Edmonton Things To Do: 4Cats Arts Studio Clay Party (Summerside Location)

The entrance to 4Cats Arts Studio Summerside.

This is a quick shout out to 4Cats Arts Studio in Edmonton’s Summerside area. Run by Michelle, this is one of the few locations that is still independent of head office. Although it probably caters mostly to camps for children and kids events, workshops can be booked for adults, too. They offer painting (acrylic or splatter), pouring, and clay parties (and sometimes clay wheel classes) for the older lot.

My bachelorette clay party!

Since I’ve never been much of a bar goer, for my bachelorette, my bridesmaids planned an afternoon at 4Cats Arts Studio where we were to create sloth mugs/planters molded out of clay. Eight of us attended at a cost of $25 per person. The large group table was laid out with settings for each of us. Once we’d all taken our seats, Michelle led us through the process from start to finish while her assistant handed out extra supplies.

The project was one that anyone could do. We didn’t have to master the use of a clay wheel. All we needed was clay, templates, a rolling pin, water, a brush, a pointed tool, our hands, and some paint.

Tips:

  1. Roll out the clay by putting your body weight on the middle of the rolling pin and not by using the handles. It’s a lot easier. Make sure the clay stays about half a centimeter thick, and don’t manipulate it with your hands too much, otherwise it’ll dry out and crack.
  2. To join pieces, use the scratch and slip method. Take the pointed tool and scratch X marks on both of the pieces at the points where they need to come together. Apply a little bit of water to each side and they should stick. Use your fingers to gently meld the pieces by “erasing” the joints. For hard to reach spots, take a bit of water and a brush to close up the crevices.
  3. If you want an interesting texture, roll the clay out over the canvas and use the canvas side as the outer part of the cup. You can keep a more rustic feel by leaving the clay unpainted, so it stays rough and textured as opposed to smooth and glossy when it’s coated with paint.
  4. The grey colour of the clay will actually turn to an off-white colour after it’s burned in the kiln. If you like the white, you don’t have to paint it to cover it up.

While we had selected the sloth pattern for our workshop, Michelle was nice enough to show us a number of other possibilities. Most of my friends still stuck with the sloth (every single one looked unique), but a couple of them ventured out and made a bunny or a dog instead. Because of the nature of clay and the fact that our cups still had to be fired in the kiln, we weren’t able to take our creations home right away; I’m definitely looking forward to seeing all of the finished products when they’re ready though.

Ultimately, it was a really relaxing activity for about two hours. Admittedly, each person was kind of in their own world at times, yet the ambiance is perfect to gather a larger group for a catch up while crafting. We were warned that the clay could get messy. But, with the provided aprons, we all managed to keep our clothes clean. Our hands were the only things that got a bit dirty (don’t wear your jewelry while manipulating the clay); however, a quick rinse with water was enough to remove any residue.

I’m not sure if 4Cats Arts Studio is still pre-scheduling many adult workshops into their calendar. Nevertheless, if you’re interested in setting something up for an event or just a fun meetup for your friends and family, it’s an excellent and creative option. Michelle is a wonderful host who provides great instruction and keeps things spirited throughout.

Edmonton Things To Do & Event Review: Christmas Glow

Lit up displays are found throughout the Christmas Light Gardens

If you follow any other popular Edmonton bloggers on social media, it’s likely that you’ve already heard of this. But, Christmas Glow is new this year, and it’s touted as the largest indoor festival of its kind around the city. I was fed a paid post on Instagram back in at the end of September. Since they were offering a discount (approximately 35 per cent off) as an early bird deal, I decided to grab a couple of tickets for me and Kirk to attend on my birthday. At $35.88 for both of us, I thought it might be worth the visit.

Santa’s Reindeers

Flash forward two months later, and it was finally here. We drove all the way to the Enjoy Centre in St. Albert on a Thursday night, hoping we’d make it for our timed entry (we chose the 6pm to 7pm slot). When we turned on to Riel Drive, everything slowed to a crawl. The venue does have a decent amount of parking, but cars were also lined up and down each side of the street. Thankfully, we managed to find something along the road. Thus, we walked a couple of blocks to get to the building. Although, once in the vicinity of the parking lot, we did notice a handful of spots, so patience may reward you.

