Stepping off the plane at YYC airport you’ll find that the terminal is full of friendly White Hat volunteers, wearing the signature cowboy hats you may associate with the Calgary Stampede, and the city of Calgary itself. Stetsons, steaks, sprawl, and steeds, that’s what one might purely think of this Albertan metropolis, unless they’ve visited recently and had their pre-conceived views of the city smashed to bits, which is what happened to us. The core of the city’s wonderful history and legacy is still there, it’s just evolving and doing even more great things.
The last time I spent more than a few hours in Calgary was at least 5 years ago, and John (not originally being from Canada) had never been this far east in our country. We had no idea that what we would discover in a quick 48 hour period in the city and that passionate local entrepreneurs would open our eyes to what it truly takes to create something in Alberta and share it with Albertans. Here’s how this invigorating spirit warmed our hearts:
Ways to Warm Up to Calgary This Winter
Sip Some Locally-Roasted Coffee
Co-founded by engineers Phil Robertson and Sebastian Sztabzyb, there are six Phil & Sebastian cafes in Calgary and the coffee they source (personally from their own growers) and roast is available throughout Alberta — we spotted some in Jasper later on our journey.
Their most recent location is in the Simmons Building, an old factory in a developing part of downtown called the East Village, that has three anchor tenants: Phil & Sebastian, Charbar, and Sidewalk Citizen Bakery. The East Village is what Yaletown in Vancouver was about 25 years ago — a prime piece of land with several historic warehouse buildings that are being renovated for the 21st century and complimented by residential developments.
Phil & Sebastian’s state-of-the-art concept cafe takes you through your coffee experience from start to finish. You don’t place your order and wait in a queue until loud machines finish pumping out your coffee and your name is called. A barista personally takes your order and also prepares it in front of you. They’ve created a connection. There’s also a slow brew bar and coffee tasting flights. “The goal is to challenge and explore people’s expression of coffee,” Sebastian, who believe in being true to the bean, told us while giving us a tour. “And if we make a coffee that needs cream and sugar, we have failed.”
He travels to Central and South America for at least 3-4 months a year to lead coffee production initiatives with their growers, check on the harvests, and do quality control checks. He personally tastes 600-700 coffee beans and roasts each year so you know the select dozen or so he features at his cafes are the best of the best. “The longer you roast something the more generic it is. I don’t want to take the hard work of these growers and sell a generic experience.”
For more information about Phil & Sebastian read their story online, it’s pretty epic.
Savour Sidewalk Citizen’s Goods
Walking over to the next tenant, Sebastian told us that the Simmons Building’s cornerstone is made of sourdough. Aviv Fried and Michal Lavi, who have backgrounds in engineering and finance, have become foodie legends in their own right in Calgary after founding Sidewalk Citizen Bakery. Five years ago Aviv Fried taught himself how to make sourdough (after training in Vermont, Paris and Nepal) and delivered handmade loaves on his cargo bicycle for zero carbon imprint. Today, Sidewalk Citizen bakes up artisanal breads (made with local heritage flour), croissants, and offers a Middle Eastern and Mediterranean menu that evolves through the seasons.
Sitting down with Michal, John and I sampled their wheat quiche, breakfast plate (with charred avocado, cheese, chopped liver, hard boiled egg), and flakey burekas with three sauces (cilantro, peppers, and side of grated tomato). “Wipe your face with poetry,” Michal told us, literally as the napkins are printed with featured poems.
When we hit the road that morning we had cups of slow-brew Phil & Sebastian coffee paired with Sidewalk Citizen’s bread pudding. We were very, very happy.
Eat Some of the Best Mexican Food North of the 49th
It’s been really hard to find great Mexican food in Vancouver, especially since I compare everything to my mother-in-law’s traditional dishes. I thought it was a Canadian thing and I had almost given up, that is until we had lunch at Native Tongues, a new taqueria in Calgary’s Beltline neighbourhood. Bringing the street food of Mexico City indoors, and complimenting it with Mezcal cocktails, this cozy space is adorned with vintage touches from south of the border. It serves up everything from ceviche tostadas and wild mushroom tacos to Barbacoa de Cordero – a succulent, steaming, warm, brothy bowl of lamb shoulder roasted for hours and enjoyed family style.
Drink Local Beer Made by Calgary for Calgary
Just when you think Village Brewery couldn’t pour out any more love and warmth from its south east Calgary operation, you notice there’s a Little Free Library book stand on its front lawn. John and I have toured many breweries, from coast to coast and in the Midwest, and this operation stole our hearts. It’s a vehicle for artists, it’s a fundraising conduit, all rolled into a brewery. Jim Button, one of six partners in the brewery, led us around one sunny afternoon and explained their concept and creations.
“We’re a movement that happens to sell beer,” Jim said while we stood in a hallway surrounded by fan art – actual art pieces given to the brewery by artists as a ‘thank you’ for their support (they sell art commission-free in their tasting room) or by those who just love their beer. “It’s not about giving back to the community. It’s about giving the community an outlet so that it can do something for itself.”
We sampled approachable brews like their Blonde and Wit, and other fanciful concoctions like the Farmer Cuke, made from a local farmer’s yield. They produce about 2 seasonals a year and 5 uniques a year on top of their regular lineup. There’s a chai winter porter, and a tripel in the summer made with blueberries, blackberries, and Saskatoon berries.
The events they support, through brewing unique beers to be sold at the event, have raised tens of thousands of dollars. They brew for Calgary and to support Calgarians. They’re a business as noble as the finest Bohemian Pilsner.
Play Inside and Out
After all of this good food and drink, get your blood pumping as you skate, luge, and even bobsleigh at Canada Olympic Park. Go for a winter hike at the Heart Creek Trail or Bow Valley Provincial Park just outside the city. Attend the Winter Carnival at Fort Calgary or stay downtown and explore the city through over 15km of indoor walkways and skywalks, never having to bundle up and walk out into the cold.
See the warmth of Calgary yourself this winter and discover the depth of this changing city as we did. It’s a quick 1 hour flight from YVR and you can follow Tourism Calgary on Facebook and Twitter for trip ideas and more information for making it a getaway destination this winter.