food city – Edmonton: a community of foodies
When you think of Edmonton, what springs to mind? Perhaps you picture the Oilers logo and hear the faint twang of country music strumming in the background. Maybe you picture a frigid cityscape with pickup-truck-filled roads and quiet, almost non-existent nightlife. Well, shake that noggin of yours, because none of these mental images represents all that Edmonton has to offer.
Edmonton is a large city (over 900,000 people as of the 2016 census) that maintains small-town charm. The sense of community is almost tangible and it’s definitely present in the flavours and tastes on offer at many of the town’s restaurants and hot spots. Here are just a few places you should visit when next you’re in town. And never let anyone tell you that Edmonton is just a quiet city of hockey-playin’, country-music-lovin’ folk. Because it is so much more.
Must Visit Bakeries & Cafés
10718 – 124 Street NW
In 2009, Duchess Bake Shop was among the first bakeries to find a following in Edmonton, and that is a credit to owners Giselle Courteau (the creative mind behind the bakery), Jacob Pelletier and Garner Beggs. The Duchess, as it’s affectionately called by locals, is now regarded as one of the top patisseries in Canada; even Prime Minister Justin Trudeau mentioned them as highlight during his Edmonton visit.
The experience makes all the difference. “Our main focus at the bake shop is to make our customers feel special. From customer service all the way to eating the last crumb on their plate, we want people to feel transported … to a magical and happy place,” says Courteau. “I’m proud that people let us share these moments with them by eating our food.”
Their menu includes quiche, soup (while supplies last), sandwiches, tartiflette and more. “Our blending of French pastries and Alberta favourites is something we are really proud of and has definitely contributed greatly to our success,” explains Courteau. “I knew when we opened that we wanted a heavy focus on French pastries but I also wanted to showcase some of the things I grew up making at home, such as brownies, butter tarts and pies. Now that customers have gained our trust, they are more willing and excited to try traditional French pastries … and get excited when we come out with new items and flavours.”
All baked goods are made fresh from scratch every day from-high quality ingredients, like Valrhona chocolate from France, Anita’s Organic flour and Churn84 butter, as well as all-natural flavours and extracts, to create their cakes, macarons, brioches, croissants and more. “We’re always told that our baked goods taste homemade,” Courteau mentions. “There are no magic tricks, secret recipes or strange ingredients at the bakes hop. Everything is made from scratch, not using any sauces, glazes or stabilizers. This, coupled with the high-quality ingredients that we use, makes the biggest difference in the taste of our pastries.”
Courteau also runs a bake store, Provisions, which sells ingredients, bakeware, tools and cookbooks, including her own award-winning cookbook, Duchess Bake Shop.
8020 – 101 Street
Classic, innovative and elegant — these are just a few words to describe pastry chef Jennifer Stang’s creations. You can’t go wrong with one of her sweet and savoury breads.
10548 – 101 Street
Tunisian immigrants Akram Hasni and Fadoua Deurbel opened this little gem to showcase their favourite treats: sweets, savouries, pies, tarts and truffles. They also cater.
10938 – 119 Street
This artisanal bakery has Instagram-worthy doughnuts that are as delicious as they are adorable. Be warned, though: they sell out quick.
4 Sir Winston Churchill Square
Events centre for performing arts — if you’re in town, it’s worth checking out a show. They say it has the best acoustics around.
8882 – 170 Street NW
What list would be complete without the West Edmonton Mall? Shopping centre and theme-park all in one.
Chic boutiques, summer patios, festivals, entertainment — this street is everything you could want for a day out walking in the early autumn sun.
Dinner & Drinks
10932 – 119 Street NW
This bistro-café fusion is a passion project for chef and co-owner Kelsey Johnson. Opened in July 2016, Café Linnea offers brunch, afternoon bar bites and dinner, a service added in March 2017. The menu combines French and Scandinavian cuisine. “I grew up in a Scandinavian community … outside Edmonton, where I fell in love with my culture and background,” says Johnson. “The other side of my heritage is French and the French-farmhouse style of cooking has always been appealing to me. Both cultures use the ingredients available to them and techniques to highlight ingredients as opposed to hiding them, which I try to keep in the forefront of my cooking.”
