Recap: Eats on 118

Last week, my Mum and I were invited to attend the first of this summer’s Eats on 118 Food Tours. The series started back in 2016 as a pilot, but has continued annually since; organized by the Alberta Avenue Business Association and Wildheart Collective, they’ve been a popular way for people to engage with some of the many independent businesses in the neighbourhood. I attended all of the tours last year, with the bowling edition being the highlight for me.

The first stop of the evening was familiar to me, as Paraiso Tropical was included on one of the tours last year. But the shop (as with the rest of the businesses) was new to my Mum; the tour was a great way for her to learn about an area of the city that she does not often frequent.

Eats on 118

Ready to eat!

Pre-assembled boxes of food meant that the large group was fed quickly. We were treated to a variety of tastes, including a pupusa, two flautas, and plantain topped with dulce de leche.

Eats on 118

Paraiso Tropical sampler

We walked over to Handy Bakery next. As my office is just a few blocks from the bakery, it’s my go-to for Portuguese egg tarts (in my opinion, the best in the city), and sweet bread to be used for French toast. But I hadn’t been exposed to their savoury menu before.

Eats on 118

The spread at Handy Bakery

Several different dishes were served buffet-style, including salt cod and potatoes, sausage, fish croquettes, and fried shrimp cakes. The latter was my favourite of the bunch, especially enjoyable alongside the glass of sangria that was included in the meal (the owner endeared himself to the group with his generous pours of wine and sangria).

My favourite moment of the evening came en route to our final stop. In collaboration with Arts on the Avenue, we were treated to a musical interlude by a barbershop quartet, performed in a barbershop! The four women of the Thumbs Up Quartet were fabulous, their passion and joy for song evident.

Eats on 118

Thumbs Up Quartet

We proceeded to Battista’s Calzones, one of my favourite restaurants on Alberta Avenue. Owner Battista offered a sampling of a number of their calzones. He recommended the Giovanna (artichokes, prosciutto, truffle oil), which we learned is named after a student who used to frequent the restaurant and shared her recipe for a pizza served at her family-owned pizzeria in Miami.

Eats on 118

Calzones galore

The second and last Eats on 118 takes place on August 29, 2018, which will highlight several women-led businesses. Tickets are $47 each.

Thanks to Bottom Line Productions for the tickets, and to the organizers for another great event!

Recap: Eats on 118, International Edition

The third and final Eats on 118 event this year took place in late August. A series of events organized by Wild Heart Collective and the Alberta Avenue Business Association, Eats on 118 helps to showcase the variety of establishments located in an often overlooked neighbourhood. I’ve discovered a few gems from past tours (including Plaza Bowl on the last crawl), and this evening was no different. In particular, it highlighted just how much diversity is present on the Avenue.

The group met up at Paraiso Tropical, a popular Latin food market in the heart of 118. We were welcomed by Jesus Gonzales, who took over the shop from his parents in 2009. Although they boast a wide selection of import products from the Caribbean, South and Central America, they also offer a selection of hot takeout items. The menu varies by day, and could include tacos, empanadas, and taquitos.

Eats on 118

Kicking off Eats on 118

That evening, we each received a street food box with two tacos and a pupusa. Of the trio, the al pastor taco was my favourite, but it was nice to be able to sample a few of their dishes.

Eats on 118

Sampler box from Paraiso Tropical

Our second stop was Mama Asha Cafe, easily missed tucked in next to an auto shop. Like Jesus, Saharla Aden also took over the business from her parents, renaming the restaurant after her grandmother.

Eats on 118

Saharla Aden of Mama Asha Cafe

Saharla and her husband also refreshed the dining room have a more modern, contemporary feel, reopening in May of this year. The menu is unique, offering all-day Somali breakfast and some dishes that are hard to find in Edmonton, such as shakshuuka.

Eats on 118

Savoury plate from Mama Asha

We indulged in a savoury plate featuring beef suqaar strips, rice, a samosa, sabayat (Somali flat bread – my favourite), and bajiya (black eyed pea fritters), but without a doubt, it was dessert that stole the show. The moist coconut cake we were served to end our visit is definitely worth seeking out.

