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.

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: Eats on 118, Bowling Edition

I had such a grand time at the first Eats on 118 in April of this year that I knew I had to sign up for their second event in late June. Su was the perfect dining companion as we ate (and bowled!) our way down the street together.

Organized by Wild Heart Collective, the tours are designed to showcase businesses that may otherwise be overlooked because of the overall reputation of the area. Although I had been to some of the restaurants prior, it’s always interesting to learn more about the people behind the businesses.

We started our evening at Lan’s Asian Grill. Named for their mother, Lan’s is operated by three siblings: Tom manages front of house, Monica ably leads the kitchen, and Vince handles all marketing and photography. They’ve been in business since 2008, and though their parents taught them to be great hosts, they didn’t want them to be restaurant owners. But with several generations of chefs and food entrepreneurs in their family, it was in their blood, and it’s clear that this family is passionate about what they do. Tom shared that they just signed another five year lease, and they’re happy with how the neighbourhood has continued to grow since they moved nearly a decade ago.

Eats on 118

Vince, Monica, and Tom of Lan’s Asian Grill

We sampled several small plates at Lan’s. Everything is made from scratch (so they can manage the dietary restrictions of most diners), and pride themselves in using free range chicken and organic vegetables.

The carrot and green papaya salad was my favourite course – vibrant, crunchy, and refreshing (I had to laugh when Tom said the heat level was “baby spice”, considering it was on the hot side for me).

Eats on 118

Green papaya and carrot salad

We also tried their chicken satay skewers and a lovely dessert of passion fruit and guava panna cotta.

Eats on 118

Passion fruit and guava panna cotta

Our second stop was just around the corner – The Duck (which some may remember as The Blind Duck) is now led by Alex.

Eats on 118

Kirsta Franke of the Wild Heart Collective introduces us to The Duck

He served us a buffet-style Mediterranean spread, including baba ganoush, hummus, and fatayar (meat and spinach pies). Though most items we tried don’t appear on their regular menu, they are often featured as daily specials, and are available through their catering service. Of the samples we tried, the fava bean dip was at the top of my list, creamy and well seasoned.

Eats on 118

Bites from The Duck

I was most excited for our third and final stop. Plaza Bowling Co. has been in the Stride family for three generations since it opened in 1959. The facility has been meticulously maintained for the nearly 60 years they’ve operated, as it changed hands from grandfather, to father, and now to son.

Although Trevor Stride never thought he’d continue the family business, when his dad told him he’d be putting it up for sale, it just didn’t feel right. So on January 1, 2017 he returned to Edmonton from Vancouver in the hopes of creating a place for people to socialize. He brought in TVs and craft beer, focusing on brews from Alberta and BC on six rotating taps. In the fall, they’ll also be serving up some food prepared by Drift.

Eats on 118

Su has great form!

They have sixteen five-in lanes, and the only remaining wooden lanes in the city. The space feels worn in, laid back, and comfortable, and we had such a great time bowling one game that we stayed for a second.

Eats on 118

Five pin bowling!

Because Plaza Bowl doesn’t have a full kitchen, they allow groups to order food in. In this case, Eats on 118 wanted to showcase another business off the Avenue – Otto.

Whereas Plaza’s refrain is “craft beer and bowling”, Otto operates on “craft beer and sausages”. It’s a gem of a restaurant in Norwood, relaxed and family friendly. They served up two different kinds of Fuge sausages and coleslaw for us to try – the Otto dog (a bratwurst stuffed with Sylvan Star smoked gouda) was new to me, and will definitely be on order on my next visit to Otto.

Eats on 118

Otto dog and coleslaw

Kudos to Wild Heart Collective for putting together such a fun evening! If you missed it, you have one last chance this year to (re)discover Alberta Avenue – the last Eats on 118 takes place on August 30, and tickets are just $42.

