YEG Guide: A Day on 124 Street

Mural by Jill Stanton

Edmonton is a city filled with small pockets of community. 124 Street is definitely one of those spots. If you were driving by on a regular day, it might not strike you immediately as the place to be. It doesn’t have the same historic vibe of Whyte Avenue and it’s not situated right in the downtown core like 104 Street, but it is long-established, bridging the neighbourhoods of Oliver and Westmount as well as Glenora to the west.

I grew up around here, and it’s still one of my favourite areas to visit. With businesses lining the road all the way from Jasper Avenue down to 111 Avenue before turning primarily residential, there’s something for everyone who stops by.

Here are my recommendations for a day on 124 Street:

 

Breakfast or Brunch

The frittata with multigrain toast.

Urban Diner (12427 102 Avenue)

This is a staple of High Street. It’s a go to spot for weekend brunch with the line sometimes out the door. But, it’s hearty food that will fill you right up.

The interior of Canteen…very modern and industrial.

Canteen (10522 124 Street)

To be fair, I’ve only ever been here for dinner, so I can’t necessarily speak to brunch. However, their evening menu is fantastic and I’ve heard nothing but good things about the weekend fare.

Snickerdoodle, Strawberry Cheesecake, Birthday Cake, All the Reese, Ode to Sunshine and Triple Play

Destination Doughnuts (10548 124 Street)

If you’re more the type to get a grab and go snack for breakfast at Timmies, this might be for you. It’s just a much more indulgent version of the yeasty treat. Flavours like the Triple Play (hickory sticks, ripple chips, and caramel on chocolate glaze), Strawberry Cheesecake, or Snickerdoodle will have you coming back for more in no time.

 

Shopping

Arturo Denim (10443 124 Street)

My fiancé and I happened upon this workshop at random while walking along 124 Street one day. Turns out that they make denim jeans locally right from this small space. Upon purchasing, they will provide free tailoring to ensure a perfect fit. I mentioned the business to a friend of mine and she swears by them. They also sell some other vintage clothing as well as fun pins and patches.

Henry’s Purveyor of Fine Things (10247 124 Street)

This shop has been located around this neighbourhood for as long as I can remember. They provide interior design services alongside ample eclectic home decor to make your house a home. The styles on offer vary, allowing customers to mix and match to their own tastes.

Listen Records (10443a 124 Street)

This is a haven for LP lovers; the racks are stuffed with music from all genres. They sell both new and used items, and if you have anything you want to pass along, feel free to bring it by to see if they’ll buy it off of you.

Red Ribbon (12505 102 Avenue)

Open since 2002, founder and owner Rychelle has carefully curated her shop to include clothes, accessories, and gifts for women, men, and children. I have always loved poking around the underground store looking for a new treasure.

Salgado Fenwick (10842 124 Street)

Originally more of a market find, these small-batch silk-screened garment makers decided to open up a storefront about 4 years ago. Not only will you find limited edition printed tops and accessories, but you can also pop in for a coffee at Barking Buffalo Cafe, which shares the same space.

So Pretty Cara Cotter (10120 124 Street)

Previously, local jewelry designer Cara Cotter focused on growing her business internationally with by appointment only meetings available in her Edmonton studio. Yet, recently, she partnered with Pura Botanicals to open a joint flagship store. There, you’ll find beautifully crafted pieces made with semi-precious stones, solid 925 sterling silver, 18K gold, rose gold, and gunmetal vermeil (heavy plated over sterling silver).

The Prints and The Paper (10725 124 Street)

I love this shop! Looking for something unique for your home? This is the place to go. They showcase numbered limited edition silkscreen prints signed by the artist alongside vintage Edmonton imagery and maps. They can custom frame pieces for you, too. While you’re there, take a gander at their collection of books, travel guides, and cards. The center counter holds it all while allowing patrons to peruse at their leisure by providing stools along the perimeter for them to sit and flip through everything.

