Recap: FEASTival of Fine Chefs 2018

In Edmonton, we are fortunate to have a diversity of culinary events to attend. While it sometimes seems like there are new tastings or markets popping up every weekend, other events can claim a long history, and have endured the whims of an ever-changing food community. The FEASTival of Fine Chefs, put on by the Alberta Food Processors Association, is one such example, celebrating its thirtieth year in 2018. Mack and I were fortunate to attend the event as guests last week alongside our friends Linda and Sharman.

FEASTival of Fine Chefs

FEASTival of Fine Chefs

A showcase for Alberta products and a fundraiser for apprentice chefs, FEASTival pioneered the idea of the “black box” challenge. 24 hours before the event, participating chefs receive a hamper containing a variety of locally sourced produce, grains, pulses, and proteins which they have to transform into 4 different courses. Diners are given four vouchers that correspond with each course and a restaurant station number. The distinct aspect of this event, however, is that the station numbers change after each course, so guests end up with dishes from four different places. Linda captured her experience of this really well, but I will say this Russian roulette-style dinner was unique. It’s ideal for those with adventurous palates, and created a easy going atmosphere in the Shaw Conference Centre hall.

FEASTival of Fine Chefs

Our meal tickets

There were a total of 17 participating restaurants this year. Because of the time and labour-intensive nature of the function, organizers shared that it is difficult for smaller establishments to participate. As a result, all of the restaurants were representing hotels, institutions, or chains. Still, event chair Chris Short maintains that FEASTival is a great opportunity for young chefs to challenge themselves, in addition to exposing them to the range of products available from home grown producers.

FEASTival of Fine Chefs

Chefs hard at work

Before dinner, we whet our appetites by exploring the menus the restaurants had put together. Although I could extrapolate from the dishes what ingredients were provided in their black box, it would have been visually interesting to see what a sample hamper contained.

FEASTival of Fine Chefs

Plating perfection

I was particularly impressed by the few who had an overall theme to their dishes (the Renaissance Hotel was inspired by Korean cuisine), or a fun display (the Royal Glenora had set up a big top tent complete with popcorn decorations and a spin-the-wheel game).

FEASTival of Fine Chefs

The Royal Glenora carnival

Overall, I was pretty impressed by the food, and by circumstance, ended up with a fairly cohesive meal. My appetizer was prepared by the Highlands Golf Club; a birch-glazed bison short rib with a sweet potato purée and charred rutabaga. The meat was nicely tender, and I appreciated the pair of vegetables served together, as they complemented the other well.

FEASTival of Fine Chefs

Birch-glazed bison short rib

I was delighted to see a soup course on the menu (Mack jokes that I could eat soup all day every day, and it’s true). Of the two I sampled, I preferred the roasted chicken mushroom consommé from Stages Kitchen & Bar. While it was on the salty side, I thought there was a lot of depth to the broth.

FEASTival of Fine Chefs

Roasted chicken mushroom consommé from Stages Kitchen & Bar

My main course was prepared by the Royal Glenora Club. I very much enjoyed the spiced rack of boar, served with a curried cauliflower purée, cabbage, and northern bean cassoulet. At an event this size, I often find the meat to be overcooked, so I was pleasantly surprised that the boar was a perfect medium rare. In addition, the highlight of the plate for me was the flavourful bean cassoulet.

FEASTival of Fine Chefs

Spiced rack of boar from the Royal Glenora Club

Most of the desserts around the table were chocolate-based. Considering the event’s local philosophy, I was expecting more dairy, egg, or fruit concoctions, but I recognize that chocolate is a crowd-pleaser. My dessert was a flourless chocolate cake from the Highlands Golf Club; it was a very rich way to end my meal.

FEASTival of Fine Chefs

Flourless chocolate cake from the Highlands Golf Club

The event finished with a rousing bagpipe-led parade of chefs, providing diners with the opportunity to show their gratitude to those that had their hand in preparing the evening’s food.

