are small lines forming at a number of vendors. Though Avenida is a long ways south of downtown on Macleod Trail, there are obviously enough office and commercial businesses around to form a reliable clientele. It’s a bright, modern, clean space, with lots of room for moving around.
About 15 of Avenida’s some 40 vendors offer meals, with a distinct ethnic focus. Mexican, Thai, southeast Asia, Indian and Japanese dishes are all represented.
On my first visit, I join the short line at Takori, which aptly describes itself as an Asian fusion taqueria, making pretty much everything in house. As in tacos loaded with slow-roasted bulgogi beef brisket, smoked pork belly and kimchi, and Korean fried chicken. Fortunately, Takori allows you to mix and match, so I’m able to order one of each, for a reasonable $11.50. It’s a delightful meal that certainly stretches the usual Mexican taco boundaries.
My second visit takes me to Arepas Ranch, a family-owned Venezuelan stall that makes cornmeal patties overstuffed, in my case, with shredded beef, black beans, cheese and plaintain. It’s a hefty pocket ($12) full of gooey goodness that demands three napkins.
Avenida Food Hall & Market
12445 Lake Fraser Drive SE, Calgary, Alberta
Thursday to Sunday 11 am-8 pm. Closed Monday to Wednesday
A recent little trend I’ve noticed in Calgary eateries is the use of compostable dishes and utensils, in place of the usual ceramic and metal.
It’s most noticeable at the gorgeous ATCO Blue Flame Kitchen Cafe, where my soup is served in a container made of renewable plant materials—post-consumer paper fibre from sugarcane and a polyethylene, corn-based lining known as Ingeo.
At Grumans Deli (Britannia location), there’s a prominent sign explaining why all its food and drinks is served on compostable “packaging”. “Grumans cares about the environment,” the sign says. Though when I ask why they’ve gone this route, servers at both places just mention the lack of space for electric dishwashers; there’s obviously also labour, equipment and hot-water cost savings from not having to wash dishes.
I’m not sure how I feel about this trend. On the one hand, it’s good that such establishments are promoting environmental responsibility and not simply throwing dishes in the trash, destined for landfills. And it’s much better to be packing leftovers or takeout in paper boxes than in Styrofoam containers, which might take hundreds of years to break down.
Mind you, it’s best to dispose of these compostable dishes in the restaurants’ compost bins, because for some reason the City of Calgary’s composting pick-up program doesn’t allow compostable cups and dishes in its green bins.
On the other hand, compostable dishes are still single use, even if they end up as soil. I haven’t seen a good study arguing the environmental footprint merits of one-use compostable dishes versus washing regular dishes innumerable times, though me thinks the latter would win that debate.
And there’s simply the aesthetics. Eating soup with a plastic spoon out of a “paper” bowl is just not as pleasing as porcelain. And while you can, and should, use your own travel mug at coffee shops that just offer plastic-lined paper cups, I don’t think we’ve reached the point of bringing our own washable dishes and utensils to our favourite eateries. By the way, Berkeley, California has just passed a regulation charging consumers 25 cents for every disposable cup they get at a coffee shop.
Even the restaurants that have embraced compostable dishes might agree with my aesthetic sentiments. After all, on the websites of the above-mentioned joints, the photos show food and drink served in regular, washable plates, bowls and cups.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
There are perhaps a couple of dozen shawarma restaurants in Calgary, including the iconic Jimmy’s A&A Deli and the fast-expanding Jerusalem Shawarma. To stand out among the city’s Middle Eastern grilled-meat joints, you need something different.
The excellent Beirut Street Food, which opened in southeast Calgary in 2017, does just that. First, owner Ramzal Salem and her staff roll out and grill their pita wraps throughout the day, guaranteeing a flavourful freshness that’s miles ahead of bagged pitas. Second, unlike the standard shawarma setup—vertical spits of slowly-rotating, stacked meat slices—Beirut cooks its marinated beef and chicken over a horizontal bed of burning charcoal, providing a unique, smoky flavour.
Add your choice of made-in-house veggies and sauces—hummus, garlic and a weeping hot sauce—and you’ve got a healthy-sized shawarma ($11 regular, $13 large) that ranks amongst the best in Calgary. You can pair your wrap with other fine Lebanese standards such as tabouli or fatoush salad or falafel balls, chased with a honeyed square of baklava.
In a crossover nod to a great Canadian tradition, you can get your shawarmas served over poutine: fries, cheese and gravy. Me, I’m going for another puffy piece of pita bread, hot off the rounded grill.
Beirut Street Food
Bay C, 7220 Fairmount Drive S.E., Calgary, Alberta
Monday to Thursday 10 am-6:30 pm, Friday-Saturday 10 am-7 pm. Closed Sunday.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.