Edmonton Restaurant Review: Gregg Mediterranean (Sherwood Park)

Lebanese Coffee with Baklava

While working on my YEG Food Deals project, I’ve made a number of connections with Edmonton and area businesses. One in particular caught my eye when they tagged my @yegfooddeals Instagram page in a post about their $10 lunch deals.

The share came from Gregg Mediterranean located in Sherwood Park (25 Sioux Road). I decided to reach out to them to discuss a possible collaboration. They replied, but I didn’t hear much after our initial conversation.

A week or two passed and I received a new message from the business asking us to come in and try their menu. Kirk and I welcomed the invitation, heading out one Sunday evening during that run of bitter cold weather caused by the polar vortex.

When we arrived, it was quiet; only one other table was occupied. The owner, Tamara, greeted and seated us right away. She gave us a few minutes to look over the menu and then came back to ask if we had any questions. Of course, I wanted to know what the most popular items were to help with my decision. To that, she replied, “would you like us to select the dishes for you?” Both Kirk and I are always up for an adventure, so we gave her an enthusiastic thumbs up.

Pickled Veggies

The first thing we received was a plate of pickled vegetables. These were likely complimentary because I do not recall seeing them as an option on the menu. Kirk seemed to enjoy them as he ate the majority. I sampled what I think was a radish, which I didn’t mind. It was very acidic and had an interesting texture from soaking in the brine. Definitely not crispy. The carrot was harder and didn’t take in the brine as much, so it still held some of it’s density and tasted less pickled overall. I guess, for me, they were a little too wet. I like drier pickled veggies like the carrots, daikon and cucumber on a Vietnamese sub or the diced pickled turnips we found on other dishes here.

Blue Hawaiian Cocktail

As we snacked on the veggies, we also sipped on our drinks. Tamara had suggested a Lebanese beer called Almaza ($6 to $7) for Kirk. It’s a basic pilsner that is light, ever so slightly bitter at the end, but otherwise smooth and easy to drink. I chose the Blue Hawaiian cocktail ($9). Presented in a tall glass, this blue drink was deceivingly strong. Granted, I drank it pretty fast at first, but the pineapple juice masks a lot of the alcohol, so don’t go too crazy on these.

Shish Combo with Rice and Garlic Sauce

Not long after, we were given our first main plate. This was the Shish Combo ($24) — a skewer each of the chicken, beef, and kafta — served on a pita with a parsley tomato mix and a side of rice. It’s a sizable amount of food that’s perfect for sharing, especially when you want to try a few different meats. The beef skewer wasn’t the most tender; however, it was nicely seasoned. My favourites were the chicken (charred and juicy) and the kafta. I wasn’t sure what to expect of the kafta, but the seasoned, minced beef was incredibly flavourful on its own. I tossed some of the homemade garlic sauce into the rice and I was in heaven. Some garlic sauces I’ve had in the past have been potent. Gregg Mediterranean has found a good balance with theirs. It’s creamy and tasty without being overwhelming. As far as I know, my body didn’t smell like garlic the next day.

As we were working on the skewers, Tamara came back with a Half Mezza platter ($24) that included four appetizers of Sujuk over Hummus, Falafel, Grilled Halloume Cheese, and Chicken Wings. I’m not sure if Chicken Wings are a regular Mediterranean dish. Either way, these were delicious. The zesty glaze was slightly sticky, but not heavy. The sauce kept the meat succulent and, even though there was cilantro on it, I didn’t even notice that the herb was there. I’ve seen halloume cheese more and more, but I’ve never really eaten it. It reminded me of the texture of Indian paneer, just grilled. I should have eaten it when it was warm. Although it was still good cold, I think it lost any elasticity it may have had as it sat out. Regardless, I sandwiched the cheese in between pieces of pita and smeared some hummus on it. The satisfying hummus was super smooth and creamy with a hint of spice from the beef sausage tossed on top. Falafel was not exactly Kirk’s cup of tea, but I quite liked the balls of chickpeas, fava beans, parsley, cilantro, and onion. They remind me of fritters, perfect for dipping in more hummus or garlic sauce.

Fattoush Salad

To accompany everything else, we also received a bowl of their Fattoush Salad ($10). A combination of fresh lettuce, cucumber, tomato, peppers, parsley, onion, and red cabbage tossed in a vinaigrette dressing and topped with pita bread chips, this was simple yet tasty. In particular, I was a fan of the crunch from the salt and pepper seasoned chips as they added extra texture and flavour.

