Edmonton Mini Restaurant Review: Malt & Mortar

Malt & Mortar’s logo painted on their exposed brick wall.

My friends are moving to Vancouver this week (sadness). When they invited Kirk and me to join them for a going away gathering at Malt & Mortar earlier this month, we made sure to go. I’d never been to the Whyte Ave venue before, so I was excited to check it out.

We arrived a little late that Saturday night, and we found them hovering by the large center bar. The reservation made for a dozen people still wasn’t ready. Thankfully, it didn’t take too much longer before they had things set. We were led towards the back of the restaurant where there was a long raised table that could accommodate our group.

Malt & Mortar has a cool vibe. Slightly vintage with its exposed brick walls, wood plank ceiling and painted logo, while keeping things modern with more industrial black piping, venting, beams and lighting. The space was larger than I had realized as well. A variety of leather upholstered booths were available to fit parties of any size.

It was very loud though, making it difficult to hear past the few tablemates who surrounded me. I noticed that a handful of speakers were hanging directly above us and pretty much along the whole perimeter of the place. With numerous glass windows and hard brick, sound couldn’t be absorbed, so it just echoed all over. If you plan to go there and are hoping for a quieter visit, I’d suggest a weekday or later in the evenings. That, or try to get one of the smaller round booths along the back of the eatery. They kind of have a pergola over them and there are no speakers right nearby, so I suspect that it won’t be as noisy in those spots.

My other recommendation to Malt & Mortar is that they don’t have enough screens listing their beers on tap (I believe there are about 16 in rotation at one time). There was only one on our side of the restaurant and it was right over my head. I had to turn my body around and crane my neck just to read it, so I was surprised that they didn’t have another set up on the facing wall considering that there is plenty of space to put it.

Lastly, I understand putting bathrooms (really clean, by the way) in the basement, but I don’t quite believe that establishments where a lot of alcohol is consumed are the ideal businesses for bathrooms where stairs are involved. I thought the same thing of Craft Beer Market and I think the same thing here. There were many patrons later in the night who seemed like they wouldn’t make it down the stairs without falling. Otherwise, the design of the venue is pretty good.

Kirk had a few pints of beer and the Korean Fried Chicken Sandwich.

On to the drinks and food though! Similar to Beer Revolution, they update their rotating draughts on the TV screens with soon to be tapped kegs listed at the bottom. The selection was decent with a heavy emphasis on local breweries; most pints are priced at around $8.50 each. My personal preference for beer tends to be light, crisp, and fruity. Kirk leans more towards IPAs with hoppiness. That evening, I took a liking to the current sour from Situation Brewing. I also tried the Malt & Mortar Saturday special, a two-ounce Back Porch Tea ($10) made with gin, peach sweet tea, and house-made sour. Admittedly, it was a strong cocktail, but after a big squeeze of lemon juice, it settled and was relatively refreshing.

To eat, Kirk went for the Korean Fried Chicken Sandwich ($17), which was praised by one of our friends. Stacked with coleslaw, pickles, and two pieces of battered and fried chicken breast covered in a Gochujang glaze, it was juicy, savoury, a little bit sweet, and slightly spicy. The whole thing was a huge mess though. The bun fell apart less than half way through and Kirk finished it off using his utensils. For his side, he stuck to the standard fries, lightly seasoned with salt and pepper.

I tried out the Back Porch Tea and the West Coast Power Bowl with added Tuna Poke.

I decided to go a “healthier” route by ordering the West Coast Power Bowl ($17) with added Tuna Poke ($7). Honestly, the cost once you tack on a protein is kind of high, but the bowl was huge. It felt like I was barely making a dent in the dish, and at the end, I was sort of struggling to finish it. I didn’t have enough left to pack it home, yet it wasn’t a small enough portion to toss it out. I hate to waste food, so I persisted. Still, it was tasty minus the cilantro used in the poke. It’s not an ingredient listed anywhere on the menu when describing the tuna, so I didn’t bother asking if there would be any cilantro. Had I known, I would probably have asked them to mix the poke without the herb or selected a different meat. I’m not sure why cilantro is used in everything nowadays when it’s common knowledge that there are many people who don’t have the taste buds to appreciate it, so all I ask is that they give a warning about it in advance.

