On April 9, The Cavern celebrated its official one year anniversary and I happened to visit for the very first time that evening. There wasn’t much hoopla. Well, none at all. I was completely unaware that congratulations were in order, but I think that fits with the cafe/bar atmosphere that they are going for. Unassuming and inviting, but not pretentious, I had passed by the place last summer as I perused the City Market along 104 Street. I had heard of it before, and the people sitting outside at small tables along the sidewalk seemed to be enjoying themselves, likely basking in the sunshine, soaking up vitamin D while they had the chance.
It took me another 8 months before I stepped foot into the underground space. A combination of things pushed me to finally go there. The first was that after almost a full year of business, they had just made their way onto the second annual list of 100 best eats and drinks in Edmonton as named by readers of The Tomato, coming in at No. 12 as of March 2014. The next reason I decided to go there was because the friend I was meeting was hoping for something lighter than a full dinner and was opting for drinks. Plus, I love cheese. Thirdly, I wanted to go somewhere that was new to me and somewhere that was within walking distance after work. And, voila! The Cavern fit all the necessary caveats for that night.
When I opened the door to the cavern, housed in the basement of the Phillips Building, which was built in 1912 and sits alongside other landmarks in the historical warehouse district, I was taken aback by the relatively small size of the cafe. To the left of the doors are a few bar stools, but the bar holds various free magazines (including copies of The Tomato’s latest issue). Venturing down the steps, there are about four tables along the wall that seat three to four people each and to the right are some additional counter stools. There is also a spot for one right by the till. A big portion of the space is take up by the kitchen, cheese case and shop that presented a pleasant surprise to me. I wasn’t expecting to see that this was basically half a store and half a restaurant. In my mind, the name of the cafe evoked an atmosphere that was dimly lit with dark corners and nooks. Instead, it is rather brightly lit with clean lines, but a somewhat rustic feel.
I was greeted quickly and seated at an empty table. As I waited for my friend to join me, I perused the menus and ordered myself a 3-ounce glass of Riesling to help me pass the time. I noticed that the bottles of wine were stored in a state-of-the-art Enomatic wine system that dispenses wine directly from the bottle and preserves the flavours and characteristics of the wine for more than three weeks. When my glass arrived at the table, it was cold, crisp, fruity and light. I actually wish I had ordered a 6-ounce glass, but the prices were a little steeper than I had expected. Regardless, I was thoroughly satisfied.
My friend showed up shortly after, requesting sparkling water, which was dispensed from a Vivreau water system. For $1.50 per person and as many refills as we wanted, it was worth getting that over something like a single bottle of Perrier. Having gone through the list of options for food, we decided to go with a cheese and charcuterie board for two. Ringing in at just under $30, we got to select two cheeses and two meats. While the menu was very clear in differentiating the types of cheese and included detailed descriptions of the flavours and textures, I still asked our server for her recommendations, and she was more than happy to suggest some of her favourites.
In the end, we opted for Le Noble, a bloomy rind cheese from Quebec that is similar to brie with a mushroom aroma and a buttery and creamy texture, and Comte, an eastern French semi-hard cheese that is aged for 8 to 12 months and has a strong yet slightly sweet taste. To pair, we went with the prosciutto and salami. The board was topped off with a fresh loaf of crusty bread, both a sweet and a spicy compote, sliced apples and a mixture of walnuts and dried fruits including figs, apricots and cranberries. The two cheeses that we opted for were amazing – incredibly fresh and exactly as advertised. Combined with the other accompaniments on the board, this visit turned out to be a home run. Actually, my friend enjoyed our selections so much that she ended up buying some to go as well.
For a quiet evening, they had about four staff on hand, which maybe seemed a bit much, but every person we came in contact with was extremely friendly and willing to impart their knowledge on us. The Cavern is definitely a nice little addition to our city’s core and I will be sure to stop by more often from now on.
In fact, I visited again this past Monday. This time, I had a chance to try a wonderfully dense and smooth goat cheese along with slices of bresaola (a cured meat similar to beef jerky, but much more tender and lean). I also indulged in a cheese cake parfait dessert that layered almond cookies, JACEK white chocolate liquid cheese cake and raspberries. Every time I get home after I have been to Cavern, I’m astonished that I am not hungry for more food. It does not seem like you are eating that much when you are there. However, looks are deceiving and you are getting more than you expect.
I think it’s still a place that is not known to very many people in Edmonton, but word is getting out and I’m glad. I hope they’ll be around for a long time to come. The fact that you can pop in and pick up some key ingredients for your own homemade cheese board (more than 75 different international cheeses to choose from on any given day) is also a great reason to hope that they become a fixture.
If you plan to go, they are open early until 9pm or 11pm Monday to Saturday, depending on the day. Aside from the boards, they also serve coffee, breakfast and lunch, so there’s something for everyone.
For a quick check of their hours and their latest news, see what they have to say on Twitter: @CavernYEG. The pictures they post are sure to make any cheese and charcuterie lovers drool, especially me.
For a more in-depth look at the establishment’s involvement in the community and its efforts towards sustainability visit The Local Good to read my profile of The Cavern.