Edmonton Restaurant Review: The Burg (Closed)

Napkin Ratings: As their menu says, "it can't be good if you aren't wearing at least some of it".

Napkin Ratings: As their menu says, “it can’t be good if you aren’t wearing at least some of it”.

Burgers are one of the simplest meals someone can make – they can be dressed up or down and they can be made with almost any meat (or veggie) available – but they are also one of the easiest to screw up. Over the years I’ve eaten a few that literally blew my mind, many that were great and settled cravings and, some that were subpar, often because they were dry and bland. Being a fan of the build-your-own-burger (BYOB) idea, I’d tried Soda Jerks a few times and thought they did a decent job of fulfilling that niche. That is until The Burg (@TheBurg4St) opened on the 4th Street Promenade in downtown Edmonton. Situated in the old Ric’s Grill/Ric’s 104 St. Grill location inside the Historic Metals Limited Building at 102 Avenue, they’ve now been operating for about a year.

While I had intended to visit much earlier, I didn’t make a point of going until the beginning of June. Throughout the last twelve months I had heard mixed reviews about the food, so even though I was really gung-ho about visiting when the restaurant introduced itself, that feeling eventually waned. Leave it to Groupon to give me that much needed nudge. Having to use my voucher, I asked my friend to join me there for lunch.

The revamped restaurant interior - a lot more rustic than before.

The revamped restaurant interior – a lot more rustic than before.

Since I had dined at the previous establishments many times before, seeing the space’s new incarnation as The Burg was a little shocking. The structure was virtually untouched, but it had been made to look a lot more spacious by knocking down some of the partitions that previously provided added privacy for the business clientele that used to be catered to. This place is now about being inviting. Meant to be a casual and social setting, it’s all wood floors, metal, rustic beams and open bulb light fixtures. The design gives it a welcoming atmosphere, and the tables can be rearranged to meet the needs of different sized groups or parties. I’m not sure about dinner, but for lunch you can seat yourself as menus are already at the table (like at Famoso), and a server will come by to check on you and take your order.

I didn’t peruse the offerings prior to getting there, so I was surprised to see the selection of feature burgers in their seasonal menu. Those are in addition to the BYOB option and the Burger of the Month. Having read that the cost of a burger there was a bit exorbitant, especially when you take into account that the price doesn’t even include a side, I was happy to see that they at least give you the option of a Burger Combo lunch special that includes a basic burger and your choice of side for only $11. Our table neighbours went with that and it looked great.

Instead, my friend and I opted to share an order of the Mac ‘N’ Cheese Balls (or rather squares) to start. Cubes of elbow pasta covered in sharp cheddar, white cheddar and cream cheese sauce and then crusted with panko, fried and served with jalapeno queso dip, they were very good. I particularly liked the texture as the panko breading gave them a good amount of crunch that gave way to its cheesy center. These were actually quite similar to the version that I had back in May at The Phork. The Burg takes a less upscale approach by forgoing the truffle oil, and comparatively the spicy chili Ketchup at The Phork trumps the dip here because it packs a bigger punch with the taste. Still, I wouldn’t pass these up.

For her main, my friend ate the Southern Fried Chicken Burger. I didn’t sample it, but she said it was delicious. The burger consists of a corn flake crusted thyme and onion scented ground chicken patty that is deep fried and finished with white BBQ sauce, leaf lettuce and tomato sandwiched between a toasted potato scallion roll. My love of lamb won out, so I ordered the Lamb Provencal (not available on the current menu), which is a lean ground lamb patty scented with Herb de Provence and mint, topped with grilled zucchini, roast red peppers, roasted garlic aioli and arugula in a toasted ciabatta roll. All I can say is that it was a flavour explosion. The meat was really juicy and the veggies were cooked until tender. Both burgers were given a ‘4 Napkin’ rating (extremely handy, especially if you’re on a date!) on the menu, meaning they’re some of the messiest available at the restaurant, and I will attest that my friend and I had sauce dripping down our hands as we dug into our meals. Being that we had also devoured the appetizer, neither of us managed to finish our burgers, so we each packed up the last half for dinner that evening.

