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Sunday, 31 July 2011

Drift Mobile Eatery - Brave New World

I am convinced that, up until rather recently, a snarled, bureaucratic gauntlet prevented Edmonton from housing a vibrant street food scene. I've heard other excuses ranging from pedestrian apathy to our notoriously inclement weather tossed about as potential explanations.  Really, though, miserable weather does not keep diners away from street food in New York or Montreal and who could possibly be apathetic about good food?

The metaphorical tide is slowly turning, and a small armada of food trucks now roams our streets. Early colonizers included Eva Sweet Waffles, Wanna Waffel, and Filistix (forgive me if I'm excluding others). Very recent additions include Molly's Eats, Nomad, and the subject of today's ramblings, Drift Mobile Eatery.

Just for the record, I've no idea who walked into my photo!

Drift officially commenced operations in late July and is generally parked on 108 Street, just south of Jasper Ave. The sandwich board (no pun intended) proclaims a startlingly creative roster of sandwiches, all of which feature local produce, meats and baking. Really now, how might one choose between a duck confit, back bacon-brie or pork belly sandwich?

It's a delicious dilemma. Swayed by the promise of supple back bacon and gooey brie, I place my order and patiently wait on the sidewalk. A small crowd does the same. Drift's method of service is simple: order at window number one, pay, wait, listen for your name to be called, pick up sandwich at window number two, and eat. Simplicity, creativity and convenience are but three beneficial aspects of street food.

There is nothing simple - not in the derogatory sense - about the back bacon-brie sandwich. A crusty, rectangular ciabatta bun hugs juicy pink slices of rich back bacon crowned by slowly melting, buttery brie, and a tender-crisp jumble of apples and cucumbers. It's a hearty creation that handily nullifies any pangs of hunger long into the afternoon. How heartening that our streets are slowly coming alive with food trucks. If Drift is a harbinger of things to come, then I can hardly wait for this Brave New World.

Drift on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Prairie Bistro - Waltz of the Flowers

Flowers, as much as it pains me to write this, are already beginning to languish. The sun no longer stays up until after 10 pm and, though autumn's undercurrent of pathos and urgency is not yet present, senescent vegetation and long evening shadows hint at its presence, just out of sight.

A prognosticatory photograph

My photos from Prairie Bistro were misplaced in the shuffle of summer dining events and resurfaced during this evening's anticipatory thoughts of autumn and the vexing passage of time.  I remembered hearing rumours of a European baker and knew I must go. And soon. Prairie Bistro lives within St. Albert's The Enjoy Centre. The Centre's sheer size strikes most as staggering; I agree but am loathe to call it the "Ikea" of greenhouses. There is only so much Ikea I can stomach (twice a year - tops).

Prairie Bistro is an efficient mix of cafeteria-style line-ups, ample natural lighting, very unusual ice teas and soft drinks (rose iced tea, anyone?), and a smart smattering of baked goods, sandwiches, soups and other comestibles. We sample a cinnamon bun and a citrus-dried cherry-rosemary scone.  The bun craftily balances a sticky interior with a crusty exterior; each bite releases a waft of the eponymous spice. The scone is amply studded with dried cherries, though the rosemary is a bit inconsistent.

A grilled cheese sandwich follows suit. Here, a seductive layer of melted cheddar and gouda are hugged by two hearty slices of sunflower seed bread. A silver cup of homemade spicy ketchup is a clever take on a ubiquitous condiment.

I'm amazed that it took me so long to write this. The memory of this sandwich and the mental snapshot of floor to ceiling flowers will warm my subconscious self, no matter the season or weather.

Prairie Bistro on Urbanspoon

Friday, 22 July 2011

Tres Carnales - Oye Como Va

I have never been a fan of fast food's interpretation of Mexican cuisine. Like anything prepared en masse, it seems bastardized and contrived, with originality sacrificed in the name of convenience. I might add that my scant few experiences with eating such food - no names shall be mentioned but I might allude to a talking chihuahua - has never ended well. It repeatedly begs the question: why, oh why, when real Mexican food is so wonderful do the hoards still congregate under the roofs of Tex-Mex banality?

A lively lucha libre scene

Enter Tres Carnales. This welcome addition to Rice Howard Way might very well be my new favourite in town. I recently dined with Marlow Moo and his entourage, partaking in a veritable magical mystery tour of otherworldly flavours. Dani, Chris and Edgar are superlative and personable hosts; they embody the term carnales.

