Category Archives: Alberta restaurants

Edmonton’s Coffee Mecca

Edmonton coffee 7

The Columbian Coffee & Roastery is a nice new neighbourhood cafe in Edmonton

There’s a good case for making Edmonton the number two coffee hot spot in western Canada, behind Vancouver. Of course, Edmontonians aren’t as precious about how they roast and prepare their coffee as the wet coasters.

Still, there are always new coffee shops popping up in Alberta’s capital. After profiling half a dozen places a couple of years ago, I figured it was time for a fresh visit up north.

The first stop was The Colombian Coffee & Roastery, next door to the venerable Vi’s for Pies in the city’s leafy Glenora neighbourhood; the roasting happens at the back of the long, narrow space. It seemed like an odd, generic name, until I learned co-owner Santiago Lopez was from Colombia and that some of the roastery’s beans come from a family farm there. Talk about farm to cup.

Edmonton coffee 9

Nice ceramic mugs for the Americanos

The place was hopping on a dreary Saturday morning, with lots of folks ordering avocado toast to go with steaming mugs of java. Good stuff, evidence that if you build a good coffee shop in a nice district, the neighbours will come.

Somewhat harder to find is ACE Coffee Roasters, on a little side street south of Whyte Avenue in Edmonton’s Strathcona district. It’s a lovely, spacious place with high ceilings, exposed ductwork and a gleaming marble coffee bar.

Edmonton coffee 13

ACE Coffee Roasters is a spacious spot near Whyte Avenue

My Americano was one of the better ones I’ve had in Edmonton. The coffee is nicely chased with donuts baked at partner Café Leva in Garneau.

Edmonton coffee 16

Fine espressos pulled at the gleaming coffee bar

In the attached space, separated by a glass wall, is the company’s Caffe Tech, where you can drop a few grand on high-end home and commercial espresso machines. Think I’ll just let the expert barrista pull the shots for me.

The Columbian Coffee & Roastery
1, 10340 134 Street NW, Edmonton, Alberta
Weekdays 7 am-6 pm, Saturday 8 am-6 pm, Sunday 9 am-3 pm
780-757-9195

ACE Coffee Roasters
10055 80 Avenue, Edmonton, Alberta
Wednesday to Sunday 8 am-4 pm. Closed Monday and Tuesday

Advertisements

Mexican poutine in northern Alberta

Grande Prairie 4

Loaded tater tots, or “Mexican poutine” at Grande Prairie’s El Norteno

Grande Prairie’s El Norteno is certainly the best taco shop in northern Alberta, if not a much wider area. I mean, how can you beat corn tortillas that are rolled out and grilled after you place your order? All the fillings are excellent, especially the fish, enhanced by house-made toppings.

Grande Prairie 1

Owner James Nelson and his made-to-order corn tortillas

But owner James Nelson certainly upped the ante when he suggested we try a plate of tater tots, or as he called them Mexican poutine. Yes, it was deep-fried tater tots, loaded with slaw, cilantro and house-made salsa and guacamole and aioli sauce.

The result was surprisingly fresh tasting and fantastic. We hoovered down a plate, alongside a couple of tacos each.

Grande Prairie 5

The tacos at El Norteno are always excellent

It was so good we made a point of returning on our way back through Grande Prairie. The plate of tots disappeared in about a minute.

Note: Grande Prairie’s food scene continues to get more interesting. In the stall next to El Norteno, at the downtown Farmers’ Market, is Off the Wheaten Path, a gluten-free, vegan kitchen offering bowls, wraps, root veggies, and plant-based pizzas. Unfortunately, it wasn’t open when we passed through. Next time.

