CHARCUT, Model Milk, and Alberta Beef

While in Calgary, we were pretty excited to dive into some of the city’s hottest restaurants.  CHARCUT Roast House is an award-winning restaurant in Calgary, owned by Connie DeSousa and John Jackson.  These two secured themselves the status of ‘Best New Restaurant’ in Canada in 2010, and were named Top Chefs Under 40.  Connie also competed with much success on Top Chef Canada during their first season.  CHARCUT fits in with the steakhouse culture in Calgary, but also manages to go far beyond.  In their early days, they used to sell smaller versions of their famous burgers out of the back of their kitchen.  They would simply tweet when their $5 Alley Burgers were available, and those following on Twitter would respond accordingly.  These meaty treats became hugely popular, and the line-ups eventually became so long that the Alley Burger food truck was born.  

CHARCUT burger

We had the classic CHARCUT burger (made from house-made sausage) and the shaved beef sandwich (can’t come to Alberta without trying the beef!) along with a strawberry sorbet and dark chocolate ice cream.  We were immensely satisfied leaving CHARCUT, and recommend a visit.

Shaved Beef Sandwich

Our last day in Calgary was a big one.  After eating everything in sight for several consecutive hours at Sidewalk Citizen Bakery, the plan was to go to Model Milk for dinner.  If you ever need to get yourself hungry for dinner, might I suggest a long nap, followed by a short walk.  Somehow this combination brought me back to life, and managed to make my body forget just how many pastries, baked goods, sandwiches, and pizzas I’d consumed earlier that day.

The restaurant opened in (and was named for) the historic Model Milk building, an old dairy processing building.  The Model Milk Company was established in 1932, and moved into Calgary in 1934, in order to boost dairy sales during the depression.  This move played an important role in the shift from rural creameries to urban milk processing plants.  By the 60’s, this was the largest producing dairy in Alberta.

The building is made entirely of brick (wood-free for sanitation reasons), an immensely expensive construction during the depression.  In the 1960’s this was the largest producing dairy in Alberta.  Many Calgarians will remember the $0.05 ice cream cones and milkshakes that were sold from the milk bar at Model Milk.  How charming does that sound?

We were totally impressed with the food we were served.  Model Milk is a must-visit; the restaurant is gorgeous, and Justin Leboe’s food is flavourful and innovative.  We ordered the Dungeness crab in brioche, house roasted potato chips, white anchovies, and braised pork shoulder with steam buns and spicy hoisin.  The food was phenomenal and the cocktails were equally impressive—you cannot leave Model Milk without ordering the Black Manhattan and the MM Gin & Tonic!

Reinvented steakhouses and ancient dairies indicate a long presence of cattle products in Alberta.  It would just not be fair to leave Alberta without some mention of their beef.  There are a number of cattle ranchers who are raising organic, hormone-free cattle in Alberta.  TK Ranch, whose beef you can find on the CHARCUT menu, has been nominated for several awards for environmental excellence and stewardship, most recently the National Prairie Conservation Award.  The ranch is family-run and they were one of the first families to produce and market strictly grass-fed beef in Alberta.  It’s an impressive commitment, considering it takes up to a year longer to raise pasture fed cows than conventional feed lot cattle. The folks at TK Ranch are also pioneers in direct marketing beef.  Before the mid 90’s, selling beef directly was unheard of, and beef was almost entirely distributed through grocery stores, save for a few family friends here and there.  Many producers have followed suit, giving us all more and more reason’s to take pride in Alberta’s beef industry.

Pork Shoulder from Model Milk

Pork Shoulder from Model Milk

It was with full bellies and full hearts that we left Calgary.  So long Alberta, you were so good to us.