2018 Taste of Edmonton Preview

It’s that time again – Taste of Edmonton is back next week! There are some changes afoot to the festival this year, namely, a new location. Due to the construction around Churchill Square, Taste has relocated to Capital Plaza at 99 Avenue and 108 Street (near the Legislature). In addition, the 10 day festival has expanded to 12 days this year, running from July 18-29, 2018, giving diners an extra two days to sample their way through the over 100 food items on the menu (41 of them new!).

Last week, I was invited to preview some of the new items that will be served at this year’s festival. The restaurants we visited are all new to Taste of Edmonton, and are among the 11 first time participants.

We started off downtown at Wishbone, where we sampled both of the items that they will be serving. The spicy fried chicken sandwich is a smaller version of a popular lunch item, featuring marinated chicken thighs battered, fried, and tossed in their house gojuchang hot sauce. The meat was crispy on the outside and tender on the inside, with just the right amount of heat; it was my favourite of the dishes we tried that day.

Taste of Edmonton Preview

Spicy fried chicken sandwich from Wishbone

Wishbone’s second item is a summer festival staple – fried dough. Their version are buttermilk beignets, bite sized and dusted with powdered sugar. Like their chicken sandwich, I think this will be well received by the crowds at Taste – easy to eat, good flavour, and deep fried.

Taste of Edmonton Preview

Buttermilk beignets from Wishbone

Our next stop was Wildflower Grill. Some may remember that last year, the restaurant changed hands and installed a new chef. Even with the personnel change, however, Wildflower maintained some Asian fusion influence on its menu, particularly evident in what we were served that night.

The Taste of Edmonton item that we sampled was easily the most complex that we tried – an Adobo pork belly with house kimchi, garlic rice, a 64 degree egg yolk and puffed wild rice. It was an enjoyable dish to be sure (the pork belly was deliciously crispy, and given an unctuous boost from the yolk), but from the outset, it does seem like an ambitious plate to churn out at a high pace. I do like that it will showcase the fine dining side of Wildflower, however.

Taste of Edmonton Preview

Adobo pork belly from Wildflower Grill

We were also treated to the night’s feature bao, something that is offered daily at Wildflower. That night, it involved an unlikely but interesting combination of seared albacore tuna and strawberries. I would not have thought those ingredients would work together, but they did.

Taste of Edmonton Preview

Albacore tuna bao from Wildflower Grill

Next, we headed south to Loma House Vegetarian Express. A vegetarian restaurant in the same vein as Padmanadi, they also incorporate soy-based meat alternatives on their menu. To start, we tried their vegetarian tacos. While these are not being served at Taste, it gave us a good idea of the types of dishes they serve. While I liked the crispness of the fried wonton shell as its base, it was a bit difficult to eat without all of the toppings falling off.

Taste of Edmonton

Vegetarian taco from Loma House

The Taste item we sampled had a playful presentation. Five deep fried sweet potato balls were served in a waffle cone, topped with coconut whipped cream and chocolate sauce. The sweet potato was deceptively filling, and not too sweet on their own.

Taste of Edmonton Preview

Sweet potato balls from Loma House

Our final stop of the night was the Southgate location of Wine and Beyond. The renovated store opened last September, but I hadn’t yet been. Wine & Beyond will be putting together the wine and beverage pairings for the Taste 2 Remember chef dinners, in addition to sponsoring the entertainment stage. We sampled a few different wines (which was definitely a treat for me, given I’ve severely limited my alcohol uptake).

Taste of Edmonton

May and I enjoying ourselves!

Thanks again to the Taste of Edmonton staff and Big E Tours for hosting a wonderful evening!

Taste of Edmonton runs July 18-29, 2018. A reminder that advance tickets are available until July 18 at a savings of $10 per sheet (40 tickets for $57).

Iberian Flavours: Sabor Seafood Festival

While Edmonton is still firmly regarded as beef country, there’s been a rise in the profile of seafood in our land-locked city. With better access to airlifted catch, seafood-focused restaurants such as The Black Pearl offer a rotating menu of fresh options, and home cooks can have their pick of Icelandic fish caught two days earlier from Ocean Odyssey. Closer to home, Effing Seafoods made a splash this year with a number of collaborations and pop-ups with local restaurants showcasing their Canadian sourced seafood.  

