Green grassy banks line the length of Nose Creek as it winds its way south through Airdrie’s city center. People ride bikes, push strollers, jog, board and gather on the paths and parks that flow through the city along with the creek. While cars blast past on the QE2 Highway on the east side, those who stop in know that the rest of Airdrie is a peaceful haven where they can slow down and connect with family and friends. Connecting people and places is how Airdrie got its start.
Founded in 1909, Airdrie grew up around a railway siding stop on the line connecting Calgary to Edmonton. Settler families came and stayed. Growth was originally slow. But today, Airdrie is one of Canada’s fastest growing cities. There are over 70,000 people. The trend is 6.8 people move to Airdrie every day. The city attracts newcomers from around the province, country, and the globe.
Global immigrants bring diversity and that is reflected in Airdrie’s food scene. There are multi-cultural cuisine offerings here and – erasing the idea of Airdrie as just a bedroom community – the population of mostly young families engages in the offerings morning, noon and night. One of the best places to get a taste of what’s on Airdrie’s collective plate is at the city’s weekly farmers’ market.
The Market Report
The Airdrie Farmers’ Market happens Wednesday afternoons, June to October, in Jensen Park. This is a showcase of locally grown ingredients that manifest the taste of this place. Alberta has seven signature foods – beef, bison, canola, honey, Red Fife wheat, root vegetables and saskatoon berries – and they all grow within a short radius of Airdrie.
Market patrons find Alberta’s key foods at vendors like Dietz Meats, Dalziel Bison Ranch, Slepko Apiary, Broxburn Farms, Innisfail Growers, Shirley’s Greenhouses and Fieldstone Fruit Wines. And, visitors can taste the signature foods prepared in culturally diverse ways at a rotating line up of food truck vendors too.
One nearby farm, Your Local Ranch is open for tours and anyone can shop their on-farm store for beef raised by a family with over 100 years’ experience and great respect for their land and animals. On a secluded 320 acre spread just east of Airdrie passersby might be lucky enough to see a herd of elk and bison belonging to Uncle Bernie’s All Natural Meats ranch. The Pagenkopf family has ranched here since 1987 and grows grass-finished cattle and pastured poultry. Since 2010, they are also honey producers. Uncle Bernie’s has a policy that “everyone is welcome, just call to make an appointment.” Beyond these farms and the market, Airdrie is developing as a food business hub.
The Business Report
Shauna Quinn, Tourism Development Officer for Airdrie Economic Development shares that, “Airdrie is a great place to set up a business. The city pays great attention to supporting the details that help businesses become successful. There’s also incentives like no business tax and proximity to Calgary International Airport.” This focus on attracting food businesses has been fruitful for the city. Several food businesses have started up here.
A few will even participate in Alberta on the Plate 2021. For example, Micro Acres will host a behind the scenes tour of their facility. Guests will take in rows upon rows of stacked ruby, violet and emerald microgreens sprouting to life like a living jewel box.
Meanwhile on the east side, Jam’s owner Brad Stefaniuk, a finalist in the World’s Favorite Chef contest, will also create a special offering for the festival at his happening breakfast spot. His dream is to have six restaurants like Jam’s and to create enough success so his family can build a community garden to feed Airdrie’s vulnerable. Community is always on the mind of Airdrie’s business owners.
Another startup is Maxi Foods and community is definitely one of the reasons owner Vladimir Gonzalez chose to move his family to Airdrie from Mexico via Toronto. Gonzalez makes organic tortilla chips, guacamole and dips for wholesale and retail throughout Alberta. A former chemical engineer, he left the oil patch to pursue his dream of being an entrepreneur. Now, after learning ancient techniques from his mother in Mexico City, Gonzalez brings the authentic tastes of his homeland to Alberta. With no additives or preservatives people can taste the fresh, local difference. Gonzalez has stated that the best part of being an entrepreneur is the ability to create jobs for others in the community.
Other business hub successes include: The Souper Lady. This business offers a personal chef and catering service. Skye Fire Bakery is famous for their bread and scones. They started at the local farmers’ markets before settling into a cozy spot on Main Street. And, Queen Latina Bake Shoppe brings Cuban pastries and empanadas plus Latino grocery staples to town. While these businesses have developed recently there are many more that have been local favourites for some time.
