Summer road trips around Alberta promise breath-taking scenery, fun landmarks, and outdoor activities, but just as essential as your music playlist tunes and company is the food you’ll eat along the way.
If you’re craving ideas on where to refuel for the day’s adventures and satiate your appetites, get off the beaten track and drive through the province’s charming small towns around Calgary and Edmonton. You’ll discover hidden-in-plain sight foodie gems for local provisions to eat and drink and take home. And your stomach will thank you.
Just outside of Edmonton, in Beaumont, you’ll find this charming French Canadian restaurant run by owners Sylvia and Darren Cheverie. Chartier was named one of the top 10 Best New Restaurants in Alberta by the Globe and Mail. Whether you come for brunch or dinner or simply to hit the bakery and pantry shelves for goodies, you’ll leave seeing why it’s attracted so much hype and buzz from patrons and press alike. Find fresh baked bread, pastries and sweets, like their sea buckthorn maple pecan butter tarts to in-house preserves and pickles, cured meats, and heat-at-home soups. If you’re dining in, order the poutine with its triple-cooked fries, Montreal style gravy, and add the smoked meat to it.
The Cookshack BBQ (Nisku) Within a 10-minute drive of Edmonton’s International Airport, you can find great southern-style barbecue in the hamlet of Nisku at The Cookshack BBQ. The family restaurant slow-smokes all their AAA brisket, Alberta pork, ribs and chicken, and sausages in-house. Bring your appetite for the generous portions and made-from-scratch daily sides of smashed potatoes, mac n’ cheese, baked beans, jambalaya rice and creamed corn. Slather your meats with their eight different house-made sauces.
Old School Cheesery (Vermillion) Cheesemaker Patrick Dupuis opened Old School Cheesery in 2016 on a small acreage in the town of Vermillion. The handcrafted artisan cheese uses milk from local dairy producers which is pasteurised onsite. Tour the cheesery housed in a converted Quonset to see how the cheese is made, then stock up on cheese to take home. Old School Cheesery is best known for its cheese curds which come in regular, garlic, dill, chipotle, barbecue, and black peppercorn. Other standouts include the Dill Cheddar or the Harvest Moon Smoked Brie which is salty and smokey from being cold-smoked with Applewood chips for six hours.
Blindman Brewing (Lacombe) Named for the Blindman River in south central Alberta, the award-winning brewery has been around since 2015. Make the drive out to Lacombe to the Blindman Brewing taproom to sample their small-batch beers. Along with their flagship beer, the bright and citrusy Blindman River Session Ale, you can find sours, strong stouts, and Belgian farmhouse style ales. The food menu features taqueria staples, like pork carnitas tacos slow-cooked with a New England Pale Ale, and nachos made with pickled onions and jalapeño, toasted tortilla chips, cheese and peppers from Doefs Greenhouse.
Field and Forge Brewing Co. (Innisfail) Innisfail brewery Field and Forge continues the history and traditions of the Bilton family and their commitment to the central Alberta region. It opened in 2019 with a slate of ‘precision-crafted, highly approachable and flavourful beer’ in its Belgian Ale, Pilsner, Pale Ale and Gold Ale. Building on community, Field and Forge also supports other craft brewers by offering contract brewing at their state-of-the-art brewery. The gastropub menu has even suggested beer pairings for all items including its rustic Italian pizzas and burgers to the vegetarian-friendly Buffalo Cauliflower – a whole head of cauliflower coated in buffalo sauce and roasted with house dill ranch and green onions.
Pascal’s Patisserie (Cochrane) In downtown Cochrane, Pascal’s Patisserie is the place to find delicious French pastries you can take home to bake. Classically trained French pastry maker Pascal Bagioli does all the heavy lifting for you, handcrafting small-batch pastries with organic flour and quality ingredients, which are then flash frozen to preserve freshness. His classic croissant dough recipe is made without eggs or milk, only flour, water, yeast and time. There are also pains aux chocolats, brioches, pains aux raisins, cinnamon buns, chouquettes, and puff pastries. Follow the easy baking instructions at home to make your home smell just like a Parisian pastry shop when they come out freshly baked from your oven.
