I don’t know about other cities but if you’ve grown up in Calgary through the 70′s and 80′s you very likely had a “Steak & Pizza” place nearby in the neighborhood. I have fond memories from my own youth of the ones nearby my home such as Atlas Pizza and Spartan. Matador Pizza and Steak House is also just such a place. Now in their 34th year of operations and located in a small strip mall at 4625 Varsity Dr NW they are one of those few neighborhood restaurants to survive the influx of chain stores and in fact have continued to thrive in spite of them.
We’d noticed a handful of these long lasting local places in the older areas of NW Calgary where we live and thought we would give one of them a try. The place we chose was Matador.
As we entered the small and fairly busy restaurant we approached the hostess’ station and waited to place our name on the waiting list. After a short time we decided that since like the majority of this style of store they had a lounge side and when asked the staff confirmed that they served a full menu we opted to sit there rather than wait.
Scanning the menu we decided on our meals from a good choice of main dishes including pasta, steak, fish, salads and pizza (there is a kids menu offered as well). Nancy ordered the medium Bullfighter’s Special from the pizza menu ($19.50) and I decided on the Matador Pride BBQ Beef Ribs with a small garden salad, stuffed potato, and veggies with garlic toast on the side (18.95). We decided against an appie this time round.
My salad arrived first and it was about what I’d expected, a small plate of greens with a large section of ripe tomato on top and covered with a creamy dill dressing which I assumed was the house dressing and though not the blue cheese I’d requested it was tasty. The salad was quite fresh and I enjoyed it more than I’d thought I would given it is more an afterthought at most places and not usually that good.
Next came Nancy’s pizza. It had a thick crust that seemed at first glance to be a tad overcooked from the look of the edge though the cheese and toppings did not seem the same. I will say this much, it’s a sign of a good pizza dough that when very dark (even slightly black in our case) it still tastes good and this one did. I really like the heavier crusts that are harder to find these days and this one was right up my alley, crisp on the outside and slightly chewy on the inside. The toppings were plentiful and the sauce (Nancy asked for extra) was tasty not salty or overpoweringly zesty like many are. Both of us would have liked to have had the cheese thicker, completely covering the filling and baked nice & crispy on top (such as Nick’s would serve) but this is only a personal preference.
Soon after the pizza my ribs arrived at the table. There were 3 of the large meaty beef ribs covered in sauce that wasn’t overpowering and not so heavily coating the meat that it would require extra care when eating so as not to add colour to my shirt. They were nicely cooked and while not falling off the bone were just tender enough. The stuffed potato was your basic “twice baked” type and was nicely browned on the top however the thick skin (which I generally like) was burnt on the bottom and not worth eating. Our waitress offered me potato fixings from a tray with sour cream, butter, green onions and bacon bits. The veggies served with the ribs were carrot slices and broccoli in a butter sauce, unfortunately they were limp from being over-cooked and rather salty for my liking but not too bad and I did eat them. The garlic bread was a thick slice of Texas toast brushed with a garlic butter mixture and went well enough with the ribs.
Service was average and our waitress was by on a couple of occasions to ask if we needed anything more. From our vantage point in the lounge we could see the large number of customers coming in to pick up their take-away (mainly pizza) and turnover for the restaurant side was brisk while we were there. It seems that the neighboring communities continue to provide plenty of business on a Friday night. It would also appear that experience has taught the owners a thing or two and they’ve found the right combination for the area.
For the most part the meal was good, everything seemed freshly made with fair ingredients and the service was okay. More or less the experience at Matador was what I remember this type of place was like. With the exception of the wrong salad dressing, some slightly over cooked items and what I would consider somewhat high prices for what was served there’s nothing we’d complain about. If however you are looking for a Keg style dining experience you may be somewhat disappointed, Matador is a little less polished and has a more basic feel to it than the chains, but that’s part of it’s charm. I hope that places like Matador continue to operate in neighborhoods across the city and maybe in 34 years more we will still be able to visit them.