Upon entering the building, we turned to our right towards the Moonflower Room. That’s where Hole’s typically holds a lot of large events. Plus, in the summertime, it’s where they run their garden market. All in, there is 60,000 square feet of space available, and Christmas Glow used every bit of it, including the greenhouse that is usually blocked off from the public whenever I’ve been there.

This is in the Christmas Light Gardens. Look at the reflection in the glass ceiling!

As we approached the door, I noticed that there was absolutely no one waiting to get inside. Three or four staff were standing about just looking for something to do. One of them eagerly waved us over, and, without even looking at the date or time on our ticket, she scanned them and told us to have fun. The minute we stepped through the threshold, I was overwhelmed. The place was insanely packed with people. They had fit in a few food stands to the left of us, so there were multiple lines snaking around. In the very middle of the main area was a grouping of tables where patrons could enjoy live entertainment on stage. Every single seat was occupied. To the right was a gift shop that seemed to belong to the Enjoy Centre. All the way at the very back of the room was the Glow-camotive, a small train that circles around it’s allotted zone.

We attempted to zoom past all of that without tripping over anyone, and entered the Christmas Light Gardens. Cordoned into different areas, there, you’ll find a licensed bar, interactive hanging lights (this was quite magical, especially with the reflection in the glass ceiling), Santa, glowing swings, mistletoe, light up hopscotch, a horse-drawn carriage, Disney-themed princesses, a musical light tunnel, and numerous other displays. Totaling over a million LED lights, it’s quite impressive. I certainly appreciated the work that went into it. Kirk and I got some pretty great photo ops in there. However, it was also over crowded. They say that they’ve sold tickets using time slots to help control that issue, but once people are in, they can stay as long as they want, and it seemed to me it was getting busier and busier as the night progressed.

Many of the children were super excited (I understand; I was a kid once, too), and that’s okay. Yet, I was practically mowed over by a few who weren’t watching where they were going, so needless to say this wasn’t exactly my cup of tea. With everything mentioned above, as well as a Magic Castle Playground and an area to write letters to Santa, Christmas Glow is definitely geared heavily towards families and kids. That’s not to say that it’s an absolute no go for childless adults (to the organizers, please consider adding adult nights in the future!). It’s just probably best for those with a lot more patience than I possess. I was only able to handle this for about an hour and then I had to go. I simply want to be honest about my personal feelings towards the whole thing. I’m glad that I went and had the opportunity to do so. Unfortunately, it didn’t turn out to be my favourite event.

We rarely have photos together.

It wasn’t a total loss though, I did find something in the pop-up Christmas Market that was anchored by The Makers Keep. Kirk bought me the cutest print, titled “High Flyer,” of a narwhal flying with the help of a bunch of balloons from art and stationary company, Paper Canoe. That was a lovely birthday present.

Me with my new print from Paper Canoe!

If my thoughts on Christmas Glow haven’t deterred you from going, you can still buy tickets through their website. It’s running until January 19. They are closed every Sunday, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Eve. The rest of the time, they’re open from 4pm to 10pm Monday to Friday, and they start an hour earlier at 3pm on Saturdays. From December 10 to 12, they continue to offer discounted tickets at 25 per cent off available with promo code EDMONTON25. Dates that remain after will be regularly priced ($22.99 per adult; $16.99 for seniors, and children 4-12; free under 3 years of age; $69.99 for a family with 2 adults and up to 3 kids/seniors). You’ll also save a couple of bucks by ordering online versus purchasing at the gate. Happy holidays!

Edmonton Wedding Venues

Ampersand 27’s lounge and dining room.

Right after Christmas this past year, I became engaged. I took it pretty easy at first, allowing the idea of marriage to fully sink in for a few months before starting on the journey of planning our nuptials. However, by the end of March, I thought it was time to start doing something. In my mind, it made the most sense to begin with a venue. Once we had that in place, we’d have a date, and everything else would fall in line.

