Edmonton Business Review: Square 1 Coffee

The ordering counter is situated at the back of the cafe.

Kirk and I randomly came across Square 1 Coffee in southwest Edmonton about year ago. It’s situated on 15 Fairway Drive just north of the Derrick Golf & Winter Club. We had ordered a pizza from Stone & Wheel next door, and we needed a place to kill time while we waited. As it turns out, both the pizzeria and the cafe share the same ownership. But, for whatever reason, the coffee shop is huge and the pizza place is not (strictly takeout).

As much as I loved the cinnamon knots at Square 1 Coffee and the spaciousness of the venue — a variety of seating including couches, tables, and even a small patio — I kind of forgot about it. That was until we happened across a second address inside the EIA outlet that opened in May. Tucked away towards the back end of a local business-oriented area of the mall, we found ourselves snacking on a sandwich and muffin to help energize us. By doing so, it helped to remind me of their original location.

A packed house and live music on a Thursday night.

Fast forward to this August when we had several meetings with photographers for our wedding next year, and Square 1 Coffee popped into mind as a great spot to meet. At least, it would have been perfect without live music going on. Their website is still not fully up and running, and none of their social media pages had indicated any events, so we showed up on a Thursday night to find a band playing. The place was packed with drop-in performers and friends of those artists there to support. It was actually really cool to see that community come together. However, it was not conducive to having a decent conversation. In that particular case, we ended up purchasing our drinks to go (a yummy chai latte for $5). All was not lost though. The three of us found a bench outside where we hung out and chatted for a couple of hours.

Wedding planning and matcha lattes go together well.

Another meeting that was planned in advance had us arrive to find it much quieter on a Tuesday evening, allowing us to sit at a table indoors while we enjoyed a scratch made pecan pie and a matcha latte ($5.50). The service was friendly and you could tell that this was clearly a place where regulars come in and out all the time (a la Friends).

Square 1 Coffee is certainly a cute cafe with decent beverages and food. I just think that they need to keep on top of their presence on social media or online. If they can finish revamping their website or post more regularly on Facebook and Instagram, patrons can make better informed decisions on whether or not the shop is the right place for them to be on any given day. If you do plan to go there for a study session or a meeting, I recommend phoning ahead to ask if they have any live events happening first. Otherwise, you may be in for a surprise.

Edmonton Bakery Review: Ohana Donuterie

A custom sign in their space.

I’ve been aware of Ohana Donuterie for a long time. Their business started with a food truck, and, while I enjoy those, I’m simply not that keen on tracking them down. Therefore, when I heard that they had opened a permanent location in the spring of this year, I knew I had to go. It took a few months, but come summertime when I was around Old Strathcona for the Fringe Festival, it seemed the perfect time to visit.

Kirk and I made our way over from Whyte Avenue to the door of Ohana Donuterie. It’s tucked to the side of a strip mall on 103 Street and 80 Avenue with its entrance facing a back alley that overlooks a McD’s. In other words, it’s unassuming and easy to miss unless you’re really looking for it.

On the plus side, as soon as you step indoors, you’re welcomed by a bright, spacious interior full of beachy colours. There are plenty of tables and seats, and there are even racks for people to hang their longboards and bikes. A chalkboard gives a glimpse of exciting flavours to come, yet, in reality, there were only a few specialty donuts available that day. Although those seemed enticing, I was more interested in trying their classics.

This window provides a glimpse into the making of a malasada donut.

If you don’t already know, the owners of Ohana Donuterie were inspired on a trip to Hawaii to bring malasada donuts to Edmonton. These are made with hand-rolled double-raised yeast dough. Every single one is made to order, so they’re incredibly fresh. There’s even a window that looks right into the kitchen, so you can watch them make your treats right then and there.

Kirk and I split three donuts (it pretty much ended up being our dinner that night): Original — Cinnamon Sugar — with Coconut Cream, Chocolate Dip with Vanilla Custard, and Vanilla Dip with Chocolate Custard. Since these were all filled, they were $2.75 a piece. Specialty donuts are $3.25 and unfilled donuts are $2.25 each. To drink, I opted for a House Lemonade ($2.75), which can be left as lemon or flavoured with blueberry or mango. I asked the employee what he recommended and he gladly told me blueberry coconut. It’s not an option that is listed, but it was his personal favourite and I said okay. Kirk went for a medium cup of plain old brewed coffee ($2.65).

