September 21st, 2017

Recap: Urban Pedal Tour in Old Strathcona

Urban Pedal Tours have taken Edmonton by storm. Launched just this May by Matt and Carol Gosse, they’ve nearly been at capacity all summer, offering a unique alternative to the typical pub crawl. Instead of the usual bus or exploration by foot, Urban Pedal Tours moves tour groups through Old Strathcona and Downtown via 15-passenger bikes.

Inspired by a similar tour they enjoyed in Seattle two years ago, Edmonton joins Montreal, Victoria, and Kelowna as communities in Canada that have adopted this interesting mode to see the city. While no liquor laws in the country allow consumption while on the bike, the u-shaped bike definitely promotes more interaction throughout the tour.

On Sunday afternoon, Mack and I were invited by Linda to participate in an Urban Pedal Tour, along with a dozen others. Part of a Travel Alberta-funded excursion, our trek would be filmed for an “Edmonton on wheels” spot to be released next year.

The group met up at the Urban Pedal Tours garage in Old Strathcona, signed waivers, and received an orientation to the bike from Matt. Although the bike holds up to 15 passengers, only 10 are pedaling seats. We rotated positions between stops so everyone had the chance to pedal (something I much preferred!). For the most part, it was an easy cycle, with the bike maxing out at speeds of 8km per hour. It was also a much less intense than the Food Bike Tour Mack and I joined back in August.

Urban Pedal Tours

With our ride

Matt, who was in charge of steering the bike, was very careful about merging us into traffic. Although we were definitely moving much slower than vehicle traffic typically travels down Whyte Avenue, most drivers were surprisingly forgiving about our pace. Combined with the friendly horn and the on-board music system, drivers were more inclined to smile and wave as we passed than honk.

We made three stops that afternoon on the two hour tour. The first was El Cortez for some appetizers and drinks. The $38 per person fee only covers the tour portion; any food or drink is extra (on this tour, the fee was covered by Travel Alberta, but we paid for our own food and drinks). That said, Urban Pedal Tours has arranged some special offers for its patrons – in the case of El Cortez, it was happy hour pricing.

El Cortez

El Cortez

Our table split an order of guacamole and chips (half price), and a few people tried their sangrias (on special every Sunday). Matt was great about ensuring the group knew how much time we had at each stop (approximately 25 minutes), but the limit did result in some people having to down their drinks quickly depending on when it was delivered.

El Cortez

Linda is all smiles!

Our second stop was Malt and Mortar. Several tables had been reserved for the group, with bowls of house-spiced popcorn ready for us to snack on. Sundays at Malt and Mortar mean $10 Caesars, which Mack took advantage of.

Urban Pedal Tours

Mack tried the Smoke Caesar

We spent the most time at the final stop, Situation Brewing. We were all encouraged to grab a pint before a quick tour of the brewery.

Urban Pedal Tours

Thom and Mike enjoy a pint

We learned that their current best sellers are their Page Turner IPA, Uno Mas, and Afternoon Tea Saison, and that they brew approximately 10-15,000l per month.

Situation Brewing

Tour at Situation Brewing

While at Situation, we were eyeing up the other parties around the brew pub who were having lunch. It would mean lengthening the tour, but I would have preferred at least one stop where we could have the opportunity to order a more significant portion of food. We did learn from Matt that next summer, they do intend to add a third bike to their roster, and potentially offer more specialty tours that could be more food-oriented. It will be interesting to see if they do introduce an all-inclusive rate to their offerings; I’d personally prefer to pay for my food and drinks up front, but I can understand the logistical challenges this may cause to their business model.

At any rate, it was great to be able to take part in an Urban Pedal Tour – it was a fun way to spend a fleeting summer afternoon. Thanks again to Linda for the invitation and to Travel Alberta for setting this up!

Urban Pedal Tours

We did it! (photo credit: Linda)

Urban Pedal Tours runs until September 30, 2017, and will return in May 2018.

September 19th, 2017

A Tale of Two Baos: Chef’s Table at Baijiu

Though living on 104 Street gives us easy access to some of the most trendy restaurants in the city, I’d say the closer they are, the less likely we’ve been to them. We’re just not as spontaneous as we used to be, and don’t tend to venture out once we’re in for the night. So in an effort to make it to Baijiu a mere seven months after opening, we made plans to have dinner there in early September.

It was only fitting in some ways that we waited for my sister Amanda and her boyfriend Jason to visit before hitting up Baijiu. We had dined together at Toronto’s Dailo last year, one of Baijiu’s inspirations. We had enjoyed Dailo’s fusion take on Asian dishes, but were keen to see what Chef Alexei Boldireff has done locally.

We reserved the four top chef’s table on a Thursday night. The stools provide a perfect vantage point into the kitchen, with a view of the camaraderie and a perspective of the night’s most popular dishes. Lex and his team were more than happy to chat throughout our meal, which made for an even more engaging experience. Perhaps the only (small) downside was having our back to the stylish bar and the restaurant as a whole as our attention was directed at the kitchen.

Baijiu

Baijiu

It made sense to leave things up to Lex, so we opted for the small plates chef’s choice tasting menu ($25/person, 4 guest minimum). We found this to be of good value, as we were able to share seven different dishes (some of which were off-menu), and still had room for dessert.