Our meal was completed with a Lebanese Coffee ($3) for Kirk and two styles of Baklava ($5) for us to split. I don’t drink coffee, so I can’t say much about it. It smelled concentrated and was served in a small cup like an espresso. Kirk found it quite strong and didn’t need much of it. The desserts came as Asabeh, a finger-like pastry, and a more traditional Baklawa that’s layered. In the latter, the sheets of filo were wonderfully flaky before hitting a base of chopped nuts soaked in sugar syrup or honey. I tend to find this particular kind of baklava to be too sweet. I loved the Asabeh though. Here, the filo is stuffed with the chopped nuts and a bit of the syrup or honey and then rolled into a tube. There’s a lot less liquid and more of the pastry, so it’s well-balanced and less saccharine.

When we finished eating, Tamara sat with us and we chatted. Gregg Mediterranean has been in business for over four years. Sunday nights are slower for them, but that’s supplemented by deliveries through SkipTheDishes. Additionally, on weekends, they do a lot of catering. The whole thing is family-run with Tamara handling the front of house and her husband, Rakan, taking care of everything in the kitchen (he’s keen to keep the family recipes to himself for now). Their young daughter spends her time in the restaurant, too, giggling and having fun behind the counter.

As more and more chains come into Sherwood Park, they’re noticing an effect on the smaller local eateries, which is unfortunate to hear. Kirk and I honestly cannot wait to go back to Gregg Mediterranean. The hospitality that Tamara and Rakan showed to us is rarely matched elsewhere. For the value and quality of the food, Gregg Mediterranean far surpasses anything you’ll find at a big box business. I count myself fortunate to have learned about this restaurant and I will recommend them to anyone.

Calgary Restaurant Review: Vin Room Mission

A petite serving of Hummus and flatbread.

On our recent road trip to Calgary, I opted to try out restaurants that offered Happy Hour menus. Our meals were planned around the mid- to late-afternoon hours or well into the evening to take advantage of the deals. During our first night there, we ended up at Vin Room Mission (2310 4 Street). We were seated on the main floor in a narrower space past the lounge and right near the kitchen. It was cute and cozy as Kirk and I sat side by side.

As we reviewed the options, I was quite tempted by a list of features that they had for the evening. But, we stuck to my plan, and ordered only from the Happy Hour items: Bartender’s Choice Beer Pour ($6), Hummus ($5), Weekly Tacos ($5 each), Spaghetti Pomodoro ($5), and Grilled Chicken Skewers ($2 each).

Bartender’s Choice Beer Pour

For the beer, we were hoping for something on tap and more local. It turned out to be a bottle of Steam Whistle, so nothing all that special and kind of expensive for the price. On the plus side, to start, they provided complimentary popcorn with the beer.

The Hummus was presented in a tiny dish with four triangles of grilled flatbread brushed with olive oil. It was nice that the flatbread was actually warm and still soft. The hummus was garlicky and flavourful. It was so small though. It took just a few minutes for us to crush that plate.

Weekly Tacos

Kirk is the one who chose to have two of the Weekly Tacos. I sampled a bite of it, and I wasn’t impressed. I already tend to dislike pico de gallo because of the frequent inclusion of cilantro, but, on top of that, the corn tortilla was super dry, tasting like thin cardboard. Otherwise, the Valentina hot sauce and chicken was fine.

Spaghetti Pomodoro

The Spaghetti Pomodoro comes meatless with a simple mix of tomato sauce, basil pesto, and shaved Grana Padano. The sauce was light, but tasty. I appreciated the amount of cheese, considering the ratio of the topping to the noodles. I was beginning to understand that Vin Room was able to have such a cheap happy hour by altering the portion sizes significantly. It’s a good thing we weren’t particularly hungry and these “snacks” were enough.

Grilled Chicken Skewers

Probably my favourite choice of the night were the Grilled Chicken Skewers. I’m pretty certain that the same chicken was used in the tacos (and I doubt they switch up the type of taco every week). Still, the pieces of chicken were plump and tender. I also enjoyed the honey-lemon glaze and fresh herbs. We even ate the petite green salad on the side.

Carrot Cake

We decided to indulge in dessert before we left. It was the Carrot Cake ($9) that caught our eyes. With a Wensleydale cheese frosting, carrot-pineapple jam, and vanilla creme anglaise, it was quite decadent. Our only complaint was that it was clearly prepared in advance and refrigerated as it was chilly on the tongue. It would have been more pleasing to, at least, have it served at room temperature. Regardless, it was a highlight of our meal at Vin Room.

