Chorney-Booth: Chef Andrea Harling explores sandwich artistry with a new farmers’ market stall

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Andrea Harling looks very much at home behind the counter at her new sandwich shop, Lil’ Black Rooster. The chef has taken on many kinds of projects over the years, but the cozy, flavour-centric stall in the Calgary Farmers’ Market West particularly suits both Harling’s culinary skills and entrepreneurial spirit. Known by many for her time at the dearly departed Brava Bistro, she has spent the bulk of the last decade at more casually oriented businesses like the grab-and-go Made Foods brand and vegan fast food outfit V Burger, where she is still an operating partner. Harling certainly has the chops to helm a swanky sit-down restaurant, but her choice has increasingly become about feeding people on her own less conventional terms.

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Lil’ Black Rooster grew out of the decision to transition V Burger from its physical locations in the market and on 17th Avenue S.W. to an online order-only business, with a roving food truck also running in the summer. Realizing her vegan concept wasn’t a good fit for the market, Harling flipped her stall to Lil’ Black Rooster late last year, with the intent of focusing on well-constructed sandwiches. While sandwiches may seem like simple food, Harling approaches them like the seasoned chef she is, maximizing flavour and texture by carefully layering premium ingredients and sauces between perfectly toasted bread.

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Lil Black Rooster owner Andrea Harling, centre, with staff Hailey Chong and Calvin Tran at their booth in the Calgary Farmers Market West. Brent Calver/Postmedia Photo by Brent Calver/Postmedia /Brent Calver/Postmedia

“I’ve always wanted to do a sandwich shop,” she says. “For me, a sandwich encompasses everything I do as a chef into one solid bite. It’s a bit of a lost art, I think, but if I had to choose a final meal, it would be a sandwich.”

Sandwiches can take many different forms and Harling describes Lil’ Black Rooster’s fare as “Italian-forward,” meaning she incorporates plenty of quality cured meats and lots of cheese, along with fresh herbs and house-made spreads and condiments. There are hot sandwiches, like the cheeky Arby’s-inspired Alberta shaved beef and cheddar cheese-sauce concoction on a brioche bun ($15) and a spicy fried chicken sandwich with pesto and red pepper spread ($13.50), as well as cold offerings, including the cold-cut stacked Italian Job hoagie ($14.50) and a roasted veggie sandwich with pickled cabbage, avocado, hummus, and herbed ricotta ($12.50).

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Lil Black Rooster employee Calvin Tran prepares the Italian Job sandwich. Brent Calver/Postmedia Photo by Brent Calver/Postmedia /Brent Calver/Postmedia

Harling makes the components she can in-house and sources her other ingredients from local butchers and vendors, including some of her neighbours in the market. In addition to the sandwiches, Lil’ Black Rooster sells soups and salads, fries and poutine, and takeaway jars of fancy mustards, jams, chutneys and barbecue sauces.

Lil’ Black Rooster filled the gap left by the closure of the Calgary Farmers’ Market West V Burger, but Harling also had to make the decision to close that restaurant’s 17th Avenue location due to a lack of foot traffic. She still holds the lease to that unit and is in the process of transforming it into a full-service sister restaurant to Lil’ Black Rooster. The process for concepting that restaurant was still underway at press time, but Harling is envisioning a homey breakfast and lunch-only eatery that also offers the opportunity to host more elaborate chef-driven events in the evening when it works with her schedule. As with Lil’ Black Rooster, she’s electing to write her own rules so that she can find ways to express her culinary creativity while maintaining that essential work/life balance. Stay tuned for an update when the new restaurant opens within the next month or so.

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Lil’ Black Rooster is located within the Calgary Farmers’ Market West, at 25 Greenbriar Dr. N.W. The stall, as with the rest of the market, is open Wednesday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday. Reach it through Instagram at @lilblackroostereats.

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Lil Black Rooster’s beef and cheddar sandwich with red pepper and black bean soup. Brent Calver/Postmedia Photo by Brent Calver/Postmedia /Brent Calver/Postmedia

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In other food news, with grocery prices being so high these days, many of us are finding ourselves increasingly reaching for unfamiliar cuts of meat that happen to be emblazoned with a sales sticker. Canadian Beef just updated its Information Gateway platform so that shoppers can scan the barcode on packages of beef to easily access a wide range of information related to potential purchases.

The codes take users to a site detailing the properties of the specific cut, nutritional information, preparation tips, and recipes to help consumers make decisions about what to buy and how to use it as they’re standing in the grocery store. The barcodes appear in over 30 different grocery chains across the country, including most major supermarkets. The idea is to help Canadians make good economic choices and explore cuts and cooking techniques that may not be part of their typical repertoire. For more information or to peruse beef recipes without scanning a code, visit cdnbeef.ca.

Finally, the excellent Acme Pizza Co., which has been providing food service at Sunalta’s Two House Brewing since 2022 has made a move just down the street to the nearby Tailgunner Brewing at 1602 10th Ave. S.W. The new sit-down brewery location complements Acme’s take-out-only shop in Renfrew, which opened late last year. For more information, visit acmepizza.ca.

Elizabeth Chorney-Booth can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Instagram at @elizabooth or sign up for her newsletter at hungrycalgary.substack.com.

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