Moving away from a city, I often find myself missing the food places. I guess that’s not surprising considering that socialization over food and preparation of meals are for many cultures a large part of the make-up.
3 months have gone by since my move from Calgary and I’ve been suffering withdrawal for many Calgary restaurants and dishes. When my sister suggested a week ago that I come to Calgary for dinner, I jumped at the idea. I had planned to be in Calgary for 20 hours to catch “dinner”… 20 hours to curb some of my cravings by stuffing myself with foods that I had been missing. My list was quite long, so I had to be selective.
One place I knew I had to visit was Sushi Club in Kensington. I have yet to find a sushi restaurant in Edmonton that I love (will be doing a sushi exploration post soon), which means I had a mad sushi craving. I arrived in Calgary at 8pm on Friday and Sushi Club was my first stop. Sushi Club is Chinese served but Japanese owned & chef’ed. With a humble exterior, it’s easy to walk through Kensington and not notice Sushi Club. In fact when referring Sushi Club to friends, I often have to describe their location as “across from Niko’s, very close to where Nellie’s used to be”. I first discovered the restaurant about 2 years ago, and it has become one of my three favourite sushi spots in Calgary.
Although unassuming, Sushi Club is quite a busy place. On Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, reservations are a must. For good reason – the fish comes in on Wednesdays and Thursdays which means Thursdays and Fridays are the best nights for uber fresh fish. I love that the servers point out which fish is fresh. Rare for most asian restaurants, they are also very personable and always deliver great service. On my 3rd visit to Sushi Club, I ordered a bottle of plum wine which didn’t go over well with my companions and since I can’t finish a bottle by myself, we had left about 1/3. On my next visit, Annie one of the servers brought out the remainder of the plum wine and said they had saved it for me since we had already paid for the full bottle. That blew me away and I was hooked since.
Coming to Sushi Club for dinner was like visiting friends. The servers Anna and Annie asked about my move, my new job, my sister. Those ladies know their regulars, they are amazing. For me, a visit to Sushi Club is like that theme song from “Cheers” – “Sometimes you want to go, where everybody knows your name. And they’re always glad that you came…”
We tried to restrict ourselves, because with my limited time in Calgary, we wanted to have a second dinner. We ordered Toro and Atlantic Salmon sashimi (Sushi Club offers about 4-5 types of Salmon Sashimi), a scallop tempura roll, special scallop nigiri, unagi nigiri, and the Yokihi Roll (a roll made with three kinds of tempura – oyster, scallop, and fish, avocado, xo sauce, lettuce, and other goodies). Besides the fabulous service, the toro was my highlight. It’s fresh and melt-in-your-mouth.
After saying goodbye to the staff at Sushi Club, we rested our stomachs for about 30 minutes before heading off to our second dinner – late night eats at Anju Restaurant.
“Anju” is a korean term referring to side dishes that often accompany alcoholic drinks, similar in concept to Japanese izakayas. The dishes served by Chef and owner Roy blend Korean flavours with westernized flavours to create fun and modern dishes. I like that he sources his ingredients carefully & locally. On my first couple visits, I was blown away by the innovative twists Chef Roy adds to familiar flavours. For example, his Kimchi Ramen is made with the familiar fatty, tender pieces of pork belly but Chef Roy tops it off with a dollop of creme fraiche. The creme fraiche cools off the spicy kimchi and escalates the dish. His yam fries are good on their own but he adds truffle oil and gochugaru (red pepper flakes) aioli, making these the best yam fries in Calgary! Eating at Anju sometimes makes me feel like an idiot because once I had those flavours together I had to wonder how I’d ever gone without putting creme fraiche in my ramen or dipping my yam fries in gochugaru aioli.
Since we already had a sushi dinner earlier in the evening, we decided to restrict our order to the ox-tail tortellini and pork belly tacos. Washed down with a jug of lychee soju and Roy’s gochujang Sunworks wings. I first came across lychee soju at Mono+Mono in NYC. Like Anju it was served in a donut-shaped jug (ice sits in the centre of the jug to keep the liquid cold). Fruity and sweet, this drink is dangerous as you would never be able to tell it is alcoholic.
A serving of pork belly tacos came with 2 massive tacos. The pork belly was from Broek Acres. It was seasoned with spicy gochujang and topped with a cool slaw. My favourite part of this fusion taco was the hit of sesame oil and the fresh lime and cilantro. It is packed with flavour and I ate my entire taco even with the full belly.
