Date Night: The Secret Garden and Museum After Dark 2

Prior to a night out at the museum in early July, Mack and I had dinner at The Dish and the Runaway Spoon. More specifically, we chose to sit in their Secret Garden, one of my favourite patios in the city.

Protected from the noise of Stony Plain Road and in the shade of a tree, the Secret Garden is a gem, a must visit during our precious days of summer. Combined with their comfort food offerings, we were lucky to grab the last available table that night.

Dinner at The Dish

The Secret Garden

I had the chicken and waffles, while Mack ordered the housemade donair. Though the chicken wasn’t as moist as I would have liked the savoury green onion and cheddar buttermilk waffle made up for some of my disappointment. Mack had no complaints about the donair – it could have easily fed two people.

Dinner at The Dish

Chicken and waffles

Dinner at The Dish

Housemade donair

After dinner, Mack and I headed to the Royal Alberta Museum for their second Museum After Dark event. Intended to encourage the “next gen” set to revisit the attraction and supports its programs, the evenings incorporate drinks, music and activities for a fun night out.

We had fun at the first ever Museum After Dark earlier this year, but we were happy to see some positive changes. First off, the entire museum was open to explore, instead of just a few choice galleries. Given this was an opportunity to get to know the attraction better, we appreciated the chance to wander through their permanent exhibits – it has been some time since I’ve visited the dinosaur room, while Mack has never been to the bug room!

Museum After Dark

Mack loves rocks!

Museum After Dark

The Bug Room creeps me out

We also appreciated the evening’s game much more. The last incarnation had attendees running furiously to be the first to complete the challenge, but this time, it wasn’t a timed entry, and instead, had much more to do with chance. The “poker rally” had attendees draw cards from tables located in galleries around the museum, with the best hand winning the grand prize. Luck wasn’t on our side that night, but it was a great way to wind our way through the building at our own pace.

Museum After Dark

Pick a card, any card

The feature exhibit was Worn to Be Wild (on until September 7, 2014), and highlights the history of the black leather jacket. We learned about its origins, interpretations, and most exciting, saw jackets worn in popular culture.

Museum After Dark

Worn to Be Wild

Museum After Dark

Mack does his best Schwarzenegger impression next to a jacket worn in Terminator 2

I also had fun with the prop area of the exhibit…maybe a little too much fun.

Museum After Dark

“Look ma, no hands!”

In line with the feature exhibit, models sporting Luxx Ready to Wear (locally designed by Derek Jagodzinsky) were roaming the galleries.

Museum After Dark

Luxx Ready to Wear models

We spent some time on the second floor landing chatting with other attendees, while DJ Junior Brown spun tunes. My only suggestion would be to perhaps have a standing food station in addition to hand-passed appetizers – I overheard more than a few people comment that they must have just missed the servers.

Museum After Dark

Tomato and cheese skewers from Bridges

We learned that plans for the next Museum After Dark are already in the works, with a theme of “Beer and Bones”. Check the website for more information as it is released. Thanks again to the organizers for the free tickets!

The Dish and the Runaway Spoon
2417 Stony Plain Rd
(780) 488-6641
Monday to Saturday, 11am – 5pm, 5 – 9pm; closed Sundays

Royal Alberta Museum
12845 102 Avenue
(780) 453-9100

Date Night: Hawkers Market & Parka Patio Party

In spite of how far we’ve come, there’s still a stereotype that nothing happens downtown on evenings and weekends. Well, on a recent weekend, we hopped from a great food event to a happening party, which all took place within a few blocks of one another.

We started out the evening at the second Hawkers Market to take place in Edmonton, again at the Mercer Warehouse. Conceived as an incubator of sorts for new food-related businesses, I think it still has a ways to go before it is able to attract the newer entrepreneurial efforts who really are seeking a platform to road test products.


