Culina at the Muttart Conservatory

When the Muttart Conservatory finally reopened after over a year of renovations in June 2009, there were high hopes the revamped Ela Euro Cafe, located at the front of the facility (and thus could be accessed without paying an entrance fee), would help draw residents and others to the evergreen oasis. Given its prime Cloverdale location, and really, the fact that it is the only food establishment in the immediate area, Ela Euro should have been a slam dunk.

While the space was bright and functional – a bank of windows and a large enclosed patio – the food couldn’t have been much of a draw. I can’t say we stopped by all that often, but on two instances we were at the Muttart, the cafe was empty.

Before: Ela Euro

As a result, the City’s new partnership with one of Edmonton’s most recognized and upstanding local chains was probably a most welcome one. Culina Muttart, the restaurant’s third outpost, opened on December 2, 2010 in the Ela Euro space. In addition to offering their comforting fare (that highlights some of the area’s best producers), the staff will also be utilizing the Muttart’s greenhouse space to grow herbs and greens for the restaurant.

Culina at the Muttart

After: Culina Muttart

On Monday night, Mack and I attended the launch of Culina Muttart. After the full-on tasting at ZINC’s fall menu launch, we weren’t quite sure what to expect. It turned out instead of a sit-down event, the evening was an informal one, set up reception style, which suited the casual cafe space perfectly.

Culina at the Muttart

Culina Muttart

It reminded me very much of the Meet the Locals Festival at Planet Organic – producers set up at tables along the periphery of the room, offering samples of their wares. Brad Lazarenko, Director and Executive Chef of Culina, said that the producers represented a range of relationship lengths – from Spring Creek Ranch, who they have sourced from for over five years, to EnSante, a brand new supplier.

Spring Creek Ranch

Kirstin Kotelko of Spring Creek Ranch slices up some beef

Meeting and chatting with the producers was a great way to really get a sense of the philosophy behind Culina’s food (which was probably the purpose of the evening), but it probably wasn’t the best way to find out what to expect at Culina Muttart, in terms of the menu and plating of dishes.

Yellowhead Brewery

Leon Hunter of Yellowhead Brewery

That said, there was one dish served, a salad featuring quinoa, Sylvan Star gouda and a Mighty Trio Organics dressing (made specifically for Culina) that is actually on the menu. The salad had great texture, and at the very least, made me feel less guilty for the meat and cheese consumption to follow.

Culina

Salad with Mighty Trio Organics dressing

Shayne and Vicky Horn of Tangled Ridge Ranch, a lamb producer, were new to us (we loved the title on Shayne’s business card that read, “Flock Master”). The slices of lamb they served us were incredibly tender and moist – I hope that same preparation ends up on the Culina menu (Tangled Ridge currently only sells whole carcasses).

Tangle Ridge Ranch

Shayne and Vicky of Tangled Ridge Ranch

Speaking of sheep, we also had our fill of sheep’s cheese (and air dried charcuterie) from Brian and Rhonda Headon, of The Cheesiry and O Sol’Meatos. Mack especially liked the cardamom salami.

The Cheesiry

Samples from The Cheesiry

The Cheesiry

Brian and Rhonda of The Cheesiry and O Sol’Meatos

Shame on us that this event was the first time we ever tried any of The Jam Lady’s products. Though we know they are a veritable City Market favourite, we always passed Donna by because we do really like the August Organics jam we always have on hand. After trying a few of her preserves and mustards however (the curried mustard is like nothing I’ve ever tasted), I know we will be loading up on a few jars very soon (her products are also available at Culina Muttart).

The Jam Lady

Bohdan and Donna Borody, aka “The Jam Man” and The Jam Lady

Guests were also invited to tour the pyramids, with interpreters pointing out the edible plants in each biome. We chose to tour the temperate pyramid, and while we learned a few things (Mack and I had no idea that seasons were induced in each biome – hence, spring in the temperate world), we were really hoping for a peek inside the greenhouse space to be used by Culina.

Feature Pyramid

The feature pyramid – all decked out for Valentine’s Day

Though the restaurant is currently only open for lunch on weekdays and brunch on weekends (during the Muttart’s operating hours), staff are working to possibly extend the restaurant’s hours into the evening, which would be particularly handy once the days are longer. Stay tuned!

Thanks again to Kiri and the rest of the Muttart staff for organizing this event – it was great opportunity to meet with some of the producers and taste some of the products that will be featured by Culina Muttart (a few other food bloggers have written about the event also: check out recaps by Liane, Twyla, Chris and Brittany).

Culina Muttart Conservatory Cafe
9626 – 96A Street
(780) 466-1181
Weekdays 10am-5pm; weekends & holidays 11am-5pm

Evergreen Pyramids: Muttart Conservatory

Longing for an optimistic reminder of the spring to come, Mack and I headed to the evergreen pyramids of the Muttart Conservatory over the weekend. We took advantage of a 2-for-1 offer I had received (after signing up for the City’s new Find Your Fun attractions and recreation newsletter), so we only had to pay $10.50 admission for the both of us.

Muttart Conservatory

We were eager to see what changes the popular tourist destination had undergone, as it reopened in June 2009 after over a year of being closed for renovations. In addition to a new outdoor courtyard, a revamped cafe and gift shop, and additional classroom spaces, a water feature and new plant material had been introduced to the pyramids.

Though I have to admit my hazy memory from my previous visit years ago didn’t serve me well enough to recognize the facility enhancements upon first glance, I am happy to say the pyramids themselves were everything I remembered them to be – a natural oasis encouraging reflection and pause. The ample benches were welcome, and of course, being able to transition from temperate to tropical to desert landscapes by crossing the hall felt just as remarkable as when I was a child. Here are a few photos we snapped that day:

Arid Pyramid

I remember the desert biome was always my least favourite pyramid as a child. Though there are bursts of unexpected colour and beauty in adaptation, the landscape in the pyramid always just seemed barren next to its tropical and temperate neighbours.  

Desert fauna

Pretty and prickly

Mack’s favourite cacti

Tropical Pyramid

I loved the new water feature in this exhibit. Between the soothing sound of water echoing throughout the pavilion and the lush surroundings, I really felt like I had temporarily escaped from the bustle of the city.

Palm tree!

Beautiful orchids

Gorgeous water feature

I felt like we should have left an offering at the base of the coffee tree

Temperate Pyramid

With a wedding shoot underway, we didn’t fully explore the pathway in this pyramid, but surrounded by green, the dappled sunlight through the glass and leafy canopies made for a tranquil setting.

Into the forest

Under the canopy

Forest giant

In honour of Gaia (I have to admit seeing a porcelain face looking up at me was a bit disturbing at first glance)

Feature Pyramid

With a slight chill in the air, the feature pyramid was spring imagined, the perfect kind of winter awakening ripe with colour and life. I’d never really appreciated tulips before this, having only really seen them cut and bound into bunches. Here, grown in shade blocks, they were a beautiful sight, and exactly what I needed to see that day before stepping out into biting gale-force winds.

Signs of spring

Tulips!

If you’re needing a refreshing break in the city – a visit to the Muttart Conservatory can do wonders for your spirit.

Muttart Conservatory
9626 96A Street
(780) 496-1749