Food Notes for April 11, 2022

Ghost Kitchen Incubator Markt Brands to Launch this Fall

Markt Brands has leased a 10,000-square-foot space in south Edmonton to house up to 25 ghost kitchens, offering food entrepreneurs a chance to get into the restaurant business at a lower cost and with less hassle.

The space at 99 Street and 34 Avenue, which will be carved into bays of 200 square feet each, is set to launch in October. Markt CEO Kyle Ferbey said his experience in the food industry over the past two years led to the idea.

“We’ve seen two big trends in the pandemic,” said Ferbey, who separately operates 16 Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen franchises in Edmonton. “The first is a shift to a delivery-based model. Our delivery numbers at Popeyes increased from 3% to 20%. Second, there are rising costs that make it more difficult to start and operate a restaurant.”

Markt’s model is similar to CloudKitchens, an American-based startup that operates in more than two dozen states and recently launched in Toronto. Markt vendors will pay $5,000 a month for basics like rent, utilities, and pest control, as well as marketing support, third-party delivery app coordination, and securing other backbone services such as accounting at competitive rates. Ferbey compares this overhead cost to an estimated $500,000 to launch a conventional brick-and-mortar restaurant.

“The goal is to eliminate a lot of the major challenges to open a restaurant and set them up as a success,” said Ferbey. “I think there’s a lot of that out there, people who are too afraid to start a restaurant because it’s too financially risky. If someone comes to us and has really great food, we can help them create something great by eliminating the hassles and headaches.”

So far, Markt has nine confirmed vendors, whose concepts include Chinese, Filipino, Thai, burgers, and vegan food.

“We have a mix of people who have never owned a restaurant in their lives to people who have owned restaurants and want to try a new concept, and one gentleman who wants to expand a concept,” said Ferbey. “One woman is currently working at 7-Eleven and has always dreamed about opening a restaurant. We are taken aback that she trusts us.”

Nghia Truong and his wife Nin are among the vendors who have already signed on to Markt. Along with his parents, Nghia ran Sweet Mango and then its successor, Mini Mango, for 13 years. Due to health-related challenges, the family decided to sell the business in 2020, but they are now looking to get back into the hospitality industry in a different way.

“Being a restaurant owner is one of the most challenging ordeals,” said Truong. “When you’re putting your heart and soul into making the best product, and if you have a young family, it makes it even harder. When we first opened Mini Mango, my son wasn’t even one yet. It took a lot of years of sacrifice and time away from my kids to make it work.”

Truong has known Ferbey for more than a decade as a regular customer at Mini Mango, and he’s keen on letting Markt do the heavy lifting so he and Nin can concentrate on the food. They’re considering up to three concepts for their ghost kitchen: a scaled-down version of Mini Mango, offering vermicelli bowls and banh mi sandwiches, a drink concept featuring Vietnamese coffee with boba, and packaged Vietnamese cakes.

“Anyone with a food concept can just focus on making food,” said Truong. “They cover all of the maintenance and nuances of running a restaurant, and the startup will be one-tenth of the traditional restaurant. It’s much more feasible and realistic.”

Truong was also swayed by Markt’s vision for expansion. If successful, Ferbey’s intention is to build additional locations in Edmonton and, eventually, throughout the country.

“By expanding our footprint, it gives vendors an option to rapidly expand their brands across Canada,” said Ferbey. “If we have 25 locations in Canada, people could licence their brand across Canada within a matter of months.”

But it will all come down to good food. “We look at it as a restaurant incubator with people who want to share incredible food with the world,” said Ferbey. “Food brings us together.”

COVID-19-related News

Openings

  • El Corazon, a Mexican restaurant located in the West Block Glenora (14101 West Block Drive, #150), opened last week.
  • Burger Daddy is now open at 4351 167 Avenue.

Upcoming Events

  • The Lions Club is hosting a wine and cheese tasting fundraiser on April 30, 2022 at the St. John’s Cultural Centre. Tickets are $65.
  • Urban Pedal Tours start up in April, with public and private tours now available to be booked.
  • Chef Table Living announced their new season of Food Bike Tours, running May 7-September 24, 2022. Tickets start at $139 per person, and each include stops at four businesses.

Local News

What I Ate

  • We had a lovely time last week at our favourite staycation getaway, Prairie Creek Inn. I always look forward to their breakfasts and it’s such a treat to be able to eat outdoors in the spring.
  • Prairie Creek Inn

Hot breakfast from Prairie Creek Inn

  • We also stopped by Rocky Mountain House and grabbed some take-out from Cucina, a restaurant offering Korean and Italian dishes on the same menu. I really enjoyed their bulgogi poutine.
  • Cucina

Bulgogi poutine from Cucina

Food Notes for April 4, 2022

Pandemic Pivot High Dough Becomes Permanent Fixture

High Dough, the Detroit-style pizza pivot from Three Boars, celebrated two milestones this past week: it commemorated its second birthday amidst opening up a second restaurant.

Pizza was never meant to be a long-term solution when High Dough was born in March 2020, said chef and co-owner Brayden Kozak.

“Transitioning to High Dough in the moment was a temporary plan while we weathered the storm of COVID, but that just never ended. Any chance of opening back up for dine-in just seemed so far that we kept rolling with High Dough. But we were happy with how quickly it took off, and we eventually wanted to look for a more suitable permanent location.”

Although the Three Boars space in Garneau has housed High Dough for two years, it hasn’t been ideal. The ovens at the restaurant weren’t meant for pizza, and as a result, the cook times were lengthy, and they often had to cap orders as a result. “We just couldn’t maximize our outputs at the Garneau location,” said Kozak.