In any case, I sucked it up, picking out the cilantro where possible and just eating it when I couldn’t. On a positive note, the flavour was somewhat masked by the rest of the ingredients in the West Coast Power Bowl. The base was an organic quinoa tossed in a citrus vinaigrette and then combined with corn, black beans, avocado, cucumber, pea shoots, and pickled carrots. There was tons of texture going on and a jolt of heat on the palate from the delicious avocado wasabi crema. Not mentioned on the menu was the use of aburaage, which are thin slices of deep-fried tofu, usually used to make inari sushi. Those were cut into smaller pieces and added to the dish for sweetness. I really enjoyed having that in the mix.

After a few hours hanging out, we called it a night. Considering the size of our group and the staff working that Saturday evening, I thought the service was alright. We all managed to get our beverages and food without much issue (we did get one wrong order of beer, but we also got an extra beer on the house), and we really liked the space, especially when it died down later so we could hear again. Overall, the food was well-made (corn dogs don’t smell better when they’re plated pretty though) and filling, just maybe a tad too pricey regarding the entrées. Other than that, we’ll definitely be back. It’s a fun spot with a casual, convivial atmosphere.

Edmonton Mini Restaurant Review: Two Sergeants Brewing

The entrance to the dining space of Two Sergeants Brewing.

Two Sergeants Brewing (11817 105 Avenue), situated behind the Brewery District, had been on my radar for a little while. But, it wasn’t until Yelp’s “Pursuit of Hoppiness” event, right at the end of April, that I finally visited. Kirk and I decided to attend this gathering as a push to get out to this venue (as well as out of the house), and it ended up being a lot of fun.

At Yelp’s “Pursuit of Hoppiness” event they had pinatas in the dining room.

You won’t find them smashing pinatas on the regular here, but you will find a very open space with large communal tables, and plenty of colourfully painted chairs. It’s perfect for large groups to hang out over more than decent pub-style grub and a beer or two.

Daily Specials including $5 flights on Thursdays.

A flight of four quarter pints of any of Two Sergeants Brewing beers is just $8 regularly, and, if you head over there on a Thursday, you’ll get the same for just $5. The four glasses are presented in an adorable miniature picnic table server. Personally, I didn’t mind their Chinook Oatmeal Stout; however, my fave from the sampling we received was the Passion d’Ale Belgian Wit for it’s crisp, clean, smooth drinking citrus flavour without the lingering bitterness. Kirk preferred the 17 Pounder IPA, ordering a full pint to go with dinner. It has a lower IBU, but it was still too strong of a finish for my liking.

To eat, we both opted to try their Homestyle Chicken Sandwich — recently increased to $14 — with hand cut fries (or house salad). The locally sourced chicken is soaked in buttermilk and fried to order, so it comes out fresh and crispy. Either available as classic or spicy, it’s then stacked with double smoked cheddar, coleslaw, and house made pickles on a sourdough bun. Both of us chose the spicy version, enjoying the mild heat from the chicken.

Homestyle Chicken Sandwich with Hand Cut Fries

What took the sandwich over the top was the house made pickles. Now, I asked for mine to be made without them because I’m not a fan of standard pickles. Yet, they still gave them to me, just laid on the side of my plate. The server explained that they were pickled jalapenos, so they thought I might still want to try them. Honestly, I did. I love jalapeno peppers, so I went to town putting those back into my sandwich. For the most part, all was well. I handled the spice from the chicken and the peppers like a champ…at least until I found a slice of jalapeno that still held more of the pith and rib of the pepper. My face lit up like a beet, probably, and I needed a few sips of Kirk’s beer to tone it down. Let’s just say that I wouldn’t get too far on Hot Ones.

The fries were quite good. Appearing in a small frying basket, the portion size was okay. They seemed to have been blanched to get that perfectly cooked center and that crisp golden brown exterior. Overall, they were a nice finish to the meal.

Art inside their venue is perfect for photo ops.

The owners of Two Sergeants Brewing have definitely put a lot of love into this place. The thought and detail that went into this location when they decided to move from Fort Saskatchewan to Edmonton is apparent. Hopefully, it’s the right thing for them in the long run. I know that it’s a great addition to the Westmount, Oliver and Queen Mary Park areas. More and more businesses are choosing to be present there and it’s community like that that is so important in this city. We’re definitely looking forward to returning this summer for good brews and food.

Edmonton Restaurant & Event Review: Beercade & Speed Puzzle Challenge

Beercade’s interror is made up of long tables for groups, a huge bar, and arcade games.

