Paul Brandt on why Calgary is an amazing city for food and music

Paul Brandt musician Alberta

What do cowboys eat? Movies like City Slickers 2 would have you believe that it's canned beans, cast iron flapjacks, or, perhaps, steak grilled over an open-flame.

Calgary may be the land of beef and all, but as much as the world-class beef is plentiful and the approaching summer will lend itself to many an open-flame, there's some pretty good food to be had in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.

A cowboy through-and-through, as well as best-selling country artist, Paul Brandt knows that too. Growing up in Alberta and traveling the world with his successful career that has spanned over 20 years, he's eaten a lot of good things on the road and has seen Calgary's food scene evolve in the process. Here, Brandt shares some of his favourite parts of the city's food scene, memories and why having a chef-driven menu for the first time at the Juno Awards gala dinner was pretty darn cool.

We are in the land of beef, so where do you go for an amazing burger in Calgary?

Well, the last great burger that I had was over at Charbar--The Gaucho burger. It just absolutely blew me away. I think that is going to be a favourite for me. Connie DeSousa always knocks it out of the park everytime I visit either of her restaurants. If I have a meat craving, that is most definitely where I go.

Is there a venue you used to play at years ago that is still around these days?

A lot of those places I played when I was first starting out have kind of been taken over or shut down now! There was a place called The Longhorn that was close to Ranchman's [on Macleod Trail] that I kind of did my first showcase at. I was reminded of that the other day when I was at the Ranchman's. I started there doing talent competitions. That was one of the places where I got my first big start. It was there at the Bud Talent Country Search. It was sponsored by Country 105.3FM. So, I spent a ton of time over there, doing the honky tonk thing. Playing a lot of pool and singing music!

Is The Longhorn some other bar now?

I think it's completely shut down. There was also a place I used to play in Mission all of the time, down on 4th St called the Cowboy Cafe, a tiny little coffee shop. It was so small, I had to move out of the way while I was playing to let people walk by to get to the bathroom. It was really tiny. Ha, ha, ha. And, you know, I miss that, but it is pretty cool to start to see these better venues pop up for people to play at now, even some of the local restaurants, you know. I know a good friend who is playing at NOtaBLE soon here and to see all of the things that happen at The Ironwood, everything, it's really great.

A glass of wine, pint of beer or a bourbon cocktail--what's your drink of choice?

I think I am probably on the wine side of things. It's the most classic of choices.

The Okanagan has some amazing wine, any favourite wineries you enjoy?

Oh boy, I would say probably Mission Hill Winery!

Do you have any interesting rider requests when you're touring?

I am honestly pretty bare bones. I do throw in a few things that are just specific or unique, specific types of salsa or whatever, just to make sure everyone is actually reading everything. I am not terribly picky though. I'm pretty lowkey.

How have you seen the Calgary food scene change over time?

It's lightyears of where it was before I left for Nashville. When I left for Nashville, it was about 1996 and it was still pretty basic in your choices. Now, we're really starting to see things take off in a huge way and there is a lot to choose from. I mean, for me, I mentioned Charcut and Charbar and I just love those places. Then, you've got Model Milk, NOtaBLE and for a quiet place, just a nice, long, relaxing and quiet dinner, I love going to River Cafe. There is tons to choose from now.

You are always on the road. What is one restaurant concept here in Calgary that you think is unique to our city?

I am really blown away with what they've accomplished with the Simmons Building space. To see three different businesses all in the same space, completely different and yet tied together, there is an energy in that building. You walk in and it's caring and it's open and it's welcoming and at the same time, it's like, "We are here and we are busy! If you want to have a good time, sit down and enjoy, but we're doing this whether you're here or not."

It is such a cool vibe, I have never experienced that kind of thing before.

Roger Mooking was curating the menu for the Juno Awards nominee gala this year. It was the first time that the Junos opted for a celebrity chef-driven dinner menu. Were you excited about that new aspect?

Yes! So much so. I mean, it is way better than rubber chicken, right? Ha, ha, ha. Any convention dinner, I don't care what it is, you always go, "Oh, it's going to be one of those dinners." And I mean, I think that it was amazing. The concept of getting to live like a rockstar for the whole Juno week is pretty sweet and they've stepped it up in a huge way for having a chef-driven dinner.

You've been to more than a few Juno nominee gala dinners. Congratulations on that, by the way! Is it akin to going to a friend's wedding--too much eating and drinking?

Well, you've got to keep in mind that it is the Juno Awards and people are going to always eat and drink too much, no matter where you are. Yeah, it does definitely have a bit of that feel to it. It is always very festive and there's this strange vibe. I find in a lot of these situations, where it's an awards show, everyone is there and they are excited because they don't get to see each other very often, a lot of connection and friendship; but at the same time, everyone is trying to win over everybody else, so there is that competition aspect to it too. There is a nervous tension, so I think everyone is looking for an opporunity to let loose and that's what makes it a lot of fun!