Dine the Ave: Eats on 118 Continues!

Eats on 118 was an initiative that the Alberta Avenue Business Improvement Area (BIA) launched in 2016, in order to highlight some of the great restaurants located in an often overlooked area. The BIA contracted Wild Heart Collective to organize restaurant walking tours; each tour featured a visit to 4 or 5 different businesses with a meal or an activity served up at each stop. Over the last four years, more than 500 guests have attended the tours that have involved more than 45 businesses. I was fortunate to have been attended several of those tours over the years, and given my office relocated to 118 Avenue two years ago, it was especially fortuitous as a means to get to know my culinary neighbours better.

This year, the BIA wanted to continue Eats on 118, but in a different format, and Dine the Ave was born. Although they found that the tours were a great way to expose new people to the area, only a few businesses could participate in each round, and they found that it limited participants to restaurants. Through Dine the Ave, 20 hospitality businesses from NAIT to Northlands will be offering special menus priced at either $10, $15, or $20 from June 17-23, 2019. Last week, I was invited to attend a media preview that saw us sample our way through 5 stops (portion sizes were scaled down to ensure we’d be able to maintain our appetite throughout!).

The first featured restaurant is a favourite of mine: Battista’s Calzones. In my opinion, the calzones here are the best in the city; the dough (a family recipe) has just the right chew and is always baked to perfection, and their filling varieties mean there is something for everyone. They will be celebrating 10 years in business in the fall.

During Dine the Ave they’re offering three of their most popular calzones (the Spicy Italian, Giovanna, and Pesto Presto) for just $10 each.

Dine the Ave

Co-owner Doug Mah of Battista’s Calzones

Next, we headed half a block down to T & D Vietnamese Noodle House, another restaurant on my regular rotation. Laura Truong has been running the restaurant with her family for five years, and chose the 118 Avenue location specifically so they could grow with the evolving community (she currently sits on the Board of the BIA). For Dine the Ave, T & D will be serving up 2 house-made spring rolls and chicken on rice or noodles for $10.

Dine the Ave

Rice plate from T & D Vietnamese Noodle House

I was looking forward to trying our third restaurant, La Bodeguita de Cuba. Early this year, it replaced the neighbourhood stalwart El Rancho. Although I was sad to see the restaurant go, the spot is the perfect size for a start-up establishment looking to make their mark. This was exactly what owners Yordanis and Jennifer Lamoru are hoping to do, having dreamt of opening a restaurant for years.

We received a taste of their $20 Dine the Ave multi-course menu, featuring Cuban comfort food like rice and beans. The ropa vieja (shredded beef in an onion, pepper sauce) was the standout on the plate, and for some at our table, it was also their first time encountering plantains.

Dine the Ave

Cuban comfort food from La Bodeguita

The highlight of the stop was a serenade from Yordanis, who is also a musician. Expect live music at La Bodeguita on weekends; it’s an understatement to say the couple are doing it all themselves!

Dine the Ave

A performance by Yordanis Lamoru

I had also never been to Simba’s Den Pub & Bistro. It opened in May 2018, and owner Senait Tamene, recognizing the “up and coming” nature of the neighbourhood, purchased the building and opened the newest pub on the block. Also, Senait, like Laura Truong, is also on the Board of the BIA.

Although they do offer nachos, chicken wings and burgers, Simba’s Den prides itself on the Ethiopian and Eritrean fare on the menu, which is what we sampled that evening. The heat level was pretty tame in the chicken, beef, and lentils, and I particularly enjoyed the house-made enjera. For $20, Dine on the Ave guests can have their own vegetarian or meat platter with enjera or rice.

Dine the Ave

Meat platter sample from Simba’s Den

Our final stop is a community landmark – The Carrot, which operates under Arts on the Ave as a non-profit, has been open for twelve years. The baristas are volunteers, and the shop showcases and sells art and jewelry from local artisans. They just changed their sandwich menu, which they will be featuring during Dine the Ave as a $15 special, in addition to a dessert combo of carrot cake and a house-made beverage for $10.

Dine the Ave

Carrot cake and coffee from The Carrot

Thanks to the Alberta Avenue BIA and Wild Heart Collective for hosting a fun evening – it was great to discover even more gems on 118 Avenue. Check out the menus for Dine the Ave here!

Preview: Olde Towne Beverly Dining Week, October 5-13, 2018

There are so many parts of Edmonton that I have yet to fully appreciate, and I am grateful when opportunities arise to encourage further exploration. When it involves food, I’m even more likely to participate – so the first ever Olde Towne Beverly Dining Week is right up my alley.

