April 22nd, 2014

Living Up to its Name: Hap’s Hungry House

Last spring, while Mack and I were taking part in Thom’s bootcamp in the west end, we would drive past Hap’s Hungry House (16060 Stony Plain Road) every Sunday. The parking lot was always packed those mornings, and had us wondering what it was like inside. We finally made time last weekend to try it out for ourselves.

Arriving at 11:30 on Sunday, nearly all of the tables were full. Thankfully, it seemed we had good timing, as not long after we sat down, a small crowd started gathering in the small lobby.

We were told the restaurant has been family owned and operated for thirty-one years, and though I can’t speak to whether or not the interior has changed in that time, I can say that it is clean and well taken care of. The décor is country-esque, with kitschy farm animals and floral art all over the walls. It actually reminded me somewhat of the cartoonish depictions Cora’s deploys, but less over the top.

Haps Hungry House

Interior

If I were to describe Hap’s Hungry House with one word, it would be “efficient.” Though I know much of it has to do with the desire for a timely table turnover, the fact that we were provided with water, coffee, milk in place of cream and even a coffee thermos within two minutes of being seated was very much appreciated. It may have been rote for the servers, but they never made us feel rushed.

The menu is huge, and runs the gamut between omelettes, egg sandwiches, eggs benedicts, French toast, and hotcakes (a term for pancakes I have only ever associated with McDonald’s). And like most diners, the plates promised to be generous in size.

I ordered a large hotcake combo with pork sausage ($11.65). I’m not sure I expected individual pancakes to be the size of dinner plates, but it was a welcome challenge. They were fluffy, the batter just slightly sweet (perfect for dousing in syrup), and did remind me of those served at Hathaway’s Diner. The scrambled eggs were browned and thus overdone, but that was a minor complaint.

Haps Hungry House

Large hotcake combo

Mack’s large egg-cellent order with pork sausage ($9.85) was a steal of a deal, his plate teeming with eggs, toast, home fries and meat. The home fries could have been a touch crispier for my liking, but Mack didn’t mind.

Haps Hungry House

Large egg-cellent with pork sausage

I’d definitely recommend Hap’s for your brunch consideration. Just make sure you go hungry.

Hap’s Hungry House
16060 Stony Plain road
(780) 483-2288
Tuesday-Saturday 7am-3pm,Sunday 8am-3pm, closed Mondays and Holidays

April 21st, 2014

Food Notes for April 22, 2014

I hope you all had a fantastic Easter! On to this week’s food notes:

  • It’s your last chance to nominate your favourites for Vue Weekly’s annual Golden Fork Awards. Fill out your ballot online before April 28, 2014.
  • Mark you calendars – Indulgence will start selling tickets this year on May 1, 2014.
  • Barbecue lovers, rejoice: Porkapalooza will take place June 13-15, 2014 in Hawrelak Park, and will offer demonstrations, barbecue competitions, and of course, lots of food.
  • The big news this week was the forthcoming launch of a second farmers’ market downtown in the building that formerly housed Mother’s Music (10251 109 Street). They are hoping to launch mid-May, right around the time the City Market returns to 104 Street. Based on the CTV story, it doesn’t sound like the organizer of Mother’s Market will be focusing on locally-sourced products, but I’ll wait and see.
  • Farrow (8422 109 Street), Three Boars’ new sandwich joint, opened on April 16, 2014.
  • The Act Out & About won’t be hitting the streets this summer, unfortunately, with The owners of The Next Act focusing on their new restaurant, MEAT, to open this spring. That said, their truck won’t be sitting idle, as Big City Sandwich will be taking it over this season.
  • Vue Weekly reviews the new Three Amigos location downtown.
  • Twyla posts one of the first reviews of Hart’s Table, the newest of the Century Hospitality restaurants.
  • Speaking of Twyla, she had a terrible experience at Craft Beer Market, and unfortunately, the higher ups have failed to rectify it.
  • Phil’s latest Burger Odyssey post is up, pitting The Burger Joint up against Rodeo Burger.
  • Curious who will be participating in this year’s Gold Medal Chefs battle in October? Liane has the news.
  • Valerie’s newest Canadian Food Experience round-up highlights local food heroes across Canada.
  • There was an interesting piece in Grub Street last week, asking the question – why aren’t more restaurant critics women?
  • I finally caught Three Chocolate at the City Market this Saturday (Edmonton’s coming up chocolate it seems, with Pinto Chocolates also being a fairly recent addition to the scene, and news of Jacek Chocolate Couture’s expansion with a second storefront). Three sources all of their cocoa beans from the Dominican Republic, and their name is derived from the number of ingredients in their dark chocolate – cocoa nibs, cocoa butter and sugar. They will be vending the next two weekends at the City Market, but will not be transitioning to the outdoor location.

