Edmonton Restaurant Review: Tropika Malaysian & Thai Cuisine (West)

About two weeks ago, my friend Ashley and I braved the cold weather on the way to West Edmonton Mall to stop at Tropika Malaysian & Thai Cuisine for dinner. I’ve been going to the 149 Street and Stony Plain Road location ever since it opened. It’s a favourite of my family’s and, therefore, we eat there frequently.

Ashley and I selected the restaurant for the evening because it is one of the establishments listed on The Tomato’s 2013 list of the top 100 eats and drinks in Edmonton, coming in at number 36. While we’ve gone separately before, we had never been there as a duo, and as it is on the list we’ve currently decided to tackle, we thought it would be a great opportunity to enjoy a supper together.

The food is consistently good and the service is impeccable (the servers make sure to refill your glass of water even when it’s still half full and they come by to clear away things like cleaned off satay sticks, so your table stays clutter free), which is why it holds an 86% positivity rating on Urbanspoon.

Some of my favourites - pad Thai, sambal bunchies and Tropika homestyle chicken - amazing food, plenty to go around!

Some of my favourites – pad Thai, sambal bunchies and Tropika homestyle chicken – amazing food, plenty to go around!

The menu at Tropika is extensive, but my parents and I have narrowed down our favourite dishes to satays (beef and lamb) with peanut sauce, Indonesian spring rolls, roti canai (Malay bread), pad Thai, sambal bunchies, Tropika home style chicken, stir-fried eggplant with chicken in Thai’s bean sauce and sayur lemak hot pot (vegetables in coconut milk).

What I love about going there for a meal (really any Asian restaurant is like this) is that it brings individuals together by allowing you to linger, converse comfortably and encourages sharing. The dishes served are meant to be split between everyone at the table, allowing you to try several items as opposed to limiting yourself to merely one or two things.

On this particular occasion, we did only end up ordering a couple of plates as it was just the two of us. Unfortunately, we did not order the sambal bunchies that were specifically singled out on the Tomato’s list. We attempted to have it made without the prawns since Ashley is allergic, but unlike the traditional sambal sauce made simply out of chili peppers, Tropika’s sauce is made using shrimp paste as well, so there was no getting around that for her. However, I can still vouch for those who voted to have it added to the Tomato’s top 100. Sambal bunchies, a mix of fried green beans, tomatoes, prawns and sambal sauce, is addictive because of the spicy flavours of the sauce mixed with the acidity from the tomato and the nice crunch of the beans.

I especially like to have the sambal bunchies with their pad Thai, which we did order this time. Again, the prawns were cooked and placed in a side dish. The stir fried rice noodles are cooked with chicken, fried tofu and egg in a Thai style sauce, topped with crushed peanuts and served with bean sprouts, lettuce and a slice of fresh lime on the side. The taste of the pad Thai is so good that sometimes my family orders two plates because one isn’t enough to go around. This evening, it was no different. One plate was plenty for the both of us, but we each probably could have eaten a whole order on our own if we wanted to indulge. Instead, we ordered two Indonesian spring rolls to complement our pad Thai.

My plate that evening out with Ashley - pad Thai and an Indonesian spring roll - so delicious!

My plate that evening out with Ashley – pad Thai and an Indonesian spring roll – so delicious!

The spring rolls are a good size, made with pan-fried chicken, Chinese mushroom and shredded jicama inside a crisp flour shell that is coated with peanuts. It comes with a side of chili sauce for dipping. I was happy to introduce this scrumptious appetizer to Ashley, and I’m pretty sure she really liked it as she told me, “I could have 20 of these. Well, I can definitely have at least 2.” When someone has eyes bigger than his or her stomach when it comes to their appetite, you know you’re on the right track.

As long as Tropika continues to serve up interesting dishes with layers of contrasting yet complementing flavours, I will continue to support the restaurant, and I’m certain that, if you try it, you will find some new menu items to call favourites as well.

Should you be unable to make it to a physical location, you can still treat yourself by having them deliver (free within a 6 km radius from their south side or west end locations and only $4 outside of those areas). Or, if you happen to be in a rush and want to get takeout on the way, you can save 10% on all orders over $30.

Have you been to Tropika before? What’s your go to dish?