Eats on 118

That coconut cake!

Next, we walked over to Mini Kitchen. While not a retail outlet, the production kitchen on 118 Avenue is used to prepare heat-and-eat Indian and Thai meals sold at eight farmers’ markets in Edmonton, St. Albert, Fort Saskatchewan, and Red Deer. Mini Kitchen’s products can also be found at some specialty retail locations.

Damini Mohan prides herself on preparing healthy and nutritious meals without compromising flavour. With the exception of soy sauce, all ingredients they use are non-gmo, and the produce they source is primarily organic. I enjoyed the taste of butter chicken and naan we were provided, with layers of flavour without an overwhelming heat.

Eats on 118

Butter chicken from Mini Kitchen

Our final destination was Passion de France, a patisserie opened by Montreal ex-pat Mélanie Dovale in 2014. A halal pastry shop, Passion de France fills a niche in Edmonton, but she shared that she likes the community feel of the neighbourhood.

Eats on 118

Pastries on the patio

We were provided with a generous variety of their treats, including a lemon meringue tart, chocolate orange tart, eclair, opera cake, and a macaron. My office is only a few blocks away, so it wasn’t my first brush with Passion de France, nor will it be my last.

Eats on 118

Dessert from Passion de France

Kirsta Franke from Wild Heart indicated that Eats on 118 will be back again for two installments in June of next year. So if you missed out, make sure to check the Alberta Avenue website in the spring! Thanks again to the organizers for putting on another great event.

Recap: Eats on 118, Bowling Edition

I had such a grand time at the first Eats on 118 in April of this year that I knew I had to sign up for their second event in late June. Su was the perfect dining companion as we ate (and bowled!) our way down the street together.

Organized by Wild Heart Collective, the tours are designed to showcase businesses that may otherwise be overlooked because of the overall reputation of the area. Although I had been to some of the restaurants prior, it’s always interesting to learn more about the people behind the businesses.

We started our evening at Lan’s Asian Grill. Named for their mother, Lan’s is operated by three siblings: Tom manages front of house, Monica ably leads the kitchen, and Vince handles all marketing and photography. They’ve been in business since 2008, and though their parents taught them to be great hosts, they didn’t want them to be restaurant owners. But with several generations of chefs and food entrepreneurs in their family, it was in their blood, and it’s clear that this family is passionate about what they do. Tom shared that they just signed another five year lease, and they’re happy with how the neighbourhood has continued to grow since they moved nearly a decade ago.

Eats on 118

Vince, Monica, and Tom of Lan’s Asian Grill

We sampled several small plates at Lan’s. Everything is made from scratch (so they can manage the dietary restrictions of most diners), and pride themselves in using free range chicken and organic vegetables.

The carrot and green papaya salad was my favourite course – vibrant, crunchy, and refreshing (I had to laugh when Tom said the heat level was “baby spice”, considering it was on the hot side for me).

Eats on 118

Green papaya and carrot salad

We also tried their chicken satay skewers and a lovely dessert of passion fruit and guava panna cotta.

Eats on 118

Passion fruit and guava panna cotta

Our second stop was just around the corner – The Duck (which some may remember as The Blind Duck) is now led by Alex.

Eats on 118

Kirsta Franke of the Wild Heart Collective introduces us to The Duck

He served us a buffet-style Mediterranean spread, including baba ganoush, hummus, and fatayar (meat and spinach pies). Though most items we tried don’t appear on their regular menu, they are often featured as daily specials, and are available through their catering service. Of the samples we tried, the fava bean dip was at the top of my list, creamy and well seasoned.

Eats on 118

Bites from The Duck

I was most excited for our third and final stop. Plaza Bowling Co. has been in the Stride family for three generations since it opened in 1959. The facility has been meticulously maintained for the nearly 60 years they’ve operated, as it changed hands from grandfather, to father, and now to son.