Three Chocolate

Three Chocolate

  • After a successful trip to a bridal salon in Sherwood Park where my sisters finally agreed on a bridesmaids dress, we headed to the nearby Sumo Sumo for sustenance. It was relatively busy for a Wednesday evening, but if there was anything to be said about our meal, it was that portion sizes were very generous. The udon soup I ordered was just $13, but it really could have fed two people.

Sumo Sumo Sushi

Tempura udon from Sumo Sumo Sushi

  • Mack, Thom and I had a pre-Rush game dinner at The Common over the weekend. Though we enjoyed our initial visit when it first opened, the kitchen has been inconsistent since then. The umami burger I ordered this time was disappointing – both the patty and focaccia bread it was served on were quite dry.  

The Common

The umami burger from The Common

  • At District Coffee Co. today, Mack and I noticed bottles of Upson’s Classic Cordials for sale. We didn’t know such a product was being made in Edmonton! The fruit drink concentrate is meant to be mixed with sparkling water or spirits for drinks, making it something to consider especially now as the weather warms up.

Elm Cafe

Upson’s Classic Cordials

April 19th, 2014

Shattered Expectations: The Glass Monkey

With the number of restaurants that have joined the dining scene in Edmonton over the past six months, it sometimes feels like I’ll never catch up! And because Mack and I don’t typically gravitate towards recently-opened establishments in moments of spontaneity, I find we usually have to plan in advance to make sure we end up at a new spot. That was the case with The Glass Monkey, where Mack and I had dinner on a Saturday night in March.

Located in a Lendrum strip mall, The Glass Monkey replaced Jack’s Grill in December 2013. When it opened, its claim to fame was perhaps that Chef Darcy Radies (formerly of The Blue Pear) was involved in the menu development, which for me elevated my expectations for an innovative and creative menu, under the restaurant’s gastropub concept.

Walking in that evening, we found a fairly packed dining room. I had made a reservation a week prior on Open Table, however, so wasn’t worried. When greeted by the hostess, she first indicated that she needed to grab an “extra chair” for our table. Then, we were led to a windowless corner, seated at a table adjacent to a bar-height four-top, which made our placement even more claustrophobic. I recognize the choice of tables at that time was slim, but needless to say, we weren’t off to a good start.

Unfortunately, the menu choices didn’t remedy things. First off, wines were pricey, averaging at least $15 per glass. It was also somewhat surprising that The Glass Monkey doesn’t offer a cocktail menu. Following the lead of other cities, restaurants in Edmonton have begun to adopt quite quality cocktail programs (Woodwork is perhaps the best example). Though cocktails alone aren’t deal breakers for younger diners, given the comments from the previous owner of Jack’s Grill relating to challenges of attracting younger customers, it does seem like an oversight. The crowd definitely seemed to skew older that night, but that could have been an anomaly.

The Glass Monkey has a fairly large food menu, but it felt scattered and unfocused. It’s rare for us not to be swayed by small plates, but nothing from that section of the menu enticed us. It probably didn’t help that the chefs decided to retain a number of dishes from Jack’s Grill – it would be difficult for any restaurant to develop a new identity when beholden to its previous incarnation. We ended up ordering pub standards – burgers and pizza.

I was given a temperature choice for my sirloin beef patty. Though I requested medium rare, the burger arrived well done, no pink to be seen. Thankfully, it was still quite juicy, and the generous amount of Sylvan Star Cheese was a nice accompaniment. I should note that the fries were a delight, crispy and thicker than the shoestring style so popular these days.

Glass Monkey

Burger ($15)

Mack’s Hawaiian pizza ($17) featured a crisp crust, and nicely smoked pork. He would have preferred more pineapple, however, as it was shaved very thin.

Glass Monkey

Hawaiian pizza

Service was fine – our server was courteous and professional, and in spite of the demands of tending to many tables, managed to be present.

