Food Notes for January 11, 2021

In-Person Dining Restriction Extended

Last week, the provincial government announced that the public health restrictions that had been introduced in mid-December would be extended until at least January 21, 2021. This includes restrictions on in-person dining.

Some restaurants are doing their best to maintain take-out during this period, but are finding it challenging. Chef Paul Shufelt of Workshop Eatery and Woodshed Burgers has had to lay off staff, and isn’t certain when, even after restrictions are lifted, whether he will re-open indoor dining again. He shared:

“I don’t know if it’s actually going to be the 21st of January that we can reopen or if it’s going to be mid February or later. Furthermore, I don’t know, just because of the province says it’s OK for us to open, will I feel safe for us to make that decision for the sake of our staff and for the sake of our customers.”

Other restaurants are choosing to close outright due to the length and unpredictable nature of the restrictions. DOSC and Sober Cat Cafe have decided to close as of January 11, “due to the financial burdens of the pandemic.” They hope to re-open for dine-in when it is safe to do so. Their ghost kitchen Burger Brawl will continue to operate for limited hours on Fridays and Saturdays.

COVID-19-related News

Openings

Local News

  • Chinatown Dining Week starts later this week, and runs from January 14-24, 2021. I was interviewed on CBC Radioactive alongside Phong Luu of Kim Fat Market to help promote the event.
  • The Tomato is collecting nominations for their annual list of Top 100 Best Things to Eat in Edmonton. Submissions are accepted until January 31, 2021. The folks at Jack’s Burger Shack have a suggestion on the types of businesses to nominate – “Vote for a restaurant that opened in 2020. Vote for a restaurant owned by immigrants. Vote for a restaurant with no social media presence. Vote for the mom & pop’s.”
  • The most recent episode of Radioactive’s Best Dishes column focuses on the brisket donair and the nacho kit from The Next Act.
  • Local baker Larry Harris will be on the next season of CBC’s Great Canadian Baking Show. He is also continuing to offer loaves and baked goods through his microbakery, Bonne Vie.
  • Sugared and Spiced turned some bad politics into some tasty treats, and will be serving up Hawaiian-themed desserts for the month of January.
  • The Moth Cafe was included on this Eat North list of vegan restaurants.
  • The Ritchie Community League has launched a hyper-local monthly subscription service that supports businesses in the area.
  • The Muttart Conservatory (and Culina Cafe inside) has been delayed in re-opening after its modernization due to current public health restrictions.
  • Restaurant Yarrow celebrated their first birthday last week.
  • The Fairmont Hotel Macdonald is welcoming Executive Chef Jiju Paul to their team. He was most recently the Executive Chef at the Edmonton Expo Centre.
  • The staff at Kind Ice Cream are taking workshops on basic ASL to be more inclusive with the Deaf community.
  • The latest from MilkCrate Listens involved a conversation with Chef Andrew Fung of XIX Nineteen about maintaining positive mental health during the pandemic.
  • Congratulations to Caramunchies for partnering with Sobeys (bringing their retail partners to 35).
  • The Edmonton Downtown Farmers’ Market is the last year-round market to add curbside pick-up as an option.

What I Ate

  • We finally tried El Beso for the first time on Friday. Mack had the carnitas tacos while I chose the enchiladas. They definitely didn’t skimp on the meat, and their website made ordering pick-up a breeze. If dining restrictions lift, we hope to snag a seat one day on their great Beaver Hills patio in warmer climes.

El Beso

Takeout from El Beso

  • Mack, Emily, and I continued our outdoor dining streak with Jack’s Burger Shack. Their Quebecer poutine burger really hit the spot.

Jack’s Burger Shack

Quebecer from Jack’s Burger Shack

Chinatown Dining Week Returns January 14-24, 2021

Chinatown Dining Week is back for a fourth time! This year, 9 participating restaurants will be offering $10 and $18 takeaway deals from January 14-24, 2021.

IG CDW Poster 2021

Our mission has not changed – Chinatown Dining Week was created in 2018 to help promote and raise awareness of culinary gems in a neighbourhood that is often overlooked and undervalued. However, amidst an economic downturn and an ongoing pandemic, our partner businesses could use even more support. Foot traffic is understandably down in the area, as consumers plan only targeted visits, and pre-pandemic, many businesses served food not ideally suited for take-out. These family-owned businesses have done their best to pivot, offering delivery or enhancing their social media presence, but many are still struggling.

