Welcome Home: Queen of Tarts

It has been a long time coming, but Queen of Tarts has finally opened, just a stone’s throw away from her summer home at the City Market!

Queen of Tarts

Queen of Tarts

It was announced back in September 2010 that Linda Kearney would be opening a permanent storefront on 104 Street in the historic Armstrong building, with an anticipated opening date of November. Construction delays pushed that back four months, but after visiting the shop today, I think it was well worth the wait!

In October, Mack and I popped our heads inside the still bare room, where Linda was kind enough to receive us. This was the space before renovations:

Queen of Tarts

This is the space after:

Queen of Tarts

Isn’t it gorgeous?

It feels bright and airy and just the sort of place that can help you escape from Edmonton – even if just for a moment.

They similarly did a lot of work to create a cozy dining space that takes advantage of the room’s lone window. Before:

Queen of Tarts

After:

Queen of Tarts

The cases were filled to the brim with delectable treats. Among them – pear frangipane tarts, flourless chocolate cakes and brownies, and their signature lemon and lime curd tarts. They even had take-home containers of their ganache-based twist on a chocolate hazelnut spread!

Queen of Tarts

Desserts

The shelves behind the cases were stacked with fresh bread (most still warm out of the oven). Those who had the chance to visit the Alberta Avenue Farmers’ Market received a preview of some of the levain breads, but now, patrons will be able to buy her breads almost daily (though I love dessert, I’m most thrilled about the fact that we now have access to a great artisan bakery across the street)!

Queen of Tarts

La Fourchette silverware

Queen of Tarts also serves lunch, including soups, salads and quiche. Check out the day’s menu here.

Queen of Tarts

Savoury case

The shop may also become a go-to spot for those looking to pick up small gifts. Besides Mighty Trio Organics oils and Jam Lady spreads, Queen of Tarts also sells packages of biscotti, granola, and their popular cheddar shorties, among other things.

Queen of TartsQueen of Tarts

Cheddar shorties and chocolate biscotti

With Credo across the way, Transcend about to open up down the street, and now, the Queen of Tarts on the Promenade, 104 Street and Jasper Avenue is now the go-to place for a coffee break (I even ran into Cathy inside the shop – she wrote about her visit here).

Queen of Tarts

Stunning

I look forward to more trips down the stairs to feed our bread (and sweets) fix!

Queen of Tarts Bakery & Bistro
10129 104 Street
(780) 421-4410
Tuesday-Wednesday 9-6pm, Thursday-Friday 9am-8pm, Saturday 8:30am-6pm, closed Sunday & Monday

MoCupcakes, No Problem!

The manliest cupcake. Does that sound like a contradiction? I wasn’t sure what to expect when asked to be a judge in the MoCupcakes event that took place at Transcend Garneau last Monday, but it sure sounded like it would be a tasty task.

MoCupcakeYEG

Cupcakes galore!

MoCupcakes is one event in the Movember arsenal to help raise awareness of and funds to fight prostate cancer, a disease that 1 in 6 men will be diagnosed with in their lifetime. Although the campaign has been around for a few years (yes, it is the reason for the unsightly moustaches seen in November), 2010 has been the most successful year by far, having raised over $800,000, contributing to the over $20 million raised in Canada.

MoCupcakeYEG

Demistache

So, why cupcakes? Well, why not? From the MoCupcakes website:

Why not combine an iconic feminine baked delight  “cupcakes” and mash it up with a historically masculine cause that is changing the face of men’s health?

Jas Darrah was the mastermind behind Edmonton MoCupcakes, soliciting six bakers and five judges to determine the city’s manliest cupcake. The team at Transcend (who were also growing ‘staches for the cause), were generous enough to donate the venue, with staff agreeing to work on their own time when the shop closed for the night. Bravo.

MoCupcakeYEG

Jas explains the rules

Each of the six competitors were given an opportunity to describe their creation to the crowd, knowing that the name and explanation of their cupcake would be worth 10 out of the possible 30 points (10 additional points were awarded for the look, and the last 10 for taste).

