Edmonton Restaurant Review: River City Revival House

Taking Care of Brisket with CeeLo Green Beans

Having lived in Edmonton for my entire life, I’ve only ever been to the Starlite Room once, and that was probably already a decade ago, if not longer. Unsurprisingly, I was pretty much unaware of Brixx Bar & Grill, which used to occupy the basement space. Quite frankly, I wasn’t sure about the idea of setting foot into the building outside of the evening hours of a concert.

However, about a year ago now, it was announced that the underground venue had been transformed into a new restaurant and bar called River City Revival House. The menu, with dishes cleverly named after bands and artists, was created by Red Seal chef Felicia Winston. I was intrigued, but I didn’t make it there until this March when they participated in Downtown Dining Week (DTDW).

Sadly, my co-worked and I didn’t actually get to enjoy the DTDW menu. When we arrived at around one o’clock on a Wednesday afternoon, the place was packed and the people ahead of us were still waiting for seats. It was clear that the kitchen wasn’t prepared for the onslaught of customers and they weren’t properly staffed either.

Still determined to try it, I made plans to check it out in April. On this occasion, I phoned ahead to ask if reservations were necessary at lunch, and I was told that it’s typically not that busy, so it shouldn’t be a problem to just show up. Sure enough, my friend and I ended up being the only ones there. As we picked out a table, the server went to get us some menus.

Apparently, River City Revival House must have been busy the night before because they were out of a number of things (green bean salad, tomato soup, and yam cheesecake; the latter may have just been removed from the menu though) I had been hoping to eat.

Ultimately, my companion went with The Smokey Robinson Club ($18) and fries. I opted to try the B.bq B.urger K.ing ($16) with the Soupersuckers side — it includes a bowl of homemade soup and a half order of KoRn Bread.

The Smokey Robinson Club with Fries

I sampled a bite of the Smokey Robinson Club. This consisted of smoked chicken breast with roast garlic aioli, bacon, lettuce, and tomato on sourdough bread. The toppings were fresh, the bacon crisp, and the smokiness from the preparation of the meat had saturated well into the chicken and balanced with the roast garlic spread. The fries were also thick cut and blanched, so they were soft on the inside and perfectly browned on the outside.

B.bq B.urger K.ing

My B.bq B.urger K.ing burger was a little bit too well done on one side. Yet, overall, it was nicely cooked. The eight ounce beef patty was clearly made in-house and was pleasantly thick. With a good sear, it managed to hold most of the juices inside the meat. It was dressed with the same roast garlic aioli as the club sandwich, lettuce, tomato, caramelized onions, cheddar cheese, and ancho BBQ sauce. Everything was placed between a classic toasted bun. This turned out to be a super satisfying burger in terms of taste and texture.

My burger with the Beef Taco Soup and Jalapeno & Cheddar KoRn Bread

Since the kitchen was out of a lot of the things I had wanted to order, they were really good about making it up to me. Instead of getting the tomato soup, I ended up going ahead with their daily creation, which was a Beef Taco Soup. And, rather than a half order of their KoRn Bread, they gave me three slices of the jalapeno & cheddar version to snack on. Honestly, it was way more food than I should have had. But, I pretty much ate it all. The soup wasn’t as hot as I would have liked, yet it was incredibly hearty with plenty of flavour, cheese, and sour cream to give it a smooth and indulgent consistency. The jalapeno & cheddar KoRn Bread was just a tad crumbly while still moist enough to hold together with each bite. There was just a hint of heat to appease those who want some spice without being too overwhelming for those who aren’t fans of chili peppers.

We left River City Revival House having really enjoyed our meal. So, the next time I was making impromptu lunch plans with a different co-worker, I suggested we go there as well.

On this second visit, it was still far from busy. Yet, there were definitely more patrons than before. A few solo diners/drinkers were hanging out at the bar (there are outlets along the entire thing in case you want a place to work and relax) and a couple of other tables were occupied, too.

There was, again, just one staff member working the front of the house, so service was somewhat slow considering that there were at least five times as many people there as my previous drop-in. He was just as friendly though.

