Edmonton Restaurant Review: Elm Cafe

The patio space outside Elm Cafe.

Recently, I’ve written pieces about two of Nate Box’s businesses: the established District Cafe at 10011 109 Street and the soon-to-open Salz at 10556 115 Street. He’s had a successful run with smaller eateries that focus on succinct menus made with locally sourced ingredients and products. Having already discussed half of Box’s ventures, this year seemed as good as any to work my way through all four. I still have to pay a visit to Little Brick, but now I can cross Elm Cafe off my list.

In all honesty, for at least two, maybe even three, years now, I’d been sitting on a gift certificate for Elm Cafe. Despite the incentive and my best intentions, I just always forgot to go. I knew that they made some delicious sandwiches though. After all, in the past, I had eaten some of their catering during a TEDx event held at the Citadel Theatre.

The tiny interior of the shop.

Last month, I couldn’t wait any longer. I was adamant about stopping by the shop to pick up some lunch for my family. My boyfriend and I dropped by on a Sunday before noon. It was easy enough to find free street parking on the block. When we walked up to the patio, I noticed a few outdoor tables spaced out nicely. Those spots provide the majority of what seats they have available. In the winter, only a couple of bar stools are to be found inside the cafe for in-house dining. It’s a tiny 200 square foot space with a counter, a kitchen and three staff that have their moves and duties coordinated down to a tee, so as not to stumble over one another.

The day’s menu changes regularly.

Thankfully, there wasn’t anyone waiting behind me to order, so I was able to take a bit of time to decide on what I wanted. The downside to their menu is that it’s regularly updated depending on what’s in stock, so the pizza and sandwiches change daily. I knew ahead of time that they offered early sandwiches (they open early at 7:30am to catch the worker bees in the mornings), lunch sandwiches, soup, salad, muffins, scones, cookies, and an assortment of beverages; however, the specifics were to be a surprise.

As I laid eyes on the menu, I took note of the fact that the day’s pizza and one of the lunch sandwiches had already been crossed off the board. Food sells out quickly here, so the best bet for the most choice is to stop in bright and early. Still, there were some good options. I ended up selecting the following to go: Early 1 ($8), Early 2 ($8), Livin la Sous Vide a Loca ($9), a raspberry white chocolate scone ($4), and a salted caramel ($1). The full package added up $30, which was exactly the amount I had to spend.

My order packaged and ready to take home.

Our food took slightly longer than expected as there was a mistake made with my order; however, it was quickly rectified. While the final sandwich was being prepared, I perused the items on the counter. They’ve sourced a handful of products made in Edmonton (teas, cordials and caramels) as well as craft roasted coffee from Victoria. Eventually, the wait paid off. My goods were bagged up and we were on our way to my parents for lunchtime.

As soon as we got to their house, I unpacked everything and plated the sandwiches. First off, I’ll just say that they did not make for the most photogenic dish; they looked like all bun and no filling. But, hopefully, the images here do them some justice. We split the three sandwiches into quarters for us to share. In spite of their large size, I’m not sure that was truly enough to feed four grown adults. The bread also wasn’t our favourite due to the texture. Regardless, they were decent, especially when it came to overall flavour.

Early 2: cauliflower, egg, crispy onions, greens, chili mayo, and cheese sauce.

I’ll begin with the Early 2. This was a cauliflower and egg sandwich with chili mayo, cheese sauce, crispy onions, and greens. I would have liked more egg for extra protein and for the cauliflower to be more prominent. Yet, this was a much tastier option than I would have expected. The slight bitterness from the arugula was offset by the combo of mayo and cheese, and those crispy onions added texture and saltiness.

Livin la Sou Vide a Loca

Livin la Sous Vide a Loca consisted of turkey, brie, cucumber, pickled onion, arugula, apple jelly, and herb aioli. What a fantastic combination of flavours in this one. This bun was a tad firmer and more toasted than the Early sandwiches, but it worked. The turkey was succulent, there was just a bit of sourness from the pickled onion, and the apple jelly brought in a hint of sweetness. Everything balanced with the creamy brie and the pungent aioli.

Early 1: chicken, egg, roast peppers, lemon, charred green onion, Gouda, and lemon aioli.