While the food itself was fine, overall, our experience at The Glass Monkey was disappointing. With so many other new restaurants still left to visit, I’m sure it will be some time before we consider returning again, especially since the menu didn’t leave us wanting more.

The Glass Monkey
5842 – 111 Street
(780) 760-2228

April 14th, 2014

Food Notes for April 14, 2014

  • Registration for this summer’s first Edmonton Diner en Blanc is now open!
  • Looking for Easter dinner plans? The Mirepoix Trio is hosting another pop-up dinner, this time at Upper Crust. Check out the two different menus for the April 18 and 19, 2014 dinners. I’m looking forward to it already!
  • Iconoclast Coffee is hosting a free grand opening party on May 3, 2014, from 7-11:30pm. If you needed an excuse to check it out, here you go – they promise fine food, prosecco and music. Speaking of the Koffiehuis, Vue Weekly profiled the new shop last week.
  • Slow Food Edmonton is hosting a 5-course dinner at Lux on May 13, 2014 that will highlight sustainable species of fish. It sounds like it will be an educational and tasty evening. Tickets are $70 for members and $80 for non-members.
  • Speaking of fish, because of the new direct Icelandic Air flights to Edmonton, Ocean Odyssey will now be offering fresh wild Atlantic fish. Stay in touch with this development on their website.
  • Hillaby’s Tools for Cooks has expanded beyond the Enjoy Centre, with a location in Terwillegar (14251 23 Avenue). They celebrated their grand opening on April 10, 2014.
  • Also now open is the Tunki Café Shop (10998 124 Street), a new Peruvian café on 124 Street.
  • Liv reviewed Bodega Tapas & Wine Bar.
  • I have to say In & Out Burger was a little underwhelming the first time I tried it in the States, and I wonder if Carl’s Jr will be the same? The American chain just opened their first Edmonton-area location in Spruce Grove (420, 131 Century Crossing), with another on the way in the west end.
  • As I mentioned last week, it’s great news that Evoolution is expanding, including another storefront in Southgate.

Evoolution

Coming soon: Evoolution

  • Dinner at Boualouang on Friday was great (their green curry/coconut rice combo is deadly). The Thai-style salad was new to a few of us, but turned out to be a delicious choice as well.

Boualouang

Thai-style salad with papaya, dried shrimp, peanuts, tomatoes and chilies

  • It was a busy family-filled weekend for us, including participating in a baby gender-revealing party. It was a lot of fun testing out old wives tales and failing miserably at baby-related trivia.

It's a...

Gorgeous table!

April 10th, 2014

Swiss 2 Go: Hurrah for Pretzel Buns

Mack and I were in the west end running errands over the weekend when hunger pains hit. We ended up right by Swiss 2 Go (17104 90 Avenue), a sandwich shop I had heard a lot about, so took it as an opportunity to finally set foot inside.

Situated right across from West Edmonton Mall, it’s a humble storefront that would be easy to miss. Swiss 2 Go is essentially a takeout counter, with a handful of tables for those seeking to dine in.

Swiss 2 Go

Interior

The menu focuses on sandwiches, though soups, salads and homemade desserts are also available. The current menu has fifteen different sandwich varieties to choose from, all an upgrade from those typically found at a deli. Their Italian Bride, with prosciutto, roasted red pepper, sun dried tomatoes, bocconcini and basil was even recognized by Avenue Magazine as one of the Best Things to Eat in 2013.

It was clear that owner Drita Keller cares deeply about the ingredients used in her creations. She shared with us that she continues to import cheeses and meats from Europe because of their consistency and quality, and it was evident that the vegetables used were crisp and fresh.

The sandwiches were made fresh to order, and when they arrived, I wasn’t sure how I’d be able to pack it down to take a bite! My Thanksgiving ($7.99/regular) sandwich, with smoked turkey, brie, romaine and red pepper was loaded with texture, the mild and creamy cheese letting the turkey take the wheel. Mack similarly enjoyed his Matterhorn ($7.99/regular), containing banana peppers, avocado, cilantro and alpine style dried beef.

Swiss 2 Go

Matterhorn and Thanksgiving sandwiches

While the combination of ingredients was unique, what set the sandwich apart was the house-made pretzel bun, studded with kosher salt. Given we haven’t yet found a local supplier who offers pretzel buns similar to those found at Calgary’s Rustic Sourdough Bakery, this might be the closest we’ve ever come. During the week, Drita said they run through so much bread that they may be baking up to ten times a day!

