Maybe you were feeling adventurous and decided to try raw fish for the first time. Maybe the way the salad was plated blew you away when it arrived at the table. Maybe you’ve been ordering that same burger at the same place for so many years that the wait staff know exactly how you like it — extra cheese, ketchup on the side, no onions. Or maybe that plate of pasta reminded you so much of how Nonna used to make it that it almost brought you to tears.
There are many factors that contribute to a discerning diner’s favourite dish. And, often, they’re not always limited to the actual food on the plate. While food provides us the nutrients we need to survive, the experience of eating can be so much more than vitamins and minerals. Food is about stories — where we ate, with whom we were eating, what happened while we were eating.
It’s those stories that we tried to capture in our second annual 25 Favourite Things to Eat. We asked prominent Edmontonians not only to tell us which local restaurant dishes are their favourites, but why.
As you’ll see, the stories behind some of these dishes can be just as powerful and splendid as the flavours they contain. It’s a feast not just for the stomach, but for the heart too.
Bread Pudding | Highlevel Diner
10912 88 Ave., 780-433-0993, highleveldiner.com
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
Country music singer
Crispy Duck Leg Confit | Hardware Grill
9698 Jasper Avenue, 780-423-0969, hardwaregrill.com
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
Trout Mandorla | Corso 32 10345 Jasper Ave., 780-421-4622,
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.
Chief Weather Anchor, Global Edmonton
Tavern Burger | Mercer Tavern
10363 104 St., 587-521-1911, mercertavern.com
For Jesse Beyer, going to the Mercer Tavern is like going home.
Beyer, the chief weather anchor for Global News here in Edmonton, had lived in the city while attending broadcasting school at NAIT, but then headed back to his hometown of Saskatoon for three years to start his career. When the opportunity to come back to Edmonton arose, he jumped at it.
And one of the first things he ate when he returned to the city was the Tavern Burger at the Mercer Tavern on 104th Street.
“I literally met my cousins at the pub after taking the Yellowhead for five hours! I fell in love with the atmosphere there,” Beyer says.
The Tavern Burger is topped with grilled onions, bacon and Gouda from Sylvan Star Cheese, but it was the patty — a mixture of ground chuck and brisket — that really stood out for Beyer.
“There was something about the seasoning of the patty. It had a unique spice, with a good spicy kick. I’m not what you would call a ‘foodie,’ but it tasted amazing to me and quickly became my go-to quick hearty late lunch after my morning shift.” —G.C.
President, MacEwan University
Vegetarian Platter | Gregg Mediterranean Restaurant
25 Sioux Rd., Sherwood Park, 780-449-0485, greggmediterraneanrestaurant.com
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.” —G.C.
City Councillor, Ward 5
From the Earth Salad | Characters Fine Dining
10257 105 St., 780-421-4100,
On the menu at Characters Fine Dining, the From the Earth Salad is simply described as a “beet salad with goat cheese, pine nuts and arugula.” But Michael Oshry knows that this humble description doesn’t do the dish justice.
For one thing, the salad is served on the blade of a shovel, making it look like the ingredients were freshly dug out of the soil. It’s a presentation that took the city councillor representing Ward 5 aback when he first ordered it.
“The first time I had that salad, I had no idea how it was served; [it was] quite the shock,” Oshry says. “It’s not kitschy but just cool and delicious. I would order it without the shovel, but it’s fun nonetheless.”
It may have been a shock, but Oshry keeps coming back — not just for the From the Earth Salad, but for the atmosphere, the service and the rest of the menu as well.
“Shonn [Oborowsky], the owner, runs a great place with fresh local dishes and really professional service. The place is not the trendiest in town but it is classy and consistent. It will be around for as long as he likes, I’m sure,” he says.
“I like that he also changes the menu from time to time. I order different items most times, depending what’s on the menu. Great fish, steak, dessert — I’ve really never had a disappointing meal there.” —G.C.
City Councillor, Ward 1
Green Curry Chicken Sandwich | S’wich Food Truck
various locations, 780-478-8805, facebook.com/SwichFoodTruck
Good things come to those who wait. But good things also come to those who aren’t willing to wait as long, as Andrew Knack found out.
