As summer travel returns, these new and revamped restaurants show that Banff and Jasper are ready for a reopened world
By Cory Schachtel | July 12, 2022
Two Delicious Days in the Mountains
As an occasional food writer, I occasionally get invited to media food tastings at soon-to-open local restaurants. Along with a casual dress code and playing with our office dogs, it’s the biggest perk of my job.
So when Calgary-based tourism and hospitality company invited Edify to a two-day, high-end-food-based media tour of its new restaurants in Banff and Jasper, I finished my Kraft grilled cheese sandwich and said yes. I haven’t been to the mountains since you-know-what started. And there’s nothing like a weekend away…during the week.
Media Room with a View
It started in Banff, in the Cascade Lounge upstairs at the Mount Royal Hotel, which has sat on Banff Avenue for over 100 years. As we gazed at the mountain view and I regretted not bringing board shorts for the hot tub, I met and mingled with other (mostly southern-Alberta) media members while we sipped vodka from Eau Claire Distillery. After a warm welcome from Pursuit’s Director Food and Beverage Philip Slawsky, and Executive Chef Scott Hergott, the feast began.
First up was the charcuterie table, with all the meats, cheeses, bread, pickles and nuts you’d imagine (every ingredient is from Canada, with the majority coming from Alberta). But the sweet and spicy Golden Chicken Pops (with a patis glaze and serrano chilli relish) was the first stand out dish — “fall off the bone” is a bit of a food writing cliché, but I literally had to be careful bringing each chicken pop to my mouth.
For a charcuterie lover like myself, that easily could’ve been The Meal. But it was just an appetizer for the main courses (yes, plural).
The most frequently told legend of “Wild” Bill Peyto says that one early 20th century day, Bill walked into a Banff bar with a lynx on his back. Some say the lynx was dead. Or asleep, then woke up. Others say it was very much alive and awake and he released it to scare everyone out, then re-caught it when he finished his drink. But everyone agrees the man did not like the company of crowds.
According to the nice folks at Pursuit, Wild Bill had walked into Mount Royal Hotel’s Alberta Bar, a few floors below the Cascade Lounge. After a 21st century renovation, including a renaming that calls back to Bill’s “Brazen” attitude (Pursuit owns both Brazen and Cascade), you’ll now walk into an L-shaped room with a dark brown and green (with gold accents) colour scheme, brick wall-bordered windows, pool table lights and a low-hanging central chandelier. It looks like the kind of bar where a guy with a nickname like that could have done something like that, during that time (or at least, its look pays homage to a bar like that — this one is modern in all the ways that matter). And the suspender-wearing staff look like the kind of professionals who would serve a lynx-wearing loner an expertly mixed and smoked Old Fashioned (with pine syrup over ice sloping up one side of the glass at 45 degrees, as if frozen mid pour) the same as they’d serve a group of lynx-averse food writers.
The kitchen wasn’t big enough for our entire group, so they took half of us to where Chef Dan Jiricka spends most of his time reimagining exotic and Albertan dishes alike. The flavour on this trip at times overwhelmed, so it’s tough to pick a favourite, but Jiricka’s blow-torched-finished Ginger Beef (with blistered shishito pepper), and his vegan Mushroom Ravioli, have to be two of the trip’s top three (he also served Green Tea Mussels, with tobiko, in matcha sauce). It’s local fare with a few foreign flavours, in a saloon-style setting, but the cooking and presentation craftmanship would fit in any high-end establishment, even one that makes you check your wild animal at the door. Call it accessible fine dining. Very fine.
Meal number two (back out in the restaurant) was just as fine, but our group was glad we had it last, because it was bready, cheesy and the most filling. Chef Scott Hergott smoked the Beef Tartare (with pickled onion and truffle oil) tableside, placed the breaded Salt Cod on remoulade and topped it with lemon caviar, then served the Brie Mac & Cheese made with cavatappi and fried leeks, which gave it a vibrant, almost neon tinge.
After another round of Old Fashioneds, we headed back up to Cascade for some smoked Broken Forest Cake (the smoke machines do a lot of work here). After more mingling, and debating whether boxer shorts were appropriate hot tub attire, I headed back to sleep in my room in preparation for the most food-filled day this occasional-food writer has ever had and then written about.
When I’m in a hotel I like to take extra-long showers. There’s something freeing about a never ending hot water tank, and the lack of a large water bill, that makes me want to linger. Anyway, I was late for breakfast.