FEASTival of Fine Chefs

Chefs’ parade

Thanks again to the event organizers for a fun evening, and to Linda for inviting us to join her! Tickets for the 31st FEASTival of Fine Chefs next September will go on sale April 1, 2019.

Recap: Canmore Travels

Felicia and Jeff’s wedding in the mountains a couple of weeks ago was the perfect excuse for Mack and I to spend a few additional days in Canmore. While we stopped in the town two years ago en route to Lake Louise, it was winter, so we were keen to explore some of what it had to offer in the peak of summer.

Travelling with a baby can be tricky, but as we’re learning, giving yourself a lot of time, and going with the flow are the lessons we’ve taken to heart so far. It has meant not doing as much as we were used to on vacations past – one or two activities per day are more than enough. So we’ve had to choose even more wisely!

It was still pretty smoky while we were in Canmore, so we limited ourselves to one hike. The Grassi Lakes hike seemed to be one of the more reasonable ones, recognizing that Mack would be carrying a 16 pound weight up the slope. It was a nicely shady path for the most part, which we appreciated for Emily (and for us!).

Canmore

Hiking with baby

We’ve also found that it’s often more convenient to have meals at home, so we’re definitely eating out a lot less when travelling. However, we did plan to visit the Canmore Mountain Market, which was within walking distance of our AirBnB.

Canmore

Canmore Mountain Market

While they didn’t have the breadth of vendors I was expecting, I always enjoy browsing the stalls and seeing what local products are on offer. It was also clear there are many regulars who frequent the market, not just tourists like us.

Canmore

Crepe with curried beef and mustard greens

We bought lunch from a couple of the food trucks, and my savoury crepe with curried beef and mustard greens turned out to be the best thing I had to eat in Canmore. Mack couldn’t pass up the opportunity to sample a coffee from The Rocky Bean Co., which brews its coffee in a converted VW van.

Canmore

The Rocky Bean Co.

We did venture out to Blake for dinner one night (also within walking distance of our flat). Their kitchen was really quick, but overall, we found the portions to be small and quality inconsistent (the fried chicken, for instance, was disappointingly dry). The most interesting dish was their ramen cacio e pepe – the noodles were a touch overdone, but the flavours were there.

Canmore

Ramen cacio e pepe from Blake

On our way out of town, we had lunch at Rocky Mountain Flatbread. The prices were reasonable at lunch (not something that can be said of all establishments in Canmore), and while we did appreciate that they sourced many of their ingredients locally, the pizzas weren’t particularly memorable.

Canmore

Pizzas from Rocky Mountain Flatbread

The highlight of our stay surprisingly had nothing to do with food. I’d had my eye on doing a workshop tour at the Rocky Mountain Soap Company factory for some time, but the timing hadn’t worked out prior to this trip. Although the tour tickets are priced at $25, the value is more than covered – $20 is returned in the form of a voucher that can be used at any of their stores, while the product samples we received exceeded the remaining $5 cost.

Canmore

We learned that edible, cornstarch-based packing peanuts exist

It was a neat experience to tour the factory and see where all of the products are made. Some aspects definitely reminded me of food – the racks of soap bars drying, for instance, recalled the cheese aging rooms I’ve visited in the past.

Canmore

Soap drying room

I was astonished to see just how much of their products are made and packaged by hand (their bath bombs, for instance, are all individually hand-pressed). It is undoubtedly a part of their brand, but it’s something hard to fathom as most companies are moving towards automation, not away from it.

We also had the opportunity to make our own bath salts, customizing with our choice of essential oil scents and herbal add-ins.

Canmore

Making lavender and orange-scented bath salts

I’d definitely recommend the tour! As a bonus, a couple of other noteworthy businesses are located in the same vicinity as the factory, so it makes it a worthwhile trek just outside of town. After the tour, we walked over to Valbella (known for their meat products), and Mountain Blends Coffee Roasters to pick up some food souvenirs for home.

It was a quick trip to be sure, but won’t be our last to the mountains with Emily!

