25 prominent Edmontonians share their favourite dishes in the city
By Avenue Staff | June 29, 2016
Every dish tells a story. The chef might have a story about when inspiration struck, or how he or she was able to put a unique spin on a classic preparation. But, perhaps more importantly, diners have stories about their favourite dishes. A person can tell you about the first time a particular meal was ordered and why he or she loved it so much. Or maybe that person can’t, only because he or she’s been going to that same restaurant and ordering that same dish over and over. Maybe it was the dinner he or she was eating when a milestone came along – when someone special popped the question, or shared some big news.
Restaurant dishes come and go, but the stories behind them endure. And it’s these stories we here at Avenue wanted to capture here in our third annual 25 Favourite Things to Eat feature. How a dish is prepared doesn’t matter so much; how diners feel about and remember those dishes is what does.
Todd Babiak Bestselling Author
Lamb Burger | Sugarbowl
Todd Babiak is many things: He’s a city builder, an internationally recognized author (whose most recent book Son of France was released this past March), a charming conversationalist and a snazzy dresser. He’s also a man of good taste, and that taste includes local food. Babiak’s top pick and absolute favourite hails from his local hangout, the Sugarbowl.
What do you love about Sugarbowl’s lamb burger?
It surprises me every time. I don’t even like lamb, but the mixture of goat cheese, sweet onions and meaty deliciousness goes perfectly with a beer. If I’m feeling naughty and cavalier, I’ll say to hell with it and order the burger with sweet potato fries and this lovely dip.
Which ingredient is your favourite?
The goat cheese is ridiculous. It’s like a local lamb and a Qubcois goat got together and said, “Let’s slap Todd around with tastiness.” They said it in French, too.
Do you remember the first time you tried the burger?
I read a list somewhere. Maybe it was in Avenue. Until then I always ordered something else at Sugarbowl. I thought: why not? If the kids say it’s good, I am a goddamn fool not to try it. But lamb? I’m not even sure what a lamb is. Is it a fluffy goat? A baby cow? Anyway, with every bite, I stepped deeper into a corridor of deliciousness that confirmed my decision to live in Edmonton.
Dr. Sangita Sharma Nutrition Expert, University of Alberta
Dal Khazana | Khazana
Dr. Sangita Sharma grew up in a small village near Nottingham, England. Her father is Indian; her mother hails from Austria. Her dad loved to cook traditional Indian meals, while her mother could make a very good schnitzel.
The Centennial Professor in Aboriginal and Global Health at the University of Alberta, and globally renowned dietary expert, says that the Dal Khazana is a dish that reminds her of two things: her father’s cooking, and the famous dal – a slow-cooked stew made with a legume – that comes from the world-renowned New Delhi restaurant, Bukhara. When world leaders make state visits to India, they are often treated to the delights from Bukhara’s kitchen. And it’s also one of Dr. Sharma’s favourite culinary destinations.
So, for Khazana’s dal to be compared favourably to arguably India’s most famous restaurant, that’s not faint praise.
“It’s so creamy, with black beans so there is some nutritional value,” Dr. Sharma says. “There are so many flavours at one time. With some hot naan, it’s fantastic. It reminds me of my childhood. It brings you back; it’s a real comfort food.” – Steven Sandor
Alan Nursall President and CEO, Telus World of Science Edmonton
Fiorentina Pizza | Packrat Louie
Growing up in Edmonton, Alan Nursall always had an affinity for Old Strathcona. Even after being away for 33 years, that affinity stayed strong. Thankfully, now it’s something he can share with his partner, Jennifer, as is one of his favourite restaurant dishes: The Fiorentina pizza at Packrat Louie.
“When I was a kid in the ’60s, we visited the Strathcona Public Library all the time, and it’s still there! We had pancakes at Albert’s. My parents both worked at the university, and I went to Scona, so that neighbourhood was an integral part of my formative years,” he says.
