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CAMROSE CUISINE A DELICIOUS SURPRISE

Author: John Gilchrist

Having been raised on a mixed farm south of Wetaskiwin, John understands the true taste of food. He’s written about the Alberta food scene for over thirty-seven years and never tires of finding dining gems in the most unique places.

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One of the great food trends happening around Alberta is the emergence of top-quality restaurants in smaller centres. Camrose, located a short, one-hour drive southeast of Edmonton, is a prime example of this. It’s a lovely city of 18,000 with a busy college, a strong agricultural base and a diverse dining scene.

The Lefse House

The Lefse House is an essential visit for either lunch or coffee when in Camrose. Keying on the Scandinavian heritage of the Camrose area, The Lefse House serves a long list of Swedish meatballs, smoked salmon with rye bread, pault (a savoury potato dumpling with bacon and butter), Norwegian nachos (on flatbread chips) and, of course, lefse.

The lefse – a soft potato-dough flatbread – is wrapped around chicken, beef or egg salad or is sold by the pound to take home. A lunch of lefse and egg salad with salsa on the side is a delight – and filling.

But always leave room for dessert here. Sandbakkles, krumkake, fattigmann and kringles are among the house-baked treats. Never had a sandbakkle or a fattigmann? The Lefse House is the place to try them, and best to try them on the assorted dessert plate of twelve different sweets. Bring a friend.

You can take home any of these sweets and breads too. Be sure to grab some ginger snaps – chewy, gingery, the best ginger snaps I’ve ever had.

The Metal Kettle

Across town in the industrial zone, The Metal Kettle fills up every weekday for breakfast and lunch with hungry folks from the surrounding businesses. The food is hot, simple and lovingly homemade by the mother-daughter team of Arlene Gibbs and Karry Sikstrom. Gibbs is a former camp cook and her food has all the rich, comforting goodness of a great camp meal after a hard-working shift.

Thick sandwiches of ham and cheese, grilled cheese, the always-popular bacon-and-dill pickle and more are set up with creamy mushroom soup or hearty chili. And pans of heavy, gooey cinnamon buns – glazed, not iced – fly off the shelf. We’ve called ahead to make sure they put a couple aside so we won’t be disappointed.

The setting is simple and comfortable, the prices reasonable and the welcome as warm as the dill pickle soup.

The Metal Kettle gals also offer lunch at a second location in Camrose – the Bailey Theatre downtown. Weekdays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., The Metal Kettle takes over part of the Bailey Bistro to feed soup and sandwiches and a few sweets to downtown workers. You might also get a look at Alberta’s oldest performing arts theatre, built in 1911 and fully restored and outfitted with state of the art equipment in 2011.

Stockmen’s Chophouse

Just off Highway 13 near the west entrance to Camrose, Stockmen’s Chophouse offers a meaty take on central Alberta cuisine with big city sophistication. As the name implies, the focus is on meat – burgers house-ground from fresh brisket, steaks cut from well-aged, Certified Angus beef, wild boar chops, bison rib eyes, and braised lamb shanks. There’s seafood too – sablefish with sage and brown butter, PEI mussels and wild Pacific salmon – and some non-meat dishes but Stockmen’s Chophouse remains a carnivore’s paradise.

Chef/owner Jesse Chambers was raised in the area and supports local producers as much as possible. His dishes are robust with flavour and creativity – the bison comes with a Saskatoon chutney and the roast chicken is brined for twenty-four hours before being baked with a bourbon-mustard crust.

The steaks are superb here, flame-broiled over hickory, simply seasoned and served with the likes of tarragon-garlic butter or a chimichurri. The fresh-ground burgers are also tempting but I’m drawn to the pork ribs rubbed and braised with house seasonings and then broiled with a house barbecue sauce. Messy, saucy, so tasty.

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