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 Restaurant Review: Prairie Noodle Shop

Prairie Noodle Shop’s custom interior

About three years ago, I had the pleasure of attending a Get Cooking event where Prairie Noodle Shop‘s upcoming business was showcased. I was really excited to get a legit ramen restaurant with an Albertan twist. Their dishes were going to incorporate freshly made noodles while utilizing local meats and produce to infuse flavours familiar to our region. From the beginning, they’ve largely stuck to that formula, and I’ve been a fan ever since.

Sadly, I don’t make it to the eatery on 103 Avenue and 124 Street as often as I used to. But, I really wanted Kirk to try it for once. So, we stopped by approximately a month ago to give the menu a once over during lunch. To start, we chose to sample the Baowich (2 for $10) and Dumplings (6 for $12). Each of us also got a bowl of the Spicy Garlic Miso Pork Ramen in Broth ($17).

The Baowich were interesting since I’m so used to other places serving their bao with a single steamed bun being topped with filling and then folded for consumption. Here, they sandwich the ingredients between two steamed buns. Thankfully, the amount of filling inside the sandwich provided a decent ratio to the bun. If there was too much bun and not enough of the selected pork belly, I would have been disappointed. The pork belly was covered with their house sauce (no idea what this is made out of), pickled and fried onions, and shredded lettuce. This made for a good combination of textures and it had that umami flavour. My only wish was that the pork belly would have been cut a tad thicker and cooked until a little bit more crisp.

Featured dumplings by Gourmai.

I’ve previously posted about a Dumpling Pop-Up by Gourmai. The chef is better known as Mai Nguyen. She supplies all of the featured dumplings on offer at Prairie Noodle Shop. The day we were there, the dumplings weren’t the most adventurous. Still, we decided to try the half dozen chicken and veggie selection. They were quite voluptuous and juicy with beautifully seared skins from being pan fried. The dipping sauce gave them an extra shot of flavour without over-salting the dumplings. If you are ever at Prairie Noodle Shop, ask about the day’s feature. Mai makes every single dumpling by hand, and they’re delicious.

Now to the best part, the ramen! Their Spicy Garlic Miso Pork Ramen is my absolute favourite bowl to get at Prairie Noodle Shop. The roasted pork belly is essentially the same as what we had in our Baowich; however, when submerged in soup, it doesn’t matter so much about how crispy the meat is. It also comes with smoked and pulled pork, sweet corn, sesame seeds and their umeboshi egg. The soup itself is pork-based and full-bodied; the flavour profile is amplified with miso, garlic, and a house made chili oil that adds a kick of heat at the back of the throat without becoming overwhelming. Their noodles have a nice bite to them (never overcooked), and that seasoned umeboshi egg is to die for.

Fire & Ice and Black Sesame Ice Creams

We finished off our lunch with their Fire & Ice and Black Sesame ice creams ($4 each). The Fire & Ice was a combo of two different flavours: one sweet and one that was sort of peppery. I was intrigued by the idea of the duo and I was the one who decided to order this, but it wasn’t our cup of tea. Partly it was to do with the texture. It reminded me of when I leave a tub of ice cream in the freezer for too long and the cream starts to separate and rise to the top. It gets thick and goopy. That’s what this felt like. I even asked the server if that was normal. It sort of seemed as though she wasn’t sure what to say. In the end, she told us it might be that any fruit puree in the ice cream that wasn’t mixed in well enough might have frozen into clumps and produced that texture. I can’t verify it, so I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt there. The Black Sesame was much better. The flavour wasn’t as saturated as other black sesame ice creams I’ve had in the past though, so it could use some improvement as well.

After serving the city for the past few years, I can safely say that the petite Prairie Noodle Shop continues to hold their own where it matters. The ramen is just as tasty as I remember it to be when they first opened and the service is commendable, too. I hope that they will always strive for that same consistency with their broth, noodles, and personability for many more years to come.

Edmonton Bakery Review: Destination Doughnuts

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

Opened by a father-daughter duo who saw the potential in the growing food trend, Destination Doughnuts‘ storefront resides in the equally fashionable pocket of 124 Street in Edmonton. Unlike most businesses in the neighbourhood, the shop on 105 Avenue has several free parking spots in the building’s front lot, making it prime real estate.

The bakery space is very open and you can see everyone working in the back.