This year, due to ever-changing public health restrictions, Chinatown Dining Week will offer take-out meals only. Menus are available here, and diners are encouraged to call ahead to order.

We’re excited to welcome back eight returning businesses, offering a range of cuisines including Indian, Indonesian, Szechwan, Thai and Vietnamese, along with bubble tea, baked goods, and pastries. We are also thrilled that Kim Fat Market is joining us for the first time. Some may be aware of Kim Fat as a Chinatown grocer and butcher, but a well-kept secret is that they also offer prepared meals, too.

KimFat_alldressedribsAll-dressed ribs from Kim Fat

We hope you’ll consider enjoying a meal from one of our participating businesses during Chinatown Dining Week!

We’ve also launched a giveaway on Instagram for a couple of dinners for two and other specials!

Epicureous in Edmonton: 2020 Year In Review

The pandemic wreaked havoc on life as we knew it. As Alberta exceeds 1,000 lives lost to COVID-19 amidst a holiday season under near-lockdown, it feels somewhat trivial to reflect on the food and hospitality scene in Edmonton.

Still, there is no doubt that COVID-19 will have a lasting impact on how we dine out in the future, even post-pandemic. For businesses that are able to outlast the successive waves of the disease as we await mass immunization, some of the pivots fulfilled out of desperation may become permanent.

Restaurants such as Corso 32 and Tokiwa Ramen continued to produce meal kits even after indoor dining was permitted again in the summer; these specialty items will appeal to those more comfortable in their homes or as an entertaining fail safe even after the “new normal” returns.

It was no surprise that delivery services took off this year, with many people reducing non-essential trips outside the home. Although Skip the Dishes made concessions late in the year to temporarily decrease their commission fees, the 20-30% cut taken by third-party delivery apps has severely impacted the bottom line of many businesses. As a result, bakeries like Duchess, fast-casual restaurants like Filistix, HanJan, and Meat/The Next Act/Pip, and fine dining establishments like XIX Nineteen, chose to adopt in-house delivery (joining the ranks of pizza joints and Chinese restaurants). It isn’t an easy undertaking, but hopefully it can be more financially sustainable for them in the long run.

Some chefs, including MilkCrate’s Steven Brochu and Shaw Conference Centre’s Serge Belair have staked out a greater online presence in the form of personalized cooking tutorials or demonstration videos. Food Bike Tours rebranded to Chef Table Living, providing home cooks with chef-created recipe kits and instructional videos. This continues the trend (albeit virtually) of what chef table dinners started by further closing the gap between the diner and the chef.

One of the pandemic adaptations that has been most transformative to the consumer experience has been the upgrading of online ordering systems. Sugared and Spiced, Cartago, and Bon Ton Bakery were among those who debuted more seamless ways for customers to pre-order items for pick up, minimizing time spent in line and indoors. The convenience of pre-paying and access to visuals that aid in product selection will likely prove to be an essential and worthwhile investment.

Tokiwa Ramen

Here are a few other items notable to me in 2020:

  • Curiously, the pandemic pivot that didn’t take to a greater extent was outdoor dining spaces and winter patios. Some, such as Little Brick and Rocky Mountain Ice House/Cask and Barrel have invested significantly in their outdoor spaces, but given all the talk in the fall about the need for winter patio extensions it doesn’t look like many have taken the City up on this. It would be interesting to know if this relates more to the City’s aversion to approving requests on certain types of streets.
  • Considering the pandemic, it was another banner year for the expansion of some local businesses: Workshop Eatery grew with two locations of Woodshed Burgers and three branches of The Greenhouse; Culina on the Lake opened in Hawrelak Park; RGE RD added The Butchery; the folks behind The Sugar Bowl opened up Eleanor & Laurent; Love Pizza added outposts in southwest Edmonton and in Spruce Grove; and Calle Mexico and HanJan extended to three locations each.
  • Independent cafes continue to pop up in all corners of the city, and perhaps none too soon, given the rate Starbucks and Second Cup have been closing shops. This year, we welcomed The Dapper Beaver, Amandine Cafe, Krew Cafe, Mood Cafe, Cafe Neo, Intent Coffee, La Bosco, Bistro 99, Belge Cafe, Ch, On the Edge, and additional locations of Square One and Remedy Cafe. Not to mention CoffeePass launched in November, which intends to help promote some of the same independent cafes.
  • Given the hardship the hospitality sector has experienced this year, the number of closures may not seem as high as expected. However, this may change in 2021, depending on the length of lockdown-like measures. Among the businesses we lost in 2020 were Al Centro, Barking Buffalo Cafe, Dauphine, Die Pie, Doan’s, Doppio Zero Pizza, Il Forno, London Local, Prairie Noodle Shop, Royale,  Veggie Garden, Wishbone, and ZINC.
  • Collaborations between local businesses continue, but this year, even more so to help other independents when possible. The #eatloveeatagain initiative in December was one example, while Yelo’d has leveraged their delivery service to help other brands. In a creative twist, MilkCrate and Why Not banded together for a friendly burger competition.
  • In June, Linda Hoang set off a social media firestorm for Yoshii Express, an Old Strathcona eatery that was struggling. The public response to her posts was unprecedented, with line-ups at the restaurant for a couple of weeks. Unfortunately, that level of support wasn’t sustained in the months following. This illustrates both the brilliant possibilities of social media but also its fickle, top-of-mind nature.
  • On a related note, advocacy for local restaurants formalized in the Edmonton Independent Hospitality Community, led by Cartago and Fleisch owner Katy Ingraham.
  • The Edmonton food media scene contracted again this year, with Liane Faulder departing the Journal for a second time. Graham Hicks, who wrote a regular food column for the Edmonton Sun, re-retired in June, amidst some controversy when two local food writers re-surfaced troubling previously published reviews.
  • The Province relaxed regulations on low-risk home-prepared foods in June, paving the way for many home-based “pandemic businesses”, such as Kryzy’s Kitchen and Bonne Vie Bakery. Time will tell if they can maintain and grow a foothold in the crowded market.
  • Similar to the appetite for food delivery, grocery delivery services exploded in the last year, with more than a dozen new options available in the Edmonton area. These include independents like Italian Centre Shop, Meuwly’s, Steve & Dan’s, and Effing Seafood, and big players like Sysco and Gordon Food Service offering direct-to-consumer options. Bountiful Farmers’ Market also became the first market to offer delivery.

You can check out previous year in reviews here.

Twilight Picnic Experience at the University of Alberta Botanic Garden

It is shaping up to be the summer of the staycation, with non-essential inter-provincial travel still up in the air, and international travel ill-advised. As a result, attractions close to home are getting a long second look from locals seeking an escape from the city or something to help break up the summer months. The University of Alberta Botanic Garden seized this moment, and put together a special event that combines access to nature with local food. A couple of weeks ago, Mack, Emily, and I were invited to attend a preview of the Twilight Picnic Experience they have begun offering at the Garden.

Located 15 minutes southwest of Edmonton in Devon, the University of Alberta Botanic Garden covers 240 hectares, boasting cultivated gardens and plant collections, indoor showhouses, and natural areas. To limit the spread of COVID-19, the Botanic Garden was closed until recently; on June 1, 2020, they re-opened to visitors by reservation only.

University of Alberta Botanic Garden

Kurimoto Japanese Garden

The Botanic Garden has offered food-inclusive events in the past – back in 2013, Mack and I enjoyed a carnival-themed date night catered by Elm Cafe. By comparison, the Twilight Picnic Experience presents an opportunity for a more intimate and romantic evening.

That night, still without childcare options, and with a daughter who happens to love picnics, we brought Emily along. Before settling down for dinner, we chose to wander the grounds first, finding quiet solace in nature. It was such a privilege to have the spaces we visited to ourselves; when we were in the beautiful Aga Khan Garden this time last year, we were far from the only patrons present. Twilight Picnic Experience attendees will have exclusive access to Garden for two hours after 8pm.

University of Alberta Botanic Garden

Emily in the Aga Khan Garden

Mack and I were able to observe some of the one-way signage and seating closures in place to encourage physical distancing, in preparation for busier occasions. Coupled with the Garden’s intentionality regarding guest limitations, we would feel more than comfortable returning again later this summer.

We headed back to the Kurimoto Japanese Garden to collect our picnic box, and set up our blanket next to the water feature. The Gardens will be limiting the number of parties each night to 30, so there will be plenty of room to spread out.

We weren’t sure what to expect from the picnic box, but upon opening, were immediately blown away by the presentation of the food. They’ve sourced sweet and savoury items from a number of local purveyors, garnished with edible flowers and herbs from the Garden itself.

