Edmonton: Three Boars, Perfect Cocktails

edmonton

Before a recent trip to Edmonton I did my standard restaurant research. All trails seemed to lead to a place called Three Boars Eatery, located happily enough just a few blocks from my hotel in the neighborhood of Old Strathcona. I left a message requesting a booking the day before my arrival and two minutes later my phone pulsed. “Hi. You called. We’re full upstairs tomorrow night but there’s always room in the bar.”

The next night, after an airport shuttle ride through snow-choked streets and a quick check-in, I entered Three Boars’ bar area. It was populated solely by men, all of whom sported either a beard or a plaid shirt. Some, like me, boasted both. It felt like a homecoming. I overheard talk of poorly-behaved roommates at the far end of the bar, while the two gymrats next to me discussed in very technical terms the effect of steroids on a friend’s growth. The Rolling Stones ranted in the background; in the foreground, the service was attentive and nerdy. A revolving cast of three waiters asked questions and probed, made suggestions, and explained that the menu changes several times a week, sometimes daily.

Three Boars is about offal and local provenance. It’s full-fat and high protein. Three Boars is relaxed but it is also self-conscious, telling guests where all their food and drinks originate. I sipped local beers (fine, though nothing truly exceptional) and ate several small and very good courses: smoked pork jowls with grainy mustard, smoked steelhead trout, and bacon-wrapped figs stuffed with blue cheese. So far so good.

Then came the truly exceptional part of the evening, the part that made me sit up: a miso-braised pork belly sitting on steel-cut oats cooked in dashi, with scattered pickled mushroom, roe, and seaweed. The flavors were bold and beautifully balanced. The result was a wildly delicious and quite comforting savory breakfast, but for dinner. It entered the upper reaches of my global favorite food items chart with a bang.

Naturally I asked my waiters where else I should eat. “The food community is small in Edmonton, so everyone knows each other,” said one. To illustrate, he pointed out a chef sitting at the far end of the bar and then grabbed a fellow who was just leaving. “And this is Tarquin, the best bartender in Edmonton. You should have him make you cocktails.”Two nights prior, Tarquin Melnyk had won a Canadian Professional Bartenders Association prize as the best bartender in Alberta. He suggested that I visit Manor Casual Bistro, the restaurant where he tends bar, which I did the following night. I tried three of his complicated cocktails, thinking that each looked on paper as if it had too many ingredients, only to be walloped each time. These are remarkable, ambitious cocktails, some with either semi-exotic components (elderflower liqueur); others with remarkably exotic ingredients (phytoplankton).

Melnyk is personable well beyond reasonable customer service expectations. I had the feeling that, had I requested it, he could have devoted an evening to discussing new developments in the world of craft cocktails with me.

Edmonton’s dosage of friendliness was pleasing for sure, but what made my few days in Alberta’s frozen capital downright exciting was the vibe of being invited in, however briefly, to spend some time with a group of people making good food and drink for each other all bitter winter long.

[Image: Flickr | Hobolens]

Toronto In Transition: Coming In From Elsewhere

Over the past 40 years, Toronto’s Queen Street West has undergone a transition that’s shifted it from trendy boutiques and galleries to international chains and lively restaurants. As a result, the art scene that long called the street home has been pushed farther west to an area called West Queen West.

And now, even West Queen West is seeing its own transition. The galleries, little cafes and funky hotels are still there. So is the mental hospital that is the area’s major employer. But there are other newcomers, including one from way across Canada.

Gravitypope, with roots in Edmonton, Alberta, and stores in Calgary and Vancouver, opened its first Toronto store this fall. It’s the kind of well-groomed, innovative spot you’d see featured in Town and Country Magazine or a Nancy Meyers movie, with shoes and clothing that look meticulously selected by fashion stylists.

In another time, Gravitypope would have found a home in the opposite direction on Queen West, among the well-known names. But with that part of the street chockablock with retailers, its owner, Louise Dirks, decided she’d be better off away from the fray.

“Everybody kept saying, ‘go to Queen, go to Queen, go to Queen,’” she says of the area. “But I couldn’t find a space with a decent basement,” which was a requirement for the extensive inventories her stores carry.

