The Cowboy Of The Canadian Prairies – Travel Notes On Edmonton, Alberta
If Edmonton was a person, it would be a guy.
Definitely, a guy.
In this 30s. Let’s say, 34.
He is not very tall, stocky, broad shoulders. Blue jeans, work boots.
He strikes the balance between obnoxious and polite. The former is achieved via driving a truck that is way too big and way too loud to be functional. The latter is what his mama taught him, and he calls women “ma’am”, and refers to his girlfriend as his “lady”.
He likes a couple of beers on the patio. He is good with his hands.
He drinks Tim Hortons coffee (double-double) and scoffs at the snooty “fancy pants” shops serving London fog and other nonsense, that have been popping up in his town in the last few years.
He is grounded.
Down to earth.
Meat and potatoes.
pop’n > 800,000
Edmonton is the 5th largest city in the country, and is the oil capital of Canada. Many folks work shifts – three weeks on, one week off, or similar weird schedules. Edmonton has the second largest Aboriginal population – 5% of the city’s population, and second only to Winnipeg.
Edmonton also boasts the largest mall in North America (complete with a water park!), and is sometimes referred to as Canada’s Festival City. The patio culture is in full bloom. The summer is so short, that the whole city is outdoors in the months of June, July and August. There are festivals, concerts, events, and craft beer on tap at every corner bar.
It gets dark really late in the summer – the city is north enough to really notice a difference. My friend and I found ourselves going to bed with sun still up – a pretty weird experience, and one I did not have ever since visiting St.Petersburg in the summer (where it does not get completely dark at all for few weeks).
Roads get busy during rush hour, as the city is divided by the river, so the bridges act as bottlenecks (Pittsburgh suffers from a similar problem). Due to its size, everything is still only twenty minutes away though.
#yeg is the Edmonton hashtag, referring to the main airport code, and it has been trending as one of the top hashtags in Canada! Tag your Edmonton pics with #yeg like the cool kids. 🙂
Black Pearl. Oysters, cocktails.
Wood Work. Cocktails after work – try lavender fizz cocktail. Food will be decent, but overpriced. Pro tip – get dinner somewhere else.
3 Boars. Farm to table, Canadian flavours – think pork belly and savoury oats.
Meat. Wooden tables, patio, tasty Brussel sprouts, and as the name suggests – meat. Piles of smoked meat. Take your favorite carnivore here, and he/she will be in heaven.
Rostezado. Mexican vibe – Mescal cocktails, and tapas – everything fresh and flavourful. Would definitely do this one again!
Cafe Bicyclette. Do this one in the summer (hell, do Edmonton in the summer). A little bit of France, a little bit of Quebec. Bicycle theme, and nice ambiance. Expect omelettes and quiches. Great option for brunch.
RNG RD. Another Canadian farm to table option. Get a reservation, and expect smaller portions, but really rich flavours.
Ampersand 27. A good place for dinner and drinks. The menu has Italian vibe, fancified. Expect gnocchi, and pizza. Corn fritters were pretty awesome.
Clementine. Cocktails hands down. And food is supposed to be quite good! For bonus points, ask for “surprise me” cocktail from your bartender. Give’em a hard liquor and your mood, and they’ll jam something up for you.
On my radar for next time:
Black Dog – casual bar on Whyte Avenue, with nice patio
Biera – Asian notes, fancier dishes
When looking for good coffee, where do you start?
Few initial Google searches start to turn up the same names over and over – Transcend, Credo and a couple more. A couple of alternatives pop up – perhaps, from the list of most original cafes or the most unusual. Then, I start cross-referencing the short list of candidates with word of mouth. Where do locals go? Of course, it goes without saying that the said locals must be into coffee. The pattern repeats itself – few already familiar and a couple of new places come up.
For bonus points, strike up a conversation with the barista (or even better, the owner), and ask them where ELSE they’d send you for coffee. They may be able to recommend great places for food also.
Here’s Edmonton in a cup.
