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.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Revel Bistro & Bar

Roast Brussels Sprout Salad

From the purveyors of wine and tapas at Privada in St. Albert comes one of the latest additions to Edmonton’s restaurant scene, Revel Bistro & Bar. If a visit to the new establishment seems at all familiar, it’s likely because it resides in the refurbished Alberta Hotel building at 98 Street and Jasper Avenue. In recent years, the same location has been home to not one, but two other eateries: Tavern 1903 and Alberta Hotel Bar & Kitchen. Both had wonderful chefs at the helm, creating some truly delectable dishes, yet neither was able to last too long.

The historic and gorgeous lounge and bar.

One may even go so far as to say the spot is cursed. Superstitions aside, Revel Bistro & Bar has taken over the space with aplomb. Design-wise, they did very little to change the interior. The historic bar remains on the right side of the venue with a dining room on the left. The only difference that my friend and I could distinguish was the switch to bar top tables in the lounge. That, and a new coat closet. Otherwise, it looks almost identical to its last iteration as Alberta Hotel Kitchen & Bar (as depicted in the photo above).

My dining companion and I walked over after work, arriving early for our 5:00 pm reservation. However, there was no problem being seated in advance. The place was nearly empty at that point, and the host let us choose our own table, so we opted to sit by the windows.

We had actually studied the menu in advance on their website and we thought we had had our minds made up on the dishes we planned to order. As it turns out, the restaurant was in the midst of updating their offerings, so a few of the items we wanted were no longer available. The snack plate of charred lamb belly was gone and so was the chicken roulade.

On the plus side, the new options sounded fantastic. My friend chose to go with an Amaretto Bourbon Sour ($11) and the replacement Crispy Chicken Thighs ($25). I decided to start with the server recommended Roast Brussels Sprout Salad ($13) and continue with the main course of Manila Clams & Lamb Belly ($28).

The Amaretto Bourbon Sour was a simple, well-made cocktail that was smooth with just a bit of a kick at the back of the throat. While she sipped on that, I worked my way through the generous Roast Brussels Sprout Salad (pictured at the top of the page). It’s really similar to a salad currently found on the Privada menu, so I have a feeling they brought over one of their popular St. Albert dishes to share here. The plate consisted of brussels sprouts (slightly firm, crunchy, somewhat charred), quinoa, cranberry puree, pickled onion, sherry vinaigrette, and grated Parmesan. It was an excellent combination with small hints of bitterness from the greens, sourness from the vinaigrette, and sweetness from the pickled onion and cranberry puree. For a lighter meal that is still kind of hearty, this is a wonderful pick.

Crispy Chicken Thighs

I had originally wanted to try the chicken roulade for dinner and was disappointed to hear that they had removed it from the menu. The idea of the chicken thighs didn’t really appeal to me as much, so I skipped it. On the other hand, my friend was willing to give them a go. I’m really glad she did, too. I sampled all of the components of the plate and it was spectacular. The tender chicken had been fully deboned, and the skin was nicely crisped. The fleshy, marinated king oyster mushrooms added an earthy flavour that played well against the saltiness of the ricotta gnudi (gnocchi-like dumplings).

Manila Clams & Lamb Belly

Honestly, I felt like my Manila Clams & Lamb Belly could have been improved upon. Our server mentioned that it was the hit of the night at their New Year’s Eve event, so I thought it was a sure bet. There wasn’t anything overtly wrong with it, but it became pretty one-note about halfway through. The Alberta lamb belly was prepared with a black garlic glaze, making it really savoury. However, I don’t think enough of the fat had rendered off while the meat was cooked. It lacked the crispness that I like with perfectly made pork belly. I ended up cutting away some of the softer fats that I found to be unpleasant in the mouth. The clams were fine. They paired okay with the onion broth. The charred cabbage and fennel were decent accompaniments. What this item really needs though is some sort of starch or grain to ground the plate and make it more well-rounded.

