Earls (Bankers Hall) – Calgary, AB


Earls Bankers Hall
A1, Level 1-315 8 Ave SW
Calgary, AB
(403) 265 3275

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In a regrettably meek attempt to try and stem the tide against the utter disappearance of our Alberta correspondence amid the Foodosopher’s current international travel-induced hiatus, the following is a report from one of his many home bases, Calgary.

Bankers Hall.  The name alone should tell you something about how stuffy, boring and just downright plain vanilla the food offerings are here.  Set in the heart of downtown, the pair of office towers makes its mark for its distinct architectural design, and is one of the most notable skyscrapers that you can see as you drive in from the airport, so you’d think there would be some promising offerings for a light meal.  Aside from perhaps the quality offerings of the Sunterra Marche – who I know better from my past interactions with the business savy Price Brothers based in nearby Acme, who know what they are doing when it comes to fresh, high quality ingredients – you are left with some restaurant choices that submit to providing Asian fusion, basic Chinese, some sad looking sushi, a place that is trying to pass itself as being Japanese, and then the omnipresent chains including Burger King, Jugo Juice, Starbucks, and Subway.  Safe and standard fare, probably very well accepted by all the suits up in the high towers above.

I had heard an acquaintance who lives in Calgary hyping up a meal they had at Earls just a few days prior.  Yes, that Earls.  I can still remember my first experience with it in the mid-Eighties, in all places Red Deer.  Then thinking in my naive high school years that it was an incredible joint, a place to be seen, with trumped up names given to some select branches of the chain like the Tin Palace, which catered to the supposed young and hip crowd.  Today, I’d guess it pretty much remains just that, an imaginary place where all the servers and hostesses looked like they’ve been picked out of model catalog and the masses of families, friends and couples who populate them to take in their casual cuisine and think its all fine and dandy.

The item this person raved about was the Grilled Chicken and Baked Brie on Ciabatta ($13), made up of grilled breast meat, with melted brie, roasted apples and spinach with a sweet fig jam and garlic mayonnaise on toasted ciabatta bread.  I think Foodosopher and I have exchanged thoughts on many of our mutual connections and their views on food and dining as well as personal tastes and how they gel, or not gel, with ours.  Always an interesting conversation, and thus I made this attempt to verify said person’s observations on this particular sandwich.

Presentation-wise, as it arrived at our table, I wasn’t immediately discouraged, as the side profile of the layers inside looked promising.  The sweet roasted scent of the fruit came through and the brie had begun dripping along the side of the chicken meat as if to say, “anymore heat and I’m done”.  The ciabatta though a touch tough on the outside for my personal liking, did had a good spongy feel inside as I took my first bite.  I must admit I am usually not a fan of brie, its the moldy white crust on top that gives it that unique contrast in texture and feels like a wrapper that gets to me.  But the savory softness of the cheese itself works well with the tender breast of chicken, and doesn’t fight at all with the sweet sugary compounds of the caramelized apples inside.  To say that I was quite surprised that I didn’t want to ask for another dish instead, was indeed a pleasant surprise.

My dining companion however had a disastrous experience with the Earls Bigger Better 1/2 Pound Burger ($11.50), with added sauteed mushrooms (extra $2.25).  Headlining the entire sandwich and burger section of the menu, you’d think they’d be very experienced with plating this.  But take a look at the overcooked and soaked in oil fries that came with the package.  The meat patty itself had shrunk down to a blackened hockey puck appearance and the lettuce and tomato had not gotten a thorough shaking off before being placed on top, as the bun had already begun to get really soggy inside.  I just shook my head at the sight and remarked how I really dislike it when a place boasts about a particular item and then makes a mess of the whole thing.

So there you have it, a pair of sandwiched meals that really left contrasting impressions.  Truthfully when we ordered, we were expecting the opposite result for what each of us eventually had.  I’m fortunate to have taken the gamble and submitted to confirming my friend’s review of the chicken/brie sandwich.  My table mate however, vows never to go back to an Earls again.  This was even after I reminded him of the cute waitress he kept chatting up.  Ah, a clear sign that stomachs rule over hearts.

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10 thoughts on “Earls (Bankers Hall) – Calgary, AB

  1. Earl’s.
    My experience is pretty similar in the time line, when I first moved to YYC (1992), it was a great place to see, eat and be seen.
    After a long absence geographically, the return to Earl’s was not the same anymore. Too mainstream, too corporate. What was once a standout Pizza, is now a just so so dish compared to newcomers, such as Famoso’s or Pulcinella’s.

    However, once in a while maybe for memories sake, it’s still a great place to swing by and eat some appetizers or enjoy a drink with a view?

  2. But did you go into the bathrooms? I’m not sure what it’s like in the men’s room, but the ladies room was so interesting that I still tell people about it even though I only went there once about 5 or 6 years ago.