Dirks is among a number of new arrivals who are staking their claims in Toronto neighborhoods. Some of them, like Nicole Angellotti at Lit Espresso Bar in Little Portugal, are already established in other parts of town, and see opportunities for expansion.

Others are rolling the dice on their first ventures in the city, hoping that the Toronto customers who visit their stores elsewhere are willing to do business with them at home.

Toronto author Shawn Micallef says their investments are the strongest endorsement a neighborhood can receive. “When outside Toronto moves in, you know the neighborhood is on peoples’ radar,” he says.

%Gallery-174400%

Dirks pondered her move to Toronto for years before taking the plunge. She opened the first Gravitypope store in Edmonton in 1990, operating as a cafe with a selection of clothing for sale in the back for her first decade. In 2000, she added a second store in Calgary, and then a shop in Vancouver in 2004. Her shoe business grew along with her clothing business, and with them, she incorporated a Web-based operation.

Over the past five or six years, “I got at least one email every couple of weeks from Toronto, begging for a Gravitypope out east,” says Dirks. In 2008, she went on a tour of Toronto neighborhoods, scouting by walking up and down the streets.

Finally in 2011, she settled on a brand new building in West Queen West, only a block from the Centre for Mental Health and Addiction (CAMH). Getting settled was a challenge, and the space was ready months after she originally expected. But since opening in the fall, “Every day has been awesome for us here,” Dirks says.

The location is “a bit fresh,” she says, and thus far, her customers have had no problem venturing out to her. On Gravitypope’s first day of business, 90 percent of her customers were former Western Canadians whose moves had preceded hers.

Manny Nikolaou, who runs Cafe Bernate next door, is among those glad to see a substantial business move in. “In the last five years, this whole area’s changed,” he said, while pulling espresso shots. “Before, it was a bit of a rough type neighborhood.”

He was also a little wary when a Tim Horton’s opened across the street, for fear it would take away his sandwich business. But the “quick sandwiches” made at Tim’s aren’t stealing the customers away from Bernate’s lineup, which includes 30 different homemade offerings.

Nikolaou says upscale stores like Gravitypope can only help West Queen West. “We’re happy to see people like them come in,” he says.

A few blocks away, another western Canadian newcomer has made itself at home on Dundas Avenue West. Ride Away Bikes came to the neighborhood in 2010, setting up a shop that sells new and used bikes, and performs repairs.

The owners have two other shops in Vancouver, and saw opportunity in Toronto’s growing bicycle culture. While the city isn’t as bike friendly as other places, there’s a move afoot to expand the use of two-wheeled transportation. “It grows every year,” says Justin Brady, a store manager.

About two-thirds of his business comes from the surrounding neighborhood, but in the past year and a half, as cycling has become more popular, he’s noticed more people arriving from other parts of Toronto. “Probably, people would have noticed us before,” Brady says.

And, Brady will soon find out whether two new businesses on his end of Dundas West bring him more customers. Two doors down, Queen Margherita Pizza from Leslieville is opening one of its two new Toronto restaurants (the other is a few miles east, in an upscale area called Babypoint). Across the street, Susur Lee, the Toronto restaurateur who competed on “Top Chef Masters,” has opened Bent with his two sons.

The sleek black and red restaurant, which some liken to a nightclub, hasn’t exactly gotten off to a strong start. The Toronto Star gave it just one star, saying it was “more broken than merely bent,” while the Globe and Mail was kinder, pointing out the place has been packed since its opening.

Brady, at the bike store, is glad to see the outsiders draw crowds, at least. “It can only mean good things,” he says.

For more on “Toronto In Transition” click here

[Photo Credits: Micheline Maynard]

10 Offbeat Fringe Festivals From Around North America

edmonton fringe festival An array of fringe festivals are happening around North America, bringing together the most out-of-the-ordinary artists from around the world. From dancers, to acrobats, to buskers to unusual performance artists, these fringers will show that they are not only talented, but were born to perform. Want to see a show in the near future? Check out these 10 great fringe festivals to check out before the end of 2012.