Preview: 5th Annual Sabor Seafood Festival

Sabor is known as one of Edmonton’s best seafood restaurants, and every August, they choose to highlight the freshest products and flavours with their annual Sabor Seafood Festival. In its fifth year, 2018’s iteration welcomes the collaborative touch from Hawaii. Chef Lyndon Honda (of Sheraton Maui) and Chef Tom Muromoto (of Ka’anapali Beach Hotel) worked with Sabor Chef Lino Oliveira to design a menu inspired by a wide range of tastes, reflective of the Korean, Japanese, Filipino, Puerto Rican, and Portuguese roots of Hawaiian cuisine.

Earlier this week, I attended a media preview of the festival, which runs from August 7-31, 2018.

Among my favourite dishes that night was the ahi tartare, served on a taro chip. Prepared poke style, this appetizer couldn’t be trendier in the city, and the taro chip itself was crunchy and addictive.

Sabor Seafood Festival 2018

Ahi tartare

I loved the grilled prawns, dressed in a coconut taro leaf curry. The smoke was apparent in the plump prawn, and I enjoyed the subtle sweetness in the curry. Of all of the plates I tried, I’m pulling for this one to appear on the final festival menu!

Sabor Seafood Festival 2018

Grilled prawns

I’d say Spam is under appreciated in mainstream North American culture, and Chef Lino deftly incorporated it as a chorizo substitute in his Portuguese sausage Spam ‘n clams dish. I doubt any other restaurant in Edmonton would be daring enough to serve this.

Sabor Seafood Festival 2018

Spam ‘n clams

The Ko’ala lamb chops was another highlight. Prepared to a perfect medium rare, I adored the mango mint chutney underneath. The chefs weren’t wrong when they said this dish could sway anyone uncertain about lamb.

Sabor Seafood Festival 2018

Ko’ala lamb chops

Doughnuts seem to be all the rage in the city at the moment, so it wasn’t a surprise that one made its way to us as dessert. But it wasn’t your typical doughnut – here, the malasada (Portuguese fried dough) was stuffed with Pinocchio’s coconut ice cream, and topped with a decadent mango cream. I may have been full, but I found room to polish off the plate.

Sabor Seafood Festival 2018

Coconut ice cream stuffed Malasada

The full Seafood Festival menu is still being finalized, so check the Sabor website for details! Thanks again to Bonafide Media for the invitation, and for organizing a wonderful evening.

Ramen in #yegdt: Let’s Grill Sushi and Izakaya

Although options abound for pho in the core (including Chinatown, of course), my other favourite noodle soup, ramen, is a bit more elusive in this area. Nomiya in Oliver Square, Kiwado near the Royal Alex and Prairie Noodle on 124 Street are the closest, but I’ve been hoping for something within closer walking distance. As such, I was happy to hear that Let’s Grill Sushi and Izakaya serves ramen before 5pm on weekdays, and was keen to try it out. A few weeks ago, I met up with Linda there for lunch.

Although the restaurant wasn’t full, there was a steady flow of customers, including some ducking in for take-out. I liked the openness of the dining room, with a variety of seating options to choose from, including a nice sized bar for those inclined to watch the action behind the counter. I also appreciated the wide space between the tables (although I didn’t have Emily with me, I could have easily parked the stroller next to our two-top).

Let’s Grill Sushi

Interior

A sign outside the restaurant touts that the broth cooked for 10 hours, which seemed like a good start. At lunch, diners can choose from four types of ramen. And similar to Kiwado, which offers the option to add a side, Let’s Grill sells a $5 combo upgrade that includes a choice of three sides (3 piece chicken karaage, 4 piece tako yaki, 3 piece yellowtail sashimi) and a tea or pop. Both Linda and I opted for the combos – she added sashimi to her black garlic ramen ($14 +$5), while I ordered the tonkotsu miso ramen and chicken karaage ($13.50 +$5).

Let’s Grill Sushi

Black garlic ramen

Our food arrived fairly quickly. The broth was pretty good, with a nice creaminess that I enjoyed, and the noodles were cooked well. The egg yolk wasn’t as soft boiled as I would have preferred, but I did like that the chashu pork wasn’t as fatty as others I’ve encountered.

