2013 What the Truck?! Roundup

While I did recap the first three What the Truck?! events that took place this year (Ginger Beef Throwdown, Old Strathcona and The Quarters), I fell off the wagon this summer and failed to keep up with the rest.

Louise McKinney Riverfront Park

Louise McKinney is a beautiful location to be sure, one that provides a gorgeous vantage point and approach to the river valley. However, we knew that the gradient and the few access points might act as barriers for some, but we were hoping that the trucks would be enough of a draw on August 24, 2013.

We had to change our original site map on the fly due to a concurrent event taking place in the adjacent park, which worked for the most part, but wasn’t perfect. Due to the same event, on-site parking was even more scarce. And so, in order to prevent drivers from looping through the vending area, Mack and I ended up having to second our family members to act as parking attendants and control vehicle access. While a majority of people were understanding (and took advantage of our recommendation to park along Jasper Avenue), it really was disheartening to see the number of drivers who didn’t hesitate to spew vitriol when told there was no on-site parking available. Mobility challenges and families with young children aside, I couldn’t fathom why some didn’t want to take advantage of an absolutely gorgeous day and spend more time outdoors.

What the Truck?! at Louise McKinney

Louise McKinney

That aside, for those that did take in the event, we heard pretty positive feedback. The relatively smaller crowd meant shorter lines, and everyone seemed to appreciate the location’s proximity to our river valley.

What the Truck?! at Louise McKinney

Beautiful vantage point

It was great to see people sprawled out on the grass, picnicking with their buffet spreads, or utilizing concrete parking curbs as benches.

What the Truck?! at Louise McKinney

Al fresco!

I was able to try Yellow Bird’s gyu-don beef rice bowl. The one dish filled me up for the rest of the evening, a tasty combination of beef, egg and veggies.

What the Truck?! at Louise McKinney

Gyu-don from Yellow Bird

A big thanks to the Shaw Conference Centre, who allowed us to set up in their parking lot, and to the Downtown Edmonton Community League for sponsoring a number of our events this year (including this one).

Churchill Square

Our final What the Truck?! in Churchill Square on September 20, 2013 was our biggest event ever, and it was not only clear that the Square was bursting at the seams with vendors, but also that food trucks have been thoroughly embraced by Edmontonians.

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Churchill Square (photo by Dave Feltham)

We were really fortunate this season with good weather, and this was exemplified that Friday. It was a fitting finale for summer, and revelers came out in droves.

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The crowds! (photo by Dave Feltham)

Some of the lines were long and rather unwieldy, but I’m happy to say that it looked like most people were enjoying themselves, catching up with old friends or meeting new ones.

What the Truck?! at Churchill Square 2013

Dining out

And while we welcomed a few new trucks to our WTT family that day, we didn’t know that we were saying goodbye to one. It was the last service for The Lingnan Express – Miles sold the truck to another proprietor, who will be rebranding the truck to be launched in 2014.

We’re always indebted to DJ Thomas Scott and his friends, who bring just the right party atmosphere to our events. You rock!

What the Truck?! at Churchill Square 2013

DJ Thomas Scott

And what can we say to thank our hard working volunteers, who perform thankless jobs like garbage collection? We couldn’t do it without you.

What the Truck?! at Churchill Square 2013

Super Su!

Thanks to everyone who came out that night and helped us celebrate a great year.

What the Truck?! Gives Back

We capped our season with a special service at the Bissell Centre. Our desire was to try and replicate the spirit of our other pop-up events, but of course, this one had one major twist: the food was free.

Six trucks served over 900 meals to underprivileged individuals that day. We can’t tell you how rewarding it was to see people enjoying themselves.

Bissell Centre Truck Stop

Bully at work

We always knew we were lucky to have such a great food truck community in Edmonton, but the participating vendors that day took that statement to another level. Thanks to The Act Out & About, Bully, Lemon Grass Grill, Little Village, The Local Omnivore, and Sailin’ On for your generous contributions.

Bissell Centre Truck Stop

Big hearts!

It was also a wonderful experience working with the staff from the Bissell Centre. The agency has had a rough month, experiencing a fire in their Thrift Shoppe, but the staff were more than accommodating to help us put on this event on their day off! Thanks to the staff and volunteers for their hard work.