Our trio of donuts.

Before paying, I was asked if I’d like to sign up for their rewards program. For every dollar spent, a point is earned. Once you’ve collected 75 points, you’ll get a credit of $5 to use on your next purchase. They also make note of your birthday, which I’m assuming leads to something special to celebrate. I kind of doubt I’ll be there often enough to earn points quickly; however, I figured it didn’t hurt to join.

I’d estimate that it took about five to ten minutes for our donuts to come out. They were still warm and the fillings were spilling back out onto the plates. As a reminder, if you plan to take the donuts home, it’s recommended not to order the cream fillings. They tend to melt inside the warm dough and may disappear before you’ve had a chance to eat them. The custards are much thicker and will last even if packed to go.

Chocolate Dip with Vanilla Custard in the front with the Vanilla Dip in the back.

I’ll start with my least favourite of the donuts, the Vanilla Dip. The consistency of the yeast donut itself was nice. Fluffy, yet still dense enough to hold up against the heavier filling. The abundant chocolate custard was delicious, almost reminding me of a creamy pudding. What I didn’t like was that the vanilla glaze kept cracking and falling off the donut onto the table, so I lost a lot of that flavour in the end.

The Chocolate Dip fared much better. I don’t know what the difference is in the glaze used to make the chocolate versus vanilla. All I can say is that the chocolate never cracked. It was smoother and not as dry, so it stayed together with each bite. The vanilla custard inside the donut had the same texture as the chocolate version, just with a less intense flavour profile. Chocolate and vanilla are a classic combo and it works well here.

Original with Coconut Cream

Nevertheless, our top choice turned out to be the Original. If Kirk had his way he wouldn’t even have bothered with a filling. But, I argue that the coconut cream was an ideal pairing with the cinnamon sugar. Overall, not too sweet, the cream was light and airy, and the little bit of crunch from the granular sugar tied it all together. I could have eaten a half dozen of those on my own, if we hadn’t already had a large brunch earlier in the day.

Blueberry Coconut House Lemonade

As for the drinks, I can never comment much about the coffee anywhere since I don’t drink it. I did enjoy the Blueberry Coconut House Lemonade though. It felt like such a summery beverage and it quenched my thirst on what would be the last weekend of the summer.

Ohana Donuterie isn’t going crazy outside the box of what we’re familiar with when it comes to donuts in this city. After all, it’s still a yeast-based concoction. What I think changes the game is that every donut is made to order, so you’re never going to get one that’s been sitting around in a showcase all day long. It’s freshly fried, filled, and glazed or sugar coated on the spot, and that is what makes all the difference when it comes to overall quality.

Edmonton Business Review: Awake Coffee House

The cafe side of Awake Coffee House.

I’ve been on a bit of a coffeehouse kick lately. They’re just really great places to go for meetings, and, since I’ve had many a get together over the past month, it’s ideal to have multiple options. One that I visited recently is called Awake Coffee House. Located at 11029 9 Avenue, it’s easily accessible for those on the south side. If coming from the Henday, just exit on 111 Street heading north, and it’ll be the first turn on the right hand side.

When my fiancé and I drove up to the building on a Saturday afternoon, it was incredibly quiet. The parking lot only had a few cars in it. We also immediately noted that it was attached to Twin Brooks Medical Clinic. Upon walking into the actual coffee shop, I did take in the clean, modern space of the cafe, but I also thought that the pharmacy on the other side was a bit odd.

The spacious seating area separates the cafe from the pharmacy on the other side.

The medical clinic has a door that connects into Awake Coffee House, so that patients can easily come in and put through their prescriptions. While that’s convenient, I have to say I’m not super keen on hanging out in a cafe where there’s greater potential of people who have succumb to illness hanging out there. Yet, that is apparently a strategic business decision of the Song sisters who own both the cafe and the pharmacy. As registered pharmacists, they wanted a more welcoming spot for people to wait as their prescriptions were being prepared. While I see it from their side, it’s not exactly my cup of tea.

