Crystal’s Double Dozen: A Born and Bred Edmontonian’s Top 24 Eateries for 2018

Potato Leek Soup from Aarde

Every year, for the past five, I’ve been sharing a list of my 24 favourite Edmonton eateries at the end of December. Does anyone really care what I have to say? Not necessarily. But, if you come across this post and you live in the city, I hope that it sparks a memory of a place you already love, reminds you of somewhere you want to go to, or encourages you to try something new.

These are my picks for 2018:

1. DOSC

This quickly became a favourite haunt for me and Kirk. The espresso cocoa dry rubbed skirt steak is to die for. They also make some of the best Brussels sprouts with crispy pancetta we’ve ever had. Their bar menu is excellent, and the café is a relaxing spot, too. Every single time we’re there, we feel taken care of.

Review of DOSC

2. Ampersand 27

We picked this venue for our wedding, not only because it’s already gorgeously designed, but because we knew they could deliver on the food. The chef has actually changed since we reserved the space, but they’ve kept our go to dishes, including the Pork Buns, House-Smoked Beef Brisket, and In-House Cured Meats for their build-your-own cheese and charcuterie boards.

Review of Ampersand 27

3. Aarde

Open for just under two months now, I’ve been twice, and, although there’s always room for improvement, Chef Guru Singh, has shown great promise with his European influenced menu. Try the Vandaag Soup, Mushroom and Artichoke Tartine, Chorizo Sausage, and Dutch Almond Cake.

4. Partake

Also new to the city’s food scene (it’s only about 4 months old), this is the latest from the minds behind Urban Diner and The Manor Bistro. It’s French-inspired with a very boozy cocktail menu. We’d highly recommend the Croque Mon’Soubise’ and their more modern take on Beef Tartare. Don’t skip out on the baked brie pastry for dessert either.

Review of Partake

5. Prairie Noodle Shop

I finally wrote an actual review of this restaurant in 2018! The Spicy Garlic Miso Ramen always satisfies. But, what I love best is that they feature handmade dumplings from Gourmai (a.k.a. MasterChef competitor Mai Nguyen) on their menu. Pretty soon, they’ll have a sister location next door that focuses on just that! We can’t wait.

Review of Prairie Noodle Shop

6. Red Star Pub

I’d never actually eaten food here until this year, and I’m so glad that I took the time to try it. The light and fruity Beef Carpaccio and the thick, juicy Mini Burgers with piled high bacon apple relish are a delight. It’s also a cozy space to hole up in on cold or wet days.

Review of Red Star Pub

7. Destination Doughnuts

I quickly jump on the latest sweet treat bandwagon, and when it comes to doughnuts, what’s not to love? We’ve been blessed in Edmonton over the last few years with more and more shops popping up. This location on 124 Street has made a fan of me and my co-workers. Personally, I find the doughnuts are large, fluffy, and flavourful without being overly sweet. I can usually eat a whole one and not fall into a sugar coma.

Review of Destination Doughnuts

8. Fumaca Brazilian Steakhouse

This was our first Brazilian Steakhouse experience. We opted to try out their weekend brunch as it offers seven cuts of meat (now including grilled pineapple), standard brunch items like French toast or pancakes, and a salad bar for $25.99. I can’t compare it to their competition; however, we were blown away by the signature beef rumpsteak, pork sausage, and the droolworthy crispy pork belly.

Review of Fumaca Brazilian Steakhouse

9. Let’s Grill Sushi & Izakaya

This is one of the latest Japanese restaurants to grace our city’s streets. Instead of being located in Old Strathcona, it can be found downtown on Jasper Ave. Their sushi rolls are well-presented and tasty and they have awesome Honey BBQ Pork skewers, which are on special every Monday to Friday during happy hour. For dessert, the Matcha Crème Brûlée may have too thick of a caramelized sugar top for my liking, but the custard is A-OK.

