It was my mom’s birthday a few weeks ago (ok, almost a month ago, I’m in the weeds!) so I made a reservation at her favourite restaurant, Red Deer’s Westlake Grill at Heritage Ranch. This has obviously forever secured my place as her favourite child. Sorry, Kirsten.
For the uninitiated, Heritage Ranch is an adorable spot at the edge of Red Deer where you can check out trails on horseback or book a festive sleigh ride in the winter. It also connects directly to Red Deer’s gorgeous parks and trail system. Perhaps most importantly, it’s where you’ll find Westlake Grill!
I’ve been here a couple of times with Mom and Ernie now and what I’ve learned when dining with them is that ordering the Ranch-cut Alix Farm chips ($17.50) with a trio of house made sauces is non-negotiable. Alix chips pair perfectly with any beverage, especially the refreshing cucumber water we were served all night!
My favourite dip is the pinkish one on the right – it’s a saskatoon berry aioli. SO addictive. I want to slather that on everything. The chips came out crispy, salty and oily as they should be. I could eat several large piles of these chips, especially with the saskatoon dip.
We also ordered a baked goat cheese ($17) for the table and opted for sourdough instead of a second helping of Alix chips. The portion of actual cheese felt small and was swimming in a comparatively large pool of tomato sauce that was too runny to portion onto our plates very easily. For a party of 6 people and a fairly large skillet of liquid, there were only seven small rounds of sparse (but delicious) sourdough. We may have had better luck if we’d ordered the chips instead, but it still would have felt a lot like dipping potato chips into marinara.
The amuse bouche was berry amuse-ing on this occasion. We each received a small spear of pickled berries, which was an unexpected and refreshing bite before our mains.
Mom, Brad and I ordered the Innisfail lamb chops ($44) with saskatoon mint gastrique, rosemary mashed potatoes and a pea and mint purée. I can’t resist ordering savoury dishes that incorporate saskatoon berries. This dish had a lot of great flavours going on and the lamb, while slightly overdone and challenging to cut, was quite tasty. The “gastrique”, usually a reduced, vinegar-based drizzle, was quite thick with more of a pudding-like consistency and it was stickily sweet. It had a rich saskatoon flavour, but the cloying sweetness and high viscosity didn’t work as well with the chops as we had hoped. The rosemary mash, meanwhile, was incredible and the big pile of asparagus and roasted root vegetables were great too. I also really liked the freshness of the pea and mint purée as a break from all of the bigger flavours.
Kirsten (the second-favourite child, remember?) ordered the seafood special, which turned out to be salmon in a Cajun rub under a big pile of pineapple and berry salsa. Served with rice and root vegetables, this was a really nice, fresh dish. I tried to press her for more details, but her mouth was full.
Ernie ordered the bison burger ($23) with with saskatoon BBQ sauce (!!!), bacon, lettuce, tomato and a garlic herb aioli with a side of Alix chips, of course. He said it was cooked perfectly and was quite juicy. He’s a man of few words when he’s enjoying his food, so it was easy to tell this was a hit based on the silence from that end of the table.
Matt ordered the spiced rum-injected wild boar chop ($42). The chops were big, moist and smothered in an apple bacon onion chutney (can you say that three times fast?). Matt and I split the lamb and boar chops and while I preferred the flavour of the lamb, the boar was definitely easier to eat and a bit juicier. It came stacked up with the same sides of rosemary mash and root veggies so Matt and I didn’t have to fight over those delicious carbs. I would definitely order this one again!
Despite being stuffed from dinner, we had to finish off the meal with a few shared desserts to complete the birthday celebration. Mom and Ernie split a salted caramel chocolate mousse ($8) and absolutely loved it – with all those elements, how could you not? I love the pretty plating at this restaurant and the mousse is an adorable example.
Kirsten, Brad, Matt and I split two orders of the sticky toffee pudding ($16 each) with rum caramel sauce. It came out on a piping hot skillet and was flared tableside with Grand Marnier. (You’re welcome for the muted video where you don’t get blasted with a sizzle followed by all of us grunting our approval).
The flavours in the caramel sauce were rich and wonderful, but the cake itself was a little dry and seemed to get drier as the course went on because of the hot skillet. Next time I think I’ll try the saskatoon pie instead (or just ask for a soup bowl full of rum caramel sauce and a spoon).
The ambiance and service at Westlake Grill are so nice that it’s easy to see why this is a popular destination for Valentine’s Day and other special occasions. It’s definitely a good venue for dinner after a walk by the river. Their menu is delicious and elegant, but be aware that the execution may not always be perfect. The price point is quite high for what it is and for Red Deer in general, but I don’t mind paying a bit more for a restaurant offering dishes I can’t find elsewhere in town. I also love to see a menu packed with so many local suppliers including central Albertan staples like Nixon Honey, Big Bend Market and Pearsons Berry Farm. They also prominently featured wines from Osoyoos-based Nk’Mip, the first Aboriginal-owned winery in North America.
I recommend checking out Westlake Grill (6300 Cronquist Dr, Red Deer, AB) if you get a chance. As a former resident of Red Deer, let me know on Facebook, Instagram, by email or through my Pepo channel, Calgary Foodies, if you’re going to be in town and want recommendations for dining or fun things to do!