Although Trevor Stride never thought he’d continue the family business, when his dad told him he’d be putting it up for sale, it just didn’t feel right. So on January 1, 2017 he returned to Edmonton from Vancouver in the hopes of creating a place for people to socialize. He brought in TVs and craft beer, focusing on brews from Alberta and BC on six rotating taps. In the fall, they’ll also be serving up some food prepared by Drift.

Eats on 118

Su has great form!

They have sixteen five-in lanes, and the only remaining wooden lanes in the city. The space feels worn in, laid back, and comfortable, and we had such a great time bowling one game that we stayed for a second.

Eats on 118

Five pin bowling!

Because Plaza Bowl doesn’t have a full kitchen, they allow groups to order food in. In this case, Eats on 118 wanted to showcase another business off the Avenue – Otto.

Whereas Plaza’s refrain is “craft beer and bowling”, Otto operates on “craft beer and sausages”. It’s a gem of a restaurant in Norwood, relaxed and family friendly. They served up two different kinds of Fuge sausages and coleslaw for us to try – the Otto dog (a bratwurst stuffed with Sylvan Star smoked gouda) was new to me, and will definitely be on order on my next visit to Otto.

Eats on 118

Otto dog and coleslaw

Kudos to Wild Heart Collective for putting together such a fun evening! If you missed it, you have one last chance this year to (re)discover Alberta Avenue – the last Eats on 118 takes place on August 30, and tickets are just $42.

Gourmet Hot Dogs on the Avenue: The Dog

Let’s call it the “Journal effect” – the overnight increase in business whenever a new restaurant is profiled or reviewed in the paper. Establishments and customers know this to be anecdotally true. It was certainly apparent the day Mack and I visited The Dog on Friday.

It was a coincidence that I had picked The Dog: we had yet to try it, and a pre-Rush dinner was a good excuse given it was conveniently on the bus route between our home and Rexall Place. But fresh from a review that Wednesday, there was no doubt the restaurant was scrambling to keep up – the servers shared that there was a line-up out the door for lunch that afternoon, and suspiciously, the diners around us also happened to be the average age of a Journal reader.

The Dog replaced the upscale casual restaurant concept Absolutely Edibles. In some ways, given the success of the neighbouring Sloppy Hoggs, it made sense for the owners to replicate the comfort food mantra in their sister space. The décor has changed quite dramatically, with a diner-esque bar asserting itself in the centre of the room, and a pantry of sorts in the back, with house-made accoutrements for sale. Unfortunately, the stone mosaic tables remained from the restaurant’s previous incarnation; hopefully they will be replaced at some point in the future with less fussy furniture.

The Dog

Pantry wall

The menu was much more extensive than we anticipated. They have about a dozen signature dogs, created with a base of beef or beef and pork dogs made by Real Deal Meats. They also had house-made sausages of more exotic varieties – namely, kangaroo, alligator, wild boar and seafood. Rounding out the menu were a number of appetizers, milkshakes and desserts.

Mack and I stuck to the more tried and true on this visit – he ordered the Coney Island ($8), a beef dog topped with beef chili, cheddar, yellow mustard and diced onion, while my Trailer Trash ($8) beef and pork dog was topped with mac & cheese and bacon. We also ordered fries ($4) and onion rings ($5).

The Dog

Coney Island and fries

We both agreed that the house-made buns were great – soft and yielding as they should have been. Similarly, the dogs themselves were snappy and full of flavour – these weren’t your average ballpark wieners! The toppings, however, were a bit disappointing – both the chili and mac and cheese wouldn’t be able to stand alone; to have enhanced the overall dog, they needed to have a punch all on their own.

The Dog

Trailer Trash and onion rings

The portion sizes of the fries and onion rings were more than generous (how some managed to consume a dog, side and a milkshake was beyond me), and the entrée prices were reasonable. Service was friendly but brisk, understandably so, given the circumstances.

I’d definitely return to The Dog to try one of their more peculiar creations, but perhaps not for a few weeks, when the fervor has died down.

