Edmonton Restaurant Review: The Writer’s Room

The drink menu and interior of The Writer’s Room.

For a restaurant that pays homage to authors, it’s a bit ironic to see that, depending on where you look, the name of the establishment is written differently: Writers, Writer’s, and Writers’. Because I’ve found the second iteration used the most on the main page of their website, it shall be known as The Writer’s Room.

Always a pub of some sort over the years, this Garneau (11113 87 Avenue) eatery is just a hop, skip, and a jump away from the University of Alberta. As such, upon my visit, I noticed that many of the patrons looked to be either students or professors. The menu, created by chef David George Husereau, takes that into account by elevating things like Kraft Dinner and Doritos into much finer fare. The prices are reasonable, too. Items range from $5 for snacks to $20 for a full main, making this place very accessible for the student crowd or those who just want an affordable night out.

The Grand Fizz Cocktail melted.

Additionally, The Writer’s Room offers daily happy hour from 3pm to 6pm and 9pm to close on a handful of beverages (they’ve also recently introduced nightly food specials). Although it wasn’t the best deal out of the bunch, I opted to try their Grand Fizz Cocktail (about $10.50). Honestly, it wasn’t what I was expecting. It came in a wine glass with icy slush that had clumped together into a larger chunk. I allowed it to melt, which meant the drink was rather watered down in the end. Perusing the drink menu further, there are definitely others that sounded better, but I selected this one on a whim.

Cup of Broccoli Cheddar Soup

To start, my friend and I both ordered the cup of Broccoli Cheddar Soup ($5). With a description of “natural ingredients” (what else would be used?) on the menu, it was decent. Not as creamy as I hoped it’d be, but relatively flavourful. It was topped with what appeared to be Melba toast and grated cheddar cheese like one might do at home.

Tater Tots

Everything else we selected, the two of us shared. First up were the Tater Tots ($7). Honestly, these were too expensive. They arrived in a cup the same size as the soup, so there weren’t a lot. These were covered in jalapeno nacho cheese sauce, chipotle sour cream, and green onions. I liked the sauce and sour cream; however, there wasn’t enough of it to coat all of the tater tots at the bottom of the dish. Without the toppings, they became rather bland.

Hoisin BBQ Chicken Tenders

Next were the Hoisin BBQ Chicken Tenders ($10). I pictured these being battered and crispy, but these were more like satay or kabobs with the chicken presented on skewers. It was uniquely plated though, I’ll give them that. The tray they came on had a reservoir for sauce in which ample spicy peanut sambal was provided for dipping along with sesame seeds and green onion. The meat was pretty tender and the sambal amped up the heat on the palate a tad.

The “Loco Moco” ($12) was fairly easy to split between two people as it came with two beef patties and two fried eggs atop nori and sticky rice with plenty of rich brown gravy. This is a contemporary Hawaiian dish, so it’s a bit of a surprise to find it on the menu. Aside from a poke bowl, there’s nothing else that screams Hawaiian sensibilities. Still, this simple recipe actually hit the spot. The fried eggs had beautifully runny yolks and the nori added an umami taste.

Crunchy Brussels Sprouts

Last, but not least, were the Crunchy Brussels Sprouts ($12). I get this veggie a lot when I go out. There’s just something about them that I can’t pass up. In the case of The Writer’s Room, I think they may have mastered the miniature cabbages. Cooked in brown butter and served with crisp pancetta, goat cheese, garlic, lemon, and mint, I was blown away by how good this was. A little bit of salt from the pork, slightly tart from the cheese, freshness from the mint, acidity from the lemon, and spice from the garlic married with the char from the sprouts themselves, these were to die for.

Shortbread

Dessert changes often. On this particular occasion, they had made Shortbread ($7). Layered in a jar, it felt more like a cheesecake with a shortbread crust to me. It didn’t have that buttery, melt-in-your-mouth cookie texture though. That was unexpected. Nonetheless, I enjoyed it. A pleasant finish to my meal without being overly sweet.

For the most part, The Writer’s Room is an excellent player in this area of the city. The ambiance was convivial while still allowing for easy conversation between tablemates. I found the service to be fantastic as well. The staff were friendly, checking on us regularly, but not too often as to constantly be interrupting. Sure, a few of the food items can use a bit of tweaking to really take things up a notch. Nevertheless, when you order the right dish here, you won’t be disappointed.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: The Melting Pot

Our spread of food for our main dishes.

