Edmonton Restaurant Review: The Needle Vinyl Tavern

The open bar and stage at The Needle Vinyl Tavern.

Since The Needle Vinyl Tavern opened about a year and a half ago, I’ve frequented the place a few times. It’s located right on Jasper Avenue and 105 Street. When the business was first announced, it was a welcome addition to the city as it wasn’t simply another bar, but a small live music venue as well. On the cusp of the loss of several others like it in the span of a year or two, Edmontonians were happy to know there was something coming in to fill that void.

The wall opens up to allow for an expanded patio space.

Although I haven’t gone to any of the shows (they do have some great artists coming through), I have been for food and drinks. The first time was last summer when my friends and I decided to walk a few blocks from the office for our lunch break. It was a beautifully sunny day and we managed to snag a table out on the extended sidewalk patio, one of the few spaces like it in the downtown core. Personally, I think it’s a great spot to catch some rays and grab a bite. The only thing is I prefer sitting a little further in from where the pedestrians are constantly passing by.

The original vinyl drink menu is no longer used, but was a great touch.

On that occasion, I was really impressed with the details that went into The Needle. The overall menu had a decent mix of options and the dishes were promising. What we ate tasted good and the service was prompt. I especially loved that, to go with the theme, they had their list of drinks printed on actual vinyl discs. It was a fun feature. However, over time, those intricacies have disappeared and been replaced with what I would say are watered down versions of their previous offerings.

The last time I visited, my friend and I popped in for lunch. Instead of sitting out on the patio, we ate at a booth inside. While I enjoyed getting to view the bar and the stage, I found the service to be extremely slow even though there were a lot of staff on hand (chatting to each other) and not many people dining in.

Eventually, a server came over to take our order. I opted to make a meal of two of the appetizers: Mac N’ Cheese Bites ($9) and Cauliflower 78 ($13). My friend chose the Taco Supremo House Pizza ($17).

Taco Supremo House Pizza

I have to say that the slice of taco pizza was the best thing out of the trio. Yet, I don’t think that’s saying much. Sure, the flavours were okay, but I felt that the crust was bland and lacked in texture. I also disliked the fact that it was difficult to see past all of the lettuce and tomato that topped the pizza. It was like the kitchen was trying to hide what was underneath. The red sauce was basic and there was not enough beef.

The Mac N’ Cheese Bites with Ketchup

Still, the pizza was better than both of my starters. The Mac N’ Cheese Bites were passable. The thing is, it seemed as though they literally took a box of Kraft Dinner and made the pasta into nugget shapes before breading and frying them. The ten greasy pieces were served with a side of ketchup for dipping. They may have added some extra cheese as the interior of the bites were creamier than I expected. Regardless, the execution was poor. If you’re going to serve something like this, take a page from the many other restaurants that serve similar items. Jazz it up with a ketchup that’s made in-house or incorporate some spice or seasoning.

Cauliflower 78 with Sweet & Spicy Dip

The worst of the bunch was definitely the Cauliflower 78. These tiny florets were over-breaded (somehow not that crispy) and the portion was way too small for the price. They came in a bowl the size of a cup of soup. The side of sweet chili dip was probably store bought as well. This was absolutely nothing special and such a disappointment.

My takeaway from the whole experience is that The Needle Vinyl Tavern is mainly there for the music and maybe the drinks (my co-worker said the selection of beer is lacking). I’ve been told the brunch menu is a winner, but I have yet to try it. In the meantime, I believe that food is no longer their forte. They have the potential to make it a strong suit because I saw it in the beginning. I just think that they’ve veered off of that path for the time being. Hopefully they can get back on track eventually.

The bar is a cool feature of the venue and it’s pretty spacious to fit a standing crowd during shows.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Ruamit Thai Restaurant

Panang Kai with Coconut Rice

Living in Edmonton, I rarely venture outside of the city for a meal. Yet, earlier this year, I came across a Groupon deal for Ruamit Thai Restaurant in Sherwood Park. From the far southwest side of the Anthony Henday to the eatery, it’s about a twenty minute drive. Sure, that seems like quite the distance, but in reality, it’s not much longer than going to the west end for dinner.

I took the plunge and I bought a voucher. As per usual, I let the certificate sit there until the full value was near expiry. However, within the final week to use it, my boyfriend and I ventured to Ruamit on a Tuesday night.