Review of Let’s Grill Sushi Izakaya

10. Buco Pizzeria + Vino Bar

First thing that we love about this place is that there’s actually a location in our neck of the woods (far southwest corner of the city). Second is that they make an enviable meat and cheese board at a super affordable price — $12 for 2 to 4 people and $20 for a group of 4 to 6 — during their social hour.

Review of Buco Pizzeria + Vino Bar

11. OEB Breakfast

Expanding into Edmonton at the end of October, this Calgary-based business has built up its popularity in record time. When we stopped in, we arrived early and managed to snag a table a few minutes after walking in the door. Within an hour, the entrance was jam packed with patrons waiting for seats, making for a very crowded space. The question of comfort aside, the food is tasty and fresh. It’ll be better when they get their liquor license, so the $5 mimosas can flow. In the meantime, their famous breakfast poutines (those crispy bacon lardons!) will have to do.

12. Rebel Food and Drink

There might be some people who disagree with this choice because I’ve heard and read some awful reviews of this spot in the Parkview neighbourhood. Nevertheless, the experiences I’ve had have been pleasant. Particularly, Kirk vouches for their Rebel Chz Brgr. It’s a dirty diner-style burger, but in the best way possible. I always enjoy the mini lobster rolls and the mussels, which are even better when discounted for happy hour.

Review of Rebel Food and Drink

13. Sushi Shop

Another debatable choice? Maybe, maybe not. For a quick, decent, and affordable sushi meal, this is where Kirk and I go to get takeout. Considering that it’s a fast food restaurant, they have an extensive selection of maki and sushi. Plus, the staff still take the time to make the items look aesthetically pleasing. We’ve never had a bad meal from here, and it’ll continue to be our spot when we need something less expensive to quell those sushi cravings.

Review of Sushi Shop

14. Famoso Neapolitan Pizzeria

This local success story has expanded across western Canada and into Ontario over the years, and it’s easy to see why it has done well. The quality of their pizzas is very consistent no matter the location. Only recently have Kirk and I opted to build our own pies there, and I’m not sure we’ll go back to the ones on their menu (not that there’s anything wrong with them). Our personal creation, The KC, with sun-dried tomatoes, Soppressata, chicken, fresh prosciutto, and fresh feta hits the spot every time. Their pastas are also delicious.

Review of Famoso Neapolitan Pizzeria

15. New Dragon Palace

Over the years, the quality of the food here has fluctuated. Yet, it’s a family favourite, and it’s probably been around for almost as long as I’ve been alive. Of late, we’ve all noticed that the kitchen’s standards have gotten better again. The portions are very generous and the food is flavourful.

If you go, definitely pre-order the Peking duck. The skin is super crispy, and the meat is plump without a ton of fat. Placed in those steamed wraps with sauce, cucumber, green onion, and carrot, they’re pockets of delight. The broth made from the bones is addictive and the stir fry created from the rest of the meat is enough of a meal in and of itself.

Review of New Dragon Palace

16. The Colombian Coffee Bar & Roastery

This shop in the Glenora neighbourhood makes a robust chai latte. What’s better than that though? Their Pain au Chocolat pastry is amazing! The treats are flash frozen and shipped from France to be baked right here in Edmonton. Soft, flaky, and the perfect amount of dark chocolate.

Review of The Colombian Coffee Bar & Roastery

17. Joey Restaurants

I’ve come to realize that of all things, they do sandwiches and burgers really well. The California Chicken is often Kirk’s top choice there. The Ahi Tuna Club is forever going to be my favourite. Nonetheless, when corporate made the mistake of taking away the Ahi Tuna Club (thank goodness other customers complained and got it added back onto the menu), I found a replacement in the Butcher’s Sandwich. Sure, it’s a glorified beef dip, but damn is it good.

My favourite from Joey: Ahi tuna sandwich!

Review of Joey Restaurants

18. BAR94 & LUX Steakhouse

Between the bar and the restaurant, I’ve sampled a number of the items on the menu. I tend to go back to the sides and appetizers, which are great for sharing or as a sizeable dinner for one. I’d suggest the ‘Bucket of Bones,’ Truffle Perogies, and Truffled Lobster Mac & Cheese. Oh, and $3 glasses of Prosecco or sparkling cocktails on Tuesdays in the lounge can’t be beat.

