West Edmonton Mall’s Taste of Bourbon

When I hear the words “taste of”, my mind immediately drifts to the concrete surface that is Churchill Square, remembering the wafting smell of fryer oil, barbecue, and the excited chatter of summer revellers enjoying one of Edmonton’s most popular festivals. Could this formula be replicated elsewhere, namely, within the confines of a shopping complex?

Taste of Bourbon

Taste of Bourbon

West Edmonton Mall is giving it a shot, with an event called Taste of Bourbon. This year sees its second incarnation, with 14 restaurants (most of them located right on Bourbon Street)participating. Sampling tickets were priced at $1 each, with the evening also boasting live entertainment and cooking demonstrations.

Taste of Bourbon

Bourbon Street

Mack and I were lucky enough to get a voucher redeemable for $25 worth of tickets, and unlike last year, were actually free to attend. We encountered a very busy Bourbon Street, benches overflowing with people enjoying their small plates.

Taste of Bourbon

The Hooters mascot

Scanning the menu, the dishes ranged in price from 2 to 6 tickets, averaging 4 tickets in price. Each restaurant offered up to four different dishes, most of which seemed to be samples taken from their regular menu.

Taste of Bourbon

Beard Papa was the odd booth out, as they were handing out free samples (which of course, we graciously accepted)

We dove right in – the alligator popcorn (6 tickets) and grilled cheese lollipops (6 tickets) from The Red Piano were easily the most appealing dishes being offered. We found the alligator to be slightly chewy, but the breading made up for it somewhat. The lollipops seemed to be a bit of false advertising to us – they really were deep fried balls of cheese – tasty, but not what we were expecting.

Taste of Bourbon

Alligator popcorn

Taste of Bourbon

Grilled cheese lollipops

Mack wanted to try the Creole crab and scallop cake from Moxie’s (4 tickets). It wasn’t spiced as aggressively as he would have liked, but it satisfied his craving for seafood.

Taste of Bourbon

Mack and his Creole crab and scallop cake

Mr. Mike’s crackling sirloin steak bites (4 tickets) sounded interesting to me, but just turned out to just be their version of dry ribs, served with a ranch sauce. It was tasty, albeit not too exciting, but like much of the food served at the event, was chosen for its crowd-pleasing nature.

Taste of Bourbon

Crackling sirloin steak bites

We rounded off our sampling with a serving of taquitos and rice from Jungle Jim’s (5 tickets). It was a hefty serving, with four taquitos over a bed of rice. The rice was bland, and though I would have liked crispier taquitos, they were all right.

Taste of Bourbon

Taquitos and rice

We caught a bit of Chef Shane Chartrand (of L2 Grill) on the makeshift stage. He was about to flambé a dish – something necessarily flashy to draw in the passing crowds.

Taste of Bourbon

Chef Chartrand

Noticeably missing from the list of participating restaurants was Earls and Cactus Club Cafe. Given both establishments were bursting at the seams, with extensive lines of patrons outside, it was obvious such a promotional opportunity wasn’t necessary for either, but that seemed to be beside the point of Taste of Bourbon. Bourbon Street is essentially one large dining hall – if one restaurant is full, it is an easy enough just to head next door.

That said, given most of the restaurants have multiple locations and/or are chains, with the exception of Fantasyland Hotel, L2 Grill and The Red Piano, a majority of the dishes served were fairly pedestrian, and can be found on menus at restaurants all over the city. Thus, Taste of Bourbon just can’t have the draw that something like the Taste of Edmonton would have, where many independent restaurants participate, in a setting that isn’t easily replicated indoors.

Still, it was a fun evening, and one I would partake in again, but perhaps not go out of my way to visit.

5 thoughts on “West Edmonton Mall’s Taste of Bourbon

  1. Your review holds Taste of Edmonton in higher esteem than I’d suggest it deserves. When it began, Taste of Edmonton drew Edmonton’s best and most unique restaurants. They still have some of that but mostly it’s places like Beijing Beijing and the Gas Pump selling the same “fairly pedestrian” food found “on menus … all over the city.” Taste of Edmonton is differentiated by its other attractions and its outdoor location.

    In fact, I’d argue that you don’t find food on the part of alligator and taquitos on Churchill Square in July.

    Finally – I know other non-Bourbon restaurants (like L2) participated, but the exclusion of Cactus Club Cafe might be because they’re not part of Bourbon Street, no?

  2. Nice to meet you there that night with Mack. I was the guy standing behind you two in line to get the tickets. Nice post, my wife and I sampled a lot. I liked the Alligator as well and also liked the chipotle mango chicken at Moxies which had more kick than I expected! The Kobe beef slider at Sherlock was tasty but nothing unique and I agree with you about the Mr. Mikes steak bites. The pulled pork at Hudsons was average and I was disappointed by the Tiger prawns and jasmine rice from L2 which was a much smaller portion than most of the other places and a little bland. My wife liked the ti chicken bites at Boston Pizza and it was a huge bowl, big portion, one of the best deals there.
    It was my first time at the event and yes Taste of Edm. is better but I’d go back again next year. We also noticed Earls not participating but forgot about Cactus Club….

  3. Neumatic – I suppose I didn’t articlate the comparison as well as I would have liked. I agree with you – Taste of Edmonton draws the crowds that it does because of that festival atmosphere (outdoors, entertainment, etc.). And I know I haven’t been to ToE in a few years, for exactly the reasons you mentioned – it does seem to be the same restaurants offering the same food. But I still think Taste of Bourbon has to offer something more. I know they are limited because of the types of restaurants in the mall (and no, there were a few non-Bourbon Street restaurants participating, such as L2 and Fantasyland), but what’s the attraction if I could dine on the same menu elsewhere?

    Darrell – it was good to meet you and your wife as well! We should have gone to try those Thai chicken bites that you mentioned…I’m sure that would have tided us over the rest of the night :). I have a feeling Taste of Bourbon will likely just get bigger next year – in only its second year, I’m sure tweaks are still forthcoming.

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