All mains at Café Linnea are generous in size and flavour. Take the smoked pot pie: a poached egg cradled by puff pastry filled with smoked chicken, pork loin, carrots and peas, all covered in a cream sauce. Just writing about it makes my mouth water. The other dishes are equally enticing. Oeufs-en-cocotte: two eggs on a bed of red peppers served in a small cast-iron pot; Complète Galette: buckwheat crêpe with crisp edges, ham and Gruyère topped with an egg.
To accompany your meal, Café Linnea serves a variety of coffees and a few interesting cocktails beyond the classic mimosas. “For me, food and drink is meant to be enjoyed and shared,” says Johnson. “It’s honestly my favourite thing to do and I hope people can feel a bit of that when they eat my food.”
Café Linnea also offers homemade take-home products: sourdough loaf, mustard sausage, coffee, pickled mustard seeds and soon, smoked bacon. “When I overheard people saying they wanted to take home the sourdough, we made it happen,” states Johnson. “The tough part is balancing what to keep for the restaurant and what to sell. The pig only has one belly after all, so ensuring you have enough for breakfast needs to come first.”
Johnson and her team at Café Linnea serve quality ingredients in a refreshing style to give busy Edmontonians (and visitors) a calm, relaxing space to recharge. “I want the people who come to Café Linnea to escape the everyday craziness and have a moment in the space,” says Johnson. “Whether that’s spending time with friends, relaxing into a coffee alone, trying new ingredients for the first time, whatever! Just be in the beautiful space.”
3739 – 99 Street
Izakaya Tomo is an informal Japanese gastropub, focussing on social drinks paired with food. They boast a large drinks menu and small dishes, similar to tapas, that are tailored to complement the more than 30 beers, premium sake, plum wine, Shōchū and cocktails.
While Izakaya Tomo does serve sushi and sashimi (try the tempura shrimp roll for something delicious), dishes that many have come to expect from Japanese restaurants, owner Tomoya Mutaguchi wanted to provide something of his own creation — a menu that reflects true Japanese cuisine. “Since I came to Canada, I worked for eight years for one of the oldest Japanese restaurants in Edmonton and I noticed many people opening almost the same style of Japanese restaurant,” says Mutaguchi. “It was good because it meant Japanese food was getting popular. But to me, it was not fun. Same menu … not much difference wherever I go. That’s why I opened a different style of Japanese restaurant.”
Mutaguchi wants to give guests lasting memories. “I want [guests] to talk to their friends about what they felt and for that, I need to give them impact,” says Mutaguchi. “I use pure water and pottery plates from Japan; have a wooden rustic interior, a variety of small new-style dishes; and we’re open late.”
His small plates and large, playful fusion dishes introduce new flavours. Tuna Yukki combines chopped raw tuna, quail’s egg yolk and avocado to create a textural experience unlike any other while Crispy Take Yaki’s seven deep-fried battered octopus balls served with mayonnaise and topped with bonito flakes is an experience. Tonpei Yaki, an Izakaya Tomo original, is one fine example of how Mutaguchi and his team express Japanese cuisine. The shaved pork and cabbage wrapped in a fried egg topped with okonomi sauce and dried, smoked bonito flakes is full of flavour.
Most, if not all, of the dishes are made with local products. “I try to — like meat from local suppliers, eggs and seasonal veggies from farmers, et cetera.” says Mutaguchi. “Using locally sourced ingredients is not our concept but I try to because it shows appreciation for the community. I can do business here because of all the local support.” As the first izakaya in Edmonton, Izakaya Tomo continues to provide Edmonton foodies with a new take on Japanese cuisine and culture.
10643 – 123 Street
RGE RD consistently appears on best overall lists, like this one. Chef Blair Lebsack showcases Canadian cuisine with tastes and dishes inspired by the fields, forests, mountains and oceans of western Canada. In fact, it was the first restaurant in Edmonton to highlight farm-to-table dining. “The idea of working directly with farmers, appreciating what we have in our own backyard and showing my translation of Canadian cuisine was the starting point,” explains Lebsack. “But it has gone so much further since then.” Now, RGE RD embodies the people and culture of North Central Alberta, giving you a true sense of place and local products.