Grande Prairie 7

Innovative, healthy stuff at Off the Wheaten Path, next door

El Norteno
10032 101 Avenue, Grande Prairie, Alberta
Monday 11 am-3 pm, Tuesday to Friday 11 am-8 pm, Saturday 11 am-8 pm. Closed Sunday
780-978-8093

Off the Wheaten Path
10032 101 Avenue, Grande Prairie, Alberta
Wednesday-Thursday 8 am-4 pm, Friday 8 am-8 pm, Saturday 10 am-3 pm. Closed Sunday to Tuesday
587-343-1848

Swarms of Shawarma at this Calgary mini-chain

Jerusalem Shawarma 11

Assembling a massive beef shawarma wrap at Calgary’s Jerusalem Shawarma

On the menu of Calgary’s Jerusalem Shawarma are listed several family plates. Here’s a tip: Just order a one-person serving, and you might still feed a small family.

My chicken shawarma plate ($13.95) arrives with an alarming quantity of food. There’s about a pound of delectable, slow-marinated and shaved chicken served on a bed of rice. Filling out the oversized platter are wedges of garlic potatoes, healthy scoops of creamy, fresh hummus and garlic sauce and a choice of salad: Greek, Russian, corn or fatuch. After five minutes of feasting, I come up for air, scarcely putting a dent in my dinner.

Jerusalem Shawarma 13

Here’s my single chicken shawarma plate, with hummus and garlic sauce

My companion’s bountiful falafel plate is weighted down by six sizable falafel balls, deep fried to order. “The best I’ve ever had,” she says between mouthfuls.

Jerusalem Shawarma 14

Massive falafel balls, cooked to order

While waiting, we watch shawarma and donair wraps ($11-12) being assembled. Here, copious amounts of meat and toppings—including tahini, red cabbage, parsley, banana peppers and pickles—are loaded aboard a large pita, rolled and heated in a press. The resulting logs are bigger than any burrito I’ve ever seen, easily feeding two moderate appetites.

Jerusalem Shawarma 16

The takeout box is almost obligatory

Whatever you order, odds are good you’ll be asking for a leftovers box. Though I notice plenty of folks heading back to the counter, post feeding, to toss down a honey-laced piece of baklava.

Jerusalem Shawarma 17

Folks were scavenging this delectable container of baklava

Jerusalem Shawarma is a fast-casual joint, where you order at the counter and then retire to a row of booths, unless you’re getting takeout. Owned and operated by five Abufarha brothers originally from Jerusalem and using their grandfather’s recipes, their mini chain has expanded in a few years to six Calgary locations. Growing almost as fast as my belly.

Jerusalem Shawarma
Unit 111, 722 85 Street SW (and five other Calgary locations)
Daily 11 am-10 pm
403-474-8994

Great Ramen Shop in Edmonton

Prairie Noodle 3

There’s a lot of delicious complexity in this pork ramen bowl at Edmonton’s Prairie Noodle Shop

I’m a big fan of eating at restaurant counters, because it gives me a front-row view of the kitchen.

At Edmonton’s fabulous, newish Prairie Noodle Shop, I’ve discovered another benefit of sitting on a high counter stool: it’s only a few inches from bowl to mouth. All the better to slurp up that liquid and noodle goodness without wearing it.

Prairie Noodle 2

A fabulous chunk of roasted pork belly goes into my ramen bowl

Really, there is no elegant way to attack these gorgeous ramen bowls. Just lift your chin occasionally to admire the beautiful composition and then dive back into exploring all the complex flavours and textures.

The big plastic spoon is needed to savour the rich pork broth, simmered for 16 hours and, in my case, jacked up with miso, garlic and house-made chili oil. The chopsticks are required to grab the slender ramen noodles, the tender chunk of roasted pork belly, the smoked, shredded pork shoulder and the half umeboshi egg. Then it’s back to the spoon to scoop up niblets of sweet sesame corn.

Prairie Noodle 4

The spoon is one of the tools needed to attack this big bowl of goodness

There’s a lot going on in this big bowl forged by chef/owner Eric Hanson—a bargain really at $15.50 for this much originality and quality.

Prairie Noodle Shop
10350 124 Street, Edmonton, Alberta
Monday 11 am-2:30 pm, Tuesday to Saturday 11 am-2:30 pm, 4:30 pm-10 pm. Closed Sunday
780-705-1777

Edmonton’s Little Village offers great Greek-to-go

Edmonton June 2017 42

Theo Psalios runs a great little Greek takeout joint in Edmonton

I could easily eat more Greek food. But there’s something about sitting down at tables covered in blue-and-white tablecloths and ordering platters of sleep-inducing fare that keeps me away.

