25 Best Things to Eat in Calgary 2013
The dishes, drinks and ingredients that must be tried this year.
Naan-wich from Shef's Fiery Kitchen
Photography by Erin Brooke Burns
If you're looking to indulge in some of the city's tastiest treats, look no further than Julie Van Rosendaal's list of personal favourites.
1. Fior di Latte from White Gold Cheese Factory
Cheesemakers Paolo Campanella and Frank Fiorini from Rome launched White Gold Cheese Factory in 2011 when they couldn’t find good-quality mozzarella in Canada. Now, three times a week, the cousins turn whole, non-modified Canadian cow’s milk into some of the freshest cheese in the city — hand-stretched, artisanal mozzarella (fior di latte means “flower of milk”) the size of marbles, golf balls or baseballs.
2. Montreal Bagels
Giving a bun a hole doesn’t make it a bagel. At Montreal Bagels, they’re made in proper Montreal style — hand-shaped, boiled in honeyed water and baked in a wood-fired oven for a dense, slightly sweet, chewy texture and glossy sheen. They come showered in poppy seeds or sesame seeds, white or multigrain, and are almost always warm, fresh from the wood peel that transfers them in and out of the enormous hot oven.
(103, 8408 Elbow Dr. S.W., 403-212-4060)
3. Davenport's Tasty Sensations Butter-Nut Crunch
In 1997, Barb Davenport made a batch of butternut crunch for a bake sale at her kids’ school. Made by dousing popcorn, whole almonds and pecans with a generous quantity of buttery toffee, it was so deliciously addictive she was bombarded with requests for more — and a company was born. Now family-run and based in Okotoks, the small-batch Butter-Nut Crunch is as popular as ever — and just as addictive.
(Crossroads Market, 403-938-8225, davenportsensations.com)
4. Rendang Daging from Kaffir Lime at the Kingsland Farmers' Market
It’s slow food, fast — authentic Indonesian served in a food court, with the option of sitting down to eat off square bamboo plates or taking your favourite dish frozen to reheat at home. Prepared by an Indonesian chef with Hoven Farms organic beef, the Rendang Daging (beef simmered in coconut milk with galangal, cayenne, cinnamon and spices) is melt-in-your-mouth tender and flavourful. It’s exotic home cooking to go.
(Kingsland Farmers’ Market, 403-852-7491,kfmcalgary.com)
5. Tuesday Tacos from Tubby Dog
There is great Mexican takeout in Calgary. You just have to know where to look. Every Tuesday night at 8 p.m., Tubby Dog transforms into the Tubby Taqueria, serving up some of the best made-from-scratch tacos and tostadas this side of L.A. Soft corn tacos and crisp tostadas are stuffed or piled high with your choice of chicken, pork, beef, bean and queso fresco or slow-cooked lengua (beef tongue) and traditional toppings. Get there early, as they sell out fast.
6. Pasta Sauce from Peppino's
You can’t get its famous sandwiches at Peppino’s Bridgeland location, but you will find a freezer stocked with 20 different pasta sauces — red, white and rosé, all made from scratch. From arrabiata to Alfredo, there are sauces with meat and without; some are gluten-free, and all contain simple, recognizable ingredients.
7. Salted Caramel Ice Cream and Homemade Waffles Cones at Village Ice Cream
Calgary’s newest ice creamery offers a variety of local, standard flavours like Phil & Sebastian coffee, Girl Guide’s mint and toasted coconut, but the standout is the salted caramel, made with homemade caramel, heavy on the salt. It’s best served in a fresh waffle cone, made one at a time, in a waffle iron on the front counter.
8. Cheese Pockets from Little Lebanon
There are many tasty pockets to choose from at Little Lebanon, but my favourite is the cheese pocket, stuffed with a combination of akawie, halloom and nabulsi cheeses that melt all creamy, salty and flavourful inside the pizza-like, slightly charred crust. The fresh yeast dough is rolled out when you order it, then filled, crimped closed and put through a hot oven to bake. Chances are you’ll be handed a piece of baklava or fatayr as you wait.
