YEG Guide: A Day on 124 Street

Mural by Jill Stanton

Edmonton is a city filled with small pockets of community. 124 Street is definitely one of those spots. If you were driving by on a regular day, it might not strike you immediately as the place to be. It doesn’t have the same historic vibe of Whyte Avenue and it’s not situated right in the downtown core like 104 Street, but it is long-established, bridging the neighbourhoods of Oliver and Westmount as well as Glenora to the west.

I grew up around here, and it’s still one of my favourite areas to visit. With businesses lining the road all the way from Jasper Avenue down to 111 Avenue before turning primarily residential, there’s something for everyone who stops by.

Here are my recommendations for a day on 124 Street:

 

Breakfast or Brunch

The frittata with multigrain toast.

Urban Diner (12427 102 Avenue)

This is a staple of High Street. It’s a go to spot for weekend brunch with the line sometimes out the door. But, it’s hearty food that will fill you right up.

The interior of Canteen…very modern and industrial.

Canteen (10522 124 Street)

To be fair, I’ve only ever been here for dinner, so I can’t necessarily speak to brunch. However, their evening menu is fantastic and I’ve heard nothing but good things about the weekend fare.

Snickerdoodle, Strawberry Cheesecake, Birthday Cake, All the Reese, Ode to Sunshine and Triple Play

Destination Doughnuts (10548 124 Street)

If you’re more the type to get a grab and go snack for breakfast at Timmies, this might be for you. It’s just a much more indulgent version of the yeasty treat. Flavours like the Triple Play (hickory sticks, ripple chips, and caramel on chocolate glaze), Strawberry Cheesecake, or Snickerdoodle will have you coming back for more in no time.

 

Shopping

Arturo Denim (10443 124 Street)

My fiancé and I happened upon this workshop at random while walking along 124 Street one day. Turns out that they make denim jeans locally right from this small space. Upon purchasing, they will provide free tailoring to ensure a perfect fit. I mentioned the business to a friend of mine and she swears by them. They also sell some other vintage clothing as well as fun pins and patches.

Henry’s Purveyor of Fine Things (10247 124 Street)

This shop has been located around this neighbourhood for as long as I can remember. They provide interior design services alongside ample eclectic home decor to make your house a home. The styles on offer vary, allowing customers to mix and match to their own tastes.

Listen Records (10443a 124 Street)

This is a haven for LP lovers; the racks are stuffed with music from all genres. They sell both new and used items, and if you have anything you want to pass along, feel free to bring it by to see if they’ll buy it off of you.

Red Ribbon (12505 102 Avenue)

Open since 2002, founder and owner Rychelle has carefully curated her shop to include clothes, accessories, and gifts for women, men, and children. I have always loved poking around the underground store looking for a new treasure.

Salgado Fenwick (10842 124 Street)

Originally more of a market find, these small-batch silk-screened garment makers decided to open up a storefront about 4 years ago. Not only will you find limited edition printed tops and accessories, but you can also pop in for a coffee at Barking Buffalo Cafe, which shares the same space.

So Pretty Cara Cotter (10120 124 Street)

Previously, local jewelry designer Cara Cotter focused on growing her business internationally with by appointment only meetings available in her Edmonton studio. Yet, recently, she partnered with Pura Botanicals to open a joint flagship store. There, you’ll find beautifully crafted pieces made with semi-precious stones, solid 925 sterling silver, 18K gold, rose gold, and gunmetal vermeil (heavy plated over sterling silver).

The Prints and The Paper (10725 124 Street)

I love this shop! Looking for something unique for your home? This is the place to go. They showcase numbered limited edition silkscreen prints signed by the artist alongside vintage Edmonton imagery and maps. They can custom frame pieces for you, too. While you’re there, take a gander at their collection of books, travel guides, and cards. The center counter holds it all while allowing patrons to peruse at their leisure by providing stools along the perimeter for them to sit and flip through everything.

124 Grand Market

Located at 108 Avenue and 124 Street on Thursdays between 4pm and 8pm, this outdoor market runs from early-May to early-October. On Sundays from 11am to 3pm between June to September, the market moves to 102 Avenue and 124 Street. You’ll find a number of local makers setting up their tents every week. Everything from fresh floral bouquets to preserves and baked goods to clothes, there’s something to interest the whole family.

 

Midday Snacks & Treats

Key Lime Tart from Duchess Bake Shop

Duchess Bake Shop (10718 124 Street)

It’s impossible to make a list about 124 Street without including this world-renowned bakery. If you’re nearby, stop in to have a croissant sandwich for a light lunch, or pick up dessert. My personal favourite is the key lime tart, but their macarons and shortbread cookies are fantastic as well. On a hot day, pop over for a pint of their newly launched line of ice cream!

