Five Restaurants I’d Like to See Inside Edmonton’s New Downtown Arena

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 CarnalesTres 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?

17 thoughts on “Five Restaurants I’d Like to See Inside Edmonton’s New Downtown Arena

  1. I concur with 3 out of 5 of your choices.

    I’d also love to see a really good Banh Mi outlet somewhere inside or outside the arena that serves sate chicken or beef in a toasty french roll. Then, I would never have to worry about eating a hot dog during a game.

    A yakitori stand would be awesome.

    My personal food trilogy would include a real good Italian restaurant that serves huge family style pasta servings, like Bucca di Beppo does in the U.S.

  2. I am ambivalent about the Downtown arena; however, I don’t want to use this space to express political positions. Rather, will use for the topic in-hand: if there was a DT arena, what food stands would I like to see?

    I would like to go through your list first:

    Agree: Lingnan. Despite I am not fan of them, nobody can’t deny a lot of Edmontonians are addicted to their crack chicken.
    May be, may be not: Fat Frank’s. Does it have to be Fat Frank’s? Really?
    Disagree: OK, this will be long but it can be broken down into:

    a) Famoso: Damn if you do, damn if you don’t. How fast can they crank out their pizzas? After all, they ain’t Pizza Hut kiosks where individual pizzas are under a heating lamp for something to pick them up…
    b) Delux: Sorry, so far, none of the Century Hospitality restaurants so far have impressed me, not even to the point of breaking par. In the case of Delux Burgers, last time I had one, their patties were more like meatloaf than a burger.
    c) Tres Carnales: Similar to Famoso, if they can crank things fast enough. However, that brings the question… If they can, will they provide mix-n-match taco orders at the sit-down restaurant?

    As for myself:

    1) A banh mi stand. V Sandwiches? (Technically, prefer it would be one from Chinatown but unlikely they will do it).
    2) Two stands rotating between different food trucks. Participating trucks will pitch X to secure the rental. Then, between the participating trucks, either in a lottery or round robin, they will take over the stand. (Round robin for hockey games; a small premium if an event).

  3. If I can’t eat it with one hand while I balance the beer between my legs/feet and another beer in my other hand then I won’t order it at an arena. All of the restaurants you mention (except Delux) have amazing food, but just because its good food doesn’t mean its good to eat from your lap in a cramped arena. (Could you imagine the mess of taco filling?) Perhaps, I could see opportunities for those restaurants catering some of the luxury boxes, where there are comfortable places to sit with table tops close to or right in your seats.

  4. I really like Kim’s idea of a spot for rotating through Edmonton’s food trucks!

    This is a great, local list Sharon. I think with a few tweaks (to speed of service, toppings, etc.) we could see any of these chains in the new arena.

    While I think Century Group has a real chance, I’m taking a more cynical approach to things and expecting a Boston Pizza (or Gretzky’s/Don Cherry’s), and fast food chains/typical stadium fare.

    I want to be proven wrong though! I would consider going to an Oilers game if it meant Tacos and Waffles.

  5. I would love to see local coffee have seat in the new arena like Transcend. Let’s not forget about our sweet tooth. I don’t know about you but I would certainly dig ave a chai latte and perhaps a macroon or two from Duchess during intermission 😉 I am a STRONG supporter of local food. This city is spilling over with outstanding talent. In hope local plays a central role unlike Whyte ave where a DQ is opening up! WHY!?

  6. What Casanova said is true, you have to take into consideration that you’re in a cramped space. I can see these ideas working if they scaled their orders down to the size of the square take out box.

    The other workaround is having a full restaurant in the arena with a view of the hockey game (Montreal arena style).

  7. Semi-related – well not really – but you should do a piece on the woe begotten enterprises that have to operate next to Chicken For Lunch in Scotia Place. I feel sorry for them. Nothing against Amy – great host and great food – but people seem reluctant to give the others a try. In particular a new one called “Good Pho You” (I don’t work for them I promise) – Good Pho on par with Tau Bay.

  8. I love the sentiment, mine included, for local eateries to open up in the proposed arena.

    The sad probability (I don’t want to say reality because not even the arena is a reality) is that there is no way most local eateries will be able to afford to be in the arena or even on the arena development. Will they even be asked?

    At LA Live (Staples Centre) all you see are higher end, large restaurants and bars. I think the Edmonton arena district is supposed to be modeled after this.

    The best that I can hope for is that all of the aforementioned eateries continue to do business downtown and that more of the same open up around the arena site.

    Given the proposed downtown CRL, the place to be for some upstarts should be north of 104 Avenue.

  9. I fully agree with Banh mi place being a good fit. Personally I’d like to see someone open a Blenz coffee place (chain from Vancouver) in Edmonton; the arena will be a great location!

  10. Oh, I so wish I believed that we’d have innovative/cool restaurants in the arena. I fear it’ll be a dead zone of fast food, a few ‘classier’ chain places if we’re lucky.

    Kinda like my fears about the ‘Entertainment District’: gee it’d be great to have alternative theatre and repertory cinemas. But I see strip clubs, bars, and other amenities for drunken hockey fans.

    I’ll be thrilled to be proven wrong.

  11. Citi Field also has a gluten-free food stand. Selfishly, I’m interested in more gluten-free options, but I’d prefer to see a new arena cater to multiple different diets, and have a greater variety, whoever the vendors are.

  12. I should add that many ballparks now have gluten-free stands. Edmonton company Kinnikinick has the contract for at least one of them (Turner Field in Atlanta). I’d love to see them have something similar here.

  13. By the amount of impassioned comments here, you’ve really picked a great topic, Sharon, and one that needed to be addressed. So, thanks for opening this up – hopefully the Powers That Be might take an interest in what you’ve brought to light.

    I’ve been to tons of pro sports arenas in the States, and many of them offer top notch, interesting, outside-the-box type of food spots that make the whole outing(not just the game) a wonderful experience.

    This is something that CAN be done; it’ll just take a foreward-thinking person in the Group to take a stand and make it happen.

    I’ll step down from the soap box now and throw my vote in for 2 foods: 1) Kosher hot dogs (they just taste better, that’s why), and 2) good ol’ “Suthern” bbq. Sauce and bones and mess be damned. The new arena will surely have roomier seating anyway, right?

  14. I disagree with almost all your choices, except:

    1) Tres Carnales would be great, but requires a complete restructure to service the volume required at the arena.

    2) Fat Franks. Of course, an obvious choice. Hot dogs are a must but I can’t imagine Fat Franks will have the concourse vendor rights.

    The remainder are fairly bland choices, especially the Lingnan as it is the worst style of Chinese food, far from authentic and far from healthy.

    My key disagreement with your choices is due to the fact that these places exist in Edmonton already. I’d rather see a few great restaurant concepts of the world find their way to Edmonton.

    My recommendations would be around the concepts of:

    1) The Melbourne Supper Club – Melbourne. Level after level of dining experience in perfect foodie order.

    2) Hofbraeuhaus – Munich. A beer hall with great draft and Bavarian food. Guaranteed to be a success with our beer drinking blue collar culture.

    3) The Loft – London. Great after work/dinner lounge.

    4) Lee – Toronto. Asian fusion by a renowned Canadian with a special tie to Edmonton.

    5) Catch – Calgary. A well rounded seafood extravaganza with a complete Oyster bar.

    The restaurants you have listed exist here, I hope the arena district brings new experiences into Edmonton instead of replicating existing ones.

  15. Addition:

    DTYEG could seriously use a decent breakfast place. Blue Plate doesn’t make the grade and after 30+ times, can get a little old.

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