Epicureous in Edmonton: 2009 in Review

I thought it was another great year for Edmonton’s food scene, though I probably sound like a broken record. However, it’s hard not to get excited when small, local businesses are getting the recognition they deserve in supplying the city with specialized products.

Tomatoes from Sundog Organics

Here are a few of the year’s notable trends and events:

  • A second Edmonton restaurant family was profiled in the third season of Family Restaurant early this year. Food Network Canada viewers were treated to a behind-the-scenes look at the Quons, the family behind local institutions The Lingnan and Chicken for Lunch. Unfortunately, the show left something to be desired.
  • While the effects of the recession were somewhat muted in Canada, people in Edmonton were still looking for dining deals to be had. As a result, several local restaurants, including The Blue Pear and Hardware Grill introduced menus with lower price points to entice patrons.
  • In spite of the economic downturn, several local establishments expanded their business in 2009. Health Fare opened its second location downtown, Famoso christened a third branch in South Edmonton Common, a third Mikado is now in the west end, and a new Transcend cafe will begin operation in Garneau in January 2010.
  • 2009 also saw several chains move into the city, including Cora’s, Cactus Club Cafe, and opening in early 2010, fondue restaurant Melting Pot.
  • Frozen yogurt shops, akin to their US cousins, have finally arrived in Edmonton! Twisted Yogurt opened up its first parlour in August, while Kiwi Kiss joined the fray in October. Expect many more storefronts in the first half of 2010.
  • As Eater would say, two’s a trend – both Vinomania and The Bothy are equipped with state-of-the-art Enomatic Wine Serving System. I wouldn’t be surprised if more restaurants go this route in the nest year.
  • Specialty bakeries were also launched in full force, with no less than four cake shops and cupcakeries popping up – Cake Couture, The Cake House, Flirt, and a second Fuss Cupcakes outlet on Whyte Avenue. Of course, who could forget Duchess, whose opening was the equivalent of a culinary earthquake in Edmonton.
  • A trend going into 2010 will undoubtedly be more transparent menus and accommodating kitchens, as more people require or choose gluten-free, vegetarian or vegan diets, but in 2009, Backstairs Cafe was already ahead of the trend, showcasing vegan cuisine and giving Edmonton its first culinary speakeasy in the process.
  • Local food producers continue to gain a foothold in the market, with the Good Food Box and new Alberta Avenue Farmers’ Market providing more opportunities to support area farmers, the Eat Local First initiative helping consumers to identify goods made by local purveyors, the Meet the Locals Festival connecting shoppers with producers, and the successful launch of We Eat Togethershowing the appetite for local food.

I’m looking forward to what 2010 has in store already!

Epicureous in Edmonton: 2008 Year in Review

I thought 2008 was a great year for Edmonton’s burgeoning culinary scene, and many in the community that I’ve talked to in the past few months have expressed the same opinion. Of course, with maintaining this blog, my bias is staying afloat of news and trends, and picking up on information that I would have ignored just as easily in the past.

That said, more local bloggers joined the online fray in 2008, the number of locally-owned and independent restaurants continue to rise, and farmer’s markets are not only mainstream, but the consumer thirst for seasonal, sustainable agriculture is stronger than ever.

Here are a few of the year’s notable occurrences:

  • Edmontonians flexed their culinary muscle this year – Chad Moss of Transcend Coffee placed fourth in October at the Canadian National Barista Competition, while the Culinary Team from NAIT brought home a total of five medals from the prestigious Culinary Olympics that took place in Germany.
  • Edmonton Journal readers bid adieu to longtime Bistro writer Judy Schultz at the end of 2007, and welcomed Liane Faulder to the section. She published her first series of articles in mid-May, and is continuing to dodge her predecessor’s still-looming shadow.
  • The city mourned the loss of a few beloved eateries, most notably Il Portico in October. Four Rooms, Nikita’s, and Bacon, among others, also called it quits.
  • On the upside, downtown Edmonton has been the recipient of quite a number of new and exciting endeavours: Kerstin Roos opened her fantastic chocolate shop The Cocoa Room in February; Sobeys piloted their new “Urban Fresh” concept on the rapidly-developing 104th Street in May; Century Hospitality swooped in on the vacant storefront in the historic McLeod Building for Hundred Bar & Kitchen in October; and a new incarnation of an Edmonton institution, renamed The Hat, began on October 24.
  • Other culinary pockets are popping up in our sprawling city, such as southwest Edmonton with Health Fare and Red Brick Pizza, and a trend of more upscale food alternatives on Whyte Avenue, like Devlin’s and Origin India.
  • Many locally-grown establishments also branched out this year, including Sorrentino’s, with Bistecca, an Italian steakhouse, and a second Culina, nestled in Highlands.

I have a feeling 2009 will be even better, as citizens continue to become more aware of where their food is coming from, and the food community grows in presence and vocalization.

On that note, look forward to a meetup of local foodies in the new year, spearheaded by Hanne from Supper in Stereo and I. Keep an eye out on the wiki for details.