MoCupcakeYEG

Jerry introduces his cupcake

Bacon enthusiast Jerry Aulenbach did not disappoint – his Cheddar Bacon Mo-fin with a chocolate ganache was a play on sweet and savoury flavours. But he even had bacon-less versions for those needing a kosher cupcake!

MoCupcakeYEG

Cheddar Bacon Mo-Fin

Although Ailynn Santos of Whimsical Cupcakes wasn’t on hand for the presentations, her box of “Big Poppa” cupcakes were accompanied with an explanation that the moustachioed cupcake featured a spice base and root beer frosting. The straw cigarette was a nice touch.

MoCupcakeYEG

Big Poppa

The cupcakes from Upper Crust were about twice the size of the others, and gorgeously showcased Edmonton’s most popular professional sports teams – right down to an Oilers decal made of icing and a football constructed from a chocolate-covered almond.

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Sports-themed cupcakes

Transcend’s own Chad Moss offered a Chocolate Beet-down Mo-cake, using his wife Thea’s recipe. Though he would not divulge whether or not bacon fat was added to the batter, his cupcake was made using local ingredients where possible.

MoCupcakeYEG

Chocolate Beet-down Mo-cake

Food blogger Chris Falconer offered his own interpretation of a cupcake with his Sunday Dinner Mancake, featuring a toasted bread crisp surrounding the ground beef, bacon and parmesan centre, then topped with a goat cheese mashed potato fondant and a maple sugar crisp. Talk about a dinner in cupcake form!

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Sunday Dinner Mancake

Last but certainly not least, Jas’s wife Linda Affolder presented her tool-belt wearing Stud Muffins – an encapsulation of men with their “strong chocolate exterior”, a shot of Guinness in the frosting, and a soft caramel centre. The fleur de sel sprinkling was icing on the cake.

MoCupcakeYEG

Stud Muffins

Alongside Kerry Powell, Ryan Jespersen, Seth Glick, and Nathan Box, we had the arduous task of assigning scores to each of the cupcakes. I know I was glad to have a rubric to fall back on.

MoCupcakeYEG

Cheers!

Who has the best milk moustache?

Nate means business!

MoCupcakeYEG

The judging

That said, Linda’s salty-sweet Stud Muffin was my personal favourite – the combination of the dark chocolate, caramel centre, and fleur de sel was just perfect, and made me wonder why the local cupcakeries aren’t already capitalizing on those flavours (Linda’s recipe can be found here).

MoCupcakeYEG

It’s a hard job, but somebody’s got to do it!

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The judging remnants (all taken home and finished later)

The winners, you ask? Chris’ savoury cupcake earned 125 out of a possible 150 points for third place.

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Chris and Sarah toy with their prize

Second place was awarded to Chad for his beet cupcake, who earned 132.5 points.

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Chad accepts his prize from Jas

And Linda, with 140.5 points, won first. She was unfailingly humble even then!

MoCupcakeYEG

Kerry bestows the feather boa to the MoCupcake champion

Thanks to Jas for organizing the event – it was great fun to be a part of! And a big thanks to the bakers for contributing their time and efforts to the cause.

Mack did an awesome job with the photos! You can see his entire photo set here.

Cozy Birthday Brunch: Cafe Haven

In thinking about brunch places where we could take Grandma Male to celebrate her birthday, my mind drifted to Café Haven. I first noticed Café Haven on Twitter, active in announcing their daily specials and musical acts. However, we didn’t often visit Sherwood Park, and as with most restaurants outside of the core, usually need a geographic excuse to stop by. Mack’s Grandma, always game to try new establishments herself, happens to live on the southeast edge of Edmonton.

Mack and Grandma Male

We had tweeted Café Haven the night before, asking them if we could make reservations for Sunday brunch. The response we received indicated no, reservations weren’t taken, but that we wouldn’t need them either. Imagine our surprise when we were greeted by a standing room-only crowd at the restaurant! That May morning was a chilly one – we suspected patrons had substituted any planned outdoor activities for relaxing with comfort food. And wouldn’t you know it – Café Haven announced later that it was a record-breaking day for them.

