Epicureous in Edmonton: 2018 Year in Review

While the biggest trend of 2018 in Edmonton was the rise of plant-based establishments, it’s important to note that the momentum actually began in 2017. The Moth Cafe, sister to the popular Cafe Mosaics, vegetarian Vietnamese restaurant An Chay, vegan pizzeria Die Pie, and quick-serve Good Stock all opened last year. They were joined in 2018 by celebrity chef-driven Kanu, vegan bakery Cinnaholic, franchise locations of Green Moustache and Copper Branch, and Square Root, the first plant-based eatery located on an Alberta post-secondary campus. But perhaps even more significant, plant-based items even made their way into the mainstream, in the form of A & W’s Beyond Meat burgers (which were so in demand they sold out across Canada), and vegan hot dogs at IKEA.

City Market

Here are a few other items that were notable to me in 2018:

  • Another rollover trend from 2017 was the continued proliferation of independent bakeries in the Edmonton area, but this time, primarily outside the core. Although vegan cookie favourite Bloom, specialty producer Food in the Nud, and City Market darling Dauphine opened in mature neighbourhoods, Milk and Cookies Bakeshop, Jovic Bakery, and Pome Bakery located in more suburban communities. St. Albert also had its share of newcomers, with Confections Cake Co. and a second branch of Macarons and Goodies setting up shop.
  • It was also a great year for independent cafes and coffee roasters, with no less than half a dozen helping to caffeinate the masses: Colombia Mountain Coffee, Rogue Wave, Grizzlar Coffee and Records, Lui-Chi, and Roasti in Sherwood Park.
  • Owing to the changes made to Alberta’s minimum brewing production laws several years ago, microbreweries continue to proliferate in the Edmonton area. Sea Change Brewing, Ale Architect, Omen, Analog Brewing Company, Two Sergeants (who relocated to Edmonton from Fort Saskatchewan), and Endeavour Brewing Company in St. Albert, all opened their doors in 2018.
  • Bundok helped put Edmonton on the map nationally, landing on the prestigious Canada’s Best New Restaurants list.
  • As always, it’s great to see when local restaurants can build on their successes by expanding their operations. Congratulations to Splash Poke, Pampa, Louisiana Purchase, Let’s Go Number Two (Hanjan’s sibling restaurant), Bottega 104, Chix Shack (operated by the folks behind Sawadee in Sherwood Park), Buco, DOSC (opened by the folks behind Japonais, Dorinku, and Seoul Fried Chicken), and KB & Company on the opening of additional locations.
  • Although changes such as the increase in minimum wage have made it more challenging for some restaurants to turn a profit, there was enough confidence in our economy for numerous chains to expand to Edmonton. These high profile brands included matcha master Tsujiri, dessert bar Cacao 70, brunch favourite OEB, seafood eatery The Captain’s Boil, and American chain Bubba Gump Shrimp.
  • We also saw our share of closures, including long running restaurants Packrat Louie, La Boheme, Parkallen, El Rancho, and Characters. 124 Street tenants North 53 and Daravara didn’t survive, and the Alder Room shuttered in spite of its critical acclaim.
  • Due to the LRT construction, the Taste of Edmonton relocated to the Legislature grounds this year. Based on the positive feedback they received, it will be interesting to see if they decide to return to Churchill Square in a few years.
  • Several programs to help those in need also kicked off this year, ranging from The Hallway Cafe’s suspended coffee program (similar to the one run by The Nook Cafe), to pay-what-you-can produce from VEG in YEG, discounted produce at Manna Market (inspired by the Food4Good veggie sales), and Boyle Street Eats, a social enterprise food truck.
  • In the age of Instagram, it’s a bit surprising that there aren’t more social media gaffes committed. However, the most memorable incident involved food blogger Leduc Nguyen’s negative Instagram post about The Common, and retaliatory comments from Cartago’s Katy Ingraham.
  • While it didn’t exceed Chartier’s record-breaking crowdfunding total from 2015, Black Box Hospitality’s Kickstarter for their forthcoming Gibbard Block project came close, exceeding their $100,000 target.
  • It was a mixed year in food media. Edmonton saw the loss of alternative paper Vue Weekly (and their Dish coverage along with it), but we also gained food-centric print magazine Eat Local. Food Artisans of Alberta and Maps, Markets and Matzo Ball Soup were also published in 2018, highlighting many amazing producers in the province and the life of local food advocate Gail Hall.

