New eatery in Forest Heights is the perfect place to pair beer and bites
The fact that Cartago does not provide its phone number in listings or promotions is perhaps the harbinger of a new era where vendors and patrons resort to social media rather than direct telephonic communication to make plans together.
The arrival of Cartago, a brand new beer-and-cocktail-centric eatery in Forest Heights, certainly marks a new era for the neighbourhood, which has historically been serviced by the storied (if not exactly gourmet) Hilltop Pub and Dallas Steak and Pizza. While I’m not opposed to the occasional bacon cheeseburger or steakhouse grease-wheel, I certainly welcome a place that conspicuously caters to the more discerning palate.
Cartago takes its name from a city in Costa Rica where the proprietor’s parents live, or so the server informed us on our visit one Wednesday after work, just as the joint was starting to jump. The German orientation of the menu reflects his heritage, and there’s no denying beer goes along with everything on the menu in a splendid fashion. There are also a few nods to an interest in horse racing stamped on the windows and hanging on the walls.
Otherwise, the decor is relatively austere in a brand-new-restaurant kind of way, the bottles behind the bar and the huge beer fridge taking on a decorative aspect juxtaposed to the dark colour scheme, wooden table tops and bare concrete floor.
Four German beers and a Calgary microbrew were on tap at the time I was visiting, but I opted for a can of Blindman Lemons and Limes sour beer ($6), what with sour beers being my current food pairing obsession. The list of bottled beers and ciders is considerable, and the impressive slate of artisanal cocktails demand multiple repeat visits.
The food menu, on the other hand, is not huge, a handful each of appetizers and entrees, a couple of charcuterie variants and some sides. Dessert was represented by a single item, as the black forest cake touted on the carte was not to be had.
A very attentive and informative server (see above) ensured we understood what to expect, as the menu mostly spoke German and eschewed elaborate descriptions. Co-diner and I were attuned to the comfort food vibe of the bill of fare and chose accordingly—we agreed to split the currywurst ($10) and grilled cheese Berlin ($10), with sides of potato wedges ($6) and cucumber-dill salad ($6).
The currywurst arrived first—it comprised a plump bratwurst served on a bun with a stiff dose of house-made curried ketchup and a drizzle of yogurt, which mostly had the effect of making the bread soggy. We were advised to expect a bit of spice, but the curried ketchup had a serious cayenne kick that built up bite after bite. Thank goodness for the astringent, mouth-salving powers of sour beer.
Next came the potato wedges with more curried ketchup and the cucumber-dill salad, which was as advertised: slices of cucumber, chopped fresh dill, a few slices of radish, light vinaigrette. This too had mouth-cooling properties. The potatoes were oven-roasted rather than fried, but still nice and crunchy, though a bit burnt on the edges.
The grilled cheese on rye bread was made more German by the inclusion of sliced ham, edam cheese and sauerkraut. It tasted fine—exactly the sum of its ingredients, in fact. The apple strudel ($8) we finished up with was a bit bigger than a pop tart and generously topped with vanilla ice cream, but was more pastry than filling, and a bit tough at that from being reheated.
While I’d be happy to climb into Cartago’s beer fridge and stay a while, the food we had didn’t outstrip expectations set out by the prices. An acquaintance of mine who visited Cartago the same week tried a bunch of the items we didn’t get to—chicken schnitzel, pretzels, charcuterie—and raved about them, but isn’t a beer drinker and so couldn’t comment on how well they went with beer. I’m glad Cartago has arrived to fill the tier heretofore unserved by the existing establishments, and I look forward to the menu growing to match the ambition of its potables.
8204 106 Ave.