This Sh*t's Delicious

Exploring the world through cocktails, shit hole restaurants, and UrbanAg

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Get a Spade, Plant Some Shit: A Candid & Oft-Hilarious Conversation with @downtownfood Chef Darren MacLean on Modernist Cuisine, Life & Urban Agriculture

There is no king or queen of urban agriculture in Calgary, but if there’s one guy who’s making waves, it’s Chef Darren McLean who recently converted a barren and life-less rooftop above his restaurant downtownfood into a full-blown permaculture ecosystem. The urbanag project, while not the first of it’s kind (Rouge has one), is intended to educate and start a conversation about our food systems.

I finally found some time to sit down with MacLean and dig a bit deeper into his story. Warning: MacLean is a fast-talking, passionate, no-holds barred kind of guy. He’s an interesting blend of humility, charisma, and the “let’s get shit done” attitude that Calgary is famous for.

I have tried to capture his essence as much as I can. So, if you are easily offended, then well, in MacLean’s own words, you can go fuck yourself.

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Tell me a little bit about yourself

I am just a cook who’s trying get by (laughs).

I have been cooking professionally for about 7 years but started at Ricky’s when I was 13 as a line cook. I grew up in Calgary mainly but have always been around farms and rural cultures around Innisfail and Alberta.

I went to university for Finance, realized didn’t like too much, so switched my focus back to cooking.

What is your inspiration behind downtownfood?

We wanted to bring something new and exciting to the city. We keep our menu small and very interesting. There are no super-safe items. I try to bring out the natural flavours in the ingredients we use.

The vision behind downtownfood is that it is an amalgamation of food that occurs downtown. The heartbeat of any city is the food downtown – we are trying to encapsulate the essence or soul of what downtown food should be.

Our lunch menu is very street food-esque. For instance, our burger comes with a free strawberry milkshake – we don’t tell you it’s coming with one, we just surprise you with one. If you want chocolate or strawberry, then quite frankly, you can go fuck yourself cause it’s only strawberry for me.

What is your definition of “interesting”?

That’s a very interesting question. I want to do things that are new and different, something that you haven’t seen before. I like to challenge conventional notion of what certain foods are and get people talking about food in terms of where it came from, and so on.

Sounds like you are integrating a little bit of molecular gastronomy into your food.

We do. We cure our own bacon; we spherify and foam ingredients when it makes sense. Absolutely.

But technique for technique’s sake is a waste of time. If the technique works and adds to the plate, then I am all for it. But I don’t want to put a bunch of fucking spheres and foams on a plate just cause it’s cool to do.

If it doesn’t taste good, who cares what it looks like. It’s the flavours that preserve memories.

So you prefer the term “modernist cuisine” to “molecular gastronomy”?

imageFood should have soul. You have these chefs who are very technical and their dishes look beautiful. But if it tastes like a fucking paper bag, who cares? Molecular gastronomy has developed into modernist cuisine. Everybody can spherify – it’s not a secret – we can take it now and apply it to modern cuisine as it makes sense.

Modernist cuisine essentially is a portrait of the latest and greatest techniques of the 20th century. It is still rooted in classical cuisine and if you don’t understand the latter, then the modernist cuisine is a waste of time.

It’s cool. It’s really cool. But man, nature did it best. Why mess with it?

Give me a brief description of the urban agriculture project you started at downtownfood.

It’s a 2000 sq. ft. roof top space that we have converted into a permaculture ecosystem. We partnered up with REAP (Respect for Earth & All People), Greengate Garden Center & Alberta Beekeepers Association to create this ecosystem in a barren dead zone.

We have two beehives, solar drip irrigation, a rain catch and 36 pots amongst many other things. There are no artificial pesticides in use – it’s all natural compost.

This isn’t just a bunch of hippies getting together to plant some seeds and grow food. We have meticulously thought about it as a system all they way down to plant spacing and the plant arrangement.

That’s quite a massive undertaking. What inspired this?

You know, growing vegetables has become so foreign to us. Sixty years ago, there were no supermarkets. If you told someone you were growing veggies in your backyard, they would give you this wtf look. In a whole generation, we have managed to entirely disconnect ourselves from the food system. That’s not right.

I am an activist. I want to change the food system from the inside by leading the conversation and getting people to understand where our food comes from.

What kind of reactions have you gotten from people?

The groundswell of support has been amazing. I have random people living in skyscrapers above the garden who love seeing things grown in a barren dead space. Random people tweet me or drop off their plants for the rooftop garden.

Did you envision this as a community project from the start?

I am just an ideas guy who gets shit done. Quite frankly, I don’t understand the fundamentals of growing food. I just called up Greengate and started chatting with them. They got so excited, they donated everything.

People wanna eat real stuff man. Get a strawberry from Broxburn Farms and compare them with the California shit that is artificially ripened. You will know what real strawberries taste like.

How does one get started, especially if you live downtown and don’t have a backyard?

Get a planter, fill a box, and plant some shit.

If you get stuck, go to Greengate Garden Centers, tell them what you want, and they will know what to do. Start small with one thing at a time.

So what’s your long-term vision for this project?

