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Happy Hour Every Day in Calgary

Happy Hour

Happy Hour at the National at Calgary Westhills

When it comes to cheap eats, it’s hard to beat happy hour.

It’s a win-win situation. The customer gets food and drinks at discount prices, and the restaurant gets customers during an otherwise slow part of the day, usually late afternoon and sometimes late at night.

In Calgary’s beleaguered economy, consumers are increasingly looking for bargains and restaurants for customers. So it’s great to discover, just five minutes from my house, two quality establishments offering lots of happy-hour specials every day of the week.

National and Earls are practically next door to each other in WestHills Town Centre, a typical sprawling suburban mall. And in late afternoon, both are hopping busy, thanks to their happy hours.

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Earls has the most happy hour offerings I’ve seen

National is a thriving Calgary operation, with four locations, specializing in lots of craft beers and good bar food—think burgers, chicken wings, fish and chips and smoked brisket sandwiches. The majority of seating is at long, communal tables, so you’re cheek to jowl with your neighbours, many of them families. It’s a festive, noisy atmosphere, especially at happy hour, so don’t expect an intimate dinner.

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West Hills is one of several National locations in Calgary

On to the happy-hour deals, available 3-6 pm daily. There’s a smattering of cocktails and house wines but, really, you’re here for the craft beer. National lists some 60 brews, mostly local and from B.C. And they’re mostly available at happy-hour prices of $5 for 16 ounces (normally $8.50). Just make sure you’ve ordered your second pint before six, assuming you’re not driving.

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The National’s happy-hour menu

My go-to happy hour foods are the substantial Clive burger ($13 instead of $17.50), featuring two Alberta grass-fed patties and a heaping cone of fries; seniors or kids could easily split this. Another shareable is a lovely mesquite bacon and mushroom pizza ($9.50 instead of $18), an eight-slice steal of a deal. A friend recommends the crispy chicken sliders (local Sunrise Farms)—three for $11 instead of $14.50.

Happy Hour

The substantial mesquite bacon and mushroom pizza is only $9.50 during happy hour

Earls is a much bigger operation, with nearly 70 locations in Canada (eight in Calgary alone) and the U.S. It started in 1982 as a spinoff of the Edmonton-based Fullers. In my experience, it has always produced good, innovative meals at reasonable prices, straddling the boundary between fine dining and a relaxed, family atmosphere.

Happy Hour

These chicken tacos are $6 during Earls happy hour

Unlike the paltry happy-hour offerings at many restaurants, Earls has gone all out on such specials, available, with some variations, at all its outlets. At my Westhills location, happy hour goes from 3 to 5 pm and 9 pm to close, with a list of 18 discounted food items, ranging from $4 garlic fries to $19 Cajun chicken. The dozen drinks includes their proprietary Rhino draught ($5.50 instead of $8.25 for 18 ounces).

Some of the standout deals are the street chicken tacos (reduced from $13.25 to $6), the eight-inch margherita pizza (down from $6.50 to $4) and the crispy ribs ($8 instead of $13).

Happy hour

And the margherita pizza is only $4

I’ve never had a local dine-and-drink hangout, preferring to experience the vast diversity of choices available in western North American. But with deals like these, you might spot me tipping a pint at these two joints.

National Westhills
180 Stewart Green SW, Calgary
Daily happy hour 3 pm-6 pm
403-685-6801

Earls Westhills
140 Stewart Green SW, Calgary
Daily happy hour 3-5 pm and 9 pm to close
403-246-7171

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Cumberland, B.C. a Road-Food Hotspot

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Housed in an old trailer, Love’s Ice Cream is part of the exciting food and drink scene in little Cumberland, B.C.

Move over, Canmore, Alberta. You’re being supplanted by Cumberland, B.C.

The “village” of 3,750 residents near the east coast of central Vancouver Island is being discovered. By mountain bikers, attracted to more than 80 kilometres of single track in the surrounding Cumberland forest. By people looking to boat and fish in the nearby Strait of Georgia or ski the deep snow at also nearby Mount Washington.

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Cumberland Brewing attracts bikers and sun lovers to its patio

By folks looking to move to an attractive, small community, with affordable housing. Oops… used to be affordable. Prices for newer houses have jumped, in many cases, to more than $500,000; still cheap by Victoria or Vancouver prices.

Like the mountain community of Canmore, Cumberland’s economy used to be based on coal mining. When the mines closed, people in both places wondered about their future. Turns out tourism isn’t a bad replacement.

Cumberland isn’t nearly as crowded as Canmore, but locals note that it’s a lot busier than it used to be, especially on weekends when outsiders pour into town from Courtenay, Comox and further afield. As is the case in many such “service” communities, there aren’t a lot of good-paying jobs.

As a road-food warrior, I was stunned by the number and quality of good, independent, affordable places to eat and drink in downtown Cumberland. Within two blocks on main street (Dunsmuir Avenue) are at least half a dozen excellent places I’ve tried (or hope to get to on my next trip west). For cheap eats, that beats Canmore, in my books.

As a quick overview, here’s a pictorial guide to what’s cooking in Cumberland.

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Riders Pizza is well connected to the Cumberland biking scene

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The cooks at Biblio Taco are concocting innovative fare like chicken mole and seared tuna tacos

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Village Ice makes Hawaiian-style shaved ice with real fruit and house-made syrups

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They’re also in a cute little parking lot building

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A flight of beer at Cumberland Brewing

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Who doesn’t like fresh-ground chuck and brisket burgers?

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At Love’s, the ice cream (from local, grass-fed milk) and cones are made from scratch.

