THINGS TO DO:
Food & Dining
The vibe at Calgary's Charcut is cool and edgy but the food is rustic and comforting, fresh from local farms and cooked from scratch.
It's hard not to choose my usual faves - chef Connie De Sousa's famed mortadella, studded with pistachios and stuffed into the pigs' heads she debones herself, or the tender spit-roasted prime rib her partner chef John Jackson coaxes to tender perfection over a smoky wood fire. But I opt for the double-cut heirloom pork chop with creamy cheddar grits, and we snack on a platter of house-made charcuterie and warm pretzels with cheesy dip before the main event arrives.
Calgary Dining Comes of Age
I'm not exactly sure when the sea changed, but this restaurant is one new spot that's given Calgary a reputation as a top dining destination.
While it's still a prairie city where meat trumps fish - Alberta beef deserves its legendary reputation - there's been a restaurant explosion in the city. Creative, chef-driven concepts are grounded in local traditions and fresh Alberta ingredients.
They may not always advertise the fact, but Calgary's best chefs make sure the pork is pastured, the boar is wild and the Saskatoon berries, morel mushrooms, yellow beets and heirloom potatoes are all locally grown.
While Charcut's meaty nose-to-tail menu satisfies the carnivore in me, there's more to taste along historic Stephen Avenue. It's a popular restaurant strip, where we wander from an oyster bar to a piano bar, with stops at a pub and a wine bar in between. The same innovative and sustainable vibe permeates the menus at top tables clustered along 17 Avenue and 4 Street.
Yesterday, I couldn't resist the fat morel-topped burger at Model Milk, where Chef Justin Leboe reminded me that he grinds his own special cuts of local Spring Creek beef for the juicy patties and serves Poplar Bluff organic potatoes and Hotchkiss heirloom tomatoes. Heaven on a plate.
Catch the Vibe
Top chefs like Leboe are ditching the white tablecloths for lively, crowded, casual eateries and opening "second label" spots - suburban diners, trattorias, bistros and funky food trucks.
Much of what hits the plate is artisan-made, whether its Calgary's craft beers, house-smoked bacon or fresh buffalo mozzarella made with milk from Alberta herds.
It's a sign that dining here has come of age. The best local produce is on the plate, whether we splurge on a romantic dinner at Rouge, share a plate at Borgo or grab a porchetta sandwich at Boxwood in the park.
The food here is serious, bold and unconventional - completely Calgary.