I want to become a node in the community. My vision is to help people understand the culture of food and where food comes from.

In 6-7 years from now, I want to spearhead a food stop in the inner city. It’s essentially like a food bank, but instead of getting canned food, the needy get hot, freshly prepared meals from locally sourced ingredients.

I want to take half an acre out somewhere in the inner city and feed people. I grew up poor. My mother worked two jobs to support us. I ate a lot of canned food growing up.

Food is a fundamental human right.

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MacLean was kind enough to provide me a sample of his watermelon salad. I am not going to into the details of what was in it – you can go to his restaurant and find out yourself – but suffice to say, I *got* his philosophy and passion. The entire dish tasted like watermelon – that was the singular focus of the dish and it was executed well.

Watermelon is so fucking delicious – why would you want to change it and make it taste like anything else?

Brilliant.

A Cocktail-a-Day #15: The Best Fucking Chai (and chai-based cocktail) You Will Ever Have

So, yeah let’s face it, the Chai Tea Latte Mocha Frappuccino Grande bullshit you get in Starbucks is putrid. Most people don’t know what real chai is. Or that “chai” means “tea” and when you say “chai tea latte”, it translates to “tea tea latte”.

Kinda like “Sahara desert” means “desert desert”. Or “Los Angeles Angels” means “The Angels Angels”

So today, I will educate you all on how to make the best chai you have ever had.

The first step to making a good chai is to eliminate or minimize water. Yeah, that’s correct. You heard me right the first time. Water-based chai’s, while they do the trick, are simply too watered down and feel “thin”. To make real chai like they have it back in India, you need to substitute the water for milk. If you make that one change, your chai will taste 10x better.

Keep reading for the rest of the recipe.

Original Recipe (makes 1 serving)

– 2 cardamom pods

– 4 black pepper corns

– 1 tsp. grated or julienned ginger

OR

– 1/8 tsp. of chai masala powder

– 1 cup milk (low fat or otherwise; the fatter the better..haha)

– 1/4 cup water

– 1 tsp. black tea (any black tea, but Darjeeling or Kenyan varieties are best)

– sugar to taste

1. Combine the cardamom, peppercorns, and ginger in a mortar and grind roughly (if you don’t have the chai masala)

2. Combine all ingredients, including milk, water, and sugar into a saucepan. Bring to boil on medium heat.

3. Once the tea boils over (and I mean boils over the edges), simmer on low for another 4 min. until the chai turns a deep brown color.

4. Filter through a sieve and serve piping hot.

Bam! Just like that. The best chai you will ever have.

Modified Recipe

You can easily turn this into a digestive (or an early morning boozy pick-me-up) by cutting back on the milk and making up the difference in alcohol. Recipe as follows:

– 1/2 cup water

– 1/2 cup milk

– 1-1/2 oz. Amarula

– 1/2 oz. Kahlua

Follow the same procedure as above. Filter the tea and stir in the Kahlua, Amarula, and sugar. Let it cool down naturally or in the fridge.

Serve over ice.

Discussion

The delicious combination of ginger and cardamom is by far, the best way to wake up in the morning. There’s simply nothing else that beats it. Except for maybe some equally delicious coffee from Phil & Sebastian.

Making the chai with milk makes it fuller, thicker, and “luxurious.” In Hindi, the phrase “kadak chai” is used, which means “strong tea”. The full meaning of the word “kadak” is lost in translation, but if you want some kadak chai, this is the only way to do it.

I found adding the Amarula and Kahlua changed the taste profile of the chai, but not so much so that I couldn’t taste the cardamom anymore. It definitely tasted better chilled, over ice than when it was served hot, so I would try it that way.

Let me know how you guys make out!

A Cocktail-a-Day #10: Celine Fizz (aka why gin & elderflower are awesome together)

IMG_0020Alright, short post today. It’s been another long in meetings and hanging out with friends. It’s awesome how now stressed out about time I am. Time is the true currency in life.

This one’s by Philip Ward of Death & Co. in Manhattan. Haven’t had time to research into him yet, so don’t know much about him. Here’s the recipe:

2 oz. gin

1/2 oz. St. Germain elderflower liqueur

1/2 oz. fresh grapefruit juice

1/4 oz. simple syrup

1/4 oz. fresh lemon juice

Dash of orange bitters

1 large egg white

Ice

1/2 oz. chilled club soda

1 grapefruit twist for garnish.

In a cocktail shaker, combine the gin, elderflower liqueur, grapefruit juice, simple syrup, fresh lemon juice, orange bitters, and egg white and shake vigorously without ice. Add ice to shaker and shake again. Strain the cocktail into a chilled fizz glass or flute and top with club soda. Pinch the grapefruit twist over the drink and rub it around the rim of the glass, then discard the twist.

Discussion

Visually, this drink is much cloudier as I accidentally added a bit of egg yolk as well, Compare this with the Boris Karloff which just has egg white and how much more transparent it is. I believe this is called the

Rubbing the grapefruit twist gives an amazing aroma to the drink. To be honest, it dominates the orange bitters, but I am not complaining.

