Great Places to Eat Well and Spend Less
A good meal doesn’t have to cost a small (or large) fortune, especially these days with all the great casual eateries that offer tasty, interesting, fun food at really affordable prices. For our eating challenge, we chose a handful of discriminating palates to take $50 and buy a tasty meal for two in a fave restaurant. This is what they found.
Goro + Gun
Scotia Centre, 245 7th AVENUE SW, Plus 15 level (beside Starbucks)
Robert Jewell and Andrew Lowery
The story of Goro + Gun is quite an intriguing one, part of the reason I chose it
for City Palate’s two can eat well for $50 or less.
The Japanese film, Tampopo, was released in 1985 and branded as the world’s first “ramen western.” Haha, get it? The Japanese take on spaghetti western.
Goro + Gun were two truck drivers who used their culinary passion to change the fate of a struggling noodle shop. This passion and expertise is translated
beautifully into G+G. I love that tidbit about this spot… gives it a light air and a “yes we make amazing food, but we don’t take ourselves super serious”
vibe. The more I delved into the story of Goro + Gun (the restaurant) the more I couldn’t wait ’til it opened so I could indulge. Not only does chef Tomo
Mitsuno have a Michelin star pedigree, he is also one of the few people on the planet who is certified in the preparation of blowfish, which is deadly if not
Spending my days running Double Zero Pizza in the Core and my nights at the Chinook location made Goro + Gun the perfect spot for me to grab a quick lunch between services at my restaurants. From the distinctive hardwood, modern art design and Japanese décor to the six stockpots always steaming with divine broth, I knew I wanted to brag about G+G, its great food, amazing atmosphere and perfect price points.
Andrew and I arrived on a Tuesday eve to an almost full room. As we entered we heard the ever-loving “Irasshaimase!” (welcome to my restaurant!). Chef Tomo was there and chimed in to greet us as well. His big smile made us, as always, feel like part of the family.
G+G focuses on Hakata-style ramen (pork broth, noodles and sliced pork belly), sushi, sashimi, and, of course, classics like gyoza and tuna poke for snacks. One of the first things we noticed when we sat down were the Japanese movies playing on the TVs around the room, a perfect addition to the stellar atmosphere.
Looking on the table we noticed a tent card featuring the happy hour that runs from 3 to 6 p.m. weekdays, and kicked ourselves for not getting there earlier. Ten items on the happy hour menu for $3 to $5 each. Handmade takoyaki, tepenyaki, ramen burgers, the list goes on. We could have had the lot! Also, wine, Sapporo beer and cocktails were featured.
We both pulled the trigger on a cold beer for a beverage with dinner. The Tokyo Drift by Last Best Brewing seemed most suitable… Japanese restaurant, local brewery’s Japanese-named beer! The fruity hop power in our beers meant we had to get some gyoza to share. I am a dumpling fiend and these are the perfect solution to my craving. House-made pork dumplings with a decadent, rich sesame sauce. Oh yes! They had the crisp golden brown I love. I always poke a small hole in my gyoza so that when I dip them, the sauce fills the dumpling.
For dinner I dove into my ever-favourite Yakisoba topped with a fried egg and the wonderful bonito flakes that dance for you on the plate. There is no broth in this noodle dish, but the broth is unnecessary, as the dish is super creamy from the Japanese mayo and fried egg yolk. Andrew opted for a true ramen and ordered the Tonkotsu with pork belly, pork broth, arugula, ginger and fried onions. In no time we both devoured these amazing dishes. We sat back full, happy and reveled in our dinner at G+G, sipped the last of our beers and decided to see the damage and head home. Goro + Gun nails it for the two can eat well for $50 or less.
Italian Centre: Spinelli Bar Italia
9919 FAIRMOUNT DRIVE SE
John Gilchrist and Catherine Caldwell
Spinelli’s Italian Centre Shop is a mecca for those looking for fine Italian and Mediterranean ingredients. There are rows of pasta, aisles of olive oil, tons of tomatoes – canned and fresh – and an entire wall of cheese. A centrally located deli holds a wealth of cured meats and condiments (olives by the boatload) and fresh meat and produce fill one large section.
