Weekly Dish: Edmonton’s leading-edge dining scene BY GRAHAM HICKS FIRST POSTED EDMONTON SUN: TUESDAY, DECEMBER 20, 2016
For years and years, snotty socialites would complain about the Edmonton dining and cultural scene.
It was soooo backward here, dahling, compared to that wonderful Toronto or fabulous New York City. Even Calgary was better than plain ol’Edmonton.
It drove me nuts – you’d reel off 10 excellent restaurants, they’d not been to one. You’d name 10 recent theatrical productions in this theatre-rich town, and they’d not seen one. They’d not bothered with the symphony or to visit the art gallery. No matter. We were just … backward.
The best news of the past year: That complaint is gone! The opposite has happened. Fancy national magazines now send out writers from Toronto to chronicle Edmonton’s leading-edge dining scene.
I don’t care if Edmonton is ahead or behind the times. I just live here and thoroughly enjoy what my city has to offer in a staggering array of dining-out options.
The number of new, informal, high-quality bistros continues to defy the slow economy.
Chartier, the Franco-Albertan kitchen in Beaumont, tops my list. The Holland Plaza (on 119th Street, west of the Edmonton Cemetery) is home to Local Omnivore and Café Linnea. Chef Daniel Costa opened his third contemporary Italian outlet, Uccellino. Chef Paul Shufelt’s Workshop Eatery filled a vacuum in the deep southwest of the city, as has Bodega Highlands in the northeast.
I’m cocktail indifferent – too sweet, too expensive - but the food at the cocktail bar bistros, like Woodwork, Bar Clementine, North 53 and Glass Monkey is downright excellent.
There’s a revival in modern steakhouses, with ATLAS Steak + Fish joining Von’s, Ruth’s Chris, the downtown Chop, Sage and Characters. Lux Steakhouse is upping its game with the addition of BAR94, 94 being restaurant partner Ryan Smyth’s number with the Oilers. The best value proposition for steak in this town, unquestionably, continues to be Tom Goodchild’s Moose Factory.
The city’s soul has been enriched by the opening of interesting independent coffee houses with interesting menus that cater to specific neighbourhoods – Strathearn’s Juniper Café, Riverdale’s Little Brick Café, the Belgravia HUB, Square 1 Coffee (Aspen Gardens/Westbrook) and The Woodrack Café on 109 St. at 76 Ave. The collective soul will benefit from the new craft-brewery houses – but that’s a story for 2017.
Food bloggers, reviewers and chefs rarely think about readers or customers with limited incomes. Inexpensive dining can be found along 118th Avenue from 34 St. to 50 St., then 80 St. to 106 St. Millions Thai, Battista’s Calzone, Swiss 2 Go, the Take Five bakery (donuts from scratch), Passion de France, T&D Vietnamese, El Rancho – dozens of really good small shops can be found with meals under $10.
Asian cuisine in this town is fast becoming “gentrified” with the likes of Dorinku, the Prairie Noodle Shop and other trendy Vietnamese shops opening near Rogers Place and on Whyte Avenue. At least Thanh Thanh and King Noodle House Pho Hoang keep the others honest. The new KFC – Korean Fried Chicken – has been a fun, if belt-widening trend.
Mexican/Latin fare is mostly within trendy bar/eateries like El Cortez, Julio’s Barrio and Tres Carnales. Have Mercy, on the upper floor of the El Cortez building, brought in fun Tex-Mex. For “authentic” tacos and tortillas, try Latino’s or El Rancho. Rostizado’s finger-lickin’ roast chicken and pork is quasi-Mexican.
The best thing to come out of the Weekly Dish’s search for the best burger under $10 was Jack’s Burger Shack in St. Albert. The best thing out of St. Albert this year was the superb Buco Pizzeria + Vino. The Sorrentino’s Group is opening a second Buco downtown in the EPCOR building.
No question the opening of Roger’s Place has encouraged downtown dining. Socio-demographics came into play – different crowds go to different restaurants before and after concerts and hockey game. Nearby pubs and taverns with good food - Denizen Hall, Mercer’s Tavern, Kelly’s, the venerable Rose & Crown and Sherlock’s Downtown – are thriving.
Another thumbs-up for Edmonton’s dining – 80% of restaurants reviewed for this column earned 4 or 4.5 Suns out of a possible five for food. Competition has bred consistent quality.
I’ve nothing against chain restaurants. Joeys, Earls and Cactus Club always amaze with their high standards. Joeys Bell Tower has been packed since it opened this past fall.
But the very best of food is always the result of an individual chef’s style and imagination. The most pleasant of restaurants are often run by husband/wife teams, like the charming Red Goose in Hazeldean.
The big guys are already known and predictable. I just wish more people would try the likes of Buco, Bodega, Dorinku or Swiss 2 Go instead of defaulting to the big-box chain restaurants.
Merry Christmas! Eat! Drink! But not too much!!!
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