My Wish List for Edmonton’s Food Scene

There are always things to be grateful for, and Edmonton’s burgeoning restaurant scene is definitely one of them. While I can’t say I’m actually a part of its development (commenting about it just isn’t the same as more active participation), it’s been wonderfully rewarding as a lifelong Edmontonian to see independent eateries and other food establishments successfully compete with chain restaurants.

At the same time, I know there are things in our dining scene that I would love to see – perhaps things that are percolating and forthcoming, but haven’t yet bubbled to the surface. In no particular order, here are some things I want to see more of:

  • One-note restaurants: It may be gimmicky, but places that serve one dish really well, such as Soul Soup or The Dawg Father, do attract attention. They are typically introduced to tourists as providing the “best” of something, and at the very least, force people to concentrate on one type of food, which may draw them away from their comfort zone.
  • Single word restaurant names: I was a bit disappointed with the recently opened Kai Asian Grill. I was really hoping the restaurant would grab “Kai” by the balls and just go with a single word to sell themselves to the world, but no, they copped out by adding “Asian Grill” to all of their signage. Yes, I know Edmonton has a number of restaurants that have one word names (Culina, Viphalay and Spago come to mind), but they don’t generate the same kind of excitement or mystery based on the name alone. Examples: Rouge (a contemporary French restaurant), Rush (a contemporary American restaurant) and Cilantro (which offers southwestern fare) in Calgary.
  • Food establishments as the hook for exploration: Beyond Chinatown and Little Italy, there are areas in Edmonton that should be explored on foot. Though food establishments generally become the bait to lure potential visitors to particular areas, they should not be the be-all-end-all of a visit. In April of last year, I wrote about a few walkable day trips that included food stops along the way – it was only a sample; I’m sure there are many others that I failed to include.
  • Innovative concepts: I was really excited when TZiN opened nearly two years ago. I really thought it would usher in a new age in Edmonton’s restaurant scene that would involve small, trendy establishments offering their own spin on dining. It hasn’t happened yet, but I’m still optimistic. Perhaps this means a charcuterie wine bar for Edmonton in the near future, but I’m sure the imagination of the city’s restauranteurs is greater than mine.
  • Year-round Farmer’s Markets: Summers in Edmonton are ripe with farmers’ markets (including my favourite one – the City Centre Market on 104th Street), but it’s a fairly depressing scene in the winter. There are only two approved farmers’ markets in metro Edmonton that operate year-round – Old Strathcona and Westmount – and one unapproved one at the Salisbury Greenhouse in Sherwood Park. Farmers’ markets are great places for people to learn about food and to feel a little more connected to the people who produce it, so it would be great to have more opportunities to do so, even in the winter.
  • Community gathering places: The Carrot, a volunteer-run coffeehouse on 118 Avenue, will be looked upon years from now as an inspirational model. Arts on the Ave, the organization behind The Carrot, has helped attract attention to the beleaguered neighbourhood by acting as a hub for community members to connect with one another, and by promoting local artists and causes. Edmonton could use more such initiatives.

What is on your wish list for Edmonton’s food scene?

15 thoughts on “My Wish List for Edmonton’s Food Scene

  1. St. Albert opened their farmers market this year up until Dec, but i don’t think it is running now until the summer. I guess that’s only half the winter 😦 but maybe next year the whole thing if people start going more.

  2. I really like the idea of more “One-note restaurants”. I enjoy going to a restaurant and seeing the creative dishes chefs can come up with when working within the constraints of a single type of dish.

    That’s how I came to love The Creperie!

  3. Great little bit. Your blog shows an obvious love for dining and food and some careful thought was put into your list.
    Neat angle to take.

  4. More high end ethnic places, especially Asian (with exception of Japanese)

    More truly regional ethnic restaurants – regional Chinese, Korean, South American places, that do not pretend to be Japanese or Mexican restaurants.

    Restaurant patrons who are not too polite to complain if they are served substandard or incorrectly prepared food, thus holding our dining establishments to high standards.

  5. I want to echo the “one-note” restaurants: do ONE thing very well and it’s all good. That’s why I like Tau Bay (tho I know it isn’t your fave) — all they cook is pho and I think it’s one of the best.

    I also agree with pepper that it would be great to have more high end _ethnic_ places.

    It would be nice to have a really original food “experience” place. In LA, they have a restaurant where you dine in the dark. 😀

  6. I agree with more “one note” style restaurants. I love the idea of bringing friends or visitors to our city to the “best” of one thing – I also second the love for Tau Bay for this reason, there is no messing about with Bun dishes etc…

    I like the idea of and expanded list of regional restaurants with more off the wall menus. If, for example, we keep building a base of ‘latin’ restaurants which somehow fall back on Tex-Mex or Mexican food, are we really showcasing the tastes and flavours of those countries.

    Year around farmers markets. Brilliant plan, and where do I sign up!

  7. I like the idea of the one-note restaurant. Or, at least a restaurant that focuses on doing a very small number of dishes very well, instead of trying to be everything. I mean, how many “Steak & Seafood” places do we have in this city that do neither item well because they lack a focus on either one?

    If you want to be a steak house, do steak and do it well. We don’t need you to also try and serve up 6 different seafood dishes. And, of course, the reserve is also true.

    I see what you’re getting at with the single word restaurant names but, from a marketing perspective, I can understand why only a few establishments are willing to try it. If a potential customer can’t figure out what kind of food you make in the 2 seconds it takes them to read your signage, there is a good chance that they’ll never bother to come in find out.

    People like to know what they’re getting into before they drop their hard earned money on a meal. As much as you or I might like to take a risk and experiment with our dining experiences, the fact remains that most people aren’t willing to risk $20+ on a meal that they might not enjoy.

  8. I want a grilled cheese restaurant. All it would serve are variations on the classic (and the classic itself). Maybe I’ll open it one day!

    I like the entire list, but I particularly want more community gathering places. More than any other item on your list, I think they’d have the greatest long term impact on the local scene.

    As a tech guy, I should also point out that I want more restaurants with free wireless and decent websites. I can’t think of a single local restaurant website that I actually like.

  9. Mack, I totally concur about the grilled cheese restaurant. New York has one and I saw them profiled on the Food Network — omg, so awesome. Something about cheese + bread + special/magic extra that is so satisfying.

    I also want to echo Mack’s wish for MORE restaurants with free wifi and decent websites. Cafe’s only go so far…

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