Dine the Ave: Eats on 118 Continues!

Eats on 118 was an initiative that the Alberta Avenue Business Improvement Area (BIA) launched in 2016, in order to highlight some of the great restaurants located in an often overlooked area. The BIA contracted Wild Heart Collective to organize restaurant walking tours; each tour featured a visit to 4 or 5 different businesses with a meal or an activity served up at each stop. Over the last four years, more than 500 guests have attended the tours that have involved more than 45 businesses. I was fortunate to have been attended several of those tours over the years, and given my office relocated to 118 Avenue two years ago, it was especially fortuitous as a means to get to know my culinary neighbours better.

This year, the BIA wanted to continue Eats on 118, but in a different format, and Dine the Ave was born. Although they found that the tours were a great way to expose new people to the area, only a few businesses could participate in each round, and they found that it limited participants to restaurants. Through Dine the Ave, 20 hospitality businesses from NAIT to Northlands will be offering special menus priced at either $10, $15, or $20 from June 17-23, 2019. Last week, I was invited to attend a media preview that saw us sample our way through 5 stops (portion sizes were scaled down to ensure we’d be able to maintain our appetite throughout!).

The first featured restaurant is a favourite of mine: Battista’s Calzones. In my opinion, the calzones here are the best in the city; the dough (a family recipe) has just the right chew and is always baked to perfection, and their filling varieties mean there is something for everyone. They will be celebrating 10 years in business in the fall.

During Dine the Ave they’re offering three of their most popular calzones (the Spicy Italian, Giovanna, and Pesto Presto) for just $10 each.

Dine the Ave

Co-owner Doug Mah of Battista’s Calzones

Next, we headed half a block down to T & D Vietnamese Noodle House, another restaurant on my regular rotation. Laura Truong has been running the restaurant with her family for five years, and chose the 118 Avenue location specifically so they could grow with the evolving community (she currently sits on the Board of the BIA). For Dine the Ave, T & D will be serving up 2 house-made spring rolls and chicken on rice or noodles for $10.

Dine the Ave

Rice plate from T & D Vietnamese Noodle House

I was looking forward to trying our third restaurant, La Bodeguita de Cuba. Early this year, it replaced the neighbourhood stalwart El Rancho. Although I was sad to see the restaurant go, the spot is the perfect size for a start-up establishment looking to make their mark. This was exactly what owners Yordanis and Jennifer Lamoru are hoping to do, having dreamt of opening a restaurant for years.

We received a taste of their $20 Dine the Ave multi-course menu, featuring Cuban comfort food like rice and beans. The ropa vieja (shredded beef in an onion, pepper sauce) was the standout on the plate, and for some at our table, it was also their first time encountering plantains.

Dine the Ave

Cuban comfort food from La Bodeguita

The highlight of the stop was a serenade from Yordanis, who is also a musician. Expect live music at La Bodeguita on weekends; it’s an understatement to say the couple are doing it all themselves!

Dine the Ave

A performance by Yordanis Lamoru

I had also never been to Simba’s Den Pub & Bistro. It opened in May 2018, and owner Senait Tamene, recognizing the “up and coming” nature of the neighbourhood, purchased the building and opened the newest pub on the block. Also, Senait, like Laura Truong, is also on the Board of the BIA.

Although they do offer nachos, chicken wings and burgers, Simba’s Den prides itself on the Ethiopian and Eritrean fare on the menu, which is what we sampled that evening. The heat level was pretty tame in the chicken, beef, and lentils, and I particularly enjoyed the house-made enjera. For $20, Dine on the Ave guests can have their own vegetarian or meat platter with enjera or rice.

Dine the Ave

Meat platter sample from Simba’s Den

Our final stop is a community landmark – The Carrot, which operates under Arts on the Ave as a non-profit, has been open for twelve years. The baristas are volunteers, and the shop showcases and sells art and jewelry from local artisans. They just changed their sandwich menu, which they will be featuring during Dine the Ave as a $15 special, in addition to a dessert combo of carrot cake and a house-made beverage for $10.

Dine the Ave

Carrot cake and coffee from The Carrot

Thanks to the Alberta Avenue BIA and Wild Heart Collective for hosting a fun evening – it was great to discover even more gems on 118 Avenue. Check out the menus for Dine the Ave here!

One-Note Wonder: Battista’s Calzones

About two years ago, I wrote that more one-note restaurants in Edmonton would be a welcome sight – Battista’s Calzones is one such place, and is a wonderful addition to the local food scene.

Battista's Calzones

Battista’s Calzones

Situated in a small building on 118 Avenue, Battista’s unavoidable purple hue is both eye-catching and a pleasing pop of colour on the sometimes dreary stretch of road. Stepping inside, it’s almost hard to believe it used to house an autobody shop – though nothing fancy, between the smell of baking bread and the friendly purveyor, the space felt warm and inviting.

Battista's Calzones

Interior

Owner Battista Vecchio is clearly passionate about his new endeavour. When asked why he chose to focus on calzones, he said it was something he grew up with – his mother would make the portable pizzas for him so he would have something to eat after soccer games. Even now, his family is involved in the business – his mother makes the meatballs for one of the calzones, and his father was there assisting with a large catering order.

Battista's Calzones

Battista Vecchio presents one of his calzone creations

Battista makes the dough from scratch, and sources the rest of his ingredients through The Italian Centre, including spicy Italian sausage made by Edmonton-based company Little Italy Foods. Though at the moment he offers only four varieties, Battista knows that the possibilities are endless – chili calzones, BBQ chicken calzones, Nutella dessert calzones, or turkey calzones for Christmas. I remarked that because of its compact nature, it is the ideal street food  – calzone food truck, anyone?

Battista's Calzones

Menu

Based on the meatball calzone I had (already baked earlier, and kept warm, meaning it was served to me almost immediately), I am glad Battista has chosen to keep his focus, in spite of many people prodding him towards pizza or other menu additions. The meatball was perfectly seasoned, and had just the right texture to be eaten between the folds of the soft and chewy dough. It was the most satisfying lunch I’ve had in a long time.

Battista's Calzones

Meatball calzone

Battista said he’s slowly building up the business – from word of mouth, and those that live in the neighbourhood. But perhaps after the release of Avenue Edmonton’s next food issue – where his calzones will are in the running to be included as one of Gail Hall’s 25 Best Things to Eat, this gem of a restaurant will be a secret no longer. Try one before the crowds gather!

Battista’s Calzones (Twitter: @BattistaCalzone)
118 Avenue & 84 Street
(780) 758-1808
Monday-Saturday 11am-3pm