Unfortunately, I’m not able to argue with what others have said about The Burg in the past. Every person has their own unique experience and opinion. This was my first of two visits and, so far, from my observations of the service received – our server was really attentive and came back when she said she would (as opposed to 20 minutes later) as we weren’t able to make up our minds when we initially sat down – and the quality of the food we had the pleasure of consuming on this particular occasion, I can say that I’ve now forgotten about those dated reviews that I had come across. Based on my own knowledge of The Burg, I would definitely recommend this as a hangout to my friends if they’re looking for a centrally located and satisfying burger joint.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Blue Plate Diner

Beet Cake #1

Beet Cake #1

I’ve been going to Blue Plate Diner (@blueplatediner) for years now. It’s one of my go-to restaurants for those hearty homemade type meals. What really draws me there is the quirkiness of the place, which has a decidedly vintage 70s vibe with the diner tables, mismatched chairs, unique table lamps and colourfully painted walls. In other words, you know that even though they’re striving for an almost nostalgic type of atmosphere, you’re not going to get plain and boring food.

Named to the No. 64 spot on The Tomato‘s list of the top 100 best eats and drinks in Edmonton in 2013, the establishment has clearly remained a favourite of city diners over the years. For me, the food as well as the convenience of the place are what keep me coming back. Located on 104 Street just north of Jasper Avenue, it is just blocks away from work, making this a popular choice for meetups with friends during lunch hour or even for large groups. One of my more recent visits was after work near the end of May. My friend and I had a lovely dinner before going to see City and Colour at Rexall Place. Situated so close to the LRT station, it was a no-brainer that particular evening.

The veggie burger with a side of caesar salad and a coconut caipirinha cocktail.

The veggie burger with a side of caesar salad and a coconut caipirinha cocktail.

Known for their veggie burger, I had never tried it before, so this time I took the opportunity to eat what many have enjoyed in the past. It came to the table with a steak knife holding the bun and “meat” in place. The patty truly looked like an actual piece of beef. It had been grilled, but upon biting into it, it had a more malleable texture, a consistency similar to tartar. I have no clue as to what exactly it was made out of, but I am guessing there were pureed beets, quinoa and onions in it, and possibly beans, too. It was served with Dijon mustard as well as tomato and lettuce (cheese is extra). I think the lack of bite and juice that you get from actual beef is something I missed going with the veggie burger. However, it tasted great and that’s what matters most. Ultimately, the burger and the side of caesar salad was really filling. The housemade salad dressing is perfectly creamy and not overly thick and every piece of green was nicely coated. It might be overload for some, but that’s just the way I like it. I often will just order a full size caesar salad with grilled chicken breast added to it as a meal. It’s particularly nice with a squeeze of lemon juice. And, even though I had my heart set on dessert, there was no way I was going to comfortably fit that into my stomach that night.

Mac & Cheese

Mac & Cheese

My other recommendations at Blue Plate Diner include the mac and cheese, which comes in a massive plate-bowl filled with cavatappi pasta in a creamy béchamel sauce. Loaded with cheddar, mozzarella and asiago cheese and topped with diced tomatoes, it’s a classic. I admit that I remember it being better on previous occasions, but it is still one of my top choices on the menu. For dessert, do order their beet cake! Like carrot cake’s relative, it’s a toothsome selection that is topped with orange-cream cheese icing and walnuts, but potentially more moist. I was just there on a recent Saturday afternoon for a book club discussion and a slice for dessert plus a cup of chai latte was perfect to cure the doldrums on that rainy day.

On a side note, they used to have a falafel dish that my friends miss it as it is no longer on the menu. I’m surprised that, for an establishment that tends to stick to the tried and true, that they removed this popular item. I assumed it was a top choice for patrons because I had been told it was really good, but perhaps I’m wrong. Who knows though, maybe one day they’ll bring it back?