You can check out previous year in reviews here.

Epicureous in Edmonton: 2017 Year in Review

It was without a doubt a banner year for bakeries in the Edmonton area, with no less than ten shops opening up in the last twelve months. It’s been particularly great to see the range of businesses, including French-style patisseries (Macarons & Goodies, Chocorrant, Fan Fan Patisserie, Arno’s Fine French Pastry), fancy cakes and treats (Sugared and Spiced, Art of Cake expansion), and gourmet doughnuts (Doughnut Party, Destination Doughnuts, Frickin’ Delights Donuts in Devon, Ohana Donuterie). Speaking as someone who currently has quite the sweet tooth, it’s been wonderful sampling my way through different desserts and finding any excuse to pick up something new to try.

Sugared & Spiced

Here are a few other items that were notable to me in 2017:

  • It was a bit of a Jekyll-Hyde year for Ice District. After Rogers Place opened in the fall of 2016, it was assumed that it would be a boon for businesses within walking distance of the arena. While that proved to be the case for certain enterprises (Baijiu, Bundok, and Bottega 104 to name a few), it didn’t prevent some fairly high-profile closures in 2017, including Alta, Vivo’s Downtown location, and Transcend’s Mercer Warehouse branch.
  • Edmontonians seem to have a growing taste for charcuterie and well-made sausage, with Fuge Fine Meats blossoming alongside the opening of two fine meat boutiques in Meuwly’s and Porc Sale.
  • Korean cuisine (including the very popular Korean Fried Chicken) continued to stake its claim in the city, with restaurants including Miga, Yummy Chicken, Hanjan, Pelicana, Hansik, and Dookbaeki opening.
  • Similarly, when it rains, it poured for bingsu, also known as Korean shaved ice. Edmonton went from zero bingsu purveyors to at least four in Snowy Dessert, Snowy Village, Let Eat Snow, and Snow Bear, in addition to other cafes who’ve since added it to their menus.
  • On a smaller scale, the city was also introduced to the world of poke, with Splash Poke and Ono Poke opening up within two weeks of each other Downtown.
  • Those seeking vegan and vegetarian options were able to broaden their choices to include vegan pizzeria Die Pie, Vietnamese restaurant An Chay, quick-serve cafe Good Stock, and The Moth, sister restaurant to Old Strathcona mainstay Cafe Mosaics.
  • Many local restaurants were able to grow their presence with additional locations or concepts, offering diners more unique alternatives. Among them: Monument (Block 1912), Pip (Next Act, Meat), Holy Roller (El Cortez, Have Mercy), Grandin Fish & Chips (The Common), Ong Hanoi Style Fried Chicken (Jack’s Burger Shack, Cerdo Tacos), Salz (Elm Cafe, District, Little Brick), Amore Pasta and Bottega 104 (Cafe Amore, Black Pearl), Wishbone (Three Boars), Mercato Foods (Italian Bakery), Pampa, Farrow, Credo, and Remedy Cafe.
  • I’m always heartened when food truck operators or market stalls are able to transition into brick and mortar storefronts, and this trend continued over the last year. The list included some of the bakeries mentioned above, but also Casa 12 Doce’s La Patrona, Little Village’s take-out spot, and Calle Mexico’s restaurant on 107 Avenue.
  • Food tourism initiatives were another highlight this year: Edmonton Food Tours introduced tours focused on the Old Strathcona Farmers’ Market and Downtown eateries, Urban Pedal Tours offered a unique spin on social drinking, and Edmonton Brewery Tours shed light on the history of brewing in our city.
  • It was interesting that despite the splash made by Cafe Linnea’s foray into no-tipping in 2016 (and their subsequent end to that concept in 2017) there haven’t really been many more examples of gratuity-included restaurants in Edmonton (Grain of Rice and Alder Room notwithstanding).
  • The Alberta Liquor and Gaming Commission made a few welcome shifts, including their changes to licensed patios, and allowance of beer and spirits to be sampled and sold at farmers’ markets.