Marlow digs into a Torta Al Pastor

In a happy state of bewilderment I cannot decide what to order. My indecision is rewarded with a quartet of tacos that cradle sweet corn, smoky poblano chilies, onions and cilantro. A house-made crema gently binds together these clever ingredients. A heady glass of sangria chases each bite in a riot of boozy fruit.

Magical mystery tour in the guise of tacos

A dish of gargantuan cebollitas - popular in Mexico but heinously difficult to find north of the 49th parallel - appears next. These giant green onions have been slowly caramelized until ridiculously tender and sweet. They are at once delicate and robust and fulfill any lingering desire for dessert.

Sweet, sweet cebollitas

Already I plan my return. I still ponder the myriad of reasons behind the popularity of fast-food quasi-Mexicana. I do not ponder the myriad of reasons behind the success of Tres Carnales. Passion and talent are but two reasons and there are many, many more.

Tres Carnales Taqueria on Urbanspoon

Monday, 18 July 2011

Noodle Maker - Using Your Noodle

Marital bliss or strange bedfellows? Different genres of cuisine are often share quarters on a menu, though the success of such combinations is debatable. Noodle Maker, which lies on Chinatown's southern frontier, combines three disparate varieties of victuals under one roof: Asian noodles (including ramen and Chinese-style noodles), Montreal-style bagels, and pulled pork sandwiches. Strange bedfellows indeed, but word on the street is that this unlikely trio coexists with harmony.

The interior is a utilitarian assortment of tables and chairs; an artificial sakura tree adds a splash of colour and an antique stove imparts a touch of whimsy. We peruse the menu (and I am concurrently intrigued and bemused by "Goat Aroma Stew") and select Da Lu Mein, Da Rou Mein, and Basa Fish Tempura. One co-diner, the indomitable and spicy Habanerogal, orders (in a well-conceived afterthought) an apple pulled pork sandwich to go.

Da Lu Mein features a toothsome tangle of Shanghai-style thick noodles swimming in rich, meaty broth. Unctuous slices of pork lounge with fat shrimp and woodsy bamboo shoots, the summation of which is filling, deeply savoury - a dish to keep in mind for desperately cold winter days. Da Rou Mein includes similar components, though delightfully fatty pork belly and earthy shitake mushrooms impart a sombre spectrum of flavours. The tempura basa, Asia's answer to fish and chips (sans the chips) are flaky, mild, and leave nary a spot of grease on our plates.

I wonder how long the pulled pork sandwich will last once we go our separate ways. An ample helping of tender, sweet pork laced with apples happily fills a crusty bun. The entire entity just begs to be eaten. We are too full to sample the bagels, but given the aplomb with which Asian archetypes share the spotlight with staunchly North American inventions, I would venture that Noodle Maker's bagels are unlikely to miss the mark.

Noodle Maker on Urbanspoon

Monday, 11 July 2011

Danilo's Italian Cafe - Who's The Boss?

In the words of Dubya (who I miss, in a strange way, for his unintentionally humourous verbal stumbles), I misunderestimated the staying power of a casual 1980s pop culture reference I made in a review of Danilo's Italian Cafe.  When I wrote the story, I was riding the tail-end of a nostalgia wave; this wave was comprised, primarily, of watching "Who's The Boss" reruns. I dined alone on a significantly cold December night in 2009, chatted with owner Pat Guercio, surreptitiously took notes on my meal, left, and that was that. It struck me, at the time, that his voice was reminiscent of Tony Danza's.

The hip yet laid-back vibe at Danilo's

Fast forward 17 months and I am enjoying a thin crust Toscano pizza that features proscuitto, cappicolo and salami. Each slice is a passionate and harmonious marriage of salty-sweet cured meats, milky cheese and sun-kissed tomatoes. The crust is gently crisp and just thick enough to cradle its judicious headdress of toppings. A robust, ruby red glass of Fontana di Papa imparts dry notes of rich, red fruits and goes down far too easily.

Pizza Toscano with a decanter of Fontana Di Papa

I approach the counter, ogling the pastries. Here is where I get the bright idea to reintroduce myself.

