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Calgary is a food city. Not so a decade ago, but the local food scene has experienced exponential growth in recent years. One Vietnamese restaurant begat 1,000; the local Slow Food chapter became one of the country's biggest and most active; city chefs eagerly pioneered the use of local ingredients; and dining districts like Fourth Street Southwest and International Avenue (17th Avenue S.E.) continue to bloom.

Calgary Slop hungrily joins the greater Slop family (Vancouver, Toronto, New York) in cheerleading the greatest grub found in our respective cities. Look to Calgary Slop for news, comments, reviews and feature food stories. Calgary Slop: It's all you can eat!

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Lucky me, I scored an invite to Boxwood’s friends-and-family launch just prior to its opening night. Hotly anticipated on Calgary’s cuisine scene, the central Memorial Park restaurant is a River Café spinoff that’s been roughly a year in prep. No less than five former River Café staff members are involved in the launch of this new eatery, including executive chef Andy Bujak and up-and-coming sous chef Joy Lee.

Boxwood’s city-owned building is small and just what most of this boxy cement town ought to be built like. All bare wood, smart tiling and windows with a high ceiling, it makes great use of its park view, which includes an after-dark fountain light show.

The Boxwood cuisine concept is simple: high-end, locally sourced, seasonal and sustainable food a la its Prince’s Island mother ship but at lower cost. Apropos of its accessibility angle, Boxwood doesn’t accept reservations. I take a soon-to-be coveted end-of-bar seat and watch the open kitchen buzz. I wonder if a bucket of rustic crusts is ornamental. My server says, nope, these good lookin’ flatbreads are roasted garlic spiced crackers served with the hummus ($7).

Bujak’s menu is loaded with local meat and produce including Poplar Bluff potatoes, Sylvan Star gouda, Winter’s organic Turkey, Spragg Farm roast porchetta, Driview Farm lamb. The heart of the kitchen is its rotisserie. It not only cooks meat for evening entrées, but for Boxwood’s lunchtime Panini sandwiches. And like River Café, all the restaurant’s breads and pickles are made in-house.

With a nice glass of 2009 Montpezat merlot in hand, I order a PV Farm organic roasted chicken with tarragon and chipotle vinaigrette ($15). To this, I add farro salad with marinated feta, nectarines and arugula ($6).

The chicken, served on a rustic enamel platter, is a killer. Cooked perfectly with crisp skin, moist meat, it’s expertly seasoned and covered in herbs. The salad’s plump farro grains have a good, firm pop. The cheese is delectably sweet.

As the sun sets and the fountain lights, the eating turns to socializing. And more eating. I sample a unique bowl of mussels in broth with oven-dried tomatoes and pork (not on the menu as of this posting). There are jokes about drinking the broth after the mussels are eaten. It’s that good. Last down the hatch is a dark chocolate raspberry and caramel brownie ($5) that looks like a chocolate scone and tastes like chocolate heaven.

In my ideal world, this restaurant would overthrow the fast food chains and serve great local grub for 
cheap on every city street. Until that day comes, I’ll take my spot in line at Boxwood’s front door.


Ian Doig.

Boxwood Café at Central Memorial Park
340 13th Avenue S.W.
Calgary, Alberta
403-265-4006
Boxwood on Urbanspoon