I was tempted to write a “36 Hours in Calgary” post but then I realized I spent nearly the entire time in big sky country eating and imbibing so I wouldn’t have much insight to offer on topics beyond indulging.
So, after four days in Calgary, here are my hot takes on must-visit restaurants and bars – along with some suggestions that came highly recommended to me from sources I trust, but that I didn’t personally get to visit this time around – on account of not wanting to bust a seam on my stomach.
My first stop on my culinary tour of Calgary was Una Pizzeria. Famished after my flight (apparently they don’t even give you tiny pretzels or shortbread cookies anymore), we made a beeline for this pizza hot spot. They don’t take reservations but you can join the waitlist through their website. Luckily, we were seated without delay – which prevented me from having to eat any small children or animals in my vicinity to quell my mounting HANGER.
We started things off with the kale caesar which was topped with a generous portion of freshly grated pecorino Romano, crispy prosciutto, and a hard-boiled egg. It was so delicious, I nearly licked the plate.
Their pies are great for sharing, unless you have the appetite of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson – in which case, fill your boots. We had the “4-maggi” which comprised of four different cheeses, a splash of truffle oil, and a frizzle of local honey. It was just what the doctor ordered, rich, toothsome, and subtly sweet. We also shared the “beltline” which featured fennel sausage, double-smoked house made bacon, mozzarella, and maple syrup – another winner.
The wine list offers a great selection from small, boutique producers with a focus on sustainable, organic, and biodynamic wines. I also have it on good authority that Frenchie Wine Bar, a 20-seat spot tucked in at the back of the restaurant is well worth the visit.
After a good night’s sleep and time to digest all that cheesy goodness I consumed at Una, I met up with my friend and fellow Canadian blogger, Justine Celina for brunch at Hawthorn Dining Room & Bar, recently opened within the grand, marble-clad lobby of the century-old Fairmont Palliser.
Hawthorn is a beautifully composed space the embraces the rich history of the Fairmont Palliser while welcoming a new generation of guests. The menu changes with the seasons and focuses on Alberta-sourced ingredients. The focus on local extends to the cocktail list which features spirits from Alberta’s first craft distiller, Eau Claire Distillery.
Justine sipped on “The Home Grown” cocktail starring Eau Claire’s Hawthorn gin – made in collaboration with the restaurant, made with the Hawthorn berry – adding complexity to the classic London=dry style gin.
I couldn’t resist the temptation to order “The 105” cocktail which featured Woodford Reserve Bourbon infused with citrus and berries in a beautiful porthole infuser from Crucial Detail – one of the items featured on my gift guide for the mixologist last year. “The 105” is intended to be shared by the table and poured out in two ounce glasses, as the bourbon sits in the decanter, the flavour intensifies with the citrus and berries – making for a complex and evolving cocktail experience.
For our meal, I enjoyed the Sunny Side Benny served on sourdough with speck and Dijonnaise sauce – alongside perfectly prepared potato wedges. Justine opted for a lighter option from the lunch menu – the Albacore Tuna.
The tuna was served up with an Asian influence – ponzu, furikake, orange, cucumber, and cured roe. Delicate and dynamic.
Model Milk came highly recommended to me and it didn’t disappoint. We were spoiled with a highly skilled and knowledgeable server who offered us a free slice of apple pie after my friend’s hand-talking got the better of her glass of red wine, and her dress.
The space is industrial but cozy with an atmosphere that invites spirited conversation and expert eating.
As a group of four, we kicked things off with a variety of small plates. The beets (yes, the beets) and the wagyu beef tartare were the standouts from the smattering of dishes we sampled. Listen, I know every restaurant worth its salt is doing some kind of beet salad, but the version at Model Milk is transcendent. I can’t even tell you everything that was happening on that plate but it was perfectly balanced and had a delightful crunchy component that reminded me a bit of Hickory Sticks.
The wagyu steak tartare was one of the tastiest iterations of this timeless dish that I’ve had in recent memory. It was architecturally assembled with a chimichurri, crispy pita, and garlic labneh.
As you may have guessed from your prior reading of this blog, I take cocktails pretty seriously and I’m not easily impressed when it comes to victuals and libations. Candidly, Proof blew me away.
These folks know cocktails and they have a sprawling list – beautifully presented in illustrated chapters in their novella of a menu. From riffs on classics to true originals, there is something for everyone at Proof.
The servers are true professionals and can help you navigate the menu, explain ingredients you’ve never heard of before, and make sure you make the most of the experience. The cocktails range from $13 to $19 – which feels pretty affordable when you consider how many new upmarket restaurants are slinging cocktails well above $20 apiece.
As far as I’m concerned, this is a must-visit for anyone headed to Calgary.
About a 45-minute drive from Calgary, Eau Claire Distillery is Alberta’s first craft distillery and specializes in what they call “farm to glass”. The team at Eau Claire opened shop with the intent to create world-class single malt whiskey from the superior barley and rye grown and harvested in Alberta.
Eau Claire has been barrel-aging their whiskey since they first opened their doors in 2014 and while they waited for their whiskey to come of age, they bided their time producing vodka and gin.
The distillery was kind enough to host me for a tour and tasting. Unfortunately I didn’t get the chance to try their whiskey as I was just a couple days too early for their latest release but I did get to try their Three Point Vodka and Parlour Gin. The vodka really showcases the top-quality Alberta grain at its base and is smooth and crisp, without any harsh aftertaste.
The Parlour Gin is truly outstanding. This London-dry style gin has the classic juniper flavour profile but is enhanced with notes of Saskatoon berry, rosehip, orange, lemon, coriander, and mint. And for my Ontario friends, the Parlour Gin is now available at the LCBO.
This restaurant is really cool. Prior to becoming a restaurant, this space was an upscale furniture store. The talented design team behind this space transformed the expansive layout into a series of well-curated sections with a midcentury modern flair.
Vintage motorcycles as wall art really ups the cool factor too.
As for food, we ordered the eggplant fries which were reminiscent of polenta fries but a slightly healthier take. I then had the braised rabbit on toast which wasn’t what I had expected but delighted nonetheless. This was like a chicken salad interpretation of rabbit topped with crunchy pickled vegetables for brightness.
My friend ordered the rigatoni which was prepared with truffled mushroom in a parmesan sauce. The scent of truffle as this approached our table was absolutely intoxicating and the taste was comfort food at its finest.
We capped off the meal with the banana pie. If you’ve been a loyal follower of this blog, you’ll know that I simply cannot say ‘no’ to a banana dessert. This sky-high sweet featured pretzel, toasted meringue and a rum caramel – decadence at its finest.
This bright and airy dining space was the perfect brunch spot for my final day in Calgary. Donna Mac focuses on Canadian cuisine with a variety of vegetable-forward dishes and plenty of gluten free and vegan options as well.
Being the glutton I am, I skipped over those diet-conscious options and went for the Fried Chicken Sandwich because kewpie mayo and I like to practice unhinging my jaw in case I’m ever invited to an impromptu talent contest and don’t have anything prepared.
The sandwich did not disappoint and allowed me to get my lipstick on both my chin and my nose in the process of eating it – that’s what success looks like my friends.
I also reached for La Puebla cocktail which was an easy-drinking concoction of tequila, honey rosemary syrup, lemon, Angostura bitters, and a mezcal rinse.
Not one to skip dessert, I also insisted on an order of beignets as the final flourish. These little nuggets of heaven were served with a delectable lemon curd and sent me home to Ottawa in a contented food coma.