Edmonton Restaurant Review: Town Square Brewing

The main floor of Town Square Brewing holds the bar and a larger group table.

Wanting to catch up, my friend and I recently made plans to meet. Both of us living on the south side of Edmonton, it isn’t always super easy to find local, independently owned restaurants to hang out at in our neck of the woods. But, I’d had my eye on Town Square Brewing for a while (located at 2919 Ellwood Drive), and that’s where we decided to go. Being a brewery, I brought Kirk along as well since I thought he’d enjoy the beer.

We showed up for lunch on a Sunday at noon. Turns out, we were the first customers for the day. It’s a bright and casual space. Very open concept with tall ceilings on the main floor and a staircase that takes guests up to a loft with several tables and a couple of cozy looking armchairs situated by a fireplace. Windows along the back wall look into the production area, so you can see the machinery at work.

A shared flight of beer with our selections from the current draughts on tap.

Told to seat ourselves wherever we liked, we chose a table that overlooked the entrance. A board on the wall indicated the current beers on tap. Kirk and I decided to share a flight ($10 for four 5 ounce glasses). I like some beers, but I’m not the connoisseur. The only one that I selected and drank was the Beets by Sinden Kettle Sour. I found it to be crisp, earthy, a little bit tart, smooth, and without any lingering bitterness. Perfect for me. It’s also the Alberta Beer Bronze Winner for 2018. At the time, they also had a Belgian-style beer on tap. That was Kirk’s favourite of the three he sampled. An additional pint was ordered to go with our food.

Town Square Brewing has a pretty compact menu with a focus on their pizzas. I should probably have listened to our server who mentioned that the pies are their most popular options. Instead, I went with the Parson’s Daughter Sandwich ($16) while Kirk chose their full-size Brewer’s Break pizza ($19).

Parson’s Daughter Sandwich with the Soup of the Day

The sandwich wasn’t the worst thing, but it also wasn’t the best. I just felt that they put very little effort into it. The house made spent grain bread was sliced to a thickness that would hold up when held, but it was really bland and pretty dry. The bread was literally cut from the loaf with absolutely no other preparation like toasting, pressing or buttering at all. Filled with chicken breast, pear, mozzarella, cranberry aioli, spinach, and basil, it sounded quite promising; however, the clearly pre-cooked chicken (it was cold) and not melted cheese was a downer. The only plus were the spotty bites with cranberry aioli, which upped the flavour quotient ever so slightly. For the side, I opted for a bowl of the daily soup. It happened to be a tomato bisque, so I was expecting something creamier. This one was mealy like the texture of a tomato that has been refrigerated. Not great. At the very least, it was somewhat warm, and I liked the touch of crumbled cheese on top.

Definitely go here for the pizza though. Town Square Brewing makes theirs with a thin crust. It has a different consistency than what you might find at Famoso, for example, as it’s less chewy in the middle. The outside is a little crispier, yet the dough is still soft enough to fold. The toppings were decent, too. With Genoa salami, Lazuli Farms pulled pork, and prosciutto, this hit the spot for us two carnivores. Arugula, onions, tomatoes, and BBQ sauce took things a step further, balancing out any saltiness from all that meat with bitterness, sweetness, and tartness. On a side note, I really like the trays that the pizzas are served on. There’s a hole in one corner that fits a single tasting glass just right. I thought that was a fun touch.

I was originally tempted to stay a little longer in order to have some dessert. In the end I refrained from it. I’ll save that for the next visit because their Soul Food pizza is calling to me. If they can work on their sandwich, I’d appreciate it. For the price, it certainly didn’t seem worth it at all. As always, every place has room for improvement, and I’m going to say that this is it for Town Square Brewing. Otherwise, everything else was fairly satisfying.

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: Silk Bar Kitchen

The exterior of Silk Bar Kitchen includes an inviting patio.

Edmonton has welcomed a number of new restaurants this year. One of them is Silk Bar Kitchen on 105 Street and 103 Avenue. Owners Cory Allen and Stephan Zaiffdeen, along with chef Earl Briones, were inspired by the historical Silk Road, a trade route connecting Asia to the Mediterranean.

The elongated interior of Silk Bar Kitchen.

Stepping into the space for an early Friday night dinner with a friend, it was empty. We were the first guests that evening, and we were told we could sit anywhere we liked. It’s a tad dark inside, but once my eyes adjusted, I was able to appreciate the design. Rather elongated, they’ve put booth seating on a raised platform to the left of the door, taller tables alongside a glass partition, a few standard tables at floor-level, and the usual chairs along the bar.

