Boxwood Cafe is a quaint restaurant nestled in the heart of Central Memorial Park on 12 Ave and 4 St. It may be small on space, but it’s big on personality. The simplicity of the rustic wood decor is accentuated by the large windows, which provide an excellent vantage point to watch the world go by. The cozy atmosphere created by the intimate, communal seating and open kitchen make Boxwood a hidden gem in the middle of downtown Calgary.
The sister restaurant to River Cafe, Boxwood focuses on serving local, seasonal and sustainable food in a casual setting.
For chef Ed Johnson, the focus is on serving good, honest food. Johnson refers to many of Boxwood’s suppliers on a first-name basis.
“It connects you to your ingredients a little bit more,” Johnson says, “and it makes you a little bit more passionate about your end product because you want to represent the people that you got this from to the best of your abilities.”
The names of suppliers are printed on the menu alongside their local produce, encouraging people to put a face to the food on their plate.
In addition to connecting people to where their food comes from, Boxwood’s communal layout encourages people to connect with each other. One event that particularly emphasizes this connection is their weekly Community Sunday Supper. For $35 a person, you can cozy up at Boxwood’s communal table with your loved ones and share a home cooked, family inspired menu.
“It’s like that nice Sunday supper that you had with your family,” Johnson says. “Having large plates of things and passing them around, sharing and whatnot.”
In a world that is constantly moving at a more hurried pace, taking the time to share a meal together isn’t something that happens as much as it used to. However, there are advantages to slowing down and taking the time to not just eat together, but to interact with one another and embrace the communal aspect of eating.
“I think that food is one of the unifying things in the world because everybody does it, and everybody has their culture and customs behind it,” Johnson says. “And I think that the more you get to know food and the more open you are with food, I think you’re more open to people and learning about people as well.”
Johnson says that when you sit down and eat dinner together, grabbing food from the same plate, you feel more intimately connected to each other at the end.
Recently, Boxwood has begun hosting themed dinners on their Sunday supper menus, which strive to incorporate more authentic flavours to well-known ethnic cuisines. A recent Sunday supper featured a Greek theme, inspired by a friend of Johnson’s who shared his family recipes from Greece.
Based on his friend’s advice, Johnson has worked rustic flavours into the menu, flavours that show up on Greek dinner tables but are not largely known amongst standard Greek fare in North America. A typical Greek salad with tomatoes and cucumber may have smoked chickpea dressing and a piece of fried feta.
“It’s incorporating a lot of things that everybody loves about a Greek salad, that they can identify with,” Johnson says, “but then here’s something a little more interesting.”
That particular Greek Sunday supper featured a menu of known favourites, but with unique twists not often found in restaurants this side of the Mediterranean.
To start, a spanakopita brimming with feta and spinach was accompanied by marinated olives floating in a mixture of olive oil and fennel seeds. The classic hummus was given a fresh twist as it was made with fava beans and spinach, instead of the usual chickpeas.
The main portion of the meal was comprised of four distinctly delicious components. Perched atop a spicy bed of arugula, the rosemary rubbed Bowden Farms chicken with lemon preserve was tender and aromatic. A table favourite was the wild rice, Fairwinds Farm chèvre and Gull Valley tomatoes that were married beautifully inside braised peppers. The simple quality of the ingredients allowed the braised collard greens with lemon and Lezizz olive oil to shine. The final dish was the unique Greek salad — featuring Gull Valley tomatoes, smoked chickpeas and fried Fairwinds Farm feta. The light smoky flavour brought new depth to the humble chickpea and mingled deliciously with the crispy-on-the-outside, creamy-on-the-inside feta.
As Boxwood features free corkage on Sundays, we brought a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc to enjoy with dinner. Although it tasted a little too much like Retsina for my liking, it made the meal all the more authentically Greek. And of course, as is typical of a meal with family, by the end of it we were contently and brimmingly full. But of course, no meal is complete without dessert. The finale of the meal was a light pistachio gelato and a baklava that even yiayia (grandma) would be proud of.
The meal was a medley of unique and delicious flavours, which were elevated by the simple ingredients and thoughtful preparation. Overall, a fantastic meal. What is more, eating food that paid homage to its origins was made all the more exciting as the menu challenged the palate and subverted expectations of what Greek food truly is.
Dinner service begins at 5:00 p.m. and it’s a good idea to get there early as Boxwood does not take reservations and the Sunday suppers often sell out.