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Famoso Neapolitan Pizzeria (Jasper Ave)

Appetizer - Prosciutto Wrapped Mozzarella Balls

Appetizer – Prosciutto Wrapped Mozzarella Balls

Famoso Neapolitan Pizzeria, number 53 on The Tomato Food & Drink’s top 100 best things to eat or drink in Edmonton, Alberta, has been a mainstay in the city ever since it opened its first location at Jasper Avenue and 118 Street in 2005. Over the years, Famoso has expanded to 26 restaurants between three provinces with a 27th franchise opening in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan come this spring.

Pizza isn’t something that I go out for regularly, but, when I do, it should come out of the oven hot, flavourful and it shouldn’t be too heavy in the stomach. Famoso’s pies certainly fit the bill.

Out of all the times I have been, I have not once tried the margherita pizza, which was mentioned in the Tomato’s list. However, I have tried a number of the others, including the Sweet BBQ Chicken and Spicy Thai, and very much enjoyed them.

My latest visit to the original downtown location was a chance for me to use my soon-to-expire Groupon. The voucher included an appetizer, a regular pizza and a seasonal pizza, allowing for a nice variety during our meal.

Immediately upon entering the establishment, I noticed that it looked refreshed. I’m not sure when it happened, but I think the space had a new coat of paint and the booths had been reupholstered fairly recently. We grabbed a table and immediately started perusing the menu. One improvement I noted was that they now include a note pad at the table, so you can jot down everything you want without having to work from memory when you head over to the till to place your order (maybe they always had them, but I had never seen that before and I thought it was great addition). The only thing they should also provide is a pen or pencil as well.

The front counter

The front counter

As a further comment, I always found it strange that a sit-down restaurant with servers that bring your food over to you and will take subsequent requests for drinks and desserts at the table later requires you to take your initial order to the counter. But, after thinking further about it while dining this time, I can see a couple of benefits. The first is that you can take your time going through the menu and picking out the items you want without the server stopping by every few minutes to ask if you’re ready. The second is that when you are ready, you can make sure you’re not waiting for someone to come by before you can get your order in, meaning you can delight in your meal at your own pace. Service is usually attentive as they make sure they are well staffed to handle and attend to the tables.

Regarding the food, I feel that it has always been tasty, but the menu has diversified and incorporated many more elements that bring in new flavours from different cultures and I love it. This particular dinner, my mother and I shared a small order of the Prosciutto Wrapped Mozzarella Balls as well as the Cavoletti and Moo Shu BBQ Duck pizzas.

As an appetizer, the Prosciutto Wrapped Mozzarella Balls are a great starter. The small size comes with three of the mozzarella balls smothered in a light tomato sauce with a side of fresh flatbread. I have never really been a fan of the tomato paste type sauces put on most pizzas, so it’s nice to know that this dish incorporates a simple, quick-cook sauce that isn’t overpowering and still lets the flavours of the prosciutto and gooey mozzarella shine through.

The Cavoletti pizza bianca

The Cavoletti pizza bianca – one of my favourites!

The Cavoletti falls under the white pizza category (no sauce) and is topped with Brussels sprouts, prosciutto crisps, gorgonzola cheese, dates, walnuts and a bit of honey. I will say that the first time I ate this pizza, I was a little skeptical, but it has become a favourite and is now ordered almost every time I go to Famoso. I’m a sucker for the combination of nutty, salty and sweet flavours that come out in recipes like this. The textures of this pizza are fantastic as there is a nice crunch from the oven-roasted Brussels sprouts, prosciutto crisps and walnuts. On another occasion I added duck as a topping and it paired well, reminding me a little bit of the BBQ Duck Clubhouse sandwich made at Cactus Club Café with its Peking duck, roasted chicken, San Daniele prosciutto and pecan fruit bread.

Our second pizza, the Moo Shu BBQ Duck is seasonal for fall/winter 2014 and falls under the new world pizzas list on the menu. This one has toppings that include house-made hoisin sauce, fior-di-latte (mozzarella), pulled duck, green onions and chopped cilantro (not a flavour that suits my palate, so I typically ask to have it omitted if I can). This was reminiscent of the many Peking duck dinners that I have eaten at New Dragon Palace where you build wraps filled with crispy duck skin, duck meat, hoisin sauce and julienned carrots and green onions. The barbecue taste provided extra bite and heat, which I appreciated as someone who likes spice.