My one real stipulation when choosing a location was that I wanted it to be different from any other that I’d previously been to for a wedding. Don’t get me wrong though. Every single one I’ve had the pleasure to witness has been beautiful and perfect for the couple I was there to celebrate. And, granted, I cannot guarantee that our selected venue will be new and unexpected for every single one of our guests. But, honestly, I just don’t want it to be a cookie cutter version of what my friends have already done and seen themselves. For me, that meant spots such as the Lodge at Snow Valley, the University of Alberta Faculty Club, and the Riverview Room at Shaw Conference Centre were out.

The following list is by no means comprehensive in terms of all of the places I actually reached out to. These are just the ones that Kirk and I decided to visit in person. They are discussed here in the order that we saw them.

Hansen Distillery

This option as a venue was a total fluke. We ended up here for a tour and tasting at the distillery earlier this year. When we were there I noticed how cute the lounge space is. It’s got tables, bar seats and even a stage in the corner that a band or DJ could use. They make fantastic drinks with their own spirits, too.

Rental fees at the time of inquiry were about $175 per hour. In addition, they had an expected spend of at least $2,000 on alcohol as well as an hourly cost of $20 for each bartender. At a minimum, before tacking on food catering and extra table or chair rentals, we’d be on the hook for $4,000 plus taxes and gratuities. In reality, that isn’t all that bad since beverages and the venue are already accounted for.

The only thing to keep in mind is that it’s a small space. Typically, the lounge only seats 30 people. But, more can be squeezed in. It just really limits the number of guests you can have. Yet, for those who intend to keep their wedding a more intimate affair, this could be a great location.

Enjoy Centre

Glasshouse Bistro. Photo courtesy of the Enjoy Centre.

Without a doubt, the Hole’s Enjoy Centre in St. Albert is stunning. Yet, as of this year, they only have two options for rentals, including the Moonflower Room and their Glasshouse Bistro. They used to have the Park Room on the lower level, which was better for smaller weddings like ours (we’re expecting around 85-100 guests max).

First off, I have to stipulate that, being a greenhouse, the building is warm. We met with their events planner at the end of March and it was already sweltering inside (I mean, we were literally walking around the perimeters checking for plug-ins in case we needed to bring in multiple fans). I seriously can’t fathom what it would feel like in late summer. By the same token, if you’re okay with warmer temperatures and you want it to feel like you’re getting married in a tropical destination, then this may be the one for you.

During our tour, we took a look at the Glasshouse Bistro. It’s their restaurant and it resides on the west side of the building (I believe because it seemed like the sun was setting on that side). Since the sun was shining through the windows, it made it even warmer. Otherwise, it’s a pretty venue that can be laid out with longer banquet-like tables for a sit-down dinner of up to 120 guests. The other side of the restaurant where there’s usually a cafe is then turned into a dance floor. I guess one of my problems with it is that you still have all of this retail space sort of right next to the party area, taking away from the ambiance a little bit.

My other qualm with the Glasshouse Bistro was that there were only two options for food. Either the reception is catered by their own kitchen — around $95 per person (the most expensive I came across) — or by Elizabethan Catering Services (the only outside vendor they will work with on the restaurant side).

Moonflower Room. Photo courtesy of the Enjoy Centre.

Still, the rental fee was way more reasonable than their Moonflower Room. Found on the opposite side of the floor and situated next to the greenhouse, this is where they have their seasonal market. The room is massive and can either be booked as a whole or split in half, so only the front portion is used. It’s sort of cavernous, but it’s open, inviting and versatile with a minimalist design to it. When we viewed it, a party was being set up, making it easy to picture what it’d look like. It’s also big enough that everything from the ceremony to the reception to the dance can happen in one location.

