Towards the end of February or the beginning of March, the city of Edmonton swings towards a focus on food. Vue Weekly presented their annual list of reader-voted Golden Fork Awards winners. Now, in it’s sixth year, The Tomato Food & Drink released their list of the Top 100 Best Things to Eat or Drink as nominated by locals. Avenue Edmonton launched their yearly Best Restaurants issue (decided by a panel of judges), kicking things off with an event at the Edmonton Expo Centre. Look for free copies of those issues at newsstands across the city or visit the links here. Then, to top things off, the Downtown Business Association runs a 10-day Downtown Dining Week where participating eateries in the core showcase multi-course meals for very reasonable prices.
Within the past several days, I had the opportunity to attend both the Avenue Magazine party and the opening night reception for Downtown Dining Week. I was blown away by some of the items that I got to sample. The former gathering was just a fantastic way to meet some of Edmonton’s best chefs and bakers who brought out their A-game. Honestly, if they can cater and have the food prepared so well, it’s a safe bet to assume that freshly made dishes at their restaurants would be even better.
One thing that I did notice is that Avenue Magazine changed things up in 2018 by narrowing down their picks to a mere twelve categories, including: overall, sharing, late night, cafe, brunch, to go, family dining, business lunch, tried & true, date night, baked goods, and new. That’s a sharp contrast from previous years that held 27 categories, covering a gamut of cuisines, a few of which only had a single winner listed due to lack of competition (a.k.a. Best African). The choices seemed more succinct this time, and although somewhat predictable, still offered up a handful of newly deserving choices.
At the Best Restaurants event, my companions and I received fifteen food tickets each, along with drink tickets to be used on wine and beer. I was concerned that I wouldn’t get enough to eat, but I was very wrong about that. In fact, we left with tickets remaining and our bellies incredibly satisfied. Our favourites of the night were:
- Biera‘s Beef Tartare with smoked beef fat, nasturtiums and horseradish. The beef practically melted in my mouth, and every bite was packed with so much flavour. I have yet to visit Biera, but after trying that, I cannot wait to go.
- Bündok‘s Clam on a Tapioca Cracker was unexpectedly good. It’s hit or miss when it comes to clams as they can easily be overcooked. Yet, these were phenomenal with a variety of texture and a nice balance of salt and spice. This is already one of my favourite places in Edmonton, and the sampling here solidified that further.
- Reinette Cafe and Patisserie‘s Key Lime Tart is what dessert dreams are made of. Zesty and sweet with a thin torched sugar layer and fluffy meringue, I would have happily taken every slice home. Accompanying the tart was also a cheese macaron. It sounds sort of weird, but trust me. The savoury cookie was surprisingly delicious and worth a taste.
Check out the link I provided above to view all of this year’s Avenue Edmonton Best Restaurant selections.
A couple of those spots — Hardware Grill and The Marc — are also taking part in Downtown Dining Week. Running until Sunday, March 18, this is a wonderful chance to indulge in food on a more affordable scale. Some of the menus are made especially for the food festival with items that aren’t typically available to guests, while others highlight their more popular dishes.
This year, there are 37 establishments presenting lunch and dinner options. However, it’s important to note that the lunch menus are usually only offered on weekdays as the majority of the restaurants do not open until the evening on weekends. If they are open earlier, they, more often than not, choose to serve their regular brunch menu over the one for Downtown Dining Week. Call ahead to check, if you plan to go.
My top choices for this year’s Downtown Dining Week are:
- Central Social Hall‘s $18 lunch. They have choices for the first two courses, so I would go with the Garlic Kale Caesar Salad and the Southern Pulled Pork Sandwich. This would be finished off with their Made to Order Doughnuts. This is one of the only places with a 3-course lunch menu, and it’s a steal since it’d likely come to about $30 before tip and tax on any other day.
- The Cavern‘s $30 dinner includes three different menu combinations, but I highly recommend getting one that comes with the cheese board. After all, this is a cheese shop, and they have some that are absolutely delightful.
- The Common also has a fantastic $30 dinner with a menu that can cater to vegetarians. Granted, I’d definitely opt for the meats with the lamb and the pastrami cured veal.
- Crash Lobby Bar has become a favourite of mine. For $30, they have brought a stellar menu to the table. Truthfully, I don’t think it’s possible to go wrong with anything they serve. Yet, if I had to choose, I would recommend the Prawn Pakora and the Alberta Churrasco Fiasco (a smoke-infused AAA flank steak).
- The Harvest Room is located in the Fairmont Hotel Macdonald and they’ve got a wonderful $45 executive dinner menu that shines a light on seafood (and meat).
- Wildflower Grill, recently under new ownership and with a new chef, has both an $18 lunch and a $45 executive dinner available. At the Downtown Dining Week opening reception, I ate a slider version of the lamb burger. It is found on the lunch menu, and it was our pick of the night. If you aren’t able to make it there for lunch, stop in for dinner instead. Their Albacore Tuna, Braised Beef Short Rib, and Chocolate Mousse won’t disappoint.
View the link provided at the top of this page to peruse all of the Downtown Dining Week menus. And, don’t forget to call the restaurant to make reservations. While walk-ins are welcome, it would be a shame to miss out by finding out the place is fully booked upon arrival.
I hope that everyone who has the opportunity to experience Downtown Dining Week enjoys themselves and leaves with new favourites of their own.