Tag Archives: restaurants

6 Ways to Eat Out Three Times a Day, Without Becoming Fat

Do you really need all that toast at breakfast?

Do you really need all that toast at breakfast?

“How do you stay so slim eating all those road-trip restaurant meals?” people often ask me. The answer? Wearing loose clothes to hide the little tire that gets pumped up by about five pounds after a month of steady grazing on volumes of fatty, starchy foods I certainly wouldn’t inflict on my body back home. It all tastes great at the time, but I know there’s a starvation diet in my near future. Still, it could easily be worse, say 10 or more pounds worse. But I’ve learned a few tricks to keep the ballooning at bay.

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Excellent Edmonton Eateries: Part 2

Dauphine Bakery & Bistro has a lovely downtown Edmonton space, despite the basement digs

Dauphine Bakery & Bistro has a lovely downtown Edmonton space, despite the basement digs

When I was a teenager in Edmonton, I used to walk through the Italian neighbourhood and its lovingly maintained residential gardens en route to Edmonton Eskimo football games. Many years later, that identity is, if anything, stronger, thanks in no small part to the Italian Centre Shop, in the heart of the community. Modernized and expanded to nearly a block by Teresa Spinelli after taking over from her late father, Frank, the store is a great place for weekend people watching. Customers can be seen hovering over peppers, fresh figs, pastas and tomatoes or lining up at the deli to order sliced mortadella, capicollo or Genova salami (ask for samples), along with a large selection of cheeses and olives. A good summertime strategy is to order a panini or pick up some deli cuts along with fresh ciabatta or pagnotta bread and have a picnic in the park across the street. You can also order thin-crust pizza (for a bargain $3 a slice or $11 whole) and an espresso, tossed back Italian style, in Spinelli’s Bar Italia at the store’s south end.

The Italian Centre Shop is as good for people watching as deli perusing

The Italian Centre Shop is as good for people watching as deli perusing

Italian Centre Shop
10878-95 Street (a second, smaller location at Edmonton’s southern outskirts: 5028-104A Street)
Daily 9 am-9 pm
Spinelli's Bar Italia on Urbanspoon

Another boyhood memory is having weekend dim sum at Moon’s Restaurant and shopping in the nearby market. Back then, Edmonton’s Chinatown, just east of downtown, was both an exotic attraction and a sketchy area peppered with unhygienic kitchens. The neighbourhood doesn’t look a whole lot different nearly four decades later, so it’s with mixed apprehension and interest that I enter the Veggie Garden Restaurant. The sparkling clean tables and washroom are reassuring, as is the kindly owner, who immediately informs me this Chinese/ Vietnamese restaurant is strictly vegetarian. Here, you could have fun fooling unsuspecting carnivore companions by ordering lemongrass “shrimp” or stir-fried “pork” and seeing if they could tell they were really eating tofu (actually, it’s never made sense to me why vegetarians would want to use terms like hot dogs or burgers to describe their food). In any event, the food is delicious, especially the shredded potato and jicama salad rolls and the sliced “chicken” in a slightly too sweet lemon sauce. Guess what? It tastes like chicken. My meal, including appetizer, is a ridiculously cheap $12; I have another meal from the leftovers.

The shredded potato and jicama salad rolls were a highlight at Veggie Garden Restaurant

The shredded potato and jicama salad rolls were a highlight at Veggie Garden Restaurant

Veggie Garden Restaurant
10582-100 Street, Edmonton
Monday to Thursday 11 am-8:30 pm, Friday-Saturday 11 am-9:30 pm, Sunday 3 pm-8 pm
Veggie Garden Restaurant on Urbanspoon

One part of downtown Edmonton that’s definitely been upgraded is the stretch of 104th Street between Jasper and 104th Avenues. The old brick warehouses and office buildings have been scrubbed and filled with trendy shops and cafes. Here you’ll find one of Edmonton’s coffee hotspots, Credo—with it’s Intelligentsia beans, thin, crisp cookies and homemade granola bars—and a newcomer, Roast Coffeehouse + Wine Bar, featuring a bizarre maple espresso with candied bacon; sorry, I couldn’t bring myself to try it.