If you’re in the area, make it a point to stop by Swiss 2 Go. You won’t be disappointed.

Swiss 2 Go
17104 90 Avenue
(587) 520-9400
Monday 11am-3pm, Tuesday-Saturday 11am-9pm, Sunday 11am-5pm

April 8th, 2014

97 Hot Pot: To Chinatown We Go!

Growing up, hot pot was very much a family affair. It was a way, with comparatively less effort than cooking, for my Mum to gather us all around the dining table. Sure, she’d have to source ingredients in Chinatown (fresh vegetables, meats, tofu), then prep them for consumption, but it was definitely one of her go-to meals on nights she didn’t feel like spending too much time in the kitchen.

For a brief period of time in high school, hot pot restaurants were the birthday venue of choice, given they could easily accommodate large groups (and given the appetite of some of those teenage boys, the buffet-style offerings were ideal).

Since that time, hot pot has been something I’ve enjoyed exclusively at my parents’ house. As a result, it’s been easily over ten years since I’ve stepped foot inside a hot pot restaurant in Edmonton.

Cue the local hot pot revolution, with two new restaurants opening up in Chinatown within six months of each other, located less than a block apart. And not only are they reinvigorating the hot pot scene in the city, but they are also injecting new life into the area.

Both Urban Shabu and 97 Hot Pot have brought the trend of individual hot pots to Edmonton. I have to say, when I first heard of this set-up, I really balked at the idea of reducing a communal experience to an individual one. What I didn’t take into account at the time, however, was that the seduction of convenience and control would win me over, too.

97 Hot Pot moved into a storefront in Chinatown that had been vacant for years. The owners overhauled the space with eye-catching signage and a brand new interior. It’s bright, clean and welcoming, and if this trend continues with other businesses, will hopefully help chip away at the stereotypes that continues to plague the neighbourhood as a whole. In addition, it was refreshing to see the number of younger patrons dining in that night – based on my own high school experience, it’s not surprising, but it does give me hope for Chinatown’s immediate future. Last month, I had dinner at 97 Hot Pot with Maria and Roxanne, and learned firsthand what all the fuss was about.

97 Hot Pot

Interior

All of the tables had built-in induction burners meant to accommodate individual pots. As a result, instead of the circular tables to accommodate larger parties at communal hot pot restaurants, all tables were rectangular. Although we still ended up sharing everything, it was a nice change not to have to reach for the pot, or to argue over who put in that last tofu or meatball. Individual hot pots will do much to smooth over family conflicts at the dinner table, heh.

97 Hot Pot

My personal hot pot!

97 Hot Pot charges $25.95 per adult, and $12.95 per child aged 3-9. Choosing a soup base other than the basic chicken broth adds $2 to that cost, as does opting for the choice of two broths in a divided pot. In addition to the selection of about one hundred different raw and fresh meat and vegetable items, salads, cooked dishes and desserts are also included in the per person cost, making this one of the most value-laden buffets in the city. It also differentiates the dining out version of hot pot from its home-based cousin; it isn’t economical for a family to purchase the kind of variety that can be found at a restaurant, and when a group of picky eaters is present, the range of options should satisfy everyone. Our only minor quibble with the ordering system was that it wasn’t logical – specifying “1” vs. “2” or “4” would yield seemingly random amounts of food.

Given the breadth of choices, I was happy to see that 97 Hot Pot didn’t sacrifice quality for quantity. The greens were crisp, and the sliced meats were fresh. I easily consumed a half pound of sliced lamb that night.

97 Hot Pot

Spread part one (I forgot to take pictures later on, unfortunately)

97 Hot Pot introduced me to the oddly translated “fresh meat and seafood mash” – blended meat and herb mixtures served up in plastic sleeves. Using a plastic spoon, the meat is meant to be dropped into the boiling soup to create meatballs. They were darn tasty, and like the cooked dishes, really added value to the meal.

97 Hot Pot

Meat and seafood mashes

We spent the better part of two and a half hours at 97 Hot Pot. Although the menu indicated that only two hour stays were permitted, we never felt that the service staff were trying to push us out. Refills on soup and water were timely, and orders were taken and delivered in a punctual fashion. Dessert was a bonus, and the sweet soup (tong sui) was notably well-prepared.