You can check out previous year in reviews here.

Epicureous in Edmonton: 2016 Year in Review

2016 was an interesting year for print-related food media. While several local publications celebrated milestones (The Tomato, Avenue Edmonton) or expanded their coverage (Culinaire), when the Edmonton Journal announced in January that they were laying off their full-time food reporter, it was clear that the food scene would be at a loss. Although the Journal reversed their decision a few weeks later (at least on a part-time basis), it was a sign that the end of an era is inevitable.

Edmonton Sun & Journal 

When that kind of high profile coverage for local chefs, restaurants, and producers end, will diners and consumers turn to other outlets for news? How will those changes impact small businesses that benefit from the exposure? Though we didn’t have to answer that question in full just yet, it’s likely that the time will come soon.

Here’s what else what notable to me in 2016:

  • I love when we can celebrate local success stories, and this year was full of them. Daniel Costa’s empire expanded to include Uccellino, Duchess added the Scandinavian-inspired Cafe Linnea to their businesses, Bodega looked to reverse the revolving door in Highlands, Have Mercy opened above sister restaurant El Cortez, and the Crudo family set-up Amore Pasta in the suburbs. As well, Sandwich and Sons, Careit, Iconoclast, Nomiya, Confetti Sweets and Jacek Chocolates added new locations.
  • As openings go, Old Strathcona had some of the buzziest additions this year, with scratch-ramen eatery Nudoru, southern-inspired Have Mercy, brew pub Situation Brewing, izakaya Dorinku, and Parisian-style bakery La Boule.
  • Brick and mortar iterations spawned from food trucks continued into this year, including Calle Mexico, Fat Franks, The Local Omnivore, and Two to Taco, a new sister for Filistix. Little Village and Casa Doce storefronts are coming in 2017.
  • Fried chicken frenzy finally hit Edmonton, with a second location for Coco Fried Chicken and the rise of both Seoul Fried Chicken and Northern Chicken. Chain restaurant Popeye’s also caused quite a stir in November with their first Edmonton branch, and it was announced that Ong (from the folks behind Jack’s Burger Shack), will be serving up Hanoi-style fried chicken.
  • Bubble tea chains had a banner year – Coco’s, Quickly, Cha Time and Gong Cha all expanded to Edmonton in 2016.
  • In spite of the growth, many notable businesses shut their doors. We bid adieu to Call the Kettle Black, Dovetail Deli, Sabzy, Rosebowl Pizza (at least in its Oliver location), Dauphine, and Culina.
  • The limited success of no tipping restaurants in larger municipalities like New York should be a cautionary tale for us, but Edmonton saw its first two such establishments open in 2016: the aforementioned Cafe Linnea and Asian upstart Grain of Rice.
  • The upswing of local food tour businesses such as Epicurean Adventure Tours and the expansion of Alberta Food Tours to include Edmonton point to the growth of walkable restaurant districts and an increased appetite to explore them.
  • Similarly, Edmonton Cooks helped share some of the stories behind the city’s favourite restaurants, bringing us in line with the six other cities already profiled.
  • We lost Dolce & Banana operator Ernesto Rizzi suddenly in July, and Gail Hall’s passing in November is still ripping through the food community.

You can check out previous year in reviews here.

Epicureous in Edmonton: 2015 Year in Review

Trends, especially in Edmonton, can take several years to take root. And in putting these summaries together, I’m reminded of how, in many ways, the calendar year is just an arbitrary measure of time.

Coffee Bureau

Several third wave cafes like Coffee Bureau sprouted in 2015

But we are fortunate to live in a community where there is an ever-increasing number of people who care about the food they grow, prepare, or serve, so it’s our duty to acknowledge and appreciate these changes, even if they sometimes seem incremental and small.