On our first visit, we were meeting friends for a snack and we decided to walk over. Upon entering the shop, you’re immediately greeted by visuals of their open kitchen and a lineup of the day’s doughnut selection behind a long glass partition. To the far left side is also a self-serve mini doughnut machine ($5 per bag). If intending to stay, I suggest keeping it short as there are only a few tables. Let others have a chance to sit down as well. In our case, our friends arrived a little early and they managed to snag spots for the four of us. On a side note, it seemed like there was a bit of a yellow jacket issue as several were getting into the bakery. Hopefully they were able to take care of that.

Kirk left me to do the purchasing. He mistakenly assumed I was just going to buy a single doughnut each ($3.50; I question how well he knows me), but I showed up at the table with a box of a half-dozen ($18.45). Considering that we made it there later in the afternoon and Destination Doughnuts closes by 3pm every Tuesday to Sunday (or when sold out), I was happy to see that they still had a decent variety available.

My box of a half-dozen doughnuts: Crème Brûlée, S’mores, Angel Flakes, Snickerdoodle, Strawberry Cheesecake and Oreo.

We snacked on two sizeable desserts while we hung out. Kirk thought the Oreo had a bit too much chocolate with the glaze and cookie crumble topping all being the same flavour. Although I did agree that, for the sake of aesthetics, it would have made more sense to use a white glaze in order to emulate the look of an actual Oreo cookie, the doughnut itself tasted very much like the real thing, so they hit it out of the park there.

I decided to sample the White Chocolate Coconut doughnut. It was sweeter with the white chocolate glaze as a base. Yet, the coconut shavings were plentiful and a delicious combo. Both of the yeast dough foundations were really fresh, light and fluffy. Neither one of them felt overly sugary, contrary to some of the choices from the popular Doughnut Party (I’m only able to eat maybe a quarter or half of their doughnut at once, otherwise it feels like too much).

S’mores

The remaining four doughnuts were devoured through the evening and into the next day. Surprisingly, the quality didn’t degrade as I was worried they would. We simply left the covered box out on our counter overnight. Even as day-old doughnuts, they retained their soft texture. The glazes stayed in tact (little to no melting) and the fillings kept fine without making the surrounding dough soggy. I’d say the last one we ate, the S’mores, probably fared the worst of the quad. It did dry out a little by the time we got to it. The Strawberry Cheesecake, Crème Brûlée and Snickerdoodle were excellent though.

Look at that cinnamon sugar dusted Snickerdoodle doughnut!

More recently, at the office, we convinced our co-worker to upgrade our usual order of Timmies treats to those from Destination Doughnuts. While I did find that particular batch to be a tad greasier than normal (perhaps a change of oil in the fryer was soon in order), I’ll just say that everyone was a convert. It’s really difficult to go back to the Tim Hortons ones after trying pretty much anything else from the several local and independent businesses now on the scene.

Personally, when it comes to the more elaborate style of fried dough confections, I think Destination Doughnuts may do it best in this city. They refrain from the standards and stick to specialty options that are just the right amount of sweet.

Edmonton Business Review: Board N Brew

The interior of Board N Brew.

There’s been an influx of board game cafes in Edmonton over the past few years. One of the newest ones is Board N Brew. Situated on 99 Avenue and 103 Street, it’s probably the most spacious and better designed spots of its kind in the city, and it’s only a hop, skip, and jump away from my office. It’s sort of easy to miss though. Unless it happens to be on your route to and from work, there’s a good chance you’d be unaware of its existence.

Alcohol is served here.

Now open for about 15 months, I gathered some friends for an evening of board games after work in the middle May. Since groups can reserve space before 8pm, I took the opportunity to book us a table just in case. The six of us trickled in between 4:15pm to 5:30pm on a Wednesday night. At first, the staff seemed to be attentive. Someone came over a few minutes after we arrived to take drink orders (a can of Stiegl Radler was $6.50), and another returned a short while later to put through any food we wanted.

The menu is quite succinct with a focus on snackable items. However, they do offer Battista’s calzones and a few entrées that seemed to require more than a microwave or panini press to cook (most of the other board game cafes tend to stick with sandwiches and wraps). One such item was the Chicken & Waffles ($15), which I opted to try.

Chicken & Waffles with Kettle Chips

Really, when it comes down to it, this is a fairly simple dish. It requires batter, a waffle maker, chicken, a fryer, and some maple syrup. I found the waffles to be good. They were crisp, but still a touch fluffy on the inside. The chicken was breaded and seasoned nicely. The meat was clearly solid white chicken breast and it was still juicy. Whatever herbs and spices they used had some heat to it, too, giving the meal some added flavour. A cup of maple syrup sat on the side, so I was able to apply it as I felt was necessary. Served with the waffles was a bowl of plain kettle chips. I’m not sure what brand they were. I doubt they make them in-house or anything. I would have preferred a dip to go with them. Thankfully, my friend gave me her leftovers from her Naan Sampler, so I could have something to jazz them up.