Review of BAR94 & LUX Steakhouse

19. The Art of Cake Café & Bakery

I’ve been a long time supporter of this bakery turned café. I used to walk over from work to their shop in City Centre Mall for a midday pick-me-up. I was so sad to see them move out of that space. However, I’ve since patronaged their new location in the Oliver area, and it’s wonderful to see how they’ve expanded to serve beverages (including wine, beer, and liquor), breakfast, and lunch alongside their usual baked goods. They still make some of the best scones, cakes, and cookies. It’s arguably a plus that they’re no longer so close by. Otherwise, I’d most likely be much heavier.

Review of The Art of Cake

20. Characters Fine Dining

My friend and I decided to treat ourselves to a multi-course tasting menu here at the beginning of 2018. The setting is beautiful, but not too stuffy despite the fine dining stigma. All of the dishes were impeccable, and they were able to cater to the dietary needs of my friend. The items change seasonally, but, if you ever have a chance to try the Cured Salmon, Beef Tartar, or Venison Wellington, do not pass it up.

Review of Characters Fine Dining

21. Dorinku

It’s a shame that I don’t make it here more often. Still, the Appetizer Platter and the Carbonara Udon continue to be some of my preferred items when they’re available. The pressed sushi is also tops.

Review of Dorinku

22. Villa Bistro

This business is never busy when I’m there, so I’m hoping it’s not a sign of things to come considering that the food is actually delicious when ordered properly. I mean, the pastas are decent, but the Braised Boneless Short Rib and/or the Loaded Villa Burger are where it’s at.

Review of Villa Bistro

23. Accent European Lounge

I’m not sure if you’ve figured this out yet, but I loooove beef tartare. For a really traditional take on the dish, this is the place to go. From the fried toast to the garlic cloves and the massive patty of raw meat, I’m in beef tartare heaven whenever I’m there.

The excellent and rich steak tartar with garlic and fried bread.

Review of Accent European Lounge

24. Biera

Full disclosure: I have not eaten at Biera yet. But, I did attend Avenue Magazine’s Best Restaurants 2018 event in March where Chef Christine Sandford was showcasing their Grass-Fed Beef Tartare. The sample was out of this world. I went back for seconds and thirds. It’s remains as one of the eateries on my list to visit, and I plan to be there sometime in 2019. It’ll give me something to look forward to.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Fumaca Brazilian Steakhouse

Unlimited meats, salad bar and brunch items!

Step aside Pampa, there’s a new steakhouse in town! In all honestly, I’ve never actually tried Pampa Brazilian Steakhouse myself. I’ve always been weary of the prices ($51.99 per person for dinner and $33.99 for brunch), unsure if it’d be worth the money considering I can’t really eat all that much meat in one sitting. But, I was scrolling through my Instagram feed earlier this summer and I noticed quite a few posts about a similar restaurant called Fumaca Brazilian Steakhouse.

The spacious interior of Fumaca Brazilian Steakhouse.

This new business is located on the ground floor of the Water’s Edge building at 10143 Saskatchewan Drive. On a nice summer day, it’d be quite enjoyable to sit out on the patio with views of the bridges and the city skyline. During our visit though, it was starting to turn chilly and the winds were high, so indoors we went. It’d been years since I’d set foot into that space (it previously housed New Asian Village). From what I can recall, it used to be a lot more cramped. Now, it’s very open and spacious with a more modern design that utilizes bold colours on the walls and art.

Green = More / Red = Pause

We did have an OpenTable reservation. However, I will note that it wasn’t particularly busy when we arrived. They offer brunch on Saturdays and Sundays from 11:00am to 2:00pm. Timing it so that we could eat before a Fringe Festival show, we decided to dine at 1:00pm. Perhaps showing up later meant it had already quieted down. Therefore, we were quickly seated and given instructions on how the meal works — the buffet is available at any time, but the meats are brought out from the kitchen throughout; if you want the churrasco (Brazilian barbecue), flip the circular card to green and if you need a break, flip it to red.

