Chorney-Booth: Maisie Eatery gets fresh at the newly opened Sam Centre

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The actual Stampede doesn’t kick off for another two weeks, but Stampede Park has been a beehive of activity over the last few weeks. The splashy new BMO Centre expansion opened earlier this month, but it’s not the only new facility to visit at the grounds. The Calgary Stampede Foundation’s Sam Centre, a new 30,000-square-foot building just northeast of the Saddledome and west of the bridge into Ramsay opened at the end of May, serving as a permanent year-round home to Stampede artifacts and the spirit of Calgary’s most famed festival. Think of it as part museum and part public gathering space — and when people gather, there’s no better way to do it than over something good to eat or drink.

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While there is an admission fee to see the exhibits at the Sam Centre, accessing the building itself is free, which means anyone ambling through Victoria Park can grab a bite at the Maisie Eatery, the centre’s counter-service restaurant. Embedding destination restaurants in top museums and interpretive centres has become a trend worldwide — visitors to places like the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York or the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam often pop in solely for the restaurants — and the minds behind the Sam Centre knew they needed to get the building’s food service right.

Maisie
Honeycomb cheesecake was photographed with unique tables displaying Calgary Stampede memorabilia at Maisie Eatery, a new cafe at the recently opened Sam Centre at the Calgary Stampede. Gavin Young/Postmedia Gavin Young/Postmedia

Rather than simply outsourcing to a faceless, mass-market food provider, the Stampede Foundation brought in executive chef Barbara Spain, the former chef and owner at Cleaver, a hip 17th Avenue cocktail bar and restaurant known for indulgent and often boundary-pushing food. Spain, who is originally from Ireland, brings not only her skill as a chef and restaurant manager but an infectious sense of imagination and whimsy.

“The Stampede Foundation wanted something that was going to push the envelope,” Spain says. “We’re trying to play. We’re not changing the rules — it’s still food — but we’re trying to do something different.”

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Maisie
Sweet potato in tomato cardamon lime sauce and grilled broccolini with chilli and garlic at Maisie Eatery. Gavin Young/Postmedia Gavin Young/Postmedia

Philanthropist (and major donor to the project) Don Taylor named the Sam Centre in honour of his father Samuel Taylor and that theme of given names is extended to Maisie’s moniker, which is an homage to Spain’s grandmother. The personal touch extends to the food, which is an expression of what Spain loves and finds delicious. Maisie’s standout blue counter is constantly filled with mountains of beautiful breakfast and lunch-specific bites, with fun pastries, complex salads, and well-constructed sandwiches. The menu rotates daily, and customers may find croissants topped with carrot cake frosting, tiramisu-topped cruffins, bacon butties with brown sauce (in honour of Spain’s Irish roots), eggplant parm sandwiches on focaccia, beef and pea pasties, tomato and lime cardamom salads with vegan yogurt, gochujang cauliflower with pine nuts, and much more. Spain says the kitchen has tested over 150 salads, so there is always something new for neighbourhood regulars, Stampede dignitaries, workers building the new arena just down the street, and curious tourists to try.

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Maisie
Strawberry cream croissants at Maisie Eatery a new cafe at the recently opened Sam Centre beside the Stampede grounds. Gavin Young/Postmedia Gavin Young/Postmedia

In addition to its coffee, breakfast, and lunch service, Maisie can host private events well into the evening hours and offers cocktails for the late afternoon happy hour crowd. The restaurant is located at 632 13th Ave. S.E. and is open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, visit maisieeatery.com or find Maisie on Instagram at @maisie.eatery.

Maisie
Unique tables display Calgary Stampede memorabilia at Maisie Eatery, inside the new Sam Centre by the Stampede grounds. Gavin Young/Postmedia Gavin Young/Postmedia

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Speaking of Stampede, it’s time to start planning your pancake breakfast and carnival food schedule. There will be plenty of Stampede-specific eats to enjoy all over the city, but here are a couple to put on your calendar as a start. First up, the 4th Street Pancake Showdown is on for Thursday, July 4. This is a pancake breakfast designed for foodies, with businesses along the main drag in Mission trying to outdo each other with the most creative pancakes. Expect strong showings from Blowers and Grafton, Joyce on 4th, Roy’s Korean Kitchen, Abbey’s Creations and many others, all competing for the coveted Golden Spatula award. Pancakes will be flipped from 9 a.m. until 11 a.m., offered free of charge.

The District at Beltline will be hosting its second annual Stampede Showdown on July 8. This one brings together some of Calgary’s best chefs, including Alejandro Buzzalino of Salt and Brick, Smugglers Inn’s Michel Nop, Hawthorn’s Rupert Garcia, Matthias Fong of Primary Colours, FinePrint’s Francis Martinez, and last year’s returning champion, JinBar’s Jinhee Lee. Each will prepare their version of iconic Stampede food, available for guests to try. This is a ticketed event with entertainment and other activities: get your tickets through EventBrite.ca.

Finally, in addition to all that famous midway food (look for goodies like the giant mozzarella on a stick and dill pickle poutine), don’t forget that food lovers can spend some time at the Stampede Kitchen Theatre, located in the Range Food Hall on the lower level of the Big Four Building. Kitchen Theatre shows run throughout Stampede — stop in for some cooking tips or to take in friendly culinary competitions and cook-offs.

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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