Location: 2500 University Dr NW
When I first enrolled at the University of Calgary, the Den seemed like an intimidating place. All I had heard were all the stories of drunkenness, something I wanted nothing to do with. It wasn’t until my final year of university, my sister’s first year, that I ventured inside. I mostly expected bar food and I wasn’t completely wrong. Though I’m not much of a drinker, my sister and I ordered a cocktail of some sort that was so watered down it was downright disgusting and effectively wiped from my memory. All I remember ordering in terms of food was a butter chicken poutine. It was a huge disappointment as the poutine was so salty I could feel the water osmosifying out of my cells. The food was mediocre at best.
As I’m no longer a student at the University of Calgary, my sister is and she told me about some of the new items that were added to the menu and we decided to give it a try. I’m happy to say that The Den really stepped up their game with these new menu items. Though there are other flaws, the menu items available now were much more appetizing than what used to be available. There are still some menu items that remained the same as before, but that must be because they were popular items on the old menu.
Tonight we started with Deep Fried Breaded Agnolotti Pasta. It was stuffed with mozzarella and came with a side of tomato pesto for dipping. The presentation wasn’t bad, the agnolotti was served on a bed of shredded romaine lettuce and the greenish tomato pesto sauce wasn’t the most appetizing. I was imagining something closer to a marinara sauce. My first thought when I took a bite was that it tasted like a pizza pop. I have never had deep fried pasta and a pub at an educational institution is probably not the best place to try it out. There was nothing wrong with the taste, but I took issue with the fact that the mozzarella was not stringy; it’s one of the stringiest cheeses I know. That may have been in part to do with the fact that the agnolotti wasn’t even hot; they were room temperature at best. It felt like there was something mixed in with the mozzarella, diluting it. In other words, the filling was not unlike a flaccid marshmallow. The other thing is that the agnolotti was served on a bed of unclean lettuce. I mean if you’re gonna put food on top of it, at least make sure the leaves are clean. Even if no one is eating it, it’s touching the food that I will be eating.
For our mains I ordered the Ring o’ Fire with a side of onion rings and my sister had the Cuban Flank Steak Dip with House Salad. I was impressed by the size of my burger: 1/3 pound patty with lettuce, tomato, red onion, pico de gallo, and jalapeños on a pretzel bun. For a burger that contained pico de gallo, onions, and jalapeños there was very little heat. The patty itself was rather salty, not enough to disturb the sodium potassium pump in my body, but made me feel like drinking a jug of water just to avoid the osmosis of water from my cells again. Unfortunately I was less impressed with my side of onion rings. For $3 extra, it was pretty small, maybe 5 or 6 rings total. And it supposedly came with a roasted garlic mayo but that didn’t happen and I ended up dipping them in ketchup. My sister’s Steak Dip wasn’t bad but not great either. It was definitely better than a regular beef dip, but when compared to Joey’s French Dip, there was no comparison. The salad was actually the highlight of the meal. I like restaurants that give you the sauce on the side so you can control the amount added. The tartness of the raspberry vinaigrette helped to cut through the overall richness of the meal. The crunchy quinoa was a nice touch. It was different and innovative. I had never had quinoa like that and I normally don’t like quinoa in a salad because it’s like eating rice that has been refrigerated and has solidified into a hard pellet, but it was good in this salad.
We rounded out the meal with a Turtle Cake. The cake itself was rather small, about the size of a creme brûlée ramekin inverted flanked by two mounds of whipped cream topped with half of a strawberry, cut into a fan. The unfortunate thing about the whipped cream was that it deflated into a puddle upon contact with my spoon, leaving a milky white mess. The middle of the cake was filled with thick caramel and the top garnished with pecans. It wasn’t too sweet, which was good, but it didn’t leave me satisfied or craving more.
A pub on campus should be affordable for the students that attend as many of them don’t make all that much to afford the luxury of some of the higher end restaurants and pubs in Calgary. And in some ways it is quite affordable, in particular the mains. However, for the size of my dessert that I inhaled in about two minutes, $6.50 is a bit pricy. The atmosphere wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t nice either, but considering how many times students go and get wasted, I can understand why they can’t have nice things and if they did the food would be more expensive and the cost of cleaning up a drunk student’s mess….well, let’s not go there.
Taking everything into consideration, I would rate this place a 3.5/5 because it’s a cheap alternative to the restaurants out there but if I’m going to eat out, I’d rather spend a little more money to have better service and decor.