Calgary Restaurant Review: Bread & Circus

Art made for Bread & Circus

For my birthday weekend in Calgary, I had planned several meals based around available happy hour menus. One of the places that popped up during my search was Bread & Circus. It’s tucked away on 17 Avenue — a favourite area whenever Kirk and I visit the city — behind Una Takeaway on 6 Street.

The interior of Bread & Circus keeps your eyes moving.

I mean, anyone who walks into Una Takeaway will see the restaurant entrance right there, but it still kind of retains an in-the-know hideaway feeling when you show up for your reservation (booked through Resy). Prior to being seated, our winter coats were taken and hung up for us. We were then led to a table for two that was tucked into a small nook across from the chef’s bar.

As it turns out, only select items from the antipasti and pasta options were included as part of happy hour, but it was enough to satisfy us. NOTE: It seems that happy hour has changed since our visit as they now offer a daily $5 menu of house wine, specific cocktails and food items between 5:00pm to 6:00pm.

When we were at Bread & Circus, cocktails were on special for $6 each and certain marked plates were half off (costs listed here are regular price, unless otherwise indicated). That included their Garlic Bread ($7), Amatriciana ($19), Carbonara ($20), and Beef Carpaccio ($14).

The Pomme Pomme

The Pomme Pomme ($10) was a tall cocktail mix of Calvados, Gifford’s Ginger Liqueur, and lime juice, making for a refreshingly tart beverage with a hint of spice at the back of the throat. Very smooth and easy drinking.

The Beef Carpaccio was presented first, and it was superb. The paper thin, circular slices of bright red meat were generously covered with broccolini salsa verde, shaved mimolette cheese, and puffed farro. The salsa was creamy and cooling on the palate. The hard orange-hued cheese was nutty and slightly salty, pairing well with the florets of broccolini, and the puffed farro added a little bit of crunch. So many textures and distinct flavours came together to make one fantastic dish. Even Kirk, who does not like raw meat, ate his fair share of this one (citing the beef actually looked fresh and appetizing to him because of the colouring), and we ended up ordering a second plate.

Amatriciana pasta in the forefront with the Garlic Bread in the back.

Before we even got our first order of Garlic Bread, Kirk decided that we should get two, so again, another was requested. There’s a reason why this is charged at $7 each though. It’s because it’s a whole loaf of freshly baked, warm pull-apart bread. The outer crust was a tad dry in spots and sort of subtly flavoured throughout. That is, until you get to the portion where they stuffed it with the garlic butter. Then it turns into a potently garlic treat. I devoured almost my entire loaf, careful to eat all of the parts doused in that butter and leaving behind the drier bits.

Carbonara

The two of us split the Amatriciana and Carbonara pastas. Both were delicious. Yet, they were also kind of similar. The only difference was the type of sauce that each came with. Their Amatriciana is technically made with bigoli noodles — still a thick, round pasta that I couldn’t really tell apart from the spaghetti used in the Carbonara — tossed in a traditional tomato sauce, chilies, and pecorino romano. The Carbonara is prepared with a creamy white sauce made using a farm egg and cracked pepper before being topped with more pecorino romano. Each of the plates was elevated with the same protein of crispy pancetta. Either way, I’d order both again. Incredibly simple in execution, but perfectly al dente noodles and deep, rich flavours in the sauces.

Caramelized popcorn as a parting snack.

By the time we finished all of that food, we were so full. I would have loved to try dessert, but I just couldn’t fathom eating anything else. Thankfully, a tiny dish of caramelized popcorn was dropped off with our bill, so I got a little taste of sweetness to cap our meal.

From the fun, secretive nature of Bread & Circus and the eclectic decor to the friendly service and the wonderful food, I’d say that this is definitely a spot to visit if you live in Calgary or find yourself there for work or play. In a heartbeat, I’d recommend it, especially for that stellar beef carpaccio.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: OEB Breakfast

The entrance to OEB Breakfast.

Maybe I’m a little bit sheltered. After all, I’m not in Southern Alberta all that often, and, until a location opened here around the end of October, OEB Breakfast wasn’t on my radar in the least. But, supposedly, this Calgary-born restaurant is quite celebrated in and out of it’s hometown. OEB, which stands for Over Easy Breakfast (kind of redundant with the second “Breakfast,” no?), decided to expand north.

The owners insist that the business open only until 2:45pm daily to emphasize the importance of the first meal in the day. It’s often one that I skip (I know…). Nevertheless, I’m a sucker for things like bacon and poached eggs when I do partake. Since the breakfast/brunch joint was introduced to Edmonton, my social media feeds have been littered with droolworthy images of their food on a regular basis.