(3515 17 Ave. S.W., 403-217-0500,littlelebanonpita.com)
9. Lamb Kebabs from Koob
The folks from Atlas Specialty Supermarket & Persian Cuisine have brought Persian fast food to the masses. Short for koobideh — ground or minced meat shaped around a skewer and cooked over an open flame — Koob is a kebab takeout joint where ground lamb (or ground beef chuck, chicken or a vegetarian option) is cooked over an open fire, wrapped in a pita or tossed on a salad, then dolled up with any number of toppings and sauces including house-made hummus, sumac or pickled onions and spicy pomegranate sauce.
10. Blintzes from Margarita's
These authentic blintzes — crepes stuffed with homemade cottage cheese, baked apples, sauerkraut and mushrooms or spinach and feta — are unlike any I’ve had in Calgary. There’s sour cream on the side if you choose, and the cottage cheese blintzes can be slathered in preserves made from whatever fruit inspires Margarita that week.
(510 77 Ave. S.E., in the Calgary Farmers’ Market, 403-244-4548)
11. Mac Melts from Cheezy Bizness
It’s tough to choose just one sandwich from the Cheezy Bizness food truck. They’re all cheese masterpieces, built using local ingredients from Spragg’s Meat Shop, Silver Sage Beef, Gull Valley Tomatoes and Sylvan Star Farms on bread supplied by Yum Bakery. However, the Mac Melts — truck-made mac & cheese in your grilled cheese — are a standout, happening only once a week. When Cheesy Biz tweets #macmelts, you’ll know it’s time to go.
12. Espresso Milkshakes at Caffe Beano
At Caffè Beano, they take iced coffee to a whole new level, whirling a double shot of Italian-style espresso — a signature blend by Fratello that has been custom-made for Beano for 21 years — with vanilla ice cream and a touch of steamed milk to make the creamiest, richest espresso milkshake imaginable. Unless, of course, you count the chocolate espresso milkshake, to which semi-sweet Bernard Callebaut chocolate is also added.
(Caffè Beano, 1613 9 St. S.W., 403-229-1232, caffebeano.ca)
13. Yatu Gourmet Magic Spice Paste
The 200-year-old family recipe for this unique spice blend comes from a small village in western Ethiopia. Frequent requests for the recipe prompted the Calgary family to go into business, and their slogan, “so good you will add it to everything,” is deserved — the spice paste is delicious on (or in) anything from burgers, roast chicken and stews to veggies, scrambled eggs and even quinoa. Made with tomato paste, canola oil, spices and chilis, the blend is sugar- and gluten-free.
(Kingsland Farmers’ Market and The Better Butcher, 377 Heritage Dr. S.E., 403-918-3939,yatuspices.com)
14. Traditional Hutterite Bacon
The Clear Lake Colony, a diversified farming business located just outside Claresholm, produces natural, thick-sliced traditional bacon that begins with Clear Lake Durocs — a heritage breed of hog — and ends with classic breakfast-style bacon that’s lower in sodium than other varieties but has incredible flavour, thanks to a long smoking process.
15. Croque Monsieur from L'Epicerie
Anyone craving a French experience can find it at L’Epicerie, and among the best offerings is the crunchy, cheesy croque monsieur — a grilled ham and cheese sandwich topped with a béchamel sauce and broiled. Popular in Parisian cafés, this Calgary version can be eaten warm at one of the small tables in the small bistro/ deli or taken out assembled but unbaked to cook at home.
16. Vital Green Farms Cream
Those on the lookout for British-style double or clotted cream will be happy to find Alberta’s own version — pure Vital Green Farms heavy cream is 52 per cent butterfat, compared with the standard 35 per cent you’ll find in grocery stores. Vital Green cream is so thick straight from the bottle, it barely needs whipping. It’s deliciously clean-tasting and slightly sweet; perfect for dolloping on freshly baked scones.
(Available at farmers’ markets and fine grocery stores around the city.)
17. Greens from Leaf & Lyre Urban Farms
SPIN (small plot intensive) farmers Rod Olson and Chad Kile appeal to those who love the idea of a backyard garden but don’t have the time, interest or expertise to maintain one. They’ve solicited room in unused residential yards to grow greens, veggies and herbs throughout the city, taking advantage of the longer seasons produced by ambient city heat and the relative lack of crop-damaging creatures. Crops are shared with homeowners and CSA customers, and the rest is sold at the Hillhurst-Sunnyside Farmers’ Market every Wednesday evening.