I really liked the touches of mint/teal throughout.

Luckily, it was pretty empty that day. We were able to sit almost anywhere we wanted to. Some of the tables were more communal. Others were smaller and could be grouped should that be required. They have a suitable selection of beverages. In my case, I ordered a Small Chai Latte ($5), which was presented in a larger than expected simple teal mug. I found that to be a nice touch since the colour matched the rest of the design scheme seen throughout Awake Coffee House — greys on the floor, natural woods on the tables and counter, whites on the seats and lights, and teal/mint on the stools and chair bottoms.

Small Chai Latte

I’ve read mixed reviews about the drinks served at Awake Coffee House with the majority of the negative coming from around the time they opened over a year ago. Most people cited watered down beverages. This was my first and only visit so far; however, based on my Chai Latte, I think they’ve made improvements because it was really good. Not only was the size decent for the price (most places charge a similar amount for this beverage), but it was incredibly flavourful. They certainly didn’t skimp when preparing the latte. It also had a pleasant amount of foam action on the top and they dusted it with an extra helping of spice before serving, adding to the overall taste once it was all stirred in.

There’s a wall of greeting cards near the door.

Awake Coffee House also makes bubble waffles on the weekend! I refrained from getting one this last time. Nevertheless, it’s on my list of things to try when we return. I have my eye on the dessert style Pina Colada Bubble Waffle that I saw on their Instagram page a while ago, so I hope they keep it on the menu. Although I probably won’t be back super often, when and if I do go, I’ll probably stick to weekend afternoons, especially Sundays when the clinic isn’t open. For a germaphobe like me, it’s just preferable. Otherwise, there’s no denying that Awake Coffee House is super cute, and the idea behind it is certainly commendable.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: CRAFT Beer Market

Since CRAFT Beer Market opened their first Edmonton, Alberta location back in December 2013, within the last month it has quickly become a bustling downtown venue for a casual, yet fun night out. Whether you’re meeting friends for late night snacks or heading out with co-workers during lunch or having a vent session over drinks, it has turned into the new popular place to see and be seen. I would also say that it is acting as an additional anchor in the revitalization of the downtown core.

The bar - the focal point of the restaurant.

The bar – the focal point of the restaurant.

I have been there on three separate occasions, all for different reasons, so I now feel like I can give a fair review of the restaurant and bar.

My first visit to CRAFT was for what was considered to be the VIP grand opening on December 17th. We were invited as our office had just booked out the top floor for a company mixer to take place in the New Year and this was a chance for a few of us on the party planning committee to check out the space, the food and the extensive drink selection.

Surprisingly, upon stepping into the restaurant, my initial thought was that it was way larger than I expected it to be. The main floor is deep set with booths at the front as well as bar height seating taking over a wall on a slightly raised area of the section. There is essentially no wasted space. If they can fit a seat, they probably will. The back portion of the street level space is lined along the east and west walls with booth seats, bar stools and raised wooden tables and at the very back some lower booths look into the room where all the beers and wines currently available are stored and tapped. However, the real focal point is the huge bar that houses over 100 different taps with large pipes running the kegs from the back room to the bar, giving the place an industrial rustic feel. If you love beer, I really think you won’t be disappointed. And, if, like me, you don’t know much about beer, this is the perfect place to test some out and find one you enjoy drinking.

The restaurant's main floor.

The restaurant’s main floor.

The second level overlooks the main floor. Windows give you a peek into a kitchen and there are large booths and long tables that are perfect for hosting larger groups. Come summertime, the rooftop patio should be open and I think it will be wonderful for soaking up the sunshine over lunch or an early supper. Although, I suspect there will be long lineups to get a table. The basement provides extra keg storage, a coat check and the bathrooms along with ATM machines for those who find themselves in need of extra cash. It’s also about 10 degrees cooler in the basement, which, believe me, is fantastic as the main and second floors can warm up rapidly.