Open kitchen

Anyway, we opted to hover for a while, and thankfully, didn’t have to wait ten minutes before a table opened up on the sunny side of the restaurant. What was immediately apparent from the interior was that diners (at least when Café Haven isn’t entirely full) have a choice of seating areas that would befit any number of moods. In our section, lined with windows and with a full view of the open kitchen, painted a vibrant blue, felt bright and cheery. The rear of the restaurant, with sconce lighting and no natural light, felt intimate and cozy. Finally, an entirely separate room that went almost unseen, decorated with rich, sequined fabrics and painted in bold hues was exotic and private.

Interior

The one-page brunch menu (which changes every weekend) focused on fresh, local ingredients. They do subscribe to Eat Local First, and as indicated on their website, try to source from area farmers as much as possible. I was also happy to see that Café Haven serves Transcend coffee!

Cool, framed menus

I was very happy with my selection – a breakfast crepe with Westphalian ham, spinach and mushroom with a parmesan cream sauce ($10). The sauce was rich and undoubtedly imbued with calories – just the way I like it! And while I usually shy away from salads to start off my day, the balsamic dressing on the greens ensured I did not regret my choice.

Breakfast crepe with ham, spinach and mushroom

Mack and Grandma Male both ordered the free-range ham, scrambled eggs and toast ($10). Mack said the potatoes in particular were his favourite.

Free-range ham, scrambled eggs and toast

With a bustling atmosphere and lovely interior, I can see why Café Haven’s business is picking up. Hopefully I’ll have to pass through Sherwood Park again soon!

Cafe Haven
9 Sioux Road, Sherwood Park
(780) 417-5523

Good Things Come to Those Who Wait: Elm Cafe

Elm Cafe has been a long time coming for Nate Box. After an exhaustive search for a storefront, he was happy to announce in September 2009 that he had landed the space formerly occupied by Hulbert’s in McKernan/Belgravia. It would have allowed him to serve three square meals, in a neighbourhood bereft of good dining options, with ample patio seating. Unfortunately, negotiations fell through, and he was forced to start from scratch, again.

Nine months later, Elm Cafe finally found a home, and after a few weeks of renovations, transformed from an underutilized sandwich shop to a beautiful, modern space. Though it’s barely larger than a generous walk-in closet, it more than makes up for its small size with charm.

Elm Cafe

As the website states, Elm offers “take-away craft sandwiches, light fare, premium coffee and beverages.” With two seats along the bar and (hopefully) some outdoor seating later in the summer, it’s not hard to see that Elm focuses on grab-and-go food (menu here). By the time I reached Elm late in the afternoon, they were all sold out of sandwiches (by 1pm, apparently!), but you can take a look at Kelly’s blog for what to expect. Follow their Twitter account to find out what the daily sandwich and soup will be.

Bar seating

On the coffee front, Nate decided to go with 49th Parallel, a Vancouver-based roaster. He had travelled to #yvr in late May to learn more about the coffees, and for the first two days of Elm’s opening, has the privilege of hosting Sammy Piccolo, who placed second at the 2009 World Barista Championships.

Nate and Sammy

I was heading to Indulgence later that night, so ordered a straight brewed coffee for a light afternoon pick-me-up ($2.25). In all my excitement, I forgot to ask the origin of the beans, but I am happy to report that the coffee was full-bodied and smooth.

49th Parallel beans

Many congratulatory bouquets were on display (including a clever morel bouquet from Thea and Chad), and I think Nate deserves all the accolades for powering through and making Elm happen, even with all of the setbacks. With his passion for good food and community, I think Nate is on to something great.

More(l) well wishes

I can’t wait to go back and try the food.

Elm Cafe
#100, 10140 117 Street
(780) 756-3356
Monday-Wednesday 7am-5pm, Thursday-Friday 7am-7pm, Saturday 8am-4pm, closed Sundays

Transcend’s New Frontier: T2

T2, Transcend’s first full retail café, will finally open to the public on Friday, April 23. Six months in the making, owner Poul Mark and his team have transformed the former pizza parlour in the Garneau Theatre building into a chic, modern space that also highlights its heritage roots.

