Travel Thursday: Edmonton - A Great Mesh of City and Country Living with a Hip Young Artistic Twist.
When looking at places to escape Florida in the summer, I always look to the north. Growing up in Maine, I know the summers near and north of the 45th parallel are some of the best around. They give residents and visitors that sweet spot of wonderful days and nice temperate evenings. When the chance was offered to experience a summer weekend in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, I knew what was being offered.
When in a new city, I enjoy just getting to my hotel and unpacking and exhaling, so an arrangement with Apex Limousine to pick me up at the arrival level of the Edmonton Airport with my name on a sign was what I needed, especially after the long day of travel.
The urban population of Edmonton is estimated at 980,000 with a metropolitan area estimated at 1.8 million, making it the 6th largest CMA by population in Canada.
Just across the street from Edmonton proper is the neighborhood of Old Strathcona, where we would be staying at Metterra Hotel on Whyte.
Whyte (also 82nd Ave), where the Metterra is located, is an eclectic little area of the city with small happening bars, many with rooftop decks, a multitude of ethnic restaurants, and entertainment venues where most of the Edmonton International Fringe Thatre Festival was to be held.
My room on the top and 8th floor overlooked Whyte. The nightlife seemed to call to me to go out every night I was there.
Metterra Hotel on Whyte is a luxury boutique hotel that combines the simplicity of contemporary custom-designed furnishings with an eclectic collection of global artifacts and unique art. It is conveniently situated on Whyte Avenue in Edmonton’s coolest neighborhood amongst numerous stylish bistros, spas and shops.
After a great night's rest and a relaxing morning and afternoon, it was time to prepare for our first true dinner in Alberta. When going to a new city, in this case a new country, branch out and do new things you don’t have readily available at home. We took a 40-minute ride out of the city to Prairie Garden Farms for the RGE RD Long Table Dinner Experience.
The evening started with meeting Chef/Owner Blair Lebsack and his staff. We mixed in touring the farm with appetizers, tour, salad served on 6-foot planks, tour, and then dinner. Mix up your seating I you go with a group to meet new people as you enjoy elegant, fresh from the farm offerings. The meats, vegetables, and wines presented helped to levitate our first Edmonton dining experience to one that will be remembered for years (and the handsome Irish man with the beautiful accent helped, too).
RGE RD Long Table Dinner at Prairie Gardens Farm is prairie cuisine at its finest. Their tastes and dishes are inspired by the country’s fields and forests, our mountains and oceans. Explore the tastes that Western Canada has to offer. RGE RD sources ingredients and provisions from farms and small-scale producers across Western Canada. The menu is dictated by the season, and we aim to use every part of every ingredient.
We’re excited to once again give you a chance to meet the people and places that grow our food. As always, these evenings feature hors d’oeuvres, a tour of the farm, and a five-course meal using ingredients grown on site. As a bonus, each dinner is paired with fantastic BC wines and a cocktail with local ingredients. We love to show what cuisine is possible from our own back yard!
When considering a trip to Edmonton, plan to be a little city mouse and a little country mouse for then you will get the best of all this city and its surrounding area have to offer. The next morning we continued with the country aspect and drove 40-minutes way to visit Elk Island National Park. Yes, there are elk there as well as herds of buffalo/bison (which most Canadians pronounce as bizon) and a ton of beaver. We mainly saw bison and a great amount of bird life. I would recommend the journey out there, ask at the gate where the wildlife seem to be active that day, and enjoy nature. There are several hiking trails through the woods as well as around the lake that sits in the center of the park
Elk Island National Park
Less than an hour’s drive from a capital city a million people strong is a place of quietness, where pristine starry skies shine next to city lights. This is where Cree and Métis have lived and hunted, and generations of families have chosen to picnic and play.
Elk Island National Park has higher densities of hoofed mammals per square kilometer than any other area in the world, and is the cornerstone of Canada’s bison conservation story. Without this place and the dedication of its people, herds of plains and woods bison would not thrive in Canada today. Connections are made here; it is where you can become a steward of these iconic creatures, and discover their importance to the heart and soul of this nation.
If you’ve read many of my travel pieces, you will see that food is an integral part my experiencing a city. A short distance from the hotel was where we had lunch and a brewery tour at Situation Brewing.
This is where we learned that Canadians cannot legally order a burger of any temperature they desired. All burgers (any chopped or ground meat formed into a patty) need to be cooked well done. I think we were questioning this law throughout our time in Canada as we ate steak tartare and beef carpaccio. Not in a patty so raw was okay!
Situation Brewing Company, located in the heart of Old Strathcona, is a fully functioning microbrewery. They are dedicated to crafting a rotating line up of exciting beers, all brewed onsite. Pop in for a brewery tour, a pint, or a meal in the attached restaurant with views of the the brewers hard at work.
The Situation Brewing Company was soon followed by a jump into one of the local hubs of Canadian culture, a visit to the Art Gallery of Alberta (AGA). I am not a true fan of all art, but some of the exhibits were quite pleasing here. One of my favorite was Hubert Hohn: Edmonton Entrances and Suburban Landscapes. It had us looking at doorways and landscapes for the rest of our time in Canada. There are no permanent exhibits in AGA so repeat visits are recommended.