To whet our palate, Lex gave us some of their house-made pork jerky to try, something they’re hoping to introduce as a bar snack in the future. While it didn’t quite have the texture of the jerky I’ve had abroad, the  sweet-salty flavour was definitely coming through. This was just their first crack at the recipe, so I’m sure they’ll land it soon enough!

Baijiu

Pork jerky

Our first course, the devilled tea eggs, were also an example of Lex’s interpretation of a traditional dish. To maintain the soft consistency of the white, he opts not to overcook the eggs, then dresses it with crispy shallots, pickled chilies, togarashi, wasabi, scallion, and sesame seeds. The presentation is beautiful, and they made a lovely two-bite starter.

Baijiu

Devilled tea eggs

The green papaya salad was particularly refreshing that day (having reached temperatures of +30), with the mild heat of the dressing complementing the crispness of the shredded vegetables.

Baijiu

Green papaya salad

The kitchen had just received the first corn of the season, so were excited to serve it up with some Fairwinds Farm goat yogurt mixed with charred scallions, mint, fish sauce, chives, and Korean chili. The yogurt was so rich it had a taste reminiscent of parmesan, making even non-dairy fan Jason a convert.

Baijiu

Corn, Baijiu style

The lap cheong fried rice is an Asian staple, and I particularly appreciated the fact that the kitchen makes sure to dry the rice for a few days to produce the optimal consistency.

Baijiu

Lap cheong fried rice

Lex, back when he was slinging sandwiches at his food truck S’wich, was known for his house-made breads. For that reason, we knew that his steamed baos were probably a good bet – and we weren’t disappointed. The braised pork bao were easily my favourite dish, dressed with soy mayo, and pickled and shaved cabbage. Even better, we were reminded that Baijiu offers bao specials every Tuesday – just 2 for $7.

Baijiu

Braised pork bao

The pork and shrimp lion’s head dumplings were Amanda and Jason’s favourite, and were fairly authentic in their flavour and execution, served with a ginger-soy sauce.

Baijiu

Pork and shrimp lion’s head dumplings

The vegetable tempura was a nice plate to share (it was my first time trying a tempura zucchini blossom), but the lightly battered vegetables didn’t elicit the same level of interest as the previous dishes.

Baijiu

Vegetable tempura

We split the fried bao matcha ice cream sandwich; if we weren’t so full, I’m sure all of us would have ordered an individual portion. It’s definitely one of the tastiest desserts I’ve had recently, not overly sweet, and a fun take on a doughnut ice cream sandwich.

Baijiu

Fried bao matcha ice cream sandwich

Though Mack and I were predisposed to rate Baijiu above Dailo, Jason and Amanda both agreed that this meal did reign supreme. It’s really great to see a restaurant of this style and caliber in Edmonton; I look forward to my next (planned) visit!

Baijiu
10359 104 Street (Mercer Warehouse)
(780) 421-7060
Tuesday-Thursdays 5pm-midnight, Friday-Saturday 5pm-1am, closed Sundays and Mondays

September 18th, 2017

Food Notes for September 18, 2017

  • Mark your calendar: this year’s Restaurants for Change is taking place on October 18, 2017. Proceeds from the dinner service will go towards community food programs in 19 cities in Canada. RGE RD is the only local participant.
  • Congratulations on Sugared & Spiced on their storefront soft opening this weekend, located at 10334 82 Avenue. They’re closed for the next few days, but follow them on Instagram to see when you can satisfy your sweet tooth!
  • Tiffin Fresh Kitchen, a fast casual restaurant offering Indian cuisine, is now open at 5135 Ellerslie Road SW.
  • It looks like Iconoclast Coffee will be one of the first tenants into the new Mercantile Hub at 102 Avenue and 121 Street.
  • The Tapas Tuesday menu at ZINC is now available on Wednesdays as well – Mack and I checked it out early on in the summer.
  • Toronto-based Sweet Jesus will be opening two locations in Edmonton – at WEM and Southgate – get ready for some epic soft serve! Thanks to Amelia for the heads up.
  • Wild Earth Foods will be closing at the end of September.
  • A new chef has been announced at Wildflower Grill – a SAIT grad J.P. Dublado.
  • Both Phil and Crystal attended the recent Salz pop-up, featuring examples of the sausage and beer that will be served at the restaurant when it opens in late October, located at 10556 115 Street.
  • Cindy recapped Vignettes Does Dining runs by Tzin and Farrow, and has details about another lunch pop-up next week by Honest Dumplings, Revolution Ice Cream, and South Island Pie on September 26-27, 2017.
  • Jonny enjoyed his first experience at Tang Bistro.
  • Valerie continued her sourdough education with Kaelin Whittaker of The Ruby Apron.
  • Always great to see the community get behind food drives – in this case, through a potato harvest at Lady Flower Gardens.
  • I had lunch with Linda last week at El Rancho, and definitely over-ordered when it came to the pupusas.

Untitled

I love the pupusas at El Rancho

  • It’s been a while since we’ve had brunch with my family, so it was nice to meet up at Canteen over the weekend when my sister Felicia was visiting.