As such, Sabor has been ahead of the curve, as they are onto their third annual Seafood Festival this year. The festival highlights Sabor’s ongoing partnership with Ocean Wise, a conservation program operated by the Vancouver Aquarium that promotes sustainable seafood through education. You may have already encountered their fish head symbol on local menus, which denotes that the seafood used in that dish is considered ocean-friendly (for those who want to learn more about the subject, I’d recommend Taras Grescoe’s Bottomfeeder). Some quick facts:

  • 85% of the world’s assessed fish stocks are currently over-exploited or at full capacity
  • 4 or every 10 fish caught are bycatch
  • 91% of Canadians want their seafood to be sustainable but only 11% buy sustainable seafood every time they shop

This year’s festival runs August 5 – September 3, 2016, and features a wide range of seafood. A few weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to be invited to preview the festival menu as a guest.

Unlike previous years, Sabor Chef Lino Oliveira collaborated with Calgary-based Chef Jan Hansen of Hotel Arts for the dinner, and we learned that Chef Jan is originally from Edmonton! The collaboration also took Chef Lino down to Calgary to host a dinner at the Kensington Riverside Inn in early August. It’s always great to see chefs working together, particularly across cities.

The supper was served family style, and over the course of the evening, we sampled a variety of tapas and mains. Through his choice of flavours and cooking techniques, Chef Lino transported us to the Iberian coast.

Though not featuring seafood, I loved the heirloom tomato & queijo fresco montadito, a bruschetta-like serving of fresh market tomatoes and Portuguese cottage cheese atop Chef Jan’s bread.


Tomato and fresh cheese crostini

Another standout was the meaningfully messy gambas al ajillo, featuring BC spot prawns almost comically large in size. Chef Lino delighted in his recommendation to imbibe in the juices inside the head as well.


Even the surf & turf had a Portuguese twist: a charred octopus served alongside a chorizo-stuffed lamb that had been rolled in caul fat and cooked sous vide for three and a half hours.


Portuguese surf & turf

My favourite dish of the elaborate menu was the Caldeirada de peixe, a sablefish (black cod) served in a saffron-lobster broth. The skin had been perfectly crisped, and all I wanted to do was make sure the rest of the broth didn’t go to waste (even if it meant throwing decorum out the window).


Sablefish in saffron-lobster broth

Although the final dishes that ended up on the Seafood Festival menu are slightly different, the ingredients, flavours and combinations are very similar to what we tried that evening. 

Thanks again to Sabor for a wonderful evening of food and hospitality! The Seafood Festival runs August 5 – September 3, 2016.

Check out Andrea, Cindy and Linda’s snapshots of the evening.

A Summer Tradition: K-Days 2016

K-Days really couldn’t have asked for better weather to kick off the 10 day Edmonton summer mainstay. Mack and I joined the thousands of festival revelers on Saturday for our annual pilgrimage to the midway. Mack had accepted an offer from Northlands to visit the grounds as their guest, which included special passes to the TD South Stage and cash to eat our way through some of the new items. We invited my sister Felicia to join us, at least for the food portion of the afternoon.


Felicia can’t resist soft serve

It was interesting to see a number of local food trucks among the mix of vendors, including Smokehouse BBQ and their sister truck Stuffed Gourmet Sausage, Cuisine on Wheels, and Native Delights. While we have our fill of food truck cuisine elsewhere, it is great to see more Edmonton-based vendors present.

Our food choices were ultimately guided by the new food flyer that can be picked up at information kiosks on site. They list all of the items that are new to the festival. Unlike previous years, no insects were harmed in the making of this list, so the shock value was minimized to items such as rainbow grilled cheese and Oreo fried rice.

Our favourite item that we sampled that day was actually also the winner of the new food award – the meatball sub on a stick. Pizza dough was woven in between three skewered meatballs, then broiled with cheese and seasoned. As midway fare goes, this was actually on the healthy side, given it wasn’t deep fried. The meatballs themselves were quite tasty, balanced out with just the right amount of dough and cheese.


Meatball sub on a stick

The big pickle dog had been voted the runner up of the new food competition. Mack, being a corn dog aficionado, was quite excited to try this, as it was a marriage of two of his favourite things: pickles and corn dogs. Alas, it was just too hard to eat, as the pickle retained too much of its crunch, and the hot dog slid right out from the pickle’s empty core. He doesn’t recommend this one.


Big pickle dog

Continuing the "food on a stick" theme, Felicia tried the chicken waffle on a stick. It looked promising, with a crisp, made to order waffle exterior. But it contained chicken with little flavour, and unnecessary breading since the crunch was lost underneath the waffle batter.


Chicken waffle on a stick

Perhaps our biggest disappointment was the mac ‘n cheese stuffed burger. The concept had much promise, but the execution needed work: the patty itself was overly charred, and the toppings were hastily assembled. We could barely eat the burger and derived no pleasure from doing so.


Mac ‘n cheese stuffed burger

We were pleasantly surprised by the poutine perogies, which substituted deep fried perogies for potatoes. It was a healthy serving meant to be shared, with salty gravy and a generous amount of cheese.