My personal favourite turned out to be the Early 1. A chicken sandwich with egg, roast peppers, charred green onion, greens, Gouda, and lemon aioli, this one packed a punch. Savoury with the meat, a little smoky due to the onion’s preparation, and zesty from the lemon, it was somewhat of a revelation. We all enjoyed this one.

Raspberry White Chocolate Scone

To finish off our meal, we split the moist raspberry white chocolate scone. It defied expectations by avoiding the dry quality of some of its counterparts. Even with a crunchy sugar topping, it refrained from being overly sweet. My only suggestion is that they try to spread out the raspberries and chocolate when they lay out the dough to bake because the distribution was quite uneven. I shared my salted caramel with my mom as our final dessert. I’m pretty sure that these are made by Erica Vliegenthart, the head baker at District Cafe, who sells her pies and caramels under the Red Balloon Pie Company name. The caramel was super soft and fresh. I would have happily eaten a dozen on the spot.

Salted Caramels

A meal from Elm Cafe was a long time coming. I’m glad that I finally tried it out. Although we thought there could be minor improvements made to the food, the important thing is it brought my family together for a lovely afternoon. Nate Box’s venues are grounded in the idea of community, and I think that he and his team are definitely succeeding in that respect.

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Edmonton Restaurant Review: The Stone & Wheel Pizzeria

Gooey, cheesy pizza!

The Stone & Wheel Pizzeria is easy to miss. But, I’d bought a Groupon on a whim as an excuse to try a new place, and my boyfriend and I went in search of it. We showed up at the eatery on a Sunday afternoon to find that it’s a tiny spot with just four seats.

No one greeted us. We simply waited. While we hung around the till, I pulled a menu off of the clipboard that was hanging from the kitchen’s glass partition, and the two of us reviewed the options.

Eventually, the woman working that shift came out from the back and offered to take our order. We needed a couple more minutes though. She went back to busying herself prepping some shredded cheese before returning to help us.

Our choice was the large (14 inch) Garlic Chicken house pizza ($21). Our voucher covered everything except the taxes on the bill. We were short on coins, and she wasn’t able to provide change on a larger bill, so the woman graciously told us not to worry about the difference. Feeling bad about it, we decided to pop into Square 1 Coffee, a roomy cafe, that was situated next door.

The two establishments actually share the same owner. Therefore, purchasing a cinnamon knot (delicious, by the way) from the cafe really ended up benefiting the same people. Regardless, we had been told that the pizza would take about 15 to 20 minutes to prepare. As such, we chose to bide our time on a comfy couch in the coffee shop.

The interior of the establishment.

When we returned to the parlour, our order was nearly done. As the woman readied everything, we let her know of our appreciation by dropping off a tip. It was the least we could do considering she let us off on the GST earlier. Honestly, I think it put a skip in her step because she was extra nice to us the rest of the time we remained there. Once our pizza was finished baking, she asked if we were staying or going. Since we opted to eat in, she sliced up the pie, put it into a to go box (in case of leftovers), got us some paper plates, napkins, and a serving utensil, so we could dig right in.

The Garlic Pizza is a combination of white cream sauce, roasted chicken breast, bacon, mushrooms, roasted garlic, feta, and mozzarella cheese on a soft, puffy crust. A bit crispy on the bottom, but fluffy on top, it was my idea of the perfect pizza dough. Best of all, The Stone & Wheel Pizzeria did not skimp on the toppings or the cheese. Sure, it was a somewhat greasy, likely due to the latter ingredient. Yet, every inch, almost to the very edge, was covered with something tasty; the practice of skipping the crust as is so often the case with other pizza joints need not be repeated here. I devoured my portions completely, and after just two slices per person, we were both full.

We tossed out our used plates, returned the cutlery, and packed up our remaining food to take home.

Overall, I’d say that our experience was alright. At first, the service almost seemed to border on disdain towards the customer; however, as we stuck around, the demeanor of the employee got better. Well, she treated us nicer.

Still, the business could work on further training of their front of house. While we ate, we witnessed a family of four or five people who tried to come in for lunch. Instead of welcoming them in, the woman simply told them that the cafe was around the corner. She didn’t even fathom asking if she could get them a pizza. As they left, we overheard the mother tell her children that she’d find them a spot to eat their pizza, so clearly that’s what they had come for. If I was the face of the business, I would have checked with Square 1 Coffee to see if a table was available there. Then I would have arranged to have the family pick up their pizza to eat over at the cafe. It would have been a quick solution to their lack of dining space, and it would have shown that they cared about their potential patrons.

