Mexican Reprieve From Winter

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The charming downtown streets of Todos Santos

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A cruise ship at bay in Cabo San Lucas

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Saturday shrimp boil at Sancho’s Sports Bar in Cabo

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A rare lavender hibiscus

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Downtown Todos Santos

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Undeveloped beach south of Todos Santos

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Sunday market beside Baja Beans in Pescadero

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Sunrise at the beach in Cabo San Lucas

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Early-morning sweeping at the resort

Searching for Strong, Flavourful Mexican Beer

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Pablo, our beer guide at La Pintada in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico

Mexican beer still wallows where American suds once languished: weak, low-alcohol piss with no flavour or buzz, unless imbibed in quantity.

That still seems to be the case south of the Rio Grande, where shelves are brimming with bottles of Pacifico, Corona, Dos Equis and Modelo. All containing thin, indistinguishable liquid, the only merits of which are “cold” and “wet”. Best guzzled, not sipped and considered.

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A typical thin, flavourless Mexican beer

Can you imagine squeezing a wedge of lime into a bottle of unfiltered west-coast ale to lend it some flavour? Didn’t think so.

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The label was more colourful than the contents

Thus on a recent early-winter sojourn to the resort community of Cabo San Lucas, I made it a mission to find some good Mexican craft beer. Well, more of a quest than a mission, as by the time the daily beer thirst hit, it was rather hot to be roaming the dusty streets of downtown, where any craft beer was to be found.

But I was in luck, mostly because of a newfound friend, who had done most of the scouting for me. It turns out that arguably the best beer hall in Cabo was only 10 minutes away from our resort, via a mostly shaded, narrow sidewalk and a quick final dash across a busy street.

Our destination, La Pintada, has some good food, featuring thin-crust, stone-oven pizza, grilled fish and Mexican dishes like my flavourful organic chicken mole enchiladas. But the real draw was a list of some 10 craft beers on tap at the restaurant bar, called Ramuri.

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The stone-oven pizza was mighty fine

Some were from Baja Brewing, a few blocks away. But the highlights were pints of IPA from further afield; great, complex stuff, especially on a two-for-one happy-hour deal.

One was Perro Del Mar, a pungent, unfiltered beer (7% alcohol, 80 IBU) from Cerveceria Wendlandt, a brewery way up north in Ensenada. Another, Lycan Lupus (5.7%), from Fauna Brewery in Mexicali.

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But we were here for the craft beer, including this excellent Perro Del Mar IPA

We topped things off with a shared bottle of potent Astillero—an Imperial IPA, from Agua Mala in Ensenada, weighing in at 7.1%. We then staggered home in the late-afternoon heat for a siesta.

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A list of the beers on tap and in bottles

La Pintada
Corner of Camino Real and Boulevard Lazaro Cardenas, Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
Daily 1 pm-10 pm, except closed Monday

The Queen of Empanadas

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Hot from the oven goodness at Calgary’s Empanada Queen

How do you find overlooked, out-of-the-way dining gems? Sometimes just by paying attention and asking questions.

For instance, I was recently checking out newly opened Outcast Brewing, itself in an incongruous industrial location in southeast Calgary. I noticed, at an adjacent table, a pizza box containing a mess of gorgeously browned baked goods.

“Where did you get those?” I asked, knowing Outcast doesn’t have a kitchen. “At Empanada Queen,” the guy replied. “It’s only about a block away.”

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Empanada Queen is a hole-in-the-wall operation in southeast Calgary

So with a fine pint of Best-ish 2.0 IPA sloshing around my empty stomach, I headed over to the Queen, in a little, equally out-of-the-way industrial location.

I ordered a couple of empanadas—a ground beef/sliced egg and a chicken chimichurri, each a nice-sized snack at only $4.25. It took seven minutes in the oven to reheat one, giving me time to sit at a table and watch a small crew of women filling, folding and crimping these Chilean beauties.

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Making the empanadas from scratch

They came out hot, flaky and tasty. I was happy once again to trust in serendipity.

Tip: At home, reheat in the oven, not the microwave;the latter toughens the pastry.

Note: You can also find the Queen’s empanadas at nearby Born Colorado Brewing‘s taproom

Empanada Queen

A case full of empanadas to take home

Empanada Queen
4412 Manilla Road SE, Calgary
Monday and Wednesday to Friday 9:30 am-6:30 pm, Tuesday 10 am-6:30 pm, Saturday 10 am-6 pm. Closed Sunday
403-235-0686

At Calgary’s River Cafe, Bacon and Eggs is an Art Form

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Perfection in bacon and eggs at Calgary’s divine River Cafe

Bacon and eggs. Pretty much every morning eatery serves this, and there’s usually nothing to get excited about, as long as the eggs and bacon are cooked to the customer’s liking.

So when bacon and eggs are elevated to an art form, as they are at sublime River Café in Calgary’s downtown Prince’s Island Park, it’s worth noting, and applauding.

