Edmonton's Wishbone restaurant: 'Good food started here'
'It's all about memories here, and warm fuzzy feelings,' says Edmonton AM food critic Twyla Campbell
In 2010, Carla Alexander blazed a trail onto the Edmonton food scene with the opening of MRKT on Jasper at 105th street.
The interior, best described as 1970`s rumpus room meets upside-down-canoe, was cutting edge for a city not yet aware it was heading for a culinary revolution.
The warm, woodsy space, located above the Red Star Pub where one of the leaders of that culinary revolution, Daniel Costa, was honing his chops, became known for its adherence to the local food movement ideology: procuring fresh, local, conscientiously raised food.
For seven years, Alexander didn't waiver from her food beliefs.
It's fitting then that Chef Brayden Kozak, one of the founding fathers of Three Boars on 109th Street, who regularly meets farmers at the back door of his restaurant to peruse their goods, is the successor for this space, now called Wishbone.
If these walls could talk, they'd say, "good food started here."
Kozak has replaced very little in the old MRKT reworking the kitchen footprint, bringing in a more mid-century vibe with some avocado green banquettes and chairs, and brightening up the ceiling in places.
'Good food juju'
Whatever aesthetic alterations took place, the good food juju remains.
The menu — for both food and wine — is eclectic yet approachable, a result not found often when mixing the two, but it happens here.
The wine list is thoughtful; the offerings drinkable and affordable while remaining interesting.
You'll find the largest sherry inventory in Edmonton here thanks to Bar Manager, Shaun Hicks, arguably the city's foremost authority on the wine.
Spend a minute or two talking with him and you'll realize that this is not your grandmother's tipple.
Mom's fried bread should garner a spot on several 'favourite things to eat in Edmonton' lists that come out near year-end. The dish is ridiculously simple and simply addictive.
And yes, it is the chef's mother's recipe which he admits ignoring in favour of creating something fancier before realizing that Mom really does know best.
The bread he serves is identical to what he ate as a child. The snack comes piping hot; crispy in places, soft and chewy in others, and served with salted butter. We ordered a second batch before dessert.
The Welsh rarebit, like the bread, is comfort food to Kozak; this dish is jam-packed with umami courtesy of a copious amount of grated cured egg yolk that graces mornay-covered crimini mushrooms on toasted bread.
It should become as iconic to Wishbone as the mushrooms on toast is at Three Boars.
Vying for iconic dish status is the tête de cochon: bits of meat pulled from the nooks and crannies of a pig's head, formed into a large croquette, deep fried, nestled in mustard cream, topped with frisee and drizzled with Saskatoon syrup.
It checks all the boxes: crispy, creamy, fatty, salty, and sweet.
You can opt for lighter fare. Wishbone's current menu features five vegetarian dishes.
The Napa Cabbage Salad is refreshing with crispy bean sprouts, green onions, carrots dressed in a soy vinaigrette and topped with peanuts.
This salad helps to balance the guilt induced from the calorie-rich rarebit and tête de cochon. Further feel-good can be found in the beets with Stilton blue cheese and charred onion vinaigrette.
Even those who treat beets with disdain might be convinced to try this dish.
Savouring the simpler things
Raw oysters, baked oysters (topped with garlic butter, Chinese sausage and German butter cheese), and sea bream cudo swathed in canola, lime and fermented sea buckthorn might be the reason people return to Wishbone, but it could very well be the desserts that draw people back.
Kozak says his desserts are simple, but tasty, and it's a reminder that food does not have to be complicated to be good.
The sesame custard is served with a sesame lace cookie and salted demerara caramel sauce.
Crack the cookie, scoop the custard: it's a delightful blend of sweet, salty, smooth and crunchy.
It's the buttermilk beignet that impresses me, the fluffy hot donut resting in a puddle of dulce de leche. It reminds me of the fried bread: finger licking good enough to want seconds.
The restaurant is named for that moment after the holiday meal, where you sit around the table with friends and family and share the breaking of the wishbone.
It's all about memories here, and warm fuzzy feelings.
I think Carla Alexander would be happy knowing that.