25 Favourite Things to Eat
Local Celebrities Make Their Picks for Essential Edmonton Eats
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Bread Pudding | Highlevel Diner
The bread pudding at the Highlevel Diner isn’t just Janice MacDonald’s favourite restaurant dish in Edmonton — it’s also the favourite of Randy Craig. It’s no coincidence that MacDonald, the local author who has penned six books in the Randy Craig mystery series — along with an original short piece of fiction for this month’s Avenue, which can be found on p. 52 — and her main character share the same sweet tooth.
“I adore bread pudding, and am teased about it from all sides, since I do make my fictional detective, Randy Craig, order it any chance she gets,” the author says. It’s understandable, though, since what the Highlevel Diner serves up is no ordinary bread pudding. Instead of day-old bread, the diner uses its award-winning cinnamon buns as the base for the pudding. It’s served “swimming in a decadent brown sugar bourbon sauce,” as its menu puts it, and a side dish of whipped cream.
“Bread pudding is that magical dessert that relies on simple ingredients to remind you of your grandmother, or at any rate of your childhood,” MacDonald says. “And yet restaurants in Edmonton, especially the Highlevel Diner, raise it to the heights of gourmet cooking. The warmth, the sweetness, the wondrously large portions they offer, since they are actually ridding themselves of stale bread — is there anything better? I think not.
“In a way, it is the ultimate writer’s treat — creating something new and wonderful out of ordinary elements that might be forgotten or ignored. And, in the right hands, with the right vision, magic happens.” —Glenn Cook
Creative director, Curio Studio
Taster Plate | Culina Millcreek
Amanda Schutz was a member of Avenue’s Top 40 Under 40 class of 2010.
“My favourite thing to eat lately is the taster plate at Culina Millcreek. This charcuterie board is delicious and uniquely arranged every time. It includes terrine, house-made preserves, daily-fresh bread and cheese from local producers.
“What I find romantic about this dish is not only the flavours but the genuine care that goes into each aspect of the plate. Steve [Furgiuele], Culina’s chef, comes from a big Italian family in Ontario. He’s been making his own sausages and cured meats for about a year now at Culina. You can tell from the way he talks about his food that he has an artist’s love for his medium and a designer’s obsessive preoccupation with nudging his recipes until he’s got it just right.
“The meat is unlike anything you can get anywhere else (the chef imports a lot of the ingredients from obscure sources you can’t even find on the Internet). He even let me smell his jar of fennel!
“Culina has always done great work making food that blends of old-world heritage, local ingredients and multiculturalism. I feel spoiled to have such a gem of a restaurant just a few blocks from my studio space.” —Steven Sandor
Country music singer
Crispy Duck Leg Confit | Hardware Grill
His songs have made appearances on the Billboard Canadian music charts. In 2014, he won a Juno Award for Breakthrough Artist of the Year. In 2015, Brett Kissel won the Association of Country Music in Alberta nod as the male artist of the year.
But the country music artist isn’t necessarily a meat-and-potatoes guy.
“Growing up on a cattle ranch, I’m sure that most people would assume that my favourite food would be steak. Now don’t get me wrong, there are few things in this world as good as a medium-rare ribeye steak, especially if there’s some Sawmill Steak Sauce to go along with it.
“But then I discovered Hardware Grill on Jasper Avenue, and their many incredible dishes. What’s at the top of my list? Their crispy duck leg confit. Oh — and it’s actually one of their starters!
“I absolutely love duck and the way the team prepares this dish, with such full and rich flavours. It knocks me out every time I order it [and I actually do order it every time]. My first encounter with this dish would have been five years ago when I was on a dinner date with my then-fiancée, Cecilia, and her colleagues from Blu’s Women’s Wear. I ordered it on a complete whim, and was more and more impressed with each bite.
“Most importantly, ordering this ‘starter’ as my ‘main’ allows me to save some room to indulge in arguably the best dessert known to man, the salted caramel crème brûlée, paired with a maple butter bacon donut. This dessert needs no further explanation. It’s so good that when I die, and go to heaven, Saint Peter will present this dish to me as a ‘welcome.’” —Steven Sandor
Host, CBC's Radio Active
Alberta Rainbow Trout Mandorla | Corso 32
Whenever Portia Clark eats at Corso 32, she wants to try something new. But it’s an old favourite that keeps pulling her back in.
The host of Radio Active on CBC Edmonton describes the struggle every time she goes into the restaurant — which once again topped Avenue’s list of Best Restaurants this year — as a tug of war between the Alberta Rainbow Trout Mandorla and the rest of the menu.
“I always want to order the trout, but have second thoughts that, in an Italian restaurant that makes its own fresh, silky pasta, I should have pasta,” she says.
In the end, the trout always seems to win out.
“It is perfection in food! The Maritimer in me appreciates how perfectly the chefs always cook the fish — still moist and juicy, the skin still on and crispy and salty. And the salad that goes with it is no afterthought; it’s a crunchy delight with the perfect amount of tang in the dressing.”
Thankfully, though, Clark has a system worked out where she can get the best of both worlds.
“My husband always orders a pasta dish and I always order the trout and we share,” she says. —Glenn Cook
President, MacEwan University
Vegetarian Platter | Gregg Mediterranean Restaurant (Sherwood Park)
When it comes to Mediterranean cuisine, David Atkinson knows what’s authentic and what’s not. And he knows that the vegetarian platter at Gregg Mediterranean Restaurant in Sherwood Park is about as authentic as you can get.
Before taking on the role of president of MacEwan University, Atkinson taught at the University of Lethbridge and held senior administrative roles at universities in Saskatchewan, Ontario and British Columbia.
But he also travelled extensively through the Middle East, taking in all the flavours of the area along the way. And when he found those flavours here in Alberta, he was thrilled.
“We like to support local, so it was a real bonus when we discovered Gregg Mediterranean Restaurant close to home in Sherwood Park,” he says.
The vegetarian platter includes falafel, baba gannouj, cauliflower and zucchini.
“I am especially partial to eggplant — that the restaurant features baba gannouj as part of its vegetable platter made it a winner from the start. I liked it the first time I ate it, and have made it one of my standards,” Atkinson says. “As well, I am partial to the shanklish [a salad with feta cheese, tomato, onion, parsley and olive oil] and the grilled halloume cheese.
“The restaurant gives exceptional value for your dollar. The service is efficient, the food is hot, and the staff make one feel welcome.” —Glenn Cook