My friend chose the vegetarian Portis-Bello Burger ($14). Unfortunately, I can’t say much about it. All I know is that she said it was sort of difficult to bite it apart with her teeth since the portobello mushroom patty was whole, and she ended up cutting it up into bite size pieces with her utensils. Nevertheless, she said it was tasty. Based on the description, it’s quite similar to the burger I had the first time, minus the BBQ and aioli sauces. The cheddar was also switched for the mild and nutty Swiss cheese that likely played off the earthiness of the mushroom better.

Taking Care of Brisket sandwich

I stuck with the sandwich menu once more, selecting the Taking Care of Brisket ($15). This is a combo of smoked brisket finished in a Sea Change Brewing braise topped with ancho BBQ sauce, sauteed mushrooms, caramelized onions, and Swiss cheese on a brioche bun. It was decent. I felt that it could have used extra meat and more mushrooms. For added texture, a crunchy coleslaw would have been lovely as well.

CeeLo Green Bean salad

That day, they did have the CeeLo Green Bean salad available, so I upgraded my side ($2) to have that as a healthier alternative to fries. The portion size was way bigger than I expected. It seemed like a never ending bowl of fresh, crisp green beans. These were coated in a refreshing lemon mustard vinaigrette and tossed with cherry tomatoes, toasted almonds and feta cheese. A very simple recipe, but one that certainly hit the spot when it came to my craving for veggies.

When we paid our bills, the server gave both of us punch cards (disappointing that I didn’t get one when I dined the first time). For every nine sandwiches purchased at lunch, you’ll earn a tenth for free. That’s incentive to go back, for sure. Plus, they have happy hour specials Monday to Friday from 3pm to 7pm and all day Sundays.

Happy Hour at River City Revival House

I have to say, River City Revival House is much better than I ever expected it’d be. It’s also so close to work that it’s a great alternative to our usual haunts. My only wish is that they’d better staff the place for the times that it does get a bit busier. I’ve noticed that, due to the slower service, it has been difficult to make it back to the office within the hour we have for our break. Regardless, it’s clean, comfortable, and the food is good, so, no doubt, I’ll be returning.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Kanu Cafe

My dinner consisted of Coconut Chai Latte, Creamy Mushroom Soup, and Spring Gnocchi.

With a menu inspired and conceptualized by plant-based American celebrity chef Matthew Kenney, Kanu (pronounced kuh noo’) Cafe opened in Edmonton this past fall. Taking over the space previously occupied by the short-lived Monument Coffee Bar on the southwest corner of Jasper Avenue and 108 Street (at the base of The Mayfair building), the interior has had a bit of a face lift. Otherwise, it’s fairly similar with its center counter and two walls of windows that offer plenty of natural light.

My friend and I had planned a catch up over dinner last month. When I arrived at around five o’clock that weeknight, it seemed that the reservation I had made on OpenTable was unnecessary. The place was so quiet. Less than a handful of tables were occupied and I wondered if it was always that way.

The service was good though. We were given info on their new happy hour specials (available Monday to Friday from 3pm to 6pm) and recent updates that had been made to the menu before we were left to make our decisions.

Our Coconut Chai Lattes

I contemplated ordering one of their signature cocktails, but it felt like more of a day for comfort food and beverages. In the end, both of us opted to try out the Coconut Chai Latte ($5.75). It arrived piping hot in a decently sized mug. A pretty plant-themed dusting of cinnamon decorated the foam. The tea had a lovely flavour that was well-spiced, a little creamy, and the coconut was actually quite prominent. It’s a bit expensive, but, honestly, most places are charging at least five bucks for a latte nowadays.

Creamy Mushroom Soup

For my supper, I chose to go with two smaller dishes. The first was the Creamy Mushroom Soup ($6.50). This was made with coconut cream, mixed mushrooms, wild rice, local herbs, and toasted kombu (kelp) oil, so it was both gluten and nut free. I’m a sucker when it comes to mushroom soup, as long as it’s actually thick and smooth. There’s nothing worse than a watery concoction. No need to worry about that here though. Kanu Cafe did a great job with their recipe. Although it wasn’t really hot enough, the base was pleasantly creamy. There were also plenty of mushroom varietals to provide a satisfying chew and ample texture. It probably could have stood as a light meal on its own.