When the city councillor for Ward 1 found himself hungry while attending a community event in the Parkview neighbourhood, he stumbled upon S’wich Food Truck and its green curry chicken sandwich, which has since become his food truck fare of choice in the city.
“I wasn’t going to get this, but the other food trucks had such long lineups that I picked the one with the shortest line,” Knack says.
Since that day, Knack will gladly stand in line to get his hands on the sandwich again.
“This sandwich reminds me of everything that I love about Edmonton during the spring, summer and fall. If they kept this truck going into winter, I’m sure I would add this season to my list as well,” he says.
“There’s nothing quite like going outside on a beautiful Edmonton day to see so many people out and about and enjoying a sandwich that doesn’t require me to sit down and only focus on the meal. I can take in all the sights and sounds of the city while enjoying the most delicious sandwich I can think of.
“It doesn’t hurt that they also have a wonderful peanut butter chocolate ice cream sandwich that I almost always have for dessert.” —G.C.
Executive Director/Chief Curator, Art Gallery of Alberta
Taro Root Pork Dumplings | Beijing Beijing
3803 Calgary Tr., 780-430-7720, beijingbeijing.ca
Catherine Crowston’s passion for art comes across in her extensive résumé, which includes everything from curating exhibitions to developing a seminar on curatorial studies for University of Alberta students.
However, she has another passion that may not be as well known. “I am a dim sum junkie,” Crowston confesses.
Her love of the compact Chinese treat has led her to sample the fare at most of the dim sum places in the city. She has been going to Beijing Beijing, a restaurant she says is “so good they named it twice,” for years.
It was named the best Chinese eatery in the city in Avenue’s Best Restaurants issue in March.
While Crowston says she can’t quite recall the first time she had her favorite dish there — the taro root pork dumplings — you can bet she’s ordering it any time she stops by.
“I love the combination of the crispy fried taro on the outside, the soft unctuous taro on the inside, with the salty richness of the pork filling. For me, it is both decadent and the perfect comfort food,” Crowston says.
In fact, it’s so good that she’s not willing to have it just once. “I usually order extra to take home for the next day.”
Vegan Crêpes | Under the High Wheel
8135 102 St., 780-439-4442,
Sometimes, navigating Edmonton’s food scene can be a rough ride when dealing with dietary restrictions like sensitivities to wheat and dairy products. Fortunately for local folk-rock singer Colleen Brown, she doesn’t have to venture far for her favourite fare that agrees with her stomach.
When Brown — who just released a new album, Direction, in March and toured through Europe in May and June — is in the city and has a hankering for brunch, she needs only venture a few blocks to find the vegan crêpes at Under the High Wheel.
“It’s in such a great location for me, close to my apartment and right below my yoga studio,”
Brown says. “This makes me sound like a walking new-age hippie artist stereotype. So be it!”
Brown’s love for Under the High Wheel goes beyond the crêpes — “I love all the wood in the room, and the delicious almond milk lattes,” she says — but it’s those light yet hearty buckwheat pancakes filled with roasted vegetables and topped with a red pepper sauce that keep her coming back.
“It’s just the right amount of food so that I always leave feeling satisfied but able to function without a nap. That’s my definition of a good meal!” —G.C.
Flan de Queso | Rostizado #102 10359 104 St.,
Diana Davidson is an Avenue Top 40 Under 40 alumni, library advocate and author of Pilgrimage, published in 2013 by Brindle and Glass.
“The Flan de Queso at Rostizado is a little taste of Mexico on Edmonton’s vibrant 104th Street.
“Flan de Queso is the perfect dessert to end a Rostizado meal of slow-fired pork, roasted cauliflower, and sautéed jade-coloured kale sprinkled with pumpkin seeds. The custard is also the perfect decadent after-work treat paired with house-made coffee infused with cinnamon or a sweet ‘Rosita’ tequila cocktail.
“Described on the menu as ‘Mexican caramel custard folded with cream cheese and garnished with almonds,’ the dessert is simultaneously light and heady, sweet and tangy, smooth and spongy. Flan de Queso is a seemingly simple dish layered with delicious contradiction.