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Cumberland Village Bakery is a fixture on Dunsmuir Avenue

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After all that food, you might need a coffee

 

This Fresh-Roasted Calgary Coffee is a Real Pick Me Up

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Calgary’s Mount Pleasant Roastery sells its fresh coffee beans via a picket-fence box

Many of you have no doubt encountered those little wooden boxes, on country roads, where you can purchase local fruits and vegetables, on the honour system.

Well, this concept has migrated to the big city, with fresh-roasted coffee sold out of little red boxes on a white-picket fence in a northwest Calgary neighbourhood. Hallelujah!

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There’s usually a couple of bean types available, on the honour system

Rick Eden and Larissa Riemann, through their Mount Pleasant Roastery, are roasting high-quality beans in small batches in their garage and selling them to neighbours and passersby through a couple of fence-line boxes, as well as online. Here’s a nice story about their little business.

As someone who often roasts his own beans in a wee Behmor roaster, I’m delighted to find a local roaster producing small quantities of Guatemalan, Honduran and Brazilian beans, with the roasting date hand printed on the bag. True freshness is hard to find in coffee beans and makes a huge difference in taste.

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The hand-printed roasting data is a sign of freshness

To date, I’ve only sampled the Guatemalan Carrizal, advertised as a medium-dark roast, though closer to a dark roast, which I like in a world misguidedly devoted to the lighter end.

Because the fence-box beans are sold on the honour system, you can pay whatever you want. Online sales mention a bargain $10-per-pound price, but given the quality, I’d suggest a healthy tip.

Mount Pleasant Roastery
515 18 Avenue NW and 601 19 Avenue NW (5 Street fence), Calgary, Alberta
Around the clock, as long as coffee’s available
403-470-5812

Working up an Appetite on Vancouver Island’s Remote Coasts

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The Crab Shack is at a water-taxi crossing on the fabled West Coast Trail

In less than a week this spring, I visited two of the most remote restaurants in all my road-food journeys.

Actually, for one eatery, there was no road leading to it, just a nearly 50-kilometre, rugged hiking “trail”. Talk about working up an appetite.

Both destinations were the result of back-to-back backpacks along Vancouver Island’s spectacular coast: the iconic West Coast Trail and the not so famous North Coast Trail.

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Ordering plates of seafood at the Crab Shack

The road-less spot, the Crab Shack, was reached in the middle of our West Coast Trail traverse, after three nights of dehydrated meals cooked on a backcountry stove. So to see live crab being lifted in a pot from deep water was more than enough to get the saliva glands going. In fact, we hardly needed the shell crackers to tear the poor creatures apart.

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Our well-dressed cook lifting a pot of live crabs from the depths

If wrestling with a crab isn’t your thing, there’s the option of fresh-from-the-water halibut or ling cod. And no one was passing up the carbo-loading option of massive baked potatoes, loaded with toppings.

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A whole crab, ready to devour

The Crab Shack is a family business of the Ditidaht, one of three First Nations that partner with Parks Canada to operate and maintain the West Coast Trail. The little, almost-floating restaurant is located at the end of Nitinaht Narrows, where a short boat ride is needed to continue on the trail. The feast propelled us for the finishing seven kilometres of that day’s hike.

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The Crab Shack is ably run by Shelley.

Our second, remote eatery—the Scarlet Ibis Pub—was reached shortly after finishing more than 80 kilometres of hiking on the North Coast Trail. The pub is midway along a two-hour shuttle bus ride back to Port Hardy on a dusty gravel road in the middle-of-nowhere northern Vancouver Island. It’s located in Holberg, population 35, whose claim to fame was once having the world’s largest floating logging camp.

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The Scarlet Ibis Pub is in the middle-of-nowhere northern Vancouver Island

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After 80 km of hiking, this loaded plate of fish and chips went down in about five minutes

The Scarlet Ibis has been run for decades by its colourful owner, though she has the place up for sale, if you’re interested. But we’re here for the food and drink and, if anything, are even more famished than at the Crab Shack.

The overflowing platters of fish and chips disappear as quickly as two rounds of Lucky beer. Lucky us.

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Our host, cook and raconteur

Scenes From a Vancouver Island Road Trip

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.

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Fabulous, hole-in-the-wall bakery near Tin Town in Courteney

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Sumptuous home-made ice cream and waffle cone at Love’s in Cumberland B.C. (more about the town’s burgeoning food scene in an upcoming post)

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At a pub in Port Hardy, our launching point for the North Coast Trail

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Wonderful sand beach at Irony Creek on the North Coast Trail

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Wolves on the same beach, chasing a deer

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We did manage to survive

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After a week-long backpack, this disappeared in a few minutes at Bin 4 Burger Lounge in Langford

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Bumper service at Gardenside Acres “Tent and Breakfast” Campground, near Brentwood Bay

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One of the many infamous ladders on the West Coast Trail

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Sea anemones in tidal pool

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Enough of this hiking!

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We’re stoked for post-backpack pizza near Sooke, but they’re closed Wednesdays. Aaargh!

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Early June snowstorm at Rogers Pass on the way home

Avenida Offers Upscale Food Hall Dining in South Calgary

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Takori is one of about 15 vendors in Avenida Food Hall & Market offering meals

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.

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The food hall also offers fresh produce

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.

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Takori specializes in fusion tacos

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As in delicious tacos loaded with slow-roasted bulgogi beef brisket, smoked pork belly and kimchi, and Korean fried chicken

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.

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Arepas Ranch is a Venezuelan joint

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My cornmeal arepas is stuffed with shredded beef, black beans and plaintain.

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Expat Asia will definitely be on my radar on my next visit to Avenida

Avenida Food Hall & Market
12445 Lake Fraser Drive SE, Calgary, Alberta
Thursday to Sunday 11 am-8 pm. Closed Monday to Wednesday