Increasingly recognized for its dining culture, Edmonton has dining hot spots that are just waiting to be explored, offering everything from comforting Southern cuisine to polished bistro fare and cocktails. If you don't know where to go, start with these five spots.
Andrew Borley, Jordan Clemens and Evan Watson were a boozy beverage consulting troupe called the Volstead Act before opening a swanky cocktail lounge on Jasper Avenue. Clementine is 1920s Paris meets Bourbon Street, New Orleans, a supperclub with an apothecary undertone—imagine sitting under vintage light fixtures, suffering the dilemma of choosing between cognac, mezcal, or Japanese whisky while a GQ-worthy pharmacist calmly extols the virtues of Bonal Quinquina. There is precision, thoughtfulness, and historical anecdotes delivered in each perfectly executed libation. The trio built the space from the ground up, relying on Borley’s training as an architect and the creativity and muscle of Watson and Clemens. Hemingway would feel comfortable here. In fact, he resides in spirit: his works, along with those of other literary greats, loop on the audio system in the washrooms.
The kitchen is not an afterthought. Au contraire: like the cocktails and conscientiously curated wine list, the food details are decisive, and carried out under the watchful eye and guiding hand of chef Roger Letourneau, who along with his teammates, Ashley Brandin and Chris Szelagiewicz, bring culinary lessons learned from time spent in Europe. There is gratuitous fermenting of and preserving of various components, along with hearty preparations of lamb and duck. Expect intriguing ingredients like raw milk, sorghum and sea buckthorn to make an appearance; do not expect fried chicken.
No tipping allowed. Really. And, that’s just fine by the staff members who are hired as professional servers and paid a fair living wage to serve breakfast, lunch and brunch on weekends at Café Linnea. A gratuity-free dining experience is a rare concept in Canada, but one that is paying off here. Servers are confident, competent and well-versed in product knowledge—they have to be to meet the high standards set by owner, Garner Beggs (he of Duchess Bakeshop), and co-owner, chef Kelsey Johnson.
You’d never know this beautiful bright room was once a dull, denim factory. Now appointed with mid-century modern furnishings and accented with copper, wood, and Chartreuse green, the room exudes an elegant, organic vibe. The Scandinavian-French-influenced food mirrors the progressive business model and refined setting: oeufs en cocotte, sweet and savoury galettes, salmon gravlax, tarts, and a hearty Farmer’s Breakfast with braised beef cheeks. The menu will change depending on the season and what the producers are bringing to the door. There will be lineups—as expected for a Duchess offspring.
Brought to you by Michael Maxxis, video producer and filmmaker, the room above El Cortez has a floor-to-ceiling painting of Conway Twitty on a brick wall, and wire cages on the booths across from the stage—reminiscent of the rowdy honky-tonks in the Deep South. Neon light glows off corrugated tin paneling and shiny naugahyde banquettes. Tacky wallpaper is oddly appropriate and water is served in George Dickel Rye bottles. Maxxis obviously had fun designing this set.
Food is unpretentious and unforgiving: a heaping helping of Frito-Lay corn chips topped with pulled pork and buttermilk ranch dip; fried green tomatoes with sausage gravy; shrimp and grits. Don’t worry, you can work off those calories on the dance floor. Live bands play every Friday and Saturday night. Wednesday is half price whiskey night, something to keep in mind if you’re a bourbon lover. This “southern table and bar” has one of the best bourbon selections in town as well as a very fine cocktail list. There’s also a fridge stocked with cold PBR because sometimes, you just need a good, cold brew. Have Mercy makes no apologies, as their motto states: “Where we eat good food, drink booze, and talk loud.”
The name means “little bird” in Italian and reflects the light-hearted, fun atmosphere in Daniel Costa’s third restaurant on Jasper Avenue, right next to Bar Bricco and Corso 32. The room is modern minimalism at its best—long, lean and narrow; an expanse of white with touches of grey and red. A standup bar makes the waiting a bit more bearable; expect lineups even though half the room is made available for walk-ins. Good to know: a smaller room upstairs can be reserved for private parties.
Costa doesn’t mess with his recipe for success. Like Corso 32 and Bar Bricco, he offers exquisite Italian food made with the finest ingredients. At Uccellino, the fare is simple and comforting, like the fettunta, a crostini topped with garlic, rosemary and sea salt, with an option to have it served with whipped lardo. My advice? Never say no to lardo, especially the silky lusciousness that is prepared here. Also, consider the maccheroni pig’s head and prosciutto ragu bianco, a cheesy, intense ragu that slips inside each piece of penne pasta. Desserts, as we’ve come to expect from Costa, can bring one to one’s knees. He does it here with an innocent enough looking slice of chocolate cake, called the Amedei budino, in fact a sinful coupling of ganache and chocolate torta. One bite, and it is full-on amore.
The Local Omnivore
A wall made out of wood pallets, tables and chairs salvaged from a reclamation store, a black bull’s head and random graffiti from one too many late night cocktail parties: that pretty much explains the décor at The Local Omnivore. Owners Ryan Brodziak and Mark Bellows’ lackadaisical attitude towards interior design is all part of the charm at this spot favoured by many food industry people in Edmonton.
The long-time friends traded in their food truck for a permanent shop in a light industrial area of Queen Mary Park, much to the relief of the legion of fans that followed them. It’s all about meat at the Omnivore: brined, roasted, smoked and served up in consistently solid sandwiches. Hard to pick a favourite between the Big Bird (turkey) or Mr. Pink (smoked pork); both sammies piled to the rafters with succulent meaty bits, but then again, the burger is arguably, the best patty in town. Go big here and order two patties (the double ground brisket turns to caramelized magic on the flat top) with cheese and in-house smoked bacon on a grilled brioche bun; and then try and contain your moaning. The clear winner for brunch is the Pirate Poutine, a pile of shoe-string Kennebec fries with copious cheese curds, vegetarian gravy, plus two fried eggs and citrus hollandaise. Go Saturday; you can always repent on Sunday.