The Moo Shu BBQ Duck new world pizza

The Moo Shu BBQ Duck new world pizza

Best of all, the food showed up at our table piping hot – not always the case in the past – and I was glad as my mom needs her food to be almost scalding, otherwise, to her, the meal becomes “just okay” or subpar, so big props to the kitchen this time around.

It was also extremely busy at the Jasper Avenue location this particular Saturday. I’m not sure if some people were coming in to use up their Groupon as I was, but having arrived for an early supper at four o’clock that afternoon, we saw the place fill up promptly afterwards, and the stream of people coming into the place did not let up at all.

As a whole, if you love authentic Italian cuisine (all owners and managers of each new franchise go through an intensive training program in Naples, Italy), Famoso will not disappoint.

For a more in-depth look at the establishment’s involvement in the Edmonton community and its efforts towards sustainability visit The Local Good to read my profile of Famoso Neapolitan Pizzeria.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Three Boars Eatery

Pork belly with poached egg

Pork belly with poached egg

We might be a little late to the game, but my friend and I recently came across The Tomato Food & Drink‘s list of the top 100 best things to eat or drink in Edmonton. Naturally, the two of us decided that we would use 2014 to make our way through, at least, each and every restaurant, market or merchant mentioned. I say “at least” because some of the places are cited more than once as the list consists of not just, for example, the venue as a whole, but, rather, specific dishes or beverages.

The first establishment we chose to visit was Three Boars Eatery (@ThreeBoars). I’m not sure how long the restaurant has been around, but I only recently realized that it has been tucked along 109th Street and 84th Avenue. We dined on a chilly Thursday evening, arriving a little early for our reservation. Walking up to the door, it was unassuming. Stepping into the place, we were practically standing at the bar, which had a couple of patrons already dining. The space on the main floor is mostly taken up by the kitchen, and the seats that are available consist of stools in front of the bar and along the window that looks out to the street.

As soon as we entered, the bartender acknowledged us and the host came down to greet us. Since we had made a reservation, our table was ready despite our premature appearance. The dining room on the second floor is quite tiny – only eight tables that seat a total of 26 people in various configurations. However, it didn’t feel cramped or like we were in the midst of someone else’s conversation. Sparsely lit upstairs, it certainly set a mood – intimate, yet cool with its rustic wood and lack of extraneous decor.

Our server explained how the menu works – all plates are meant to be shared tapas-style and, for two people, she recommended ordering four to five dishes. The two of us mulled over the menu for a few minutes and opted to choose two each. I chose a caramelized onion and oka tart along with the pork belly. My friend chose a roasted carrot and beet salad plus the lamb neck croquette. We both ordered a drink as well.

A sample menu from Three Boars Eatery's website. It changes regularly.

A sample menu from Three Boars Eatery’s website. It changes regularly.

Upon ordering, we inquired if the four dishes would be enough and the server reassured us that it was. Our drinks were brought over promptly and the food made its way to our table at regular intervals shortly after.

The first plate we had was the lamb neck croquette, which was essentially shredded lamb shaped into a cylinder and breaded on the outside, so it had a crisp outer shell and warm meaty center. The two croquettes (perfect for sharing) sat atop what I believe was a vinaigrette with lentils and was garnished with some sort of slaw (I really should have paid more attention to what it said on the menu). I really enjoyed this dish. The bite to the meat with the consistency of the breading married well with the crunch of the slaw, and all of that soaked up the delicious sauce.

IMG_2564

Lamb neck croquette

Plate number two consisted of the roasted carrot and beet salad, which also contained pickled egg, mixed greens and smooth goat cheese. I’ve never been much of a fan of carrots, beets or pickled anything, but I’m willing to give almost everything a try and I have to say this was a fantastic salad. The beets were tender, the carrots weren’t too hard, the egg was nice and soft and they did not skimp on the goat cheese (the best part!).