I’ve always loved doing jigsaw puzzles. There’s a joy in finding the piece that fits just right. They’re also incredibly engrossing in a way that’s so much more relaxing than staring at whatever I find on my phone. Consider them part of the slow living movement. The last time I could really remember putting one together, until recently, was at least several years ago. My co-worker would lend me puzzles that she’d already completed to feed my obsession. Sadly, my free time slowly waned to the point where I wasn’t really able to concentrate on them much.

Nowadays, as I often do, I found myself on Eventbrite scrolling through endless local happenings when I came across a listing from Beercade about their Speed Puzzle Challenge ($5 per person and the team gets to keep the puzzle). I wasn’t able to attend the next date; however, I always reminded myself to check back in the future. It was a while before I saw another. Yet, Table Top Cafe started running something similar about every two weeks earlier this year (alternating between both locations). My friends and I went to a single event there and I was hooked. I really enjoyed the competitive aspect of it, but, more than anything, I remembered just how fun puzzles can be. I’m currently working my way through nearly twenty that I’ve purchased over the past few months.

Welcome, Puzzle Players!

When the chance came up to check out Beercade’s version, I gathered a small team of four people (up to six are allowed) to attend. From what I understood, the organizers had previously gone with puzzles that had as few as 200 pieces and they had been incrementally increasing the difficulty ever since to find the sweet spot of something enjoyable yet challenging. On this occasion they decided to test out 450 piece puzzles instead. They also had someone from each group draw a number, which determined the puzzle received. Honestly, I thought that having different puzzles put certain teams at a disadvantage because some are definitely more difficult than others. Based on the groups who won the three prizes for finishing first, it was obvious that their specific Peanuts themed puzzle was a benefit.

Still, the four of us had a blast. I’d also never worked on a family-style jigsaw before. I probably wouldn’t choose to do those as an adult putting a puzzle together on my own. Nevertheless, the mix of large and small pieces for parents and children to work on as a family bonding experience is pretty great.

 

When we finished our jigsaw at Beercade, the staff dropped off ten tokens at our table, so we could play some of their arcade games. I’m terrible at those shooting ones, but I can appreciate a lit up pinball machine or the best air hockey table I’ve ever seen (Pac Man!).

Aside from the event and venue (decent atmosphere, lots of space, kind of dim), we also opted to eat dinner there. Being a Wednesday night, I had to try a burger because it’s hard to pass up a half price discount. Surprisingly, the Bacon Cheeseburger (regularly $9.75) was good. I wasn’t sure what to expect with the cost, but their kitchen makes a legit hand smashed patty topped with crispy bacon and they include all of the fixings. Sides are an extra cost though, so that’s where they can recoup some of their costs. At $4 for a basket of yam fries with dip, I thought that was a little expensive. On the other hand, they do give a big portion, so you’ll definitely leave full.

Full meal with a burger, yam fries, and a sleeve of Fruli.

To keep me hydrated, I ordered a glass of Früli, completely forgetting to tell the server (by the way, service is not prompt here) what size I wanted. I’m assuming I received a sleeve, not a pint. I also expected to pay at least $6.75 for that beverage. All in though, my bill was $15 after tax and tip. When I looked it over again at home, I realized that my beer was also on special, having only been charged a whopping $3.81. Stellar deal!

I’ve heard that Beercade is usually a chill spot to hang out until about nine o’clock. After that, it can turn into a bit of a zoo (assuming this applies more from Thursday to Saturday). If you want to avoid rambunctious crowds, I recommend visiting earlier in the evening. From this first experience of mine at Beercade, I’m absolutely feeling inclined to return, especially for another Speed Puzzle Challenge and a burger.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: River City Revival House

Taking Care of Brisket with CeeLo Green Beans

Having lived in Edmonton for my entire life, I’ve only ever been to the Starlite Room once, and that was probably already a decade ago, if not longer. Unsurprisingly, I was pretty much unaware of Brixx Bar & Grill, which used to occupy the basement space. Quite frankly, I wasn’t sure about the idea of setting foot into the building outside of the evening hours of a concert.

However, about a year ago now, it was announced that the underground venue had been transformed into a new restaurant and bar called River City Revival House. The menu, with dishes cleverly named after bands and artists, was created by Red Seal chef Felicia Winston. I was intrigued, but I didn’t make it there until this March when they participated in Downtown Dining Week (DTDW).

Sadly, my co-worked and I didn’t actually get to enjoy the DTDW menu. When we arrived at around one o’clock on a Wednesday afternoon, the place was packed and the people ahead of us were still waiting for seats. It was clear that the kitchen wasn’t prepared for the onslaught of customers and they weren’t properly staffed either.

