Normally I go to Biera for the delicious three-days-to-make sourdough, the perfectly executed beef tartare, and the distinctly smoky shiro bok choyand Korean cut beef ribs. And, of course, the beer. But when I meet with chef Christine Sandford, it’s to learn what goes on behind the scenes of her creative, innovative spot that was unanimously voted Avenue Edmonton’s Best New Restaurant.
Greg Zeschuk had always planned for a restaurant to accompany his Blind Enthusiasm Brewing Company. When the BioWare co-founder was working on opening a brewpub with mostly limited-edition craft beers, he sought out Sandford to manage the dining side – and the result is Biera. “The idea was always to serve high-quality food with good ingredients and change people’s mind about what you get at a restaurant that serves primarily beer,” Sandford says. “We have an idea of what that is – fried food and pretzels – but there are a lot of those places so it’s exciting to do something different.”
It’s appropriate, then, that Biera’s origin story begins in beer-synonymous Belgium. After studying at NAIT and working at various restaurants in Edmonton – including Culina Mill Creek and some of the city’s first pop-up dinners with a crew known as Staff Meal – Sandford moved to Brussels to work at La Buvette and Caf des Spores. She found that the restaurant’s approach to cooking seasonal produce, and its embrace of the slow food movement, was so far removed from the meat-and-potatoes scene happening in Edmonton at the time. “It really opened my eyes to what’s out there,” Sandford says. When she moved to help Kobe Desramaults – the former owner of [now closed] Michelin star restaurant In De Wulf – open De Superette in Gent, Sandford gained experience with woodfire baking, sourdough starters and cooking over charcoal grills. Those techniques are now unique hallmarks of Biera. “It was something totally new for me that I had never worked with before,” Sandford says. “It’s a really interesting way of cooking. We worked really long hours, so not only does it teach you technique, but it teaches you a work ethic.”
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When Sandford returned to Edmonton, she spent some time training and working at Acme Meats when she met with Zeschuk. “It felt like the right thing,” Sandford says. “One of the brewers had lived in Belgium as well so we were kind of connecting in that way.” While international flavours inspire the food and drink menu, Biera sources high-quality ingredients from local suppliers and has become a true Edmonton institution. In less than a year it’s become a destination restaurant and a neighbourhood hub all at once, where a mix of generations and demographics fill the tables every night. “There’s an older couple that comes in here at 9:30 p.m. every Saturday night and they just love eating here, they’re really sweet,” Sandford says. “It surprised me what a neighbourhood feel there is here.” And that feeling of camaraderie extends into the kitchen and brewery. “It comes down from the top, Greg really cares about good working conditions and having a life on the side,” Sandford says. “We hope that creates a really well-balanced restaurant and keeps people creative. That part of the industry is slowly changing for the better.” -Breanna Mroczek
Food Bite: Blind Enthusiasm Brewing likes to keep things interesting by rotating its beer offerings regularly – there’s always something new to try.
At his new downtown spot, chef Ryan Hotchkiss has crafted a menu of seasonal shared plates with flavours that are definitely off the beaten path. The space itself is stunning; the first thing you notice is the grand, dark wood bar with shelves that stretch to the ceiling, packed with liquor bottles and pieces of art. There’s an open kitchen, so you can see the chefs putting together your dish and smell the tantalizing aromas wafting towards your table.
The wine offerings are all Canadian or French, and the menu itself is likewise regionally influenced – with a variety of tartines and French-inspired dishes that will definitely satisfy.
While you can’t really go wrong, one dish to try is the gnocchi Parisienne – and if you’ve had far too many gummy, heavy gnocchi experiences, don’t worry, this will be different. For Parisienne-style gnocchi, the potatoes are swapped out for pte choux, the batter used for pastries such as eclairs and profiteroles. The resulting gnocchi are lighter than air, and combined with a variety of vegetables in season, the dish is delectable. -Adrianna MacPherson
I come from a family where sausage is considered, well, a food to group unto itself. Put a fantastic selection of sausages on a platter with homemade salads to share – and a great selection of beer – this is paradise. Owner Ed Donszelmann rolled the dice by opening his beer and sausage place far away from Edmonton’s culinary hotspots. But, when the rolling door opens, a steady stream of Norwood residents come in for after-work snacks and drinks. The sausage, crafted by Steven Furgiuele of Fuge Fine Meat, ranges from traditional to experimental. You can go from a beautiful Bratwurst to a fish sausage. Order a platter, but make sure to include the beef-lamb merguez; it’s dense, it’s got a good bit of spice, it’s simply decadent. And, to top it off, Otto may just serve the best shareable French fries in the city; served with just the right amount of garlic and herbs, they’re perfectly golden. -Steven Sandor
The Hawaiian poke trend hit Edmonton so hard in 2017, you’d think we’d all started surfing and playing ukuleles. Poke restaurants opened. Poke dishes appeared on pub menus. Sashimi-grade fish was chopped up and used to top many rice and salad bowls. But Ono rose above the crowd; its torched salmon miso – with a hint of grilled flavour – is the best poke dish I’ve tried in Edmonton. And Ono keeps it authentically Hawaiian with liberal use of Spam in its menu, and a take on Loco Moco, the 50th state’s breakfast classic, with beef patties and eggs. -Steven Sandor
At Tokiwa, things are simple – there are two broth options, a six-hour chicken base and a 10-hour pork base, and a handful of ramen bowls using each. Every bowl comes filled with pork charshu, a boiled egg, earthy wood ear mushroom, crisp bean sprouts, microgreens, lotus root and Shanghai bok choy. No matter which one you choose, you can’t go wrong – each bowl is absolutely packed with flavour. -Adrianna MacPherson