Putting all that aside, the pizza itself was fantastic. For that alone, I’d return to The Stone & Wheel Pizzeria in a heartbeat. For about $20, it’s enough sustenance to provide two filling and flavourful lunches or dinners for a duo. The only thing is, it’s not a place conducive to lingering over a meal, which means I’ll likely just stick to takeout at this location from here on out.

Their logo emblazoned window.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Holt’s Cafe

Lunch at Holt's Cafe

Lunch at Holt’s Cafe

As a teenager, I used to bus downtown from school to see my mom at her gift shop. Sometimes I would stay and help her out at the store, and, other times, I would venture off through the pedway to walk around City Centre mall or poke through the merchandise at Holt Renfrew. I’d act all adult in this high end boutique (I call it that because, let’s face it, it’s nowhere near as good as the ones to be found across the rest of Canada), even though I was far from it.

When I graduated from university and I got my first real job as a young adult, I’d do the same thing. The only difference was I was now really more of a grown up. If I wanted to, I could save my earnings and spend it on that hot pink patent leather Louis Vuitton wallet embossed with their LV logo, or whatever was the “hot” item of the day. Of course, I was never one to splurge on big ticket purchases like that, so, alas, Holt Renfrew would need to make money off me some other way.

On my many trips to the store, I paid very little attention to the back corner on the top floor. It never really occurred to me that a restaurant existed there. But, over time, I started to notice that tables were tucked away there, and, eventually, Holt’s Cafe was added to my list of places to try. It has been several years since I started working downtown, and just before the new year is when my friend and I finally made a point of heading there for lunch.

The two of us ventured to the cafe the week after Christmas, so, even though it was significantly quieter in the area, we still made a reservation. Upon arriving, I was surprised at how cute the space is. Decked with simple light-coloured wood grain chairs, tables covered in white cloths, white walls accented with rainbow striped wallpaper and a Christmas tree, it was minimalist chic. What I loved most about the look of the restaurant was the far wall, which consists of floor to ceiling windows that overlook the street-level atrium entrance to the Manulife building, allowing plenty of natural light to bathe the room as well as an opportunity for people watching.

Much of the menu was appealing, and, considering the venue, the prices weren’t as high as I would have expected. The two of us decided we would each order a main and we would split them both. We ended up selecting the pumpkin gnocchi and the squash risotto cakes.

Pumpkin Gnocchi

Pumpkin Gnocchi

The pumpkin gnocchi was a bit of a surprise in that the number of gnocchi provided for a $16 dish was fairly miniscule. I believe there were a total of 6 or 7 pieces. They were of a decent size, but, ultimately, the dish they came in was about the size of a my hand (and my hands are small). On the plus side, they were deliciously plump. The sage butter provided an additional layer of flavour and the side of greens made it a lighter dish than we anticipated.

Squash Risotto Cakes

Squash Risotto Cakes

Squash risotto cakes sounded like a nice change of pace from a bowl of regular risotto. The round patties were relatively large, sitting atop a huge bed of the same greens that came with the gnocchi. Nicely crisp on the outside, they tasted great having been garnished with a light tomato-based sauce. The salad that accompanied both plates was a good mix of lettuce, carrot and beet (?) peel, cranberries and a lovely smokey flavour from what I believe were thin slices of purple potato that had either been baked or pan fried.

Ginger Pear Amaretto Cake at the front and Pomegranate Gingerbread Cake at the back!

Ginger Pear Amaretto Cake at the front and Pomegranate Gingerbread Cake at the back!

Since we had the time, we also indulged in a couple of desserts. My friend ordered the pomegranate gingerbread cake with salted caramel sauce. I think it was the words “salted caramel” that got to her because she can’t pass up anything that has that ingredient. It was a sweet, rich dessert that at one or two bites was perfect, but I was told was a little too much as a whole. She also noted that she couldn’t really taste the pomegranate, and the ginger flavour wasn’t as prominent as in my choice, which was a ginger pear amaretto cake. While my cake was sugary as well, I would agree with her that it was more subtly so. The amaretto and ginger paired really well together, and the slices of pear that adorned the surface of the dessert added a much needed tartness.

