River Cafe, Calgary

It seems I was blessed enough to experience the River Cafe in Calgary twice over the holiday break. Once as a team outing and once as an early New Year’s dinner.

Located on Prince’s Island Park, this unique restaurant gives you interesting, rustic, Canadian, and fine dining all in one shot. They’re allergy aware and serve perfectly portioned meals (small). Walking through the park to get to the restaurant (amongst snow, trees and people skating on a pond) adds to the Canadian ambiance.

The thing that struck a real chord with me is the true focus on Western Canadian product. Rabbit, trout, elk, bison, and B.C. salmon are on the menu; everything else is made in house, in Calgary, in Alberta, or is B.C. grown — even the soap in the bathroom comes from a local company.

Most restaurants have a “theme” but only stick with their theme on the surface. It’s akin saying “I’m outdoorsy” because “I shop at MEC” but have never skied, camped, hiked, or spent any significant time outdoors.

We debated the history of the River Cafe building for part of dinner. The place looks like a boat house, however, dP (being from Calgary) thought it looked like a concession stand. He must have some childhood memory of the building, because that’s exactly what it was. From their website:

In the summer of 1991, we set about transforming an aging park concession on Calgary’s Prince’s Island. River Café began as a small full service café, operating summer only, with just a roof sheltering the tables from the elements. In 1995, we transformed the open air space, enclosing it with windows and walls to expanded the seating and operate year-round. We repurposed found materials and worked with local artists.

The island that houses the restaurant has its own history. Prince’s Island is named after Peter Prince, the so-called lumber baron of Calgary, the manager of the Eau Claire Lumber Mill, and founder of the Calgary Water and Power Company. Prince carved out a nice living for himself on the island, and subsequently a little chunk of land close by on which he built a 3300 square foot house (now located at Heritage Park). I always joke that there’s a children’s story lurking in that house: Peter Prince and his Four Brides.

Food below: the meat posing with broccoli is elk. The meat posing with mashed potatoes is bison. The salad is the Heritage Greens appetizer. Reservations can be made online.

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