Jimmy’s A&A Still an A-plus

Jimmy’s A&A still boast the best chicken shawarmas in Calgary

Usually, I’d rather crawl over broken glass than wait in line at a restaurant. My line-busting strategy includes showing up when the place opens, arriving at the end of a meal cycle (such as 2 pm for lunch) and never going for weekend brunch.

But as Covid restrictions reach their meaningful end, it’s kinda nice to see folks at 11:30 am lining up for lunch at Calgary’s beloved Jimmy’s A&A Mediterranean Deli. It’s a testament to the loyal following for the colourful Jimmy and his giant, excellent shawarmas. “It’s the bomb,” says a waiting fire fighter.

All walks of life line up at Jimmy’s

Not much has changed over the years, other than metal siding replacing the stucco of this former corner store. The long, darkened interior is still jammed full of Middle Eastern foodstuffs, more than most delis. Jimmy’s is also still primarily a takeout place, with most folks ignoring the smattering of plastic tables and chairs on the sidewalk.

Just a smattering of the deli offerings

Like most restaurants post pandemic, prices have gone up. But when my “medium” chicken shawarma tips the scales at a kilo, the $14.75 charge still offers great value, especially when this food bomb essentially feeds two. But of course, I’ve devoured the whole thing within minutes of getting back in my car.

A one-kilo “medium” shawarma

Jimmy’s remains one of the best and most colourful cheap-eats experiences in Calgary.

Jimmy’s A&A Mediterranean Deli
1401 20 Avenue NW and one other Calgary location
Monday to Saturday 10 am-10 pm, Sunday 10 am-8 pm


Not So Rapid Covid Test

The not so rapid Covid test kit

“You’re on your own now.”

That’s pretty much been the message recently for anyone trying to figure out if they have Covid and what, if anything, they should do to treat or recover from it.

This laissez faire attitude certainly applies to rapid self testing for Covid, which is essentially the only test you can get, unless you end up in emergency and get a professional (PCR) test instead. Even your family doctor doesn’t really want to see you in person.

So the rapid test is what most of us are stuck with. How accurate is it? Pretty good for indicating if you have Covid, but only middling if you test negative. In other words, you probably need at least two negative tests within a couple of days to be reasonably sure.

So, when I recently experienced a few ambiguous symptoms, I picked up a rapid-test box, which in exceedingly small type indicated there were five test kits inside. But the real shock was opening the box and discovering not just six bags of various gear but also a huge sheet of miniscule instructions.

Hope you brought a magnifying glass

Most of the verbiage, I’m sure, is to cover the manufacturers’ asses. But really, folks, isn’t the intention to make this test as simple and easy to understand as possible for people stressed out about if they have Covid?

Apparently not. “Insert the swab through the anterior nares in contact with nasal septum… until mild resistance is encountered at the middle turbinate.” Know what that means? Me neither, and I write for a living. How about “Gently insert the sterile swab into the nostril parallel to the palate… indicating contact with the nasopharynx?”

You have to sort through all this gear to perform the dozen steps of a “rapid” test

Good luck if English is your second language, you’re suffering brain fog from Covid and can’t concentrate, need to test without any hands-on help because, well, you might well have Covid or, like me, haven’t brushed up recently on the Latin names of nasal parts.

There is a laminated, illustrated card included in the kits, But I’d hardly call it a quick guide, as there are a dozen steps to be completed to find out, maybe, if you have Covid. And it still includes words like “nasal septum” and “middle turbinate”.

Thankfully, there are Youtube videos that more clearly, and in plain English, show the proper way to follow the numerous steps to a rapid-test result. On my Rapid Response box, there is a website (www.btnx.com) for finding said video, though again it’s in miniscule type.

And the instructional video is NINE minutes long. Good luck keeping up if you’ve got brain fog.

Would You Like Chips With Those Fries?

Plate of fries a full-meal deal at Calgary’s Holy Grill

I once worked a summer cleaning clubs at an Edmonton golf course. The pay was poor, the work monotonous.

About the only perk was being able to order, from the clubhouse kitchen, an overflowing dinner plate of steaming fries and gravy, for the princely sum of, I think, 50 cents. Best fries I ever ate and a complete meal, even for a hungry 17-year-old.

Which is by way of explaining why I’m including an order of fries at Calgary’s Holy Grill as a complete lunch in this Calgary under-$10 lunch series. First, an order of hand-cut fries is only $4.95, a buck extra with a house-made garlic, chili and sour cream dip.

Second, you get a generous mound of fries, enough to satisfy a moderate noontime appetite. Third, these are damn good, hot, salty, made-to-order fries, worthy of your full attention, not some accompaniment.

The flagship Holy Grill location is across the downtown street from MEC

Yes, there are a few other, healthier under-$10 items—including a bacon, avocado, fried-egg crisp and a half, roasted beet salad (both $9.35)—on Holy Grill’s menu. Just missing the mark are an impressive blackened chicken burger ($10.70) and a solid list of paninis (all $11).