The style is a mix of vintage (lighting), modern (exposed ceilings) and extravagant (mirrors galore). They also place a spotlight on art, including a huge lacquered mural towards the washrooms and interesting wooden panels running along the upper back wall that depict the city and the North Saskatchewan River down the middle. Not everything made sense side-by-side, but I could tell that there was definitely a lot of thought put into the overall look.

Seeing as how Silk Bar Kitchen offers happy hour from 5:00pm to 8:00pm every Tuesday to Friday (also Saturday & Sunday from 12:00pm to 5:00pm), it was an excellent opportunity to take advantage of the specials. At discounted prices, we figured we’d be able to sample several items to get an idea of what they were about.

Ryojito

Available only during happy hour are their Ryojitos ($12). This is their bar’s take on the mojito. A mix of Havana Club, rosé, coconut sencha syrup, bitters, and fresh lime and mint, it was, visually, a gorgeously layered beverage. When they were dropped off, we were told to ensure we stirred them up well to get the proper flavour throughout. My friend seemed to really like it. Personally, I felt it left too much of a bitter taste in the back of my mouth. Letting the ice water it down a bit as it melted helped. Next time, I may go for one of their other cocktails (I’ve got my eye on the Two-Way Street), which are also $2 off between those hours.

Mini Masala Flatbread

When it came to the food, my friend opted to try the Mini Masala Flatbread ($7). I wasn’t sure what to expect when they put the word “mini” in the name. I mean, I’ve been to Earls and ordered their 8-inch margherita pizza from their happy hour menu before. Needless to say, it was nowhere near the size listed. We were lucky if it actually measured five inches in diameter. In the case of Silk Bar Kitchen, they fared much better. The thin-crusted flatbread was sliced into several pieces and laid on a long rectangular plate. There was no meat on it, so this is a decent option for vegetarians. While I don’t enjoy cilantro, the rest of the toppings — onions, masala spiced Spanish spread paneer, and golden turmeric glaze mango chutney — popped on the palate, especially with the strong, saturated sauces.

Bacon Croquettes Duo

The two of us also shared the Bacon Croquettes Duo ($7). These are balls of mashed buttered Kennebec potatoes combined with bacon and parmesan. They are then lightly breaded and fried before being served with onion jam. I could have done with more bacon as I don’t think that component shone through enough. Still, these were quite tasty. Yet, I do wonder how much money we saved by selecting them off of the happy hour menu. Regularly, the dish is $13, and I would hope that would come with more than a pair of croquettes. Otherwise, the value isn’t really there.

Garlic Parmesan Fries

We also split a small basket of the Garlic Parmesan Fries ($4). These were pretty standard. The fries were nice and crisp having been cooked with garlic infused oil. They were lightly dusted with herbs and then doused with grated Parmesan. For dipping, a side of lemon garlic aioli was presented. This is a great choice as a light snack.

I also decided to try both of the sliders: Char Siu and Meatball ($4 each). The same type of sesame roll sandwiched the meat in each one. The shredded pork in the Char Siu slider was almost black in colour. While it tasted fine with the sweet soy aioli and the coconut lime slaw, I would have preferred a more significant amount of meat like a slice or two of pork and an infused barbecue flavour. Between the two, I found the Meatball Slider to be better. The angus beef had a nice sear to it and it was simply stacked with arugula and crispy onions. What took it up a notch was the garlic oregano aioli and the tomato relish, giving it a touch of sweetness to balance out some of the bitterness.

Matcha Cheesecake

Dessert was already on my mind prior to dinner. I had it set on their Matcha Cheesecake ($9), which I’d seen pictures of on their Instagram feed. While it was good for a general cheesecake, I think it needs work to truly be considered a matcha dessert. My initial reaction was that it didn’t look like what they had shown me online. The white chocolate ganache was scant and it didn’t actually come with any ice cream. The cheesecake was barely green and the matcha could barely be discerned. The rest — berry coulis, sugared berries, honeycomb, and cornflake crust — was all there though. The crust was different and worked well with the cake, and the berries were delicious. However, the berries on top of the honeycomb kind of made the latter soggy pretty quickly. Honestly, this could be an amazing finish to dinner with a few minor tweaks.

After sampling these items, I think that Silk Bar Kitchen certainly has potential. The choices here are at least equal to other elevated bar fare found around downtown Edmonton. There are also inklings of inspiration when it comes to the flavour profiles of certain dishes. My interest has been piqued enough to make me want to revisit. Based on the menu descriptions, their larger plates definitely sound promising. I just hope that business picks up for dinner (before the DJ starts spinning later in the evenings), so that they’ll be around long enough for me to go back.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Panini’s Italian Cucina

Pasta comes piping hot in foil pans.