97 Hot Pot

Maria and I amongst the steam (from now on, I will be making more frequent visits to hot pot facilities during the cold weather months – the chicken soup sauna was like a gift for my winter-disparaged skin)

I had a great experience at 97 Hot Pot, and would not hesitate in recommending it to those new and familiar with this type of dining. I really am hopeful the additional traffic to Chinatown from both new hot pot ventures will turn the tide in the area, and spur even more development in the neighbourhood.

97 Hot Pot
10602 97 Street
(587) 521-1888
Sunday-Thursday 4:30pm-midnight, Friday-Saturday, 4:30pm-2am

April 7th, 2014

Food Notes for April 7, 2014

Fans of Television Without Pity will already know the bad news, and for me, it is still sinking in. It’s a website I’ve visited on an almost-daily basis for over thirteen years, and has been with me for the good (The West Wing), the bad (multiple Bachelor/ettes) and the ugly (the current season of Scandal). I’m going to miss the insightful discussions and the community of people who made up the forums. On to this week’s food notes:

Pho Tau Bay

#phodate

  • It’s been some time since I’ve been to an Edmonton Rush game, but it was as exciting as I remembered! It was a much closer game than anyone expected, but they managed to hang on and maintain their undefeated streak. Bring on the playoffs!

Edmonton Rush

Go Rush Go!

April 1st, 2014

Food Notes for April 1, 2014

Have you checked out this year’s Eat Alberta 2014 sessions yet? I think there’s something for everyone! Tickets are 75% sold, so if you’re interested in coming, make sure to take a look soon! On to this week’s food notes:

  • The Western Living’s 2014 Top 40 Foodies Under 40 list is out! Not as much Edmonton representation as in past years, but good to see local Darcy Scott recognized.
  • It’s officially food truck season – Drift has kicked things off, with today being their first day of service!
  • I haven’t heard of Wetzel’s Pretzel’s before, but if you have, you may be excited to hear their first Western Canada location has opened in West Edmonton Mall. I’d be interested to try one of their scratch-made, fresh baked pretzels the next time I’m at WEM.
  • Bar Bricco received a lot of love from the blogosphere this week – from both Andrea and Liv.
  • Twyla reviewed Glass Monkey this past week.
  • Speaking of Glass Monkey – Phil’s latest Burger Odyssey pits their burger against an offering from Original Joe’s.
  • Lillian wrote about taco day at Expressionz Café, something I’ve been meaning to try as well! Looks like it is worth seeking out.
  • Harambee (11008 107 Avenue) is the newest Ethiopian and Eritrean restaurant in Edmonton, located in the Queen Mary Park neighbourhood.
  • City & Dale wrote a feature on Woodwork’s wonderful bar.
  • Great to see a lengthy piece on Reclaim Urban Farm in Vue Weekly. Reclaim takes unused spaces in mature neighbourhoods and grows food for the community – look for their product at farmers’ markets and restaurants this summer.
  • I had a productive dinner meeting at Woodwork on Thursday. It was great to see some new things on the menu (the country pie with chicken and ham was delicious!), but we also tried some things I’ve been before but never ordered. The charcuterie board with various house-made meats was more than enough to share between the four of us. The venture into offal with an order of beef tongue was interesting –  it was perhaps a bit too sour tasting for me with the vinaigrette, but I found the texture to be similar to boiled ham.

Woodwork

Charcuterie board at Woodwork

Woodwork

Marinated beef tongue at Woodwork

  • On Friday I caught up with May and Annie over dinner at Tavern 1903. While the food was great (and actually, the portions huge – the chicken and waffles featured two large pieces of meat), I was really disappointed with the service. I had a great previous experience, so to deal with a curt, indifferent server made me reconsider heading back soon.

Tavern 1903

Chicken and waffles at Tavern 1903

  • These food notes are late because I spent the last three days at Pigeon Lake for a work-related training. We stayed at the Village Creek Country Inn, and after this, I’ll definitely be back! A fresh blanket of snow made it a picturesque winter wonderland, perfect for contemplative walks.

Pigeon Lake

Loved this sign

Pigeon Lake

Snow!

March 26th, 2014

Calgary Mini-Break: All That’s Fit to Eat

Too often I put off my travel posts, which usually results in the good eats never being shared. Hopefully I’m reversing the trend now!