University of Alberta Botanic Garden

Picnic box

Our box featured products from many of our favourite small businesses and farmers’ market vendors, including fruit from Steve & Dan’s, charcuterie from Meuwly’s, sourdough from La Boule, and peppers and cucumbers from S4 Greenhouses. It was my first time trying the Happy Camel’s labaneh (yogurt cheese), a delicious spread on the accompanying fresh pita. Mack was particularly taken with the raspberry scone, while Emily devoured (and was subsequently covered in) the strawberries.

University of Alberta Botanic Garden

Family picnic

For those looking for something a little more extravagant to nosh on, picnic baskets can be customized with caviar, smoked salmon, or foie gras for additional fees. As well, the Kurimoto Japanese Garden is licensed, so picnic-goers can also have a beer or some bubbly to sip along the way. Lastly, other extras are also available to enhance the evening, including bouquets of flowers and handmade cards.

It looks like this concept of an intimate picnic at the Botanic Gardens has struck a chord with locals; all of June is already sold out!

Thanks again to the University of Alberta Botanic Garden for hosting us that evening – it was a wonderful way to safely shake up our pandemic routine and experience some nature along the way.

To book your own Twilight Picnic Experience, check out the University of Alberta Botanic Garden’s website.

Olde Towne Beverly Dining Week Returns, October 17-25, 2019

For a second straight year, the Beverly Business Improvement Area has partnered with Wild Heart Collective to organize the Olde Towne Beverly Dining Week. The event runs from October 17-25, 2019, and will highlight some of the diverse cuisines that can be found in this east end neighbourhood.

The number of participating restaurants have increased from eight to ten this year, but the parameters of the event are still the same: each establishment will offer an exclusive deal to entice diners to their doors. A majority of restaurants have chosen to highlight their most popular dishes, a good strategy to gain repeat business.

Like last year, I had the opportunity to attend a media preview and sample some of the fare to be served during Olde Towne Beverly Dining Week. My friend Su came along for the ride; it was her first time down in Beverly!

Olde Towne Beverly Dining Week 2019

Amy Hayduk (Wild Heart Collective), Wes Robson (Executive Director of the Beverly BIA), and Michael Benti (Old Beverly Cafe) kick-off the evening

The tour launched from the Olde Beverly Cafe, a cozy space owned by Rachel and Michael Benti that offers breakfast, lunch, and dinner. They are returning Dining Week participants, and said that they did see some new faces during the 2018 event. They served up tastes of some of their Dining Week specials, including beef on a bun with au jus, apple pie, and my favourite bite – the Belgian waffle with whipped cream and fruit.

Olde Towne Beverly Dining Week 2019

Tastes from Olde Beverly Cafe

Our second stop was Chicken For You, a restaurant serving up Korean and Canadian favourites located in the Drake Hotel. Opened by Jane Kim and her husband James in August 2018, they have maintained some of the menu items from the previous restaurant owners (namely, eggs and bacon breakfasts, burgers, and some Chinese plates), but have expanded the repertoire to include dishes from their native Korea.

Olde Towne Beverly Dining Week 2019

Chicken For You

We were able to try three types of their Korean fried chicken – crispy fried, spicy sauce, and soy garlic sauce. Our table couldn’t get enough of the chicken, all prepared fresh, and at least for the pieces I enjoyed, were all boneless. My favourite was the spicy chicken, as it was balanced with some sweetness to take the edge off.

Olde Towne Beverly Dining Week 2019

Crispy fried chicken from Chicken For You

We also sampled Chicken For You’s beef bulgogi. Jane explained that the sauce is made once a week by her husband, and contains no sugar; instead, it is sweetened entirely with fruit (apples and pears).

Our final stop was Mumbai Dakar Restaurant, which opened in June of this year. The menu represents the heritage of the two chefs – Solo Dilallo, originally from Senegal (he owns the restaurant along with his partner), and Ahmed Ashfak, who is from India. Solo shared that Mumbai Dakar is the only restaurant that he is aware of that offers Senegalese cuisine.

Solo was very proud to serve some traditional dishes, including Joloff rice with beef (broken rice baked in a tomato sauce with onion, garlic, bell peppers), and Yassa (charbroiled chicken marinated in Dijon, lemon, and spices). Ahmed had prepared butter chicken and chicken tikka to serve alongside.

