There really aren’t many places like Boxwood Cafe. At first glance, you’d think a restaurant in a park would be seasonal. You know, shutting down in the late fall and opening its doors in the spring when the snow melts away. Well, ‘seasonal’ could very well be used to describe Boxwood in terms of their local, sustainable menu, but they are anything but a fair-weather establishment. Rest assured, this little Beltline gem, nestled into the back of Central Memorial Park near the corner of 13th Avenue and 4th St SW, pleases Calgarians’ palates year-round.
“Location, location, location. I was definitely attracted to the opportunity here because of the setting. It’s beautiful.” explains owner, Sal Howell, who decided to open up the beltline park destination back in 2010. “You can see the downtown through this gorgeous landscaped area with these beautiful fountains, the flowers…It’s one of the more formal gardens in the city. Anyway, it’s gorgeous!”
Howell is right, the park and seasonal weather changes we have here in Calgary are a perfect fit for her concept. As the temperature begins to drop in the coming fall months, the cafe will become extra cosy, the park (eventually) covered in soft white snow, the perfect juxtaposition to the warm wood-accented interior inside. Whether you’re coming in with a group of friends, or just popping by during the lunch hour and grabbing a seat at their polished, reclaimed wood bar, you will feel right at home here.
On the surface, Sal’s two cafés, River and Boxwood, may seem quite different, but they share base principles when it comes down to the cuisine. Howell explains, “They are different models. This is much more casual [here]. You know, drop in/casual/come often/grab something to go…Whereas River Café is definitely more of a destination. So, the style of service has to be a little bit different. But, the culinary philosophy in our passion for local, regional, seasonal ingredients, and our interest in growing food, is the same.”
Andrew Winfield, Executive Chef of both Boxwood and River Café, furthers Sal’s point, explaining his approach to the menu in a more casual environment. “We try to develop things that mix together, simple flavours, great techniques. Focusing more on the ingredients and the quality, and not doing much to them.”
A great example of keeping things beautifully simple is Winfield’s Burrata and Peppers dish, made with local peppers, a rich tapenade and cheese from White Gold. “It’s one of the dishes that’s great to have in [here]. Local peppers, creamy burrata.” Winfield continues, “[The cheese] is a handmade item. It comes from Frank Fiorini at White Gold and he does a great job of it. He sources his milk…everything about it!”
Behind Boxwood lays their fantastic urban garden where chefs can pop in and out of the restaurant and pick fresh greens and edible garnishes to be enjoyed by their patrons, literally within seconds. “It has a really interesting microclimate, actually, all to itself.” Howell adds. “It’s on the south side of the building and we’re growing and harvesting greens, spinach, etc…well before most people are planted. It’s really warm and sheltered.”
When the garden eventually closes for the season and the backdoor greens are gone, Howell and Winfield are looking forward to seeing how their current green project benefits their gardens next season. “We’re piloting this new project that is ‘from farm to table, from table to farm’. We’ve always composted our vegetable waste to a site, but now we’re working with our gardener to send almost all of our compostable materials here directly to his composting site, which returns nutrient soil back to our actual garden. I don’t know anyone else that is doing that.”
While River Café will always remain one of top locations in the city for a one-of-a-kind fine dining experience, Boxwood has a few features that its older sister does not. “You wouldn’t think of River Café to pick up some take out on the way home…Here, it’s always easy to pull up nearby.” says Howell of the Boxwood’s central location. “All of our salads travel well, and our chicken dinner to-go…Anyway, it’s such a wonderful thing and better than a home cooked meal because there’s more diversity of ingredients that come in your package. I like the accessibility and the portability of the food here.”
While there’s still time this month, everyone should be taking advantage of Executive Chef Andrew Winfield’s menu and (hopefully) our Indian Summer-style weather. I’m not talking about their patio, folks, I’m talking about bringing a blanket, ordering some dishes like the cafe’s popular rotisserie chicken and earthy lentil hummus with house-made crackers, then nestling into a cosy, green spot in the heart of Central Memorial Park. If picnics aren’t your thing, swing by on a Sunday evening for one of Boxwood’s ‘Sunday Supper’ experiences; a community dinner with a collection of dishes that changes from week to week. At only $35, for more than a generous amount of courses, it will leave you and your friends feeling happily full – and your wallet too, for that matter.
Photo by Ingrid Keunzel