75 East Pender Street
Strolling around in Chinatown is an interesting activity. I see many tourists doing it, with cameras slung from their necks, taking in all this part of Vancouver has to offer. Not only visually but also the many places to eat. After all, Chinese culture has a long culinary history and has pervaded its way into North American dining, and has a wide spread familiarity, albeit perhaps not always along the true lines of authentic and regional cuisine that the country has to offer and is yet under-explored by many. I’d say stick around here on foodosophy, as one of our keen writers GastronomyDomine (aka fmed) is a knowledgeable fellow when it comes to this genre and has posted more than a few reports on places you should try out. And hopefully more to come. (nudge, dudge, wink, wink)
Amid a mainly Asian collection of shops, eateries and other stores, you can find the slow spread of other kinds of places that are merging into this neighborhood. You can notice is especially if you walk from Gastown towards the heart of Chinatown. Now whether this is a good or bad thing, it surely is up for debate depending on your stance. I applaud though from a business perspective to give new things a shot, and inject old areas with new life and different choices. At least for me, coming across these on random strolls makes things interesting. Enough so to entice me to stop and go inside. The Everything Cafe was once such place.
MRKT (Market) Restaurant
10542 Jasper Ave NW
My poor camera was dropped at the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, and the lens no longer retracts. I loved that camera – but after extensive research, im back in the game with a new camera! Happy to do my first post with pics from my new baby.
On a rainy dreary day, we head down the “ugly” part of Jasper Avenue to try the new restaurant by Carla Alexander of Soul Soup and Sal Di Maio who owns the gastropub downstairs, Red Star. MRKT Market is simply that – a “fresh market” concept restaurant where the limited menu provides you with a few choices in terms of sandwiches, soups, and specials. 3 sandwiches, 3 soups, one special the day we were there.
The interior feels like a wooden airplane fuselage. I’ve heard canoe, and upscale log cabin (rather generous i’d say), it is nonetheless hip, while managing some warmth. The most prominent feature of MRKT market is the long table that allows many diners to share a meal.
Caribou Cafe at the Eskimo Inn
133 Mackenzie Rd, Inuvik
North West Territories
I have a confession. Im fascinated with lounges and restaurants in hotel lobbies. Typically, these paisley clad seating areas with uncomfortable seats are sparsely populated affairs, with a few lonely travelers sitting in silence, contemplating the free bar nuts, the 6th gin martini, or whether accounting will approve the 3rd order of chicken wings on expense account. Yet, somehow, they feel…real. Unpretentious. And sometimes, you even get some great food. Unless you’re on the 30 something floor of the Mandarin Oriental overlooking Columbus Circle in NYC. Then it’s pretentious
Lack of pretension is probably the most endearing trait to Inuvik. And across the street from the Mad Trapper, the infamous Inuvik bar, lies the Eskimo Inn. An unpretentious kind of place. When people talk about hotels and Inuvik, they invariably think of the Mackenzie hotel. Yet the Caribou Cafe draws a tremendous number of people for lunch from nearby government offices. Eating options are not plentiful in Inuvik. And prices are high, due to enormous fuel costs for shipping in nearly all perishable goods. Not usually a great combination.
Decor is pretty standard northern faux-thentic. The Eskimo Inn will never be confused with a Ritz Carlton. However, it’s clean. Service is perfunctory, yet extremely slow. They move at a different rhythm to life up here. There is no rush – there is always tomorrow.
Every day, the Caribou Cafe does a tidy lunch business. More often than not, people are ordering the daily soup and sandwich special. On this day, the soup is potato leek, and the sandwich is roast beef. The soup, which many locals swear by, is oily beyond belief. Im not sure if they substituted butter for cream, but it leaves my skin in serious need of an oxy clean. The sandwich, is distinctly average. Bad bread. Condiments. Unremarkable roast beef. At $10, it’s a hearty serve and a good price, especially for Inuvik. But the food is distinctly mediocre.
Continuing with day 3 of the grease parade – this time, a good sampling of their burger and fries. This will easily cure my Eskimo Inn malaise I hoped! However, there is nothing redeeming about this burger (firehouse burger pictured). For $14, what is essentially a Safeway frozen burger loaded with cheap toppings and some lousy fries, i’d rather go to the grocery store and get something else to eat. Even if a big bag of chips costs $5! Or the Inuvialuit Development Corporation next door. Sometimes they have Char Chowder or other local delicacies floating around their staff kitchen. Ask nicely and you may get to try some amazing local food.