Olde Towne Beverly Dining Week 2019

Sample plate from Mumbai Dakar with Joloff rice, Yassa, and chicken tikka

Beverly may not be on the radar for some, but hopefully Olde Towne Beverly Dining Week encourages more people to explore some of the gems in this neighbourhood. Thanks again to the Beverly BIA and Wild Heart Collective for the invitation!

Olde Towne Beverly Dining Week runs October 17-25, 2019. The menus are available here.

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!

5 Questions about the City Market’s New Downtown Location

When the news broke in March that the City Market would not be returning to its outdoor home on 104 Street this year, reaction was mixed. While some were excited about the idea of a permanent, year-round space, others grieved the loss of something that has become a summer tradition for many.

The City Market was one of the reasons why we decided to move to 104 Street, and I had already been looking forward to showing Emily how our front step transforms every Saturday. There’s no question the setting of 104 Street will be hard to replicate elsewhere; the combination of historic facades, mature trees, independent businesses, and residential concentration all helped create the welcoming and lively atmosphere that attracted visitors from across the city.

City Market

With Emily at the last City Market on 104 Street on October 6, 2018

That said, I recognize that the success for outdoor markets is very much weather dependent. Although rain, sleet, and snow has never deterred our family because of our proximity to the market, we acknowledge that many vendors rely extensively on fair weather customers. The last few years have also seen rough inclement conditions, including several windstorms that resulted in early closures as precautionary measures.

So although I’ve slowly come around to being open to the City Market’s new home, I know that many people have some unanswered questions:

    1. What will the new City Market look like?

    The market announced that its opening weekend in its new location will take place May 18-19, 2019, transitioning from one day per week to twice weekly. The Board worked with the City on securing a lease for the Great West Garment Building (also known as the GWG Building), at 97 Street and 103 Avenue, in addition to the permission to animate some of the nearby streets.

    GWG Building

    GWG Building

    The building has been vacant for more than a decade, having most recently operated as the Red Strap Market that closed in 2007. Built in 1911, some of the original features, including the hardwood floors and pressed ceiling tiles, remain as historical marvels. If the renovations are done right, it could be stunning.

    GWG Building

    Inside the GWG

    However, given the short timeline, we’ve learned that the market will operate outdoors this summer. When we toured the space in mid-March, washrooms were under construction, and they hadn’t moved to creating vendor stalls yet.

    GWG Building

    Planning for two floors of vendors

    When completed, vendors will occupy the first and second floor of the building. The market is currently exploring options to program the third and fourth floors.

    2. What can visitors expect from the City Market this summer?

    The outdoor City Market will have quite the footprint in the Quarters, taking place not only on 103 Avenue but also spilling onto the Armature on 96 Street.

    City Market

    The Armature

    Although a majority of the street may be the same width as its previous home of 104 Street and 102 Avenue, the lack of mature trees and active street-front retail make it feel quite different. In addition, the size of the two adjacent parking lots on 103 Avenue may provide convenience to some shoppers, but ultimately may bring a level of car traffic and noise that can disrupt the ambiance.

    City Market

    103 Avenue, looking west

    Dog owners will be happy to hear that the market will permit four legged visitors. Guidelines for etiquette are in place, but otherwise, bring your puppy!

    I do think the market’s new location could open up new opportunities for Chinatown South. In touring people through the area over the past two summers, people were interested in learning more about the cultural buildings and services located in the Quarters. Some in the Chinese community have already routinely organized events in Kinistinaw Park on the Armature, so it would be great to see even more engagement from the public because of the market’s presence.

    City Market

    Kinistinaw Park, along the Armature 

    3. How will the new indoor City Market experience compare to other indoor markets?

    Old Strathcona Farmers’ Market has held exclusive court over being Edmonton’s only year-round market. Because of that, some have wondered why they haven’t shifted to a multi-day operation.

    A newcomer to the scene has shaken things up, and is perhaps one reason the City Market has already committed to Saturday and Sunday hours. Bountiful Markets, set to open in June in a light industrial area at 3696 97 Street, will be operating three days a week, Friday to Sunday. Some of the same vendors who sell at both OSFM and the City Market will be at Bountiful, including Irvings Farm Fresh, Riverbend Gardens, and Doef’s, but it’s likely a multi-day public market will also attract new vendors who could benefit from the additional hours. Bountiful also promises a food court with multiple options, which may be more appealing to many, in addition to an entertainment stage and a kids play area.