Canteen

Lemon blueberry pancakes at Canteen

September 14th, 2017

Recap: Eats on 118, International Edition

The third and final Eats on 118 event this year took place in late August. A series of events organized by Wild Heart Collective and the Alberta Avenue Business Association, Eats on 118 helps to showcase the variety of establishments located in an often overlooked neighbourhood. I’ve discovered a few gems from past tours (including Plaza Bowl on the last crawl), and this evening was no different. In particular, it highlighted just how much diversity is present on the Avenue.

The group met up at Paraiso Tropical, a popular Latin food market in the heart of 118. We were welcomed by Jesus Gonzales, who took over the shop from his parents in 2009. Although they boast a wide selection of import products from the Caribbean, South and Central America, they also offer a selection of hot takeout items. The menu varies by day, and could include tacos, empanadas, and taquitos.

Eats on 118

Kicking off Eats on 118

That evening, we each received a street food box with two tacos and a pupusa. Of the trio, the al pastor taco was my favourite, but it was nice to be able to sample a few of their dishes.

Eats on 118

Sampler box from Paraiso Tropical

Our second stop was Mama Asha Cafe, easily missed tucked in next to an auto shop. Like Jesus, Saharla Aden also took over the business from her parents, renaming the restaurant after her grandmother.

Eats on 118

Saharla Aden of Mama Asha Cafe

Saharla and her husband also refreshed the dining room have a more modern, contemporary feel, reopening in May of this year. The menu is unique, offering all-day Somali breakfast and some dishes that are hard to find in Edmonton, such as shakshuuka.

Eats on 118

Savoury plate from Mama Asha

We indulged in a savoury plate featuring beef suqaar strips, rice, a samosa, sabayat (Somali flat bread – my favourite), and bajiya (black eyed pea fritters), but without a doubt, it was dessert that stole the show. The moist coconut cake we were served to end our visit is definitely worth seeking out.

Eats on 118

That coconut cake!

Next, we walked over to Mini Kitchen. While not a retail outlet, the production kitchen on 118 Avenue is used to prepare heat-and-eat Indian and Thai meals sold at eight farmers’ markets in Edmonton, St. Albert, Fort Saskatchewan, and Red Deer. Mini Kitchen’s products can also be found at some specialty retail locations.

Damini Mohan prides herself on preparing healthy and nutritious meals without compromising flavour. With the exception of soy sauce, all ingredients they use are non-gmo, and the produce they source is primarily organic. I enjoyed the taste of butter chicken and naan we were provided, with layers of flavour without an overwhelming heat.

Eats on 118

Butter chicken from Mini Kitchen

Our final destination was Passion de France, a patisserie opened by Montreal ex-pat Mélanie Dovale in 2014. A halal pastry shop, Passion de France fills a niche in Edmonton, but she shared that she likes the community feel of the neighbourhood.

Eats on 118

Pastries on the patio

We were provided with a generous variety of their treats, including a lemon meringue tart, chocolate orange tart, eclair, opera cake, and a macaron. My office is only a few blocks away, so it wasn’t my first brush with Passion de France, nor will it be my last.

Eats on 118

Dessert from Passion de France

Kirsta Franke from Wild Heart indicated that Eats on 118 will be back again for two installments in June of next year. So if you missed out, make sure to check the Alberta Avenue website in the spring! Thanks again to the organizers for putting on another great event.

September 11th, 2017

Food Notes for September 11, 2017

I’m not quite ready to bid adieu to summer, even if the days are getting noticeably shorter already. All we can hope for now is a glorious fall! On to this week’s food notes:

  • The Vignettes Dining Series continues this week until September 24, 2017 with a Farrow pop-up, and dinners by Three Boars, Wishbone, and, Alder Room, and Alta.
  • Do you want to have a say on the national food policy? A community-organized consultation is taking place at the Edmonton Food Bank on September 13,2017 from 6-9pm.
  • Honest Dumplings and Prairie Pigeon are back with a pop-up at Culina Cafe at the Muttart on September 14, 2017. Tickets for the 3-course dinner are $45 per person.
  • Arts on the Avenue’s annual Kaleido Festival is back September 15-17, 2017 with an Iron Heart mystery box cook-off and 10 food trucks serving up eats alongside the arts and cultural performances.
  • The Alberta Council for the Ukrainian Arts is hosting Route of Our Roots, a Ukrainian food fair, on September 15, 2017 at the Old Timers Cabin. Admission is free, but food tickets are required to taste the samples.
  • Sustainable Food Edmonton will be hosting their first ever Fall Fair on September 16, 2017 in conjunction with Riverdale Community League Day. They’ll be accepting entries for bragging rights for the best pie, jam, pickling, and even the ugliest vegetable grown.
  • Northlands is offering their final free Urban Farm Tour for the season on September 17, 2017. Just make sure you register online!
  • To help celebrate National Chicken Month, consider the next Prairie on the Plate dinner at Northern Chicken on September 26, 2017. The 5-course meal is on for $50.
  • Little Brick is hosting a New England-style crab boil on September 30, 2017. Tickets are $40 each.
  • Viva Italia is hosting a Harvest Market in Giovanni Caboto Park on September 30, from 12-7pm. Expect grape stomping, among other activities.
  • Those who knew Ernesto Rizzi and his Dolce and Banana food truck might be interested in a fundraiser that will help establish a memorial fund in his name. An prime rib dinner and opera/comedic performance from The PreTenors is taking place on October 28, 2017 at Century Casino. Tickets are $55.
  • LitFest has released their line-up, and their Food Matters event returns on October 21, 2017 with Toronto restauranteur Jen Agg, science writer Bob Holmes, chef David Wolfman, and Jennifer Cockrall-King. Tickets are $45.
  • Those who were looking forward to this year’s Diner en Blanc will be disappointed – the new team of organizers have decided to postpone the event until 2018.
  • Liane confirmed the closure of Vivo’s downtown location.
  • Remedy opened its sixth location in Southgate Centre back in August.
  • Town Square Brewing in south Edmonton is very close to opening.
  • It looks like a location of Tsujiri, offering matcha-based desserts and drinks, is opening downtown at 10173 109 Street.
  • If you’ve been waiting to try Alta, now might be the perfect opportunity: they’ve introduced a $30 3-course prix fixe lunch from 11am-2pm.
  • Sharon didn’t enjoy her first experience at newly-opened Ripe Tomato Pizza.
  • Cindy reviews the Taiwanese desserts at ZenQ.
  • Jonny sampled several dishes from Biera and had a positive meal overall.
  • Bundok’s brunch is endorsed by the Edmonton Journal.
  • Crystal is the latest to check out Pho Boy.
  • Graham has a rundown on Edmonton’s newest patisseries.
  • Vue Weekly reminds us that Sunbake Pita is worth a visit.
  • Valerie’s latest Cooking in the Kitchen post is all about making a sourdough starter with instructions from The Ruby Apron’s Kaelin Whittaker.
  • It’s about time the Canadian Food Guide is updated – it’s not ready, but some major changes are coming, including recommendations about decreasing intake of red meat, fatty meats, whole-fat dairy, and processed foods.
  • My sister Amanda was in town last week, so I had to show her some of the good eats she’s been missing. One of the many stops: Zwick’s Pretzels.

Zwick's Pretzels

Pretzel trifecta from Zwick’s

  • Thanks to the Downtown Edmonton Community League for hosting their annual Corn Fest over the weekend, coinciding with the opening our Downtown’s newest green space, Alex Decouteau Park at 105 Street and 102 Avenue.

Corn Fest

It’s corn season

  • The final What the Truck?! event of the season took place on Saturday. This poutine burger from Northlands’ 1879 was certainly an eye catcher.

1879 Food Truck

Poutine burger with duck fat fries

September 6th, 2017

Spanish Brunch: Bodega Highlands

Sabor Divino and its family of restaurants is a local success story. Sabor is known as one of the top seafood establishments in the city, while Urbano Pizza helped usher in the wave of quick-serve, thin-crust pizza parlours in Edmonton. Bodega, on the other hand, occupies a unique position with its authentic approach to Spanish tapas, allowing diners an accessible way to traverse the globe for Mediterranean flavours. It’s a successful formula that has translated into a need to expand the original location on the Boardwalk downtown, spawned a cozy second location in Highlands, and later this year, will add a third just off 124 Street in the former Dish and the Runaway Spoon space.

That said, each Bodega branch will offer something slightly different; for instance, we were told that the 124 Street location will be open for lunch. The Highlands location on the other hand, serves what they term "Spanish brunch" every Saturday and Sunday from 11am-2pm. The menu carries over some of their tapas-style dishes, but features other, egg-based dishes to tempt the palate of weekend brunch seekers.

The dishes are variations of familiar dishes, but with a Spanish or Portuguese twist – a Spanish potato omelette, baked eggs with chorizo and Serrano ham, and a breakfast sandwich topped with the chef’s special sauce, a unique recipe every Portuguese restaurant has on its roster, or so we were told.

My friend May and I met up at Bodega Highlands for brunch on Saturday. There were only a handful of other tables during our stay, which was a bit surprising given the usual brunch hustle in Edmonton. Our server indicated that it’s typically busier on Sundays, but we also had to wonder whether their brunch program is still relatively under the radar.

Bodega Highlands

Bodega Highlands

I ended up ordering the migas con huevos ($15), sautéed bread crumble and bacon with two fried eggs and beef sausage. May selected the Francesinha ($18), a Portuguese baked sandwich with Edam, sausage, ham, beef tenderloin, chorizo, fried egg, and the aforementioned special sauce – definitely not a dish for the faint of heart. We also decided to share the salt cod fritters ($9) to start.

Given the quiet state of the dining room, we received our dishes relatively quickly. The fritters were nice and light, though probably would have paired better with a glass of wine or beer as opposed to coffee.

Bodega Highlands

Salt cod fritters

Our mains were generous; a side salad wasn’t mentioned on the menu but I appreciated the pop of freshness on the plate. The mixture of toasted bread, bacon, and eggs was satisfying, but it was the well-seasoned beef sausage that was the star of the dish. My only quibble was I had to send my eggs back once to have them cooked to the requested doneness; unfortunately, even after that they were still not right.

Bodega Highlands

Migas con huevos

May really enjoyed her sandwich, a meat eater’s dream. The sauce soaked right through the bread, and provided a nice accompaniment to the different layers of meat.

