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It makes sense that most buzz-worthy restaurants are in the inner city – the more central you are, the more people you can reasonably reach – but Calgarians who live outside of the core often find themselves in search of great spots a little closer to home. While the ‘burbs have always had a decent selection of mom ’n’ pop shops and big national chains, there’s always room for more independent restaurants with a bit of wow factor. Borough Bar and Grill, the newest restaurant from the Murrieta’s Group is aiming to help fill that role in the northwest.
Borough opened earlier this summer in the University District, a smart “master-planned” neighbourhood that sits between the west end of the University of Calgary and the north side of the Alberta Children’s Hospital. The area’s main street has delivered on its promise to bring great food options to its residents, with OEB, Village Ice Cream, Banquet Bar, Monogram Coffee, and Canadian Brewhouse already open and additional phases of businesses on the way. Murrieta’s president and CEO Ron Salverda liked the feel of the development and could see its potential as a restaurant hub.
“The University District is creating a borough in Calgary that is going to be self-sustained,” Salverda says. “This isn’t like the big power centres in the suburbs. It’s active – people are walking down the streets with ice cream and walking their dogs and participating in life. I wanted to be part of that.”
Initially, the developers suggested that he open a third Murrieta’s in the University District (there’s a Murrieta’s in Canmore in addition to the downtown location), but Salverda knew that he needed to translate the Murrieta magic into a more neighbourhood-friendly joint that would equally appeal to university students and profs, hospital staff, University District homebuyers, and residents of established neighbourhoods like Varsity and Dalhousie. He came up with the idea of Borough, the name reflecting the idea that it (along with the University District itself) could create a community within a community.
Fort Architecture designed the room to highlight a sense of approachability, with plenty of wooden accents and soft surfaces to create warmth, while setting it apart from the bright whites of so many other modern restaurants. There are 134 seats inside (including a cozy lounge), but the real focal point is the 148-seat, south-facing patio that looks out onto the neighbourhood’s central park. About 40 outdoor seats are covered and heated, stretching the patio’s usefulness well into the fall and even winter months. Also of note: parking on the main street can be tight, but there is a huge public parking garage that runs underneath the restaurant and adjacent businesses with free three-hour parking (another benefit of setting up shop outside of downtown).
That sense of approachability shines through on the menu, but Salverda also put a couple of secret weapons in the kitchen. Last year he hired Daniel Pizarro (formerly of Teatro and, before that, Avec Bistro) as his corporate chef and the very talented Alejandro Buzzalino (who was most recently at Vendome) as chef de cuisine. Together the chefs take a menu that’s filled with what may look like fairly standard comfort food classics – with sections for salads, pizzas, pasta, and protein-based mains – to the next level. From appetizers like the outrageously satisfying fried artichokes ($14) to bucatini covered in a veal and pancetta bolognese ($27) and one of the juiciest half rotisserie chickens in the city ($33), everything on the menu is noticeably more flavourful and masterfully prepared than what you’d find in a seemingly similar restaurant.
The heart of the dinner menu is a section called “The Block,” featuring large-scale portions of meat and fish to be shared by three or four people, with options like a 40-oz. bone-in rib steak ($160), a salt and sugar-cured pork rack ($85), and a leg of lamb ($100). The restaurant also has a strong wine list, a given for any restaurant connected with Murrieta’s, which is broken down into sections with one by-the-glass option in each category.
Borough Bar and Grill is open daily for lunch and dinner with brunch service on Saturday and Sunday. The restaurant is located at 4011 University Ave. N.W. and can be reached at 403-210-0201 or through boroughbar.ca.
In other local restaurant news, there’s a new takeout burger option in town. Hundy Burger is a wildly popular Vancouver-based pop-up that recently opened a brick-and-mortar restaurant in Yaletown specializing in no-nonsense smash-style burgers. While Calgary doesn’t have a Hundy location that you can actually walk into, the company is now delivering to local addresses via a ghost kitchen. This means Calgarians can try the popular burgers, buttermilk fried chicken sandwiches, and poutine without having to put shoes on, let alone hop a plane to Vancouver. Visit hundy.ca for more information or to place an order (though Uber Eats).
Elizabeth Chorney-Booth can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter at @elizaboothy or Instagram at @elizabooth.