July 20th, 2018

Embracing Community Gardening at Alex Decoteau Park

I’ve never had much of a green thumb. I barely remember to water my house plants, and the container gardens I’ve had in the summer on our balcony have never thrived.

However, when the chance to sign up for a plot in our new Downtown Community Garden came up in the spring, Mack and I did so. Located in Alex Decoteau Park that opened last fall at 102 Avenue and 105 Street, the garden is among several amenities that have been welcomed by residents, including a dog park, spray park, and green space.

Alex Decoteau Park

Alex Decoteau Park

The desire for plots ended up being so high that the Downtown Edmonton Community League (which coordinates the garden) had to resort to a lottery system to pick from the applicants. When we found out we were selected in the first round, we had to decide whether to accept.

Emily was the primary reason we had initially put our names forward. Knowing where our food comes from is important to us, and we were attracted to the idea that she could learn first hand how vegetables are grown. Still, with a new baby in the house, I thought the last thing I’d want to do this year is tend to a plot, especially since we are such novice gardeners.

But giving up our chance this year might have meant being waitlisted for an unknown period, so we took the plunge. It helped too that the garden has a number of great features – most of the beds are raised, the garden itself is fenced in and locked (with a code shared only with gardeners), and there is water provided on site!

We consulted with my Mum, gardener extraordinaire, for her recommendations on the most low maintenance vegetables to grow that wouldn’t require too much attention, and could stand being neglected now and then. She advised that we look to root vegetables like carrots and potatoes, garlic, and kale. Friends of ours who have more experience with gardening also snagged a plot, and started some plants from seed which they transplanted for us, adding tomatoes and ground cherries to our roster.

Alex Decoteau Park Garden

Seeded!

Though we didn’t know if anything would grow, soon enough, promising green shoots appeared. The kale in particular blossomed with the constant exposure to the sun, and our garlic thrived. The tomatoes, which we thought couldn’t be saved after being ravaged by a wicked wind storm, bounced back. We learned though, a little too late, that we shouldn’t have planted the carrots quite so close to the kale, as the leaves quickly overshadowed the later-blooming carrot tops.

Alex Decoteau Park Garden

Progress

Early on, I thought the last thing I’d want to do after putting Emily down for the night was go water some plants, but it’s become a calming, almost meditative way to end the day. And though we’ve only been able to harvest kale so far, it’s been pretty neat to be able to walk over and cut down some fresh vegetables for a quick salad or to add to our meal.

Alex Decoteau Park Garden

Growing like weeds!

So although we started off as reluctant gardeners this year, it’s safe to say we’re looking forward to learning from our missteps this year and being more thoughtful with our plant selections for next spring!

Alex Decoteau Park Garden

First time gardeners

If you’re interested in learning more about the Alex Decoteau Garden, consider coming to the open house, scheduled for Saturday, July 21, 2018, from 10am-3pm. There will be kids garden crafts, and you can help yourself to some of the vegetables being grown in the community plot!

July 16th, 2018

Food Notes for July 16, 2018

  • La Mision, the pop-up from the folks behind Tres Carnales and Rostizado, is back from July 16-20, 2018 for lunch at Rostizado.
  • K-Days will soon be upon us, running from July 20-29, 2018. As is custom, fairgoers can anticipate a number of new dishes on the midway. This year’s menu includes black charcoal ice cream, cricket grilled cheese, and cheesy chicken hearts.
  • Wildheart’s annual Grand Taste Tour is back this year on July 28, 2018, and includes a visit to Stonepost Farm and a meal from Chef Eric Hanson of Prairie Noodle Shop. Tickets are $132. I was fortunate enough to attend in previous years, and had a blast every time!
  • Chartier has organized some outdoor events for the summer, including partnering with a naturopathic doctor and certified herbalist to create a tasting menu on July 30, 2018 at the Old Red Barn in Leduc.
  • A reminder that advance tickets for the Heritage Festival, running August 4-6, 2018, are now available at a 5% discount (20 tickets for $19).
  • The Lions Club is hosting a wine and cheese tasting on September 29, 2018 to raise funds for diabetes research. Tickets are $75.
  • Pampa has announced that they will be opening up a third location in Edmonton in the city’s west end.
  • West Edmonton Mall is now home to locations of Match Pub and Sweet Jesus.
  • Hot on the heels of Cineplex joining the food delivery fray, Tim Horton’s is now available via Skip the Dishes in Edmonton.
  • Congrats to Honest Dumplings, who raised over $10,000 in their crowdfunding campaign.
  • Liane covers the vegan trend in Edmonton’s food scene.
  • Looking for a way to beat the heat? Andrea has a list of five local spots to try for ice cream.
  • The Journal published a positive review for Kanto.
  • Crystal had good things to say about the food at Let’s Grill Sushi and Izakaya.
  • Graham enjoyed the hands on dining at Captain’s Boil.
  • Liane had a pleasant experience at Crum Coffee Bar.
  • Jonny visited Castle Bake 2, a north side gem.
  • Lillian rounds up the latest entries to her macaron mashup project.
  • Congratulations to Food4Good which has purchased a building in central west Edmonton. They are working towards building a community food centre, a first for the city.
  • Northlands is offering free tours of their urban farm. Upcoming dates include August 5 and September 9, 2018.