    Bountiful Markets may be Edmonton’s answer to the revamped Calgary Farmers’ Market, which moved off Blackfoot Trail in 2014. The renovated flea market has survived its competitors (for a variety of reasons), and is so successful it will be opening a second location in northwest Calgary in 2020.

    Calgary Farmers' Market

    Calgary Farmers’ Market

    The Calgary Farmers’ Market seems designed with the intention of getting customers to linger – through a large food court with ample seating, a kids play area, and special events. I’ve also always found it very easy to navigate the wide aisles – even on our most recent visit in April with a stroller.

    Calgary Farmers' Market

    Food court at the Calgary Farmers’ Market

    Given Bountiful’s opportunity to transform an empty warehouse to spec, it seems the Calgary model (including choosing a location really only accessible by car) is what they may be trying to emulate.

    4. Will the new indoor City Market have a food hall?

    Food halls are a hot trend in North America, with choices carefully curated and the quality elevated from a typical food court. The City Market has a food fair in its plans, with a dozen vendors proposed.

    Mack and I checked out Calgary’s Avenida Food Hall & Fresh Market in April. It opened last fall, and though they have a few fresh food vendors, a majority of the stalls are dedicated to prepared food (interestingly enough, they also had a hybrid vendor – Sunworks Farm had a stall selling their fresh cuts of meat and some other products, but it was also equipped with an oven so they could sell hot rotisserie chickens).

    Avenida Food Hall

    Ample seating in Avenida

    My favourite thing about Avenida was the diversity of the food they were offering. In addition to the more conventional Italian and Southern Barbecue stalls, there was impressive representation from other ethnic cuisines, including Mexican, Salvadorian, Ethiopian, Indonesian, Thai, Indian, and Japanese.

    Avenida Food Hall

    Some of the food options in Avenida

    There are currently plans for a food hall downtown, located in the revamped YMCA Building at 100 Street and 102A Avenue to be known as Williams Hall. The tentative opening date is fall 2019.    

      5. Will the new City Market continue to be a summer destination?

      Although those aforementioned parking lots may make it easier for some to reach the market in its new location, parking doesn’t create a destination. Only time will tell if the City Market will be able to retain and attract a strong mix of vendors, create an atmosphere that encourages visitors to linger, and hopefully promotes some of the area’s nearby amenities as additional attractions. If not, those seeking better outdoor market experiences may end up heading to competitors like the St. Albert Farmers’ Market or the 124 Street Grand Market.

      I’m hopeful that the City Market will make the most of this change, and I am looking forward to the long weekend in May to see what they have in store.

      Details Matter: Aarde

      It goes without saying that in leaner economic times, restaurants need to be even more competitive, and distinguish themselves with memorable experience to ensure repeat visits. A meal at one of Edmonton’s newest eateries, Aarde, left me wondering if they will be able to stand out amongst the increasingly crowded dining scene Downtown.

      Mack and I happen to live in the same building as Aarde, and after seeing multiple tenant turnovers and long vacancies in the ground floor space, really want the restaurant to be successful (it is an unfortunate reality that there is a glut of prime, empty streetfront retail bays Downtown). Aarde, which means “earth” in Dutch, opened in November. It was opened by Chef Guru Singh who wanted to bring the best of the European dishes he sampled to Edmonton.

      I like the aesthetics of Aarde – neutrals, clean but modern furniture, and some plant accents. The layout of the tables doesn’t necessarily maximize the space, but I appreciated some room to breathe. That night it didn’t matter though, as we were just one of two parties that late Sunday evening in December.

      Aarde

      Interior

      After we were seated, my first impressions weren’t positive – the candle on our table was left unlit, and dried leaves that had fallen from a nearby plant had been left on the floor unswept. Although these were small details, and perhaps not intentionally careless, it communicated an ambivalence that felt surprising for a brand new restaurant. It’s also strange to me that Aarde has yet to adopt (even now, in January) any signage indicating that they are, in fact, open – the closest they’ve come is putting out a sandwich board advertising weekend brunches served from 10am-2pm.

      With some guidance from the server, Mack and I decided to share four dishes. The roasted potatoes ($11) were a pretty standard dish, but ended up being our favourite – perfectly cooked, with a nice level of spice in the aioli.

      Aarde

      Roasted potatoes

      Mack wished we had been told beforehand that the confit leeks and tomato ($10) were served cold. While the ricotta date stuffing was enjoyable, we found that the leeks themselves were tough and hard to eat.

