Friday, March 15th, 2013 at 11:44 pm
Weekend in Calgary: Airbnb, Burgers and Brunch
To celebrate our anniversary, we headed to Calgary in early March. Calgary is our favourite weekend getaway, and allows us to dabble with a few more players in their ever-changing food scene. We had to cut our trip short this time around because of the snowpocalypse that Sunday, but still managed to fit in quite a few eats!
Our go-to accommodation in Calgary has been the luxurious Hotel Le Germain in downtown Calgary. It’s an easy way to pamper ourselves, and we’ve always had such a relaxing time in their serene and contemporary rooms.
This time, we couldn’t justify the cost for a two-night stay, and used this opportunity to explore booking through Airbnb. A site that connects travellers with property owners who have an extra room or unit to rent, Airbnb offers a plethora of short-term stay options. The apartments are often at a fraction of the cost of hotel prices, with the added benefits of a fully-furnished home, such as a kitchen or in-suite laundry. Friends of ours have raved about their experience using the site in New York and Paris; why couldn’t it work a little closer to home?
Although the Airbnb selection on Calgary wasn’t as extensive as those of larger municipalities, they still have more property listings than Edmonton. We narrowed down our search to private lodgings in central neighbourhoods, and eventually settled on the Clean Central Modern Apartment located in Mission, just south of the 17 Avenue entertainment district. The photos had been verified by Airbnb (they have since been updated by the property owner, so haven’t yet been re-verified), and the comments for the listing were very positive.
Communication with the property owner Christoph was seamless, and in most cases, I received an instantaneous response. We arranged to meet up on Friday afternoon to access the keys and a tour. In this way, it is a little less convenient than a hotel in terms of a fluid check-in time, but it was a relatively minor hassle when compared with the cost savings.
The one-bedroom unit appeared exactly as advertised, though some furniture of equal quality had been swapped in. Everything was extremely clean, and the building was quiet. Best of all for that particular weekend, since most of our dining experiences clustered around 17 Avenue, the location was spot-on.
A bonus of this unit was its direct proximity to the Elbow River walking trails. We stretched our legs after arrival, and could see how this unit would be well-suited to a longer-term stay.
Beautiful walking trails
We wouldn’t hesitate to stay at this unit again, and I am happy to say that our first experience with Airbnb was a positive one! I’ve booked another Airbnb unit for an upcoming trip to Toronto, so we’ll see how that one works out!
Burger bars seemed to trend up in Calgary last year, with several establishments opening up within months of one another. Clive Burger was one we had read about during our last jaunt south, so we headed there for lunch on Friday.
It’s an easy-to-miss storefront tucked onto 17 Avenue. The order counter and open kitchen was pretty standard, but the rest of the decor was modern, fresh and fun. I loved the pop of the orange chairs, the pendant lamps, and especially the wall of cartoon Clive and friends “documenting” their world travels.
Fun cartoon wall
The menu was fairly standard, similar to other burger bars in Edmonton (Burger Joint, Rodeo Burger, Five Guys among them). A hamburger was $6, with less than a dozen free fixins to choose from. Fries (fried in peanut oil) were $2.50 for a small.
After we ordered, we were given a buzzer that would notify us when our order was up. Mack noted that this was less personable than name calling, but it was definitely more efficient.
The burgers themselves were nothing special. Mack found the patties to be disappointingly thin, but I found that to be on par with most other burger bars. Glaringly, Mack’s paid egg fixin was left off his order – he would have gone back to have it remade, but given we were both hungry, we just chalked it up as a loss.
The star of the meal turned out not to be the namesake burger, but the chipotle-mayo Clive sauce that accompanied the crispy fries.
I’d drop by Clive again if I needed a greasy pick-me-up in the area, but it didn’t impress us enough to want to return again in a targeted way.
Two doors down from Clive Burger was Analog Coffee, Fratello Coffee’s new cafe on 17 Avenue. Similar to how Phil & Sebastian’s expanded after gaining popularity at the barracks location of the Calgary Farmers’ Market, Analog Coffee serves up coffee at the new CFM, and opened this standalone cafe at the end of 2012.