Spring Gnocchi

My second plate was the shareable Spring Gnocchi ($13.25), which had just been added to the menu. While the dish cooled quite quickly, the overall taste was superb. The crispy yet pillowy pieces of potato pasta were served with peas, pea tendrils, pistachio, spinach and nettle cream, and sunflower Parmesan. It was deliciously savoury and, at the same time, a little bit earthy with the fresh greens shining through on the palate.

Key Lime Pie

As I’ve come to learn with my friend, she’d much rather eat dessert than anything else when dinnertime hits. This particular night was no different. In this instance, she picked the Key Lime Pie ($13.75) and snacked on it throughout our visit. No doubt about it, this raw, gluten free Kanu Cafe treat was beautiful to look at. The presentation was spot on with it’s deep green colour contrasted with what I believe were dried red flower petals, chunks of almond ginger crumble and citrus glass. To say the least, it was an interesting dessert. I didn’t have a chance to sample the crumble or citrus myself, but I had a couple of bites of the key lime filling (made with avocado) topped by lime gel with the pecan and coconut crust. I found the filling to be way too pudding-like as if it didn’t have the time it needed to be properly set. It also didn’t have enough of a lime flavour and it was rather grassy. Lastly, for the price, it was quite a petite portion. I suggest that the kitchen consider making these into smaller two-bite desserts at a lower cost to justify the existence of this dessert.

Coconut Cream Pie

In contrast, my serving of the raw and gluten free Coconut Cream Pie ($14) was huge. It was about the same width as the Key Lime Pie, but probably three times taller. The creaminess and density of the filling was perfect, too. The only downfall was a too thick macadamia crust along the edge. That, and, after a point, the coconut flavour got a little lost behind the more distinguished taste of banana.

For the most part, I enjoyed my meal at Kanu Cafe. I definitely think that the restaurant does a good job of making people forget that they’re eating a meal devoid of meat since the dishes are still rather gratifying. However, it’s not often that I walk into an eatery and find myself paying more for a dessert than for the rest of my food. Perhaps more work goes into making the desserts than I realize, but it’s an odd thing to see, especially when more restaurants cap the cost to around $10. That’s something that I think they should address. Regardless, I felt that Kanu Cafe offered a number of options within a reasonable price range alongside educated customer service in a comfortable atmosphere, and that may just do the trick in bringing this usually carnivorous girl back.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: DIE PIE

Die Pie Vegan Pizzeria

DIE PIE (11215 Jasper Avenue) entered the Edmonton food scene back in the fall of 2017 as the first plant-based pizzeria in Alberta. I was intrigued by the notion of a vegan restaurant attempting to circumvent the average Albertan’s love of meat, meat and more meat on what is a beloved meal for most. Don’t get me wrong, a well-made vegetarian pizza can be quite satisfying, but I’m not going to lie, 95 per cent of the time, any pizza I order is going to have chicken, bacon, sausage, beef, or prosciutto on it. It’s just a fact.

Yet, the time had come for me to delve into the offerings at DIE PIE. After a late afternoon bridal event, my friends and I were looking for a spot to eat downtown. This place came to mind as it’d been on my evergrowing list of eateries to try for a while. When we arrived, it was prime dinnertime on a Friday night, so we were told that it would probably be at least a 30 minute wait. We opted to put our name down on their list. In the meantime, we planned to find a table at another nearby restaurant to grab some drinks or snacks. However, as luck would have it, a few customers departed as we were about to leave and we managed to snag three bar seats.

The bar at Die Pie

The space itself is small and simply decorated; they’ve kept things minimal, mural wall notwithstanding. The service at the bar was decent as we were given menus and water quickly, and our questions were answered informatively. Our orders were also put through relatively fast once we had made our decisions. Eventually, a table opened up and we were given the choice to move, which we happily accepted for ease of conversation among the three of us.

Where I think I started to get frustrated was with the wait for our food. It took close to 40 minutes before our items finally made it out from the kitchen. Is that normal for DIE PIE? Is it because vegan food takes that much longer to prepare? Do they make the pizza dough from scratch as soon as your order is placed? I have no clue. Either way, if you ask me, it was just too long. Thankfully, I was in good company, so I didn’t dwell on the time all that much. Still, it’s something that DIE PIE should be more cognizant of.

In the end, was the wait worth it? Honestly, I don’t think it really was.