Reservations weren’t required with the Groupon, so we didn’t bother booking in advance. We simply hoped for the best. When we arrived, there were a few tables occupied, but the majority of seats were still empty (it did fill up with a couple of large parties as we dined though).

The interior of Ruamit Thai Restaurant.

Our cozy booth was tucked in the corner to the left of the entrance. It allowed me a view of the entire space. It’s not big, but the layout provides room for about forty people or so. The décor leans more towards the traditional with nods towards Thai history and culture.

On our visit, Ruamit was in the middle of revamping their menus, so the ones we were given were photocopies of the takeout listings. After several minutes trying to decide on what we wanted to share, we landed on the Panang Kai Curry ($16.95), the Pad Thai Krung Tep ($15.95) and a bowl of coconut rice ($3.75).

I will quickly note that when they brought out our main dishes, I got the sense that the staff believed that was all we had ordered. I had to remind them that we had also requested the coconut rice. Once I let them know it was missing, they were very prompt to bring that over.

Panang Kai Curry

When it came to the food, everything was delicious. The white rice infused with coconut was aromatic and flavourful and it paired very well with the Panang Kai, a curry with a coconut milk base. Still, I was a little bit disappointed with the fact that there wasn’t a whole lot of protein or bell peppers. At this price, I would have expected a heftier portion of meat and veggies, especially when there are no other sides included. By the same token, they didn’t skimp on the creamy coconut curry or peanut sauce as there was an ample amount of both. The problem is that, although the sauces were amazing, they’re not necessarily filling.

Pad Thai Krung Tep

On the other hand, the Pad Thai Krung Tep seemed to have a better ratio of stir-fried chicken to egg to rice noodle. Even though I would have been happy with more protein, it was a decent mix and it didn’t feel like this dish was wanting for anything. The sauce soaked into the noodles and there was plenty of chopped green onion, bean sprouts and crushed peanuts. I added a spritz of lime juice to give the dish some zestiness and it was wonderful.

Despite our stomachs being satiated by the time we finished off those plates, I had to ask about Ruamit’s dessert options. To my dismay, the only one offered consisted of fried bananas, so my hope of finding mango sticky rice was dashed. If sticky rice and mango was available, I would have put aside my feelings of fullness and continued eating.

All-in-all, Ruamit did the trick of filling my cravings for Thai food. Plus, the service was quick and friendly. While I’m unlikely to go out of my way to visit on a whim, I will definitely keep this place top-of-mind for whenever I find myself in the Sherwood Park area again.

Mellow & Magnificent Maritimes: Trip Recap & Gallery

About a week and a half before Canada celebrated 150 years of confederation, I found myself travelling to the Maritime provinces of Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick for the first time. Had I not met my boyfriend, who knows when I would have taken the time to visit the eastern side of the country. After all, it’s usually less expensive to fly half way around the world than it is to make your way from one end of Canada to the other.

But, we had good reason to go. We were off to visit his family in Dalhousie, New Brunswick with plans for stops in Charlottetown, P.E. I. and Halifax, Nova Scotia. With no set itinerary in place, each day ended up being a surprise. I’ll recap everything as best as I can. Should anyone be interested in more details about sights or activities mentioned, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me through the comments below.

P.E.I.

We took a red eye flight from Edmonton to Halifax. Early the next morning, as soon as we deplaned, we picked up our rental car and drove straight to Prince Edward Island. Along the way we grabbed photos with the giant blueberry in Oxford, Nova Scotia and the friendly potato statue in front of Blue Roof Distillers (tours and vodka tastings are available) in Malden, New Brunswick.

The Confederation Bridge

A few hours later, we eventually made it to the New Brunswick side of the Confederation Bridge. We took a quick break there and walked up to a viewpoint to snap a few pictures of the 12.9 km bridge. I wasn’t aware of the fact that it’s the longest bridge in the world to cross over ice-covered water, and the sheer length of it didn’t actually hit me until we were driving the full distance. From a construction standpoint, it truly is a feat of engineering.

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Once we set foot on the other side of the bridge, we decided to pop into the information centre. There, we picked up a pamphlet called “The Lighthouses of Prince Edward Island.” It just seemed like the appropriate way to spend our time in this province. I immediately recognized one of the photos from my research before the trip, so we headed there as soon as we’d gotten a scoop of Cowconut Cream Pie ice cream in a fresh waffle cone from the Cows shop.