T2

The sleek leather banquets, minimalist furnishings and clean bar contrast wonderfully with the exposed brick and reclaimed original floor. I also love the pop of lime green amidst the white walls, perhaps a nod to their roasting business. And of course, the art – classy and a link to the origin of coffee, it’s a visual reminder of Transcend’s status as a third-wave café.

Interior

Less than twenty-four hours from opening, Poul was nice enough to take a few minutes out of his busy day to chat about this exciting addition to the Transcend family this afternoon.

Counter

Customers should expect the same great coffee that they have come to love from the original Transcend. Three single-origin varieties, brewed on Clover, plus espresso-based drinks, are proudly listed on the magnetic menu behind the bar. Six loose tea varieties from Metropolitan Tea will also be offered, made using Brewts (similar to the Teavana system that I am familiar with), though Poul indicated that this may change as he learns more about tea.

On the counter

I was offered something to drink during my short stay – I gave the barista free rein (my usual drink at Transcend is black coffee) and was handed a cappuccino complete with latte art. I haven’t had a cappuccino in years, mostly because previous drinks have proven bitter and unsatisfying. I am happy to say that Transcend’s version was smooth, creamy, and without any unpleasant aftertaste. I may be a cappuccino convert now.

Cappuccino

On the food side of things, Poul made it clear that T2 is not a restaurant – their focus is on coffee. That said, they will have some light fare, sourced locally as much as possible – pastries from Fresh Start Bistro, soup from Soul Soup, and vanilla gelato from Chocolate Exquisite to make affogato. The only item they will be making in-house are liege waffles (a smaller cousin of the Belgian variety), which can be topped with everything from chocolate from Kerstin’s Chocolates to Jam Lady preserves to rosemary whipped cream.

Magnetic menu

The high-traffic location also provides Transcend with the opportunity to potentially expose a greater amount of people to their high-quality coffee and brewing techniques. Poul indicated that while cuppings will continue at the retail location, T2 will feature more drop-in sessions to teach patrons how to brew better coffee at home – for example, how to utilize a French press.

Mission

I realize their focus is and will be on T2 for the months to come, but I couldn’t resist asking Poul what might be in Transcend’s future. He didn’t rule out additional cafes (and is still toying with the idea of a wine and pizza bar) but did comment that they could only expand so much without compromising their standards, as it would become difficult to source high quality coffee at the volume necessary to serve multiple locations.

With Three Bananas, Axis Cafe, Credo and now T2, the specialty coffee scene is looking better and better in Edmonton. Congrats to Poul and the rest of the Transcend staff on the beautiful cafe!

T2
8708 109 Street
(780) 756-8882
Monday – Wednesday 7am-7pm, Thursday – Saturday 7am-9pm, Sunday 8am-4pm

Gifts + Cappuccino = Bling

I love the current trend of cafes in retail spaces, marrying the happy pair of caffeine and shopping. As evidenced by the success of places like The Wired Cup and Zocalo (covered by the Journal in a recent story),  sipping a cup of coffee amongst charming giftware is a nice alternative to the bustling cafe.

Edmonton can add another such establishment to it’s growing list – the cheekily named Bling just opened up on the ground floor of City Square Tower, across the street from the west side of City Hall. It’s easy to miss, particularly given the awning above it still reads “Universal Hobbies”.

There is no trace of the donair joint that occupied the space prior to Bling. Kloy Parker, formerly of The Butler Did It,  has transformed the tiny room into an elegant cafe and shop. In addition to coffee and tea, Bling offers pastries from the Italian Bakery and Handy Bakery, and will soon add panini sandwiches to their menu.

The wares are also noteworthy – Kloy prides himself on sourcing chic, gift-worthy, and best of all, affordable items (everything in the store is priced with the GST already included). He showed me a lovely textured metallic bowl that cost just $8, and a grooved, square pasta bowl priced at $10. I also spied a Dean & Deluca cookbook on my way out.

Kloy inside Bling

Check it out while you’re in the neighbourhood – but don’t blame me if you end up with a few more items for your kitchen!