Eight restaurants in Beverly are showcasing their fare from October 5-13, 2018, ranging from long-standing establishments to several newcomers to the neighbourhood. I had the chance to visit some of these restaurants with my friend Freya on Wednesday during a media preview event, and was pleasantly surprised by the diversity and the sense of community evident that night.

Wild Heart Collective (the folks behind Eats on 118 and the 124 Grand Market) worked with the Beverly Business Improvement Area on developing the event. Wes Robson, the Executive Director of the BIA, said Beverly is an often forgotten part of Edmonton. That’s definitely been the case for me – I haven’t been back to the area since I visited the farmers’ market a few years ago (with a pit stop for doughnuts from Take 5). After the tour, I could easily see myself returning to spend an afternoon in Beverly, having lunch and picking up groceries and dessert to go.

Beverly Dining Week

Olde Towne Beverly

Two of our stops highlighted the Ukrainian heritage of some of the original settlers in Beverly. Uncle Ed’s is a city institution, and one restaurant that has been on my to-visit list for ages. Collette Hennig, whose grandfather opened Mundare’s famous Stawnichy’s in 1959, is now the third generation to run the family business. Her daughter has recently been dipping her toe in operations as well, something that is great to hear.

Although the first Edmonton location opened in 1986, the current iteration of Uncle Ed’s has been in Beverly for twelve years. The shop is split between a grocery store offering Stawnichy’s meat products and frozen goods, and a family-friendly restaurant serving up Ukrainian comfort food at very reasonable prices. Their Dining Week special is a sampler plate, featuring perogies, sausage, cabbage rolls, baked cheese bun, cheese crepe, and homemade pie for dessert. Based on our tastes of these items, I’ll be back for a full serving very soon.

Beverly Dining Week

The spread at Uncle Ed’s

I hadn’t heard of Widynowski’s Sausage House prior to the tour, but it turns out they also have deep roots in Beverly, having been in operation there for 34 years. Tyler Hawryluk, whose father and uncle started Widynowski’s in 1984, has since taken over the business, and shared that everything in the shop is still hand made. They have a selection of sausages and jerky, in addition to frozen perogies, cabbage rolls, and other Ukrainian delicacies. The ham and garlic sausage we tried was delicious, and is included in the take-home bundle Widynowski’s has put together for their Dining Week deal.

Beverly Dining Week

Sausage at Widynowski’s

We also sampled the fare from two more recent establishments. The first was Old Beverly Cafe, opened by Rachel and Michael Benti in January. Although the interior has been designed to resemble the mine shafts that recall the coal mining history of Beverly, the menu is much more eclectic. That night, we sampled poutine, paninis, and their Dining Week specials, bruschetta and a Mediterranean burger, with tzatziki atop a lamb patty.

Beverly Dining Week

Old Beverly Cafe

It’s a cozy little spot that I wouldn’t have thought to encounter in Beverly, charming and quaint. Their breakfast menu looks particularly intriguing, with a breakfast poutine that I wouldn’t be able to pass up.

Beverly Dining Week

A sampling at Old Beverly Cafe

Nalaz Kitchen is another newcomer to the neighbourhood, having opened in January. The couple behind the restaurant is originally from India, but the chef has extensive experience in international hotels and cruise ships, inspiring a menu they describe to feature “Indian flavours and Canadian tastes”.

We sampled several of their savoury dishes, including a curry poutine, chicken tikka burger and fish and crisps. The spice level was tuned for more moderate palates, but everyone around our table enjoyed the plates. The highlight of the meal, however, was dessert – a red velvet waffle with cream cheese frosting that silenced the room. If one were to plan a food crawl in this area, Nalaz would be the ideal choice to end the evening.

Beverly Dining Week

Red velvet waffle at Nalaz Kitchen

Swiss 2 Go is well-known to many in Edmonton for their scratch-made sandwiches. Originally from Switzerland, Drita Keller and her family moved to Edmonton in 2012, and opened up a small cafe in Beverly. Although they moved to a location across from West Edmonton Mall for a few years, Drita said they didn’t find the community they were hoping for and so, returned to Beverly again about three years ago.

Drita is a consummate host, and warmly hugged each patron before we departed. It’s amazing she has the energy she does, given she starts working at 3:30am to ensure the shop is stocked with freshly baked pretzel buns each day. Given the foundation of a great sandwich is the bread, it’s no wonder why Swiss 2 Go has the reputation it does. The ingredients are fresh (the sandwich I tried featured prosciutto, salami, bocconcini, and sundried tomato), but it really is the pretzel bun, studded with rock salt, that sets is apart. During Dining Week, a select variety of their regular and large sandwiches are 20% off.

