When it rains, time for a pour

Fishing north of Courtenay

Salmon fishing in the Pacific, north of Courtenay, B.C.

“Periods of rain.”

Perhaps the three most devastating words ahead of an impending backpack. Other than the single, four-letter epithet: “Rain.”

What to do? You can forge blithely ahead, hoping the forecast is wrong or exaggerated. But extensive experience has shown me that simply “rubbing one’s nose in it” leads more often to misery than delighted surprise. A misery exacerbated when the trip involves a long drive or an expensive flight to get there.

Thus the importance of having a Plan B, especially if you’ve already arrived on the trip’s doorstep. Rather than simply return home, take the opportunity to explore a new area. It might even buy you enough time, if you’ve got some flexibility, to wait out the bad weather, perhaps camped out on a forgiving friend’s or relative’s floor.

This strategy paid off beautifully recently on a backpack along Vancouver Island’s west coast. Where waiting three days resulted in a lovely, largely dry hike, with the bonus of some fine day trips around the north-central part of the island near Courtenay. Of course, there was also the chance to investigate some great places to eat and drink.

More about that in subsequent posts. In the meantime, here are some photos of lovely diversions.

Fishing north of Courtenay (1)

I’d rather be fishing

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Beachcombing on Hornby Island

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Ocean front hiking in Helliwell Provincial Park, Hornby Island

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Tucking into pizza at Hornby Island’s funky Ringside Market

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Great Hornby Island Roasting coffee at Lix in Ringside Market

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From the suspension bridge at Elk Falls Provincial Park, Campbell River

 

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A great rainy day diversion: Campbell River Museum

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Fabulous, fresh fare at Dick’s Fish & Chips in Campbell River

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Spring hiking at Mount Washington ski hill near Courtenay. Okay, the boardwalk is a little buried in snow here

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Edmonton’s Little Village offers great Greek-to-go

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Theo Psalios runs a great little Greek takeout joint in Edmonton

I could easily eat more Greek food. But there’s something about sitting down at tables covered in blue-and-white tablecloths and ordering platters of sleep-inducing fare that keeps me away.

So when a place like Edmonton’s Little Village offers quick, flavourful Greek food to go, I’m all over it.

As the name suggests, it’s a tiny, strip-mall-style deli. There are a few stools for in-house dining. But most folks, I suspect, are picking things up to eat at home or on the road.

They can choose from display cases brimming with chicken legs, lamb shanks and other Greek standards like spanakopita, moussaka, lemon potatoes and dolmades.

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Display cases brimming with great Greek food

We decide to eat in, allowing us to watch the action and chat with owner Theo Psalios, who has 20 years in the restaurant business and most recently migrated here from a food truck of the same name. The trucks still operates for some events like the Thursday night 124th street market, where we pick up an excellent lamb burger.

At the bricks-and-mortar location, I order keftedes—meatballs made of beef, pork, bacon and mint, smeared with tzatziki sauce and wrapped with some veggies in a pita ($8.50). My sister gets a slab of moussaka ($7.50).

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A marvellous medley of meatballs

What immediately stands out is the quality and freshness of the food and the skill that goes into its preparation. What I also like is ordering a la carte at the counter and being done in under 15 minutes. Which at a full-bore Greek restaurant might be the time it takes for just the retsina to arrive.

Little Village
14816 Stony Plain Road, Edmonton, Alberta
Tuesday to Saturday 11 am-6 pm, except 5:30 pm closing Saturday. Closed Sunday and Monday
780-244-0885

Edmonton’s Northern Chicken delivers even when it’s hot inside

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Northern Chicken co-owner/chef Matt Phillips stays cool even when things are hot inside

Here’s what an entrepreneurial restaurant owner does when disaster strikes: Turns it into an opportunity.

We’re walking past Edmonton’s heralded new Northern Chicken. There’s a sign on the door saying the fried-chicken joint is forced to close for the night because of a vent failure. No problem (for us), as we’ve just finished eating at the nearby 124th Street Thursday night market.

We press our noses against the glass just to see what the inside looks like. A few seconds later, a bearded guy pops out to apologize and explain the closure. That’s fine, we say, other than to note that we’re from Calgary and I’m a food blogger. As we’re waiting for the lights to change, out he pops again.

“I’ve got eight pieces of chicken I can serve you,” says co-owner and chef Matt Phillips. “There’s also a long list of beers and whiskies, if you want a drink. It’s a little hot because of the vent malfunction, but you’re welcome to sit inside.”

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Moist, tender chicken with a delectably crisp skin

So, more out of curiosity than hunger, in we go and order three pieces of medium-heat chicken and an outstanding can of Bench Creek Brewing’s (Edson) Apex Predator, a seasonal double IPA. The chicken, fried at a lower than normal temperature to give the skin a lovely crunch, is outstanding.

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Matts pours us a superb Bench Creek double IPA

You’d expect Matt to have disappeared by now, to fret over the mechanical breakdown. But no, he leans against the counter and chats with us for 15 minutes, explaining the restaurant’s philosophy.

Before opening Northern Chicken last November, Matt and co-owner Andrew Cowan had been chefs in numerous Edmonton restaurants, perfecting their fried-chicken recipe along the way. Where I really notice the chef’s touch is in the sides: roasted asparagus salad, whipped sweet potato, charred-onion potato salad, honey thyme cornbread and one of the best, freshest cole slaws I’ve tasted.

