It can be a nuisance driving halfway across a far-flung city to run an errand. But such journeys, especially to industrial districts, can sometimes serendipitously lead past intriguing strip-mall eateries you’ve never heard of.
Such was definitely the case when I ventured into Calgary’s northeast recently to get a tent repaired. A block away was a sandwich board advertising a place, Chennai Dosai, offering South Indian cuisine.
When I asked my server what constituted South Indian food, she said it featured dosai (also known as dosa), a thin crepe from a fermented batter primarily made from lentils and rice. Chennai is definitely the place to sample dosai, with some 20 such items on the menu, including masala and mysore.
I opted for a Chennai delight dosa, featuring stuffed masala, corn, mushrooms and other vegetables. It certainly was a bountiful delight, with some six chunks of silky dosa, plus a soup and two containers of dips, a two-meal deal for $13.
Chennai also lures in the locals with daily specials such as a butter chicken wrap ($9) and a breakfast masala scrambled wrap ($8).
Indeed, I may well head back, when I go pick up my tent.
Chennai Dosai 702 41 Avenue NE, Calgary Monday to Saturday 10 am-3 pm. Closed Sunday 403-509-9186
I have two culinary vices, both regularly ingested as liquids. One is coffee… and probably the hardest to give up. The other is craft beer.
So it was with astonishment and delight that I found a spot that caters to both these vices, in Innisfail, Alberta of all places.
The name says it all: Dark Woods Brewing & Coffee Roasting. Under one roof in this central-Alberta town, local brothers Nick and Scott Bell are brewing some 10 types of beer and roasting five varieties of coffee beans. Here’s a third thing they’re doing in-house—slow roasting barbecue meats in backyard smokers for their taproom handhelds.
So of course, when I hit the taproom recently, I had to go for the trifecta. That involved a Daines Ranch pulled-pork sandwich (10-hour smoked port butt), washed down with a Gnarly Stump IPA and chased with a dark-roast coffee.
How much better does it get than that?
Note: Dark Woods also runs a coffee booth at the new Red Deer Farmers’ Market
One of the things I always liked about Trader Joe’s, on western U.S. road trips, was the ability to mix and match when buying a six-pack of beer. That way, I could try a variety of local beers in one purchase.
So I was delighted to find the same concept at work in The Hive, a hub of local vendors and artisans in Nanton, 40 minutes south of Calgary. Here, I can mix a tall four-pack of craft beers from breweries in nearby High River, Black Diamond, Lethbridge and Fort Macleod, the latter featuring the fine Stronghold Brewing.
That seems to be the geographical range for the 250-plus vendors selling their wares at this little spot at the south end of Nanton, on the west side of Highway 2. A quick glance at fresh and frozen foods and drinks reveals this diversity: Coco Brooks fabulous pizzas (Calgary), El Papolete tomatillo dips (High River) and Tin Star roasted coffee (Nanton).
The sit-down dining options have been in flux, but the kitchen will now be run by The Buzz-Nanton, featuring sandwiches and daily soups.
All in all, The Hive is a big step forward in Nanton’s food scene.
The Hive 2517 21 Avenue, Nanton, Alberta Wednesday to Monday 10 am-6 pm. Closed Tuesday 403-646-2056
In the four decades I’ve been driving between Calgary and Edmonton, there’s been little incentive to pull over in Red Deer for a coffee or a bite to eat. That’s because the choices have been uninspired, to say the least, both along Highway 2’s Gasoline Alley and within the city. You know it’s a bad sign when the nearby community of Lacombe (population 14,000) has better cheap-eat options than a city of 100,000.
But maybe things are looking up. The Gasoline Alley Farmers’ Market recently opened, boasting more than 50 vendors. And there’s enough going on here to make me figure out the rather circuitous approach for drivers heading north along said Highway 2.
It’s an indoor market, kind of a mini Calgary Farmers’ Market in appearance, albeit with smaller crowds to date. It shares at least a couple of things with its more famous southern counterpart: fabulous Beck’s carrots (Innisfail Growers) and Luc’s fine cheeses.
But it’s the local food and drink vendors I’m interested in, and there’s a number that grab my attention. In the Market Kitchen, at the building’s north end, is a wall of beer taps, mainly showcasing a collective of central Alberta craft breweries, under the name Craft Beer Commonwealth. Indeed, it’s the only farmers’ market in Alberta with an in-house brewery and taproom.
Sharing the space is Birdy Coffee Co., pulling shots from beans roasted in a wee machine around the corner. The bird illustrations on its bean packages are the most beautiful I’ve seen.
In the two times I’ve stopped at the market, I’ve also sampled a nice focaccia at Dovganyuk’s organic bakery and dug into a delightful, bountiful sirloin burger and fries (a bargain $13) from Ponoka-based Longhorn Eatery.
