Sunday, July 5, 2009

A Meaty Vacation

The drive from Edmonton to Banff can be summed up in one word: beef. Ok, make that two words: Alberta beef. The provinces’ range, farmland and climate make an ideal combination for raising cattle. It is a business that provides Canadians with sixty percent of our beef supply. They take their cows seriously and with just cause – Alberta is home to more cattle than humans. Sounds crazy but there are approximately 3 million people and just over 5 million cattle.

Until getting past Calgary, the scene is virtually flat farmland. I have never seen so many cows in all my life: big ones, little ones, black, brown and white ones. I began to wonder if the legacy of Alberta beef came to be because it is a better product or if its’ popularity merely stemmed from the sheer number of cows?

I was going to have to do some tasting.

Stopping in Calgary for lunch, we hit one of the city’s most famous spots: Peter’s Drive-In, 219 – 16 Avenue NE . It’s been around since 1962 and serves thirty different flavours of milkshakes. They boast 100% Canadian grade “A” ground chuck burgers that are fresh, preservative free and topped with real Canadian cheddar. You have to applaud the patriotism. Their signature is a BBQ sauce that they slather the patty with. Besides the cheese and sauce, they are basic with the toppings. Here all you get is ketchup, relish and mustard. The burgers get points for still being tender and moist even though they are as thin as cardboard. However, if not for the tangy sweet sauce, would be almost tasteless. Where is the flavour?

In doubt, I was a starting to subscribe to the numbers theory.

That is, until Banff. With the majestic Rockies as a back drop, The Grizzly House, 207 Banff Avenue, a cabin style fondue restaurant is the perfect place for dinner. The complete four course meal starts with either French onion soup or salad, a cheese fondue with bread cubes as an appetizer, your choice of entree finishing with a Toblerone chocolate fondue for dessert. The “Alberta special” afforded me the opportunity to try some of the local animals: beef, buffalo, venison and elk. The waiter brings to the table a 600 degree hot rock on which to cook your treats and away you go. The flavour of the elf was understated and gentle while the buffalo meat popped in my mouth. The beef was juicy and finally gave me a little more flavour to go on. Venison is a little too gamey and dark for my liking but I never turn down the experience of eating home grown. Like eating seafood by the sea, my dinner tasted like the mountains.

The beefscapades didn’t end there. Back in Edmonton, I lunched at The Hat Resto and Bar, 10251 Jasper Avenue. The new Hat used to be an old Hat, The Silk Hat - an eighty year old diner. Having been recently renovated and revamped, the result is a dramatic, cool and trendy boite with an extensive burger menu that advertises Alberta beef. I went classic with a banquet type burger and fries. These patties are the real deal. They are thick (8 oz.), fresh, juicy, meaty and satisfying. Again, I ate Alberta.

More points for the case of a better quality product.

I loved the cutesy apps at Hundred Bar and Kitchen, 10009 – 101 A Avenue. The idea of snacking on truffle buttered popcorn while sipping a vodka seven delighted me. Cute lobster tacos and buffalo jerky made me even happier but the game was won when we feasted on filet mignon with truffle and peppercorn butter. Tenderloin can be virtually tasteless but not in this province. This piece of beef was not only luscious and velvety but bursting with juice. It had an earthy mouthfeel that is hard to imagine - rich and sort of soothing. Simply put, a filet unlike any other.

So the next time someone asks that old Wendy’s commercial question, “Where’s the beef?” you tell them it’s in Alberta.

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