Category Archives: Uncategorized

Ranch of Dreams

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At the Crossed J Ranch, in southeast Arizona, you’re surrounded by vast swaths of mountainous grasslands

When I do stay in a motel on a road trip, I tend to pick generic chains that offer reasonable value, even if it costs as much as a couple of days of Marathon Mouth eating and drinking.

So it’s pure pleasure, for a bit more money, to stay at the Crossed J Ranch, just outside Chiricahua National Monument in southeast Arizona. It’s a 10,000-acre working family ranch, raising polled Hereford calves on sustainable pasture.

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The drive, past giant sycamores, to our studio (centre right)

Our cozy little ranch house studio is a base for hiking among Chiricahua’s amazing volcanic rock formations and for discovering Mexican blue jays, swarms of wintering sandhill cranes and foraging, raccoon-like coatimundi. But over a couple of days, the ranch itself becomes a major destination, not just to hang out in but to soak up the surrounding landscape of elevated grasslands, scrub brush, desert cacti and reddish summits.

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The ranch is 140 years old, but our rental studio has all the modern comforts

For one thing, there’s all that quiet, surrounding space, several miles removed from any pavement. The night before, we had stayed in a highway-side Motel 6, where our neighbour’s every cough and Spanish TV melodramas echoed through the paper-thin walls.

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Javelina trotting past our door

On the ranch, the loudest noise is a breeze sighing through sycamore leaves. We are treated to javelinas trotting past our door to a watering tank. And we soak up the morning light warming our front-porch coffee and the vast western sky turning orange and pink over a sunset beer.

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How’s this for a front-porch sunset?

At a motel, your principal and likely only interaction with management is during the lengthy sign-in procedure and bestowal of room card keys and Wi-Fi passwords. At the Crossed J, owners Jim and Janna Riggs come by to welcome us and point out native artifacts that Jim’s father unearthed many decades ago. The next morning, their young grandson, Nathan, cycles over with a friend to introduce himself and show off a vintage truck his father used to drive.

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Ranch patriarch Jim Riggs

Our second, and last, morning, we dally over breakfast, last viewings of displayed fossils and farewells to family members heading out to check distant pastures. We don’t want to leave.

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Grandson Nathan (left) and his friend Mark

Crossed J Ranch (VRBO)
Just outside Chiricahua National Monument in southeast Arizona, about 30 minutes southeast of Willcox

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Great Food, Service at Canmore’s Market Bistro

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Market Bistro is a casual, fine-dining spot removed from the Canmore crowds

Now, this is what I call service.

We’re sitting inside The Market Bistro, a lovely little dining room sheltered from the madding crowds of nearby downtown Canmore, Alberta. I order an Alberta craft IPA, which the server says has orangey notes. That it does, but without the hoppy bite I’m expecting.

Upon her return, she asks how I like said ale. I give an indifferent shrug. Immediately, she whisks away the beer and returns with two other options, including a more satisfactory (from my perspective) Railway Avenue rye IPA from local Canmore Brewing Company.

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A fine rye IPA from Canmore Brewing

The exceptional service, from sharp-as-a-tack Brande, is just one of the details that makes Market Bistro a fine destination for a quiet dinner in the mountains. Another is the open kitchen, from which French-born co-owner and chef Anthony occasionally emerges to chat with regular customers.

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Great service from Brande

Most of all, of course, it’s the bistro-style French cuisine. It’s a step up from my usual cheap-eats meals but quite reasonable for the skill and time that goes into dishes such as chicken tajine and duck confit. Consider my exquisite beef back ribs ($27), braised for hours to fall-off-the-bone tender and served with Gorgonzola polenta, mushrooms and braised kale.

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Fall-off-the-bone braised beef ribs

Of course, you can’t finish a meal at Market Bistro without a slice of its famous lemon pie. Brande cautions other diners that it’s not the overly sweet confection they’re probably used to. Indeed, it has wee slices of lemon rind and a pungent flavour that lingers on the tongue.

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You haven’t had a real lemon pie till you try Market Bistro’s distinctive version

Lemony tones, certainly. Definitely not sending this one back.

The Market Bistro
102-75 Dyrgas Gate, Canmore, Alberta
Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Sunday 11 am-8 pm, Friday-Saturday 11 am-9 pm. Closed Tuesday
403-675-3006

Chuck Out This Great Victoria-Area Burger Bar

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The bountiful burgers at Chuck’s Burger Bar, in Sydney, B.C., are juicy and flavourful

All too often in Canada, restaurant burgers are cooked to the edge of shoe leather. It’s no doubt the result of kitchens not wishing to violate government health regulations that stipulate burgers must be cooked to an internal temperature of at least 71 C. (160 F.), eight degrees Celsius above medium rare.

So it’s a pleasure to discover a place like Chuck’s Burger Bar, in an industrial area of Sydney, B.C., near the Victoria airport and ferry terminal. Chucks manages to walk the fine line between burgers that are regulatory acceptable and still juicy and flavourful.

As the name suggests, it’s a spot owned by a guy named Chuck, and the predominant, half-pound burgers (about $9) are from fresh-ground Angus chuck, “grilled to medium.”