After some shopping around, they settled on a space across from Strathcona High School, which in a previous life had been a commissary for local chain Royal Pizza. They installed high output ovens, and they have access to a larger garage door to easily receive sizable supply orders.

“It was necessary that this location could absorb the business from Garneau,” said Kozak. “We were really focused on this location being designed for high-volume delivery more than dine-in and pickup.”

As was the case with Garneau, the Strathcona branch offers counter service only, but the larger space made it possible to install four booths for seating. It will also sell pizza by the slice, but likely just at lunch. If all goes well, Kozak said, High Dough will open additional locations in the future, taking a page out of the playbook for Farrow, which he also co-owns.

The Garneau storefront will continue to operate as a High Dough for the time being, but not forever, Kozak shared.

“It is a highly underutilized restaurant space, and we want to get back into the groove to have a fully dine-in restaurant,” said Kozak. “But the High Dough concept doesn’t work in that space. The tables are small, and with the cook times on the pizza, who wants to sit there for 45 minutes to wait for pizza to show up?”

However, fans of Three Boars will be disappointed to learn that it will likely not return. “It’s probably going to be something else,” said Kozak. “For me personally, I’ve had two years to grieve the death of Three Boars. Three Boars had a time and a place, and the people who worked there made it what it was. To try and reopen that place from scratch doesn’t feel right.”

He doesn’t have a specific timeline in mind, but is hopeful that the shift will happen within the year.

At the very least, Kozak is looking forward to being able to interact with diners again soon.

“I miss hosting people. A large part of the job is creating an atmosphere that people want to come and enjoy. The bar and the patio was my favourite spot in Three Boars. It feels strange with no one in there.”

Openings

  • Calgary-based PACT Coffee is now open at 10370 82 Avenue (formerly a Starbucks).
  • High Dough’s second location in Strathcona, at 7341 104 Street, is now open.
  • Yomie’s Yogurt, offering an “authentic natural yogurt drink”, is opening on April 9 at 10746 82 Avenue.
  • American-based chain Dickey’s Barbecue Pit is opening in Edmonton on April 21, 2022 at 5125 Mullen Road.

Upcoming Events

  • Sorrentino’s annual Garlic Festival celebrates its 30th year for the month of April, and returns with garlic cooking classes, wine dinners, and a special garlic-focused menu.
  • The Century Grill concept (which closed many years ago) is taking over Hart’s Table on April 14, 2022.
  • Chef Table Living will be hosting 118 Food Walk Tours from April 16-May 7, 2022. Tickets are $82.

Local News

Beyond Edmonton

  • Calgary hosted a “pay what you want” market that aimed to reduce stigma of food insecurity by posting suggested prices but allowing customers the opportunity to anonymously pay what they’re able to.

What I Ate

  • Our first Downtown Dining Week meal saw Mack and I sharing two different $20 deals (the beauty of take-out)! – the Stonair from Farrow and my favourite Hangover Burger from Jack’s Burger Shack. Mack loved the Doritos crunch on the sandwich, and waffle buns are a fun novelty. By combining combos we also got to split fries, a milkshake and dessert.
  • Downtown Dining Week

Farrow and Jack’s Burger Shack Downtown Dining Week features

  • Our next Downtown Dining Week meal was another mash-up to enable us to try more restaurants: Tiffin, Dagu, and Smoke BBQ. The portions at all three restaurants were massive, and my family all had leftovers to take home. We were especially impressed with the burnt ends from Smoke BBQ, and continue to be impressed by how crispy their fries remain after being carted home in a box.
  • Downtown Dining Week

Take-out for four adults(!) from Downtown Dining Week

  • It might be the best Downtown Dining Week deal this year – 2 breakfast sandwiches and 2 coffees from District Cafe for $20. So delicious (hard to argue with either truffle mushroom or bacon and egg), and it was even tastier enjoyed in the sunshine.
  • District Cafe

Breakfast sandwiches from District Cafe

Food Notes for March 28, 2022

Downtown Dining Week Returns

Downtown Dining Week, an annual event organized by the Edmonton Downtown Business Association (EDBA), returns as more staff are anticipated to resume working in offices.

Running March 30 – April 10, 2022, this iteration sees a record sixty restaurants participating. A dozen establishments are involved for the first time, including several restaurants that opened during the pandemic such as 5th Street Food Hall, Envie, Jack’s Burger Shack, and May. Restaurants range from fast casual eateries to more formal dining options, offering multi-course dinner, lunch, and brunch menus for $20, $35, $50, and $65.

The focus of this year’s event is on staff returning to the core. “Many workers returning to the office are looking forward to socializing with their coworkers and going for lunch at an old favourite or new spot,” said Tracy Hyatt, marketing and communications manager with the EDBA. “If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that people crave that face-to-face interaction and restaurants are so important for socializing.”

Last year’s Downtown Dining Week coincided with the start of indoor dining restrictions, so the event had to be reconfigured entirely for take-out and delivery. With the lifting of restrictions earlier in March, the vast majority of participating restaurants this year are highlighting table service options. “Profit margins are super slim for restaurants, so nothing beats dine-in where people can order a drink and also try something off the regular menu,” said Hyatt.

Still, there are some options for those looking for alternatives to dining indoors, including several restaurants that are equipped with heated patios, such as The Cask & Barrel, Rocky Mountain Icehouse, and The Common, and fast-casual eateries, including A Bite of Brazil, Buok Fresh Korean Kitchen, and District Cafe, that will offer take-out. Hyatt also recommends checking with individual restaurants that offer table service to confirm if their menus are available for take-out.

Hyatt is hopeful that the community will rally around local restaurants. “Everyone is eager to support our Downtown businesses given what they’ve been through for the past two years and this is a great opportunity to do it.”