Bodega Highlands

Francesinha

Service was attentive throughout, and refills of water and tea were plentiful. It may have been different with a busier room, but we were satisfied with the experience overall.

Afterwards, we walked off brunch with a stroll through the neighbourhood – Bodega works well as a starting point to explore Highlands, if you don’t frequent it often (as is the case for me). We checked out the elegant MacGrath Mansion, then popped into some of the shops on 112 Avenue, including Mandolin Books, Majesty and Friends, and Be-a-Bella.

If you’re looking for something different to change up your weekend brunch routine, I’d suggest giving Bodega Highlands a try.

Bodega Highlands
6509 112 Avenue
(780) 757-0137
Monday-Thursday 4:30-10pm, Friday-Saturday 4:30-11pm, Sunday 4:30-9pm; brunch Saturdays and Sundays 11am-2pm

September 4th, 2017

Food Notes for September 4, 2017

I hope the beautiful weather continues, but if not, at least we had the long weekend to drink in a last blast of summer. Hope you made the most of it, too! On to this week’s food notes:

  • Sorrentino’s annual Mushroom Harvest takes place the entire month of September, with feature menus, wine dinners, and special cooking classes.
  • The Faculty of Agricultural, Life, and Environmental Sciences at the University of Alberta is hosting a free public screening of Food Evolution on September 12, 2017. It is a film about the status of food and the use of GMOs in food production.
  • In the Spirit of Festival Place combines a fundraiser with a spirit tasting on September 14, 2017. The $65 tickets include tastes of single malts, ports and madeiras, entertainment and light appetizers.
  • Tickets for Vignettes Does Dining’s dinner from the folks behind El Cortez, Have Mercy, and the forthcoming Holy Roller are now available for $90 each. The event takes place September 15, 2017.
  • Last year’s Mooncake Masterclass (organized in conjunction with the Chinatown Business Improvement Area’s Moonlight Carnival) was cancelled, so it’s great to see that they’re giving it another shot. It takes place on September 16, 2017 from 1-5pm – learn how to make mooncakes in time for the Mid-Autumn Festival. Tickets are $18.
  • Dig In, St. Albert’s horticulinary festival, runs September 19-23, 2017. The festival includes hands-on workshops and culinary walking and bike tours.
  • Early bird tickets for the 20th edition of the Rocky Mountain Food & Wine Festival, taking place November 10-11, 2017 at the Shaw Conference Centre, are now available. The discounted admission is available until September 27.
  • Coming soon: a Laotian restaurant called Khao + Naam.
  • The new restaurant in the Alberta Hotel has a name: Revel Bistro & Bar. It looks like they’re targeting a September opening.
  • Bingsu (Korean shared ice) has come to Edmonton in full force – Snowy Village is now open downtown at 11020 Jasper Avenue, to be followed by Snow Bear on September 9, 2017 just down the block at 10051 109 Street.
  • Villa Bistro (which has since replaced Free Press Bistro at 10014 104 Street) is now open.
  • Urbano Pizza has closed their Boardwalk location downtown, but on the plus side, Bodega will be expanding.
  • Rogue Wave Coffee has closed its location in Queen Mary Park, but has hopes to open up in a larger space in the near future.
  • Happy to hear Jacek is expanding their Sherwood Park location in time for the holiday season! Expect the new Experience Boutique to be open in November.
  • Cafe Linnea is now offering prix fixe Tuesdays, 3-course meals (plus an amuse bouche) for just $30.
  • Liane has a few more details about Farrow’s Ritchie location, namely, that they’re able to offer even more pastries.
  • A second cat cafe will open in Edmonton this fall called Paws the Cat Cafe, just north of Downtown on 109 Street.
  • Vue Weekly has an early review of Cargato in Forest Heights.
  • Twyla didn’t find much to be inspired about at Bottega 104, while Cindy is still hoping for more.
  • Jonny paid ACE Coffee Roasters a visit.
  • Graham wasn’t impressed with the service at Situation Brewing.
  • Cindy recapped the Taste Alberta International Street Food event that took place at Dogwood Cafe a few weeks ago.
  • Perhaps bathrooms shouldn’t have a place in these notes, but in case you’re hoping to support our local entry, Dorinku is up for the title of Canada’s Best Restroom. You can vote for them until September 8, 2017.
  • You may have heard of produced-based Community Supported Agriculture, but did you know it is possible to buy into a fruit-based one in Edmonton as well? Sprout Farms (an apple orchard) began a fruit share program this summer.
  • We had a lovely family dinner at Uccellino last week. Although we enjoyed all of the dishes, the panelle di ceci (fried chickpea polenta fritters) were the surprising favourite, light and airy, and had a texture reminiscent of tofu.

Uccellino

Panelle di ceci

  • When I get a hankering for frozen yogurt, I often forget about the Pinkberry tucked away in Rogers Place. Mack and I stopped in one night last week.

Pinkberry

Frozen yogurt on steroids

September 2nd, 2017

104 Street Feast by Edmonton Food Tours

Mack and I were very fortunate to be able to spend Food Day Canada in early August with Karen Anderson. Karen is a culinary ambassador based in Calgary, well-known for her food writing and tours of markets and dining districts in our neighbour to the south. However, in the last year, she expanded her Calgary Food Tours business to encompass Edmonton and Canmore as well, rebranding as Alberta Food Tours.