Beverly Dining Week

Sandwiches at Swiss 2 Go

Their desserts, also handcrafted, were made for Instagram, served in a molded chocolate teacup.

Beverly Dining Week

Freya enjoys her “tea”

While it probably helped that board members of the Beverly Business Improvement Area were among the group that night, we felt very welcome at each of the establishments we visited. Nearly all of the business owners mentioned that they felt a kinship with the community, and indicated that they felt well supported by the residents. Well, it’s about time that this well kept secret is shared with the rest of Edmonton!

Thanks to Wild Heart and the Beverly BIA for a wonderful evening!

Check the Beverly BIA website for more information about Olde Towne Beverly Dining Week.

Open House: Sundog Organic Farm

Those who frequent the outdoor City Market on 104 Street are likely familiar with Sundog Organic Farm. Operated by Jenny Berkenbosch and James Vriend, their booth is arguably the most visually appealing at the market. Their variety of fresh produce is always artfully arranged in wooden crates, beautifully displaying what the season has to offer. Mack and I have been buying from Sundog Organic for years (one of my favourite photos from our wedding day was taken in front of their booth), and have always wanted to be able to check out the farm itself. At the end of July, an open house provided the perfect opportunity to do so.

Sundog Organic Farm

Sundog Organic Farm

Although Jenny and James originally started farming on his father’s land about ten years ago, they’ve been on their current property for eight years. Located just outside of Edmonton in Sturgeon County, near Gibbons, it was a lot closer to the city than I expected – it was about a 45 minute drive from 104 Street.

Sundog Organic Farm

Jenny Berkenbosch

We arrived a little late, but joined a group of about two dozen people who were already being led around the farm by Jenny and James. Their farm spans 14 acres, with about 6 of it being farmed at the moment. We learned that Sundog uses green manure practices to amend the areas they are rotating between seasons, meaning they plant crops like clover or oats to help renew and manage the health of the soil. Their property also happens to be near the Sturgeon River, which they are able to tap into for irrigation purposes.

Sundog Organic Farm

Gorgeous lettuce plants

We also saw evidence of how the farm has grown over time – they used to store vegetables using a combination of a very small shed in addition to borrowing the storage capacity at James’ parents farm, but now, have been able to construct a building that is finally big enough for their current needs.

Sundog Organic Farm

New storage and sorting building

It was great to be able to see their crops first hand. For me, it was especially neat to see where they grow their heirloom tomatoes, which I anxiously await the arrival of every summer.

Sundog Organic Farm

Tomatoes!

I’m also a sucker for berry patches of any kind, and strawberries are a particular treat! There’s really nothing like being able to eat sun-warmed  fruit straight off the vine.

Sundog Organic Farm

Strawberry field

Of course, it was also nice to bring Emily along for her first farm visit! It will be one thing for her to see our very small community garden plot, but another to appreciate all of the work that goes into a farming operation. We look forward to bringing her along to more farms when she’s older, too.

Sundog Organic Farm

Farm selfie

Thanks to Jenny and James for opening up your gates!

If you’re interested in visiting a local farm, make sure to check out Alberta Open Farm Days, which runs August 18-19, 2018 this year.

2018 Edmonton Chinatown Walking Tours

Last year, I was among a small group of volunteers who piloted a series of free walking tours in Chinatown. We were amazed at the number of Edmontonians who joined us throughout the summer; most were curious about the neighbourhood that they had traversed but did not have a reason to linger in.

Edmonton Chinatown Tour

2017 Walking Tour

The tours provided a history of why the city has two Chinatowns, and introduced attendees to some of the cultural institutions and businesses in the area. Our hope, as was the case with other initiatives I’ve been involved with relating to Chinatown, was to encourage more people to explore and spend time in the neighbourhood.

Edmonton Chinatown Tour

We love Chinatown!

We’re happy to share the news that the tours are back for a second year! Even better, the City of Edmonton was able to secure a grant that permitted the hiring of a summer student to coordinate the tours. As a result, supported by the same group of volunteers, we’ve increased the frequency of the tours to twice a month, from 10:30am-12:30pm every second and forth Sunday from June until September. If you’re interested, we ask that you RSVP on Eventbrite. The remaining tour dates are as follows:

If those dates don’t work, the student is also able to lead private tours for a minimum of 10 people.

Chinatown Walking Tour

Jane’s Walk in Chinatown earlier this year

We hope this interest in Chinatown continues – consider joining us on one of the tours this summer!

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!

