This year saw a number of fairly significant, progressive shifts foward in Edmonton’s local food and drink culture. Granted, corporate chains still feature prominently in the landscape, and we’re always going to be playing catch-up to the bigger urban centres of Canada (let alone North America). Nonetheless, foundations have been laid for some pretty cool stuff that will undoubtedly continue to flourish in 2015. Call it (cautious) optimism, but there’s really no denying Edmonton’s food scene is quite unlike its incarnation five years ago and remarkably different from what it was at the turn of the century.
Fad foods: coming and going
The life cycle of a faddish food is a trickle-down effect: it starts elsewhere in the trendier food spots around the globe and spreads through social and news media, eventually appearing in Edmonton’s hipper spots and filtering down from there—when it hits the fast-food level, you know the fad is totally played out. (Sorry, guacamole: I knew your time had come when I saw you featured on a Subway billboard.)
A few years ago, quinoa was the “it” food proliferating on menus around town, from upscale fine dining to the most casual of cafes. Now that even non-foodies know how to pronounce it, the stage is set for a new grain to take over: amaranth, maybe? Millet? Local barley, at least among the indie crowd?
Kale continues its world domination as the leafy green we can’t get enough of, though it’s already made it down to the chain-restaurant level, so 2015 could easily see it land on fast-food menus and effectively snuff out its trendiness for good. Cauliflower and Brussels sprouts got a lot of love abroad and in the blogosphere in 2014, but not so much on local menus; it seems unlikely that either has the legs to step into kale’s spot as the most beloved of the cruciferous vegetables.
Other trendy foods to spot in 2015: fermented foods like kimchi and sauerkraut, house-made pickles, edible insects (especially crickets), and artisanal toast (yes, seriously—and you thought a $5 cupcake was peak absurdity).
Diet du jour: paleo
The paleo diet craze has been around for a while now, but it hasn’t had much uptake in Edmonton. Noorish opened in 2011 as Edmonton’s first eatery dedicated to raw foodism, years after the raw-food diet had been popular elsewhere. Gluten-free is no longer the trend it once was (unless you’re a legitimate celiac, of course—and then it’s not a trend, it’s survival). You could probably find “paleo-safe” menu items at most restaurants but given all the buzz about this diet, there’s a decent chance Edmonton will soon get a place that puts paleo in the forefront of its branding.
DIY food: urban agriculture & locavores 2.0
The city’s biggest food news in 2014 was the approval of pilot projects for both backyard bees and hens, so select residents are now able to (legally) keep beehives and chickens. There’s a general confidence (supported by Mayor Don Iveson himself) that these pilots were only necessary technicalities and the bylaws will be approved soon.
The locavore movement also gained traction with the opening of Mother’s Market in June 2014—Edmonton’s first three-day, year-round farmers market. The Organic Box expanded yet again and SPUD rolled into town, clear signs of our city’s continued hunger for fresh, local food. Interest in local and especially tip-to-tail eating will continue into 2015, with more restaurants focusing on funky cuts of meat (pork jowl, anyone?) and other businesses continuing to offer classes on related skills like sausage making and home butchering.
Local coffee’s newest wave: crested?
Edmonton has seen a boom and bust cycle of indie coffee shops over the past few years, with shops opening and closing in waves. 2013 saw the closures of Roast in the Mercer Warehouse and Transcend’s Jasper Avenue location, while 2014 saw a major surge in new java stops: District Coffee Co just west of the downtown core, Iconoclast Koffiehuis hidden behind Oliver Square, Transcend in the Mercer Warehouse, Credo’s second location on 124 Street and Burrow in the Central LRT Station. With such explosive growth it seems likely that things will taper off in 2015. Hopefully the coffee scene will hold steady, though a closure or two wouldn’t be overly surprising.
As for tea lovers: you’re still out of luck, as Edmonton’s tea scene languishes far behind coffee with no new tea-centric places in sight. That said, the indie coffee shops usually offer a pretty decent selection of real loose-leaf tea.
Cocktails: continued expansion
Cocktail culture is quietly but assuredly gaining momentum in Edmonton. Bars and restaurants are devoting ever more menu space and server attention to cocktails, while liquor stores are stocking craft spirits, bitters and other drink components in numbers previously unseen. 2014 saw the opening of El Cortez Tequila Bar & Kitchen, while Woodwork opened at the tail end of 2013; Edmonton is home to a couple of bartending schools and even a (not-so) secret cocktail club. 2015 will undoubtedly bring some more great new developments in the city’s drink scene—be sure to keep an eye on Vue’s Dish section in the coming months for expanded coverage on Edmonton’s cocktail culture.
Beer: the craft cometh
2014 quietly laid the groundwork for a major expansion in Edmonton’s craft-beer offerings; 2015 could be a year of craft-beer glory. Check out Vue’s beer column for the inside scoop from Vue’s resident beer expert.
Wine lists: still boring and overpriced
An unfortunate side effect of the increased attention on cocktail lists and craft beer means a corresponding decline, or at least stagnation, of Edmonton wine lists. The places that already have solid, well-priced lists will continue to maintain them, but in general, wine lists will remain largely full of the usual suspects: the ubiquitous Malbec, the bland but inoffensive Pinot Grigio. These wines will seem overpriced because of their pervasiveness: I’m waiting for the day when restaurants will realize, en masse, that if they select interesting and distinctive wines rather than bland mass-marketed brands, customers will swallow that 300-percent markup a lot easier. Sadly, that’s not going to happen any time soon.
More optimistically, we may see the odd mead pop up around town, due to continued interest in the revival of this medieval tipple. And there’s an excellent chance it will be local, too, thanks to Alberta’s handful of meaderies and bountiful honey supply.
Can’t get enough year in review lists? Vue’s restaurant critic did a round-up of his favourite spots to chow down in 2014.