Let’s Grill Sushi

Tonkotsu miso ramen

As for the sides, the karaage was a decent sized portion, though it could have been crispier. Linda enjoyed her sashimi well enough.

Let’s Grill Sushi

Chicken karaage and yellowtail sashimi

Service was friendly, perhaps so much so that it was only after we left the restaurant that Linda and I realized that we were never served our combo beverages!

Overall, I had a positive enough experience that I wouldn’t hesitate to return to Let’s Grill for ramen again. Hurrah for more noodle options in the core!

Let’s Grill Sushi and Izakaya
10709 Jasper Avenue
(780) 244-1880

Preview: DOSC opens on 104 Street

Late last year, the Journal published an article about seemingly “cursed” spaces in Edmonton, where restaurants can never seem to stick. One of the storefronts included in this inventory was the historic Metals Building on 104 Street, which has seen four failed attempts in the last five years. On July 22, 2018, DOSC (the abbreviated name for Drunken Ox Sober Cat), hopes to finally reverse the trend.

DOSC

DOSC

I was among a small group of people invited to a media preview on Friday, to not only sample some of their food but to also be among the first to see the product of their extensive renovations. The pedigree of the folks behind DOSC is strong. The team is led by Isaac Choi of Japonais Bistro and Dorinku, and Jake Lee of Seoul Fried Chicken. Their restaurants have been lauded for their quality and consistency, and in the case of SFC, for its economical pricing. Although these previous successes have focused on Japanese and Korean cuisines, Jake indicated that the inspiration behind the food at DOSC is pan-Canadian, with representation on the large 50+ item menu ranging from British (think liver and onions) to French Canadian (tourtiere). In the mix as well is Mexican influence from Executive Chef Israel Alvarez (of COMAL Taco Therapy fame), with items such as tostadas and barbacoa-style brisket also making appearances on the menu.

DOSC

Brisket, wrapped in banana leaves and cooked sous vide for 15 hours

DOSC bills itself as a steakhouse, but in that labelling much about their ambitious concept is lost. Not unlike Holy Roller, they plan to be open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, an attempt to gain some of the market share in a neighbourhood already known as a coffee district, while also appealing to those venturing on to Rogers Place in the evening (the central bar is decked out in copper and blue). Notably, the restaurant has received a permit to build a new entrance facing 104 Street, which they will undertake next year.

DOSC

DOSC bar

Walking in, diners are greeted with the “Sober Cat” concept, a beautifully rendered coffee bar surrounded by plush seating. During the day, the area will be flooded with natural light , making it an attractive space for work and meetings alike. Their coffee program was headed by Rogue Wave, who supplies the beans and led the training of their baristas. I’m perhaps most excited about their breakfast menu, with house-made breads featured alongside tableside scrambled eggs and bacon sliced and cooked to the diner’s preference (thick or thin, tender or crispy). These hot items will be supplemented by house-made pastries, yogurt, and granola.

DOSC

Sober Cat

The “Drunken Ox” concept is comprised of a whisky lounge and the aforementioned steakhouse. The standard meat and potatoes have been given an upgrade at DOSC. While steaks can be ordered in 3, 6, and 9 oz. portions, and a variety of sides are available, it’s the type of meats available that really sets them apart.

Diners can expect cuts not found at other steakhouses, primarily because the restaurant is committed to a nose-to-tail philosophy. Case in point was the beef tongue, cooked sous vide until tender and charred, complemented well with a salsa verde and tomatillo.

DOSC

Beef tongue, with charred salsa verde, tomatillo, smoked tongue oil

On the higher end, DOSC is importing Miyazaki wagyu from Japan. For our taste of this luxury we were each given a slice to sear ourselves on a hot stone, dressed simply with a house made horseradish and volcanic salt. The marbling was unparalleled, and the meat melted away on the tongue.

DOSC

Miyazaki chuck wagyu, with “horse with a rash”, volcanic salt

The sides are also elevated, with their fries, for instance, first coated with whole wheat, flash frozen, then fried to a crisp. The marrow mash that we sampled was one of the highlights of the night, rich, dense and whipped to silky smooth perfection.

