The big news at this year’s Taste of Edmonton Festival, running through Sunday, isn’t about the food but about the venue.
When the city temporarily converted Churchill Square into a staging depot for LRT construction, festivals using the square had to seek out new digs.
With a little arm-twisting from Edmonton cabinet minister Brian Mason, the provincial bureaucrats reluctantly turned over the new, beautiful Capital Plaza just north of the Legislative Grounds to the food-eating, wine and beer consuming unwashed masses … who happen to own the space.
It worked! On the “Taste Piazza” (Capital Plaza itself), festivalgoers can move around with alcoholic beverages, ice cream and summer drinks in hand — no more do-not-leave beer gardens. The space has been discovered, with what’s likely to be record attendance by Sunday.
Just off Capital Plaza, 99 Avenue between 109 Street and 107 Street, is Food Heaven, with nine food trucks and 46 booths offering two mini-dishes each.
Pedestrian traffic flow is fine, lots of picnic tables, plenty of portable washroom facilities. The “dancing water” jets of Capital Plaza add to the attraction. There’s street parking and easy LRT access. On Sunday when a storm broke, the Federal Building lobby was opened up as shelter.
The venue has been so successful that Taste of Edmonton executive director Paul Lucas is quietly hoping the temporary venue can become a permanent home, with everything — food booths et al — moved onto the Taste Piazza itself.
Food! The Weekly Dish used the same objective review system as last year, visiting every fifth food booth after randomly starting at Booth #3.
Overall — not as interesting or adventurous as last year, with the usual too much deep-fried and sugar-coated. But while the discerning eater needs to search, there’s something for everybody, usually at three tickets ($5) or four tickets ($7) per dish.
#3 — LOFT Thai Eatery — 4 of 5 Suns — I raved about this restaurant’s Thai-Italian fusion in this column last year. Its grilled chicken was covered in a lovely, soft, orange sauce.
#8 — Langano Skies Ethiopian — 3 of 5 — A gently spiced beef dish with spongy injera bread. Too bad the beef was chewy.
#13 — The Three Amigos — 3 of 5 — Run-of-the-mill chicken taco. Tres Carnales, this is not.
#18 — Baba’s Bistro — 3.5 of 5 — The cabbage rolls came with a very tasty sauce, but the rice/onion filling was dull.
#23 — Canadian Brewhouse — 4 of 5 — Delicious, decadent, deep-fried pickles! The breading was excellent, as was the cooking technique. Crunchy on the outside, a firm, crisp slice of sour pickle inside, soothed out with a creamy tzatziki sauce.
#28 — Panda Hut Express — 4 of 5 — What can be less healthy than crispy ginger beef smothered in plum sauce? But, dang, it tasted so addictively good!
#33 — Pampa Brazilian Steakhouse — 3.5 of 5 — Three chunks of tender marinated beef on a skewer were delicious, but the cheese bread was too gooey in the middle, not fully cooked.
#38 — Loma House Vegetarian — 3 of 5 — The sweet potato balls with coconut whipped cream and chocolate in a waffle cone looked great. But the rough-textured sweet potato didn’t work as a dessert.
#43 — Miss Saigon Noodle House — 4 of 5 — a bit of fun, with a vermicelli/beef/sweet sauce filling within a mini-burrito flatbread.
#46 (there being no #48) — Hong Kong Bakery — 4 of 5 — Well done, HK Bakery, you’ve made the first decent festival green onion cake since Siu To. The onion cake was rich, steamy hot, oily, properly layered, with spicy chili and cool sour-cream dip.
I’m happy to report the Lingnan’s Dry Spicy Chicken — not good last year — has returned to its proper crunchy glory. Not to be missed are other Taste of Edmonton legends: Cheese fondue from Melting Pot, Zinc’s champagne salad, The Mac’s scones, Normand’s short rib & mash, Korean Village Hurricane Potato, Hoang Long’s lemongrass beef and churros from the Churros King food truck.
It never rains, but it pours. New restaurant openings have been far and few between this year, until now.
The very hip but comfortable downtown DOSC (Drunken Ox/Sober Cat) promises to bring one of the most inventive menus I’ve ever seen to the masses.
Fumaca Brazilian Steak House (not affiliated with Pampa) on Saskatchewan Drive looks promising.
Haweli Pub & Eatery in South Edmonton Common is offering a fusion of pub fare and East Indian snacks.
Filled with natural light in a stand-alone historic building beside the Brewery District, Wilfred’s has an ultra-clean Café Linnea vibe to it.
Soon to be reviewed in this column, Halley’s Club in the West Edmonton Mall Starlight Casino. Two new pub/restaurants with Maritime twists — Blowers and Grafton, and the King of Donair — are now open.
And here comes the “plant-based” invasion — just opened or soon to open, Kanu, Arcadia, Green Moustache and Copper Branch. Even Earl’s is introducing a “plant-based” alternative menu!