Calgary and Edmonton are hardly the only places in the province to taste unique and flavourful fare. In central Alberta, restaurants, eateries and food shops offer distinctive ambience, locally sourced ingredients and much more.
BIG BEND MARKET, RED DEER
Big Bend Market boasts the best selection of local ingredients from all over central Alberta—a formidable range of meat, dairy, seasonal fruit and vegetables, dried pasta, condiments, oils and flour. For a right-away bite, it also offers excellent fresh-made sandwiches. You select from various bison, pork and chicken (and more!) options, and the staff will build you a delicious sandwich with all the fixings.
OLDS COLLEGE BREWERY, OLDS
Beer aficionados head to Olds College Teaching Brewery, 60 kilometres south of Red Deer, to discover the creations of Alberta’s up-and-coming brewmasters. The school’s tasting room and retail store has new offerings each month, like special cask beers infused with bourbon-soaked wood chips or fruit pulp. Students’ concoctions are also available to sample and buy. —Shauna Rudd
MARKERVILLE CREAMERY, MARKERVILLE
From the May long weekend until Labour Day, stop at the Icelandic hamlet of Markerville for tasty Scandinavian treats. The low-key kaffistofa (Icelandic for cafeteria) features plysurs—Icelandic hot dogs covered with ketchup, sweet mustard, fried and raw onions, and sweet mayonnaise. Or satisfy your sweet tooth with a pönnukökur dessert crepe or the bestselling vinarterta, a multi-layered cake with a sweet prune filling.
CILANTRO AND CHIVE, LACOMBE
At this destination restaurant, owners Rieley and Kim Kay offer a contemporary menu that pays homage to central Alberta food producers. First up are duck wings doused in a salty Asian sauce and then braised until the meat is crunchy and dry. Things only get better with the lamb burger topped with blueberry goat cheese. And save room to sample one of the 30-plus western Canadian craft beers, including those from Lacombe’s own Blindman Brewing.
RED BOAR SMOKERY, RED DEER
Patrons are lured to the year-old Red Boar Smokery by beef brisket smoked for 18 hours, super-moist roasted chicken and meat platters large enough to leave your hungry brood satisfied for hours. Other menu items include candied pork belly, breakfast sandwiches and tacos. Pair your meats with classic sides, such as slaw, baked beans and corn bread. The restaurant’s free arcade games provide an enjoyable distraction while you wait for your meal.
RB POUTINE, WAINWRIGHT
This poutinerie is the real deal: its owners and staff are from Quebec, and so are the cheese curds its uses in more than 30 variations of the classic Québécois comfort dish. The ground beef, bacon and onions combo is one of the more popular indulgences, as is the pulled pork poutine. RB Poutine is located in the Wainwright Museum, so be sure to wander through the historic building after your meal.
EDGAR FARMS, INNISFAIL
Just west of Innisfail off Highway 2 lies Edgar Farms, the province’s largest asparagus grower. The farm’s country store is a destination for the spearlike vegetable in May and June, while sugar snap peas, beans and more are sold throughout July and August. Pickled asparagus, relish and other asparagus-based preserves are available throughout the year. —Craig Moy
ROOSTERS WOOD FIRE & SMOKE, RED DEER
After helming the wildly successful Westlake Grill at Heritage Ranch, chef Mike Ubbing now brings his familiar flavours to Roosters Wood Fire & Smoke, the ranch’s second, just-opened dining venture. The restaurant’s farmhouse-hinting decor should your first indication that sourcing local ingredients is the priority here. Beef, bison, elk, chicken and veggie options are lunchtime faves from the burger bar, while pan-seared Alberta steelhead trout with risotto and seasonal vegetables makes for a filling main course. Try the beet and watermelon salad, too—it’s a flavourful ballad to the summer season. And of course, gourmet pizza and chicken come fire-roasted straight from the wood oven.
STARLITE DINER CAR, BOWDEN
Hands-down one of the most interesting places you’ll dine at this summer. For years, Starlite Diner has been luring curious travellers with its quirky mix of ‘50s kitsch and space aliens. Housed in a refurbished ATCO trailer made to look like an early 19th century railcar, the throwback eatery is adorned with space-themed decorations. Even the menu gets the alien treatment—everything from the bacon and eggs to the salads to the hamburger has an interstellar moniker. A great place to stop for breakfast on your QE2 commute.
BROWN EGGS AND LAMB, GULL LAKE
The cheeky name says it all: this is the place to buy farm-fresh eggs and lamb in central Alberta. Owners Laura and Cal Siebenga have a small retail shop on their farm, where they sell everything from lamb burgers to lamb sausage, as well as products from nearby farms such, including jams and pickled veggies from Edgar Farms (Innisfail), trout from Northwinds fishery (Wetaskwin) and flour from Gold Forest Grains (Morinville). Also recommended is Cal’s own stone-ground pancake mix.
SAM’S SALOON, ROWLEY
At last count, there were six people living in Rowley, Alberta. But you wouldn’t know it by walking into Sam’s Saloon on the last Saturday of the month. That’s when area residents and volunteers dish up the best pizza party north of Drumheller during an evening of neighbourly revelry. In typical small-town Alberta style, almost every inch of the saloon’s walls are covered with animal trophy heads, farming antiques, cowboy hats and odd posters. Cowboy boots are recommended; you’ll find the floor is covered with sawdust, which may be a problem for flip-flop wearers.
TIFFANY’S STEAKHOUSE & LOUNGE, RED DEER
Sticking to a diet is pointless at this fine establishment: you visit Tiffany’s to enjoy a decadent steak dinner with all the fixings. Why deny yourself a 12-ounce bone-in filet or mouth-watering 20-ounce ribeye? If you’re really concerned about overindulging, order a small plate like beef carpaccio or Creole squid.
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