“Rostizado’s dessert invokes the Mexico of Frida Kahlo: a romanticized place full of vibrant colour, parrots and monkeys, stories and legends, sugar skulls and intrigue. As you lift a spoonful of the sweet nutty custard to your mouth, you can imagine you might soon be tipping back mezcal with Frida and Diego on one of Rostizado’s velvet couches.” —S.S.
Amore Pescatore | Cafe Amore
10807 106 Ave., 780-477-7896,
When Melissa Bourgeois craves seafood, Cafe Amore is there to save the day. Bourgeois is a lawyer with Jomha Skrobot LLP and a member of the NorQuest College board of governance. And when she hears the call of the sea, she heads to the 106th Avenue eatery and orders up their signature dish, the Amore Pescatore.
“I order my Pescatore with the garlic white wine sauce, and when the heaping bowl of pasta topped with giant prawns, hard shell clams and juicy king crab legs arrives in front of me, I know I’m in for a tasty seafood feast,” she says.
“While the menu may state that this dish is made for one, I enjoy sharing it with someone else. For an added treat, we’ll often add one of their giant homemade meatballs on the side.”
The dish can also be ordered with tomato sauce instead of garlic white wine sauce.
But what heightens the experience even further for Bourgeois is the atmosphere at Cafe Amore.
“The comforting feel of the place begins when you first open the door, and are warmly greeted by the owners and brought to your table. The checkered tablecloths and candlelight on the tables create a space for intimate and easy dining conversation,” she says. —G.
Edmonton-St. Albert MP
Steamboat Jambalaya | Louisiana Purchase
10320 111 St., 780-420-6779,
Brent Rathgeber may represent the north end of Edmonton in the House of Commons, but when it comes to food, he likes to take a trip down south.
The current independent MP for the riding of Edmonton-St. Albert and former Progressive Conservative MLA for Edmonton-Calder says his pick for the best restaurant dish in the city is the Steamboat Jambalaya at Louisiana Purchase on 111th Street.
“When I first moved to Edmonton, my favourite live music venue was the Sidetrack Cafe — now long since closed,” Rathgeber says. “So a great evening would be to go out for dinner at Louisiana Purchase and then check out a band at the Sidetrack, which was in close proximity.”
The Steamboat Jambalaya is a blend of rice and crab, shrimp, mussels, whitefish, spicy sausage and vegetables, served with the restaurant’s special creole sauce and hush puppies.
“I don’t get there nearly as often as I used to, but I still enjoy going back occasionally and am never disappointed,” he says.
Being a big history buff, Rathgeber is also a huge fan of the name “Louisiana Purchase,” which refers to the United States’ acquisition of 828,000 square miles of land from France in 1803. —G.C.
Beef Burrito | El Rancho Spanish Restaurant
11810 87 St., 780-471-4930, website n/a
Chris Craddock was an Avenue Top 40 Under 40 in 2010, is an acclaimed playwright, and stars in the Super Channel show, Tiny Plastic Men.
“Now you may be saying, ‘Wait. A beef burrito? I can pronounce that. How good can it be?’ And my answer is: Damn good.
“I live near Alberta Avenue. The people here are sometimes a little more homemade and monochromatically tattooed than they are on Whyte Avenue. Sometimes they shout loudly and sometimes men in cars mistake my wife for a prostitute. It’s colourful and fun and sometimes sad, but, I’ve lived here six years and, so far, zero robberies, and only one spray painting.
“We’ve got our problems, sure. But we’ve got something else too. We’ve got El Rancho. That means we’ve got burritos for days, and we’ve got pupusas for weeks. Need warm comfort food? You need the tortilla soup! Is gluten your sworn enemy? I’ve got two words for you: Corn flour. Central Americans invented grinding corn into delicious carriages bound for mouth-town, so if you’re feeling a trifle celiac, they’ve got your back.
“The service isn’t trying to impress anybody. Sometimes the CD runs out and no one notices. The food can take a few minutes. But then your burrito is there. And everything is good. And you’re better. You’re a better person now.” —S.S.
Smoked Turkey Sandwich | New York Bagel Café
8430 Gateway Blvd., 780-432-2003, website n/a
Linda Duncan has travelled a lot. Going back and forth to Ottawa comes with the territory of representing the constituents of Edmonton-Strathcona in the House of Commons.
However, whenever she’s back home in Edmonton, her favourite thing to eat is right there in her riding.