A visit to The Melting Pot (2920 Calgary Trail) has been a long time coming. Like the French version of Asian hot pot, I was bound to like it. So, for my anniversary with Kirk, I made a date night reservation (through OpenTable; they also accept dining cheques) to mark our three years and counting together.

Our own private nook for two.

Our table was booked for 6:30pm. Yet, when we arrived, we still had to wait for at least 15 minutes after checking in before we were taken into the restaurant. I found that to be somewhat frustrating. While we stood by, I looked around at the lounge area. It has an open concept like most other restaurants. But, the middle of the tables held built-in hot plates to heat the food. Much to my surprise, when we were finally seated, we were taken past the wall of wine to the more private dining area. We went through what felt like a maze of little nooks until we were directed into a very intimate booth for two. Once we settled in, it felt very cozy. No one else was in sight and it was quiet.

Sassy Senorita Cocktail

We went through the drink menu. They didn’t seem to have a whole lot of beer options, so Kirk went for a couple pints of Big Rock Grasshopper ale ($8 each). I always tend to go the cocktail route, so I tried the Sassy Senorita ($11.50). It was light and refreshing with a berry finish.

The knowledgeable server gave us the details on how their menu works. You can order a la carte, or purchase an entrée that comes with a cheese fondue, salad, and dessert alongside the price of the main for a full four-course experience. We opted for the latter.

 

Although the Spinach Artichoke cheese fondue is their most popular, I was hoping for something where the cheese would be more prominent. We ended up going for the Quattro Formaggio. We watched as our server created the fondue right before our eyes (I never knew that wine was used as the base). He mixed and melted the ingredients all together until it was silky smooth. Flavoured with traditional pesto and sun dried tomato pesto, it was decadent. The cheese paired well with the apple, veggies, and bread provided, and, upon dipping, the cheese held on well to everything. We didn’t have to be concerned about any dripping off onto the table or our plates.

The salads that came after — Caesar for Kirk and Chevre Citrus for me — were rather petite. Considering the size, I felt like there was way too much of the dressing on mine. I did like the goat cheese and the dried berries though. Kirk’s Caesar salad was actually quite good with it’s use of pine nuts for texture.

Onto the main courses. Kirk selected the Alberta ($49.25), which consisted of Mushroom Ravioli, Memphis-Style Dry Rub Pork, Teriyaki-Marinated Sirloin, and Herb-Crusted Chicken. I chose the Steak Lovers ($59.25) entrée as it was all meat: Premium Filet Mignon, Teriyaki-Marinated Sirloin, and Garlic Pepper Sirloin. Taking into account that mine was a whole ten dollars more than Kirk’s, I think that I got my value out of it as the portion of beef was relatively generous. On the side was an extra helping of veggies (mushrooms, broccoli, and potatoes) for us to share.

The Court Bouillon broth being brought to the table.

With our emptied bowl of cheese now replaced with a pot of their standard Court Bouillon (seasoned vegetable broth), we got down to cooking. We were told to let the meats cook for around two minutes per piece; however, I know I let mine sit in the broth for longer at times. No food poisoning happening on my watch! Still, everything came out decently with the beef staying pretty tender. I also wasn’t sure how the rubs and marinades would fare in the broth, but the flavours remained prominent. For added variety, there were six different sauces provided. My fave were the sesame and curry. The goddess (with a cream cheese base) was great for stuffing the mushroom caps, too.

 

After polishing off our mains, all that was left was dessert. A pot of chocolate was dropped off at our table with a dish of fruit and sweets. We just started going for it without thinking. Turns out that our Flaming Turtle chocolate fondue wasn’t even complete. Our server returned to do the flambé and add in the caramel and nuts (supposed to be candied pecans, but they were out, so we took walnuts instead). I wasn’t a huge fan of the marshmallows or rice krispies. Nevertheless, the pound cake and fruit — bananas, strawberries, and pineapple — were delicious with the oozy chocolate. We also asked for seconds (free refills on the accompaniments are included) of the blondies.