Bling
10316 100 Street
(780) 421-0000

Edmonton’s Newest Bakery: Duchess Bake Shop

Life is all about the little things. Watching the leaves fall from the trees in autumn. Drinking in the mid-afternoon sun. Savouring that first sip of morning coffee. Or, finding that a new bakery opened up in your neighbourhood.

Thanks to Nate Box (who will be opening his own restaurant, Elm Cafe, soon enough), I found out about Duchess Bake Shop, located in the High Street area within walking distance of Mack’s place, and right along my homeward bound bus route. I stopped in on Monday to check them out, and found that they had only been open a whirlwind three days.

Interior

The shop has a chic, sophisticated feel about it, with hardwood floors and a dominant white interior. A chandelier and a handful of tables and chairs round out the space, helpful for those looking to stay and pair their indulgence with something from the bakery’s cafe menu.

Owners Garner and Giselle Beggs have been thinking about opening a bakery for years. Fresh from a four year sojourn in Tokyo, they decided the time was ripe to return and make their dream a reality. Although Duchess offers many French-inspired treats (croissants, macarons, madelines), Garner says they aren’t restricting themselves to a French repertoire, with apple and banana cream pies also available, among other treats. Everything is made from scratch without preservatives – even the food colouring they use is from natural sources.

Macarons

I picked up two croissants ($1.50 each) for Mack and I to serve as a savoury bridge to dinner. They smelled of butter, and on first bite, had that crispy-crunchy texture I look for in a croissant. Mack didn’t like it as much (he prefers the softer variety), but I’d buy it again.

Croissants

Duchess also serves croissant sandwiches, which would make it an interesting destination for lunch. Or, like the couple who filed into the shop after me – for those looking for something to “make a bad day better”. I will be back.

Duchess Bake Shop
10720 124 Street
(780) 488-4999
Hours as of October 26, 2009: Wednesday 9am-6pm, Thursday-Friday 9am-8pm, Saturday 10am-6pm, Sunday 10am-5pm, closed Mondays and Tuesdays

Day 5 in DC: Tourist Mashup

The muggiest day to greet us in DC was also our tardiest start, indicative of our exhaustion the night before. We finally left the hotel at 10:30, and determined to try an alternative to Starbucks, sought out the nearest location of Caribou Coffee.

With their wooden beams, hardwood floor and stone fireplace, it would have been easy to mistake the interior of Caribou Coffee with that of a Montana’s. There was no line-up (unlike our hotel’s neighbourhood Starbucks), and I liked the cheeky statements printed on the napkins. The coffee itself wasn’t bad, though drowned in milk as it were I probably wouldn’t have been able to tell otherwise.

 

A cabin or a coffee shop?

Our first planned stop for the day was the last of the major memorials we hadn’t yet seen – the Thomas Jefferson Memorial. At some point after we departed the Metro we must have made a wrong turn, because we ended up not at the memorial, but at a waterfront lined with seafood stalls.

Seafood market

Crabs galore!

The aromas drifting from the area weren’t exactly pleasant – seafood never fares well in open air on hot days. There was some agreeable cookery going on though – with “fresh” (trucked in) fish, crabs, and other shellfish being offered alongside lemonade and ice cream. We were able to sample some fried fish, which satisfied our seafood curiosity.

A man among fish

Across and under a bridge, we finally reached the Jefferson Memorial. Away from the Mall attractions, it was relatively quiet, and free from large school groups. Situated on the Tidal Basin as well, this memorial was in the perfect spot to capture breezes that came off the water. I’m sure cherry blossoms would add a touch of magic to the park, but even without them, the tree-lined area was lovely, and brought me back to the West Wing episode of “Mandatory Minimums” where Toby and Andie take their walk around the basin.

Jefferson Memorial

Jefferson, the primary author of the Constitution, was quite scholarly, making the Greek columns very appropriate for his memorial. Though the statues of Lincoln and Jefferson are apparently the same height, the Lincoln Memorial still trumps all others in grandness and impact.

