Canadian Cuisine: A Guide To Eating Out In Calgary If You're Not A Meat-Eater
"The best way to know a city is to eat it."
— Scott Westerfeld
After eating our way around Vancouver last year, Tom and I fell completely in love with the Canadian food scene. Contrary to popular belief, it's not all poutine, butter tarts and maple syrup (although they're all very delicious in their own right); no, dining out in Canada is all about creating interesting dishes with locally grown ingredients, tucking into hearty portions and having a jolly good time with your besties. So, having enjoyed Vancouver so much, we decided to delve into Canadian cuisine a little deeper and eat through a few more of her largest cities, starting our culinary tour in Calgary, Alberta.
Known affectionally as Cowtown, Calgary is one of the largest beef producers in the world, so it sounds like it's a great place to eat out if you're a meat-eater - but what if you're not? Having given up meat three years ago, I make it my mission to seek out restaurants that can satisfy all diets wherever I go. Even though my palette has changed, I'm still a foodie at heart and no amount of salad can fully appease my ever-growing appetite.
So as the demand for meat-free options increases, it's wonderful to see that more and more restaurants across the world are catering better for pescatarians, vegetarians and vegans. And that also includes places you'd never think would come to embrace the meat-free lifestyle. With the preconception that Calgary's food scene would be meat-stop-central, I didn't expect to enjoy eating out during our time there but thankfully, that wasn't the case. Don't get me wrong, meat does feature heavily on many menus around the city - as it is her heritage - but we were able to find a few places that cater well for the non-meat eaters too.
Right in the heart of Calgary's design district, you'll find Bridgette Bar. Yes, it's a bar by name but this is not an average bar by nature; it's a place where design meets gastronomy, where culture meets a catalogue of cocktails, where real-life people meet more real-life people and forget that social media exists. The first thing you'll notice about Bridgette Bar is the vibe. Their sharing plate culture invites lots of groups into their large restaurant space, making it a fun, excitable and relaxed environment to while away the hours.
In terms of food options, expect a fusion of old classics and experimental flavours straight from the open kitchen - roasted cauliflower with espelette mayo, croutons and anchovy; wood-roasted duck with kuri squash polenta, apples and birch glaze, prepared on a savoury wood-burning grill; eggplant fries with harrisa yoghurt; ling cod with Dungeness crab, green chilli, grapefruit and white bean ragu; sticky toffee pudding with nut gelato. Whatever you choose, I can assure you it will be absolutely delicious. And if, like myself, you're a bit of a cocktail connoisseur, you'll be spoilt for choice and will probably end up
The Bourbon Room
Hidden away off the beaten track, inside a sports bar called The National and up two flights of stairs, you’ll find The Bourbon Room. This small but perfectly formed whisky bar plays on its seclusion as it feels very much like a sexy Gentleman’s club. Ageing black and white photographs of beautiful naked women line the walls, while the brown leather sofas and overhead lighting create a sense of promiscuity. As well as an extensive bourbon, whisky and cocktail menu, food is also served at the Bourbon Room; it's far from fancy fare but you'll find everything you could possibly want to soak up their delicious drinks.
From meaty sandwiches, pizzas and burgers to tacos and breakfast poutine, there's a 99% chance that things will get a bit messy at The Bourbon Room - but just blame the bourbon. Quite simply, the booze comes first in this seductive space and we couldn't be happier with that. Try the Smokey and the Bandit for your daily dose of maple syrup or if you’re looking for a great whisky-gin creation, the Domestic Wild will be sure get you going. Or if you’re feeling very brave, ask for the Bartender’s Choice - that will soon warm your cockles in the cold Calgary climate.
Earl's began as a family-run business in Edmonton over 30 years ago and now has over 60 restaurants in North America and 8 in Calgary alone. With core values that focus on serving quality food created by passionate people, you always feel welcome at Earl's, just like you would having dinner at your mum's house. It's nothing overly fancy but you know exactly what you're getting every time; delicious food made from scratch using locally sourced ingredients and served in a fun, lively setting filled with love.
Inspired not only by Canada but by other far away lands, the menu at Earl's is diverse, interesting and full of flavour, making it the perfect place to dine - whatever the occasion. From burgers, tacos and ribs to soups, salads and sushi, there's more than one dish for everyone. And they also offer an extensive plant-based menu, including buffalo cauliflower and green dragon sushi rolls, so diners can enjoy Meat-free Monday every day.
Anju, literally meaning "food you eat with alcohol", is a restaurant that serves up a tasty selection of modern Korean tapas created to share over a drink or two. Their menu showcases a fusion of typically Korean cuisine with a Canadian influence; all specially curated to draw you in from the cold and get you salivating. Step forward hot stone rice bowls topped with a protein of your choice, beef brisket rice noodle soup, charred Shishito peppers, curry-marinated Alberta lamb t-bone steak, tofu lettuce wraps, truffle yam fries and fried Brussels sprouts with bacon and soy maple syrup. And that's not even half the story - you could eat here for an entire week without eating the same thing twice!
At Anju, style and simplicity in the restaurant itself is key, allowing all energy to be channelled into the deep flavours of the food and enjoying the company that you share. The decor is unpretentious and synonymous with Korean culture; black wooden tables, which are at the heart of the restaurant, are paired with wooden chairs and dressed simply with white plates, chopsticks and tea lights. Paying homage to Anju's identity, traditional Korean ceramics and art works discreetly line the walls, while giving diners a little insight into the Korean way of life. With an open kitchen and inviting bar area, the entire restaurant has been designed to bring people together, creating a full, shared, foodie experience. And to be served great food at the same time, well, that's just the icing on the cake.
Where's your favourite place to eat out in Calgary, AB?