There were only two people on staff at the restaurant that day (not that it was busy), and they both did a good job of attending to all the tables. Food was prepared in a timely fashion – where exactly they fit their kitchen, I don’t know – and we were in and out in just over an hour.

The daily specials board inside the store. Also look out for the easel in front of the store doors while walking through Manulife!

The daily specials board inside the store. Also look out for the easel in front of the store doors while walking through Manulife!

I quite enjoyed our meal. Although, I’d be inclined to try something different on my next visit. Some of their daily specials sounded great, so I’ll have to keep an eye out on those whenever I walk through the building, but most of the other options on the regular menu appealed to me, too.

Overall, Holt’s Cafe feels almost like a secret little oasis away from the hustle and bustle of the work day. Sometimes that’s exactly what’s needed; it’s a place to take a much deserved break and recharge yourself for what lies ahead.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Leva

Happy diners on the patio saying hello to me!

Happy diners on the patio saying hello to me!

To me, Leva (@cafeleva) was like this apparition that I would periodically spot whenever I was in Edmonton’s Garneau neighbourhood, never realizing it was an actual cafe until friends started mentioning it here and there. I’d pass by many more times before I finally made a point of trying it out at the end of May. Like a hidden gem, it’s slightly off the beaten path, tucked away among the residential enclave of the university area.

My friends and I met up for a late lunch on a Sunday afternoon. Two of us arrived together and, neither having visited previously, weren’t really aware of how their system worked. After we clarified with a staff member that we could seat ourselves and order at the counter when ready (they offer full service during dinner), we staked out a table that bridged both the interior of the cafe and the patio, so we could soak in some vitamin D without being blinded by the sunshine. The outdoor space is actually quite small, but they make good use of it and they even have outdoor heaters for those slightly chilly days or evenings. The interior is nice and bright with wood topped tables, white chairs, hints of yellow in the decor and big windows that let in lots of light.

The order counter and interior of Leva.

The order counter and interior of Leva.

Once our third party showed up, we headed over to the counter to take a look through the menu. One friend went with the Chicken Breast Panini, the other just ordered a chocolate gelato milkshake, and I got the 12″ Spicy Chicken Avocado thin crust Neapolitan Style pizza as well as a chai latte. Upon paying for our items at the till, we were given metal placards with numbers on them, which were to be placed on our table, so the servers would know who to bring the food to. In a way, it’s very similar to the set up at Famoso.

Drinks were ready within minutes. My chai latte was steaming hot. I almost mistook it for someone’s milkshake because it came in this very tall ceramic cup that looked like an old fashioned soda glass. I thought it was a cute touch. Unfortunately, I have to say that the brand of chai latte tea bags that Leva uses are only okay. I left it steeping the entire time we were there and the flavours never got that strong, remaining rather bland.

My chai latte. Cute cup, but not the most flavourful.

My chai latte. Cute cup, but not the most flavourful.

On the other hand, the food completely made up for the subpar beverage (I’ve heard the coffee is fantastic though, but I don’t drink it). My friend’s sandwich was filled with chicken breast, brie, sweet potato, rosemary, buckwheat honey and seasonal greens. She said it was really tasty, especially liking the use of sweet potato to add an extra flavour profile to an otherwise basic panini. My pizza was topped with mozzarella, spicy chicken, avocado and cherry tomatoes. I can’t say the chicken was all that spicy (I can definitely handle more), but I enjoyed the combination of the four items and the overall simplicity of the meal. Everything tasted so fresh and the crust was crispy on the outside yet soft enough to fold for easier eating. I devoured the entire thing in the one sitting.

The dessert case was awfully tempting, too. I was absolutely stuffed after eating my whole pizza, so I refrained from indulging further, but one of my friends did pick up a macaron that she said was very good.

Edmonton foodies knew much earlier than I did about Leva – voted by readers into the No. 47 spot on The Tomato‘s directory of 100 best eats and drinks in Edmonton for 2014 and No. 38 in 2013), so I have them to thank for nudging me towards the place. I also happened to catch a glimpse of who I’m sure was local celebrity, Chef Daniel Costa of Corso 32 and Bar Bricco, stopping by to pick up a drink. If that’s not enough to tell me that Leva should be on the radar after 10 years in business, I don’t know what is.

Chef Daniel Costa of Corso 31 and Bar Bricco (or his doppelganger) stopping by for a drink.