Jefferson Memorial

We walked across the basin to spend the best $10 we had all trip – on paddleboats! The $10 secured a rental for an hour, which was more than enough time to explore the reachable corners of Tidal Basin, and to access one of the best frontal views of the Jefferson Memorial. And after rushing from place to place for the last few days, it was nice to kick back and relax out on the water.

Jefferson Memorial from Tidal Basin

Mack on the Berry (photo #2 – yes, even on the water)

Marines and POTUS helicopters flew overhead in the direction of the White House a few times, as did numerous domestic flights in and out of Reagan National Airport. The airspace in DC was undoubtedly always busy.

POTUS Helicopter overhead

Off the water, we took a quick ice cream break at one of the strategically-placed tourist-oriented confectionary traps, and hopped on the Metro to get to our lunch destination – Ben’s Chili Bowl on U Street.

Our piecemeal day continued with a return to our hotel to change (a nod to our most formal dining experience in DC), then hoofed it to Georgetown. It was absolutely boiling at this point, so our trek was most uncomfortable for Mack, to say the least, dressed in a long-sleeve dress shirt. He was a trooper though, as we made the most of our time by shopping in the district, where I picked up some gifts at the lovely gift and stationary store Paper Source and elsewhere.

I heart Georgetown

A picturesque garden in the middle of Georgetown

A Georgetown shopping centre

We made sure to stop at Dean and Deluca, which in Georgetown was not only a café, but a full-on specialty grocer. We overturned many products to find astronomical prices, and contented ourselves with two rounded D & D mugs, which we had admired from afar in New York.

Dean & Deluca

Not a wine cellar, but hall

Bulk candies are always more expensive when stored in glass jars

On Bruce’s recommendation, we also visited Georgetown Cupcake, where the line-up was out the door. Granted, the tiny storefront could only contain so many, but given the number of large boxes waiting to be picked up, we were sure that walk-in customers formed only a tiny branch of their business.

They had a dozen varieties to choose from, all temptingly displayed on tiered stands at the order counter. After patrons put in their order, they had to pass the funds across to the staff person on the other side of the tiers, creating an awkward exchange for both parties (and a potentially messy one, even though a sign read that ‘cakes on display were indeed for display only).

Cupcakes!

At $2.75 a pop, the cupcakes seemed to be on par or slightly more expensive than the Canadian bakeries I have visited. I decided on a fairly classic flavour – vanilla² – while Mack opted for something a little less run-of-the-mill – carrot cake.

On the corner of Georgetown and cupcake

The vanilla bean cake was pretty tasty – flavoured and flecked nicely, but with sweetness in check. I was saddened to find that the icing was made with cream cheese, however, as I am not a fan. On the other hand, the cream cheese base did mean that the icing didn’t melt as fast as its, say, buttercream counterparts, and as Mack adores cream cheese, he unsurprisingly enjoyed his treat more than I did.

We ended the night at dinner – an upscale restaurant called Hook.

You can read Mack’s Day 5 recap here.

Edmonton’s Coffee Scene is Perking Up: Credo Coffee

Cafes that offer specialty coffees are rapidly gaining ground and market share in Edmonton. Just to name a few – Three Bananas, Leva, daCapo, and of course, Transcend, are elevating what coffee lovers should expect from a cup of joe. More exciting than a consistent, high quality product, however, these cafes employ well-trained baristas, where coffee is not just a job, but a passion.

I’m happy to report that the specialty coffee scene has just gained another member in the city – Credo Coffee opened its doors at the end of June on the ground floor of the Icon Tower, located in the trendy and boutique-lined 104th Street. It is definitely a welcome downtown addition – I’m surprised it took so long for a cafe of this nature to materialize in the core.

Credo Coffee

Geoff Linden, formerly of Three Bananas, and who has also pulled shots at Transcend (he said himself that the specialty coffee scene in Edmonton is a small one), is behind this venture. Credo’s tagline, “coffee to believe in” draws attention to their commitment to fine coffee. While they are not in the business of roasting, they do serve only Intelligensia Direct Trade Coffee: “For a coffee to be considered Intelligensia Direct Trade there is a specific list of criteria that must be met by both Intelligentsia and our grower-partners.  In the broadest terms these coffees should be understood as a true collaboration, with both sides investing a great deal of time, energy and ideas to produce something great.”