Now, I’m sure you’re wondering about the food. At this grand opening event they had two stations set up. One served their Baja Fish Tacos and the other their Hawaiian Ahi Poke. I have to say that, on this occasion, the fish tacos were just okay. I think that there just wasn’t enough fish in the taco, so mostly I was eating cabbage, wrap and hot sauce. On the other hand, the ahi poke was amazing. The sashimi-grade tuna was incredibly fresh and melted in my mouth. The dish is served with cucumber, vinaigrette and crispy wonton chips. I believe if you order the dish there is also a spicy sauce that can be added, but that was included at this event. The texture of the fish against the crunch of the chips and cucumber was great, and the coolness of the tuna and cucumber nicely offset the spice from the sauce. It was my favourite appetizer. Servers also came around with samples of the Fast Food Sushi (cheeseburger and fries wrapped in bacon) and pretzel bites (stuffed with cheese and served with what I’m guessing is an aioli). What I like about CRAFT is that they do source out local produce if they can, and, from those few tasters, I saw the potential of the food. Without a doubt, the ahi tuna was enough to convince me to make a return trip.

For their first night being open, the service was superb that evening. Our server seemed very knowledgeable about what was on tap and she made recommendations based on what we mentioned to her. She even brought us small glasses of a few different beers to try before we made our decisions for our full pints. Overall, on first impression, the staff was very friendly. It was extremely busy though, so it took a bit of time for our server to make it back to take an order or drop things off. That’s not necessarily a terrible thing. If you go in without the expectation of making it in and out within an hour, you’ll have a good time.

The extensive beer selection - over 100 on tap!

The extensive beer selection – over 100 on tap!

I visited CRAFT for the second time on January 10th. This is where I was a little less than impressed. I had phoned two days prior to make a lunch hour reservation. The hostess took my information and, while she initially mixed up the date, I corrected her and expected that they would have it on file when I arrived to meet my friend. Unfortunately, when I approached the desk, the hostess working that shift could not find my booking at all. Thankfully, she explained the situation to her manager and he immediately offered me two seats at the bar. His quick solution was satisfactory on this occasion since I was meeting just one person. Yet, if I had made a reservation for a group of four or more people, I would have been quite upset. Sitting at the bar with that many people doesn’t allow for conversation and, from what I could see, most of the other tables were occupied or likely reserved. I have absolutely no idea what happened with my booking as they never figured it out, but I really hope that it isn’t a regular occurrence. For the time being, I’m just glad they are taking reservations at all. They may rid of that eventually as I think the CRAFT site said it is temporary since they are new and unsure of how busy it will be, but typically their restaurants are first come, first serve. All I know is that had I not made a reservation, I may have been waiting for a table for a long time as one woman who was at the front when I walked in asked how much longer it would be and was told it was still going to be about twenty minutes and she replied, “but that’s what you said twenty minutes ago when I arrived.” Yikes! I understand that new restaurants are always going to have growing pains while they figure out staffing, routines and procedures, so I will give them the benefit of the doubt for now.

In terms of the food that afternoon, I had their CRAFT House Soup – a cheddar, jalapeno and Rice Howard House Ale concoction – that was quite delicious. It wasn’t overly creamy, the cheddar wasn’t overpowering and the pepper gave it a nice kick, but not so much so that it burned my taste buds. I also tried the crab cake sliders, which had crab cakes sandwiched between cucumber, arugula and a pretzel bun with citrus aioli and pepper salsa on the side. I enjoyed them, but make sure you eat them with the aioli and salsa as that really upped the flavour quotient. My suggestions for improvement with them is that the crab cakes should have been charred a bit to better keep the crab meat together and that maybe the cucumber only be placed under the crab cake rather than above and below it which acted as a press that subsequently squished the cake every time I took a bite of the slider and resulted in the meat falling out the sides. I’m also not a huge fan of the pretzel buns that seem to be more of a staple nowadays. Unless they’re baked fresh I find them to be too hard and dry to really add to a dish. I would much prefer a soft whole wheat bun over a pretzel bun. Of course, that’s just my opinion and I’m sure that many out there love pretzel buns. My friend ordered the Yucatan Chicken Salad, which looked really fresh and like a very substantial meal. The service, again, was stellar. The bartender was very attentive and checked on us throughout to take our orders, make sure the meals were alright and refill our glasses.