Recap: 2017 Grand Taste Tour with Rock Ridge Dairy, Blindman Brewing, Old Prairie Sentinel Distillery, and Doef’s Greenhouses

Back in August, Mack and I had the privilege of co-hosting another Grand Taste Tour with Linda. Organized by Wild Heart Collective and Taste Alberta, the Grand Taste Tour was in its forth year, again showcasing some of the great local producers we are so fortunate to have in our province (you can read about past tours in 2016 and 2015).

This year, we would be visiting farms and businesses in and around the Lacombe area. Our first stop was Rock Ridge Dairy, where we were met by second generation farmer Patrick Bos and his wife Cherylynn.

Rock Ridge Dairy

Goats at Rock Ridge Dairy

Patrick’s father started Rock Ridge back in 1998, converting an ostrich farm to house the goats they would go on to raise for milk. The farm now spans 640 acres total.

Rock Ridge Dairy

We had fun with the goats

The goats mostly consume alfalfa and barley grown right on the farm, and, during the milking process, are provided with additional nutrients at the milking station based on its RFID tag. The machines are very efficient, and can milk their herd of 650 goats in about an hour.

Rock Ridge Dairy

Patrick shows us the milking machines

Rock Ridge processes about 45,000L of goat milk per week and is a primary supplier in Western Canada from Vancouver to Winnipeg. When they began, they originally shipped the milk off-site to process, but in the years since, they have acquired and created the equipment needed to not only process milk, but to also make cheese (find it under the Happy Days label). Patrick even had to repurpose a sausage stuffer in order to fill bags of chevre.

Rock Ridge Dairy

Cherylynn explains the packaging process

In 2012, Rock Ridge expanded their farm to be able to process organic cow’s milk as well. They work with local producers and process about 20-25,000L of cow’s milk a week. One of the unique types of milk they offer is from Jersey cows (labelled separately, as only one farm supplies it). The protein in Jersey milk is the same protein found in human milk, and may be easier to digest than milk from Holsteins.

Rock Ridge Dairy

Linda loved the goats, too

Rock Ridge products an be found at Blush Lane and through SPUD and the Organic Box.

Our second stop was at the Lacombe Crop Development Centre, which breeds different types of barley and wheat.

Alberta Open Farm Days

At the Lacombe Crop Development Centre

Different stations about honey, pulses, and farming equipment were set up and the group was encouraged to explore and ask questions of the knowledgeable representatives present. Mack and I learned about “winter wheat”, a variety that is planted in the fall. Although it has a lower yield, it is used to help with field rotation.

Alberta Open Farm Days

Andrea among the wheat

Next, we headed to the happy hour stop on the tour. Back in the spring, Mack and I planned a weekend trip out to Lacombe, and checked out Blindman Brewing and Old Prairie Sentinel Distillery then, but were happy for the opportunity to revisit these two vendors.

At Blindman, we were led on a tour by one of the brewery’s founders, Hans Doef. If his name sounds familiar, that’s because his father owns and operates Doef’s Greenhouses, where he worked for many years (we immediately recognized him from our weekly visits to the Doef’s tent at the City Market).

Blindman Brewing

Hans Doef of Blindman Brewing

Blindman has been on a meteoric rise since it opened in 2015. They had to relocate to their current facility to accommodate more tanks and increase their bottling capacity, as their product is now available in up to 400 locations. Their Blindman River Session Ale and Longshadows India Pale Ale are their most popular brews.

Blindman Brewing

Production tanks

Hans estimated that their beer takes two weeks from grain to glass – Blindman leaves their beer in tanks longer than other breweries because they don’t filter their beer.

In late 2016, Blindman undertook a crowdfunding campaign to help them purchase two 3,000L foeders from France that once held cognac. Their first brew, a Brett Saison that has aged in the barrels for the last four months, will be released later this year.

Blindman Brewing

Foeders

Next door at Old Prairie Sentinel, we were amazed at the transformation of the space since our last visit. In May, we learned from co-owner Rob Gugin that they had plans to build a tasting room that would allow them to serve samples of their product. The end result is stunning, incorporating wood accents into the high ceiling and a long bar.

Prairie Sentinel Distillery

Old Prairie Sentinel Distillery

In addition to high balls and cocktails made with their vodkas and gins, Old Prairie Sentinel also offers warm spent-grain pretzels to accompany those drinks.

We picked up a bottle of their Prairie Berry Dry Gin (made with 100% malted barley, as are the rest of their products) to take home.

Our final stop on the tour was the one I was most looking forward to. We’ve been regular customers of Doef’s Greenhouses for years, but there’s something special about seeing where and how the products we buy every week are grown.

