Story by Adrian Brijbassi
Vacay.ca Managing Editor
EDMONTON, ALBERTA — If you believe chefs should follow the principle of cooking the flavours they know, Blair Lebsack is a culinary talent to get to know. His RGE RD, inspired by his life in the pastoral areas of his home province, will open your eyes to what Alberta offers.
Lebsack grew up in a farming community in the province and the name of his restaurant is taken from the sign posts that mark rural roads in and around agricultural areas. RGE RD serves sensational Alberta produce, including meats butchered in its own butchery, a space where you can sip French wine while a locker full of frozen beef and game hangs beyond a mirrored wall in front of you. Far from gruesome or off-putting, the butchery serves to connect the diner to the land and to the animals raised on it.
“When you use the whole animal, my kitchen staff can be more creative. They can try different things because they see right in front of them what’s available,” says Lebsack, who operates the restaurant with his wife, Caitlin Fulton. “It helps the farmers. They never have to throw anything away. And as a chef there are other opportunities you have when you do bring the whole animal in-house.”
RGE RD qualifies as a destination restaurant, a place culinary-focused travellers must visit to help discover a sense of the cuisine of Edmonton, and Alberta.
A distinctive farm-to-table restaurant, RGE RD was the best of the Edmonton restaurants I recently tried. Located in the Westmount neighbourhood, about four kilometres from downtown, it also showcases Lebsack’s skills and passion for cooking. Among the surprising finds were canelés, the famed pastry from northern France, prepared with authenticity using copper moulds.
“We were travelling around Bordeaux and we had these canelés and they were so perfect, I went back and got the recipe from a chef,” says Lebsack, who serves his version of the dessert with a divine honey pudding.
RGE RD is among the standouts in Edmonton’s blossoming culinary scene. As Lebsack and Fulton point out, the move toward supporting chef-driven restaurants has been a long time in the making. The timing of growth in the restaurant scene corresponds with a global movement to back local farmers and small businesses.
“It’s not like Edmontonians didn’t know good food, it’s just that they would save up and spend in San Francisco or Vancouver or wherever they might travel to,” Fulton says. “The change we are seeing is they’re spending here and supporting local business owners, including restaurants.”
Address: 10643 123 Street Northwest, Edmonton
Menu Price Range: $14-$32, with an option for a $79 tasting menu.
Here are some other spots who are helping to redefine dining in Alberta’s capital. They are among the places to stop into when you’re in town.
Kelsey Johnson, who is also a proprietor at the popular Duchess Bake Shop, has exhibited her appreciation for Scandinavian cuisine and design in this sophisticated breakfast and brunch favourite in the Westmount neighbourhood. Cafe Linnea, which opened in 2016, serves some fabulous and unique dishes, including Oeufs-en-Coquette ($20) and scrambled duck eggs ($18). Lineups can be long but the food and the experience is worth it.
Address: Holland Plaza, 10932 119 Street Northwest, Edmonton
Menu Price Range: $6-$14 for small bites; $18-$21 for main dishes; $55 per person for high-tea service. Tips and taxes are included in the prices.
Serving cocktails and a pared-down food menu in a cozy cabin-style space, Three Boars demonstrates Edmonton’s hip and inventive side. A popular spot for university students, foodies and cocktail lovers, Three Boars serves primarily small plates for sharing.
Chef and co-owner Brayden Kozak says Edmonton’s young chefs and mixologists have made a commitment to create a more interesting dining scene. “You can see things working in other cities, and we think, why not do that here, too?”
The restaurant calls its design rustic-chic, with both its downstairs bar and upstairs dining area featuring wood panelling. The pork rillette and chicken liver bomb ($5), a large, fried ball filled with meat and honey mustard, is different and delicious.
Address: 8424 109 Street, Edmonton
Menu Price Range: $5-$22, with most dishes costing less than $15.
An excellent Mexican restaurant across from Rogers Place, the city’s stunning new sports and entertainment venue, Rostizado recently launched its burrito-and-beer special ($18) for Edmonton Oilers game nights. Many of its authentic recipes were inspired by the mother of one of its owners, Daniel Braun. Rostizado, whose sister restaurant Tres Carnales has won over many Edmontonians, recently started serving a refreshing Mexico-inspired beer, Lupita, branded with its own label.
Address: 8424 109 Street, Edmonton
Menu Price Range: $6-$21 for small plates; $19-$35 for large plates, including Arrachera ($22), a traditional Mexican dish served with skirt steak. It’s presented on a bed of smoked potatoes and refried beans, and topped with fried basil and yuca chips.
One of the pioneering downtown restaurants, Sabor serves Portuguese-influenced Mediterranean dishes, with a focus on seafood. Try the octopus and mussels salad ($15). Bodega, meanwhile, is in the Highlands neighbourhood and delivers tasty tapas dishes.
Sabor Address: 10220 103 Street Northwest, Edmonton
Menu Price Range: $24-$48 for main dinner dishes; $120 for seafood platter.
Bodega Address: 6509 112 Avenue, Edmonton
Menu Price Range: $2-$22 for tapas (most tapas dishes are less than $16); $18-$32 for big plates.
Uccellino is the newest establishment by one of the city’s favourite chefs. It joins Corso 32 and Bar Bricco on the same downtown block of Jasper Avenue. Uccellino is a stylish and casual Italian restaurant whose range of crostini appetizers are big hits with diners.
Uccellino Address: 10349 Jasper Avenue, Edmonton
Menu Price Range: $21-$36 for main dishes; $85 per person for a five-course tasting menu.