Credo is a fine downtown spot for a java and thin, crisp cookie

Credo is a fine downtown spot for a java and thin, crisp cookie

But my favourite place along this downtown strip is Dauphine Bakery and Bistro. A lawsuit forced owner Linda Kearney to abandon her original name, Queen of Tarts. But she hasn’t lost the recipes for her fabulous lemon curd and white-chocolate pistachio tarts, carrot cake and smoked salmon and leek quiche. Plus, she’s somehow turned a downstairs location into a bright, airy space. What I really like is the attention to detail, whether it’s the antique silver sugar bowls or the dense, round sunflower or pumpkin seed breads that use natural leavening agents; they make great, sourdoughy toast. Yes, the cost of many things is a little steep, but you’re paying for quality and locally sourced ingredients. There are some lovely, reasonably priced lunch options such as a wild, smoked salmon plate with rye bread and organic greens or a Pan Bagnat sandwich, featuring marinated tuna, tapenade and arugula, served with a pea and fennel salad (both $13).

There are lovely antiques like this collection of silver teapots and sugar bowls at Dauphine Bakery & Bistro

There are lovely antiques like this collection of silver tea and coffee sets at Dauphine Bakery & Bistro

Dauphine Bakery and Bistro
10129-104 Street, Edmonton
Tuesday to Thursday 10 am-6 pm, Friday 10 am-7 pm, Saturday 10 am-6 pm. Closed Sunday
Dauphine Bakery and Bistro on Urbanspoon

Amidst the leafy, upscale streets of Glenora sits the nicely appointed Vi’s for Pies. Here’ll you’ll find matrons gathering for tea and key lime pie, alongside businessmen and guys in pressed jeans meeting for lunch. As the name suggests, Vi’s is best known for decadent desserts like chocolate caramel cake and a strawberry shortcake gorgeously perched atop a three-berry scone. But it also has some tasty lunch items like the popular chicken pot or shepherd’s pie or the less filling roasted chicken bunwich. The best value, though, might be the half rack of pork ribs or the beef brisket, both $14.50 and slow roasted over pecan and apple/mesquite wood. Both come with two of the following four sides: little bowls of mac ‘n cheese, spicy potato salad, baked beans and cole slaw. Oh, and there’s a cheese biscuit thrown in for good measure. Suffice to say, after shovelling down this large meal, there’s no room for dessert, and I can only dream of raspberry lemon cream pie or apple pecan caramel cheesecake. Sigh.

There was so much food with my pork brisket lunch at Vi's for Pies, I had no room for the vaunted desserts

There was so much food with my pork brisket lunch at Vi’s for Pies, I had no room for the vaunted desserts

Vi’s for Pies
13408 Stony Plain Road, Edmonton
Tuesday to Thursday 9 am-10 pm, Friday 9 am-11 pm, Saturday 10 am-11 pm, Sunday 10 am-4 pm. Closed Monday
Vi's For Pies on Urbanspoon

As the name suggests, The Next Act has long been associated with the rich arts scene in Edmonton’s historic Strathcona district, just off Whyte Avenue; the Fringe Theatre Festival’s headquarters are visible through the front windows. Before and after shows, patrons gather for a brew and a bite, sitting in booths or at high tables while perhaps eying an old black-and-white movie playing soundlessly on a corner TV screen. For the first act, I’d suggest ordering a local Alley Kat pint from the many beers on offer. For the second, go for one of the excellent, theatrically named burgers, such as my Director’s ($14), a succulent patty covered in avocado, jack cheese, stewed chilies and sufficient other fixings to stretch my jaw like a visit to the dentist. It comes with fries, but I advise paying a buck more for a good mixed-greens salad dotted with pea shoots, strawberries, halved grapes and slivered almonds.