Openings

  • Felice, a new cafe, is opening soon at Stadium Yards.
  • Vancouver-based Community Taps and Pizza has opened a location in Edmonton in the former Have Mercy space (8232 Gateway Blvd).
  • Hello Mochi, which started out as a vendor at farmers’ markets, has opened a brick and mortar shop at 6191 Currents Drive.
  • Alberta Donair, which also started as a vendor at a farmers’ market, has opened a location for pick-up and take-out at 9235 35 Avenue.
  • Bent Stick Brewing’s tap room is now open on Happy Beer Street at 9926 78 Avenue.
  • Calgary-based Blanco Cantina Tequila Bar will be opening an Edmonton location.

Upcoming Events

  • Five Edmonton restaurants are participating in the first ever Filipino Restaurant Month in April, organized by the Philippine Department of Tourism and the Philippine Consulate General in Calgary. The five restaurants are: Bro’Kin Yolk, Cebuchon & BBQ, Filistix, Manila Grill, and Max’s Restaurant.

Local News

Urban Agriculture and Farming

What I Ate

  • I met up with some friends for lunch at La Bosco Cafe for the first time. It was much busier than I expected, but I liked the casual vibe of the place, as we lingered over a long conversation undisturbed. I also brought home some sweets to enjoy, including this delectable strawberry danish, which tasted as good as it looks!
  • La Bosco

Strawberry danish from La Bosco Cafe

Food Notes for March 21, 2022

Kasey Ramen Grows With Help from the Community

In just 16 months, upstart Kasey Ramen has transitioned from a home-based business offering ramen kits to hosting pop-ups in an Edmonton restaurant.

Kasey Ramen proprietor Allen Gao has had a keen interest in food for years. “Since high school, I’ve had friends over and cooked food for them,” said Gao. “It’s my way of showing that I care about them.”

After graduating from the University of Alberta in 2020 with an environmental engineering degree, Gao was unable to secure a job in his field. So, while working in engineering-adjacent positions, he started to further explore his passion for food.

“Ramen was the one food that stumped me,” said Gao. “All other times I could crack open a recipe and make it work. But I couldn’t crack ramen. And ramen was one of my favourite foods growing up.”

Gao then stumbled upon a YouTube channel called Way of Ramen that changed everything for him. “Ryan Esaki was the first person on the internet making really good videos of how to make ramen,” said Gao. “Through Way of Ramen I was able to discover a whole community of online ramen makers doing it professionally or at home.”

In November 2020, Gao made his first ramen kits under the Kasey Ramen banner (“Kasey” is the sound of the initials in Gao’s Chinese name, “Kechao”). He gave 15 kits out to friends as samples, and sold 15 more to individuals he was connected to on social media. Once it grew to a point where he was selling to people he didn’t know, he knew he had to move into a commercial kitchen.

In September 2021, the folks behind District Café offered him in-kind use of their bakery space to make his noodles. A month later, he was connected to Ark Café, which had commercial kitchen space available for rent. Both businesses now serve as pickup locations for his ramen kits, which sell out every week within hours of being posted online.

“The limiting factor was actually being able to make enough noodles,” said Gao. “Prepping at District has allowed me to grow exponentially. I did 40 servings a week in September, and then 60, and now I’m doing 150.”

Kasey Ramen will host its first pop-up at District Cafe on March 27 and 28. “I’m excited to serve people and see people eat the ramen,” Gao said. “I’ve only seen online feedback, and sometimes it’s difficult when it’s just through a screen.”

Gao defines ramen as “any noodle dish that has some sort of Japanese flavouring, like soy sauce or salt, that has some sort of alkaline noodles.” His approach involves pairing his scratch-made noodles to the soup being served. For instance, for a recent kit that included ground pork instead of pork slices, Gao made a softer, chewier noodle, so it could better grip the sauce.

After Gao was laid off from his job in November 2021, he focused on Kasey Ramen full-time. While he is the sole employee, he credits the support he has received from friends and family, from designer Ivy Mak, who creates each kit’s illustrated instruction sheet, to his girlfriend Shannon Wong, who bakes the treats offered alongside each week’s kit. Still, he acknowledges the challenges of making such a business sustainable.

“The last thing I want to do is sacrifice my integrity to make a bad product,” said Gao. “I could see how it could be tempting to use the shortcuts that some restaurants use. I feel like for me, the entire brand is about accessibility and craftsmanship.”

Gao hopes to host one pop-up a month, but will continue with the ramen kits when possible. Ultimately, he would like to open his own restaurant, and help further educate diners to want better ramen. And though it hasn’t been easy, he couldn’t imagine doing it anywhere else.

“It’s really scary to think about my own ramen shop, but in a city like Edmonton where the community is so supportive, I am not afraid of failing.”

COVID-19-related News

Openings

  • Selfishly, it’s always great to have another coffee shop within walking distance of our house, and even better when it is located in a heritage home! Stopgap coffee is now open in at 9749 111 Street.
  • Smokin’ Barrels Cocina Latina is a new Latin American restaurant that opened on March 21, 2022 at 13119 156 Street.
  • Social Canadian House is now open at 15845 97 Street.
  • Ancaron is a shop that opened recently in Old Strathcona at 10336 82 Avenue, offerings frozen Korean macarons.
  • Waffloos is the latest in a string of Calgary imports to open in Edmonton this year. Find them at West Edmonton Mall in Phase III.

Closures

Upcoming Events

  • After a two-year hiatus, the Friends of the Royal Alberta Museum (FRAMS) is resuming their Dining with Friends events with a twist, called Dining with Authors. Although the March 29, 2022 event is now sold out, involving a conversation with an author alongside a paired meal, keep your eyes peeled for future events now that they’re back.