Brittney and I at Hawkers Market

That said, Hawkers Market is still a great addition to the food scene in Edmonton, particularly in the winter, when economical events are harder to come by. Although the line-up of vendors was remarkably similar to the previous event, it didn’t deter the crowds. Organizers estimated about 100 more people this time around, and at least one vendor sold out an hour and a half into the evening.


The Drift team!

Kara of Drift Food Truck made a good point – the provision of seating really changed the experience for attendees. They encouraged people to linger and stay and to perhaps have another drink or dish that they wouldn’t have otherwise indulged in.


Busy night

As a result, the atmosphere seemed more festive, with friends gathering around tables, facilitating sharing all that much more. Mack and I sampled a handful of dishes, starting with bacon-wrapped jalapeno poppers ($5) from Low & Slow Barbecue, a new vendor at the event. Some people might be familiar with them from the 124 Street Grand Market, but this was our first encounter with their food. Mack enjoyed them well enough, though we were told later on that their pulled pork was the standout.


Jalapeno poppers from Low & Slow Barbecue

Slow Food Edmonton had a booth, offering both sweet and savoury concoctions. I really liked their version of grilled cheese ($3), made up of a base of Bon Ton bread, a crackling crust of The Cheesiry’s pecorino, and a dollop of Mojo JoJo Pickles’ salted caramel pear butter.


Chad Moss cooks up some sandwiches


Slow Food Edmonton’s grilled cheese

Their local marshmallow trifecta ($4) was a unique dessert, with my favourite of the three being the honey-scented treat, topped with a honey toffee crumb.


Marshmallow treats from Slow Food Edmonton

Mack couldn’t resist Bully’s perogies and ham ($8). We anticipated tasty perogies, but what blew us away was the house cured and smoked ham steak, which was so tender it flaked under a fork alone. And you can always hand it to Bully to win the serving size sweepstakes!


Dean serves a mean ham!


Bully’s perogies and ham

Our favourite dish of the night was from Parts & Service, a food truck hoping to hit the streets this spring. Their take on chicken and waffles ($5) was ingenious from a street food perspective, as it could easily be eaten standing up with one hand. Not to mention, the house made chicken sausage (wrapped in a waffle cone) was delicious! It was served with maple syrup and an apple hot sauce, but really, the sausage was seasoned so well it didn’t need any accompaniments. I’m even more excited about their truck now!


Chicken and waffles from Parts & Service

I was most looking forward to dessert from Paper Bag Donuts (cooked up by Red Ox Inn chef Sean O’Connor). I had missed them at the last event, as I mistook their table as an extension of the bar. This time, they had an overhead sign advertising meyer lemon curd donuts ($3)  and honey crullers ($5). We chose the latter, and weren’t disappointed with the warm, freshly fried treats.


Paper Bag Donuts

We had a great time, and based on that night, I think Hawkers Market has the potential to become a staple event in our community. For those who missed out, mark your calendars – the next event is scheduled for April 12, 2014.

Full, we walked over to Latitude 53, which was hosting their annual Parka Patio Party. Mack and I had attended their first ever winter patio party in 2012, but the weather had been kinder that year. This year, with temperatures hovering around –30 with windchill, we were grateful that the event had an indoor component.

Parka Patio Party

Parka Patio Party

That said, we had dressed for an outdoor function, and like other attendees, had no use for the coat racks set aside.

Parka Patio Party

What coat racks?

Hot tea and soup were served inside, but playing up the Ice Land theme, organizers were offering make-your-own cocktails out on the patio. Not only did this involve an ice luge, but also an array of frozen fruit. Needless to say, we gave it a shot.

Parka Patio Party

Ice luge!

If that wasn’t enough, Pinocchio Ice Cream was also on hand sampling newer product varieties – popcorn and salted caramel ice cream.

Parka Patio Party

Tom from Pinocchio Ice Cream

A DJ kept the spirits up indoors, and in addition to art up for silent auction, there was also a fun “Scandinavian Toy-Scape” installed in the space (I loved the little waving monster!).

