In winter, I need major pick me ups. For me, it’s not enough to plan a few getaways or ski weekends. I need things to look forward to that I can do right here in my city – on a moment’s notice. Right before the holidays, when the weather was terrible and we were majorly stressed and busy, The Huz and I took a break from holiday prep and had an impromptu date night at Bread and Circus in Calgary. It was the worst/busiest time to take a night off, which also meant we really needed it just then.
I’d been wanting to get to Bread and Circus for some time. It’s received a lot of buzz since it opened in 2017, but despite being mere blocks away from where we live, I never made it in. I suppose it’s because I go to so many events for work, I’m restaurant-ed out. Still, all my professional foodie friends highly recommended it, so I knew I had to go. Then disaster stuck!
Right when I had the time in my schedule to hit up Bread and Circus, they took their famed Spaghetti Alla Bottagara off the menu. I patiently waited until they put it back on the menu, and well, you can read on to see if it was worth the wait.
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Bread and Circus Calgary
Before I dish, lets forget about food for a moment. Because the menu at Bread and Circus is constantly changing, hence my Spaghetti Bottagara crisis. Plus in Calgary we have such a short growing season and they try to use as much local and seasonal product as possible.
It’s really the atmosphere and the ethos of a restaurant you’re after. Bread and Circus is totally bijoux! It’s cozy (just 34 seats), romantic with soft lighting, and is the perfect spot of dinner à deux or a girlfriend gathering. (Though I did spot a table of dudes and a family with young kids chowing down.)
The vibe is similar to a trattoria. In Italy, trattorias are less formal than restaurants, serving up quality food, but in a more casual environment. Bread and Circus has bar seating, which even though I made a rezo, I chose.
Sitting at the bar is something we usually do on date nights. The Huz loves watching the chefs at work and you can make conversation with those beside you, if you so choose. For us, it leads to more interesting conversations.
Italian near downtown Calgary
Truth be told, I can’t think of one amazing Italian restaurant in downtown Calgary, but Bread and Circus is just a few blocks south of the downtown core. Part of the charm is its location. It’s like a restaurant within a restaurant on Calgary’s 17th Avenue SW. Essentially, it’s tucked in behind Una Takeaway (and right beside Una restaurant).
It’s like a restaurant speakeasy, except there’s no password. You enter through Una Takeaway’s main entrance and walk straight through there into Bread and Circus. Equally as cool is Frenchie Wine Bar, situated behind Bread and Circus.
So really, B+C is sandwiched between two of Calgary’s top eating and drinking establishments. Yep, the bar is set high by virtue of its location.
On tap are tons of cool looking cocktails including Italian faves: Aperol Spritz and Americano. Still, I went for wine. There were bubbles from the Lambrusco region that the menu promised to be “Salumi friendly to be certain.”
While, I didn’t start nibbling on any cured meats, I did go for that, and all bubbles are served in a coupe, which makes any occasion fun and festive.
As usual, The Huz did not heed my advice when it came to ordering. He wants what he wants, images for this blog post be damned! So, we started with Italian Wedding Soup (his choice, obvs) and Squash & Burrata.
I was delighted to find the wedding soup had pep. I wasn’t expecting the broth to be so flavourful, nor the meatballs so large. The crunch of the pork cracklin’ brought it all together. I’d definitely order this again. Score one for The Huz.
The squash appie was lathered with a pumpkin seed pesto (amazing) and quivering burrata. It’s so hard to find good quality burrata in Calgary, but Bread and Circus gets it in. To me, this was the perfect winter salad. The squash was nicely caramelized. With the creamy cheese and savoury, crunchy pumpkin seeds, it hit all the right notes.
While eating our antipasti, The Huz and I were enamoured by one dish we saw being prepared over and over again. Everyone was ordering the Charred Cucumber and Salt Cod. Admittedly, it doesn’t sound divine, but like judging a book by its cover, risk takers get rewarded.
The pickled, charred cucumbers were dressed with a mint chili oil, before being layered with the cod. This is the real deal salt cod – the kind they’re always eating in Newfoundland, Portugal and the Caribbean. Here, it’s rehydrated, then the morsels are fried and dusted with fat flakes of sea salt.
This dish is a flavour explosion in your mouth. It’s complex with the cool smooth cucumbers, the warm crunchy cod, the heat of the chili oil and salty feta. You must try it.
Best Italian food in Calgary
After polishing off three appetizers, we could’ve happily walked away, but… pasta. The reason Spaghetti Alla Bottagara was apparently taken off the menu for a spell last year, was because of fish stock. (Or so the hostess told me.)
The sauce is made with fish stock, but it was hard for them to get enough fish bones to make it. At one point, Shokunin, my favourite Japanese restaurant in Calgary was helping them out in the bone department. I was told Bread and Circus now has their stock situation sorted out, but don’t blame me if it’s not on the menu when you visit. Menu items change frequently and all.
The dish I’d been waiting for: Spaghetti Alla Botagara totally met expectations. (And I had very high expectations.) But because everything is so good, I should’ve waited for it to be back on the menu in order to dine here.
The Huz had Carbonara that I thought was equally as tasty. Yes, you can get Carbonara at lots of restaurants, but it’s REALLY good here.
However, if you love your seafood and the pungent, briny taste of oysters, sea urchin and the like, you’ll want to order Bottagara. Just don’t expect whole shrimp. With Botagara, the shrimp are cured and shaved onto the pasta. You get an intense seafood flavour, but not the actual pieces of shrimp.
For our side dish, we went with cauliflower. It’s roasted and set atop a sauce that tasted like tzatziki, but wasn’t because I’m pretty sure I tasted capers in there.
I tried to recreate it for a potluck party we recently went to, but failed miserably. (I think the grapeseed oil I used for roasting was too old.) Anyway, this is another one I’d definitely order again.
The next time I visit, I want to try Puttanesca on Toast and make my way through each and every one of their pastas. So yes, I’ll be back – hopefully with The Huz’s parents and his brother when they come back into town. I know they and any other Italian food lover would be impressed.
Best Calgary happy hour
If you know me, you know I’m aways trying to hit up the best happy hour in Calgary and every city I visit. The happy hour at Bread and Circus runs from 5 to 6 pm – even on weekends! Happy hour specials are $6 cocktails and wine, plus 1/2 price on select appetizers and pastas.
They also have a late night happy hour, running on Sunday’s from 9 to 10pm, and any bottle that’s open (including champagne!), can be had for $5 a glass! Tell me that won’t kick any Sunday night blues to the curb.
Bread and Circus hours
- Closed on Monday and Tuesday.
- No lunch service, opens at 5pm.
- Walk-ins are welcome, but if you want a guaranteed seat, email: email@example.com or call: 403-476-3615.