I wouldn’t necessarily go back to Vin Room for happy hour alone. But, the service was attentive, so I’d be interested in checking them out again for their regular menu just to see what the quality is like in comparison to what you get for happy hour. There was certainly a bit of promise with a couple of the items and the place was busy, so it can’t be all that bad, right?

Edmonton Bakery Review: GLAZE Dessert Bar

GLAZE Dessert Bar’s logo stamped on the pizza box.

Keeping with my recent theme of discoveries on social media, the business I want to talk about today is GLAZE Dessert Bar. I had observed that they were showcased as a caterer for a couple of events that happened in Edmonton lately, and I was intrigued. I linked my way to their Instagram page. After looking around, I discovered that they were running a January deal. By liking their Facebook page, I’d be able to get an extra five pastries, if I ordered a minimum of 25 pieces.

So, what does GLAZE Dessert Bar make? They lovingly craft Polish pastries called “faworki,” otherwise known as angel wings. Upon reviewing their website and the flavours available, I was sold. With my mom’s birthday coming up, I thought it’d be the perfect opportunity to support this local company. I sent an email off with all of the details: date the order was required (they ask for a minimum two week window, but they can possibly accommodate shorter time frames, if you ask), pick up or delivery, number of pastries, and the flavours.

Twisted ribbons of dough form the basis of the “faworki.”

Within a couple of days, I received a confirmation back as well as an invoice. Pre-orders of 100 angel wings is $95, 36 is $35, and 25 is $25. Anything over the 100 piece threshold would be $0.85 each. I had selected a smaller order of 25 plus the 5 bonus pastries. The total was an even $25, which I could either pay by cash upon pick up or through e-Transfer in advance. I opted for the latter.

In my case, the owner, Sabina, put everything together with just over a week’s notice. On the Sunday morning I needed them, Kirk and I drove to the Crystallina area in the far north end of the city to grab the order. It is a home business that runs out of a townhouse. I rang the bell and Sabina came to the door with a giant pizza box. The transaction was very quick and we were back on the road within minutes.

My giant pizza box full of angel wings!

When we returned to our condo, I whipped open the box to snap some photos. Kirk walked by me and he exclaimed that there were so many angel wings! I stopped for a second to take a closer look. Sure enough, there was an extra 50 per cent added to the package. At first, I thought that I may have been given the wrong order. But, upon inspection, all of the flavours were what I had selected. I quickly messaged Sabina to thank her for the generosity. She explained that, since the pastries are all handmade, they’re not always even in size, so to make up for any discrepancies, they toss more in. I certainly wasn’t going to complain about that logic.

Packed a box of these treats for my mom’s birthday.

I packed a box of about twenty for my mom’s dinner get together that evening, and I took some to the office the next day to share with my co-workers. Still, Kirk and I had over a dozen left to snack on at home.

When I initially tried one of the angel wings, I couldn’t quite put my finger on what they reminded me of. Kirk said they were like a churro, and I agreed. However, the more I ate them, the more I decided that they’re probably closer to a beaver tail or an elephant ear, typically found at street festivals. The Classic 5-inch fresh fried ribbons of dough sprinkled with icing sugar were most reminiscent of those treats. The others, all glazed with different flavours — maple, matcha, vanilla, strawberry, and chocolate — were like a mix between those fried dough goodies and a doughnut.

In all honesty though, the GLAZE Dessert Bar angel wings were a little inconsistent between pieces. Some were perfect in texture and easy to bite apart. The glazes were sweet, but not too sugary, and the toppings were fun. On the other hand, a few were a little too thin and, therefore, crispy. A batch of them were also quite chewy, giving our jaws quite the workout. I’m assuming that, with the chewier ones, they were likely fried a little too long. I’m not entirely sure though. Either way, it was a bit of a Russian roulette even though we ended up devouring each and every one in the long run. If you do choose to order any of these pastries, I highly recommend that they all be eaten within three days. They can hold up longer (we refrigerated ours), but they’re best when consumed earlier.

Despite our mixed reviews with the “faworki,” I am glad that I took a chance on GLAZE Dessert Bar. I really do want to be a cheerleader for Edmonton entrepreneurs because starting a business isn’t an easy thing. Sabina is really following her heart and her dream. GLAZE Dessert Bar is super new (introduced to markets maybe around the end of October 2018), so I think that things can only go up from here, especially if they listen to any and all feedback.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Tokiwa Ramen

Goma Goma with Kaedama

I’ve been on a bit of a ramen kick lately. I’ve always enjoyed ramen, but it’s not something I regularly order at restaurants. Still, after a couple of visits to the newly opened Menjiro Ramen, I decided that I finally needed to try Tokiwa Ramen.