Unfortunately, with a minimum cost of $5,000 just to rent half the room, it was already digging way deeper into our pockets than we wanted. Adding on all of the other costs like a food caterer (they’re more flexible with the Moonflower Room as other vendors can be used as long as they’re approved by the Enjoy Centre), bartenders, alcohol, music, etc. meant our budget would rack up really fast.

Muttart Conservatory

Atrium of the Muttart Conservatory. Photo courtesy of the City of Edmonton.

The very same day we went to see the Enjoy Centre, we also stopped in to the Muttart Conservatory. It’s one of the city’s most iconic landmarks with pyramids that can be used for intimate ceremonies of 25 to 50 people, depending on which one is selected. The atrium in between the four pyramids would then be rearranged for a wedding reception.

Being a City of Edmonton property, the rental fees are much more reasonable, and they pretty much give free reign over all of the spaces like the atrium, pyramids and the classrooms for the whole evening. What I didn’t like was how tight the schedule would be on the day of the wedding. Due to the fact that the Muttart Conservatory would be open for regular business on the day of and doesn’t close to the public until 5:00pm, any wedding setup wouldn’t be able to be done until after that time. Personally, I didn’t want to be stressing out over stuff at the last minute, so it kind of put this location at the bottom of my list.

Ampersand 27

Those twinkling lights on the ceiling make for an excellent backdrop.

This is a restaurant situated right on Whyte Avenue and 106 Street. It’s in Old Strathcona, but a block or two west of the most high traffic areas. It makes it a little bit quieter and laid back. It’s also connected directly to the Varscona Hotel (they now own the restaurant, too), which we found to be an extra convenience, especially for our many expected out of town guests.

From the get go, we were treated so well by their restaurant manager and chef. The two of them gave us a full tour of the facilities, including the banquet room in the hotel, their hospitality suite, private dining room, lounge and main dining room. They sat down with us for a whole hour afterwards to discuss what we were envisioning for our wedding day, and they were willing to work with us on our budget.

Ampersand 27 itself is gorgeous. I hadn’t been there in a while, but I vividly remembered the twinkling lights on the ceiling, the stone accent wall and fireplace. That hasn’t changed at all, and it’s absolutely the perfect backdrop for an elegant, modern wedding. The restaurant is broken up into distinct spaces, too, so it’ll be easy to configure it for a ceremony, reception, and dance.

Before we left that day, the restaurant was incredibly generous, inviting us to have a drink and a snack. The hospitality they showed us was amazing, and it really helped to solidify them as a top contender for our wedding day. FYI, this is the one we’ve picked! We’re so excited to celebrate our big day here.

Revel Bistro and Bar

The historic and gorgeous lounge and bar.

Revel Bistro and Bar is located on Jasper Avenue. It’s right across the street from the Shaw Conference Centre. Previously, it housed Tavern 1903 and Alberta Hotel Bar + Kitchen. This latest restaurant is brought to us by the same owners as PRIVADA Wine & Tapas in St. Albert. With a minimum spend of about $7,000 plus taxes and gratuity for a weekend booking, it’s probably one of the more affordable buyouts you’ll find.

I’ve always loved this place for the history. When the building was restored, they kept the look of the old bar that used to be inside the original Alberta Hotel. It has a nostalgic style with a fancy wooden bar, detailed tiling, pretty moulding on the ceiling and light fixtures created by the same man who designed the Titanic (so they say). It’s neat and it’s pretty. But, that’s only on the lounge side of the venue. The other half is much more sleek and modern. As it turns out, the ceiling was paneled in such a way as to amplify sound since it was made to showcase live music (CKUA is next door and I guess it was thought that they could utilize the space sometimes).

Relegating the wedding to one side of the restaurant or the other would really limit the number of guests we could have as the dining room really seats about a maximum of 70 people. The lounge can maybe accommodate another 50 people, if I recall correctly. Trying to utilize both spaces for a sit-down dinner would be difficult, if things like speeches are to be made throughout the evening as the entrance to the restaurant kind of blocks off the two sides from one another.