I’ve never once set foot into the physical space of Panini’s Italian Cucina. However, I’ve now ordered their food through SkipTheDishes enough that I feel I can justify writing this review.

My co-workers were interested in having lunch delivered one day, so we started to peruse the options on the app. I decided to search based on current restaurant ratings and fees. Panini’s Italian Cucina came right to the very top of the list. Not only do they offer free delivery with purchases of $20 or more, they also had a Skip rating of 9.9 out of 10. It was either going to be them or the Italian Centre Shop. What really pushed Panini’s over the edge was the extent of their options.

That initial order included a Prosciutto Bocconcini Panini ($12) for me, and a Deluxe Calzone ($16), Ciambella Doughnut Balls ($6), and a Build Your Own Pasta ($4.75) for my friends.

Pastas are packaged in large round foil pans. The Build Your Own pasta is simply a base of either spaghetti, fettuccine or penne with their signature tomato sauce. There were no additional toppings or upgrades, hence the low cost. Supposedly, it’s meant to feed one person, yet the portions are quite sizeable. The Deluxe Calzone was also big, but still devoured by my co-worker in one sitting. Since she didn’t have room for dessert, she shared her doughnuts with me. At first, when I picked up a ball, I thought the outside was a bit too firm. Nevertheless, it gave way to a soft, springy center, and it was delicious when dipped into the container of Nutella that came on the side.

Prosciutto Bocconcini Panini

The original version of the sandwich I chose comes stacked with prosciutto, bocconcini, artichokes, spinach, and tomatoes. What I love about Panini’s is that there’s an opportunity to customize for free, so I opted to swap out the latter two toppings for arugula and sun-dried tomatoes. I even added roasted red peppers as up to four veggies can be selected. Condiments of pesto mayo and lemon garlic mayo were bonuses. All of this was pressed between a hearty whole wheat bread. The sandwiches are actually perfect to be split into two separate light lunches. I too finished off my panini, eating the whole thing in one go. They don’t skimp on the ingredients. Everything was fresh, and the bread was buttered and toasted to perfection, giving it a good bite.

Subsequent deliveries have yielded us more pastas and sandwiches: Spaghetti & Meatballs ($13.25), Chicken Fettuccine Alfredo ($11.50), Penne Alla Boscaiola ($12.75), and Montreal Smoked Beef Panini ($12).

Penne Alla Boscaiola

As my friend noted, the Spaghetti & Meatballs — signature tomato sauce with two large beef and pork balls — was able to provide her with sustenance for three days straight, making their dishes a fantastic value. Even my Chicken Fettuccine Alfredo was hefty and split into a few meals. The sauce was creamy and all of the pasta was well-coated. The grilled chicken had ample flavour. This only thing is this option is not the healthiest by any means. It’s not as noticeable if eaten immediately after it’s made, but, rewarmed, the paper plate I had put my pasta on was just drenched in an abundance of oil that soaked through. Yikes! The latest pasta I tried was the Penne Alla Boscaiola. It consists of a rosé sauce. Basically this is the best of both worlds since it marries a traditional tomato sauce with white cream sauce, and I found this to be lighter than the alfredo. Copious thin slices of spicy Italian sausage had been placed into the pasta with mushrooms and peas dotting the pan as well. Again, there was plenty to spread this out over a few lunches.

Montreal Smoked Beef Panini

As far as Montreal Smoked Beef sandwiches go, this one hits the spot. It’s not outrageously stuffed with meat like the ones sold at true Montreal delis, but there’s just the right amount of beef. This one is supposed to be served with mozzarella, arugula, pickled eggplant, spicy pepper mayo, and mustard. I pretty much keep it as is. The only things I add are artichoke hearts and sun-dried tomatoes. The smokiness of the meat plays off the acidity and bitterness of the veggies while the sauces bring in a savoury-sweet combo and a little spice.

What I like most is that it never seems to take too long to get our food from Panini’s Italian Cucina. Despite the lunch rushes, we’ve received better service from them being fifteen blocks away on Jasper Avenue than from a restaurant that was literally a few blocks down the road. Everything I’ve had the chance to try from Panini’s has been better than expected, and I often find myself thinking about my next Panini’s lunch. When a single dish has the ability to cover multiple meals at such an affordable price, it’s a winner in my books.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Let’s Grill Sushi & Izakaya

Our table was full of dishes and plates!

Let’s Grill Sushi & Izakaya is the newest Japanese option in downtown Edmonton, and, after eyeing Instagram posts for a while, I finally made it there after work on an early Friday evening.

