Toasting our Silver Anniversary in Calgary’s splendid Culinary Scene
by Erin Lawrence
There’s something about columns that just screams historic. That’s probably thanks to art history classes that laud buildings like the Colosseum, the Vatican, or the Acropolis as places that have stood the test of time.
To get that same sense of history in Calgary is harder, but fortunately, if you look for those columns, you can tap into history just the same. Cut from sandstone with terra cotta tiles, the former home of the Dominion Bank is as iconic and historic as Calgary architecture gets, so it should come as no surprise it’s where you’ll find one of the city’s most storied restaurants – Teatro. The restaurant is celebrating 25 years in Calgary, which, when compared to the age of the building it’s in, and the age of something like the Colosseum, seems practically toddlerish. But make no mistake, 25 years is a long time in the restaurant business. “It’s amazingly uncommon, and it’s made more evident in this last year, where we’ve seen heritage properties like Belvedere and Divino closing. Those properties are all within a block of Teatro,” says Matthew Batey, Corporate Executive Chef of Teatro Group. Batey credits Teatro’s longevity to an unwavering commitment to quality ingredients, exceptional service, and to consistently adapting to an ever-changing restaurant culture. “Quality of ingredients is massively important, but having the best people is so important too. The people business isn’t just about the guests, it’s about the people on your team who know how to take care of others,” explains Batey.
Another Calgary food purveyor toasting a silver anniversary is Lina’s Italian Market. While original owner Lina Castle retired a few years ago from the family business she created, her eponymous establishment is still going strong on Centre Street north. Recently, Creative Restaurants Group, which bought the business, has switched up its leadership of Lina’s, and made some tweaks. New General Manager Matt Rai says the changes are designed to take Lina’s Market back to its roots. “We’ve been very fortunate to have a strong customer base. I recently had a meeting with Lina because she had a vision and a strong belief in how the store should be. We’re taking her vision from the last 25 years and are pushing it forward to the next 25.” Lamb and game meats are now on offer at Lina’s meat counter and fresh fish is flown in all the way from Greece for what’s been dubbed, “Fish Friday”.
Also celebrating 25 years is the magazine you’re reading right now. City Palate turns 25 this issue.
Editor-Publisher Kathy Richardier says it’s been a way to chronicle Calgary’s changing food scene and to put local chefs, food and talent on the map for the rest of Canada and the world. “It has blossomed beautifully,” enthuses Richardier of Calgary’s foodie culture. “It has had periodic setbacks, as the economy gets hammered sometimes, but it has thrived and Calgary chefs have become known in the wider culinary world, as have our restaurants.” The last round of hammering has definitely taken a toll on some of the city’s heritage dining establishments. In the May June 2017 issue, City Palate published a profile on restaurants that have endured to nearly a half-century or longer, including Hy’s, Caesars, The Carriage House Inn, Smugglers Group, and Silver Dragon. But the list of heritage restaurants continues to dwindle. Despite a sometimes harsh and ever-changing economic climate, new restaurants and food concepts continue to open in Calgary. (See our list of new and new-ish places) Social media is definitely fuelling an extraordinary interest in food culture and local chefs. “Social media has, I think, helped everyone, because information is all over the place,” explains Richardier.“At the same time there’s still a huge place for print media in this city. People are still as interested in picking up a copy of City Palate today and seeing what’s new, as they were when we brought the idea here, after seeing a similar publication in Vancouver a quarter of a century ago. It’s still such a thrill to connect with readers and fellow foodies after so many years.” While they may not have the same longevity to brag about, there’s also a host of restaurants in the city that deserve props for milestone anniversaries too. Places like Rouge, which has been open since 2003, River Café, which started as a seasonal concession before transforming in 1995 to an enclosed space which began operating year round, and Anju, which opened in 2008, in a self-proclaimed “obscure location on the west side of downtown Calgary,” before relocating to its current digs on 17th Avenue. Of the new restaurants that have opened in the last year or so in Calgary, many have bold new concepts, and several are being backed by serial restaurateurs and established chefs. How they’re evolving Calgary’s food scene was the subject of much discussion at a special 25th anniversary dinner held at Teatro this spring. Teatro invited many of its former chefs, wine experts, servers and managers for what it called an “alumni dinner.” Seated around a large communal table underneath a mammoth monochromatic painting were: Karen Kho, co-owner of Empire Provisions, who was Teatro’s operations manager; Hayloft’s Jason Barton Browne was the sous chef at Teatro; Andrea Robinson, a former server, can now be found at Two Penny Chinese; while former Teatro manager Brendan Bankowski, owner of popular breakfast spot Beltliner, opened Gorilla Whale in June. Toshi Karino was Teatro’s wine director, and now owns Carino Reserva. Fitting that, in toasting its own history in a storied sandstone financial building, Teatro is giving a nod to Calgary’s culinary future, one these restaurateurs are banking on, too.
Erin Lawrence is a Calgary TV producer, journalist and freelance writer who loves Calgary’s fun food scene. Find her online at ErinLYYC.com or on Twitter & Instagram @ErinLYYC.