IMG_2565

Roasted carrot and beet salad

The remaining two dishes arrived as we were just finishing our salad. We began with the tart. To be honest, I could not remember what oka was when I ordered the dish, but I’m a bit of a sucker for a good pastry crust and it just sounded tasty. I wasn’t wrong. It is a simple dish, but one that I think has wide appeal. The sweetness of the caramelized onions layered with the copious amount of warm, melted oka cheese and the slight bitterness from the arugula that topped the tart made it delectable. To finish off, the two of us split the pork belly dish. The belly is quite fatty – something I tend to forget – but it was cooked in a way so that the outside was browned and the meat had a springiness to it. To the side was, I’m guessing, steel cut oats (based off of the sample menu I pulled off their site and posted above) with a poached egg. All of that was sitting in a pool of broth. We split open the egg and the yolk ran out and mixed with the broth and oats. The result was a slightly salty meat with a side of what reminded me of a creamy custard in terms of texture and taste.

Caramelized onion and oka tart with arugula

Caramelized onion and oka tart with arugula

While we were too full to indulge in dessert, we weren’t rushed and were able to chat over what was left of our drinks. All in, the bill came out to just under $40 per person, not including tip.

Stiegl Radler

Stiegl Radler

I really enjoyed the evening and the food was memorable. In fact, with their menu changing so frequently, I would certainly consider returning to try some different items. Although that likely won’t be anytime soon, I would say that the service and the thoughtful preparation to the dishes will keep this place firmly planted in my mind for the future. And, since the cost can be a little high depending on the plates ordered, it may be a special occasion that finds me there next.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: CRAFT Beer Market

Since CRAFT Beer Market opened their first Edmonton, Alberta location back in December 2013, within the last month it has quickly become a bustling downtown venue for a casual, yet fun night out. Whether you’re meeting friends for late night snacks or heading out with co-workers during lunch or having a vent session over drinks, it has turned into the new popular place to see and be seen. I would also say that it is acting as an additional anchor in the revitalization of the downtown core.

The bar - the focal point of the restaurant.

The bar – the focal point of the restaurant.

I have been there on three separate occasions, all for different reasons, so I now feel like I can give a fair review of the restaurant and bar.

My first visit to CRAFT was for what was considered to be the VIP grand opening on December 17th. We were invited as our office had just booked out the top floor for a company mixer to take place in the New Year and this was a chance for a few of us on the party planning committee to check out the space, the food and the extensive drink selection.

Surprisingly, upon stepping into the restaurant, my initial thought was that it was way larger than I expected it to be. The main floor is deep set with booths at the front as well as bar height seating taking over a wall on a slightly raised area of the section. There is essentially no wasted space. If they can fit a seat, they probably will. The back portion of the street level space is lined along the east and west walls with booth seats, bar stools and raised wooden tables and at the very back some lower booths look into the room where all the beers and wines currently available are stored and tapped. However, the real focal point is the huge bar that houses over 100 different taps with large pipes running the kegs from the back room to the bar, giving the place an industrial rustic feel. If you love beer, I really think you won’t be disappointed. And, if, like me, you don’t know much about beer, this is the perfect place to test some out and find one you enjoy drinking.

The restaurant's main floor.

The restaurant’s main floor.

The second level overlooks the main floor. Windows give you a peek into a kitchen and there are large booths and long tables that are perfect for hosting larger groups. Come summertime, the rooftop patio should be open and I think it will be wonderful for soaking up the sunshine over lunch or an early supper. Although, I suspect there will be long lineups to get a table. The basement provides extra keg storage, a coat check and the bathrooms along with ATM machines for those who find themselves in need of extra cash. It’s also about 10 degrees cooler in the basement, which, believe me, is fantastic as the main and second floors can warm up rapidly.

Now, I’m sure you’re wondering about the food. At this grand opening event they had two stations set up. One served their Baja Fish Tacos and the other their Hawaiian Ahi Poke. I have to say that, on this occasion, the fish tacos were just okay. I think that there just wasn’t enough fish in the taco, so mostly I was eating cabbage, wrap and hot sauce. On the other hand, the ahi poke was amazing. The sashimi-grade tuna was incredibly fresh and melted in my mouth. The dish is served with cucumber, vinaigrette and crispy wonton chips. I believe if you order the dish there is also a spicy sauce that can be added, but that was included at this event. The texture of the fish against the crunch of the chips and cucumber was great, and the coolness of the tuna and cucumber nicely offset the spice from the sauce. It was my favourite appetizer. Servers also came around with samples of the Fast Food Sushi (cheeseburger and fries wrapped in bacon) and pretzel bites (stuffed with cheese and served with what I’m guessing is an aioli). What I like about CRAFT is that they do source out local produce if they can, and, from those few tasters, I saw the potential of the food. Without a doubt, the ahi tuna was enough to convince me to make a return trip.

