Calgary Lunch Under $10: Pie Junkie

Pie Junkie serving up buttery goodness at its flagship Calgary location

There are a number of places in Calgary that make very nice pot pies, often for less than $10 for a single serving. So which to pick?

After sampling several versions, I settle on Pie Junkie and Bakery, in a charming little strip mall in the Spruce Cliff neighbourhood of the city’s southwest.

Their five-inch, individual pot pies aren’t the biggest or the cheapest. But they have something that sets them apart. Butter. Lots of butter in the delectable, flaky crust that envelops all their pies. Indeed, their instructions if oven heating at home are to bake at a slow and low 300 F. until a little pool of butter starts forming on the baking sheet.

A whole case of sweet and savoury pies

My second dilemma is deciding which pot pie to order from an extensive roster that includes Aussie beef, butter chicken, shepherd’s pie, goat cheese and tomato, and even brie and chutney.

I finally choose steak and sautéed mushrooms, a hearty $9 pie in a thick gravy seasoned with fresh herbs. Of course, it’s hard to resist not chasing this with a little hand pie loaded with Saskatoons, $7 when available. Sublime.

Steak and mushroom pie, heated until the butter melts

Pie Junkie and Bakery
Daily 10 am-7 pm
8 Spruce Centre SW, and three other Calgary locations

Calgary Lunch Under $10: Sunterra Market

The breakfast and lunch counter at Sunterra Market offers lots of bargain meals

At many lunch counters, there’s a mix of made-to-order and ready-to-go items. The former are generally far superior because they’re fresh. The latter appeal to the efficiency crowd, who eschew waiting more than two minutes for their order to be prepared.

Which is fine if you just need a quick heating in the oven, microwave or panini press. Where things start to fall apart, from a quality perspective, is when your prospective lunch has been sitting in a warming oven for an hour or needs nuking to be returned to life. Starchy items like bread fare particularly poorly here; never let a cold croissant head for the microwave!

Pasta usually falls into my “no microwaving revival” mantra. But while perusing Sunterra Market’s chalkboard menu, at its Sirocco location in southwest Calgary, I see the words “made from scratch” beside their pasta offerings.

When I ask my server if the noodles are cooked to order, she says they are blanched beforehand and then fully cooked once ordered. Double good news: fresh pasta and only a short wait. Indeed, I spend the final minutes watching a chef bring my dish together in a hot sauté pan. It’s a heaping plate of delectable prosciutto carbonara, featuring shallots and white-wine reduction and finished with eggs, cream and parmigiano reggino.

At $9.69, including a slice of garlic bread, it’s one of five such-priced pasta dishes on the menu; a Bolognese and pesto cream are two of the others.

A great plate of prosciutto carbonara

Sunterra is one of those markets where the groceries are fairly pricy but the hot meals a bargain, although sometimes spotty in their quality. The flatbread sandwiches are a little over $8, a burger and potatoes $9 and roast chicken on a bun a real steal at $8.59, with a choice of soup, potatoes, Caesar salad or roasted veggies on the side.

And you can’t beat the $5.89 cost of a house-made breakfast biscuit with eggs and seared Modena ham. Made to order, of course.

A fabulous, cheap breakfast sandwich

Sunterra Market
1851 Sirocco Drive SW and six other Calgary locations
Daily 8 am-9 pm

Calgary Lunch Under $10: Italian Centre Shop

All the meats, cheeses and deli supplies you can imagine at Calgary’s Italian Centre Shop

When I was growing up in Edmonton, eons ago, I used to walk through the city’s Little Italy en route to football games at Clarke Stadium, home of the Eskimos (recently rebranded the Elk).

It was my first introduction to an ethnic neighbourhood, highlighted by tidy homes fronted by gardens. At the centre of this exotic district was the Italian Centre Shop, a rambling grocery store and coffee bar, where I first saw espresso shots being downed and people lining up for Italian meats, cheeses and sandwiches, often devoured in the park across the street.

An Edmonton institution expands to Calgary

The shop opened in 1959 under Frank Spinelli, who successfully pushed for legalizing homemade wine in Alberta. Daughter Teresa took over the business in 2000 and later opened two other Edmonton stores. A Calgary location was added in 2015, allowing me to finally re-experience this Italian institution in my adopted hometown.

While the Calgary store lacks the Edmonton location’s history, its deli is still impressive, boasting more than 100 types of cheeses and Italian meats and 40 kinds of olives.

The Spinelli Bar Italia inside the grocery store

Like all the locations, it has a café, Spinelli Bar Italia, where you can savour all manner of espresso-based drinks, pizzas, pastries and sandwiches. That’s what I head for, ordering a grilled ciabatta loaded with porchetta, hot genoa salami, Havarti cheese and roasted red pepper—a sizable, delightful lunch for only $8.

