Waalflower Kitchen & Cocktails
Location: 24 4 St NE, Calgary
Cuisine: Globally inspired, but Italian leaning
Atmosphere: Warm and inviting
Drinks on offer: Main emphasis on cocktails, some wine and beer
Best bets: Blanc de blanc pizza, greens pizza, gardener’s tonic and smoked pina colada
Vegetarian friendly? Yes
Additional information: Also offers weekend brunch and happy-hour pricing all day on Mondays.
It’s hard to know what exactly constitutes a “cursed location” when it comes to the restaurant world, but the space that Calgary’s Waalflower inhabits, near the intersection of Edmonton Trail and Memorial Drive, feels as though the odds are against it.
I’m not sure what it is, possibly lack of foot traffic or the never-ending stream of cars outside, but it seems hard to draw people into this space. (For what it’s worth, most people do not realize that there is both free street parking and a free parking lot available for this restaurant.)
As the third Vintage Group concept in this space the past two or so years, this contemporary eatery is somewhat refreshing in the sense that its interior is surprisingly welcoming.
Warm tones of rust-coloured walls, white shelves, exposed brick and plenty of natural light gives the restaurant a comfortable feel. Flying solo at the bar, on a date or with your kids for dinner, the dining room layout can provide an ideal spot for all.
The cocktail program delivers some interesting creations, such as the smoked pina colada, which has smoked pineapple-infused rum, creamed coconut syrup, cold-pressed pineapple and lime juice. The gardener’s tonic is created using both snap pea-infused vodka and English pea-infused gin along with hay, hops, bitter lemon, violet liqueur and butterfly pea flower for that purple-to-pink transformation effect. Herbaceous, floral and refreshing, it may not be for all palates, but it was certainly for mine.
The bad news is that the hits stop coming after the cocktails hit the table.
The majority of the culinary creations I tried here on my two separate visits were not overly memorable. The chickpea fritters with cilantro yogurt taste as though they came from an unseasoned mix out of a box. Likewise, the charred broccoli with blobs of harissa aioli, chickpeas and “crispy bits” – which tasted like the leftover bits of batter left in a deep-fryer for hours – seemed to cry out for attention. Attention, in this case, meaning salt and acidity.
We did fare slightly better with the lamb tartare, a combination of diced lamb meat with pickled beets, garlic yogurt and watercress, but the deep-fryer remnants that topped the broccoli also made an unappealing appearance here as well.
On a second visit, I decided to try the carrots in hopes that I’d finally find an appetizer worth recommending. Large chunks of unseasoned carrots arrived in a cast-iron skillet with dollops of yogurt, a drizzle of chermoula and some sunflower seeds. Hard to bite through, it tasted as though the carrots had been lightly blanched at best.
One bite was certainly enough.
The last disappointing dish was Waalflower’s tagliatelle with mushrooms and oxtail ragout. Unfortunately, it tastes like something one could make at home on a lazy Saturday afternoon and in a lazy way, not in a “made with love” Nonna-type approach.
When I come back to Waalflower to dine, I know now to only order its pizzas. Perhaps more similar to a flatbread in its dough preparation and cooking style, the crispy-edged, oddball-topping pies deliver consistently.
The Merguez comes topped with beef merguez sausage, harissa honey and grated halloumi. The flavour combination is sound, save a bit too much honey and seeing as halloumi is known for its inability to melt, it does seem strange to have to finely grate it onto a pizza, but I’ll happily bite into this if it will help me forget about that broccoli.
Then there’s the greens pizza, made with sunflower-seed pesto, crispy kale, arugula, spinach and fior di latte. Again, a traditional pizza by no means, but after eating this greens-heavy dish on two occasions, I can say it’s my favourite dish I’ve had here. It’s the most delicious, healthyish pizza you’ll find in Calgary.
After winding down at dinner here one night, we opted to try the homemade chocolate-chip cookies as well as the sticky-toffee pudding. To me, sticky-toffee pudding is synonymous with winter menus, but at this point, I just want not to overthink things and end the meal with something that just tastes good. Both are satisfactory, with the cookies having a slight edge, laden with gooey deposits of warm chocolate.
For all of its shortcomings with the menu, Waalflower is still a restaurant I’d enjoy a casual drink and bite at with a friend or two. I’ll likely just stick to sharing a pizza though.