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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.