Despite the filling food we’d polished off, we couldn’t leave without having dessert. I chose the Chocolate and Coconut ($12) while my friend went with the Cheesecake ($12). I’d say that both desserts had their pros and cons.

Chocolate and Coconut

The Chocolate and Coconut was made with a coconut bavarois as the base. Bavarois is a gelatin and whipped cream dessert that reminds me of a light flan. It was topped with hazelnut ice cream, chocolate soil, brown butter string, dehydrated chocolate mousse, Thai basil, and basil seeds. It sort of came across as an excessively complicated dish, and I believe that the strong chocolate elements overpowered any of the coconut flavour. Also, be careful not to breath in when taking a spoonful of the chocolate soil. It’s like a finely crushed cookie and I made the mistake of doing that, causing me a bit of throat irritation as I ate.

Cheesecake

I think that the Cheesecake was definitely the better of the two desserts. It was just balanced and didn’t seem to be overcompensating for anything. The cheesecake was incredibly fluffy and creamy. The tartness of the cheesecake mousse was a match made in heaven with the intense blood orange pumpkin ice cream. The sponge toffee added some needed texture. Although, I could have done with a little less of it as too much turns overly sugary and I wasn’t super keen on the stickiness of the confection on my teeth. My friend, a fan of toffee, absolutely loved it.

From this one visit, I see great potential with Revel Bistro & Bar. They have a focused menu that is at once familiar, but also adventurous. The service we received was impeccable and the atmosphere is upscale without the pomp and circumstance. Most of all, I just hope that they last. This venue has seen many talents in the kitchen and none have stuck so far. Maybe this will be the one to break the spell.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Alberta Hotel Bar + Kitchen (Closed)

Lunchtime at the Alberta Hotel Bar + Kitchen

Lunchtime at the Alberta Hotel Bar + Kitchen

Dismay was the general consensus when Tavern 1903 folded towards the end of 2014. The restaurant was popular with patrons and, thus, there was a bit of disbelief when word spread of its closure.

I had only been to Tavern 1903 once, but I enjoyed the food and the sunny patio during the summer, and I had looked forward to going back. What I especially liked was the idea of Edmonton businesses having invested in the restoration of this historical building on 98 Street and Jasper Avenue that used to be the Alberta Hotel. My fear was that it would be shuttered and the gorgeous bar wouldn’t see the light of day for who knows how long.

Less than a year later, my bartender friend, Clayton, told me he was starting a new job at the Alberta Hotel Bar + Kitchen. I’m often clueless about new places until someone tells me about it or I read an article or blog post, so I had him confirm my assumptions about this establishment’s location. Sure enough, it was taking over that same spot vacated by Tavern 1903.

Beyond excited, I reached out to owners Spencer Thompson (Chef de Cuisine) and Brandon Baker (General Manager) to discuss another story. During that same time, they were in the midst of their soft opening. I didn’t visit over the first few weeks they were open. However, from what I was hearing through my friends, something great was in store for me.

Finally, for the official grand opening on November 19, I made my first trip to Alberta Hotel Bar + Kitchen.

The historic and gorgeous lounge and bar.

The historic and gorgeous lounge and bar.

As expected, the space has changed little since Tavern 1903. Knowing that the bar and lounge was reconstructed using the actual building blocks – tiles, chandeliers, lamps, etc. – of the original Alberta Hotel, it would have been a travesty to tamper with any of that. So, they did the right thing and kept the venue as is.

Upon arrival, we were greeted at as we stepped into the door. The restaurant had my reservation in its OpenTable system and we were promptly seated in the dining room. I was worried that the dimmer lighting would prevent me from taking some decent photos on my phone that evening, but it worked out okay in the end.

Our server, Joanne, popped by to fill our water glasses. Then she asked us if we were aware of the options for the evening – a set menu or a la carte. My friend and I had come specifically for the grand opening because, for one night only, they were presenting a three-course dinner complete with an amuse bouche and a glass of bubbly (the drink was not advertised beforehand, so it was a happy surprise) for the affordable price of $55.