Poutine perogies

Of course, we had to indulge in mini donuts at K-Days as well, as much of a tradition for us as anything else.


Those Little Donuts

The best thing about K-Days is being able to partake in the variety of shows and activities in between food. Our favourite show was Canine Stars, featuring rescue dogs in a high-energy demonstration of agility.


Canine Stars

We also enjoyed the expanded Tech Life exhibit (which, on July 30-31, will host the first ever Canadian Drone Championships). In addition to the retro video game systems they’ve had in years past, they also included an extensive selection of board games. We opted to challenge Giant Jenga.



The main K Days music stage has typically been located right off the midway. But as an example of how the Northlands Vision 2020 could play out, organizers decided to relocate the stage to the infield of the race track. The result is a defined, enclosed area, which promoted an atmosphere more conducive to a proper show. The simple act of departing from the midway signaled the transition to a dedicated concert space. Mack had been given VIP passes for the TD Comfort Zone, which meant we could watch the musical act for the evening from the vantage of an elevated tent.


TD Comfort Zone

The tickets, which would have cost $100 (including gate admission to K-Days), includes access to a spread of appetizers and non-alcoholic beverages. The platform is licensed though, and most patrons took advantage of this. No doubt, the price enables exclusivity, and is a way for Northlands to generate additional revenue from an existing festival component.


Matthew Good

Matthew Good put on a great show, and played right up until the fireworks began. An unintentional benefit of the new stage location is the natural expansion of the fireworks viewing area. The west side of the race track is in close proximity to the launch site, so I’d recommend heading over there for an even better view of the light show.



We finished our night with a bit more Bowler Roller, my amusement addiction. For the record – Sharon: 2, Mack: 0.


Midway magic

Thanks to Northlands for a great evening out to our summer tradition.

Check out Mack’s experience here.

Sourdough 2.0 at the 2016 Edmonton Resilience Festival

The second annual Edmonton Resilience Festival took place on April 30 – May 1, 2016 at the Boyle Street Plaza. The festival continued the themes it began to explore in their first year, encouraging attendees to learn new skills and adopt a "do it yourself" mentality.

Resilience Festival 2016

2016 Edmonton Resilience Festival

Organizers from The Local Good, the volunteer-driven organization behind the festival, seemed satisfied with the attendance this year. The shift in timing of the festival (changed from February to May) did make it easier to program outdoor activities, and did promote more food truck foot traffic. Workshop pricing also changed to much more differentiated ticket prices, ranging from $10-$50.

Resilience Festival 2016

Sourdough Surprise workshop

I decided to sign up for Sourdough Surprise: Naturally Leavened Biscuits, Waffles and Muffins after Su, my sourdough companion from last year, tipped me off. It was led by Owen Petersen of Prairie Mill. I really enjoyed Owen’s Bread Making 101 session at the inaugural festival – he demystified sourdough for me, and made scratch bread seem much less daunting. I’ve made many loaves since then, and (a personal achievement), have managed to keep the starter we were given that day alive for more than a year. In many ways, I went in to this class treating it as "Sourdough 2.0", eager to build on the base of knowledge I had already learned.

Resilience Festival 2016

Owen Petersen

Most in the class were new to the idea of sourdough, so Owen provided an overview about the starter (affectionately named Julie) as well as a basic sourdough bread recipe. Even though it was a review for both Su and I, I appreciated the refresher, as there were some things I had already forgotten. The intimate two hour class also permitted the luxury of time, and we were able to move through each topic at a leisurely pace. Owen is such an enthusiastic teacher that you can’t help but be inspired to pick up his baking mantle.

Resilience Festival 2016

Su and I show off our dough babies

We ended up only making muffins and waffles. The recipes called for starter-based batters, which lent the final products textures slightly different than more traditional flour-only based recipes. The muffins, for instance, had a much tighter crumb and were more dense than I’m used to, but will be worth a try at home.

Resilience Festival 2016

Sourdough muffins

The waffle recipe, however, will go into our immediate rotation. So simple, the resulting waffles had a nice chew and a slight tang. I can envision making batches large enough to freeze and have on hand.

Resilience Festival 2016

Sourdough waffles

My only disappointment was that we didn’t have the chance to make the biscuit recipe as originally advertised. I recognize that festival finances change, so I don’t begrudge the fee increase (from $25 in 2015 to $50 in 2016), but the takeaways this year didn’t seem to have the value that I was looking for – besides sampling some muffins and waffles, we took home the same amount of sourdough as last year.

Resilience Festival 2016

Mixing up bread dough

Overall, I enjoyed the chance to learn more tips and tricks from Owen, and look forward to experimenting further in my own kitchen! Thanks again to Owen for sharing your gift and to the organizers behind the festival for putting on the event.