In Edmonton, they presently offer three types of tours: Strathcona Feast centres on the Old Strathcona Farmers’ Market and adjacent area; 104 Street Feast winds its way through the City Market; and the newest Downtown Delights tour exposes diners to old and new gems in the core. Karen engaged several well-known food personalities to lead the local tours, including Edmonton Journal writer Liane Faulder and chef Cindy Lazarenko. But on occasion, Karen leads the groups herself, which is how we came to meet her in August.

Karen had invited us to attend one tour of our choosing; although Mack and I are weekly patrons of the City Market (and residents of 104 Street), we selected the 104 Street Feast option because we wanted to see how Edmonton Food Tours would highlight something so close to home for us (for the record, Get Cooking also offers a City Market tour, followed by a cooking class).

All Edmonton Food Tours are $115 per person, and cover all of the food and drink samples over the course of three hours. We learned later that Karen prides herself on compensating the restaurants and producers she has partnered with. In total, Alberta Food Tours supports over 70 producers in the province.

104 Street Feast begins at Kitchen, Chef Brad Smoliak’s culinary studio. Home to cooking classes and wine dinners, the space is warm and inviting, and Brad made us feel right at home. The small group gathered around the large island for coffee and an introduction of what to expect that morning.

Alberta Food Tours: 104 Street Feast

Starting off at Kitchen

We started off with a hearty Ukrainian brunch that we would contribute to. Brad gave us a quick tutorial on how to assemble perogies before setting us loose. He’d prepared a basic dough (a simple and ingenious 2:1 ratio of flour to Dairyland sour cream, mixed together with a dough hook) and a filling of potatoes and Winding Road cheese for us to use. Since his philosophy at the studio is to get people back into the kitchen, Brad recommends having a perogy party to socialize while making up enough batches to go around.

Alberta Food Tours: 104 Street Feast

Making perogies!

This was the highlight of the day for me – it was my first time making perogies “from scratch”, and it is something I could definitely see myself doing in the future.

After that, the dishes just kept on coming from the kitchen. Served family-style, this was a unique brunch that I couldn’t imagine being offered anywhere else. Although all of us had big appetites, we barely made a dent in the food.

Alberta Food Tours: 104 Street Feast

Brad serves up perogies

The meal highlighted ingredients sourced from the City Market. There was a simple and fresh salad of tomatoes, cucumbers, and radishes dressed with cold pressed canola oil that helped cut through the richness of some of the other dishes (I especially loved the flecks of dill).

Alberta Food Tours: 104 Street Feast

Salad with tomatoes, cucumbers, radishes

Meatballs, made with Acme ground beef and Irvings Farm Fresh pork, were simmered in a rich mushroom gravy, while Brad’s house-made kielbasa was accompanied by local Brassica Mustard.

Alberta Food Tours: 104 Street Feast

Meatballs with mushroom gravy

Alberta Food Tours: 104 Street Feast

House-made kielbasa

The nalsknky were easily my favourite, a house-made buttermilk cheese rolled in a crepe then doused in a mustard cream sauce. The perogies held up well, considering the inexperienced hands that had created them, and were served in Mack’s preferred way – with onions and lots of butter.

Alberta Food Tours: 104 Street Feast

Nalsknky

Satisfied and eager to stretch our legs, the group wandered over to the City Market to commence the tour. In all, we would stop at ten different vendors or shops.

Alberta Food Tours: 104 Street Feast

With Pat Batten from Ocean Odyssey Inland

At each vendor, Karen would provide some background about the business, then for most, we were offered a taste of a product or a sample to take home.

Alberta Food Tours: 104 Street Feast

Sampling steak and cheese pies from Meat Street’s Thea Avis

Given the market was in full swing with other customers to serve, it wasn’t possible for each vendor to tell their own story, but I did appreciate when this was possible. For instance, Alan Cosh, one of the founders of the Fruits of Sherbrooke, shared with us the evolution of the non-profit that began in order to reduce food waste. They began with the production of applesauce, then pies, but finally found their form in jams. Today, they make 45 different varieties (including their bestseller, a chipotle rhubarb ketchup), and having finally broken even two years ago, is now making fruit snacks and applesauce tubes for inner city schools.

Alberta Food Tours: 104 Street Feast

Alan Cosh from Fruits of Sherbrooke

We also had the opportunity to chat with Ian Treuer of Winding Road Cheese. Based in Smoky Lake, Winding Road is unique because of their use of a plant-based thistle rennet (as opposed to the more common animal-based rennet). Ian was also fresh from a second place award at the American Cheese Society Conference for his washed rind RDB cheese, which is quite the coup for a cheesemaker who stared as a hobbyist just a few years ago. Winding Road currently offers seven different types of cheese, ranging from the stronger Highland Hall, a soft bloomy rind cheese, to a mild German butter cheese. Mack, upon sampling the award-winning RDB, actually stopped in his tracks to appreciate its flavour.