I love how the gin, elderflower liqueur, and grapefruit juice combine together. It seems these three ingredients are very powerful when combined. The drink starts with a sweet tangy note and ends with a nice elderflower liqueur note. The egg white adds a bit of richness/thickness to the drink for sure. I actually forgot to add a bit of soda water like the recipe calls for, and got a big blast of gin. Will have to remember to add it in next time.

Photography

This was another hard drink to photograph. The egg yolk made the drink fairly opaque so no amount of backlight would help. Plus, it was too dark in the foreground. I also was getting too many shadows and I couldn’t figure out why – it’s not like the setup was any different that before. I just don’t have enough room with my setup to move the lights around so they don’t cast crazy shadows. I have to figure out some other setup here.

This is what I ended up doing. I angled the light in the back so it “collided” with the light on the side to eliminate any shadows. It didn’t really work. You can tell the foreground is much darker and needs more light.

I gotta sit down and learn more about studio lighting, white balance correction and all that technical stuff.

SO Much Tequila, Thanks NAFTA! An Intimate Review of Anejo, Calgary’s Newest Mexican Restaurant

Summary: An upscale casual Mexican-themed restaurant in Mission serving up delicious food along side Canada’s largest tequila menu. Prepare to be impressed.

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When I heard the newest kid on the restaurant block was a Mexican-themed restaurant from the owners of The Living Room, I was immediately intrigued. Calgary doesn’t have too many (good) Mexican restaurants in the first place, much less upscale casual ones, so I had to check it out. And it was worth it.

DSC01496Kent and I showed up on a bustling Friday night (Richard bitched out at a work xmas party) to their newly opened Mission location. Even though it was miserable weather, it was pretty hard to miss the only restaurant on the street, nay Calgary, with a huge flower-adorned skull next to the restaurant name.

We had to line up for about 10-15 min. before getting seated as the place was packed, but the restaurant has a pretty wide indoor "staging area" so you don’t have to freeze your ass off in winter. The restaurant itself was a Anejo,  Mission, Calgary, Mexicobit too dimly lit for my liking but maybe they are going for the lounge effect. The wall immediately to the right is adorned with Mexican artwork and the wall on the far back with all kinds of awesome tequila. Overall, the feeling is that of an upscale restaurant for a classy dinner date or a lounge where you can hang out with your mates and get trashed on expensive tequila. Either way, it works.

Kent & I decided to start off with the guacamole and tortilla chips while figuring out what to order from Anejo’s extensive tequila menu, which according to the server, is the largest in Canada (that’s when you know you have kinda made it as a city). The food menu, which was quite extensive, offers a more contemporary twist on traditional Mexican cuisines while still retaining some of the authentic flavours and customs. For instance, the guacamole was served in a lava-rock mortar and prepared table-side as we were watching. It’s also got the only restaurant in Calgary (maybe Western Canada?) that serves cactus in a salad. Awesome.

Anejo, Mexican, Mission, CalgaryWhile waiting for our appetizer, we went through the pretty massive tequila menu. For those who don’t know much about tequila other than the Jose Cuervo crap you shot as a university student, there’s five distinct types: blanco,  joven, reposado, and anejo. Blanco is the clear tequila that most people are familiar with; joven is a mixture of blanco and reposado,  reposado is any tequila that’s been aged for a minimum of 2 months, but less than 12 months in any oak barrel; and anejo is tequila that has been aged for a minimum of one year, but maximum of three in small oak barrels. There’s also the extra-anejo which is aged for a minimum of three years in oak barrels, but that tends to be not as common…and way more expensive.

Anejo, Mexican, Living Room, Mission, Calgary The guac is the best we have ever eaten. Made fresh at the table in a lava-rock mortar, the only way to top this is for the staff to fly you to an avocado farm and hand feed it to you. Its fresh.  Never has there been guacamole this good in Calgary – flavoured with nothing but serrano/jalapeno salt, onions, and tomatoes, and lime juice, this was nothing if not finger-licking good. Seriously. I was literally scraping the last bits of guacamole in the mortar with my finger and licking it dry – it was that good! My only complaint was that there wasn’t enough dip for the amount of chips given.

Kiran’s Judgement

Anejo, Tequila, Reposado, Blanco, Mission, Calgary, MexicanAnejo offers three 1 oz. drink flights. I ordered a "Vertical Flight" which means I got to sample one type of tequila (resposado) from three different distilleries (Asombroso, Excellia, and Baluarte). The cost of a flight is the total of each drink minus a $4 discount, so depending on the drinks in your flight, it can get expensive pretty quick.

I loved my flights. My favourite was definitely the Excellia which had a hint of sweetness and went down real smooth. My palate isn’t developed enough to pick up other aromas and flavours, but I am working on it (while writing this article ;D). It’s too bad Excellia isn’t sold at my local Co-op otherwise I would have bought it by now!

