My Wish List for Edmonton’s Food Scene

There are always things to be grateful for, and Edmonton’s burgeoning restaurant scene is definitely one of them. While I can’t say I’m actually a part of its development (commenting about it just isn’t the same as more active participation), it’s been wonderfully rewarding as a lifelong Edmontonian to see independent eateries and other food establishments successfully compete with chain restaurants.

At the same time, I know there are things in our dining scene that I would love to see – perhaps things that are percolating and forthcoming, but haven’t yet bubbled to the surface. In no particular order, here are some things I want to see more of:

  • One-note restaurants: It may be gimmicky, but places that serve one dish really well, such as Soul Soup or The Dawg Father, do attract attention. They are typically introduced to tourists as providing the “best” of something, and at the very least, force people to concentrate on one type of food, which may draw them away from their comfort zone.
  • Single word restaurant names: I was a bit disappointed with the recently opened Kai Asian Grill. I was really hoping the restaurant would grab “Kai” by the balls and just go with a single word to sell themselves to the world, but no, they copped out by adding “Asian Grill” to all of their signage. Yes, I know Edmonton has a number of restaurants that have one word names (Culina, Viphalay and Spago come to mind), but they don’t generate the same kind of excitement or mystery based on the name alone. Examples: Rouge (a contemporary French restaurant), Rush (a contemporary American restaurant) and Cilantro (which offers southwestern fare) in Calgary.
  • Food establishments as the hook for exploration: Beyond Chinatown and Little Italy, there are areas in Edmonton that should be explored on foot. Though food establishments generally become the bait to lure potential visitors to particular areas, they should not be the be-all-end-all of a visit. In April of last year, I wrote about a few walkable day trips that included food stops along the way – it was only a sample; I’m sure there are many others that I failed to include.
  • Innovative concepts: I was really excited when TZiN opened nearly two years ago. I really thought it would usher in a new age in Edmonton’s restaurant scene that would involve small, trendy establishments offering their own spin on dining. It hasn’t happened yet, but I’m still optimistic. Perhaps this means a charcuterie wine bar for Edmonton in the near future, but I’m sure the imagination of the city’s restauranteurs is greater than mine.
  • Year-round Farmer’s Markets: Summers in Edmonton are ripe with farmers’ markets (including my favourite one – the City Centre Market on 104th Street), but it’s a fairly depressing scene in the winter. There are only two approved farmers’ markets in metro Edmonton that operate year-round – Old Strathcona and Westmount – and one unapproved one at the Salisbury Greenhouse in Sherwood Park. Farmers’ markets are great places for people to learn about food and to feel a little more connected to the people who produce it, so it would be great to have more opportunities to do so, even in the winter.
  • Community gathering places: The Carrot, a volunteer-run coffeehouse on 118 Avenue, will be looked upon years from now as an inspirational model. Arts on the Ave, the organization behind The Carrot, has helped attract attention to the beleaguered neighbourhood by acting as a hub for community members to connect with one another, and by promoting local artists and causes. Edmonton could use more such initiatives.

What is on your wish list for Edmonton’s food scene?