With abundant local produce and a talented chef community, the Alberta city has become a must-visit culinary destination
Edmonton may be way up north by the 53rd parallel, but it’s hardly the boondocks. Well, not unless you’re actually at Bündok, the busy little 38-seat bistro on Edmonton’s 104th Street that found its way onto enRoute magazine’s influential top 10 list last year.
“These last two years have been crazy,” says chef-owner Ryan Hotchkiss. Edmontonians have known for ages just how great their city’s culinary scene is, but now everyone else has started to take notice, so much so that by 2017, three Edmonton eateries were perched atop the enRoute list. So when Hotchkiss decided to open his own restaurant, the community was ready for it. “They were a little too ready for it,” he says with a laugh.
There are plenty of good reasons to visit Alberta’s capital city. There’s the West Edmonton Mall, still the largest shopping centre in North America, as well as the new ICE sports and entertainment district around the hockey arena. There’s the new Royal Alberta Museum, newish Art Gallery of Alberta and more festivals than you can shake a beribboned tambourine at. There are parks and trails galore, and arching over it all, that great big beautiful prairie sky.
But the very best reason to visit Edmonton is its exciting cuisine and the people who are bringing it to the table.
It’s the land
“We did our very first farm dinner in 2007,” says Blair Lebsack. The chef-owner of the quintessentially nose-to-tail, farm-to-table RGE RD restaurant is at Riverbend Gardens on the outskirts of town, watching his team prep for a feast in the fields. “We’ll do a farm tour and canapés to start the day, then a plated five-course dinner after that. In our restaurant we want you to feel like you’re in the country,” he says. “But here we do the opposite. We want to shine up the dinner.”
Long, sun-soaked days produce an impressive bounty in the rich, fertile farmland surrounding Edmonton. Riverbend Gardens, for instance, grows 45 acres of vegetables that feed local restaurants and farmers markets. “The root vegetables, the carrots and beets, the potatoes are wonderful,” Lebsack says.
It’s not just the farms that grow delicious things to eat here. Just ask forager Kevin Kossowan. For his James Beard Award-
nominated TV series In the Wild, he takes chefs like Lebsack hunting, fishing and foraging, then has them prepare a meal in the wilderness. But there’s no need to go that far: Even city parks like Edmonton’s lush river valley are abundant with wild horseradish, asparagus, onions, mushrooms and berries.
“The beautiful thing about foraging is it’s democratic,” Kossowan says. “Anyone can do it.”
It’s the climate
Maybe it’s the dry, cool climate, so well-suited to baking. Or maybe it’s just good luck. Whatever the reason, Edmonton has become known for its exceptionally fine pastry. Credit Duchess Bake Shop, the pâtisserie that opened in 2009 on 124th Street to indulge the city with exquisite macarons, croissants and éclairs.
“When Duchess opened, 124th Street was nothing. It was kind of scary,” recalls Kelsey Johnson, a partner in Duchess Bake Shop and chef-owner of the popular Café Linnea. Now there are numerous restaurants and boutiques along 124th Street, as well as a twice-weekly market. Duchess has moved its production kitchen to 119th Street, behind Café Linnea, which is renowned for epic French- and Scandinavian-inspired brunches.
Duchess’s success paved the way for newcomers like La Boule Bakery. Here in the historic and artsy neighbourhood of Old Strathcona, chef-owner Jennifer Strang produces artisan bread (“It’s my true love,” she says) as well as fine French pastries, including her signature “cruffin” (croissant dough shaped like a muffin and filled with compote and cream). “Nobody needs to eat dessert to survive,” she says. “It’s an indulgence.”
It’s the people
Almost anywhere you go in Edmonton, whether you are dining at chef Daniel Costa’s modern Italian trattoria Uccellino, or sipping cocktails at the Art Nouveau-inspired Bar Clementine, or enjoying tacos at trendy Tres Carnales, one thing is clear. Everyone, from servers to farmers to bartenders to chefs, is button-burstingly proud of their city.
“In Edmonton, we have a real culinary community,” Lebsack says. “Right now I think our food is really good, and all the chefs are friends. We all try to help each other out. I’ve actually washed dishes for another chef when they were too busy. Edmonton is all about community.”
Perhaps that’s because so many of them were born and raised here, but explored other places before coming home to a place that, it turns out, is as good for raising a family as it is for producing exceptional cuisine. They know people think Edmonton is small and remote—that was, after all, the joke behind Bündok’s name. But perhaps that smallness and remoteness is what brings people together to make this such a great dining town.
As Café Linnea’s Johnson says, “I love it. Food is what I want to do. All I want to do is eat and drink.” And Edmonton, it turns out, is the perfect place to do it.
If you go
The Matrix Hotel is a revamped boutique property that is not only comfortably chic, but centrally located close to restaurants, shopping and art galleries. Room rate includes complimentary breakfast and daily wine tasting. matrixedmonton.com
Here’s just a small taste of the many fantastic dining options in this food-obsessed city: inventive casual fare at Bündok; nose-to-tail dining at RGE RD; modern Italian at Uccellino; the epic Swedish-French brunch at Cafe Linnea; cocktails and sophisticated bites at Bar Clementine; irresistible patisserie at Duchess Bake Shop and La Boule Bakery.
Amuse yourself there:
The Ice District is a 10-hectare sports and entertainment district in downtown Edmonton, featuring a casino, sports arena, hotels, dining and more. icedistrict.com
Fill your boots at West Edmonton Mall’s more than 800 stores and services, including nine world-class attractions, two hotels and over 100 dining venues. wem.ca
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