I share my birth year with my favourite Albertan bistro, where I have spent many special occasions. It was only natural then, that I share a meal with it as we both turned 27, a number that suggests elegance and artistry; the poet smoking in the back of the pub, sketching on a coaster.
Normand’s Bistro shines for its game, or, in Canadian parlance, meat that comes from non-domesticated animals. The menu incorporates Canadian game like bison, elk, and boar, and also less familiar tastes like kangaroo, ostrich, and crocodile “just to keep it entertaining”—in the words of the owner, Normand Campbell. With an unmistakable air of relaxation, it’s easy to spend a few hours enjoying a meal here without feeling rushed. This very European attitude is reflected in everything.
“It got painted into a corner because it’s an old-school restaurant”. A pragmatic man of 60, Campbell has a quiet but significant presence. He believes there are items he can’t take off the menu “because people love them”. All of the food is French-based and “made from scratch”.
He elaborates, saying he wasn’t going to do camel meat, but kept getting told to try it and has had “nothing but positive response”. Camel is very novel for Canada. Most of it is from Australia, where feral herds roam in the hundreds of thousands. Being wild game, it’s leaner and healthier than beef. According to Campbell, health-conscious and food-aware being the trends of the hour has made game more popular. “There’s less fat, and usually higher protein value. It’s also more hormone- and chemical-free, and has less antibiotics”. He identifies a movement of people trying to eat only game because they know it’s healthier for them.
The difference is palatable. Despite the similar taste, the camel tenderloin isn’t as heavy as a beef steak might be. It’s lean, tender, and contrasts nicely with the more delicately flavoured elk tenderloin and the thick, smoky slice of boar bacon. All of it is topped with a tart blueberry sauce that complements the savoury meat well.
The combination of limiting wastage and healthier food choices also means it has a more humane origin.
This pairing of exotic with local is a shrewd move on Campbell’s part. “I introduced it as camel and wild boar tenderloin, or camel and elk tenderloin,” he says. “So if you’re not going to enjoy it, you’re not wasting the whole plate.”
The combination of limiting wastage and healthier food choices also means it has a more humane origin. “I’m getting my year’s supply of goose livers, but they’re natural. They’re not force-fed, but they’re still pretty big livers. We use that to make goose liver pâté in the fall.”
Meats aside, a personal favourite is the wild Albertan mushroom cream soup. Although other appetizers—like bison carpaccio, steamed Prince Edward Island mussels, and frog legs provençale—are tempting, I always return to the soup, which gives my meal a comforting start.
Diners keep coming back. “What’s really cool is the second generation,” Campbell says. “Their parents used to come in, and now they’re coming in with their dates.” I’m one of those second-generation diners.
The bistro is a far cry from the crowded chain restaurants that line most of Jasper Avenue. The waitstaff are professional but not perky, friendly but not gushing, and are as familiar a sight as the owner, who greets diners at the door and chats to them at the tables. At first glance, the style may seem outdated, but Campbell embraces it, calling himself “old-school”. He says that it has helped the restaurant survive almost three decades, and that while food trends will always change, “consistency’s the key for an old restaurant”.
If you decide to visit: Normand’s Bistro, 11639 Jasper Ave, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada T5K 2S7. Monday-Thursday 8am-10pm; Friday & Saturday 8am-11pm; Sunday 8am-9pm | 1-780-482-2600 | www.normands.com.