Overall, Blue Plate Diner is a one-of-a-kind, family-owned business that seems very community oriented. Showcasing rotating pieces from local artists on the walls, you can see that this is a place that strives to be both welcoming and supportive, which is why it is a great venue for friends to congregate. They will accommodate large reservations as the space and the tables can be rearranged to seat a variety of group sizes. Having done so myself, I know that they do their best to ensure friendly and reliable service. Every so often, service can be a little slow when the establishment is full, but, if you’re not in a rush, the din coming from the happy people that sit among you is rather nice. It reminds you that life is too good to take too seriously, and, really, Blue Plate Diner is all about finding the fun in your food and your surroundings.

For a more in-depth look at the establishment’s involvement in the community and its efforts towards sustainability visit The Local Good to read my profile of Blue Plate Diner.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Sugarbowl

The Sugarbowl (@sugarbowlcafe), serving Edmontonians in various forms since 1943, is a community favourite in an area peppered with popular independent restaurants. Known for their famous cinnamon buns (Seriously, who would have thought that a roll without cream cheese icing would be so good! Plus, one bun is essentially a meal on its own.), they have plenty of other items to please the palate.

Patrons enjoying their meals and conversations.

Patrons enjoying their meals and conversations.

My very first visit to the establishment was several years ago, likely when I was still finishing up my Bachelor’s degree. I ordered the lamb burger and was blown away by the flavour of the meat and the use of goat cheese, a combination I had not yet experienced at the time. I’ve never forgotten that burger or the restaurant. It was the place to be before it really mattered where you hung out. And, while I was a bit late to the game considering I was born and bred in the city, it has since become a top venue to chat with family over breakfast or meet up with friends for drinks.

My girlfriends and I did exactly that approximately a month and a half ago. We met up for brunch at about 11 AM on a Saturday morning knowing full well that, by arriving at that late hour on the weekend, we might possibly miss out on the coveted cinnamon buns (we were, in fact, too late to get one!). On the other hand, it was during that sweet spot between the early morning risers and the lunch crowd, so my friend managed to grab a table quickly before the rest of us got there.

The brunch menu is pretty succinct, so it wasn’t too hard to make our decisions that day. After finding out that the cinnamon bun was no longer an option, my friend chose to go with the french toast. My other friend ordered the huevos rancheros, which was one of the menu items that was mentioned on The Tomato‘s list of 100 best eats and drinks in Edmonton this year (overall, the restaurant came in at No. 5 in 2014 and No. 15 in 2013). I went with the chicken & waffle, a dish that seems to be a little more prevalent at food establishments lately.

The chicken and waffles from the breakfast menu.

The chicken and waffles from the breakfast menu.

I didn’t sample my friends’ orders, but I was told that the french toast – fried brioche pastry/bread covered in berry compote and whipped cream – was a worthy alternative to the cinnamon bun goodness that she didn’t get to eat. I’m certain that if you’re looking for a somewhat sugary breakfast, the french toast will certainly do the job. The huevos rancheros, touted by patrons as one of the top selections for breakfast, turned out to be a bit underwhelming. Consisting of 2 eggs, corn tortilla, spicy beans, three cheeses and salsa verde, my friend wanted me to say that she thought the addition of a starch would have been ideal – hash browns or toast perhaps?

Personally, I was really happy with my chicken & waffle. Plated with two perfectly cooked waffles and two pieces of lightly breaded buttermilk, spice marinated chicken breasts, I knew I was in for a filling and hearty meal. Served with a small side of greens and a little cup of maple butter, it presented the scrumptious combination of savoury and sweet flavours. The spices from the chicken were strong enough to break through the almost too sugary maple taste as well as the blueberry syrup that I had added to my waffles. All-in-all, the dish is very well-balanced and a good contender for those who can never decide between having something salty or sweet during brunch.

Sometime this summer, when the weather decides to stay steadily warm with just a light breeze, I would like to visit again for lunch or dinner on the patio. It’s been a while since I have had the opportunity to sample from those menus and I’d love to see if the lamb burger still lives up to my memory of it.