New and Old for Downtown Dining Week: Alberta Hotel Bar & Kitchen and Hardware Grill

It’s really too bad Edmonton’s only prix fixe dining festival (RIP Fork Fest) isn’t city-wide like Calgary’s Big Taste, or twice a year, like Toronto’s Summer and Winterlicious. But Downtown Dining Week, now in its thirteenth year, has provided a consistent opportunity for Edmontonians to sample the cuisine of the core.

I’m not sure if it is the current state of the economy, or whether people were just taking advantage of the promotion, but this year’s Downtown Dining Week seemed busier than previous festivals. After perusing the menus, I made two reservations: one at a fairly new addition to the neighbourhood, and a second at a tried-and-true establishment.

I was one among many who mourned the loss of Tavern 1903 at the end of 2014. Mack and I found ourselves there often, swayed by their combination of fantastic cocktails and inventive small plates. Thankfully, the vacated space in the historic Alberta Hotel did not stay empty for long – Chef Spencer Thompson (formerly of Toast Fine Catering, based at the Old Strathcona Farmers’ Market) moved in less than a year later, when Alberta Hotel Bar and Kitchen opened. I hadn’t yet had a chance to visit the restaurant, and there was no better opportunity than Downtown Dining Week to do so, all while catching up with some girlfriends.

The interior of Alberta Hotel Bar and Kitchen (an unfortunate mouthful of a name) hasn’t changed much from its predecessor, retaining the vintage bar and polished dining room, right down to the furnishings. The only difference that we could discern was a more cramped seating area – our table and the party next to us were wedged uncomfortably in the corner. And though it’s difficult to manage sound, given the open flow between the two rooms, the 80s pop music emanating from the bar seemed more suitable for a diner than a dining room laden with white table cloths.

No doubt, the $28 three course menu was a great deal. It seemed many others found it an equally big draw, as our server indicated that on the Monday of the same week, they served 300 patrons, tripling their usual covers that night. It was so successful that they decided to continue the fixed $28 three course offerings every Monday even after the close of Downtown Dining Week.

Even though we had the choice between two appetizers and two mains, all three of us ended up with identical meals. The bone marrow agnolotti was tasty, layered with brown butter and mushrooms, but I would have preferred the pasta to have been cooked a touch more.

Alberta Hotel Bar & Kitchen

Bone marrow agnolotti

The grilled swordfish main, served with a caper, red currant and pine nut beurre blanc was overdone, but the standout aspect of the dish was the creamy side of Gold Forest Grains farro.

Alberta Hotel Bar & Kitchen

Grilled swordfish with farro

The dessert, a chocolate fondant with warm caramel and graham cracker streusel was a bit inconsistent at the table. I found mine on the molten side, but the banana ice cream served alongside more than made up for it with its intense, concentrated flavour. When the pastry chef Kai Wong moves to her own bakery, I hope the ice cream will be on the menu in some form.

Alberta Hotel Bar + Kitchen

Chocolate fondant with banana ice cream

While our meal at Alberta Hotel was somewhat inconsistent, we did enjoy the overall experience. Our server was friendly and attentive, and the dishes were enticing enough to warrant future visits.

My second Downtown Dining Week reservation had to be at the Hardware Grill. Some of those dishes and drinks we loved at Tavern 1903 migrated to its established sibling, and it was about time for us to reacquaint ourselves with them.

One of my long lost loves was the Desert Shrub cocktail, a delicious combination of prosecco, grapefruit juice and tequila.

Hardware Grill

It’s been too long

Though the city’s love affair with cauliflower seems to have ended, the Korean fried cauliflower dish is classic, and perfectly made every time.

Hardware Grill

Korean fried cauliflower

Those drinks and dishes were in addition to the $48 three-course prix fixe menu, so the upsell worked on us. Hardware has had an ongoing $50 three-course promotion, called a "before sunset" menu for some time, but it has since expanded it from early seatings on Mondays to Thursdays to include all seatings on Mondays to Thursdays plus early seatings on Friday and Saturday. One has to assume the restaurant’s reputation as a special occasion restaurant has to hurt it more than others in an economy like this.

But like the consistency of the kitchen, Hardware Grill always delivers on service. We’re always impressed by the professional but easygoing nature of the servers – they always manage to ease the formality of the restaurant with humour and grace, and are easily the best team in the city.

We had far exceeded our 1.5 hour stay (as mentioned on the Downtown Dining Week menu), but we were never rushed. We felt bad, however, when leaving and realizing that there were a number of parties waiting for a table in the lobby.