“I was a longtime fan of New York Bagel Café well before they relocated to Gateway Boulevard. Regularly working out of town — Indonesia, Montreal, Bangladesh or now Ottawa — one of my first stops back home has always been for one of the best lattes in Edmonton and my usual fare of smoked turkey with cranberry on pumpernickel,” Duncan says.
Of course, while this cafe is an old standby, Duncan has continued to broaden her horizons, and now her culinary loyalties are split between a mother and a daughter.
“I must admit to now being torn between Grace’s fine fare at New York Bagel and her daughter Ada’s delicious cuisine at Under the High Wheel, both superb Edmonton-Strathcona establishments,” she says. —G.C.
President, Edmonton Digital Arts College
Hot and Dry Chicken | Chicken For Lunch
10060 Jasper Ave., 780-425-9614,
Owen Brierley knew what he was in for the first time he visited Chicken For Lunch, the food court kiosk in Scotia Place owned by the same family that owns the downtown Chinese food institution, The Lingnan.
“I had only heard about Amy [Quon] and her lunch place with a lineup akin to that of the Soup Nazi from Seinfeld. I was recommended to try the hot and dry chicken but was warned that Amy would often inform you what you wanted,” says the chattering Asian lady shouting orders to her troops and graciously yet efficiently serving customers. She recognized almost every one.”
However, given that Brierley was an unfamiliar face, his order was out of his hands: “She said, ‘You! You are new! You get medium and spicy!’”
Thankfully, though, the hot and dry chicken became one of Brierley’s favourites, and now Quon recognizes him when he stops by.
“Years later, I discovered that Amy was the matriarch of the Quon family and the featured family of a reality series. She remembered me and suggested that my students participate in her show in a design competition to redesign their delivery T-shirts. I still have the shirt. I still love hot and dry chicken.” —G.C.
Chair, Edmonton Chamber of Commerce
West Coast Cobb Salad | Confederation Lounge, Hotel Macdonald
10065 100 St., 780-424-5181,
When they’re just wilted greens and bland dressing, salads can be pretty boring. But the West Coast Cobb Salad at the Hotel Macdonald’s Confederation Lounge is anything but boring, and that’s why Jerri L. Cairns loves it.
Cairns is a lawyer at local firm Parlee McLaws LLP and the 2015 chair of the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce. If she’s looking to unwind from those duties, though, you can sometimes find her at the
Hotel Macdonald enjoying her favourite dish.
“The perfect place to enjoy this creation is on the deck looking out over our city’s beautiful river valley,” she says. “I have had many memorable lunches on this patio.”
The West Coast Cobb Salad is so much more than lettuce and dressing. Atop a base of romaine sits a wide array of “goodies,” as Cairns puts it, including avocado, blue cheese, pancetta, egg, salted cashews, dried cherries and, of course, lobster. It’s all topped off with a sherry tarragon dressing.
“It provides a nice crunchy healthy taste along with assorted goodies mixed in to make it very interesting and flavorful,” says Cairns, who likes to pair the salad with a glass of Cloudy Bay sauvignon blanc. —G.C.
City Councillor, Ward 2
Macaroni and Cheese | Zinc
2 Sir Winston Churchill Square, 780-
Getting elected to city council in 2013 not only gave Bev Esslinger the chance to advocate for her constituents in Ward 2, it also introduced her to one of her favourite restaurant dishes in the city.
Just a stone’s throw from Edmonton City Hall lies Zinc, the restaurant attached to the Art Gallery of Alberta, where Esslinger has had many business and personal lunches. And when she’s there, she almost invariably goes for the macaroni and cheese.
“It was always mentioned by the staff as to the macaroni and cheese special of the day, which always intrigued me but, once I tried it, I tend to order it regularly,” she says.
It’s the “special of the day” because, while the macaroni and the cheese are always present, the chefs at Zinc change up what else goes into the dish on a daily basis. It’s an approach that Esslinger says reminds her of her childhood.
“Growing up in a large family, my mom would get ‘creative’ with her macaroni and throw everything but the kitchen sink in there to ensure she had enough for the family!
“There’s nothing like comfort food with a twist,” she adds. —G.C.
