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August 19, 2019

A Guide to Upscale Casual Western Canadian Restaurant Chains

Bite-sized pieces of information on the upscale casual restaurant chains you know and love (and dine at often) that originated in Western Canada.

 

We all have a favourite upscale casual restaurant we frequent. The service is reliable, the food is consistently good and you know you can take everyone in your family out to eat here and no one will be upset. (It’s hard to find a restaurant where grandma and the kid cousins will both find something they like.)

Upscale casual restaurant chains are a dining out staple, and chances are, your favourite chain is from Western Canada.

The boom in these chains may have been throughout the 1980s, but they’re still doing great things when it comes to food, atmosphere and service. To highlight a few, Cactus Club has a high-profile executive chef and a new Stephen Avenue location, Earls downtown has recently been redone and a new billing system is being tested, and Original Joe’s has partnered with Mealshare.

These 10 chains are worth knowing about. If you haven’t visited them in a while, now is the time to check them out and see how they continue to raise the bar since first opening.

 

Brewsters Brewing Company and Restaurant

This restaurant and brewery keeps it in the family. Michael Lanigan started Brewsters in Calgary in 1989 and now his three kids, Deirdre, Andrew and Matt Lanigan are the co-owners. (They’re also co-owners of Beer Revolution.)

Year it started: 1989

Where it all started: Calgary

Number of Calgary locations: 5

Total number of locations in Canada: 11

Make a note of this:
The Lanigan siblings were involved in lobbying the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission and the government to relax policies and allow brew pubs like Brewsters to sell their beer outside of restaurants. The rules were relaxed and now you can find Brewsters beer in more than 400 liquor stores across the province.

Try this:
You can’t find tater tots on the menu in a lot of restaurants, but you’ll find them here. Try the tater tot poutine the next time you’re here. It’s made with Cajun spiced tater tots, short rib stroganoff, cheese curds, dill pickle and crme fraiche.

 

Cactus Club Caf

The two men who started this restaurant in North Vancouver, Richard Jaffray and Scott Morrison, were Earls waiters before they started this big foodie venture. They had a restaurant before Cactus Club, too. It was called Caf Cucamongas (not quite as catchy a name), which was sold in 1988 to fund Cactus Club. The restaurant expanded into Alberta in 1996.

Year it started: 1988

Where it all started: North Vancouver

Number of Calgary locations: 3

Total number of locations in Canada: 29 (in Calgary, Edmonton, Saskatoon, Toronto and various locations in BC)

Make a note of this:
The third Cactus Club to open in Calgary, the one on Stephen Avenue, is still pretty new. It only opened in November 2015. It’s 6,700 square feet and has an 88 seat patio. It has an extensive cocktail and wine menu and the food menu has both new dishes and Rob Feenie signature dishes – it’s easy to know which those are as they’re marked with an RF icon.

Try this:
Chef Rob Feenie, executive chef of Cactus Club, considers the butternut squash ravioli with prawns, the beef carpaccio and the tuna tataki his favourite dishes currently on the menu. Go with his suggestions – this man was the first Canadian to win Iron Chef America.

 

Chop Steakhouse and Bar

The first Chop Steakhouse and Bar was located in Edmonton’s west side. In just 10 years, Chop has expanded across Canada with locations from British Columbia to Ontario (and even more are opening), including three locations in its origin city of Edmonton.

Year it started: 2006

Where it all started: Edmonton

Number of Calgary locations: 2

Total number of locations in Canada: 12

Make a note of this:
You’re going to want to pay attention to your steak’s crust here. Chop’s steaks are seared for instant caramelization and are then put into the top fire 1,800-degree broiler. The result is a really flavourful steak and a perfect crust.

Try this:
The Chop Smoked Rib Eye Steak. It’s a 14-oz rib eye steak cold smoked in-house with alder, apple and hickory. It’s served with a housemade lemon barbecue sauce. (And that barbecue sauce has 18 ingredients.)

 

Craft Beer Market

In a way, Craft Beer Market started when PJ L’Heureux was 18 and brewing beer in his parents’ house. The idea became a little more fully fledged after a trip to Portland. It became reality when L’Heureux worked with John Liwag and Rob Swiderski to brew the craft beer, plan a menu, put together a team and do all the other work that’s involved in starting a restaurant and brewery.

Year it started: 2011

Where it all started: Calgary

Number of Calgary locations: 1

Total number of locations in Canada: 5 (Calgary, Vancouver, Edmonton, Toronto and Ottawa)

Make a note of this:
Expect another Craft location to open in Calgary soon. Craft Beer Market is scheduled to open at Southcentre this summer. The new location will be on the south side of the mall between Crate and Barrel and Restoration Hardware.

Try this:
If you’re avoiding gluten but still want a substantial main, know that all of Craft’s burgers, sandwiches, flatbreads and pastas are available gluten-free.