Looking to 2014

You can be sure What the Truck?! will be back next year (we’ve already started brainstorming locations!), but perhaps the most exciting thing for us is an expanded team! We know this event could be so much more, but Mack and I aren’t able to grow it on our own. So we’ve invited a few more people to the table who will lend new ideas, perspectives and energy to the events. Welcome Caleng, Dave and Melina – I’m looking forward to working with you in 2014.

What the Truck?! at Churchill Square 2013

Team What the Truck?!

See you next year!

Cycling Adventures in the Mill Creek Ravine

It only took us a year to follow through, but Mack and I finally took the time to rent bikes as a means of further exploring Edmonton’s river valley trails.

We still don’t know all that much about the bike rental scene in Edmonton, but knew that the River Valley Adventure Company would suit our needs that day, as it was situated in the perfect jumping off point for our adventures.

At $10 per hour, it was also a reasonable price to pay. The rental cost included a helmet, but we were a bit disappointed to learn that a bike lock wasn’t included. Hopefully this is something they re-evaluate, as I would imagine the lock would come in handy for those looking to make a pit stop along the way. It also wasn’t all that encouraging to hear that we were the first sale that day; it’s an unfortunate refrain that the river valley isn’t as well utilized as it could be, so it’s not a surprise that neither is the business.

Mill Creek

And we’re off!

While we’ve often walked riverside path of Louise McKinney to as far as Cloverdale, this was the first time we’ve travelled through the Mill Creek Ravine. It’s obvious, but though the MIll Creek Adventure Walk is a wonderful way to animate the area in the winter months, nothing compares to the fall beauty of the park that surrounded us that day.

Mill Creek

Creekside

The air started out crisp, but warmed up that afternoon as we rode down the paths lined with golden leaves.

Mill Creek

Multi-use trail

We immediately noticed the lack of signage on the trail. Unless we deliberately went off course, we had no way of knowing where we were in relation to commuter streets. Eventually, we came across a sign that has seen better days, and realized we had made it all the way to King Edward Park. At that point, we were only a hop, skip and a jump away from Argyll – we had no idea the trails so readily connected these communities.

Mill Creek

Outdated map

Doubling back so we could stop at the Mill Creek Café for a snack, we took the scenic route back, across the pedestrian bridge across Connors Road.

Mill Creek

Skyline photo op!

It was a delight to explore one of Edmonton’s gems in the fall – I’d encourage you to do the same, if you’re able to before we transition into the next season!

Brunch and Bop: Culina Muttart and the Slow Flash Mob

Though brunch is always on the “to do” list when we’re on vacation, while we’re at home, it’s hard to motivate ourselves to get out of bed on the weekend! That said, planned in advance this summer, we were actually pleasantly surprised by some of the new-to-us brunch discoveries we made.

The first was Culina Muttart. Located inside one of Edmonton’s year-round tourist destinations, the restaurant now provides locals with a reason to visit the attraction on a more regular basis. The patio was lovely that day, diners enjoying the full sun among the planters and water feature, but we opted instead for a comfortable window seat inside. The only downside of the interior was its north-facing orientation, meaning that the majority of the tables seemed starved for sunlight, but I recognize not much could be done about that.

The menu is small, with just five mains to choose from. And in anti-food blog fashion, Mack, Grandma Male and I all ordered the exact same dish – the classic eggs benedict with honey ham ($15). Given how hungry I was that day, I also added a pastry basket for two ($7).

The basket arrived, still warm and accompanied by room-temperature butter and Jam Lady spread. Mack and Grandma Male both enjoyed the cornbread, while I polished off a delicious cheddar scone. The basket alone would have made for a light and lovely breakfast.

Culina Muttart

Pastry basket

The waitress then delivered each of us a small bowl of granola, topped with Greek yogurt. Nowhere on the menu was this inclusion listed, and while a welcome addition, had I known in advance, I likely wouldn’t have ordered the pastry basket at all.