Co-host, Dinner Television on Citytv
Bacon, Onion Jam, Arugula, Cheddar, Herb and Fried Egg Sandwich | Elm Café
100, 10140 117 St., 780-756-3356, elmcafe.ca
When it comes to a tasty sandwich, Bridget Ryan is always on high alert.
The co-host of Dinner Television on Citytv is always keeping an eye on Twitter to find out what daily sandwich chef Nate Box is serving up at Elm Café each day. And if that sandwich happens to be the one in the rotation topped with bacon, onion jam, arugula, cheddar, herbs and a fried egg, then all bets are off.
While hosting Breakfast Television up until a short while ago, Ryan was often at work when those tweets came through. “And I just wanted to turn to my guest and say, ‘I’m sorry — Nate’s got the bacon-onion jam-arugula sandwich today. Been a slice, but I’ve got to go!’”
The combination of bacon, onion jam and arugula might sound a bit weird, but Ryan insists it’s worth yelling from the rooftops about.
“It’s fresh! It’s delicious! It’s light!” she says. “He puts foods together that make your mind bend, then you taste it and you scream, ‘Onion jam forever!’ Plus there’s the underused and misunderstood arugula, which adds a certain freshness and spice.”
Sandwiches like this one make Ryan feel as though she has a special connection with Elm Café’s culinary mastermind.
“I’m pretty sure Nate Box is my spirit animal — whatever that means.” —G.C.
Edmonton Oilers goaltender; director of communications, Ronald McDonald House Charities Northern Alberta
French Toast | Hap’s Hungry House
16060 Stony Plain Rd, 780-483-2288,
He’s a goalie for the Edmonton Oilers; she’s the director of communications for Ronald McDonald House Charities Northern Alberta and one of the stars of the reality show Hockey Wives. She’s from California; he hails from Spruce Grove. They met while they were both studying at Cornell University.
Before Ben became an Oiler, he played for the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Los Angeles Kings. When he and Jenny came home to visit family, they’d gather at Hap’s, the Stony Plain Road diner with the parking lot that, during the morning and early afternoon hours, always seems to be jammed. That tradition continues to this day.
While they also listed Vivo and the Sugarbowl as favourites, Hap’s has a special place in their hearts — and in their stomachs.
“I know it’s not glamorous, but we’ve been going there with family for years and it’s kind of off the beaten path,” says Jenny.
Their favourite item is the brunch standard of French toast. Jenny has hers with coffee, while Ben goes with the chocolate milk.
They like to get it with bacon, but Hap’s offers a wealth of side-dish options, including pastrami, a hamburger patty or a pork chop. Advice? Go there really hungry.
Cha Shu Ramen | Tokyo Noodle Shop
10736 82 Ave., 780-430-0838, tokyonoodleshop.com
A release party was held at the Citadel Theatre in June for Marty Chan’s new book, Infinity Coil. It features his magical character for young adults, Ehrich Weisz.
“My favourite restaurant dish? That’s like asking a parent who their favourite kid is. If I’m going to have to pick just one, I’d say the cha shu ramen at Tokyo Noodle Shop.
“I blame the Japanese movie Tampopo for triggering my craving for ramen. I had been on a quest to find the noodle dish ever since I saw the scene in the movie where an old man teaches a young man how to eat ramen. When I sat down at the Tokyo Noodle Shop, I knew my quest was over.
“These days, I’ve hooked my brother Danny on the same dish. We never got to pal around when we were growing up, because of the 15-year difference in our ages. Now that we’re both adults, we get to hang out, and we almost always do it over bowls of ramen at the Tokyo Noodle Shop. He hates the boiled egg and always scoops it into my bowl. It’s become a ritual whenever we go to this restaurant.
“Now that I think of it, I’ve become the old man in the movie who taught the young man how to eat ramen.” —S.S
Edmonton Eskimos President/CEO
“The Original” Burger | Original Joe’s
12520 102 Ave., 780-452-3034,
Peanuts, hot dogs and nachos are pretty standard fare around Commonwealth Stadium during Edmonton Eskimos games. But away from the field, Len Rhodes’s tastes are a little more refined.
When it’s not game day, Rhodes — the president and CEO of the Canadian Football League franchise — likes to chow down on “The Original” Burger and a side of sweet potato fries at Original Joe’s on 102nd Avenue.