Parka Patio Party

Too cute

It was great to catch up with some familiar faces at the party, and to take part in a winter event, that in spite of the cold, played to a packed house.

Parka Patio Party

The cold didn’t keep people away

Thanks again to Latitude 53 for the tickets! Here’s hoping it’s just a few degrees warmer next year.

Date Night: Tzin and Theatresports

Mack and I are fortunate to live on a street where there are so many great restaurants, but the truth is, when we’re at home, we typically end up dining in. As a result, we generally don’t eat out at the establishments closest to us, though we walk past them almost every day. So during Downtown Dining Week, we made a conscious decision to make a reservation at Tzin, the charming little wine bar just down the street from our condo, our first stop after work last Friday.

Tzin was packed, as per usual – reservations are a must at this 18-seat restaurant. It is such a warmly designed room, from the autumnal colours to the rich tapestries and throw pillows. Though seating is quite intimate (we were inches away from the next tables), space is cleverly utilized – from the closet slotted in the alcove between the kitchen and the front door, to the purse hooks located on the table posts.

We loved that the $50 3-course prix fixe menu featured several dishes off of Tzin’s regular menu, which provides a better snapshot of what the restaurant can do on a regular basis (as opposed to a special menu designed just for the occasion). It also offered us some choice, as we were able to select from two different appetizers, entrees and desserts. No question both Mack and I were felled by the promise of braised Irvings Farm bacon to start, but deviated for the rest of the meal.

The braised bacon raised the bar high right from the start. The thick-cut pork belly was braised to perfection; the fat just melted away, complemented by a balsamic apple compote and calvados gastrique. We both remarked that we would come back for this dish alone.


Braised bacon

Mack enjoyed his chicken breast supreme well enough. My Four Whistle Farm rack of lamb was cooked to medium rare, but I would have preferred more aggressive spices. Likely, this was done on purpose, to balance with the underlay of harissa couscous, but it ended up meaning the starch provided the dominant flavour.


Chicken supreme


Rack of lamb

Dessert left us wanting more. The flourless chocolate torte, encased in a velvety chocolate ganache was bliss on a plate. Mack, who usually skips dessert, devoured his warm gingerbread cake, drizzled with Kracken rum caramel. The accompanying brown butter ice cream was so good we thought about asking Chef Corey McGuire to start hawking this flavour on the street in warmer climes.


Warm gingerbread cake and flourless chocolate torte

Proprietor Kelsey Danyluk is the consummate host, and always takes care of her diners. Her wine recommendations are always spot on, too! The kitchen was also extremely efficient – we were never left waiting long for the next dish.

I look forward to our next visit to Tzin – we’ll have to make sure to take advantage of its patio when the time comes!

After dinner, Mack and I walked over to the Citadel Theatre to take in Theatresports. Since Rapid Fire Theatre relocated downtown last fall, we’ve been meaning to check out their new home at Zeidler Hall.

The 7:30pm show that night was probably a smaller crowd than usual, but it did give the audience members a better chance that one of their suggestions would be taken up by the improvisers.

Rapid Fire Theatre

Matt Alden welcomes the audience

We watched several teams duke out one another in a series of improv challenges. As each team had to incorporate suggestions from the audience, it guaranteed that no show is the same. We were amazed by how quick-witted the actors were, and how the vignettes ended up in unpredictable, but hilarious places (such as a spontaneous song about Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan).

For $12, we thought that the ticket price was well worth the entertainment. You can look for Theatresports every Friday at 7:30pm and 10pm, while Chimprov, Rapid Fire’s long-form improv show, runs every Saturday at 10pm.

10115 104 Street
(780) 428-8946

Rapid Fire Theatre
Zeidler Hall @ the Citadel Theatre, 9828 101A Ave

Date Night: El Rancho and Retro Drive-In

Mack and I love taking in a dinner and a movie as much as the next couple, but there are so many other interesting things to do in Edmonton. “Date Night” will be a semi-regular series highlighting some of these ideas.