After our mains were had, that’s when the service went down hill. They kept forgetting to bring over things people had ordered (not unlike my previous experiences at places like The Gamers’ Lodge or even at Table Top Cafe on occasion), and they eventually stopped checking on us.

Board Game Legend

Staff aside, Board N Brew is awesome when it comes to their selection of games. At a rate of $5 per person to play as long as you want, it’s worth it. I love their game legend, which breaks down how they’ve sorted everything on the shelves. It makes it easy to find what one is looking for. Also, maybe it’s because the place is relatively new, but most of the cards and pieces in the games we chose to play — Cards Against Humanity, Taboo, Spank the Yeti, Rhino Hero, and Rhino Hero Super Battle — were clean and in excellent condition. I really appreciated that as I’m a bit of a germophobe and feel absolutely disgusted when I come into contact with sticky surfaces. So, score one for Board N Brew in this respect!

As I mentioned previously, the layout of the venue is great. Large booths that seat six people each line all of the windows. Other configurable tables are located in the center of the space. At the back, there are two private rooms. Both can be booked in advance, although they do require minimum spends. The lighting is also pretty good, especially during the day when sunlight comes streaming right in. Staffers are also supposed to be able to assist with game explanations, but it depends on whether or not they’ve played it before.

Overall, we had a wonderful time. Sure, the staff can use some additional training to bring the service level up. Otherwise, the food and drinks were satisfactory (for the majority of us; likely to each their own), the shop was orderly, and, best of all, it was an incredibly affordable outing.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Famoso (WEM)

Our spread of food at Famoso WEM.

I recently reviewed the Famoso Magrath location of my own accord, and, subsequently, I was invited, along with my fiancé, to the Famoso at West Edmonton Mall (WEM) for a VIP meal on the house. We decided to take them up on the offer, visiting the eatery at 5:00pm this past Monday.

With Famoso’s brick and mortar space situated next door to the popular Cactus Club Cafe, it would seem that diners could be enticed when shoppers are already so close. Yet, thinking about it, it’s really not the ideal spot. There is no direct door connecting the restaurant to the mall from inside, and there are no convenient entrances that allow patrons to sneak out of the mall for a quick jaunt over to the restaurant. The closest way to get to Cactus Club or Famoso used to be a shortcut through a set of Sears doors, but with the store closed, I’m assuming it’s always locked.

Now, customers either have to hightail it across a large parking lot to get to Famoso, or, like my fiancé and I, grab the car and drive it right to Famoso to park there. My guess is this small hurdle is a deterrent for a lot of people. After a long day of walking around the mall, many won’t go out of their way to get to Famoso, and once they’re in the car, they may just opt to go home instead of dining out. If potential visitors aren’t near the mall to begin with, I could see them skipping out on going to WEM all together to avoid the crowds.

Speaking with the manager on staff when we arrived, I was apparently correct in my assessment. Famoso WEM is not attracting the numbers that the other locations in Edmonton are, which is unfortunate news. Aside from it’s questionable proximity to our famous landmark, it’s actually a lovely space. It’s incredibly open, airy and bright compared to the rest of the Famoso establishments I’ve been to. The venue has high ceilings, a big kitchen, lots of lower tables that are roomy and comfortable, a fireplace that grounds the room, and they even have a waiting area at the front. It’s actually a sharp contrast to what I’m accustomed to seeing at Famoso, and I appreciated this.

When it came to the food, we were pleased, too. The quality is on par with what we’ve had at the rest. On this occasion we sampled more than a handful of their items: a glass of Raspberry Ginger Beer ($4.65), the skillet of Cauliflower Artichoke Dip ($12.35), a bowl of Mac + Cheese ($14.65), the Italian Pulled Beef Sandwich with Caesar Salad ($16.35), a Create Your Own 5-Topping 12″ Pizza ($18.35), and a jar of White Chocolate Panna Cotta ($6.65).

My glass of Raspberry Ginger Beer and a bottle of Peroni.

