Like tea in Britain, sushi in Japan and tapas in Spain, some cliched food and travel pairings simply turn out to be true. And mighty tasty.
My latest trip to Canada, roaming through western cities of Vancouver, Winnipeg and Calgary, provided plenty of time to soak up the sweet, sticky goodness of maple syrup and pancakes…
In Vancouver, I met them among sugar-puffed bannock and thick, strong coffee. In Winnipeg, I found them in bare-brick diners, watching the Assiniboine River river glide by. Calgary showed me waffle machines plus the cubed plastic for maple syrup. And in Williams Lake, my pancake came complete with a cowboy hat and dashingly polite cowboy.
But it was Edmonton, green and grid-like Edmonton, that really took my tastebuds out for a ride.
There to cover the Street Performer’s Festival, I had more time, perhaps, to roam around the city, to reach beyond the deep-fried carnival stands and Beaver Tails, both legendary and terrifying in their calorific intensity.
The added treat, in this case, was a real chance to get under the skin of the city itself.
I’ve often found modern cities rather hard to get a feel for within the first few hours. At street level, it can feel disorienting. So many places feel the same: concrete streets at right angles with skyscrapers rising above them. Gone is the chaos of, say Rome, the zinc-topped bars and romance of Paris or the grit and glamour of London with blue plaque history stamped on every corner.
Modern cities have been built with a greater sense of organisation in mind. Grids for navigation. Wide roads for cars.
And so it went with my first impressions of Edmonton: organised streets, all lined up in grey.
Before too long, I’d found the greenery, sailing along the banks of the Saskatchewan River on two wheels as I trained for my solo bike trip through Austria.
But it was the food, the glorious food, that formed the deeper connection with the people and the place.
Take Rostizado, an open space with nuevo-Latino cuisine led by chef Edgar Gutierrez. To get there, I’d walked the sun-soaked blocks from Sir Winston Churchill Square, passing through the boutique-laden 4th Street Promenade and ending up in an open air museum. Not the farmyard type, nor the tragic sort found clasping the slopes in Italy.
But a neon street sign museum, full of nostalgia and historic nuance. A museum made all the more sobering with the realisation that the neon sign patent only got going in 1915.
The best restaurant in Edmonton for history.
Paradoxically, the search for MEAT (the restaurant and the food group) led me to the district most well known for trendy, hipster vibes. Old Strathcona
MEAT is a locally owned and operated smokehouse featuring hearty ribs and juicy pulled pork in a refreshing blue-and-white set of stalls. The smoke part refers to the traditional wood burning method of preparing food, thankfully. This isn’t the place for tar and nicotine.
The enthusiasm for authentic, quality BBQ fare seems undaunted across the Americas, and a true taste adventure for a Brit. (A British BBQ, even well executed, brings none of this sexy, smoky flair.) Hand made slaw, beef brisket, smashed potato and pecan pie all line up along a cocktail menu of Hot Buttered Bourbon and Kentucky Mule.
And the gherkins are the size of a home-grown cucumber.
Outside, Old Strathcona hosts streets with low brick buildings, vintage goods and funky vibes. A crumpled poster announces an “all you can eat” cartoon party next to a poster for the ever popular rodeo.
The best restaurant in Edmonton for, well, meat
I found my blast of fresh vegan crunch surprisingly near the financial district downtown (as a side note, dear reader, if you have a dairy allergy or lactose intolerance then vegan-friendly restaurants are the place for you! No more “pasta served without the sauce:” vegan restaurants actually make an effort with flavour for those on dietary restrictions. Mind, I could say the same about meat. Sorry, MEAT.)
The Blue Plate Diner mixes bare red-brick blue-paint walls with work from local artists. Breakfast and brunch appear daily but the specials change with the season. I arrived for dinner, when the amber hanging lights threw a sense of cosiness across this “real people, real food” place. Quality comfort food dominated the menu, like homemade mac ‘n’ cheese. The cheese was out for me, but that hardly mattered with other options like sock-eye salmon, wild mushrooms and boar.
The best restaurant in Edmonton for healthy, tasty, homely fare.
And finally, there was Woodwork. A throwback to prohibition history through a sexily secluded cocktail bar.
Almost too cool for school, the name refers to the blended passions for wood-fired cooking and barrel-aged spirits. Chef Mike Scorgie and Barman Andrew Borley offer an intense experience within a small venue and I’m tempted to offer a third interpretation for the name: blending in to the woodwork. Here’s a place where groups can dine or solo business travellers can grab gourmet food with a drink at the bar. There’s plenty doing both, and with the midnight-blue walls and narrow confines, I sat unbothered with my notebook, scribbling for what felt like hours.
Caramelised brussel sprouts with woodwork bacon and pumpkin seeds provided energy; a Rusty Bicycle cocktail helped with inspiration…
The best restaurant in Edmonton for silky smooth seduction
So there you go, the first step to understanding a brand new city comes from seeking out good food!
I hope you enjoyed my hand-picked selection of the best restaurants in Edmonton. But if that’s not enough for you, there’s more on Edmonton’s best eats over here.
In the meantime, shh, don’t tell anyone. But I may sneak a last taste of maple syrup and pancakes ;-)
Disclosure – I travelled to Edmonton as part of the #MustLoveFestivals project with support from Expedia and Destination Canada. As ever, as always, I kept the right to
eat, sorry, write what I like. Otherwise, what’s the point?