From what I gathered, OEB Breakfast was apt to get busy quickly on weekends. So, I was prepared when making the trek there myself. With an 8:00am start on Saturday and Sunday, I insisted that Kirk and I arrive early. If needed, I’d join the Yelp Waitlist on the way there. The service is a tool that the eatery utilizes to mitigate a giant crowd at their doors. Ultimately, it wasn’t necessary for us, but it’s good to know that it’s available.

The interior is definitely egg themed.

We made it to OEB Breakfast just before 9:30am and, thankfully, there was no line up. A table had just cleared and after a cleaning, we were seated to the left side of the entrance towards the far end. A large mirror hanging on the opposite wall allowed me a view of the rest of the space. Bright white throughout with shots of orange and sunny colours as well as egg themed light fixtures and giant rooster/chicken sculptures. The kitchen was completely open to the elements.

As we eyed the menu, I observed how many early risers there were. Pretty much every seat was occupied and they had gotten there well before us. I don’t often drag myself out of the house before ten o’clock on a weekend for anything. It seems that OEB Breakfast was an exception.

Mimosas!

Our server came over to take our drink order. I had my heart set on a mimosa. Coming with either orange, pineapple, grapefruit, or mango juice, they were a steal when priced at $5 a glass. Sadly, I was told that they didn’t yet have their liquor license, so they weren’t able to serve their listed alcoholic beverages. I do hope that this is no longer the case, considering it has now been two months since our meal. Anyway, with that realization having sunk in, I then proceeded to ask them about their juices because sometimes a glass of fresh squeezed juice is ideal. But, at $5.50 for an order, it better truly be fresh. To that, I was told that the juice is fresh; however, it’s not prepared there. They get it delivered from another company. That was kind of weird to me. If you don’t squeeze it yourself, how do you know it’s actually fresh? Learning that, I just opted out of drinks entirely and we both sat there with cups of water.

The selection of food is fairly extensive, ranging from standards to a number of breakfast dishes with twists. Broken out into categories like Farm Fresh, Blue Plate Specials, Breakfast Poutines, Benny’s, Omelettes, Sandwiches, Sweets, and Sides, there’s something for everyone. Kirk tends to go for more traditional options. This time though, he surprisingly got something other than a classic breakfast by ordering the Pulled Chicken Frittata ($19). I’d heard that OEB Breakfast was famous for their poutines. Therefore, I chose the Gold Digga ($20) and I added the Chicken Blueberry Bangers ($4).

Pulled Chicken Frittata

Starting with the Pulled Chicken Frittata, this was not served open-faced like it should have been. It was still folded like an omelette. The smoked chicken was more plentiful than I thought, but it tasted rather bland and there was definitely not enough fresh mozzarella. Severely under-seasoned, if you ask me. The best part was the semi dried tomatoes because they provided a shot of concentrated flavour. It came with a slice of toast, hash browns, and prettily presented fruit. In my opinion, this frittata isn’t worth ordering again.

Chicken Blueberry Bangers

My Chicken Blueberry Bangers, sourced from Spondin, Alberta, were lean and subtle in taste. I guess a plus was that they weren’t salty. My main issue was that they cooled incredibly fast. I stopped to take a couple of photos of the food and the sausage had lost all heat by the time I cut them open a few minutes later.

The Gold Digga Breakfast Poutine was the best thing I had, and I now understand why those bowls are so popular. They’re probably the best bang for your buck at OEB Breakfast. With huge portions and quality, premium ingredients, they are delicious to a point. In particular, the Gold Digga comes with poached eggs (soft is the only way to go), herb potatoes, Quebec cheese curds, bacon lardons (the online menu now lists Berkshire roast pork…not sure if that’s a recent change), black truffle, and hollandaise. I have to say that, upon reaching the bottom of the dish, I found the flavours sort of tiresome. At the beginning of my bowl, I was impressed by the rich truffle, creamy hollandaise, and perfectly fried bacon lardons. It eventually just got to be too much of the same. Regardless, if I return to OEB Breakfast, the Hog & Scallops poutine is the next on my list to try.

When our meal was over, only an hour had passed. Yet, due to the cold weather, the doorway was jam packed full of people who took up every nook and cranny they could find. There was no allotted waiting area taken into account when building the restaurant, leading to an incredibly crowded zone that would probably be considered a fire hazard. Guests, looking to stay warm inside while waiting, encroached on the personal space of diners seated around the front. I’m so glad that we hadn’t been given a table in that section.