Be sure to get a salad with a fine burger at The Next Act

Be sure to get a salad with a fine burger at The Next Act

The Next Act
8224 104 Street Northwest, Edmonton
Sunday to Thursday 11 am-1 am, Friday-Saturday 11 am-2 am
The Next Act on Urbanspoon

The folks at *Sherbrooke Liquor Store say they have the finest selection of beer in Canada, with more than 1,400 brands in stock. I believe them. Mind you, there’s no clue when I pull into a grimy strip mall off busy St. Albert Trail and push open the aluminum doors flanked by mirrored windows. But then I hang a sharp right into the walk-in cooler jammed with narrow aisles stacked to the ceiling with exotic beers from around the planet. Suddenly, I’m in beer candy land, and it’s all I can do to not empty my wallet on dozens of ales, stouts and hefeweizens I’ve never seen before. I restrict myself to three world-class choices—a Belgian Mikkeller Geek Breakfast beer (with a dense chocolaty, coffee taste for easing me into the morning), an outstanding Scottish Innis & Gunn winter treacle porter (like all their beers, aged in oak) and an Oregon Deschutes Brewery Red Chair, recently named the world’s top beer, though a little hoppy for me and much more expensive here than in the U.S. By now, you’ve probably figured this ain’t the place for your watery, bargain-basement 24-pack. And I’m sure Sherbrooke has a fine selection of wines and spirits, but I never give them a glance.

Just a small sample of the beers on offer at Sherbrooke Liquor Store

Just a small sample of the beers on offer at Sherbrooke Liquor Store

Sherbrooke Liquor Store
11819 St. Alberta Trail, Edmonton
Sunday to Tuesday 10 am-10 pm, Wednesday-Thursday 10 am-11 pm, Friday-Saturday 10 am-midnight

I venture into the basement of a downtown Edmonton office tower to visit a fast-food court. I’m at Chicken for Lunch for its signature hot and dry chicken, much loved by regulars. But really, I’m here just as much for its exuberant owner, Amy Quon. And she doesn’t disappoint. “Here, you need some skinny noodles with that. It will make you skinny,” Amy says as she ladles food into a Styrofoam container. When I tell her I’m from Calgary, working on a road food blog, she piles some ginger beef on for me to sample. At the rate she’s going, I’ll soon be fat.

Yes, it is food-court fare, sitting in steamer trays, though it’s constantly being replenished to keep pace with the daily lunch lineup. My nuggets of hot and dry chicken are crispy, a little greasy and mildly spicy, the chunks of broccoli and carrots crunchy and the skinny noodles providing a nice, moist base. But Amy, thinking I’m still too skinny, gives me the business card for her other family restaurant, The Lingnan.

Exuberant owner Amy Quon may be the main attraction at Chicken for Lunch

Exuberant owner Amy Quon may be the main attraction at Chicken for Lunch

Chicken for Lunch
10060 Jasper Avenue NW (lower level Scotia Place), Edmonton
Weekdays 7 am-2 pm
Chicken For Lunch on Urbanspoon

Excellent Edmonton, Alberta Eateries: Part 1

Delectable desserts at Duchess Bake Shop in Edmonton

Delectable desserts at Duchess Bake Shop in Edmonton

I grew up in Edmonton in the 1960s and ‘70s, a pretty bleak era for eating out. Things have improved considerably (other than the potholes; my God, the roads are so bad, you don’t need to visit a chiropractor). The city, topping 800,000 in population, now offers a varied, multicultural food scene, though a notch below its bigger, richer Calgary rival. I’d give it a B rating overall, with still lots of room for improvement. For the value-seeking traveller, there are decent options but few standouts, with prices higher than you might expect. One exception, as you’ll see, is a surprising number of good dessert places.

Road trippers go to or through Edmonton for a variety of reasons including shopping at West Edmonton Mall, working up north in the oil sands or heading to the stunning, glaciated mountains of Jasper National Park, a four-hour drive to the west. The city also has a fabulous arts scene, especially its summer festivals, headlined by the Edmonton Folk Festival in early August.

I still spend enough time in Edmonton (family and work) to have tried out many of its eateries. Thus this rather lengthy post has been broken into two parts, with most of the best places (*) described in part one.

