Flavour Journey Restaurant Tour in the North Edge

The public might be more familiar with pub crawls, but I have to say that I much prefer restaurant crawls. I love the idea of exploring multiple establishments on foot, as it usually exposes participants to the neighbourhood as a whole as well. So whether through events like the Red Shoe Crawl or Dishcrawl, I’d encourage you to seek one out!

The North Edge Business Association (representing businesses in the Central McDougall and Queen Mary Park neighbourhoods) had organized several successful restaurant crawls last year, but the timing was never right. Thankfully, this summer, I was finally able to participate in one of the Flavour Journey Restaurant Tours! I convinced my sisters to join me, and along with about twenty other people, sampled three dishes at three different restaurants that night.

Cafe Sorrentino

Felicia and Amanda

Tickets were just $30, with the profits split equally between the three restaurants. The Business Association covered the other costs (ticketing, marketing, etc.), so the restaurants could focus solely on the food. Given the benefit of increased exposure to the neighbourhood, I wonder why more areas haven’t adopted this tactic.

Regardless, we started out the evening at Caffé Sorrentino. Pedestrian, yes, but by far, the most prepared for the group. Our host for the evening, Chris Hrynyk, graciously welcomed us, and explained that the dish we were about to enjoy has been on the Sorrentino’s menu for thirty six years.

Cafe Sorrentino

Chris Hrynyk of Caffe Sorrentino

Each batch of veal cannelloni, he tantalized, was simmered with five kilograms of parmesan and seven kilograms of mozzarella. After that introduction, the dish no doubt tasted even more indulgent.

Cafe Sorrentino

Veal cannelloni

Just before we left, Chris gave us a tour of the kitchens, which double as both prep space and as the venue for their cooking classes. The consummate showman, he made sure to mention that Gordon Ramsay (in town as a part of a charity cooking event) was jealous of the size of their kitchens. In a way, it was unfortunate the subsequent restaurant participants weren’t present for the meal – they could have benefited from learning how to present themselves, and tell a narrative that could be easily shared.

Our second stop a block away was Com Pho 99 (11019 107 Avenue). I’ll be honest – if it weren’t for the restaurant tour, it is doubtful I would have ever stepped foot inside. It doesn’t provide the best first impression, but then again, that’s pretty representative of the neighbourhood as a whole. And in spite of being rough around the edges, Com Pho, like the North Edge, deserves a second look.

Com Pho 99

All aboard!

Unlike the other two restaurants, Com Pho offered the choice between a rice plate or a vermicelli bowl, topped with grilled chicken, beef and spring rolls. While the options were welcome, it likely slowed the kitchen down a fair bit, as our table wasn’t served until the other table had nearly finished their meals.

Com Pho 99

Vermicelli bowl (minus the missing spring rolls)

The food itself was pretty good though; Amanda (ever the vermicelli connoisseur) gave it a thumbs up.

Given the unusually large crowd, it was understandable that the kitchen struggled to keep up. That said, hopefully a majority of the diners were willing to overlook the minor hiccups and in the future would consider returning. This is the danger of showcasing small mom-and-pop shops in this way – though it casts a spotlight on restaurants that might fall otherwise under the radar, the business may not be ready or have the capacity to successfully host such an event.

Our third and final stop was Acajutla, a restaurant specializing in Mexican and Salvadorian food. As the evening was running a little late, the kitchen was more than ready for us. Plates were delivered, featuring a flauta, tostada and a pupusa.

Acajutla

Finale at Acajutla

The flauta and tostada shell were a bit overdone, but the pupusa was great, topped with some pickled cabbage and salsa.

In all, it was a great way to spend an evening – trying new restaurants, meeting new people, and learning more about the neighbourhood. The North Edge is considering more tours this fall – check the website for more information!

Explore the North Edge: Around the World in 80 Bites

I’ve written in the past about how I’ve come to appreciate my daytime neighbourhood of Central McDougall. While those who don’t frequent it often may be a little afraid to venture through the area, as someone who spends quite a bit of time exploring its streets, I’d like to say it’s worth getting to know.

Central McDougall and the adjacent Queen Mary Park are one of the City’s four revitalization projects. As expected, progress is slow, but will hopefully pick up in the next few years given the pending arena project just to the south of Central McDougall. In the meantime, what will also help is more foot traffic through the neighbourhood – and really, what better way to do this than to highlight some of the great, inexpensive eats to be found in the area?

Food crawls have been picking up steam in Edmonton, with Dishcrawl having organized two successful outings so far this year. I would hope they start targeting less “mainstream” neighbourhoods in the future, but in some ways, perhaps their fees would prohibit some restaurants from participating anyway (Dishcrawl restaurants reportedly only receive $4 of $10 charged per diner).

For that reason, I like what the North Edge Business Association (NEBA) has done. Representing businesses in both Central McDougall and Queen Mary Park, they’ve taken it upon themselves to organize a food crawl to showcase several restaurants. NEBA Executive Director Amy Wilson recognizes that one of the neighbourhood’s strengths is its diverse food offerings, from Filipino and Chinese to Somali and Eritrean just in a three block radius.

Pho Huong/Mama Pizza

Pho with brisket from Mama Pizza and Pho Huong (I don’t know if this is what will be served, but I can say that this was delicious!)

So on May 16, 2012, join Amy for a tour “Around the World in 80 Bites” – to start, diners will sample Vietnamese cuisine at Mama Pizza and Pho Huong, Somali delights at African Somali, and end with Filipino specialties at Fat Jakks. Beyond food, it will be an introduction to three vastly different cultures, and at $30 a ticket (not including drinks and gratuity), one laden with value.

African Somali

Beef suqar from African Somali (again, I’m not sure if this is on the menu, but between the stew and the Somali rice, it was a tasty plate)

Amy acknowledged that the restaurants are struggling enough, so has made sure that each business will be given a full $10 to cover the per person cost of food. NEBA will be picking up any other expenses associated with the event – a model that if successful, should be looked at by other neighbourhoods looking to increase their profile in the food community. Amy has already mentioned that if this is well-received, she will be looking to organize more crawls.

Filipino buffet at Fat Jakks

I’m a little remorseful that I will be out of town that week, otherwise, I’d have picked up my ticket already! But act fast – there are only 30 tickets available. I hope to catch the next one!

Find out more information about Around the World in 80 Bites here.