Local News

  • Ben Staley of Restaurant Yarrow shared in a lengthy Instagram post that he will be leaving his position in May to pursue a career in design/architecture.
  • 142 Bistro Bar is the latest restaurant to offer a menu item in support of the Ukrainian crisis.
  • Restaurants are gearing up for Downtown Dining Week, which runs March 30-April 10, 2022, including Continental Treat Fine Bistro, a newcomer to the event.
  • Stephanie recently hosted a birthday party in the private space at Brew and Bloom (her rental and decor fees were covered by the restaurant).
  • Popular products at T-Rex Distillery include their garlic pickle vodka and vodka garlic pickles.
  • Meals on Wheels is looking for volunteers for both meal prep and delivery.

What I Ate

    • We hit up some of our favourite Chinatown haunts over the weekend, including Ying Fat, Shan Shan Bakery, and King Noodle House for #PhoToGo! Every day is the perfect day for soup.

King Noodle House

Bun Bo Hue from King Noodle House

Food Notes for March 14, 2022

Hayloft Reimagines the Steakhouse in Southwest Edmonton

Chef Paul Shufelt has opened Hayloft Steak and Fish and a third location of Woodshed Burgers in the southwest Edmonton neighbourhood of Cameron Heights, adding to the Robert Spencer Hospitality stable alongside Workshop Eatery and The Greenhouse.

In Shufelt’s words, the new development came about through “dumb luck and persistence.” Last fall, a customer who resides in Cameron Heights was insistent that Shufelt take a look at a vacant building in his area. Eventually, Shufelt agreed to meet the landlord for a walk-through.

“I immediately saw the potential,” he said. “I would compare it to how a chef would respond when you give him a black box of ingredients and his mind starts racing on how to put everything together.”

Although some suggested that Shufelt should simply replicate Workshop Eatery in a new spot, he didn’t want to take away from the original. “We wanted to complement Workshop Eatery and maintain true to what we do and the relationships with our farmers,” said Shufelt. “This is how Hayloft Steak and Fish came to be.”

Still, Shufelt recognized the restaurant would have to be tailored to meet the needs of the neighbourhood. “It’s one thing to do the thing you want, but will the community take to that?” he said. Factoring in the design of the space, which features a lounge on one side, pairing a higher-end restaurant with a more affordable offering made sense.

“I like to go out for a nice steak dinner, but I can’t afford to do that every day,” said Shufelt. “Maybe you’re celebrating a special occasion, and you go to the steakhouse side one day, but a week later, you’re stopping in with the kids and grabbing a burger after a hockey game or when you don’t feel like cooking.”

Combining Hayloft and Woodshed Burgers in one place also has the benefit of upholding company’s philosophy. “It allows us to hold true to ‘use the whole animal’,” said Shufelt. “Traditional steakhouses leave much of the animal behind with the farmer. This would help us move the lesser known cuts of beef.”

At its core, Hayloft seeks to offer something different from a traditional steakhouse. “We’re trying to redefine what a steakhouse is, and get away from the conventional expectation that you’re going to have the same cuts of beef every night,” said Shufelt.

Exclusively serving Nonay beef from Lakeside Dairy, the steak selections will change on a daily basis. “We will try to be mindful of selecting cuts based on night of the week,” said Shufelt. “On Sunday nights, we might do a cross-rib roast for a traditional Sunday dinner feel. On Monday or Tuesday, we will have value cuts, versus Friday or Saturday nights, when we might offer the 90-day aged rib-eye, or wagyu tenderloin.” Similarly, the fish program is based entirely on seasonal catch brought in by fishmonger Effing Seafoods.

Shufelt acknowledges that opening up a more formal restaurant right now is a risk, especially given the pandemic-related growth over the past two years of more casual eateries with take-out ready options. But he believes the community is finally ready to embrace dining out in greater numbers.

“People miss gathering socially,” said Shufelt. “How many special occasions have we missed over the last couple of years? People are ready to get out of the house and dine again. It’s always darkest before the dawn, and I feel that the dawn is around the corner.”

My partner and I were among those hosted by Hayloft Steak + Fish at the media launch last week.

COVID-19-related News

Closures

  • Forest Heights’ Pho & Bun has announced their closure: “After being opened for 14+ years, today we are sorry to announce the retirement of our family business. I know this may come as a shock to many as we were looking for a new building to move our restaurant to, but unfortunately we were not able to find a place that worked for us.” They don’t have a set closing date yet, but have listed their business for sale.

Upcoming Events

  • On March 19, 2022, some of the Black Owned Market YEG vendors will be popping up at the Token Bitters storefront at 10047 108 Street.
  • Pei Pei Chei Ow will be hosting a pop-up at Whiskeyjack Art House. Tickets are $200 and include a multi-course dinner, drumming performance, talk, and an art piece by Indigenous artist Mackenzie Brown (Kamamak).
  • Awn Kitchen is launching a Dinner Club on March 26, 2022, with proceeds to benefit the Ukrainian Humanitarian Crisis. Tickets are $125 per person.
  • On March 28, 2022, three Get Cooking chefs will be taking over Dalla Tavola Zenari. Tickets are $20 and includes a welcome drink, flight of canapes and the opportunity to order a la carte small plates from Addie Raghavan, Mai Nguyen, and Kathryn Joel.

