From fun, casual eats to a more intimate dining experience, Posto and Bonterra have Italian cuisine covered
It’s no simple task to stay on a diner’s radar in Calgary, especially after the explosion of new restaurants over the past few years. At 14 years and counting, Bonterra has been a staple of the city’s dining scene without becoming stale-dated.
Much like a family getting a puppy, only to have it (playfully) nip at the heels of an older family dog, Creative Restaurants Group opened up Posto next door to their acclaimed Italian eatery in fall, 2013.
“It definitely brought a lot of energy to this location.” explains Operations Manager, John Robarts, on the buzz around Posto opening last year. “It brought some attention back to Bonterra. Bonterra has had steady growth for 14 years, but when you put a new spot next door that everyone’s excited about, it’s a good thing. It also put a bit of pressure on Glen and the team at Bonterra because all the food on the Bonterra side needed to live up to the publicity that Posto was getting. So, we’ve never been better in Bonterra as a result of it.”
One day, Robarts had caught wind that the Edo Japan franchise next door to Bonterra would be shutting down. It was then that the idea of Posto began to form, as they proceeded to take over the space and begin the overhaul to turn the fast food skeleton into a pizzeria and bar.
The finished product is a small space with a lively atmosphere. During the day, sunlight brightens up the room from the large west-facing windows. By night, the lighting is warm but dim, with the sound of many clinking wine glasses and the crackling fire inside the pizza oven.
“We had always dreamed of putting a pizza oven into Bonterra, so now had the opportunity to do so, but just next door.” says Robarts. “Being on 8th Street where there’s not a lot of places for people to stop in, have a quick glass of wine and reasonably quick food. We wanted Posto to be that, but really chef-driven.”
Robarts continues, “Because this is our smallest restaurant, we’re able to change the menu, change the wine list, change whatever we want…Our wine list is very small, we wanted to be able to update it every week, or every day even. Here, things could change when we felt like it.”
A much more casual dining experience than it’s next door neighbour, Posto offers up anything from salads to sharing plates, and clearly, pizza. Despite its more casual nature, Chef Glen Manzer still seeks to make sure the food is as equally pleasing to your palate.
“We have interesting things happening on the menu at Posto, there’s a rabbit dish that is doing really well right now and our Lamb Pizza Pop (an upscale take on the well-known convenience food), that is one of the things that people really love.” Chef Manzer says happily. “Ben Mills [Posto’s head chef] is really hitting his stride now, which is great, but we don’t want to push the cuisine too far, we just want to keep it comfortable.”
Pizza is arguably the star of the menu here, or rather, the items a table will always gravitate towards, but that doesn’t mean you can’t start out a meal here without trying some of the antipasti like swordfish bresaola or gorgonzola with wine-poached pears. Speaking of cheese, the imported burrata they use here is so soft and tender, it seems like it was taken out of a vendor’s hand in a small marketplace in Italy and jetted over here just that morning. The octopus and potato salad also makes for a great summer dish to share, with big pieces of tender octopus.
Posto’s bright blue oven is the focal point of a room filled with mild brown tones, and rightfully so as it’s the busiest piece of equipment in the space. With 10 artisan pizza creations to choose from, it’s always a good idea to head here with a group of friends so you can get a taste of the spectrum.
There’s the speck and pineapple, a refined take on the old standard ham and pineapple, squash confit with rapini and fior di latte cheese, or the potato and leek pizza with thinly sliced potatoes, creme fraiche, leeks and smoked pancetta. The latter is a selection that’s become a crowd favourite since Posto opened their doors.
“The evidence in guests enjoying our pizza is in the ‘pizza bones’.” says Robarts with a smile. “You know, the crusts left behind on the plate. Everyone will eat a piece of pizza here straight through from the toppings to the crust!”
Over at Bonterra, guests will find a much more intimate atmosphere. A bit cosier, with banquet seating, candles on the tables, and a small upper level with divided sections for anyone who wants a little more privacy with their dinner. The culinary offerings here are more of a coursed, contemporary Italian dining experience, accompanied by a more extensive wine menu as well.
Since local produce is ripening steadily this month, starting with Bonterra’s Caprese salad with heirloom tomatoes and aged balsamic is a perfect idea before moving along onto the pastas or main courses.
Whatever you end up ordering, look to the back of the restaurant where you’ll find the restaurant’spatio. Now in full bloom and greenery with two fireplaces, it’s pretty much a no-brainer that this is where you want your table to be on a warm summer’s night.
“Glen has done an amazing job over the years with keeping all our food consistent with the trends that are going on, while sticking to our basics; using quality, local ingredients and just cooking things properly.” says Robarts on keeping Bonterra a popular destination. “It’s not uptight or pretentious [here], we base it on making friends out of our guests…The room itself, it’s not fancy, it’s not slick, it’s not too polished. It’s just a good, comfortable restaurant, and I think doing the basics well for so long while keeping up with the trends in food and wine, putting forward a quality product, definitely goes a long way and makes for longevity.”
Now, with their newest restaurant, Scopa Italian, just opened on Centre Street N, there is no doubt that the two will have their hands full juggling four different concepts. So, how do they stay inspired?
“We always try to build restaurants that we’re excited to come to work at. I never want to feel like I’m headed into a ‘job’. Robarts points out. “There are a lot of influences to what we do at our restaurants, but no matter what it always has to be something that we’re interested in. The style of food that Glen wants to cook and the style of restaurant that I want to operate.”
Photos by Ingrid Kuenzel