I’ve spent a lot of time in Edmonton this year – more so than usual – and because of this happy coincidence I’ve had the chance to eat my way around the city, which is a Very Good Thing. For a long time, Edmonton was known as the chain restaurant capital of Canada. This isn’t the case anymore – Edmonton is a city of great restaurants and farmers’ markets and local producers and coffee shops, and an impressive slowfood convivium. Some of my very favourite food people are doing their thing there, and I feel the need to share some of the things they make and do, in case you find yourself in Edmonton. I wish I could just tug on the highway and pull the whole city closer.
Of course every time I travel, I spend more time researching where to eat – and what good coffee shops are easily accessible by my hotel or meeting places – than just about anything else, including planning/packing. This is becoming less necessary with Edmonton as I get to know the city better; whenever I go, I go to Corso 32 if I can swing it; I’m afraid I’m not doing the place justice with my pictures, hastily taken in a haze of good wine and hunger, but suffice to say it’s worth a visit. Even the plain pasta with butter and Parm W orders is better than just about anything I’ve ever eaten.
Corso is right downtown on Jasper Avenue, small and divine – my strategy is always to go right when they open at 5, so that I’ll be sure to get in. Order the house made goat ricotta with rosemary oil, Maldon salt and an order of arancini right away, before you even take your coat off. (Bar Bricco next door is pretty fab too – but you can’t bring kids.)
Of course everyone knows the Duchess Bakeshop. It’s an incredible spot, unlike any other I’ve been to – the pastries are worth the pilgrimage themselves, but they also sell soups and sandwiches and other good things. And coffee! And the owners are so lovely.
Giselle’s new cookbook, which won for best single-subject cookbook at the prestigious Taste Canada Food Writing Awards this fall, is stunning – an “award-winning 288-page treasury reveals the secrets behind everything from the bakery’s renowned tea-time treats and legendary tarts to more complicated French classics: buttery brioche, delightful macarons, showy mille-feuilles, and the glorious St. Honoré cake.” It’s truly beautiful, with thick, glossy paper and a linen binding – particularly stunning for a self-published work – with step-by-step photos that must have taken them forever. 80 recipes are divided into 10 chapters—Macarons, Croissants, Brioche & Bread, Tea Time, Cookies, Pies, Tarts, Cakes, Pâte à Choux, and Sweets.
Anyway. Giselle and her team are wonderful, and the bakery is a must-visit, especially now that they’ve opened Provisions next door, where they sell the kitchen tools of my dreams (Weck jars! copper cannelle molds!), small bottles and bags of sweets and spices and elixirs, alongside a small and well-curated wall of cookbooks. This is my happy place.
It’s in the same area as RGE RD – one of Edmonton’s best-known restaurants, owned and run by chef Blair Lebsack along and his partner Caitlin Fulton. I’ve been lucky enough to have spent a ton of time with Blair this summer and fall, harvesting veggies and tramping around in the mud at Natures Green Acres in Viking, Alberta. (My friend Liane Faulder wrote a great piece on the family living off the land for an entire year – with three kids!)
RGE RD is inspired by local, seasonal ingredients – named for the rural addresses where their ingredients are raised and grown. Blair and Caitlin have relationships with farmers and producers around the province, and often host long table dinners in farm fields around Edmonton.
He built a cobb oven out of clay and rock from the riverbank out at Natures’ Green Acres – we cooked in it one afternoon in August, as a storm began to roll through.
Blair and other chefs around town work with Reclaim Urban Farm, a couple who grows vegetables in borrowed inner city land – I had the chance to help them out with their harvest one rainy day this fall. We plucked out all the zucchini and pattypan squash we could find before the first frost. For coffee, I tend to go to Transcend (where I found that cinnamon swirl croissant above) or Credo, which has a location on 104th, conveniently located beside Jacek Chocolate.
Jacqueline Jacek is one of those people you immediately want to be best friends with – and not only because she knows how to make some pretty amazing chocolates. She’s just the nicest person, and has built this business from scratch, starting from home and working her way into her own chocolate studio (who knew that was a thing?!) in Sherwood Park, and then expanding to a second small chocolate boutique on 104th. She does couture and bean-to-bar chocolate, and is generous and a perfectionist in the very best sense of the word. She brings joy to people, and that’s her goal.
Jacqueline creates chocolates inspired by fashion icons – the Audrey, the Jackie, the Frank, and so on – as well as seasonal truffles and her own bits of brilliance, like the Nanaimo bar chocolates, which I heartily endorse. She gave W a tour of the factory – any disappointment he had over the lack of oompa-loompas was dispelled by the racks of chocolates and molds and their brand-new enrobing machine. He now asks for “Jacquie chocolates” my name, as if his ten year old palate had suddenly outgrown Hershey’s, but really I think it’s because he loves her as much as everyone else does.
A block over, my old friend chef Brad Smoliank has a new kitchen studio – he has this great space where he can hold classes, do recipe and product development, make things to sell at the market, and generally do whatever kind of food event he feels like. So fun. He’s made a career out of having kitchen parties and making bacon jam.
There are a few spots I don’t want to miss, but also managed to not get photos of – Tres Carnales Taquería is one of my favourite lunch spots, and their newer, larger restaurant Rostizado is one of my favourite places – a fun spot with great food – and the best guys there running the joint. And I got the chance to try a new Mexican spot on my last visit – El Cortez Mexican Kitchen + Tequila Bar specializes in modern latin food and tequila. Chef Lindsay Porter has created a menu ranging from tapas to street foods & tacos, to nuevo latino fusion dishes. They carry over 140 well-curated 100% agave tequilas and mezcals, and are one of only 9 establishments in the world certified by the Consejo Regulador del Tequila (The Tequila Regulatory Council).
The Tequila Cellar in the basement is open weekends, and often hosts bands and other artists – it’s a fun place upstairs and down, has a great patio and makes a killer guacamole.
I’ve been compiling this post for two days, and it’s occurring to me that there’s still plenty to tell – so perhaps I’ll make this a to be continued post, and follow down the road with a part 2. Meanwhile, I’d like to hear your favourite places to eat in and around Edmonton? I have a copy of the gorgeous new Duchess Bakeshop Cookbook to give away (I haven’t done that in ages!) – to enter, leave a comment here! If you haven’t been to Edmonton, no worries.. you should still have a copy for your own kitchen.
I love showing off my home province – thanks to Travel Alberta – for helping me do it! As always, words and opinions are my own.