Cococo Chocolatier Bernard Callebaut (10103 124 Street)

Treat yourself to some Canadian-made chocolates and then sit down in their cafe over a beverage or a cup of gelato. It’s a relaxing spot with some free parking right in front.

Remedy Cafe (10310 124 Street)

One of Edmonton’s greatest success stories is this cafe. They’ve now expanded to 6 locations citywide, including their spot on 124 Street. Known for their chai lattes (I enjoy the lassis, too) and samosas, they also cater to those with food sensitivities and dietary restrictions by offering many gluten/dairy-free and vegan friendly Indian and Pakistani meals in addition to a variety of drinks and desserts.

 

Activities

Table Top Cafe 2.0 filled will customers on a Saturday evening.

Table Top Cafe (10235 124 Street)

Well-stocked with board games, this is the ideal spot to gather with friends and family for some old-fashioned fun away from electronics. For just $7 per person, you can stay and play for as long as you want. They even serve beverages (alcoholic included), snacks, and sandwiches to keep everyone energized. Plus, if you really love a game, they may have new packages in stock to take home.

Instagrammable Walls Walk

This area is home to a number of interesting and colourful murals. There’s one by artist Jill Stanton (10803 124 Street; see photo at the top of this post), another that maps the neighbourhood on the wall of Peter Robertson Gallery (104 Avenue and 124 Street), a third showcases the city skyline (108 avenue and 124 Street), and there’s also a geometric piece with animals tucked on the side of the building that houses Meuwly’s (10706 124 Street). You’ll discover many more photo ops in the vicinity. You just need to keep your eyes peeled for walls that can make good backdrops. They’re literally everywhere!

Gallery Tour

Sometimes 124 Street is called the Gallery District because, in the span of just a two-block radius between 103 and 104 Avenues, you’ll come across nine out of the ten located in this neighbourhood. Included are Bearclaw Gallery, Bugera Matheson Gallery, The Front Gallery, Lando Gallery, Lotus Cafe & Gallery, Peter Robertson Gallery, Scott Gallery, Udell Xhibitions, Wakina Gallery (10632 124 Street; may be by appointment only), and West End Gallery. Twice a year, seven of the businesses participate in an official Gallery Walk, opening their doors for a celebration of art. The next one is scheduled for Fall 2019 from September 21 to 22, but feel free to visit any other time during regular hours.

 

Dinner & Late Night

Dipping the Croque Mon’Soubise’ in sauce.

Partake (12431 102 Avenue)

Delectable rustic French cuisine in a cozy and inviting space. That’s how I’d describe Partake. It’s fairly new to the restaurant scene in Edmonton, but it was brought to life by the same owners of Urban Diner and the recently closed (lease was up) The Manor. They’ve got years of experience up their sleeves and the thought that they’ve put into this menu shows. Walk-ins only, so if you’re close, pop your head in and see if they have space to accommodate. You’ll certainly want to linger over the food and cocktails once you’re there.

Tagliatelle Florentine

Nuovo Bistro (10721 124 Street)

Want a hearty meal of Italian pasta? This is a great local spot. The dishes are flavourful and filling, and while the venue is small, it’s friendly. The place is also quiet enough to carry on a conversation while still being somewhat lively. They also have decent daily promotions such as half off appetizers on Sundays.

Super Combination Platter for Two

Cosmos Greek Kitchen (10812 124 Street)

Just get the Super Combination Platter. If there are three or four of you, go for the platter for two. It should be enough to feed everyone. Kirk and I ordered this for the pair of us and it fed both of us for almost three days!

Butter paneer (or chicken) is perfect during the winter months.

Nosh Cafe (10235 124 Street)

Right next to the aforementioned Table Top Cafe is this Indian restaurant. It’s my go to for a quick meal of butter chicken or palak paneer. They also have a daily wing and beer special that’s perfect for a midday snack.

The dining room of RGE RD.

RGE RD (10643 123 Street)

When you have time and money to spare, go here. Take the Road Trip, a multi-course meal that starts at $89 per person. The chef will take your palate on a journey from the east to west coasts of the country.

Arcadia Bar (10988 124 Street)

This is a very intimate bar with minimal seating. But, they stick to local brews and they’re open late Thursdays to Saturdays.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Cosmos Greek Kitchen

Calamari with Tzatziki

When I was planning a recent date night, I was looking to try someplace new. Cosmos Greek Kitchen popped up as a possibility. When I thought about it, Mediterranean cuisine seemed like just the thing to indulge in, so I made an OpenTable reservation for that evening and we head out to 124 Street between 108 and 109 Avenues for dinner.

Arriving at around 5:15pm on the Saturday, we noticed that the main door led to two separate sides. Cosmos Greek Kitchen was on the right with its sister lounge, Passport Restobar, on the left. Both share the same staff and kitchen (they were quite efficient), and they serve identical food items, but I believe the latter has more of a focus on cocktails.

