For locals, the Easter weekend holiday is all about getting out to enjoy the spring thaw, and to gather with friends and family over a leisurely brunch or dinner. Of course, Easter also brings the thrill of the hunt – searching for chocolate eggs and other goodies need not be limited to the under-10 set. The good news for travelers who may not have a home-cooked meal awaiting them, you never have to look far to find some good eats in Alberta.
To dine in or dine out?
In Calgary, the newly revamped Cured Delicatessen specializes in house cured ham, sausages and salami (including a line of nitrate- and phosphate-free products) made using locally-sourced meats and generations-old European techniques. When friends come to visit, you can pick up a ham for dinner (and ask the pro butchers for preparation advice) or take your visitors out for a casual brunch and nosh on interesting versions of the classics, like chicken and waffles with grilled chorizo, karaage chicken and fennel marmalade, or bananas Foster french toast made with potato rosemary bread.
If you’re craving some Easter lamb in Edmonton, try the char-grilled leg of lamb with kale & crispy farro salad at Uccellino. The name means “little bird” in Italian. It’s a modern trattoria and stand-up bar serving simple but spectacular Italian food. You also have the option to host a dinner for up to 12 in their private mezzanine dining room. Best bet is to go for their wondrous tasting menu with optional wine pairings.
Best breakfast and brunch
The Juniper Bistro in Banff’s Juniper Hotel is known for its spectacular breakfast, inspired by local ingredients. If your Easter weekend involves a road trip, it’s right off the highway at one of the entrances to the town of Banff. Try their famous Juniper Benny made with bannock, buffalo mozzarella, braised rabbit, poached eggs, hollandaise and a juniper berry glaze, served with brown butter hash. Or if your schedule has you hungry mid-afternoon after a spring ski or hike, their après lounge menu starts at 3 p.m.
For a sunny, celebratory brunch, the newly restored Deane House in Calgary’s Inglewood neighbourhood is perfect for family gatherings. Captain Deane's Pantry is always stocked with freshly baked breads and pastries and local produce, much of which is grown on site and preserved for winter use. And the menu almost always includes rabbit. At brunch, try the Driview Farms rabbit perogies with pickled chanterelles, fermented carrot, and buttermilk carrot purée.
Afternoon tea seems like a spring sort of thing, and perfect for weekend socializing with family and friends. There are well-known destinations like the Fairmont properties – the Banff Springs in Banff, Palliser in Calgary and Hotel Macdonald in Edmonton – but restaurants beyond the usual tea houses are coming up with interesting afternoon teas to fill that post-lunch lull. Try the Brasserie in Calgary and modern Scandinavian Café Linnea in Edmonton for new-school versions with tiered bite-sized nibbles. Or if you’re looking for a day trip, head out to Mount Engadine Lodge for some Kananaskis-style afternoon tea featuring boards of cheese and charcuterie, and the option of a local beer instead of the traditional cuppa.
Sweet treats to go
Plenty of professionals will make you feel like local by creating delicious hot-cross buns and other Easter goodies to take with you on your travels.
Edmonton’s Canova Pasticceria is baking traditional Italian Colomba di Pasqua just in time for Easter, using old-world baking techniques in a 36-hour, eight-step process developed in part by working with bakers in Milan. The loaves are available at Safeway/Sobey’s across the province as well as at its Edmonton bakery.
Pretty Sweet in Calgary is known for their gorgeous pastel-hued cakes, tarts, funfetti cookies, dainties, baked doughnuts and macarons, perfect for accessorizing your Easter weekend with something pretty and sweet.
Sweet Capone’s Italian Bakery & Cannoli Shop in the city of Lacombe is always loaded with custard-filled cannoli (a family recipe!) as well as rum baba, amaretti and other Italian sweets that are ideal for Easter brunch, afternoon tea or dessert.
If you’re looking to upgrade from drugstore bunnies, Jacek Chocolate Couture in Edmonton (and now Canmore) has a stunning Easter chocolate lineup, from classic eggs to colour-splattered bunnies, chicks, turtles and frogs worth hunting for.
Some of the best scones in Calgary can be found at Framboise Bakery - savoury cheese to pair with your baked ham, or sweet, inspired by the bakers each morning, to pick up and bring to Easter brunch. The kouign-amann and pain au chocolat are spectacular too.
Pull-apart Hot Cross Buns
Although bakeries abound with hot cross buns at this time of year, making them yourself isn’t as difficult as it sounds - and it will make you truly part of the Alberta Easter experience.
1/2 cup lukewarm milk
1/2 cup lukewarm water
3 tbsp. sugar (white or brown)
2 1/4 tsp. active dry yeast
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 large egg
1/4 cup butter, at room temperature
1 tsp. salt
1/2 cup raisins (dark, golden or both)
1/3 cup candied citron (optional)
2 tbsp. sugar
1 tbsp. water
1/2 cup icing sugar
1 tbsp. milk or cream
1/4 tsp. vanilla (optional)
1/3 cup sugar
2 tsp. cinnamon
Put the warm milk and water in a large bowl, and sprinkle a pinch of the sugar and all of the yeast overtop; let sit for 5 minutes, until it gets foamy. Add the flour, egg, butter and salt and blend until you have a sticky dough. Add the raisins and candied citron and knead (in your stand mixer with a dough hook or by hand on a lightly floured countertop) until smooth and elastic. It should be slightly tacky. Place in a greased bowl, cover with a tea towel and let sit for an hour, until doubled in bulk.
Punch down the dough and divide it into 12 pieces - I find this easiest to do by cutting it in half, then each half in half, then each piece in three. Then take each piece and cut it into about 6 pieces - this is easy to do with a dough scraper/bench knife, and they don't all have to be equal.
Line 12 muffin tins with paper liners and spray the papers with nonstick spray. Mix the sugar and cinnamon together in a small bowl and roll each piece of dough in it to coat, then place in the tins - so you'll have about 6 pieces in each tin. Sprinkle the remaining cinnamon sugar overtop.
Cover loosely with a tea towel and let sit for another hour. Toward the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 350°F.
Bake for about 20 minutes, until golden. In a small dish, stir together the sugar and water and brush/dab over the tops of the buns while they're still warm. Stir together the icing sugar and milk or cream and drizzle over the cooled buns.