Local News

What I Ate

  • Mack and I were very fortunate to be hosted at Hayloft on Thursday. The skirt steak and tenderloin we tried were perfectly prepared, and the sides were decadent for such a grand night out (our first as a couple in two years!). Thanks again to Paul and his team for a great evening.
  • Hayloft Steak and Fish

Our spread from Hayloft

  • I tried take-out from Thien An for the first time last week. While the grilled chicken wasn’t quite as good as T & D Noodle House (RIP), it was a serviceable vermicelli bowl. The spring roll was especially crispy and satisfying.
  • Thien An

Grilled chicken vermicelli from Thien An

  • It’s been too long since my last visit to Mama Asha but I can report that it was as tasty as I remembered! Their chicken suqaar wrap is such a huge serving, and the sabayad bread is worth seeking out alone. I’m also happy their coconut cake was available, and was big enough to share with five people! Such a gem in the Alberta Avenue neighbourhood.
  • Mama Asha

The chicken suqaar wrap and coconut cake from Mama Asha

Food Notes for March 7, 2022

Downtown Library Prepares to Open Community Kitchen

The Kitchen, a learning and community kitchen facility located on the second floor of the Stanley A. Milner Library, is finally ready to open to the public this month.

The in-person grand opening celebration will take place on March 16, while a virtual tour will run March 19.

Although the renovated downtown branch of the Edmonton Public Library has been open since September 2020, many of its plans for group-based, in-person activities were postponed due to the pandemic. Now, with the further lifting of COVID-19 restrictions, The Kitchen can operate as intended.

“The primary objective of The Kitchen is to create learning opportunities to help increase knowledge and grow interest in food literacy and nutrition, and to teach skills that would be transferable into a home kitchen environment,” said Karen Chidiak, the EPL’s manager of marketing and communications.

The facility will offer courses in cooking, baking, and other food-related matters either directly or through partner organizations. “We also want to make The Kitchen available to community groups and others looking to build connections or share cultural practices with food,” Chidiak said. “Finally, we hope to make our space available to entrepreneurs looking to explore starting food-related businesses and in need of space and equipment to help them start out.”

The 2,100 square feet of space can accommodate up to 36 participants at workstations, and it is equipped with commercial-grade ovens and ventilation systems alongside more traditional at-home appliances like stand mixers.

Pre-registration is required for the virtual sneak peek sessions running March 19 and 20. So far, workshops featuring Fox Burger‘s Sean O’Connor on pancakes and Pei Pei Chei Ow‘s chef Scott Iserhoff on Indigenous potato pancakes already have waitlists, and sessions on preparing a Spanish-themed supper, brownie baking, and cocktails are filling up fast.

More than two dozen hospitality professionals from restaurants and food-related businesses have already donated their time and expertise to help get The Kitchen up and running, and the library is open to including others. “Many Edmonton chefs and community experts are passionate about bringing culinary literacy skills to Edmontonians and offered to share their knowledge, expertise and platforms,” said Chidiak. “As we identify the types of classes that help create a culture of learning through cooking, we expect more contributions from local experts.”

The intended audience for The Kitchen is broad. “The primary focus is helping everyday Edmontonians be more informed and comfortable with cooking, nutrition, and food preparation,” Chidiak said. “We will also be offering some entry-level cooking classes that can act as a precursor or step towards more advanced learning.”

While virtual classes are free of charge, The Kitchen may charge fees that reflect the cost of ingredients as it adds in-person classes beginning in April. Chidiak acknowledged the challenges some participants may have on cost, and said the library is trying to minimize these barriers. “For example, thanks to a grant received by Pei Pei Chei Ow, they will provide grocery cards to support the purchase of ingredients for low-income families.”

Chidiak noted that staff will be reflecting in six months on how The Kitchen is meeting the needs of its customers, and noted it has the flexibility to explore different types of classes and partnerships. “The Kitchen is another example of EPL’s commitment to providing creative spaces and places for people to learn through hands-on experiences, collaborate and build community connections,” said Chidiak. “We hope to become a resource for multifaceted access to food-related learning, community-building and entrepreneurship.”

Openings

Closures

Upcoming Events

  • The next Nosh Food Fest, featuring over 80 food and beverage producers, is taking place March 19-20, 2022 in Sherwood Park.
  • Chef Table Living will be leading 124 Street Food Walks from March 19-April 9, 2022. Tickets start at $55.
  • Aditya Raghavan will be popping up at Restaurant Yarrow on March 20-21, 2022 for YEG Curry Nights, a 10-course paired meal. Tickets are $150.
  • Save the date for Downtown Dining Week, which returns March 30-April 10, 2022, with 58 participating restaurants offering $20, $35, $50 and $65 multi-course meals. The menus are already up for your perusing pleasure.

Local News

Urban Agriculture and Farming

What I Ate

  • We grabbed Burger Brawl take-out on Friday and it was super satisfying! I enjoyed the Juicy Lucinda burger, and it was great that the shoestring fries and onion rings were still crispy after the trek home. We’ll definitely be ordering it again!
  • Burger Brawl

Burger Brawl order

  • It was our first time trying Kasey Ramen and it won’t be our last. We slurped up every last bit of the excellent tonkotsu broth, and loved the chew in the noodles. The kits sell out fast when they are released every week, so you have to be on top of it to order!
  • Kasey Ramen

Spicy tonkotsu ramen from Kasey Ramen

Food Notes for February 28, 2022

Filistix Embraces Change with New MacEwan Food Hall

Filistix is creating a food hall on the MacEwan University campus and bringing a new dinner concept to its main downtown location in an effort to make it to the other side of the pandemic.

As with other hospitality businesses, Filistix has been forced to continuously pivot over the past two years in response to changing public health guidelines. But there is no doubt that trying to maintain business at a post-secondary institution was particularly challenging, given the lack of foot traffic on campus.

“As the months went on, we were thinking about how we would recoup this lost revenue, especially at our University of Alberta location,” said Ariel del Rosario, co-owner of Filistix. The opportunity he saw was to go big.