The Dog
9567 118 Avenue
(780) 424-6823
Tuesday-Sunday 11am-9pm, closed Mondays

Alberta Avenue Charm: Passion de France

Passion de France, a relatively new bakery located in the Eastwood neighbourhood, has remained somewhat under the radar since opening back in November. Perhaps because of its location just off the main Alberta Avenue drag, one wouldn’t likely stumble across Passion de France by accident.

Passion de France

Passion de France

I sought out the bakery after around lunch time last week after a meeting near by. Passion de France charms with its pastel colouring, chandeliers and ornate seating. For those seeking something more substantial, Passion de France does offer a variety of savoury items, including sandwiches, quiche and soup. But no doubt, they specialize in more dainty goods.

Passion de France

Interior

The pastry cases were filled with an astonishing variety given the bakery’s size, ranging from macarons, tarts, cakes and pies. Being a sucker for croissants, however, my attention was eventually diverted to their selection of flaky treats. They had already sold out of plain croissants that morning, and I couldn’t wait for their second batch to finish baking, so I ended up with a few mini pain au chocolat ($1.95), as well as croissant twists in chocolate and salted caramel flavours ($3.40 each).

The chocolate croissants were my favourite of the two; they definitely didn’t skimp on the butter! The salted caramel twist was a little too moist for my taste, reminding me of a Danish.

With friendly staff and an inviting interior, Passion de France would make a great stop for those looking to indulge their sweet tooth – I know I’ll be back for their croissants some time soon!

Passion de France
11812 86 Street
(780) 257-2092

Deep Freeze 2011

After writing off Saturday as a snow day, Mack and I put on our boots this afternoon, hopped on public transit, and headed to Alberta Avenue to take in the fourth annual Deep Freeze: A Byzantine Winter Festival.

Deep Freeze 2011

Follow the path

It was our first time at the festival, as previous intentions to visit never panned out. After this experience, however, it’s safe to say it will easily become an event to look forward to every year.

There were so many things going on for kids and adults alike – both indoors and outside (great planning, given it was –20C with the windchill today). 118 Avenue was closed from 90 to 95 Street to accommodate festivities, which included many roaring warming fires, a street hockey tournament, outdoor performances and cabane a sucre (sugar house)!

Deep Freeze 2011

Mummers theatre

Deep Freeze 2011

On the Avenue

To partake in the Quebecois tradition, I bought a popsicle stick for $2, and waited for a volunteer to pour hot maple syrup onto the snow patted down in raised boxes. It was my first time at this, and pulling and wrapping the maple taffy around the stick in a uniform manner was more difficult than I expected (I’m pretty sure the two kids next to me did a better job). It was a sweet treat!

Deep Freeze 2011

Pouring the syrup

Deep Freeze 2011

C’mon taffy!

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With my finished product

I was perhaps most excited to check out the mini Alberta Avenue Farmers’ Market, set up inside the Old Cycle Building.

Deep Freeze 2011

Alberta Avenue Farmers’ Market

Though not all of the vendors were available for this special market, several of the regulars were on hand, including Shooting Star Ranch and The Chocolate Doctors. Johnson Family Farms, a new vendor to Alberta Avenue (they also sell at Salisbury), was also present. They sell eggs, chicken, turkey, pork and beef, and perhaps the most unique – farm fresh butter and cream.

Deep Freeze 2011

Sharon Johnson of Johnson Family Farms

The Alberta Avenue market resumes its weekly Thursday schedule on January 13, 2011, with new hours: 5-8pm.

The rest of the space was filled with a variety of arts and crafts vendors – everything from photographs, to prints, to mittens made from old sweaters. I was charmed by the monster/city print designs of Whiteout Workshop, and picked up a cute pink coin purse as a result.

Deep Freeze 2011

Arts market

Though there were a fair number of people outside (especially given the weather), it was busiest inside the Alberta Avenue Community Centre.

Deep Freeze 2011

Alberta Avenue Community Centre

There was live music, courtesy of Allez Ouest & Friends, and French Canadian cuisine available from the kitchen. We opted to try their poutine ($6). It hit the spot, and yes, did feature squeaky cheese!