Culina Muttart

Granola bowl

The eggs benedict was nicely presented, garnished with microgreens. We found no quibble with the white wine hollandaise, but were a bit disappointed with the eggs, which were medium as opposed to the requested soft poached. However, we all commented that the sweet honey ham was notable.

Culina Muttart

Classic eggs benedict

Service was professional, and Mack was satisfied with the number of coffee refills offered throughout our meal. As a whole, the meal was a positive experience, and made me want to return for one of their Thursday night prix-fixe dinners.

After brunch, we decided to cross the river to Louise McKinney Riverfront Park to take in the Slow Flash Mob. An initiative led by Amy Shostak, the one-day festival on July 20, 2013 sought to encourage multi-generational interaction in an underutilized green space.

Slow Flash Mob

Zumba lessons

Activities ranged from zumba to improv lessons, storytelling and karaoke. The activities were spread out across the park, making use of the Chinese garden, grassy field and Shumka stage. Things were very well-organized, keeping to the schedule. There was even a free shuttle which transported attendees from the Central Lions Seniors Centre.

Slow Flash Mob

Free doughnuts from the Ye Olde Donut Shoppe

It was just unfortunate that it wasn’t better attended. Of course there is always lots to choose from on any summer weekend in Edmonton, but I think some people may have been confused by the name of the event. Had I not read about the festival prior, I probably would have assumed the event encouraged sluggish group dances.

Slow Flash Mob

Julie and Birkley from Sugar Swing perform

Mack and I took part in the swing dance lesson led by the Sugar Swing Dance Club, while Grandma Male chatted with some of the others in the audience. It was a fun way to spend part of a sunny summer afternoon!

Swing lessons!

Thanks to Amy and her team for putting on this event!

Culina Muttart
9626 96A Street
(780) 466-1181
Lunch, Monday to Friday, 11am-2pm; Dinner, Thursdays, 5-8:30pm; Brunch, Saturday and Sunday, 10:30am-2:30pm

What the Truck?! in Louise McKinney Riverfront Park: August 24, 2013

Since our successful Blink: Urban Picnic last year, Mack and I have mulled over other ways to animate the river valley. Even temporarily, it was great to see Louise McKinney Riverfront Park being used for something other than a quiet stroll or a cycle through.

Although the Park is home to several festivals, including this past weekend’s annual Edmonton Dragon Boat Festival, and Hip Hop in the Park, for most of the summer, it lays dormant, and is without a doubt one of the most underutilized green spaces in the city. It’s a shame, given its proximity to the core, and with beautiful views of the valley and the river, Louise McKinney should be a better fixture on the event scene.

Louise McKinney Riverfront Park

I recognize the gradient, and the access points down to the riverfront could be a barrier for some. And for others, its lack of casual, commercial activity (save for the Urban Green Café), doesn’t provide enough of an excuse to make the trek down worthwhile.

Louise McKinney Riverfront Park

Our upcoming What the Truck?! on Saturday is an attempt at enlivening the space, just for an evening.

What: What the Truck?! at Louise McKinney
Where: Louise McKinney Riverfront Park, 9999 Grierson Hill Road
When: Saturday, August 24, 2013
Time: 5-9pm

We’ll have ten trucks on hand, including two of the newest to join Edmonton’s fleet – Lemongrass Grill and The Crooked Fork.

Lemongrass GrillFrench Quarter Farmers' Market

Lemongrass Grill and The Crooked Fork

You can check out the menus here and judge for yourself, but it’s hard not to love the variety food trucks bring to the table (or in this case, park).

Hope to see you there on Saturday!

Blink: Urban Picnic

I would say the first event in our Blink series of pop-up dinners came together relatively quickly, from conception to reality (helped greatly, of course, by the staff of Century Hospitality Group). The notion of transforming a pedway into a restaurant felt inspired, almost spontaneous. This is especially true when contrasted with the location of our second Blink event.

For a few years now, Mack and I have been looking longingly at a site at Louise McKinney Park, wondering if it would be possible to program the space. It seemed like the ideal location – accessible, with riverfront views. Though in recent years there have been more efforts to animate the park as a whole (That’s Edmonton For You and Hip Hop in the Park come to mind, besides the long-standing Dragon Boat Festival), it’s still a drop in the bucket.