Since it was our anniversary, the staff helped us to commemorate the occasion by offering us complimentary glasses of sparkling wine, which we had with our dessert. It certainly made for a memorable evening out to be wined and dined in this fashion. For a few hours we really got to focus on each other without any other distractions. While this isn’t necessarily a place to drop in for a quick, casual bite, The Melting Pot should definitely be in the running when there’s cause for celebration.

The Melting Pot offers a Crave Combo Menu for $29.95 before 5pm and after 9pm.

Edmonton Mini Restaurant Review: Two Sergeants Brewing

The entrance to the dining space of Two Sergeants Brewing.

Two Sergeants Brewing (11817 105 Avenue), situated behind the Brewery District, had been on my radar for a little while. But, it wasn’t until Yelp’s “Pursuit of Hoppiness” event, right at the end of April, that I finally visited. Kirk and I decided to attend this gathering as a push to get out to this venue (as well as out of the house), and it ended up being a lot of fun.

At Yelp’s “Pursuit of Hoppiness” event they had pinatas in the dining room.

You won’t find them smashing pinatas on the regular here, but you will find a very open space with large communal tables, and plenty of colourfully painted chairs. It’s perfect for large groups to hang out over more than decent pub-style grub and a beer or two.

Daily Specials including $5 flights on Thursdays.

A flight of four quarter pints of any of Two Sergeants Brewing beers is just $8 regularly, and, if you head over there on a Thursday, you’ll get the same for just $5. The four glasses are presented in an adorable miniature picnic table server. Personally, I didn’t mind their Chinook Oatmeal Stout; however, my fave from the sampling we received was the Passion d’Ale Belgian Wit for it’s crisp, clean, smooth drinking citrus flavour without the lingering bitterness. Kirk preferred the 17 Pounder IPA, ordering a full pint to go with dinner. It has a lower IBU, but it was still too strong of a finish for my liking.

To eat, we both opted to try their Homestyle Chicken Sandwich — recently increased to $14 — with hand cut fries (or house salad). The locally sourced chicken is soaked in buttermilk and fried to order, so it comes out fresh and crispy. Either available as classic or spicy, it’s then stacked with double smoked cheddar, coleslaw, and house made pickles on a sourdough bun. Both of us chose the spicy version, enjoying the mild heat from the chicken.

Homestyle Chicken Sandwich with Hand Cut Fries

What took the sandwich over the top was the house made pickles. Now, I asked for mine to be made without them because I’m not a fan of standard pickles. Yet, they still gave them to me, just laid on the side of my plate. The server explained that they were pickled jalapenos, so they thought I might still want to try them. Honestly, I did. I love jalapeno peppers, so I went to town putting those back into my sandwich. For the most part, all was well. I handled the spice from the chicken and the peppers like a champ…at least until I found a slice of jalapeno that still held more of the pith and rib of the pepper. My face lit up like a beet, probably, and I needed a few sips of Kirk’s beer to tone it down. Let’s just say that I wouldn’t get too far on Hot Ones.

The fries were quite good. Appearing in a small frying basket, the portion size was okay. They seemed to have been blanched to get that perfectly cooked center and that crisp golden brown exterior. Overall, they were a nice finish to the meal.

Art inside their venue is perfect for photo ops.

The owners of Two Sergeants Brewing have definitely put a lot of love into this place. The thought and detail that went into this location when they decided to move from Fort Saskatchewan to Edmonton is apparent. Hopefully, it’s the right thing for them in the long run. I know that it’s a great addition to the Westmount, Oliver and Queen Mary Park areas. More and more businesses are choosing to be present there and it’s community like that that is so important in this city. We’re definitely looking forward to returning this summer for good brews and food.

Edmonton Restaurant & Event Review: Beercade & Speed Puzzle Challenge

Beercade’s interror is made up of long tables for groups, a huge bar, and arcade games.

I’ve always loved doing jigsaw puzzles. There’s a joy in finding the piece that fits just right. They’re also incredibly engrossing in a way that’s so much more relaxing than staring at whatever I find on my phone. Consider them part of the slow living movement. The last time I could really remember putting one together, until recently, was at least several years ago. My co-worker would lend me puzzles that she’d already completed to feed my obsession. Sadly, my free time slowly waned to the point where I wasn’t really able to concentrate on them much.