Eric Doef, a second generation farmer, provided us with an overview of their year-round operations. The greenhouse spans 11 acres where they grow tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and lettuce hydroponically. They plant one tomato and pepper crop annually, and harvest the products throughout the year, while cucumbers require three crops a year.

Doef's Greenhouses

Eric Doef

Water is the foundation of their crops, which they draw entirely from surface ponds and collected from snow melt and rain water. When their dugouts on their property are full, they have enough water for two years. It’s mind boggling how much water they go through, however – Eric shared that on a hot day, they might use up to 400 million litres of water.

Doef's Greenhouses

Peppers as far as the eye can see

Fertilizer is added directly into the water, while carbon dioxide is brought in through tubes. Computers monitor exactly what nutrients each crop needs, and they can adjust the levels accordingly. Regarding pests, they prefer to be as preventive as possible by ordering the appropriate “beneficials” every week (e.g., wasps to eat white flies). We also saw bees which are used to pollinate the flowers.

Doef's Greenhouses

Tomatoes

The overhead lights are typically turned on in September, and though they employ LED lights for their lettuce crops, most of their other crops need the heat given off by the HPS lights. Their lamps run for up to 15,000 hours before needing to be replaced.

Doef's Greenhouses

Lettuce crops

It was a fascinating tour that preceded a long table dinner set in one of the greenhouses, one of the most distinctive settings for a meal I’ve experienced.

Grand Taste Tour 2017

Greenhouse dinner

The 7-course family style meal was prepared by Chef Liana Robberecht of WinSport Canada. She prepared a beautiful array of dishes, including a smoked Alberta lentil hummus with fennel crackers that I couldn’t stop eating, and a maple bourbon potato salad that nearly outshone its accompanying proteins.

Grand Taste Tour 2017

Roasted Chinook honey carrot tacos with yogurt, bee pollen, and cilantro

Given the surroundings, a salad comprised of lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers sourced from Doef’s, dressed in a sea buckthorn vinaigrette was entirely appropriate, and delicious.

Grand Taste Tour 2017

Salad

Alberta pulled lamb shank, served in a Sylvan Star gouda parkhouse roll was another favourite around the table.

Grand Taste Tour 2017

Pulled lamb shank in Sylvan Star gouda parkhouse rolls

Chef Robberecht ended the meal as brightly as it began, with her twist on spiced dark chocolate mousse, combined with a roasted sweet pepper curd, and a fabulous carrot cake with whipped Chinook Honey cream cheese.

Grand Taste Tour 2017

Dessert

As I mentioned, it was particularly meaningful for Mack and I to tour the greenhouse because of our weekly purchases at the market. It was also great to see that the family farm will continue with Eric – and perhaps even with a third generation in the years to come!

Thanks again to Wild Heart Collective for organizing another wonderful Grand Taste Tour!

Recap: Urban Pedal Tour in Old Strathcona

Urban Pedal Tours have taken Edmonton by storm. Launched just this May by Matt and Carol Gosse, they’ve nearly been at capacity all summer, offering a unique alternative to the typical pub crawl. Instead of the usual bus or exploration by foot, Urban Pedal Tours moves tour groups through Old Strathcona and Downtown via 15-passenger bikes.

Inspired by a similar tour they enjoyed in Seattle two years ago, Edmonton joins Montreal, Victoria, and Kelowna as communities in Canada that have adopted this interesting mode to see the city. While no liquor laws in the country allow consumption while on the bike, the u-shaped bike definitely promotes more interaction throughout the tour.

On Sunday afternoon, Mack and I were invited by Linda to participate in an Urban Pedal Tour, along with a dozen others. Part of a Travel Alberta-funded excursion, our trek would be filmed for an “Edmonton on wheels” spot to be released next year.

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The group met up at the Urban Pedal Tours garage in Old Strathcona, signed waivers, and received an orientation to the bike from Matt. Although the bike holds up to 15 passengers, only 10 are pedaling seats. We rotated positions between stops so everyone had the chance to pedal (something I much preferred!). For the most part, it was an easy cycle, with the bike maxing out at speeds of 8km per hour. It was also a much less intense than the Food Bike Tour Mack and I joined back in August.

Urban Pedal Tours

With our ride

Matt, who was in charge of steering the bike, was very careful about merging us into traffic. Although we were definitely moving much slower than vehicle traffic typically travels down Whyte Avenue, most drivers were surprisingly forgiving about our pace. Combined with the friendly horn and the on-board music system, drivers were more inclined to smile and wave as we passed than honk.