It’s a beautiful space, warm and rustic, with a beckoning bakery case filled with goods from La Boulangerie and Sidewalk Citizen.
We ordered a pour-over cold brew made with Fratello-roasted coffee (if course), but the best thing was the milk station also featured several different syrup flavours – I loved the opportunity to sweeten our drink to taste. Make sure you stop by if you are in the neighbourhood!
The Fine Diner
We hadn’t yet hit up The Fine Diner in Inglewood, so we planned to have brunch there on Saturday morning. When we arrived, we were a bit surprised that there wasn’t already a crowd in the lobby. It turned out The Fine Diner was blessed with a back room (which looked like it used to function as a private dining space) where brunch-goers were invited to sit and enjoy some coffee while they waited (until we have similar provisions for overflow, I’m not sure we can talk about Edmonton’s brunch culture in the same breath).
We had to wait about 40 minutes for a table, not bad considering the dining room was relatively small. The high-backed banquet seats reminded me of Dairy Lane, but the decor was cleaner and more sophisticated.
Hurrah for brunch!
The Fine Diner is notable for the fact that they cure their own bacon. So we both had to try the bacon for ourselves – I ordered the egg breakfast ($11), while Mack chose the bacon benny ($13).
The bacon didn’t disappoint – thick-cut, salty, with a hint of maple syrup sweetness. I did expect crispier potatoes though with the use of the term “hash browns” on the menu.
Mack liked his eggs benedict, with soft poached eggs, and a bread base that did not get soggy. The fresh fruit was also a nice touch.
While we enjoyed The Fine Diner, I have to say we liked our most recent experience at Blue Star Diner just a bit better. But in the grand scheme of the brunch scene in Calgary, The Fine Diner is another good addition.
Our typical farmers’ market haunts in Calgary include the Kingsland Farmers’ Market and Calgary Farmers’ Market, but from Mary Ellen and Andres of Greens, Eggs and Ham, we heard about the Crossroads Market. Since we were dining in nearby Inglewood anyway, we took the opportunity to stop by after brunch on Saturday.
Given our major farmers’ markets are situated in public transit-accessible locations, it’s always a shift for me when approaching the Calgary markets, which are usually challenging to reach with any means of transportation other than a vehicle. The Crossroads Market seemed to be the same.
Because we new Greens, Eggs and Ham was a relatively new vendor at Crossroads, we expected to be greeted by farm fresh products. Instead, our first visual was a wall of VHS tapes.
We quickly learned that Crossroads was in transition, renovating so it would resemble the other large markets in Calgary. Wooden beams framed some of the food stalls already, but the flea market aspects will remain. Maybe it’s just us, but it is one thing to have hand-made arts and crafts for sale, but antiques and collectibles didn’t seem like the best fit alongside farmers’ market vendors.
After wandering through the merchandise stalls, we encountered a shoddy food court packed with weekend traffic. We’re certain a few of the vendors may have been hidden gems (most of them seemed to be mom and pop-run ethnic eateries), but we weren’t looking for a meal.
To be honest, we didn’t take time to explore the protein or prepared food vendors, as we were more interested in produce that day; I was hoping to pick up some fruit to snack on the rest of the trip. We finally found a major produce vendor called Chongo’s at the back of the market, but to our disappointment, none of it appeared to be local.
Carrots the size of my arm
We know Calgary markets permit imported produce like bananas to be sold alongside BC apples, but this was ridiculous. None of the items that could have been grown in Alberta that can be cellared for winter sale did not appear locally sourced, and worse, most of it wasn’t labelled with a country of origin. I had to wonder whether the customers in the long lines thought the produce was local, simply because they were shopping at a “farmers’ market”.
Produce at Crossroads
On the Crossroads Market website, it looks like their summer and fall seasons see more local vendors present. But I can imagine it can be pretty confusing to the average consumer, and unless questions are asked, assumptions could be made about the true origin of the produce.
We’d have to return in the heart of the local growing season to really assess this market, but based on this experience, it will take more than a superficial makeover to convince us that this Crossroads truly a farmers’ market. I’d stick with Kingsland and the Calgary Farmers’ Market on any day or season.
I’ll be writing more about our dinner outings in a separate post!