Logistically, it just didn’t seem ideal for our particular plans. Plus, Revel Bistro and Bar is so new that, at the time of our meeting with their manager, they had yet to host a wedding there. While they had a few already booked for the summer, they really didn’t have any experience to go off of, which is something we weren’t entirely comfortable with.

Characters Fine Dining

Characters dining room. Photo courtesy of Characters Fine Dining.

In April, we set up a meeting to view Characters Fine Dining. I’d been there once before for dinner with a friend and it stuck with me as a unique place to hold a private event. It’s a large space with an open kitchen, lots of seating and a dual-sided fireplace. When we arrived for our meeting, we got to see the lay of the land.

It’s got a much more rustic industrial vibe than anything else we’d checked out. But, there’s a warmth to the place that makes it very cozy. Their manager explained that the backside of the main floor dining room could be configured with theatre-style seating for a ceremony in front of the fireplace. The other side of the restaurant, closest to the door, would be styled for the reception. If needed, we could also rent out one of the private dining rooms in the basement for cocktails in between. Or, the patio, weather permitting, could be used for that as well.

They probably had the most extensive set menu choices out of the few restaurants we looked into. The most popular options started at around $75 per person. The expected total spend to rent out the whole main floor was about $10,000. However, that supposedly would include all taxes and gratuities. Despite the cost, this did turn out to be one of our favourite choices because everything could be done under one roof.

Prince of Wales Armouries

This was the very last venue we decided to look at. After a month of tours and meetings, I was pretty much ready to pick somewhere. I was also getting antsy about places being booked up because I’d heard how far in advance couples tend to reserve things. The Prince of Wales Armouries at 108 Avenue and 104 Street is slightly off the beaten path and maybe not the easiest to find. It’s also not a location I was super familiar with since I tend not to go much further north than Jasper Avenue.

But, I was intrigued by photos I’d seen on the City of Edmonton website. Once more, as a city property, when compared to other privately owned businesses, it’s got quite an affordable rental fee. They also have two different rooms available for booking. Between them, I much preferred the Governor’s Room though. It’s much more historic with the 19th century look whereas the Jefferson Room is only a bit fancier than a standard hall.

When renting out the Governor’s Room, it also comes with the use of the West Terrace on the second floor, which is like an indoor patio. It’s perfect for the dance at the end of the night, and it’s quite unique since it showcases the Prince of Wales Armouries as a building within a building.

Maritimes 2018 Trip Recap: Halifax to Cape Breton

Lakies Head on Cabot Trail

Much has changed over the past twelve months. My boyfriend became my fiancé just after Christmas this year, and we’re now busily planning a wedding that simultaneously feels ages away, but also like it’ll be here before we know it. Marking another milestone was our second trip to the Maritimes to see his family earlier this month.

My first visit to the East Coast of Canada took place last summer. Our goal was to relax in Dalhousie, NB and explore PEI. This time around, we, of course, spent a few days with relatives in New Brunswick. However, the remainder of our week was split between Halifax and Cape Breton Island.

Halifax, NS

Crossing the Angus L. Macdonald Bridge in Halifax

The handful of days we spent in Dalhousie were book-ended by a few evenings in Halifax. Having been a year prior, the sights weren’t the priority. What was important was giving my fiancé a chance to catch up with friends while we experienced the food and nightlife.

I’ll start off by saying that The Lower Deck on the Waterfront, although it may be a Nova Scotia institution, is not my cup of tea. I just felt out of place. It’s true that there are more casual, quiet spots in the pub, but, late at night, when it turns into a club, it’s not for me. I was uncomfortable being around a ton of rowdy people, so we didn’t stay long. If live music out in their courtyard or dancing to top 40 hits in dim lighting on their second floor is your thing, I’d tell you to give it a go because a lot of people have told me this is where it’s at.

The spot my fiancé really wanted to show me was Durty Nelly’s. It’s located right on Argyle Street (across from the new Halifax Convention Centre), making it a part of the lively downtown scene on the weekend. He has reminisced about the Irish pub often, and I didn’t mind it. Sure, it’s a bit noisy, especially when trying to make conversation. Yet, the atmosphere is decent and there is also live music playing later in the evening.