The interior of Cosmos Greek Kitchen.

We went into Cosmos and found it to be rather quiet initially. However, we were early and, as we dined, the space filled up with more people, including a handful of families with small children. The host/server let us pick our own table while she went to grab menus. Once we settled in, it definitely felt like a comfortable spot for an enjoyable evening.

The two of us decided to go for the Super Combination Platter for two ($70) as it seemed to cover the gamut of menu favourites. Honestly, it did not disappoint in terms of the portions, selection and flavours.

Horiatiki (Greek Salad)

To start, we were served a bowl of Horiatiki (Greek Salad), which consisted of lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber, red onions, crumbled feta, and olives in extra virgin olive oil with dried oregano and maybe a little bit of red wine vinegar for added acidity. Traditionally, Greek salad is made without lettuce, adds green peppers and uses a large slice or chunks of feta cheese. I don’t recall seeing any pieces of pepper in ours and Kirk was hoping for more hefty pieces of feta rather than the crumble. Otherwise, it was still very tasty, light, and refreshing.

Calamari needs a squeeze of lemon juice!

At the same time as the salad was served, we were also presented with a large plate of Calamari. The deep-fried rings and pieces of baby squid were beautifully breaded to a nice crisp. The chef managed to keep the meat quite tender, avoiding the sometimes disastrous overcooked chewiness found at other establishments. A squeeze of lemon gave it a brightness on the palate and the house made tzatziki was the perfect accompaniment.

After indicating that we were ready to proceed with the rest of the platter, a huge silver tray was brought over with all of the remaining items for our meal. I will quickly mention that another portion of tzatziki is provided with the combo, but we both felt that it was unnecessary since we still had plenty left from the Calamari dish. Instead of a second helping of that, it would be really nice for them to swap that out with hummus. I didn’t think to ask if that was doable that night, but they might accommodate the request considering that the items are priced the same on the menu. It’s food for thought next time around. Also, it should be noted that pita bread isn’t part of the platter, so you may want to ask about adding that on as an extra.

Dolmathes in the round dish with Chicken & Lamb Souvlaki on the right.

It was difficult to decide where to start with the feast in front of us. I decided to sample the Dolmathes first. Those are vine leaves stuffed with rice and ground meat. They’re then covered in a lemony sauce. I vaguely remember going to a Greek restaurant (probably Koutouki) when I was a late teen and trying these. I think I attempted to unwrap the leaves because I didn’t think I was supposed to eat them. As a Chinese person, I was used to seeing sticky rice cooked in large leaves that weren’t meant to be edible. Knowing better now, I ate the whole thing and it was delicious. I actually didn’t expect it to have any meat inside, but it was a pleasant surprise to find that savouriness offset by the acidity of the creamy sauce on top.

Next up was the Keftedes, spicy Greek meatballs. These aren’t actually spicy in so much as having a kick of heat on the palate. They’re just seasoned with different herbs and spices to give it plenty of deep flavour. The finely ground meat was evenly textured for a nice mouthfeel. These are typically eaten with tzatziki, but that isn’t really needed. They’re good all by themselves.

Keftedes sort of hidden under all those diced tomatoes and red onions with the Spanakopita next to them and big pieces of yellow Greek lemon potatoes.

Spanakopita is one of my all-time favourite Greek snacks. Filo pastry stuffed with spinach and feta is simple, but delicious. This was a recipe I even took the time to make when I was young because I liked it so much. The filo pastry here was golden brown and incredibly flaky. My only issue with it was one end of the pie was all pastry with barely any filling. It was probably due to the folding of the filo to keep everything held inside the pocket. So, it was a big mouthful of thick pastry and none of the spinach or cheese. If they can find a way to make sure the filling is more evenly distributed into every bite, it would be even better.

Chicken and Lamb Souvlaki came with the platter. Often times most people don’t like lamb because of the wildness of the meat. It has a distinct gaminess to it, and when it came to the souvlaki, I found that it was relatively prominent. Nothing that bothered me too much since I often enjoy lamb. But, it was more pronounced and certainly not masked by the herbs used to season the meat. A couple of the pieces of lamb were a bit chewy as well as there was tendon running through. Otherwise, it was fine. In my opinion, the chicken was preferable. Well-seasoned and succulent, these felt like the lighter option when it came to protein.

The Souvlaki with slices of Lamb Souvla stacked underneath.

If you do want to try lamb at Cosmos Greek Kitchen, I highly recommend going with the Lamb Souvla over the souvlaki. A big portion of sliced roasted lamb laid beneath the skewers and it was wonderful. The wildness of the meat didn’t taste as strong and it was super juicy and tender with a fantastic zestiness coming from the marinade. A sprinkle of lemon and a dip of tzatziki made this a delectable treat.