Here’s what was notable to me in 2015:

  • The independent dining scene in St. Albert came into its own this year, attracting attention with openings like farm-to-table restaurant 12 Acres, Buco, Sorrentino’s first pizza and wine bar, and a second location of Chef Andrew Fung’s much-lauded Nineteen. Closely tied in was the continued rise of independent suburban establishments, such as Cured and Workshop Eatery.
  • In Central Edmonton, we gained a number of third wave cafes: Coffee Bureau, Lockstock, Rogue Wave Coffee, Bru and Barking Buffalo. Nomad Espresso also started operations as the city’s first mobile coffee cart.
  • While I don’t think we’ve quite hit “peak ramen” in the Capital Region just yet, it was a banner year for the noodles, with the fervor for the opening of Prairie Noodle Shop exceeding expectations.
  • While Japanese-inspired ramen may be the hottest #yegfood item at the close of 2015, Edmonton experienced a Korean wave this year, with Nongbu, Tofu House, It’ All and Daore joining the fold.
  • The humble sandwich is also alive and well, with inspired and tasty offerings available from Sandwich and Sons, Dovetail Deli, The Local Omnivore, and even an outpost of Calgary-based Chachi’s at West Edmonton Mall.
  • We did lose a few notable establishments this year, including Unheardof and Happy Garden. On the side of food retail, Mother’s Market closed after a year of operation.
  • Crowdfunding projects aren’t new to the local food scene (Creole Envie embraced it to jumpstart a trip to the Taste of Edmonton in 2014), but it took on life this year, with a successful Kickstarter campaign for Chartier, a forthcoming French-Canadian restaurant in Beaumont. Prairie Noodle Shop and regional restaurant/social justice project The Alder Room also tried to raise online backers.
  • Edmontonians love competitions – the Canadian Food Championships were newly installed in 2015 by Events Edmonton, and Get Cooking’s wildly popular Edmonton Food Fight began in February. Several local chefs including Shane Chartrand and David Omar also appeared on national food programs like Chopped and Masterchef.
  • When we started Eat Alberta back in 2011, opportunities to develop food skills were isolated to often pricey one-off classes. In 2015, with the Dig In Festival in its second year, and the advent of the Edmonton Resilience Festival and Little Brick Home School, it’s great to see that chances for learning are becoming more widespread. On a related DIY note, City Council approved urban beekeeping in April.
  • 2015 saw its share of pop-up dinners, some in unusual, unique locations. It’ll be interesting to see whether this trend can sustain itself, given the price associated with many of these events is steadily increasing.
  • It was great to see some local interpretations of the anti-food waste movement, such as the SalvagED pop-ups that made meals from otherwise discarded produce, and Reclaim Urban Farm’s sale of so-called “ugly” vegetables.

Onward to 2016!

You can check out previous year in reviews here.

Epicureous in Edmonton: 2014 in Review

2014 was definitely Elm Café’s year, as they increased their footprint in Edmonton to include District, a great quick-serve café in the government district, and Burrow, innovatively located in our pedway system above the Central LRT station. Owner Nate Box also consulted with Denizen Hall, the refurbished bar in the Grand Hotel, to create a comfort food-focused menu that will no doubt help curious diners overlook the establishment’s seedy past. Had Little Brick, their forthcoming café/general store in the Riverdale neighbourhood, not encountered construction delays typical for any new projects, it would have been an even more runaway year for Nate. At any rate, it’s great to see a local company succeed and flourish in multiple locations – here’s hoping for a speedy finish for Little Brick!

Burrow Central Station

Here are a few other notable food happenings in 2014:

  • Speaking of cafes, it was also a strong year for other independent coffee shops. Transcend returned downtown with a location in the Mercer Warehouse, Credo established a second branch on 124 Street, Iconoclast Koffiehuis’ opening in Oliver, and Remedy added a fourth shop on 124 Street (look for a fifth in Terwillegar to come in 2015).
  • In addition, a significant number of independent restaurants joined the food scene, including Ampersand 27, Bar Bricco, Daravara, Farrow, Hart’s Table, Meat, Rostizado and Solstice.
  • On the flip side, the city did lose its share of prominent food businesses, with Tavern 1903 topping the list that also features Café de Ville, Everything Cheese, Moriarty’s and the Wild Tangerine restaurant.
  • Some measure Edmonton’s place in the world with our ability to attract chains and franchises. To that end, we gained a Popbar at West Edmonton Mall, a Carl’s Jr. outpost, and Filipino fast food chain Max’s Restaurant this year.
  • Although not as prominent, pop-up restaurants still haven’t fallen by the wayside. They continue to provide a way for start-ups to highlight niche cuisine like the vegan Long Lost Foods (formerly the Mirepoix Trio) or specialty items like those offered by Honest Dumplings or Prairie Noodle Shop, whose last pop-up sold out in eight minutes.
  • We also saw the start of several new large-scale outdoor food events this summer, with the inaugural Porkapalooza attracting a stunning 25,000 attendees over three days, and Edmonton’s first Diner en Blanc succeeding in spite of a rain out. Taste of Edmonton celebrated its 30th anniversary, and will be bringing the Canadian Food Championships to the city in 2015.
  • Edmontonians were encouraged to flex their kitchen skills with the release of Duchess Bake Shop’s cookbook, Daniel Costa’s Italian cooking app Tavola, and the expansion of Kathryn Joel’s Get Cooking into its new MacEwan studio.
  • Mother’s Market, the city’s first three-day, year-round farmers’ market opened this summer, while SPUD, a grocery delivery service offering organic and local options, opened up a branch in Edmonton.

Looking forward to what 2015 brings!

You can check out previous year in reviews here.

Epicureous in Edmonton: 2013 in Review

Although we had some high profile restaurant losses this year (notably Jack’s Grill), 2013 seemed to be a good year overall for local independents. Openings definitely tipped the scale, with some, such as RGE RD and Tavern 1903 immediately embraced by the community. I can only hope this trend continues – that Edmontonians will shift their habits in order to dine at creative, quality-driven small businesses.

Panna cotta at RGE RD

Here are some other notable food happenings in 2013:

  • The number of food trucks exploded in Edmonton, with more than a dozen new vendors, offering mobile options ranging from Vietnamese to British to Mexican cuisines.
  • The burger reigned supreme this year, with the US chain Smashburger landing in Sherwood Park, and local counterparts The Burg, Jack’s Burger Shack in St. Albert, Bannock Burger and a burger-focused food truck The Patty Wagon competing for your business.
  • It also seemed that Century Hospitality Group’s Alley Burger paved the way for others, such as Creole Envie’s back alley po’boy and Wild Tangerine’s O’my Bao.
  • Something to keep an eye on in the coming year will be the price of pop-up and one-off dinners. They seem to have been increasing over the last few years, but it’s not clear if there is a ceiling to the cost diners are willing to pay.
  • Hot pot hits the spot: Urban Shabu and 97 Hot Pot are heating up the dining scene in Chinatown – we’ll see if this leads to more Edmontonians embracing this method of eating.
  • Those with certain dietary restrictions also expanded their selection in the city, with the completely gluten-free GF Diner, and VegPalette catering to busy vegans.
  • I wrote in my 2011 Year in Review that a “coffee district” was brewing Downtown. Unfortunately, that has reversed itself this year, with the loss of both Transcend’s Downtown storefront and Roast. That said, 124 Street is perking up, with news of Credo’s second location and Remedy joining the mix.
  • We did lose some long-standing food businesses in 2013, including Java Jive and Bee Bell Bakery.
  • The success of Ten Mile Meal, Gail Hall’s Alberta farm tours, the Taste of Edmonton’s Sip ‘n Savour initiative and the launching of Localize all spoke to the increasing appetite of diners to connect with those that grow their food.
  • In the same vein, farmers’ markets continue to pop-up in all over the city.  Four joined the fray in 2013: Eden’s Market, Century Park, French Quarter and the Edmonton Petroleum Club.
  • It was also great to see social enterprise Mealshare debut in Edmonton, providing diners with a seamless way to feed someone in need, simply by eating out.

Looking forward to what 2014 brings!

You can check out previous year in reviews here.

