Adventures in Edmonton

I Wonder as I Wander at Kaleido

I Wonder as I Wander at Kaleido

From a vast seashore of memory, let me pluck this one moment. Let me pick it up and hold it in the sunshine. Let the golden light reveal its many coloured faces. Let me hold it to your ear so you can listen for the ocean.

This is what I hear.

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Adventures in Edmonton: The restaurant you've never heard of...

“They’re closing down and I never got a chance to go” my spouse said roughly two weeks ago. “So, I’ve made a date night for us.” “Ok,” I replied (the least planning I’ve ever had to do for a date night), “where are we going, or do you want it to be a secret?” “It’s not a secret, but it is unheard of.”

The Unheardof restaurant has graced Edmonton for 35 years. It’s been around longer than I have. Despite all the history, and perhaps living up to its name, the restaurant did not come up in conversations or foodie blogs very often. I only heard about the place a few years ago myself. It’s possible that this lack of critical attention is by design—that loyal customers don’t want anyone else to know about their favourite neighbourhood eatery so that they’ll always have a seat. And, it’s probably for the best, because the food is good, and the seating is scare.

Unheardof’s interior is a throwback to the past. It feels like early century dining. There are antiques and old paintings and a giant buffalo statue. I’m not sure what the buffalo is about but it’s kind of fun. The space is small which is ideal for the type of dining experience Unheardof specializes in, and it allows for high quality service and thoughtful food preparation.

I had a multi-course meal and it was overall good, with some excellent dishes and some mediocre ones (nothing bad though). There was an extremely tasty lobster ravioli dish that seemed to have lemon zest in the dough—huge flavours. There was an apricot sorbet that was splendid. Most importantly, the crème brûlée was one of the best I’ve ever had the pleasure of eating. Unfortunately, the main dish, although well prepared, was a little bland which was surprising considering the ravioli.  Meat and potato folks would have loved it though, and it’s hard to fault it merely on account of being a traditional, grass-roots sort of dish.

Sadly, June 13 marks the last day Unheardof will open its doors to the public. So, I’m letting you know you’ve got roughly one month to get in there before it’s gone.  Uhmm, just don’t tell anyone else. 

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Adventures in Edmonton: Taking the Plunge at Commonwealth Community Rec Centre

10 seconds. That’s the amount of time it takes to spot a local celebrity at Commonwealth Community Rec Centre. Professional athletes, actors, entrepreneurs, restaurateurs and the like seem to flock to this power facility to fill their recreation quotas. Where else could you take a yoga class, hit the gym, swim a few laps, play a round of flag football (on synthetic turf) and challenge a climbing wall—all under one roof?

For me, what really puts Commonwealth over the top is its affordability compared to Edmonton’s private fitness centres. The monthly fee is on par with, if not cheaper, than most of the popular gym chains where you sign multi-year contracts. You can pay monthly, annually or simply buy a multi-pass that doesn’t expire (if your motivation to work out is as volatile as oil prices). Your dollar goes further too when you consider access to the swimming pool, free drop-in classes, and the ability to use your pass at virtually any other City-run fitness facility.  

There are drawbacks of course. Parking is at a premium, and you can’t park at all on days when there are stadium events.  When there are major international events, such as FIFA Women’s World Cup, the gym can close for six weeks at a time. Luckily, because your pass can be used at other city facilities, there is likely another gym not too far away. I guess the only other drawback is that early-morning risers and night owls may not find the hours totally accommodating; however, it is often open on holidays.

If you’re on the fence about working out, I can’t help you. If you’re on the fence about working out at Commonwealth Rec Centre, I can offer this advice: wait for Edmonton’s next free admission day, and see if it’s your thing. Maybe you’ll meet someone famous.




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Adventures in Edmonton: the Quest for Candy at Be-a-Bella

Sometime last week, my wife and I were walking to Mandolin Books and we happened upon a new shop in the Highlands neighbourhood called Be-a-Bella. A sign read “120 different kinds of candy” or some such, and I said “let’s just have a quick look.” Being budget conscious, we both agreed we would take a peek inside, but would need to make purchases another day. We left, pockets stuffed with bonbons, and $20 dollars poorer.

