Discover Central Alberta’s ‘Locavore’ foodie paradise
Locally sourced, craft, organic, it’s what the new food revolution is all about, and you can find all of those things (and so much more) on a short drive from Calgary to Red Deer.
Situated in a stunning 217 acre city-owned park, the charming restaurant, known as the ‘jewel of Red Deer’, is run by Joel Martens and his wife who took over the property a decade ago. The romantic setting, with abundant flora and fauna, has made it one of the best romantic dining spots in the
city — I mean, who can go wrong with a place that offers (real!) carriage rides as a date night special package?!
Westlake Grill prides itself on using local, sustainable, organic and many non-GMO ingredients from farms like Celestine Saskatoon Farm, Bowden Farm Fresh Chicken, and Nixon Honey, “We use a lot of Alberta products, and local meats. People are looking for local and being on a ranch, we want to support the local guys,” says soft-spoken and modest Martens.
The lunch menu is a mix of burgers, wraps and salads, charcuterie board and creative ‘bowls’. Beginning with the creamy tomato soup, topped with crumbled feta followed by the pickled beet and watermelon salad, beautifully presented like a beet ‘flower’, holding the salad of fresh greens, feta, watermelon, and beet balsamic vinaigrette inside the bowl, starters are light, and tasty.
The seafood Creole Bowl with pieces of Atlantic lobster, mussels and shrimp cooked in a creamy creole sauce and served with coconut quinoa is healthy and fresh, the lobster and avocado toast is generously topped with chunks of Atlantic lobster, aged cheddar, feta, and drizzled with a balsamic glaze and is a thoughtful twist on classic avocado toast. The Baja chicken burger, is perfectly grilled with Mexican seasoning, and topped with pico de gallo, guacamole, tomato, lettuce, bacon on a butter brioche bun.
Dessert offerings include: the comforting Saskatoon berry tart with a cute pastry heart topper; indulgent chocolate mousse; as well as perennial favourites like the re-interpreted strawberry shortcake.
The food at Westlake Grill is delicious and colourfully presented, with generous portions, full of flavour using local ingredients in a family-like atmosphere, all of which is certainly a match for the beautiful and seasonally changing setting. It’s clear to see why Westlake Grill a delightful spot for a day (or evening) out.
The Jungle Farm
Co-owner Leona Staples greets us at the red barn at The Jungle Farm, with an enormous smile, and burst of enthusiasm. Before touring the grounds, Staples points out a wooden carving of a bear, and tells us that her great grandfather Jacob Daniel Quantz named the farm after a black bear that roamed and lived on the property.
Along with husband Blaine, the pair have been actively farming the property since 1996, and in 1997, the Quantz family celebrated 100 years of continuously farming the land. The Jungle Farm is also part of the well-known Innisfail Growers, five families who market their produce as a group throughout the province.
Beginning at the vegetable patch, our eyes light up at the sight of purple, and yellow cauliflower, romanesco, and multicoloured tomatoes on the vine (we loved the impossibly sweet, chocolate sprinkles variety). Bright yellow zucchini flowers dot the verdant landscape, and purple broccoli look like bunches of pretty wildflowers. Each vegetable looks perfect in the sunny summer light, and while walking nearby some young corn Leona lets us in on a little known fact, “did you know that each silk of corn corresponds to the number of kernels on a cob?,” we smile feeling like we’ve been let in on a secret.
Eventually, we drive to tall bushes of Saskatoon berries, our hands stained with the sweet purple juice, becoming children once more. Entering a polytunnel full of juicy yet firm red raspberries, we even spot some pretty yellow raspberries growing in their midst, as Leona tells us of new farming methods to conserve water she learned about on a recent trip to Holland.
For hours we roam vegetable and fruit patches scattered throughout the property marveling at the bounty. “You must try our strawberries,” insists Leona. In straw covered rows, strawberries, warm from the sun, beckon to be picked. Their flavor is sweet sublimity, nothing like their grocery store kin. These garnet jewels along with pumpkin are a huge draw for the u-pick farm. There is also an eight-acre corn maze, play area for children and popular CSA (community supported agriculture) veggie box program.
Finally, the alliums are just about finished for the season, but we manage to spot some beautiful red Russian garlic, leeks, and red and white onion.
That morning, upon meeting Leona, she had underscored that the goals of the farm: to educate, connect people to food and to create memories. And, the day spent here accomplishes this with a wealth of knowledge, education, fun and so much more.
Eagle Creek Farms and Bowden Sun Maze
The Mills Family has been in Bowden, Alberta since the early 1920s, farming for four generations. The latest generation has transformed the farm, primarily selling seed potatoes like Blue Mac, Dakota Pearl and Pink Fir apple to customers across Canada. U-pick with strawberries, flowers, and fresh vegetables, a sunflower maze and CSA box also available to customers and as of 2018, the farm is certified organic, growing without the use of synthetic herbicides or fertilizers.
We first meet John Mills, the fourth generation farmer. At 6’5”, with messy blond hair, wearing overalls and heavy boots, he greets us with a big smile and dirty hands from working in the fields.
Leading into the u-pick area, two of Mills children follow him, soaking in the scorching rays of the summer sun; there are dozens of families busily picking fresh vegetables and taking in the view.
The other huge draw, is the sunflower maze (with 10 000 sunflowers) and corn maze, a sight to behold, with the happy flowers standing straight up, a magnet for selfies.
Stepping across to one of the most popular areas, Mills grabs a shovel to unearth the buried fingerling and red flesh amarosa. As we relish every new potato that emerges from beneath the soil, we look around — this is a family friendly place with lots to discover.