A loaded, grilled ciabatta

Of course, I have to toast the rekindling of all these memories by tossing back an espresso.

Italian Centre Shop
9919 Fairmount Drive SE, Calgary
Daily 7:30 am-9 pm

Calgary Under $10 Lunch: Tokyo Station

A classic Kuro ramen at Calgary’s Tokyo Station

After the usual Christmas splurge, a January resolution, for many of us, is to curb spending. So what better time to resume my Calgary Under $10 Lunch series?

Like many Japanese dishes, such as sushi, ramen tends to be rather pricy for the cheap-eats seeker. Indeed, one celebrated Calgary ramen restaurant has daily lineups for its $18 bowls of noodle goodness, which usually quickly sell out. Good for them.

But to meet the under-$10 rules of this series, I venture to Tokyo Station, a few steps removed from busy 14th Street in southwest Calgary’s Beltline district. It’s a little street market shop that sells Japanese packaged snacks, ice cream and tapioca tea and is affiliated with Tokyo Street Market next door.

Tokyo Station is on a little Beltline side street

But the heart of its lineup is five styles of ramen, each for $9.99 and featuring different bases—miso, kimchi, laksa and shio—and chock full of house-made skinny noodles, beef brisket, pork belly chashu, a seasoned egg and green onion.

While a couple of the soups are sweat-inducing spicy, I opt for a milder, classic Kuro ramen, with a tonkotsu base, black garlic oil and dry seaweed. It’s a lovely, lacquered bowl full of delicate flavours, enjoyed on Tokyo Station’s shaded front patio.

I could have ordered a side dish of a sweet bun, pork dumplings, fried octopus or chicken wings—each for $5.49—but that would have put me over my self-imposed limit. And all I was looking for was a great light lunch.

A fairly spartan interior

Tokyo Station
1505 15 Avenue SW, Calgary
Daily 11 am-9 pm

Pathway to Sanity

Pathway along the oh-so-urban Sarcee Trail

For decades, I drove along Sarcee Trail in southwest Calgary, oblivious to the people walking, running and cycling along the parallel pathway. And why would I notice, given a nearby gym and beckoning mountain trails to satisfy my exercise and alpine spiritual needs?

Then Covid struck, and my world shrunk, along with everyone else’s. Now, nearly two years into the pandemic, I’ve walked and run along that pathway and nearby streets a couple of hundred times.

I’m sure the powerline’s not affecting my brain

For one thing, that’s meant not having to jump in my car and drive every time I want to exercise or hit the trails. For another, it’s meant learning to appreciate the urban beauty of pathways and walkable neighbourhoods, despite overhead power lines and the steady hum of nearby traffic. So here’s a year of pathway photos, mostly on or near Sarcee Trail. Incidentally, all the shots are from my camera that also happens to make phone calls: the iPhone 12 Pro. Best $1,400 I’ve spent.

Summer poppies
Batallion Park
One of Calgary’s great, overlooked attractions: the skies
Neighbourhood blossoms
Fall leaves
Early winter along Glenmore Reservoir
Walking wear for winter deep freeze
Winter follows me indoors

Taking advantage of fresh snow
Nose Hill
Sarcee sign
Sarcee car wash
Shopping cart in the Elbow River
Wolfe and the Sparrows statue

If it’s a Food Made in Canmore, Rusticana’s Likely Got It

A sampling of the locally produced foods in Canmore’s Rusticana Market + Deli

On the rare occasion when I used to enter Rusticana in downtown Canmore, I never viewed it as anything more than a glorified convenience store.

But on a recent tip from my sister, I discovered this 40-year-old corner store has been rebranded as a market and deli—a well-curated space for finding all sorts of locally produced foods.

Uprising Craft Bakery has you covered

Like sourdough breads and other baked goods from Uprising Craft Bakery. Fresh sausages and splendid frozen tourtieres from Valbella Gourmet Foods. Coffee beans from Banff Roasting Company and Mountain Blends. Fresh pasta from Canmore Pasta Co. Frozen samosas from Mad Dog Café. Hand-made chocolates from Le Chocolatier. Gourmet sauces from Bow Valley BBQ. Frozen pizzas from Rocky Mountain Flatbread Co. Cookies from Bare Bistro. Raw foods from Hear Me “Raw”. Healthy prepared meals from An Edible Life. The list goes on and on.

Obviously, the mountain town of Canmore (population 15,000) is a great food and restaurant place, arguably the pound-for-pound champion in Alberta. Now, thanks to Rusticana, it’s getting easier to pick up a lot of these great products in one stop.

Rusticana Market + Deli
2, 801 Main Street, Canmore, Alberta
Daily 6 am-11 pm