In all the talk about the arena – the financing, the design – I find that something has been lost. What about the food?!
Sure, I realize the deal still hasn’t been finalized (both the City and the Katz Group can still pull the plug at this point, to say nothing of the still missing $100 million), but given how the arena has been touted as a showpiece not only for downtown, but for Edmonton as a whole, we cannot overlook the food that hungry hockey fans and concert-goers will be served.
I’d like to say up front that I have no knowledge of the Katz Group’s food service plans for the arena; this post is merely a wish list of considerations. As well, although I recognize that if all goes well, restaurants and bars will spring up and flourish around the arena, I’d like to focus on the concessions inside the arena itself.
Citi Field (home of the New York Mets) opened earlier this year, and turned ballpark food on its head. Forget about hot dogs and peanuts – how about a burger from the veritable Manhattan summer staple Shake Shack? Or a lobster roll, crafted by none other than Dave Pasternack, one of New York’s best seafood chefs? Citi Field is by no means unique – it follows a trend of elevating concession offerings that has happened in ballparks all over America in the past few years.
But it’s not just ballparks that are reinventing stadium menus – hockey arenas are getting into the game as well. For example, Madison Square Garden’s Transformation will see several top chefs move in this December, including Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Andrew Carmellini.
I think it would be great to see a similar model for the concessions in our new arena – branded vendors that will elevate expectations of pre-game and game-time meals. While Edmonton may not have such high-profile chefs as they do in New York, I think it is important for the new arena to focus on local businesses instead of on chains. If the arena is supposed to be the jewel in the city’s crown, shouldn’t we embrace it as an opportunity to promote the best of what Edmonton has to offer? Raise awareness of what is uniquely ours?
Although some local restaurants would certainly have to work through issues of volume, as well as having to tweak menus to accommodate the quick-serve concession mantra, I am optimistic that it can be done! So – here are some restaurants that I’d love to see included in the arena, in one form or another:
- Delux – one of Edmonton’s most prolific restaurant companies, Century Hospitality Group operates several different brands, including the upscale-casual lounge Hundred (frequented by many an Oiler), posh steakhouse Lux (of which Captain Canada Ryan Smyth is a part-owner), and family-friendly Delux. I think the Delux concept of creative but consistent takes on burgers and fries would be a perfect fit for the new arena, offering a twist on a game staple.
- Famoso – this is a made-in-Edmonton success story. Dishing out Neapolitan-style pizzas, fired up in a 900 degree oven, franchises have been proliferating across Western Canada, with five branches set to open up in BC in 2012. Made to order with fresh ingredients, Famoso offers enough variety to satisfy even the pickiest patrons, but also puts together inventive combinations for more adventurous eaters.
- Fat Franks – ubiquitous, this Edmonton institution can be found at each major street corner downtown and every festival in the city. But there’s a reason they’re swarmed wherever they go – their ‘dogs are top quality, consistently prepared and served fast. And, with their large condiment selection, diners can make a ‘dog their own! I’d love to see Fat Franks start offering more “limited edition” creations though, similar to their inspired Andy Dog this spring.
- The Lingnan – at sixty two years and counting, The Lingnan is Edmonton’s oldest still-operating Chinese restaurant. It sits just northwest of the proposed arena site, with a marquee that recalls the glory days of Chinese food on the prairies. The Quons also run the wildly successful Chicken for Lunch in Scotia Place, with line-ups that stretch fifty deep by noon. Can you imagine getting your fill of Amy’s hot and dry chicken at the arena? Moreover, the family are already ambassadors of Edmonton, currently starring in The Quon Dynasty, their second reality series on television, which airs not only across Canada, but around the world.
- Tres Carnales – given the drink of choice at the arena will remain, forever and always, beer, is there a more harmonious pairing than beer and tacos? I can see it now – a taco bar on the concourse! But with Tres Carnales in the kitchen, not only will the tacos be delicious, they will be authentic, too. And if this outlet were to capture even some of the spirit and gregarious nature of its Rice Howard Way location, fans will have a good time, regardless of what the score is.
What restaurants would you like to see set up shop in the new arena?