While I will still hold out hope for a resurrection of Tavern 1903 in some form or another in the future, it’s nice to know that I can still satisfy my cravings at Hardware Grill.

Mini-Break in the Mountains: Jasper in January

With the low Canadian dollar and cheap gas prices, I imagine many families are considering staycation options this year. Moreover, although Calgarians often point out Edmonton’s comparable distance to the Rockies as one of our shortcomings, the four hour drove to Jasper really isn’t that much to overcome. It’s definitely close enough for a weekend jaunt, and personally, knowing that a vacation from work is implausible over the next few months, a short getaway is exactly what I’ll need come spring.

Athabasca Falls

Athabasca Falls

My familiarity with Jasper began only a few years ago as an adult, as Banff was my family’s destination of choice growing up. A weekend at the Jasper Park Lodge’s famed Christmas in November in 2014 opened my eyes to the town as a destination in winter. I continued learning about Jasper’s possibilities a few weeks ago, along with Mack and some other media folks, including Linda, Mike, Gail, Phil and Robyn. Tourism Jasper covered our accommodation, transportation and most of the meals that we enjoyed over the weekend.


Linda takes an #elkie

Jasper in January has been taking place for twenty seven years, and what started as a celebration of skiing and snowboarding at Marmot Bason has grown into a wide-ranging festival that features other winter sports, arts and food.

Getting There

Did you know that there is a shuttle that runs daily from Edmonton to Jasper? Well, neither did we, until we booked the Sundog Transportation and Tours bus. It departs from West Edmonton Mall at 3:50pm, to arrive in Jasper by 8pm, with brief stops in Hinton and Edson along the way ($89 one-way ticket for adults). The ride was comfortable, and as Mack noted, it was nice not to have to drive, especially after dark.

That said, the only departure time from Jasper back to Edmonton was at 7am – which means it wouldn’t be possible to make the most of a two-night trip to Jasper. We ended up carpooling home with Phil and Robyn to extend our stay into the afternoon.

Also, as we were shuttled around the Jasper area as a group, had we been without a personal vehicle, it would have been difficult to make our way from one destination to another outside of anything within the town site. While taxis were a reliable source of transportation, they may not be the most economical solution for a holiday.

Scenic Pastures

The highlight of our visit was an afternoon at Marmot Meadows, a Parks Canada Winter Hub. Throughout the season, there will be opportunities to learn more about wildlife, Aboriginal culture, and winter activities at a site that encourages interaction with the outdoors. A skating rink was in the process of being formed (which, as a TV junkie, reminded me of the picturesque mountainside rink in the first season of Everwood), and a cross-country ski track was well-worn in the valley.


Yes, I’m having Everwood flashbacks

Our group participated in a beginner snowshoe activity. Unlike the snowshoes I remembered from my youth – those wooden frames based on more traditional models – Parks Canada staff introduced us to lighter, metal frame versions that were easier to use. We padded into the woods with our guide, relishing the steps into fresh, undisturbed powder.

Mack & Sharon


Left to our own devices, Linda and I engaged in some friendly competition, racing short distances in the snowshoes. It was the most fun I had all weekend, and a winter activity I am now inspired to continue in the future.

Linda & Sharon

In it to win it

On Sunday, Phil and Robyn took us to some of their favourite natural wonders. Athabasca Falls is beautiful in the warmer months, but is perhaps even more breathtaking in the winter, with cascades of ice and snow churning below.

Athabasca Falls

Athabasca Falls

With the hard packed trail, it was obvious that many have come to admire the Falls in the winter. But given the parking lot was uncleared, and the walkways were for the most part snowed over and unsanded, it doesn’t seem to be an officially sanctioned attraction in the winter.

Robyn & Phil

Our tour guides

Pyramid Lake, in the shadow of a peak that shares the same name, is set up as its own outdoor activity hub in the winter, and is only about a ten-minute drive from the town of Jasper. Mountain Park Lodges, which operates Pyramid Lake Resort adjacent to the lake, maintains several rinks and ski trails. They offer rentals for visitors without equipment, but we spotted many families who brought their own equipment for an afternoon of shinny, skating or cross-country skiing. In some ways, given the picture-perfect setting, we were surprised there wasn’t evidence of overt commercial sponsorships from national brewing or coffee brands.

Pyramid Lake

Pyramid Lake in winter

We had some fun throwing around curling logs, and warmed up in the lodge with some brunch. Afterwards, we took part in a genuine horse-drawn sleigh ride (no wheeled wagons here). At $25 per person, it could be a steep price to pay for families, but for us, it was a manageable cost that weekend. The rides are especially popular around the holidays, but continue to be offered on weekends until the end of March, conditions permitting.


Curling logs!