It was a challenge to pay the bill, too. Servers do not bring machines to your table to take payment. You have to take your bill to a counter, inconveniently set up to the right side of the eatery entrance. That day, there was no way to get to it by going past the kitchen (too busy with staff), so we squeezed past all of those people at the door. In all honesty, it crossed my mind that it’d be so easy to dash and dine there. Of course, we would never, but seeing as how we literally had to pass by the exit to get over to the counter, and there were all of those other people blocking us from view, it would have been a piece of cake.

We did it though. We made it to the other side and someone showed up right away to put our charges through. The staff member thanked us for visiting, and we then happily squeezed back through the onslaught of patrons to breath some crisp, “fresh” downtown air.

I definitely found OEB Breakfast to be a hit and miss on this occasion. Based on this single experience, I can’t say I’m as in love with the place like so many others seem to be. Nonetheless, I’m not going to completely write it off. Perhaps a weekday visit is in order. It’s only a couple of blocks from my office and they actually take reservations during the week. Should a Saturday or Sunday drop-in be required, it’ll be planned for the early morning to avoid the wait and the throng of other people.

Calgary Restaurant Review: WURST (Brunch)

WURST is modern from the outside.

Flashing back to the beginning of December, Kirk and I were on our weekend getaway to Calgary. While we were visiting, I had planned several food outings. This included a Saturday morning brunch at WURST, available on weekends and holidays from ten o’clock in the morning to 3 o’clock in the afternoon. Located in the Mission district at 2437 4 Street, it was easy for us to get to by car (about a five minute drive) from Hotel Arts where we were staying.

I’d seen photographs of the place online, but, I have to say that the photographs don’t really do the place justice. The size of the interior is immense and I love the whimsical live trees growing in the center of the street-level room. We showed up for our OpenTable reservation and we were actually seated under one of the canopy of leaves (admittedly, somewhat dusty), which were decorated with string lights and Christmas ornaments. The bar stretches lengthwise across the room parallel to a handful of booths on the opposite side.

The bar is a nice focal point of WURST.

Towards the back of the eatery in a somewhat more private area, a large group of moms and their tots were having a gathering. Despite the occasional loud crying and shrieks from the children who ran rather rampant throughout the space, we managed to have a fairly enjoyable meal. The ambiance, through no fault of the restaurant, left a lot to be desired. Thankfully, the service and the food saved our morning.

Belgian Breakfast

Kirk went with the Belgian Breakfast ($19), which is a pretty typical plate of three eggs cooked to your liking with bacon, bratwurst, back bacon, house cut hash browns, Belgian waffle, and maple syrup. I mean, protein galore! The over easy eggs were perfectly prepared with hints of the yellow yolks emanating from behind thin layers of whites. The bratwurst and crispy bacon were delicious, too.

 

I always like to go for something classic with a twist. In this case, WURST makes their bennies using fresh baked cheese biscuits as the base rather than the usual English muffin. That made all the difference in the world with my Smokehouse Beef Eggs Benedict ($17) because I’m not a fan of English muffins. When broken, the soft poached eggs were beautifully runny, coating the shaved smoked beef brisket sitting beneath it. Super smoky and flavourful, the balsamic onion jam provided a touch of sweetness and the roasted mushrooms added an extra layer of texture and earthiness. Classic hollandaise finished it off. It also came with a side of the house cut hash browns and mixed greens. Overall, this was an excellent value and example of what their kitchen is capable of.

In addition to the food, we also took advantage of their $5 beverages. Kirk got a Caesar and I indulged with an orange Mimosa. Kirk commented that the Caesar, presented in a short glass, tasted like it didn’t have any alcohol in it, so I’m not sure if that will be for everyone. Nevertheless, I thought the mimosa was standard and acceptable for the price.

When we finished our meal, we wandered into the basement to take a look around. It’s set up exactly like a few of the German beer halls that we frequented on our trip to Munich last year, so it brought back some fond memories for us. Downstairs, they also have lockers that regular patrons can rent as storage space for their beer steins, which is a fun element.

WURST Brunch Menu

In the future, if we find ourselves back in Calgary, we wouldn’t hesitate to return to WURST for another meal. We’d happily do brunch again or maybe check it out for dinner next time.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Pip

The interior of Pip.

A little over a year after Pip graced Edmonton with its presence, Kirk and I finally visited this sister restaurant to MEAT and The Next Act. Housed on the corner of the same block as the other eateries, Pip is tiny in comparison; the Old Strathcona business has approximately 30 seats among the standard tables and bar tops.

