- Alumni Sandwich & Liquor Bar
- Location: 725 17 Ave. SW, Calgary
- Phone: 403-455-7255
- Website: alumnisandwiches.com
- Price: $5-$13
- Cuisine: Sandwiches and cocktails
- Atmosphere: Comfy and funky
- Drinks on offer: Great cocktail list
- Best bets: Tuna salad, double burger, rosemary beef dip, devilled eggs, apple pie
- Vegetarian friendly? Yes.
- Additional information: Open daily until 11 p.m. and 1 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays
I love a good sandwich.
Then again, who doesn’t like a good sandwich? Whether it’s something as simple as the slathering of peanut butter topped with homemade raspberry jam, lovingly squished together between two slices of soft, white bread or the open-face tuna-salad sandwich with ginger cilantro aioli and whisps of marinated fennel and radish, such as I recently devoured at Alumni, there is always a level of familiarity that comes with this classic dish in whatever shape or form.
Despite an across-the-board sandwich love, Calgary hasn’t had an interesting, sit-down sandwich shop open up in years. Let’s be clear that I have had plenty of good sandwiches at restaurants, cafes and bakeries around town, but a sandwich shop specifically? Outside of the mom-and-pop classics such as Pepino’s and a more recent, adequate franchise of Vancouver’s Meat & Bread chain, where’s a guy to find a great sandwich?
Labelling this funky little diner on 17th Avenue SW (across the road from Trolley 5) as simply a ‘sandwich shop’ does a mild disservice as the attention to detail that runs from the noteworthy design of the room, which boasts a burgundy and mustard colour scheme, to the surprisingly varied menu of small plates, salads, sandwiches and relatively intricate cocktails – well, for a diner anyway – is commendable.
From open-to-close, the menu doesn’t fluctuate, but the atmosphere notably does. Over the lunch hour, you watch people come and go, grabbing to-go orders from the bar. You know, the regular hustle and bustle of a lunchtime crowd. The natural light coming in from the street highlights all of Sarah Ward Interiors’ thoughtful accents, such as the speckled tile along the bar and its big sandwich-board art above it. Floor tiles of alternating dark grey, off-white and burgundy are worth gazing at, too. Is it just me or are restaurants really improving their floor-tile game these days?
I sat with friends dunking house-made potato chips into a sweet-and-salty charred onion dip before bites of a mouthwatering chicken parmesan ciabatta sandwich, crispy, topped with gooey provolone, marinara and a finely chopped kale (properly) marinated in a lemon dressing. The marinara makes for a bit of a mess, but appropriately and saucily so.
Evenings offer a completely different vibe.
Tucked into a booth that’s outlined in wooden paneling and looking over to the west wall bar with leather swivel stools, the diner-feel definitely exists here at Alumni, but at night, with its subdued lighting and background playlist turned up just a little louder, it’s the kind of spot that you know you want to stick around in. Have a sandwich or two, of course, but a drink or two as well.
Outside of four draft and close to 20 bottled-beer options, the cocktail program here surprises with its creativity and consistency. Most of the classics, such as the Manhattan and the Boulevardier, make appearances here, but look to something a bit more interesting such as the Oaxaca Old Fashioned made with a mix of tequila, mezcal, agave, bitters and orange zest for a drink that’s stiff, yes, but welcomed on a cool late summer’s night.
The barkeeps here can also whip up two craft zero-proof drinks, “Tea time” (made with green tea, ginger beer, lemon and cinnamon) and “Prickly melon” (watermelon, grapefruit, jalapeno and mint), which ring in at $4 and are definitely a non-drinker’s dream come true.
Fried artichoke hearts that are slightly over-battered and gummy with thyme aioli and four fully piped, indulgently rich deviled eggs finished with a sprinkling of breadcrumbs and crispy piece of bacon set the stage for a smattering of sandwiches and burgers for my friends on a recent evening here.
Alumni’s take on a classic cheeseburger, double-stacked with American cheese on a pillowy sweet brioche bun and the regular fixings, is top notch. I challenge you to find a better classic burger on the 17th Avenue strip.
Yes, those are fighting words.
Other options such as the uber-cheesy, but not overly flavourful, grilled-cheese sandwich with its strange beet ketchup, or the basic avocado toast, don’t hit home runs as do any of the aforementioned creations, so have no guilt in skipping them over. However, the beef dip makes up for the disappointment of the other sandwiches on this particular evening. An incredible rosemary jus is worth dipping into again and again and again to allow the lightly toasted hero roll and thin shavings of roast beef soak up its savoury nectar.
A small, near-perfectly prepared apple pie brings the night to close. Drenched in dulce de leche and finished with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, the tender and slightly tart apple filling with buttery crust surrounding it, is a dessert worth fighting over. Perhaps just order two.
Now that we’re heading into fall and there’s not many new restaurant concepts on the horizon for the tailend of 2018, I am comfortable in saying that Alumni has been the most interesting eatery that Calgary has seen this calendar year.