For their first night being open, the service was superb that evening. Our server seemed very knowledgeable about what was on tap and she made recommendations based on what we mentioned to her. She even brought us small glasses of a few different beers to try before we made our decisions for our full pints. Overall, on first impression, the staff was very friendly. It was extremely busy though, so it took a bit of time for our server to make it back to take an order or drop things off. That’s not necessarily a terrible thing. If you go in without the expectation of making it in and out within an hour, you’ll have a good time.

The extensive beer selection - over 100 on tap!

The extensive beer selection – over 100 on tap!

I visited CRAFT for the second time on January 10th. This is where I was a little less than impressed. I had phoned two days prior to make a lunch hour reservation. The hostess took my information and, while she initially mixed up the date, I corrected her and expected that they would have it on file when I arrived to meet my friend. Unfortunately, when I approached the desk, the hostess working that shift could not find my booking at all. Thankfully, she explained the situation to her manager and he immediately offered me two seats at the bar. His quick solution was satisfactory on this occasion since I was meeting just one person. Yet, if I had made a reservation for a group of four or more people, I would have been quite upset. Sitting at the bar with that many people doesn’t allow for conversation and, from what I could see, most of the other tables were occupied or likely reserved. I have absolutely no idea what happened with my booking as they never figured it out, but I really hope that it isn’t a regular occurrence. For the time being, I’m just glad they are taking reservations at all. They may rid of that eventually as I think the CRAFT site said it is temporary since they are new and unsure of how busy it will be, but typically their restaurants are first come, first serve. All I know is that had I not made a reservation, I may have been waiting for a table for a long time as one woman who was at the front when I walked in asked how much longer it would be and was told it was still going to be about twenty minutes and she replied, “but that’s what you said twenty minutes ago when I arrived.” Yikes! I understand that new restaurants are always going to have growing pains while they figure out staffing, routines and procedures, so I will give them the benefit of the doubt for now.

In terms of the food that afternoon, I had their CRAFT House Soup – a cheddar, jalapeno and Rice Howard House Ale concoction – that was quite delicious. It wasn’t overly creamy, the cheddar wasn’t overpowering and the pepper gave it a nice kick, but not so much so that it burned my taste buds. I also tried the crab cake sliders, which had crab cakes sandwiched between cucumber, arugula and a pretzel bun with citrus aioli and pepper salsa on the side. I enjoyed them, but make sure you eat them with the aioli and salsa as that really upped the flavour quotient. My suggestions for improvement with them is that the crab cakes should have been charred a bit to better keep the crab meat together and that maybe the cucumber only be placed under the crab cake rather than above and below it which acted as a press that subsequently squished the cake every time I took a bite of the slider and resulted in the meat falling out the sides. I’m also not a huge fan of the pretzel buns that seem to be more of a staple nowadays. Unless they’re baked fresh I find them to be too hard and dry to really add to a dish. I would much prefer a soft whole wheat bun over a pretzel bun. Of course, that’s just my opinion and I’m sure that many out there love pretzel buns. My friend ordered the Yucatan Chicken Salad, which looked really fresh and like a very substantial meal. The service, again, was stellar. The bartender was very attentive and checked on us throughout to take our orders, make sure the meals were alright and refill our glasses.

My third and most recent visit was just this past Friday, January 17th for my workplace get together. It took a bit of convincing to get some people to go, but quite a few of my friends either wanted to try something new or had been to the Calgary location and were looking forward to checking it out in Edmonton, so this party was the perfect excuse to do just that. We rented out the second floor for four hours of the evening. The package we went with included six different appetizers, two drinks per person and a variety of bite sized desserts. They moved the long tables usually situated in the center of the space to the sides and placed cocktail tables in the middle making for a variety of places to sit or stand. Initially, I was skeptical that the floor would accommodate 125 people, but it worked.

My co-worker and I at our holiday party.

My co-worker and I at our holiday party.