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A team of chefs at work

Offered only during weekend brunch, their “fresh farm eggs any style” would scarcely merit your attention alongside more alluring options like brioche French toast or smoked salmon and wild rice cakes. But it’s the painstaking attention to quality and detail that makes this dish exceptional.

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Brioche French toast is another delightful choice

I don’t know if the eggs are organic and free range, but they are perfectly cooked over easy. Overall, perhaps the least notable item on the plate.

You really start to take notice at the bacon: thin slices of house-cured Berkshire maple bacon. Please don’t ruin this by ordering it overly crispy.

Then there’s a pocket of brightly coloured, honey-dressed fingerling potatoes, a massive leap above your typical hash browns. The obligatory toast is yet another step up—wood-grilled sourdough rye.

When each ingredient is this well thought out, and executed by River Café’s small team of chefs, $17 almost seems a bargain for bacon and eggs.

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River Cafe is in a delightful park setting in Calgary’s downtown core

River Cafe
25 Prince’s Island Park, Calgary
Weekend brunch 10 am-3 pm
Reservations online or at 403-261-7670

Porridge Reimagined at Sidewalk Citizen

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New-age porridge at Calgary’s Sidewalk Citizen Restaurant

If there’s a restaurant breakfast in desperate need of a refresh, it’s good old porridge. The standard recipe, for eons, has been oats, milk and brown sugar. In other words, sugary pablum for the masses.

So, it’s delightful to find porridge reimagined at the splendid new Sidewalk Citizen, a Mediterranean-inspired restaurant in Calgary’s Central Memorial Park.

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The main dining area is in a gorgeous solarium

The only traditional ingredient here is oats, though they are organic, steel cut and local. The dominant presence is softened, red fife wheat berries (also organic and local), which add some nice texture compared with your standard gruel. Sliced apples, toasted almonds and a dash of cinnamon fill out the bowl, with a little cup of almond milk on the side.

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The porridge features local, organic grains and oats

This so-called Ashora is a moderate-sized dish ($12), with each complex mouthful to be savoured. Should you want something approaching the normal breakfast plateful, I’d suggest an order of sprouted seed rye bread ($6), an equally revolutionary take on toast—a dense concoction of spelt and rye flour, sprouted rye and red-fife wheat berries, sunflower, pumpkin flax and sesame seeds, dark beer and buttermilk. Add toppings like rose jam ($2.50) or whipped tahini butter ($3), and you have a small, unique meal in itself.

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Other-worldly seed toast

As you can see, it’s mostly an a la carte menu, meaning that when I throw in some brewed Phil & Sebastian coffee, my breakfast tally approaches $25. Still, it’s a unique, flavourful morning meal, served in a spectacular wood-line solarium, the latest, innovative offering from the Sidewalk Citizen team.

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There’s also seating beside the open kitchen

Sidewalk Citizen Restaurant
340 13 Avenue SW, Calgary
Tuesday to Thursday and Sunday 8 am-10 pm, Friday-Saturday 8 am-11 pm. Closed Monday
403-263-2999

All hopped up for my visit to Cabin Brewing

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Cabin Brewing is another fine craft brewery in southeast Calgary’s Barley Belt

I almost need a seatbelt to strap me in for my beer tasting at Cabin Brewing Company, another craft brewery in southeast Calgary. That’s because for my flight of four small brews, the weakest I choose weighs in at 6% alcohol.

Call me a cheap drunk, but I am drawn to beers with lots of character, complexity and depth. That often seems to equate to a higher alcohol content. Whatever.

Put it this way. At the other end of the scale is the fabulous Lost & Won Wee Heavy, a Scotch ale that came in at a knee-staggering 10%. True to the tasting note, it is “rich, complex, malty, with notes of toffee and caramel.”

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A flight of full-flavoured beers

My second favourite is the full-bodied, Trappist-style Abbot Belgian Dubbel (7.8%), a collaboration with nearby Banded Peak. Third is the Runaway Double IPA (8%), the only brew where I seem to notice the alcohol content.

In the interests of moderate consumption, I don’t finish what’s in my four little glasses. And I extend my stay with an excellent, hand-sized New Zealand steak pie ($8).

In all, Cabin Brewing is another fine stop in southeast Calgary’s burgeoning Barley Belt.

Location An industrial area, just east of Macleod Trail and across the street from Born Colorado Brewing

 Ambience A nice, log-cabin feel, complete with a hanging canoe

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A woodsy cabin ambience

 Food Fine little New Zealand meat pies, warm pretzels and cheese and charcuterie boards

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A nice little New Zealand-style meat pie

Favourite beer Lost & Won Wee Heavy Scotch ale

Beer availability Cans and growlers onsite and in cans at area liquor stores.

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Here’s what’s on tap

Cabin Brewing Company
505 36 Avenue SE, Calgary
Monday to Thursday 3 pm-9 pm, Friday-Saturday noon-10:30 pm, Sunday noon-6 pm
403-244-3331