Having lived in Edmonton for my entire life, I’ve only ever been to the Starlite Room once, and that was probably already a decade ago, if not longer. Unsurprisingly, I was pretty much unaware of Brixx Bar & Grill, which used to occupy the basement space. Quite frankly, I wasn’t sure about the idea of setting foot into the building outside of the evening hours of a concert.
However, about a year ago now, it was announced that the underground venue had been transformed into a new restaurant and bar called River City Revival House. The menu, with dishes cleverly named after bands and artists, was created by Red Seal chef Felicia Winston. I was intrigued, but I didn’t make it there until this March when they participated in Downtown Dining Week (DTDW).
Sadly, my co-worked and I didn’t actually get to enjoy the DTDW menu. When we arrived at around one o’clock on a Wednesday afternoon, the place was packed and the people ahead of us were still waiting for seats. It was clear that the kitchen wasn’t prepared for the onslaught of customers and they weren’t properly staffed either.
Still determined to try it, I made plans to check it out in April. On this occasion, I phoned ahead to ask if reservations were necessary at lunch, and I was told that it’s typically not that busy, so it shouldn’t be a problem to just show up. Sure enough, my friend and I ended up being the only ones there. As we picked out a table, the server went to get us some menus.
Apparently, River City Revival House must have been busy the night before because they were out of a number of things (green bean salad, tomato soup, and yam cheesecake; the latter may have just been removed from the menu though) I had been hoping to eat.
Ultimately, my companion went with The Smokey Robinson Club ($18) and fries. I opted to try the B.bq B.urger K.ing ($16) with the Soupersuckers side — it includes a bowl of homemade soup and a half order of KoRn Bread.
I sampled a bite of the Smokey Robinson Club. This consisted of smoked chicken breast with roast garlic aioli, bacon, lettuce, and tomato on sourdough bread. The toppings were fresh, the bacon crisp, and the smokiness from the preparation of the meat had saturated well into the chicken and balanced with the roast garlic spread. The fries were also thick cut and blanched, so they were soft on the inside and perfectly browned on the outside.
My B.bq B.urger K.ing burger was a little bit too well done on one side. Yet, overall, it was nicely cooked. The eight ounce beef patty was clearly made in-house and was pleasantly thick. With a good sear, it managed to hold most of the juices inside the meat. It was dressed with the same roast garlic aioli as the club sandwich, lettuce, tomato, caramelized onions, cheddar cheese, and ancho BBQ sauce. Everything was placed between a classic toasted bun. This turned out to be a super satisfying burger in terms of taste and texture.
Since the kitchen was out of a lot of the things I had wanted to order, they were really good about making it up to me. Instead of getting the tomato soup, I ended up going ahead with their daily creation, which was a Beef Taco Soup. And, rather than a half order of their KoRn Bread, they gave me three slices of the jalapeno & cheddar version to snack on. Honestly, it was way more food than I should have had. But, I pretty much ate it all. The soup wasn’t as hot as I would have liked, yet it was incredibly hearty with plenty of flavour, cheese, and sour cream to give it a smooth and indulgent consistency. The jalapeno & cheddar KoRn Bread was just a tad crumbly while still moist enough to hold together with each bite. There was just a hint of heat to appease those who want some spice without being too overwhelming for those who aren’t fans of chili peppers.
We left River City Revival House having really enjoyed our meal. So, the next time I was making impromptu lunch plans with a different co-worker, I suggested we go there as well.
On this second visit, it was still far from busy. Yet, there were definitely more patrons than before. A few solo diners/drinkers were hanging out at the bar (there are outlets along the entire thing in case you want a place to work and relax) and a couple of other tables were occupied, too.
There was, again, just one staff member working the front of the house, so service was somewhat slow considering that there were at least five times as many people there as my previous drop-in. He was just as friendly though.
My friend chose the vegetarian Portis-Bello Burger ($14). Unfortunately, I can’t say much about it. All I know is that she said it was sort of difficult to bite it apart with her teeth since the portobello mushroom patty was whole, and she ended up cutting it up into bite size pieces with her utensils. Nevertheless, she said it was tasty. Based on the description, it’s quite similar to the burger I had the first time, minus the BBQ and aioli sauces. The cheddar was also switched for the mild and nutty Swiss cheese that likely played off the earthiness of the mushroom better.
I stuck with the sandwich menu once more, selecting the Taking Care of Brisket ($15). This is a combo of smoked brisket finished in a Sea Change Brewing braise topped with ancho BBQ sauce, sauteed mushrooms, caramelized onions, and Swiss cheese on a brioche bun. It was decent. I felt that it could have used extra meat and more mushrooms. For added texture, a crunchy coleslaw would have been lovely as well.
That day, they did have the CeeLo Green Bean salad available, so I upgraded my side ($2) to have that as a healthier alternative to fries. The portion size was way bigger than I expected. It seemed like a never ending bowl of fresh, crisp green beans. These were coated in a refreshing lemon mustard vinaigrette and tossed with cherry tomatoes, toasted almonds and feta cheese. A very simple recipe, but one that certainly hit the spot when it came to my craving for veggies.
When we paid our bills, the server gave both of us punch cards (disappointing that I didn’t get one when I dined the first time). For every nine sandwiches purchased at lunch, you’ll earn a tenth for free. That’s incentive to go back, for sure. Plus, they have happy hour specials Monday to Friday from 3pm to 7pm and all day Sundays.
I have to say, River City Revival House is much better than I ever expected it’d be. It’s also so close to work that it’s a great alternative to our usual haunts. My only wish is that they’d better staff the place for the times that it does get a bit busier. I’ve noticed that, due to the slower service, it has been difficult to make it back to the office within the hour we have for our break. Regardless, it’s clean, comfortable, and the food is good, so, no doubt, I’ll be returning.
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