I went to the Grizzly House on a work date with Andrea, our wonderful does-everything-and-keeps-us-going-in-the-office administrator. We met Francis, one of the owners, working the host station. He led us to our table towards the back of the restaurant, walking us through plumes of smoke bursting from hot stones as diners cooked selections of meat at their tables. The smells of the food and melted butter got our stomachs growling as we made our way to our table. We had a stellar view of the dining area. Francis filled us in with some details about the restaurant and its history. He also recommended the Four Courses dinner, since it is the quintessential Grizzly House experience. After a quick chat, he went back to work – this place is hopping on a Saturday night!
Once you sit for a moment and take a look around, you notice just how cool this place is: from the floor-to-ceiling totem poles to the central disco ball and the telephones at each table. Of course, you have a directory to call any table in the restaurant and have a chat. I recommend calling someone: you just might make a new friend.
The interior reflects the history of the Grizzly House. Originally a disco that featured touring bands and go-go dancers, the restaurant owners, Barbara and Peter Steiner, would bring in food from the neighbouring Chinese food restaurant in order to meet the requirements of their liquor license. A few months into their business, the Chinese restaurant closed, so the owners and staff brought in their own fondue pots in order to continue selling food and, therefore, keep selling libations to their customers. The Grizzly House is no longer a disco, but it still offers a unique fondue dining experience. I say experience because there is so much more to the Grizzly House than just delicious food.
Our server, Max, was quick to come with drinks. He has been with the Grizzly House for 8 years. “This is where servers come to die!” he jokes, noting that all of the servers working that night worked at the restaurant for anywhere from 5 to 10 years and more. “We’re like a family,” Max admitted. His love for the job was evident in his passion and knowledge about the dishes offered. This enthusiasm added to the overall dining experience, and Max provided us with detailed explanations of the dishes offered, his personal recommendations and expert tips on getting the most out of the fondue. On the one hand, you can just dip bread into the hot cheese and dig in, on the other hand, you can wrap that in a piece of prosciutto and really enjoy the mix of flavours and textures.
We chose the Four Courses dinner. Because, well, it was recommended. With individual starter options including salad and soup, a shared Either a Neuchâtel (cheese) or Bagna Cauda (vegetable) fondue, a main course fondue or hot rock selection and a dessert chocolate fondue, there was certainly no shortage of food! We chose the cheese fondue, which includes Swiss cheese to reflect the owner’s Swiss roots. Andrea ordered the special which included local meats such as venison, bison and beef. I chose the Exotic Fondue Dinner because of the 7 meats offered, I’d only tried 2 of them. Bring it on!
Bread dipped in cheese is obviously delicious, but the scrapings of cheese fried to the bottom of the fondue pot were a highlight of the appetizer. I’ll admit I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when Max brought us the hot rock and got us started by greasing it with garlic butter. But our trusty, talented waiter gave us expert instructions on how to cook each selection based on our preferences. We got to enjoy shark, alligator, kangaroo, frog legs, venison, buffalo and ostrich. Max also wrote a note so we wouldn’t forget what was what. Full disclosure: once we really got into cooking the meats, we may have lost track of what was where on the hot rock; it made for some pleasant surprises.
I love chocolate. I am of the belief that chocolate is its own food category. The very idea of a chocolate fondue gets me excited. Fresh fruit and wafers dipped in melted Swiss chocolate marked the dessert to this stellar meal, and what a dessert it was! The generous portion of chocolate outlasted the selection of dipping morsels, but it didn’t go to waste. Max brought us spoons so we could savour every last drop of melted, gooey sweetness. At this point, Andrea bailed and I was left with the task of finishing the bowl myself. Mission Accomplished.
The food was delicious. Of course the food was delicious. Just as delicious was the whole experience of cooking, from the sizzle and pop of garlic butter on the hot stone to savoury smells of the meat reaching perfection. The sweetness of the chocolate dessert was the perfect end to an otherwise amazing meal. The whole experience lends itself to sharing and it’s a wonderful way to connect with the people around you. Leave your cell phones at home: this dining experience encourages interaction! If you can’t make it through a meal without looking at a phone, call someone on the phones provided at the tables.
For all of you who’ve heard that the Grizzly House is one of those iconic, must-do Banff experiences that combines Banff history in with a unique dining experience, you’ve heard correct. It was fun, the food was fresh and it was a full-on experience from start to finish. Make a reservation: this place is so good it’s busy most nights and can’t always accommodate walk-ins.
Moment of truth: I have reservations to go again. My excuse is my partner’s birthday, but between you and me: I just really want to relive the experience.