146 East 3rd Ave
I love getting tips about great places to eat…especially holes-in-the-wall. So when a friend called me the other day and said that he had a tip about a new Indian place from a reliable source, we jumped at the chance to try it out. The tip came from a friend of Indian descent, so this place must be solid…or so we thought. As it turns out, it was a food counter that is being run within Pita Star, a place I used to frequent when they served some of the best falafels in the city.
Pita Star is a storefront for a small-sized family run pita baking operation. You can get their bread at various grocery stores and supermarkets around town. I have purchased pita and Falafel sandwiches from here on in the past (I then make another stop at Swiss Bakery which is right across the street). I hadn’t been here in a while because they closed their storefront and focused on their wholesale business. It looks like that has changed.
A secondary operation called The Curry and Kebab Grill has taken over the food bar in front. (They also sell frozen Indian meals to go…which is interesting). We had a quick read of the chalkboard menu suspended over the counter. They have Curry and Rice specials for $5 and an assortment of Indian dishes.
We ordered a Butter Chicken and their Platter Combo 1. The Butter Chicken was…well…disappointing. It had the familiar neon-orange sauce found in food court-grade Butter Chicken. The sauce was much too sweet and lacked complexity. The meat was very dry and flavourless…they had used chicken breast (probably a bulk Costco pack of boneless and skinless breast).
The Combo Platter was a selection of deep fried items which included Beef Kebab, Mogo (cassava), Nylon Bhajia (dollar potatoes) and Samosa. It also included a triplet of dipping sauces - Tamarind, Coconut-Cilantro Chutney, and Green Chili Chutney.
The Samosa, Nylon Bhajia and Mogo were decent – fresh tasting and not at all oily despite being deep-fried. Nothing out of the ordinary, really. The Kebab tasted pre-fried, stale and dry.
My lunch companion picked up a frozen curry meal to go. He reported later that it was “decent.” It was packed into a vacuum sealed microwavable segmented container resembling a TV dinner (remember those?)
Clearly, I had my expectations set too high. Perhaps if I wasn’t so picky, I would probably enjoy this food. This area which is at the edge of a light-industrial zone is a little thin of good eating (the truly amazing Argo Cafe is just around the corner, however) so this cafeteria probably fills the bill for many people working within walking distance.
A tip like the one I had most often leads to hidden gems…not this time, unfortunately…not for me anyway.
2020 32 Avenue NE
I was chatting with a friend online last night, lamenting the fact I was hungry. An apple, an apple pear, and a bowl of leftover soup didnt really cut it for me. Her first suggestion? Pizza! Not what i needed to hear at 1:30 in the morning. Unable to get the idea of pizza out of my head, I had several discussions about pizza today – and how it gets a bad rap. Pizza isn’t actually inherently bad – if you look at it objectively, it’s actually a fairly reasonable balance of carbs, protein, fat, and veg. Yes the sodium is high, and many pizzas can have too much fat. The biggest problem I find with pizza is consumption – where one or two pieces would be a reasonably balanced meal, most people inevitably eat more because it’s so darn tasty. I myself have a difficult time stopping at four, and an entire 12″ pizza to myself is not out of the question. The solution of course is to order smaller pizzas. But the value isnt there to order 8″ – and who’s going to turn down the second one free!?
Enter Coco Brooks – branding themselves as a “people company serving pizza”, they are an interesting Calgary-based company with a social conscience. They sell pizza in three forms: Fresh, take and bake, and frozen. They only sell personal sized pizzas – 8″, that vary in price (fresh) from $4.62 – $6.99. Calzones, pastas and a variety of other goods round out the extensive menu.
First off, the pizza. I have to admit, their unique approach to pizza really has me a convert. While i appreciate the different traditional styles of pizza available (Neapolitan, NY Style, Greek, Chicago, etc..), sometimes, pizza is just good without any style. Put some good cheese, toppings, sauce, on a decent crust, and I’m a happy camper. They serve a perfect individual size, with great quality toppings and a fantastic value. Fresh baked, the crust is a touch greasy, but a nice light and crisp exterior with a bit of doughy bite. The toppings are varied, and there really is something for everyone. Lots of creative choices like egg and bacon, banana bread pizza, hot wing pizza, and many others, both standard, and eclectic. My standby is the Big Al’s: sun ripened tomato sauce, lean beef, black forest ham italian sausage, pepperoni, and mozzarella.
The heart: boxes and packaging are made of recycled materials, they donate money to fundraising efforts and to charity, they write thoughts, stories, and positive sayings all over the box. While some stories have a religious slant to them, it’s not preachy. Really just positive affirmation. While im not exactly a positive affirmation kind of guy, I kind of like the stories. Couldnt really tell you why, but i do.
In a world where people continually chase the next great food experience, or the pinnacle of creativity and inspiration expressed in food, sometimes it’s good to remember that good food, like people, comes in all kinds of shapes, sizes, and personalities. While we can continue to debate the merits of Neapolitan versus NY versus Chicago versus Greek-style pizza, Coco Brooks will continue to make a good, solid, affordable pizza. One that will please your tastebuds, wallet, and your waistline. And that should be enough to please even the most ardent foodie.