124 Grand Market

Located at 108 Avenue and 124 Street on Thursdays between 4pm and 8pm, this outdoor market runs from early-May to early-October. On Sundays from 11am to 3pm between June to September, the market moves to 102 Avenue and 124 Street. You’ll find a number of local makers setting up their tents every week. Everything from fresh floral bouquets to preserves and baked goods to clothes, there’s something to interest the whole family.

 

Midday Snacks & Treats

Key Lime Tart from Duchess Bake Shop

Duchess Bake Shop (10718 124 Street)

It’s impossible to make a list about 124 Street without including this world-renowned bakery. If you’re nearby, stop in to have a croissant sandwich for a light lunch, or pick up dessert. My personal favourite is the key lime tart, but their macarons and shortbread cookies are fantastic as well. On a hot day, pop over for a pint of their newly launched line of ice cream!

Cococo Chocolatier Bernard Callebaut (10103 124 Street)

Treat yourself to some Canadian-made chocolates and then sit down in their cafe over a beverage or a cup of gelato. It’s a relaxing spot with some free parking right in front.

Remedy Cafe (10310 124 Street)

One of Edmonton’s greatest success stories is this cafe. They’ve now expanded to 6 locations citywide, including their spot on 124 Street. Known for their chai lattes (I enjoy the lassis, too) and samosas, they also cater to those with food sensitivities and dietary restrictions by offering many gluten/dairy-free and vegan friendly Indian and Pakistani meals in addition to a variety of drinks and desserts.

 

Activities

Table Top Cafe 2.0 filled will customers on a Saturday evening.

Table Top Cafe (10235 124 Street)

Well-stocked with board games, this is the ideal spot to gather with friends and family for some old-fashioned fun away from electronics. For just $7 per person, you can stay and play for as long as you want. They even serve beverages (alcoholic included), snacks, and sandwiches to keep everyone energized. Plus, if you really love a game, they may have new packages in stock to take home.

Instagrammable Walls Walk

This area is home to a number of interesting and colourful murals. There’s one by artist Jill Stanton (10803 124 Street; see photo at the top of this post), another that maps the neighbourhood on the wall of Peter Robertson Gallery (104 Avenue and 124 Street), a third showcases the city skyline (108 avenue and 124 Street), and there’s also a geometric piece with animals tucked on the side of the building that houses Meuwly’s (10706 124 Street). You’ll discover many more photo ops in the vicinity. You just need to keep your eyes peeled for walls that can make good backdrops. They’re literally everywhere!

Gallery Tour

Sometimes 124 Street is called the Gallery District because, in the span of just a two-block radius between 103 and 104 Avenues, you’ll come across nine out of the ten located in this neighbourhood. Included are Bearclaw Gallery, Bugera Matheson Gallery, The Front Gallery, Lando Gallery, Lotus Cafe & Gallery, Peter Robertson Gallery, Scott Gallery, Udell Xhibitions, Wakina Gallery (10632 124 Street; may be by appointment only), and West End Gallery. Twice a year, seven of the businesses participate in an official Gallery Walk, opening their doors for a celebration of art. The next one is scheduled for Fall 2019 from September 21 to 22, but feel free to visit any other time during regular hours.

 

Dinner & Late Night

Dipping the Croque Mon’Soubise’ in sauce.

Partake (12431 102 Avenue)

Delectable rustic French cuisine in a cozy and inviting space. That’s how I’d describe Partake. It’s fairly new to the restaurant scene in Edmonton, but it was brought to life by the same owners of Urban Diner and the recently closed (lease was up) The Manor. They’ve got years of experience up their sleeves and the thought that they’ve put into this menu shows. Walk-ins only, so if you’re close, pop your head in and see if they have space to accommodate. You’ll certainly want to linger over the food and cocktails once you’re there.

Tagliatelle Florentine

Nuovo Bistro (10721 124 Street)

Want a hearty meal of Italian pasta? This is a great local spot. The dishes are flavourful and filling, and while the venue is small, it’s friendly. The place is also quiet enough to carry on a conversation while still being somewhat lively. They also have decent daily promotions such as half off appetizers on Sundays.