We made three stops that afternoon on the two hour tour. The first was El Cortez for some appetizers and drinks. The $38 per person fee only covers the tour portion; any food or drink is extra (on this tour, the fee was covered by Travel Alberta, but we paid for our own food and drinks). That said, Urban Pedal Tours has arranged some special offers for its patrons – in the case of El Cortez, it was happy hour pricing.

El Cortez

El Cortez

Our table split an order of guacamole and chips (half price), and a few people tried their sangrias (on special every Sunday). Matt was great about ensuring the group knew how much time we had at each stop (approximately 25 minutes), but the limit did result in some people having to down their drinks quickly depending on when it was delivered.

El Cortez

Linda is all smiles!

Our second stop was Malt and Mortar. Several tables had been reserved for the group, with bowls of house-spiced popcorn ready for us to snack on. Sundays at Malt and Mortar mean $10 Caesars, which Mack took advantage of.

Urban Pedal Tours

Mack tried the Smoke Caesar

We spent the most time at the final stop, Situation Brewing. We were all encouraged to grab a pint before a quick tour of the brewery.

Urban Pedal Tours

Thom and Mike enjoy a pint

We learned that their current best sellers are their Page Turner IPA, Uno Mas, and Afternoon Tea Saison, and that they brew approximately 10-15,000l per month.

Situation Brewing

Tour at Situation Brewing

While at Situation, we were eyeing up the other parties around the brew pub who were having lunch. It would mean lengthening the tour, but I would have preferred at least one stop where we could have the opportunity to order a more significant portion of food. We did learn from Matt that next summer, they do intend to add a third bike to their roster, and potentially offer more specialty tours that could be more food-oriented. It will be interesting to see if they do introduce an all-inclusive rate to their offerings; I’d personally prefer to pay for my food and drinks up front, but I can understand the logistical challenges this may cause to their business model.

At any rate, it was great to be able to take part in an Urban Pedal Tour – it was a fun way to spend a fleeting summer afternoon. Thanks again to Linda for the invitation and to Travel Alberta for setting this up!

Urban Pedal Tours

We did it! (photo credit: Linda)

Urban Pedal Tours runs until September 30, 2017, and will return in May 2018.

Recap: Eats on 118, International Edition

The third and final Eats on 118 event this year took place in late August. A series of events organized by Wild Heart Collective and the Alberta Avenue Business Association, Eats on 118 helps to showcase the variety of establishments located in an often overlooked neighbourhood. I’ve discovered a few gems from past tours (including Plaza Bowl on the last crawl), and this evening was no different. In particular, it highlighted just how much diversity is present on the Avenue.

The group met up at Paraiso Tropical, a popular Latin food market in the heart of 118. We were welcomed by Jesus Gonzales, who took over the shop from his parents in 2009. Although they boast a wide selection of import products from the Caribbean, South and Central America, they also offer a selection of hot takeout items. The menu varies by day, and could include tacos, empanadas, and taquitos.

Eats on 118

Kicking off Eats on 118

That evening, we each received a street food box with two tacos and a pupusa. Of the trio, the al pastor taco was my favourite, but it was nice to be able to sample a few of their dishes.

Eats on 118

Sampler box from Paraiso Tropical

Our second stop was Mama Asha Cafe, easily missed tucked in next to an auto shop. Like Jesus, Saharla Aden also took over the business from her parents, renaming the restaurant after her grandmother.

Eats on 118

Saharla Aden of Mama Asha Cafe

Saharla and her husband also refreshed the dining room have a more modern, contemporary feel, reopening in May of this year. The menu is unique, offering all-day Somali breakfast and some dishes that are hard to find in Edmonton, such as shakshuuka.

Eats on 118

Savoury plate from Mama Asha

We indulged in a savoury plate featuring beef suqaar strips, rice, a samosa, sabayat (Somali flat bread – my favourite), and bajiya (black eyed pea fritters), but without a doubt, it was dessert that stole the show. The moist coconut cake we were served to end our visit is definitely worth seeking out.

Eats on 118

That coconut cake!

Next, we walked over to Mini Kitchen. While not a retail outlet, the production kitchen on 118 Avenue is used to prepare heat-and-eat Indian and Thai meals sold at eight farmers’ markets in Edmonton, St. Albert, Fort Saskatchewan, and Red Deer. Mini Kitchen’s products can also be found at some specialty retail locations.

Damini Mohan prides herself on preparing healthy and nutritious meals without compromising flavour. With the exception of soy sauce, all ingredients they use are non-gmo, and the produce they source is primarily organic. I enjoyed the taste of butter chicken and naan we were provided, with layers of flavour without an overwhelming heat.

