First Down(town) Food Fest : River Cafe

November 26th, 2009 by Lisa Murphy-Lamb

With the Grey Cup, Calgary is offering a chance to eat more than hotdogs and chips-or whatever Grey Cup day fare you may traditionally indulge in.  The First Down(Town) Food Fest is well under way offering Calgarians and visitors a chance to get into the game by sampling Grey Cup-inspired pre-set menus for lunch ($15), dinner ($25) or gourmet ($85).

I chose the River Café.  It’s on my running route and I like how it looks nestled on Prince’s Island.  I also like how it smells and attracts patio dwellers in the summer.  This time I made a lunch reservation for two.  But this time I didn’t need it.  There were plenty of available tables.  We got one by the window to watch the other runners, the strollers and the Canadian geese.

From the pre-set menu, my girlfriend and I began with a nice sized (small) bowl of Roasted Butternut Squash Soup with Brandied Pear Butter and Vanilla Oil garnished with roasted pumpkin seeds accompanied with homemade bread and rosemary butter.  The soup was flavourful and just the right size for lunch.  It was followed by a substantial plate of braised Diamond Willow Organic Beef Brisket, blue cheese scalloped potatoes, horseradish relish and hazelnut gremolata.  This lunch was delicious and an excellent value for $15.

However, my lunch dates and I like to add wine to our lunches and the River Cafe had a suggested wine pairing which brought our reasonable lunch bill from $15 to $33.  Oh well.  It was suggested we drink a glass of 2008 Sauvignon Blanc Chateau De Jau “JaJa” with the soup followed by a 2007 Morellino di Scansano Castello Romitorio Tuscany with the brisket.  So we did.

What I like about the River Cafe is that it invites you to come in, sit down and linger over good food and wine.  We stayed for almost two hours as did the diners around us.  It was a Wednesday lunch hour.  No one seemed in a hurry to get back to work.

As I run past in the mornings I often make a mental note to make a reservation.  The First Down(town) food fest gave me a reason to remember to.  There are many other restaurants participating until November 29.  You can find the list of  them and their menus at  When you call to make a reservation, mention that you will be dining under this event as regular menus are also available.

Sunday there will likely be chips and beer, but until then, there are still a few days to sample some fine food at some of Calgary’s best restaurants all in the spirit of the Grey Cup.

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