Last weekend, Mack and I headed down to Calgary for a much-needed break. Though the weather we encountered was more winter than spring, it was still nice to step away from our usual routine for a few days. While a dead car battery threw a wrench in some of our plans, we still managed to hit up more than a few places.

Coffee and Snacks

We’re always a little jealous of Calgary’s coffee scene – notably of Phil & Sebastian’s. It’s wonderful to find them all over the city – from mature neighbourhoods (Mission) to farmers’ markets (Symons Valley) to shopping centres (Chinook Mall), we’re never far from great coffee. We’re fortunate that District Coffee Co. in Edmonton now carries their beans, so it means we don’t have travel as far to pick up a bag!

Phil & Sebastian's

Pick-me-up from Phil & Sebastian’s

Analog Café by Fratello Coffee Roasters is one of our new favourites that opened last fall. It’s become a welcome haven on 17th Avenue after a day of shopping.

Analog Cafe

Afternoon coffee at Analog

As well, Analog carries pastries by Sidewalk Citizen Bakery, the darling of the baked goods scene in Calgary. We made the effort to check out the bakery’s main location, just off MacLeod surrounded by light industrial buildings. It was worth it for their flaky, buttery cheese sticks alone.

Sidewalk Citizen Bakery

Pastry case at Sidewalk Citizen Bakery

We also usually end up visiting at least one farmers’ market while in town, and this occasion was no different. Crossroads Market renovated a portion of their building to accommodate more food vendors – hopefully in the summer the stalls will be filled with more produce vendors, as I find the import-happy Chongo’s is a poor substitute. At any rate, we decided to share an order of poutine from Rocky’s Burger Bus, parked outside of the market, for lunch (one of the items that made Julie van Rosendaal’s 2014 list of 25 Best things to Eat).

Rocky's Burger Bus

Rocky’s Burger Bus

It was comforting to see the container of russets on the windowsill of the bus, and as expected, the fries tasted fresh and remained crispy in spite of its gravy bath. We did find the gravy to be on the salty side, but it was still pretty tasty.

Rocky's Burger Bus

Poutine from Rocky’s Burger Bus

Bensonhurst Pizza

Open for about a month, Bensonhurst Pizza joins an already crowded club of Calgary pizza joints. However, Bensonhurst distinguishes itself by not specializing on one type of pie, but offering a variety of styles, including Neopolitan, Sicilian, Californian, New York and Chicago. Bensonhurst is named after one of the neighbourhood’s in Brooklyn’s Little Italy, so the menu is rounded out by other American-Italian favourites – meatballs, lasagnas and the like.

We were advised that a 9-inch Chicago-style pizza ($18)  would be enough for two, and warned that it would take 35 minutes to make. I’m not sure it was worth waiting for. I’m not one for overly greasy pizzas, but this one ran the other end of the spectrum, with a crust so dry it reminded us of bread. As a result, it could have used much more cheese, if only to provide a bit more fat for flavour.

Bensonhurst Pizza

Chi-Town Classic with pepperoni and mushrooms

While we liked the concept of offering multiple pizza varieties, Bensonhurst might have to make sure the execution is better to encourage repeat business. Hopefully this was just a blip attributed to their newly-open status.

Briggs Kitchen & Bar

Briggs Kitchen & Bar wasn’t our first choice for brunch, but being walking distance from our hotel and having the option of reserving a table was enough to sway us.

With Top Chef Canada alum Xavier Lacaze in the kitchen, I hear that dinner seats are hard to come by, but on that morning, the tables were few and far between. The industrial chic room, with buffed concrete floors and dark metal fixtures lent themselves more to an after-dark dining experience, but we expected as much. Their brunch menu is small and more sophisticated than most.

Case in point, my classic breakfast ($11) was comprised of ratatouille, prosciutto and fried eggs. I would have preferred the addition of some varying textures (crispy prosciutto, perhaps?), and likely should have waited several moments before diving in – the cast iron skillet kept the dish piping hot.

Briggs

Classic breakfast

Mack’s breakfast perogies ($13) was the better dish, if not only for its unique nature and, well, a generous sprinkling of crispy bacon.

Briggs

Breakfast perogies

Of note, our server was excellent, chipper and upbeat, and made sure our coffee was always topped up. It was a different kind of brunch than what we’re normally used to in Calgary, but one we’d return to, particularly if our group required reservations.

