Edmonton may suffer from a bit of little sister syndrome, always in the shadow of the conceivably cooler Calgary. But this Albertan city is on the up and up, and has a lot to show for it. The cultural scene is starting to thrive, with restaurants and brands doing things their own way; it would be easy to follow the crowd, to copy bigger Canadian cities with the typical exposed brick and cocktails made with egg whites. And there is some of that here, sure (it’s inescapable, really), but there is also a quintessentially Edmontonian undercurrent that is starting to show the depth of its pull.
Its location in the heart of downtown doesn’t hurt, but Coffee Bureau’s true game is in its java. Artful cups of roasted beans are served quick and well, along with a selection of baked goods. The small and unassuming space allows the staff to focus on what’s important: caffeine. Or there is Iconoclast Coffee Roasters, with two locations to happily stumble upon. Roasting its own beans, the company offers a distinctly Edmonton taste—quite literally. And over at District Café & Bakery, a beautiful and bright room gives way to an array of coffee, takeaway beans for home roasting, fresh-baked goodies (and the noteworthy locally-made salted caramels from Red Balloon Pie Company), and full-fledged meals. Word to the wise: arrive hungry and order the brunch—this author wishes she did.
Appealing to the child in all of us is Doughnut Party, a simple bakery selling just one thing: the humble doughnut (oh, and classic drip coffee). But instead of barking up the now-ubiquitous tree of small fancy doughnuts with wild flavours, this place goes in the other direction: fat, fluffy Krispy Kreme-esque mountains of batter bliss are matched by simple flavours like Birthday Cake, with icing and sprinkles—the way the lord intended it. And instead of the archetypal minimalist branding, Doughnut Party’s mascot is a cheerful cartoon donut-person. Its signature colour? Fuchsia.
On the other end of the dessert spectrum is Jacek Chocolate Couture, offering up handmade chocolates available at its own outposts as well as an array of stores throughout the city. There’s The Audrey, a bar of 64 per cent dark chocolate combined with pistachio and cherry, or La Marguerite, made of 70 per cent dark chocolate and edible gold.
For inventive and experimental cocktails in a dreamy room, head to Clementine. Try the Cabana, a curious but surprisingly delicious take on a piña colada with Barbados rum, Ardbeg 10, banana, ginger, coriander, lime, coconut, and Pedro Ximenez. Blended and frothy, it is a tasty indulgence for any whisky-lover. Paired with an intimate room of neutral colours, plush booths, and subtle pattern details, it’s a decidedly romantic situation.
Brunch is important here, as it is in many cities, with the local standout being Café Linnea. Located conveniently around the corner from Doughnut Party, this beautiful warehouse space with high ceilings and big windows is an easy place to tuck in. Craft Caesars complement the French-Scandinavian food, which includes a fresh take on a Benedict with smoked meat and fried duck egg on a chive biscuit. Or try the maple and mace sausage with wilted spinach and pickled mustard seeds, and topped with an apple, radish, and arugula salad.
If less inclined to wait for a table (as one likely will have to do at Linnea), a great alternative is &27, which boasts a beautiful brunch menu with the show-stopping Lifestyle Bowl: quinoa, fried egg, avocado, shredded vegetables, and a lemongrass dressing. Maybe add a side of house-made sausage—no regrets will be had.
For a quick and easy lunch, Tres Carnales serves up tasty tacos in a relaxed setting. Al pastor is always a good choice, and the Tinga Mixta, with Alberta pork shoulder, potatoes, and chorizo in a chipotle tomato sauce, won’t disappoint, either.
And Baijiu, located in the hip converted Mercer industrial building, is an Asian-inspired cocktail bar that calls for a group of friends, mostly so you can try a bit of everything. Pork and Shrimp Lion’s Head Dumplings with ginger-soy dipping sauce are a must, as is the unforgettable crispy and spicy fried chicken. Cocktails are also good here, as is the vibe: it’s a comfortable late-night spot.
There are good chain hotels here, of course, but today we’re going boutique. For the Ace Hotel fan, Crash Hotel is a good option; located centrally (and very close to the aforementioned Baijiu), this no-frills property is geared perfectly towards millennials. Check-in includes two drink tickets to the lobby bar, and every room (each one uniquely designed) comes with a hangover remedy. The comfy beds will make you really want to crash, and the cool white-tiled bathrooms have surely seen a selfie or 10. Or for the more old-fashioned downtown dweller, there is Union Bank Inn: a former bank turned into a boutique property fit with all the trappings of a Victorian fantasy (canopy beds, baroque furniture, and many a throw pillow). Free wine and cheese are delivered to the room every evening—not a bad way to brush up before dinner.
In terms of design, Edmonton is still in its infancy, but two brands making notable waves are Poppy Barley and Workhall. In the shoe department, Poppy Barley focuses on high-quality ethical production. All shoes are designed by the team in Edmonton, who work directly with production facilities in Mexico to make them an impossibly comfy reality. It’s all about factory transparency, and providing living wages for Mexico’s artisans. Bonus? The brand has a pop-up shop inside Vancouver’s Nicole Bridger boutique all summer long.
Workhall clothing is also designed locally, and either made in Vietnam, where the owner has family ties, or Los Angeles. Geometric pants and skirts drape beautifully over any body, with simple yet refined tops adding bits of character. And the company just launched a sister brand, Okakie, that is designed Vancouver and has a storefront in Gastown.
From ethically-made shoes to fried chicken, Edmonton is starting to create culture its own way. After all, Alberta breeds more than cowboys.
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