Deep Freeze 2011

Allez Ouest & Friends

Deep Freeze 2011

Poutine

Warmed, we wandered back outside through the Enchanted Forest (bravo to festival organizers for clear signage, by the way), we took in ice sculptures and olde tyme curling, among other things. There was also a hot dog/marshmallow roast available, family snow sculpture carving and outdoor ice skating with free skate rentals.

Deep Freeze 2011

Mack’s favourite sculpture (check out those teeth!)

Deep Freeze 2011

Curling

We finished our day with a wagon ride (I’m not sure what it is about horses and wagons, but I can’t help myself). We ended up sitting with Marianne and Charles, who were just beginning their visit to Deep Freeze!

Deep Freeze 2011

Cold, but happy

Deep Freeze 2011

Whee!

Deep Freeze was the first Winter Light event on the calendar – next up is Ice on Whyte, which runs January 13-23, 2011. See you there!

Alberta Avenue Farmers’ Market: Update

I had some time after work on Thursday, so hopped on the train and headed to the Alberta Avenue Farmers’ Market. After a quick connection to a bus at Coliseum station, I was there – fifteen minutes after leaving downtown.

Trees!

All decked out for the holidays

The market has undergone some changes in the past two weeks since my last visit. A new market manager has been installed, and from the sounds of it, was a necessary step, and a positive one. Kerry is working on bringing in new vendors, and though the market will be closed December 23, 2010 and January 2 and 9, 2011, she’s already planning to partner with Deep Freeze, Arts on the Avenue’s winter festival, to offer a special market in conjunction with the festivities.

Mary Ellen and Andreas of Greens, Eggs and Ham have also been tirelessly drumming up more vendor support for the market, and helped bring on both Shooting Star Ranch and Smoky Valley Goat Cheese. They really are amazing – between farming, deliveries, and family, they’ve also managed to squeeze one more market into their roster – the Kingsland Market in Calgary on Saturdays.

Greens, Eggs and Ham

Andreas and Mary Ellen Grueneberg

Elk farmer Christine Harrison of Shooting Star Ranch has an amazing memory – she had to prompt me that we had already met – briefly at Planet Organics’ Meet the Locals festival over a year ago (where they also carry their products). This was her second market day (and the only farmers’ market that she does), and though it had been slow so far, she was confident that sales would improve. I picked up some ground elk, which will be perfect for a warming batch of chili later in the week.

Shooting Star Ranch

Christine Harrison of Shooting Star Ranch

It was the first Alberta Avenue market day for Holly Gale of Smoky Valley Goat Cheese. It’s so fantastic for this small market to have such a wonderful cheese producer. I really hope customers give her cheeses a try – they won’t look back!

Smoky Valley Goat Cheese

Holly Gale of Smoky Valley Goat Cheese

Arie Jol of Ma-Be Farms is a veteran at this market, having joined in the fall of 2009. He sells grass-fed beef and bison, naturally-raised pork, and free-run chickens and eggs. He has his share of regular customers, such as one woman who asks, “Are you treating your chickens well?” before buying her eggs. Every week, he responds, with assurance, “Yes.”

Ma-Be Farms

Arie Jol of Ma-Be Farms

Though the selection of vendors is small (which will hopefully change soon, along with the hours), I love the vibe of this market. Sure, it is so different in many ways from the City Market, but they do both have an intimacy not seen at the Old Strathcona Farmers’ Market – space and time to be able to individually connect with the vendors. This market also has such potential to become a community gathering venue like The Carrot down the street, vitally important “bumping places” for burgeoning neighbourhoods like Alberta Avenue.

Check out the Alberta Avenue Farmers’ Market when you have the chance!

Alberta Avenue Farmers’ Market
118 Avenue & 93 Street
Open Thursdays, 2-7 p.m.

Eva Sweet at the Alberta Avenue Farmers’ Market

Every time I visit Alberta Avenue, I find something new – small businesses, developments, uplifted facades. For that reason, I do think the neighbourhood is worth checking out now and then, particularly with the Avenue Theatre up and running.

