Downtown Expansion: Transcend Jasper Avenue

This guest post was written by Mack, an Edmonton-based geek who fancies himself a part-time foodie. You can find him online at his blog, and on Twitter.

Tonight Transcend Coffee held a friends and family soft launch at its new downtown location at 10349 Jasper Avenue. I stopped by to check out the new space, formerly occupied by Axis Café. The space is largely the same, though it did receive a new paint job and some Transcend-specific touches such as the lovely artwork. The new fireplace on the second level is a welcome addition too.

Transcend Jasper Avenue
Entering the café.

Transcend Jasper Avenue
Looking down from the second level.

The new location offers a similar drinks menu to other Transcend locations, but will also feature “a small selection of remarkable beer and wine” beginning this spring. Transcend Jasper will also introduce an expanded hot food menu at that time, featuring made-in-house South American street food created by Chad Moss, who is a Red Seal chef.

Transcend Jasper Avenue
The boardroom upstairs.

Transcend Jasper Avenue
The basement space.

The boardroom that was available at Axis remains open for rental at Transcend after receiving some upgrades. It contains a large board table, a high-resolution projector and screen, and flip chart paper and other resources. Rates start at $20 per hour or $100 for the day. Transcend Jasper also has a great space in the basement – they are exploring various concepts for it, including a live-music program. Stay tuned for details on that.

Transcend Jasper Avenue
Yum, Transcend-roasted coffee beans!

Transcend Jasper Avenue
Putting up the sign outside!

The crew pictured above was putting up the sign as a I left the space tonight around 6pm, so like all good openings Transcend Jasper was down to the wire! It’ll be open for regular business starting tomorrow morning at 7:30am. You can follow the new location on Twitter at @TranscendJasper. You can see a few more photos of the space here.

Join me in welcoming Transcend to Edmonton’s new coffee district!

Edmonton’s Newest Microbrewery: Yellowhead Brewery

Brewmaster Scott Harris has an excellent memory. On my way to a meeting downtown Thursday afternoon, I stopped inside the new Yellowhead Brewery for a look, mainly because the door was open and beckoning. I had wanted to explore the interior of the building for some time, and this seemed like a timely opportunity to do so. Inside, Scott was being interviewed by someone, but stopped to ask if I needed anything. As I was en route elsewhere, I told him I couldn’t stay, but would be back on the weekend.

Yellowhead Brewery

At the City Market on Saturday, we ran into Scott in line for Fat Franks. He remembered me from the other day, and asked if we intended to stop by later. We made good on our promise, and made a proper visit before heading home.

Inside the brewery

Yellowhead Brewery is located in the historic 1913 H. V. Shaw building at 10229 105 Street, which was originally a cigar factory. The structure was renovated by Gene Dub in 2005, and housed Maverick Brewery from 2005-07, before it went out of business. With a central location and a beautiful facade, it was a shame the building sat empty for several years – so it is great to see it being used again as a craft brewing facility.

Bottling area

Yellowhead has a tasting room open most days from noon to six. While they currently only make one lager, Scott told us he has plans to make a lighter and darker brew, as well as a seasonal variety. He also said he is working on supplying kegs to several local restaurants and bars, including Skinny Legs and Cowgirls and Level 2 Lounge.

Tasting Room

We both tried a small glass of the Yellowhead Beer. I don’t trust my palate, as I am not a beer drinker (Alley Kat’s Aprikat cooler is about as close as I get to beer), but Mack enjoyed it. He compared it to Alley Kat’s Charlie Flint Lager. We picked up two 500mL bottles (a steal at just $3 each).

Yellowhead Beer

What was apparent to me during our visit was the brewery’s decision to honour the history of the city and the space. From the name (Yellowhead Beer was the first brewing company established in Edmonton, back in 1894) to coasters that tell the history of the word “Yellowhead”, to the archive photo proudly displayed on the wall, I love that Yellowhead decided to consciously shine a light on the city’s roots.

Edmonton Cigar Factory in 1913

We also took the time to take in the Yellowhead Room, a beautiful space with capacity for 150. Between the exposed brick, lively art on the walls, and a built-in bar and corner stage, both Mack and I thought it would be a great space for events. And at just $350 for the night, it’s a pretty good deal, too.

Yellowhead Room

As we were leaving, Scott was serving up fresh glasses to patrons who had just walked in. I hope many more people stop by to try out the beer – best of luck to Edmonton’s newest brewery!