From a plethora of complimentary toppings, I choose pea shoots, sautéed onions and roasted garlic mayo, along with some sautéed wild mushrooms ($2.50 extra). It’s a delightful combination, with a shared mountain of Yukon gold fries ($5) and a local pint.

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Chuck’s is in an industrial area near the Victoria airport and ferry terminal.

Chuck’s is a small space that usually fills up quickly, this night with young locals. It’s a great, affordable place to get a last-minute bite before boarding a ferry or airplane.

Chuck’s Burger Bar
2031 Malaview Avenue West, Sidney, B.C.
Monday to Saturday 11 am-10 pm. Closed Sundays
778-351-2485

Scenes From a West Coast Road Trip

 

Early morning light on Mount Temple near Lake Louise

Early morning light on Mount Temple, near Lake Louise

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The kiddies may be back in school but fall road construction in B.C. carries on

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Taken to its logical conclusion, doesn’t this mean no one should pass?

La Baguette muffin

How fruit muffins should be stuffed. The incomparable La Baguette in Revelstoke

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Only in Tofino

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No words required

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Must have arrived in the dark

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The best coffee shop mugs in the world: By Katy Fogg, at Tin Town Cafe in Courtenay

 

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Why I go to Vancouver Island’s west coast in the fall

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Beats this October 4 return to Calgary

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It’s been a strange fall

Fresh From the Fryer Doughnuts in Edmonton

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A sumptuous, Portugese-style doughnut at Edmonton’s Ohana Donuterie

I’ve had a lot of food made to order. Which is the way, for the most part, it should be.

But never doughnuts. Not that I ever eat them; their doughy sweetness sends my blood sugars soaring.

Still, when we walked into Edmonton’s Ohana Donuterie and saw that the doughnuts are not fried until you order them, we figured we had to give it a shot; two bites in my case.

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You can eat in (preferred) or take out

These are not your conventional doughnuts. They are called malasadas, a Portugese-derived yeast doughnut, rolled in sugar, that’s also popular in Hawaii. At Ohana’s, you can get them filled—in our case, with a simple vanilla cream.

And really, you don’t want to complicate things. You want to concentrate fully on these puffy, soft, yummy bombs.

While some folks were ordering them to go, they are best consumed at a table, warm from the fryer and perhaps chased with an espresso. They are also pretty substantial; a single doughnut is a fair-sized snack, costing $2.75 if filled.

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This is where the doughnuts are fried to order

Ohana is a year-old partnership of two guys, Adam and Kevin, who started with a food truck and added a fixed, hole-in-the-doughnut location in Edmonton’s Strathcona district. It’s a good thing I live in Calgary.

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The hole-in-the-doughnut location near Edmonton’s Whyte Avenue

Ohana Donuterie
10347 80 Avenue, Edmonton, Alberta
Monday to Thursday 8 am-9 pm, Friday 8 am-10 pm, Saturday 9 am-10 pm, Sunday 10 am-9 pm
780-777-1322

Edmonton’s Coffee Mecca

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The Columbian Coffee & Roastery is a nice new neighbourhood cafe in Edmonton

There’s a good case for making Edmonton the number two coffee hot spot in western Canada, behind Vancouver. Of course, Edmontonians aren’t as precious about how they roast and prepare their coffee as the wet coasters.

Still, there are always new coffee shops popping up in Alberta’s capital. After profiling half a dozen places a couple of years ago, I figured it was time for a fresh visit up north.

The first stop was The Colombian Coffee & Roastery, next door to the venerable Vi’s for Pies in the city’s leafy Glenora neighbourhood; the roasting happens at the back of the long, narrow space. It seemed like an odd, generic name, until I learned co-owner Santiago Lopez was from Colombia and that some of the roastery’s beans come from a family farm there. Talk about farm to cup.

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Nice ceramic mugs for the Americanos

The place was hopping on a dreary Saturday morning, with lots of folks ordering avocado toast to go with steaming mugs of java. Good stuff, evidence that if you build a good coffee shop in a nice district, the neighbours will come.

Somewhat harder to find is ACE Coffee Roasters, on a little side street south of Whyte Avenue in Edmonton’s Strathcona district. It’s a lovely, spacious place with high ceilings, exposed ductwork and a gleaming marble coffee bar.

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ACE Coffee Roasters is a spacious spot near Whyte Avenue

My Americano was one of the better ones I’ve had in Edmonton. The coffee is nicely chased with donuts baked at partner Café Leva in Garneau.

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Fine espressos pulled at the gleaming coffee bar

In the attached space, separated by a glass wall, is the company’s Caffe Tech, where you can drop a few grand on high-end home and commercial espresso machines. Think I’ll just let the expert barrista pull the shots for me.

The Columbian Coffee & Roastery
1, 10340 134 Street NW, Edmonton, Alberta
Weekdays 7 am-6 pm, Saturday 8 am-6 pm, Sunday 9 am-3 pm
780-757-9195

ACE Coffee Roasters
10055 80 Avenue, Edmonton, Alberta
Wednesday to Sunday 8 am-4 pm. Closed Monday and Tuesday