*Elm Cafe is about as modern minimalist as it gets, even for a predominantly takeout spot. The physical space—on the ground floor of a medical office building—is tiny, the four window stools nearly matched by the three people bustling behind the counter. The chalkboard menu is equally spartan: excellent, strong 49th Parallel coffee, a few fine, fruit muffins and the choice of two morning and two lunchtime “craft” sandwiches. The sandwiches change each day, and the best way to find out what’s on offer is to check the restaurant’s Twitter account. I go for a fried egg sandwich (the egg cooked alongside the rest of the sammy in the panini grill), with thick slices of bacon, black bean salsa and melted provolone. The available seating is pretty much taken up by a guy with two toddlers, so I have to dash back to my car on a chilly winter’s morning, unfold the butcher wrap and dig in. Fortunately, the sandwich is still warm, with the soft contents contained inside a first-rate ciabatta bun. All things considered, it’s one of the better breakfast sandwiches I’ve had. I return a few days later for an equally good muffaletta sandwich thick with Italian deli meats, artichokes, provolone and tapenade.

A fabulous fried egg sandwich from Elm Cafe

A fabulous fried egg sandwich from Elm Cafe

Elm Cafe
100, 10140-117 Street, Edmonton
Monday to Friday 7 am-5 pm, Saturday 8 am-4pm, Sunday 9 am-3 pm
Elm Café on Urbanspoon

You’ve gotta love a restaurant where the owner greets you at the door, takes your order and then heads to the kitchen to cook it… from scratch. Such is delightfully the case at the new *Nosh Cafe, where co-owners Jag and S. Vermaz both ask if it’s my first time in and patiently explain the South Indian menu. I’m particularly drawn to the novelty, for me, of a dosa—a plate-engulfing, slightly crispy crepe made from rice batter and lentils. My choice of a paneer masala dosa ($10) is loaded with spiced peas, potatoes, corn and cottage cheese cubes (the paneer). A knife and fork is provided, but S. encourages me to break off chunks of the dosa with my hands and dip it in what might be the best part of the meal: small dishes of slightly spicy chutneys, including a creamy coconut mix and a mint-cilantro blend, along with a tamarind sauce. It’s a three-napkin job, washed down with a fragrant mug of milky chai.

A large dose of delicious dosa at Nosh Cafe

A large dose of delicious dosa at Nosh Cafe

Nosh Cafe
10049 156 Street, Edmonton
Weekdays 8 am-10 pm, weekends 9 am-10 pm
Nosh Cafe on Urbanspoon

An authentic, first-class taco joint in downtown Edmonton? Hard to believe, but it’s true.  *Tres Carnales Taqueria is owned by three buddies—one Mexican, one Filipino and one Edmontonian. The other twist is that, other than the red snapper, all the meats, tortillas and breads are locally sourced, and the excellent guacamole and various salsas made from scratch. The result is fresh, first-class food, witness a healthy lunchtime lineup forming by 11:30. But things move quickly as people order at the counter then retreat to a handful of small tables or a long common table and wait to be served. The menu is simple: four tacos (three if it’s fish), three quesadillas or a large torta, ranging in price from $10 to $12, respectively. For the tortas and tacos, there’s a choice of eight, mostly meat, fillings; my only complaint is you can’t mix and match. My Al Pastor tacos are succulent, marinated and slow-roasted pork, topped with a lovely pineapple salsa. Add a shared order of thick guacamole and tortilla chips, the latter served in a cone of butcher paper, and you’ve got a fine, contemporary version of Mexican street food.

My hands are trembling too much to get a sharp photo of these wonderful al pastor tacos at Tres Carnales Taqueria

My hands are trembling too much to get a sharp photo of these wonderful al pastor tacos at Tres Carnales Taqueria

Tres Carnales Taqueria
10119 100A Street, Edmonton
Monday to Friday 11 am-10 pm, Saturday 4 pm-10 pm. Closed Sunday
Tres Carnales Taqueria on Urbanspoon

Ten minutes after opening for weekend brunch, the roomy *Highlevel Diner is pretty much packed. The university and middle-aged, upscale crowd at this Edmonton fixture, at the south end of the magnificent High Level Bridge, is here, in part, for the famous, oversized but not drippingly sweet cinnamon buns, a meal in itself at a bargain $4.  They’re also savouring staples like eggs Benedict or bacon, potato and cheddar omelets, alongside healthy options like multigrain organic Alberta cereal and fresh fruit and yogurt. Another reason the Highlevel is so popular is the service. A pot of hot coffee continually swings through the darkened room, and my stack of wild blueberry buttermilk pancakes arrives steaming hot, complete with a requested sugarless syrup, in under 10 minutes. The Highlevel Diner also has a full weekday breakfast, lunch and dinner menu, with features like Turkey Tuesdays, Ukrainian Thursdays and a celiac-friendly menu. It’s not cheap dining, but it’s good quality.