Deciding to continue on after a couple of drinks, we strolled down the hill towards Barrington Street to hang out at Stillwell Bar. Designed with a NYC subway station aesthetic in mind, I found it to be fun. The place was packed when we arrived with just a few seats left at the bar. The guys stuck to beer, available by bottle or on tap. I opted to grab their Peanut Butter & Jelly brownie for dessert. It was incredibly rich and decadent with a sort of salty caramel top, whipped cream and hints of mint. It got a full thumbs up from me.

On our second night we ventured to the Dartmouth side of the Halifax municipality for dinner with one of my fiancé’s old colleagues. We ate at Boondocks Restaurant, which has prime real estate along the boardwalk of Fisherman’s Cove. The seafood focused menu is decent. I wouldn’t say it’s anything to write home about. Nevertheless, the salmon and scallops we had were cooked quite nicely and flavoured well.

Best Places to Eat issue of Curated Food & Drink Magazine

Canada Day ended off with a view of the fireworks from Kings Wharf Place next to the Dartmouth Cove. Should there ever be an opportunity to watch the festivities from that vantage point, I’d highly recommend going there. Parking can be an issue, but we managed to find a spot. Also, once the fireworks started, people literally just parked in the middle of the street and stopped there until the pyrotechnics were over before driving off again. The fireworks look huge from there. Plus, sticking to that side of the water means avoiding the downtown crowds. On another note, my fiancé’s friend generously gave me his issue of Halifax’s Curated Food & Drink Magazine’s 25 Best Local Eateries, so I could plan for future holidays.

When we returned to Halifax from Dalhousie at the end of the week, we had date night in the city. Named as one of the top restaurants in Curated, Agricola Street Brasserie was our eatery of choice and it absolutely did not disappoint (watch for a full review to come). The space is very cool with a converted warehouse style. Brick walls, exposed beams, an open kitchen with bar seating, lots of floating pendant lights, and a striking backdrop to their main bar created an excellent setting. They have several local beers on tap, and their cocktails were stellar. The menu items we sampled were fantastic, too. The chef definitely seems to be adventurous with flavour combos and textures. I actually wish we could have fit in more of the food in one sitting.

Dalhousie, NB

 

This is my fiancé’s hometown. Here, I was reunited with my future mother-in-law’s younger cats, Mika and Mini. We also went on their annual (my second) family canoe trip down the Restigouche River (please read my post from last year for more info on booking something like this). Not one of us walked away without some sort of sun burn — thankfully, mine was minor — after several hours paddling on a very warm and sunny day. We also had a fire in the backyard most nights and set off our own fireworks over the water.

Canoe trip!

The town used to house a successful paper mill and power plant, which employed many of its residents. Today, both of those businesses are no longer. As we drove into and out of Dalhousie and around the neighbourhoods, we noticed an abundance of homes for sale. I’m not sure what’s spurring so many people to pick up and go, but if anyone is looking for an affordable summer home near the water in Canada, this may be a good option.

The main church in Dalhousie is so pretty.

Dalhousie is super quaint and I think this is why it becomes a bustling place during the warmer months. Plenty of visitors come into town to camp in their RVs and just get away from all of their cares. I got to visit the seasonal ice cream shop pretty much every day we were there. They are often so busy that the line snakes through the store. It’s literally the place everyone wants to be. It’s no wonder though. They offer the most options with dozens of flavours of hard ice cream, soft serve, frozen yogurt, and sundaes available.

The town has also beautified the area around their Inch Arran Lighthouse with the addition of a sundial and stone seating encircling it. There are even a couple of pieces of public art near the shops, including a new statue of Mr. Bon Ami.

We lucked out with a ride on a family friend’s boat as well. We took the vessel out on the water, travelling from the marina out into Chaleur Bay. From afar, Dalhousie is the epitome of picturesque.