Me: I don't know if you remember me.
Pat: I don't remember what I did yesterday!
Me: I was in here in December '09 and I was the only one here. I ordered a pizza.
Pat: (with glimmer of recognition) Oh I do.
Me: I wanted to thank you again for the meal. I wrote it up as a review for Vue. I made that reference to Tony Danza.

Suddenly the tone of the conversation changes.

Pat: That was you?


Turns out Pat got teased for quite a while after that. I'm mostly sure the ribbing was good-natured, and we parted on a good note. I wish, in hindsight, that I'd said his voice was reminiscent of the lead singer in the band Amadeus...because, as it turns out, he is the lead singer. Check it out.

Danilo's Cafe Ltd. on Urbanspoon

Friday, 8 July 2011

Search for the Holy Grail of Cupcakes

I have often wondered about the staying power of cupcakes. Are they a childhood treat reborn or are they the Paris Hilton of the dessert world - famous merely for being famous. One could ponder reasons behind their popularity until the cows come home. Or, one could go on a cupcake quest with a cow: Edmonton's favourite bovine, Marlow Moo. We (we being me, Marlow and the brains behind Food, Foodball and a Baby) criss-crossed Edmonton, stopping at six cupcake bakeries. Alas, Sweet Krumblz and Hey Cupcake were closed for the long weekend and were excluded from the analysis.

Quite the task ahead! Marlow's body mass and then some in cupcakes.

Our plan was simple: retrieve both a chocolate and vanilla cupcake from each bakery and rate them on the cake (while considering moistness, lightness, flavour, texture, density, sweetness and whether it represented its flavour properly), icing (while considering the same components as for cake), and whole MOOnit (while considering mouthfeel, flavour, whether icing plus cake were complementary or contradictory, and overall composition).  Full credit to Marlow for devising the MOOnits, I must add.

Ethereal chocolate and vanilla cupcakes from Delish. The winner, hands down.

Long story short (please read Marlow's account of our day for even more detail), we rated cupcakes from Big City Cupcakes, Delish Custom Cakes & Sweets, Whimsical Cake Studio, Fuss Cupcakes, Flirt Cupcakes, and Crave Cookies & Cupcakes.

Lovely chocolate and vanilla offerings from Crave, our runner-up.

Delish consistently scored highest, with Crave a slightly distant second. We were, on the whole, rather surprised at the rampant low scores; we had anticipated a day of agonizing over which was best. Rather, we encountered a multiplicity of issues that included odd aftertastes, dry cake, crusty icing, "phony" flavours, overkill sweetness, and very skewed icing:cake ratios, to name a few. We were seriously wowed, at least, by Delish. Since conducting our analysis, I've already been back several times to sample other flavours.

Below are three graphs depicting the breakdown of scores for chocolate, vanilla, and combined choc/van tally, where L is me, E is Marlow and M is Food, Football & Baby. (Click on each to view larger version)

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Bubble Buzz - What's the Buzz?

Bubble Buzz joins a growing suite of culinary concepts that have colonized 104th street. Bubble tea, the business's primary provision, has risen from relative obscurity in North America to occupy a cool (and bubbly) spot in our collective palate. Popularity is a double-edged sword, though; increasing popularity invariably generates subpar versions of said product. Bubble Buzz, however, comes as sweet redemption for those accustomed to powder-based teas.

A capacious roster of flavours includes the likes of watermelon, coconut, taro, mango, and many more. Of note is that no powder is employed and, rather, real fruit provides flavour. The usual style of "bubbles" are available, but far more interesting, both in concept and taste, are bursting mango bubbles. These sweet spheres burst when bitten, providing interjections of mango into their surroundings. The bubble tea itself is both the whole and sum of its parts: luscious, authentic fruit flavours dotted with the bubbles' textural and gustatory contrast.

Eggies are also on the menu. These are, essentially, Hong Kong-style waffles. The waffles irons are a bit otherworldly in appearance: silvery coils twist and snake out the backs of muted chrome, laterally compressed disks. The interior of the iron resembles a honeycomb.

The honeycomb-shaped iron renders each waffle into an easily-shared treat. Each section of waffle breaks off with each, thus facilitating waffle-sharing. As the name implies, the waffles are rich and sweet with egg and require no anointment of syrup. Here, waffles and bubble tea happily share quarters under the same roof and are a welcome addition to the downtown culinary community.

Bubble Buzz... on Urbanspoon


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