Recap: Urban Pedal Tour in Old Strathcona

Urban Pedal Tours have taken Edmonton by storm. Launched just this May by Matt and Carol Gosse, they’ve nearly been at capacity all summer, offering a unique alternative to the typical pub crawl. Instead of the usual bus or exploration by foot, Urban Pedal Tours moves tour groups through Old Strathcona and Downtown via 15-passenger bikes.

Inspired by a similar tour they enjoyed in Seattle two years ago, Edmonton joins Montreal, Victoria, and Kelowna as communities in Canada that have adopted this interesting mode to see the city. While no liquor laws in the country allow consumption while on the bike, the u-shaped bike definitely promotes more interaction throughout the tour.

On Sunday afternoon, Mack and I were invited by Linda to participate in an Urban Pedal Tour, along with a dozen others. Part of a Travel Alberta-funded excursion, our trek would be filmed for an “Edmonton on wheels” spot to be released next year.

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The group met up at the Urban Pedal Tours garage in Old Strathcona, signed waivers, and received an orientation to the bike from Matt. Although the bike holds up to 15 passengers, only 10 are pedaling seats. We rotated positions between stops so everyone had the chance to pedal (something I much preferred!). For the most part, it was an easy cycle, with the bike maxing out at speeds of 8km per hour. It was also a much less intense than the Food Bike Tour Mack and I joined back in August.

Urban Pedal Tours

With our ride

Matt, who was in charge of steering the bike, was very careful about merging us into traffic. Although we were definitely moving much slower than vehicle traffic typically travels down Whyte Avenue, most drivers were surprisingly forgiving about our pace. Combined with the friendly horn and the on-board music system, drivers were more inclined to smile and wave as we passed than honk.

We made three stops that afternoon on the two hour tour. The first was El Cortez for some appetizers and drinks. The $38 per person fee only covers the tour portion; any food or drink is extra (on this tour, the fee was covered by Travel Alberta, but we paid for our own food and drinks). That said, Urban Pedal Tours has arranged some special offers for its patrons – in the case of El Cortez, it was happy hour pricing.

El Cortez

El Cortez

Our table split an order of guacamole and chips (half price), and a few people tried their sangrias (on special every Sunday). Matt was great about ensuring the group knew how much time we had at each stop (approximately 25 minutes), but the limit did result in some people having to down their drinks quickly depending on when it was delivered.

El Cortez

Linda is all smiles!

Our second stop was Malt and Mortar. Several tables had been reserved for the group, with bowls of house-spiced popcorn ready for us to snack on. Sundays at Malt and Mortar mean $10 Caesars, which Mack took advantage of.

Urban Pedal Tours

Mack tried the Smoke Caesar

We spent the most time at the final stop, Situation Brewing. We were all encouraged to grab a pint before a quick tour of the brewery.

Urban Pedal Tours

Thom and Mike enjoy a pint

We learned that their current best sellers are their Page Turner IPA, Uno Mas, and Afternoon Tea Saison, and that they brew approximately 10-15,000l per month.

Situation Brewing

Tour at Situation Brewing

While at Situation, we were eyeing up the other parties around the brew pub who were having lunch. It would mean lengthening the tour, but I would have preferred at least one stop where we could have the opportunity to order a more significant portion of food. We did learn from Matt that next summer, they do intend to add a third bike to their roster, and potentially offer more specialty tours that could be more food-oriented. It will be interesting to see if they do introduce an all-inclusive rate to their offerings; I’d personally prefer to pay for my food and drinks up front, but I can understand the logistical challenges this may cause to their business model.

At any rate, it was great to be able to take part in an Urban Pedal Tour – it was a fun way to spend a fleeting summer afternoon. Thanks again to Linda for the invitation and to Travel Alberta for setting this up!

Urban Pedal Tours

We did it! (photo credit: Linda)

Urban Pedal Tours runs until September 30, 2017, and will return in May 2018.

New in Norwood: Otto

Looking for some casual eats on Friday, Mack and I ended up at Otto, located in Norwood, a neighbourhood just north of Little Italy/McCauley. I had been once before with a friend in their first week of opening back in December, but had wanted to return again after they were more established.

Had the temperatures been more co-operative that day, I’m certain the garage doors separating Otto from the sidewalk would have been up and open – with the late evening sun streaming into the dining room, the restaurant definitely had the upbeat atmosphere of a summer weekend kick-off. Otto was full, with patrons ranging from families with young children to groups of friends catching up. Owner Ed Donszelmann (formerly of Culina Mill Creek) said they hadn’t been that busy in some time, but they were doing their best to keep up.