When he moved back in 2014 to take over as CEO of Telus World of Science, Jennifer remained in Sudbury, Ont., but she visits often and he has shown her around the old stomping grounds. She had been in the city once a few years before Nursall moved, and remembered really liking a restaurant in the area.
“Her excellent powers of recall led us to Packrat Louie. And we’ve been back a bunch of times. It was the simple pizzas that got my attention. It’s a coin toss, but I’ll take the Fiorentina,” he says.
The Fiorentina at Packrat Louie is topped with prawns, spinach and tomatoes. “It has all four food groups: animal, vegetable, salt, and carbohydrates,” Nursall says. “It makes a great meal along with an appetizer or a dessert – perfect for a night out.” –Glenn Cook 10335 83 Ave., 780-433-0123, packratlouie.com
Jason Carter Visual Artist
Chicken Curry Soup | Doan’s
While fans of visual art can take comfort in the form – be it the harsh or elegant shapes of sculptures, or the flowing colours and visual calm of a favourite painting – artists themselves may need something less abstract that speaks to them. For contemporary First Nations visual artist and Avenue Top 40 Under 40 alumnus Jason Carter, there’s one dish in Edmonton that he considers a masterpiece: Doan’s chicken curry soup.
According to Carter, this favourite dinner treat is one he’ll allow himself more than once a week – sometimes every other day. After a long day of carving or painting at his studio, he’ll slip in to a booth at Doan’s downtown location and prepare himself for what he describes as a “comforting, filling and delish” dish.
“I’m not sure if it’s the coconut, or the huge chunks of chicken, the potato or the rice vermicelli, but this soup speaks to me,” says Carter. “I am sure that those ginormous bowls are supposed to be for sharing – though I never do. There’s nothing more flavourful, more delish, more comforting than this soup.” –C.H. 10130 107 St., 780-424-3034, doans.ca
Fish Griwkowsky Art Critic, Edmonton Journal
Chicken Alcron | Bistro Praha
Apart from his role at the Edmonton Journal, Fish Griwkowsky is an acclaimed photographer and filmmaker, and an Avenue Top 40 Under 40 alumnus. He’s also a man who appreciates a good meal, and shared his favourite with us in his own words.
“Chicken Alcron is work of art, a delectable masterpiece of taste, texture, flavour and colour, and certainly my favourite thing to experience in Dirt City. The golden scalloped potatoes and butter-fried mushrooms are seductive laurel leaves around that impossibly juicy, crisp-skinned birdball whose sacrifice I note every time, adding mayo to the caloric orgy. I usually get the green salad with cheese to open it up; when I’m drinking, a tangy Czech dark lager called Baron.
“My family has been inhabiting Praha since it opened the year Star Wars first played the Paramount – my aunt’s Bohemian social circle fading away as we took over during university in the early ’90s – painter Tandie McLeod and I falling in love with its various waiters named Milan. It’s one of Edmonton’s most tangibly European experiences down to the dcor, that ubiquitous classic music and lively conversation with the servers, who let loose and dance on the tables every New Year’s Eve. There is a real life cycle to our elder restaurants, a lost spark and embarrassing decline, that Praha has magically sidestepped. This place is immortal, my eternal salivation.” –C.H.
Brian Webb Artistic Director, Brian Webb Dance Company
Baigan Bharta | Indian Fusion The Curry House
When Brian Webb isn’t on a stage working with his eponymous dance company, you’ll probably find him at Indian Fusion The Curry House.
Webb admits he is addicted to Indian food, getting hooked on the variety and taste while travelling in India and, back in Edmonton, he visits the Oliver eatery – which has been in the news lately for its generosity in offering free meals to those in need – at least once a week.
Webb’s favourite dish is the Baigan Bharta, which consists of smoked eggplant cooked with chopped onion, tomatoes and green peas.
“I guarantee you’ve never tasted eggplant like this. It’s smoky and complex, spicy but not overwhelming. I have never introduced it to a guest who hasn’t loved it,” he says.
