Jerk chicken to corn cheese: Exploring the Mill Woods food scene

Twyla Campbell takes a food tour of Mill Woods and discovers there's an "international smorgasbord" of delicious offerings to be enjoyed.

Edmonton AM food critic takes a tour of southeast Edmonton eateries

Edmonton AM restaurant reviewer Twyla Campbell on her Mill Woods food tour with local foodie Ramneek Tung. (Ariel Fournier/CBC)

CBC Edmonton is setting up a pop-up newsroom at the Mill Woods Public Library for the week of Sept. 10-14. We'll be exploring stories and perspectives from one of Edmonton's oldest communities, and will be broadcasting live from the library on Sept. 14. Have a story to pitch? Come say hi!

With much of Edmonton's South Asian population residing in Mill Woods — the area between 91st Street to the west and 34th Street to the east between the Whitemud and the Henday — you might expect restaurants' food offerings to lean heavily toward curries and flatbreads.

Those foods are certainly aplenty, but you'd be surprised at the fare available from cultures outside of the Indian subcontinent: Vietnamese pho, French pastries, Filipino pork adobo and Chilean empanadas. Mill Woods offers an international smorgasbord.

I went on a restaurant tour with Ramneek Tung, a self-proclaimed foodie who has lived in the area for almost 30 years. We stopped at three of his favourite haunts.

Irie Foods at 2807 Mill Woods Rd. has been around for more than 20 years. Irie is a Jamaican colloquialism for "everything is good," and it's what many people say after trying the food.

The restaurant is mostly known for its curries — chicken and goat — and for its jerk chicken, an iconic Jamaican dish of chicken seasoned with allspice, nutmeg, thyme, pepper, cloves, cinnamon, garlic and Scotch bonnet peppers.

Here, it is slowly cooked in an oven. In Jamaica, jerk chicken is cooked over fire, with pimento or allspice wood used as the fuel source.

Jerk chicken, braised oxtail, cow foot, beans and rice, and coleslaw at Irie Foods. (Twyla Campbell)

Irie's jerk isn't as spicy as what I devoured by the platter in Jamaica, and though many customers here are Jamaicans seeking out the foods of their homeland, the spice factor is toned down for the Canadian palate.

All parts of the chicken are used, and you'll have to specifically request the juicier dark meat, if that's your preference, otherwise you'll get bits and pieces of the whole bird: breast, legs, thighs and wings.

The curried goat was tempting, but we opted for the braised oxtail, a saucy, succulent dish of hunks of tail — meat and bone — in a rich gravy.

The bite-size pieces of cow foot, in comparison, are less flavourful with a texture similar to soft gummy bears. All dishes are served with rice, kidney and lima beans and a creamy coleslaw. Those with low spice tolerance will find it helpful for taming the heat of the Scotch bonnet peppers.

Yummy Chicken at 6111 28th Ave. is a Korean restaurant riding the wave of Korean-fried chicken popularity that popped up in Edmonton a few years ago. The room, in vibrant tones of orange, yellow and red, has a youthful vibe with kitschy decor and a large screen TV tuned to K-Pop music videos.

The restaurant offers standard Korean fare, like bulgogi and bibimbap, but the special dish of deep-fried chicken served atop a mound of bubbling, gooey mozzarella cheese is too intriguing to pass on.

Boneless chicken with mozzarella, and the corn cheese dish, at Yummy Chicken. (Twyla Campbell)

Likewise the corn cheese — a melted pile of (as you'd expect) corn and cheese.

Both are oddly satisfying, and a cold Korean beer would be a welcome addition to cut through the richness of cheese and sweet and saucy deep-fried chicken chunks.

At this point, we gave up worrying about calories — in for a penny, in for a few pounds, as it were.

Ordering poutine at PrimeTime, our next stop, seemed an obvious choice for Ramneek, who ramped it up even more by taking it from classic to PrimeTime mode. The restaurant is at 6572 28th Ave.

That level affords you a choice of one of six sauces — bold barbecue, sweet and spicy, honey garlic, butter chicken, spicy fire or pineapple curry — and mushrooms to add to the heap of fries, cheese, gravy and standard white sauce.

Twyla Campbell enjoys a donair at PrimeTime in Mill Woods. (Ariel Fournier/CBC)

When asked how hot he wanted the spicy fire — on a scale of 1 to 10 — he answers, "11." Because, why not?

I, on the other hand, stuck with a classic donair; a soft pita stuffed with spiced beef, cheese, tomatoes, lettuce and onion, and topped with sweet white sauce.

It paled in all aspects to Ramneek's mountainous pile of caloric debauchery that I looked upon with shock and horror.

But later, when I shared the leftovers with a friend at home, we both agreed that the combination of fat and salt and dairy and spice wasn't terrible. We found ourselves saying, "OK, just one more bite," more often than I care to admit.

Touring with Ramneek opened my eyes about Mill Woods and made me curious enough to return for a more thorough exploration.

If you don't step outside your comfort zone, you'll never know what wonders await.

That curried goat hasn't stopped calling my name. I think it's time I got to it.

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