Thursday, March 18th, 2010 at 11:25 pm

My 2010 Wish List for Edmonton’s Food Scene

In January last year, I put together a wish list of things I wanted to see in Edmonton’s food scene. Though not many from that list have actually come to pass (yet), I thought it was time to note down some other culinary delights I would love to see more of in our city:

  • Breakfast joints and diners: Perhaps this point comes from watching one too many episodes of Diners, Drive Ins and Dives, but regardless, I think Edmonton has an under-developed breakfast culture. Sure, we have a handful of diners (Route 99, Urban Diner, Blue Plate Diner, and most recently, Cora’s), but every time I visit Calgary, I’m left with diner envy. Calgarians love their Nellie’s (have you seen the line-ups?), and have a plethora of casual weekend brunch options to choose from (Avenue Diner, Dairy Lane, Galaxie Diner, Diner Deluxe, and one of the newest, Over Easy Breakfast, just to name a few). What will it take to inject a more frenzied love (and market) for brunch in Edmonton?
  • Dessert bars: Though I do enjoy multi-course meals at a single restaurant, I’m also a huge fan of dining mobility, and being able to seamlessly relocate elsewhere for drinks, coffee, or dessert. Unfortunately, specialty dessert bars (such as Nectar in Calgary) have not yet landed in Edmonton.
  • Food trucks: A downside of following the New York food scene is having no real local point of reference to understand their amazing culture of food carts (to the point where food trucks are being used to promote a website launch for NBC). Aside from Fat Franks and Filistix, Edmonton is bereft of outdoor food purveyors. Though I recognize our long winters may play a factor, as well as a lack of critical mass of potential customers in the core, isn’t it cool to see food trucks Tweeting their daily location?
  • Rooftop patios and gardens: I realize Edmonton isn’t quite dense enough to have to resort to utilizing rooftop spaces yet, but there’s nothing like sipping a cool drink on a hot summer day on a rooftop patio. The Black Dog, Chili’s on Whyte Avenue, Latitude 53, and now, the Art Gallery of Alberta are all equipped with above-ground terraces, but I’m hoping for more. As for rooftop gardens – yes, it’s complicated to build, but when you see what’s possible (such as rooftop CSAs in the US), I want to dream.
  • Farm to table dinners: What’s better than eating a meal made from seasonal produce sourced from local farmers, expertly prepared to best highlight their clean, fresh flavours? Madison’s Grill is leading the charge on this, but I think there is a market for more intimate, community-oriented dinners. If it’s all about relationships, such experiences do more than simply expose diners to the exquisite products available close to home – they also bring those interested in supporting local farmers together.

What’s on your Edmonton food scene wish list?

  • Kelly

    I’d have to disagree with you when you say Edmonton has an under-developed breakfast culture. There are tons of great locally owned breakfast spots (diners and otherwise) in Edmonton. High Level Diner, Sugar Bowl, Rick & Alice’s, New York Bagel Cafe, Culina Mill Creek, Barb & Ernies, Tasty Tom’s and Upper Crust.

    Oh and about Nellie’s…
    http://www.cbc.ca/canada/calgary/story/2010/01/15/calgary-nellies-restaurant-food-health-safety-mice.html

  • http://blog.mastermaq.ca Mack D. Male

    Kelly – have you actually eaten at any of the places in Calgary? Barb & Ernies is pretty good, and High Level Diner can be good, but the ones you mentioned are nothing like Calgary’s Avenue Diner, Dairy Lane, Galaxie Diner, etc. And I really disagree with you on the breakfast culture – there are almost never lineups for Edmonton diners. People don’t excited about it here. Good luck trying to get into any of the Calgary places on a Saturday.

  • http://markbennett.ca Mark

    Great write-up Sharon. I agree with most everything you say. I grew up in Calgary, and have really been impressed with how it’s restaurant scene has developed in the last 10 years. I think a lot of it is tied to having a very active downtown, and a culture which encourages people to support local food. It’s great to see Edmonton’s downtown building steam, and to see people like you who are so passionate about our food scene. I think Edmonton’s restaurants are only going to get better, and you’ve pointed out some great ways to do that!

  • http://shininghappyphotos.blogspot.com/ Sarah

    Great list! I wish for all these things too! When it comes to brunch in Edmonton there are only a handful of places and over the years I’ve noticed the line ups increasing. I think the breakfast/brunch culture is growing here and with that being said I hope it will lead to more selection. I have a visit to Calgary coming up and I am hoping we can try out one of the dinners on your list.