Still determined to try it, I made plans to check it out in April. On this occasion, I phoned ahead to ask if reservations were necessary at lunch, and I was told that it’s typically not that busy, so it shouldn’t be a problem to just show up. Sure enough, my friend and I ended up being the only ones there. As we picked out a table, the server went to get us some menus.

Apparently, River City Revival House must have been busy the night before because they were out of a number of things (green bean salad, tomato soup, and yam cheesecake; the latter may have just been removed from the menu though) I had been hoping to eat.

Ultimately, my companion went with The Smokey Robinson Club ($18) and fries. I opted to try the B.bq B.urger K.ing ($16) with the Soupersuckers side — it includes a bowl of homemade soup and a half order of KoRn Bread.

The Smokey Robinson Club with Fries

I sampled a bite of the Smokey Robinson Club. This consisted of smoked chicken breast with roast garlic aioli, bacon, lettuce, and tomato on sourdough bread. The toppings were fresh, the bacon crisp, and the smokiness from the preparation of the meat had saturated well into the chicken and balanced with the roast garlic spread. The fries were also thick cut and blanched, so they were soft on the inside and perfectly browned on the outside.

B.bq B.urger K.ing

My B.bq B.urger K.ing burger was a little bit too well done on one side. Yet, overall, it was nicely cooked. The eight ounce beef patty was clearly made in-house and was pleasantly thick. With a good sear, it managed to hold most of the juices inside the meat. It was dressed with the same roast garlic aioli as the club sandwich, lettuce, tomato, caramelized onions, cheddar cheese, and ancho BBQ sauce. Everything was placed between a classic toasted bun. This turned out to be a super satisfying burger in terms of taste and texture.

My burger with the Beef Taco Soup and Jalapeno & Cheddar KoRn Bread

Since the kitchen was out of a lot of the things I had wanted to order, they were really good about making it up to me. Instead of getting the tomato soup, I ended up going ahead with their daily creation, which was a Beef Taco Soup. And, rather than a half order of their KoRn Bread, they gave me three slices of the jalapeno & cheddar version to snack on. Honestly, it was way more food than I should have had. But, I pretty much ate it all. The soup wasn’t as hot as I would have liked, yet it was incredibly hearty with plenty of flavour, cheese, and sour cream to give it a smooth and indulgent consistency. The jalapeno & cheddar KoRn Bread was just a tad crumbly while still moist enough to hold together with each bite. There was just a hint of heat to appease those who want some spice without being too overwhelming for those who aren’t fans of chili peppers.

We left River City Revival House having really enjoyed our meal. So, the next time I was making impromptu lunch plans with a different co-worker, I suggested we go there as well.

On this second visit, it was still far from busy. Yet, there were definitely more patrons than before. A few solo diners/drinkers were hanging out at the bar (there are outlets along the entire thing in case you want a place to work and relax) and a couple of other tables were occupied, too.

There was, again, just one staff member working the front of the house, so service was somewhat slow considering that there were at least five times as many people there as my previous drop-in. He was just as friendly though.

My friend chose the vegetarian Portis-Bello Burger ($14). Unfortunately, I can’t say much about it. All I know is that she said it was sort of difficult to bite it apart with her teeth since the portobello mushroom patty was whole, and she ended up cutting it up into bite size pieces with her utensils. Nevertheless, she said it was tasty. Based on the description, it’s quite similar to the burger I had the first time, minus the BBQ and aioli sauces. The cheddar was also switched for the mild and nutty Swiss cheese that likely played off the earthiness of the mushroom better.

Taking Care of Brisket sandwich

I stuck with the sandwich menu once more, selecting the Taking Care of Brisket ($15). This is a combo of smoked brisket finished in a Sea Change Brewing braise topped with ancho BBQ sauce, sauteed mushrooms, caramelized onions, and Swiss cheese on a brioche bun. It was decent. I felt that it could have used extra meat and more mushrooms. For added texture, a crunchy coleslaw would have been lovely as well.

CeeLo Green Bean salad

That day, they did have the CeeLo Green Bean salad available, so I upgraded my side ($2) to have that as a healthier alternative to fries. The portion size was way bigger than I expected. It seemed like a never ending bowl of fresh, crisp green beans. These were coated in a refreshing lemon mustard vinaigrette and tossed with cherry tomatoes, toasted almonds and feta cheese. A very simple recipe, but one that certainly hit the spot when it came to my craving for veggies.