Mmm! Blueberry pancakes hot off the griddle at Highlevel Diner

Mmm! Blueberry pancakes hot off the griddle at Highlevel Diner

Highlevel Diner
10912-88 Avenue NW, Edmonton
Monday to Thursday 7:30 am-10 pm, Friday 7:30 am-11 pm, Saturday 8:30 am-11 pm, Sunday 8:30 am-9 pm
Highlevel Diner on Urbanspoon

Going to Upper Crust Cafe is like homecoming week for me. It’s across the street from my junior high school, Garneau, and it’s been the scene of many family dinners. Indeed, it’s the kind of relaxed, affordable place that makes it a go-to restaurant for women meeting for lunch or families gathering to unwind. It’s a most pleasant spot, with high ceilings, lemony walls, artist-painted tables and large paintings by the talented Lynn Malin, a family friend.

But enough about me. Most importantly, Upper Crust has some of the best lunch deals in town. My bountiful chicken salad sandwich, for example, is encased in thick slices of house-baked oat bread and comes with a creamy scoop of potato salad, all for only $7.25. Another bargain is the chili con carne ($7.95 for a small bowl, $9.95 for a large, both with a slice of cornbread). Even the lamb stew special doesn’t crack $12. Upper Crust is also known for its pies and cakes (many purchased to go), but I can never resist ordering a mammoth, slightly tangy lemon square.

The Upper Crust Cafe is a great space for good, affordable dining

The Upper Crust Cafe is a great space for good, affordable dining

Upper Crust Cafe
10909-86 Avenue, Edmonton
Monday to Friday 11 am-9 pm, Saturday 9:30 am-9 pm. Closed Sunday
Upper Crust Cafe & Caterers on Urbanspoon

Just outside downtown, on a traffic-choked stretch of 124 Street, is a hidden treasure: *Duchess Bake Shop. It’s the kind of place you’d take your mother or discerning friend for a mid-afternoon sweet and a pot of tea or pressed Intelligentsia coffee. The dining area is elegant but relaxed, featuring chandeliers and hanging lights, granite-topped tables and young, friendly servers with lipstick, fashionable eyewear and hair pulled back into buns. You can order scones and eau claires, but why not indulge in something more decadent and distinctive like a rhubarb galette, chocolate bread pudding, a lemon meringue cake or a raspberry-studded confection aptly called l’amour?

It doesn't get any better than Duchess Bake Shop for tea and a sweet

It doesn’t get any better than Duchess Bake Shop for tea and a sweet

Duchess Bake Shop
10718 124 Street, Edmonton
Tuesday to Friday 9 am-8 pm, Saturday 10 am-6 pm, Sunday 10 am-5 pm. Closed Monday
Duchess Bake Shop on Urbanspoon

Six menu items. That’s it. And all of them tucked inside crimped, oil-brushed calzones. At Battista’s Calzone, there’s no pizza, no salad, no appetizers and no dessert, other than a strawberry-nutella concoction stuffed inside a, you guessed it, calzone. This has made restaurant life relatively simple for hands-on co-owners Battista Vecchio and Liv Vors, who have converted an old auto garage into a tiny place with a recognizable niche market. It should also make things easy for customers, but there’s the enduring dilemma of whether to order the spicy Italian sausage calzone, the Mama Mia Meatball (based on a Battista family recipe) or the Chicken Pesto Presto. Unlike the heavy calzones I’ve eaten in the past, Battista’s dough is thin and crispy, forming the perfect pocket for the baked, gooey cheese and meat or veggie middle. Battista’s is located in Edmonton’s northeast, not far from the Edmonton Oilers’ current home or Highway 16 headed east. But if that’s out of your way, they now have a seasonal food truck, the Calzonemobile, roaming the city.