      Aarde

      Confit leeks and tomato

      The bacalao fritters ($14) weren’t quite executed as well as they could have; the batter tasted almost gristly in texture, though the fish within was well seasoned. The dry mango powder, which sounded interesting on the menu description, was not discernable.

      Aarde

      Bacalao fritters

      The presentation of the beef ribs ($24) left something to be desired. That said, we liked the charred cabbage bits, and the creamy celeriac, but what should have been the star of the plate was not fall-off-the-bone tender as we would have expected.

      Aarde

      Beef ribs

      We’ve found that chefs at most chef-owned restaurants make their presence known, especially in the early days. So Chef Singh’s absence was even more conspicuous that evening. While I’m not certain it would have made up for an overall disappointing meal, it was evident that more care and oversight was needed in the kitchen and the dining room. I have heard more positive things about Aarde’s brunch, however, and with the restaurant being so close to home, I do want to give it another chance. Only time will tell if the dining public feels it is a worthy addition to the food scene.

      Aarde
      10184 104 Street
      (587) 881-7891

      The K-Wave Continues: Gangnam Street Food

      Back in 2017, I noted in my year end wrap-up that Korean eateries were making their presence in Edmonton known. What was particularly impressive was the range of establishments that were opening – mainstream-friendly Korean Fried Chicken and Korean BBQ joints, but also bingsu (Korean shaved ice) dessert bars, Korean soup restaurants and anju (food to accompany alcohol).

      A year later, Culinaire Magazine published a piece further categorizing the variety of Korean cuisine available in Edmonton and Calgary, which has continued to grow. In fact, a new restaurant specializing in Korean street food is set to open tomorrow, January 24, 2019.

      Gangnam Street Food is situated in a south side strip mall on 34 Avenue. It is also known as “K-Mall”, in recognition of its cluster of Korean businesses, including bingsu place Let Eat Snow and the newly-opened grocer A-Mart. Gangnam Street Food is the brainchild of the folks behind Dookbaeki and Baekjeong, so they’re already somewhat familiar with Edmontonians’ appetite for Korean cuisine, but this concept brings the team back to their youth.

      Gangnam Street Food will offer inexpensive dishes found in Korea that are popular with young people; quick handheld bites picked up after school, or before a night out. Dishes will be priced from $4-9, so for the price of one main elsewhere, diners can easily sample several plates. The restaurant is primarily set up for those looking for take-out, but there are also about 30 seats to eat in. In addition, their menu will be available on Skip the Dishes.

      Two weeks ago, I was among a small group that was invited to preview Gangnam Street Food. We were able to try 7 of the dishes (though there will be more on the full menu).

      Gangnam Street Food

      Part of our spread

      It’s no surprise that the deep-fried items we sampled were the most crowd-pleasing overall; they would easily appeal to those unfamiliar with Korean cuisine. The Korean-style hot dog features a wiener wrapped in mozzarella cheese and house-made dough, then fried. It fared best when eaten right away (which I had failed to do), but I still enjoyed the concept.

      Gangnam Street Food Edmonton

      Korean style hot dog

      Similarly, the Dak-gang-jung, or deep-fried boneless and breaded chicken, was straightforward and tasty. Here, it was served with honey mustard sauce, though there were spicier dips available on the counter for those keen for more heat.

      Gangnam Street Food Edmonton

      Dak-gang-jung

      Gangnam Street Food’s version of Dduck bo kki, was plenty hot for me; the rice and fish cakes were stir-fried with a spicy sauce. When I was first introduced to this dish in Korea years ago, I always opted for the more pedestrian version on menus, so just for the reason of my personal preference, this was my least favourite dish.

      Gangnam Street Food Edmonton

      Dduck bo kki

      In addition to the hot dog, skewers also make an appearance as an easy-to-eat meat on a stick. That night, we tried two of their kkochi (skewer). Both were charcoal-grilled, but the chicken was basted in a Korean Bulgogi sauce, while the pork belly had been brushed with a house-made “super spicy sauce”. The portions here were on the smaller side, but would be ideal for those just looking for a snack-sized amount of meat.

      Gangnam Street Food Edmonton

      Kkochi

      The spam and sausage cup-bap was the full meal deal. Rice was layered with ham, sausage, stir-fried kimchi, bean sprouts, corn, lettuce, and a pan-fried egg. This dish will be very familiar to those who have frequented standard Korean restaurants, albeit in a smaller serving. It was satisfying enough, and helped balance out some of the heavier courses.

