From adversity comes opportunity, they say.
Seems the folks helming the new cafe at Bowness Park are inclined to agree.
Since the epic flood of 2013 saw Calgary’s Bow River rushing pell-mell among the cottonwoods, pushing mud and debris high up tree trunks and across the century-old picnic grounds, the road back for this well-loved park has been a long one. Last summer, after two years of reconstruction that saw roadways reconfigured, river access improved, and regional bikeways integrated, the park re-opened to the public – and to much enthusiasm for the creatively reimagined central square on the lagoon.
Now the concession that has served hotdogs and ice cream, hot chocolate and coffee to generations of paddling and skating Calgarians has made its phoenix-rise at last, with the opening of Market and – in a throwback to the 1920’s tea house that once graced the river channel – a new cafe called Seasons of Bowness Park.
But this is not your grandmother’s tea house.
With its vaulted ceiling, exposed pine beams, and honey-hued wood trim, the new venue is decidedly unfussy; evocative of a contemporary river-fishing lodge. The mood is casual and stylish, with deep blue and black accents, transparent blue plastic-and-chrome chairs, and two long plaid-and-leather banquettes placed back-to-back to divide the airy room into two. A place where you’d feel equally at home in bike shorts and a tech-shirt as in a sundress and sandals (okay, so some of you guys may not feel comfortable in a sundress and sandals). Few of the furnishings are fixed, leaving this a flexible space that can be configured for multiple uses. The feature attraction, of course, is the long lagoon view – and Seasons cafe takes full advantage of this, with a continuous stretch of windows along three sides of the building and a sunny wraparound deck that overhangs the river channel.
The contemporary feel extends to the lunch menu as well. With grab-and-go sandwiches, salads, and snacks covered off by the take-out counter at the adjacent Market, the team at Seasons cafe have opted for what they term “casual fine dining” – an array of globally-inspired tapas and skewers, beautifully-plated salads, and mains that run the gamut from paella fried rice to fried chicken to steelhead trout with pasta (There’s also a signature burger and ribs).
I chose for my lunch the Canadian Falafel plate (made with black and white beans and garnished with herb purée and sumac yogurt, $10)) and a half-order of the Chèvre Chaude salad (toasted goat cheese on artisan lettuce greens, with a vegetable medley and herb vinaigrette, $10). The three falafel balls were perfectly-crisped on the outside, as was the panko-crusted mild goat cheese, and the salad’s vegetable medley on this occasion included tasty shavings of fennel and Asian radish.
In the interest of the most complete research on a single stomach, I chose a sampler platter from the dessert menu, which included bite-sized servings of chewy brownie, iced coconut parfait, and cheesecake with berry compote and honey ($8). A selection of cheeses is also available, as well as French press coffee and local teas by Grounded (the Velvet Mint rooibos proved smooth and sublime).
The dinner menu expands the lunch offerings with selections of pork, steak frites, shrimp, gnocchi, and a choice of seasonal sides. Just this weekend, the cafe launched its Saturday and Sunday brunch, offering elevated renditions of the usual suspects: eggs, French toast, pancakes, fruit, and breakfast hash.
Seasons has an extensive wine list, a short curation of craft beers (from Canada, the U.S., and Europe) as well as seasonal beers on tap, and interesting cocktail options designed for summer sipping. For those who prefer to bring their own bottle, wine corkage is available for $15.
The staff at Seasons are attentive, welcoming, and notably thrilled to share this new Bowness Park experience with you. With its emphasis on casual fine dining as opposed to chips and burgers, the reincarnated tea house is a bit of a risky venture among the wagon-pulling, football-throwing traditional park crowd. But those simply looking for a caffeine fix or a quick bite will find their needs met by the friendly baristas at Market, with a full display counter of fresh and tasty choices (open 10 am to 8 pm daily). And in the under-served restaurant market of Calgary’s NW quadrant, Seasons of Bowness Park may well be a happy venture that’s been far too long in the making.
I’m already planning my next date night there with my Man, to watch the light play golden over the water and the mother ducks – both feathered and human – shepherding their young ones off to bed.
Welcome back, Bowness Park! We missed you.
Seasons of Bowness Park is open Monday to Friday from 11 am to 10 pm; weekends from 10 am to 10 pm.
Text and photos © 2016 Catherine Van Brunschot