Story by Jeremy Derksen
EDMONTON, ALBERTA — Sipping on “Sage Advice” at North 53 in Edmonton, I try not to lapse into an Albertan drawl. While the flavours of the cocktail are built on provincial traditions — a whiskey base with notes of plentiful, native-growing sage, black pepper and the famously Alberta-invented Caesar — the ambiance calls for a hint more refinement.
And don’t take that as a slur on cowboys, neither; we know the difference between sidling up to a horse and sidling up to a classy bar at an upscale eatery. It’s just that lately, with restaurants like North 53, &27 and RGE RD, Edmonton has been taking bold steps beyond the local food craze to engender something that is more unique to this particular place and time than anything that has gone before.
This is more than just local, organic fare, it’s post-local (PoLo?). It’s a recognition of the growing potential, pardon the pun, of Alberta cuisine concocted from Alberta ingredients and Albertan cultural heritage.
North 53’s head chef Filliepe Lament hails from Alberta, of Polish descent and French influences. Many of his dishes, as he describes, are “old family favourites” with a twist. “I bring my own personal history into it,” he says. “Sure, we source wonderful ingredients but you can’t serve just good ingredients. We have to introduce technique.”
He also draws inspiration from his staff, who add Asian and other European heritages to the mix. “Canada is a melting pot,” Lament quips, “I’m just stirring my little corner of the pot.”
Beckoning me into the kitchen, Lament reveals the fresh morels he’s using in his popular griddled mushrooms — a selection of choice fungi topped with egg yolk and green onion and sautéed to perfection, it is richly complex in taste and yet stunning in its homey simplicity.
At the back of the room is an urban cultivator, where the restaurant grows its own herbs and greens that, mixed with fresh farmer’s market produce and exquisitely pickled root veggies, make up the crisp, tangy accents of North 53’s crunchy salad. Even the flatware is reminiscent of Grandma’s — or Baba’s, as many Albertans would say — home on the range.
Where to Eat In Edmonton
At &27, some of the best dishes on the menu are also the simplest (relatively speaking), and purest. Like slow-roasted free-range chicken that brims with hot-spiced honey flavours in your mouth. A beet salad that transforms the traditional prairie groundling into a sweet, foamy delicacy. Or a selection of fine, handmade deli meats atop a flatbread pizza crust, layered with Alberta-made cheese.
Head chef Nathin Bye is a two-time Edmonton Gold Medal Plates winner who has helped establish four other local restaurants. But with &27 he is stepping out on his own, creating “a cuisine that’s about a certain place — native ingredients, provided by local purveyors, served on plates made by local potters.”
It sounds — and is — delicious, fresh and intoxicating. Although the city has been under-appreciated on the Canadian culinary scene, this kind of fare could definitely shift more deserving attention up north.
The rural, northern Alberta vibe is alive and well at RGE RD, whose name itself is a nod to rural road-naming conventions. From the rustic cabin decor to the in-demand Questionable Bits appetizer (a creation made using cuts of meat other restaurants ignore), it bleeds Alberta. Locally ranched meat — and steak in particular — is as Albertan as it gets and there’s no sense denying it.
Meanwhile, having moved on to a pine gimlet, a scintillating North 53 creation using gin from Alberta’s Eau Claire Distillery, I’m finding myself more and more at home in these northern latitudes. If this is what Edmonton tastes like when it’s pure and refined, call me Edmontonian for dinner. And excuse the drawl.
A MAP SHOWING THE RESTAURANTS MENTIONED IN THE ARTICLE