We made a booking in advance through their website to ensure a spot. Arriving right on time, our table was literally being cleared and cleaned for us. Although the notes on the reservation page indicate that parties of two are only given an hour and a half for their meal, our dinner took about two hours and we never felt rushed.

Hugo Spritz cocktail

I decided to try one of their cocktails. The Hugo Spritz ($10), a 3 ounce concoction, is a mix of elderflower liqueur, soda, prosecco, and fresh mint. Kind of like a mojito, but with more of a floral flavour, it was light and refreshing. It’s also one of the more affordable drinks since approximately half of the cocktail menu is $13.

To eat, we split a few of Pip’s dishes between the two of us. The kitchen, similar to our recent stop at Partake, was careful to space out the plates for us. Therefore, we were able to focus on each item at time.

Starting with the Seared Manchego Cheese ($14), this was a slightly different take on the more typical baked brie that might be found elsewhere. Manchego, a firm yet buttery cheese made of sheep’s milk, doesn’t get that same creamy consistency when heated. It’s much more dense, sort of like halloumi, which has a high melting point, meaning the cheese is easily pan fried for a crispy exterior. It was good though. Kirk liked it so much that I thought he might devour it all. Served with toasted fresh bread, fig jam, and arugula, this dish had a great balance of salty-sweet-bitter to it.

Gnocchi

Next to be presented at our table was the Gnocchi ($18). Tossed with roasted tomatoes and coated in garlic cream and pesto, it was then topped with crispy leaves of basil and grated Parmesan. The potato pasta was actually quite light and fluffy in texture and the sauce was amazing. The only thing that would have made it better was lobster. It reminded me a lot of a couple of other lobster mac and cheeses I’ve eaten before, so I can imagine how fantastic this gnocchi would be with the crustacean added.

As our main entree, we shared the Braised Beef ($28). I loved how lean the meat was while still remaining fall apart tender and succulent. The roasted market carrots were ever so slightly crunchy and sweet. The green peppercorn sauce was a nice accompaniment to the beef. What really elevated the plate, in my opinion, was the Parmesan risotto. The creamed rice was divine and should be more largely portioned as I was having a hard time ensuring there was enough to go with every bite of my meat.

Deep Dish Apple Pie

Being our first outing to Pip, I felt that it was important to get acquainted with all aspects of the menu. As such, I ordered a serving of the Deep Dish Apple Pie ($10) for dessert. I hadn’t looked at the description of the item again before selecting it, so I had forgotten exactly what it came with. As Kirk ate, he insisted there was alcohol used in it. Turns out, he was right. Bourbon caramel was pooled on his side of the bowl. When I finally got a bite of that, it turned a very capable apple pie into something extra decadent. The caramel and the shortbread cookie crust are what really differentiated it from any other apple pie I’ve ever had, giving it a twist from the visually old school presentation of the pie with the single scoop of vanilla ice cream. Delicious!

While I do wish that the portions were a little bit bigger at times, it cost just under $100 for both of us, which isn’t too bad. Would I spend like that regularly? No. This was definitely a treat. Our night at Pip was truly wonderful though. From the intimate ambiance to the attentive service and the excellent food, we certainly enjoyed ourselves. It’s easy to see from our experience why Pip has become a fast favourite in Edmonton.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Old Town Pub

Old Town Pub

Long before Old Town Pub rolled into the building on 10314 82 Avenue, Elephant & Castle was housed there. Although I had never been to that particular location, I had friends who basically called it their second home. When it was shuttered, they were devastated.

However, when one door closes, another opens. In August 2017, the new owners introduced Old Town Pub. I didn’t visit until this this past fall when my friend and I attended a Paint Nite event, but it was better than I expected.

For that first dinner, we went straight upstairs to the second floor to grab a table, which worked out well considering our event was taking place in that area. The furniture doesn’t look like it’s been updated in decades. Otherwise, the venue was clean and retained somewhat of an Irish pub feel. The wall we were seated next to was adorned with a couple of dart boards. Additionally, a foosball table and a pool table were available for use as well.

The service was somewhat slow though. It took a while before we were checked on, but the server was friendly. As advertised on social media, the majority of the Old Town Pub menu really is priced at $10 per item. Where they get you though is on the extras. Adding meat or making any sort of upgrades to your pierogis will run you at least a few more bucks. Still, it’s fairly affordable and an interesting business practice that I’ve yet to see anywhere else.