Smack in the middle, by huge garage doors that open onto a patio, sits Spinelli Bar Italia, a tidy café where you can sit with an espresso and enjoy the energy of south Calgary’s Little Italy. Ordering is handled at the counter, they give you a numbered sign, and the food and drink are delivered shortly.
We arrived for an early dinner with different appetites – I wanted pizza, Catherine wanted pasta. Decisions, decisions. The pizza is the hand-tossed thin-crust variety, topped with a rustic marinara or multiple cheeses or fresh sausage or any of a multitude of ideas. (Seriously, if you can’t find something to layer onto a pizza here, where can you?) It’s good pizza with a crisp crust, rich sauce, appropriate cheese and a good price at about $15. I opted for the marinara rich with tomatoes, peppers and onions.
Catherine stepped over to the deli’s hot table laden with the day’s selection of pasta, hot meats, meatballs and a few sides. She returned to the dining area with a tray of the veal with farfalle in a tomato-sausage sauce and roasted vegetables (zucchini, peppers, onions) for $11. It was a hearty meal that suffered a bit from dwelling too long on the hot table, but was nonetheless tasty.
We enjoyed our casual Italian meal, finishing with a couple scoops of fine Italian gelato made at Spinelli’s Edmonton headquarters and a San Pellegrino limonata, all for about $40 including tip. We contemplated an espresso pulled by Spinelli’s staff and a cannoli from their kitchen, but decided to save that for an early morning visit. Instead we strolled arm-in-arm through Spinelli’s aisles, dreaming of Italy and its culinary treasures.
Spinelli Bar Italia opens daily at 7:30 a.m. and serves until 9 p.m. nightly. (The pizza oven works 11 a.m. to 7:45 p.m.) And you can get wine and beer to go with your dinner, too.
2210 4th STREET SW
Wendy Brownie and Karen Miller
When it comes to dining in a restaurant where one can chill and enjoy traditional French food in a friendly bistro in Calgary, I walk across 4th Street SW from Inspirati to Suzette Bistro. Dominique Moussu, the executive chef of Suzette, partnered with Gilles Brassart from Cassis Bistro to bring in the best of Brittany’s regional cuisine.
I usually choose one of the galettes, which is a savoury gluten-free buckwheat crêpe filled with an assortment of mouth-watering cheese, meat or vegetable
combinations. However, when my friend and colleague Karen Miller and I arrived on a Wednesday night, the featured item was the “10 Dollar Burger” with frites (french fries). I chose the burger while Karen decided on the Moules Frites (mussels with french fries).
To me, the best hamburgers are made from meat ground “at home.” Suzette uses freshly ground Silver Sage beef accompanied by Comté cheese, mushroom
fricassée and butter lettuce with homemade ketchup or a garlic aioli for the hot crisp frites. Did I mention the buns are freshly baked? In my estimation, it’s the
perfect burger that could be shared.
The mussels are served in the traditional marinières à la crème style, a savoury sauce with herbs, leeks and garlic in a butter and wine base. The obligatory bucket for dumping the shells makes you feel like you are at least close to the sea!
The sauce is creamy and you can use the shells to scoop it up if you decide not to go with the baguette. The mussels are light and cooked to tender perfection,
served up with the best crispy frites in town, the perfect combination.
We decided to share a generous glass of Domaine Montrose rosé for ten dollars. At Suzette, complimentary baguette with homemade butter is presented upon
seating. However, we declined in anticipation of the Hamburger and Moules Frites.
On top of excellent food, Suzette has such a fun atmosphere with a caring staff who enjoy what they are doing.
2129 33rd AVENUE SW
Dave and Lindsay Amadio
Having grown up in northwest Calgary and going to middle school in Bridgeland, Boogie’s Burgers was an institution. The cheerful “Hello, Darling!” and the faint scent of cocoa butter brings back fond memories of my youth. With a location on Edmonton Trail in Renfrew, Boogie’s Burgers opened in ‘69, and in ‘08 was acquired by Noel Sweetland and Kipp Teghtmeyer who have maintained the original diner, quality burger, arcade games and family-friendly restaurant format. Fast forward several years later when on my way home one day I was surprised to find Boogie’s Burgers was opening in my community of Marda Loop.