Epicureous in Edmonton: 2012 in Review

I wish we could say 2012 was the year City Council declared that having access to locally-grown food was important enough to protect, but alas, that was not the case. In November, Council voted to accept the toothless, vague Fresh, the Food and Agriculture Strategy that certainly did not live up to its name. By doing so, although some good was accomplished (including a directive to set up an Edmonton Food Council), Fresh did not make preserving the city’s peripheral agricultural land a priority.

Farming in the City

Farm stand at Riverbend Gardens

This was in spite of the fact that the appetite and interest in local food continues to grow. The 124 Street Grand Market was a huge hit, while the number of restaurants and vendors highlighting area producers, like Three Boars and Drift, are gaining huge followings.

Here are some other notable food happenings in 2012:

  • It was a big year for local establishments on the small screen, when Food Network rolled into town. You Gotta Eat Here profiled Tres Carnales, Highlands Kitchen and The Sugarbowl, while Eat St. shot features on Drift, Molly’s Eats and The Act Out & About.
  • It was great to be a chocoholic in Edmonton: this year saw Jacek and Cococo Chocolatiers open boutiques, we saw the rebirth of Kerstin’s Chocolates, and the debut of two small-batch lines of chocolate, The Violet Chocolate Company and The Jones Chocolate Company.
  • I have to wonder if 2012 saw the ramifications of Corso 32’s runaway success, with a seeming renaissance of Italian eateries. Cafe Amore may have opened in the fall of 2011, but it was one of the most talked about restaurants this year. Cibo Bistro gained a following of its own since it entered the scene in late 2011. Most recently, St. Albert-based Nello’s added a second location in Edmonton with Antonil’s, and the Italian Centre added Massimo’s Cucina Italiana to its holdings. The Century Hospitality Group also jumped in the fray with the announcement of its forthcoming Parlour Italian Kitchen & Bar.
  • 124 Street became a district of dining destinations with many notable openings this year, including a second location of The Bothy, The Makk on 124, Canteen, and the announcement of Rge Rd, coming in spring 2013.
  • Nineteen, Chef Andrew Fung’s upscale addition to the city’s outer ring, has perhaps ushered in an era where fine dining and suburbia are not mutually exclusive.
  • The success of Sloppy Hogs Roed Hus and Smokehouse BBQ (the tragedy of the fire at their Edmonton location notwithstanding) speaks to the local appetite for southern barbecue.
  • Frozen yogurt seemed poised to take over the city, with the touchdown of Pinkberry at last, and the expansion of Tutti Frutti to both WEM and Southgate. 
  • It wasn’t all positive though: we lost two local favourites this year – Highlands Kitchen shuttered in the fall, while The Blue Pear announced their last meal would be served in December.
  • With the transformation of The Bank to Public House and Iron Horse to MKT, it was a signal that pubs were deemed to be more versatile and lucrative than nightclubs. We’ve still yet to see a true gastropub land in Edmonton though.
  • Along the same lines, beer markets are on the rise, with the opening of MKT and The Underground Tap and Grill this year, and Craft Beer Market in 2013.

We can only guess what 2013 will bring – looking forward to it!

You can take a look at my previous year in review posts here.

Epicurious in Edmonton: 2011 in Review

January signals a time for reflection, and for me, this includes reviewing Edmonton’s year in food (you can take a look at my 2010, 2009 and 2008 reflections as well).

What the Truck?! 2

A picture from What the Truck 2?! in September

The food scene in Edmonton this past year was heavily dominated by excitement around the new food trucks that hit the streets in 2011 (among them Drift, Molly’s Eats, Nomad). I’m looking forward to seeing how this momentum continues into 2012, with at least two more trucks confirmed (Big City Sandwich, Battista’s). It’s also worth noting that several vendors, including Fat Franks, Eva Sweet and Filistix moved into brick and mortar operations this year too, on campus at the University of Alberta. It will only be a matter of time until established restaurants start getting into the food truck business as well. Of course, the mobile cuisine movement was just one of the trends this year:

  • A coffee district is brewing: in March, Transcend’s downtown location opened on Jasper Avenue, just off 104 Street, joining downtown gem Credo. Then word came that Roast Coffeehouse, a new cafe and roaster, is moving into the Mercer Warehouse, to open its doors in 2012. Bring on the caffeine!
  • I’m always happy to report on local businesses flourishing, not an easy accomplishment in a city that loves its chains. Both V Sandwiches and Viphalay opened up their second outposts in 2011, Famoso was working on their sixth, and Oodle Noodle just threw the doors open to their second downtown location!
  • Also resilient are cupcakes – no, they are not going away! Calgary favourite Crave Cupcakes launched their first Edmonton branch in February, while Delish opened up in Little Italy, and Flirt set up a downtown shop in July.
  • Burgers may have “jumped the shark” in other cities (with ever-pricier versions being served up in high-end restaurants), but in Edmonton, they are as popular as ever. American chain Five Guys expanded into Sherwood Park in February, with Smashburger to follow suit in 2012. As well, the Century Hospitality Group replicated Calgary’s popular alley burger.
  • It’s wonderful that farmers’ markets continue to gain a foothold in our city, spawning three new markets this year: in Southwest Edmonton, Castledowns and the Meadows. Unlike Calgary, which seems to prefer the multi-day model, we have neighbourhood-based markets, which is more congruent with the “living local” framework. The City Market also transitioned into a year-round market in October, moving directly from the street into City Hall.
  • That hunger for knowledge about local food and how best to prepare them has also encouraged a market for learning opportunities as provided by businesses such as Taste Tripping, Get Cooking, and Brad Smoliak’s upcoming venture in the space that housed The Butler Did It.

We’ll see what 2012 has in store for Edmonton!

Epicurious in Edmonton: 2010 in Review

It’s become a bit of a tradition for me to look back on Edmonton’s food scene after the year has wrapped (read 2009 here and 2008 here).

I think one of the most notable food happenings in 2010 was the growth of the blogosphere. More than a dozen local food bloggers joined the fray this year, and though some of them haven’t stuck, restaurants and media alike really started to recognize the fact that some diners do gather information from online food writers. Menu launches like the one that took place in November at ZINC will likely be more commonplace in the future.

Zinc

As a result, however, I think readers will have to be more vigilant about what they read. Besides comped meals, it is inevitable that bloggers, like journalists, will develop relationships with chefs and restaurateurs. Edmonton may not have the critical mass of food bloggers as other cities do (yet), but I foresee more discussions about food blogging ethics on the horizon in our online community.

Other notable trends and events:

  • Local chains are continuing to increase their foothold in the local dining scene, including a second Transcend, a second Delux, a third outpost of Culina (in the Muttart Conservatory), a fourth location of Oodle Noodle, and another Cafe de Ville in Sherwood Park.
  • Of course, there’s usually more public excitement for the establishments opened by international chains, which was the case for Melting Pot and IHOP.
  • A few Canadian chains also launched their Edmonton presence this year, including Kelowna-based Big City Cupcakes, and Vancouver-based Local Public Eatery. Coming early 2011: beloved Crave Cupcakes, of Calgary.
  • It seems like loose tea purveyors had a good year – Teaopia opened in Kingsway, and David’s Tea now has two locations in Edmonton, at West Edmonton Mall and Southgate. Tea Fusion just opened in November in City Centre Mall (though bubble tea seems to be their focus).
  • Something I’m excited about, and really hope blossoms in 2011: one-note restaurant Battista’s Calzones opened in October, and La Poutine, which offers, yes, only poutine, is set to open in January 2011.
  • There seems to be a hunger for upscale, quality, not-your-average-deli sandwiches, with MRKT, Press’d, and the neighbourhood darling, Elm Cafe, seeing success this year. In the same vein, I have to think banh mi (Vietnamese subs) have become mainstream in Edmonton, with Nhon Hoa opening up a spot on Whyte Avenue, and V Sandwiches and Far East Sandwiches occupying prime downtown real estate.
  • Wine bars really were all the rage in 2010. With the addition of Lit, Moriarty’s, d’Lish, and Somerville Wine and Cheese, there are now several options for those looking for a glass of vino and some nibbles. So many, in fact, that 4th and Vine now bills itself as the “original wine bar” in print ads.
  • Speaking of wine bars, after fashion shows took place at both Lit and The Common this year, perhaps we should expect further mingling of bars and fashion in 2011.
  • Urban China and the more recent Emperor’s Palace really give me hope that one day, Chinatown might return to its glory days. At the very least though, they have ushered in the modern, stylish Chinese restaurants more common in Vancouver and Calgary.
  • This year saw the advent of group-based discount services in Edmonton – Groupon was the first, but it has now been joined by others, including Living Social, TeamBuy and most recently, SwarmJam.
  • As the city grows, pockets of businesses like the one in southeast Edmonton with Dumplings and Real Deal Meats will likely be more common (hopefully with locally owned businesses!).
  • With the excitement around The Marc and La Persaud in 2010, I wonder if more French bistros are in the cards?
  • The Municipal Development Plan, which will help protect some local food sources, was passed in May, and the Capital City Downtown Plan, which mentions providing assistance to those wishing to grow food downtown, as well as a multi-purpose arts/city market space, was passed in July.
  • Also on the topic of sustainability, it’s great to see the post-secondary institutions offering opportunities for students to learn more about food security, among other topics – Common Ground at Grant MacEwan University in March, and Sustainability Awareness Week at the U of A in October.
  • Another farmers’ market popped up in South Edmonton Common in the summer, and another is being investigated for the Riverbend/Terwillegar communities.