Super Combination Platter for Two

Cosmos Greek Kitchen (10812 124 Street)

Just get the Super Combination Platter. If there are three or four of you, go for the platter for two. It should be enough to feed everyone. Kirk and I ordered this for the pair of us and it fed both of us for almost three days!

Butter paneer (or chicken) is perfect during the winter months.

Nosh Cafe (10235 124 Street)

Right next to the aforementioned Table Top Cafe is this Indian restaurant. It’s my go to for a quick meal of butter chicken or palak paneer. They also have a daily wing and beer special that’s perfect for a midday snack.

The dining room of RGE RD.

RGE RD (10643 123 Street)

When you have time and money to spare, go here. Take the Road Trip, a multi-course meal that starts at $89 per person. The chef will take your palate on a journey from the east to west coasts of the country.

Arcadia Bar (10988 124 Street)

This is a very intimate bar with minimal seating. But, they stick to local brews and they’re open late Thursdays to Saturdays.

Edmonton Event Review: Share the Flair Pin & Patch Show

My Share the Flair haul!

This past Saturday, Edmonton’s first show devoted to pins and patches was held. Called Share the Flair, organizers Julie Morrison of Majesty and Friends, Jenny Chan of Hop & Flop, Emilia Housch of Light of the Moon Pins, and Courtenay McKay of JOJO & GUN put together the one-day event to showcase this revitalized form of miniature art. I remember collecting pins as a child, so this was pretty nostalgic for me.

In essence, each piece of metal or fabric purchased supports the creators’ ideas and allows the buyer to express a bit of their personality. At Acacia Masonic Hall just off of Whyte Avenue and 104 Street, it seemed that locals were more than excited and ready for something like this.

Waiting in line to get through those doors. Even this point, it was another 20 to 30 minutes.

Many, including myself, lined up down the block for well over an hour just to get in the doors. Apparently, some enthusiasts were even waiting outside by 7:30am, two and a half hours before the show was to launch. I arrived just 15 minutes before the ten o’clock start and was impressed at the turn out for an inaugural event. They estimated that 500-600 people would come by, but I’m guessing that they probably surpassed that.

Finally made it close to the entrance!

By the time I got to the table to pay my entrance fee of $4, all of the one hundred swag bags had already been handed out. I’m not entirely sure what was in each of them, but the Instagram posts on the Share the Flair page indicated that there was plenty of fun stuff that had been provided for those early birds. During the wait, volunteers also gave away complimentary cotton candy as a treat.

My bingo card and a volunteer making cotton candy.

On the plus side, everyone who made it through the doors got to earn a little something extra with their ingenious idea of bingo cards. For every purchase made from the twenty or so vendors, a stamp was placed on the card. If you got a full row, column or diagonal line, you got to spin the wheel at a table that was filled with freebies from sponsors and participating merchants.

Freebie pins from the table at the entrance.

There was plenty of creative talent there, all of them based out of Edmonton and surrounding areas. As much as I wanted to buy something from every single one of them, I had to stick to a budget. So, I sadly missed out on the anatomical heart from Majesty and Friends as well as the crows and teacup owl from Sabtastic (I’ll pick those up down the road) and the gorgeous hand-sawn copper pieces from Smithstine (more expensive than the average manufactured pin because of the nature of how they’re made), which were added to Kristine MacDonald’s line specifically for Share the Flair.

Still, with most pieces ranging from $8 to $15 each, I walked away with a treasure trove of new pins from the aforementioned Hop & Flop and JOJO & GUN, my good friend Lea St John who is known as La Petite Watson for her work (and “Experience Explorista” travel blog), Paws the Cat Cafe, and artists Crystal Driedger, Jess from Daymare, and Jacinda Cote from Story Wild Studios. Additionally, I indulged in a couple sweet treats from Caramunchies (they had branded pins for sale).

