25 Best Things to Eat in Edmonton 2011

The third annual list of the city’s best eats.

Photography by Peter Markiw

For Avenue‘s third annual 25 Best Things to Eat in Edmonton, Gail Hall scoured the Capital Region’s restaurants, farmers’ markets, delis and bakeries. This year’s eats come from lots of new spots, unusual locations and neighbourhood haunts. So check out what made this year’s list (presented in no particular order) and see if your taste buds agree.

Custard Tart from Portuguese Canadian Bakery

If you love custard and crme brle, you’ll love these beautiful traditional Portuguese tarts. The recipe is simple – soft, flaky pastry and vanilla-infused custard, baked together and lightly browned. Although many Portuguese bakeries claim to have the best custard tart – to my taste, this one actually does. The melt-in-your-mouth goodness will always put a smile on your face. (5304 118 Ave., 780-413-4056)

Bul Go Gi from Won Jung Gak

This family-run Korean-Chinese restaurant is a true gem. You might drive by it on the corner of 62nd Avenue and 96th Street, so don’t blink. When you do spot it, don’t judge it by the outside; it’s what’s on the inside that counts. The bul go gi – Korean for “fire meat,” which refers to the cooking method, not the spiciness – is an exceptional dish of carefully marinated, sliced tender beef, sauted with green onions and shiitake mushrooms. (9655 62 Ave., 780-988-7709)

Spinach, Feta and Sundried Tomato Spread by Dip-Sea Chicks

What can go wrong when you mix cream cheese, sundried tomatoes, feta, spinach and garlic together? Absolutely nothing when it’s in the expert hands of the Dip-Sea Chicks. This local company’s focus has always been on its dips and spreads, and this one is exceptionally addictive. (Available at Bon Ton Bakery, 8720 149 St., 780-489-7717, and various area farmers’ markets.)

Caesar Dressing/Dip by Garlic’s Purity Plus

For all you Caesar salad lovers (and I’m one of them), pick up a jar of this gluten- and dairy-free dressing. It’s creamy and thick and has just the right balance of garlic, lemon, capers and Dijon. There’s no excuse now for not whipping up a fresh Caesar salad in the comfort of your own home. (Available at the Italian Centre Shop, 10878 95 St., 780-424-4869, and 5028 104A St., 780-989-4869; and the Mundare Sausage House, 4824 118 Ave., 780-471-1010)

Mango Chicken from Zaika Indian Bistro Bar

I thought butter chicken was my favourite Indian dish, but not anymore. Now it’s the mango chicken from Zaika, a new restaurant in Edmonton’s deep south. These tender morsels of chicken are cloaked in a creamy, sweet and spicy mango curry. Thank goodness it comes with naan bread, as you’ll need it to sop up the sauce. (2303 Ellwood Dr., 780-462-8722)

Chocolate Milk by Vital Green Farms

Imagine liquid chocolate truffles in a bottle. Are you salivating yet? Vital Green Farms of Picture Butte, Alta., one of the first certified organic dairies in the province, uses only accredited ingredients – from the whole milk to the sugar cane and fair-trade chocolate. Shake the bottle well, open up and guzzle. (Available at Planet Organic, 7917 104 St., 780-433-6807, and 12120 Jasper Ave., 780-433-7374, and Earth’s General Store, 9605 82 Ave., 780-439-8725)

Hickory-Smoked Beef Brisket Sandwich from Bubba’s BBQ and Smoke House

This lunch-hour enterprise is a bit wacky and well worth the trek. The trailer, parked in the former Triton Projects lot, offers one dish daily. Watch out for Thursday, because that’s beef brisket day. This southern slow-roasted dish of deliciousness is thick, tender and juicy. Just look for the trailer and the lineup and you’ve got the right place. (On the lot of 8525 Davies Rd., 780-909-8036)

Bacalhau Bras from Spago Restaurant

This traditional dish combines salted cod, sauted julienne potatoes and onions. It’s pan-fried in olive oil and finished with two eggs, garlic and fresh chopped parsley. It offers a very satisfying and flavourful taste of authentic Portuguese cuisine. (12433 97 St., 780-479-0328)

St. Maure Goat Cheese by Smoky Valley Goat Cheese Co.

The craftsmanship of Smoky Valley’s farmstead cheese belies this company’s young age. With less than a year under its belt, the company has skillfully turned its goat’s milk into a world-class cheese. The St. Maure (pronounced Moore) has the texture of firm Camembert, with a musty citrus flavour that mellows with age. (Available at Paddy’s International Cheese Market, 12509 102 Ave., 780-413-0367; or call 780-383-3798 or buy it online)

Mamma Mia Calzone from Battista’s Calzone Company

Mama Vecchio taught her son, Battista, well. Take excellent homemade dough that’s not too thick or thin, fill it with soft beef meatballs flavoured with pecorino cheese and made in accordance with his mother’s recipe, surround it with mozza and tomato sauce, bake it to 520F, and you’ve got one dynamite folded sandwich. Like the other three calzones on the menu, it comes with a tangy marinara dipping sauce. (8309 118 Ave., 780-758-1808)

Thai Goddess Chocolates by Jacek Chocolate Couture

A self-proclaimed “Cocoanista,” Jacqueline Jacek shows where fashion and food converge in her seasonal chocolate collections. Thai Goddess, part of the Escape collection,  is a favourite for spring 2011, with a delicate lemongrass-infused milk chocolate laced with silky coconut and enrobed in white chocolate. (Available at Credo Coffee, 10134 104 St., 780-761-3744, and Cafe Haven, 9 Sioux Rd., Sherwood Park, 780-417-5523; or online)