Brunch at Fumaca is $25.99 and includes French toast, pancakes, scrambled eggs and hash browns as well as a salad bar and an unlimited amount of seven select cuts of meat (at dinner there are 15 varieties, hence the increased cost of $44.99). We started our meal by perusing the buffet. I stacked my plate with the aforementioned French toast and pancakes, dressing those with a berry compote. I also scooped up some hash browns and mashed potatoes on the side. From their salad bar, I chose some red beets, marinated mushrooms, a curry pasta, and the pièce de résistance, full bulbs of roasted garlic.

My initial plate of pancakes, French toast, hash browns, mashed potatoes and veggies.

The latter of my collection from the salad bar was perfect to accompany most bites of meat that I sampled. I mean, garlic works with everything. As for the rest of my choices, they were all tasty and well-seasoned. Nothing was overly salty or inedible. Although, I did feel like the salad bar was a tad scant. There were plenty of dressings and oils laid out to go with bowls of mixed greens and some additional veggies, fruits and toppings, but not much else. If someone opted to pay just for the brunch salad bar on its own ($19.99), I’m not sure that it’d be all that filling.

I was pleasantly surprised by the pancakes and the French toast though. It’s very easy for those to be ill prepared as part of a buffet. When items like those are left out for too long, they can either become hard or soggy. These stood the test with the pancakes remaining rather fluffy and the French toast holding a crispness on the outside.

Then came the meat. Our introduction to their rodizio was through their signature Beef Rumpsteak. Carved right at the table, it was that perfect medium rare pink. The meat was juicy and not overpowered by seasoning. Simply dressed with only a little bit of sea salt, the steak itself was left to be the star of the show. The second was a Beef Garlic Steak; a smaller cut of meat that was succulent and had an extra hint of flavour. The third beef steak we ate was the Top Sirloin. It was a tougher cut since it was leaner than the other two. Flavourful, but, comparatively, the chewier texture wasn’t ideal. Admittedly, we thought the staff were kind of skimping with the slices, but once you’ve eaten several kinds of meat, it’s eventually more than enough.

The Chicken Drumsticks were nicely charred to get that grilled taste. They were also plump. I could have done without those though. I’d much rather something outside the norm of what I might make at home. That’s where the Leg of Lamb comes in. Not too gamey at all and super tender, this was a total treat to be able to have lamb included as part of a limitless brunch.

Crispy Pork Belly with what remained of my Pork Sausage.

When I first told Kirk that there wouldn’t be any regular sausage or bacon, he seemed quite disappointed. Then I mentioned that they serve barbecued Pork Sausage and Crispy Pork Belly instead and his spirits brightened. After all, those are just elevated versions of the usual brunch fare. Initially, we couldn’t put our finger on the herb used in the sausage, and we ended up asking one of the servers. To our amazement, it was cilantro. That is pretty much my taste bud nemesis. Yet, somehow, they managed to make cilantro edible for me. I’m not sure what black magic they’re using in the kitchen, but it worked and the sausage ended up being one of my top picks.

Still, my absolute favourite was the crispy pork belly. These were thick cut portions of pork belly that were seared beautifully on the edges. I did have to remove a little excess fat that had not rendered away during the cooking process, but the acidity from the spritz of lime helped to cut through that as well. The second portion of pork belly was even better. It seriously made the meal.

Fumaca Brazilian Steakhouse seems to have a solid foundation in the kitchen. They’re the only other business of this kind in Edmonton giving the long reigning Pampa a run for its money. The service we received was great, too. I just hope that they get some more people through their doors, and perhaps they can expand their salad bar a bit. Nevertheless, for any meat lover with a hefty appetite, this should be one of their go to places to fuel up on the weekend.

Edmonton Business Review: Escape City

Friends and escape rooms = fun!