On the first cold night of November, seeking some nostalgia, I convinced my new bride to join me for a burger feast – who doesn’t enjoy a good burger! Upon
walking into the new location on 33rd Ave SW, it’s not all that different from the original Boogie’s that I grew up with. A burger can be both the simplest and most complicated thing to do well. Everyone has their favourite, what sets Boogie’s apart is consistent, fresh ingredients and imagination… plus the arcade games.
After a thorough look at the extensive menu, we selected a Boog-Mak (a riff on the Big Mac) and a Shawn’s burger (triple patties, bacon, cheese and fried egg).
Our sides included mini corn dogs, deep fried mac ‘n’ cheese wedges and large fries. A draft beer, glass of wine and a child-sized Oreo milkshake washed it all
down (milkshakes covered 1/4 of the menu so we couldn’t resist). Everything from the sesame seed bun to the bacon and burger were extremely fresh and
handled with care and attention. The patties on both burgers were crusted, juicy, and most importantly, cooked perfectly. These are the burgers I grew up
with and today are even better than I remembered. The mini corn dogs were a welcome addition (piping hot and not greasy). Mac ‘n’ cheese wedges rounded
out the selection of sides with cheesy goodness.
Outside of the fresh food and great value, what also struck me was the number of families with young children who were having a family night out. The experience is less Chuck E Cheese (with the creepy mouse costume), more dad explaining the nuances of pinball to a soundtrack of the Run DMC, Tears for Fears and Public Enemy. (I also crushed my wife at Street Fighter 2 and Pac-Man – just saying). Good food, great times and fond memories: the perfect night out.
Cotto Italian Comfort Food
314 10th STREET NW
Shelley Boettcher and Anders Knudsen
It’s possible to eat off the regular menu at Cotto for close to $50 for two people. You can split a flatbread pizza plus a glass or two of the house wine. Or share some appetizers. A plate of four crisp arancini, four bruschetta made with whipped ricotta, roasted tomatoes and basil pesto, and patatine – homemade fries with sea salt, garlic, rosemary and pickled peppers – will set you back $36, not including tax and tip.
You can even order a pasta or two, although you may not have enough leeway in your budget for booze, too. Given the choice, however, I head to Cotto for
the happy hour pasta deal.
Tuesday to Thursday every week, from 5 to 6 p.m., Cotto offers a tasty special – pasta and a glass of wine for less than $20.
Each week the deal changes, depending on what’s in season and what chef Giuseppe Di Gennaro and his staff feel like making. Maybe you’ll get linguini
with sauteed mussels, tomato broth and green chiles, paired with a crisp chardonnay. Maybe you’ll get bucatini pasta with amatriciana sauce and a glass of Italian red.
The day we went, I ordered the special: fusilli with mushrooms, caramelized onions, fava beans and asiago, plus a glass of Italian merlot, for a total of $16.
Anders ordered the same thing. It was fresh and garlicky, with the pasta cooked perfectly al dente. We savoured our meal, enjoying the cozy dining room, as
winter made a brief appearance outside.
Our bill came to a total of $32, which left enough room in the budget for gelato or sorbet ($3 a scoop), or an espresso. We debated it for a few minutes, enjoying
that sleepy, happy feeling you get after a busy day and a carb-loaded good meal. But we were too full for dessert. In fact, we each took home half our order, for
delicious leftovers for lunch the next day.
Also worth mentioning: by going early to eat, I always find excellent parking near Cotto, although you can’t park on Tenth St. N.W. until after 6 p.m. It’s
just off the LRT line if you’re taking transit, and it’s a fast and easy dinner stop before a show at the Jubilee Auditorium, just up the hill.
Check the Cotto website or the Facebook page to find out what the upcoming week’s special is, or contact the restaurant directly. Just remember to order
before 6 p.m. to take advantage of the offer.