 

Earls Kitchen + Bar

Leroy Earl Fuller was an American restauranteur (and a Korean war veteran) who opened his first restaurant in Montana. He moved his family to Edmonton in the late 1950s and opened several A&W locations there before opening the first Earls location in Edmonton in 1982. The Fuller family is also involved with Joey Restaurants and Cactus Club Caf.

Year it started: 1982

Where it all started: Edmonton

Number of Calgary locations: 8

Total number of locations in Canada: 65 (additional locations in the USA)

Make a note of this:
You’ve probably heard the news. The downtown Earls is trying something new when it comes to your bill. Instead of tipping, a 16 per cent mandatory hospitality charge is being tested.

Try this:
Leave room for dessert when you’re dining at this chain. The sticky toffee chocolate pudding, made with a warm pudding cake, chocolate sauce, toffee sauce, vanilla gelato and candy snap, is hard to pass up. And, it’s a customer favourite.

 

Joey Restaurants

Joey was founded by Jeff Fuller, one of Leroy Earl Fuller’s sons. Clearly he’d learned some valuable skills from the success of Earls, because after opening the first Joey in 1992 more opened soon after.

Year it started: 1992

Where it all started: Vancouver

Number of Calgary locations: 4

Total number of locations in Canada: 22

Make a note of this:
Joey recently started serving its own brand of beer. It’s called Joey Genuine Draft and it’s available at all Joey locations in Canada. It’s a light lager and a great craft alternative to an easy-drinking beer like Kokanee. (At Joey Crowfoot, a pint will cost you $6.25.)

Try this:
Order the Ahi tuna tacos. The tuna is lightly seared and the tacos are served with ginger coleslaw and wasabi aioli. And it’s marked as Ocean Wise.

 

Original Joe’s Restaurant & Bar

The very first Original Joe’s location to open was in Marda Loop. It’s known as a full-service, casual restaurant and is loved for the fact that you get two sides to accompany most entrees. Keep in mind that Original Joe’s doesn’t allow minors into its restaurants.

Year it started: 1997

Where it all started: Calgary

Number of Calgary locations: 10

Total number of locations in Canada: 63

Make a note of this:
Original Joe’s has recently partnered with Mealshare, a non-profit that provides meals to people in need. For every meal purchased that is marked with the Mealshare logo, one meal is provided to someone who really needs it. Original Joe’s has provided more than 65,000 meals through Mealshare so far.

Try this:
It’s hard to go wrong with the Kona burger. It comes with teriyaki sauce, grilled pineapple, bacon and mozzarella cheese. And of course, you get to choose two sides to go with that burger. (Get fries and a salad, or go all out and get the poutine and the mashed potatoes.) If you’re looking for something to share, go with the nachos.

 

Milestones

Milestones used to just be a Vancouver thing. Its first location was in downtown Vancouver on Denman Street. Now, you’ll find Milestones’ burgers, seafood and other classic dishes in most big cities across Canada.

Year it started: 1989

Where it all started: Vancouver

Number of Calgary locations: 3

Total number of locations in Canada: 54

Make a note of this:
In early 2015, Milestones and Scene partnered. That means if you’re a Scene member, you can earn points by eating at Milestones restaurants. You earn one Scene point for every $3 you spend at Milestones, and you can save $10 at Milestones for every 1,000 points you redeem.

Try this:
You’re going to want to order the Sweet Minis for dessert. You know when you have trouble deciding between two (or three or four) desserts on the menu? This dish solves that problem. You get mini portions of four Milestones dessert favourites, so you can taste a bit of everything.

 

Moxie’s Grill & Bar

Before Moxie’s became a chain with close to 70 locations across Canada, it was a small diner only in Calgary. After shifting from a diner to an upscale casual restaurant, the expansion across Canada began. Moxie’s and Chop are sister companies.

Year it started: 1986

Where it all started: Calgary

Number of Calgary locations: 7

Total number of locations in Canada: 67

Make a note of this:
Moxie’s has its own craft beer. It’s an easy drinking amber beer and it’s called Big Life.

Try this:
Get a bunch of appetizers and share them with the group, that way you can sample a range of different things. Be sure to order the Tuna Poke In a Jar, the Naan Taco and the Sushi Cones.

 

The Keg Steakhouse + Bar

Originally a small restaurant located in an industrial building around Vancouver’s Lonsdale Quay, today chances are high you’ll find these restaurants in restored heritage buildings. (Like The Keg in New Westminster, for example, which is located in a building that was formerly the city’s CPR station.)

Year it started: 1971

Where it all started: North Vancouver

Number of Calgary locations: 6

Total number of locations in Canada: 94 (additional locations in the USA)

Make a note of this:
The Keg is more than just a restaurant. There’s also a charitable element. The Keg Spirit Foundation was founded in 2001 for the restaurant’s 30th anniversary. The foundation supports local charities, specifically those that help youth. Since 2001, the foundation has raised more than $7 million for 300 charities across North America.

Try this:
If you’re going to a steakhouse, you have to order a steak. The 8oz top sirloin is a classic.

 

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