Yellowhead Brewery
10229 105 Street
(780) 423-3333

Charity Auction Dinner: Ric’s Grill

Last fall, the Edmonton Sun’s Graham Hicks approached Mack to see if he would like to be a part of the 2009 ATCO and Edmonton Sun Christmas Charity Auction. He would be paired up with a restaurant, and people would bid on the chance to have dinner with him, with proceeds going to charity (coincidentally, my agency is one of the four that benefit from the funds raised).

Ultimately, a bidder paid $140 to have dinner with Mack at Ric’s Grill downtown, and we arranged to meet up with the winning party this past Wednesday.

Though we were expecting a pair of diners, we ended up being joined by four people – it turned out the bidder, Terri Lynn, had actually done this once before, having secured the opportunity to dine with Vinomania’s Gurvinder Bhatia and CBC’s Ron Wilson the year prior. Along with Terri Lynn’s friends Kelly, Sue, and Ginette, the night was filled with good conversation, and of course, wine (a lovely Malbec that my usual sweet palate didn’t mind at all – good choice Ginette!).

Mack didn’t get much choice in the restaurant that he would be paired with, but since each establishment had donated a certificate that would cover most of the costs (in this case, $300), we were thankful that Ric’s Grill stepped up to the plate. My last meal at Ric’s was nearly two years ago, and given the experience I had, I wouldn’t have considered coming back without a push.

Although our server gave us a tad too much time and space (perhaps she was deterred by the amount of laughter emanating from our table), it was a solid evening overall. Mack, the goat cheese lover between the two of us, enjoyed the almond goat cheese crostini ($12) starter, a cheesy, rich cousin of garlic toast.

Our steak dinners were equally agreeable. My six ounce, bacon-wrapped filet mignon ($31) was nicely prepared, perhaps on the medium rare side of medium. My side of celery root and cauliflower soup was the standout part of my meal – creamy and well seasoned. The crispy leeks (reminding me a bit of fried onion straws) added some textural flair.

Celery Root and Cauliflower Soup with Crispy Leeks

Bacon-Wrapped Filet Mignon with Chef’s Potatoes

Mack’s sirloin Oscar deluxe ($33) was topped with sautéed prawns, scallops, asparagus and housemade Béarnaise elicited no complaints. He said that the scallops in particular were cooked well.

Sirloin Oscar Deluxe with Rice Pilaf

I’m glad I had the opportunity to visit Ric’s Grill again. And while we don’t usually eat out at steakhouses, I would consider giving them another try in the future. It was good to meet all of you – thank you for a great night!

Ric’s Grill
10190 104 Street (2 other Edmonton locations)
(780) 429-4333

Limited Options: Health Fare

Mack and I finally made it to the Art Gallery of Alberta on one of their Thursday free admission nights to check out the exhibition on Museums in the 21st Century, and right in the nick of time too – the temporary gallery located in Enterprise Square will be closing up shop on Sunday in order to transition to the new building (I’m super-excited for the new facility and of course, the new restaurant inside).

Afterwards, we crossed the street to have dinner at Health Fare, Mark Bakker’s response to unhealthy fast food choices.

Health Fare interior

I did think it would be busier than it was, with only one other party inside when we arrived, but I would assume lunch time is their rush hour. Residents and late-night office workers in the area could take some time to warm up to the restaurant, particularly during the busy holiday season.

The menu options weren’t terribly deep – soups, salads, sandwiches and rice bowls ran the gamut of our choices. Mack opted to upgrade his Health Fare club to a combo with a side of soup and a non-water drink for $13.64, while I ordered the roast beef & Swiss ($8.99) and a side of baked sweet potato skinny fries ($3.99).

Our food was brought to us shortly after we sat down. I liked the fries, and didn’t think the fact that they had been baked instead of deep-fried hurt their flavour at all. The garlic dip was a nice accompaniment, and the plate satisfied my craving for something salty. Mack liked his spicy tomato soup (one of four options available that night), even though the heat was more than he anticipated.

Sweet Potato Skinny Fries

Spicy Tomato Soup

As for our sandwiches – larger plates would have helped, for starters. Also, it turned out our sandwiches had been slightly warmed in a Panini press, and though I appreciated the crunchy texture this lent the multigrain bread, it was a bit jarring to bite into a warm bun only to be met with layers of still-chilled meat and vegetables. The caramelized onions were a nice touch on my roast beef and swiss, but other than that, it was just an okay sandwich. Mack liked his club for the most part as well (which contained, in addition to the usual tomato and lettuce, avocado), but found the bacon (billed as “crispy”) to be a little limp.