Have you tried the World’s Greatest Gummy Bears? I have, and they’re delicious. When’s the last time you had Dr. Pepper chewing gum? How about that giant-sized, Neapolitan, old-fashioned, taffy rectangle you used to spend your allowance on? It’s all there.

Be-a-Bella is not just a candy shop. They have a selection of Canadian and international art pieces, and all kinds of other toys and knick-knacks curated for the curious.

Our quest for coffee became a quest for candy (we got coffee later), but isn’t that what adventures are all about? Little surprises around every corner.

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Adventures in Edmonton: Denizen Hall and a Pocket Full of Quarters

Insert coin. Select your fighter. One player or two (or three or four)? It takes more than one turtle to defeat Shredder. Alas, on my first night visiting Denizen Hall, I did not save April O’Neil, but I gave it my full 25-cent effort. I have no regrets.

For me, much like Vanilla Coke (in Canada) and soft serve made with real cream, arcades are a forgotten relic. Sure, we had Playdium for a while, but it was too big, too expensive, and too much Dance Dance Revolution. Growing up, I loved local arcades even more than Blockbuster Video--I never really got over the death of Popcorn Palace in Sherwood Park Mall.

I attended Denizen Hall on opening night a few months back. Much like many clubs in the city, my opinion is that the volume was cranked to 11. Perhaps my age is showing, but I feel there’s something wrong when you have to shatter someone’s ear drum just to tell them you’re going to find a seat. That being said, I suspect the party crowd loved the volume, and the DJ and band were both to my liking.

I did not try the food but the menu looks well thought out. So I won’t comment on it. The beer selection did not make my crafty-sense tingle, but they had Yellowhead Lager at a respectable price. I did not try the cocktails either, but this is not why I’m writing. I’m writing because…the arcade.

If I had a quarter for all the tokens I sank into the likes X-Men the Arcade Game, Street Fighter, The Simpsons and Golden Axe over the years, I’d have a popcorn bowl full of quarters. I strategically made every birthday a Bullwinkle’s birthday (boo Chucky Cheese) on account of it had the better arcade. To this day, I can pad my resume with achievements such as defeating the likes of Magneto, M. Bison and even Mr. Burns in boss battles.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, Denizen Hall sports an arcade. Not a movie theatre lobby one, but a real one—the kind that makes you feel like you stepped on 1989.

For this, my hat goes off to you, Denizen Hall, because you endeavor to bring back Gottlieb, Bally and Williams, and you will likely consume many of my quarters. Continue? 10, 9, 8, 7….     


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Adventures in Edmonton: The Hexagon Board Game Cafe

It was a warm night considering the time of year. I’d met my friend, and two others I didn’t know so well, at Dadeo for a tasty Po’ boy and yam fries. But a hearty supper was just the preview to an even better evening.

We left just as things were getting uncomfortably busy and pointed our compass east. My friend mentioned a new place called the Hexagon Board Game Café and we figured it was worth a shot. After a few u-turns, we found the place which is situated in the less trendy East-area of Whyte. My first thought was that it didn’t really belong on this particular block, and my next thought was “why not (where should a board game café be situated anyway)?”

Upon entering, I immediately noticed the ‘hip’ esthetic. Hexagon’s large vinyl logo acts as a center piece using the same minimalist lines and slim font that I’ve seen in fair-trade coffee shops, restaurant upstarts and craft breweries as of late. The interior has modern light fixtures, a wood floor and tables (naturally), and it’s open concept (of course). Immediately I know I will like this place. Immediately I think that the board game crowd won’t. For one thing, there aren’t that many 50s haircuts in the room. But the popularity of the place, and inclusive vibe, proves my concern is unwarranted.

We ask “how does it work?” and are told we can pick any game from the shelf and find a seat. The cost is $2.50 per hour, per person. That seems reasonable considering many of these games are quite expensive to buy outright, and we can take our pick from hundreds of them. It also seems reasonable compared to the cost of a movie ticket.