Pretzel Braids

On that occasion, the two of us shared an order of the Pretzel Braids ($10). They were made in-house and the plate came with three decently sized twists. The bread was golden brown and lightly salted. They were also nice and soft. There’s nothing I hate more than a dry, overcooked pretzel. For dipping, the pretzels came with a small plastic cup of house beer cheese. Overall, these were delicious. I just wish that it came with more of the dip as we had to be meager with it.

Small Caesar Salad

Both of us ordered side salads. The large is $10, but a small is $5. My friend went with the Tossed Green Salad: romaine and iceberg lettuce, red onions, tomatoes, cucumbers, and her choice of dressing. I opted for the Caesar Salad: romaine lettuce, croutons, bacon bits, Parmesan cheese, and dressing. Between the two, the Caesar looked to be more generous in size. I found it to be quite satisfying with a decent amount of dressing, bacon, and cheese, and I was pleasantly surprised at the portion.

Pierogi Plate

We each had a Pierogi Plate ($10) for dinner, too. Pan frying was $1, sour cream was $0.50, bacon bits were $2, and a small sausage was $1. All in, it came to $14.50 for six wonderful potato and cottage cheese dumplings (they also have a Montreal smoked meat option). I was recently told by one of the staff that two Ukrainian babas come in every week to hand make every single pierogi and it showed. They definitely seemed to be made from scratch.

The lounge area on the main floor.

In the new year, I took Kirk to Old Town Pub to use up a Groupon before it expired. This time, we decided to hang out near the bar. It’s definitely not as spacious as the second storey with several tables crammed onto a raised platform. It was cozy though. I was facing towards the kitchen, allowing me a good view of a TV and a large projector screen where that night’s Oilers game was being shown. We even stayed until the end of the third period to see if we might be able to win the draw for tickets to the following week’s home game. Our odds were high most of the night as the place was next to empty. However, we were thwarted by someone who literally came in at the last minute.

Loss aside, we had a great time. Turns out that Old Town Pub has happy hour every day from noon until 7:00pm. It includes specials on wings, pints, highballs, and wine. Kirk was able to get a couple of Yellowhead pints for $5 per glass as well.

Sweet Thai Chilli Chicken Wings

Since they were half price, we split an order of the Sweet Thai Chilli Chicken Wings ($5). These looked to be cooked all the way through as the meat was white. Yet, we both thought they could maybe have used an extra minute or two in the kitchen. Maybe it was the texture of the meat that wasn’t the greatest, and there were a couple that were quite bloody inside (super veiny?). Nevertheless, the flavour was tasty, and we were fine in the end.

Beer Cheese Fries

I selected the Smoked Chicken Panini ($10) as my main. It typically comes with fries or a tossed green salad. I chose to get the Beer Cheese Fries ($3) instead. The fries were blanched and then covered with the same beer cheese dip that came with the pretzels I’d eaten previously. They were then topped with diced tomatoes and green onions. Not bad, but the dip cooled off quickly and, again, they were scant with the cheese. Ultimately, I ate half of my fries with regular ketchup and a bit of the mustard that Kirk got on the side for his burger.

Smoked Chicken Panini

The sandwich was decent as the grilled ciabatta bread had a crisp exterior, but remained soft on the inside. When it came to the chicken, I didn’t feel like the meat was smoky enough. The mozzarella, garlic aioli, roasted red peppers, and caramelized onions is what saved this. Without those, it would have been pretty bland.

OTP Burger

Kirk’s OTP Burger ($10) was amazing! I had minor regrets and wished I had gotten a whole one to myself. Rather, I managed to snag just a couple of bites. He had bacon added for $2. It was definitely a dirty diner-style burger. The obviously hand smashed ground beef patty was super juicy; the meat was perfectly seared with that charred grill flavour infused into it. The fixings were the standard mayo, tomato, and lettuce on a white burger bun. Very simple, but incredibly well-made. Our only issue with the burger was that it fell apart quite easily, so hold on tight to it.

Guinness Cake

To complete our meal, we had the featured Guinness Cake ($8) for dessert. It took a while for it to come out. Apparently, they were out of whipped cream, so they made a whole new batch just for us. The cake was dense, but far from sweet. It just had that dark chocolate flavour without all the sugar. Quite good, actually.

Honestly, I’m fairly impressed with Old Town Pub. I’m not entirely sure how they can profit with the model they’re using. When other businesses are constantly increasing costs to their patrons, Old Town Pub is really trying to be accessible to their customers while providing handcrafted food, and that’s something I can get behind.