My third and most recent visit was just this past Friday, January 17th for my workplace get together. It took a bit of convincing to get some people to go, but quite a few of my friends either wanted to try something new or had been to the Calgary location and were looking forward to checking it out in Edmonton, so this party was the perfect excuse to do just that. We rented out the second floor for four hours of the evening. The package we went with included six different appetizers, two drinks per person and a variety of bite sized desserts. They moved the long tables usually situated in the center of the space to the sides and placed cocktail tables in the middle making for a variety of places to sit or stand. Initially, I was skeptical that the floor would accommodate 125 people, but it worked.

My co-worker and I at our holiday party.

My co-worker and I at our holiday party.

The selection of appetizers chosen included a veggie platter with hummus and flatbread, chicken wings, pulled pork sliders (not available on their regular menu), fish tacos, pretzel bites and the ahi poke. I can’t speak to all of them as I only tried four out of the six items. However, I can say that the fish tacos were much better than at the grand opening – plenty of fish and more flavour. The ahi poke was just as delectable this second time around, so much so that many of us said we would have just taken the whole bowl of tuna if we wouldn’t have been frowned upon. The pretzel bites were soft and had just the right amount of cheese stuffed inside, but I tried them after they had been sitting out for bit and they were no longer fresh. Had I had some when they arrived at the tables, I’m sure they would have been even more enjoyable. The last appetizer I tasted was the pulled pork slider. Now, I love pulled pork sandwiches. They have become one of my favourite meals, and while I won’t say that these were terrible, they certainly could have used a little effort from the kitchen. It was literally just a bit of shredded pork on a pretzel bun. The sauce was subtle, but should have packed more of a punch with the barbeque flavour and it needed additional texture such as a slaw to really bring it up a notch. I was satisfied though and everyone else I spoke with raved about the food. CRAFT also did a good job of ensuring that the dishes were replenished regularly, so there was food consistently present.

Another aspect that I was happy with was the fact that CRAFT supplied servers to our party, and that they actually took drink orders throughout the evening. Prior to attending the party I wasn’t sure if we would have to take our drink tickets down one floor to the bar, but this simplified things for the party goers. And, for the most part, the servers were excellent at bringing the beverages back to the proper people (difficult at times as people moved around as they mingled with others), only seldomly mixing something up. In addition, I did read some of the reviews of the restaurant on Urbanspoon that complained of them being out of certain beers that were listed on their menu, so I was a bit worried that would be the case for our party, but it wasn’t. From what I could see they didn’t have a problem fulfilling the orders that were taken. This being one of CRAFT’s first large events for hire since opening, I would say they provided us with a memorable time and great service.

One thing I will note is that the acoustics were terrible. We were provided with a PA system for a quick speech and the handing out of door prizes, but with the music in the background as well as all the commotion from the patrons on the main floor as well as our zone, it was almost impossible to hear even from 10 feet away. I’m not sure if the microphone was turned up, but that’s something to consider should you decide to throw a party there and require that.

Also, I know it’s too late to make this suggestion to CRAFT, but they certainly should have contemplated adding an elevator into the building. I can see potential issues with overzealous customers who’ve had a little too much to drink having a difficult time navigating the staircase. If anything, as a precaution, I suggest they think about placing a bouncer in the stairwell area who can escort anyone who needs help to a cab.

All-in-all, I really like CRAFT. The sleek look, the relatively well CRAFT-ed (sorry, I couldn’t help myself) food (seriously, the ahi tuna makes this place), the welcoming atmosphere and the pleasant service are all things that will bring me back.

The much raved about Hawaiian Ahi Poke!

The much raved about Hawaiian Ahi Poke!

Grab some friends and have a nice meal, a couple drinks and some good conversation. More than anything, this place is about bringing people together and rediscovering the social aspects of your life again. They also offer daily deals on drinks and food, so check them out here.

If you’ve tried CRAFT in Edmonton, tell me what you thought of it by leaving a comment below. You can also follow the restaurant for up-to-date news on Twitter: @CRAFTbeeryeg.