For the main course, I went with veggie tacos and chills rellenos. The former came with six, SIX different types of salsas and hot sauces. I was too wasted by the time the food came out to remember the names…all I remember is I couldn’t have enough of the hot sauces and the salsas. I rolled my eyes when the server was emphatic about the salsas packing a punch, but I take it back. I was pretty impressed by the amount of heat AND flavour each salsa or hot sauce packed. If that wasn’t enough, Anejo’s Executive Chef also has a house GHOST PEPPER hot sauce which I was super-impressed with – it wasn’t crazy hot like the store-bought ones and at the same time, packed lots of flavour. Hats off, sir.

Salsa, hot sauce, piquante, mexican, anejo, missionSalsa, hot sauce, piquante, mexican, anejo, mission

The chills rellenos was also pretty fantastic. I have never had one with rice before, so it was an interesting take on it. The rice had too much bite for my liking, but apart from that, it was a tasty and well-made dish. I have now had chills rellenos from every Mexican restaurant I have been too, and this one, IMHO, is the best out there. Well done.

Salsa, hot sauce, piquante, mexican, anejo, mission

Kent’s 2 Cents

I’m not much of a tequila drinker and was hesitant to try their high-end selection. I tried the "Horizontal Flight" where I got to try blanco, reposado, and anejo varieties from one distillery (Centinella). Although I couldn’t tell much of a difference between reposado and anejo, I can definitely confirm that its better tasting than the nightclub tequila shots, which I’m pretty sure is just low-octane gasoline. I’m moving up in the world.

I was very impressed with the selection of sauces for the tacos – all made in house and there was something for everyone. A few forgiving ones, but mostly very hot and enjoyable. The ghost pepper sauce was incredibly spicy, but in a way that still had flavor and didn’t burn your digestive tract.

The tequila mac & cheese came out in a very large portion. I unfortunately was not hungry anymore after having the guacamole and tacos. The cheese was rich and creamy, but it was a bit salty for my taste. The panko sprinkled on the top was a nice touch, I think it should be used on everything. I wanted to finish it, but just couldn’t by this point.

Salsa, hot sauce, piquante, mexican, anejo, mission

Summary

I think I have my new favourite restaurant in town. From classy drinks to good comfort food, Anejo has it all. Even though it was a packed house, the service was top notch and on par with the food. The fact that they are doing something different from other typical ethnic eateries always excites me. Anejo is going to do to Mexican what Mango Shiva did to Indian – upscale, trendy, and the place to be. A definite must-see!

-Kiran

RANKING

Kiran

Kent

Ambiance 4/5 5/5
Service 5/5 4.5/5
Taste 4.5/5 4.5/5
Originality 4/5 4.5/5
Value 3.5/5 3.5/5
TOTAL 21/25 = 84% 22/25 = 88%

Anejo Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Review of Clive Burger

Summary: Another hip burger joint. 

CLIVE BURGERS CALGARY 17

So. Burgers are all the rage now. They are the new pizza. There’s even an entire food blog dedicated to reviewing just burgers. Clive Burger is the latest addition to the scene that has been dominated so far by places like Rocky’s Burger Bus and Boogie’s Burgers.

Occupying the former space of Wok Box, Clive Burger aims to bring hipster cool to the latest trend in the yyc food scene. The front of the house reminded me of a sushi lounge or ramen noodle house in Japan:

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If you are in a group, you can sit in a booth that is adorned with hip burger-joint art (that`s right, I just created my own genre of art):

Calgary-20120511-00214

I loved the interior space – it was bright and inviting – as food for me is a total sensory experience. The ambiance definitely plays a factor in the overall experience.

Calgary-20120511-00218You order your custom burger off a giant “menu” and pick your own toppings too. Kinda like Subway for burgers. I dig it. If you are feeling extra hungry or just want to carbo-load before that big 10k run the next day, you can order a “custard shake” for $5. AND if that wasn’t enough, you can wash it all down with some beer on tap (from Village Brewery; they also have other wine and beer). For the vegetarians and celiacs out there, Clive also serves up any burger 100% vegetarian or gluten-free. I approve.

Once you order, the burger goes through an “assembly line” of line cooks that construct your burger with the love and care a greasy fat guy with a cigarette in his mouth cannot possibly match.

 

Calgary-20120511-00220Calgary-20120511-00221Calgary-20120511-00217

Kiran’s Thoughts

Calgary-20120511-00225I ordered the double cheese burger with the vegetarian patty along with a vanilla custard shake as I was feeling extra frisky that day. For my burger toppings, I went with friend onions, pickles, lettuce, tomatoes and Swiss cheese all topped off with hot sauce and Clive sauce.

The custard shake came out right away and it was downright sinful how good it was. Song said it was like drinking liquid egg tarts. Kent said it was like drinking ice cream.

I say it was fucking delicious.

We got our burgers to go and find a spot outside to enjoy a nice sunny spring day in the City. I eagerly bit into my burger expecting to find glory, but alas, I only tasted mediocrity. Don’t get me wrong, it was a solid burger, but there was nothing that stood out. The bun was a bit soggy, and the patty (although well seasoned) wasn’t crispy on the outside that gives one the satisfying crunch of biting into a mean burger. I liked the Clive sauce though, as it was nice and garlicky and had a mild vinegary pucker to it that I wasn’t expecting.

Overall, a pretty solid burger and and shake that satisfied my hunger.     