I’m not sure yet when the second Share the Flair show will be, but give them a follow or like on social media to keep in the loop. My hope for the next event is that they’ll have an expanded venue (with some air conditioning), so that they can accommodate more vendors and a larger capacity of people at once to reduce the overall wait time. It’s not often that I’ll stand in a line for more than an hour and a half. I just really wanted to support my friend and the community on this initial go round.

Congrats to everyone who organized, sponsored and volunteered for Share the Flair. You did a phenomenal job with planning and executing this event. I think it’s going to be a mainstay of the annual Edmonton arts scene going forward!

ZOZO Product Review: The New Age of Custom-Fit Clothing

ZOZO Facebook Ad

Around mid-August of last year, I was faced with a post on my Facebook news feed from a company called ZOZO. Similar to many ads, they were offering their product for free. Unlike most, there didn’t seem to be a catch. It was also something that was much more intriguing than a cheaply made pair of earrings or a necklace.

ZOZO was launched by Yusaku Maezawa, the founder of ZOZOTOWN, Japan’s largest fashion e-commerce destination. Rather than selling clothing from other brands, ZOZO was developed to target the issue of sizing within the industry by bringing custom-fit clothing to the masses. They don’t look at their customers as standards that fit specific sizes dictated by them. Their technology is meant to measure our bodies precisely, so that our apparel fits our unique shapes.

I decided to take a chance, and I pressed the link. The registration I filled out online prompted an email with further instructions, including the requirement of downloading the ZOZO app from Google Play and creating an account. As it turns out, this was considered by the company to be a short term “sweepstakes” and, if I was lucky enough to be picked, I would receive a confirmation and an estimate for the receipt of my ZOZOSUIT.

A few days later, I learned that my efforts were successful. I would be getting a ZOZOSUIT with the arrival date to be determined. It took approximately another three weeks before I heard anything. The suit finally made it to me within the first week of October and I went through the exercise of measuring myself shortly after.

My ZOZOSUIT was mailed to me with a size chosen based on my height and weight.

The ZOZOSUIT is made out of a nylon/polyester/spandex mix (if it’s not too warm or itchy for you, they might make great pajamas). It comes with a pair of pants and a long sleeve top that has a slight turtleneck and thumb holes. It’s basically meant to cover every square inch of your body with dots that are then scanned by their app.

I experienced some troubles with this program. The app can be a little bit finicky as you need to place your phone (back camera facing towards you) on a stand that is set somewhere about table height and at least six inches away from the counter ledge. Initially, it was difficult to find a spot that was bright and spacious enough for the phone’s camera to read what was around it. You then have to back away about six feet. If all goes well, the app will proceed to speak to you through voice commands. Photos will be taken of you in consecutive positions until you’ve hit all twelve numbers as you imagine yourself turning atop the face of a clock. My first attempt actually seemed fine until the app attempted to process everything and then spit out an error message.

On the second try, it worked. Using a series of a dozen images, the system amalgamated all of the data and it calculated the enormity of my hips, the stoutness of my inseam, and put me in denial as to just how big my waist had become. Personally, I wasn’t satisfied with what I saw. Mostly, I couldn’t fathom that my right thigh was a whole ten centimeters larger in diameter than my left one. Therefore, I did what any other sane user would do. I proceeded to let the app take my measurements three more times. To be honest, I’m amazed that I wasn’t curled up in a corner crying by the end. I still wasn’t fully convinced that it had the right numbers, but the later digits were better than the original readings, so I chose my free items (dark indigo blue skinny jeans and a black v-neck t-shirt) and submitted my order.

A confirmation came through within a few minutes. It stated that the regular cost for the jeans were $58 US and the t-shirt was typically $22 US. Both were fully discounted along with the $10 US for shipping and handling. In the end, I paid absolutely nothing out of pocket.

Now, the waiting was the hardest part. The email had listed an expected delivery time of four to five weeks. Mid-November rolled by and there was nothing. I logged into the app to see if any updates had been provided. The status had not changed at all. It wasn’t until December 7 that I saw a message from ZOZO saying that my order had shipped. By all accounts, it took eight weeks for them to mail out my products. Granted, I completely understand that my items were free, so I get that it may not have been their priority. In my mind, it made sense for the company to focus more on the paying customers first. I was mostly just eager to see the outcome.

