25 Best Things to Eat in Calgary 2014
These dishes, drinks and ingredients are on this year's must-try list.
Lemon tarts from Eclaire de Lune
Photography by Jared Sych
Every year, we scour the city for some of the best things to eat — a job that gets increasingly interesting as the food scene grows and diversifies, always in flux, pushing itself to deliver the very tastiest of things for the city’s discerning palates. If you’re hungry for something new, or if you’re showcasing our culinary landscape to out-of-town guests, here are 25 things definitely worth trying.
1. Pecorino from The Cheesiry
Cheesemaker Rhonda Zuk Headon learned how to make cheese in Tuscany, then brought her skill back to Alberta to make artisanal pecorino by hand on a small farm by Kitscoty, Alta. (near Lloydminster), with help from her small flock of sheep. Her unpasteurized pecorino is aged a minimum of two months. Look for it at fine cheese shops around town including Blush Lane Organic Market, Springbank Cheese and Janice Beaton Fine Cheese.
2. Highwood Distillers Irish Cream
Irish Cream doesn’t have to come all the way from Ireland; we have our own Alberta version of Baileys made in a post-flood rebuilt facility in High River. Highwood Distillers’ Ceili’s Irish Cream has the same classic flavour but racks up far fewer air miles.
3. Custard Shakes from Clive Burger
They’re not milkshakes at Clive Burger, but rather thick, sweet and slightly salty custard shakes that come in chocolate, vanilla, coffee, strawberry and cherry. You can even get them with a shot of bourbon — which goes particularly well with cherry. Oh, yes.
4. Sandwiches from Sidewalk Citizen
At Sidewalk Citizen, you’ll find daily sandwich creations — one meaty, one vegetarian offering each day — using creative combinations of high-quality ingredients, all loaded onto the bakery’s mind-blowing bread. Pick them up at either bakery location or at Analog Coffee on 17th Avenue at 7th Street S.W.
5. Feta from Kalamata Grocery
Since 1967, Kalamata has been serving feta out of massive barrels. You’ll find at least half a dozen varieties alongside other Mediterranean cheeses and dozens of types of olives. Party = done.
(1421 11 St. S.W., 403-244-0220)
6. Stuffed Burgers at Naina's Kitchen
The stuffed burgers are made to order at Naina’s and can be customized with cheese, caramelized onions, bacon, sun-dried tomatoes, spinach, pulled pork and more — you name the combination and a half-pound burger will arrive on your oilcloth-covered table for the ultimate beef experience. (I love mine stuffed with cheddar and jalapenos.) Some people call ahead to order, as the stuffed burgers take a little longer than other menu items.
7. Local Garlic
Our cold Alberta climate is ideal for growing amazing garlic. The plump purple heads with sticky, intense cloves are infinitely better than the papery garlic shipped from China. The New Oxley Ranche by Claresholm is one local producer known for its great garlic; you’ll find it at markets around town soon after spring arrives.
8. Gluten-Free Buns from Care Bakery
Many local restaurants are serving up burgers, sandwiches and other menu items on gluten-free buns made by Care Bakery. These buns are so similar to regular buns, the Care company logo is baked into the bottom of each one so you can check to be sure. Care-baked goods will change your mind about gluten-free breads; they’re available at retailers and on restaurant menus across Alberta — consult Care’s website for locations.
9. Mouhammara at Aida's Bistro
The roasted red pepper, walnut, onion and pomegranate molasses dip at this family-run Lebanese restaurant is legendary; it’s served drizzled with olive oil with soft pitas for scooping. Even if you do manage to get the recipe, it just tastes better when Aida makes it.
10. Made by Marcus Ice Cream
Marcus Purtzki makes delicious ice cream using organic cream from Vital Green Farms in Picture Butte — you can find it jarred in the freezer at The Cookbook Company Cooks, Janice Beaton Fine Cheese, Blush Lane Organic Market and the Bridgeland Market.
11. Porter's Tonic
During the winter months, Nicole Fewell of the Cheezy Bizness food truck spends her time making real tonic by steeping distilled water with lemon, lime, lemongrass, cinchona bark and agave nectar to create a tonic concentrate. Mix it 1:1 with your favourite gin, then top with soda water and ice for a sublime G&T. You’ll find it on the menu at restaurants around town, including Taste and Sugo, or pick up a bottle at Vine Arts or Silk Road Spice Merchants.
12. Truffle Salt from Fifth Element
Nothing elevates a bowl of popcorn like truffle salt, but high-quality truffles are essential. Fifth Element sources fresh Australian and European truffles that arrive within 36 and 48 hours of being harvested. You can order your own, buy them frozen or (in addition to the salt) try the truffle oil, honey or cream.