Anju’s ox-tail tortellini is my favourite dish at the restaurant. Seasoned with asian flavours, sesame seeds, and scallions this dish has the familiarity of wontons or korean mandu but escalated with the succulent oxtail meat and… *drumroll please* truffle oil. The truffle oil goes really well with the asian seasoning and makes me wonder what my home made duck potstickers would taste like with truffle oil.
Both my sister and I were really full. Regretfully I couldn’t have more than 2 chicken wings. They were crispy, fried well and glazed with a gochujang sauce. Although I don’t normally like hot wings (I think the spiciness takes away the wings flavour), I really like Anju’s version of the hot wing.
The best part of my Anju visit was the food-nerd conversation. Chef Roy is truly a hospitable host and we enjoyed comparing food notes with him and his friend Gabe who also shares a passion for food that is down-to-earth and just effin’ tasty. Thanks gentlemen.
We managed to roll ourselves home to take a much needed rest. Even in the morning, we were still full from the 2 dinners but really wanted to try Alley Burgers from Charcut’s newest food truck, so I faithfully stalked their Twitter feed, checking every 5-10 mins. With a vague promise that they would open later in the day, we decided to skip brunch and head to the Calgary’s Farmers’ Market so I could visit some of the vendors that I’ve missed.
We made the usual stops – Blush Lane for Sunworks eggs, bison, and chicken; Simple Simon’s for pies; The Stock and Sauce Company for dips. As the name suggests, Stock and Sauce Company makes yummy soups and sauces but they also make fresh pasta and to-die-for dips. I was missing their Chocolate Mousse. I love their chocolate mousse for its subtle cinnamon and cream cheese goodness, and have been known to eat it by the fingerfuls.
The Chocolate Mousse would go great with the fresh BC fruit being sold all over CFM. Cherry Pit had BC raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, nectarines, peaches, and apples. We noticed that Cherry Pit also opened a “Vegetable Butcher” to clean and prep veggies for their customers. I admit there’s been many occasions where I have cursed the prep work that goes into cleaning and cutting vegetables for veggie sticks or stir frys, but still couldn’t help wondering if there was much demand for a produce butcher service.
Tis the season for corn, and we saw mountains of corn at various vendors. I purchased both Taber and BC (Chilliwack) corn for a taste comparison to determine the difference between the two.**
By now it was hour 16 of my Eatinganza and although we were STILL digesting our 2 dinners, we were also tempted by the smells wafting through CFM from the food kiosks. The new CFM offers a bigger variety of prepared foods and food kiosks than the old Currie Barracks location. Based on a referral, we ordered the Mac and Cheese nuggets from Wildfire Wing Co. While we were waiting for our mac and cheese nuggets to fry up, I couldn’t resist a sample from the neighbouring stand Calgary Mini-Donuts. Calgary Mini Donuts operated from a truck outside the old CFM, but with the new market they have moved into the fast food area and now offer a larger variety of donuts. The mini donut given to me by the boy was covered in cinnamon/sugar, hot and pillowy. We decided to get a maple bacon donut.
Wildfire’s Mac and Cheese nugget looked and tasted like it was made from Kraft Dinner, the batter was light. It was fried perfectly – crispy on the outside but cheesy on the inside. With a bit of ketchup, I was taken back to school days of eating KD and chips for lunch.
The maple bacon donut was alright. The donut itself was good, the maple icing was a bit too sweet for me and the bits of real bacon weren’t as crispy as I would have liked. I have to admit I prefer Jelly Modern‘s version more. Still I would try the other flavours at CMD because their mini donuts were so good.
Leaving CFM (groceries in tow), we got word that Alley Burger was opening at 6pm. We had 4 hours to go and the evening start meant that I would have to extend my trip by 2 hours. Having thought about Alley Burgers the whole day, it was worth the 2 extra hours to curb my craving.
But we were starting to get hungry, so we stopped at Olive Chicken in the Korean strip mall on 10 Ave SW (near Arirang Foods Store). As Vancouverites, both my sister and I have a fierce loyalty to Church’s fried chicken. For us, Church’s kicks KFC’s butt and on every trip to Vancouver, a visit to Church’s is a must.