The selection of appetizers chosen included a veggie platter with hummus and flatbread, chicken wings, pulled pork sliders (not available on their regular menu), fish tacos, pretzel bites and the ahi poke. I can’t speak to all of them as I only tried four out of the six items. However, I can say that the fish tacos were much better than at the grand opening – plenty of fish and more flavour. The ahi poke was just as delectable this second time around, so much so that many of us said we would have just taken the whole bowl of tuna if we wouldn’t have been frowned upon. The pretzel bites were soft and had just the right amount of cheese stuffed inside, but I tried them after they had been sitting out for bit and they were no longer fresh. Had I had some when they arrived at the tables, I’m sure they would have been even more enjoyable. The last appetizer I tasted was the pulled pork slider. Now, I love pulled pork sandwiches. They have become one of my favourite meals, and while I won’t say that these were terrible, they certainly could have used a little effort from the kitchen. It was literally just a bit of shredded pork on a pretzel bun. The sauce was subtle, but should have packed more of a punch with the barbeque flavour and it needed additional texture such as a slaw to really bring it up a notch. I was satisfied though and everyone else I spoke with raved about the food. CRAFT also did a good job of ensuring that the dishes were replenished regularly, so there was food consistently present.

Another aspect that I was happy with was the fact that CRAFT supplied servers to our party, and that they actually took drink orders throughout the evening. Prior to attending the party I wasn’t sure if we would have to take our drink tickets down one floor to the bar, but this simplified things for the party goers. And, for the most part, the servers were excellent at bringing the beverages back to the proper people (difficult at times as people moved around as they mingled with others), only seldomly mixing something up. In addition, I did read some of the reviews of the restaurant on Urbanspoon that complained of them being out of certain beers that were listed on their menu, so I was a bit worried that would be the case for our party, but it wasn’t. From what I could see they didn’t have a problem fulfilling the orders that were taken. This being one of CRAFT’s first large events for hire since opening, I would say they provided us with a memorable time and great service.

One thing I will note is that the acoustics were terrible. We were provided with a PA system for a quick speech and the handing out of door prizes, but with the music in the background as well as all the commotion from the patrons on the main floor as well as our zone, it was almost impossible to hear even from 10 feet away. I’m not sure if the microphone was turned up, but that’s something to consider should you decide to throw a party there and require that.

Also, I know it’s too late to make this suggestion to CRAFT, but they certainly should have contemplated adding an elevator into the building. I can see potential issues with overzealous customers who’ve had a little too much to drink having a difficult time navigating the staircase. If anything, as a precaution, I suggest they think about placing a bouncer in the stairwell area who can escort anyone who needs help to a cab.

All-in-all, I really like CRAFT. The sleek look, the relatively well CRAFT-ed (sorry, I couldn’t help myself) food (seriously, the ahi tuna makes this place), the welcoming atmosphere and the pleasant service are all things that will bring me back.

The much raved about Hawaiian Ahi Poke!

The much raved about Hawaiian Ahi Poke!

Grab some friends and have a nice meal, a couple drinks and some good conversation. More than anything, this place is about bringing people together and rediscovering the social aspects of your life again. They also offer daily deals on drinks and food, so check them out here.

If you’ve tried CRAFT in Edmonton, tell me what you thought of it by leaving a comment below. You can also follow the restaurant for up-to-date news on Twitter: @CRAFTbeeryeg.

Edmonton Bakers Make Life Brighter

Joint Photo

Left: Tiramisu cupcakes from Beyond The Bowl Baking
Right: Lemon cupcakes from Cupcakes by Courtney

I’ve been fighting a cold these last seven days. And it’s starting to take its toll, especially because it’s a week before I leave for a trip to see The Rolling Stones. I don’t want to be sick during my holiday, so I’m doing my best to get rid of it, but without the help of meds. I’m drinking plenty of fluids and rinsing with Listerine. However, it’s persisting and maybe it’s because my busy schedule isn’t really allowing me the rest or sleep I should be striving for. Sometimes settling down for a bit and having a nap is a good thing for us. While I know this probably won’t happen today, I wish I could sit on the couch and just veg out with a plate of cupcakes and some movies or a book. That, for me, would be a day of heaven.

Cupcakes really help to brighten my day and I’m certain that others feel the same way. I count myself as a connoisseur of the delightful treats, and in my home city of Edmonton, Alberta I have tried the majority of the cupcake shops in town (thank you Groupon and all the other deal sites for contributing to any weight I may or may not have gained over the last few years). Some of the shops I’ve bought from have been great and others could certainly use improvements.