Louise McKinney Riverfront Park
Louise McKinney Park

The addition of washrooms and a cafe at the base of the building haven’t seemed to help either – on most days passing through in the afternoon or evening, one would be hard pressed to find many people using the trails, let alone lingering. We often hear it said that the best feature of Edmonton is our extensive river valley – but if no one is actually out enjoying it, what use is it?

Louise McKinney Riverfront Park
Trails

One argument that has been made is that there should be more reasons for people to visit Louise McKinney. The cafe in the River Valley Adventure Co. is a good start, so people taking a stroll can stop in for a coffee or ice cream along the way, but it’s clearly not enough. Opening up the riverfront to more commercial development doesn’t mean letting it go forward unchecked, but a few more amenities such as a local restaurant with patio seating, would help make our greatest attraction a more user-friendly one. For us, Blink provided us with the ideal medium to explore this idea further – what would a river valley restaurant look like?

What: Blink: Urban Picnic!
When: August 26, 2012
Time: Cocktails from 5-5:30pm, dinner from 5:30-7:30pm
Where: 9735 Grierson Hill

But like our previous event, Mack and I aren’t in this alone. We’re actually quite fortunate in that we’ve again found some wonderful partners to work with.

The biggest challenge was to find a way to prepare the food in the middle of the park. With the advent of food trucks in our city, this was easily solved. We knew that Kara and Nevin of Drift had been wanting to branch out with meals beyond sandwiches, and with their philosophy of promoting local producers, the fit was perfect. With Drift on as a partner, Blink: Urban Picnic was born. We can’t take credit for the name – it was all Kara’s idea, wanting to take advantage of the al fresco nature of the event, under a family-style casual dinner theme. Check out the menu they’ve developed here.

Kara and Nevin also introduced us to the owners of River Valley Adventure Co., who have also jumped on board. They have seen first hand how some development can help introduce folks to our natural assets, but acknowledge that more can be done. They will be offering coffee and tea to diners at the end of the night, as well as an opportunity to try out a Segway!

Louise McKinney Park Cafe
Inside River Valley Adventure Co.

Another of our obstacles was finding the resources to cover all of the materials we would need to set up a pop-up restaurant. We wanted to keep the ticket price as low as possible, and we were only able to do this when the Shaw Conference Centre stepped in. They have been not only a generous, but gracious sponsor, and in this case, the perfect fit. In many ways, the Shaw is the gateway to the river valley – either by folks traversing its outdoor staircase to reach the valley below (as we do on our walks), or by taking the escalator down for similar access. They’ve even come up with a way for diners to experience this latter path in a novel way – by enjoying a cocktail along the way! We are asking that diners enter the site through the main doors of the Shaw Conference Centre off Jasper Avenue. There, they will each receive a champagne flute to drink while riding down to reach Louise McKinney. They have dubbed this an “escalator cocktail” – no doubt this will be the first of its kind in Edmonton!

Shaw Conference Centre
Shaw Conference Centre

Tickets for Blink: Urban Picnic are $50, and will go on sale at 9am on August 20, 2012. We hope you consider joining us for this pop-up dinner!

Fall Photowalk

Greeted by a lovely autumn afternoon (there’s really nothing better than pilfering another warm day from the impending arms of winter), Mack and I decided to make the most of it outside, and took a walk. Though my intention was to lead us to Louise McKinney Park in the core’s east end, I didn’t think our meandering would last four hours! It really was a great opportunity to explore parts of the city and the valley I had never been to before, all documented on Mack’s camera.

Mack’s photo set is here, but the following are a few of my favourite shots:

Paul Kane Park (I love unexpected greenspaces downtown)

Path to Ezio Faraone Park

At the (Legislature’s) water’s edge

 

A nice little park

I heart gazebos (they always remind me of Stars Hollow)

Snack break at Starbucks

The view from the Shaw Conference Centre balcony

Us

Louise McKinney Park (I’ve never been here before)

Bridge

View from the end of the bridge

By the river

As these coming days may be the last few this year warm enough for a walk without bundling up, I encourage you to explore your neighbourhood – you never know what new favourites you’ll discover.