Tavern 1903 (@Tavern1903), the brainchild of Hardware Grill (@HardwareGrill) owners, dropped into downtown Edmonton’s dining scene with a bang. Situated on the main floor of the restored Alberta Hotel – built in 1903 – it is located at 98 Street and Jasper Avenue, its front sidewalk made into a fairly large and welcoming patio space. The day that my friend and I decided to walk over during our lunch break, it was a sweltering 30 degrees outside (not so much now). I had made an OpenTable reservation ahead of time, requesting an outdoor table, if possible.
A hostess was standing at a podium just in front of the door waiting to greet us. She acknowledged my booking and directed us to a table in the corner of the patio; it was under one of their large umbrellas that shaded two of the four seats. She apologized there wasn’t more protection from the sun available, but we were happy to be taking advantage of the weather and thanked her.
Our server came over shortly after we sat down and presented the menus to us. Filtered still or sparkling Q Water is provided free of charge (most other restaurants seem to charge a small fee for unlimited filtered water), so we were given beautiful green glasses filled with thirst quenching liquid. After inspecting the tumblers more closely, I realized that they were sawed off wine bottles, the bottoms used for a new purpose. I like the idea that the establishment is trying to find different ways to be sustainable, and the brilliant emerald colour made me want my own set. Being that we had to return to the office in an hour, we opted to order a couple of non-alcoholic beverages including their regular and blueberry lemonades to further keep us hydrated. The blueberry lemonade was a gorgeous pink, nicely sweetened by the berries, but still slightly tart.
Having previously read reviews of the restaurant where praise was given for their Truffled ‘Mac N Cheese’ with Baby Lobster & Shiitakes, and also having recently eaten a similar dish at the Century Hospitality Group‘s (@CenturyHG) Lux Steakhouse & Bar (@LUXSteakhouse), I was inclined to give Tavern 1903’s version a shot. My friend did the same, except that she chose to go with the Smoked Ham Hock & Green Peas rather than the seafood.
Unlike Lux, the pasta didn’t arrive in an iron skillet. Instead, it came to the table in a massive bowl the size of my head. Shell shaped pasta was coated with white truffle oil and 3-year aged cheddar, a sauce that was much lighter than the heavyset competition. I actually very much liked it. The shiitake mushrooms added a meaty texture and woodsy flavour, and the lobster was well distributed in larger chunks with virtually no trace of the crustacean’s exoskeleton to be found (something I cannot say about Lux – I bit on a lot of shell there). I sampled the ham hock and green pea plate and thought it was quite tasty as well. However, the ham created a dish that was, overall, saltier. While I did finish off every bite of my bowl, it was a struggle on this particular occasion because the heat coming off the mac and cheese combined with the overpowering sunshine just about did the two of us in, so I recommend sitting out on the patio on milder days if you plan to eat anything that comes piping hot from the kitchen.
Needing to get back to work, we weren’t able to stay for dessert, so I will have to make a point of visiting again for that. But, my friend did order some corn bread with bacon butter to go. She absolutely loves fresh corn bread and, unfortunately, she told me she was disappointed with it.
Regardless, the patio is wonderful for when Edmonton is experiencing good weather, our entrees were delicious, the service excellent, and the interior of the restaurant holds a certain charm – reinstated to its past glory with intricate ceiling moldings, wall lamps, tiling and an original cash register, the look certainly screams traditional tavern with modern touches. It’s unique, historic and they serve good food and drinks, which is probably why it currently holds both the No. 2 and No. 21 spot on The Tomato‘s list of 100 best eats and drinks for 2014. So, if you find yourself downtown searching for another great place to indulge, look no further.