Nowadays, as I often do, I found myself on Eventbrite scrolling through endless local happenings when I came across a listing from Beercade about their Speed Puzzle Challenge ($5 per person and the team gets to keep the puzzle). I wasn’t able to attend the next date; however, I always reminded myself to check back in the future. It was a while before I saw another. Yet, Table Top Cafe started running something similar about every two weeks earlier this year (alternating between both locations). My friends and I went to a single event there and I was hooked. I really enjoyed the competitive aspect of it, but, more than anything, I remembered just how fun puzzles can be. I’m currently working my way through nearly twenty that I’ve purchased over the past few months.

Welcome, Puzzle Players!

When the chance came up to check out Beercade’s version, I gathered a small team of four people (up to six are allowed) to attend. From what I understood, the organizers had previously gone with puzzles that had as few as 200 pieces and they had been incrementally increasing the difficulty ever since to find the sweet spot of something enjoyable yet challenging. On this occasion they decided to test out 450 piece puzzles instead. They also had someone from each group draw a number, which determined the puzzle received. Honestly, I thought that having different puzzles put certain teams at a disadvantage because some are definitely more difficult than others. Based on the groups who won the three prizes for finishing first, it was obvious that their specific Peanuts themed puzzle was a benefit.

Still, the four of us had a blast. I’d also never worked on a family-style jigsaw before. I probably wouldn’t choose to do those as an adult putting a puzzle together on my own. Nevertheless, the mix of large and small pieces for parents and children to work on as a family bonding experience is pretty great.

 

When we finished our jigsaw at Beercade, the staff dropped off ten tokens at our table, so we could play some of their arcade games. I’m terrible at those shooting ones, but I can appreciate a lit up pinball machine or the best air hockey table I’ve ever seen (Pac Man!).

Aside from the event and venue (decent atmosphere, lots of space, kind of dim), we also opted to eat dinner there. Being a Wednesday night, I had to try a burger because it’s hard to pass up a half price discount. Surprisingly, the Bacon Cheeseburger (regularly $9.75) was good. I wasn’t sure what to expect with the cost, but their kitchen makes a legit hand smashed patty topped with crispy bacon and they include all of the fixings. Sides are an extra cost though, so that’s where they can recoup some of their costs. At $4 for a basket of yam fries with dip, I thought that was a little expensive. On the other hand, they do give a big portion, so you’ll definitely leave full.

Full meal with a burger, yam fries, and a sleeve of Fruli.

To keep me hydrated, I ordered a glass of Früli, completely forgetting to tell the server (by the way, service is not prompt here) what size I wanted. I’m assuming I received a sleeve, not a pint. I also expected to pay at least $6.75 for that beverage. All in though, my bill was $15 after tax and tip. When I looked it over again at home, I realized that my beer was also on special, having only been charged a whopping $3.81. Stellar deal!

I’ve heard that Beercade is usually a chill spot to hang out until about nine o’clock. After that, it can turn into a bit of a zoo (assuming this applies more from Thursday to Saturday). If you want to avoid rambunctious crowds, I recommend visiting earlier in the evening. From this first experience of mine at Beercade, I’m absolutely feeling inclined to return, especially for another Speed Puzzle Challenge and a burger.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: The Workshop Eatery

Crispy Brussels Sprouts and Carpaccio started our meal.

Open for about three and a half years now, my first experience at The Workshop Eatery was about six months into their tenancy at the Mosaic Centre, which is located in southwest Edmonton at the entrance of the Summerside neighbourhood (2003 91 Street). My friend and I attended a Prairie On the Plate event, a special evening where a local restaurant whips up a multi-course menu utilizing ingredients from Taste Alberta‘s partners. I was impressed by the level of talent in the kitchen; chef Paul Shufelt had brought relatable yet elevated dishes to the far edges of the city.

Fast forward to present day. Despite the quality of the food that I ate at The Workshop Eatery back then, honestly, I didn’t go back. It crossed my mind every so often, but it was never at the top of my list. With so many other businesses launching throughout Edmonton, I was always just trying to keep up with the rest. Eventually, I made the decision to revisit this gem. On a recent weekend, I took Kirk out on a date.