I had made a reservation for two people using the OpenTable app. When we arrived at around 5 o’clock, it turned out we were the first joining them for dinner service; the restaurant did start to fill up a bit as we dined. It’s a nice space with lots of warm woods and pleather upholstered chairs. They even have a decently sized waiting area, so it’s not cramped should there ever be a delay for a table.

The interior of Let’s Grill Sushi & Izakaya.

The staff on hand was minimal that night. There was only one server and a couple of other staff behind the bar (not including whoever was in the closed off kitchen). Still, the service was pretty good. My only issue is that the server became less attentive after dessert and it was actually difficult to wave her down for the bill. Perhaps that’s because this place is an izakaya. The whole point of casual pubs like this is the slower pace and the extended meal where shared plates are ordered throughout the evening. She may have thought we intended to stick around longer and that’s why she didn’t disturb us or ask if the bill was wanted right away.

In any case, we lingered at Let’s Grill Sushi for almost three whole hours. In that time span, we sipped on drinks (I stuck with a simple ginger ale for $2.75 with free refills) and snacked on a handful of dishes, including a complimentary salad, skewers, two rolls, hot stone meat, and something sweet.

Complimentary Noodle Salad

A cold noodle salad was brought over and offered on the house. We were told it was a refreshing bite to help cool off on a hot day. The noodles were slightly transparent white, not quite glassy, but not opaque either. They were slippery and a tad chewy. Topped with kelp and thinly sliced cucumber, it was super simple with a hint of acidity.

As part of happy hour (Monday to Friday, 2pm to 5:30pm), Let’s Grill Sushi offers a few different skewer options. We opted to try a half-dozen of the Honey BBQ Pork, which are usually $8.50 per order, but only $5 on special. Wings and Sapporo pints are also the same price. I’m so glad we tried these. The skewers were prepared very well. Most of the fat had rendered from the meat, leaving a small amount of juicy crispness on the pork. The well-seasoned meat was slightly charred, adding to the overall flavour before they were finally garnished with green onion and nori.

We split two of the maki rolls: Crunchy Spicy Salmon ($14) and Yellowtail Fry ($13). The reason why we went with the former off of the Chef’s Specials of the Week menu is because, unlike the tuna version, the salmon roll replaced avocado with cucumber instead. My friend’s sensitivity to the healthy, fatty carb is avoided when possible, and, rather than asking for substitutions, it was easier to try the Crunchy Spicy Salmon. I actually didn’t find these to be all that spicy. Although, I did like the texture, and they were the lighter of the ones we sampled. The Yellowtail fry consisted of the fish, cream cheese, jalapeno and shiitake mushroom rolled in rice and nori. The roll was then battered, fried, and drenched in sweet truffle mayo. While I did enjoy them, there was almost too much to take in at once.

The eatery features a few hot stone meat options, too. I remember going to a Japanese grill in Kyoto where my friends and I tried this fantastically tender beef tongue. When I saw the Premium Beef Tongue ($16) on the Let’s Grill Sushi menu, I thought it’d be great to give it a shot. In Japan, the beef tongue was served like a filet of meat. Here, they had thinly sliced the tongue like carpaccio. It allowed the meat to cook super fast on the hot stone slab. Unfortunately, it had a chewier consistency than I hoped for. Regardless, I loved the three dips (salt, ponzu, sesame-type sauce) provided alongside the tongue. Next time, I may go for their duck though.

Matcha Creme Brulee

Prior to even eating anything else, I already had my mind made up on dessert. Whenever Matcha Creme Brulee ($7) is on the menu, there’s no question. This sweet ending is made in-house. The only thing I would have preferred is a thinner sugar seal. My spoon practically bounced off the caramelized top with my first attempt to break through. A second harder tap managed to crack it. I tend to enjoy a lighter caramelization that provides just a little crunch while being thin enough to melt in the mouth as opposed to worrying about the deterioration of my teeth as I bite onto thick sugar. Thankfully, on the plus side, the creamy custard base had a strong enough matcha flavour; it’s the worst when places serve halfhearted matcha desserts.

 

Aside from the slow service that most of us aren’t used to, Let’s Grill Sushi & Izakaya definitely checked off a lot of boxes as a hang out to start the weekend. I do worry that maybe they’re attempting to do too many things on their menu, but we tried several items, and I found all of them to be satisfying to some degree. I was particularly happy with those skewers and the rolls. It’s also a huge plus that they offer happy hour and daily specials, so I’m excited to go back to take advantage of those deals again.