Finding the best food and drink pairings at the Fringe is a finely honed skill that I’ve developed over the past 12 years of spending way too much time on the Fringe grounds during marathon review sessions. This year I took on a much more relaxed schedule and only reviewed 6 shows (for Beer Tent reviews, now available at a Fringe beer tent near you!). I still scoped out the food vendors and drink options in order to present to you, dear hungry reader and ardent Fringer, my top list of this year’s Edmonton Fringe food and drink pairings.
Spaghetti Cone and Terrazas Malbec
The most stand-out food item at this year’s Fringe is the spaghetti in a cone from Tiramisu Bistro. I got the classic spaghetti and meatballs and accepted their up-sell suggestion to add spicy Italian sausage. (Note: it’s barely spicy.) I didn’t have high expectations because these seemed pretty gimmicky – a sign declares that they are “‘A Miracle of Physics’ from New York!” I don’t see what’s so miraculous about a pasta-filled cardboard cone, but it turns out that these are actually pretty tasty – very homey and satisfying, and not greasy or fast food-y at all. The cone also fits nicely in your hand, though the drawback to its ergonomic shape is that you can’t really set it down without potentially dumping out the contents.
I know everyone in Edmonton is currently freaking out over the fact that the newly opened Jollibee has fast food spaghetti, which I haven’t tasted but assume is pretty gross given that Jollibee is essentially Filipino McDonald’s. I’m going to go ahead and declare that the Fringe’s fast food spaghetti is far superior. It’s also super filling, which should be a given because it’s pasta, but I feel like I need to confirm this after my first disappointing foray into Fringe food this year (see the entry on Nooch below).
Ávila Arepa and Eau Claire Cherry Collins
This year’s exciting Fringe drink entry are Eau Claire’s craft cocktails in a can. They’ve got their Parlour Gin mixed with tonic, a Cherry Collins (made with their seasonal Cherry gin) and Equinox Mule (made with their intriguing prickly pear cactus spirit, Equinox). I found the Collins and Mule a little too sweet for my taste, but I can see why they opted for this flavour profile to appeal to the cooler-swilling crowd. They are certainly a better option than other coolers, plus Eau Claire is a local Alberta distillery (the first, actually).
The fruity, savoury profile of the Cherry Collins matches well with the various savoury arepas available from Ávila Arepa, a local family owned-and-operated restaurant in town. Their stall at the Fringe is tucked away from the main drag of food options, located just north of the Arts Barns right before the north beer tent. They’ve got a few different arepas available, which is a Venezuelan fried corn cake stuffed with meat and cheese (and occasionally other ingredients, like bean and avocado). I got the Domino – black bean and feta – arepa, slathered with “pink sauce.” I do not know what is in the pink sauce and I did not ask, but it was tangy and a good counterpart to the protein-rich beans and salty feta.
Irie Foods and Eau Claire Equinox Mule
Another local Edmonton favourite is Irie Foods, which offers an array of jerked meats (heh) to satisfy your Jamaican food craving. The heat in these dishes needs a sweet drink to balance out. Eau Claire’s Equinox Mule fits the bill and it has a gingery undercurrent (kind of like hard ginger ale), so it’s a good stand-in for the ginger beer that I’d normally recommend alongside Jamaican food.
Rustixx Wood-Fired Pizza (or North Fork Grilled Cheese) and Terrazas Chardonnay
Rustixx pizzas have been at the Fringe for several years now and they are always a solid choice. I’m aware that suggesting a white wine pairing with pizza may be considered sacrilege to some, but I find that the smoky flavour from the wood-fired crust is a nice match with the judiciously oaked Terrazas Chardonnay. Plus, white wine is actually way more forgiving and versatile for food pairings than red. (Cheese and red wine is usually a terrible combination, actually.)
That said, the Pepperoni, Meat Lovers and Canadian pizzas are probably better paired with the Terrazas Malbec. The rest of them – especially the Cheeser Pleaser, California Veggie and Hawaiian– are lovely with the Chard.
A good alternative, if the queue at Rustixx is too long (and it frequently is) – grab a grilled cheese from North Fork (formerly known as Lunch Pail) next door. This is also served in a paper cone like the spaghetti, because apparently the future of fast food packaging is conical. The Terrazas Chardonnay has enough acidity to handle grilled cheese, so go for it.
Green Onion Cakes and Chandon Sparkling Wine
If you learn only one thing about food and wine pairing, it should be that greasy junk food is best paired with sparkling wine. All the foods that you’d traditionally associate with beer – French fries, fried chicken, fish and chips – are equally good with sparkling wine. Edmonton’s pre-eminent greasy festival food, the legendary green onion cake, is no exception. Grab one of these bad boys and head over to the wine tent for a glass of the Chandon sparkling wine, and revel in the glory of a perfect pairing.
What’s a Fringe without bad reviews? I was lucky that all the shows I saw this year were pretty solid (so far, anyway), but the same is not true of all the food and drinks I tried.
I was excited when I saw this offering in the Fringe food line-up, because I love a good vegan bowl. Based on the name, I assumed these were all vegan: “nooch” is slang for nutritional yeast, an ingredient typically found only in vegan cookery. As it turns out, of the four bowls they offer, only one is vegan and the rest of have meat. That would be fine, except the quality was terrible and the portion sizes were insulting, given that these things cost $15 a pop.
I tried the Mexican bowl, which had cheap taco beef that could have been the same stuff they use at Taco in a Bag, underwhelming avocado crema sauce (needed more acidity) and large, tough chunks of kale. My partner got the equally disappointing keto bowl: poor quality chicken, a disappointingly small blob of avocado, and the same unwieldy hunks of kale – one piece even had a large chunk of stem still attached. I have absolutely *no* tolerance for crappily executed kale because it reinforces the widespread belief that kale is gross and only health nuts eat it. I think that most people would actually like kale if it’s done properly – i.e. when properly separated from the stem, chopped or torn into bite-sized pieces, and massaged with olive oil. Massaging it is crucial, as otherwise it is way too tough.
I might have been a bit more lenient on these if they at least filled me up, but the portion size was way too small for the $15 price tag. For that price I expect something at least as good as a freshii bowl; these were not. We left hungry, went home and ordered pizza. Seriously.
Nooch is a new concept by the Century Hospitality Group. The website says it is delivery-only and will be dropping soon, so I assume they are testing it out at the Fringe and will be launching it as a ghost kitchen shortly. The bowl splashed across their website looks *nothing* like what’s at the Fringe, so I hope they do a serious rework before launch.
Santa Carolina Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc
If you want a decent glass of wine at the Fringe, go to the wine tent (this should be fairly obvious). That’s the only place where you’ll find the aforementioned Terrazas Malbec and Chardonnay, which are both fine little wines. The other two beer tents only have boxed wine from Santa Carolina. These are bad. They are also the same price as the Terrazas wines, which is criminal.
I know boxed wine is the most convenient choice for something like a Fringe beer tent, but I would like to see the Fringe offer better-quality boxed or canned wine (yes, these exist), or just go back to regular glass bottles. The Fringe offers wine from a regular bottle at the wine tent, so I’m not sure why they can’t offer this at the other two watering holes – especially since it’s all the same price.
In past years, the Fringe had a way better wine selection – I even remember wine tasting flights, hosted by wine reps who came in and poured samples. This year they are only doing a “Tap the Cask” beer night. As a wine drinker, I’m disappointed. BRING BACK THE (GOOD) FRINGE WINE.