Filistix had a very public dispute with Aramark over the abrupt cancellation of its vending contract at the U of A in 2018. It ended up finding a new U of A home in the Students’ Union Building, but it closed its MacEwan location, which was also managed by Aramark. Filistix maintained a good relationship with MacEwan, however, and reconnected with the school in 2021 to determine what was possible. “We didn’t want to just occupy a kiosk like we did last time,” said del Rosario. “We wanted to convert the entire concession area in the Robbins Building into a mini food hall.”

Food halls offer a collection of local food vendors and chef-driven concepts under one roof. JustCook Kitchens operates the only current Edmonton example, but they have popped up in every major city, del Rosario said. His version is called Takam Market, named after the Tagalog word meaning “to crave.” It opened on Feb. 28 and will continue to phase in more offerings over time.

Among the concepts is Filistix Modern Filipino, which will serve a menu similar to the one available at the U of A branch, while Yelo’d will open up a Sosyal Scoops ice cream and milkshake shack. In addition, the market has partnered with The Colombian and Ayco Bakery to offer coffee and baked goods.

Meanwhile, the flagship downtown location of Filistix will be undergoing some changes in March. “We know people’s dining habits have changed for the near future,” said del Rosario. “People now go out once every couple of weeks. Are people who live in the outskirts compelled to come downtown and eat at a restaurant? If we’re going to be a destination spot, we need to make our concept and menu a destination.”

The restaurant will officially launch this concept on Fridays and Saturday evenings after previewing the menu at Downtown Dining Week in late March and early April. “This will be the grown-up version of Filistix,” said del Rosario. “Wine glasses, linens, napkins, and a completely different look.”

Throughout the pandemic, Filistix has hosted a number of well-received pop-ups, including its Bayanihan dinner series. This new concept builds on those ideas.

“Our mission has always been the same: to introduce the public to Filipino food and flavours,” said del Rosario. “That is still at the forefront of what we do. But we want to elevate our food and plating while adhering to traditional and authentic flavours. We’re looking at the dishes and seeing what elements are essential to that dish and applying different techniques or cooking methods to different elements. We’re not going to be shy to use strong flavours but need to repurpose them so it is less intimidating for people to try.”

Dishes will include a karekare oxtail with a peanut-based sauce and charred vegetables served with kalamansi beurre blanc.

Although del Rosario acknowledges that some of his customers may not welcome these changes at first, adaptation is necessary for survival. “We have nothing to lose,” he said. “We’re sitting in an empty restaurant. We might as well do something that we’re passionate about and proud of.”

Back at MacEwan, Takam will be the site of a pantry to be supplied by The Public starting in March. “MacEwan residents don’t have a dining hall. Students are expected to make their own food in their kitchenettes,” said del Rosario. “There was no way for students to have a prepared meal after the concessions closed in the afternoon.” Now they can, as The Public will be curating heat-and-eat style items as quick meal solutions.

Until April, Takam will be open from 10am to 3pm, Monday to Friday. Its hours for the spring-summer session will be determined after this initial launch. In September, Filistix plans to open two additional concepts offering sandwiches and either pasta or noodle soups.

“We want Takam Market to appeal to a broad range of people,” said del Rosario. “Our whole idea is to be a player in this neighbourhood, to be part of the broader community and not just the MacEwan community.”

COVID-19-related News

Openings

Closures

  • I’m sad that my go-to work lunch spot T & D Noodle House, is closing after seven years in business. As of March 1, they are shifting to dinner service only, and as soon as they find a new tenant, they will permanently close.

Local News

Urban Agriculture and Farming

What I Ate

  • I was happy to be able to catch T & D Noodle House for one last work lunch – I am going to miss their amazing grilled chicken vermicelli.
  • T & D Noodle House

Grilled chicken vermicelli from T & D Noodle House

  • I met up with Linda for lunch at Maria last week. While I was excited to try their birria, it was the fundido de queso (Mexican fondue topped with mushrooms and roasted poblano peppers), served with handmade flour tortillas that really stole the show.
  • Maria

Birria from Maria

  • It had been too long since we had take-out from BaoBao. Their pan-fried soup dumplings and noodles provide so much comfort.
  • BaoBao

Dumplings and noodles from BaoBao

Food Notes for February 21, 2022

Hoot Company’s New Ghost Kitchens Offer Springboard for Chefs

Hoot Company, an umbrella for several businesses including DOSC, Dorinku Osaka and Dorinku Tokyo, and Japonais Bistro, launched two ghost kitchens in February, offering a couple of chefs a way to test concepts that may become full restaurants some day.

After taking over a building less than a block from Rogers Place, Hoot Company relaunched the dormant Burger Brawl brand and launched a new concept called Taco Nova, both run by chefs who were originally from DOSC.

Ghost kitchen are hospitality businesses with no dine-in options, relying on third-party delivery apps and take-out. They started popping up in core neighbourhoods in Edmonton several years back. Many ghost kitchens offer generic menu items or serve branded items. But Hoot Company’s ghost kitchens are different – the chefs behind both Burger Brawl and Taco Nova have particular visions, and Hoot Company has supported them to bring their concepts to life.

“The benefit of having a ghost kitchen is that we don’t have as many overheads as a storefront restaurant, so we are able to be more competitive with our pricing,” said Bianca Condren, the sales and marketing manager for Hoot Company. “We are always listening and assessing data to be more flexible, and guest feedback is the most important.”

Taco Nova chef Luis Rivadeneyra is excited for the chance to make traditional Mexican food at an affordable price. “I am very proud of the whole menu, but if I had to choose [one dish to recommend], I would say our ‘Cecina’, a semi-cured beef,” said Rivadeneyra. “It is a very popular preparation in Mexico, especially in the town of Yecapixtla. It is served with a cactus salad, grilled Panela cheese, guacamole and cilantro.”