I’ve been hooked on escape rooms ever since they were initially introduced to Edmonton back around 2014. I lapped them up and I would go on gaming sprees, usually dragging along a newbie or two. When we left, they were addicted as well. For those who don’t yet know, an escape room is an immersive experience whereby a group is “locked” in a themed room and they have to work together to solve riddles, clues and puzzles in order to breakout. They typically range between 45 to 60 minutes in length and cost about $25 per person to play.

About a year after I delved into that world, more businesses in this vein finally started to pop up, including one of my all time faves, Escape City. Located on 59 Avenue and 104 Street (Calgary Trail), it’s tucked away in the corner of an old strip mall. Walking through the doors, there has always been someone sitting behind the counter to greet patrons. Otherwise, it’s a very minimalist space with white walls, a couple of long benches, and cabinets for lockers. A large bulletin board next to the till showcases the teams who have broken out of their rooms in record time (Note: the times listed are remaining minutes in the game, not total minutes played). On the opposite side of the room is an accent wall with “Escape City” scrawled in red, which is great for photo ops.

It’s ideal to arrive 15 minutes in advance of your allotted time to ensure everyone has a chance to pay and sign the waivers (if you’ve played here before, they do keep them on file, so you don’t have to sign it again). As with any other escape room place, you are not to bring in any of your belongings. Phones, especially, should be locked away as it’s all too easy to cheat or make the game easier with them on hand. Plus, it’s important that photos aren’t shared of the room and its puzzles because the whole point of playing is to be challenged. Where’s the fun in knowing in advance what’s going to happen?

When the team is ready to go, a staff member will lead the way. They’ll present the house rules: no lifting carpets, no pulling on things that are nailed down, no climbing, etc. Then, a video introduction is played before the countdown starts and the game begins.

As an early subscriber to Escape City’s newsletter, I was invited to beta test for them. The very first room I got to experience was Keller’s Magic Emporium. At the time, I didn’t realize it was rated as their easiest room. Admittedly, I found it to be too quick to work through as we got out with probably 20 minutes to spare on an available 45 minutes (sometimes I don’t care about breaking a record; I just want to be entertained for as long as possible while still breaking out). What I did like was that they found a way to personalize the game a bit. Everything was quite linear, and the design was superb. They utilized some locks in the room, but there were a lot of other styles of puzzles, too. This one is best for beginners.

A taste of The Cabin. Photo courtesy of Escape City.

My second go at one of their rooms was with The Cabin. This was a well-though-out game and our group was literally a minute away from solving the whole thing. Alas, we failed, but it was very close. While it is considered to be one of the more difficult challenges at Escape City, I believe our ultimate downfall with this particular room was the size of the space and the number of players. Most of the time I struggle to get more than four or five people to come out. In this case, I recall having seven or eight in all. With limbs everywhere, visuals were blocked, hindering our ability to fully grasp everything we were supposed to see. My recommendation with the majority of places I’ve been is to have no more than six people.

Room number three at Escape City was The Inheritance. I’d only just started dating Kirk at the time. He was so enamoured with The Cabin that, on a whim as we were passing by one night, he decided we should zip into the front doors an hour before closing to ask if we could play an impromptu game. The staff was happy to oblige. I feel like we used a lot of hints (you can have up to two, if you want your time to count towards their rankings; otherwise, you can have as many as needed). But, what do you expect when you only have two brains trying to decipher stuff like this at 10 o’clock in the evening? We managed though. There were a couple of puzzles that we solved without doing it the way the room was planned (it happens on occasion). We also wouldn’t have gotten out within the actual 45 minutes. Thankfully, the employees working that night were nice enough to give us extra time. It’s been designated with a three out of five star difficulty rating and I think that’s a fair assessment.

Adventure four was The Great Discovery. It’s no longer running, but this one had a lab storyline and made sure to encourage the use of multiple senses in order to solve the puzzles. Our team worked well together as each person brought something to the table, and we felt really accomplished when we escaped this room.