Simple, scrumptious calzones at Battista's Calzone

Simple, scrumptious calzones at Battista’s Calzone

Battista’s Calzone Co.
1745-84 Street NW, Edmonton
Tuesday to Saturday 11 am-3 pm
Battista's Calzone Company on Urbanspoon

Authentic Mexican Taco Stand: in Hamer, Idaho

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Thank goodness for inquisitive friends. Otherwise, who would ever take the exit off I-15 towards Hamer, a flyspeck of a town north of Idaho Falls? Just look for a little roadside taco stand before you get into town, Colin and Liz tell me. Sure enough, there it is—a little lean-to shack off a van, though at first glance I couldn’t tell if it had been abandoned or was just vacated. But a small sign says “open”, so I wander around back and look up to see a little old lady in a hairnet hustling towards me from a nearby house. “Are you open?” I ask. “Si.” My Spanish is about as good as her English, but it doesn’t take long to scan the brief menu board and order tres tacos, two pork and one beef. Cilantro? Si. Radeesh? Si. Salsa? Si. I soon have a paper plate loaded with steaming, flavourful and piquant fillings atop fresh tortillas, all for $5.

I’m not really sure of the name, Rico Taco, maybe? The hours and exact address? Who knows. It doesn’t matter. Just go. It’s a delightful experience and as authentically Mexican as you’ll get, certainly in Idaho, short of being invited into her kitchen.

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Calgary and Area Bargain Eats: Part 2

A ceremony of white hats at the SAIT Culinary Campus in downtown Calgary

A ceremony of white hats at the SAIT Culinary Campus in downtown Calgary

The bargain eats in Calgary keep coming. Here’s a second list of good city places to eat at for less than $10. Enjoy the delicious savings. I’m actually starting with an outstanding spot just outside the city, in Bragg Creek. And at the bottom of this post, reader Lynn Martel shares a favourite road dining experience in Terrace, way up in northwest British Columbia.

If you’re heading southwest of Calgary for a hike or bike near Bragg Creek, be sure to stop at *Creekers. My new go-to spot in the hamlet, it’s a deli/market/bistro where the food is both delicious and, for now, inexpensive. At breakfast, owner John Czarnojan whips me up an outstanding, steaming omelette stuffed with Valbella ham and portabella mushrooms and accompanied by crispy hash browns and nice toast ($10). Lunch features include an Italian flat bread Reuben ($7) and my choice of a fire-roasted turkey meatball and provolone cheese sandwich ($8) on a perfectly toasted ciabatta bun; both come with a scoop of potato salad. But the best deals are at supper. Where else can you get a half, oven-roasted chicken dinner—with yam mash, veggies and corn bread—for $12, sesame-crusted salmon for $13 or a Friday night prime rib dinner with Yorkshire pudding for $16? Not surprisingly, you have to arrive early for the latter, which quickly runs out.

An outstanding omelette at Creekers in Bragg Creek

An outstanding omelette at Creekers in Bragg Creek

Creekers
20 White Avenue (second entrance to Bragg Creek if arriving from Highway 22 North)
Daily from 8 am
Creekers Deli & Bistro on Urbanspoon

It’s 11:30 am midweek, and I’m driving in circles trying to find an obscure spot in an office park near Deerfoot Trail in northeast Calgary. So imagine my surprise when I enter Scarpone’s Italian Store Café and find a lineup of people waiting to order. The reason is simple. Most Italian fare, I find, is fairly pricy, but this place is cheap. Dirt cheap. How about $4 for a large, thick rectangle of pizza, $7 for a slab of lasagna or $4 for a big bowl of soup laden with chicken? At $8, my calzone-like panzarotti is a substantial meal, with slices of Italian meat and cheese in a tomato sauce, all tucked inside a slightly too-doughy pastry. While not gourmet Italian food—it’s cafeteria style, with many items kept warm in fast-emptying steamer trays—it’s good quality, it’s efficient and (did I mention?), it’s cheap. The bargain prices are a reflection of the family Scarpone business, which produces a wide variety of Italian foodstuffs next door. The Salumeria Groceria, attached to the café, is a great place to stock up on cans of tomatoes, olive oils, cheeses and the like, at much lower prices than most Italian groceries in the city.

