This morning on CBC Edmonton A.M., I talked about what the year ahead will bring for the Edmonton food scene.
Food in Stores
Expect high costs, still, I’m sorry to report, so, if you’ve never planted a garden or canned fruit or pickled vegetables, consider doing all of that for 2024. If you’ve got space for a greenhouse, check out My Own Greenhouse, a locally owned and operated company that manufactures custom greenhouses near Leduc. You can pick it up as a ready-to-assemble package or have them haul it to you as an already assembled unit. Their knowledge on planting and growing food and the construction of these greenhouses is above par.
There will be more focus on and production of “functional foods” which are foods with ingredients that provide an extra health benefit beyond nutritional value i.e. mood-boosting and relaxation snacks or gut-friendly probiotics and prebiotics that are found in fermented foods (yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, and pickles).
Fermented foods are going to be popular (more popular?) in general because 1) they’re good for your gut health 2) they add zip to any meal 3) they’re fun and relatively easy to make, so its a good skill for beginners and anyone looking to take up a new hobby that might help out your food budget, too. If you want to buy pickled foods, go see the Queen of the Pickle Scene, Johwanna Alleyne, at Mojo Jojo Pickles on Whyte Avenue (great store, btw, more than pickled goods), or look for any of Chef Roger Letourneau’s Lessig fermented products. His products are crazy delicious and can be found mostly in independent stores like the ones listed below in their Instagram post. You’ll find Mojo Jojo pickles at some independent food stores, too, as well as major grocery retailers.
I’d recommend following these three accounts on Instagram to keep up to speed on their latest projects and offerings: 1) My Own Greenhouse https://www.instagram.com/myowngreenhouse 2) Mojo Jojo https://www.instagram.com/mojojojopickles/ 3) Lessig Ferments https://www.instagram.com/lessigferments/
Food in Restaurants
2024 comes in with a deeper commitment to eating foods that are harvested in season and grown by conscientious local producers. Hallelujah. And yes, I will take this opportunity to plug the cookbook I wrote with my friend, Dan Clapson. It’s called Prairie, and it came out in August 2023. It’s all about seasonal eating with a focus on lessening food waste and you can get it at major book stores, through Amazon and at independent bookstores like Audreys and Glass Bookshop (if you can support the small guys, please do!)
If you’re looking at dining out, it’s places like Rge Rd and Smokey Bear who will stay at the top of the heap because of their commitment to quality, seasonal, locally grown ingredients. Yarrow has a new chef, Taylor Corbett, who is also doing great things with seasonal local/regional and fermented foods. Dining at this tiny restaurant is a full evening experience with a set menu that offers creative, exquisite preparations at top dollar prices (for Edmonton). I went when Tony Tipping was cheffing there, and it was fantastic.
Our dining scene continues to see more mom and pop teams lovingly offer their foods from far away places: Colombia, Mexico, India, Vietnam, Thailand and so many more. It is mind-boggling how many of these places opened in 2023, and it’s not stopping, which makes me very, very happy. Check out Mai Mai Vietnamese Kitchen on the southwest side, and Thai Avenue in the far north. Both worth the drive if you’re close to neither. If you’re downtown on 104 Street, hit up Desilicious for Indian cuisine (dal, dosas, Indo-Chinese dishes) and ChongQin (CQ) Noodle & Bubble for fantastic homemade Sichuan food.
Also: more plant-based options. Everywhere.
Community and Connecting over Food: How, Where and Why
Locally, Italian food stores have been doing something for years that others are now clueing in on and that’s having a cafe inside the grocery store. Seems so obvious, doesn’t it? Provide a space for customers to spend money on coffee and lunch before or after they spend money on groceries in your store. Meuwly’s on 124 Street has a few tables in their space, too, and they’re licensed so, order a sandwich and have a beer before filling up the grocery basket with things like Lessig condiments, Mojo Jojo products, fresh cheese, chocolate, and other tasty goods.
Look for L’OCA Quality Market to open in Sherwood Park this spring. It’s a store with fresh baked goods, gourmet takeaway meals and two restaurants, and judging by the ringers they’ve got in the kitchen (led by Top Chef Canada winner, Paul Moran) this place is going to be awesome.
Restaurants are also popping up in cool spaces, like The Colombian who just opened up their fourth location in an old Todd’s Drycleaner’s space on 99 Street; Station Park, a shipping container on Whyte Ave/Gateway Blvd has food, retail and an event space, too, and Bar Henry, a licensed café in the new Henry Singer store, downtown (Ice District) has Daniel Costa behind the food and drink there. Love the ingenuity and creativity that is happening. I hope more and more people get creative with how and where they set up shop.
More low-alcohol and no-alcohol drinks and spirits. This is an ever-growing and ever-improving market. Ready-to-drink cocktails called RTDs are also becoming more and more popular. They look and sound good but so many taste awful, to be honest. They’re convenient, though, so they sell.
Expect to see more local distillers making more wonderful spirits. Seriously talented people in this industry. Edmonton has a wild gin scene.
More coffee shops will open with more in-house roasting and more craft beer will be made, and those breweries will continue to partner with chefs doing popups in the brewery or have foods availalbe like pizza, wings and other easy-to-order plates. Those trains aren’t slowing down anytime soon.
That’s what’s in store for 2024. Hope you’re hungry (and thirsty!).