Just a two hour drive from Sydney, the Hunter Valley is not only Australia’s oldest, but its most visited, wine region. With fall markets, year-round food and wine festivals, and concerts featuring international pop stars to chamber music virtuosos, it’s easy to see why. A covey of stellar vineyard restaurants and artisanal food producers cements the Hunter’s place as a food-lovers haven.
READ ON HERE to learn more about my favourite discoveries in the Hunter Valley – or check out the full Summer issue of Taste & Travel International magazine HERE.
The screen door creaks a quiet complaint as I ease it shut and slide into a rattan chair. Beneath the low-thatched eaves of my cottage, I ponder the trees emerging from the morning mist and warm my hands gratefully on my coffee glass. According to the card on my nightstand, the brew is podi kappi, “the traditional black coffee of the local people in the High Range area”. I only know it is hot and dark and redolent with cardamom, cumin, and fenugreek. As caffeine and sun make inroads on my hazy dawn, a soft hoot emerges from the canopy: an unseen langur monkey alerts his family to my presence.
Read the full story here and in the Spring Issue of Taste & Travel International magazine.
There’s a basic problem to running a restaurant in a 75-acre park. Especially when it flanks one of Calgary’s most popular outdoor skating haunts.
How to keep the wind off your customers every time someone whooshes in with their gear?
Solution: the glass-and-metal vestibule installed at Seasons of Bowness Park. It’s a simple but stylish affair of irregularly-sized panels that frames this new casual fine dining restaurant with a watery effect akin to the light playing off Bowness lagoon.
But when I sit down with Alex Solano, one of the operators of Seasons (as well as two Salt and Pepper locations and Lolita’s Lounge in Inglewood), I learn there’s more to this portico than meets the eye.
It’s pieced of ten historic styles of glass – some wavy, some bubbly, some seemingly dripping with movement – that each derive from a different decade of the park’s 100-year heritage. It’s a silent tribute to the park’s storied past of campsites and swimming pools , teahouses and trolleys, dancehalls and midway rides – and to the stories of generations of Calgarians who have skated, strolled and played under the poplars.
“I wanted the vestibule to make you stop and think,” says Alex. “To take a small [subconscious] pause and say: ‘Oh, actually this is really nice. I’m now somewhere else’.” A somewhere else he hopes that’s peaceful and neighbourly, where people can savour food and good conversation along with the view.
A place where the servers are quick to recognize that the couple at Table 12 want a little privacy, the solo diner devouring Road Trip Rwanda along with her arancini needs her glass topped up without interruption, and the pair by the window crave an ear with which to share the thrill of their grandson’s first steps. Or perhaps bemoan the emigration of their daughter to Toronto for want of a local job.
Now almost five months into its rise from the Flood of 2013, Seasons is gearing up for the winter season with a new menu focusing on warm, comfort foods. Think bubbling chicken pot pie. Fresh Alberta Arctic grayling reminiscent of fishing trips with your dad. And an apple-ring confection that looks and smells like mini-doughnuts on a pillow of sweet cream.
With the ice scheduled to be ready this weekend, there’ll be coffee-and-Bailey’s on the deck for the skating crowd; hot chocolate, of course, for the alcohol-disinclined. Weekends will continue to bustle with brunchers, and the gas fireplaces on the new plaza will light up to warm frigid hands and feet.
Look for special date-night events by Valentine’s Day: how about a cocktail/appetizer interlude, followed by a moonlit skate while servers prepare your table for a cozy fondue?
If seasonal shopping is more front-of-mind for you these days, head next door to the Market grab-and-go counter. While the barista pulls your latte, scan the small-but-growing collection of retail items, including Chilewich runners and placemats, and soft navy throws featuring Seasons’ retro-cool canoe logo. And bring home a few shortcuts for your holiday entertaining, like house-made bone-broth, pumpkin hummus, and fresh tomato salsa.
2016 showed us that Bowness Park is back again to thread through the warp of our urban lives. It’s worthy of a pause – don’t you think? – to appreciate Seasons’ glass century passage next time the wind blows you in.
Seasons of Bowness Parkand Market are open daily, including Christmas and New Year’s. Check their Facebook page for hours.
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.
Like many Calgarians, my distrust of our local weather runs deep.
(Just ask Leonardo DiCaprio how quickly the weather changes around here. But wait – he thought he was experiencing something new…).
Little wonder, then, that when hundred-year-old high-temperature records were falling like poplar pollen in April, I was seized with the conviction that our city would soon exhaust its miserly annual quota of warm summer evenings.
Call me paranoid, but the feeling was unshakeable. So on a balmy Friday just ahead of a predicted weather change, I made the carpe diem decision to cycle against the flow of bike commuters to meet my Man downtown for date night. We’d been itching to try out the new Al Forno Bakery & Cafe near the intersection of the Bow River pathways and the 7th Street cycle track. As luck would have it, my Man had ridden his bike to the office that morning. The plan called for hauling our bikes back home on the C-train if we lingered past daylight or imbibed too heavily.