The interior hadn’t changed much since my first visit – a modest sized room with a worn-in feel, Otto is unpretentious and comfortable. They had wanted very much to become the go-to neighbourhood place; anchored by a bar and a large communal table, the restaurant has the infrastructure to do so.

The menu is equally straightforward, and celebrates the timeless pairing of beer and sausages. They have several local beers on tap (Yellowhead, Alley Kat, Lacombe’s Blindman Brewing), as well as an extensive selection of cans and bottles. Mack felt a pint of Alley Kat’s summer incarnate Main Squeeze was in order, while I took the opportunity to sample my first wine in a can. Oregon’s Underwood Wines Pinot Gris was easy to drink, and is definitely something I’d seek out for trips to the lake.

Otto

Drinks at Otto

Edmonton sausage and charcuterie maker Fuge Fine Meats supplies all of Otto’s sausages. That day, the menu contained nine varieties, including lamb merguez, pork chorizo, curried cod, and a vegan smoked apple sage. Served with saukraut and mustard, sausages run between $7-9. However, you can also upsize your order in two ways – sausage on a bun, NYC style, for $10, or currywurst with fries for $13. We went this route, with andouille on a bun, and beef bratwurst for the currywurst treatment.

Otto also offers a handful of sides in addition to fries to round out your meal: potato salad, house salad, beets with goat cheese and horseradish, and mac & cheese. On this occasion, we chose to share the small mac ($6) and a small coleslaw ($4).

As mentioned, the restaurant was slammed that night, so our food was noticeably delayed. Staff did check in to reassure us, but we did end up looking longingly at our table neighbours who ordered after us but finished their meal before our plates even arrived.

The andouille ended up being our favourite dish – snappy with a good portion of fat for a satisfying, flavourful sausage. The currywurst was interesting – a curry powder-laced tomato sauce overtop the bratwurst and fries. While the sauce had a moderate heat level, we both found it a tad too sweet for our liking. The fries themselves were great, however, and on future trips, we agreed that we’d likely just order a side of fries to complement our sausage on a bun.

Otto Edmonton

Currywurst with fries

As for the other sides, I did enjoy the coleslaw, refreshing with a thin dressing and lots of dill. The mac and cheese was creamier on this outing than my previous visit, but just isn’t worth the $6 charge for the small portion.

Otto Edmonton

NYC style with mac and cheese and coleslaw

It’s always great to see new restaurants setting up shop in underrepresented central neighbourhoods. The price point for Otto’s sausages and beers is reasonable, and service as a whole was welcoming. With this straightforward concept, it’s no surprise that Otto is becoming a destination for diners seeking a comfortable gathering place. I hope to return when the weather allows the garage doors to be fully operational!

Otto
11405 95 Street
(780) 477-6244
Monday-Sunday 5-10pm

Recap: Slow Food Edmonton’s Hijacked

Slow Food Edmonton seems to be picking up steam, with two of their spring events falling so on trend that people might forget all together that the food they’re consuming is good, clean and fair. The first of those events appealed to me because I was curious to see how they would involve a food truck so early on in the season.

Hijacked, which took place on March 8, 2014, was a collaboration between Slow Food Edmonton, Shovel & Fork, Drift, and Alley Kat Beer. The proceeds from the fundraiser were intended to help support SFE members attend the National Slow Food Conference in Halifax later this year.

Hijacked

Parked at Alley Kat

It was a casual event, the $30 non-member ticket price mainly going towards a glass of beer and food. My sisters and I socialized and perused the auction items, but were eager to chow down.

I have to say, SFE hit the weather jackpot, given the Saturday prior was close to –30. It was a fairly balmy evening, the perfect “winter” conditions for a food truck. Although it took some time for the grub to get going, it was ultimately worth the wait.

Each of us received a box of food fit for two people. Our favourite was the shroom melt, made with local mushrooms and onions and The Cheesiry’s pecorino. The sides – one, a northern bean salad with Doef’s peppers and cucumbers, and two, a Sundog Organics slaw with Shovel & Fork apple cider – were great accompaniments that stood up to the mains. I particularly loved the final touch of microgreens. For dessert, we were given a snail-shaped rice crispy treat – too cute.

Hijacked

Dinner at Hijacked

Our only complaint about the event was the lack of seating, something the organizers were very cognizant of, given one of the auction items was actually table seating for four. More cocktail tables would have made things easier to eat, most notably, the meatball sub. We watched as people spread out on the floor inside, or struggled to keep food off their shirts as they ate standing up. We ended up staying outside to take advantage of one of Drift’s cocktail tables, even as the mercury dropped after dark.