If you just want good coffee, you won’t need to go further. You know the place means coffee when ask you what kind of espresso you would prefer (Ethiopian, please – notes of lemon, cane sugar, and Assam tea). And they roast their own beans in town. This is Edmonton’s “Pilot Coffee”, so to speak. There are a couple of locations, I checked out the original location on Argyll – you have to step down into the basement. You will also find Transcend served at few cafes around town – Garneau Cafe, and Ritchie Market Cafe and Roastery.
The coffeeshop itself has a pretty cool vibe – this could be someone’s loft – and it has everything you expect – from single origins to overpriced cookies, and reclaimed wooden tables. You also have white brick walls, black and white photography hanging on strings, and Apple laptops only. Not sure if the latter is the official policy, but it sure seemed that way. Beards, glasses and skinny jeans. More on that here.
Credo serves Intelligentsia coffee – a large roasting company from Chicago. In general, I do not like their coffee that much, but it can be a solid option if you do not have time to check out a local roaster, and don’t want to be caught at Starbucks. Their espresso tastes darker, but less acidic. I do find myself adding cream though to soften the flavour.
Coffee mugs matter, and Credo gets it. Their mugs are white with thick edges – perfect.
The cafe is in the business district, and you can tell. Ten in the morning, and it’s suits, suits, suits. They all look like they shop at the same place too – grey pants, blue shirts, glasses, wedding ring. This feels too busy and too businessy. It reminds me of Deville in Calgary, but that place manages to feel more cozy somehow (even in the dead of winter). Do check out a local chocolate shop next door though.
* I was sad to find out that this place closed, this was my favorite coffee shop in Edmonton. You can still buy beans online, and the word on the street is that they might open a different location soon. I will definitely check if they do next time I am in town.
I found this little gem half a mile away from where I was staying – located in a somewhat industrial area, it could easily be a CrossFit box. This is where they roast coffee as well, so you get the roaster ambiance and scent! The shop is spacious and open, not busy, and serves the best Americano I tried in town.
I walked in, and I walked out. I am sure that their coffee is perfectly good, but, it was a little too green for me. Organic cane sugar and agave nectar as sweeteners, and strong smell of some hippy incense. Not what I associate with excellent coffee.
Just the wrong vibe.
Remedy did redeem itself somewhat once I checked out their larger location – it seems like a university hangout, hippy green juice place and a posh conference room all in one, with tall tables where students seem to brainstorm or do whatever students do. 🙂 Can be a good spot for a race strategy or debrief session.
Their coffee was just ok. This is the place I’d come to have lunch with a friend after walking around on Whyte Avenue, Edmonton’s version of Toronto’s Queen Street.
They serve salads, sandwiches, and great looking pastries. Yet, I would not go out of my way to make it here.
The set up and furniture is a mix of a GoodWill and an antique shop. Comfy couches. The barista seemed too distracted to be friendly. They also have booze, so you can have Bailey’s in your coffee if you so choose.
Perhaps, my favorite place in town to grab breakfast and coffee – it’s tucked away in a residential neighbourhood, away from the hustle and bustle. The shop is in the old residential house, so you can choose seating from two rooms, or hang out outside. This is what you’d refer to as “quaint”. Scones look to die for.
Lock Stock Coffee
This would be my choice for a heart to heart conversation with a friend – if you get the timing right. This is a coffee shop and bar in one, so you’ll be sipping your Americano sitting in a bar booth with dim lighting. Many work meetings and brainstorming sessions seem to be taking place here.
This diner only opened recently in Oliver neighbourhood – a good place to grab breakfast with a group of friends. Coffee is good enough – they use ACE beans – and avocado toast looks good. And it’s conveniently located next to MEC – stock up on energy gels for the race before heading out of town. 🙂
Also, on my radar:
Farrow –> for coffee and sandwiches
BRU Coffee + Beer House –> salads
Da Capo Caffe –> Italian style espresso bar and lunch spot
Garneau Cafe –> serves Transcend coffee
Ritchie Market Cafe and Roastery –> serves Transcend coffee