I have been expecting this to happen. After all, there must be some let downs in a town covered near in perpetual dark
ness in winter. Sadly, there was nothing enjoyable about the Caribou Cafe. Some people told me their split pea soup is amazing. Something worth trying perhaps, though i am not a huge split pea soup fan. I was hoping that the lobby characteristics of the Caribou Cafe would bring with it some charm, yet it fails to do so. And more importantly, in a town with some history and culture of local food cultivation, the lack of any local ingredients in the food served on my plate makes it even more disappointing. Frozen food trucked up from Yellowknife is not my idea of great restaurant food. Lobby or no lobby.
Rustic Sourdough Bakery & Deli
1305 – 17th Avenue SW
Calgary, AB T2T 0C4
Sandwiches are a bit of an enigma for me. Growing up, unlike most kids, I rarely got sandwiches for lunch. Instead, i got this hodgepodge of foods that made me stand out from the rest of the crowd. Not exactly a good thing when you’re 8. I wanted sandwiches. I wanted to be like the other kids.
Fast forward a few years – I had developed a better understanding of barter, and had gotten plenty of exposure to sandwiches. I realized I didn’t really like them. Peanut butter and jelly. Salami. Some unrecognizable meat called Bologna. Dry, icky bread. Tasteless spread. I guess I would stick to my stinky, garlic-loaded leftovers after all.
It took me a long time to appreciate that sandwiches could be so much more than the bread-meat-veg combos of my youth. I came to appreciate fresh bread, freshly roasted meats, with a well-made spread, some veg, all stacked in the proper proportion. Bread didn’t have to come in white or whole wheat, there was an entire spectrum of tasty choices. I got to experience some great sandwiches, but came to realize that they were generally few and far between. While they aren’t perfect, in Calgary, my favorite place is Rustic Sourdough Bakery.
Rustic Sourdough Bakery is a European Deli and Bakery located at the outer edge of 17th Avenue. Fairly nondescript, one could pass by daily, and still not notice the awning in the sea of color and neon that populate the strip. Inside, things are divided up into two sections – a bakery side that produces fantastic bread, pastries, and other delights, and a deli, that offers up a large selection of cheese and meats.
Im not 100% sure how Rustic Sourdough Bakery started in the sandwich business, but it seems like a very natural combination. Fresh bread, freshly sliced meats, add some veg and spreads, and you have the makings of a great sandwich. For $6.00, you choose your bread from a wide variety of options. You can choose from most of the meats available, excluding some of the high end cuts like prosciutto, and choose your cheese from a wide selection as well. Pretty much any combination is available. They add your choices of veggies, condiments, and pack it all up for you. For an additional couple bucks, you can get one of three homemade daily soups. A steal of a price.
At the Rustic Sourdough Bakery, the sandwiches are really good. My only complaint is really no complaint at all – just that i would like there to be fresh roasted chicken, roast beef, or other meats instead of all deli meats. I like the variety, and generally prefer a little more “substance” to my sandwiches. But that aside, the veg is fresh, the bread is fantastic (i choose the fresh “pita” option, that has structure, yet is light and soft). The cheeses and meats, of course are fantastic. And the sandwich is so large, i generally order one and eat only half and the soup for lunch. I save the other half for another day.
The soups are really good as well. Homemade, they often run out, or are down to the least popular one half way through lunch service. They are hot, and full of flavour, and there is always enough soup diversity that you never really get bored.
Rustic Sourdough Bakery is one of those places that is busy enough – and I thought twice about writing about. To be honest, I didn’t really want to add to my already long wait for a sandwich when im in that part of town. But the cat is out of the bag now. If you’re looking for a sandwich, and price, taste, quantity and value all matter, this is the place. They make a great sandwich. Picking up a pastry from the bakery never hurts either. It really makes for an affordable, quality, tasty lunch. And compared to the sandwiches of my childhood, it is a welcome thing indeed. Especially when i don’t need to trade my home cooked meals for them anymore!