July 11th, 2018

2018 Taste of Edmonton Preview

It’s that time again – Taste of Edmonton is back next week! There are some changes afoot to the festival this year, namely, a new location. Due to the construction around Churchill Square, Taste has relocated to Capital Plaza at 99 Avenue and 108 Street (near the Legislature). In addition, the 10 day festival has expanded to 12 days this year, running from July 18-29, 2018, giving diners an extra two days to sample their way through the over 100 food items on the menu (41 of them new!).

Last week, I was invited to preview some of the new items that will be served at this year’s festival. The restaurants we visited are all new to Taste of Edmonton, and are among the 11 first time participants.

We started off downtown at Wishbone, where we sampled both of the items that they will be serving. The spicy fried chicken sandwich is a smaller version of a popular lunch item, featuring marinated chicken thighs battered, fried, and tossed in their house gojuchang hot sauce. The meat was crispy on the outside and tender on the inside, with just the right amount of heat; it was my favourite of the dishes we tried that day.

Taste of Edmonton Preview

Spicy fried chicken sandwich from Wishbone

Wishbone’s second item is a summer festival staple – fried dough. Their version are buttermilk beignets, bite sized and dusted with powdered sugar. Like their chicken sandwich, I think this will be well received by the crowds at Taste – easy to eat, good flavour, and deep fried.

Taste of Edmonton Preview

Buttermilk beignets from Wishbone

Our next stop was Wildflower Grill. Some may remember that last year, the restaurant changed hands and installed a new chef. Even with the personnel change, however, Wildflower maintained some Asian fusion influence on its menu, particularly evident in what we were served that night.

The Taste of Edmonton item that we sampled was easily the most complex that we tried – an Adobo pork belly with house kimchi, garlic rice, a 64 degree egg yolk and puffed wild rice. It was an enjoyable dish to be sure (the pork belly was deliciously crispy, and given an unctuous boost from the yolk), but from the outset, it does seem like an ambitious plate to churn out at a high pace. I do like that it will showcase the fine dining side of Wildflower, however.

Taste of Edmonton Preview

Adobo pork belly from Wildflower Grill

We were also treated to the night’s feature bao, something that is offered daily at Wildflower. That night, it involved an unlikely but interesting combination of seared albacore tuna and strawberries. I would not have thought those ingredients would work together, but they did.

Taste of Edmonton Preview

Albacore tuna bao from Wildflower Grill

Next, we headed south to Loma House Vegetarian Express. A vegetarian restaurant in the same vein as Padmanadi, they also incorporate soy-based meat alternatives on their menu. To start, we tried their vegetarian tacos. While these are not being served at Taste, it gave us a good idea of the types of dishes they serve. While I liked the crispness of the fried wonton shell as its base, it was a bit difficult to eat without all of the toppings falling off.

Taste of Edmonton

Vegetarian taco from Loma House

The Taste item we sampled had a playful presentation. Five deep fried sweet potato balls were served in a waffle cone, topped with coconut whipped cream and chocolate sauce. The sweet potato was deceptively filling, and not too sweet on their own.

Taste of Edmonton Preview

Sweet potato balls from Loma House

Our final stop of the night was the Southgate location of Wine and Beyond. The renovated store opened last September, but I hadn’t yet been. Wine & Beyond will be putting together the wine and beverage pairings for the Taste 2 Remember chef dinners, in addition to sponsoring the entertainment stage. We sampled a few different wines (which was definitely a treat for me, given I’ve severely limited my alcohol uptake).