Yet I’m currently counting myself lucky because I now not only know just one, but two bakers who have ventured into the world of cupcake creations over the last year! I share them with you in the hopes that you will find the perfect dessert for your upcoming celebrations or your own personal indulgences.

Both ladies bake part-time outside of their full-time jobs, so if you would like to order anything from them, a few days notice would be great.

Cupcakes by Courtney is the first.

Courtney

Courtney of Cupcakes by Courtney

Courtney really started baking for others last fall with a few trusty recipes including Red Velvet and Irish Car Bombs and has been experimenting with new flavours ever since. She is a fellow bridesmaid in our friend’s wedding this coming August and will be providing peacock themed cupcakes for the reception in place of a traditional cake. We did a tasting one evening and the chocolate cake with whisky chocolate ganache filling and white chocolate cream cheese icing was the winner! Other delicious sounding flavours include:

Cinnamon-Sugar

Cinnamon sugar cupcakes

Coconut cupcakes

Coconut cupcakes

Grapefruit Chiffon with Grapefruit Cream Cheese Icing

Grapefruit cupcakes with grapefruit cream cheese icing

Triple Chocolate with Jack Daniel's Whiskey Ganache Filling and White Chocolate Swiss Meringue Buttercream Icing

Triple chocolate cupcakes with JD’s whiskey ganache filling and white chocolate swiss meringue buttercream icing

Red Velvet and Lemon Cake Pops

Mix of red velvet and lemom cake pops

Courtney also makes beautiful cake pops for those who prefer a sweet in a bite-sized package. I believe she can also do some cakes sugar or butter free. Please inquire with her for specifics.

Additional information can be found on her Facebook page by clicking the link above her image. You may also contact Courtney by e-mail at courtneys355@hotmail.com or phone her at 780-288-5249.

The second is Beyond the Bowl Baking.

Bev

Bev of Beyond the Bowl Baking

I’ve worked with Bev for a few years now. She heads the United Way committee at our office and as a group we’ve been holding bake sales annually in which Bev’s cakes are the undisputed star. They get snapped up within minutes of the table opening, so it just makes sense for Bev to bring her baking prowess to the masses. She’s worked hard to expand her recipes for her launch this April and I have been lucky to be one of her few product taste testers. I will tell you that, without a doubt, you will not be disappointed.

A new flavour seems to come out every week or so (like the fairy godmother of baked goods I probably gain a pound just smelling one, but it’s worth it – just eat healthy the rest of the week!) and each one becomes my new favourite.

Bev’s uniquely filled cupcakes are moist, deliciously flavourful and topped with the perfect amount of frosting. Here are some samples of what she’s got on her order form right now (the list is growing!):

Chocolate Raspberry

Chocolate cupcake with raspberry cream cheese frosting

Peaches Supreme

Peaches Supreme cupcake

Root Beer

Root Beer cupcakes – these are amazing if you love this soft drink

Cinnamon Bun Cupcake

Cinnamon bun cupcake

Mango Coconut topped with Mango-Coconut Rum Frosting and Dried Mango

Mango coconut cupcakes topped with mango coconut rum frosting and dried mango

Chocolate Infused with Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting topped with Chocolate Shards and Bubble Sugar

Chocolate infused cupcakes with chocolate cream cheese frosting topped with chocolate and bubble sugar shards

Bev also makes some slab cakes. I would highly recommend her pumpkin cake (my personal favourite) and her Guiness gingerbread ones.

Her order form includes pricing: BtBB 2013. If you would like to place an order, please fill it out and e-mail to Bev at beyondthebowlbaking@gmail.com. You may also click on the link above her photo to view her Facebook page.

I hope that these cupcakes bring happiness to your best days and perhaps even your worst. People always ask me why I love these single serving desserts (I was probably obsessed with trying every one I could get my hands on for a time) and I think it’s because they bring a little sunshine into my life. And, I believe that’s something that the world can use more of.

Photo sources: Cupcakes by Courtney images were all borrowed from her Facebook page and taken by her husband, Pat. Solo cupcakes from Beyond the Bowl Baking were snapped by me. All other images of cupcakes from Beyond the Bowl Baking came from Bev’s Facebook page.