Sadly, the Man was delayed for an hour past the appointed rendezvous – leaving me no option but to settle beneath Al Forno’s skylights with a glass of red wine, a bowl of warm marinated olives, and a good book (do I know my Man or what?). The cafe buzzed with happy-hour revelers, laptop-absorbed writers, workweek-debriefing couples, and girls-night-out new moms, and a steady stream of nearby condo-dwellers pushed through the door for a takeaway meal or a coffee to go. By the time my Man arrived, every seat in the house was filled by others who, like us, were drawn by the wine and beer specials and the intriguing list of housemade pastas and bakery-fresh flatbreads.
The servers proved amiable and well-versed in the vino offerings, and the twin delights of gorgonzola/pear and potato/bacon/rosemary flatbreads had us planning a return visit before we’d finished the final bites. When we eventually unlocked our bikes in the pink and orange twilight, weekday worries had dissipated along with the day’s heat. A quick calculation of daylight and blood-alcohol levels deemed us fit for the journey home, so we decided to forgo the C-train option. Forty minutes later, we cycled into our driveway just as darkness descended – a happy reminder of how, even in April, our city is blessed with a long and lingering dusk.
Bike Month made its annual launch in Calgary this week – which got me thinking about other great food and libation venues that are easily accessed from our nearly 800 km of cycle paths. As an unabashedly fair-weather cyclist who rarely ventures beyond the Bow River bikeways, I offer up my favourite trailside pit-stops below.
(The more devoted cyclists among you would no doubt cast a wider net – so please do add to the conversation with your own recommendations.)
And let’s get out and enjoy the summer! We’ve got firm assurances from Dave Phillips (Environment Canada’s ever-popular-and-rarely-wrong Senior Climatologist), it’s going to be warm and dry!
Nothing matches the leafy island location of this city-centre icon for a stellar weekend brunch. And I’ve lost track of how many times the cafe has appeared on lists of our country’s top restaurants for its thoughtfully-crafted farm-to-table Canadian cuisine. Procrastinators who’ve been shut-out of Calgary’s annual Folk Music Festival know that come July the cafe’s patio also provides some great unofficial ringside seats to the folkfest along with your meal.
Simmons Building (East Village RiverWalk)
Another addition to Canada’s Top 100 Restaurants list – though it only opened last year – is charbar, serving up meaty Argentinian-inspired cuisine from its wood-fired grill, as well as an array of vegetarian small plates for the herbivores among us. Sharing the gorgeous unconventional spaces in and around the historic Simmons Building are Sidewalk Citizen, with its artisanal sandwiches and overflowing pitas, and well-loved local coffee roasters Phil & Sebastian (who offer tours of the roasterie on Tuesday mornings). But the cherry on top is the oh-so-cool patio of rooftopbar@simmons with its unparalleled view of Calgary’s river panorama (and some tasty bar bites and gelato sandwiches, to boot).
Hose and Hound Pub and Gravity Espresso & Wine Bar (Inglewood)
Okay, so these two Inglewood favourites are not officially on the bikeways. But just a short detour off the river paths up 11th Street S.E. lie the sunny patios of two of my fondest places to lock up my bike and while away an afternoon. The Hose and Hound‘s location in 1907-built Fire Station No. 3 lends quirky historic decor to a pub-centric menu and craft beer tipples, while across the street at the Art Block the neighbourly welcome I receive along with my pinot makes Gravity my top choice of venue to write my first novel.
Heading west out of downtown, the river valley’s treasures turn to nature more than structure, but this cozy breakfast place-cum-Asian cafe-cum coffee klatsch is a welcome destination for weekday lunchers and Sunday morning caffeine-seekers. Operating out of a former Robin’s Donuts location since 2002, this family-owned venue offers bubble tea as well as wine and beer with its eclectic menu – and a stone fireplace to curl up near when my pedalling gets interrupted by a sudden hailstorm.
What would a westward cycle be without a stop at Angel’s (whose full moniker is larger than the diminutive interior of this aluminum-sided portable)? More than a source for sandwich wraps, home-baked goodies, coffee, and ice cream, Angel’s is also a godsend of pathside aid. They’ve got bike repair tools (supplied by Bow Cycle), first aid equipment (courtesy of Calgary EMS), and other emergency supplies – from battery chargers for stranded drivers to duct tape for hapless rafters.
Bowness Park Cafe (Bowness Park)
This old urban park, beloved to generations of Calgarians, will complete its phoenix-rise from the 2013 floods this summer – with a new wading pool for the little ones and a lagoon-centred sound system reminiscent of the park’s early-1900’s heydays. The miniature train will be back, too. Top of my discovery list this season will be the new grab & go market and full-service restaurant – Seasons of Bowness Park – scheduled for a soft-opening one day very soon. Can’t wait to check it out!
So tell me – where are YOUR favourite bikeway fueling stops in Calgary?