What’s the difference between a food court and a food hall? Calgarians now have a chance to find out for themselves at the new Avenida Food Hall and Fresh Market, which opened in the city’s southeast to remarkable fanfare last month.
Neither a fast food concourse nor a full farmers’ market, Avenida is Calgary’s introduction to the food hall craze that has long been part of life in Europe and has slowly been infiltrating North American markets. The idea is simple: it’s essentially a collection of food vendors, offering quick counter-service meals, prepared takeaway items, fresh produce or meat.
“But we already have something like this — places like the Calgary Farmer’s Market and Crossroads Market already offer a combination of restaurant stalls and fresh ingredients,” you may say. Yes, but with a proper food hall like Avenida, the emphasis is on the eating, rather than the shopping. And with 40 vendors (all but four of them sell food), there’s a lot of eating to be done.
The hot food stalls are Avenida’s greatest draw — visitors can choose from Indian, Thai, Ethiopian, Japanese, Salvadorian, Venezuelan, Mexican, Ukrainian and Italian fare, plus a number of other global cuisines. The food from the stalls is far tastier and more imaginative than what one would find at a typical food court — this isn’t junk food by any stretch of the imagination. Customers can grab their lunch or dinner and eat at one of the 400 or so seats scattered around the bustling building.
One spot that has already gotten big attention is Takori, an Asian taco stall from renowned chef Duncan Ly, who also owns and operates Foreign Concept, a finer dining restaurant in the Beltline. Takori customers can choose from taco trios with fillings like bulgogi beef brisket and pork belly with kimchi or a basket of Foreign Concept’s famed honey butter chips — giving them a chance to try Ly’s food without having to pay full-service restaurant prices.
“What we offer at Takori is very accessible,” Ly says. “It’s only $11.50 for three tacos or $3.95 each, but it’s the same quality of food that you’d get at Foreign Concept.”
Avenida also gives Ly and other established businesses like the Waffles and Chix food truck and Sauce Italian Market (who run the new Holy Cannoli coffee shop in the hall) a chance to start new enterprises without committing to the costs of a full restaurant. The same goes for newbie restaurateurs like Erika and Axel Dyckerhoff, who run the Bigoli pasta stall and the team behind Teff N’ Greens, Calgary’s very first vegan Ethiopian eatery. The food hall is also home to the Avenida Mercantile, a single shop that sells products from 29 local vendors, including Lambtastic Farms, Mountain Rhino Donuts and Sylvan Star Cheese.
Ken Aylesworth, the hall’s manager, who has previous experience from overseeing the Calgary Farmers’ Market and the Symons Valley Ranch Farmers’ Market, carefully curated vendors who share a similar sense of community, which is part of what gives the food hall so much vibrancy. This includes the fresh food vendors — Irving Farm Fresh, Shirley’s Greenhouse, Sunworks Farms, So Fresh Produce and Walkers Own Produce — that often work directly with the food stalls, providing ingredients for the prepared food.
“There’s the food hall component with the restaurants, then there’s the producer’s side and they commingle,” Aylesworth says. “It’s a wonderful way to showcase the offerings we have throughout the building.”
Aylesworth has plenty of plans for collaborations and events at the hall but, for now, Avenida is just getting started. For the time being, Avenida Food Hall is open Thursdays through Sundays from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. The hall is located at D426, 12445 Lake Fraser Drive S.E. and a full list of vendors can be found at avenidamarket.ca.
Klein / Harris, which normally sits on the north side of Stephen Avenue is undergoing some building maintenance and will be closed for the month of January. Not wanting to deprive patrons of its Canadiana cuisine and cocktails, the restaurant will be operating as a pop-up in a vacant space across the street, formally occupied by Divino Wine and Cheese Bistro. Find them at 113 8th Ave. S.W. until construction is wrapped up.
Speaking of construction, River Café is also taking a hiatus for unavoidable building repairs and flood mitigation work and will reopen later this spring. In the meantime, its team will focus on proprietor Sal Howell’s other restaurant, Deane House. To help welcome River Café regulars and the rest of the community, Deane House is launching a weekly Sunday Supper series. Every Sunday, patrons can enjoy a three-course, family-style, prix fixe menu, live jazz music and free corkage for $45 per person (or $20 for kids under 9). For more information or to make reservations, visit deanehouse.com.
Elizabeth Chorney-Booth can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @elizaboothy or Instagram at @elizabooth.