But Webb has high praise not only for the eggplant at Indian Fusion The Curry House, but also for the owner.
“Parkash Chhibber, the owner and chef of The Curry House, is amazing. A former professional bodybuilder in Delhi, he knows healthy food – nothing is ever fried, ever! And all of his food is really good.” –G.C.
Margeaux Morin Weather Specialist, Global Edmonton
Toro and Salmon Sashimi | Kyoto
Sometimes you can find adventure in your own backyard. That’s what happened when Margeaux Morin had sashimi for the first time at Kyoto.
Morin, a weather specialist for Global Edmonton, was born and raised in the city, even spending a season as part of the Edmonton Eskimos Cheer Team. But it wasn’t until she visited the 109th Street eatery that she first tried Japanese-style raw fish, and she credits Kyoto with teaching her how to be adventurous.
“Now, I will always order the toro and salmon sashimi, though I’ve tried almost everything on the menu,” she says.
In fact, that sense of adventure came in handy when she travelled to Japan earlier this year. “I was so adventurous when dining out because I was quite familiar with the various raw delicacies from ordering off Kyoto’s extensive sashimi menu.”
Aside from the sashimi, though, Morin also enjoys Kyoto’s non-traditional sushi rolls, like the isobe, which is salmon, tuna and avocado rolled up in seaweed, coated in tempura flour and deep-fried.
“It may not be exactly what they serve in Japan,” she says, “but as long as they’re serving it at home, I’ll be one satisfied customer!” –G.C.
“I’ve been enjoying this dish since I was a teenager in their original location before it burned down, unwrapping the banana leaf and having that great smell hit you as you empty the leaf’s contents onto your plate. I love ordering dishes that I would never make at home and this one tops the list. After all, how often do you have banana leaves around the house?”
Josh Mellott Director of Business Development Alberta, Westkey Graphics; Pianist, Take Five
Brisket and Garlic Fries | MEAT
Josh Mellott can thank Netflix for giving him a craving for barbecue – a craving that he satisfies with heaping helpings of beef brisket and garlic fries at MEAT, just off Whyte Avenue.
“I had heard of MEAT through the news, knowing that the owners of The Next Act had been lobbying to put it in its current location for at least a year. Combine this with my House of Cards Netflixing and watching Frank Underwood devour ribs from Freddy’s Ribs Joint, and I started to have an odd hankering for some southern barbecue and to get as good of a Canadian representation as I could get,” Mellott says.
But, when he first visited MEAT in spring 2015, he was worried it wouldn’t live up to his expectations. “My immediate impression was a clean upscale hip place – how would they deliver on this mystical southern food?”
Mellott was happy to be proven wrong, though, when the food arrived at his table, and he has since become a regular.
“They should have told me to put on a helmet when I tried the savoury garlic fries and tender brisket, because it blew my mind,” he says. “I ended up being a hot mess of bourbon sauces, garlic fries and brisket. It is now the place I take clients and visiting VPs, and [celebrate] business victories.” –G.C.
“When I was a receiver for the Edmonton Eskimos, there were limited barbecue options in Edmonton. Joey’s food is always consistent. They may be the most underrated ribs out there. They rank up there with most specialty barbecue restaurants.”
Michael Phair Board of Governors Chair, University of Alberta
Latte and Chocolate Croissant | Cafe Bicyclette
“Across from Campus Saint-Jean [at the] U of A is Cafe Bicyclette, which I often go to for a relaxing Sunday morning brunch,” Phair says. “The food is simple – eggs with sides. In addition, I always order a latte and a chocolate croissant – which is delicious!”
“In the 1980s, I lived inPennsylvania, and the week before we moved back to Canada, my wife and I went out for dinner with our best friends in the U.S. and we ordered crab cakes. To this day, when I see it on the menu, I order it. Not only is it healthy, but the Cajun House does the order proud and I always feel fulfilled and nostalgic when having this.”