Mac & Cheese

One of my friends ordered the Mac & Cheese ($19). It’s described as a combination of cheddar sauce, pickled baby jem tomato salad, shallots, “bacon” breadcrumbs, and aged cashew parmesan. Maybe it was creamier as soon as it was dropped off at the table, but when I sampled it, I didn’t find it had a great texture on the pasta and I didn’t think it was cheesy enough. The “bacon” breadcrumbs were a nice addition though. I also made sure to try a pickled baby jem tomato. It was plump and juicy, but surprisingly spicy. For a second, I thought maybe it was a chili pepper disguised as a tomato. My guess is that they pickled it in spiced brine as that’s the only explanation for the heat. Anyway, it was an interesting take on mac and cheese that I’m not super keen to go back for.

Pierogi Pizza

My other friend settled on the Pierogi Pizza ($20) with the regular crust — gluten-free is an option for $2 more — as it’s one of her favourites at Boston Pizza. Now, if I’ve had BP’s version before, it’s been years, if not decades (did they even have it on the menu decades ago?) since I would have eaten it. Therefore, I really didn’t have a standard to compare this to. I thought it was good though. The crust of the Neopolitan-style pizza is very thin, crisp along the edges, and chewy in the middle. So, plus one for DIE PIE in that respect. The toppings of cheddar sauce, shaved potato, feta, sour cream, green onions, and “bacon” parmesan worked here. It very much tasted like pierogi fillings without being too heavy.

Black Garlic & Truffle Pizza

I’m always a sucker when it comes to menu items that mention truffle, so I had my heart set on the Black Garlic & Truffle pizza ($22). It consisted of hemp havarti, wild mushrooms, and mustard greens (more like a spring mix). I didn’t particularly like the texture of the vegan cheese and most of the pizza was made up of undressed salad. The wild mushrooms, few as there were, were probably the best part in terms of heartiness and texture. For flavour, it came down to the black garlic and truffle, which was good, but not enough to save this creation. In my opinion, it certainly doesn’t warrant the highest price tag on the pizza menu.

While I found the staff to be friendly and attentive, at least when it came to filling our water glasses, overall, DIE PIE isn’t a restaurant that would pull the carnivorous me back. Perhaps I don’t appreciate what they’re doing because I’m not an actual vegan. Yet, I’m all for veggie dishes when they’re done well. Based on the regular menu items that we selected this time, I can’t say that I was wowed at all. I really wanted to like the food, but personally, I won’t return to DIE PIE to spend my hard earned money there again.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Tokiwa Ramen

Goma Goma with Kaedama

I’ve been on a bit of a ramen kick lately. I’ve always enjoyed ramen, but it’s not something I regularly order at restaurants. Still, after a couple of visits to the newly opened Menjiro Ramen, I decided that I finally needed to try Tokiwa Ramen.

Well aware of the existence of Tokiwa Ramen since they were introduced to Edmonton, surprisingly, I’d never managed to eat there. The owners run the shop daily; however, they’re only open until the prepared broths are sold out. As such, any time I’ve been nearby the location situated in the Brewery District, I’ve been welcomed by a “No Soup” sign.

Determined, I told Kirk we’d be making the trek from South Terwillegar to Oliver early on a Sunday morning. Many people on social media had suggested arriving before the doors are unlocked at 11:00 am. Therefore, we showed up fifteen minutes ahead. We got a parking spot right in front of the restaurant, so we decided to stay in the car until a few other patrons started lining up.

Tokiwa Ramen seats about 30 people at a time.

About seventh and eighth in the queue, we were easily within the first round of customers to be served of a long line that went eastward down the length of the strip mall. The minimalist space seats approximately 30 to 35 people. By our calculations, with most guests staying for an hour or so, and Tokiwa Ramen typically closing before dinner, we estimate that they sell up to 150 to 200 bowls a day (we are guessing though).

That number of bowls is no small feat when you account for just how big the portions are. Kirk and I ordered our food, and, as we waited, we watched other people’s orders coming from the kitchen. Our jaws dropped at the sheer size of each dish. They were at least a third larger, if not more, than what we had been served at Menjiro. Considering that the prices are the same, the value at Tokiwa is definitely a huge plus.

