Central Memorial Park offers a scenic reprieve among the skyscrapers peppering Calgary’s downtown core but burrowed even deeper within this scenic oasis is the real gem, Boxwood Cafe. The sensation that immediately floods your body walking into this cozy restaurant is similar to the warm embrace of a good friend you haven’t seen in a long time. From your toes to your nose, there’s an undeniable familiarity with a “take your coat off and stay awhile” comfortability. The intimate rustic design paired with wooden beams, menu blackboards and hum of laughter creates an oh-so welcoming farmhouse flair.
The History of Boxwood Cafe
Casual cousin to River Cafe, a historic landmark in Prince’s Island Park, Boxwood was birthed with the intention of bringing local nourishing food to everyone. When Central Memorial Park underwent renovations in September 2010, Sal Howell, owner of already thriving River Cafe, decided to embark on her next pursuit and expansion into Calgary’s food and restaurant scene. Restaurant philosophy can be centered around any number of things but for Boxwood, the cog and wheels of their operation are wholesome food and approachable prices. While River Cafe focuses more on the gastronomy of local food, at Boxwood you’ll find their focus lies on fresh and nourishing local ingredients.
In the summer months, the lush greenery surrounding the Cafe is not only beautiful and appealing to the eye but functional and appealing to the tastebuds. With a community of local and regional vendors, Boxwood takes pride in supporting their local food family by getting ingredients as close to home as possible and to supplement this produce, they even grow their own herbs and veggies in a culinary garden outside the back door!
The restaurant is known for its housemade ciabatta rotisserie sandwiches with porchetta, chicken and beef sirloin varieties all receiving rave reviews. However, vegetarians, gluten-free folk and dairy-free goers alike can rest assured knowing they’ll find delicious and extremely satisfying menu options. Red lentil hummus and carrot soup are just a few of the allergen-friendly choices at lunch as well as at least one gluten-free pasty during brunch. Organic chickpea fritters are available on sandwiches for a protein-packed vegetarian lunch or choose a bunless options for their infamous sammies. The magicians in the kitchen at Boxwood are even working to create a gluten-free ciabatta that tastes as delicious as the original. In the meantime, quinoa crackers, roasted chickpeas as well as flavourful salads, soups and stews with wholesome grains, legumes and veggies are sure to keep you satiated!
Our dining experience at Boxwood was nothing short of delicious. The tasting menu eliminated the dreaded burden of choosing what to order and allowed us to taste so many of the menu favourites. We began by sharing the Crispy Chickpeas and Marinated Olives. The olives and brine were unbelievably tasty with rustic charm as they were delivered to the table in a small mason jar and sourced from the local Farmers’ Market. The perfect pairing of crispy chickpeas with the plump olives gave a nice crunch to the appetizer combo. The legumes take on a completely different texture and flavour when roasted, leaving hints of cumin and pumpkin dancing on my palate.
Another sharing item we had the privilege of enjoying was the Spiced Quinoa Crackers and Red Lentil Hummus. Again served in a mason jar, the hummus disappeared almost as quickly as it was served! In my opinion, garlic is the key to great tasting hummus and this definitely did not disappoint. With hints of cumin, this middle eastern dip was very appetizing with the housemade crackers. They really were crisps of epic proportion as they towered from the tin pail in which they were housed, just begging to be cracked in half (or quarters!) and shared. It gave new meaning to “breaking bread” as we continued to dine and joined in the regale that painted the room.
Next up was the Kale and Honeycrisp Apple Salads, and notably, one of the best kale salads I have ever eaten. This salad is exactly the way a raw winter vegetable dish should be, hearty and filing, riding the playful edge between dense and delicate. Dinosaur kale can be coarse and gritty, but the brassica was massaged to perfection resulting in an exceptionally mild, subtle and soft flavour. The sweet pieces of honeycrisp apple fit the seasonal bill and in combination with the maple vinaigrette, provided a sweet tanginess without overpowering the taste of the vegetables themselves. The thoughtfulness of the salad was evident as the ricotta salata softened almost instantly onto the lips and was offset by the crunchy toasted pumpkin seeds.
When our main course arrived, the gentle reminisce of Grandma’s Sunday Dinner wafted through the air in anticipation of taking our first bites from a plate of roasted vegetables. Many of the farm names are listed on the Boxwood menu itself and this dish in particular happen to come from Poplar Bluff Farms in the neighbouring community of Strathmore. Carrots, beets and Brussel sprouts were served up with a romesco sauce of roasted red pepper, tomato and pumpkin seeds. With a hint of dill on the veggies and flavours that balanced each other so well, this would easily be a dish I could come back for time and again.
Served with the vegetables was the Rotisserie Lamb Leg from Driview Farms. Located in Southern Alberta they have been raising and providing hormone-free, preservative-free lamb for 35 years. The quality of the lamb was apparent through its succulence, tenderness and flavour. Served over a white bean and black eyed pea cassoulet with fennel lamb sausage, it capped off the warming meal wonderfully. The plating was simple and unpretentious. The food, delicious without strain.
So next time you’re in the downtown area of Calgary, Canada, overwhelmed by the hustle and bustle of big business and traffic, take a stroll to the Park and take a breather at Boxwood to enjoy nourishing food that warms the soul no matter the season!
Did you love this restaurant review? Love knowing where all the healthy spots in town are to eat? We do too! Breanne Shellian is a Calgary-based holistic nutritionist and conscious living advocate who helps people rediscover the joy of living life deliciously. Writing delicious reviews for The Naked Label is just one of the many ways she does this. We love Breanne’s empowerment and want you to check her out! Click here.
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