DOSC

Marrow mash, with yukon gold potato, bone marrow, and wheatgrass, parsley, and arugula oil

I happen to live in the condo next to the Metals Building, and have been impatiently waiting for a more permanent fixture to open. Only time will tell if DOSC is it, but I wish them the best of luck, and a warm welcome to 104 Street!

Thanks again to DOSC for a wonderful evening! Check out Crystal’s blog for another perspective of the event.

DOSC (opening July 22, 2018)
10190 104 Street
(780) 540-0606

2018 Taste of Edmonton Preview

It’s that time again – Taste of Edmonton is back next week! There are some changes afoot to the festival this year, namely, a new location. Due to the construction around Churchill Square, Taste has relocated to Capital Plaza at 99 Avenue and 108 Street (near the Legislature). In addition, the 10 day festival has expanded to 12 days this year, running from July 18-29, 2018, giving diners an extra two days to sample their way through the over 100 food items on the menu (41 of them new!).

Last week, I was invited to preview some of the new items that will be served at this year’s festival. The restaurants we visited are all new to Taste of Edmonton, and are among the 11 first time participants.

We started off downtown at Wishbone, where we sampled both of the items that they will be serving. The spicy fried chicken sandwich is a smaller version of a popular lunch item, featuring marinated chicken thighs battered, fried, and tossed in their house gojuchang hot sauce. The meat was crispy on the outside and tender on the inside, with just the right amount of heat; it was my favourite of the dishes we tried that day.

Taste of Edmonton Preview

Spicy fried chicken sandwich from Wishbone

Wishbone’s second item is a summer festival staple – fried dough. Their version are buttermilk beignets, bite sized and dusted with powdered sugar. Like their chicken sandwich, I think this will be well received by the crowds at Taste – easy to eat, good flavour, and deep fried.

Taste of Edmonton Preview

Buttermilk beignets from Wishbone

Our next stop was Wildflower Grill. Some may remember that last year, the restaurant changed hands and installed a new chef. Even with the personnel change, however, Wildflower maintained some Asian fusion influence on its menu, particularly evident in what we were served that night.

The Taste of Edmonton item that we sampled was easily the most complex that we tried – an Adobo pork belly with house kimchi, garlic rice, a 64 degree egg yolk and puffed wild rice. It was an enjoyable dish to be sure (the pork belly was deliciously crispy, and given an unctuous boost from the yolk), but from the outset, it does seem like an ambitious plate to churn out at a high pace. I do like that it will showcase the fine dining side of Wildflower, however.

Taste of Edmonton Preview

Adobo pork belly from Wildflower Grill

We were also treated to the night’s feature bao, something that is offered daily at Wildflower. That night, it involved an unlikely but interesting combination of seared albacore tuna and strawberries. I would not have thought those ingredients would work together, but they did.

Taste of Edmonton Preview

Albacore tuna bao from Wildflower Grill

Next, we headed south to Loma House Vegetarian Express. A vegetarian restaurant in the same vein as Padmanadi, they also incorporate soy-based meat alternatives on their menu. To start, we tried their vegetarian tacos. While these are not being served at Taste, it gave us a good idea of the types of dishes they serve. While I liked the crispness of the fried wonton shell as its base, it was a bit difficult to eat without all of the toppings falling off.

Taste of Edmonton

Vegetarian taco from Loma House

The Taste item we sampled had a playful presentation. Five deep fried sweet potato balls were served in a waffle cone, topped with coconut whipped cream and chocolate sauce. The sweet potato was deceptively filling, and not too sweet on their own.

Taste of Edmonton Preview

Sweet potato balls from Loma House

Our final stop of the night was the Southgate location of Wine and Beyond. The renovated store opened last September, but I hadn’t yet been. Wine & Beyond will be putting together the wine and beverage pairings for the Taste 2 Remember chef dinners, in addition to sponsoring the entertainment stage. We sampled a few different wines (which was definitely a treat for me, given I’ve severely limited my alcohol uptake).