Kirk selected the Spicy Miso broth ($14.50) for his brunch ramen. This consists of a six hour chicken soup served with pork charshu (braised pork), noodles, half of a boiled egg, wood ear mushrooms, micro greens, bean sprouts, Shanghai bok choi, and a lotus root chip. The menu is explicit about the spice being moderate, and it’s true. I finished off Kirk’s soup, and I can attest to the fact that it’s not going to burn off your taste buds. The heat is very pleasant and manageable on the palate.

Initially, I was tempted by the curry ramen listed on their features board. Ultimately, I thought it’d be best to stick with their standards on my first visit. I opted to go with the Goma Goma ($14) found on their regular menu. While it comes with pretty much the same ingredients as the Spicy Miso, the differences are in the soup and the meat. Unlike the other, the base is a ten hour creamy sesame pork broth and the pork meat is chopped rather than braised and sliced. The soup was incredibly savoury (more so than the chicken broth) without being overly salty. I loved the variety of textures throughout the bowl, including the bite of the thick noodles, which held up well while soaking in the broth as I slowly ate. My only complaint, and it’s a minor one, is that the ground pork is harder to devour. The bits of meat fell to the bottom of the bowl and the style of spoon provided doesn’t make for easy scooping. Otherwise, this was fantastic.

Goma Goma with extra noodles!

Between the two of us, we also shared a side of Kaedama ($3.50), a noodle refill, thinking that we would require extra. In the end, we polished the bowl off, but, honestly, it probably wasn’t necessary. The regular bowls of ramen already provide plenty of food. Therefore, I recommend waiting to see if the regular portions will be enough for you before deciding to add noodles.

Those people outside waited in line for an hour.

Tokiwa Ramen is the real deal. I now completely understand why people are willing to line up for an hour to get a bowl of their soup. They don’t half ass anything. Instead, they have chosen to hone their skills on doing a few things amazingly well. The owners have stuck to their guns by refusing to compromise on the quality. Their passion for their product definitely shows. Once you try it, I guarantee that you’ll be hooked. If you could read my mind, you would find out that half of the time I’m literally thinking of when I might get my next bowl of Tokiwa Ramen.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: OEB Breakfast

The entrance to OEB Breakfast.

Maybe I’m a little bit sheltered. After all, I’m not in Southern Alberta all that often, and, until a location opened here around the end of October, OEB Breakfast wasn’t on my radar in the least. But, supposedly, this Calgary-born restaurant is quite celebrated in and out of it’s hometown. OEB, which stands for Over Easy Breakfast (kind of redundant with the second “Breakfast,” no?), decided to expand north.

The owners insist that the business open only until 2:45pm daily to emphasize the importance of the first meal in the day. It’s often one that I skip (I know…). Nevertheless, I’m a sucker for things like bacon and poached eggs when I do partake. Since the breakfast/brunch joint was introduced to Edmonton, my social media feeds have been littered with droolworthy images of their food on a regular basis.

From what I gathered, OEB Breakfast was apt to get busy quickly on weekends. So, I was prepared when making the trek there myself. With an 8:00am start on Saturday and Sunday, I insisted that Kirk and I arrive early. If needed, I’d join the Yelp Waitlist on the way there. The service is a tool that the eatery utilizes to mitigate a giant crowd at their doors. Ultimately, it wasn’t necessary for us, but it’s good to know that it’s available.

The interior is definitely egg themed.

We made it to OEB Breakfast just before 9:30am and, thankfully, there was no line up. A table had just cleared and after a cleaning, we were seated to the left side of the entrance towards the far end. A large mirror hanging on the opposite wall allowed me a view of the rest of the space. Bright white throughout with shots of orange and sunny colours as well as egg themed light fixtures and giant rooster/chicken sculptures. The kitchen was completely open to the elements.

As we eyed the menu, I observed how many early risers there were. Pretty much every seat was occupied and they had gotten there well before us. I don’t often drag myself out of the house before ten o’clock on a weekend for anything. It seems that OEB Breakfast was an exception.

Mimosas!

