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Zinc's vegetable salad was the only healthy alternative Graham Hicks could find at Taste of Edmonton. (Graham Hicks photo)
Zinc's vegetable salad was the only healthy alternative Graham Hicks could find at Taste of Edmonton. (Graham Hicks photo)

Taste of Edmonton Festival

Sir Winston Churchill Square

Through Saturday, July 25, 2015

11 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Cost per (small) dish: $2.50 to $6


What happened?

For three years, this column has been praisingTaste of Edmonton’s food quality upgrades. 

The giant outdoor food festival at Churchill Square – centred around 58 booths and food trucks each day – had been improving steadily since 2012.

To be blunt – this year’s sampling was awful. 

The Hat’s Artichoke Spinach “Dip” was spinach-flavoured gruel poured on nachos. 

The mushroom could  barely be tasted inside the overly-battered, overly deep-fried Cheesecake Café’s Marvellous Stuffed Mushrooms. 

The Spanakopita (spinach) Pie from Koutouki on 124th Street (under new ownership) had a thimble-full of spinach inside a greasy filo pastry.

Japanese Village’s bean sprout salad was atrocious. The sprouts were wilted, the “ginger sauce” watery without taste.

At least the breading on the Century Hospitality Group’s cauliflower fritto – once again deep fried – was more tolerable than most. And the cauliflower was top quality.

Beverage booth Lemon Heaven claims to have “freshly squeezed lemonade”. Please tell how adding the juice from one lemon to a vat of super-sweetened factory concentrate and tossing a lemon slice into the glass is defined as “fresh”?

Khaza made its mango lassi desserts ahead of time. They tasted stale, like pudding from a hospital cafeteria – before such cafeterias upped their game.

Mikado’s Green Tea ice cream was livened up by a sweet red-bean topping … straight out of a can. The ice cream was low-quality, like you’d serve at a 10-year-old’s birthday party.

The Sonar food truck’s Dolma (meat and rice in grape leaves) were dull and uninteresting.

Thanks be to God for Zinc – the restaurant in the Edmonton Art Gallery – for offering a fresh vegetable salad with a discreet champagne/lemon/olive oil dressing. My taste buds, ravaged by endless crappy battered veggies, came back to life.

I take some responsibility for this debacle, but with the best of intentions. 

To stop looking like a pregnant male, I have been trying to avoid the three temptresses of food - crunchy, greasy and sweet.

Surveying the Taste of Edmonton menu, I circled and then tried anything looking salad, vegetable-like or healthy on the Taste of Edmonton menu. Not promising. Only nine out of  116 dishes qualified – before batter and hot oil even came into play.  

Which made the food quality at this Taste of Edmonton even worse. With the exception of a few tasty baked-meat dishes (Normand’s, Fantasia), everything was full of sugar, breaded and deep fried, served with calorie-laden sauces, tacos, bread or potatoes.

Taste of Edmonton has descended into what you’d expect at K-Days - deep-fried Mars bars and grease-pit alleys.

Here’s what I suspect has happened: Events Edmonton – the not-for-profit organization that produces Taste of Edmonton – is so busy with the special culinary events surrounding Taste of Edmonton that the core product has been neglected. Consequently, food quality has dramatically slipped.

At the same time, vendors, dealing with rising costs, and price resistance, are cheaping out by using pre-mixes, frozen or processed ingredients.

How ironic. In an era when “health” and “buy local” and “staying fit” are supposed priorities, half of us are bulging into porky piggies – like the spaceship people in WALL-E. We will soon look like Americans.  

So if you want to add to your bloated poundage, buy a bigger belt (again), stay out of shape and be hounded by diabetes and lifestyle diseases, head to this year’s Taste of Edmonton.

FOOD NOTES

• Congrats to Acme Meat’s Christine Sandford, beating out some of the city’s top chefs in the fifth Edmonton Food Fight event last Sunday at the Taste of Edmonton’s Sip ‘N Savour tent. Food Fight is produced by the wonderful Kathryn Joel of Get Cooking. The competitors were chefs who’d all finished second in the previous four Food Fight events. A full Food Fight V report will be posted Wednesday on my HicksBiz blog, www.hicksbiz.com.

• The Churros King, Luis Caro, is back at Taste of Edmonton as proprietor of the Latino Grill food truck. Since the Three Amigos restaurant booth has first dibs on selling churros - the South American equivalent to doughnuts – Luis is offering Fritura Fritters, a close-but-not-churros sweet.

*You know it's lobster season on the east coast when the Keg highlights its lobster summer menu. A tasting at the South Common Keg confirmed the obvious. The Keg offers lobster geared to the most common denominator. No real culinary adventure, but lots of reasonably tasty, somewhat chewy but still good lobster - often mixed with shrimp in the casual dishes.

Graham Hicks

780 707 6379

graham.hicks@hicksbiz.com

www.hicksbiz.com

@hicksonsix