The Hunt for Arms Magee (previously known as Quarterback Sneak) was the fifth room played at Escape City. It’s also classified as middle of the road in terms of the overall challenge. I have to say though, this was most likely my least favourite out of the handful of games we’d played here at this point. I didn’t think the quality of the room itself or the production value was as high as the others. Mainly in the first half (the second portion had a fun element), the premise felt silly and oversimplified in comparison. This room was a joint effort between Escape City and Explore Edmonton. It was originally meant to tie into the Grey Cup and pitted the idea of the Edmonton Eskimos against the Saskatchewan Roughriders. I thought they just tried way too hard to tie in Edmonton elements. They’re best left to making rooms where the imaginations of the designers aren’t hindered by the tourism board’s vision.

We excelled at Neurological! Also, this is apparently my lucky shirt.

Approximately ten months later, I finally found an excuse to go back. This time, we were celebrating Escape City’s third birthday (August 2018). It’s crazy to think that they’ve graced us with their presence for this long and even weirder to realize I hadn’t played any escape rooms in over half a year. We tried our hand at Neurological, one of their hardest. I’ve been told by many people who tackled it before me to go with a large group (eight to ten). In the end, I managed to wrangle together a total of five people. Needless to say, I was a bit concerned that we didn’t have enough brain power. Turns out, that worry was unnecessary. We demolished this room! Unlike the others, you start with 60 minutes on the timer, and we completed it with 11 minutes left to go. This one splits the team up at the beginning and the goal is to come back together to alight all the senses. It required clear communication and a lot of teamwork to succeed. We were told at the end that only 14 per cent of of the people who play this one break out, so we felt like superstars.

For those that want to hang out a little longer, you can either get there early or stay for a bit at the end and commiserate over a drink because, surprisingly, Escape City does sell cans of beer and a few other non-alcoholic beverages. Basically, it’s a great option for parties of any kind. While I’m not likely to throw a shindig here myself, they sure do know how to reel me back in. Seeing as how I had pretty much tackled all of their rooms, I wasn’t expecting to be return again any time soon. But, lo and behold, for their anniversary, they’ve just launched a new one called Frank’s Revenge about an uncle looking to even the score. If I have my way, curse be damned. Our winning streak has to live on! I’ll be back with friends in tow!

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Station on Jasper

PB&J Firebread Sandwich

Closing amid allegations against one of the previous owners, the space once occupied by The Needle Vinyl Tavern (10524 Jasper Avenue) sat unused since November 2017. Then, on June 25, I received an email from Station on Jasper. They were a new business and they had inherited the Needle’s existing email list upon purchasing the restaurant/music venue. With the introduction came an offer for $12 off during dinner when dining in July.

I held onto the coupon and with one weekend left before it expired, I dragged my fiancé, Kirk, with me. I thought it’d be a good excuse to try it out. From what I could tell, the menu had been revamped since the Needle’s time. Back then, the food was pretty subpar. Now, the listings looked to be promising.

We arrived at around 7:00pm on a Saturday night. It was empty inside, although their patio was definitely being utilized. We seated ourselves indoors just shy of the patio to get the fresh air without the crazy heat. Our server came over with menus and started talking about happy hour before realizing that it was actually too late for us to order any specials. Still, I asked her what they usually offer during that time, so I could make note of it for my YEG Food Deals pages. She admitted that they didn’t actually have anything solid in place yet.

The interior of Station on Jasper has a kind of indoor-outdoor feel with the lights.

It turns out that when the business transferred over to the new owners, they literally hired all staff within a two week period, set a date and opened their doors. As I soaked in my surroundings, I could see that the design of the bar and restaurant was largely unchanged. The exact same tables, chairs and setup as before were being used. As I mentioned, the menu was visibly different, but the drink selection was fairly scant with them sticking only to classic cocktails.