Funny enough, the first of this series features the aforementioned dinner and a movie format, but with a bit of a twist. Last Friday, we headed toward the Alberta Avenue neighbourhood for dinner. Though our original intention was to dine at Cafe Amore, the restaurant was closed for a private function, so we ended up at El Rancho (11810 87 Street).

It has been some time since I’ve been to the El Salvadorian establishment, and this was Mack’s first visit. Clearly, it hasn’t lost its popularity, as all the tables had been claimed by the time we finished our supper.

We shared the Antojitos Platter for two amigos ($16.95), and ordered two mixed pupusas ($2.75) on top of that. It was a great way to reacquaint myself with their dishes. Though the flautas (fried, rolled tortillas) and tacos were good, Mack and I both agreed that our favourite was the crispy enchiladas, topped with shredded chicken, a pickled slaw and a touch of tart salsa was a lovely combination of flavours.

El Rancho

Antojitos Platter

The pupusas were also a nice treat, if not only because it meant we could help ourselves to a bit more of the pickled cabbage to accent the savoury combination of mozzarella, fried beans and pork.

El Rancho


We had just enough room for dessert, and split a slice of tres leches cake ($5.95). Mack doesn’t usually like desserts, but loved this cake, bursting with milky goodness and not all that sweet. The whipped cream was an indulgent finish.

El Rancho

Tres Leches

Service was friendly, and fast (the kitchen had been slow in my previous experiences). Even better, our entire meal came in at around $30 – a fantastic value for the variety and exceptional food quality.

After dinner, we headed over to the Alberta Avenue Community Hall, who was hosting a retro drive-in that night. Though Mack and I are far from being car people, there’s something about  a drive-in that appeals to me. I think it might have to do with the fact that my family lived pretty close to the Stardust Twin Drive-In (50th Street and Whitemud Drive), but I didn’t get to go before it was shut and torn down in the late 1990s.

Alberta Avenue Drive-In

Drive in on the Ave!

This article from Lawrence Herzog states that Edmonton’s first drive-in theatre opened in 1949. The Starlight Drive-in had room for 600 cars, and was so successful on its opening night it had to turn folks away! These outdoor theatres peaked in 1977, when Edmonton had ten drive-ins. But just two decades later, suburban growth and at-home entertainment led to the demise of drive-in theatres, the last screens at the Millwoods and Twin Drive-In shuttering in 1996.

So we jumped at the chance to relive a bit of nostalgia – for free! This community league-sponsored event was promoting safe, family fun, and was also a way for the neighbourhood to bring people out to Alberta Avenue after dark. They had set up a basic screen on the side of a neighbouring building, and had volunteers on hand to direct cars to make sure space in the lot was used efficiently. We bought some hot drinks from The Carrot and some candy from the concession stand and settled in for the movie.

Alberta Avenue Drive-In

The volunteers were too cute in their costumes

I was a little too giddy about the streaming of the film’s soundtrack on a radio station (I had no idea it was so cheap and easy to do this), while Mack enjoyed the retro pre-show advertisements screened before the feature presentation. Not only was there a rocket that flew over candy-dotted planets, but also a PSA warning audience members not to get frisky.

Alberta Avenue Drive-In

Warning all you young lovers out there

It almost didn’t matter at this point what the movie was, but Grease was an inspired choice, upbeat and easy to watch. To say the least, there was a lot of appreciative honking at the end of the night.

Alberta Avenue Drive-In

You’re the one that I want

Thanks again to the Community League for a successful screening! They indicated that this was their first annual drive-in, so you can look forward to checking it out next year!

El Rancho
11810 87 Street
(780) 471-4930

Alberta Avenue Community Hall (keep your eyes peeled on their website for next year’s flick!)
9210 118 Avenue