There are plenty of restaurants in Airdrie; a small (but steadily growing) town North of Calgary. Many are mediocre chain type places that serve quick, efficient, but not necessarily tasty dishes. In recent years, Airdrie has become a bit of a ‘hub’ for American chains like Five Guys Burgers and Fries and Nathan’s Hot Dogs but there are also some really outstanding ethnic restaurants such as Paros On Main, Sushi Haru, and Thai Charm. What the town was really missing was a comfortable yet upscale spot with a menu that features all the best seasonal produce and proteins from local farmers and producers. Hayloft Restaurant’s Owner/General Manager, James Hoan Nguyen, wanted to pay homage to the agricultural history of the area as well as recognizing the potential in Airdrie’s close proximity to prairie farmlands. He found a chef, Jason Barton-Browne, who has the ability to take these simple, yet top quality ingredients and transform them into uncomplicated dishes with world class flavours. Truly having an appreciation for quality and sustainability, coupled with cultivating relationships with local farmers and producers, are of utmost importance in giving diners the ultimate experience of regional cuisine.
Recently I had the great fortune to be invited to Hayloft for a special dinner involving wild foraged mushrooms. I didn’t have all the information (because I was actually a plus one) so when I heard this special dinner was the kick-off to an entire educational weekend (sponsored and mediated by The Lodgepole School of Wholistic Studies) that celebrated the world of Fungi, I was ecstatic! All day Saturday, there were to be medicinal mushroom workshops led by the wonderful folks at the Light Cellar in Calgary and renowned Edmonton herbalist Robert Rogers. Sadly, I wasn’t able to attend the Saturday sessions, but hubby and I went on the Sunday mushroom foray led by Robert and we were amazed with the diversity and knowledge that was shared that day. I’m going to do a separate post on the forage, along with a recipe for mushroom hand pies just because there is so much information to share.
Here are (more than) a couple of my thoughts on Hayloft Restaurant. This being a special event, I cannot comment on the regular menu items, but I will say that the dinner we experienced has definitely left me wanting to return for more.
The restaurant is somewhat difficult to find as it’s located within a condo complex but once you’ve enjoyed your first meal at Hayloft, you’ll be glad you didn’t give up. Throughout the restaurant, the gorgeous heavy wood features like the front door (with the iron cow’s head bell) and the re purposed barn wood which decorates the main bar and kitchen pass come from the family homestead. There are country touches throughout, like an old wood wash stand which has been given new life as a record player stand, vintage mismatched china, and prairie flower arrangements. It’s just enough to make you feel like you are visiting your gran on the farm, but without the kitschy candy dish filled with 2 year old humbugs.
Drawing on his executive chef experience at Teatro Restaurant, Jason Barton-Browne began the dinner with an Italian favourite, arancini. These glorious deep fried balls of rice and cheese were a perfect vehicle to showcase our first mushroom of the night, the morel. Nestled on top of crushed sweet peas and mint, they were surely a sign of good things to come.
Our next dish consisted of handmade cauliflower and mushroom tortellini over which a light mushroom and onion broth was poured. Light green drops of cilantro oil dotted the surface of the dish, enlightening the dish visually and lending a bright finishing note to the the flavour.
The Lobster Mushroom salad was served ‘family style’ on a large platter. The perfectly sautéed mushrooms had an intense seafood flavour, which was heightened by the snowy white salt cod purée below. The fresh mizuna greens were lightly dressed and added a bit of bitterness to the dish. I think people often discount how much adding a bitter element to dishes can really make a dish spectacular. Some of our dining party used the puffed wild rice crisps to scoop up the salt cod purée, while others decided that licking the platter was more effective.
Our second ‘family style’ platter was heaping full of JBB’s amazing hand cut pappardelle. This tomato-free pork ragu had so much flavour, I was sad that I had to share it with my table mates. Pork ragu can be so rich and intimidating…it definitely needs an acidic element such as tomatoes or, in this case an acidic, but fresh gremolata. We enjoyed the tiny Saskatchewan chanterelles with a generous amount of shaved Mountain Grana Padano, and fresh pea shoots.
With yet another large family style placed before us, I was starting to feel a bit overindulgent. However, I wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity to try braised Maitake ‘Chicken of the Woods’ mushrooms for the first time. They were so meaty and delicious; the perfect wild mushroom to serve with grilled garlic scapes, roasted carrots, and perfectly seared Alberta beef sirloin.
Of course, it’s not the end of a great meal…until dessert is served. I bet you are wondering if our dessert contained mushrooms and how…that would taste. Well, I’m pleased to say that yes, our dessert did contain mushrooms and it was very tasty, indeed. Dried and ground porcini mushrooms were mixed into the layer of chocolate ganache which sat upon the layer of cheesecake semifreddo. This dessert was rich and surprisingly, I didn’t mind the rich umami flavour that the porcini provided. It was all really well balanced by the dark sour Okanagan cherries and the port.
Hayloft Restaurant may be a bit of a drive from the usual Calgary city core hangouts but getting out of the city and enjoying a this bit of country flavour is worth it.
Hayloft Restaurant – website
5101 – 403 Mackenzie Way SW; Airdrie AB; 403-980-8123