100-550 11th Avenue SW
Calgary, AB T2R 1M7
Open Mon-Thu 7:00am-3:00pm, Fri 7:00am-2:00pm
I have to be honest – I have a serious issue with a Calgary food reviewer. Everything I value in a restaurant reviewer is ignored – integrity, humble, discrete, and most importantly, visually anonymous. Instead, developing a cult of personality, and some form of local hero worship seems to be their key MO. They disrespect the food in favour of celebrity. You are never certain if the review is such because the food was divine, or because they were treated that way. There is no bigger crime in my mind.
The Flatlands Cafe is one of their highly rated lunch spots, and I’ve tried to avoid it at all costs. After all, the crowds of hero worshippers – what could they possibly know? I was content in my smugness. One day, we found ourselves in the area, and with my favorite restaurant full, we had to find alternative places. This soup and sandwich shop stood a half block away, and beckoned.
Flatlands does a few very simple things. Sandwiches. Soups. Salads. Baked goods. They are friendly. They have a lot of regulars. They efficiently deliver their food to the hordes of customers who wait on them, in a crush, every lunch hour.
The soup that day was Chicken Chipotle – one of my favorite flavours. Expecting powdered stock, canned chicken, and some adobo sauce dumped in, i was pleasantly surprised to find a flavourful stock, chock full of real chicken, with a great blend of flavours.
The bun that accompanied the soup was fresh. Crispy, sesame exterior, with a soft, tender interior. Great bread. The same applied to their sandwiches. Nothing fancy – just good solid meat, vegetables, and bread. Good selections of each. Didnt try a salad – but im sure they fit the same MO.
So I learned something that fateful day, when I stepped out of my box, and joined the throng. I learned that Flatlands Cafe produces good lunch food. And they manage all this with the blessings of the Calgary populist food reviewer. My ideals, my philosophy, my ego – are really all irrelevant. Inspite of who is schlocking it, good food is still good food.
1935 – 27 Avenue NE Calgary, AB T2E 7E4
(403) 291-5654 Open 9:00am-4:00pm-ish, M-F; Closed Sat, Sun and Holidays
Original post below:
If you’ve ever worked in an industrial park, you can attest to how difficult it is to find good food. Small sandwich shops, offering the always odd assortment of sandwiches, soup (usually Wonton!), french fries, samosas, and burgers, dot the landscape – trying to capture as much of the local pedestrian traffic as possible. Every once in a while though, you come across a good find that is worth patronizing. Little Italy Cafe is one of these finds.
Little Italy Cafe is not really located in an industrial park – but on a commuter road sandwiched between several industrial parks in NE Calgary. Fancy doesnt work here. Good solid, gut warming meals are the order of the day. They focus on some standard Italian sandwiches, cold cuts, meatballs, and veal cutlet, as well as a few daily hot specials. A baked pasta, a regular pasta, and often times sausage, chicken, or other assorted meat. And they do so at an extremely affordable price.
The restaurant is owned by the affable Piero Perrotta – an extremely friendly, outgoing Italian gentleman who is a bit forgetful. So the ladies in the kitchen always complain about anyway, as they yell at him to “fix this order, pick up this order, hurry this up!”. Service is quite slow, typically as he takes a minute out of his day to chat with each customer. However, i kind of like it. It reminds me a bit of Italy – a stark contrast of high speed, while maintaining priority for things that matter, like socialization.
The food itself is made by a few Noni’s in the back. The kind i wish still made lunch for me every day. The sandwiches, which are ok, are not what i would recommend here. The bread, after all, is that tasteless 12″ roll. Pasta – in massive quantities, is the order of the day. At $7.95, you get a very large serving of whatever pasta they decided to make that day. Usually there is a baked, and a regular dried pasta topped with gravy, and some form of meat. My favorite are their meatballs – wonderful, large, hand-rolled meatballs that are the typical Italian soft and crumbly consistency. Throw some roasted peppers on there, some “gun powder” chili flakes, and you have a tasty. very filling homemade meal. Things are not the perfect al dente, but it doesn’t matter. My mom never got pasta a perfect al dente either.
Little Italy Cafe is not fine dining. No one will mistake this for Capo, Il Sogno, or other high end Italian restaurants in Calgary that do “fine” Italian Cuisine. What Little Italy does well is comfort food – homestyle Italian cooking. The kind your Noni would make – if you were Italian, and you had a Noni. And when your other choices are another grilled cheese and Wonton soup combo, it is, on many a day, comforting indeed.