      Gangnam Street Food Edmonton

      Ham and sausage cup-bap

      For dessert, we sampled the Ho dduck, a Korean-style pancake with melted cinnamon and sugar filling, served hot. This was also a favourite of the night, unsurprising given the classic flavours, but notable for the dense and doughy texture of the pancake itself. We were told this was perhaps the most difficult recipe to develop, though I can say it was worth their time – I will be returning in the future for seconds!

      Gangnam Street Food Edmonton

      Ho dduck

      It’s great to see how the Korean food scene continues to evolve and mature in our city, and Gangnam Street Food is certainly poised to help introduce another facet of this diverse cuisine to Edmontonians. Thanks again for having me (and for the very generous $100 in gift cards to their “family” of businesses). Best of luck with the opening!

      Gangnam Street Food
      #15, 9261 34 Avenue
      (780) 244-0148
      Monday-Sunday 11am-9pm

      Segway Fun: Exploring the Legislature Lights with River Valley Adventure Company

      My first taste of riding a Segway came six years ago, when we partnered up with River Valley Adventure Company for our pop-up Blink: Urban Picnic event held in Louise McKinney Park. During that event, the owner of the company, Chris Szydlowski, gave our attendees mini lessons on Segways, which they were using to lead tours on the area’s trails. I was only able to try the Segway for a few minutes, but I remember not feeling all that comfortable on the vehicle.

      Fast forward to now: River Valley Adventure Company is not only leading tours in green spaces, but starting last year, they also began hosting the Legislature Lights Adventure! The 60-minute tour combines a few of my favourite things – Mack and I are frequent visitors to the grounds during the holidays, as we find that the lights and music create a magical effect. Also, being that he is a very passionate Edmontonian, Chris delights in being able to share fun and interesting facts about the area throughout the journey. He invited us to experience the Adventure for ourselves last Friday.

      We met him in the visitor parking lot south of the Terrace Building, where he had positioned three Segways. Because neither Mack or I were experienced Segway riders, Chris added a 30-minute introduction clinic to get us started.

      Legislature Lights Segway Tour

      Chris Szydlowski

      It was the mark of a great teacher, because after that lesson, I felt surprisingly confident on the Segway. I had been afraid of tipping or losing control of the machine, but with his expert instructions, I was able to trust in using what I had learned to ride, stop, and safely disembark the Segway.

      Something I should have done was listened to his advice on layering up for the conditions! He had recommended dressing like we were “headed for the mountains”, but at -8C that evening, we didn’t think it was necessary. However, at times, when we were cruising along at the top speed of 20km/hour, it was a bit more biting than what we are used to as pedestrians. Our feet, in spite of not standing directly on the cold pavement, also could have used proper snow boots.

      Chris shared that in its second year, the Legislature Lights Adventure had already more than doubled its bookings when compared with the previous year. And while many who have attended the tour have been from out of town, some were playing tourist in their own home. Certainly for us, we learned many facts that we did not know – Chris took us to the spot (commemorated by a plaque) that was the home to one of the previous Fort Edmontons. In addition, we found out that the domed fountain that operates in the summer is actually an exact sized replica of the Legislature’s dome!

      Legislature Lights Segway Tour

      Holiday lights at the Legislature

      Chris told us that Edmonton is one of the most Segway-friendly cities in Canada; the vehicles are permitted on city sidewalks. It so happened that our tour coincided with rush hour, so for our brief trek up Capital Boulevard to admire the public art, Chris was adept at guiding us to cross streets safely and warning pedestrians of our presence with a bike bell.

      Legislature Lights Segway Tour

      On Capital Boulevard

      For those hoping to document their experience, Chris makes sure to build in a number of photo opportunities along the way. As we started in the late afternoon, the lights didn’t have as dark of a backdrop to shine against. The public tours are offered later in the evening, however, so would be adventurers needn’t worry!

      Legislature Lights Segway Tour

      Our favourite vantage point at the Legislature

      Overall, the tour was a fun way to explore one of my favourite places Downtown, and one that I would highly recommend! Thanks again to Chris for the invitation to experience the Legislature grounds on a unique set of two wheels.

      The Legislature Lights Adventure is available until January 31, 2019.