“The first time I ordered it, I split the plate with Anika, my teenage daughter. She sat directly across from me at the table. This allowed me to see her eyes – crackling with wonder – at the very moment she discovered one of life’s greatest, most thrilling, most incandescent joys: The enchanted curry.”
Sandra Huculak Director of Corporate Social Responsibility and Community Investment, ATB Financial
Bison Cannelloni | Sorrentino’s
Paul & Cathy Douglas President and CEO, PCL Construction; philanthropist
Veal Cannelloni | Sorrentino’s
It’s a dish so nice it was mentioned twice – although with different proteins. The cannelloni at Sorrentino’s proved to be popular when we put out the call this year for our 25 Favourite Things to Eat.
For PCL Construction president and CEO Paul Douglas and his wife Cathy, the veal cannelloni with half tomato sauce and half wild mushroom sauce transports them to another time and place – specifically Italy, a country they visited in 2009.
“When tasting the veal cannelloni, it really does bring back those great memories for us,” he says. “When we can get traditional Italian meals like these here at home, it truly is magnifico!”
Meanwhile, Sandra Huculak enjoys the bison cannelloni at Sorrentino’s because it’s food from the heart – which is fitting, considering she oversees philanthropic initiatives at ATB Financial, including those that give financial stability to women in crisis, contribute to free soccer programs for new Canadians and aid the efforts of creators at the Nina Haggerty Centre for the Arts.
“It’s a great family-run business and you get a real sense of home whenever you’re here,” she says. “It’s consistently fantastic, an explosion of Italian herbs. And, whenever you come here, you’re made to feel special.”
And, because the Rago family gives back to Edmonton, it only increases her appreciation for the food. Sorrentino’s Compassion House is a home away from home for women battling breast cancer. Huculak, a cancer survivor, serves on the board. The Ragos support many other charitable causes.
“It’s easy to support a business when you know that the owners are such great supporters of the community,” she says. “Everything from their philanthropy to their cooking schools and their vision.” – G.C., S.S.
Ryan Smyth was born and raised in Alberta. He is one of the most-loved players in Edmonton Oilers history. So, of course, the Edmonton dishes he likes best are seafood dishes.
“I’m a meat-and-potatoes guy; really, I am. And I was a meat-and-potatoes player on the ice, as well,” says Smyth. “It took me a while to come around to seafood but, over the course of my career, I’ve come to really love it.”
A disclaimer is needed here: Smyth is a business partner in the Century Hospitality Group, and he loves the lobster mac and cheese at Lux Steakhouse and Bar. But he and his family go out a lot, and he has another favourite from a restaurant he doesn’t have a stake in: Vivo. “The sea bass there is very moist. Very flavourful. I know the owner there, Gregg, and he gets in there and helps out a lot.”
As a restaurant entrepreneur himself, Smyth appreciates the passion that comes from Vivo co-owner Gregg Kenney. And sea bass can be a tricky dish to get right; the timing of the cooking has to be perfect. – S.S. 18352 LessardRd., 780-756-7710, vivoristorante.ca
Henri Rodier CEO, Coventry Homes
Lamb Chops | Lux Steakhouse + Bar
Rodier adds that he often pairs the lamb chops with Lux’s tomato and avocado salad, with heirloom tomatoes, fresh avocado, red onion, basil oil and fresh salt and pepper, and he’s a big fan of the ambience and the service at the downtown steakhouse as well.
“It can be really tough to get good lamb in the prairies, and I prefer it to beef,” he says. – G.C.
Gail Hall Chef; educator; food writer; owner,Seasoned Solutions Loft Cooking School and Culinary Tours
Ispanakli Pide | Sofra
“I admit, I’m a bread lover, and from the first taste of Sofra’s pita, I was hooked. How can you resist bread made to order, served piping hot, pillowy soft and tender? The pide carries the mixture of spinach, egg and cheese, and I love the comfort of breakfast dishes for dinner. Last week, my order was as good as the memory of my first bite 10 years ago, when it opened.”