Personally, I found the pricing for the dinner mains to be a bit high. Instead, I focused on the rest of the comfort food by way of the south menu created by executive chef Michael Darby. With a variety of sandwiches and pizzas at relatively affordable prices, they were the more reasonable option. Kirk got a local beer on tap ($6.19) and the Station Burger ($14). I opted for the PB&J Firebread Sandwich ($12).

Station Burger

Johnny Lee, one of their bar managers, spoke with us and he said that the Station Burger was probably the most simple thing on the menu and suggested Kirk order the Po’ Boy next time. Johnny wasn’t wrong. The burger had been changed from being topped with candied bacon, caramelized onion, smoked Gruyere and Station Sauce to cheese, mixed greens, sauce and a few grape tomato halves. There was still a decent flavour to the meat. Nevertheless, it wasn’t what we had hoped for. Having stated that the patty is made of hand-formed Alberta beef, we thought it’d be freshly pressed. While it wasn’t necessarily a mass produced frozen burger, it clearly didn’t meet our expectations and could have used more charring. On the side, the blanched fries were decent. These are supposedly hand-cut and that seemed to be the case.

PB&J Firebread Sandwich

Their PB&J Firebread Sandwich fared better overall. The long toasted bun was laid with arugula, seven spice blend pork belly, a sunny side up egg, grilled peaches and some sort of aioli. I tend to shy away from toasty bread because I often scrape my mouth with the sharper edges. This was alright though. It held the components of the sandwich together well. To avoid a huge mess with the egg, I broke the yolk first and then cut the whole thing in half, spreading it out across the length of the bread. Then, I clamped it shut. This item has a lot of potential. Sure, I felt the pork belly was a tad too fatty in spots, but it was seared nicely and the saltiness was balanced out by the bitter greens and sweet peaches. My one big criticism to the kitchen was that the grilled peaches were too chunky. They fell out when I took bites, so I suggested that they create a peach chutney instead. It’d allow for the flavour to come through in every bite rather than sporadically.

After we finished our meal, Johnny came back to chat about the dishes and their quick opening. He then took the time to show us the music stages, including the main venue tucked in a side room towards the back. It’s a neat tiered space. Between that area and the back of the main dining room, they can apparently accommodate up to 400 guests per show. Johnny also excitedly told us about their plans for a hidden speakeasy, which I’m interested to visit when it gets up and running.

When it was announced Station on Jasper would be opening at the end of June, there was speculation that the previous owners were still involved with the new business . However, that has since been refuted. Mark Chisholm, their other bar manager, also introduced himself while we were there. Both Johnny and Mark are a hundred per cent invested in seeing Station on Jasper succeed. They especially want everyone who works there and who comes through their doors to feel protected. All of their staff have to go through regular mandatory training through their partnership with the Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton (SACE), so staff are not just aware of their own actions, but are also knowledgeable enough to spot situations that may arise with patrons. It was great to hear that they’re taking the steps to ensure that their business remains a safe place for everyone.

Station on Jasper was also able to sign on a number of big name Canadian artists like Serena Ryder and Lights for their launch, and they have a roster of other performers coming through the venue later this year. If they were in any way connected to the tarred reputation of the Needle, I’m pretty certain that information would have come out by now and they wouldn’t have been able to successfully book the shows that they have.

Walking out that night, Kirk and I felt that Station on Jasper was on the right track. They’re beginning to solidify their space in the community by booking as much local talent as possible. They’re working with neighbouring businesses to help highlight musicians in any way they can. Most of all, they want to be there to nourish Edmontonians through their stomachs and their musical souls. We wish them the best of luck!

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Buco Pizzeria + Vino Bar

The open kitchen of Buco Windermere is surrounded by bar seating.

Sorrentino’s Restaurant Group expanded in mid-2015 with Buco Pizzeria + Vino Bar in St. Albert. While I’ve never visited that location, a friend of mine is the executive chef at the newer Epcor Tower spot in downtown Edmonton. It’s just blocks away from Rogers Place. For me, the closest and most convenient is in Windermere.