Eats on 118

Butter chicken from Mini Kitchen

Our final destination was Passion de France, a patisserie opened by Montreal ex-pat Mélanie Dovale in 2014. A halal pastry shop, Passion de France fills a niche in Edmonton, but she shared that she likes the community feel of the neighbourhood.

Eats on 118

Pastries on the patio

We were provided with a generous variety of their treats, including a lemon meringue tart, chocolate orange tart, eclair, opera cake, and a macaron. My office is only a few blocks away, so it wasn’t my first brush with Passion de France, nor will it be my last.

Eats on 118

Dessert from Passion de France

Kirsta Franke from Wild Heart indicated that Eats on 118 will be back again for two installments in June of next year. So if you missed out, make sure to check the Alberta Avenue website in the spring! Thanks again to the organizers for putting on another great event.

Will Bike for Food: Food Bike Tour

Back in July, Mack and I were invited to join a Food Bike Tour. In their second year, the local company “strives to promote local people, places and products through healthy living”, merging a love of cycling and food. Each tour is unique, with stops at 4-6 locations. Tickets are $99 each, and cover all of the food and drink provided over the course of the 6 hour tour. Attendees are encouraged to bring their own bike, though we ended up renting through their partner, River Valley Adventure Company, at a discounted rate of $40 per bike for the day.

We met the rest of our tour group at Ezio Farone Park that Saturday morning. Collectively, we numbered around 40 participants, more than enough to comprise a critical mass to lend confidence to less experienced road cyclists like myself.

Foodie Bike Tour//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

Vanessa kicks off the tour

Food Bike Tour owner and tour leader Vanessa Ojeda was full of energy as she welcomed the group and provided an overview of the day. We’d all received an e-mail outlining the itinerary in advance, but we were also introduced to the three other guides who would be along for the ride, ready and able to help with bike fixes or first aid needs.

Our first leg took us through some of the river valley trails and up to High Street, where we stopped for some cheese education at Paddy’s Cheese. Fern Janzen has owned Paddy’s since 2001, and shared some of her wisdom with us:

  • store hard cheeses in cheesecloth, soft cheeses in thin wax paper, blue cheeses in tin foil
  • cheese doesn’t respond well to changes in temperature and humidity, so it’s best not to let it linger out of the fridge for too long
  • don’t freeze cheese (except she recommended grating cheese ends that can be repurposed in a recipe for cheese spread)

Fern shared that although truffled cheeses were once the most expensive product she stocked, it’s now the burrata, a fresh cheese that must be sold within two weeks.

Paddy's International Cheese

Fern shares her cheese knowledge

Before departing, Fern offered us several samples of cheese. Mack’s favourite was the wookey hole cheddar, a cave aged farmstand cheese from the UK.

We pedaled back downtown for our only full meal at Grandin Fish and Chips. We were given the freedom to select anything off the menu, though everyone stuck to the restaurant’s namesake dish.

Grandin Fish & Chips

Haddock and chips at Grandin

Chef Jesse Morrison-Gauthier was cooking behind the counter, and curiously didn’t address the crowd. It would have been nice to hear from him firsthand, particularly about the fresh products they’ve sourced from Effing Seafoods and Fin’s.

After the delicious but heavy meal, it was nice to get back on the bike and work it off. We rode to Cafe Sorrentino’s on 107 Avenue. At each of the stops, Food Bike Tour staff made sure those without locks would have their bikes chained together, something Mack and I appreciated for the convenience of not having to lock up our bikes individually.

Inside, Chris Hrynyk, the Assistant Corporate Chef with Sorrentino’s, led us through a condensed cooking assembly lesson. The location hosts a number of different cooking classes for kids, adults, and team building. Our group prepared (and enjoyed) arancini and bacon-wrapped figs.

Sorrentino's

A lesson in arancini

Around us, staff were busy preparing meals for various airlines – I wasn’t aware that Sorrentino’s supplied the pre-packaged boxes sold on some Sunwing and WestJet flights.

Sorrentino's

Forming a bacon-wrapped fig

By the time we departed for our next stop, temperatures were peaking at 31 degrees. Not being an avid cyclist really made the next leg challenging for me, particularly in the heat. The route took us through the lovely Mill Creek Ravine trails, so I was grateful for the shade, but in all honesty I probably could have used a rest break in between.

The itinerary had originally called for a stop at Cafe Bicyclette, but a private booking there meant we skipped straight to The Wired Cup in Strathearn.

The Wired Cup

Dave Jackson of The Wired Cup

Open for ten years, the neighbourhood coffee shop makes their own muffins, granola, and bread for their sandwiches. We sampled some of the housemade granola, iced coffee, and iced tea while perusing the items in the gift shop.

