Sous Chef Llando Pyke sautes some vegetables in the busy kitchen of the Lobstick Lodge.
JASPER, ALTA. — Sometimes deciding on a simple meal of tomato soup followed by a steak is not as simple in taste as it sounds, especially when you are dining at Jasper's Country Inn Restaurant. Located in the Lobstick Lodge on Geikie Street, this restaurant's name is deceptive.
On the face of it, the name—Country Inn—brings to mind simple homemade food and family dining, and while this is exactly what the restaurant offers, the 'simple' is anything but. No cream of tomato soup and simple grilled steak here.
When my dining companion, Brian Higginson's soup arrived, it was an aromatic and hearty blend of chunky vegetables and savoury chicken mini-meatballs, the perfect choice to replenish the body after a hard day of skiing or riding at Jasper's Marmot Basin. It looked so enticing, I couldn't help sneaking a spoonful of the broth—it was delicious.
While Higginson, who is the manager of the Lobstick, was enjoying his soup, I tucked into a plate of Coconut Calamari – tender, perfectly cooked and coated with just enough coconut flakes to make the taste buds sit up and take notice. For those who are fans of traditional fried calamari, I would definitely recommend giving this dish a go.
Over our entrés—a perfectly grilled New York striploin with blue cheese sauce for Higginson and West Coast Ratatouille (moist and tender red snapper covered with a delicious herb-infused ratatouille) for me, Higginson told me that the diverse and very creative menu was a collaboration of the Lobstick's parent company, Mountain Park Lodges Executive Chef Ted Drewniak and the sous chefs at each location.
"Each of our restaurants offer something completely different," said Higginson.
"Here at the Country Inn, the menu is based on family-style dishes, but they have a twist, an extra ingredient or spice combination that makes each dish unique."
A quick glance at the menu confirms Higginson's words. No plain meatloaf and mash here. If you order the meatloaf, you are going to get bison meatloaf with asparagus, wild mushrooms and a demi-glaze. Next time I'm checking out the Triple Threat Burger: deep fried jalapenos, Pepper Jack cheese and chipolte sauce—now how's that for some serious heat?
For Sous Chef Llando Pyke, it means a chance to be creative in the kitchen.
West Coast Ratatouille is a delicious dish of perfectly cooked red snapper hidden under a blanket of herb ratatouille. The bonus was the spinach that came with it.
Originally from Opotiki, New Zealand, Pyke, who has worked in kitchens around the world, started as a line cook at the Lobstick, but under the tutelage of Executive Chef Ted, quickly rose to his present station as sous chef of the Country Inn.
"I like the creative process of working with the other chefs to create some really interesting dishes out of what would be considered simple Canadiana fare," said Pyke. "We strive to use as many regional ingredients as we can, especially when it comes to the main ingredient in a dish, but by adding in something extra and putting a different spin on it, we ultimately serve dishes that our customers truly enjoy."
The Lobstick also has another little gem, the Season's Cafe which serves up hearty home-made soups and sandwiches that you can take as a bagged lunch for a day on the slopes or a day of snowshoeing or winter hiking. One of the great things about the Season's Cafe, besides the food, is that everything—from utensils to the packaging—is eco-friendly and compostable.
Another great place to get an on-the-go bagged lunch is the Bear's Paw Bakery. This bakery is a Jasper staple. My fellow SnowSeeker, Doc Pow always raves about this place and swears it's the best spot to get some serious energy for a day on Marmot Basin – but then again, he lives on high-octane sugar delights and the big, fat sticky buns are his idea of the perfect breakfast.
Bear's Paw Bakery definitely serves up some delicious sweet treats, like the White Chocolate Raseberry Scones which go fast. My friend, Linda Shave has tried every time she visits Jasper to score one, but to date she hasn't been lucky. "I think you have to be there in the morning, not the afternoon, not even the early afternoon, if you want one of these."
The bakery also offers savory breads, hearty soups and sandwiches all of which are made fresh and baked from scratch on site. The aromas wafting from the bakery alone are enough to make you venture in.
"People often stop in here to grab a bagged lunch or a breakfast sandwich before they head out for the day," says Rhonda Morgan, a long-time customer and now a staffer. "We offer a number of squares, cookies and our own granola mix which are all perfect for stuffing into a backpack (along with a sandwich or two)."
Ronda Morgan (left) and Evelyn Espejo always have a ready smile for customers of The Bear's Paw Bakery.
The popularity of the bakery encouraged owners, Kim Stark and Stewart Laing to open a second location, The Other Paw, which is on Cannaught Drive across from the train station. The original shop is ideally located on Cedar Avenue across from a deli where you can pick up your own choice of meats and cheeses to create your own one-of-a-kind picnic with the breads and treats from the Bear's Paw.
On the day of my visit, I enjoyed a steaming bowl of vegetable beef soup which was the perfect choice after my morning of exploring the Upper Canyon Rim at Maligne Canyon. Unfortunately the bakery was out of brownies, but I did walk out with a big macaroon which not only satisfied my taste buds, but also the chocolate craving I was having.
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