My fiancé and I recently popped in to check it out. We spent an entire $65 OpenTable dining cheque on an indulgent Saturday afternoon lupper (lunch-dinner). The reason why we chose to go at that time is because they offer Social Hour specials daily from 2pm to 5pm and 9pm to close.

It’s nice and airy inside with an industrial feel.

Even in the middle of the day, there were a decent number of guests seated in both the industrial style lounge and dining room. However, there were just a few staff on hand, so service was a little slower than it should have been. It was worth it though, and it kind of forced us to sit there and enjoy our meal rather than quickly rushing through it all.

My Peaches ‘n Cream cocktail at the front and the featured Shock Top draft at the back.

To start, my significant other opted to go for their feature draft. At $5 for 12 oz. it was reasonable (regularly $7.50). That day’s option was Shock Top, so nothing too special. I chose to try their Peaches ‘n Cream cocktail ($5 for Social Hour, usually $9.50) — peach grappa, peach purée, white tea, and peach infused whipped cream. Our server said it took longer to make it because they had an issue with the whipped cream dispenser. That’s no big deal. I was more annoyed with the fact that it was so messy. The drink was filled so high that it was spilling down the sides of the glass and I got whipped cream all over my hands and the table. They never bothered to wipe that down or offered to bring extra napkins or anything. Other than that, I could have done without so much ice. The cocktail comes in a short glass, so the more cubes there are, the less drink there is, and I finished it really quickly.

For sustenance, we shared a Carne E Formaggio Board for 2 people ($12, typically $22), a Carne pizza, and a Fig Prosciutto pizza ($12 each, outside of Social Hour it’s $21). This was a ton of food and could easily have fed another couple.

Carne E Formaggio Board for 2 People

The cheese and charcuterie board was brought out as a starter, so we were able to snack on that first. This actually wowed us because we weren’t expecting the smaller size to be such an extensive spread. I think the only constructive feedback we have about this item is that it needs to come with more slices of bread. There were only two pieces per person. It meant the ratio of bread to cheese and meat was off, and it’d be nice to have more bread to balance everything out. Otherwise, the variety of cheese included a mix of both hard and soft textures and a range of mild to pungent flavours. The meats were also great. They stuck to the more familiar cured meats like prosciutto and salami, which ensures everything will be eaten when it comes to a chef’s choice type of situation.

For the pizzas, we were eventually asked if we were ready to have them fired up. We felt like we’d had enough of the board, so we said yes. It didn’t take too long for them to bake in their oven and they came out piping hot. The Carne is a pie layered with red sauce, meat, meat, and more meat. The toppings included short rib, Italian sausage, pepperoni, and bacon for the protein. Smoked caciocavallo and fior di latte filled the cheese quotient. This pizza was everything a meat lover could want as there was just so much of it and it was incredibly savoury. On the ligher side of scale, our Fig Prosciutto pizza is made without tomato sauce. It consisted of fontina cheese, fig jam, prosciutto, and balsamic drizzle. It has that salty-sweet combo that is appealing to a lot of palates. The crusts were easy to fold, crispy and slightly charred on the outside, and a little chewy in the middle.

Raspberry Ricotta Cake

Half of our meal was packed up to go as there was no way we could finish it all at once. But, we did save some room for dessert. In the end, we shared a slice of the beautifully presented Raspberry Ricotta Cake ($9). It was a bit more crumbly than I thought it should be despite the moistness of the ricotta and vanilla based cake. Still, the raspberry coulis, fresh berries, and fresh whipped cream did a good job of tying everything together.

We’ll definitely have to go back again soon to sample more items. Nevertheless, judging by what we’ve eaten there so far, overall, Buco Pizzeria’s menu is up to snuff. Where they can certainly use improvements is with the servers and management. They seemed kind of oblivious to the fact that they had guests. They were more preoccupied with setting up the restaurant for the evening and ignored current patrons unless they were blatantly waved at. It shouldn’t be a requirement to make full on eye contact with a staff member in order to get any service. They need to be trained to be more attentive. Hopefully, I’ll see changes with respect to that next time I’m there.