Great Italian grocery and meal deals at Scarpone's, Calgary

Great Italian grocery and meal deals at Scarpone’s, Calgary

Scarpone’s Italian Store Café
5130 Skyline Way NE, Calgary
Monday to Saturday 9 am-5 pm

It’s not often I want an apprentice preparing my lunch. But at The Market at the Culinary Campus in a downtown Calgary office tower, it’s students in SAIT Polytechnic’s highly regarded professional cooking program producing the meals. Albeit, it’s under the watchful eye of flinty instructors; in my case, said supervisor even shows the callow cook how to load and slice the sandwich. Opened last September, the cafeteria is a gleaming, open space, with hanging cookware worthy of a big-hotel kitchen. You line up at different stations and order one of the day’s two featured items—such as tempura fish or Thai curry chicken (Braise station) Thai pork curry (Saute) or a prime rib sandwich (Rotisserie); the average price for any main is $8.50. My sandwich is a soft, fresh roll filled with a succulent orange-sesame pork belly, though the crackling is a little hard on my teeth. The market is a grab-and-go place, with most customers carrying plastic boxes to a scattering of mezzanine tables or upstairs offices. The servings aren’t as big as at the Sunterra Markets. But it’s good, quick food at reasonable prices for the heart of downtown Calgary.

The Market at the Culinary Campus
226, 230 8 Avenue SW (Stephen Avenue Mall), Calgary
Monday to Friday 8 am-4 pm (hot lunch 11 am-1 pm)
SAIT Culinary Campus on Urbanspoon

Walk into KOOB, and it’s tempting to think you’re in one of those generic, assembly-line sandwich places; the sub-title “The Kabob Factory” probably doesn’t help. That’s because there’s a couple of guys behind a glassed counter asking a moving line of customers what toppings, from a dozen containers, they want added to their “koobwiches” ($7 to $8.50 for a substantial single). The difference here is the quality of those toppings, mostly house made and piled aboard a large pita. They include hummus, basil tomatoes, a fine corn and bean salsa, onions sprinkled with sumac and a nice red-and-green cabbage slaw. The showstopper is the kebabs—individual skewers of tender beef, chicken, lamb (my choice) or veggies—drippingly grilled over a flame and placed atop all the “toppings”. The last choice is picking a squeezed, hand-crafted sauce or two (say, a smoked chipotle or lemon dill garlic) and then watching the wrapped beast seared in a panini press. Because there’s only one table in this tiny, unadorned place, the final task is dashing to your car and scarfing down this juicy, tasty meal while it’s still warm.

I have to devour this delicious KOOB sandwich in my car

I have to devour this delicious KOOB sandwich in my car

KOOB
5, 2015 4 Street SW, Calgary
Monday to Saturday 11 am-11 pm, Sunday noon-8 pm
Koob The Kabob Factory on Urbanspoon

How’s this for devotion? An Edmonton restaurant worker tells me he hopped on his motorcycle one day, rode 300 kilometres to Calgary for a Tubby Dog and then promptly headed home. My odyssey is only a few clicks to traffic-choked 17th Avenue SW, where I join a short line of aficionados in the delightfully shabby, retro joint, decked out in bold red and yellow colours, with Tubby posters on one wall and video games and a pinball machine along another. So why the cult following, especially for those seeking a post-midnight tube steak fix? It starts with good dogs, steamed and then grilled and plopped into fresh buns. But what puts Tubby’s over the top is the generous, creative toppings—ranging from mounds of cheese, bacon and potato chips in the signature A-Bomb to peanut butter, jelly and Cap’n Crunch cereal (yikes!) in the Cap’ns Dog. My Sumo features a refreshing mix of crunchy seaweed, pickled ginger and mild wasabi; the heat could be kicked up a notch. Nearly all the dogs are $7, so throw in a half order of yam fries and you’ve got a satisfying, distinctive meal for just over nine bucks. On Tuesdays after 8 pm, Tubby turns to exclusively tacos and tostados, at bargain prices.