The Drop Coffee and Tea (Bentley) Spending the day at Gull Lake or Aspen Beach Provincial Park? Hit up The Drop Coffee and Tea, a cute little coffee spot in Bentley for takeout hot and cold drinks or homemade baked goods and snacks on a hot summer day. There’s a small covered deck to enjoy your treats outdoors as you people-watch the hubbub on the town’s main street. Specialties include a Snickerdoodle Latte and a Black Currant Hibiscus Tea Lemonade. The coffee served is by local roaster Birdy Coffee Co. For eats, they also sell Sweet Stix handmade popsicles, sweet and savoury croissants, and pepperoni sticks and jerky.
The Big Moo Ice Cream Parlour (Sylvan Lake) A Sylvan Lake institution, The Big Moo Ice Cream Parlour is right across from the beach and near the pier on Lakefront Drive. Look for the Big Moo cow out front which has probably been captured in countless family vacation photos. Choose from 80-plus flavours of Foothills Creamery ice cream and other frozen treats like sundaes and ice cream sandwiches. From burgers and hotdogs to milkshakes and smoothies, Big Moo has something for everyone in the family. Order the 24k Gold Rush Sundae made with vanilla ice cream, hot fudge, and butterscotch topping with a crushed Skor bar and cherry on top.
Eclipse Coffee Roasters (Canmore) For a day in the mountains around Canmore, get your java jolt at Eclipse Coffee Roasters. This specialty coffee roaster, beloved by locals, used to be Rave Coffee and was founded by Dean Smolicz. The single origin coffee beans are sourced from local farms in Brazil, Colombia, Peru, and India. Choose from blends and beans that are categorized as bright, bold, or balanced, and get a bag of the Monsoon Malabar which is full-bodied with chocolate notes and a smoky aftertaste. Keep your eyes peeled for a new roastery, it’s third location in Canmore, to open on Railway Avenue by Crazyweed later this summer.
94 Take the Cake (Okotoks)
Instantly Instagram-able, 94 Take the Cake has been attracting a lot of attention over the last few years for its fun black-and-white 2D-style interior made to look like pages out of a colouring book. The cafe and bakery is located in a 100-year-old home in Okotoks and is known for its custom cake designs. For day trippers, this is a great stop before setting off to explore more of southern Alberta. There’s a huge outdoor patio where you can enjoy a hot or cold beverage and fresh brewed Chronicle Coffee. Pair your drink with an assortment of sweet treats like cake pops, cheesecakes, cookies, muffins, scones, pies, and more.
Marv’s Classic Soda Shop (Black Diamond)
Marvin Garriott’s 1950s retro diner and soda shop has been a Foothills staple for more than 20 years in the town of Black Diamond. Visit Marv’s Classic Soda Shop for a dose of nostalgia and peruse the collection of old-fashioned candy and hard-to-find sodas. The collection of antiques and collectibles lining the shelves are a feast for the eyes as is the soda fountain, vintage jukebox and player piano. Cozy into the booths for a shake, soda or malt and try the country fried chicken. If you’re feeling adventurous, attempt the famous peanut butter burger. Don’t miss the Marvello carbonated ice cream in vanilla and chocolate malt flavours.
Homestead Bakery (Fort Macleod)
Kimberly Vanden Broek and Julena Schipper are the duo behind this fantastic bakery, most known for its artisan breads and mouth-watering cookies, cakes and pastries, out in historic Fort Macleod. Homestead Bakery’s sourdough bread (try the sprouted grain or rosemary apple sourdough) is made from starter fed with stoneground flour from local grain grower Vangarderen Ranch. They use fresh yeast and both sourdough starter and yeast in their buns and loaves, and the pies are made with local or BC fruit filling – order the haskap saskatoon pie. Crowd favourites are the chocolate and almond croissants, sticky buns and butterhorns.