Charcut

Meat me in Calgary

Judge Foodie ventures to Cow Town for her first national review
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Judge Foodie ventures to Cow Town for her first national review
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Charcut Roast House
101, 899 Centre Street SW, Calgary | 403.984.2180 | charcut.com


Full disclosure: I am from Calgary. This means that the smell of roast beef is to me what Chanel No. 5 was to Coco. I was raised around the intoxicating aroma of sirloin and growing up, I ate so much local food that I was on a first-name basis with my dinner (I still have fond memories of Peeps, my chicken).

It’s not surprising, then, that I enjoyed Charcut, a Calgary roast house helmed by Top Chef Canada 2011 runner up Connie DeSousa and her business partner John Jackson. Is it adventurous cuisine? No. But it’s basic cuisine done exceedingly well.

Charcut is located on “roast beef row” (also the home of Chicago Chop House and Saltlik) close to the Calgary Tower on a renovated pedestrian avenue. The air is heady with the smell of BBQ as we approach. Quebeckers and Toronto urban sophisticates take note: it’s not pronounced shar-coot — it’s char-cut, as in, “I will first char that, then I will cut it.”

It’s a busy night, and the crowd is mixed — some business types, some pre-theatre folks. There’s a small bar area and an after-work crowd of men watching a game. I peruse the wine list and am impressed by the depth of the selection. Even more impressive is the beer list, featuring a wide range of craft and cellar brews.

The menu is family style. There is a choice of grilled meats that you select, along with some sides, and the whole thing arrives at your table on a large cutting board from which people load their own plates. This might not be appropriate for all client entertaining, but I notice that some tables are made up of Calgarians impressing out-of-town business colleagues with this uniquely Albertan experience.

My guest and I start with warm olives with fennel pollen and lemon preserve ($6). The deep flavour and refreshing zest make this one of my favourite ways to eat olives. After conferring with our server about portion size, my dinner guest and I opt for the spit-roasted prime rib, which comes with roasted garlic and horseradish  ($4.50 per ounce, minimum 8-ounce order) and the slow-roasted heritage chicken, served with pickled fennel and apple- and house-cured bacon (quarter $19; half $27).

Our final choice is the pork belly with aged cheddar grits, arugula pistou and green beans ($27). The menu reads “pork belly (served pink)” and I like the non-negotiable nature of this description. No fancy eastern claptrap about the customer always being right. Here, the people roasting the meat are the experts, and you’re expected to trust that expertise.

Our sides are duck fat-fried poutine ($8); smashed potatoes with sour cream, rosemary and house-smoked bacon ($8); and to cleanse our arteries, a chopped romaine salad with a cucumber-mint yogurt dressing ($12).

A vegetarian could get by here, but make no mistake, this place is about flesh, both in menu and milieu. Board after board piled high with meat exits the kitchen, shuttled to and fro by servers against the backdrop of a mural of a placid grazing cow (Albertans see no irony in this: cows are food).

Our board arrives at last, stacked with meat. It’s all pre-sliced to make things easier and, just in case you think you’re supposed to admire the plating and Instagram the experience, a large cutting knife has been stabbed into the centre of board. The message is clear: get down to business.

How does one review meat? There’s really not much to say except that all of it is done superbly. It is tender, succulent and beautifully roasted. The sides are equally well done. The salad is an excellent choice, with the crisp green leaves and minty yogurt providing a respite for the palate. The duck fat poutine is a mistake — not because it isn’t excellent (it is), but because halfway through the meal we realize that neither of us needs duck fat or cheese curds. Or dessert, for that matter.

The servers are affable and attentive, with a firm grasp on the menu. Charcut is nostalgic comfort food that also reflects a commitment to quality local ingredients and accomplished culinary skill. There is no pretense here: the chef-owners have wisely and unapologetically stuck to the thing they do well, and in doing so, have created an outstanding restaurant experience.


Judge Foodie’s verdict

Highs: meat
Lows: family style approach may not be for everyone; vegetarians will find the menu and milieu challenging


Kirsten Thompson is a Toronto-based research lawyer and commercial litigator. Since her call to the bar in 2000, she estimates that her restaurant to courtroom ratio has been approximately 14:1. Thoughts? Comments? Ideas for a review? Email her. Follow Judge Foodie on Twitter: @Judge_Foodie