Honest, there's a dog under all those Japanese toppings at Tubby's

Honest, there’s a dog under all those Japanese toppings at Tubby’s

Tubby Dog
1022 17 Avenue SW
Sunday to Thursday 11:30 am till late, Friday-Saturday 11:30 am-1 am, with window service till 4 am. Cash only
Tubby Dog on Urbanspoon

A lot of active outdoor folks who pass through Calgary make a pilgrimage to the city’s Mountain Equipment Co-op outlet, near downtown, to pick up affordable outdoor clothing and gear. To fuel up for the day’s hike or mountain bike ride, head straight across the street to the bustling Holy Grill for breakfast—try the bacon avocado crisp, featuring a fried egg—or a lunch panini (the bountiful Mr. Chicken also includes bacon) or double burger. Just about everything on the lunch menu is around $8, though a near-mandatory $4 side order of beet chips will put you over $10.

Tasty breakfast panini at Holy Grill, but what's with the insipid tomatoes?

Tasty breakfast panini at Holy Grill, but what’s with the insipid tomatoes?

Holy Grill
827 10 Avenue SW
Monday to Friday 7:30 am-4 pm, Saturday 10 am-4 pm. Closed Sunday
Holy Grill on Urbanspoon

Don’t go to Puspa if you’re seeking ambience or trendy dining. Located in a nondescript brick strip mall in northwest Calgary, the Indian restaurant is dim and rosy-hued inside and appears untouched since the two Datta brothers opened it 20 years ago. But that means the focus is squarely on the food. As a result, you’re getting some delicious Bengal-style meal deals, especially from the short lunch menu (a nearby couple say they’ve been regulars for 15 years, and it’s always good). My chicken curry thali has big chunks of tender chicken breast in a nicely spiced sauce. Served on a compartmentalized steel plate (hence the term thali), it comes with hot, soft slices of naan bread, saffron rice, and an undistinguished salad—all for $9, including a rice pudding. I think I can forego ambience for that kind of value.

Good Bengali thali at Puspa Restaurant in Calgary

Good Bengali thali at Puspa Restaurant in Calgary

Puspa Restaurant
1051 40 Avenue NW, Calgary
Lunch Monday to Friday 11:30 am-2 pm, dinner Monday to Saturday 5 pm-9:30 pm. Closed Sunday
Puspa on Urbanspoon

Now for a recommendation from Lynn Martel of Golden, British Columbia:

Haryana’s Indian (of the eastern variety) restaurant in Terrace, B.C. is in a roadside motel on the edge of town and the service is unforgettably slow, but TOTALLY worth the wait because every delectable morsel is made from scratch. The guys who work for highway avalanche control reportedly call in their order from the helipad, go home, shower, have a beer, then go to the restaurant and order another beer before their food comes. Legend is that the genius in the kitchen is someone’s grandmother, she speaks no English, but she is a virtuoso of Indian food. All dining should be this relaxed, and this good. Exquisite, nondescript hole in the wall.

Haryana’s Restaurant
5522 Highway 16 West, Terrace, B.C.

Got a Calgary bargain gem I’ve missesd? Want to share a great road-trip dining experience, even if it’s not in western U.S./Canada? Send it to me at info@billcorbett.ca and I’ll try to post it.

Driving, Dining and Dashing in Denver

These Denver parking signs are too much for my small brain to comprehend

These Denver parking signs are too much for my small brain to comprehend

After the quiet of driving down through Montana and Wyoming and even through bigger college hotspots like Fort Collins and Boulder, it’s a shock to hit Denver. Suddenly, the lanes mushroom from two to four or five, with exits whirring by every mile. Off the freeway, the fender-to-fender traffic and lack of free on-street parking reminds me I’m back in the big city. Resisting the temptation to just hit the highway again, I circle a few neighbourhood blocks, trying to decipher street signs about whether it’s safe to park (not, for example, on the first Fridays of the month, when they’re sweeping one side of a particular street). To keep things simple, from a navigational perspective, I’ve tried to group some of these restaurants and cafes in areas that are easier to access and find parking, like the northeast end of Larimer Street.

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