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Who misses the days when eating out was not about supporting the local economy or keeping restaurants alive, but just going out and having fun? Other than convenience, the main reason most of us plan a night out is to relax and treat ourselves, hopefully with something delicious, playful, and maybe even a little surprising.
Aaron D’Amico and Kenton Hrynyk are emphasizing that sense of fun with Paper Planes, their new Marda Loop restaurant and cocktail bar. Paper Planes started life as a pop-up, initially opening for a single weekend in February in the upstairs room at Pubblico Italian Kitchen. D’Amico, an experienced chef who arrived in Calgary from Ontario just before the pandemic hit, and Hrynyk, a well-known face from some of the city’s best bars, did so well with their temporary venue that the Pubblico owners asked them to make the arrangement more permanent and eventually invited the pair to take over the downstairs space as well (it’s currently undergoing a minor renovation with plans for the changeover to take place in the coming weeks).
Food-wise, D’Amico wanted to keep things affordable without compromising on flavour or quality. He’s taken a bit of an “anything goes” approach, stacking his menu with food designed to pair well with cocktails and creating dishes that he misses from Toronto, with Mexican and Asian influences thrown in to maximize flavour. This includes jerk chicken with oxtail gravy and rice and peas ($20), a bulgogi cheesesteak sandwich ($14), spam fried rice arancini ($10), and a giant plate of nachos inspired by one of Toronto’s most infamous rock ‘n’ roll hangouts ($25). On the surface, D’Amico’s menu looks like a good collection of bar bites, tacos, and sandwiches, but the chef brings an above-average level of technique and ingredient know-how to his dishes, making Paper Planes a food lover’s go-to, rather than just a watering hole that also happens to serve food.
“It’s a cocktail bar but the food is at an elite level,” D’Amico says. “I’m doing three-day marinades on my chicken and sourcing real Scotch bonnet peppers. We’re putting out really great food that’s approachable and understandable to people and keeping the prices reasonable.”
But those cocktails shouldn’t be overlooked either. Hrynyk has plenty of experience working at fancy bars that involve long wait times for meticulously crafted drinks and he wanted to create a series of mixed drinks that could be poured directly from a tap or put together easily, while also focusing on bigger and heartier cocktails to be sipped over the course of a meal as opposed to delicate potions that can be knocked back in a couple of gulps. The large batch drinks and highballs all go for $13 (a steal for a cocktail in this city these days) or $45 to $50 for a pitcher, with more traditional drinks priced at $14.
“We want to treat cocktails like most people treat beer,” Hrynyk says. “There are other places utilizing batch cocktails but not at the level we are. We’re aiming for 70 to 80 per cent of the cocktail list to be on tap and really be pushing the envelope on both volume and speed, but also on the quality of product.”
These guys have a lot of big ideas, and special events are also on the table, including Sunday drag brunches, Thursday night comedy shows, live music, and other shenanigans. Paper Planes is located upstairs at 2018 33rd Ave. S.W. and is open Wednesday through Saturday from 5 p.m. onward and from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays for brunch. The restaurant can be reached at 403-455-0753 or paperplanesyyc.com.
Also, new on the fun and frivolity scene is Missy’s This That, a casual little Beltline bar from Thomas Dahlgren, one of the original partners in the dearly departed Bar Von Der Fels. Located above the I Love You Coffee Shop, Missy’s has got a cool neighbourhood feel, with windows overlooking 4th Street and a diner-style bar that wraps around an open area where Dahlgren and his staff work as they chat with their patrons. The service is set up so that customers can pay at the bar as they go, making it easy to dash off to an event or run a tab if they want to hunker down with a bottle of wine.
Dahlgren is best known for his exceptional wine knowledge, but Missy’s isn’t exactly a wine bar. There is wine (including a “tickle trunk” case of bottles that customers can physically look at rather than plodding through a printed list) and beer, but also plenty of spirits and a tight but well-built cocktail list, with batched mixes for quick service. The bar doesn’t have a proper restaurant kitchen, but it does have a toaster and ample prep space where staff whip up luxurious snacks like anchovy toast, shrimp cocktails, and plates of carefully chosen olives, cheese, and Spanish ham.
Missy’s This That is open Thursdays through Mondays from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. and is located at 348A 14th Ave. S.W. For more information, visit missysthisthat.com.
Elizabeth Chorney-Booth can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @elizaboothy or Instagram at @elizabooth