As we continued, we paused for pictures of the cheeky signs at the Kool Breeze Ice Cream Barn and we also picked up some much needed sustenance from the Da Mama’s Kitchen shack.

West Point Lighthouse

The drive from the visitor centre to the West Point Lighthouse was about an hour and a half. The 69 foot tall navy and white lighthouse was built in 1875 and manned until 1963. It is one of the most recognizable spots on the island and it has actually been converted into an inn and museum. Those who are keen to stay the night there have the option to do so. From the lighthouse is easy access to the beach and boardwalk.

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When we were done exploring the area around the lighthouse, we made our way back to Charlottetown. We’d booked a room at the new Sydney Boutique Inn & Suites. Recently opened, a portion of the building and grounds were still under construction, but that didn’t take away from the charm of the place. Unique touches from the converted 1857 Notre Dame Convent still remain alongside the updated, luxurious rooms. Shortly after checking in, we washed up and took a quick nap before returning to our adventures.

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Charlottetown is fairly small, so it’s easy to walk to most places. My boyfriend led us to The Gahan House, which is both a brewery and restaurant. On a Thursday night, it was full of people. However, we lucked out and snagged a comfortable window-side table that overlooked the patio and the street. We shared some beer tasters and ordered a much deserved dinner. While I have to say that my Lobster Gnocchi seemed to lack in the lobster (and rock crab) department, it was still pretty delicious. Yet, the definite star of the show was the Big G Burger. Stacked with beef, Cows white cheddar, maple stout pulled pork, Sriracha slaw, bacon and apple chutney, it was phenomenal.

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We ended the evening with a stroll along the waterfront where it looked like the city was gearing up for Canada Day celebrations.

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The next morning, before we left, we checked out Prince Edward Battery in Victoria Park. Then, on the drive out of Charlottetown, we spotted the flagship Cows Creamery that advertised factory tours. The tour itself is self-guided with a video introduction at the beginning and video screens as you move throughout the glass-protected areas of t-shirt production, ice cream making and cheese aging. No visit to a Cows shop is complete without a cone.

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Halifax

Welcome to Nova Scotia

With Charlottetown in our rear view mirror, we were on our way back to Halifax for the start of the weekend. It’s a must to take a photo at the beautiful “Welcome to Nova Scotia” sign with it’s miniature lighthouse and pretty landscaping. We also noticed wind turbines galore as we drove down the highway.

Upon entering Halifax, my boyfriend gave me a quick tour of the city by car; he showed me where he used to live in the city and then he pointed out the Dalhousie campus where my dad went to university for architecture. Afterwards, we quickly checked into the Hampton Inn by Hilton Halifax Downtown, which provided us with a comfortable two-night stay and free breakfast in a revitalized part of the city. Parking along the street was free over the weekend, so we found a spot for our rental and hoofed it the majority of the time.

As we wandered around Halifax, we noted an abundance of new development towards the waterfront and major construction down the usually busy Argyle Street. The latter was a bit of a disappointment as my boyfriend was hoping for me to experience the usual lively atmosphere found at the bars and restaurants along that stretch. No matter though. We made the best of it.

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Late reservations were made for dinner at The Bicycle Thief, which meant we had some time to kill before we ate. Therefore, a good chunk of our evening was spent at the Public Gardens. The grounds are pristine, green and lush. Each space felt inviting. Had the weather not taken a turn, we could have lingered a lot longer. Unfortunately, the wind started to pick up and the sky became cloudy and we needed to find an alternative venue. As fast as we tried to book it towards the waterfront, we still got caught in the rain. Thankfully, we were able to take cover under a doorway until the downpour subsided and we remained minimally wet.

With the storm quieted, we sprinted down the street and, in a split second, we opted to pop into what turned out to be Shuck Seafood & Raw Bar. Had we not already made plans for supper, I would have just stayed here instead. But, since we only had about half an hour to fill, we stuck with drinks only. My boyfriend kept it simple by ordering a pint of beer. I, on the other hand, asked what kind of non-alcoholic beverages they had. To my amazement, they were very attentive. The bartender came over to find out more about what flavours I like in my drinks and then he went back to his station to whip something up for me. What arose was a concoction that included mango puree, peppercorn flower, grenadine and pineapple foam. When the bartender dropped it off, he told me that if I wasn’t happy with it, he’d try his hand at creating another mocktail to my liking. That wasn’t necessary though. It was just slightly sweet and finished off with a sour note, and that was good enough. The best part was that my drink only cost $4. Not too shabby for an impromptu drop-in.