I also have to hand it to the servers here. They always have smiles on their faces, they are fun, friendly and they do a great job of checking in throughout your meal to remove empty dishes and refill drinks as needed without giving you the sense of being overbearing. There’s a real feeling of camaraderie between the staff that shines through, too.

When we were done our food, cappuccinos and orange juice, we cleared out to make room for others who were waiting patiently for tables. The only downside is that they don’t take reservations. But, I suppose that is part of the charm of the Sugarbowl. There’s something about being in line, anticipating your turn to sit down, watching everyone else have a great time, and knowing that you will soon join them.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: De Dutch Pannekoek House

De Dutch hails from British Columbia and landed in Edmonton, Alberta back in November of 2012. The entrance to the restaurant was obscured for quite a while by the construction down Jasper Avenue, so I think it remained off the radar for most until earlier the following New Year. However, customers began to learn of its existence and, by March of 2013, it had made its way onto The Tomato’s first annual list of 100 best eats and drinks in the city, coming in at number 17.

Housed on the main floor of the Cambridge Building, I finally had a chance to try it out just last week when my soon-to-be ex-co-worker (and my good friend) decided to have her going away lunch there. A group of eight of us went together.

Walking up to the door, the place is a bit unassuming, but once you enter, it’s nice and bright with a modern look, colourful seating and accents, spotless tables, and hardwood floors. We had to wait a moment for the hostess to seat us, but, as we had made a reservation ahead of time, our table (inside a private room that can hold around 10 to 12 people comfortably – I loved this because we were able to converse without disturbing other diners) was already prepared.

The De Dutch menu - so many choices!

The De Dutch menu – so many choices! The Bitter Ballen in the bottom right side of this photo sounded good as well. Next time!

Since we were all ravenous, we immediately cracked open the large menus – likely around 6 to 8 pages, although I didn’t count – and were overwhelmed by the selection. The restaurant is only open for breakfast and lunch (7 days a week), so every item on the menu is available all day long until they close at three o’clock. Like the options at Cora or Tutti Frutti Breakfast and Lunch (not to be confused with Tutti Frutti Frozen Yogurt), it seems endless, so it took some of us much longer to make a decision than first suspected.

Ultimately, a few of us ended up ordering the chicken quesadilla, which was probably the most basic of the bunch. It came with your choice of side including kettle chips and dip, garden or Caesar salad, or soup as well as salsa and sour cream for dipping. It tasted good especially with all the condiments, but it wasn’t really anything super special.

One person tried a Frying Dutchman Burger, the Canadian in particular. Filled with two 1/3-pound patties, Edam cheese, DeBakon, dill pickle, mayo and house made De Dutch relish, our co-worker raved about the latter condiment throughout our meal.

Others went with the star of the menu, the pannekoeken. De Dutch says that the dish has a circumference of 37”, a diameter of 12” and can be cut into 113 square inch bites. Seeming more like a crepe, it is thin and looks airy, but is actually rich and built solidly with egg and buckwheat, so that my friends were able to dump all the toppings in The Hash (hash browns, mushroom, green pepper, onion and cheddar with your choice of ham, DeBakon, sausage, turkey bacon or veggies topped with hollandaise sauce) onto the pannekoeken and roll it up without it falling apart. The two people who indulged in that meal couldn’t stop saying how good it was and polished off their plates without a problem.

Another co-worker ordered the Abby Perogie pannekoeken. Made with hash browns, DeBakon and onion inside the pancake and topped with cheddar and sour cream, everyone who sampled a bit of her lunch said they would order that next time they ate there.

The chicken quesadilla - good, but maybe carry the pancake theme into this dish by using the pannekoeken as the shell instead.

The chicken quesadilla – good, but maybe carry the pancake theme into this dish by using the pannekoeken as the shell instead and adding some DeBakon and hash browns for extra flavour and texture.