Richards’s Ruminations

Burgers, beers, Battlestar Galactica.  This is what you can look forward to grabbing at the slick-looking Clive Burger on 17th ave (ok, maybe not Battlestar [That’s only at Dickens pub during Sled Island -Kiran]).  There seems to be a bit of a burger boom going on in Calgary these days, much in the way that thin-crust pizza places have been all the rage in the past few years.  Clive Burger punches in with their own sustainability-focused take on the classic burger joint, proudly touting their organic food sources and offering fully-recyclable or compostable containers and utensils.  Even the straws and stickers are biodegradable apparently. In fact, they don’t even have a "trash" container within the store.  The simple line cartoons and modern minimalistic design make it seem like a place that would fit in nicely in Vancouver.

For some reason, they have an absolutely enormous staff – perhaps this is only apparent due to the open-kitchen layout, but maybe they are also big on the social sustainability and are looking to generate as many jobs as feasible ;)  Even though their staff is substantial, this isn’t exactly a "fast" food joint – burgers are freshly prepared, and they can take quite some time to come out.  Luckily, the cashiers issue you a buzzer that vibrates when your food is ready to pick up, so you can sit and sip your beer with your friends instead of having to huddle around anxiously at the pickup counter.

Visually, the burgers sort of resemble the ones from Shake Shack with soft round buns and nice ruffly lettuce, though unlike Shake Shack the toppings selection is vast, arguably even better than Five Guys.  They offer everything from $6 plain singles up to a $17 monstrosity with 3 patties, bacon and a fried egg to boot. There’s also a good range of hipster beers in tallboys and cans, plus a delicious custard shake which is like drinking a liquid mix of egg-tart and ice cream.

I went with a single cheeseburger and an order of fries to share – and it’s a good thing that I was planning on sharing, because it ended up being a pretty crazy amount of fries! (Be warned that there is only one size of fries offered, so better show up with a friend or a huge appetite if you plan on ordering them).  Deliciously fried in peanut oil, they struck a nice balance, being soft but with a tenderly crisp skin – I could easily eat them on their own, but they also came with ketchup and Clive sauce for dipping.  As for the burger – well, you might want to change out of your dress clothes before eating here because it is MESSY!  Maybe it’s because I ordered every free topping except for sauerkraut, but it was oozing goodness from all sides.  The meat was nice and hefty and the topping fresh, so all-in-all, it was edging on excellence – though given that the burger’s appearance reminded me of Shake Shack, it also made me think that the burgers could be even better if cooked medium-done (these were definitely well-done)

Kent’s 2 Cents

Model Milk’s chef is involved with Clive, so it has to be good.
Well, they definitely didn’t fuck around. The beef is some sort of free range, organic wizardry where the farmers feed the cows caviar and Thai massage it to death, creating a pretty satisfying patty. You are free to add on all sorts of fresh toppings, with no additional cost. And like the fries, I think they use peanut oil on the patties too. Heart attack right? Well not really. I found the single & double patty to be just enough to make you full, but not too much to feel like ass immediately afterwards. Just make sure to share the order of fries with a friend or two, its a big serving.

Clive is also doing their part to slow down the destruction of Earth. Compost and recycling have their separate bins. The forks, knives, and other packaging is biodegradable. So you can head back to your Ford F-350 after the meal and feel great about yourself for at least an hour or two.

Summary

We went back to Clive after a night out at Sled. To our delight, we discovered that they are open till 3 am on Fridays and Saturdays. This is awesome as it’s a sign that Calgary’s finally growing up – any large city worth its salt has late night offerings other than Denny’s and Humpty’s – and has options other than 3$ pizza.

I am ambivalent about this place. It’s pretty hip and cool, and the milkshakes are downright mind-blowing, but I found the burgers alright. Richard and Kent found the burgers delicious, so I guess that evens things out.

At the end of the day, after a hard night of partying, this is a great place to grab a bite and chill out with your friends.

Ranking

Kiran Richard Kent
Ambiance 4/5 4.5/5 5/5
Service 3.5/5 2.5/5 3/5
Taste 3.75/5 4.5/5 4/5
Originality 3/5 4.5/5 4/5
Value 4/5 4/5 4/5
TOTAL 18.25/25 = 73% 20/25 = 80% 20/25 = 80%

Clive Burger 17th on Urbanspoon

[Hidden Gems] Vendome Cafe: Not Your Average Hipster Breakfast

Summary: Situated in the historic Vendome Block in Sunnyside, this deceptively spacious cafe is a visual feast on the inside and the outside. Oh, and the food is fucking delicious too.

The past two months have been a process of “discovering” some of the best hidden gems Calgary has to offer. Whilst Vendome might not necessarily be unknown, it is definitely “hidden.” For one, when I showed up at 10 am to meet Shane and his soon bride-to-be, Tara, there was hardly a line-up. We were through ordering our food within 7 min. of getting there and were seated within 10 min. This was refreshing compared to the epic wait times one experiences at the more well-known joints in Bridgeland like OEB, Blue Star, or Diner Deluxe that are over-crowded with dirty hipsters. It could also be that we went on the May-long weekend, but I am choosing to believe otherwise.