He shared that 90% of the menu is home-made, and they are in the process of sourcing the equipment needed to make their own tortillas in the near future.

Chef Karl MacKinnon has been able to lead the rebirth of his Burger Brawl brainchild from DOSC to ghost kitchen. “When I first conceptualized Burger Brawl, the lockdown was in full effect [in December 2020], so Burger Brawl was made as a way to create revenue for DOSC during the lockdown. In a way, DOSC was functioning as a ghost kitchen as we were solely running Burger Brawl out of it,” said MacKinnon. “Once the mandates were lifted, it was rather complicated running a full DOSC menu and Burger Brawl out of the same kitchen.”

Burger Brawl went on hiatus in June of 2021 but was revived in February at the new location. MacKinnon has been heartened by diners who have returned, even with the break in service. “A lot of the people who supported us from day one have come back with great enthusiasm, and the local community around MacEwan has also embraced us with open arms,” said MacKinnon. “We are still in early days of where I hope Burger Brawl will eventually end up, but it is nice to have such a strong cult following right out of the gate of our relaunch.”

While burgers are pervasive in the restaurant and delivery space, MacKinnon believes his execution and concept set Burger Brawl apart. “For one, [nearly] everything…is made in house,” said MacKinnon. “Our buns are never frozen. Our burgers are made entirely from locally-sourced sirloin and brisket as well. We also allow for your burger to be completely customized. Lastly, we have an endless amount of burgers that we plan to roll out so there will always be new burgers to keep our customers excited about.”

For both Burger Brawl and Taco Nova concepts, Hoot Company hopes that the ghost kitchen format will eventually springboard to brick and mortar locations. “The ideal plan will be to gather as much feedback and customer responses as possible to see which burgers are hits and which are flops so that when we do eventually have a set location, we are ensuring that we are selling the best possible products for our clientele,” said MacKinnon.

Although competition is steep in the hospitality sector, sales and marketing manager Condren is confident that they will succeed. “If there is anything COVID has taught us, it’s that we have a great community in Edmonton where there is a lot of support for local restaurants,” she said.

COVID-19-Related News

Openings

Local News

What I Ate

  • We had a Taco Nova feast on Friday – love that they sell tacos individually too so you can easily try their variety! Our favourites were the quesabirria, Baja fish tacos, and bean dip, and we will definitely be ordering the churros waffles again.
  • Taco Nova

Taco Nova feast

  • Cinnamon buns are one of my favourite treats, and it’s hard to resist the buns from the Nook Cafe. Find them at the Downtown Farmers’ Market on weekends!
  • Nook Cafe

Cinnamon bun from Nook Cafe

  • We decided to have a movie night on Family Day, and grabbed take-out from Love Pizza for our night in. Only one more week left to get your mac & cheeza fix!
  • Love Pizza

Love Pizza spread

Food Notes for February 14, 2022

Alberta Ends Restrictions Exemption Program

Last Tuesday, Premier Jason Kenney announced that the Restrictions Exemption Program (REP) would end later that evening, at 11:59pm on February 8, 2022. Liquor restrictions remain in place, with service ending at 11pm, and tables are limited to 10 people. Indoor masking requirements (while not eating or drinking) will remain in place until at least February 28, 2022.

Hospitality businesses were not given any notice to prepare for the end of REP. The Alberta Hospitality Association questioned the lifting of REP without loosening other restrictions such as the liquor service curfew, while others, including Kris Harvey of the Chvrch of John, are wondering about the motivation behind the decision.

“It’s a completely backwards way of operating. What they’re doing is pandering to an unvaccinated population that has given us the reason to have the restrictions exemption program in the first place.”

The City of Edmonton did not fully explore creating a municipal version of the REP, but given it would have been the lone city to do so in the province, it would have been a challenge.

Although the QR code reader is no longer available for new downloads, those who have already downloaded the app can continue to use it for “some period of time”. As a result, some restaurants have shared that they will continue to implement a vaccine passport program on their own.

Passporteats.ca was intended to be a repository of restaurants continuing with REP, but uptake has been low. Thus far, I am aware of three restaurants that have shared their decision to continue with REP for the moment:

  • Northern Chicken, “To quote another post by us…We ain’t changing anything tomorrow.”
  • Fleisch, “Our current rules will remain in place until the end of the weekend AT LEAST, while we figure out what our next steps look like. We remain committed to keeping our community and staff safe, and are doing our best to navigate the difficult position we have all been put in.”
  • Cafe Bicyclette, “Please note that we will maintain all of our current protocols including REP until we can navigate a practical timeline to return to our normal lives. Merci!…#REPnotRiP”

COVID-19-related News

Openings

  • Chicken and waffle restaurant Waffle Bird is now open in the former DangerKat Waffles space at 8116 101 Street, from the folks behind the Preserve Food Truck (which they’ve since closed) and WhoaNuts.
  • Chicko Chicken, a Vancouver-based Korean fried chicken restaurant chain, has moved into the former Mama Lee’s Kitchen storefront, located at 10633 51 Avenue.
  • Hoang Long had closed its other Downtown location on Jasper Avenue some time ago, but it looks like they will be opening another further east, at 9892 Jasper Avenue later in February (formerly housing Al Centro).
  • Nuttea, an international chain specializing in dairy-free house-made milks, will be opening its first Edmonton location soon.
  • I’m so happy to see a cafe returning to the Downtown space vacated by Starbucks – a Blenz Coffee Shop will take over 10104 109 Street.