As soon as I got my hands on the parcel from ZOZO, I opened it. The clothes were pressed, folded, and packaged perfectly in see-through bags. The black t-shirt was deep in colour and felt like quality cotton since it was quite thick-knit. It appeared to be evenly cut and the stitching was secure. The labels on the inside indicated the chest, shoulder, and length measurements, presumably based on what the app had spit out. The jeans were a nice wash, made with a slight stretch. Almost all of the metal fixtures on the jeans are branded, too, so you know that they take their product seriously.

The t-shirt has short sleeves that are a tad too long and it’s quite boxy.

That being said, ultimately, the biggest test for ZOZO is the fit. I slipped the t-shirt on and I just laughed. I tend to prefer clothing that is more fitted. This was extremely boxy and lose, most prominently around the waist. Reviewing those numbers on the tag, I have a hard time believing that I have a 43 inch chest, considering my bra size is a 34. I’m also not a fan of the short sleeve length as the hem reaches too low by going more than halfway down my upper arm. It’s fine for a casual top and I can always just wear it to lounge around the house, but I really wasn’t too impressed with the t-shirt.

On the other hand, the jeans were a pleasant surprise. While they failed to provide an exact fit — a tad loose in the front hip area, not quite tapered enough at the hem, uneven back pockets, and not enough lift in the buttocks — I couldn’t believe how well the app managed to calculate my waist measurements (the ZOZOSUIT was somewhat baggy around the stomach). The jeans hugged my curves! For me, that always seems to be the hardest part about buying jeans or pants. They’re either good in the hip/thighs, but not in the waist or vice versa. The stretch in the material meant that the jeans from ZOZO were form-fitting in the majority of other spots. What would make them even better is if the inseam was right. The jeans are about two inches too short, so they look like ankle pants. I’ll take them though. For the spring, summer, and early fall, they’ll do.

The app does allow for further customization (take in the waist more, shorten/lengthen the leg, get a tailored hem), which didn’t seem to be an option for the free items that I received. It’s certainly something I’d consider experimenting with more. The measurements that the app took of me previously are saved for future use, and the ZOZOSUIT can be reused as long as the dots printed on it remain in tact. The service is offered to a number of countries already, and the ZOZOSUIT is free, so there really isn’t a downside to testing it out.

Would I order again? Maybe. Right now, they don’t have an extensive collection of clothes (strictly basics) and the process time from start to finish is considerable. So, if you need a pair of jeans quickly, this isn’t the option for you. But, as ZOZO grows and their measurement system gets smarter, I’d certainly mull over the possibility of purchasing custom-fit clothes from them again. This is especially true now that I’m aware of the fact that their products can be fine tuned further than what is calculated by the app. I also have a pair of jeans to go off of. Therefore, in the future, I can more easily dictate what exactly has to be modified to best meet my needs.

YEG Local Holiday Gift Guide 2018

What’s going to end up under our tree this year?

Christmas is only a month away now. I’m guessing a lot of you are like me, and you probably didn’t plan far in advance on this year’s presents. With just 30 days left to shop, it’s getting down to the wire. If you have family and friends similar to mine, you may be having a difficult time narrowing things down. Personally, I prefer to gift them with something that’s both fun and useful. But, the older I get, I realize that there isn’t a whole lot that I need anymore, and, whatever I really want, I tend to buy. The same goes for those I know.

What I think works well, though, are products that come from businesses in our own community. Supporting and showcasing your favourite local shops and makers is a great way to spread the word and help these entrepreneurs grow economically while simultaneously sharing what you enjoy with people you love.

In no particular order, I thought I’d highlight several of my top picks here. A number of them were selected for inclusion in the 2018 Edmonton Made Gifted Catalog, and most can be found around the city at various markets, stockists, and their own storefronts or even online.