Alberta Food Tours: 104 Street Feast

Ian Treuer from Winding Road Cheese

The entire tour took place at a relaxed pace, and we never felt rushed to move on. The three hour length was reasonable, and would allow guests to continue to browse the market afterwards on their own if they chose to do so. As a whole, the 104 Street Feast is a good resource for locals hoping to learn more about the market, as stories and firsthand connections to producers can be very powerful, but I did think the selection of vendors leaned more towards prepared products. It’s my bias as the City Market provides the foundation of our weekly groceries, so I would have liked to see more farmers included apart from Gull Valley and Reclaim Farm. A meat or egg producer would have rounded things out nicely, and might provide locals with a reason to return to the market on a more frequent basis.

Alberta Food Tours: 104 Street Feast

City Market

Still, the fact that not one, but two tours centre around the City Market is encouraging. 104 Street Feast definitely sets itself apart with the decadent Ukrainian brunch, perogy lesson, and the opportunity to hear from producers firsthand. If you’re hoping to learn more about one of Edmonton’s food institutions, I’d encourage you to consider joining this tour.

Edmonton Food Tours’ 104 Street Feast continues weekly every Saturday until October 7, 2017.

August 28th, 2017

Food Notes for August 28, 2017

It feels like we’re getting a last blast of summer this week, though I can hardly believe we’re already at the end of August! Hope you’re soaking up every minute of it too. On to this week’s food notes:

  • What the Truck?! has released the line-up of vendors to expect at their final event of the season on September 9, 2017, from 12-7pm on Capital Boulevard.
  • If you have an excess of apples and want to transform it into cider, consider attending Operation Fruit Rescue Edmonton’s cider pressing event on September 9. A quarter of the cider will go to the volunteers, but you’d get to take the rest home!
  • Nate Box is expanding his empire to include a sausage and beer hall called Salz. They’re hosting a pop-up bratwurst dinner at District on September 10, 2017 if you’re hoping for an early taste of the menu.
  • The Butternut Tree is the latest restaurant to try and fill the space once occupied by The Copper Pot in Grandin at 101, 9707 110 Street. They’ve set their opening date as September 1, 2017.
  • Montreal Hotdogs has delayed their opening date to September 18, 2017.
  • Ripe Tomato Pizza, a Calgary-based quick-service pizza chain, just opened its first Edmonton location at 5011 Ellerslie Road SW.
  • The Rec Room has opened its second Edmonton location at West Edmonton Mall. Unlike the South Edmonton Common flagship, they have just two of the dining options – The Shed and Three10.
  • Congratulations to the Commodore Restaurant, an Edmonton institution, which celebrates 75 years in operation this year!
  • Metro profiles vegan pizzeria Die Pie.
  • Cindy breaks down what makes Menya Yuzen stand out in our increasingly crowded ramen scene.
  • Linda is one of the first to review Nara Chicken and Tonkatsu, located at 8712 150 Street.
  • Vue Weekly has a positive reception to Venezuelan newcomer Avila Arepa.
  • Jonny reviews Thien An, a new Vietnamese restaurant located at 7304 101 Avenue.
  • Graham believes Biera has done an excellent job at pairing their dishes with the in-house beer.
  • The Journal enjoyed their visit to Tang Bistro.
  • Crystal checked out Urbano Pizza.
  • The second Culinary Lab Series dinner took place last week. Eat North put together a video capturing what we missed.
  • Linda recapped this year’s Sturgeon County Bounty event.
  • Alexis Hillyard, the maven behind the popular Stump Kitchen YouTube series, is running a crowdfunding campaign to support the production of the videos.
  • The New York Daily News shows some love for Edmonton and Calgary.
  • Mack and I checked out the annual Viva Italian Viva Edmonton festival in Giovanni Caboto Park yesterday. The grounds were packed with families enjoying the event, which included food trucks, performances, and even wrestling! There was also a tent that housed food-related events all afternoon – the highlight for us was an olive oil education session led by the Italian Centre’s Teresa Spinelli (they sold over 100,000 litres of olive oil last year!).

Viva Italia Viva Edmonton

#eatlikeanItalian at VIVE

  • It’s been too long since our last visit to Route 99, but I’m happy to say the poutine was exactly as I remembered.

Route 99

Our Route 99 staple

August 24th, 2017

Will Bike for Food: Food Bike Tour

Back in July, Mack and I were invited to join a Food Bike Tour. In their second year, the local company “strives to promote local people, places and products through healthy living”, merging a love of cycling and food. Each tour is unique, with stops at 4-6 locations. Tickets are $99 each, and cover all of the food and drink provided over the course of the 6 hour tour. Attendees are encouraged to bring their own bike, though we ended up renting through their partner, River Valley Adventure Company, at a discounted rate of $40 per bike for the day.

We met the rest of our tour group at Ezio Farone Park that Saturday morning. Collectively, we numbered around 40 participants, more than enough to comprise a critical mass to lend confidence to less experienced road cyclists like myself.

Foodie Bike Tour

Vanessa kicks off the tour

Food Bike Tour owner and tour leader Vanessa Ojeda was full of energy as she welcomed the group and provided an overview of the day. We’d all received an e-mail outlining the itinerary in advance, but we were also introduced to the three other guides who would be along for the ride, ready and able to help with bike fixes or first aid needs.