Well aware of the existence of Tokiwa Ramen since they were introduced to Edmonton, surprisingly, I’d never managed to eat there. The owners run the shop daily; however, they’re only open until the prepared broths are sold out. As such, any time I’ve been nearby the location situated in the Brewery District, I’ve been welcomed by a “No Soup” sign.

Determined, I told Kirk we’d be making the trek from South Terwillegar to Oliver early on a Sunday morning. Many people on social media had suggested arriving before the doors are unlocked at 11:00 am. Therefore, we showed up fifteen minutes ahead. We got a parking spot right in front of the restaurant, so we decided to stay in the car until a few other patrons started lining up.

Tokiwa Ramen seats about 30 people at a time.

About seventh and eighth in the queue, we were easily within the first round of customers to be served of a long line that went eastward down the length of the strip mall. The minimalist space seats approximately 30 to 35 people. By our calculations, with most guests staying for an hour or so, and Tokiwa Ramen typically closing before dinner, we estimate that they sell up to 150 to 200 bowls a day (we are guessing though).

That number of bowls is no small feat when you account for just how big the portions are. Kirk and I ordered our food, and, as we waited, we watched other people’s orders coming from the kitchen. Our jaws dropped at the sheer size of each dish. They were at least a third larger, if not more, than what we had been served at Menjiro. Considering that the prices are the same, the value at Tokiwa is definitely a huge plus.

Kirk selected the Spicy Miso broth ($14.50) for his brunch ramen. This consists of a six hour chicken soup served with pork charshu (braised pork), noodles, half of a boiled egg, wood ear mushrooms, micro greens, bean sprouts, Shanghai bok choi, and a lotus root chip. The menu is explicit about the spice being moderate, and it’s true. I finished off Kirk’s soup, and I can attest to the fact that it’s not going to burn off your taste buds. The heat is very pleasant and manageable on the palate.

Initially, I was tempted by the curry ramen listed on their features board. Ultimately, I thought it’d be best to stick with their standards on my first visit. I opted to go with the Goma Goma ($14) found on their regular menu. While it comes with pretty much the same ingredients as the Spicy Miso, the differences are in the soup and the meat. Unlike the other, the base is a ten hour creamy sesame pork broth and the pork meat is chopped rather than braised and sliced. The soup was incredibly savoury (more so than the chicken broth) without being overly salty. I loved the variety of textures throughout the bowl, including the bite of the thick noodles, which held up well while soaking in the broth as I slowly ate. My only complaint, and it’s a minor one, is that the ground pork is harder to devour. The bits of meat fell to the bottom of the bowl and the style of spoon provided doesn’t make for easy scooping. Otherwise, this was fantastic.

Goma Goma with extra noodles!

Between the two of us, we also shared a side of Kaedama ($3.50), a noodle refill, thinking that we would require extra. In the end, we polished the bowl off, but, honestly, it probably wasn’t necessary. The regular bowls of ramen already provide plenty of food. Therefore, I recommend waiting to see if the regular portions will be enough for you before deciding to add noodles.

Those people outside waited in line for an hour.

Tokiwa Ramen is the real deal. I now completely understand why people are willing to line up for an hour to get a bowl of their soup. They don’t half ass anything. Instead, they have chosen to hone their skills on doing a few things amazingly well. The owners have stuck to their guns by refusing to compromise on the quality. Their passion for their product definitely shows. Once you try it, I guarantee that you’ll be hooked. If you could read my mind, you would find out that half of the time I’m literally thinking of when I might get my next bowl of Tokiwa Ramen.

Product Review: The Rotten Fruit Box

The Rotten Fruit Box

It seems that I start a lot of my stories by stating that I bought something or ended up somewhere because of a post seen on social media. In the case of The Rotten Fruit Box, it’s no different. I saw a sponsored ad online and was intrigued enough by the premise and the offer to check it out.

What’s The Rotten Fruit Box, you ask? Tony, the founder of the company, was travelling in Portugal and Spain, visiting farmers, when he noticed a ton of fruit rotting on the ground. Speaking with them, he learned that these growers didn’t produce enough to compete with larger businesses. By the same token, they had too much fruit to consume everything on their own, which left a lot of wonderful, healthy food wasted.

The fruits come in resealable pouches with stickers listing the benefits. These are the fig packs I received.