Here’s to more great happenings in 2011!

Epicureous in Edmonton: 2009 in Review

I thought it was another great year for Edmonton’s food scene, though I probably sound like a broken record. However, it’s hard not to get excited when small, local businesses are getting the recognition they deserve in supplying the city with specialized products.

Tomatoes from Sundog Organics

Here are a few of the year’s notable trends and events:

  • A second Edmonton restaurant family was profiled in the third season of Family Restaurant early this year. Food Network Canada viewers were treated to a behind-the-scenes look at the Quons, the family behind local institutions The Lingnan and Chicken for Lunch. Unfortunately, the show left something to be desired.
  • While the effects of the recession were somewhat muted in Canada, people in Edmonton were still looking for dining deals to be had. As a result, several local restaurants, including The Blue Pear and Hardware Grill introduced menus with lower price points to entice patrons.
  • In spite of the economic downturn, several local establishments expanded their business in 2009. Health Fare opened its second location downtown, Famoso christened a third branch in South Edmonton Common, a third Mikado is now in the west end, and a new Transcend cafe will begin operation in Garneau in January 2010.
  • 2009 also saw several chains move into the city, including Cora’s, Cactus Club Cafe, and opening in early 2010, fondue restaurant Melting Pot.
  • Frozen yogurt shops, akin to their US cousins, have finally arrived in Edmonton! Twisted Yogurt opened up its first parlour in August, while Kiwi Kiss joined the fray in October. Expect many more storefronts in the first half of 2010.
  • As Eater would say, two’s a trend – both Vinomania and The Bothy are equipped with state-of-the-art Enomatic Wine Serving System. I wouldn’t be surprised if more restaurants go this route in the nest year.
  • Specialty bakeries were also launched in full force, with no less than four cake shops and cupcakeries popping up – Cake Couture, The Cake House, Flirt, and a second Fuss Cupcakes outlet on Whyte Avenue. Of course, who could forget Duchess, whose opening was the equivalent of a culinary earthquake in Edmonton.
  • A trend going into 2010 will undoubtedly be more transparent menus and accommodating kitchens, as more people require or choose gluten-free, vegetarian or vegan diets, but in 2009, Backstairs Cafe was already ahead of the trend, showcasing vegan cuisine and giving Edmonton its first culinary speakeasy in the process.
  • Local food producers continue to gain a foothold in the market, with the Good Food Box and new Alberta Avenue Farmers’ Market providing more opportunities to support area farmers, the Eat Local First initiative helping consumers to identify goods made by local purveyors, the Meet the Locals Festival connecting shoppers with producers, and the successful launch of We Eat Togethershowing the appetite for local food.

I’m looking forward to what 2010 has in store already!