Art Gallery of Alberta
With a swirling exterior of zinc, glass and steel inspired by Edmonton’s unique northern environment – its silver colour reflect the shimmering, multi-coloured Aurora Borealis – the Art Gallery of Alberta exudes creativity even from the outside. Los Angeles-based architect Randall Stout’s stunning structure has put a modern spin on Alberta’s oldest cultural institution. With a collection of over 6,000 objects, the AGA is a Western Canadian centre of excellence for visual arts offering original contemporary and historical exhibitions from Alberta, across Canada and around the world throughout three bright and airy floors of viewing space.
When I visit a new city, I find it beneficial just to get out there and walk. I feel you learn more about a city if you’re not just driving from one destination to the next. One of those walkable street is 4th Street Promenade.
4th Street Promenade is a sophisticated neighborhood in the heart of Edmonton that offers an urban atmosphere in which you can admire the arts, fine food, and unique boutiques. A distinguished destination to live, work and play, 4th Street Promenade, as its often called, is becoming one of the most exciting areas in Edmonton.
Not only is it home to Canada's only outdoor Neon Sign Museum, it also is the home to several great haunts like Credo Coffee, habitat etc, and Jacek Chocolate Couture where we bought our whisky chocolate.
As we walked into the basement of Vacancy Hall, we were pleasantly surprised to see little shops maybe half the size of a container truck or less were tangent to an artistic central hallway.
The idea behind Vacancy Hall is to give people time and a place to try out their business concept before they launch into a more expensive real world.
The below ground business were able to fine tune all the best practices before leaping up and out and into higher priced rental spaces with larger leasing contracts. Stop in and support some budding businesses.
One place that did not need fine tuning and still on the 4th Street Promenade is Rostizados / Tacos at Tres Carnales
Make friends with one of the tres carnales or one of the three homies, brothers, or cousins.
For the boys at Tres Carnales, they wanted their name to have Mexican influence while defining all three owners and their passion for food. They went down the list of typical taqueria names until they thought of Carnales. Carnal means homie. It’s basically Spanish slang meaning brother or cousin. For owners Dani Braun, Edgar Gutierrez, and Chris Sills, it was a unanimous decision to pick the name that best represented their friendship. At first, customers thought the meaning behind the name had to do with three meats, but it’s three bros. - eatnorth.com
The authenticity of the food as well as the flavors were on point. We shared a table with other visitors to Edmonton that were from Texas as well as Mexico City and they were truly having a wonderful food experience, too. Let the waiters pick for you the first time here and you will enjoy every bite.
Rostizados / Tacos at Tres Carnales
So unique, you’ll actually think you’re in Mexico, Tres Carnales offers a truly interactive dining experience. Dedicated to farm to table, sustainability and community, Tres Carnales takes delicious traditional recipes and brings them to life in a bold and fresh way. Grab a Jarrito and some fish tacos, but try to wait until you’re finished before you order seconds.
Just around the corner was one of the LGBT hang outs found in Edmonton. Going down into Evolution Wonderlounge, we stumbled into a burlesque show and fund raiser. There was a lot of talent there as well as an amazing host which we called the Canadian Amy Shumer as her look and humor were right on par with the American comedian. The fundraiser was to send their top two burlesque performers to a gathering in Hawaii. Best of luck, but seeing the talent that was there, they may not need it. One of the performers was dressed as the host of the Magic School Bus kids show … well we saw her magic school bus!
We were going to try the Sewing Machine Factory (SMF, 9562 82 Avenue), a live music venue and arts space, but it was being used as a venue for the Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival.
Just around the corner from our Matterra hotel, we found Pip. It wasn’t a big place, but the food they produced had large flavors. I enjoyed that it was just a simple walk from the hotel and that it was a comfortable and intimate environment
We arrived early and that is recommended as it fills up fast and seating is limited.
Brunch at Pip is brought to you by The Next Act and MEAT family. Pip is a cute 28 seat restaurant in the heart of Old Strathcona, Edmonton. Serving premium comfort food - Brunch by day // dinner til late // cocktails & wine always.
One of the main reasons we went to Edmonton on the weekend we did was for the Fringe Art Festival. Having gone to a Fringe in Philadelphia two years ago, we knew what we were getting into. Much of the art/performances does, well, reside on the fringe of general mainstream art with several if not a large minority of the performances having LGBT subject matter. One Fringe play we saw was Scorch.
Intimate, dark, and uplifting. Inspired by real UK court cases, SCORCH explores the complexities of gender identity and first love. By posing as a boy who embarks on an intimate relationship with another girl, it leads Kes to devastating effects both legally and personally.
WINNER- Irish Times Best New Play
Throughout this performance by Julie NIUBOI Ferguson, a trans/non binary artist who does the show all by themself, I kept asking myself, was this their story? Did this happen to them? I did not read much about the play before going to see it as it was just recommended to us. NIUBOI’s performance was moving.
Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival
Experience a cultural blast of dynamic and innovative theatre performances during North America’s oldest and largest fringe festival located in the heart of Old Strathcona.