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Finally, it was time for dinner. The Bicycle Thief (paying homage to the classic film of the same name) is a happening Italian restaurant situated right along the waterfront. Despite the chilly weather, a few guests braved the cold by sitting out on the patio. We, however, we sat inside. My first impression of the place was that it was incredibly crowded and loud. Then, when we were brought to our seats, I observed how out of place this particular table was. It was angled oddly at a sharp corner in the restaurant and my chair backed into the couple next to us. Yet, the place was full, it was late and we were hungry, so we settled in and perused the menu. I will say that the complimentary focaccia bread and butter provided at the start of the meal was soft and fresh. The pasta dishes were so-so though. We didn’t feel that they were anything special; the Spaghettini ‘Aglio e Olio’ in a fresh herb and lemon gremolata with jumbo shrimp, scallops and mussels fared better with a decent amount of seafood and punchy flavours, but my boyfriend said his Linguini Fra Diavola was bland. Paired with the fact that our table was jostled by passing staff on a couple of occasions (it actually slid away at one point), our experience was severely dampened. We politely mentioned our feelings to the server and she promptly spoke with management about the situation. When she returned, she offered us free dessert, which we accepted (the chocolate cake was wonderful), and we saw that the staff was actually taking our complaint seriously by making arrangements to have the table removed.

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On our second morning in Halifax, we took a drive to Peggy’s Cove. Heavy fog enveloped us almost the entire way there and didn’t dissipate as we arrived at the lighthouse. A biting wind also deterred us from staying longer. The misty air provided some interesting photos, but it’s nothing like what I imagine it would be to see the place on a clear day. Maybe next time.

Not ready to head straight back to the city, we made a detour to Fisherman’s Cove. The fishing village has been in existence for 200 years and has since been restored to house several shops and studios along the boardwalk. The tide was low while we were there, so it was also possible to step off of the walkway and right onto the sandy beach.

A drink at 2 Crows Brewing Co.

When we got back into the city, we made our way to a friend’s home for dinner. Then, before calling it a night, we capped off our evening with a drink at 2 Crows Brewing Co., conveniently located right next door to our hotel. The space is awesome as the brewery is completely open and in view of patrons as they sit and drink. There’s also an expansive outdoor sidewalk patio that would be lovely on a warm day.

A gorgeous day out at Point Pleasant Park.

The following morning was our last in Halifax. Prior to leaving, we trekked through some of the wooded paths and along the water of Point Pleasant Park. On a sunny, blue sky day, it was an excellent way to finish our time in the city.

Shediac, NB

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Shediac is known as the lobster capital of the world. Hence the World’s Largest Lobster that greets visitors. It’s a cute place with pretty beaches. Yet, we simply stopped through for the photo op and some lunch. We took a chance on Kuro Sushi. The online reviews were top notch. Since it was mid-afternoon, the place was empty. My boyfriend ordered the California roll and tempura shrimp roll. The latter was fine, but the California roll left much to be desired. The issue with his and mine was that the avocado was nowhere near ripe enough, but they served it anyway. My combo also included six pieces of sushi (salmon, tuna and white tuna). Those were fine. The fish was thinly sliced on top of the rice, but it tasted good.

Dalhousie, NB

Inch Arran Beach

Our main stop on the Maritimes tour was Dalhousie, New Brunswick. This is where my boyfriend’s parents live. The town has lost a couple of its largest employers over the years, so the majority of residents are often retired or live there part-time during the summer. It’s small and charming with many properties that overlook the water and provide views of Quebec across the way. There’s a great gift shop in town that offers visitors a chance to purchase handcrafted items made by local artisans. My favourite thing? The Bon Ami ice cream shop where I went three times during our week there.

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The day after we arrived, we ventured to the Inch Arran Lighthouse and followed the shoreline as far as we could go before turning back towards town. There are an abundance of mussel shells scattered along the beach by birds. But, if you look closely enough, you may find tiny crabs and seashells as well as coveted sea glass.