With the jangle of sleigh bells and the breathtaking mountain in front of us, it felt like a postcard experience. The sleigh even had fuzzy warm blankets for the ride, appreciated on that blustery afternoon.

Jasper in January

Horse-drawn sleigh at Pyramid Lake

Good Eats

Jasper in January had three themed weekends: arts, appetites, and adventures, though some activities spnned multiple weeks. Our trip centred around appetites, and I’m happy to say, we discovered some culinary gems.

The Wicked Cup is a great place to start your day. It’s a charming establishment with a restaurant, cafe and gift shop, and based on their brunch offerings, I wouldn’t hesitate to return for other meals. The pancakes ($10.50) I ordered were not for the faint of heart, served with a wild berry compote and whipped cream. They were fluffy and delicious, and yes, felt a bit like having dessert to start off the day.

Wicked Cup

Classic pancakes from The Wicked Cup

Jasper Brewing Company is a brew pub located within the town site. They have locations in Banff, Calgary and Fort McMurray, which all have individual identities and offer different signature brews. John Palko, the brewmaster in Jasper, was noncommittal about a future location in Edmonton, but didn’t rule it out.

Jasper Brewing Co

John Palko of the Jasper Brewing Company

Their model is to sell their beer from the brew pub itself, with the exception of festivals or fundraisers they participate in. Jasper Brewing Company prides itself on serving fresh beer – from mash to pint in 10 days – and produced 115,000L in 2015. Their most popular beer is their Jasper the Bear honey ale.

Mack tried a flight of their beers, which is a great way to sample the six they had on tap. His favourite ended up being the Liftline Cream Ale.


A flight of beers from Jasper Brewing Company

We also learned a bit about backcountry cooking at a session led by Wild Current. For winter camping excursions, because of the cold, it’s even more important that people stay hydrated and consume nutrient-rich foods. We sampled some rehydrated pastas and chilis (made by adding hot water directly to the package), as well as a stew put together by Wild Current staff.

Jasper in January

Serving up stew

It was somewhat curious that instead of assembling the stew as a demonstration, we were told it had been put together off-site and just reheated on the campfire. Hopefully Parks Canada reworks the session in the future to make it more hands-on and interactive.

For dinner, we were ushered to the majestic Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge. We enjoyed a three-course meal consisting of highlights from Orso Trattoria’s regular menu, and for me, dessert took the cake. The Tarte de Nero, paired with a ten year Tawny Port, was a rich and satisfying way to end a wonderful evening. As has been my experience at the JPL, the service was once again top-notch.

Jasper in January

Tarte de Nero from Jasper Park Lodge

Wines in Winter is an annual wine tasting event hosted by Mountain Park Lodges. The $30 ticket was perhaps the best value item all weekend – besides the appetizers that were included within the price, attendees were able to sample over 100 different types of wine.

I would have personally liked to have seen more Canadian wines represented, but we did find our way to the Ontario and BC labels being poured. Mack couldn’t help but be drawn to the Great One.

Wayne & Mack

Enjoying the Wayne Gretzky Series Cabernet Merlot

Our last meal before departing for the weekend was both scenic and delicious (typically, it’s only one for two). The Pines Restaurant inside the Pyramid Lake Resort has a lakefront view, and is beautifully designed to take advantage of the panoramic sights.

Pyramid Lake

The Pines Restaurant

Mack and I both couldn’t resist the decadent croissantwich ($12), layered with a fried egg, avocado, tomatoes, chorizo, and cheddar. The only downside was perhaps not having the foresight to order two sandwiches each.

Pyramid Lake

Croissantwich from The Pines

If you’re planning to attend Jasper in January next year, take a look at Jasper in January for what to expect, or more broadly, at any time of year, on Tourism Jasper for ideas – I’m already looking forward to our next mini-break in the mountains.

Thanks again to Tourism Jasper for the opportunity to further explore Jasper!

Check out Mack’s post about our weekend here.

In the Dark of Night: Luminaria

In a northern city like Edmonton, it’s somewhat surprising that we don’t celebrate the inevitable darkness of winter more. It could be as simple as highlighting Elk Island Park, a dark sky preserve perfect for star gazing, or taking advantage of the opportunity to light up the night, outside of the holiday season.

This weekend’s Flying Canoe Volant is a great example of this, lighting up the trails of the Mill Creek Ravine to encourage families to explore an area typically avoided after dark. And every December, the Devonian Botanical Garden’s Luminaria transforms the Kurimoto Japanese Garden into a beautiful canvas of lights.