Kenya Thunguri – one of the two brewed coffees Credo was serving

Not satisfied with simply serving great coffee (menu here), Credo also offers specialty teas, and further distinguishes itself from other cafes with fresh sandwiches and baked goods all made in-house.

The cafe is bright, benefits from a lofty openness afforded by a high ceiling and had a vibe similar to Calgary’s Caffe Artigiano. I think Credo could rearrange their seating area to further maximize their space, but I did appreciate that their table placement did allow for easy movement. In addition, like some other food establishments in the city such as Culina Highlands, Credo exhibits art work created by local artists.

Interior

Mack chose to try their macchiato ($3.25), nicely finished with latte art. I opted for a brewed dark-roast coffee ($2.50, though price could vary depending on origin), which was full-bodied and rich. It was a touch acidic, but as I am used to drinking my coffee with milk, that was expected.

Macchiato

Brewed Coffee

I hope Credo is able to secure external signage soon – with the ongoing construction in the area, it is easy to miss! I encourage you to stop by, and revel in downtown’s first specialty coffee cafe!

Credo Coffee
10134 104 Street
(780) 761-3744
Monday-Friday 7pm-9pm, Saturday 8am-9pm, Sunday 10am-5pm

Conference Weekend in Calgary

I spent the past weekend in Calgary attending a conference, and judging by the fact that the venue served us popsicles during one coffee break, they also didn’t anticipate the snow that fell in June. I do hope that was the last of it.

Convention centres always amaze me with their logistical abilities to feed a thousand people in a fairly efficient way. The Telus Convention Centre was great for the most part, but I had a nitpick about their neglect of tea drinkers on the first day.

Carafes, from left to right: coffee, decaffeinated coffee, hot water (the latter was empty – at all stations)

Thankfully, they improved on day 2, as I’m sure they received their share of negative feedback.

The gala dinner was quite the spread (I am certain the conference is heavily subsidized – our registration price would have gone to food alone). Someone should have decided to call table numbers, however, as the wait in the free-for-all lineup for the buffet was half an hour for those who arrived to the hall late.

Dessert table (the “cherry almond martinis” were visually engaging, but tasted to me like whipped cream…I didn’t finish it)

The second day was filled with sessions that focused on wellness, a nice change from the content-heavy day prior. I really enjoyed Judy Atkinson’s community drumming workshop. It was incredibly satisfying to spend an hour and a half getting accustomed to the different instruments (African, Cuban and First Nations drums, as well as percussion), and was a great stress reliever.

My starter drum

As Saturday was a half day, I was able to wander a bit around the core before catching my bus back to Edmonton. I stopped in at Art Central for some window shopping, then to deVille Cafe for something to eat. It’s a nice space, chic and modern as you’d expect from an upscale cafe, but their microwave-equivalent breakfast sandwich left something to be desired – it was rubbery and had me wishing for Starbucks’ sandwich instead. I guess at $3.50, I shouldn’t have set my standards too high (particularly knowing that coffee was their specialty, not food), but shouldn’t small independents focus on quality?

deVille Cafe interior

Ham, Egg and Cheese Sandwich

After more shopping, I ended up at Avenue Diner for an early supper. I haven’t been back since my visit nearly two years ago for brunch, and I was eager for an opportunity to try the tempting macaroni and cheese, a large print of which is displayed in the lobby. The servers were lovely throughout, and took a little pity on me as a lone diner as they tidied up for the day. The food was fairly tardy, unusual also because I was the penultimate party to order. It did arrive with a golden, crunchy, cheesy crust though, and probably could have fed two people. At the same time, given the price ($16.29), perhaps that’s what they had in mind.

“Dad’s famous aged white Cheddar mac and cheese” from Avenue Diner

There are still so many Calgary eateries I’d like to try – I look forward to my next trip down, hopefully minus the snow!