I decided this cold wet Saturday to take a walk downtown and check out the new Art Central development at Centre St and 7th Ave, which has been an ambitious renovation by the same folks who are responsible for the Alberta Hotel (Murrietta's and The Out There and Patagonia shops). Art Central was a derelict, frankly scary building on the challenging-but-full-of-promise strip just catty-corner from the Hyatt. Art Central comprises three levels of artists' studios (painting, ceramics, jewelry, you name it) and I can say I have never seen anything like it anywhere in the world. The studios I visited were impressive, with a really wonderful diversity, in a gorgous skylit setting- it has to be seen to be appreciated, and let's hope that the strip bookended by the hip, urbane new Good Earth at 6 St and now Art Central on Centre initiates a renaissance for 7th Ave. BUT I was here for lunch, and here are my impressions of the two eateries at Art Central: The Siding Cafe and The Palette Coffeehouse.
Both of these spots are from the people who brought us Murrietta's, and as such I was expecting the same sort of upscale as there. But the Siding Cafe is something very different: Although it is not selling itself as a "diner," it really is, in its trendier form a la Diner Deluxe, and with really good food and an accessible menu. I was there for lunch and so I had the steak sandwich with a side salad ($11.95) and was gobsmacked at the value and quality. The steak is a cut I'd never heard of called a "flat iron"; it was robust (not particularly tender but with a nice butter and roquefort sauce and great flavour) and a big cut for such a reasonable price; the salad was mixed greens and a sweetish dressing that I didn't care for but I am not a fan of sweet dressings. The steak was on a baguette and open-faced. You can espy the menu at www.artcentral.ca; you really have to visit to appreciate the interior, which is diner-esque but with certain aspects that I've seen in few restos. For one, the booths are HUGE. There is also a massive communal table in the middle. The whole place seems to urge sociality. I look forward to trying more of the menu.
Upstairs is the Palette Coffeehouse, and I whiled away a good 45 minutes there discussing the travails of coffee with the very personable manager, a fellow named Josh. The espresso bar has an interesting setup, with one single group and one two-group machines. The espresso was perfect, and the surroundings are luxe, with comfy leather chairs and couches and a bank of corner windows. Josh said that they are looking at two more locations for the Palette, and I look forward to their success.
On balance Art Central is a destination. Calgary can be proud that it's evolved to allow such a unique downtown artists' "mall" to take hold here, and I can only hope that the Siding Cafe is as successful as Murrietta's. We have Avenue Diner but no place like The Siding Cafe for dinner (which it offers M-Sat; it's open 12-6 on Sundays).