After a brisk, mountain-air walk, I arrived at Farm & Fire (opened June 2020) to find my fellow food writers had thankfully not yet ordered. It was 8 a.m. but we ordered off the brunch menu, which is my favourite non-charcuterie meal, so the whole menu looked good, especially the Banana Bread Pudding French Toast. But I went with the Canadian Eggs Benny, since that’s the only style of eggs I can’t make at home. It came with smoked ham, grapefruit hollandaise and crispy garlic potatoes that were so good I forgot to add salt. The woman sitting across from me wasn’t in my group the night before, so I didn’t get to know her and didn’t feel comfortable asking for a bite of her French toast, which looked like a loaf of banana bread, glazed in banana crème anglaise, turned on its side. But I did have some of her fruit plate (she offered!).
We headed back to our rooms, I took another shower, then we shuttled off to Jasper with a stop at the Columbia Icefield on the way. It was a beautiful drive, but since some of our group members decided to drive themselves (including one in a convertible with the top down), three of us in the van each had a bench seat to ourselves, so I stretched out and napped.
The Feast at Maligne
I awoke just before we arrived at Maligne Canyon Wilderness Kitchen, which opened with a new menu in 2019. Either no one told the chefs that we had a bountiful dinner in a few hours, or they didn’t care, because the servers brought platters of food that covered most of our table — and then they brought more.
I started with the Smokehouse Caesar that came with a large dose of Worcestershire and a chicken wing as garnish. Then came some gaufrettes with smoked onion dip, a full plate of Smoked Wings and Crispy Cauliflower. Technically, all of that was the appetizer for the Wilderness Platter, which almost overflowed with smoked pork side rib, chicken and salmon, with mac and cheese, garlic parsley fries and Alberta rub beans on the side. Then they brought extra fries and beans because I guess we looked ravenous.
It was a glorious meal that would befit even the ruggedest lynx-whispering mountain man. But our modern, delicate constitutions were too weak to finish it, so we put the leftovers in the van before hiking down the canyon, which helped relieve the feeling of having just eaten the equivalent of two Thanksgiving meals.
After checking into the Chateau Jasper, our guides graciously informed us that they asked the chefs making that night’s meal to push it back an hour to give us time to recover before the trip’s final dinner. It was the right call.
Where Brazen was high end food in an old timey setting, Terra is an experiential eatery in contemporary decor: white walls, wood ceiling beams and light hardwood floor, low tables, antlers on the wall and a fireplace in the private room. There’s a southside patio and the east windows open up for a street-and-mountain view that lets passersby see what they’re missing. Think Vancouver Main Street style, at sleepy Jasper speed.
On the website, the restaurant’s subtitle “forage + feast” sums the menu up well. Inspired by “the rawness of Jasper,” everything is locally farmed or literally foraged, and season dependent. There’s almost no ingredient you couldn’t grow, walk by or catch yourself, but turning it into any meal on this menu would be a tall, tasty task.
After serve-yourself appetizers of Chanterelle Mushrooms, Fried Green Tomatoes with ramp pistou and farmers cheese, Candied Salmon and oh-so-succulent Bone Marrow, we sat at the big table for the main course. It featured two hearty items — Smoked Bison Tomahawk Steak drenched in anchovy butter, and a Whole Trout sitting on wild rice, surrounded by fiddleheads — sided with Roasted Carrots, Buttermilk Maitake Mushrooms and Corn Ribs covered in lime, cilantro, chili and gouda. They were curved — we literally ate them like ribs —and the best cobs I’ve ever had.
We ate dessert — Beaver Tails and some Wild Rose Ice Cream — with a quiet pride for having packed in so much rich-and-filling food over two days. Better yet, we lived to tell the tale, which is basically this: Alberta has a wide array of appetizing, distinctive ingredients, proficient chefs who plate them as well as anyone and, in the case of Pursuit, a management and tour guide team that sincerely loves showing people around our world-renowned mountain towns.
As our final dinner in Terra wound down, I realized Game 5 of the Oilers-Flames playoffs series was half over, and there wasn’t a TV in sight. I asked the staff where the nearest one was, then sprinted down the block to a sports bar.
With its cramped seating, blaring noise and standard sports decor, it was the polar opposite of any of the places I’d just spent time in, but arguably more my speed. I ordered a spiced rum and soda water and checked the menu for grilled cheese, sliding back into my non-food writer, civilian status with ease as Connor McDavid scored the winning goal in what would be the Oilers’ last 2022 playoff victory.