One of the things I looked forward to most while there was lobster dinner. The family had ordered 20 pounds of fresh fished lobster for a mid-week supper. They boiled the lobster and then let it cool for about 15 minutes in salted water. When they were served, the meat was still warm and juicy. The lobster was succulent and flavourful with absolutely no need for anything like garlic or butter. My only qualm is that it makes for a messy meal. Yet, the divine and filling meat is worth it.

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I also loved our day canoeing. The weather cooperated and plenty of sunscreen had to be slathered on in preparation for time out on the Restigouche River. This was considered a beginner-level run on the water and it was very easy going. All of our boating equipment (canoes, kayaks, paddles and life jackets) were rented from Nature Adventure out of the village of Matapédia in Gaspésie, Quebec. For the day it worked out to $50 per person.

That same evening, we waited until dark to set off fireworks, which were also purchased from the reserve in Quebec. They sell huge packages of fireworks at a more reasonable cost (although smaller boxes could be found at Walmart or even at the local Bon Ami). Although the fireworks didn’t go as high as the ones set up by professionals, they were still impressive and just as sparkly. These also served as our own early Canada Day celebration.

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If anyone is interested, we also took a couple of drives out of Dalhousie to neighbouring villages and cities, including: Charlo, Campbellton and Bathurst. Charlo was passed by a few times during our visit, but the best stop we made while there was for a freshly baked pie from Le Moulin a Café. They’ve won numerous accolades for their food and baking. In Campbellton, one will find Sugarloaf Provincial Park. While there, my boyfriend and his brothers climbed Sugarloaf Mountain. Admittedly, I did not join them at the top. I let them do their thing. I was not equipped with the proper footwear and it’s my understanding that it gets a little perilous towards the peak. I did see the photos of the view from the apex though, and it looked spectacular. Bathurst was more of an excuse to take a scenic drive, but we found ourselves at Nectar for lunch. It’s situated right next to the Bay of Chaleur, so there is a pretty vista while dining. Our one complaint was with the portion of meat in the sandwich my boyfriend ordered (four ounces of chicken barely made a dent in the pretzel bun). Otherwise, the food tasted decent and the prices were fair.

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When our vacation was all over, we had to drive back from Dalhousie, New Brunswick to Halifax. There was break for food at Joey’s Pizza & Pasta in Sackville, the town of my boyfriend’s alma mater, Mount Allison University. They make some great pizzas and garlic fingers with a super fluffy donair sauce.

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If I could sum up our holiday in five words, they’d be: quaint, relaxed, picturesque, welcoming and lobster. This type of trip is essentially the complete opposite of what I typically do when I’m away from home. Most days in the Maritimes were extremely laid-back. We spent them ambling to the ice cream shop, hanging out along the waterfronts, driving about town or down the highway just for the sake of exploring and sitting by the fire pit at night. While it may not be the ideal trip for someone as antsy as me, it’s certainly perfect for those who really want to get away from the hustle and bustle and just unwind without a care in the world.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: District Café & Bakery

District Café doesn’t always immediately come to mind as a place to go for supper. When it was first opened, it was a tiny coffee shop with little room for patrons to stick around. Yet, since expanding into a full-service eatery, it has become a much more welcoming bright and airy space for guests to linger over an all-encompassing menu of food and drinks.

Prior to this past week, I’d only ever visited for drinks and snacks with friends. Therefore, I was eager to have a complete meal on this particular occasion. Although District Café is known for their tasty brunch, I’d argue that the latest dinner menu from chef Spencer Thompson (previously of Alberta Hotel Bar + Kitchen) gives the day’s earlier items a run for their money.

My friend and I walked over to the restaurant right after work on a Friday afternoon. The sign at the door indicated that we could seat ourselves, so we headed straight in. The majority of the tables were already occupied. Thankfully, there were a couple of spots available towards the far side of the venue.

A frosty bottle of Jamaican Ginger Beer.

As soon as we sat down, a server brought glasses of water and some menus over. He also answered our questions about the evening’s specials. In the end, we decided to stick with non-alcoholic beverages. While my companion quenched her thirst with a glass of lemonade ($3.50), I opted for a bottle of the Jamaican Ginger Beer ($3; spice that lingers in your throat!). We also selected the Roast Eggplant ($13) as an appetizer to share.