Evoolution

I recently wrote a blog post about Evoolution’s fantastic tasting events. Those are held monthly at both their downtown Edmonton and St. Albert locations. Tickets to upcoming evenings are available through Eventbrite ($35 per person + tax). With an educational component as well as a full 3-course meal, they’re an excellent value. Alternatively, you can pick up full-size or miniature bottles of their delicious olive oils and balsamic vinegars as a gift for the cooks in your life. The quality is incomparable and anyone who enjoys spending time in the kitchen will appreciate these fine products.

On a side note, we are currently running a contest on our YEG Food Deals Facebook and Instagram pages. Head to both sites where you can enter to win a pair of tickets to the next Evoolution tasting event happening at the 104 Street shop on Tuesday, December 4. The giveaway is open until 11:59pm MT on Wednesday, November 28.

Complimentary mini bottles of olive oil and balsamic vinegar were given to each guest.

Ochre Lea

I first came across this designer at the Made Local shop on 101 Avenue and 122 Street (I believe this is now closed). I love the whimsical designs that are carefully screen printed on beautifully tanned pieces of leather and then crafted into mason jar holders. The workmanship is impeccable, and they look as though they can withstand quite a bit. Best of all, sustainability has been kept in mind. Everything can be taken apart, which means the metal and glass jar of the mason is recyclable, and the leather is also compostable once the rivets are removed. The 16 ounce size is $35 and a 24 ounce option rings in at $40. Ochre Lea also makes some fantastic letterpress stationary, too. Find these products at the Royal Bison Art & Craft Fair from November 30-December 2 and December 7-9.

Leather Travel Masons by Ochre Lea

Marc Nipp Illustration & Design

I found Marc Nipp’s (a.k.a. El Designo) table at the Edmonton Made show earlier this fall, and I had to go back to get a print of his City of Edmonton Pinball Poster ($25). It’s just a playful representation of our home. Some things are a cheeky take on what we hate about this place, but most of the highlights are pretty great. He’ll be representing at the Royal Bison Art & Craft Fair from December 7-9, or some of Marc’s artwork is also for sale at the Alberta Branded store inside the Edmonton Federal Building. You can also purchase items online through his Zazzle and Etsy shops.

My purchased City of Edmonton Pinball Poster.

Smithstine Copper

Kristine MacDonald is the artist behind the gorgeous copper jewelry and accessories (ranging from $30 to $200), which often have an Edmonton or Albertan theme. She’s recently branched out by mixing other metals in with her usual medium of copper to make distinctive and timeless pieces that will likely be passed down for generations. Additionally, Kristine has started working with enamels, bringing in vibrant shots of colour to some of her hand sawn work. While it may be too late to have something custom made by Christmas (consider that for another time though), you’ll find a variety of pre-made samples at the Royal Bison Art & Craft Fair from November 30-December 2 and December 7-9 as well as on her online shop.

These brass money clips are simple, but meaningful.

Bro Brick

Bro Brick marketed themselves as soap for men with scents to match. Don’t get me wrong though, they do smell great. Rum & Coke and Wasabi & Beer are my choices ($10.50 per bar). They also have shaving soap, moustache wax, and hair/beard balms. All of their products are handmade using plant based oils, so they’re vegan friendly. They’ve now branched out with smaller Chick Bricks for the ladies ($8.50 each). Find them at the Royal Bison Art & Craft Fair from November 30-December 2 or at the Hand2Hand Christmas Market on December 1. Items can also be purchased online directly through their website.

My Sunshine Creations

I don’t currently have any children, but I have a lot of friends with kids. My Sunshine Creations makes some of the most adorable clothing, including unisex cardigans (with matching ones for moms) and comfy looking bum pants. But, what gives me cuteness overload are the baby mocs ($22) and water mocs ($25-$29). There’s just something about tiny shoes for little feet that make me melt. They come in a bevy of colourful designs, so there’s going to be a pair to suit every little boy or girl out there. Order online through the link above.