(4607 81 St. N.W., 403-703-3217, @leafandlyre)
18. Pain au Chocolat from La Boulangerie
There’s no shortage of delicious pain au chocolat in Calgary, but few are as rich and buttery as the rolls of golden, flaky pastry wrapped around chunks of dark chocolate at La Boulangerie. The Parisian-style croissants are light but hefty; unlike some pain au chocolat, they aren’t all air.
(2435 4 St. S.W., 403-984-9294)
19. Noble Meadows Farm Goat Cheese with Apricot Preserves
The family farm in Nobleford, Alta., is known for the goat milk products they make right on the farm. One of the most popular is a tub of creamy, spreadable chèvre topped with apricot-chile jam — a delicious combination of sweet and tangy that’s easy to pick up for a party. (While you’re at their Kingsland Market stall, pick up some stunningly beautiful pale pastel eggs).
20. Porchetta from Lina's
The porchetta [por-ketta] is so popular at Lina’s that they prepare two a day. In true Italian culinary tradition, a pork leg with its skin is stuffed with fresh rosemary, garlic and other top-secret ingredients, then roasted for five hours, resulting in moist, flavourful meat encased in a thick layer of crackling. You’ll find it in the deli section (alongside one of the best selections of cured meats in the city) to take home for a quick dinner or spectacular sandwiches.
(2202 Centre St. N.E., 403-277-9166, linasmarket.com)
21. Naan-wiches from Shef's Fiery Kitchen
Let’s face it, most Indian food is best with a round of charred, chewy naan to help scoop up excess sauce. Shef’s takes fresh naan, baked in a tandoori oven that reaches temperatures of about 650˚F, and wraps it around free-range beef shish kebabs, chicken tikka, satay veg, lamb mishkaki or curry for a deliciously different sandwich. No need for a knife and fork, but grab a few extra napkins. Or you can pick up a bag of naan to go.
22. Smoked Turkeys from Winter's Turkeys
If you’re that family who does battle every holiday over turkey vs. ham, Winter’s has you covered. It has some whole free-range turkeys cured at Ryan’s Meats, using a similar process to that which turns pig into ham; the result is a whole bird that looks like a turkey but tastes like a cross between turkey and ham. Having been cured, it’s easier to cook, too. They’re available seasonally (Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas) or by special order.
(Available at grocery stores, butchers and markets across Calgary, 403-936-5586, wintersturkeys.ca)
23. Cheese Sticks from Sidewalk Citizen Bakery
It’s impossible to choose the best of the display case at Sidewalk Citizen; any flour that baker Aviv Fried touches turns to tender, flaky gold. One of the most popular items are the enormous twisted cheese sticks made with from-scratch croissant dough twisted with grated cheese and scattered with sesame and black nigella seeds. They’re so long they have to be folded in half to tuck into a paper bag.
24. Bitters from Silk Road
Once sold as cure-alls for nausea and stomach maladies, bitters found their way behind the bar, becoming mixologists’ seasonings of choice for simple and complex cocktails. Angostura aromatic bitters, blended in Trinidad, are the most common, but new infusions and distillations are making their way onto the market. Silk Road offers bitters in flavours like citrus, black walnut, lavender, cardamom and plum. Not only do they punch up your cocktails, they add a new dimension of flavour to kitchen creations, as well.
25. Montreal Smoked Meat Poutine at Alberta King of Subs
For a decade, Alberta King of Subs has been a well-kept secret, tucked away in a strip mall in the city’s northeast. It serves traditional smoked meat imported directly from Montreal, as well as authentic poutine, creton (pork pâté) and other Quebecois specialties. The poutine is topped with real curds, and if you opt for it, gravy made using the cooking juices from the Montreal smoked meat. Tender, juicy chunks of the meat itself is also an option.
(7196 Temple Dr. N.E., 403-293-5809, albertakingofsubs.com)