The Insider’s Report
“East Coast Pub and Eatery has a massive following for their fish and chips. Same for Flavours of Montréal – people come in droves to this Main Street staple,” says Quinn, a bonafide food lover with a long must-eat Airdrie food bucket list.
Cheryl’s Country Kitchen is a family-centric restaurant that features a Prime Rib Roast with Yorkshire Puddings every Sunday and all-day breakfast every day. Paul’s Pizza Steakhouse and Lounge has been an Airdrie staple since 1995. They are almost as famous for giving back to the community as they are for their deep dish thickly piled pizzas. Tequila and Tacos serve up traditional Mexican fare and mouth-watering Alberta beef as Bistek a la Mexicana.
Quinn says, “There’s Thai Charm Eatery for lovely, light Thai food and Nojomi is the spot for Japanese and Korean food. For my kids, their favourite is Ferraro Truly Italian for the homemade fresh pasta and stone-baked pizza. My parents like some of these places so much they come up from Calgary to eat here and sometimes they don’t even tell me.”
Long-time resident and Alberta food lover Tanya LaCoursiere shared a few of her Airdrie gems as well, “We tend to gravitate towards the small restaurants that are family owned. Paros on Main is one of our favourites. It’s been here for years, and the quality of their Greek specialties is excellent. A lovely family runs Abe’s Modern Diner over on the east side of town. Main Street Beer and BBQ is where we go for bourbon and stacks of barbecue smoked meat. Sorso started as a cafe but now provides cocktails.”
The cocktails at Sorso come from award-winning mixologist and managing partner London Richard. Trained in New York City’s Tell No One speakeasy, Richard learned from the best mixologist in NYC. Sorso keeps expanding their menu and offerings because from the outset, their goal “was to be the restaurant that the people of Airdrie dreamed about having.”
Lacoursiere also shared, “We are lucky to have a bakery the caliber of La Table Haute Pastry and we hit the Caffeinated Squirrel Food Truck for our morning jolt of coffee.” Indeed, Chef Eric Bimenyimana of La Table is a French trained pastry chef with over 20 years of experience. He uses only organic flour, almond flour, butter, fresh fruits, and chocolate. After only a few years in business, Calgary’s finest restaurants are lining up to buy wholesale from this Airdrie based artisan.
The Barley Report
Of course, wherever there is great food, great beverages are not far behind. Airdrie has three craft breweries to quench the collective thirst for local barley beverages. Fitzsimmons Brewing Co was the first. Owned Cody Fitzsimmons, it opened in November of 2017. They stated that they wanted to be the first in Airdrie because of “the sense of community” they felt here. They wanted to, “continue that and build on it.”
Balzac Brewing Co is owned by Nola and Stew Ward and opened in 2019. Their 125-seat tap room has community connection written all over it. The newest brewery, 948 (the Airdrie phone numbers all started with 948 before the addition of area codes was necessary) opened in 2020, just before the pandemic hit, and is owned by David Schroter and Kyle Wudrich. All the breweries have taprooms for people to gather and connect.
The Community Report
Connecting is what Airdrie is all about. People can connect with nature while enjoying the 140 kilometers of trails. They can connect with the power of art and culture while taking selfies and appreciating the Korean Totem Poles at Gwacheon Park. Families can connect while riding the miniature trains at Iron Horse Park. History buffs can connect with the past at the Nose Creek Valley Museum.
But best of all, people can connect through the diversity of food Airdrie has to offer. It might be over a pint of beer made from Alberta’s famous malted barley or over breakfast at Jam’s. It could be while enjoying dinner and live music at Sorso or mid-afternoon picnic of pastries and quiches from La Table. But, there’s one thing that’s certain. Along with an appetite for connecting, Airdronians have an appetite for great local food and a great appetite for life in their beloved city.
About the Author: Karen Anderson
Karen Anderson is founder and president of Alberta Food Tours. She is also a food journalist who has written for radio, television, print and new media including CBC Radio, PBS-TV, Apple Magazine, City Palate, Avenue and WestJet magazines. She’s an IPPY and Taste Canada award-winning cookbook author for A Spicy Touch – Family Favourites from Noorbanu Nimji’s Kitchen with her late Indian cooking mentor Noorbanu Nimji and a World Gourmand travel writing award winner for Food Artisans of Alberta.