So when a place like Edmonton’s Little Village offers quick, flavourful Greek food to go, I’m all over it.

As the name suggests, it’s a tiny, strip-mall-style deli. There are a few stools for in-house dining. But most folks, I suspect, are picking things up to eat at home or on the road.

They can choose from display cases brimming with chicken legs, lamb shanks and other Greek standards like spanakopita, moussaka, lemon potatoes and dolmades.

Edmonton June 2017 40

Display cases brimming with great Greek food

We decide to eat in, allowing us to watch the action and chat with owner Theo Psalios, who has 20 years in the restaurant business and most recently migrated here from a food truck of the same name. The trucks still operates for some events like the Thursday night 124th street market, where we pick up an excellent lamb burger.

At the bricks-and-mortar location, I order keftedes—meatballs made of beef, pork, bacon and mint, smeared with tzatziki sauce and wrapped with some veggies in a pita ($8.50). My sister gets a slab of moussaka ($7.50).

Edmonton June 2017 44

A marvellous medley of meatballs

What immediately stands out is the quality and freshness of the food and the skill that goes into its preparation. What I also like is ordering a la carte at the counter and being done in under 15 minutes. Which at a full-bore Greek restaurant might be the time it takes for just the retsina to arrive.

Little Village
14816 Stony Plain Road, Edmonton, Alberta
Tuesday to Saturday 11 am-6 pm, except 5:30 pm closing Saturday. Closed Sunday and Monday
780-244-0885

Edmonton’s Northern Chicken delivers even when it’s hot inside

Edmonton June 2017 53

Northern Chicken co-owner/chef Matt Phillips stays cool even when things are hot inside

Here’s what an entrepreneurial restaurant owner does when disaster strikes: Turns it into an opportunity.

We’re walking past Edmonton’s heralded new Northern Chicken. There’s a sign on the door saying the fried-chicken joint is forced to close for the night because of a vent failure. No problem (for us), as we’ve just finished eating at the nearby 124th Street Thursday night market.

We press our noses against the glass just to see what the inside looks like. A few seconds later, a bearded guy pops out to apologize and explain the closure. That’s fine, we say, other than to note that we’re from Calgary and I’m a food blogger. As we’re waiting for the lights to change, out he pops again.

“I’ve got eight pieces of chicken I can serve you,” says co-owner and chef Matt Phillips. “There’s also a long list of beers and whiskies, if you want a drink. It’s a little hot because of the vent malfunction, but you’re welcome to sit inside.”

Edmonton June 2017 51

Moist, tender chicken with a delectably crisp skin

So, more out of curiosity than hunger, in we go and order three pieces of medium-heat chicken and an outstanding can of Bench Creek Brewing’s (Edson) Apex Predator, a seasonal double IPA. The chicken, fried at a lower than normal temperature to give the skin a lovely crunch, is outstanding.

Edmonton June 2017 49

Matts pours us a superb Bench Creek double IPA

You’d expect Matt to have disappeared by now, to fret over the mechanical breakdown. But no, he leans against the counter and chats with us for 15 minutes, explaining the restaurant’s philosophy.

Before opening Northern Chicken last November, Matt and co-owner Andrew Cowan had been chefs in numerous Edmonton restaurants, perfecting their fried-chicken recipe along the way. Where I really notice the chef’s touch is in the sides: roasted asparagus salad, whipped sweet potato, charred-onion potato salad, honey thyme cornbread and one of the best, freshest cole slaws I’ve tasted.

Edmonton June 2017 54

You won’t find imaginative sides like this in most fried-chicken joints

It’s upscale comfort food, in a relaxed setting. Even when the shit hits the fan.

Northern Chicken
10704 124 Street, Edmonton
Monday-Tuesday 11 am-10 pm, Thursday to Saturday 11 am-11 pm, Sunday 11 am-late. Closed Wednesday
780-756-2239