Our server came over to take our drink order. I had my heart set on a mimosa. Coming with either orange, pineapple, grapefruit, or mango juice, they were a steal when priced at $5 a glass. Sadly, I was told that they didn’t yet have their liquor license, so they weren’t able to serve their listed alcoholic beverages. I do hope that this is no longer the case, considering it has now been two months since our meal. Anyway, with that realization having sunk in, I then proceeded to ask them about their juices because sometimes a glass of fresh squeezed juice is ideal. But, at $5.50 for an order, it better truly be fresh. To that, I was told that the juice is fresh; however, it’s not prepared there. They get it delivered from another company. That was kind of weird to me. If you don’t squeeze it yourself, how do you know it’s actually fresh? Learning that, I just opted out of drinks entirely and we both sat there with cups of water.

The selection of food is fairly extensive, ranging from standards to a number of breakfast dishes with twists. Broken out into categories like Farm Fresh, Blue Plate Specials, Breakfast Poutines, Benny’s, Omelettes, Sandwiches, Sweets, and Sides, there’s something for everyone. Kirk tends to go for more traditional options. This time though, he surprisingly got something other than a classic breakfast by ordering the Pulled Chicken Frittata ($19). I’d heard that OEB Breakfast was famous for their poutines. Therefore, I chose the Gold Digga ($20) and I added the Chicken Blueberry Bangers ($4).

Pulled Chicken Frittata

Starting with the Pulled Chicken Frittata, this was not served open-faced like it should have been. It was still folded like an omelette. The smoked chicken was more plentiful than I thought, but it tasted rather bland and there was definitely not enough fresh mozzarella. Severely under-seasoned, if you ask me. The best part was the semi dried tomatoes because they provided a shot of concentrated flavour. It came with a slice of toast, hash browns, and prettily presented fruit. In my opinion, this frittata isn’t worth ordering again.

Chicken Blueberry Bangers

My Chicken Blueberry Bangers, sourced from Spondin, Alberta, were lean and subtle in taste. I guess a plus was that they weren’t salty. My main issue was that they cooled incredibly fast. I stopped to take a couple of photos of the food and the sausage had lost all heat by the time I cut them open a few minutes later.

The Gold Digga Breakfast Poutine was the best thing I had, and I now understand why those bowls are so popular. They’re probably the best bang for your buck at OEB Breakfast. With huge portions and quality, premium ingredients, they are delicious to a point. In particular, the Gold Digga comes with poached eggs (soft is the only way to go), herb potatoes, Quebec cheese curds, bacon lardons (the online menu now lists Berkshire roast pork…not sure if that’s a recent change), black truffle, and hollandaise. I have to say that, upon reaching the bottom of the dish, I found the flavours sort of tiresome. At the beginning of my bowl, I was impressed by the rich truffle, creamy hollandaise, and perfectly fried bacon lardons. It eventually just got to be too much of the same. Regardless, if I return to OEB Breakfast, the Hog & Scallops poutine is the next on my list to try.

When our meal was over, only an hour had passed. Yet, due to the cold weather, the doorway was jam packed full of people who took up every nook and cranny they could find. There was no allotted waiting area taken into account when building the restaurant, leading to an incredibly crowded zone that would probably be considered a fire hazard. Guests, looking to stay warm inside while waiting, encroached on the personal space of diners seated around the front. I’m so glad that we hadn’t been given a table in that section.

It was a challenge to pay the bill, too. Servers do not bring machines to your table to take payment. You have to take your bill to a counter, inconveniently set up to the right side of the eatery entrance. That day, there was no way to get to it by going past the kitchen (too busy with staff), so we squeezed past all of those people at the door. In all honesty, it crossed my mind that it’d be so easy to dash and dine there. Of course, we would never, but seeing as how we literally had to pass by the exit to get over to the counter, and there were all of those other people blocking us from view, it would have been a piece of cake.

We did it though. We made it to the other side and someone showed up right away to put our charges through. The staff member thanked us for visiting, and we then happily squeezed back through the onslaught of patrons to breath some crisp, “fresh” downtown air.

I definitely found OEB Breakfast to be a hit and miss on this occasion. Based on this single experience, I can’t say I’m as in love with the place like so many others seem to be. Nonetheless, I’m not going to completely write it off. Perhaps a weekday visit is in order. It’s only a couple of blocks from my office and they actually take reservations during the week. Should a Saturday or Sunday drop-in be required, it’ll be planned for the early morning to avoid the wait and the throng of other people.