Baby mocs galore!

Justine Ma

With sassy enameled pins, baby onesies, cake toppers, ornaments, mugs, and cards, Justine Ma won me over. There are products that are pretty and PG13 as well, but it’s the ones that get a little colourful with the language that I love the most. Shop online at the link above, or visit the stores listed here. Justine will also be at the Royal Bison Art & Craft Fair from December 7-9.

Escape City

Even after playing close to two dozen escape rooms across Edmonton, I never get tired of them. There are still a bunch that I have left to tackle, including Escape City’s newest game, Frank’s Revenge. This business does a wonderful job with all of their adventures. Every single room is challenging and immersive. It’s definitely in my top three when it comes to this type of activity. If you know of someone who would rather have a unique experience over something material, this might be perfect for them. Pick up a gift card from Escape City during their regular hours.

We excelled at Neurological!

Brickbubble

I’ve been following Brickbubble on social media for a long time. Run by Diane and Mike who are graphic artists, they’ve utilized their talents to create a number of handmade items ranging from ornaments to jewelry and cutting boards to decor. They specialize in custom work that is often laser cut and engraved, but they also have a lot of ready to go pieces that are perfect for the holidays and speak to the Canadian in us.

Hansen Distillery

I’ve been backing Hansen Distillery since I attended a tour of their facilities and a tasting session back in February. After four generations of moonshiners in their family, Shayna Hansen and Kris Sustrik went legit and opened Hansen Distillery about two years ago. They’ve quickly amassed popularity with their cream liqueurs and cherry rye, and for good reason. They’re delicious to sip on their own and just as great for use in cocktails. Treat a connoisseur of spirits to a tour and tasting ($10.50 per person), or grab a bottle or two of their best sellers to put under the tree.

Edmonton Things To Do: Evoolution’s Taste the World of Olive Oil and Balsamic Vinegar

Main course for the tasting at Evoolution.

Personally, a good olive oil and balsamic vinegar brings me back to some of the best dinners I’ve had with friends. It seemed like such a fancy thing when I was younger to have a restaurant serve that mixture as a dip for fresh bread because it wasn’t something we ever did at home. It was such a simple thing, yet it was also a treat.

Nowadays, we’ve got a couple of great shops that specialize in these products. Oliv Tasting Room and Evoolution are on a mission to get high quality olive oils and balsamic vinegars into the hands of Edmontonians and Albertans. I’m a fan of both, having frequented each a number of times over the years. However, working downtown, Evoolution on 104 Street and 101 Avenue is the most convenient.

The Evoolution shop on 104 Street in Edmonton.

Often times, I’ve found myself hanging out there during lunch or after work eating cubes of bread doused in a variety of flavours. Bottles range in size and price depending on the the type of oil or vinegar. Nevertheless, there’s always something to please each palate, and they make wonderful gifts, especially for family members or friends who like to cook.

Recently, I was attempting to find an activity for my friend and I to do together. As per usual, I ended up on the Eventbrite app, and that’s where I came across several listings from Evoolution (104 Street & Enjoy Centre locations). Once or twice a month they hold events in the evening. After the store is closed, they prep the space to seat a large table of about ten people — more can be accommodated in St. Albert’s Enjoy Centre — who will be taken through an educational tasting and full 3-course meal that highlights how olive oils and balsamic vinegars can be used at home.

A booklet with lots of info on their products and the menu for the evening.

For $35 plus tax per person, we were taken through the proper way to taste olive oil using the strippaggio method (similar to how one might taste a fine wine). A dark blue tulip glass is cupped in the hands and warmed before taking a sip. With teeth clenched, you then have to suck air into the mouth until the oil hits the back of the throat. Doing so allows for the oil to be stripped and the flavour to be revealed. The difference between basic store bought extra virgin olive oil and the premium ones sold at Evoolution is staggering. Signs of an excellent olive oil come down to three things: smell, taste, and texture. Surprisingly, the colour and clarity doesn’t matter so much. What you are looking for is an earthy/grassy scent, a pepperiness on the tongue (high polyphenols, a.k.a. antioxidants, bring that out), and a smooth finish with no film or residue left in the mouth.

