My friend, Heather, lives in the faaaar southeast side of the city, so we don’t get to hang out as much as we’d like. It seemed only fitting to make a pilgrimage down there to see her for dinner at Starbelly Open Kitchen & Lounge nearby. This place is something a little different in an area otherwise filled with chains. Known for their farm-to-table philosophy and tasty brunch, they also have a cool kid’s menu, colouring pages and booster seats!
Because of this kid-friendly approach, Heather brought her 20-month-old daughter, Isobel, to join us. From the moment Isobel walked in and started flirting with the staff, she was treated patiently and kindly by everyone in the vicinity. Typical toddler attitude was met with a great sense of humour by the waitstaff throughout the entire visit.
While Heather and I sipped Moscow mules ($7) and Isobel polished off a glass of chocolate milk, we took a minute to look around and appreciate the venue. I particularly loved the semi-sheer floor-to-ceiling curtains, which let in plenty of natural light while also allowing me to pretend we were on a trendy vacation and not adjacent to a grocery store parking lot in Calgary’s deep south. Hooped, warm light fixtures, wood finishes and cozy booths make this a pleasant place to sit and visit while watching the action in the big, open kitchen.
Isobel’s meal ($11 for a kid’s menu entrée, side and dessert) came out quickly – creamy four-cheese pasta with a side of veggies and dip. I was going to say something like “Isobel’s at the age where all these dippable foods are so perfect for her!” until I realized dippable foods are my favourite well into my adult years. Anyways, her teeth are still a little too tiny to handle the big carrot sticks that came out on the side, but the soft pasta was perfect for baby teeth and was tasty enough for an adult – not that I stooped low enough to steal pasta from a child’s plate or anything…
Heather and I shared a roasted mushroom flatbread ($14) to start with chèvre cream, smoked honey, meaty slabs of mushroom and tangy pickled shallots on a crisp and tender flatbread. They sliced it into 5 strips, which is a pet peeve of mine – why do so many appetizers come out as three or five pieces? But that didn’t end up bothering me after I tasted it because this flatbread was insanely good. Heather nailed it when she gushed that it had “so many layers of flavour”. I want to go back for the flatbread alone.
For Heather’s main, she ordered the Oceanwise Ling Cod ($29) with crisp polenta in a clam, bacon and tomato broth. Heather shared a few bites with me and I can tell you that the clams were cooked perfectly, the fish and polenta absolutely melted in my mouth and the tomato-based broth was bright and not too acidic. A very nice piece of fish!
I had the 24 Hour Brined Pork Chop ($29) with white cheddar grits, chicharon (puffed pork rind) and a smoked apple and jalapeno sauce. If jalapenos make you nervous, don’t worry – the sauce wasn’t very spicy. It was more like a zesty take on applesauce, which made for a fun twist on the classic pork-and-apples pairing. The grits were incredible and very cheesy – strings of melted white cheddar chased my fork every time I scooped up another bite. I don’t love chicharon, but it’s easy enough to find a taker at the table when you’re giving away pork rinds! As for the chop, I was surprised to find that it was a little dry around the edges considering how long it had been brined. That said, it was flavourful throughout and very juicy as I ate towards the center.
We were pleasantly surprised by a shared side brought out with our meals – an artichoke and mushroom salad. All of the truffly, earthy, tangy flavours went well with the crunchy pine nuts and fresh sprouts sprinkled overtop. I’m not usually one to go bananas for a side salad, but this wasn’t your typical bowl of limp mixed greens.
Isobel was getting a little squirmy by the time the adults were half-finished our main course, so her dessert came out right away thanks to our speedy server. The kids’ menu dessert includes three Starbelly doughnut holes with vanilla ice cream and a drizzle of salted caramel. The doughnut holes came out a little hard for her small teeth, but again, very dippable with the ice cream. Dippable foods are the best!
For our adult-sized dessert, Heather and I split a maple crème brûlée ($8). It was light, sugary and packed with warm maple flavour.
Between the relaxing decor, locally sourced ingredients, family friendly vibes, tempting happy hour deals (2 – 6 pm every day) and the delicious, creative menu items, this is a place I highly recommend and will definitely visit again soon, hopefully for their brunch! Starbelly Open Kitchen & Lounge (220, 19489 Seton Cres SE) is the fun foodie destination that suburban Calgarians deserve!