  3. Earl’s… Cactus… Moxie’s… All these places, I would only go if somebody drags me there. Unfortunately, a considerable chunk of of my friends/co-workers likes them and I end up going with them. I will not argue the fact some of the dishes are quite well prepared, that is fine… Actually, that’s something you should expect from these places. However, it is so mainstream (as H.Peter mentioned), so commercialized that I fail to see any charm anymore.

  4. > H.Peter
    I think my older memories of Earls are also based on the pizza too. But frankly they have faded away that I honestly can’t accurately recall. Or perhaps I’ve just blocked anything Earls related out of my mind, given the shifts that have occurred as you described in their business. Its frightening though, that there are still folks in my past who do just that, suggest Earls for a quick bite or drink from time to time, as if there is nowhere else to go… :(

    > bruleeblog
    I’m afraid not. In fact, I rarely ever use the facilities at restaurants.

    > KimHo

    Sounds like you and I have some friend with similar tastes. Lets do our best to change them. :)

  5. It seems like I may echo a few of the same thoughts. I can remember Earls being the place to be back in the day; as I can only imagine, it was breaking out of the restaurant norm (I mean those giant parrots alone were a conversation piece). I rarely visit anymore, after way too many visits in the late 90′s and I think half of those visits were for the “earls girls”. Too bad I know way too many people who still consider this the best option when choosing to dine out.

  6. Earls is generic and vanilla, but it’s the Sunterra reference that I wanted to address. I don’t know if you’ve visited the Sunterra downtown lately, but it’s pretty terrible. I gave up on lunching there after many many failed experiments.

    They’ve never heard of salt, herbs or seasoning in general, all their veggies are undercooked and hard, no matter the dish. The soups are barely edible, and the entrees are NOT, frankly. The sandwiches are a good value, although completely generic. The salads are all gross, either over or under-seasoned and manage to be oily and bland at the same time.

    If pressed to eat there I tend to get a slice of prime rib (which I can add salt to separately), with a side that I know to be okay. The only time to go there is either breakfast – for decent but generic muffins and croissants, or after work to pick up a slab of raw meat for dinner.

    Perhaps they once used to be about high quality, but these days I’m very disappointed. I know nothing about their farm since their website does not choose to enlighten me about HOW exactly the animals are raised. Are they free-range? hormone free? humanely treated? I know nothing about the provenance of any of their food, and their high prices and strictly average quality of offerings leave me completely unimpressed.

  7. >Tatiana
    Thanks for your passionate comment, despite it not being directly related to the original post. :) My experience with Sunterra, the parent company at least, first started about almost 13 years ago, and mainly on the supply(for industry) / production side of things; so I am not totally familiar with their retail environment, and my last meal there has been a while.

    They do have more information on their facilities (both in Trochu and Innisfail) on their website. A few highlights on the topics I think you were looking for are…

    - Maintain full control of the genetic breeding, feeding and farrow to finish process for all of our products, not only from our own Sunterra Farms Ltd. barns, but also from those of our specially contracted suppliers

    Trochu plant:
    - Alberta based, family owned business
    - Federally inspected Pork processing plant
    - Fully HACCP accredited
    - One of the very few North American CO2 stun and skinless operations

    Innisfail plant:
    - Is Canada’s largest federally inspected lamb processing plant
    - An expansion several years ago has also added bison and specialty beef production
    - Certified for Halal for its lamb, beef, bison and goat products from the Canadian branch of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA).
    - Also certified for organic and natural processing

    Link to company brochure:
    http://www.sunterrameats.ca/includes/Sun_brochure1.pdf

    • Hi! Yeah, sorry for off topic wanderings. Yes, I saw the info on their awesome inspected processing plants, but being weaned on the Omnivore’s Dilemma, Ethicurean, Fast Food Nation, etc. I’m much more interested in how the animals are raised and treated, not how much control they have over their genetic stock. I attempt to eat ethically as much as I can and prefer to eat non-tortured animals, raised humanely. That is the part that Sunterra fails to address. And it doesn’t change the fact that their food preparation is lacking. Anyhow, great to see someone hold down the Calgary fort. Thanks! :)

      • >Tatiana
        No worries, its a valid and very relevant issue for us all. Its just that I am no expert in that field, so my ability to comment is restricted. :)

        My memories are weak (eg. a decade old) but from visiting some of their actual livestock lots, I do recall that they were on a much more smaller scale than some other larger operations at the time, and thus were putting in greater efforts over quality breeding and raising practices.

        I think on a retail marketing website, this kind of nitty-gritty detail is not something that is often trumpeted, as the processing side of things takes precedent. The whole “gate-to-plate” phenomenon is something the Alberta government put great efforts into, but it does come at great financial cost, often to the producers who have to follow the rules.

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