Cape Breton Island, NS

Along Cabot Trail

Despite growing up in New Brunswick, my fiancé had never been to Cape Breton Island, so we thought it’d be something new to experience together. We spent about a day and a half there, staying each night in Sydney. During our one full day, we drove the entire length of the World Famous Cabot Trail.

As a heads up, the roads on Cabot Trail are narrow, winding, and quite worn out in certain stretches. Much of the trail allows for speed limits of 80 kilometers per hour. Some sharp turns have warning signs. But, there are many spots along the way where there aren’t any indications of those turns or lower speeds posted. If in doubt, just slow it down.

 

Should you want to complete a few of the hiking trails throughout the area, plan ahead. Find out the distance and estimated time it takes to finish them. You will have to bring the proper gear and work with the daylight to ensure you make it back to the starting point before it’s dark. Additionally, pets may or may not be allowed, so check in advance. Also, consider staying overnight at some of the smaller inns rather than heading back to Sydney each night as it’ll give you more flexibility. Well-known hikes like the Skyline Trail Loop are almost 10 kilometers.

In our case, we didn’t have the time to fit in anything like that. All we were able to do was the loop by car. However, we did peruse works by local artisans (Leather Works by Jolene and Glass Artisans Studio & Gallery) and we made several stops for photo ops. Highlights included: Ingonish Beach, Lakies Head Look-out, Neil’s Harbour (cheap, ginormous scoops at The Lighthouse Ice Cream Parlour), Lone Shieling (within Cape Breton Highlands National Park, this is considered a historic example of a traditional shelter used by shepherds in Scotland and those who settled in the Maritimes), and the village of Baddeck.

 

If in search of a meal, many of the small coastal towns have local restaurants. Usually, the hotels, motels and inns have a kitchen. We ate lunch on our second day at the MidTrail Motel. Nothing fancy, but it was alright and it helped to sustain us for the last few hours of the drive. Otherwise, in Mabou, closer to the southwest side of the island (but off of Cabot Trail), you’ll find the wonderful Red Shoe Pub. The proprietors are the Rankin Sisters of the Canadian musical family. The lobster sandwich special was simple yet tasty (the side of lobster bisque could use some improvements though), and the pulled pork poutine with sweet potato fries was delicious and filling.

Both evenings, we drove back into Sydney. We called the Cambridge Suites Hotel home the first night and The Hampton Inn by Hilton our abode on the second. There’s no question, the facilities at the Hampton Inn were far nicer. We splurged just a little bit more (the cost difference wasn’t much) to get their Boardroom Suite, and it was amazing. There was a full boardroom table in the living room, which had a dual-sided fireplace that also faced into the king size bedroom. A bar with a mini fridge, sink, and microwave was built in as well. Lastly, the bathroom was huge! We could have had a dance party in there. The complimentary breakfasts at each location were similar with meat (bacon or sausage), eggs, toast, yogurt, pastries, juices, etc.

In Sydney, I was surprised to find quite a few public mural paintings around the city as well as the World’s Largest Fiddle (I got a photo with something giant again!) at the port. There were also some satisfying restaurants.

The two we tried were Naru Sushi and Govenor’s Pub. The former was such a surprise. The rolls we ordered maybe had a tad too much rice, but the texture was just right and the ingredients tasted fresh. It was a far cry from our terrible sushi lunch in Shediac, NB the year before (it made me think the East Coast didn’t know how to do sushi). If you go, make sure you try their tempura banana dessert, too. It’s so good, and the portion is ridiculous for the price. We thought they accidentally gave us two orders until we saw the bill. As for Govenor’s Pub, the service wasn’t the greatest, but it’s a really nice spot that overlooks the water with two patio spaces. I’ll admit, I didn’t love that they put celery in their lobster sandwich. Nonetheless, they won me over with their Maple-Curry Seafood Linguine. The spicy-sweet sauce was creamy and the mix of mussels, scallops and shrimp were all prepared well.

Literally my favourite store name ever. It’s so punny.