He now works with them to pick and save as much of the in-season fruit as possible. To extend the shelf life, it was decided that freeze drying the flesh would be ideal. In that form, it could be packaged, sold and shipped in a convenient manner while keeping the product 100 per cent natural. All of the work The Rotten Fruit Box does follows their mission to help small farmers, reduce food waste, provide healthier snacks, and end world hunger (a portion of their proceeds goes towards organizations that fight this issue).

With a discount of 25 per cent off on my first order ($14.99 versus $19.99 USD), I decided to sign up for a box. It works on a subscription model, but you’re not obligated to purchase every single month and you’re not charged until you opt in. Therefore, if you don’t want boxes regularly, be sure to update your account. Future months can easily be skipped or service can be paused whenever you want. As soon as I registered, I just as quickly went into my settings to skip shipments past the month of December. I selected the Build Your Own Box option, which comes with four bags of fruit. My choices of the 16 or so options included the figs, strawberries, raspberries, and peaches.

The sticker on the box indicates it was shipped from the source in Portugal.

My first box was scheduled to be mailed out from Portugal in November. Even though The Rotten Fruit Box is based out of the United States, their product is shipped directly from the producer to reduce their carbon footprint as much as possible. I received an email noting that my package had been sent; however, there was no tracking information for that initial month (I was told later it had to manually be entered into all messages and they didn’t have the time to do that in November). With a postal strike in Canada, it made it worse. I didn’t receive that order until about mid-December, and, by that point, the next December box had already been mailed out and, miraculously, it also arrived right around the same time.

No matter though. I was patient enough. The November box was larger in size. The interior of the cardboard was prettily printed with a fruit design and The Rotten Fruit Box logo. It was simple, but still a little bit flashy. The individual bags of fruit have basic packaging of lined, resealable kraft paper, a white sticker on the front that indicates the type of fruit and another sticker on the back that includes info about the fruit, the weight of the fruit to be found inside and the best before date.

A complimentary bag of freeze dried fig bits.

Every bag seemed to have a yearlong best before date listed, so, by all accounts, I’d be fine as long as each one was consumed by November or December 2019. The individual pouches weighed in at between 22 to 25 grams. I’d guess that for the raspberries and strawberries that might work out to a pint of fresh store bought berries. For the peaches and figs, I’d say maybe it’d be equivalent to three or four full pieces of fruit for the former and about six or seven for the latter. In my November box, I was told that they didn’t have enough fig to fulfill my request (they did send me a pouch of fig bits to try though), so I swapped it out for the sour cherries. These are cut into smaller pieces, so I estimate that maybe there are two to three dozen cherries in a bag.

I’ve enjoyed every one of the fruits thus far, some more so than others. Particularly, I was already fond of the freeze dried organic strawberries because of cereals like Special K Red Berries. I found the raspberries to be somewhat tart and frustrating with the seeds. Not to say that it’s not the same when eating them fresh, but I feel like with less moisture and flesh, the freeze dried fruit adheres more to the teeth and the seeds end up getting stuck easier. Of course, it could just be a me thing. The figs have a somewhat interesting flavour when dried as they’re a little bit bitter and earthy (closer to the rind) before the sweetness kicks in from the center of the fruit. For the organic “sour” cherries, they’re not actually sour, but I’m not a huge fan of the texture. They’re less porous when dried, making them a little chewier and plastic. My favourite ended up being the peach slices. Larger pieces with a nice crunch and flavour.

A mix of my selected freeze dried fruits.

Honestly, I’m not sure how healthy freeze dried fruit truly is. All of the moisture is removed in order to preserve the flesh and stop bacterial growth. The drying is done during the fruit’s prime ripeness to retain the taste. But, are the nutrients still there? I’ll have to do further research. Still, it’s better than eating a candy bar when I have a craving for something sugary. My only wish is that they didn’t disappear so quickly. Approximately 25 grams of freeze dried fruit doesn’t last that long, especially if, for example, you intend to use them for toppings on yogurt, oatmeal, or cereal.

Thankfully, shipping and handling is free of charge. But, with the exchange rate and the regular price of $19.99 USD for only four bags, it works out to $5 per pouch or about $6.50 CDN. I suppose it’s not so bad considering the support of a company that is trying to do their part in the world. Yet, it’s still quite pricey for what you get. I consider The Rotten Fruit Box subscription to be a treat. I won’t be getting it every single month, but I may do so periodically to get my fix of their delicious freeze dried fruits.