Chorney-Booth: Phil and Sebastian’s food offerings bloom with new menu

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Calgary has no shortage of great coffee and Phil and Sebastian, the much-beloved local roaster brews one of the city’s best cups. But as much as some of us try, no one can live on coffee alone. Phil Robertson and Sebastian Sztabzyb thought it was about time they developed a food program to match the quality of their carefully sourced and roasted beans.

If you’ve eaten at one of Phil and Sebastian’s multiple locations before, you aren’t losing your mind: food, in one form or another, has always been available in its cafés, most often in the form of a simple but proficient avocado toast or chicken sandwich. The company also runs a side business called Hoopla Donuts which can be snagged at almost all of their locations (save for the Simmons Building headquarters, which relies on the in-house Sidewalk Citizen Bakery to feed customers). So yes, there has been food. But being the sticklers for excellence they are, Phil and Sebastian (the guys) thought Phil and Sebastian (the cafés) could do better.

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Phil Robertson and Sebastian Sztabzyb at their new brunch concept Bloom being run out of their Marda Loop location. Darren Makowichuk/Postmedia Photo by Darren Makowichuk /DARREN MAKOWICHUK/Postmedia

Enter Bloom, a new food service available, to start at least, at the Marda Loop Phil and Sebastian location. The menu comes with its own name to avoid muddying the P&S branding – it’s not yet available at all locations and the company also does a tidy wholesale business that has nothing to do with food – but Bloom is wholly a Phil and Sebastian creation, led by in-house chef Tyssan Hough. While those sandwiches and avocado toasts were previously put together by baristas more skilled at making cappuccinos than poaching eggs, Bloom has dedicated staff with plenty of kitchen experience, all able to take on more complicated hot food items while the baristas focus on the coffee.

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The Baked Mac & Cheese at Bloom, a new Phil and Sebastian brunch concept. Darren Makowichuk/Postmedia Photo by Darren Makowichuk /DARREN MAKOWICHUK/Postmedia

“We know we drive people out of their way to come here to get coffee, but we didn’t feel like our food was doing the same,” Sztabzyb says. “If you were in at lunchtime for a coffee and happened to be hungry, you might enjoy one of our food items but you wouldn’t make a point of meeting at the café for lunch. That’s what we wanted to change.”

Phil and Sebastian Marda Loop is still primarily a coffee shop – but now it’s one with better food. Customers order meals from the same counter as their coffee and the menu is priced to reflect that casual counter service style. Hough has spent significant time in Australia where café culture involves a stronger emphasis on food than here in North America and that mindset guides Bloom’s offerings.

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The Coffee Toast at Bloom. Darren Makowichuk/Postmedia Photo by Darren Makowichuk /DARREN MAKOWICHUK/Postmedia

On weekdays, customers can grab a quick gourmet toast topped with Hough’s ingenious coffee butter ($4.75) or an updated version of good old avocado ($7.50), several breakfast hashes packed with mushrooms, farmer’s sausage, or gravlax ($15.50 to $18), and carefully composed flavour-packed sandwiches, of both the breakfast and lunch variety ($9 to $14.50).

The service expands on weekends with a more deluxe weekend brunch menu. There’s a slight Mexican bent here, with breakfast nacho-like plates of chilaquiles ($14) and bacon, egg, and sausage-filled quesadillas ($14.5), as well as waffles with or without chicken ($12/$22). As a dedicated community player, Phil and Sebastian source fresh local ingredients like Mans Farm eggs, Broek bacon and sausages, and Sylvan Star cheese to keep everything in line with its core identity.

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The Smoothie Bowl at Bloom. Darren Makowichuk/Postmedia Photo by Darren Makowichuk /DARREN MAKOWICHUK/Postmedia

The Bloom menu is currently exclusive to the Marda Loop location, but Sztabzyb says the company will look toward expanding it to other cafés when and where it makes sense. The Phil and Sebastian Marda Loop café is located at 2043 33rd Ave. S.W. and can be reached at 403-261-1885 or through philsebastian.com/pages/marda-loop. The Bloom menus are available daily from 7:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

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The new menu for Bloom, a brunch concept inside the Marda Loop Phil and Sebastian location. Darren Makowichuk/Postmedia Photo by Darren Makowichuk /DARREN MAKOWICHUK/Postmedia

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In other brunch restaurant news, in addition to its eclectic brunch menu, the popular 17th Avenue restaurant Maven recently launched a new happy hour menu, available daily from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Dubbed the “Hawker Happy Hour,” the late afternoon menu is inspired by the hawker centres of Singapore, where customers can enjoy affordable street food-style snacks in a food hall-like setting. Maven’s chef Mish Lee Hobbs’ maternal family is from Singapore and this new menu aligns with her passion for telling stories of her life travels though food.

The happy hour menu includes share plate-sized favourites from the regular brunch menu including the chow fun Trembling Road Noodles ($7) and Maven’s pork ball congee ($6). The rest of the bites are newer creations, which choices like hawker-style curry fish balls ($1 each) with the option to add spicy chilli or jalapeño jam, sticky chicken wings in an umami-laden sauce ($1 each) and fry bread with restaurant’s signature sweet kaya jam ($6).

Happy hour traditionally involves a drink or two, so Maven has partnered with Confluence Distillery for a series of new cocktails. Wine pairings are also available for $9 with each of the happy hour dishes.

Maven is located at 1006 17th Ave. S.W. and can be reached at 403-457-7898 or mavenyyc.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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