Hijacked

Winter patio!

The event was a success, with both seatings selling out. Their next event, a pizza pop-up at RGE RD, is already at capacity, but with this renewed momentum, I’d stay tuned to Slow Food Edmonton to learn when their next happening is taking place so you’re not disappointed!

Recap: The Urban Craft Beer & Food Festival

While Sherbrooke Liquor Store has organized beer tastings in the past, The Urban Craft Beer & Food Festival was their first event to incorporate food trucks into the mix. Held last Friday at the Alberta Aviation Museum, the event was a fundraiser for the Urban Spirits Rotary Club, with proceeds supporting youth at risk in the Edmonton area. Admission tickets were $25 plus service fees, with sample tickets to be purchased separately on site, for $1 each.

The Urban Craft Beer & Food Festival

At the Aviation Museum

Mack and I arrived early to avoid the crowds, which paid off on the food end of things! Little Village, Bully and The Lingnan Express were on hand in the food truck “corral” outside. The Aviation Museum restricts the use of open flame in the building, which helped to rationalize the location of the trucks, but I think they should have been more prominent somehow – the trucks and their menus weren’t even included in the program.

The Urban Craft Beer & Food Festival

To the food trucks

It was also unfortunate that it had snowed earlier in the day, as it turned the dirt pad into mud. Tarps and wooden boards provided some separation, but it was less than ideal.

The Urban Craft Beer & Food Festival

Food truck corral

Still, the trucks soldiered on, and we picked up a great spread – it was one of the first times Mack and I have been able to do so, given we are usually otherwise occupied during What the Truck?! events. Bully seemed to be the only truck to truly pair beers with their food, as all five of their dishes incorporated a different beer being poured in the tasting room.

The Urban Craft Beer & Food Festival

Sliders from Little Village, mac and cheese from Bully, spring rolls and crack chicken from The Lingnan Express  (all for $20!)

After dinner, we perused the beer vendors. Although we appreciated that the event was a fundraiser, samples were priced at 2-3 tickets each. As a result, we ended up only sampling a few beers, partly due to the fact that it would have been quite costly otherwise (we wondered if the organizers might consider including 5 sample tickets with the price of admission to get people started).

The Urban Craft Beer & Food Festival

Mack queues up for Alley Kat

For my sake (as a non-beer drinker), we chose to try a few beers featuring fruit. My favourite of the bunch was Alley Kat’s Summer Squeeze Grapefruit Ale – it was even more fruity than their Aprikat, full of citrus flavour.

The Urban Craft Beer & Food Festival

What the Huck from Fernie Brewing, featuring a huckleberry finish

Mack also tried Alley Kat’s Udderly Vanilla Milk Stout, which tasted more like spiked coffee to me, but Mack enjoyed the combination of coffee and vanilla.

As were were principally there to support the food trucks, we didn’t regret our decision not to imbibe in more beer tastes. But if this event does take place next year, I’d recommend attendees budget in advance, knowing the price of sample tickets. Kudos to the organizers for involving food trucks though – hopefully more events do so as well!

A Taste and Tour of Amber’s Brewing Company

On a Saturday back in November, Mack and I met up with Thom at Amber’s Brewing Company for a tour. Thom works for Liquor Depot, and in part because of a recent deal between the company and local brewers, Liquor Depot staff were invited out for a friends and family day.

Mack and I are not as familiar with Amber’s as we are with the other two local brewing companies, but seeing as we had already made the rounds at both Alley Kat and Yellowhead, we knew it was only a matter of time before we crossed Amber’s off our list too.

We have tried Amber’s products a few times in the past, most notably during the intermissions at Hey Ladies. I remember being amazed when I was first introduced to Grog, their lime cooler with no artificial ingredients – in fact, the list of ingredients reads like any homemade cocktail. Or, sampling their cinnamon and cardamom beer, which they developed exclusively for New Asian Village, I was sceptical that the spices would come through, but hey, there they were.

Having seen Jim Gibbon up on stage, we knew he was a personable guy. But we didn’t know quite how personable until the tour. He claimed it was because he was on his third tour of the day (which, of course, involves gratuitous beer sampling every time), but we suspected his outgoing personality would shine regardless of blood alcohol content.