The Raspberry Ginger Beer is a non-alcoholic beverage that includes one refill, so the value isn’t too bad. It’s made with fresh lime, bitters, house-made ginger syrup, soda, and raspberry syrup. Initially, I found it to be subtler than I expected (not overly sweet). As it turns out, I should have mixed everything together because the last few sips were quite sugary. In terms of the flavour, my second glass was better balanced when I made sure to stir the ingredients regularly.

Both of us loved the piping hot — let it cool for a bit first — Cauliflower Artichoke Dip. It’s a new take on the ubiquitous spinach dip with the greens replaced by roasted seasoned cauliflower. The majority of the texture still comes from the artichokes. Oven-baked cream cheese, cheddar, and smoked mozzarella created that gooey yet smooth consistency. Even though I ate all of the tortilla chips, I will admit that they were not my favourite. I thought they’d be more crisp. Somehow, they weren’t. In any case, the garlic flatbread is where it’s at.

I was curious about the Mac + Cheese. Again, this wasn’t my top pick. It was passable though. My recommendation is to eat the whole dish when it’s made fresh. Don’t take it home as leftovers because it’s not as good when warmed a second time. They use a beer cheese sauce as the base and then it’s topped with cheddar, herbaceous gremolata, green onions, and prosciutto crisps. It’s garnished with crunchy bread crumbs as mac and cheese should be. The taste was there; however, it lacked enough sauce. The amount provided coated the pasta, but it didn’t leave much else.

We were surprised by the Italian Pulled Beef Sandwich (I believe this is a seasonal item). Sure, the house-roasted hand-pulled beef was a tad overcooked and dry as if it’d been reheated. Nevertheless, all of the other elements of the sandwich were superb. The crispy prosciutto, provolone cheese, caramelized onions, pepperoncini, lettuce, tomato, horseradish aioli, and the butter grilled brioche bun added layers of texture and flavour, so that every bite was slightly unique. The side of Caesar salad was alright. They utilize a very light house dressing that was barely noticeable on the romaine lettuce. What improved the salad was the spritz of lemon juice along with the exorbitant helping of Grana Padano flakes and prosciutto crisps.

In the past, whenever I went to Famoso, I would typically order one of their signature pizzas straight off of the menu. While it’s still tempting to do so as there are some fantastic choices, my fiancé and I now prefer to build our own 5-topping pizza. We started with a parmesan crema base and added sun-dried tomatoes, fresh feta, chicken, soppressata, and fresh prosciutto. Basil and olive oil were included at no charge as well. It leans on the salty side with the cheese and cured meats, but the chicken is so succulent and I love the sweet-tart flavour and chewy texture of the preserved tomatoes. My fiancé and I refer to this creation as “The KC” (our initials). If anyone is ever inclined to try this pizza, let me know what you think of it! Oh, and don’t forget to order tzatziki to dip the crusts.

White Chocolate Panna Cotta for two.

Dinner out is never complete without dessert. I chose to go with one of the lighter selections for the two of us to share. As White Chocolate Panna Cotta goes, this was decent. The sweet is house-made with the panna cotta set in a mason jar. Strawberry sauce and shaved dark chocolate are placed on top to finish it off. I would have liked to have seen extra strawberry sauce to pair with each bite of the white chocolate panna cotta. I also found the dark chocolate shavings to be harder than expected. This is probably because the dessert was prepared earlier and refrigerated, which solidified the dark chocolate. I think adding the chocolate shavings right before the dessert is served would improve it because the dark chocolate would more easily melt in the mouth.

It’s funny. When we sat down for our reservation at Famoso WEM, it was quiet in the restaurant. Only a few other tables were occupied. It matched what the manager told me about how slow business could be. Yet, when we left, it was a packed house with customers waiting at the front to be seated. The realization that it was spring break kicked in, and that time off for families certainly made a big difference. In fact, the majority of diners had young children in tow. Even though the restaurant wasn’t staffed appropriately for the rush they received, they didn’t seem to miss a beat. Every table with kids was greeted by the manager who asked how many dough balls he should bring for the kids to play with. Is this a new thing at Famoso? Or, do they just do this at WEM? Either way, it’s an ingenious way of preoccupying the children, so everyone can eat in peace.

Living in the southwest side of Edmonton, Famoso WEM is never going to be our location of choice for their Neapolitan-style pizzas. It’s too out of the way for us to go there regularly. Nonetheless, our experience was a good one this week. So, if we’re ever in the neighbourhood, this spot will definitely be on our list of options for a delicious meal and great daily specials.

Current daily specials are listed in the drink menu.