Our first leg took us through some of the river valley trails and up to High Street, where we stopped for some cheese education at Paddy’s Cheese. Fern Janzen has owned Paddy’s since 2001, and shared some of her wisdom with us:

  • store hard cheeses in cheesecloth, soft cheeses in thin wax paper, blue cheeses in tin foil
  • cheese doesn’t respond well to changes in temperature and humidity, so it’s best not to let it linger out of the fridge for too long
  • don’t freeze cheese (except she recommended grating cheese ends that can be repurposed in a recipe for cheese spread)

Fern shared that although truffled cheeses were once the most expensive product she stocked, it’s now the burrata, a fresh cheese that must be sold within two weeks.

Paddy's International Cheese

Fern shares her cheese knowledge

Before departing, Fern offered us several samples of cheese. Mack’s favourite was the wookey hole cheddar, a cave aged farmstand cheese from the UK.

We pedaled back downtown for our only full meal at Grandin Fish and Chips. We were given the freedom to select anything off the menu, though everyone stuck to the restaurant’s namesake dish.

Grandin Fish & Chips

Haddock and chips at Grandin

Chef Jesse Morrison-Gauthier was cooking behind the counter, and curiously didn’t address the crowd. It would have been nice to hear from him firsthand, particularly about the fresh products they’ve sourced from Effing Seafoods and Fin’s.

After the delicious but heavy meal, it was nice to get back on the bike and work it off. We rode to Cafe Sorrentino’s on 107 Avenue. At each of the stops, Food Bike Tour staff made sure those without locks would have their bikes chained together, something Mack and I appreciated for the convenience of not having to lock up our bikes individually.

Inside, Chris Hrynyk, the Assistant Corporate Chef with Sorrentino’s, led us through a condensed cooking assembly lesson. The location hosts a number of different cooking classes for kids, adults, and team building. Our group prepared (and enjoyed) arancini and bacon-wrapped figs.

Sorrentino's

A lesson in arancini

Around us, staff were busy preparing meals for various airlines – I wasn’t aware that Sorrentino’s supplied the pre-packaged boxes sold on some Sunwing and WestJet flights.

Sorrentino's

Forming a bacon-wrapped fig

By the time we departed for our next stop, temperatures were peaking at 31 degrees. Not being an avid cyclist really made the next leg challenging for me, particularly in the heat. The route took us through the lovely Mill Creek Ravine trails, so I was grateful for the shade, but in all honesty I probably could have used a rest break in between.

The itinerary had originally called for a stop at Cafe Bicyclette, but a private booking there meant we skipped straight to The Wired Cup in Strathearn.

The Wired Cup

Dave Jackson of The Wired Cup

Open for ten years, the neighbourhood coffee shop makes their own muffins, granola, and bread for their sandwiches. We sampled some of the housemade granola, iced coffee, and iced tea while perusing the items in the gift shop.

We biked back across the river to Parlour on Capital Boulevard. General Manager Steve Roy took us through the history of the 111 year old building (warehouse, car garage, casino/gentleman’s club, coffee house, and hair salon) before treating the group to a tasting of three of their draught wines. I appreciated that two of the three wines they served were Canadian, including a personal favourite, the Red Rooster pinot gris.

Parlour

Wine tasting at Parlour

Our final restaurant was close to home – the newly-opened Bottega on 104 Street. Neither Mack or I had been yet, so it was a great opportunity to sample some of their fare.

Bottega

The scene at Bottega

The restaurant prepared several of their pastas and pizzas for the group to taste – we all must have been pretty hungry by that point, as the food disappeared quickly from the buffet table!

Bottega

One of my favourites that night – rigatoni abruzzi

Many people decided to linger, purchasing drinks or other dishes to round out the day. We unfortunately had to return our bikes before the rental office closed, so we couldn’t stay. Our parting gift from the tour was a bag with snacks, water, and some valuable incentives to return to the businesses we visited that day, including a free pizza voucher from Parlour, a $10 gift card from Grandin Fish & Chips, and a 2 for 1 coffee at the Wired Cup. Vanessa also provided each of us with a Food Bike Tour passport; we had received a stamp at each stop along the way. If we attended future tours and collected a total of 30 stamps, we would be eligible for a $50 gift certificate from one of the tour restaurants.

One of my favourite aspects of the tour was the diversity of the businesses we visited, and the hands-on activities that were incorporated. It was neat to taste, learn, and cook our way through the city!

Most of the businesses are compensated for their participation, but in the process hope to expose their business to a new crowd.  The attendees we talked to had a great time and were very open to learning about new dining options, so while it seemed to have a positive affect, only time will tell if the tour will result in return visits.

The length was also an obvious challenge for me in terms of time commitment and fitness level required, as we ended up cycling nearly 30km that day. When asked, it appears their target demographic are avid cyclists, so the distance wouldn’t be such a barrier for this group. Still, if Food Bike Tours hopes to expand their reach in the future, they may want to consider half day tours on evenings or weekends that remain on one side of the river. It would be a nice teaser for those less comfortable with urban cycling as well.

Overall, I commend Food Bike Tours on encouraging alternative transportation modes to explore Edmonton. Vanessa’s passion for food and fitness is obvious, and she is helping to expose some local gems to a wider audience. Thanks again for having us!

Food Bike Tours runs until September – their last tours this year take place on September 9 and 16, 2017.