Taste of Edmonton

May and I enjoying ourselves!

Thanks again to the Taste of Edmonton staff and Big E Tours for hosting a wonderful evening!

Taste of Edmonton runs July 18-29, 2018. A reminder that advance tickets are available until July 18 at a savings of $10 per sheet (40 tickets for $57).

The Return of the Secret Garden: Bodega 124 Street

When the Dish and the Runaway Spoon announced the closure of their restaurant at the end of 2016, I mourned the loss of one of Edmonton’s most unique patios. The “secret garden”, as it was known, was tucked behind the back of the building and only accessible through an adjacent gate. Shielded from the traffic noise of Stony Plain Road, the combination of the pergola, hanging plants, and the shelter of a fully grown tree created the feeling of an oasis in the middle of the city. When it was announced that Bodega would be taking over the space (opening their third location to join the original Downtown and the second in Highlands), I was glad that they also decided to reopen the patio as well.

Two weeks ago, I met up with some girlfriends at Bodega 124 Street for brunch, which we enjoyed outside on the patio. Although the furniture and planters have been refreshed, it appears that not much else has changed, and the space is as charming as I remember.

Bodega 124 Street

Bodega’s secret garden

It so happened that same weekend the restaurant had a special 3 course Prairie on a Plate menu, so we were fortunate to also see how Chef Lino Oliveira would choose to showcase some Alberta products for the very reasonable price of $25 (as Sharman noted in her post, he incorporated Alberta canola, eggs, milk, pulses, turkey, and pork).

The menu offered three mains to choose from. It seemed brunch here has changed somewhat since the restaurant opened back in January. Originally, Bodega 124 Street offered many brunch plates (similar to the menu at Bodega Highlands I had tried last year), but as so many diners were requesting their tapas menu, by popular demand, they now offer their full tapas menu supplemented by a trio of brunch specials. Although this particular menu incorporated local products, the server did share that the mains were pretty typical of what they would serve any other weekend.

A note on their coffee (which I consider a brunch necessity) – when we ordered coffee, the server informed us that they were brewing French vanilla. I typically avoid flavoured coffees as the additives are usually trying to compensate for a poor quality bean. In this case, I did find the coffee a bit thin and sub-par; perhaps this was just a one-off for Bodega, but my hope would be that they adopt the same standards for their coffee as they would for their other ingredients.

The first course was a two-bite appetizer featuring a slice of Winding Road’s RDB cheese and quince marmalade on bread. The flavours paired nicely together, the sweetness of the quince balancing out the more pungent notes in the cheese.

Bodega 124 Street

RDB cheese and quince marmalade on bread

Of the three mains, May’s crispy turkey was the unquestionable winner. Two generous pieces of turkey, breaded with cornflakes and chickpeas and fried, served with a a potato and bell pepper hash and a side salad. The turkey was deliciously crunchy on the outside and moist on the inside.

Bodega 124 Street

Crispy turkey

Annie’s enjoyed her choice of potato wrapped braised pork cheeks – I had a bite of the pork which was nicely cooked.

Bodega 124 Street

Potato wrapped braised pork cheeks

I had ordered the coca verduras, which had been described by the server as somewhat similar to a pizza, with a Spanish flatbread acting as the crust, and another appearance of Winding Road cheese – this time, the fromage blanc and Josef. Although I liked the toppings well enough (the slight tang of the vegetables, and perfectly soft poached eggs), the dough was much too dense and weighed down the dish overall.

Bodega 124 Street

Coca verduras

For dessert, we were served a warm Portuguese custard tart with a sprinkling of cinnamon. I confess I was already much too full, and had to pack it up for later.

Bodega 124 Street

Portuguese custard tarts

Service was excellent, especially given we were (surprisingly!), the only party on the patio for most of our meal. We never felt rushed, and our server did a great job to make sure our needs were taken care of.

I’d be eager to return to Bodega for a glass of wine and some tapas, which, enjoyed out on that special patio, would surely taste even better on a warm summer evening.