The Roast Eggplant is an ideal starter to split. It came with four slices of lightly toasted focaccia that had been brushed with olive oil. Rounds of salted eggplant, pieces of zucchini and halves of tomatoes lingered next to a dollop of house made ricotta. When I think about it, it’s really such a straightforward plate, but it’s done so well. All of the veggies were roasted to the perfect point. Combined with the creamy ricotta, my first assembled portion was to die for.

Hand Cut Pasta

Next up were the entrees. We’re big fans of fresh pasta, so it was a no-brainer for my friend. She went for the featured Hand Cut Pasta ($18) without any added meat. Large, broad, flat pappardelle noodles were evenly coated in a buttercream sauce and tossed with roasted walnuts, apple and arugula. I ate a mouthful of the pasta and it was unexpectedly refreshing and summery for what would typically be considered a denser dish. The merging of bitter arugula, sweet apple and nutty walnuts were a match made in heaven.

Flat Iron Steak

As a home cook (I doubt I should even call myself that), I often refrain from making dishes that have a meat component to them as I dislike handling the food. For that reason, when I indulge in a meal out, I tend to go for things I wouldn’t otherwise have on a regular basis. In this case, I chose the Flat Iron Steak ($20). Upon ordering, I indicated to the server that I would prefer the steak to be medium-rare. He let me know that the meat is prepared sous-vide, so they were unable to cook it exactly as requested. Nevertheless, he assured me that if I enjoy a medium-rare doneness, it would probably be to my satisfaction.

He certainly wasn’t wrong. In fact, the Flat Iron Steak came out just right. The meat was still pink in the middle and the pieces were succulent enough to cut through them with a butter knife. Generous helpings of steak were accompanied by a tomato arugula salad with roasted green beans, potatoes and radishes. Mint chimmichurri provided another element that helped to keep it seasonal to spring and summer.

Now, I’m sure we would have been okay leaving after those three satisfying dishes; however, I knew that I’d be kicking myself later if I didn’t have some dessert. Indeed, I had two. Okay, three, if you count the sampling I had of my friend’s cake.

Lemon Poppy Seed Shortbread

The first was one of the bakery’s Lemon Poppy Seed Shortbread cookies ($0.50). I’m not sure I loved the texture. I like shortbread to have that melt-in-your-mouth sensation. This one wasn’t quite as buttery, but the strong taste of lemon made up for that.

A big slice of Salted Caramel Chocolate Cake.

As far as cakes go, the Salted Caramel Chocolate Cake ($7) that my friend ordered was truly decadent. The layers of cake were unbelievably moist yet fluffy. It was rich in flavour and the frosting was sweet, but not overly so. It’s one of the best chocolate cakes I’ve eaten in a long time.

Where I think District Café’s pastry chef really excelled was with the Orange Blossom Pavlova ($10). The foundation of the dessert was a giant meringue cookie. In the center, it was filled with a thick layer of custard that was dotted by vanilla bean. A mix of fresh fruit (blueberries and peach this time) and sliced almonds decorated the top. Then it was dusted with powdered sugar and served with caramel sauce on the side. The edges of the meringue dissolved on the tongue; the middle of the cookie remained a bit chewy. Not only was it beautiful, it was sublimely delicious.

District Café has kept things simple and succinct. The menu caters to many while staying focused. Personally, I believe it’s better to do a dozen things exceptionally well than to do many things halfway. Here, at District Café, with the current chefs and their offerings, I’d say that they’ve managed to achieve the former.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Have Mercy Southern Table & Bar

The exterior of Have Mercy as seen from the patio.

Escape games and food are my jam. When my friends and I planned to try out the new Impulse Escape Rooms location on Whyte Avenue, we needed a nearby place that was certain to nourish our bellies and our brains. I’d been to El Cortez before; however, not to Have Mercy, their southern-style sister restaurant.

It was a quiet day for lunch at the eatery. When we walked into the kitschy venue, it was pretty empty. We were led to the deck found at the back door. That’s where a few other diners were already sitting. It’s not a large patio. Yet, it feels bigger because it overlooks the outdoor space occupied by El Cortez on street-level.