Taste of Edmonton

May and I enjoying ourselves!

Thanks again to the Taste of Edmonton staff and Big E Tours for hosting a wonderful evening!

Taste of Edmonton runs July 18-29, 2018. A reminder that advance tickets are available until July 18 at a savings of $10 per sheet (40 tickets for $57).

July 9th, 2018

Food Notes for July 9, 2018

  • Kevin Kossowan is leading a “forage to table” evening that will end in a dinner at RGE RD on August 7, 2018. He is giving away 4 spaces for the event online.
  • deVine’s and Ono Poke is partnering for a pig roast and wine tasting called Wein, Schwein & Dine on August 26, 2018. Tickets are $30 and is a fundraiser for the Edmonton Food Bank.
  • The third annual Culinaire Treasure Hunt is scheduled for September 8, 2018. Teams of two can register for $75.
  • Great to see that the company behind Elm Cafe, District, and Little Brick is expanding into Highlands!
  • The Oliver Exchange building at 12019A 102 Avenue will soon be home to Brio Bakery, Iconoclast Coffee, and Culina To-Go.
  • Vancouver-based 720 Sweets & Etc., offering soft-serve and bubble teas, is now open in West Edmonton Mall’s T & T. Sharon has a photolog of what you can expect from their menu.
  • On the first Thursday of the month, The Vintage Fork at the Rutherford House hosts a jazz night featuring canapes and champagne. Admission is $45 per person. Leduc shares his experience from last month.
  • I was surprised to hear that Filistix’s contracts at the University of Alberta were terminated. An online petition has been started with the hopes that Aramark will consider reversing the decision.
  • Meuwly’s should be open this week, after a delay in receiving their permits, but check their Twitter to be sure. Phil has an overview of the products you can expect.
  • Also from Phil (who co-hosts Eat North’s More Than Maple Syrup podcast) he interviews Gavin from Love Pizza about their decision to move away from Skip the Dishes and start their own online delivery service.
  • CBC profiled the family behind Barr Estate Winery.
  • Lydia paid an early visit to Wilfred’s.
  • Linda was really impressed with the food (and the vision) of The Hallway Cafe.
  • Vue Weekly published a review of Passport Restobar.
  • Twyla recommends avoiding anything deep fried at Barney’s Pub in Leduc.
  • An Chay continues to accumulate positive reviews, this time from Jonny.
  • Crystal was hoping for better service to match the food at Buco.
  • The Edmonton Horticltural Society’s annual Garden Tour takes place on August 14-15, 2018. This self-guided tour will permit visitors to check out 10 local gardens. Tickets are $25.
  • Interested in keeping some urban chickens? River City Chickens is hosting a workshop (approved by the City of Edmonton standards required for training) on August 15, 2018. TIckets are $40.
  • I stopped by King Noodle House after co-leading a walking tour in Chinatown. Their bun bo Hue always hits the spot!

King Noodle House

My usual at King Noodle

July 6th, 2018

The Return of the Secret Garden: Bodega 124 Street

When the Dish and the Runaway Spoon announced the closure of their restaurant at the end of 2016, I mourned the loss of one of Edmonton’s most unique patios. The “secret garden”, as it was known, was tucked behind the back of the building and only accessible through an adjacent gate. Shielded from the traffic noise of Stony Plain Road, the combination of the pergola, hanging plants, and the shelter of a fully grown tree created the feeling of an oasis in the middle of the city. When it was announced that Bodega would be taking over the space (opening their third location to join the original Downtown and the second in Highlands), I was glad that they also decided to reopen the patio as well.

Two weeks ago, I met up with some girlfriends at Bodega 124 Street for brunch, which we enjoyed outside on the patio. Although the furniture and planters have been refreshed, it appears that not much else has changed, and the space is as charming as I remember.

Bodega 124 Street

Bodega’s secret garden

It so happened that same weekend the restaurant had a special 3 course Prairie on a Plate menu, so we were fortunate to also see how Chef Lino Oliveira would choose to showcase some Alberta products for the very reasonable price of $25 (as Sharman noted in her post, he incorporated Alberta canola, eggs, milk, pulses, turkey, and pork).

