HICKS WEEKLY DISH: The Bedouins: A desert oasis on the northside BY GRAHAM HICKS FIRST POSTED EDMONTON SUN: TUESDAY, OCTOBER 17, 2017
The name is a draw unto itself.
“The Bedouins” – brilliant!
It conjures up mythical images of Arabian desert nomads – Lawrence of Arabia, The English Patient, that kind of thing.
Do Bedouin tribes have a distinct Middle Eastern cuisine? Not really. The two savvy partners in North Edmonton’s The Bedouins restaurant readily admit the name is more impressionistic, a brand rather than actual Bedouin dishes.
While Bedouin tribes dot the desert landscape from Morocco to Saudi Arabia, maitre d’ Emad Elgaddafi and chef Ashruf Oun are offering North African cooking, the distinctive tajeens and beautiful lamb dishes of the Maghreb – the coastal regions of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya.
If there’s a regional bias, it’s Libyan. Pasta shows up more often than grains at The Bedouins, as Libya was once an Italian colony.
Elgaddafi and Oun are of Libyan descent, Canada’s gain when civil war forced the two dynamic young men out of their homeland. In Edmonton, they met through their future wives, two sisters from the city’s Libyan community.
The Bedouins is a delightful north-end restaurant, a blend of excellent (and bargain-priced) food, a most cheerful personality and a home-spun, almost kitschy décor. A colourful rug/cloth covers the entire ceiling. A mural of camels and desert life decorates the washroom walkway.
On a Saturday evening the booths are filled with families.
Emad lends personality and humour to The Bedouins. “If you’re hungry, you’ve come to the right place,” were his first words to us. He’s a constant joker, as if hosting a non-stop dinner party in his own home.
The menu is well thought out – something for everybody in Edmonton’s Maghrebi/Middle Eastern community, from Libyan to Lebanese to Saudi Arabian. North American dishes, such as a 17 oz. steak, the Bedouins burger, Bedouin-style fries and simple kababs are a safety valve for those fearful of the unknown. On the menu, the dishes are described in plain (if glowing) English. The uninitiated are not cast out to drown in the Maghrebi coastal sea.
An admirable gesture and superb marketing: First-timers at The Bedouins receive complimentary “Arabian” soup and appetizers like the tajeen j’ban – a ground meat and cheese baked tart. You don’t ask … Emad just brings the first dishes unannounced, calling it the “Bedouin Experience.”
The main dishes are superb … and big. How prices are kept at $19 to $20, I do not know. Three of us were stuffed on two entrees, taking home enough food for a follow-up meal.
The stewed Chicken Tajeen came with almonds, gently spiced for a wee kick, aromatic thanks to rose water, laid on an orzo pasta base, accompanied by two dipping sauces and a small salad.
The special of the day was beautiful, chunks of slow-cooked lamb shoulder on soft, sweet noodles sprinkled with chickpeas, all bathed in a thick tasty sauce festooned with vegetables.
This is not fiery food. The Bedouins is more soft and gentle, using cinnamon, turmeric, caramelized onions and rose water drizzles.
Dessert was a combination of baklava-like sweets, similar but quite distinct from other baklava varieties.
The total bill – two entrees, dessert, (plus the complimentary first-time “Bedouin Experience”) came to $50. Five people could have been fed.
The Bedouins is something special – two young, cosmopolitan immigrants have figured out how to present North African dishes for both mainstream and ethnic clientele, with traditional hospitality but contemporary attitudes, on a shoe-string mom ’n’ pop restaurant budget.
If they stick with it – both Emad and Ashruf come from other professions – The Bedouins will soon be one of Edmonton’s best-known and well-loved ethnic eateries.
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Keep banging your head against a wall, and either the wall moves or your head caves in.
Top chef (Sage Restaurant at River Cree Resort) and Edmonton personality Shane Chartrand, on his seventh try, finally won last week’s 2017 Edmonton Regional Gold Medal Plates competition.
It was sweet vindication for Shane, having placed twice in the past, but never being top dog. Second was the Royal Glenora’s Steve Buzak. Third was Ryan Hotchkiss from Bundok.
The competition was formidable. Every Gold Medal Plates participant – Alberto Alboreggia (Sorrentino’s), Steven Brochu (Chartier), Andrew Ihasz (Renaissance Airport), Jan Trittenbach (Solstice), Levi Biddlecombe (Packrat Louie), Medi Tabtoud (VIVO) and Tony Le (Century Hospitality) – was capable of winning.
Chartrand goes on to compete in the Gold Medal Plates Canadian finals in Kelowna in February.
Address: 13716 Castle Downs Road (NW corner, 137 Ave. and Castle Downs Road)
Hours: 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. (Fridays, 2:45 p.m. to 11 p.m.)
Dinner for two, excluding tip and beverages: basic, $20 to $26; loaded, $50
Food: 4 of 5 Suns
Ambience: 4 of 5 Suns
Service: 4.5 of 5 Suns