Whatever you are in the mood for, chances are, downtown Red Deer has something to tickle your fancy! The last few years has produced exciting new developments and opportunities with the revitalization of the downtown district.
Speciality shops, expanding arts and entertainment and most importantly, the emergence of variety of restaurants has given this area a new vibrancy and energy.
Our ‘small town yet urban city’ can unequivocally boast about its fine upscale restaurants, unique cafes, gourmet coffee shops and flavour focused multi-cultural eateries.
To get people reacquainted with the ‘new’ downtown, the Red Deer Downtown Business Association is running a ‘Time for Lunch’ campaign where restaurants are featuring their promotional lunches during the month of June.
Knowing my love for food, I was asked to take a culinary tour through downtown. Over the next few weeks, I’ll relate my experiences and share my gastronomic journey through downtown Red Deer.
City Roast Coffee
(4940 Ross street, Red Deer- www.cityroastcoffee.ca)
Walk down Ross Street on Thursday morning and you will smell roasting coffee from blocks away. That is the aroma of success coming from City Roast Coffee, owned by Gosia Jaworski. City Roast imports fine coffee beans from around the world, and then roasts them on-site.
It is not just the aroma of coffee in the air that is luring customers in.
Fresh scones, muffins, squares and bread baking in the oven and hot soups simmering on the stove tempts people to come here.
When Jaworski immigrated to Canada from Poland, she discovered that she would have to go back to school to recertify her Veterinary certificate.
“It was my children’s time for school, not mine,” explained Jaworski. She decided to utilize a skill which she acquired growing up — cooking and baking from scratch. And, that’s just how most of the dishes are prepared here.
City Roast has always been popular as a coffee shop and a place for quick soup and sandwich with the people working in downtown. Jaworski humbly credits shop’s popularity to the previous owners.
“I just took over and continued on with the same menu and the in house baking,” she said.
Slowly, however, she is introducing her own signature dishes to the menu.
A few of these, like the lime ginger and yam soup, the falafel grilled tortilla with hummus and tahini sauce, and roast beef sandwich will be featured during the lunch campaign.
Her all-day menu includes selections that satisfy all dietary needs — vegans, vegetarian, lactose intolerant and gluten free, because Jaworski says that everyone should be able to enjoy her food.
Stepping into this cozy little shop feels like you have entered a urban cafe shop in a big metropolitan city, yet it gives the small town feeling that is the essence of Red Deer. From the smell of baked goods, the enticing aroma of freshly brewed coffee, to the intimate atmosphere, everything is inviting about this place.
The Indian Flame and Pizza
(4807 Gaetz Ave. Red Deer – www.indianflame.ca)
This “flame” is not flickering but burning steadily in the only Indian restaurant in downtown Red Deer.
Having great success at their Inglewood location, the uncle-nephew team — Dilbaghi Singh and Paul Multani — decided to open a bigger restaurant in March.
What is unique to this place is that they use a tandoor, a clay oven to cook many of their menu items.
“Tandoor cooking is a very healthy cooking style,” explains Singh. Showing off his tandoor, Singh explains how charcoals at the bottom of the oven generate heat and food is cooked above this flame.
“The oils from the marinades and the fat from meat melt and drain over the charcoal fire,” explains Singh, “and the heat cooks the meat, in a manner that retains all its nutritional value and flavours.” The cooked food is not only healthier but it is also permeated with flavours of the marinade and the charcoal smoke.
Though their menu features over 50 items, the most popular is their butter chicken and garlic naan. The owners try hard to show their customers that there is more to the Indian cuisine then these two items. To help people get past the butter chicken they suggest ordering variety of dishes and then sharing.
“But, when it comes time to ordering, there will be still two or three people that will order butter chicken,” laughs Multani.
The owners hope by having a lunch time buffet during the week, they will not only target those people who only have time for a quick lunch but introduce many different varieties of curries. The weekdays lunch buffet features 25 items for $12.99. The Indian flame also has lunch special “Thali Combo” for under $10 on Saturday from 11AM to 3 PM, where meat and vegetarian plate combos are offered.
Vietnamese Subs and Rolls
(4911 50 Ave. Red Deer )
Continuing with the Asian flavours my next stop was at the Vietnamese Subs and Rolls. Here the all American submarine sandwich gets a cultural makeover.
An eight inch-long crusty and light baguette is sliced and smeared with either mayonnaise or pork liver paté, then piled high with choice of meat ranging from Vietnamese cold cuts, beef or chicken satey, or lemongrass with beef or chicken.
But hold on, that’s not all; a sandwich needs some vegetables. Veggie choices include pickled slaw of julienne carrots, sliced cucumber onions and fiery hot jalapeno peppers. Top this with roasted peanuts garnished on top. The result is crackly-crunchy, spicy, sour, salty, and luscious sub sandwich that is known as the “Ultimate sub” at Tony Pham’s Vietnamese Subs and Rolls shop.
Pham was a little worried when he opened up his shop. “There are so many sandwich and soup places in this area,” explained Pham. “So I decided to sell a sub infused with Vietnamese flavours and ingredients.”
Well the result is obvious, as the ultimate sub is truly worthy of its name.
Though there is always a lineup during lunch hour for the ultimate sandwich, they also have Vietnamese salads, salad rolls and Wonton and noodle soups which definitely get two thumbs by many customers!
Bistro on Gaetz
(Suite 1-4810 50 Ave, Red Deer)
This coffee house could easily be called “Cafe Ambiance” because the lure of this establishment is really the atmosphere. Susan Malcolm, the owner of the Bistro wanted “not a franchise ambiance but a haven to hang out.” And that’s just what she created.
You are welcome to just grab a coffee and run but this really is a place for “here coffee.”
I loved the setup. The furniture ranges from very chic, to that cozy feeling of wanting to pass a few hours there with a good book, doodling on a sketchpad, or even surfing the web. Bistro on Gaetz is bristling with a feel of community and a place for people of all ages to congregate and blend or just enjoy a solitude chair to ‘sit and sip’.
Besides the ambiance, there are specialty coffees, refreshing Italian sodas, soups and salads, made-to-order sandwiches and wraps. To satisfy the sweet tooth there is fresh baked pies, banana bread and cookies. Tuesday and Thursdays are special because those days are when warm cinnamon buns are made at the cafe.
For hot days you can enjoy MacKay ice cream from Cochrane outside on their patio at the front of the shop.
Madhu Badoni is a Red Deer-based freelance food writer. She can be reached at email@example.com. Watch for Madhu’s Masala-Mix blog on bprda.wpengine.com