The argument for eating locally produced food is clear — sourcing food from nearby is more environmentally friendly, generally fresher, and benefits local farmers and ranchers economically — but all too often, farm-to-fork philosophies are restricted to the realm of fine dining, which doesn’t suit everyone’s tastes or pocketbooks. Chef Michael Dekker, who is best known for his time as the former executive chef at Rouge and, for the last decade, a culinary instructor at SAIT, wanted to bring the “eat local” mindset to people in a more affordable and accessible way. In his mind, the best way to do that is through the humble hamburger.
Dekker’s new restaurant, Saucy Burger, deals in the basics: burgers (in a series of different proteins), fries, and ice cream and shakes. A fast-food joint may not seem like a likely pivot from a guy who used to serve foie gras at Rouge, but Dekker had faith that he could build a better, more delicious, and more Calgarian burger joint. The chef has been quietly working behind the scenes as a consultant for companies like Edo Japan and Smitty’s over the years, so he knows the possibilities that quick service and franchised restaurants have to offer.
“I’ve always been really intrigued about franchises,” Dekker says. “I looked at my personal life and when we’re busy or on the go, there just aren’t a lot of better food options out there. I thought there was a real niche here, being able to pair local ingredients with a fast, casual concept that’s affordable. That’s essentially what we’re going for.”
Located on 17th Avenue S.W. in the former Nellie’s Cosmic Café, Saucy Burger has more in common with the vegan VBurger restaurant a block to the east than it does with an A&W or Burger King. The homey but modern space consists of a counter and a few seats (with additional patio seating outdoors), but takeout will likely dominate here. Dekker is true to his word with the local sourcing bit — the buns come from the Good Bread Bakery (and Care Bakery for a gluten-free option) and the meat is all from Prairie West Meats.
For now, Saucy’s menu is pretty simple. There are egg sandwiches and breakfast burgers in the morning before 11 a.m. ($4.99 and $6.99 respectively) and beef, turkey, and veggie burgers available after that (ranging from $7.99 to $8.49 for a single patty burger), which can be made into a combo with fries (with added toppings, should you choose). And that’s about it.
But a chef like Dekker isn’t going to put his name on a burger just because it’s made with local meat. Those buns are toasted potato rolls that just taste better than a boring old burger bun. The magic, however, really lies in the cheese sauce that comes with every burger, and is also available in a vegan form. Imagine a meltier version of Cheez Whiz (or a non-spicy nacho cheese), only made with real cheese rather than the processed stuff. It’s messy and gooey and what will set Saucy Burger apart for customers who aren’t too fussed about the local piece.
Dekker says this is only the beginning. He definitely has expansion on the brain, both in terms of more locations and a larger menu. But for now, Calgarians can be the first to try these saucy little burgers at the flagship location at 1001 17th Ave. S.W. The restaurant is open daily from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. and can be reached at 403-454-3697 or saucyburger.ca.
At the end of 2019, I named Park by Sidewalk Citizen the best new local restaurant of the year, but the pandemic struck the restaurant at a particularly inopportune time. Located in Central Memorial Park (in the tiny building that used to house Provision, and Boxwood before that), Park didn’t really get a chance to capitalize on its location over that first warm-weather season.
The restaurant was a winner from the get-go, but it’s recently undergone an update thanks to new chef Scott Mckay. Mckay has an impressive resume: he was on the opening team at Bar Von Der Fels and has since travelled extensively, working at top restaurants in Europe and serving as sous chef at the acclaimed Ikoyi restaurant in London. Now back in his hometown, Mckay has worked with the Sidewalk Citizen team to put together a new menu at Park full of fresh and delicious shareable plates like a herb-heavy oyster salad, tasty skewers of lamb or octopus, and a very mighty crab on toast.
Thomas Dahlgren, another former Bar Von Der Fels-er has put together a very nice wine list that pairs perfectly with Mckay’s dishes and there’s also a new selection of cocktails from Maya Bartha to try. The restaurant is located at 340 13th Ave. S.W. It’s open daily (except for Mondays) from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and also for dinner Wednesdays through Saturdays and from 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. Reservations can be made through sidewalkcitizenbakery.com
Elizabeth Chorney-Booth can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at @elizaboothy or Instagram at @elizabooth.