But when fries are this good, it’s sometimes worth moving them from a side-of-the-plate afterthought to starring attraction.

Note: The only place in all my road-trip food travels where fries were the featured attraction was Boise Fry Company, in the potato capital of Idaho. There you can order five types of potatoes in five cuts, including shoestring and curly.

Holy Grill
827 10 Avenue SW and three other Calgary locations
Opens weekdays at 7:30 am and weekends at 10 am

Succulent Strawberries Grown in the Dead of Alberta Winter

Fresh Dutchess strawberries galore at Sunterra Market

I’ve written recently about the growing trend of Calgary-area grocery and convenience stores selling a variety of locally produced foods. Now, Sunterra Market has taken things a step further with the introduction of superb strawberries grown locally in the dead of Alberta winter.

Actually, the provincial grocer aims to produce its Dutchess strawberries year round in greenhouses on the company’s farms near Acme in central Alberta. Unlike strawberries grown in, say, southern California or Mexico and picked when wooden and insipid tasting for their long journey to Canada, the Dutchess varieties are vine ripened and shipped to Sunterra outlets within a day of being hand picked.

Yes, they cost a little more than their industrial competitors. But one bite into these bursts of flavour, and you’ll never go back.

Bite into these succulent beauts and you’ll never go back

Let’s add up the advantages. Great flavour, locally produced, drastically reduced transportation emissions. I think we have a winner.

The Dutchess strawberries, like Sunterra’s pork products, are the latest instance of the company’s vertical integration; i.e. they control the entire process from farm to grocery shelves. Another recent example is vine-ripened tomatoes grown in Sunterra greenhouses.

Can’t beat these vine-ripened tomatoes

Sunterra’s nine Alberta grocery stores are also offering local veggies—like fabulous heads of lettuce from other local producers like Lyalta Gardens and Clearwater Ridge.

Local, living lettuce is all the rage

Promoting locally produced foods is hardly a new idea, witness the long-standing farm-to-fork and 100-mile diet movements. But given all the global disruptions from the pandemic to war in Ukraine, I foresee a much greater preference for buying local, whether it’s smart phones or vine-ripened strawberries.

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

Calgary Lunch Under $10: Lina’s Italian Mercato

Lovely little pizza at Lina’s Italian Mercato in southwest Calgary

At Lina’s Italian Mercato, my challenge isn’t finding a tasty dish for about $10. It’s choosing which of many bargain items to order.

Consider just some of my lunchtime options: Veal parm on a bun ($11), a half dozen types of eight-inch pizza (starting at $10) and nine sorts of paninis (starting at $9), all of high quality.

I’ve been working my way through some of these bargain items, including a wild boar pizza, a stuffed porchetta meal and a ridiculously humungous breakfast sandwich. I’ve written about these great deals to honour the recent opening of this third Lina’s Calgary location, along Britannia’s Elbow Drive.

Stuffed porchetta meal

But there’s still plenty of room for yet another offering to squeeze into this cheap-eats lunch series. It’s a fabulous three-meatball hero sandwich, in a house-made focaccia bun—with tomato sauce, a balsamic glaze and a sprinkling of baby arugula—for only $10.

Update: I must note that in the nine months since I last had this sandwich, the price has gone up about $1 and the number of meatballs has shrunk from three to two (see photos below). Now, I don’t mind paying more as costs go up, especially during this pandemic.

But I’ve always been of the view that it’s better to increase prices than reduce the size of the meal (Unless it’s one of those monster meals fueling the obesity crisis). Your thoughts?

The three-meatball hero in June 2021
Down to two meatballs in March 2022

Lina’s Italian Mercato
5108 Elbow Drive SW, Calgary
Daily 9 am-7 pm

Look, Ma, No Water

Amaryllis flowers nearing their mid-winter apex

Every year at Christmas, my sister gives me an amaryllis bulb. You just plant the bulb in the provided soil inside a plastic container and water every day until, about a month later, the phallic stem rises and unveils up to four gorgeous, trumpet-like red flowers.

This year, things were a little different. There were three bulbs fixed in a linear box, but instead of being planted in soil, they were cloaked in a shell of hard wax. Most importantly, you were instructed to not water the bulbs at all (indeed you couldn’t water them if you wanted to), for the full six-plus weeks of the flowering process. Apparently, there was sufficient moisture in the bulb to not require any additional water.

Waterless amaryllis bulbs wrapped in hard wax

I was skeptical. But sure enough, the waterless amaryllis did their thing for nearly two months until the flowers finally withered, as per usual.

After seven weeks of no water

It got me thinking. Are amaryllis bulbs uniquely suited to not needing water? Or are there other plants—in particular edible ones—that require little or no water?

I’ve seen systems that more efficiently water plants, such as when the roots suck up water from a container below. But nothing approaching waterless.

It’s not an inconsequential thought in a rapidly warming world with sustained periods of drought.