Today, in search of waffles and a convenient meeting place, May, Annie and I converged on the Alberta Avenue Farmers’ Market (93 Street and 118 Avenue), which runs year round on Thursdays from 2-7pm.

Annie is beary happy! (I couldn’t help myself)

The market just celebrated its one year anniversary last week, and I was excited to see how it had changed since I visited in 2009.

Steve & Dan’s Fresh B.C. Fruit

Unlike last year, only three vendors (including Steve & Dan) were set up outdoors. Unfortunately, the sparse numbers were mirrored inside.

Alberta Avenue Farmers’ Market

Most of the twenty-odd vendors sold prepared food (Little Jack Horner Homemade Meat Pies, spring rolls, baked goods) and crafts (cards, quilts, cat condos). Besides a single protein vendor and one greenhouse selling tomatoes and cucumbers, I was quite disappointed with the selection of fresh goods.

Tomatoes

I hope the summer brings more produce vendors, but with the sparse crowds during our brief visit, I had to wonder about the typical traffic at this market. Of course, I think it’s a great location and neighbourhood for a farmers’ market, but I do hope things continue to expand, both in patron and vendor numbers!

Inside the market

After buying some tomatoes and apples, we headed back outside to (finally) give Eva Sweet a try. While this waffle truck hasn’t quite taken the Edmonton blogosphere by storm in the way Duchess Bakeshop did when it opened, I have a feeling the frenzy for food trucks will be picking up soon.

Bamir Basha of Eva Sweet

Truck operator Bamir was very friendly, eager to share his experience with us as he prepared a maple waffle for Annie and a cinnamon one for me ($3 each). He said because of the dry Edmonton air, it was actually more difficult to get the waffle batter to rise here than in Belgium, where he ran a waffle truck for five years.

Hardly containing my excitement

Though whipped cream and real fruit syrups were available, we ate the hot waffles unadorned, which was Bamir’s recommendation. The caramelized pearl sugar provided a sweet, slightly crunchy exterior that paired well with the cinnamon, while the inside was soft and forgiving.

Liege waffle

Bamir said he will be offering his waffles this summer at the Dutch booth at the Heritage Festival. I wouldn’t suggest you wait until August to try Eva Sweet, however – besides the Alberta Avenue Farmers’ Market, they are also at the Beverly Farmers’ Market on Tuesdays from 4-8pm and in front of the WCB Building (107 Street & 99 Avenue) from 7am-2pm on weekdays. You can also follow them on Twitter!

I’m already looking forward to my next waffle…

Alberta Avenue Farmers’ Market Opening Day

While we were in DC, on our way back to our hotel, we stumbled upon a FRESHFARM Market, one of four run during the week in different areas of the city. Situated in a high-traffic area in a small park next to a Metro stop, a hospital, and smack dab in the middle of George Washington University campus, it was a great location. And though the vendors numbered only around a dozen, what they offered was ideal for students, commuters, and residents to pick up en route to their homes. There were two produce vendors, a baker, a bison farmer, a poultry farmer, and a few prepared food vendors – not a comprehensive group, but definitely enough variety to satisfy most shoppers.

Foggy Bottom Farmers’ Market

I think there need to be more neighbourhood-based markets in Edmonton, particularly on weekdays so a “trip to the market” can simply be a brief stop on the way home, instead of a special weekend trip.

As such, I was really happy to learn that Alberta Avenue would be getting a year-round farmers’ market on Thursdays beginning May 28, from 2-7pm at the Alberta Avenue Community Hall (93 Street & 118 Avenue). While I don’t reside in that neighbourhood, I wanted to check out the opening day and be a part of the excitement.

Welcome!

Around 30 vendors were signed up to showcase their wares today, though more are expected to join as the weeks progress. Craft vendors were concentrated inside the hall, while the majority of the food vendors were outside.

Inside the Community Centre

Outdoor vendors

Though I like to browse crafts now and then, the draw of farmers’ markets for me is the food. Dip Sea Chicks (who have stalls in both the City Centre and Strathcona markets) was the only familiar vendor to me, but there were others selling prepared food as well. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a produce or meat vendor to be seen.