Closures

Upcoming Events

  • Sakihitowin is the next Friends of Royal Alberta Museum event on February 19, 2022. The after-hours evening will feature Indigenous cuisine by Pei Pei Chei Ow Chef Scott Jonathan Iserhoff. Tickets are $150.
  • Lola’s Gift Shop, the pop-up at the Edmonton Downtown Farmers’ Market, is hosting an online cooking class with Mai Nguyen of Gourmai Dumplings on February 21, 2022. Tickets are $68 for two and $98 for four, and includes all the necessary ingredients and complimentary vintage dishware. Tickets must be purchased by February 15.
  • The 5th Street Food Hall will be hosting a Tacos & Beer Pop-Up on February 28, 2022, with all four kitchens offering special curated menus.

Local News

What I Ate

  • Mack and I indulged in a hot breakfast from Rosewood Foods last week. I deviated from my usual breakfast sandwich and opted for a very satisfying breakfast bowl with sausage.

Rosewood Foods

Breakfast from Rosewood Foods

  • We satisfied Mack’s craving for Oodle Noodle on Friday. We ordered the butter chicken mac and cheese for Emily, but we ended up eating more of it than she did – the sweet sauce was surprisingly tasty.

Oodle Noodle

Oodles of noodles from Oodle Noodle

  • We took some Lockstock Coffee cheese scones to enjoy at the end of our walk exploring the Tawatina Bridge over the weekend. I usually opt for their kouign amann so it was a nice reminder of just how great their savoury goods are too.

Lockstock Coffee

Cheese scone from Lockstock Coffee

  • Mack and I had the luxury to meet up for a quiet Valentine’s lunch today. It was also our first time trying the scaccia, a calzone-like Italian loaf from Dalla. It was such a great deal at just $10, with a generous amount of meat (capicollo, mortadella, salami), mushrooms, and cheese. We will be ordering it again!

Dalla

Scaccia from Dalla

Food Notes for February 7, 2022

Take-Home Valentine’s Day Options Abound

So many people (including me!) have become homebodies as we enter our third year of the pandemic that it’s not a surprise that for Valentine’s Day, many hospitality businesses will be offering take-home options for those celebrating the occasion. This is by no means an exhaustive list (and keep in mind most require pre-ordering by certain deadlines), but hopefully it provides some ideas for how you can commemorate the day while supporting local independent businesses!

Savoury

  • Some restaurants are opening up just to offer curbside pick-up on February 14, as is the case with Tzin’s menu for two, 5-courses plus sparkling wine for $150.
  • The four kitchens at the 5th Street Food Hall have each put together 3-course dinners available for pick-up and dine-in, ranging in price from $80-90.
  • Including kids in your at-home Valentine’s plans? Chartier has you covered, with kids meals to add to their take-out game dinners starting at $6.
  • If you’re looking for a heat-and-serve option, May is offering a $145 3-course dinner for two, which includes a bottle of wine.
  • Kitchen by Brad is offering two different options – a breakfast in bed package including their house-made bagels, and a bacon bouquet.
  • Meuwly’s is offering a more complete package, bundling charcuterie, flowers, and sparkling wine for $210.
  • Buok’s dinner package for two, including three courses, is among the most affordable options at $39.99.
  • For another great deal, don’t forget about LovePizza – 2 signature pizzas are $25 on Mondays. And their epic mac & cheeza is still available in February!

Sweet

COVID-19-related News

  • Premier Jason Kenney announced last week that the province will be lifting restrictions within the month, including ending the Restrictions Exemption Program. More details will be announced this week. Toast Culture and RGE RD were interviewed about what REP ending might mean for their businesses, while Kris Harvey, the co-chair of the Edmonton Independent Hospitality Community, is concerned lifting restrictions too soon could lead to further restrictions in the future.
  • Although there are likely reasons other than just COVID-19 that have prevented Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw from dining out, it was still somewhat surprising to hear that she hasn’t eaten at a restaurant in two years.
  • Campio Brewing is offering free 6-packs of beer for healthcare workers and first responders.

Openings

Upcoming Events

Local News

  • Sweet Pea Cafe & Playhouse distanced themselves from former partner Jamie Sale who has been publicly supporting the convoy.
  • Some of the businesses located around the Alberta Legislature, including District Cafe and Buok, decided to remain closed on Saturday in order to protect their staff from potential harassment from the convoy protesters.
  • In an unrelated incident, The Common had their restaurant windows and doors smashed.
  • Edify checked out the relaunched Honey Jam in Old Strathcona.
  • Boxer Kitchen and Bar changes up their menu seasonally.
  • The Kitchen at the Stanley Milner Library is not yet open, but Chef Doreen Prei filmed a segment there sharing her three favourite kitchen tools.
  • Julie Van Rosendaal’s project to offer virtual cooking classes to children and youth has grown into a separate website. It’s password protected, but DM Julie to obtain the password!

Beyond Edmonton

Urban Agriculture and Farming

  • The Vermeer Dairy Farm, east of Camrose, is providing the public with an opportunity to see how milk and butter gets to the table.
  • The most recent episode of That’s Food features Maryann Borch from Good Note Community Farm.

What I Ate

  • We could not pass up the Jack’s Burger Shack special of Vietnamese fried chicken sandwiches offered on Lunar New Year. The portions were huge, crispy, and so, so delicious. I especially loved the pickled veggies!
  • Jack’s Burger Shack

Vietnamese fried chicken sandwiches from Jack’s Burger Shack

  • We made a stop at Kind Ice Cream on the way home this weekend after spending some much-needed time outdoors. To our surprise, out of all of their flavours to choose from, Emily picked salted caramel. I’d like to think she has good taste!
  • Kind Ice Cream

Ice cream from Kind