Bodega 124 Street
12417 Stony Plain Road
(780) 250-6066
Sunday-Thursday 11am-11pm, Friday-Saturday 11am-1am (brunch Saturday-Sunday 11am-2pm)

Food with a Purpose: The Hallway Cafe

With Emily in tow for meals, Mack and I have had to be more thoughtful with restaurant selections. Many of the places we frequented prior are inaccessible with baby – narrow aisles, small gaps between tables, and stairs make it difficult to accommodate a stroller, not to mention not all welcome children or are child friendly. While we have made it a priority to have date nights with just the two of us, the reality is much of our dining future will have to factor in how well suited they are for kids.

One of the most recent restaurants I’ve discovered that fits this bill is the newly renovated Hallway Café (formerly Kids in the Hall). Located in City Hall, it is central, but hard to stumble upon, with only window signage to rely on, and daytime hours of 7am-3:30pm on weekdays.

The Hallway Cafe

Interior

If you were familiar with the previous design, it’s safe to say the interior has been completely refreshed while still making the most of the prominent wall of windows. Most groupings of tables and chairs are enclosed by brightly coloured metal frames resembling greenhouses with built-in planters. The structures are a fun but functional way of visually breaking up the space while sacrificing none of the natural light that filters into the room. I also much appreciated the wide aisles that are very accommodating to strollers. Opposite the windows is an open kitchen, allowing diners to observe the food prep action, important because the restaurant has retained its foundation as a social enterprise that provides skills training to vulnerable youth.

The Hallway Cafe

Lots of room for Emily!

E4C operates The Hallway Café as a program that works with individuals aged 16 to 24. After screening applicants to ensure they have the stability necessary for success, the 17 week program teaches modules in hospitality and kitchen skills, with hands-on experience at the Café where they are paid minimum wage plus tips; the program ends with a job placement.

The food is not secondary at The Hallway Café, with coffee and freshly baked goods for those seeking a light snack, and full breakfast and lunch plates for those with heartier appetites. It’s worth mentioning that the prices are very reasonable – for instance, a standard breakfast with two eggs, bacon, potatoes and toast is just $9, while pizzas range from $9-10. I’ve had lunch here twice with Emily since April, and enjoyed both experiences.

Back in April, I had the chicken panini ($8), with a side of house-cut Kennebec fries ($3). This was my favourite of the two meals; the sandwich, on house made focaccia, was quite generously sized. The chicken was complemented well by the blueberry and Dijon aioli, spinach, and spicy jack cheese, and the bread was fresh and nicely toasted. The fries, however, were the star for me, tossed in their house seasoning and incredibly crispy and addictive.

The Hallway Cafe

Chicken panini and fries

My friend Su ordered the pizza con patate, and said she enjoyed the thin crust topped with potatoes, rosemary, caramelized onions and grana padano and goat cheese.

The Hallway Cafe

Pizza con patate

I was looking forward to those fries when I returned with a friend to the Hallway in June, to be consumed alongside the Philly cheese steak ($10), but they were sadly out. That said, it was a good opportunity to try their kale salad on the side ($4). Topped with beets and goat cheese, it was a heartier salad than most. The sandwich was tasty enough, with grilled red onions and roasted peppers adding interest. The beef was on the dry side though, and benefited from the melted cheese.

The Hallway Cafe

Philly cheese steak and kale salad

Service (like many establishments these days – food is ordered at the counter then bussed to the table) was friendly, and the kitchen kept up with the pace even as the lunch rushes hit.

I’m glad to have found The Hallway Café – the program is worth supporting, but it’s the food and the surroundings that are going to bring me back again and again!

Recap: Eats on 118

Last week, my Mum and I were invited to attend the first of this summer’s Eats on 118 Food Tours. The series started back in 2016 as a pilot, but has continued annually since; organized by the Alberta Avenue Business Association and Wildheart Collective, they’ve been a popular way for people to engage with some of the many independent businesses in the neighbourhood. I attended all of the tours last year, with the bowling edition being the highlight for me.