  • Penny Lane

    I totally agree with you, Sharon! Kelly obviously has no taste buds if she thinks Edmonton has great breakfast culture. Anyway, I think it would be nice to see a rotational sushi boat bar like in Calgary and Vancouver!

  • virtual.jess

    This is a great list, I totally agree about breakfast joints, especially of the 24-hour variety. But that might be too much to ask…

    As for my addition to your wishlist, there’s just one thing:

    Vegan fare. Because there is (almost) none. There’s a (very) small handful of veg restaurants, a couple of which are lovely, many of which are an affront to good food and good taste (and good service).
    But I’m talking about options at the independant restaurants in Edmonton. The vegan food that is available is often made by omission (you can’t eat xyz so we’ll take out xyz and call it a meal) rather than substitution. This is either because chefs are- by and large- uneducated in veg cooking, or uninterested in providing the same level of service to veg customers, seeing us as the minority.
    It occurs to me that many of them might just be unfamiliar with how fantastic even very simple vegan food can be when done properly. But just as many, I think, do not stake their pride as chefs or restaurant owners in how they cater to veg customers. Which is a shame, I think, especially in a city that has so much culinary potential, what with the slowly developing communities centered around food and culture, not to mention the international customer base we serve.
    The veg community might be small, but we have families, friends and coworkers who aren’t veg- by neglecting that community, you end up leaving a whole group underserved.

  • Cat

    First time posting. Great write up.
    I get excited about eating out in Calgary (breakfast/ brunch options are ridiculously better than Edmonton). I can’t say the same about Edmonton, sure there are the handful of go-to brunch restaurants as listed by Kelly…..but brunch is so much more than greasy spoons and Cora (Calgary has two locations). Where are The Range, Avenue Diner, Pfantastic, AKA of Edmonton?

  • Kelly

    I understand what you’re saying Mack, but just because Edmonton doesn’t have the “diner style” breakfast places Calgary does, doesn’t mean Edmonton’s breakfast culture is “under-developed.” Urban Diner, Cora, NY Bagel Cafe and Route 99 almost always have lineups. I completely agree that it would be nice if we had more diner-type breakfast joints in Edmonton, but I enjoy brunch just the same with the options we do have. :)

  • http://www.lealea.net/ Lea

    You know what I want, what I really really want? And maybe this is because I’ve just come back from Texas… In Austin, there is this jewel of a BBQ place off the beaten bath called The Salt Lick. Nice family BBQ ambiance, tons of meat, very homey… I’m not even sure if Calgary has any.

    Where the heck is a genuine, local, independent BBQ place in Edmonton? We talk about how lovely the beef in our province is, not to mention the pork, and yet, there isn’t any establishment that has a) homemade BBQ sauce/family recipe with b) piles of meat. I can only think of chain restaurants, but no independent ones.

  • http://loosenyourbelt.blogspot.com Marianne

    Great post, Sharon. I’m certainly with you on the dessert spots. That would truly be lovely.

    Lea – Have you tried Smokey Joe’s (15135 Stony Plain Road)? We were there in November, and it was pretty good (homemade bbq sauce and lots of meat). I’m not sure if it’ll live up to the one in Texas though…

  • http://thecakeprincess.blogspot.com marce

    The list is a great idea. My wishes? I’d love a dessert bar, too. And I’d love a restaurant that played up the theme of date night- from the menu choices to quizzes that the couple can take or not to ice breaker questions on the table- a FUN place for a double date or an anniversary.

  • M

    I have to agree with the breakfast observation. Although I do love The Blue Plate and the Sugarbowl for breakfast/brunch it would nice to have more choice. The Avenue Diner is tied for the best brunch I’ve ever had in Canada. They also have fantastic coffee and hot cider.

  • http://www.theceliachusband.blogspot.com H.Peter

    The grass always seems greener on the other side?

    Nellie’s even without the health violations serves nothing notable to warrant line ups.
    Personally, I prefer brunch from a buffet, not from a menu. Not so much for quantity, but for choice.

    I envy you for FAMOSO (not much longer), Duchess of Glenora and that darn Bulk Store (though that may not be in the dining category).

  • Steve

    Don’t forget B’s Diner on Whyte, and The Saratoga on Calgary Trail.