All of the ingredients found in the kitchen are sourced from farms and small-scale producers in Alberta and western Canada. “Local products are just part of us now,” says Lebsack. “We know where our products come from and we try to connect our diners to their food.” Some of the farms they use are: Nature’s Green Acres, Prairie Gardens, August Organics, Riverbend Gardens and Four Whistle Farm. “These farmers have made RGE RD better and now are part of the restaurant family,” states Lebsack. “They work hard to get us the best products, so we try to use everything, and with everything, use creativity.”
That creativity is reflected in their menu, which is updated weekly to incorporate what farmers tell Lebsack is best in the field at the time. Take, for example, their Questionable Bits platter, which features a sampling of continually changing meats from the whole animal (including offal). Seafood lovers would enjoy the Charred Chili Crusted West Coast Cod with fried potato pavé, squash purée, roasted tomato and onion. They also have a selection of vegetable dishes for the vegetarians in your group. Roasted Brussel Sprout Salad or Chickpea Pancake and Harvest Vegetables are two that make for tasty treats.
While the food definitely draws you in, it’s the overall experience that has people coming back for more. At RGE RD, you get more than a meal; you get an education, from how it was raised to how it should be eaten. That all-encompassing experience is vital to Lebsack. “We want our guests to enjoy the food, but we want so much more,” he explains. “We want them to feel comfortable in the room, taken care of and have great conversation with dining companions.”
10345 Jasper Avenue
Chef Daniel Costa’s flagship restaurant is credited with elevating Edmonton’s culinary scene. The Italian-inspired menu features simple dishes made with a few, tasty ingredients. You won’t find sauce-drenched pastas at Corso 32 — instead, look for melt-in-your-mouth fried short rib, cavatelli pasta with pork and fennel sausage sugo or Chinook Salmon Mandorla, cooked to perfection.
Costa changes the menu regularly, incorporating fresh, local ingredients into traditional Italian recipes to give guests a new experience every time they go. And no Italian experience would be complete without wine. Corso 32’s extensive wine list has a glass or bottle for every palate, which pairs well with the menu. All of their wines are curated and sourced from Italy.
Since opening in 2010, Corso 32 has seen critical acclaim from restaurant reviewers across the country. Costa followed up the success of his 34-seat restaurant with two sister restaurants — Bar Bricco and Uccellino; he was also involved in creating the Tavola app, which curates recipe packs and pairing menus with wine and music.
10724 – 95 Street
This hidden gem is full of warmth that extends beyond the tasty food (a lot of which is gluten-free). Probably the best Laos and Thai fare available in Edmonton.
10117 – 101 Street
Authentic Eastern European fare (schnitzel, anyone?) and great bistro food is the cornerstone of their unchanging menu.
10329 – 82 Avenue
One of Edmonton’s premier live music venues, this Old Strathcona staple has provided locals and tourists alike with mellow vibes and chill nights out on the town.
10425 Whyte Avenue
Another Old Strathcona bar, The Black Dog features the Wooftop patio, a second-level, garden setting, full-service patio overlooking Whyte Avenue.
5482 Calgary Trail
A must for any Scotch enthusiast, The Bothy boasts the largest selection of whisky in Edmonton (over 175 varieties), as well as 20 wines by the glass.
Microbreweries & Distilleries
17412 – 111 Avenue NW
From the gorgeous event space and bar at the front to the powerful spirits found in eye-catching bottles, Hansen Distillery delivers when it comes to Edmontonian booze.
9929 – 60 Avenue NW
A tour of this brewery will make any beer lover feel like a kid in a candy store. The bonus is, of course, that you’re not a kid and can buy some of the delicious brews to take home.
10308 – 81 Avenue
Nice atmosphere combined with well-made brews makes this brewery (with attached kitchen) a pleasant lunch-time stop.
Craft and authentic Bavarian breweries set up shop at this beerfest to give festival-goers a true taste of local beer.
Touted as Alberta’s original international film festival, this week-long event features Oscar-worthy films by independent and international creators.
Laughter is the best medicine. For everything. So, check in to the Edmonton Comedy festival to see Scott Thompson (from The Kids in the Hall) and internationally touring comedian Wendy Liebman, just to name a few.