The first stop of the evening was familiar to me, as Paraiso Tropical was included on one of the tours last year. But the shop (as with the rest of the businesses) was new to my Mum; the tour was a great way for her to learn about an area of the city that she does not often frequent.

Eats on 118

Ready to eat!

Pre-assembled boxes of food meant that the large group was fed quickly. We were treated to a variety of tastes, including a pupusa, two flautas, and plantain topped with dulce de leche.

Eats on 118

Paraiso Tropical sampler

We walked over to Handy Bakery next. As my office is just a few blocks from the bakery, it’s my go-to for Portuguese egg tarts (in my opinion, the best in the city), and sweet bread to be used for French toast. But I hadn’t been exposed to their savoury menu before.

Eats on 118

The spread at Handy Bakery

Several different dishes were served buffet-style, including salt cod and potatoes, sausage, fish croquettes, and fried shrimp cakes. The latter was my favourite of the bunch, especially enjoyable alongside the glass of sangria that was included in the meal (the owner endeared himself to the group with his generous pours of wine and sangria).

My favourite moment of the evening came en route to our final stop. In collaboration with Arts on the Avenue, we were treated to a musical interlude by a barbershop quartet, performed in a barbershop! The four women of the Thumbs Up Quartet were fabulous, their passion and joy for song evident.

Eats on 118

Thumbs Up Quartet

We proceeded to Battista’s Calzones, one of my favourite restaurants on Alberta Avenue. Owner Battista offered a sampling of a number of their calzones. He recommended the Giovanna (artichokes, prosciutto, truffle oil), which we learned is named after a student who used to frequent the restaurant and shared her recipe for a pizza served at her family-owned pizzeria in Miami.

Eats on 118

Calzones galore

The second and last Eats on 118 takes place on August 29, 2018, which will highlight several women-led businesses. Tickets are $47 each.

Thanks to Bottom Line Productions for the tickets, and to the organizers for another great event!

Great Value: Reinette Cafe

One of the best things about the current proliferation of bakeries in Edmonton is that many areas of the city that were once without a place in the neighbourhood to pick up a sweet treat or two have now gained that asset. Reinette Cafe is one such example.

Nestled in a strip mall in Mill Woods, it’s not a place easily stumbled upon. It’s also quite small, with only a handful of tables and counter seats, so reservations are recommended if you’re hoping for a table to enjoy dessert (during our visit all but one table was spoken for). I had called ahead specifically for the afternoon tea set, which is priced at just $20 for two. The set includes your choice of seven treats from a defined menu, as well as two drinks. Although you don’t have to pre-order, we did so to guarantee the availability of our desired desserts (particularly helpful if one in your party, as was our case, is allergic to nuts, as several of the options contain nuts).

Reinette Cafe

Pastry case at Reinette Cafe

Service was efficient, as the staff began assembling our tea tray right after we walked in for our reservation last Sunday afternoon. All we had to do was select a beverage (coffee or tea), which was delivered almost immediately after we ordered. A family-run business, it was clear the owners put some thought into the small details – our teapots, for example, were kept warm on special glass tealight stands, while the takeaway boxes were almost as intricate as the pastries themselves.

Reinette Cafe

Afternoon tea set for four

We found the afternoon tea to be a great way to sample a variety of their desserts. My favourite was the lemon meringue tart – the buttery crust was topped with a beautifully balanced curd. Grandma Male enjoyed the richness and the flavour of the almond cream in the Paris Brest, and we all adored the duck-shaped madelines. That said, given that they were the mini versions of said pastries, the tea is not as filling as other afternoon tea services available in the city (such as Hotel Macdonald or the Rutherford House’s Vintage Fork). Reinette Cafe does offer other savoury options including quiche and sandwiches, but they are not included in the tea set.

Reinette Cafe

Yes, we ate Emily’s share

Still, it was a great way to spend a part of the afternoon in a neighbourhood gem. We’ll certainly be back again – I have my eye on another lemon meringue tart!

Reinette Cafe
301 Woodvale Road West NW
(780) 577-0974
Monday-Saturday 7am-9pm, Sunday 11am-5pm