We biked back across the river to Parlour on Capital Boulevard. General Manager Steve Roy took us through the history of the 111 year old building (warehouse, car garage, casino/gentleman’s club, coffee house, and hair salon) before treating the group to a tasting of three of their draught wines. I appreciated that two of the three wines they served were Canadian, including a personal favourite, the Red Rooster pinot gris.

Parlour

Wine tasting at Parlour

Our final restaurant was close to home – the newly-opened Bottega on 104 Street. Neither Mack or I had been yet, so it was a great opportunity to sample some of their fare.

Bottega

The scene at Bottega

The restaurant prepared several of their pastas and pizzas for the group to taste – we all must have been pretty hungry by that point, as the food disappeared quickly from the buffet table!

Bottega

One of my favourites that night – rigatoni abruzzi

Many people decided to linger, purchasing drinks or other dishes to round out the day. We unfortunately had to return our bikes before the rental office closed, so we couldn’t stay. Our parting gift from the tour was a bag with snacks, water, and some valuable incentives to return to the businesses we visited that day, including a free pizza voucher from Parlour, a $10 gift card from Grandin Fish & Chips, and a 2 for 1 coffee at the Wired Cup. Vanessa also provided each of us with a Food Bike Tour passport; we had received a stamp at each stop along the way. If we attended future tours and collected a total of 30 stamps, we would be eligible for a $50 gift certificate from one of the tour restaurants.

One of my favourite aspects of the tour was the diversity of the businesses we visited, and the hands-on activities that were incorporated. It was neat to taste, learn, and cook our way through the city!

Most of the businesses are compensated for their participation, but in the process hope to expose their business to a new crowd.  The attendees we talked to had a great time and were very open to learning about new dining options, so while it seemed to have a positive affect, only time will tell if the tour will result in return visits.

The length was also an obvious challenge for me in terms of time commitment and fitness level required, as we ended up cycling nearly 30km that day. When asked, it appears their target demographic are avid cyclists, so the distance wouldn’t be such a barrier for this group. Still, if Food Bike Tours hopes to expand their reach in the future, they may want to consider half day tours on evenings or weekends that remain on one side of the river. It would be a nice teaser for those less comfortable with urban cycling as well.

Overall, I commend Food Bike Tours on encouraging alternative transportation modes to explore Edmonton. Vanessa’s passion for food and fitness is obvious, and she is helping to expose some local gems to a wider audience. Thanks again for having us!

Food Bike Tours runs until September – their last tours this year take place on September 9 and 16, 2017.

Orchard Tour at the Green & Gold Community Garden

The Green & Gold Community Garden has been in operation at the University of Alberta’s South Campus since 2009. Volunteer-run, the proceeds raised from the two acre farm go towards a not-for-profit organization that supports women in Rwanda. They grow about 50 different types of produce, with the availability posted on their website every week. Though I’d been to the garden early on and a few times over the years, I wasn’t aware that the farm was adjacent to a small orchard. At the end of July, Mack and I attended a free tour of the orchard to learn more about some of the fruits that can be grown in our climate.

Green & Gold Community Garden Orchard Tour

Green & Gold Community Garden

The tour was led by Gabe Botar, who worked for the U of A as a horticulturalist for 30 years and initiated the orchard. Although he has since retired, he is now a mentor to the Green & Gold volunteers who have taken over the responsibility of caring for the orchard he developed over 25 years ago.

Green & Gold Community Garden Orchard Tour

Gabe Botar

The hour long tour showcased the variety contained in the orchard. Some of the fruits we encountered are more commonly found around the city – apples, Evans cherries, saskatoons, goji berries – but some were unexpected, such as pears, grapes, apricots and butternut. The Green & Gold Garden sells the apricots collected from the trees, so it’s worth a visit if you’re wondering what they taste like!

Green & Gold Community Garden Orchard Tour

In the orchard

It was clear Gabe was passionate about this subject, and could have easily extended the tour into the evening hours. And though he is officially retired, he’s still experimenting – his latest breeding project is miniature pears.

Green & Gold Community Garden Orchard Tour

Grapes

I will admit that as a non-gardener, much of the technical information about grafting and root stocks sailed above my head, but it was still a neat experience to see different types of fruit that can thrive in Edmonton.

Green & Gold Community Garden Orchard Tour

Evans cherries

The Green & Gold Garden will be hosting three more tours in August, on August 15 (7-8pm), and August 19 & 26 (1-2pm). If you intend to go – plan to arrive early and pick up some produce before the tour begins.