With nearly 1,600 local, national, and international artists, Edmonton’s Fringe Festival™ offers more than 1,200 indoor performances across some of the city’s most iconic landmarks, such as ATB Financial Arts Barns, Varscona Theatre, and Walterdale Playhouse. Whether a play is on a main stage or a more unique venue, such a local pub or bookshop, there is something for everyone. Fringe even has special family friendly performances and Theatre for Young Audience shows.
And, when you’re not at a show you can take advantage of many outdoor activities, such as live performances on one of their three outdoor stages, buskers pitching acts across site, or KidsFringe – an entire park of activities dedicated to families with newborns to tweens.
Harun was the second play we viewed as part of the festival. Instead of the one person show that Schorch was, Harun had several characters with intertwined story lines, but all revolved around Harun.
After his mother dies, Harun, a queer Arab, is struck with visions of a dystopian future. Meanwhile, his friends, a group of twenty-something-year-old liberal university students struggle to organize a protest. Prophecy and politics collide in this contemplation on finding hope in the darkest of depths.
Edmonton has a mix of old, new, city, country, and some “try this on for size” venues. Our dinner at Biera was one for the record books. With so many great sounding options, we decided to eat family style, order just about everything on the menu, and pass it all around until it was gone. Every single item we ordered was full of flavor, color, texture, and overall pleasing to all the senses. From the food to the handsome staff to the brewery themed environment, all of it makes Biera a place I would gravitate back to when visiting Edmonton again.
Biera is Edmonton's newest restaurant by Chef Christine Sandford. Biera co-exists within Ritchie Market with local coffee superstar Transcend, butcher shop Acme Meat Market, Creekside Cyclery and new-kid-on-the-block brewery Blind Enthusiasm. The menu features beautiful fresh Alberta ingredients from local farms and pairs beautifully with the brews from Blind Enthusiasm.
We found that Alberta in general seems to have a love affair with the Speak Easy Environment. After eating at Rostizados / Tres Carnales, we walked next door to the Baiju restaurant where we then walked behind a bookshelf to Little Hong Kong. Entering this intimate 16-seat escape, we had all eyes on us as we disappeared into this great offering that many do not know about. Unique finds like Little HK and Clementine add heavily to our Edmonton experience.
Our waiter at Clementine was a young Clark Kent looking hunk of a man that catered to all of our beverage needs. Another smaller and intimate place, this older style bar would definitely be a place to bring that special someone or maybe even a first hello.
Intimate, with a variety of seating, the Art Nouveau-inspired design encourages dallying over delicious and ever-changing small plates by chef Roger Letourneau. Enjoy thoughtful cocktails along with an outstanding wine list.
Pip was a great small place to enjoy a wonderful brunch, but when it comes to the place people recommend, the Sugarbowl is the answer most repeated. Old wooden furniture, tables, and walls add to the experience as well as their incredible cinnamon buns. It reminds me of the great breakfast places of Portland, Maine, where you’ll run into someone you might have went to high school with or you may just make a new life-long friend waiting in line or on the sidewalk before getting seated.
The Sugarbowl has been providing a unique atmosphere and delicious food to the Garneau and University communities, and Edmonton as a whole since 1943. In this time it has taken many different shapes, from a burger joint in the 1940s and 1950s to a bohemian coffee house through the 1960s and 1970s, finally evolving into a full service bistro and neighbourhood pub today. Their beer list is the one to beat, with an extensive selection of craft and Belgian beers.
Beyond enjoyable was our time in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. We made some great friends and was able to see a part of Canada we had never thought we would be able to. Below are more pics and some links to the places we visited.
Metterra Hotel on Whyte
RGE RD Long Table Dinner at Prairie Gardens Farm
- Prarie Gardens & Adventure Farm
- 56311 Lily Lake Rd., Bon Accord, AB, CA, T0A 0K0
Elk Island National Park
Art Gallery of Alberta
Rostizados / Tacos at Tres Carnales
- Tres Carnales Taquería
- 10119 100A Street - Rice Howard Way, Edmonton, AB, CA, T5J 0R5
10403 83 Ave
Dinner at Biera
Welcome to Edmonton, Alberta!
Welcome to Edmonton. We throw axes for fun, barbecue in blizzards, run with dinosaurs and camp with bison. From the continent's first, biggest and wildest Fringe Theatre Festival to a shopping mall that at one time had more submarines than the Canadian navy, Edmontonians have never been afraid to do things a little differently. Normal is for the other guys.
Why is Edmonton different? There are theories. Maybe it’s our northern home, where for years we’ve learned to make our own fun. Perhaps it’s our legacy of entrepreneurs dreaming up oddities: deep freezer races, winter patios and surfing indoors. Perhaps it’s the foundation of natural beauty, from which we’ve built something great. Take your taste buds on a journey to some of the hottest craft beer taprooms and hyper-local bistros, experience the glory of the northern lights from our dark sky preserves, or cruise through North America’s largest stretch of urban parkland. There’s a uniqueness to how Edmontonians do ordinary things, and we welcome you to be a part of it.