Since appearing on The Ultimate Fighter Nations: Canada vs. Australia in 2014, Sheldon Westcott has been traveling the world, grappling with opponents inside the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s famed Octagon.
But, when he returns home to Edmonton, there’s another opponent with which he likes to square off: The Clubhouse Sandwich at Donna’s Eatery.
“This isn’t your run-of-the-mill clubhouse,” Westcott says. “The first time I had this clubhouse, it was bigger than your first-born child.
“I was brought to Donna’s while I was working for Maximum Waterworks with my brother, Jeff Demkiw. We had been working all day with no break and he told me, after we were done, he would bring me for the best sandwich of my life – and he wasn’t wrong! Every single topping you can think of!”
Indeed, this massive sandwich has turkey, ham, cheese, bacon and lots of veggies barely contained between two slices of bread.
While it’s a bit of a trek from the gym Westcott owns (Complete Fitness and Martial Arts in St. Albert) to the Winterburn Industrial Park where Donna’s is located, it’s safe to say that only helps him build up enough of an appetite to wrestle this sandwich into submission. – G.C.
“It’s a massive, thin and crispy crepe made out of pureed rice and lentils, stuffed with spicy potato curry and served with a variety of flavourful chutneys. The richness of spice and seasoning from the curry coupled with the dosa is outstanding,” says Taylor, an Avenue Top 40 Under 40 alumna.
And, when it comes to dining on dosas in Edmonton, her preferred partner is her father. “I especially love going to Kathir with him to hear his excited interactions with the waiters and cooks in their native tongue, as many of them grew up in the same South Indian areas. As a first-generation Canadian, Kathir helps bring me back to my Indian roots and the flavours of the Masala dosa never disappoint.” – Adrianna Szenthe
Tom Fath President, Fath Group of Companies; co-owner (with his brother, Dave) of FC Edmonton
Black Cod | Sushi Wasabi
“It’s our first choice of if we [Fath and his wife, Jo-Ann] want to have a special meal or celebrate a special event. It’s served skin-on, which I love. All in all, it’s a wonderful dish. But I don’t have it every time I go there, because everything on the menu is good.”
5714 111 St., 780-433-0533
Carly & Mark Agnew Teacher; Chief Financial Officer, ResCom Inc.
Beef Carpaccio / Bread Pudding | The Glass Monkey
Carly says that her “go-to dish” on The Glass Monkey’s menu is the beef carpaccio, served with toasted baguette. “I love the simplicity of it. The thin slices of tenderloin are seasoned perfectly with grainy mustard, cracked pepper, and olive oil,” she says. “I always ask them to put a little arugula on top for the perfect bite.”
Meanwhile, Mark often saves room for dessert, which is the Jack’s Grill bread pudding, named after the former tenants of the space.
“We don’t usually eat dessert,” Carly says, “but the bartender at the time, Andy, had gotten to know us, and one evening, he insisted that we try it, along with some port, on him. That was a mistake – now we often have to have dessert!” – G.C.
Alissa St. Laurent Accountant/Ultramarathon runner
Green Curry with Prawns and Coconut Rice | Million Thai
It’s tough to fuel someone with as active a lifestyle as Alissa St. Laurent. Though her day job as an accountant may be fairly sedentary, she more than balances that out as an ultramarathon runner who frequently races distances of more than 100 kilometres and breaks records – she was the first female to ever win the 125-kilometre Canadian Death Race in 2015.
St. Laurent needs something that will provide her with adequate fuel as well as a ton of flavour, and the green curry with prawns and coconut rice at Million Thai delivers.
“It is undoubtedly my most frequent restaurant/takeout meal,” says St. Laurent. In fact, the dish was on her mind because she had it just the night before speaking with us. “I walked in the door from a 50-kilometre training run and told my boyfriend, ‘I’m starving and tired and you’re definitely in charge of dinner tonight.’
“It’s my spicy comfort food, packed with lots of veggies and is satiating – my appetite gets crazy when I’m training so much – without feeling too heavy.” – A.S.