When we paid our bills, the server gave both of us punch cards (disappointing that I didn’t get one when I dined the first time). For every nine sandwiches purchased at lunch, you’ll earn a tenth for free. That’s incentive to go back, for sure. Plus, they have happy hour specials Monday to Friday from 3pm to 7pm and all day Sundays.

Happy Hour at River City Revival House

I have to say, River City Revival House is much better than I ever expected it’d be. It’s also so close to work that it’s a great alternative to our usual haunts. My only wish is that they’d better staff the place for the times that it does get a bit busier. I’ve noticed that, due to the slower service, it has been difficult to make it back to the office within the hour we have for our break. Regardless, it’s clean, comfortable, and the food is good, so, no doubt, I’ll be returning.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Haweli Indian Kitchen & Bar (South Common)

Butter Chicken

When the Hudsons at South Common closed less than a year ago, I was incredibly surprised by the news. Shortly after, I was maybe even more surprised to find out that Haweli Indian Kitchen & Bar was taking it’s place. It would be an Indian restaurant with a pub twist (and Indo-Chinese fusion).

The main space of the restaurant houses the large bar.

Before a recent appointment for my bridesmaids at David’s Bridal, my mom and I popped by Haweli for dinner (reservations can be made through OpenTable). The space still retains that pub feel with a large central bar and dozens of taps. But, overall, they’ve done a great job of transforming the venue into something that is large enough to accommodate groups of all sizes while still retaining a more intimate feel. The woods are dark, the colours are warm and there are hints of South Asian design peppered throughout.

We lucked out by arriving before the end of happy hour (available daily from 3pm to 6pm). Plus, it was Wing Wednesday, so we got to take full advantage of all of their deals. NOTE: When they say it’s $0.39 per wing, that’s not actually true. Both of the orders we got only totaled eight wings each, but they charged us $3.90 per basket. It’s still a decent price, but just note that they prepare it based on weight versus actual numbers.

Speaking of the wings, we sampled the Tandoori and Lemon Pepper flavours. The former were great, but much stickier on the hands as they were a little saucy. It also meant they didn’t have much crispness to them. The taste and texture was very similar to actual Tandoori chicken, so it’s a much cheaper alternative to getting the main dish. As for the latter dry rubbed wings, I loved them. These were battered and crisp on the outside with the perfect amount of citrus to balance out the spice.

Moscow Mule

To drink, I opted to grab a Moscow Mule (regularly $9, on special for $6). This was presented in an actual copper mug, which I appreciated. It kept my beverage chilled the entire time we were there. The ginger beer used had a strong ginger flavour to it, perfect since I enjoy the spiciness in this particular type of cocktail.

Crispy Cauliflower

Continuing with the food, we also opted to try their Crispy Cauliflower (usually $11.50, but $7 during Happy Hour). The portion size was much larger than I expected it would be. These were also quite saucy with the battered and fried florets doused in an ample amount of a sweet and sour plum-style glaze. For the most part, these were quite good. I just recommend that you eat the dish when freshly made as the outer shell becomes too soggy when it sits for long.

Next up was the Coconut Shrimp (normally $15, available for $10). These were a little reminiscent of the kind I could buy frozen in a box from the grocery store. Still, I’m not particularly picky and they were more than decent. The prawns had a tender consistency making for a delicate chew. I also thought that there was enough coconut to bring sweetness to each bite. At the lower price during Happy Hour, it seemed worth it.

Butter Chicken with Naan Bread

No doubt though, the best item we had was the Butter Chicken with Naan (listed as $23.50 normally and $16 on special). I don’t necessarily believe that it’s the most traditional butter chicken in town; it’s probably made to appeal more to the North American masses. However, I loved the super creamy and thick tomato-based sauce with it’s light heat. Some pieces of the chicken were a bit overcooked. Otherwise, the thigh meat was relatively tender and completely soaked in the flavours. The sauce was plentiful, too, making for the perfect pairing to the delectable slices of naan bread.

Another room to the side provides additional seating in a more South Asian styled space.

The ambiance in the restaurant was pleasant as it was quiet enough to allow for conversation. I just found the service to be alright though. Everyone was friendly enough, but it did take some waves and “excuse mes” to get the attention of the staff at times. When it came to the food, our eyes were definitely bigger than our stomachs during this meal. At least a third of the food was packed to go (Kirk was the happy beneficiary). It’s not to say that anything really missed the mark because it didn’t. We were pleased with the quality of what we ate and the price was right. I’ll definitely be back to Haweli Indian Kitchen & Bar in South Common as this location is a welcome change of pace from the typical chain options in the area.