Edmonton International Fringe Festival
Edmonton, Alberta

Advertised as “Canada’s largest and longest-running Fringe Festival,” the Edmonton International Fringe Festival features many bizarre events that will take place in Edmonton’s historic arts district, Old Strathcona. Themed “The Village of the Fringed,” spectators will see 1,600 performances of 220 uncensored productions. In fact, the festival refuses to restrain performances, which are chosen using an unbiased lottery system. Some acts to look forward to include:

  • “The Kif-Kif Sisters,” featuring twins who twist and intermingle themselves, make bananas appear, enter giant balloons and juggle umbrellas.
  • “Dr. Fondoozle’s Fantastic Show Of Awesome,” which features bizarre feats like whip mastery, contortion, contact juggling and poi spinning.
  • “The Lol Brothers Show,” which takes you on a tour of rock ‘n’ roll through risky circus acts and humor.

If you’re bringing children, KIDOPOLIS is safe and free for junior Fringers 12 and under, as well as their caregivers.

This year’s Edmonton International Fringe Festival will take place from August 16 to 26, 2012. Click here for more details. IndyFringe
Indianapolis, Indiana

Taking place in the Massachusetts Avenue Cultural District, IndyFringe provides opportunities for audiences to partake in the Indianapolis arts community. This wacky and wild festival allows emerging artists to display an eclectic mix of performances. From dancers, to story tellers, to visual art groups, this fringe festival is sure to entertain all festival goers. Some performances to look forward to include:

  • “Do Re Mi Fa So Latino,” which features President Rodriguez, the first openly non-American citizen President, and Mexican Harriet Tubman, smuggling hard working Hispanics out of Arizona to the less oppressive north.
  • “Iris and Rose – Wild and Thorny,” a show which features a pub singing duo belting out dirty tunes.
  • “Donating Sperm to My Sister’s Wife,” a performance about a man’s lesbian sister and her wife, and how he helps them get pregnant.

This year’s IndyFringe will take place from August 17 to 26. Click here for more details.

Boulder International Fringe Festival Boulder International Fringe Festival
Boulder, Colorado

The Boulder Fringe is actually a tax-exempt organization with goals to revitalize the community, help artists inspire each other and support local businesses by hiring administrators, technical crew and artists. This year’s Boulder International Fringe Festival will feature jaw dropping performances from over 300 artists. Some of the shows include:

  • “What To Do About Delusion,” where Andy Pratt will attempt to tame four personalities using juggle therapy, an experimental psychoanalysis technique for narcissists.
  • “Tobo’s Magic & Marvel Show,” which weaves magic, stories and history into an astonishing and inspiring experience.
  • “Flying Shoes,” where dancers use choreography to explore their relationships to each other, gravity and architecture.

Along with viewing artistic expression, attendees can enjoy the Fringe Encore Brunch, free Fringe Beer Garden, educational panels and presentations, west African song and dance classes, performance workshops, an interactive flea market and more.

This year’s Boulder International Fringe Festival will take place from August 15 to September 26. Click here for more details.

Chicago Fringe Festival
Chicago, Illinois

Taking place in the Pilsen neighborhood, the Chicago Fringe Festival features 50 unique performance groups like actors, dancers, impersonators, puppeteers and scientist-comedians. Some acts to look forward to include:

  • “55 Minutes of Sex, Drugs and Audience Participation,” a sketch-comedy performance where the audience is asked to suggest awkward topics and actors create emotionally honest stories of the pleasures of forbidden love, wretched excess, reckless living and making a good confession.
  • “Bruiser: Tales From a Traumatized Tomboy,” a true story of how a misplaced tomboy blossoms into an even more awkward adult.
  • “Konetic Concoction,” a bizarre yet thought provoking dance show where you’ll see acts like a ballerina dancing on pointe in a straight jacket and a dancer performing in a 24-foot long skirt.

This year’s Chicago Fringe Festival will take place from August 30 to September 9. Click here for more details.

fringe nyc New York International Fringe Festival
New York, NY

Pushing the limits with new ideas and new perspectives, the New York International Fringe Festival features innovative performances by over 200 companies from around the world all over downtown Manhattan. The festival boasts being the “largest multi-arts festival in North America,” with 1,200 unique performances from musicals to dances to rock ‘n’ roll Shakespeare. Some of this year’s performances to look forward to include:

  • “#MormonChief,” where Connor, an unassuming Mormon, becomes the center of media attention when he tweets inflammatory statements inspired by a Mormon presidential candidate.
  • “5 Lesbians Eating a Quiche,” a sketch comedy piece taking place in 1956 where communists threaten the Susan B. Anthony Society for the Sisters of the Gertrude Stein during their annual Quiche breakfast.
  • “Magic Trick,” a burlesque-style love story.

