Banff’s newest restaurant is inspired by a very old mountain tradition: campfire cooking. And it works. A large, crackling, wood-fired grill is the anchor of the open-concept kitchen, and executive chef Liz Gagnon and her kitchen staff keep it constantly busy with various cuts of meat, poultry and seafood on the grill and rotisserie.
The menu is rustic done right – pickles, sauces and mustards are made in-house – and dishes and portions seem to assume that diners have all worked up an appetite in the great outdoors. And it doesn’t take itself too seriously, offering the likes of Dirty Fries with “baked beans, odd bits, cheese curds.”
While chef Gagnon clearly knows not to mess with a good thing when it comes to classic campfire foods and flavours, she also manages to elevate the hearty menu so it appeals to a wide range of appetites – which is good, since the restaurant attracts both locals and tourists alike.
The substantial food menu is complemented by a substantial cocktail menu created by master distiller Matt Hendriks. The drinks range from classic and strong to contemporary and light – if you’re unsure, ask the well-trained staff for a suggestion.
Within a few months, Park expects to be featuring its own gin and vodka made in the distillery run by Hendriks, and in about three years, it’ll be serving its own Canadian whisky aged in Jack Daniels barrels. (Three years is the minimum amount of aging allowed before it can be legally called Canadian whisky.)
Design-wise, the camping concept works very well, blending classic elements of Canadiana (antler chandeliers, enamel tin cups and mismatched cutlery) with the clean lines of mid-century modern decor. Together, they create an ambience that feels authentic without being kitschy and comfortable without being clunky.
The space is divided into different “zones” on staggered levels. The first dining room, as you enter from Banff Ave., has a woodsy cabin feel with whitewashed walls, red-checkered upholstery on the booths and whimsical design vignettes featuring axes and other camping accoutrements.
As you move toward toward the back of the room, you pass a bar and a huge photo from the ’50s of Captain Conrad O’Brien and a bear, before heading up a few stairs to an area intended more for communal dining, with large harvest tables.
The third main area is up a few more stairs and back overlooking Banff Ave. It’s called the “library,” and features a cozy fireplace, overstuffed leather chairs and another bar, along with a second-story patio overlooking the street and offering a spectacular view of Rundle Mountain.
Whether you’re lunching on the sunny patio on a bustling summer day or hunkering down in front of the crackling fire for a hearty meal after a cold ski day in winter, Park promises to satisfy your appetite for food and drink and leave you feeling all warm and fuzzy about our Canadian mountain heritage.
Park Restaurant + Bar, 219 Banff Ave. 403-762-5114, parkdistillery.com