Better quality olive oils shouldn’t even list an expiry date. What needs to be indicated, though, is the crush date of the olives used to make the batch. It should last for 12 to 14 months after the bottle is opened without any issue. Still, it’s ideally consumed within 6 months since the freshness starts to break down as soon as it’s opened and continues to do so every time air comes into contact with the oil. Nonetheless, you’ll know if it has gone bad as olive oil does become rancid. We also learned that the best olive oils tend to have high smoke points because of their fatty acid content, making them fantastic for use at high heats of up to 450 degrees. That’s contrary to the myth that they are not to be used for cooking.

Complimentary mini bottles of olive oil and balsamic vinegar were given to each guest.

Next up on the agenda was an info session on balsamic vinegars. Honestly, it’d never crossed my mind to question what balsamic vinegar was made of. I was flabbergasted to find out that it’s made from grapes. White Trebbiano grapes to be exact. When crushed, the syrup from the grape juice is what is extracted, fermented and aged either in stainless steel or wooden barrels. The flavour, viscousness, and concentration of every balsamic vinegar is determined by the amount of time aged, evaporation of the liquid as it ages, and oxidization of the syrup when exposed to the barrel used. Lighter balsamic vinegars are usually processed in stainless steel or light wood barrels. Inkier ones are made using dark wood. Due to the fermentation of the product, they can easily last 3 years. I suspect, it’s also why balsamic vinegars have an effervescence when sipped on their own.

Don’t store either olive oil or balsamic vinegar in the fridge though. Condensation in the bottle can spoil them. Just keep them away from direct light and heat and they’ll be fine.

When we finished going over the finer points of each and had sampled half the store, that’s when dinner began. There was a platter of crusty bread to be eaten with our choice of oils and vinegars as well as four different tapenades. Evoolution’s famous truffle butter popcorn was served as well. I’m not a popcorn person, but I could eat a ton of that. Their butter olive oil is made with a plant extract, so it’s free of dairy. Yet, it tastes just like the real thing. Uncanny. To drink, we were given glasses of club soda mixed with their gravenstein apple balsamic vinegar. Turns out that balsamic vinegar is the perfect natural product to flavour water with. For anyone who uses drink crystals or those squeeze bottles to make their water taste “better,” you can stop doing that now.

Supper was more than filling. We were first presented with a spring salad with fresh mozzarella, basil pesto, and black currant balsamic vinegar. Our entrée consisted of an autumn wild rice pilaf — hearty winter veggies, dried cranberries, pumpkin seeds, olives, and butternut squash seed oil — likely made in their back room using a Crock-Pot and a hot plate (they don’t have a kitchen, so we were impressed). Dessert was an elaborate pumpkin pie cheesecake decorated with vermont maple balsamic candy.

As our host, Christine, pointed out, the menus are made on the fly. Usually they’re created on the day of the event, and the courses are determined by what kind of fresh ingredients are found at the grocery store. Having run these tasting sessions for quite some time, she was confident that within the last year they had yet to duplicate a menu or a single course. I declared that she may as well save me a spot every month because I’d be willing to spend the money on a meal like this regularly. Since they don’t prepare a menu in advance, it may be difficult for attendees to know if their dietary concerns can be accommodated. However, Christine assured us that once a ticket is bought, they can be contacted and informed of issues or allergies, so they can work within those parameters.

When we were finished eating, we were then able to shop the whole store at 15 per cent off. Considering Evoolution never really offers any sales, it’s certainly a plus to attend a tasting event just to get this bonus, particularly around the holiday season.

If you’re looking for something new to do in Edmonton and you like to eat, I highly encourage you to look into the next events at Evoolution. The cost of admission is well worth it. My friend and I learned so much about these kitchen staples while being “wined” and dined. It’s time that you experienced Evoolution like this, too.