Something tells me, I’ll be stopping in Red Deer more often in the future.
Gasoline Alley Farmers’ Market 558 Laura Avenue, Red Deer (I’d use Google maps to figure out directions; it’s a few blocks southwest of Costco) Friday to Sunday 9 am-5 pm, Market Kitchen open every day except Monday
As a road-food eater, perhaps the worst thing I can encounter is a “for sale” sign outside a little, independent establishment. Usually, it means the business has failed, a sadly familiar outcome during all the pandemic shutdowns.
But that’s not the real issue at Roy’s Place, a local institution in the farming community of Claresholm in southern Alberta. Indeed, there’s a bit of a lunchtime lineup in the spacious restaurant when I visit recently. Double indeed, it has gained widespread acclaim since appearing on Canadian TV’s You Gotta Eat Here not that long ago.
The problem is more likely something that’s afflicted many a successful restaurant: burnout. Co-owners Kieth and Brandi have run the place for 14 years, putting in 60-hour weeks for her and 80 hours for him, while raising young children. So it’s not surprising to see the for-sale ad on the restaurant’s Facebook page.
Hopefully, they can find someone as talented and committed to take over the business. It will be one thing to duplicate the famous menu, which includes king-sized cinnamon buns, bowls of dill pickle soup (Thursdays only) and Angus beef burgers.
But it will be difficult to replicate the pizzazz and personality the couple bring to Roy’s. Throughout my meal, Brandi is kibitzing with locals, several sporting hard-used cowboy hats. “That’ll be $10 million for your lunch,” she tells one customer and “I will not be responsible for her” another. Meanwhile, Kieth is steadily prowling the restaurant, delivering bulging plates of food.
The challenge for the next owners will be to keep the good times rolling. As the Facebook ad states: “Here is your chance to be the beacon of good food and love on Highway 2 for the next 15 years.”
Roy’s Place 5008 1 Street West/Highway 2, Claresholm, Alberta Tuesday to Saturday 11 am-7 pm. Closed Sunday and Monday 403-625-3397
When I first published Day Trips From Calgary in 1995, it was hard to get a decent cup of coffee in most Alberta towns, let alone a muffin or sandwich that hadn’t been wrapped in plastic hours earlier.
My, how things have changed. Nearly every self-respecting town or small city now boasts a craft brewery and coffee roaster. In the past year or two, you can add craft bakeries that rival anything the big cities can produce, well except for Edmonton’s ethereal Duchess Bake Shop and maybe Sidewalk Citizen Bakery in Calgary.
While updating the aforementioned book, I’ve come across a handful of such bakeries in southern Alberta, far from the metropolitan food scene. Why, I’m not sure, other than owners willing to put in the long, early-morning hours that a well-rounded bakery demands. Here are some of the brightest examples, starting with the smallest centres.
The Heart of Bragg Creek
Bragg Creek is a hamlet of about 600 people, albeit on the doorstep of a million-plus Calgarians looking for somewhere to go on weekends. The Heart of Bragg Creek is a yoga centre that also runs a café. I didn’t see any loaves of bread during a recent visit, but the baked goods were exceptional, including a berry crumble bar with lots of seeds, which I messily tackled without a fork. This is proof that healthy can also be delicious.
Homestead Bakeshop, Fort Macleod, population 3,000
A decade ago, this historic brick-walled spot was the home of a European bakery that made delectable butterhorns. Fast forward to today, and there are still great butterhorns but now being produced by the talented Kimberly Vanden Broek and Julena Schipper, both graduates of the SAIT baking and pastry arts program.
The apple rosemary sourdough bread, soft and chewy, is to die for, as are the almond croissants and the fruit turnovers and danishes. The artisan, sourdough bread roster also includes an oat porridge loaf and one with sprouted grains.
Uprising Bake Shop, fairly recently opened in Canmore (population 17,000) and Banff (8,200)
By mistake, I order the large size of the focaccia and cheese bread. No matter. I destroy the whole beast while driving through Banff townsite, each tangled bite inspiring another until there’s nothing left but bread crumbs embedded in the upholstery.
Seeing as how I can pick up these hand-crafted breads and other baked treats in either mountain town, I’m strongly opting for the Canmore location. That’s because (rant alert), Banff has recently implemented a paid parking policy so byzantine for visitors that I’m questioning my need to ever go into the town again.
French 50 Bakery, Okotoks, population 32,000
French 50 is essentially a pop-up bakery—on the patio of a historic, pressed-tin building—open only on Saturdays for in-person shopping or online pickups. There are breads that are naturally fermented and cold proofed as well as treats like cinnamon brioche rolls and three-cheddar scones. But my eyes and tastebuds are drawn to a berry cross of a croissant and muffin, called a cruffin. Bliss ensues.