Do I think that there are things that De Dutch can do a little bit better? Certainly! I would suggest that they make the quesadilla a bit different from the norm by adding DeBakon or hash browns into it, or substituting the usual salsa for their house made relish; there’s no reason why the pannekoeken can’t be turned into something more finger food friendly like a quesadilla to give that dish a Dutch twist. Everyone at the table was also a bit perturbed to hear that the establishment was charging my friend $1.50 for a cup of hot water with lemon. I certainly don’t think a simple cup of hot water on its own should warrant a cost as that’s basic. However, there is a debate as to whether or not the lemon should be complimentary or have a price associated with it. After all, it’s an extra that is an expense for the restaurant. Perhaps they should lower the charge a little, although it’s not my place to say. But, I will note that the friends I dined with were unhappy to hear it was that high.

Despite those couple of shortcomings, it was a very enjoyable meal with a great group of people. The service was wonderful as the two servers, who watched over us for the hour, checked in to make sure our food was good, refilled our water (even brought us a jug) and drinks, and doted on our friend’s baby (if you have children, I’d recommend going here as they at least have high chairs and don’t mind you bringing in a stroller). As the restaurant is located downtown, it’s a fantastic location for lunch during the work week.

I do hope to make it back there soon, so I can try something new!

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Select

It has been almost 7 years since my last visit to Cafe Select, which has now been branded by new owners (their other restaurant is Packrat Louie just off Whyte Ave.) simply as Select in an effort to contemporize the name.

The restaurant itself has always been rather inconspicuous sitting on 106th Street just south of Jasper Avenue. Even though it had a reputation as an excellent restaurant specializing in French cuisine and it had existed in that same spot since my parents can remember, I never would have known about it had my friend not suggested we go for dessert one night. While we didn’t get to try anything on our first attempt to eat there (it was late and they were about to close), the restaurant certainly had a cozy feel to it, comforting and inviting.

When we eventually managed to sit down at a table there, it was to celebrate the same friend’s birthday. We enjoyed tea and dessert and I recall it being good, but maybe not overly memorable. What I can tell you is that food blogging wasn’t such a big thing back then and it was more important to get a photo of us together as opposed to pictures of the food.

2006 - Birthday Celebration

2006 – Birthday Celebration

Well, over the last couple years, I’ve found myself trying out more new restaurants and revisiting ones that for some reason or another I just never quite made it back to. I have Groupon to thank for that. It has actually been difficult to keep track of the vouchers I’ve purchased and, as such, I often find myself leaving their use until the last possible moment. This was certainly the case for my evening at Select.

In preparation, I made a reservation through OpenTable (it’s all about the points!), perused the menu online and, of course, read reviews on Urbanspoon and Yelp. I like to know what I’m getting into even if it means feeling worried that I’m not going to get what I bargained for.

The first thing I want to say though, is for the people who complained about promptness of seating and service at the restaurant, I will gladly do the opposite and give the staff props for attentiveness. As soon as my companion and I walked into the doors, we were pleasantly greeted by a hostess who seated us at roomy booth. Our server came over within a couple of minutes to offer us water and throughout the night she was very friendly, she refilled our glasses without us having to ask, she checked in on us periodically, but not too often and she offered us meal suggestions.

The ambience of the place was also quite lovely. The restaurant is small, so if seated at tables rather than booths, it may have been a bit tighter. However, it was comfortable with the lighting creating a nice soft glow. Yet, it wasn’t so dark that you couldn’t read the menu. Also, from what I can recall, I believe the space has been slightly revamped with new paint and art on the walls.

But, onto the food because, really, the most important thing about eating out is how the dishes stack up and I have to say that I give the restaurant a 7 out of 10 for what we managed to fit into our bellies that night.

The server started us off with a basket of mini cheese buns, which were soft and warm enough that the butter immediately melted upon contact. It is often said that the bread at the start of a meal can tell you a lot about how the rest of the food is going to be, and those little carb-loaded buns were a good sign.

Cheese buns...more, please?

Cheese buns…more, please?

