Remember how we were all sitting around this time last year talking about how terrible 2016 had been and how we could hardly wait until it was over, then 2017 came along and was all like, “Hold my beer.” And now here we all are waiting out the end of another terrible year full of senseless suffering inflicted by fevered egos who take a greater psychic toll than we could possibly imagine (per Bill Hicks).
But at least there’s food and, just as importantly, drink to lift our spirits and nourish our bodies as we head begrudgingly into another year. And if nothing else on God’s grey earth improved this year, Edmonton’s food scene continued to grow broader and richer, proving not only that our little backwater is packed to the gills with culinary ingenuity, but that there’s a savvy audience here for gastronomic creations at every tier. May I adduce a few examples by way of illustration?
Let’s start with breakfast, which you’d be wise to do at The Local Omnivore (10933- 20 St.). The Brokeback Breakfast ($16.50) with their excellent house coffee is just the thing to start your day (though it could well tide you into the evening): my order featured a pair of just-fried eggs ready to disgorge their golden innards all over refried beans, spicy shoestring fries and an extraordinary array of housemade meats: double-smoked bacon, smoked turkey, ham, corned beef and course-ground sausage, with Russian rye bread.
In the less conventional breakfast category, Edmonton’s best (and only) Mesopotamian restaurant, Zar Zor (12118 90 St.), offers rib-sticking novelty with items like the Chelefry platter ($10.95), comprising chunks of stewed beef, roasted potato, green pepper and tomato in aromatic tomato sauce, or the Makhlama platter ($10.95), which mixes up seasoned ground beef with eggs, tomatoes and onions, served with fresh baked flatbread. Both plates exemplify the wonders of baharat, a Middle Eastern spice blend with a backbone of cardamom, black pepper, cinnamon and allspice that masterfully conceals its constituent parts and morphs alongside the other flavours in the dish.
Moving onto lunch, 2017 is the year I finally understood the fuss about ramen. In truth it was a trip to Portland, Oregon and a bowl of Japanese noodle soup from the amazing Marukin in Pine Street Market that clued me in—firm yet supple noodles, velvety broth and the most succulent pork belly I’ve ever encountered. Though we don’t have any one-off satellites of Tokyo-based ramen places in Edmonton, we do have the wonderful Prairie Noodle (10350 124 St.), which enhances its excellent noodle soup with enigmatic and delicious umeboshi eggs. If you’re not familiar with the concept of umami, those eggs are its earthly embodiment. Like Marukin, Prairie Noodle also pays tribute to craft beer culture with a good selection of artisanal brews.
Die Pie (11215 Jasper Ave.) proved the site of a memorable weekend lunch this year, and they might take the prize for the most unique new eatery in Edmonton, specializing as they do in vegan pizza. The crusts are thin and find the sweet spot between crisp and chewy, the pulled pork is made from jackfruit, and the non-dairy cheeses fashioned from cashews, hemp seeds and soy are compellingly creamy and toothsome. The curried squash soup with coconut sour cream that came gratis with my pie still haunts my palate.
I can also still almost taste my repast from LOFT Thai Eatery (5324 75 St.), which far outstripped my expectations given the chanceless location and unfussy storefront ambiance. But if I could relive any supper dish from the past year, I might have to flip a coin between LOFT’s basil-imbued drunken seafood bucatini and their heavenly duck confit in red curry, made even more aromatic by the inclusion of secret lychee nuts.
I was initially less taken with the new Calgary Trail sushi outlet Takami (10430 61 Ave.), which seemed to stick to pretty standard sushi fare, until I was introduced to their ever-changing fresh fish menu. In truth, it had already been partly decimated by a large party before co-diner and I arrived, but she would agree that the Bluefin tuna chutoro set a new standard for sashimi lusciousness. Book ahead.
The best sharesies supper of the year might have been at the seemingly unsung Tapavino (11011 Jasper Ave.), where a meal of small plates split between six diners turned up very little on the menu that wasn’t commendable. Highlights included Spanish meatballs in a rich tomato sauce boosted with balsamic vinegar; spicy patatas bravas lavished with house-made kettle potato chips; creamy Sambuca shrimp; and really tasty dolmas (stuffed grape leaves) the contents of which had risotto-like texture and savour.
It’s a fair bet that 2018 will continue in the same vein as its predecessor, but at least in the context of Edmonton’s food scene that can be construed as a good thing.