Mack and I had been meaning to visit Luminaria for years, but never planned well enough in advance to do so. Tickets are sold fast and furious weeks prior to the annual festival, held the first weekend in December. In 2015, organizers added another layer to the tickets, asking patrons to choose between limited on-site parking and free shuttles from either the University of Alberta or Devon in advance. Mack and I found the shuttle option both convenient and seamless – we hopped on the LRT from home and walked over to the waiting yellow buses parked across from Health Sciences/Jubilee Station, and allowed the able drivers to take care of the rest.


Angels among us

It was clear that for some, Luminaria is an annual family tradition that helps mark the beginning of the holiday season. Patrons varied in age, with some groups spanning multiple generations.


Kurimoto Japanese Garden

The main attraction is, of course, the Kurimoto Japanese Garden, its paths lined with 2,000 candles. Each night, volunteers light the candles, all carefully placed into paper bags weighted down with sand. To recreate this magic at home, the gift shop even had ready-made kits for sale.


Small but mighty

Just to the right of the garden was a section called Memory Lane, meant for those wishing to light a candle in remembrance of a loved one. Volunteers reminded us to be mindful of those in mourning along the path.


Memory Lane

The rest of our stroll was a mix of quiet reflection and appreciation of the lights in a context of darkness, and a reminder that the festive season was around the corner. A highlight for me was enjoying the complimentary hot apple cider while listening to roving Christmas carollers.


Carollers under the lights

Besides the main attraction, there was a small hay bale maze for the young ones to explore, and those of all ages had the option of writing down a wish to hang on their trees (reminding me of the Nuit Blanche Wishing Tree installation in Churchill Square last fall). There was also a small indoor craft sale to peruse for those thinking ahead. Our only complaint was with the food offered on-site, as the choice was limited to beef stew. Perhaps other options could be offered in the future that would be equally easy to eat and venue-appropriate? A broader menu would at least encourage patrons to linger, as we found we were done exploring the garden and the surrounding attractions in about an hour.


Wishing upon a star

Our first time at Luminaria did not disappoint, and we really did appreciate how easy it was to get to and from the Devonian Botanical Garden. If you’re interested in checking it out for yourself, mark your calendars for December 2-4, 2016. Tickets go on sale September 1, 2016.

A Personal Farewell to What the Truck?!

It seems wrong to talk about food trucks when there’s snow on the ground, but I wanted to get one final post in before the end of the year for reasons of sentimentality. You see, this will be my final year with What the Truck?!, the food truck festival I co-founded with Mack five years ago.

What The Truck?!

Our first WTT event in 2011 at Beaver Hills House Park

In some ways, it seems like just yesterday Mack and I stumbled upon Off the Grid in San Francisco, the inspiration behind our desire to see something equally vibrant at home. But in other ways, given the exponential leap the Edmonton food truck scene has made since 2011 (from 7 to over 70 vendors in 2015), looking back, it’s easy to see how far we’ve come in that time.

What the Truck?! at Churchill Square

Our first WTT event in 2015 at Churchill Square

I will always have a soft spot for food trucks. I admire the passionate entrepreneurs that put their hearts and souls on the line, creatively finding a niche in the ever-competitive street food market, and often braving unpredictable weather conditions. I’m so proud of the vendors who made the leap from mobile to storefront (Filistix, Nomad/Woodwork, Drift/Dovetail, S’wich and soon, The Local Omnivore) and believe their success is a testament to their hard work and the quality of their food.

But I know that it is time for me to step away. I don’t have the same energy to foresee the calendar of events for the summer season, and want to avoid doing a disservice to the trucks. That said, it has always been a goal for Mack and I to, with a sustainability plan in place, transition out (Mack will be staying on for one final year). We’ve since applied for non-profit status to solidify What the Truck?! as a formal society. In addition, over the past two years, we’ve deliberately grown our team of volunteers to include individuals with an equal passion for food trucks who also believe in the power of creating gathering spaces. I am more than confident that this team will carry the torch of What the Truck?! for years to come.

In some ways, it was fitting for our little festival to receive a proclamation from the City at our final event of the year (awarded by Councillor Andrew Knack, who has been a big supporter of What the Truck?! from year one). At our September 11, 2015 finale, the day was declared “What the Truck Day” in Edmonton. Knowing it was my last event, it was bittersweet.

What the Truck?! at Churchill Square

With Councillor Knack and the proclamation

Even though the weather was fantastic, we didn’t see the extensive crowds that helped us inaugurate our fifth season back in May. We continue to learn about the ebb and flow of patrons, and recognize now that by September, food trucks don’t really have the same cachet as in the spring, when Edmontonians are eager to shed their layers in anticipation of enjoying all things al fresco.

What the Truck?! at Churchill Square

Last event of the season

Still, those that attended had a great time. We awarded our first ever front-of-the-line golden tickets (which enabled pre-event access to the trucks), and hosted two DJ stations for the first time.