The menu offered three mains to choose from. It seemed brunch here has changed somewhat since the restaurant opened back in January. Originally, Bodega 124 Street offered many brunch plates (similar to the menu at Bodega Highlands I had tried last year), but as so many diners were requesting their tapas menu, by popular demand, they now offer their full tapas menu supplemented by a trio of brunch specials. Although this particular menu incorporated local products, the server did share that the mains were pretty typical of what they would serve any other weekend.

A note on their coffee (which I consider a brunch necessity) – when we ordered coffee, the server informed us that they were brewing French vanilla. I typically avoid flavoured coffees as the additives are usually trying to compensate for a poor quality bean. In this case, I did find the coffee a bit thin and sub-par; perhaps this was just a one-off for Bodega, but my hope would be that they adopt the same standards for their coffee as they would for their other ingredients.

The first course was a two-bite appetizer featuring a slice of Winding Road’s RDB cheese and quince marmalade on bread. The flavours paired nicely together, the sweetness of the quince balancing out the more pungent notes in the cheese.

Bodega 124 Street

RDB cheese and quince marmalade on bread

Of the three mains, May’s crispy turkey was the unquestionable winner. Two generous pieces of turkey, breaded with cornflakes and chickpeas and fried, served with a a potato and bell pepper hash and a side salad. The turkey was deliciously crunchy on the outside and moist on the inside.

Bodega 124 Street

Crispy turkey

Annie’s enjoyed her choice of potato wrapped braised pork cheeks – I had a bite of the pork which was nicely cooked.

Bodega 124 Street

Potato wrapped braised pork cheeks

I had ordered the coca verduras, which had been described by the server as somewhat similar to a pizza, with a Spanish flatbread acting as the crust, and another appearance of Winding Road cheese – this time, the fromage blanc and Josef. Although I liked the toppings well enough (the slight tang of the vegetables, and perfectly soft poached eggs), the dough was much too dense and weighed down the dish overall.

Bodega 124 Street

Coca verduras

For dessert, we were served a warm Portuguese custard tart with a sprinkling of cinnamon. I confess I was already much too full, and had to pack it up for later.

Bodega 124 Street

Portuguese custard tarts

Service was excellent, especially given we were (surprisingly!), the only party on the patio for most of our meal. We never felt rushed, and our server did a great job to make sure our needs were taken care of.

I’d be eager to return to Bodega for a glass of wine and some tapas, which, enjoyed out on that special patio, would surely taste even better on a warm summer evening.

Bodega 124 Street
12417 Stony Plain Road
(780) 250-6066
Sunday-Thursday 11am-11pm, Friday-Saturday 11am-1am (brunch Saturday-Sunday 11am-2pm)

July 2nd, 2018

Food Notes for July 2, 2018

  • Get ready for the second What the Truck?! of the year this Friday, July 6, 2018, from 5-10pm at the Valley Zoo (a first for the event!). Consult the menus to plan your attack.
  • Linda is hosting an Instagrammable Walls of Edmonton fundraiser and brunch on July 8, 2018 in Old Strathcona. Tickets are $40 and include brunch at Holy Roller.
  • The 4th annual Feast on the Field at Commonwealth Stadium, a fundraiser for Capital Care, will take place on August 22, 2018. Tickets are $195.
  • This year’s BaconFest is scheduled for September 2, 2018 at St. Basil’s Cultural Centre. Advance admission tickets are $15, with food tickets available at the event.
  • The Telus World of Science is hosting LUMEN, their annual fundraising event billed as “where science meets cocktails” on September 27, 2018. The evening will feature bar stations, cocktail science activities, hands-on demos, and hors d’oeuvres. Early bird tickets are $99.
  • It’s great to see another social enterprise (such as The Hallway Cafe) in the city – Boyle Street Eats is a food truck now in operation that hires from “within our community of people experiencing homelessness and/or poverty.” Staff are provided with training and experience on the truck.
  • Chef Shane Chartrand’s rebranded restaurant at the River Cree Casino named SC, is open for business.
  • Splash Poke’s third location in the city is now open at West Edmonton Mall.
  • Also at WEM, Bubba Gump Shrimp is now open.
  • Liane has more about what you can expect from Meuwly’s, opening up later this week on July 5, 2018.
  • Learn more about the couple behind Yelo’d, Edmonton’s newest ice cream shop, in this piece from Vue.
  • Avenue Edmonton’s July issue features 25 notable Edmontonians identifying their favourite dish to eat in the city.
  • Patio seekers can look forward to a few new or reclaimed patios at Cafe Linnea, Rebel Food and Drink, and Bodega 124 Street.
  • Ms. Hangry Foodie offers an early review of Wildfred’s.
  • Leduc is one of the first to review Fumaca Brazilian Steakhouse.
  • Graham praises the food but not the atmosphere of Silk Bar and Kitchen.
  • Andrea has eaten her way through the menu at Kanto.
  • Sharon tried out the “longest fries in North America” from local food truck Golden Bunch.
  • Edmonton AM has been running a series of segments called “Snackchecker”, rating different locally-sourced snacks. This week, they share the current ranking (held by Sugared and Spiced’s brownie), and try savoury bites from Honest Dumplings.
  • If you had a hankering for movie theatre popcorn at home, you’re now in luck – Cineplex has partnered with Uber Eats to deliver some of their concession snacks.
  • Seconds, Please! is a film from local filmmaker Shawn Tse about second generation immigrants connecting with their heritage through their traditional food.
  • Mack and I couldn’t resist a trip to Love Pizza this weekend for our annual poutizza indulgence. Hope everyone had a great Canada Day!