River Café

I’m a little embarrassed that it took us this long to finally get to River Café, a restaurant consistently regarded among Calgary’s best. And I’m happy to say it didn’t disappoint.

Tucked in Prince’s Island Park, requiring a five minute walk from the nearest parking lot (or for us, a half hour walk from our hotel), River Café should be one of the examples cited in conversations about Edmonton’s river valley development. I recognize that our river valley poses a gradient challenge Calgary doesn’t face, but I was more than a little surprised that a room full of people, many dressed in their weekend finery, were more than happy to brave the cold for a cozy dinner.

The room’s décor, lined with vintage cross-country skis, snowshoes and canoes, borders dangerously close to kitschy, but it somehow manages to remain on the charming side of cabin chic. Between the roaring wood hearth and the unseen forno oven in the kitchen, we smelled like campfire by the end of the night, cementing the concept of River Café as an urban getaway.

River Cafe

Mack at River Cafe

The food was memorable, starting with a white gold burrata ($15) – a made-in-Calgary item that seems to be appearing on menus all over the city. It featured a healthy serving of the fresh cheese, served with pickled cucumber and rye crisps.

River Cafe

White Gold burrata

Our server sold the night’s feature so well that Mack and I both decided to order it. Heralding spring, the al forno roasted halibut and fiddleheads ($39) was perfectly cooked and was such a joy to eat. It’s rare that we select the same entrée, and even more uncommon that we don’t regret it.

River Cafe

Roasted halibut and fiddleheads

I enjoyed the dessert of s’mores ($3), and in particular the buttery house-made graham cookie.

River Cafe

S’more

The service was fantastic – besides an initial delay in taking our order, ended on a note so warm and familiar we wanted to return for brunch in the morning. Needless to say, we’ve earmarked at least one of our next meals in Calgary already.

It was definitely another successful food-filled mini-break!

March 25th, 2014

Join us at Eat Alberta 2014: April 26, 2014

It’s hard to believe Eat Alberta is four years old! I still remember our first event, held in the basement of Enterprise Square downtown. Though it was a less than ideal facility for a hands-on cooking conference, all of our presenters rocked it out, and those who attended found it to be a really worthwhile day of learning, connecting, and of course, eating! Fast forward to 2014, and I’m happy to say we’re still going strong!

Eat Alberta 2011

Pasta making at Eat Alberta 2011

For those of you who aren’t aware, Eat Alberta is a one-day, workshop-style conference that teaches participants how to use and source local food. We’ve since relocated our event to NAIT, with kitchens and classrooms designed for sessions ranging from bacon making to beer tasting. This year, Eat Alberta is scheduled to take place on April 26, 2014.

Eat Alberta 2012

Bread making at Eat Alberta 2012

It’s been wonderful to work with local chefs, farmers and food advocates who are keen to share their passion with others. I’m continually amazed that we continue to expand our Eat Alberta family, though in a community as knowledge rich as ours, this really shouldn’t be a surprise.

Eat Alberta

Sausage making at Eat Alberta 2013

This year, among others, we’re happy to welcome Erica Vliegenthart, the head baker at District Coffee Co., who will be teaching a session on basic biscuits, and Shovel & Fork’s Elyse Chatterton leading hands-on workshops on how to break down a side of pork. I’m also excited about Michelle Peters-Jones’ class on making curry with Alberta pulses – vegetarian cuisine sometimes gets the short end of the stick in this province, so I’m excited to see the flavours she will bring to the table! Check out the rest of the session descriptions here.

Eat Alberta

Bacon making at Eat Alberta 2013

Besides the four workshops, participants can also expect two plenary sessions, including a thought-provoking panel we’ve dubbed “Seedy Business”, which will present varying viewpoints on several controversial food issues: urban beekeeping, backyard chickens and raw milk.

Like last year, attendees will select from one of ten tracks. Although we know most people would prefer to choose their own itinerary, we’ve found this method allows for a more equitable distribution of hands-on classes, and potentially exposes participants to topics they may not have sought out initially.

Eat Alberta

Perogy making at Eat Alberta 2013

Tickets to Eat Alberta 2014 are $150, and include a light breakfast, lunch and a wine down. Tickets go on sale on Tuesday, March 25, 2014 at 10 a.m.

Hope to see you there!