Seven taste sensations for September in Calgary

Life is nowhere near back to normal — and it could be some time before it is, if we’re being realistic.

But now that some COVID-19-related restrictions have eased and restaurants have been able to open back up, some semblance of “life before” is returning. Luckily for us, many bars, cafes and restaurants have returned with new ideas and offerings.

Whether dining in with those in your bubble or getting something to go, here are seven new(ish) offerings worth leaving the house for.

Diavola, Rocket Pie Pizza

Every pizza joint has a version of pie that involves spicy cured meat. What sets the new Rocket Pie Pizza in Canmore apart is the addition of housemade pickled onion strewn over top. The slight sweetness and tang from the onions cuts into the richness of cheese and chili-flecked soppressata making this pizza infinitely eatable — and well worth the drive from Calgary.

Ruby Rose, Proof

The upside of the pandemic — we take them where we can find them — is the introduction of Proof’s cocktails in a can. Expect the same quality of drink you’d get by visiting this Victoria Park bar, but in a more portable form. Available in three flavours, each features locally made vodka or gin from Confluence Distillery. While the ginger-lime Mule and tropical-inspired Island Hopper are delicious, the bright grapefruit and floral rosewater notes — underpinned by gin — of Ruby Rose had me going back for more. Ideal for a personal happy hour on your deck or balcony. 

Smoked Salmon Donuts, Vendome Café

After a thorough round of renovations and a menu overhaul, Vendome — part of the Teatro family of restaurants — is back with new dishes (and, thankfully, a few old favourites. Hello, cured salmon Benedict!) and even better hours. Long-beloved as a breakfast joint and afternoon coffee stop, Vendome is now offering dinner options with cocktails and wine. 

Start with the Smoked Salmon Potato Donuts, which are more akin to an impossibly light fish cake than their coffee-accompaniment counterparts. The fluffy interior is hidden beneath a deep gold crust and the creamy dip on the side is the icing on the, well, fish cake. 

Pork Katsu Sando, First Avenue Corner Store

You’ll love this sando from the First Avenue Corner Store.

Take a panko-coated pork cutlet and deep fry until shatter crisp on the outside and juicy inside, wedge between two thick, but pillowy soft pieces of white bread, along with tonkatsu sauce — think of it like Japanese HP Sauce — and crisp slaw and you have one of the best sandwiches in the world. This signature Japanese sandwich (or sando, as it’s known in Japan) is a go-to for lunches and snacks, and is the latest offering from the fine folks behind cult ramen favourite Shiki Menya. Now located across the street from their original location, Shiki has opened up First Avenue Corner Store, which is dishing up pork and chicken katsu sandos, along with other goodies, and slush drinks. (The yuzu, flavoured with this atypical citrus that tastes like a cross between a lemon and a mandarin orange, is a delight.) In Shiki Menya’s traditional-with-a-twist style, the sandwiches come with a side of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos.

‘Egg Coffee,’ Pho Dau Bo

The delicious pho is enough of a reason to head to International Avenue for lunch at Pho Dau Bo, but the addition of the traditional Vietnamese Cà phê trứng — aka egg coffee — to the menu is worth a stop in and of itself. Most are probably familiar with Vietnamese coffee, laced with sweetened condensed milk. This version ups the ante with the addition of egg yolk, whipped with the milk to form a sweet, sabayon-like custard that floats to the top of the hot drink. The story goes that because milk was scarce in Vietnam following the French War, but chickens (and their eggs) were plentiful, Nguyen Van Giang got creative and whisked egg yolk as a substitute for dairy. 

At Pho Dau Bo, it comes served in a bowl of hot water to keep the coffee warm — not that it really lasts long enough to cool. This dessert-and-coffee in one is too delicious to linger over. 

Slurpee, National (all locations)

It tastes of youth and is soothingly cold for these last hot days of summer and early ones of fall. It also secretly packs a punch, making National’s grape-flavoured Slurpee an ideal (if not slightly dangerous) patio sipper. Grape soda meets vodka and Licor 43, a Spanish liqueur flavoured with citrus and herbs, in this slushy delight that is completely crushable and hi///ghly crave-able.

Chocolate Chunk Cookie, Loophole Coffee Bar

It is, essentially, a hole in the wall. Well, it’s a window in a wall. Either way, the little Loophole Coffee Bar, tucked next to a bookstore at the western edge of downtown on 10th Street S.W. is worth a stop. Yes, the coffee is delicious. But if you go early enough, you’ll have the chance to snag one of their hand-sized cookies — and it might even still be warm, making those chocolate chunks gooey and even more delicious. The cookie is soft and chewy with a fantastic ratio of chocolate to just enough dough to hold it together. 

(Photos courtesy Gwendolyn Richards)

Gwendolyn Richards is a Calgary-based food writer and the author of Pucker: A Cookbook for Citrus Lovers. Her work has appeared in The Globe & Mail, the Calgary Herald, Avenue Magazine and She shares too many pictures of food – and occasionally shoes – on Twitter and Instagram at @gwendolynmr.