What the Truck?! at Churchill Square

Our Golden Ticket winners!

We also welcomed several vendors into the What the Truck?! fold. It is definitely true that our scene has been enriched by the diversity of choices now available on the streets of Edmonton.

What the Truck?! at Churchill Square

Churchill Square

Thanks to everyone who has taken the time to come out to these events over the five years – we would never have been able to grow What the Truck?! to this point without you. And to the team – Mack, Melina, Caleng, Katherine, Mikhaila and Su – I am looking forward to being on the other side next year. I can’t wait to see what you accomplish in 2016!

Recap: What the Truck?! in the Outfield

Our penultimate What the Truck?! of the season had us storming the outfield for the very first time on August 22, 2015.

What the Truck?! at Telus Field

We’d been considering Telus Field as a possible event location for a few years. It fits in with our desire to highlight underutilized spaces, and is situated in a beautiful part of the city that more people should explore. It’s also centrally located, public transit accessible and (perhaps the primary reason why the feedback was positively off the charts) there is loads of free parking.

What the Truck?! at Telus Field

One of the other reasons we embraced Telus Field was its enclosed nature, perfect for families with small children. It was heartening to see kids let loose on the pristine, manicured grass in and amongst a field dotted with picnic blankets.

What the Truck?! at Telus Field

Some also took advantage of the opportunity to play catch right on the ball diamond. Checking out the perspective from the mound is definitely not something you can do every day!

What the Truck?! at Telus Field

The twelve trucks that joined us that afternoon offered the most diverse line-up of food we’ve had at a single event. Cuisine choices included Filipino, Indian, Jamaican, Mauritian and Mexican food.

What the Truck?! at Telus Field

Although the event wasn’t as busy as we would have hoped, it meant short lines for those who did come out. Mack and I finally managed to try a grilled cheese sandwich from Cheddaheads, who has driven up from Red Deer twice this year for What the Truck?!


We also had a fantastic new DJ join the ranks of our What the Truck?! crew – DJ Elekin kept it light, and by request, even spun “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the seventh inning stretch.

What the Truck?! at Telus Field

Thanks to our in-kind sponsor, the Downtown Edmonton Community League, our fabulous volunteers, and the Telus Field liaison for helping to make the event happen.

Our last event of the season takes place next week, returning to the place where we kicked things off back in May:

What: What the Truck?!
Where: Sir Winston Churchill Square
When: Friday, September 11, 2015
Time: 4-8pm

RSVP on Facebook!

This will be our biggest event by far, with a record 35 trucks joining us that day. We’ll be posting menus to whet your appetite on September 4. Hope to see you there!

Recap: What the Truck?! at Park After Dark

On July 11, 2015, What the Truck?! partnered with Northlands to co-host an event during Park After Dark.

What the Truck?! at Northlands Park

Park After Dark was established to introduce those who may not be familiar with the track to the excitement of live horse races. With an extensive outdoor patio and licensed area, we thought it would be a good way to incorporate an adjacent beer garden into What the Truck?!, something attendees have been inquiring about for some time.

What the Truck?! at Northlands Park

We hosted 15 trucks that night, including 5 new to the festival. 1879 Where the Flavour Begins, Northlands’ own food truck, made its debut at the event, and seemed to be a crowd favourite, incorporating product from Mojo Jojo Pickles into one of their dishes. Mack and I split a “Big Mock” burger from another new truck, The Hop, enjoying the quality of a homemade patty but a flavour inspired by the Golden Arches.

The space ended up being very conducive to a food truck event, with the backdrop of horse races creating an atmosphere of anticipation and exhilaration. It was neat to see folks crowd around the track at the bugle call to post throughout the evening.

What the Truck?! at Northlands Park

Linda Hoang even decided to introduce visitors to What the Truck?! in her Explore Edmonton video for Edmonton Tourism. Thanks, Linda!

If you missed our event at Park After Dark, you only have two other chances to catch What the Truck?! before the end of our 2015 season. Our penultimate event is another first for our festival – Trucks in the Outfield.

What: What the Truck?!
Where: Telus Field (10233 96 Ave NW, Edmonton, AB)
When: Saturday, August 22, 2015
Time: 4-8pm

RSVP on Facebook!

We’ll be lining up the trucks inside Telus Field so you’ll be able to have a picnic in the outfield! Attendees are encouraged to bring blankets and even baseball gloves and balls to play catch on the ball diamond.

Three trucks, The Hungry Dodo, Roots Patties, and Spiced! Food Truck, are new to What the Truck?!. All menus are now up for your viewing pleasure.

Hope to see you there!