You heard it from us first: Canmore is cool.
The Alberta town, an hour from Calgary, used to be the redneck cousin of beautiful Banff, but not any more. In the last fifteen years, Canmore has subtly scaled the slopes of sophistication. In the wake of burgeoning real estate development, a plethora of pubs, ritzy restaurants and chi-chi coffee bars has blossomed.
One of the newest restaurants – Tavern 1883 – pays homage to the old days, using the date of the former mining town’s founding in 1883. But there’s nothing old-fashioned about Tavern – except the cabin-style exterior and affordable prices. It’s a trendy gastro-pub with high quality millennial munchies, featuring dance tunes four nights a week. It was recently voted “Best New Restaurant in Canmore” by the Rocky Mountain Outlook newspaper and also “Best New Restaurant in the Canadian Rockies” by Where Canada mag.
Burger choices, including house-ground lamb, elk or beef, are juxtaposed with more adventurous items such as bison tartar and duck buds. Owner Joseph Gregory says he and chef Jason Sutherland have created a menu of ‘proper’ Canadian comfort foods—a middle ground between fine dining and pub offerings.
Patrons include international staff, Calgary weekenders, local ski club members and ski patrol and trail crews from Ski Big 3 resorts.
One of the busiest restaurants is The Rocky Mountain Flatbread Company which invariably has a line snaking out of the door at peak periods. Attracted by the best wood-fired pizzas in town, locals and visitors alike vie for tables in this contemporary corner complete with garage-door style windows. Using local and organic produce, free-range organic meats and Ocean Wise seafood, chefs create gigantic thin-crust flatbread pizzas, ideal for sharing. Paired with funky pea shoot salads, the handcrafted pizzas are also available nut- and gluten-free.
For après-ski satiation, start with the artisan meat and cheese platter, adding the garlic dip. And save space for dessert decadence with a white chocolate-based crust crumbled with homemade cheesecake and brownie, dark chocolate drizzle and vanilla ice cream.
With so many innovative beers to choose from, the flight of 11 three-ounce mini beers at the Grizzly Paw Brewing Company is the best option – paired with a fully-loaded nacho platter, of course. Launched in 1996, The Grizzly Paw was Canmore’s first and only brewpub, one of Canada’s first brewpubs, and the second one in North America to can its beers. Since re-licensing as a microbrewery in 2004, the Paw has been selling beer throughout Alberta and now runs brewery tours.
But although it started out as a brewery, The Paw isn’t just about beer. Executive Chef, Douglas Stassi has collected food philosophy from all round the world, synthesizing it into three core values: “Simple – food does not need to be over complicated or use too many ingredients. This lets the flavors shine. Superior – recipes should use high quality, fresh ingredients and be made with heart and by hand. Satisfying – food can create lasting, positive memories.”
One of Canmore’s best-kept secrets is Sage Bistro. Although in plain sight on the Bow Valley Trail, this cabin-style restaurant has been overlooked by many locals who, with its proximity to Canmore’s biggest hotels, view it as a quaint tourist attraction. But forget location, and think more of modern menu and motif. Sage serves Canmore’s most contemporary cuisine on two floors with very different ambiances.
Downstairs it’s Alpine-cozy, ideal for groups and families out for a big French-bistro tinged Canadian feast. Upstairs, it’s light and airy with an open-kitchen concept, 360-degree views of the Rocky Mountains and upbeat modern, music-filled atmosphere. Think Girls Night Out or Couple’s Cuisine with trendy tapas-style sharing platters. Rather than Spanish tapas, the menu comprises multi-cultural miniaturized mains. Tiny cast iron dishes hold sizzling fingerling potatoes doused in raclette cheeses and there are mini portions of ribs, mussels or Cornish hen. With everything so delicate and unique, I was tempted to work my way through the whole menu ending up with the kiddie campfire Smores cake for dessert.
Louise Hudson was partly hosted at the above eateries for the purposes of this article but has also spent plenty of her own money in the first three in the past. She picked these vibrant venues from her wide range of culinary experiences in Canmore over the past 15 years.