I have to say that I made our reservation (using the YP Dine mobile app) somewhat last minute; I booked our table for a Saturday night on the same morning. Nevertheless, I was hoping for a better spot than what we received. Personally, I don’t think anyone should be subjected to sitting so close to the washroom. There’s only a single stall within the restaurant and it was situated a maximum of ten feet away from our table without any sort of barrier between us and the washroom door.

The dreaded table by the washroom…

Additionally, a small shelf was next to us with “clean” utensils laid out for the staff to easily grab upon having to reset the tables. It didn’t seem the most sanitary to have that within wafting distance of the washroom. It was busy, too. Over the hour and a half that we dined, guests came in and out of that washroom about once every four to five minutes. It was distracting and uncomfortable. I wanted to complain, but I didn’t want to ruin our night out by making a big deal about it. Also, looking around the space, I knew that there weren’t any other available tables that we could have been moved to without messing up their other reservations, so I kept quiet. In any case, that table made us feel like second class patrons. How they have not built some sort of wall to cordon the spaces off after all this time is beyond me. If they read this, I really hope that they take that suggestion into consideration.

Now that I have that off my chest, let’s get to the food and drinks. Firstly, the beer taps are few. They have focused on featuring draughts from Blindman Brewing. Kirk opted to try their IPA ($7.50). On the other hand, when it came to their mixed drinks and wines, they definitely offered a lot more options. As much as I wanted to try something (I had my eye on the Beets by JF cocktail), I chose to save a bit of money and stuck to the plates instead.

To share, Kirk and I started with the Crispy Brussels Sprouts ($10) and the Carpaccio ($18). For our mains, Kirk went with the Chicken Supreme ($33) and I selected the Duck Duck Couscous ($36).

Crispy Brussels Sprouts

I believe that the Brussels sprouts have been a staple of The Workshop Eatery for quite awhile. They were fried until every leaf of the vegetable is browned and crisp. I would have loved for there to have been more larger pieces of the sprouts, but the majority of the dish consisted of single leaves that had maybe soaked up a little too much oil as a few bites were slightly greasy. I did very much enjoy the Sriracha sour cream used as a condiment for the veggie though.

Carpaccio

For the most part, the Carpaccio served at The Workshop Eatery is a classic interpretation. The kitchen carefully placed thinly sliced Jeff Nonay Holstein beef as the foundation and then layered crispy capers, shaved pecorino cheese, flat leaf parsley, and anchovy vinaigrette atop the meat. On the side was a long house made cracker to be topped with each ingredient. What separated their version of carpaccio from others that I’ve had is their use of pickled shiitake mushrooms; they added savouriness, tang and extra bite to the overall marriage of textures within this plate. I ate the majority of this and I was completely satisfied.

Kirk’s Chicken Supreme entrée was surprisingly delicious. We cook chicken regularly at home, so it’s not a meat that I tend to lean towards when I’m going out for an indulgent meal. However, Kirk didn’t seem to mind ordering it. On this occasion, I think he made a really good decision. The maple-mustard brushed free run Morinville Colony chicken breast and thigh was incredibly tender and juicy with the flavour soaked right in and a slightly crispy skin. The puree of roasted squash beneath the chicken brought in some creaminess that worked as a “sauce” for the meat and the pillows of gnocchi, while the sweetness of the squash played well with the fresh corn and salty bacon. I was lucky to have snuck in a few bites of this before Kirk devoured the entire thing.

My Duck Duck Couscous was so good. With duck prepared two ways — Four Whistle Farm breast and duck & blueberry sausage — my taste buds got to switch things up throughout my main. Both were cooked perfectly. The duck breast was succulent and still beautifully pink inside. The sausage was thick and divided in two using a diagonal cut to show off the interior mix of ground duck and blueberries. Well-seasoned and moist, the hints of fruit paired excellently with the rich, somewhat smoky duck. To offset the meat, the duck was served with a hearty herb-raisin and almond couscous, smooth vanilla parsnip puree, and pops of pickled sour cherries for a world of textures and flavours that enlivened my palate.

Sadly, there was no room for dessert, but I’ll leave that to next time. I’m certain that, down the road, we’ll be back again (maybe for happy hour or brunch). I’ll just make sure to ask for a table that’s further away from the washroom. Other than that, we had a wonderful meal at The Workshop Eatery with mostly superb food and great service.