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.


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!

Epicureous in Edmonton: 2008 Year in Review

I thought 2008 was a great year for Edmonton’s burgeoning culinary scene, and many in the community that I’ve talked to in the past few months have expressed the same opinion. Of course, with maintaining this blog, my bias is staying afloat of news and trends, and picking up on information that I would have ignored just as easily in the past.

That said, more local bloggers joined the online fray in 2008, the number of locally-owned and independent restaurants continue to rise, and farmer’s markets are not only mainstream, but the consumer thirst for seasonal, sustainable agriculture is stronger than ever.

Here are a few of the year’s notable occurrences:

  • Edmontonians flexed their culinary muscle this year – Chad Moss of Transcend Coffee placed fourth in October at the Canadian National Barista Competition, while the Culinary Team from NAIT brought home a total of five medals from the prestigious Culinary Olympics that took place in Germany.
  • Edmonton Journal readers bid adieu to longtime Bistro writer Judy Schultz at the end of 2007, and welcomed Liane Faulder to the section. She published her first series of articles in mid-May, and is continuing to dodge her predecessor’s still-looming shadow.
  • The city mourned the loss of a few beloved eateries, most notably Il Portico in October. Four Rooms, Nikita’s, and Bacon, among others, also called it quits.
  • On the upside, downtown Edmonton has been the recipient of quite a number of new and exciting endeavours: Kerstin Roos opened her fantastic chocolate shop The Cocoa Room in February; Sobeys piloted their new “Urban Fresh” concept on the rapidly-developing 104th Street in May; Century Hospitality swooped in on the vacant storefront in the historic McLeod Building for Hundred Bar & Kitchen in October; and a new incarnation of an Edmonton institution, renamed The Hat, began on October 24.
  • Other culinary pockets are popping up in our sprawling city, such as southwest Edmonton with Health Fare and Red Brick Pizza, and a trend of more upscale food alternatives on Whyte Avenue, like Devlin’s and Origin India.
  • Many locally-grown establishments also branched out this year, including Sorrentino’s, with Bistecca, an Italian steakhouse, and a second Culina, nestled in Highlands.

I have a feeling 2009 will be even better, as citizens continue to become more aware of where their food is coming from, and the food community grows in presence and vocalization.

On that note, look forward to a meetup of local foodies in the new year, spearheaded by Hanne from Supper in Stereo and I. Keep an eye out on the wiki for details.