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You won’t find imaginative sides like this in most fried-chicken joints

It’s upscale comfort food, in a relaxed setting. Even when the shit hits the fan.

Northern Chicken
10704 124 Street, Edmonton
Monday-Tuesday 11 am-10 pm, Thursday to Saturday 11 am-11 pm, Sunday 11 am-late. Closed Wednesday
780-756-2239

Caravel a fine addition to Calgary’s craft brewing scene

Caravel Brewery

Caravel is one of Calgary’s newest, largest craft breweries

When Vladislav and Victoria Covali started making beer at home in their native Moldova, they gathered wild hops from the forest. Other ingredients were purchased at farmers’ markets.

That’s in sharp contrast to today. Vladislav and partner Chris Travis are owners of one of Calgary’s newest and largest craft breweries, Caravel, in an industrial park near the city’s airport. The 19,000-square-foot facility is full of gleaming tanks and grains purchased from as far away as Germany.

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A gleaming row of kegs

Caravel is brewing three, unfiltered standards—a European-style lager, an Irish red and an award-winning Hefeweizen—along with seasonals like an IPA and a Scotch ale. Drop by their taproom to sample these fine beers and to fill up a growler.

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Caravel partner Vladislav Covali has come a long ways from his Moldova home beer-making days

Caravel Craft Brewery
12, 10221 15 Street NE, Calgary
Tuesday to Thursday 2 pm-9 pm, Friday 1 pm-9 pm, Saturday 11 am-9 pm, Sunday 11 am-5 pm. Closed Monday
Facebook: @CaravelCraftBrewery

It’s the Selection That Counts

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I’m always on the lookout for local microbrews. And Tucson’s Plaza Liquors delivers

“It looks like a dump,” my companion observes as we pull up to Plaza Liquors & Fine Wines in central Tucson.

Mind you, her admitted preference in beer is “rat’s piss,” so I’m not taking her opinion too seriously. I’m relying more on the advice of the barista and a customer at nearby cutting-edge-cool Presta Coffee Roasters. I figure coffee aficionados know where to pick up good local micro brews.

Bingo! As soon as we push open the Plaza’s strip-mall doors and enter the dimly lit interior, I know we’re in the right place. In behind a guy swirling and sniffing a glass of California Pinot are rows of global craft beers stuffed into every nook and cranny. And I like the way they’re organized, by country and by style, such as IPAs, porters and lagers.

Most importantly, from my perspective, is a whole shelf of Arizona beers, which is harder to find than you’d think. There’s Arizona Trail Ale and Road Rash IPA from That Brewery (okay, not an inspired name) in Pine, Arizona. And there’s Lost Highway Double Black IPA from Flagstaff’s estimable Mother Road Brewing Co. And the piece de resistance: a fine selection from Tucson’s fabulous Iron John’s Brewing Company, worthy of the $8-plus for a big bottle of small-batch goodness.

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You can’t beat Iron John’s when it comes to Tucson beers

The lesson, as always: don’t judge a place by its location or exterior. It’s the inside that counts.

Plaza Liquors & Fine Wine
2642 North Campbell Avenue, Tucson, Arizona
Daily 10 am-9 pm except Sunday noon-6 pm

A wobbling cycle hop at Calgary’s newest craft brewery

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Bike tour lands at Calgary’s newest craft brewery, Annex Ale. All photos by Helen Corbett

Annex Ale Project just opened on a commercial side street in southeast Calgary. So how busy can its taproom be on a warm spring Saturday afternoon, especially on a weekend when the annual Calgary International Beerfest should be siphoning off the hard-core aficionados?

The swigging crowd at Annex is actually not too bad when we arrive. But mayhem soon descends, when some 75 cyclists wobble into the parking lot. They’re on a three-microbrewery cycling tour, part of the citywide Jane’s Walks weekend. And they’ve certainly worked up a thirst, forming a long line to the counter, where co-owner and brewmaster Andrew Bullied and staff are scurrying to fill pints and taster glasses.

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Before the cyclists descend

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After

We’ve already staked out counter seats, where we can enjoy the show while sampling Annex’s four, small-batch brews on tap: a pale ale, a bitter, a sour and, our favourite, the Prologue IPA (7.8%). We also try a Calgary first, their delightful, all-natural root beer along with a novel bowl of salty cheese strings.

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Tasters’ choice. Annex’s flights feature generous 6-ounce pours, all for $10

It’s a nice, bright space (a former woodworking shop) in Calgary’s Manchester district, with long tables along spacious front windows and a big glass garage door, which can be opened on hot days. In back, a gleaming row of steel tanks harbours batches of brewing beer.

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The business end of the brewery

Annex is a fine addition to Calgary’s booming craft beer scene. Soon enough, you’ll be able to fashion a full day of beer hopping on a bike.

Annex Ale Project
4323 1 Street S.E., Calgary, Alberta
Taproom  hours:  Thursday 3 pm-10 pm, Friday 3 pm-11 pm, Saturday noon-11 pm, Sunday noon-5 pm. Closed Monday to Wednesday
403-475-4412