Roast Beef & Swiss (thinly shaved peppercorn-crusted beef, Swiss, arugula, caramelized onions, horseradish dressing)

Health Fare Club (crispy turkey bacon, sliced turkey, avocado, tomatoes, lettuce, light mayo)

The last I heard, they have installed their system to allow patrons to order by text, but are still testing it out. Once it is available to the public, I’d like to come back to see how it works, and perhaps try out their savoury rice bowls. Still, I hope they add some more exciting items to the menu, or at least have some feature dishes in the future.

Health Fare
101A, 10279 Jasper Avenue
(780) 990-1231
Monday-Friday 6:30am-9pm, Saturday 9am-7pm, Sunday 10am-5pm

City Market Opening Day!

I’ve been looking forward to the May 16 City Market kick-off for a while – there’s nothing like starting off your weekend with an outdoor stroll through the core, surrounded by the optimism of spring.

Market Day!

We arrived just after noon, and ran into Paula, who told us that opening ceremonies had taken place earlier that morning (you can see her photos here). Mayor Mandel was even on hand to welcome patrons to the ever-expanding market, which this year will play host to 95 different vendors.

It was great to see that organizers were finally able to shut down 102 Street to allow for pedestrian-only traffic. It seems they also put out more tables and chairs, great for those needing a seat to eat their vendor-gleaned goodies.

104th Street

A stiltwalker and juggler made it even more festive

As we are departing for our vacation on Monday, we couldn’t stock up on too much. That said, as it is only mid-May, there wasn’t much fresh produce available anyway, save some winter vegetables and hot greenhouse bounty. The market featured mostly non-produce vendors, including those selling bedding plants, crafts, and prepared foods. I was happy to see En Sante Winery out, as well as Happy Camel – both of which we will patronize another day.

Buying tomatoes from Doef’s Greenhouses

We came across a booth for Original Fare and Keep Edmonton Original – while we are very familiar with both groups, we didn’t know about their VIP card program. After a VIP card holder has dined at an Original Fare restaurant, it is swiped, and at the end of the year, the accumulated “points” are converted to cash, and sent to the card holder in the form of a gift certificate that can be redeemed at any of the restaurants. We signed up on the spot. There is a link to the VIP card on the website, but it doesn’t seem to allow new registrants – I hope they add this function to their website.

We read on the Belua Designs blog that Fremly would be at the market today, so we brought Netty along for the ride for a photo opportunity. Unfortunately, Fremly had to stay behind today, but Netty was able to take a picture with all of the monsters that were still looking for a home.

Netty at the market

We also took the opportunity to drop off our contribution to the newly-established Greens, Eggs and Ham CSA. Mary Ellen clarified how it works – the $250 or $500 contribution to allow the farm to expand is essentially a deposit, so whatever I pick up from her stand that week at the market will simply be deducted from my initial contribution. If you frequent their booth anyway, why not consider supporting the farm even further? Further information here.

Netty stands guard over our duck eggs

The City Market is open rain or shine every Saturday until October 10. See you there!

New Year’s Eve Downtown

Mack left it up to me to decide whether or not we would join the freezing masses gathered in Churchill Square on New Year’s Eve, and though the -30 weather could have easily swayed me the other way, the fireworks won out.

We took advantage of the free public transit offered that night, hopping on a bus that dropped us off a block away from the action. We wove our way through the packed square, grateful for the hopping Caribbean tunes that kept us stepping to the beat, in an effort to bring the feeling back into our toes. As we sipped the hot chocolate that we had brought along, we couldn’t imagine how cold some of the people around us probably were – the twenty minutes we had to wait for the show to begin were unbearable.

The promised fireworks began just before the crowd was finished counting down to midnight, rising into the air just above City Hall’s majestic pyramid. Green and gold fireworks were prominent, as the show was partly to commemorate the University’s centennial, but someone has to explain to me how and why seemingly random country songs were chosen as the musical accompaniment. I was hoping for a choreographed and musically-timed display similar to the one used to celebrate the holiday light-up, so this show was a bit of a letdown. Moreover, the advertised ten minutes became a seven-minute wonder in reality. Mack captured some of the fireworks on his Flip (I have to admit, the show looks better from where I’m sitting right now, mostly because I’m warm).

One of the photos I took that was slightly less blurry than the others

In the end, it was much too cold for me to enjoy the fireworks – I think I learned my lesson, and my threshold for winter fun.