Chef Daniel Costa of Corso 31 and Bar Bricco (or his doppelganger) stopping by for a drink.

The food seems to be relatively healthy, keeping to the basics of the ingredients. That’s something that I think is important when eating out, so I’m excited to add this establishment to my ever-growing list of city restaurants to revisit. And, after having been twice in the last month, it’s now also one of my friend’s new favourite hangouts, so I’m sure I’ll be coming around more in the future.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Under the High Wheel

The exterior of Under the High Wheel.

The exterior of Under the High Wheel.

I wasn’t aware of Under the High Wheel‘s (@thehighwheel) existence until I came across The Tomato‘s lists of 100 best eats and drinks in Edmonton. In 2013, readers voted the noshery into the No. 86 spot touting all of their breakfast items as worthy. Then, again, this past March it made the list once more, shooting up to the No. 48 position. So, after seeing that it has been getting high marks, I suggested to my friend that we stop there for brunch on a nice, warm, sunny day over the May long weekend.

Located inside the Roots on Whyte building at 102 Street and 81 Avenue, there is ample street parking in the vicinity in case you were at all worried. We parked directly across from the patio and headed towards the restaurant. There are two entrances, one through the DaCapo Caffe and another through the automatic sliding doors next to the Blush Lane Organic Market. Not realizing that DaCapo and Under the High Wheel actually share the same space, we got a little confused and thought we had to enter through the other door. Eventually, we made our way inside and were promptly greeted and seated outside at the last available patio table.

Most of the patio is shaded, so you won’t be blinded by the sunshine if it’s a particularly bright day. However, the table we got was at the far end of the space and wasn’t covered at all. While it was great for soaking in some vitamin D, it’s also good to know that, if you’re sensitive to the sun, you may want to avoid that location because without a pair of sunglasses you’ll be squinting throughout your entire meal.

The feature menu.

The feature menu.

The menu was actually quite thorough. It included their usual brunch dishes, encompassing soup, salads, breakfast items as well as a variety of sandwiches and burgers. In addition, a small selection of featured plates were tacked on for good measure. Seeing as how I think it’s important to try an establishment’s tried and true offerings, I opted to go with the Savoury Belgian Waffles with smoked salmon. On the other hand, my friend decided to go with one of the specials, which ended up being the Hand Rolled Gnocchi because I have almost never seen her pass up the chance to eat potato pasta.

Our server was really pleasant and friendly. She made a point of asking us if we were in a rush that day. I’m guessing if we were they would have tried to get to our order more quickly, but we stated that we had time and were there to relax. As we waited for our food, we both drank mugs of chai latte. I thought the tea was good, but it lacked the amount of spice that I typically like. At over five dollars I would have expected a little better, but it was nice to sip anyway.

My savoury Belgian waffle with smoked salmon.

My savoury Belgian waffle with smoked salmon.

The brightly coloured meals did eventually make their way to us. When they landed on our table, the server pointed out that I was lucky to have gotten my order in when I did as they had just run out of waffle batter for the day. With the breakfast gods on my side, I dug into my waffles with smoked salmon and it was delicious! Like a glorified plate of eggs benedict, the waffles, if I do say so myself, are an excellent and preferred replacement for English muffins, giving a slightly sweet taste to the otherwise savoury dish. The smoked salmon was fresh and the poached eggs were cooked perfectly, providing just the right amount of runniness when the yolk was broken. The side of greens was a great palate cleanser that brought an earthy quality, especially with the pumpkin (I’m assuming that’s what they were) seeds mixed in.

My friend’s gnocchi was generously portioned and was covered with amazing, fresh hazelnut pesto and pea and mint sauce. She shared some with me and I have to say it was one of the best I’ve had in the city. Different from pan seared gnocchi, which I usually prefer, it was the sauce that really made it a solid competitor.

Completely full after cleaning off our plates, we didn’t have room for dessert, so I can’t comment on what they have to offer there. But, if they put as much effort into them as they do their mains, I’m sure they’re equally as delectable.

I’m glad that we tried Under the High Wheel and that my eyes were opened up to a new food destination. The interior of the restaurant is really quite cute with an antique look that seems comfy and cozy for those days when all you want to do is sit and chat with those closest to you. I’ll definitely be back to sample some more food soon!