I have a feeling this was just a very muffled start to what will become a very successful addition to the growing list of initiatives spearheaded by the Alberta Avenue community. The grassroots effectiveness of the neighbourhood continues to amaze me, and I have no doubt this endeavour will blossom with time. Bravo to the community for getting this off the ground!

Check out the market every Thursday from 2-7pm at 93 Street & 118 Avenue.

Variety to Spare: Habesha

Mack tolerates my slight fixation with killing several birds with one stone. Borne out of my reliance on public transportation and walking as my main modes of travel, I do my best to make the most of my trips to areas of the city outside of my usual commute.

Following our jaunt to Seedy Sunday at the Alberta Avenue Community Hall, Mack didn’t flinch when I said there would be a planned stop at the nearby Habesha for lunch. I had read a review last year in the Journal about this new restaurant, and Liane Faulder has made mention of it several times over the last few months (Habesha now offers a vegetarian/vegan buffet on Wednesday nights). Though I’ve sampled Ethiopian and Eritrean cuisine before (at the Heritage Festival, for example), I’ve never before had a sit-down meal, so was eager to be exposed to a greater variety of food.

The interior of Habesha was larger than we expected from our external assessment. A long room was divided into a reception/coffee ceremony area, a second section dominated by the bar, and a third area functioned as the main dining room populated with a few tables. For a restaurant with many windows, the interior was surprisingly dim, so I was glad that our self-directed table hugged a window, with the option of being enclosed by a curtain fashioned on a curved bar that reminded me of a shower rod. There were two other parties present – and both embodied the relaxed, comfortable vibe of a restaurant that invited diners to stay awhile.

Mack looking relaxed and comfortable, and Twittering, of course

The owner (and sole waitress) brought us glasses of water and menus. We looked over the pages, divided into vegetarian, chicken and beef sections, and didn’t know where to begin. When she returned to take our order, we asked for her recommendations. She pointed us to the “combination” plates ($14.99 per person), and we decided to sample one beef and one vegetarian combination.

We weren’t sure how long our food would take, as it wasn’t clear whether or not our lone server was also the restaurant’s lone staff member, but thankfully, our dish arrived not too long after our order was placed. A circular platter lined with injera and dotted with multicolored meat, lentil and vegetable dishes was placed before us, accompanied by another small basket of injera. The soft, spongy bread is the main utensil in Ethiopian/Eritrean cuisine (similar in use to Indian chapatti), and explained the lack of forks and knives on our table.

Combination beef and vegetarian plate for two

Having tried injera several times now, I have to say I’m still not used to the sour taste of the bread, or to the fact that it is served cold. On the other hand, I immensely enjoyed the dishes themselves – the shiro wat (sun dried peas) were fantastic, with just a hint of spice, but so satisfying, and the fosolia – string bean and carrot mixture – was simple yet tasty. Mack liked the kei wot (prime beef stewed in spicy red sauce), though I know we both found most of the cubed meat rather tough. The spice level varied in the dishes (for example, the red lentil misser wot packed much more zing than the mellower yellow version), so the entire sample provided a nice spectrum of heat. In all, we found the combination plate was a great way to sample over ten different dishes, and with such a large portion size, ended up with enough food to take for lunch the next day.

When our server came back to check on us, she was taken aback by the food that remained. I couldn’t tell if she took the quantity of leftovers personally, but she mock-threatened not to pack it up for us unless we promised to eat it all. We did, but her guilt really wasn’t necessary, and left our experience a bit off because we hadn’t developed the necessary rapport for that kind of exchange.

Regardless of our end note, I would recommend Habesha as a good venue to experiment with Ethiopian/Eritrean cuisine, and like The Dawg Father before it, I am glad that there is one more restaurant to add to the “destination Alberta Avenue” list.

Habesha
9511 118 Avenue NW
(780) 474-2206
Monday-Thursday 4-10pm, Friday 4pm-2am, Saturday 12pm-2am, Sunday 12-11pm