During my 8 years in Calgary, I hadn’t been able to find any fried chicken that could curb my Church’s cravings. I was intrigued by Olive Chicken when it was mentioned by Gabe in our food chat the night before. Korean Fried Chicken in general is amazing, usually seasoned well and crispy but light skin. Olive Chicken occupies a small space with only a few tables. It obviously caters to the take-out crowd. The heavy scent of deep fried grease permeates the place. We knew we’d be smelling like oil for the rest of the night. A family of 4 was sitting near the entrance licking their fingers over a whole fried chicken and all the sides. Olive Chicken serves two styles of fried chicken (hot & sweet or regular). They have side dishes normally found with fried chicken (ex. fries, onion rings, but also offer pickled daikon as a side dish. In anticipation for a dinner of burgers, we settled for one piece of regular fried chicken each.
Surprisingly the first flavour I tasted was lemon. The chicken was seasoned well, even with the heavy flavour of oil. The chicken meat itself was ok – not as juicy as Church’s chicken. The batter was great – very crispy. I still prefer Church’s chicken but this was probably the best fried chicken I’d had in Calgary.
At Hour 21 of my trip, we headed to the Roller Derby for the much anticipated Alley Burger! We weren’t alone in our burger quest. The truck had opened 30 mins earlier than tweeted, but by the time we got there (15 minutes after their actual opening time), there was still a line up of about 10 people.
Alley Burgers started out being sold from Charcut’s back alley in June 2010. For readers who have dined at Charcut, you probably gathered from the pig shaped clip holding the bills and the pig shaped signs throughout the restaurant, that Charcut loves their porky protein. No surprise that the Alley Burger is made with pork.
Alley Burgers have become quite a phenomenon. With its cult-like following, it makes a lot of sense that Charcut would launch a truck dedicated to burgers. The truck sold two types of burgers – the Alley Burger (of course) and the Whole Truck Burger. Customers get a choice of single, double, or triple patties per burger. Order sheets were passed through the line-up to make the order process up front much quicker. We order one of each burger to share (single patties on each).
I had bought a bottle of water and was a bit surprised my $3 only gave me a mini bottle (250mL)… note to self: BYOW in the future. Even though there was some confusion with our order (strangely the folks in front of me were also “Carmen” and the staff were confused with our orders), the wait was quite minimal – about 3-4 mins before we got our food.
The Whole Truck Burger is made with Spring Creek beef and unlike the Alley Burger, it’s “Choose Your Own Adventure” (aka choice of toppings). We topped ours with lettuce, tomatoes, ketchup, piri piri aioli, bacon, cheese curds, and of course an egg. It was massive and gorgeous. I have decided I want a picture of this burger as a mural for my kitchen. The egg was fried to medium so the yolk was still soft but wasn’t super runny. The patty was juicy and the egg an amazing match. Even though the yolk wasn’t too runny, we still found that it’s a burger best eaten standing up… unless you’re wearing painting coveralls.
The patty in the Alley Burger is advertised as “Spragg Farm Pork and Roasted Garlic Sausage Patty”. It’s a pretty good description because the flavour of the patty is reminiscent of sausage. It comes with cheese curds and Piri Piri Aioli. Both accompaniments go really well with the sausage. We had the Piri Piri Aioli on both burgers and it was a familiar flavour for me, I am guessing it may be the same sauce that Connie DeSousa used with her Pork Croquettes. The sausage patty was grilled well and unlike many fast food sausages, it was kept quite moist.
I was a bit disappointed that the Alley Burger truck didn’t sell Charcut’s duck fat, truffled poutine. The poutine we got was good but pales in comparison to the Charcut version. I did like that they had all these flavour shakers for the fries and poutine.
We enjoyed both burgers and people may think I’m crazy for saying this but the Whole Truck burger edged out the Alley Burger in being my favourite. The egg and bacon pushed it over to the winning edge.
Needless to say, the 2.5 hours drive back to Edmonton was satisfying with the knowledge that a year after its launch, I had finally tasted the Alley Burger. I was also driving with a full tummy of yummy burgers and happy food memories.
** For those interested in the results of my corn taste test – a few days after my Calgary trip, we grilled up the corn. To maintain the integrity in this comparison, the corn was kept plain. Visually, the BC corn was much prettier with its peaches and cream kernels and being larger with even sized kernels. However, when it came to taste, both D and I preferred the sweetness of the Taber corn. The BC corn tasted a bit watered down when the cobs were eaten side by side. Guess it’ll be Taber for us from now on.