West Edmonton Mall’s Taste of Bourbon

When I hear the words “taste of”, my mind immediately drifts to the concrete surface that is Churchill Square, remembering the wafting smell of fryer oil, barbecue, and the excited chatter of summer revellers enjoying one of Edmonton’s most popular festivals. Could this formula be replicated elsewhere, namely, within the confines of a shopping complex?

Taste of Bourbon

Taste of Bourbon

West Edmonton Mall is giving it a shot, with an event called Taste of Bourbon. This year sees its second incarnation, with 14 restaurants (most of them located right on Bourbon Street)participating. Sampling tickets were priced at $1 each, with the evening also boasting live entertainment and cooking demonstrations.

Taste of Bourbon

Bourbon Street

Mack and I were lucky enough to get a voucher redeemable for $25 worth of tickets, and unlike last year, were actually free to attend. We encountered a very busy Bourbon Street, benches overflowing with people enjoying their small plates.

Taste of Bourbon

The Hooters mascot

Scanning the menu, the dishes ranged in price from 2 to 6 tickets, averaging 4 tickets in price. Each restaurant offered up to four different dishes, most of which seemed to be samples taken from their regular menu.

Taste of Bourbon

Beard Papa was the odd booth out, as they were handing out free samples (which of course, we graciously accepted)

We dove right in – the alligator popcorn (6 tickets) and grilled cheese lollipops (6 tickets) from The Red Piano were easily the most appealing dishes being offered. We found the alligator to be slightly chewy, but the breading made up for it somewhat. The lollipops seemed to be a bit of false advertising to us – they really were deep fried balls of cheese – tasty, but not what we were expecting.

Taste of Bourbon

Alligator popcorn

Taste of Bourbon

Grilled cheese lollipops

Mack wanted to try the Creole crab and scallop cake from Moxie’s (4 tickets). It wasn’t spiced as aggressively as he would have liked, but it satisfied his craving for seafood.

Taste of Bourbon

Mack and his Creole crab and scallop cake

Mr. Mike’s crackling sirloin steak bites (4 tickets) sounded interesting to me, but just turned out to just be their version of dry ribs, served with a ranch sauce. It was tasty, albeit not too exciting, but like much of the food served at the event, was chosen for its crowd-pleasing nature.

Taste of Bourbon

Crackling sirloin steak bites

We rounded off our sampling with a serving of taquitos and rice from Jungle Jim’s (5 tickets). It was a hefty serving, with four taquitos over a bed of rice. The rice was bland, and though I would have liked crispier taquitos, they were all right.

Taste of Bourbon

Taquitos and rice

We caught a bit of Chef Shane Chartrand (of L2 Grill) on the makeshift stage. He was about to flambé a dish – something necessarily flashy to draw in the passing crowds.

Taste of Bourbon

Chef Chartrand

Noticeably missing from the list of participating restaurants was Earls and Cactus Club Cafe. Given both establishments were bursting at the seams, with extensive lines of patrons outside, it was obvious such a promotional opportunity wasn’t necessary for either, but that seemed to be beside the point of Taste of Bourbon. Bourbon Street is essentially one large dining hall – if one restaurant is full, it is an easy enough just to head next door.

That said, given most of the restaurants have multiple locations and/or are chains, with the exception of Fantasyland Hotel, L2 Grill and The Red Piano, a majority of the dishes served were fairly pedestrian, and can be found on menus at restaurants all over the city. Thus, Taste of Bourbon just can’t have the draw that something like the Taste of Edmonton would have, where many independent restaurants participate, in a setting that isn’t easily replicated indoors.

Still, it was a fun evening, and one I would partake in again, but perhaps not go out of my way to visit.

World Vision One Life Experience

I took some time on Friday to walk through the World Vision One Life Experience, located at the HMV Stage at West Edmonton Mall. I read about the free exhibit a few days ago, and was interested to see how the stories of the children affected by HIV/AIDS would be conveyed.

Upon entering the exhibit, I was given an iPod Shuffle and headphones, and asked to enter a curtained area after pressing play. Participants follow the tracks of one of four children based on true stories. I was Stephen, an 11 year old from Uganda.

The path travelled included pictures of Stephen’s family and a replica of the bed he and his siblings slept in. One night, he and his brother were abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army, after which Stephen was forced to watch and commit horrible acts of violence. Here, I was invited to pick up a rifle attached to the wall, to feel the weight of the weapon and further immerse myself in the footsteps of the young boy. Luckily, Stephen was rescued from his captors and spent some time in a rehabilitation camp for child soldiers.

Before heading home, Stephen had to take an HIV/AIDS test. At this point, participants were directed to a clinic to sit and reflect on the possibility of infection before being provided with a piece of paper stamped either with a “+” or “-” sign. It was a bit unnerving, even though it wasn’t “real.” Stephen thankfully tested negative, and was reunited with his family.

This is a really unique exhibit because it goes beyond using statistics and images to expose the public to the HIV/AIDS pandemic and other problems being faced by many countries in Africa. The One Life Experience runs until Sunday.

One Life Experience