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Once we settled in, we carefully studied the menu while we snacked on complimentary pretzels and honey mustard. We also asked the server for some beverage suggestions. After taking the recommendations to heart, I opted for the Strathcona Sour ($12), a house libation. My friend decided to go with a non-alcoholic glass of their Sweet Tea ($4), and her husband went with a traditional Rattlesnake ($12) cocktail. The Sweet Tea was deliciously refreshing without being too sugary. Ultimately, we all ended up sharing another pitcher ($20), sans alcohol.

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For a cocktail, I enjoyed the Strathcona Sour. The bartender used a giant solid ice cube to ensure a slow melt and less dilution of the Buffalo Trace Bourbon, which gave the drink a kick. Clove syrup added a tinge of bitterness that was then offset by the acidity of fresh lemon juice and just a slight fruitiness from the blackberry punch. As good as the Strathcona Sour was, I think there’s a reason why the Rattlesnake is a classic. Using George Dickel Rye, fresh lemon juice, simple syrup, egg white and Herbsaint liquor, all of the ingredients melded so well. I especially like the use of egg white because it gives the drink a smoother consistency that helps it go down really easily.

Sweet Corn Hush Puppies

To get us started, when it came to the food, we chose to share an order of the Sweet Corn Hush Puppies ($9). A bowl of six puffy, golden brown fritters arrived to the table with two dipping sauces. They were hot, non-greasy and sprinkled with a bit of salt. I cut one open and saw that it was fluffy on the inside with a crisp exterior. What put this appetizer over the top was the buttermilk dill ranch sauce that’s made in-house. It provides a cooling sensation and a hint of dill that works with the sweet corn so well. Judging from the number of times the dip is listed as an accompaniment to the offerings on the menu, Have Mercy clearly knows they’ve got a good thing going.

Memphis Dry Rub Pork Ribs with Spicy Sugar Slaw and Braised Molasses Barbecue Beans

Turning to the main dishes, my boyfriend was talked into the full rack of Memphis Dry Rub Pork Ribs ($26). This was served with sides of spicy sugar slaw and braised molasses barbecue beans. Personally, I thought the beans were very flavourful; although, they were maybe a tad too soft. I prefer that beans have more bite. With barbecue, I like the beans to almost reach caramelization. I can’t say much about the spicy sugar slaw as I don’t think my boyfriend left any for me to taste. Nevertheless, he was generous enough to give me a rib. The meat was a little fatty, but tender. The dry rub kept the moisture inside the meat, so the pork pulled off the bone effortlessly and had a nice smoky infusion.

Clockwise from top: Chile Honey, Nashville Hot Rubbed and Crispy Salted Fried Chicken.

The rest of us all selected versions of the Fried Chicken and Donut: crispy salted, Chile honey and Nashville hot rubbed ($18 each). I was particularly disappointed with the slaw that took up a third of the plate; it just seemed like a mix of shredded cabbage and carrot. While it presents another layer of texture, the veggies lacked in flavour as there was no dressing applied. What this dish has going for it is the combination of crunchy fried chicken with a surprisingly airy donut in its most basic yeast-based honey glazed form. There’s just the right amount of glaze to give every bite of chicken a hit of sweetness. This is the more modern take on the ubiquitous chicken and waffle dish, and it’s now my way of quelling cravings for those Do-Rite Donuts & Chicken sandwiches that I ate in Chicago a year ago. As for the chicken itself, the crispy salted is like Have Mercy’s take on Kentucky Fried Chicken. It’s pretty good, but it screamed for something else to elevate it. I had the Chile honey, which was certainly an improvement over the standard salted chicken. Granted, thinking about it after the fact, pairing sweet and sweet with the chicken and the donut was unnecessary. My favourite ended up being the saucy Nashville hot rubbed chicken. There was the perfect amount of heat to balance out the saccharinity of the donut.

I do wish that I had room for dessert as both the Caramel Pecan Donut Pudding and Buttermilk Lime Pie called to me. I thought better of it though. I’ll simply have to leave that for the next visit.

Old Strathcona isn’t an area I frequent often; however, there are so many fantastic restaurants that dot the area and I seem to have them on a rotation for when I am around. That being said, Have Mercy is definitely a place that is deserving of a spot in my catalogue, especially when I’m hankering for some southern comfort food.

See you again soon!