Love Pizza

Poutizza for two

July 1st, 2018

Food with a Purpose: The Hallway Cafe

With Emily in tow for meals, Mack and I have had to be more thoughtful with restaurant selections. Many of the places we frequented prior are inaccessible with baby – narrow aisles, small gaps between tables, and stairs make it difficult to accommodate a stroller, not to mention not all welcome children or are child friendly. While we have made it a priority to have date nights with just the two of us, the reality is much of our dining future will have to factor in how well suited they are for kids.

One of the most recent restaurants I’ve discovered that fits this bill is the newly renovated Hallway Café (formerly Kids in the Hall). Located in City Hall, it is central, but hard to stumble upon, with only window signage to rely on, and daytime hours of 7am-3:30pm on weekdays.

The Hallway Cafe

Interior

If you were familiar with the previous design, it’s safe to say the interior has been completely refreshed while still making the most of the prominent wall of windows. Most groupings of tables and chairs are enclosed by brightly coloured metal frames resembling greenhouses with built-in planters. The structures are a fun but functional way of visually breaking up the space while sacrificing none of the natural light that filters into the room. I also much appreciated the wide aisles that are very accommodating to strollers. Opposite the windows is an open kitchen, allowing diners to observe the food prep action, important because the restaurant has retained its foundation as a social enterprise that provides skills training to vulnerable youth.

The Hallway Cafe

Lots of room for Emily!

E4C operates The Hallway Café as a program that works with individuals aged 16 to 24. After screening applicants to ensure they have the stability necessary for success, the 17 week program teaches modules in hospitality and kitchen skills, with hands-on experience at the Café where they are paid minimum wage plus tips; the program ends with a job placement.

The food is not secondary at The Hallway Café, with coffee and freshly baked goods for those seeking a light snack, and full breakfast and lunch plates for those with heartier appetites. It’s worth mentioning that the prices are very reasonable – for instance, a standard breakfast with two eggs, bacon, potatoes and toast is just $9, while pizzas range from $9-10. I’ve had lunch here twice with Emily since April, and enjoyed both experiences.

Back in April, I had the chicken panini ($8), with a side of house-cut Kennebec fries ($3). This was my favourite of the two meals; the sandwich, on house made focaccia, was quite generously sized. The chicken was complemented well by the blueberry and Dijon aioli, spinach, and spicy jack cheese, and the bread was fresh and nicely toasted. The fries, however, were the star for me, tossed in their house seasoning and incredibly crispy and addictive.

The Hallway Cafe

Chicken panini and fries

My friend Su ordered the pizza con patate, and said she enjoyed the thin crust topped with potatoes, rosemary, caramelized onions and grana padano and goat cheese.

The Hallway Cafe

Pizza con patate

I was looking forward to those fries when I returned with a friend to the Hallway in June, to be consumed alongside the Philly cheese steak ($10), but they were sadly out. That said, it was a good opportunity to try their kale salad on the side ($4). Topped with beets and goat cheese, it was a heartier salad than most. The sandwich was tasty enough, with grilled red onions and roasted peppers adding interest. The beef was on the dry side though, and benefited from the melted cheese.

