Gourmet Getaway Guide: Banff
Updated: Nov 7, 2020
As many people find themselves staying closer to home than usual during this global pandemic, it is refreshing to know that so many local foodie destinations are only a short trip away. Getting out of the city for a weekend is a great way to reset and appease the wanderlust. I grew up spending the majority of my weekends in Canmore and Banff. I learned how to ski when I was two years old, and my sister and I ski raced from a young age. This sport saw us training in the mountains every weekend. From the age of three, my parents have owned a small condo in Canmore, so touring the mountains has always been a part of our family adventures. I've started to create a series of "Gourmet Getaway Guides" for Albertans to explore their own backyard and enjoy exciting, inspirational, and unexpected food along the way. The guides start off with a weekend adventure to Banff, sponsored by Travel Alberta... Where to Stay? Buffalo Mountain Lodge We stayed at one of Banff's coziest hotels, Buffalo Mountain Lodge, which offers a fantastic deal called their "Gourmet Getaway" package. This steal of a deal includes one night accommodation in their king suite (at a rate of 40% off), which includes a mini kitchenette. The room was warm and inviting, complete with a wood burning fire place, with a fire built and ready to be lit. I liked the separation between the living space and the king-sized bedroom.
The "Gourmet Getaway" package included dinner for two (three courses a la carte) at their on-site restaurant, the Sleeping Buffalo, and an a la carte breakfast for two. We were quite impressed with the dishes we had. The restaurant is housed in the cozy lobby of the hotel, furnished with exposed wood beams and a giant stone hearth. We sat in front of the fire place and enjoyed our three course dinner.
Something to Start... I ordered the charcuterie board for the appetizer and was really impressed with the local meats they included, as well as their pickled cantaloupe accompaniment. I thought it was an innovative condiment for a charcuterie board, that offered some nice balance to the dish. The Valbella wild boar pate, atop their house-made toasted rye bread, with a garnish of the pickled cantaloupe was really memorable.
The Main Event
For mains, we enjoyed the grilled beef tenderloin with salsa verde and smoked mashed potatoes (these potatoes were divine and loaded with butter), and the boar chop served with an out-of-this-world rye bread pudding. I couldn't stop going on about the savoury bread pudding. I hadn't thought of serving something like this as a starch component on a dish. It basically tasted like the thanksgiving stuffing we always fight over every year because there is just never enough to go around. I know for my next dinner party I am definitely looking up some savoury bread pudding recipes.
A Sweet Finish The desserts we ordered were a warm rhubarb apple streusel tart and a lemon tart with blueberries. Both a nice finish to a cozy evening. The Next Morning...
An a la carte breakfast for two was included in the package, and I was very grateful for this after waking up hungry. We both had the "Buffalo Mixed Grill" which essentially was a gourmet version of your classic "two egg breakfast", accompanied with blueberry bison sausage, and marble rye toast. It was the perfect meal before our departure and drive back to the city.
Where to Eat? The Local Perspective Growing up around Banff has lead me to have a long list of food favourites. Here are a few of my go-to spots to visit when out in the mountains...
Poutine Okay, it may be cliche, but I don't think it gets much more Canadian than poutine? Poutine first emerged in Quebec during the 1950's and has since become a quintessential Canadian street food. For fantastic poutine, head to the aptly named Banff Poutine. They operate out of the space Barpa Bill's used to live in, a retired local gem that served poutine and greek street food. Michelin Level Dining Situated in the Rimrock Hotel, overlooking the Bow Valley, the Eden restaurant features Michelin star level food with picturesque mountain views. Canada, interestingly enough, has zero restaurants that have been awarded the prestigious ranking system devised by, you guessed it, the tire company. In 1900, the Michelin tire company came up with an advertising strategy by creating a touring guide. This guide was devised to encourage drivers to get out on road trips, therefore needing tires more frequently as they racked up the miles, and check out the list of starred restaurants. Although there is a lot of speculation as to why Canada is not included in the Michelin list, the Eden in my opinion would most certainly be a contender. Their multiple course tasting menus feature a lot of customization, something most tasting menus aren't often able to boast. You can choose from a three course, four course, or, the pinnacle "Eden's Chef Tasting Menu". The Eden's menu features seasonal ingredients that are locally sourced, expertly crafted, and artistically plated. The service also makes this experience so exceptional, as it really is some of the most fantastic service I've encountered outside of the Michelin world. The interior of the restaurant features dark, rich wood, and the narrow restaurant wraps around the hotel, so exquisite mountain views are seen from every table. Be sure to consider this award-winning restaurant to mark your next special occasion.
Fancy a Picnic? There are so many beautiful spots around Banff to visit, and picnics are definitely a great way to savour the sights. My favourite spot to grab some picnic fare is the cleverly named Wild Flour Bakery. This wholesome bakery has a variety of options to pick up and take on a picturesque picnic, like their gourmet grilled sandwiches on their homemade breads. Candy
No trip is complete to Banff without candy. Something about this quaint mountain town screams nostalgia and the Main Street is laden with candy shops, both old and new. My favourite spot has always been @thefudgerybanff. The smell of the handmade confections wafts down the street, so it is pretty hard to ignore. They make all of the candy in-house, the laborious process of which can all be watched through their front window. As their name might suggest, they are known for their wide variety of fudge, but my go-to has always been the “chewy chocolate coconut stack”, not to be confused with the “haystack”. This version is super gooey, chewy, and so satisfyingly “coconutty”. Let the smell of bubbling caramel and melted chocolate lead the way, and whatever ends up tempting you, I’m sure your sweet tooth will be happily satisfied.
Sushi... on a Train
Not to be confused with "snakes on a plane", "sushi on a train" sounds much more appetizing. Sushi House Banff (note that as of Nov. 1/2020 it is still under renovation) is a lesser known and "hidden in plain sight" sushi joint. You might walk right by it if you didn't know what you were looking for, and it is situated just off one of the main intersections on Banff Ave. For those of you that have been to Japanese restaurants with circular boat systems that playfully deliver sushi to customers, this restaurant uses a train track. This place is quirky, fun, and their sushi is delicious too. You cannot miss their crispy deep-fried shrimp roll, with some sweet kewpie mayo. I would be perfectly content with these rolls alone for an entire meal. Cajun Creations Another hidden gem and an out-of-the-box regional cuisine, Tooloulou's restaurant serves up cajun and creole food. This intriguing cuisine features comfort food dishes like po'boys (sandwiches from New Orleans often featuring fried seafood that were sold to the working class or 'poor boys'). It also has other super classic dishes like etouffee, hushpuppies, catfish, and gumbo. Try this spot for something different! Fondue?! The Grizzly House in Banff is a local institution. Around since 1967, this very quirky restaurant is known for fondue and exotic meats cooked on hot stone rocks (think rattlesnake, shark, and ostrich). A word of advice, make reservations WELL in advance and wear something you don't mind having to wash (cooking on the hot stone rocks or the hot oil fondue makes everything you wear smell like "cooking"). This iconic restaurant is not to be missed and is a very memorable and unique dining experience. A Castle in the Rockies
See my post on a guide to food themed adventures at the Banff Springs hotel. And there you have it, a "Gourmet Getaway Guide" for a weekend out in the mountains. It will have you (almost) forgetting that recreational travel is a strange concept these days, due to the global pandemic. For anyone itching to explore, Banff definitely hits the spot for something "different" and will help invigorate you for the busy week ahead. This cozy mountain town and its culinary gems will help to appease your travel bug. Stay tuned for more "Gourmet Getaway Guides" to Albertan destinations and please comment what your favourite food spots are in Banff!