13. Highwood Crossing Granola
Highwood Crossing makes the ultimate Calgary breakfast cereal — a preservative-free granola made weekly with certified organic rolled oats, whole flax and sunflower seeds, cold-pressed canola oil and amber maple syrup. During the winter months, you can switch to Highwood Crossing’s warm Power Grains cereal. Available at Blush Lane Organic Market, Community Natural Foods and Calgary Co-op grocery stores.
(810 Centre St. S.E., High River, 403-652-1910, highwoodcrossing.com, @highwoodc)
14. Pig's Head Mortadella at Charcut Roast House
Charcut is known for its charcuterie, and the common denominator on every board that comes out of the kitchen is the pile of paper-thin, pistachio-studded pig’s head mortadella — hand-mixed pork, studded with pistachios and truffles, served with a dollop of grainy Brassica mustard. Hello, Alberta.
15. Pretzel Buns from Rustic Sourdough Bakery
The chewy, mahogany-coloured buns at Rustic Sourdough are topped with coarse salt, just like a pretzel. They’re fantastic straight up (especially if you can get a brown paper bag of them warm from the oven), go well with cheese and make for a fab mini sandwich.
(1305 17 Ave. S.W., 403-245-2113, and the Kingsland Farmers’ Market,rusticsourdoughbakery.ca)
16. Hunter's Pies from Wapiti Ways
Chunks of lean, tender Alberta-ranched elk, naturally raised on pasture grass, hay and alfalfa, are simmered in a dark ale gravy, with mushrooms, sweet carrots and pearl onions and then baked into a pie — a divine dinner you take and bake.
17. Potato Pizza at Posto
At Posto, Bonterra’s more casual next-door pizza joint, the dough is made with the same formula as at Cibo (the group’s other pizza restaurant on 17th Avenue), and it’s baked in the same-modeloven. But Posto’s potato pizza is unique; topped with rich crème fraîche, sautéed leeks, smoked pancetta and thinly sliced potato, it’s even better than the sum of its parts — a perfect balance of creamy, chewy, salty, sweet and savoury that brings you back for more.
18. Espresso Balsamic Vinegar from Soffrito Oil and Vinegar Bar
There are plenty of delicious balsamics to choose from at Soffritto — and the shop encourages tasting — but the espresso balsamic is so delicious, it’s tempting to drink it straight. Add some to fizzy water to make your own soft drink, or drizzle over good-quality vanilla ice cream or strawberries.
19. Takeout Curries from Calgary Co-op
The butter chicken, tikka masala, chicken vindaloo and vegetarian chana (chickpea) masala are made from scratch at Calgary Co-op by in-house chefs, as is the chewy naan. Mix and match containers with steamed basmati rice. Indian takeout has never been more convenient.
20. Montreal Smoked Bison from Olson's High Country Bison
Olson’s offers more than 50 free-range, grass-fed bison products, from short ribs to saskatoon berry bratwurst. Among these many delights, its cured meats are truly divine — the bison pastrami, or Montreal smoked bison, makes for one of the tastiest sandwiches in Alberta. Try the salamis, pepperoni and landjaeger on your next charcuterie board.
21. Chocolate Cake from Purple Perk
It dominates the counter, towering on its enormous cake stand. The classic birthday-style chocolate layer cake at Purple Perk can be bought by the slice — each taller than it is wide — or you can order an entire cake, which clocks in at about 10 pounds and will do your party proud.
22. Vietnamese Subs from Thi Thi Vietnamese Submarines
The subs at Thi Thi are practically iconic in Calgary, generating lineups out the door (not hard when there’s barely room for three inside) most weekdays at noon. Most popular are beef, chicken or a combination of the two on a toasted roll, loaded with pickled carrots, sliced cucumbers, chilies and fresh cilantro and doused in Thi Thi’s special sauce.
(209 1 St. S.E., 403-265-5452)
23. Curried Red Lentil Soup from Gravity Espresso and Wine Bar
Owner Andy Fennel says he gives away the recipe for his vegan curried sweet potato, carrot, red lentil and ginger soup a few times per week; it’s smooth and sippable, available to eat in or take to go in a coffee cup.
24. Poutine from Rocky's Burger Bus
Like everything else served up at Rocky’s, the gravy at Rocky’s Burger Bus is made in-house (or in-bus, as it were). Its used to top hand-cut fries and loads of cheese curds when you orderpoutine, which is large enough to feed at least two hungry people — or even a small family.
(Crossroads Market, rockysburgers.com)
25. Lemon Tart from Eclaire de Lune
With a crunchy shortbread base, tart lemon curd centre and marshmallowy pillow of meringue on top, the lemon tarts are among the most popular offerings at Eclaire de Lune. (The croissants are pretty spectacular, too.)
(1049 40 Ave. N.W., 403-398-8803, and the Calgary Farmers’ Market.)