Pub grub gets hip

Adventurous eating on Stephen Avenue

The Libertine Public House website declares it a “hip modern pub.” Though the genuine hip never refer to themselves as such outwardly it has a lot to back up its claim and boosts Stephen Avenue’s steadily increasing credentials as a food destination.

Across the avenue from Mango Shiva the two-level establishment has been serving for most of the summer though its grand opening takes place on Thursday September 8. Weekday lunch hours have been especially busy.

Both floors are wide open to the street in fair weather. A light patina of industrial chic suits the spacious comfortable interior.

My expectation given the freethinking name of the place is something above standard pub fare. Both the liquor and food menus deliver in this respect. The pourmosa ($7.75) mixes Wild Rose Velvet Fog with orange juice and the beer paddle ($9) supplies a dip into three selections from The Libertine’s admirable beer list. My guest and I sample Pike Kilt Lifter Scotch Ruby Ale Howe Sound Rail Ale Nut Brown and Mill Street Lemon Tea Wheat Beer Blend.

Suitably the food menu starts with “small bits” and slightly larger starters. All appear to be beer-friendly. Bacon jacks ($5) certainly is. A small dish of caramel-covered popcorn with almonds and finely diced bacon (along with pork belly something of a signature ingredient) it’s sweet and sticky. Though there are a couple of unpopped kernels the corn is fresh and the bacon flavour could be more up front yet it’s a fun snack.

More welcome playfulness comes in the form of deviled eggs ($5.50). This is a smart take on a summertime classic seldom seen on city menus. Prepared with ale mayo red pepper Dijon mustard and more of those bacon bits the four egg slices have a rich mustardy bite.

A classic Eastern Canadian dish I can’t recall ever seeing smelt on a Calgary menu but here it is in the form of fish fries ($10). Finger-length ale-battered fish are served in a small bowl with lemon pepper aioli dip. I love the idea the aioli is nice and the execution is not too bad though the fish could be hotter and crisper.

For my main course I order the wild boar burger ($16). Served on a pretzel bun the roughly formed patty looks great in its equally rustic glazed bun. The meat’s distinct wild flavour is played up with the sweetness of rhubarb mead reduction and a layer of asiago cheese. I appreciate the hefty size of the patty but find the burger a bit heavy in the last few bites. On the side I’ve selected Caesar salad prepared with sun-dried tomato and topped with a freshly sizzled bacon slice. The tomato nicely brightens the salad’s taste and complexion.

My friend’s beer belly flat bread ($14) is served on a butcher papered cutting board. Cut side to side the rustic oval of house-made beer-bread crust is a bubbling golden orange. This pie earns an A+ for looks and its inventive ingredient combo includes beer syrup rosemary garlic red pepper parsley and pork belly all in a layer of mozzarella cheese. Though my friend finds the pork belly slices too fatty I don’t. The flatbread’s got airy crust cheese topping cooked to a perfect burbling finish and the lip-smacking syrup and rosemary smartly unify its flavour. A small pot of asiago ale ($1.75) dipping sauce adds a further creamy dimension.

New York cheesecake ($8) isn’t a unique dessert but The Libertine’s is dressed up with a little whipped cream strawberry sauce and edible flower petals. It’s about the prettiest thing I’ve ever been served in a pub. Vanilla gelato ice cream ($4) is similarly decked with multi-coloured flower petals and served in a metal cocktail glass. Both are quite tasty but the cake is frozen rock-hard in the middle.

Of note the menu also includes a select few non-sandwich and flatbread entrees including puttanesca ($16) pan-fried trout ($19) and boldly chicken liver and onions ($17). Additionally with a few days notice you and 19 friends can also enjoy whole roast pig ($400).

So given its fun adventurous alcohol and food selection sure I’ll concede The Libertine is indeed “hip.”