Roasted Tomato Crostini from Red Star Pub

Definitely not your typical pub grub – this is a real and handcrafted dish created by chef Daniel Costa. Thickly sliced rustic baguette is topped with juicy, tangy oven-roasted tomatoes, basil, a dollop of fresh mozzarella and roasted pine nuts, all drizzled with extra virgin olive oil. You might find yourself coming back to this bar for the food – and perhaps a beer from a vast selection of imports to go with it. (10534 Jasper Ave., 780-428-0825)

Vanilla Liege Waffle from Eva Sweet

Authentic Belgian street food has finally arrived in Edmonton. You’ve probably smelled intoxicating aromas coming from the waffle van at the north end of the downtown market or the west side of the WCB building, where it lurked last summer. The waffle is dense, with a delightful sugar crunch, and the vanilla finish adds just the right amount of flavour. Until the downtown market reopens in May, the van can be found at the year-round Old Strathcona Farmers’ Market. (Available at the City Market Downtown on 104th Street and at the Old Strathcona Farmers’ Market on Saturdays, 10310 83 Ave.; for more information call 780-710-1887)

Lamb Burger from Sugarbowl

This juicy grilled burger of fresh lamb is topped with a tangy combination of warm goat and cow cheese along with garlic mayo and carmelized onions. It’s stuffed in a locally baked kaiser bun and slathered with homemade mustard made with Guinness beer. (210922 88 Ave., 780-433-8369)

Smoked Whitefish from Fin’s Seafood Retail Store

Fin’s fresh fish from northern Alberta is hot-smoked (a traditional method of cooking in a smoker), with no preservatives or liquid smoke added. The result is a soft, moist and woodsy whitefish with the bones removed. The flaky meat can easily be mixed with cream cheese and sour cream to create a succulent spread. (278 Cree Rd., Sherwood Park, 780-449-3710)

Lemon Curd from Dauphine Bakery and Bistro

This baker knows her ingredients as well as she knows how to blend them. Formerly the Queen of Tarts, Dauphine Bakery cooks lemon, sugar, eggs and butter to a perfect, creamy consistency. This sweet-and-tart curd is the must-have, gluten-free dessert ingredient to finish your mini tartlets or create a mousse with whipped cream. (Lower level of 10129 104 St., 780-421-4410)

Steak Tartare from The Marc

It requires skill to put a traditional dish like this together perfectly, and the kitchen at The Marc has the know-how. The raw beef is soft, minced not too finely and seasoned with capers, mustard and shallots. It’s rounded out with toasted baguette slices and house-made pickled beets, carrots and gherkins. (9940 106 St., 780-429-2828)

Hemp Seed Oil by Mighty Trio Organics

Who knew that cold-pressing GMO-free hemp seed could produce such a luscious and healthy oil? It’s a beautiful, grassy green oil that’s nutty and very smooth on the palate. Mix it with your favourite vinegar to use as a bread dipper, toss it with fresh vegetables, add it to soups, stews and pasta sauces – or just enjoy it over popcorn. (Available at several area farmers’ markets)

The I Love Chocolate Cookie from Cookies & Catering

It’s hard to single out one cookie
as more outstanding than the next, but this chocolate cookie is simply great. And maybe that’s the secret – keeping it simple. Mix butter, sugar, milk, eggs, cocoa and flour together, sprinkle in some white and dark chocolate chips and – voil – a flawless cookie that melts in your mouth. (Available at the City Market Downtown on 104th Street)

Smoked Side Bacon from Budapest Delicatessen

It hits you as soon as you walk in the door – the sweet smell of a deli that smokes its own meats, which this deli has been doing for over 30 years. With three types of bacon in its showcase, you’ve got to set a standard, so go first for the thick and juicy smoked side bacon. (9308 111 Ave., 780-471-4740)

Asparagus by Edgar Farms

It’s a miracle that this Mediterranean vegetable from the lily family can grow in Alberta. In the hands of the Edgar family, it flourishes. Between May and June each year, their asparagus spears are hand-picked and delivered to farmers’ markets within days of harvesting. It’s so sweet and tender, you can eat it raw. (Available seasonally at the Old Strathcona Farmers’ Market and City Market Downtown on 104th Street)

Bacio Gelato from Chocolate Exquisite

Chocolatier Dennis Yurkiwsky’s chocolate and toasted hazelnut creation is a work of art. The confection is all-natural, handmade in small batches and, in true Italian gelato fashion, made where it is sold. Bacio means “kiss,” in a fitting description for the moment it meets your lips. (11238 104 Ave., 780-488-7852, and distributed to all locations of Caff Sorrentino)

Steak and Mushroom Pie from The Bothy Wine & Whisky Bar

This five-inches-round piece of savoury pastry heaven is loaded with chanterelle, shiitake and button mushrooms and sirloin steak, and held together with porcini-and-red-wine gravy. It’s a perfect polyamorous marriage, served with a side of salad, mashed potatoes or soup and  perhaps a dram or two of whisky. (5482 Calgary Tr., 780-761-1761)

 Penang Curry from Viphalay Laos and Thai Restaurant

Penang is a milder curry than the red and slightly sweeter, but still packs a surprising punch. Ms. Vipha knows how to harmonize sweet and hot to create a good balance of flavours for the dish’s sauted beef, peppers, lemongrass, lime leaves, galangal and coconut milk. The coconut rice is the perfect partner to the dish. (10724 95 St., 780-423-3213)

Betsy’s Drowors from Betsy’s South African Deli

Beef jerky lovers will rejoice over this South African deli’s version of dried sausage called Drowors. It’s made with 100-per-cent, triple-A Alberta beef, mixed with 14 different spices that are blended in house, and then dried on-site using a controlled process. It’s a must for any spectator sport or campfire. (6928 104 St., 780-988-5050)

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