This year’s New York International Fringe Festival will take place from August 10 to August 26. Click here for more details.

Atlantic Fringe Festival
Halifax, Nova Scotia

The Atlantic Fringe Festival has an “anything-goes” attitude. Displaying a wide variety of original plays, shows, and presentations, the Atlantic Fringe is the definition of an artist-driven festival. This entirely volunteer run event is filled with musicals, dramas, comedies, dances and belly dancers. Moreover, these fringers will prove to audiences they were born performers in over 250 performances and 40 different shows. The website will be up sometime this week with the performance schedule.

This year’s Atlantic Fringe Festival will take place from August 30 to September 9. Click here for more details.

vancouver fringe festival Vancouver Fringe Festival
Vancouver, British Columbia

As British Columbia’s largest theater festival, the Vancouver Fringe Festival brings in more than 30,000 attendees for over 750 performances by 97 groups. Audiences will see an eclectic mix of uncensored theatrical performances by artists who break traditional boundaries. Additionally, the artists receive 100% of regular box office revenues generated during the festival. Some shows to get excited for include:

  • “Say Wha?! Readings Of Deliciously Rotten Writing,” where some of the worst writing in print will be made fun of by performers.
  • “One Human Race,” a live music show based on traditional Igbo roots rhythms, evoking the spirit of highlife and Afrobeat with a splash of funk, jazz, blues, and reggae.
  • “Does This Turn You On?,” a lighthearted look at sexual fetishes in the modern imagination.

Along with watching unusual performance art, you’ll get the opportunity to partake in improv, puppetry and other performance workshops. Don’t have a date? Make use of the festival’s escort service, where a knowledgeable representative will not only help you choose a show, but will also go along with you.

This year’s Vancouver Fringe Festival will take place from September 6 to 16. Click here for more details.

Seattle Fringe Festival
Seattle, Washington

After almost a decade, the Seattle Fringe Festival is returning to Capitol Hill. The event will feature a variety of genres, and will showcase everything from raw, untested acts to perfectly executed performances. Moreover, all performers are chosen by a non-adjudicated lottery. Some acts to look forward to include:

  • “First Born,” where life and death comes down to a game of rock, paper, scissors.
  • “Chop,” which focuses on a man who is isolated from the world around him, until he meets a mysterious tattooed woman who brings him to an underground amputation fetish group.
  • “The Ukrainian Dentist’s Daughter,” a show about a woman who relives her life while being stood up at the alter.

This year’s Seattle Fringe Festival will take place from September 19 to 23. Click here for more details.

san francisco fringe festival San Francisco Fringe Festival
San Francisco, California

The San Francisco Fringe Festival is an open-minded event where performers will showcase an array of talents. With 40 different shows and over 200 acts, attendees will have the opportunity to watch a slew of creative, daring and fun productions. The event is in its 21st year, and is offering some interesting acts like:

  • “Aerial Allusions,” a fusion of multiple performance styles such as acrobatic dance, clown and theater that come together to bring chaos, humor and control to the stage.
  • “Antipodes,” a mix of tightly synced video projection, acting and live music that tells the story of an American man and a Chinese woman who find stable selves by being deconstructed.
  • “Jesus, Do You Like Me? Please Mark Yes or No,” a complicated love story featuring murder, religion and “answers to all existential crisis.”

This year’s San Francisco Fringe Festival will take place from September 5 to 16. Click here for more details.

New Orleans Fringe Festival
New Orleans, Louisiana

As a city known for embracing artists, it’s no wonder this show is a display of wild, weird, fearless and original theater. The New Orleans Fringe Festival features artists such as buskers, puppeteers, dramatists, improv folks, skit-makers and hula-hoopers, who will take the stage at the crazy circus tent known as the Fringe Free-For-All. Because the official schedule isn’t out yet, you still have time to apply to be a performer if you think you have some original performance art to show the world.

This year’s New Orleans Fringe Festival will take place from November 14 to 18. Click here for more details.