Showcasing Alberta Avenue: Eats on 118

It was kismet for the 2017 season of Eats on 118 food tours to start at the end of April. My office just relocated to 118 Avenue this week, so I thought the tour would be a great way to acquaint (or reacquaint) myself with some of the eateries I’ll be frequenting more.

Wild Heart Collective (the same folks behind the 124 Grand Market, among other placemaking events) was brought in by the Alberta Avenue Business Association to run a pilot of food tours in September 2016. The four tours in four weeks were so successful that they decided to continue in 2017. It appears to be a good decision so far; the first tour of the season was so popular Wild Heart had to open up a second seating to accommodate those interested.

Eats on 118

Eats on 118

As with most food tours, the hope for participating restaurants is that patrons will return on their own after the guided introduction. Happily, Business Association Executive Director Joachim Holtz shared that many of the restaurants that participated last fall did notice an uptick in traffic following the tours.

On this tour, the $40 ticket would include tastes at three restaurants that we would reach by foot. As I mentioned in a recent post however, the value for organized tours is not found in the food alone, but in the information or access provided by the guide. In some ways, the buy-in from the Business Association (and the connections they can bring) has resulted in a solid foundation for Eats on 118; all three restaurants were enthusiastic and well prepared for their showcase.

Mack and I joined about two dozen others for the first seating on Wednesday evening. Kirsta Franke was our tour guide.

Eats on 118

A welcome from Kirsta and Joachim

We began at Battista’s Calzones, an Alberta Avenue gem. Battista Vecchio has been in business for six years, and his handmade calzones have been featured on Food Network’s You Gotta Eat Here. But you have to visit in person to understand why Battista’s Calzones is worth seeking out. Hot out of the oven, the dough is soft and yielding, encasing savoury combinations ranging from all-beef meatloaf (my favourite) to prosciutto, artichokes and truffle oil (Battista’s favourite).

Eats on 118

Battista’s Calzones

That night, everyone had the chance to sample two calzone flavours. Though I could have easily finished a whole calzone, it was probably wise of the organizers to limit this appetizer to only part of a calzone so we’d be able to pace ourselves for the other establishments.

Our second stop was on the next block at T & D Noodle House. A family-run restaurant open for more than two years, T & D is named after its proprietors Thien and Diep. Their daughter Laura (who also happens to serve on the Business Association Board of Directors) offered us a warm welcome. She served up one of their most popular dishes – chicken, beef, and spring roll combination plate.

Eats on 118

Chicken, beef, and spring roll combination plate at T & D Noodle House

Everything was well-prepared, but I was really hoping for a sample of their pho. One of the things I’m still mourning with our office move is not being within walking distance of Chinatown’s Pho Tau Bay any longer (my go-to for quick lunches), so I’ll be back to T & D to see if they’ll work out as an adequate stand-in.

Our final visit was another neighbourhood favourite – El Rancho. Open for thirteen years, El Rancho has been a part of the Avenue’s revitalization efforts. Last year, restaurant owner Dora Arevalo founded a street festival that celebrated Latin food, dancing and music; expect the event to return again this July.

Although Dora was away in El Salvador last night, her hospitable staff ensured we were well-fed and happy. Each table was provided with a platter of chorizo, beef, and chicken tacos to share. Although we’ve been to El Rancho many times, we typically stick with their pupusas and flautas, so it was great to be reminded of their other menu options. The chicken tacos were by far our favourite.

Eats on 118

Tacos at El Rancho

Mack and I agreed we were served just enough food to be comfortably full – any more and we would have had to bag leftovers!

It sounds like the Business Association recognizes the assets they have in the neighbourhood, and have found a good way to highlight them. I hope these initiatives do encourage ongoing return visits to an area that is often overlooked.

Thanks to Wild Heart and the Alberta Avenue Business Association for organizing a fun evening! If you missed it, there are two additional tours to come on June 28 and August 30, 2017 – tickets are now available, and are likely to sell out fast.