The menu was laid out with three choices per course, creating a few difficult decisions for us. My friend opted to start with the Bone Marrow Agnolotti. I chose the Duck Duo as my appetizer. We both ordered the Pembina Pork Cheeks as our entrée. For dessert, I chose the Pear-Almond Frangipane (Joanne said it wasn’t as sweet as the AH Banana Smores) and my friend selected the Cheesecake.

The lobster crostini

The amuse bouche: lobster crostini

While we waited for our first course to make its way from the kitchen, we sipped on our champagne. Joanne showed up again shortly after to drop off the amuse bouche (a complimentary canapé from the chef). Before she walked away, we asked her what was on top of the crostini. It turns out that it consisted of lobster, which my friend has an allergy to. Thank goodness we took the initiative to find out before she went ahead and ate it. Throughout the evening, the service was pretty impeccable. This was the only misstep.

Our first courses were brought over by Brandon (whom I recognized from a couple of photos on the restaurant’s Facebook page). On initial glance, the dishes were plated nicely and the servings were sizable. As is typical of my friend and I, we sampled each other’s food.

Bone Marrow Agnolotti

Bone Marrow Agnolotti

The Bone Marrow Agnolotti was stellar. The pasta shells didn’t really stay intact, but I liked that the pasta was thin and light, not doughy. Stuffed inside the shells were wild mushrooms and bone marrow. The acidity from the bone barrow worked well with the earthiness of the mushrooms. There was some additional marrow to be found in-bone, along with more mushrooms, brown butter sauce and pecorino cheese. To finish off the plate, there was also a cloud of celery root puree. My friend scraped every last bit of food off of her dish, saying it was like heaven.

Duck Duo

Duck Duo

I later learned that the duck duo was new on the menu, and it was neat. I hope that it’s a dish that they’ll offer again. This plate included a combo of smoked duck breast served over Saskatoon jam and duck pate sandwiched between a beet macaron. The duck breast was incredibly tender; it was cooked just enough to get a touch of smokiness without overtaking the natural flavour of the meat while the Saskatoon jam provided overall balance. The pate was smooth and paired well with a melt-in-your-mouth beet macaron. It was different and creative.

Ramos Gin Fizz and a Whiskey Sour

Ramos Gin Fizz and a Whiskey Sour

In between finishing our appetizers and receiving our entrées, we headed over to the bar to say hello to Clayton who happened to be bartending that night. My dining companion asked him for a recommendation and he inquired as to what sort of liquor she likes. She told him that she likes whiskey sours and he was glad to whip something up for her. I went for a cocktail off of the curated menu, the Ramos Gin Fizz, which was created in 1887 by Henri Charles Ramos. It’s great to know that the Alberta Hotel Bar + Kitchen has knowledgeable people like Clayton behind the bar and Brandon who has refined the drink selection.

Pembina Pork Cheeks (this is not the best photo)

Pembina Pork Cheeks (this is not the best photo)

The comfort quotient was met during the main course of Pembina Pork Cheeks topped with tomato jam and served with buttermilk polenta, wild mushrooms, arugula and local pecorino. The polenta was the creamiest I’ve ever had. It felt rich and decadent. That, along with the earthiness and bitterness from the mushrooms and arugula, leveled out any saltiness from the meat, which fell apart at the touch of our forks. The kitchen provided a hefty portion, too. Although we most likely could have had a few more bites (it was that good), what we got was enough when you consider that we still had dessert on the way.

I took a small forkful of cheesecake from my friend. The cake had an almond sponge bottom and what looked like two chocolates on top (that was probably the red currant jelly that was listed on the menu). There was also some lemon curd on the plate as well. I didn’t catch all of the flavours that were included in the dish. I only tried the cheesecake, but it had a wonderful velvety texture that wasn’t overly dense. My Pear-Almond Frangipane was paired with a lovely olive oil ice cream. The poached pear slices on top were great with the pastry, but this is a heavier dessert, and the last few bites were almost more than I could handle.

