Given how much I love exploring neighbourhoods on foot, I was predisposed to liking the idea of the Red Shoe Crawl, put on by the Ronald McDonald House of Northern Alberta. The fact that it exceeded my expectations was just icing on the cake!
Red Shoe Crawl
I received an e-mail from Jen Panteluk a few months ago about a fundraising event the House was in the midst of organizing. The Red Shoe Crawl would be an opportunity for participants to sample fare from different establishments in Old Strathcona, with the entire $35 ticket price going to the charity. Jen shared with me that all of the businesses were not only enthusiastic about the idea, but had all generously agreed to donate food or drinks.
Red balloon markers!
We had a three hour window on that Sunday afternoon to visit all nineteen participating vendors. There was even an added incentive to complete the loop: the chance to win prizes. Mack and I thought: with ease! Boy, were we wrong.
Having purchased our tickets ahead of time, we signed in at Chili’s, received our passports adorned with red ribbon that doubled as a lanyard of sorts, and we were off.
Our first stop was Accent European Lounge. We were greeted by a friendly volunteer who signed off our passport, then asked us to help ourselves to a tray of tomatoes topped with fresh mozzarella and a balsamic glaze. Because this was our first stop, we assumed all restaurants would providing made-ahead appetizers in a similarly casual, self-serve manner.
Tomatoes with mozzarella and a balsamic glaze
Well, perhaps some restaurants should have. Because this was a first time event, and the businesses were donating their food (and staff and space), it’s hard to fault the establishments that didn’t quite make it work. The Pourhouse was one of them. Situated a few doors down from Chili’s, they were slammed from the start, and in the fifteen minutes that we waited, we saw only a single plate of their nacho dogs with stuffed potato soup go out. We ended up leaving, with full intentions of returning, but didn’t get around to it.
In contrast, Two Rooms was pumping out plates of bannock and bruschetta like a well-oiled machine. It was also the stop that tuned us into the fact that if we had to consume fifteen more plates that size, we likely wouldn’t make it.
Bannock and bruschetta – the bannock was great, crispy on the outside, and chewy on the inside
Elephant & Castle had a special place for Red Crawl participants. Cordoned off upstairs, it made it easy for staff to identify who still had to be served.
Fish and coleslaw – good, but the fish was a little under seasoned for my taste (Mack disagreed)
With fried food in our bellies, we thought it would be a good opportunity to walk it off, given we still had three quarters of the tour left to go. McDonald’s was the furthest destination we had, and it sounded like at that point in the game, hardly anyone had made it that far. We were rewarded with a full size drink of our choosing.
The display cups were too cute!
Iced coffees (Mack remarked that he preferred these to the Starbucks iced brewed coffees – sacrilege!)
Back on Whyte, Irie Foods treated us to a beef patty. It resembled a pizza pop, but the spicy, well seasoned ground beef filling was so much better. At $3 a pop on the menu, we thought it would be an easy to eat item to pick up during the Fringe, and a much cheaper, but satisfying alternative to the food on the grounds.
Jamaican beef patty
Fuss Cupcakes, further down the street, offered us our first dessert of the afternoon, a cute mini red velvet cupcake topped with yellow icing – a delightful homage to the Ronald McDonald House. Our only grimace – the volunteer who told us she was sick, right before handing us cupcakes without gloves on.
Mack had been looking forward to the next stop all day – Molly’s Eats was parked on 104 Street, just south of Whyte. We’d been wanting to try Molly’s for some time now, but this was the first time it worked out. And even better, it was worth the wait! The proveletta sandwich was delicious, packed with melty cheese and perfectly crispy, buttered bread. It was our favourite taste of the day.
Susan of Molly’s Eats
The skies were threatening to open up at this point, so it seemed like a good time to start wine-ing down (heh). Well, that and we were starting to get full. Eyecare Group was one of two participating non-food establishments (the other being The Tin Box), so I was eager to see how they fit into the picture. Turns out, they were perhaps the most savvy – offering a wine pour and encouraging guests to browse the store, with the added incentive of a coupon for a $50 discount.
We had our most relaxing experience that afternoon at Murietta’s. We were seated and provided with a glass of water while we waited. Staff were calm and professional, and though the visit was brief, it was the restaurant that impressed us the most, and one that we would most likely return to based on that day.
Garlic prawns – maybe shrimp would be a more accurate descriptor, but served warm, they were tasty
Next up was another beverage – a chillate from Second Cup. I can’t tell you how relieved Mack and I were when presented with sample instead of full-size servings.
At this point, Mack had been utterly defeated by the food. He was stuffed past the brim, while I was just uncomfortably full. We agreed to do two more stops. The first was Sabzy, which had set up its tasting station outside of the storefront. They offered tastes of both a quinoa salad and a rosewater-based drink.
Quinoa salad and rosewater
We had saved the ice cream for last – any flavour from What’s the Scoop?
We ended up missing six passport markers – Cha Island Tea, The Tin Box, The Pita Pit, Chianti’s (which was offering a full appetizer order – we were bursting just thinking about it), the Old Strathcona Rack (we had wandered in, but no volunteer – or staff for that matter – could be found), and Chili’s (where the after party was being held). I’m not sure how many people actually finished the rounds, but hats off to them!
We did our best!
We didn’t stay for the after party – we still had some errands to run that afternoon – but we’re sure it was a good time. On the way home, I kept thinking about how this was such a great medium for a taste event. Not only do chefs actually get to cook in a full kitchen, but diners set foot and get a feel for the actual restaurant. I think it’s also a great way to expose people to a neighbourhood – had Taste 118 gone ahead as planned, I would have hoped for something like this. But other BRZs or districts of interest should also take note – Chinatown/Little Italy, Avenue of Nations, 124 Street, Little India, Little Lebanon…the replication of this type of event is possible all over.
I’ve been told that the Red Show Crawl itself will be an annual event, and that even more restaurants had expressed interest than they could have accommodated this time around. So expect an even better (and possibly bigger) event next year! Kudos to Jen and the rest of the Ronald McDonald House staff and volunteers for planning a fantastic afternoon.