The bread was followed by an appetizer of gnocchi fondue. The actual fondue is made of Fontina cheese and white wine, so it is a bit strong, but paired with the pan fried gnocchi (I’d say equal in quality to David Burke Townhouse and South Gate, both in NYC and both scrumptious), asparagus and prosciutto wrapped apple, it was a match made in heaven. At first I dipped everything separately just to see how the fondue went with each, but when all the flavours are paired together, that’s when you get the best results. The tartness of the apple with the saltiness of the prosciutto and the slight crispness from the outside of the gnocchi and from the asparagus paired with the Fontina cheese and white wine created nice texture and was absolutely delicious. My only disappointment was that there was a still a bit of fondue left and nothing left to dip in it.

Gnocchi Fondue

Gnocchi Fondue

Once we polished off our appetizer, our main courses arrived shortly after. I had heard good things about their panella, which is really their one and only vegan dish (also celiac friendly), so I decided to give it a go. Basically a square of chickpea polenta cut into two triangles atop a salad of spinach, potatoes, mushrooms, sun dried tomatoes and hazelnuts drizzled with sherry vinegar, it was quite the colourful plate. While it didn’t look like a lot of food, with the chickpeas providing so much protein, and the buns and appetizers that came before, I felt pretty full rather quickly. I did persevere though and for good reason. The chickpea polenta was done nicely – crisp on the outside, but soft on the inside. It had a lot of flavour as well. But, like the appetizer, I felt it was best when I got everything in one bite and was able to taste the palate as a whole. The salad underneath was great; the sherry vinegar added a nice bite to the mix. Overall, I’m not sure that this is a dish that would make me a regular patron, but I was certainly happy with it.

Panella

Panella

My dining partner decided to go with their Select burger. A beef patty with black truffle cheddar, greens, bacon jam (she asked to have this omitted), tomato relish and pickled onion, it sounded like a good choice. Turns out that was the furthest from the truth. The taste wasn’t bad. I had a couple bites and thought it had some nice layers to it, but the patty was not that thick and was definitely overcooked, leaving it rather dry. The fries that accompanied the burger were also overdone. My companion finished the burger despite that. She also mentioned to our server her dissatisfaction with the dish, saying it was as if it was made using a frozen store bought patty rather than fresh ground beef. The server was quite apologetic, leaving to tell the manager our comments and insisting that he would be by to talk to us.

IMAG2244

Select burger…very dry

We still had a few dollars to use up on our Groupon, so we decided to share a dessert. Since we were already stuffed, we wanted something a little lighter, which left us with either their meringue or their lemon tart. Because we couldn’t make up our minds, we left it to our server to make our decision for us. What we got was the lemon tart topped with a strawberry basil salsa. Before tasting the dessert, I had my reservations about it. I’ve never had basil paired with anything sweet before; I’ve always thought of it more as a savoury herb simply because I usually have it in sandwiches or pasta. But, this was quite the surprise. The lemon tart had just the right amount of tang in it with a nice cookie-like bottom balanced out by the sweetness from the strawberry salsa and an interesting hint of basil poking through every so often. In fact, it was so delectable that I wish we had ordered two of them because half (or less than as my friend was unable to put down her fork) just wasn’t enough.

Lemon tart...get your own!

Lemon tart…get your own!

All-in-all, I would say that the outing to Select was well worth it, even more so with the voucher. Just food with no drinks would have cost us $56 plus tax and tip, but the Groupon saved us $25. For two people and three courses, that’s not too bad.

My only qualm with the restaurant was that the manager never did come to speak to us about the entree. Honestly, it seemed like he was avoiding having to deal with the issue by spending about 20 minutes at another table that had ordered a bottle of wine. They never even offered to discount the dish, which is really something they should have done. Perhaps it’s because they saw us as patrons who weren’t spending the full amount, but the fact that the manager didn’t bother to handle a problem in his restaurant is something I’ll remember about the place. Those are the things people think of when they make a decision as to whether or not they’ll be back to dine again.

And, will I be back? Probably. I doubt it will be any time soon, but the satisfaction I got from 3 out of the 4 plates we did like is enough to keep this Edmonton staple in mind.