Walking in, you are immediately greeted with a long spacious hallway that serves as the kitchen and the ordering area. There’s also tons of space to line up so you aren’t standing out in the cold if it is a busy weekend. The large blackboard is neatly broken down into four different categories depending on the mood you are in. You pay for your food right after ordering, which is brilliant, cause then you aren’t stuck in another line after your meal or waiting for your extremely busy server to take payment.

The exterior of the building was restored to its historic appearance in 1989 and I loved the contrast between the old and the new. It is also much more spacious than it looks from outside. There wasn’t a table for 4 in the main hallway, but there was plenty of room around the corner with a table for 4 just waiting for us. This section of the cafe was even cooler as it had the look and feel of a contemporary modern art gallery with large mirrors and paintings on the white facade. There was also plenty of natural light let in by the large windows that further enhanced the bright and airy feel of the place. I later found out that Teatro and Vendome have the same management and that this wing was added at a later stage – which helps explain the “contemporary” feel to this side of the cafe.

I ordered the vegetarian eggs benny which came on a toasted ciabatta (or sourdough, I can’t remember) bun with olives, red peppers, zucchini, and tomatoes, served with a side of home-style potatoes. The presentation was absolutely gorgeous, and if we still had the “Plating” category, this would have gotten 4.5/5.

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I also ordered an additional side of toast that came with mango chutney:

Shane ordered the gorgeous-looking French toast with caramelized bananas and cream:

And Tara ordered eggs sunny side up:

To say that I was blown away with the first bite I took would be an understatement. The combination of the roasted veggies with the hollandaise sauce and eggs was mind-blowing. I love it when all the flavours come together in your mouth to create this indescribable (for me anyways) cornucopia of tastes and flavours. Amazing. The hollandaise sauce was light and airy, but I could have used a bit more tang: it wasn’t necessarily as memorable on its own. The home-style fries, however, didn’t deliver the same impact as the main dish. While not bad, there was nothing really memorable about them that stuck in my head.

The side of toast with mango chutney was interesting. It was sweet yet tangy and reminded of mango nectar boiled down to a thicker consistency. I didn’t ask Shane and Tara to type up what they thought of their food, but I am pretty sure they enjoyed their food just as much as I did.

Summary

I had a great time at Vendome. Of all the breakfast/brunch places I have checked out, this my favourite of them all. You can’t beat/find ambiance like this elsewhere in Calgary and the combination of delicious food and quick service put it ahead of the rest of the pack. A definite MUST try!

Ranking

Kiran

Ambiance 5/5
Service 4.5/5
Taste 4/5
Originality 4.5/5
Value 4/5
Overall 22/25 = 88%

Vendome Cafe on Urbanspoon

Mighty Fine Breakfast @MightySkillet

Summary: a solid breakfast that will refuel your soft, puny body after a night of hard partying in your friends’ mom’s basement


Now that we are bonafide ballers after 5 years of working as engineers, we at TSD like to refuel our bodies with a solid brekky after a hard night of partying it up in Richard’s mom’s basement.  This week I felt like checking out @MightySkillet, as it was a gorgeous Sunday morning and they were parked right at Central Memorial Park.

Prepare to have your breakfast cooked by the power of awesome!

I ordered the vegetarian version of their Eggs Benny for $8, whereas Richard and Kent ordered the Corned Beef Kraven and a Fistfulla Benny, respectively. While waiting for our orders, we started shooting the shit with the owners/chefs. Turns out they were line cooks at a bar/restaurant in the neighbourhood. The owner of that restaurant approached them to start a food truck but they didn’t like the deal he offered, so the guys at Mighty Skillet decided to strike out on their own. The rest as they say, is history.

Kiran’s Few Words

The interesting and most obvious thing about Mighty Skillet is the size of their truck. I think this has got to be the tiniest food truck I have seen to date…I guess these guys have nothing to prove. Haha. Jokes aside though, like all other food truck owners, they were amazed at how quickly and easily they were able to receive their permits from the City.

Eggs benny out of a truck? Who'da thunk it'd actually be goodAnother cool about the Skillet is that they make their own hot sauce. Any place that makes their own hot sauce gets instant respect in my eyes. The hot sauce went especially well with the eggs benny and the hollandaise sauce. It was hot but not too spicy and it punched up the flavours quite a bit. The eggs were poached perfectly and quite well. The hollandaise sauce was light and airy, and the fact that it came out of a truck is a testament to these guys’ skills.

The only complaint I have is that the eggs benny came on a “bed” of hash browns, which didn’t look much like hash browns. At first, I was a bit confused about what I was eating since it looked like steak. But turned out it was the hash browns and they were chewy and rubber-y. It was still palatable, but definitely not the hash browns I was hoping for. Elsie Hui posted something similar to that effect on her own blog as well.