All-in-all, we fit in a ton — family, friends, food, and plenty of sights — over our vacation. We clocked 3,000 kilometers on our rental vehicle by the time we returned it at the airport. The thing is, there’s still so much more to see in the Maritimes. I’m looking forward to our next trip either next year or in 2020. Newfoundland, here we come!

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Ampersand 27 (2018 Update)

The bar and dining room of Ampersand 27.

Located on 106 Street and Whyte Avenue, Ampersand 27 is right in the heart of Edmonton. Seeking out potential venues for our upcoming wedding, my fiancé and I popped in for a venue meeting with Restaurant Manager Laura Rudd and Executive Chef Fan Zhang. It’d actually been a little while since my last visit (read my previous review here), but my recollection of the place was spot on.

Those twinkling lights on the ceiling make for an excellent backdrop.

The space is just as beautiful as I remembered with twinkling lights on the ceiling, a statement fireplace against the back wall, modern teals and metallics mixed with natural woods and stone, and a funky amoeba-shaped bar. What I didn’t realize was its direct attachment to the Varscona Hotel right next door, which we consider to be a big plus as we’re going to have plenty of guests travelling from out of town. With accommodations nearby, room for a dinner, reception, dance, and hopefully a ceremony, this seems like an incredibly versatile spot with plenty of possibilities.

Their charcuterie menu is quite extensive with all meats made in-house.

Neither of us really had a solid idea of what we want for our celebration. However, during our discussion with Laura and Chef Fan, both of them had some excellent suggestions and seemed eager to bring our vision to life. They gave us a lot to think about, and, when we were done our tour and conversation, they actually invited us to stay for a drink and some charcuterie.

Look at this amazing cheese and charcuterie board!

In all honesty, they were super generous. When they offered to make us a plate, we expected that they’d provide just a small sampling of food to whet our appetites. Afterwards, if we were still hungry, we were more than willing to stick around and make a night of it on our own. But, wow! We received a humongous board chockablock full of house cured meats (my faves were the Bresoala, Truffled Mortadella, and Kielbasa), homemade pickles, preserves, and beer mustard (the best!), in-house baked sourdough bread, and a variety of cheeses (creamy Port Salut and Goat Gouda won the night). All in, I guessed the total value was around $100, including our beverages. They outright spoiled us!

Although we technically didn’t need anything else to eat, we opted to treat ourselves to an order of their 3 Pork Buns ($15) with an Extra Bun ($5) to make it even, as well as a side of the Brussels Sprouts ($5).

Brussels Sprouts in Garlic Butter

The latter was cooked until the greens were tender, but still had bite. The outer leaves were also charred and crispy, just the way I like it. The sprouts may have been a tad greasy, yet I suppose that’s a given considering they’re prepared in garlic butter.

As for the Pork Buns, they were mentioned by a couple of the staff, so we thought it made sense to try them. I’m glad we did because they absolutely did not disappoint. The thick cut pork belly was seared until crisp on the outside and the fats had rendered. Sriracha mayo, hoisin, thinly sliced pickled cucumbers along with baby leaves and chopped green onion finished them off. Pillowy soft steam buns held everything together.

Warm Brownie for dessert!

Before we left, we had to try a dessert. Our choice of the evening was the Warm Brownie ($11; it may not currently be available). It was sort of deconstructed and served with caramel sauce, sponge toffee bits, roasted peanuts, fresh whipped cream, and a mint leaf for garnish. This was absolutely decadent and sweet; it’s the perfect dish for sharing as the portion size is more than decent.

I can’t lie. Ampersand 27 completely won us over. Laura and Chef Fan showed such amazing hospitality. Additionally, their fantastic server Janell cannot go unmentioned. I previously knew her from another restaurant that she worked at simultaneously as she held a position here, and she’s wonderful. Janell has a way of putting the customer at ease and making them feel like a friend.

While nothing is set in stone at this time, Ampersand 27 is at the top of our list. Not only are the share plates such a delight, but the people who run the place can’t be beat. Even if it doesn’t end up being the venue for our nuptials next year, it’s still going to be one of our favourite Whyte Avenue businesses and restaurants for a long time to come.