  • Cokopuffs

    I really wish Edmonton had those sumptuous salad bars that they have in Van and California…
    ever heard of “Plutos”? that chain has awesome salad…you can choose from a feast of items to add to your greens, and candied walnuts is one of the choices!!

  • Michelle

    I actually agree with Kelly. Yes calgary may be a bit more breakfast obsessed but I think Edmonton has a lot of great breakfast spots, not only the ones kelly said. Artisan Bakery on whyte was hands down the best breakfast I’ve ever had.

  • http://www.onlyhereforthefood.ca Sharon

    Thanks for adding to the wish list, everyone! Good to hear what other dining experiences locals want.

    virtualjess – I know it’s not the same as a full-service restaurant, but have you heard about the Backstairs Cafe? http://backstairscafe.wordpress.com/

    Lea – I agree with you, would love to see a down-home BBQ joint in Edmonton. Though I have to say I haven’t been to Smokey Joe’s, as Marianne suggested.

    Cokopuffs – it’s not a salad bar (at least not one where you help yourself), but The Greenhouse is the closest thing we have in Edmonton: http://www.thegreenhousesalad.com/

  • http://www.acanadianfoodie.com A Canadian Foodie

    Hot topic, here! I think we could think out of the box a bit small independent restaurant-wise here. I recall about 10-15 years ago, a really cool place called “pork bellies” or something like that, in Calgary that had hot drawers full of food… and you would shop for your evening meal – or your supper, and sit and eat it, or take it home… a very unusual and fun experience. But, it isn’t there any more… so, maybe they couldn’t meet their bottom line.
    I love the farm to table idea – and would love to see a catering business – hmmm… now there’s an idea – take it to the farm… but would people pay for that, and go there? Maybe if there was a barn dance – or if it was a fundraiser. What Madison’s is doing is next best. Bringing the farm in – and I love that. We seem to support chains in Edmonton. Not the small independent locals. Now, I am not talking to the readers here. Obviously, we are all interested in food. But, look around. There is a ton of support for big chains in this city. I LOVE San Fran’s municiple law that enables independent restaurants to thrive.
    One chain only within so many square miles. We should do that here.
    … and a few breakfast havens would be welcome… I see a wood fire oven, home baked bread, home made granola and yogurt, farmer’s eggs with dark yellow yolks and thick slabs of artisan cured meats. I see a cheese counter with independent or house made cheeses. I see a basket of citrus on every table.
    So, part bakery, part fromagerie…
    Hmmm – anyone interested in starting a new business?
    There’s my 2 cents worth

  • Jill

    It’s not a diner, but the Blue Chair has a great little brunch, with live music to boot. It’s got my favourite eggs benny in town.

  • http://www.thelittleredkitchen.blogspot.com Isabelle

    Great list Sharon. But I think of the diners you mentioned, the only diner is Route 99. It’s just grimy enough.

    I definitely agree about more farm-to-table cooking, and I agree with virtual.jess about more vegan and vegetarian options.

    I’d love to see more independent restaurants serving food after ten pm!

  • http://edmontongastronomicsociety.wordpress.com Kat

    When it comes to food trucks, New Asian Village often operates one near the legislature during the summer months.

  • http://www.onlyhereforthefood.ca Sharon

    Valerie – I can just picture your cheese counter idea, and it’s fabulous!

    Jill – I still intend on making it out to Blue Chair one of these days…

    Isabelle – definitely, we need more late night spots in the city. Haven’t been to Red Star yet, but that might be one new-ish option.

    Kat – I didn’t know that, thanks for the info!

  • virtual.jess

    Oh, thanks for the recommendation, Sharon! What a neat idea…

  • Jennifer

    Coming from Victoria where brunch line-ups can last hours, I’m selfishly glad lines are short here :)
    Heading to Calgary to try out Charcut – and one of those brunch places – this weekend…. thanks for being a go-to place for inspiration!

  • http://www.onlyhereforthefood.ca Sharon

    virtual.jess – you’re welcome!

    Jennifer – have fun in Calgary!

  • http://www.howtogrowpeppers.org Growing Peppers

    I agree with Mark’s statement that people support local food in their locality. It might be one step ahead of promoting the food industry in your place and as well it can boost the local economy. This would be a channel to promote the tourism industry of your place and this will be a start that lots of famous people will come and visit your place. Probably, you will be shocked the one of those days, Anthony Bourdain will visit your town! That would be cool!