We stare at the selection and don’t really say anything. I don’t know what to pick, so I look at my friend. He doesn’t know what to pick so he looks at the other two. They aren’t even looking at the games. Luckily, someone who I suspect is an owner, asks us what type of game we are interested in. “Something easy to learn” I say. “No problem,” he replies, and proceeds to pick out what would be the perfect game for our limited time and attention spans.

After some humming and hawing about location, we finally pick a table. The owner then sits with us, explains the game tactfully, and proceeds to play the first round with us. We learned it quickly, we became competitive, we had fun.

As an added bonus, we had the option of ordering beverages and snacks to pair with our appetites for competition. These were certainly well thought out options—Bloom cookies and locally roasted espresso for example. Being a coffee snob, I wouldn’t say it’s the best coffee in the city, but it’s infinitely better than what I would expect from a board game café. And more than anything, I appreciate the thought and care toward the quality of food and drink Hexagon chooses to serve.

Anyway, we left happy. If you plan on venturing out to Hexagon, a warning that you may want to look into a reservation depending on the evening. It’s popular for a reason. 

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Adventures in Edmonton: Downtown Dining Week

Through the looking glass…so are the days of Downtown Dining Week. 2015 marcs the fourth year my wife and I have visited at least one restaurant during this week. Our past experiences have all been awesome, save for one. But, I’m happy to report this year was a huge success. Specifically, we ate at the Marc, producers of fantastic French cuisine.

If you haven’t heard of Downtown Dining Week, it’s a week where more than a dozen downtown Edmonton restaurants come up with set menus for lunch (two courses) or dinner (three courses). Many of the restaurants are fancier, more expensive places that cause budget-conscious hearts to beat a little faster. Thus, a set price and menu allows even less-affluent citizens the opportunity to set foot in places they might not dare enter but for anniversaries or special occasions.

First, a brief recap of the past few years. In the first year we ate at the Hardware Grill. The set menu included a nice steak with a coffee rub, and dessert was their popular aged butterscotch pudding. The food was good and the rub was a little on the salty side, but for me, service is what’s most important. Our server was clearly a professional. Overall, a positive experience worthy of an 8.5 out of 10.

The second year, we went to the Harvest Room in Fairmont Hotel Macdonald. The food was awesome, but what stood out to me was the service from the kitchen. My wife cannot eat gluten which is always a pain for both her and the restaurant—particularly when there is a set menu. In this case, the head chef came to our table before we ate, and talked through everything on the menu with us--including the substitutions he would be making to eliminate the flour. I’ll have you know, this is incredibly rare. My experience is that many servers view gluten-free requests like a plague and generally opt to offer an evil glare, and then proceed to tell you what they can’t do rather than what they can. Furthermore, ‘accommodations’ often amount to a dish with no seasoning, fat or flavor that can only be described as an “allergy plate.” 9.5/10

The third year was our first strike out. Not to give out any names, but the unfortunate place we ate at rhymes with Buth Priss. We walked in and were immediately sat next to multiple noisy tables despite the place being not even half full. When we inquired about gluten-free options, the waiter begrudgingly told us he would "try to make it work." What he actually meant is that the fancy dessert done three-ways would be substituted with a few berries in small glass—among other disappointments. Our waiter was absent most of the night and cared very little about our enjoyment.  1.5/10     

In 2015, things are looking up again. The set menu at the Marc included perfectly cooked duck, boar bacon, ginger-beer mustard, and the list goes on. It was a less expensive dinner (there are two dinner types for downtown dining week) and that allowed us to splurge a bit on wine. As for gluten-free, they made my wife a crème brûlée dessert, and it was actually better than the one that came on the menu. There was a minor mix up in the kitchen where they forgot that something had flour in it, but our waiter made up for it in the form of a bubbly treat that came with dessert. 9/10, and my recommendation for this year’s place to eat during this culinary adventure week in Edmonton.  

Downtown Dining Week 2015 ends on March 22. 

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