The Hallway Cafe

Philly cheese steak and kale salad

Service (like many establishments these days – food is ordered at the counter then bussed to the table) was friendly, and the kitchen kept up with the pace even as the lunch rushes hit.

I’m glad to have found The Hallway Café – the program is worth supporting, but it’s the food and the surroundings that are going to bring me back again and again!

June 25th, 2018

Food Notes for June 25, 2018

Otto

Sausages, fries, and mac ‘n’ cheese at Otto

June 20th, 2018

2018 Edmonton Chinatown Walking Tours

Last year, I was among a small group of volunteers who piloted a series of free walking tours in Chinatown. We were amazed at the number of Edmontonians who joined us throughout the summer; most were curious about the neighbourhood that they had traversed but did not have a reason to linger in.

Edmonton Chinatown Tour

2017 Walking Tour

The tours provided a history of why the city has two Chinatowns, and introduced attendees to some of the cultural institutions and businesses in the area. Our hope, as was the case with other initiatives I’ve been involved with relating to Chinatown, was to encourage more people to explore and spend time in the neighbourhood.

Edmonton Chinatown Tour

We love Chinatown!

We’re happy to share the news that the tours are back for a second year! Even better, the City of Edmonton was able to secure a grant that permitted the hiring of a summer student to coordinate the tours. As a result, supported by the same group of volunteers, we’ve increased the frequency of the tours to twice a month, from 10:30am-12:30pm every second and forth Sunday from June until September. If you’re interested, we ask that you RSVP on Eventbrite. The remaining tour dates are as follows:

If those dates don’t work, the student is also able to lead private tours for a minimum of 10 people.

Chinatown Walking Tour

Jane’s Walk in Chinatown earlier this year

We hope this interest in Chinatown continues – consider joining us on one of the tours this summer!

June 18th, 2018

Food Notes for June 18, 2018

  • The next Prairie on the Plate events are to take place at the Highlands and 124 Street locations of Bodega. They’ll be offering 3-course brunch for $25 on June 23 and 24, 2018.
  • Ernest’s at NAIT is hosting a dinner on July 7, 2018 featuring the “it” pork of the moment, mangalista. Tickets are $99.
  • The Alberta Mycological Society is hosting a Wild Mushroom Exposition on August 19, 2018 in Spruce Grove, to help attendees “identify, learn, forage, taste and enjoy wild mushrooms.”
  • Yelo’d Ice Cream, offering Asian-inspired soft serve, is in their soft opening phase. Find them at 10150A 82 Avenue.
  • 124 Street continues to stockpile culinary assets – this time in the form of Meuwly’s, offering charcuterie, sausage, and preserves. It will open next week at 10706 124 Street.
  • I’m looking forward to the opening of Wilfred’s, described as a “contemporary cafe and diner” in the Brewery District later this month.
  • Downtown Edmonton’s newest coffee shop, Sober Cat in the Morning, is set to open July 7, 2018.
  • Vue has more on what you can expect from the forthcoming Korean casual eatery Buok.
  • It’s always great to see new local food initiatives, such as the food business development platform and retail space that Honest Dumplings is spearheading. Check out the ATB Boostr campaign where they seek to raise $10,000 towards the facility.
  • Original Redhead Condiments also has a current ATB Boostr campaign running to help expand their business. Vue Weekly has more how the idea for fermented hot sauces developed.
  • Congratulations to Chef Lindsay Porter on her win on the television program Guy’s Grocery Games.
  • Kanto’s interpretation of Filipino cuisine leaves Graham impressed.
  • A pair of polar opposite reviews to consider about The Captain’s Boil, from Linda and the Journal.
  • Jonny enjoyed the ramen at Let’s Grill Sushi & Izakaya downtown, but was left wanting more from Wendy’s Gourmet Perogies.
  • Crystal had a positive experience at London Local.
  • Vue applauds the quality Narayanni’s has maintained over the years.
  • Mack and I hit up Kazoku for my first post-baby ramen last week. It’s just not the same without that soft boiled egg!

Kazoku

Shoyu and tonkotsu ramen from Kazoku