This On-the-Outskirts Restaurant is Worth the Drive
Hayloft, Airdrie’s hot new (locavore!) restaurant, offers a taste of rural Alberta.
Airdrie (population: 61,500) has become one of the fastest growing cities in Alberta—which is exactly why it should come as no surprise that this is where Jason Barton-Browne and (one of our 2017 Foodies of the Year finalists!) and James Hoan Nguyen decided to open Hayloft, a restaurant that celebrates all that is grown and raised on the outskirts of Calgary. The name itself pays homage to the area (at one time, Airdrie supplied hay to surrounding farms). “It’s comfortable and welcoming and brings back fond memories for people,” says Nguyen.
It took some time for the two to settle here. Born and raised in Calgary, chef Barton-Browne has family scattered across Alberta, and only recently put down roots in Airdrie with his fianceé Eliese Watson and their 2-year-old daughter. Before Hayloft, his food-fuelled childhood (he did everything from pickling and baking to making fresh roti with neighbours and gathering eggs on his grandparents’ acreage) inspired Barton-Browne to attend the culinary arts program at SAIT. He then became the butcher at River Café before traveling to cook at Chez Panisse in California, and St. John and The Fat Duck in the U.K., among others.
Nguyen, on the other hand, grew up in a small farming village in Vietnam, where he ate rice grown just steps from home and vegetables harvested from his family’s garden, picked fruit from nearby trees and bought meat at the local market. After moving to Canada as a kid in 1990, Nguyen became a teacher (a profession he maintained for 10 years) before moving on to work at some of Calgary’s most respected restaurants, including River Café, Pigeonhole and Il Sogno.
When Barton-Browne and Nguyen discovered they had a mutual interest in Airdrie, they decided to join forces and built a new restaurant in just two months. Both are working to establish a stronger food community in the area, connecting with local farmers and producers, some of who have provided garlic scapes, chickens and other local ingredients. Barton-Brown and Nguyen source tomatoes from blocks away, and regularly travel to the city to intercept other small producers who are making deliveries to larger restaurants. “We want to take that dining experience and make it approachable,” says Nguyen. “We love seeing farmers come in straight from the farm in their overalls.”
Hayloft looks the part, too. An old window from Barton-Browne’s in-laws’ farm is installed with lights behind the bar, the end of which is a rustic panel of wood from the town of Carstairs; an old red barber’s table was sourced via a local butcher and now acts as a turntable stand and storage for an extensive vinyl collection; the walls are decorated with black and white photographs, some from the Glenbow Museum archives, that document the city’s history and more interesting neighbours; old and new cookbooks are stacked on an old cast-iron stove in the dining area behind the bar, adding a homey touch. “Might as well get them out of the kitchen,” says Barton-Browne. “I have so many.”
As we eat lunch, fresh loaves of bread are going into the oven; round, golden rolls cool on top. And everything is made from scratch: the thick, sweet ketchup and the dressings—even the ham in my croque madame is cured in-house—and it all tastes as if it was raised or grown on a nearby farm. “It’s more than that though. It’s about supporting your community and the people around you,” says Barton-Browne. “The husband of our chicken farmer is a welder—you can only make so much selling chicken and eggs—so by supporting them we support their kids who go to school in the community.”
Hayloft serves breakfast every day—a fry-up of sage breakfast sausage, maple beans, two sunny-side-up eggs and an oven-dried tomato and cheese biscuit goes for $16; braised beef hash with soft poached egg, roasted potatoes and arugula salad goes for $18—as well as lunch (think ling cod fish and chip with house-made ketchup and red cabbage slaw for $20 and the best croque monsieur I’ve ever tasted for $15). Alberta-inspired dinners include house-made pasta, “Bear and the Flower Pork” and a daily beef feature that, according to the menu, is “from Wayne Hanson’s Ranch off of Dickson-Stevenson Trail.” You can also give power to the chefs and let them prepare a five-course meal, served family-style for a reasonable $75 per person (full-table participating required, available for reservations from 7:30 p.m. onward).
Open just 10 months, they’re already trying new things, like afternoon tea Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. that includes your choice of sandwich, a selection of sweets and tea for just $20. Having spent some time cooking in the UK, Barton-Browne is also toying with the idea of a British-inspired Sunday roast lunch, served family-style—something you might see on an Alberta farm.
“Hayloft is about exploring traditions and getting back to simplicity,” Barton-Browne says. “It’s about taking good things and making them better.”
5101 – 403 Mackenzie Way SW