“It’s a place where I can go to unwind,” Rhodes says. “‘The Original’ goes well with a fine ale, especially on the patio during a hot summer day. The restaurant draws people from all walks of life from the community and it is a great place to meet friends.”
“The Original” is the restaurant’s basic burger and comes with lettuce, tomato, dill pickles and red onion, although any number of toppings and cheeses can be added for $1.25 each.
Another reason why Rhodes is a fan of Original Joe’s is because it is very accommodating of his four-legged companions
“My girlfriend, Maureen, and I have brought our foster service dog in training from Dogs with Wings and everyone — staff and customers — was extremely receptive to having her with us,” he says. —G.C.
Filet Mignon | Bistro Praha
10117 101 St., 780-424-4218,
Mark Meer has always had close ties to the Edmonton theatre scene so it’s fitting that his favourite restaurant dish would, too.
The actor and writer — a star of the Super Channel series, Tiny Plastic Men, who is also known for providing
the voice of Commander Shepard in the bestselling Mass Effect video game series — can trace his love of the filet mignon at Bistro Praha back to his early days finding out what the local arts scene had to offer.
“My parents have had season tickets to the Citadel Theatre since I was a kid, and Bistro Praha was where we would always go for our traditional after-theatre meal,” Meer says.
He adds that he has sampled many of the restaurant’s menu items over the 30-plus years he has been going there — including the “excellent” steak tartare — but the filet of triple-A Alberta beef, which is listed on the menu as Bistro Praha’s specialty, keeps pulling him back in.
“I went into severe withdrawal when they had to close down for a couple of years, after a fire at their original location on Rice Howard Way,” he says. “Thankfully, they’ve re-opened in a new location downtown.” —G.C.
Creative director, Curio Studio
Taster Plate | Culina Millcreek
9914 89 Ave., 780-437-5588, culinafamily.com
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.” —S.S.
City Councillor, Ward 11
Cinnamon Toast | Saratoga Restaurant
2610 Calgary Tr., 780-437-0071, website n/a
A taste of Mike Nickel’s childhood has stayed with him all these years thanks to a simple dish served up in a little diner on the south side.
When asked about his favourite thing to eat in Edmonton, the city councillor for Ward 11 waxes nostalgic about the cinnamon toast at the Saratoga Restaurant on Calgary Trail. In fact, he remembers the first time he tried it “like it was yesterday.” “When I was a kid, we were going on a field trip. This is way back when; I was in Grade 1 or 2. We stopped off to have a quick breakfast, and I had cinnamon toast for the first time,” Nickel says.
He adds that, even though he has travelled all over the globe since then and eaten all kinds of food, cinnamon toast always keeps him coming back for more.
“I’m not a sweets guy; I don’t like sweets. I don’t even like chocolate. Most people find that bizarre when you come from a German family. … But when I make a snack at home, I make cinnamon toast. A glass of milk and cinnamon toast — does it get any better than that?” —G.C.
Host, The Ryan Jespersen Show on 630 CHED
Angel Hair Sergio | Rigoletto’s Cafe
10305 100 Ave., 780-429-0701, rigolettos.com
When Avenue asked Top 40 Under 40 alumnus, former Breakfast Television and current 630 CHED host Ryan Jespersen to nominate his favourite dish in Edmonton, he mulled it over for quite a while. In the end, though, he couldn’t get away from the first dish that popped into his head: the Angel Hair Sergio at Rigoletto’s Cafe.
“From the moment I met [chef] Sergio Turlione, I was struck by his simple, casual, no frills, from-scratch approach to classic Italian cuisine. We’ve had some special nights at Rigoletto’s Cafe,” Jespersen says, referring to wife Kari Skelton, co-host of The Wake Up! Show on Up! 99.3.
The dish is comprised of a spicy blackened chicken breast served atop angel hair pasta, with roasted red peppers and a light sauce made with garlic and extra virgin olive oil.
“Rigoletto’s Cafe doesn’t see much time in the spotlight when it comes to Edmonton’s Italian restaurants — several of them are within a five-block radius — but the quality of the food there belongs on the short list,”
Jespersen says. “It’s one of Edmonton’s best-kept downtown dining secrets.” —G.C.