Alberta is meat country. Ask anyone on the streets of Calgary and Edmonton what their favourite food is, and they’ll likely say beef. Failing that, pork, lamb, chicken, turkey, duck, ostrich, boar, and just about anything that isn’t green or made from soy is probably next in line. And there’s a good reason for Alberta’s meat propensity. Alberta beef is some of the finest in the world, and in many parts of the province, especially the far north, hunting and fishing remain a way of life. However, there is a real need and desire for high-end vegan and vegetarian cuisine in the province, especially in Calgary, its cosmopolitan core. Now that chef Adam Ryan’s Fire & Flora has opened with aplomb, all those Torontonians and Vancouverites talking about making the big move to the Prairies might finally up and go, even if they’re unsure they’ll be able to handle the hardship of doubling their space at half the price.
Located in an unassuming unit at the corner of 11th Avenue and 2nd Street, a part of the District at Beltline’s burgeoning food amenities, Fire & Flora is in the thick of Calgary’s dining scene. The tidy 48-seat room features murals of the underside of mushrooms on its walls and, at the front door, a wall made of mushrooms growing on shelves. Grown entirely within the restaurant—an experiment that Ryan is quick to note will be “interesting” in Calgary’s frigid winters—the mushrooms are available to diners, who can enjoy the fungi of their choosing as a “whole roasted” dish featuring accoutrements.
Beyond the in-restaurant agriculture, local and seasonal ingredients drive Ryan’s ambitiously malleable menu. The rhubarb in the wasabi-drizzled rhubarb tartare, a risqué take on the gluttonously bovine dish, is the last of the season. On the other hand, the Taber corn and Okanagan peaches in the Mexican-influenced adobo roasted Taber corn were right on schedule, and both sang when combined with the slaw and yogurt sauce.
The two standout dishes—the buttermilk fried cauliflower and the grilled baby cucumbers—starkly diverge in familiarity. The former, a simple plate of fried cauliflower drizzled in a decadent ginger molasses glaze, clearly and admirably harkens to ginger beef, a Prairie Chinese staple that is believed to have originated in Calgary. It might be a minor miracle that the Ontarian Ryan was able to so succinctly replicate the experience of ginger beef considering he maintains he’s never had a single bite of it. The grilled baby cucumbers with myriad syrups, sauces, and purées dolloped on top is a potent reminder that culinary innovation is possible in plant-based cuisine. The gentle char on the partially pickled cucumbers brings out a sweetness that is further amplified by the dill and garlic eggplant purée and the birch syrup.
The drinks menu at Fire & Flora is appropriately simple—even if plant-based cuisine deserves equal limelight, the flavours remain gentle and more easily overpowered by outside influence. The wine list features plenty of local sips, prominently showcasing wines from West Kelowna’s the Hatch winery. And if a cocktail is in order, pleasant fruity twists on the classics. The rhubarb lilac spritz, apricot margarita, and black cherry sour all take tried-and-true cocktail formulas and freshen them with hints of the garden—the perfect complement to a meal at the most exciting new vegetarian restaurant in Canada’s carnivore capital.
Photography by Kris Andres.