While I wasn’t necessarily more restrained during lunch the following day, I specifically chose items that I hadn’t eaten the night before, and I avoided stuffing myself with fillers like fries and crostini.

Janell(e), who was serving me, seemed educated on the menu and she was ready to give me suggestions, if I wanted them. However, I kind of already had my mind made up.

A cup of Lobster Bisque

A cup of Lobster Bisque

Lunch began with a cup of lobster bisque, which was delectable. Made sans cream, the tomato base created a soup that was more distinct. The tartness from the tomato helped to elevate the flavor of the lobster without masking it. There was also a bit of heat to the bisque (if we’re talking temperature-wise, it stayed warm until I was finished); a nice pepperiness that took it up another notch. The soup was served with five pieces of crostini. I only ate one of them. They’re a slightly more upscale version of a package of Premium crackers, which I love crumbling over my soup every so often, but I needed to save space for the rest of my food.

A close-up of the Beet & Chevre Salad

A close-up of the Beet & Chevre Salad

I followed my soup with the Beet & Chevre Salad. This is a good starter because it’s satisfying, yet it’s still light enough that you’re able to continue on to a main dish. The salad contains pickled candy stripe beets, greens, fried Fairwinds Farm goat cheese, pears and dill vinaigrette. I found that the acidity coming from the beets and vinaigrette was complimented by the subtle taste of dill and offset by the thin slices of subtly sweet pear, the bitterness of the greens and the savoury fried balls of creamy goat cheese.

A medium-rare Flank Steak & Frites

A medium-rare Flank Steak & Frites

My meal continued with an order of the Flank Steak & Frites. The steak was plated with a large portion of fries, a little bowl of garlic aioli, blue cheese butter and arugula-pecorino salad. Admittedly, I was skeptical about the blue cheese butter. I love cheese, but I’ve never been a fan of the pungent blue cheese variety, so I stepped out of my comfort zone with this. Despite my usual aversion, the blue cheese worked because it was incorporated into the butter, which melted right on top of my perfectly cooked steak (a quick note: I wasn’t asked how my steak should be cooked, but it came out a wonderful medium-rare; I lucked out, but the servers should be reminded to ask patrons about this, so that the meat is prepared the way the guest wants it). The cheese wasn’t overwhelming in taste or smell. This dish was also a good test since flank steak is a tougher cut of meat, and I have to say that the kitchen did well with it. It was by no means the tenderest steak, yet it wasn’t at all chewy either.

Focusing on the sides, I always enjoy some arugula. Although, this salad had the same dill vinaigrette as my appetizer (they could have changed it up with a different flavour accompaniment). The only alteration was some added pecorino cheese on top. That helped to anchor the salad and marry it with the steak. I only had a handful of the fresh made fries, which were crisp on the outside and soft on the inside as they should be. However, I thought they were overly salted, so they could have used a lighter touch there. If you eat the fries with the supplied garlic aioli, you don’t need the added salt at all.

My visit was made complete with a tasting of the banana ice cream, usually served with the aforementioned AH Banana Smores. It’s made in-house using liquid nitrogen. The flash freezing creates an exceptionally creamy texture and locks in that unmistakable flavour. I’m definitely going to have to go back for the full dessert.

All-in-all, there are a couple of minor kinks for the restaurant to work through. But, considering that they’ve only had their doors open for about a month through a soft opening and then their grand opening just last week, everything is going swimmingly. From the food to the drinks to the service/staff, they seem to be hitting all the right marks.

Let’s hope that they continue on this path. I’d hate to see the Alberta Hotel Bar + Kitchen go.

For a more in-depth look at this establishment, visit The Local Good to read my profile of Alberta Hotel Bar + Kitchen.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Tavern 1903 (Closed)

My friend snapping pics of our meal.

My friend snapping pics of our meal.

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.

The pretty pink coloured blueberry lemonade.

The pretty pink coloured blueberry lemonade.

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.