Richard’s Ruminations

Baconstrips& Baconstrips& Baconstrips& Baconstrips - $4It was a nice sunny spring morning in Central Memorial park, when all of a sudden – FUCKING THOR’S HAMMER DROPPED FROM THE SKY IN FOOD TRUCK FORM.  If you weren’t ready to rock out to heavy metal and crush 3 lbs of bacon while watching the Avengers, you would be after seeing this truck.  Actually, when we were there, the tunes they were playing were more along the lines of Best Coast and Arcade Fire, but you get the drift.  In any case, it’s a sweet looking truck, and their superhero spatulas and arms-off coveralls help round out their look (the resemblance to Holy Smoke’s uniform is pure coincidence).

These guys apparently just dropped their jobs to start up this food truck – in November.  Gutsy time of year to start up an outdoor food service in Calgary, I’d say – but it seems to have paid off, as their hard work has apparently earned them a coveted spot with two other lucky trucks right in the heart of the stampede grounds during this year’s Stampede – keep an eye out for them!

These dudes are pretty chill - important when you are cramped up in such a tiny interiorI ordered the corned beef and hash browns, which happened to include other niceties like fried eggs and fresh tomatoes.  It was a pretty solid dish – the eggs were really nicely done and the tomatoes were deliciously juicy – but the medium-cut corned beef was just alright.  The hash browns, as Kiran mentioned, were curiously dark and certainly didn’t look much like hash browns, the potato type OR the McDonalds type.  I thought they were quite nicely seasoned, but people who like a potatoey flavour in their potatoes might find them lacking.

Sadly, they didn’t offer coffee when we were there – apparently they used to have their own blend of coffee but apparently the coffee machine drew too much power for their tiny truck to handle.  Hopefully they get that worked out in the future!  In any case, their drinks were surprisingly affordably priced at $1 for a juice – not too common these days!  The meals themselves weren’t super-cheap, but the numbers seemed typical for “food truck pricing.”

Homemade hotsauce, just like my mama used to makeThis here is the hash brown - would you have known without the mouseover text?

Kent’s 2 Cents

You can trade a fistfulla dollars for a fistfulla benny. What’s not to like.

Final Thoughts

In YYC’s burgeoning food truck boom, the Mighty Skillet flexes its mighty skills in breakfast-making to make its mark on the city. 

-Kiran

Mighty Skillet Brunch Truck on Urbanspoon

Chasing Free-range Chickens at Over Easy Breakfast

Summary: if you can suffer through the wait times, OEB is worth the long line-up and chaotic billing system.

I don’t really understand why Bridgeland is turning into a mecca for breakfast/brunch joints, but every other week I find myself in another long line-up waiting for (what I hope to be) a delicious start to my weekend. As such, I ended up finding myself in Bridgeland once again on a sunny Sunday with Richard.

The insides are pretty tiny and it shows. It was bustling by the time we got to OEB. There isn’t enough room for patrons to line up near the entrance, so we were split up into two groups: one that just got there and the other for those who got there 15 min earlier than you…at the other end of the restaurant by the kitchen.

I really liked the ambiance of the place. Unfortunately, due to a technical snafu, I seem to have accidentally deleted all my photos, so a written description is the best we can do. There’s a very “cafe” vibe to OEB, with large floor-to-ceiling windows facing the street that let plenty of natural light in. There’s a large centre table to share between multiple parties and side tables for those lucky enough to have come early. The kitchen is partially exposed to the seating area so you can kinda see what the cooks are up to…which is always pretty cool in my opinion.

Kiran’s 2 Cents

The coolest thing for me is the fact that OEB’s eggs from free range chickens that they own on the Sparks egg farm (I couldn’t help but think of this sketch when I heard that –Richard). With that in mind, I got the eggs over easy on a toasted bagel with cherry tomatoes and avocado. I also got home-style fries on the side to carbo-load my busy day consisting of sitting on the couch watching TV.

The fries were the highlight of my dish. Perfectly salted and herbed with oregano, I can honestly say these were the best tasting fries I have had in a while. The guacamole was clearly made from fresh avocados and had a great citrus-y tang. Adding a little bit of hot sauce to the whole ensemble really brought out the flavours.

Unfortunately though, I couldn’t really taste any difference between OEB’s free-run, grain-fed eggs vs. regular store bought organic eggs. I suppose they are one and the same thing though.

My only problem with the whole experience was the payment process. For some strange reason, OEB doesn’t believe in wireless payment terminals that have become ubiquitous in every restaurant around town. Instead, you have to pay at the counter where there’s an overflow of people a) waiting to be seated, b) waiting in line to pay, and c) trying to get to the washrooms through a) and b). This whole process pissed me off, especially cause it doesn’t need to be that way. All the proprietor needs to do is build a heated overflow area outside and the problem would be solved (though to be honest, the sidewalk out front is pretty tiny too –Richard).

Richard’s Ruminations

Between Diner Deluxe, Blue Star and Over Easy (or the OEB as they seem to want to be branded as now), Bridgeland is surely the mecca for hipster breakfasts in Calgary.  Waiting times at all of these places are almost guaranteed to top an hour during peak times on weekends these days, so be sure to show up early and put your name on the waiting list!  Despite the cramped interior, waiting isn’t really that bad at OEB – you can get your coffee along with complimentary banana bread to munch on while you wait.  I agree with Kiran that they probably shouldn’t direct people to wait at the back though, as not only is that the cashier’s area, but that’s also where the “condiment bar” is located.  Not a bad place to hang out if you want to get cozy with some strangers, though!