Amber's Brewing Company

Thom and Jim (I really should have taken more pictures, but the tour went fast – Jim condensed the normally two hour tour into half an hour)

I’m sure someone, somewhere, will eventually compile a list of “Jim-isms” such as, “Wine sucks ass.” Why? “It’s just rotten grapes.” Or, “Beer is the foundation of humanity,” his statement that preceded one of his “thirty second stories” that once humans adopted a sedentary civilization, that water purification, through the creation of beer, was our saviour. His obvious passion for beer, weaved with his humour and sarcasm, made him a fun tour guide.

In addition to historical insights, the tour highlighted the environmentally-friendly aspects of the brewery, which included recycling of plastics and cardboard, donation of expended malt and hops to farmers for feed, and even heat recycling, which decreased their need for external heat units down from eight to two.

And then, the beer. Jim wasn’t shy about letting us taste whatever was brewing. The Sap Vampire Maple Lager (the #1 seller at Amber’s) was served to us directly from the vat, unfiltered. The Kenmount Road Chocolate Stout (best, Jim said, served as a float with ice cream), was uncarbonated. I can’t comment too much about taste (not really being a beer connoisseur), but my fellow tasters were floored.

Amber's Brewing

Where the beer brews

Jim was really excited about the deal with Liquor Depot, the largest Canadian-owned liquor store by both number of stores and sales figures. The agreement will see four Amber’s brews, four Alley Kat brews, one Wild Rose and a percentage of Big Rock sold at all Liquor Depots in Alberta – a reach totalling over 175 stores in 25 communities across the province.

Amber's Brewing Company

Australian Mountain Pepper Berry (Jim’s favourite)

It’s great to see a trend of local beers increasing their distribution venues (Local Public Eatery of the Joey’s Restaurant Group being another example). I hope to see this trend continue!

Thanks to Jim for sharing his afternoon with us, and to Thom for letting us tag along!

Amber’s Brewing Company
9926 – 78 Avenue
(780) 628-2305

Edmonton’s Newest Microbrewery: Yellowhead Brewery

Brewmaster Scott Harris has an excellent memory. On my way to a meeting downtown Thursday afternoon, I stopped inside the new Yellowhead Brewery for a look, mainly because the door was open and beckoning. I had wanted to explore the interior of the building for some time, and this seemed like a timely opportunity to do so. Inside, Scott was being interviewed by someone, but stopped to ask if I needed anything. As I was en route elsewhere, I told him I couldn’t stay, but would be back on the weekend.

Yellowhead Brewery

At the City Market on Saturday, we ran into Scott in line for Fat Franks. He remembered me from the other day, and asked if we intended to stop by later. We made good on our promise, and made a proper visit before heading home.

Inside the brewery

Yellowhead Brewery is located in the historic 1913 H. V. Shaw building at 10229 105 Street, which was originally a cigar factory. The structure was renovated by Gene Dub in 2005, and housed Maverick Brewery from 2005-07, before it went out of business. With a central location and a beautiful facade, it was a shame the building sat empty for several years – so it is great to see it being used again as a craft brewing facility.

Bottling area

Yellowhead has a tasting room open most days from noon to six. While they currently only make one lager, Scott told us he has plans to make a lighter and darker brew, as well as a seasonal variety. He also said he is working on supplying kegs to several local restaurants and bars, including Skinny Legs and Cowgirls and Level 2 Lounge.

Tasting Room

We both tried a small glass of the Yellowhead Beer. I don’t trust my palate, as I am not a beer drinker (Alley Kat’s Aprikat cooler is about as close as I get to beer), but Mack enjoyed it. He compared it to Alley Kat’s Charlie Flint Lager. We picked up two 500mL bottles (a steal at just $3 each).

Yellowhead Beer

What was apparent to me during our visit was the brewery’s decision to honour the history of the city and the space. From the name (Yellowhead Beer was the first brewing company established in Edmonton, back in 1894) to coasters that tell the history of the word “Yellowhead”, to the archive photo proudly displayed on the wall, I love that Yellowhead decided to consciously shine a light on the city’s roots.

Edmonton Cigar Factory in 1913

We also took the time to take in the Yellowhead Room, a beautiful space with capacity for 150. Between the exposed brick, lively art on the walls, and a built-in bar and corner stage, both Mack and I thought it would be a great space for events. And at just $350 for the night, it’s a pretty good deal, too.

Yellowhead Room

As we were leaving, Scott was serving up fresh glasses to patrons who had just walked in. I hope many more people stop by to try out the beer – best of luck to Edmonton’s newest brewery!

Yellowhead Brewery
10229 105 Street
(780) 423-3333