I too liked the clean, simple interior with retro styling, though I wonder if they ever change the “menu” that seems to be scrawled in chalk on the roof.  They manage to squeeze around 10 tables into the place, along with what I like to call the “community bench.”  The staff was super-friendly, which definitely brightened my morning.  Oh yeah, the place is also fully licenced, which means you can order your coffee liquored up or try their very limited selection of beer and wine.

The menu is pretty straightforward, though with a nice amount of customization – pancakes, french toast, and waffles are fully interchangeable!  I went with the threesome of waffles, thinly-sliced ham and their much-touted eggs (ordered over-medium, which is the best way to identify a quality short-order cook in my opinion).  The waitress was eager to point out that the eggs are enhanced with keratin supplements, though amusingly she didn’t know exactly what that meant (we could hear the wait staff talking to the kitchen staff about it later).  No doubt though, the eggs are a thing of beauty, with extremely rich, brightly-colour yolks.  The waffles and ham were decent, but nothing mindblowing.

Prices are comparable to the other breakfast places in Bridgeland – that is to say, not that cheap, but you can probably get your money’s worth in free banana bread if you are feeling especially avaricious.  Between the cheery atmosphere, stellar service and quality food, I think it’s well worth both the price and the wait!

Summary

I had a good time at OEB. If you discount the horrible payment ordeal, the friendly staff, the trust-fund hipster ambiance, and the great food more than make up for the wait times. I would highly encourage everyone to check it out…with one caveat: get there early! If you want to read up on other reviews on OEB, check out Eat Your City’s review.

Ranking

Kiran Richard
Ambiance 4/5 4/5
Service 3.5/5 4.5/5
Taste 4/5 4/5
Originality 4/5 4/5
Value 4/5 4.5/5
Overall 19.5/25 = 78% 21/25 = 84%

OEB Breakfast Co. on Urbanspoon

Starting the Day at the End of the Line

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Nothing starts my day off with a bang like a solid breakfast. It’s the one meal that that rules them all so I have a hard time understanding how people are ok with skipping it. I go pretty nuts if I don’t get myself some brekky first thing in the morning!

I am still jet-lagged from my Aus./Nz trip, so I was up all night drinking Zubrowka and apple juice. At 7 am, that shit didn’t cut it no more, so I went downstairs to the End of the Line Cafe to grab some breakfast. This was a historic occasion as I have lived in DT yyc for a total of SIX years a stone’s throw away from this place but never actually managed/had the time to check it out. The best thing about EoL is it’s super-nice patio and 4$ domestic beers, but from what I had heard, they also serve up a decent breakfast.

The interior is nothing pretty to look at, but gets the job done. There’s a mish-mash of furniture overlooking the large windows that let plenty of natural light in. The view isn’t anything spectacular – the cafe overlooks the 10th St station – and it’s even worse now that the downtown line is being extended past the 10th St station westwards. EoL’s most common patrons (from my personal observation) are typically blue-collar workers working at nearby construction sites. They are open pretty much all day (6 am – 10 pm M-F) so it’s a perfect place for a weary soul to grab a decent meal before heading home.IMG-20120420-00118

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There’s a large menu selection that covers the gamut from breakfast bagels to Vietnamese subs. They also have 5$ vodka shots if you are so inclined. I decided to get the “Western Bagel” for $4.50: eggs with red/green pepper, tomatoes, mushrooms, and ham (for non-vegetarians) served on a toasted multi-grain bagel.

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Despite the soggy/rubber-y bagel, the sandwich was actually pretty delicious. The omelette was thick and fluffy and you could taste the sweetness of the red & green peppers through the eggs. I could have used onions and some bell peppers in there, but that’s more of a personal preference, and something that was easily solved with some Sri Racha hot sauce!

So, all in all, a pretty decent first experience with End of the Line. It is too bad the latter moniker won’t apply once the West LRT segment is up and running, but I am still really looking forward to spending some quality time on their patio once warmer weather comes around! Nothing better than $4 beer, a quite patio, and hot summer days.

Stay tuned for the detailed review!

-Kiran

End of the Line Cafe on Urbanspoon

Changes to the This Sh*t’s Delicious Ranking Methodology

The nice thing about holidays (apart from the sun, sand, and relaxation) is that it gives you time to think about sh*t other than work. This time round, it gave me time to think about our Ranking Methodology. So far, we have been rating restaurants on:

– Ambiance

– Service

– Plating

– Taste

– Originality/Authenticity

– Value

Each category was ranked from 1-6, with 6 being the best in any category. For future reviews, the “Plating” category will no longer be applied and each category will only be rated on a scale of 1-5, with 5 being the best. For more details on why I decided to change the methodology, check out the NEW Ranking Methodology page.

The above changes won’t really matter too much but will make it easier on our end when assigning numerical values to each restaurant review. At the end of the day, we are about exploring the food scene in yyc, and more importantly, discovering the hidden gems where the locals dine are.

Stay tuned for more upcoming reviews!

-Kiran