Kirk and I loved the Moussaka, a layered casserole of potato, eggplant, and ground beef topped with béchamel sauce. It’s a really rich and filling dish, but it’s worth the calories. We especially appreciated the use of cinnamon (my go to spice) for the sweet-spicy combo that came through with flying colours. It elevates the dish into something special.

Moussaka

The final item on the platter was the Greek lemon potatoes. Kirk said he thought they were boiled and then roasted to get them as tender as they were. Either way, these were amazing. The potatoes were saturated all the way through with lemon and herbs. The flavour was in every single bite and I couldn’t get enough of them. It was literally the last thing I chose to eat from our main meal because I wanted to remember that taste.

“Coconut Cream Pie” dessert

Having sampled a little of everything in our combo, we finally called it and asked the staff to pack up what remained for leftovers (we had enough for another lunch and dinner for two). However, I wasn’t done. Since I was already there, I decided to go for dessert. Although my stomach had little room, I managed to pack away the majority of what I think is something like a Kadaif (I missed the name when the server was listing out the options). It was sold to me by being described as similar to coconut cream pie. Turns out that it was layered with a crust, finely shredded filo pastry, and whipped cream. A sweet syrup covered the plate. Not quite what I pictured, but it was still pretty good. I probably wouldn’t get it again as I wasn’t a fan of the overall texture. Yet, I’m glad that I opted to try something else other than the typical Baklava.

Super Combination Platter for Two

If you’re looking for a friendly Greek restaurant with, for the most part, authentic dishes, check out Cosmos Greek Kitchen. Don’t hesitate to order that super combo platter. The portions are worth the price and you’ll be basking in Mediterranean heaven for at least a couple of days, maybe more.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Gregg Mediterranean (Sherwood Park)

Lebanese Coffee with Baklava

While working on my YEG Food Deals project, I’ve made a number of connections with Edmonton and area businesses. One in particular caught my eye when they tagged my @yegfooddeals Instagram page in a post about their $10 lunch deals.

The share came from Gregg Mediterranean located in Sherwood Park (25 Sioux Road). I decided to reach out to them to discuss a possible collaboration. They replied, but I didn’t hear much after our initial conversation.

A week or two passed and I received a new message from the business asking us to come in and try their menu. Kirk and I welcomed the invitation, heading out one Sunday evening during that run of bitter cold weather caused by the polar vortex.

When we arrived, it was quiet; only one other table was occupied. The owner, Tamara, greeted and seated us right away. She gave us a few minutes to look over the menu and then came back to ask if we had any questions. Of course, I wanted to know what the most popular items were to help with my decision. To that, she replied, “would you like us to select the dishes for you?” Both Kirk and I are always up for an adventure, so we gave her an enthusiastic thumbs up.

Pickled Veggies

The first thing we received was a plate of pickled vegetables. These were likely complimentary because I do not recall seeing them as an option on the menu. Kirk seemed to enjoy them as he ate the majority. I sampled what I think was a radish, which I didn’t mind. It was very acidic and had an interesting texture from soaking in the brine. Definitely not crispy. The carrot was harder and didn’t take in the brine as much, so it still held some of it’s density and tasted less pickled overall. I guess, for me, they were a little too wet. I like drier pickled veggies like the carrots, daikon and cucumber on a Vietnamese sub or the diced pickled turnips we found on other dishes here.

Blue Hawaiian Cocktail

As we snacked on the veggies, we also sipped on our drinks. Tamara had suggested a Lebanese beer called Almaza ($6 to $7) for Kirk. It’s a basic pilsner that is light, ever so slightly bitter at the end, but otherwise smooth and easy to drink. I chose the Blue Hawaiian cocktail ($9). Presented in a tall glass, this blue drink was deceivingly strong. Granted, I drank it pretty fast at first, but the pineapple juice masks a lot of the alcohol, so don’t go too crazy on these.

Shish Combo with Rice and Garlic Sauce

Not long after, we were given our first main plate. This was the Shish Combo ($24) — a skewer each of the chicken, beef, and kafta — served on a pita with a parsley tomato mix and a side of rice. It’s a sizable amount of food that’s perfect for sharing, especially when you want to try a few different meats. The beef skewer wasn’t the most tender; however, it was nicely seasoned. My favourites were the chicken (charred and juicy) and the kafta. I wasn’t sure what to expect of the kafta, but the seasoned, minced beef was incredibly flavourful on its own. I tossed some of the homemade garlic sauce into the rice and I was in heaven. Some garlic sauces I’ve had in the past have been potent. Gregg Mediterranean has found a good balance with theirs. It’s creamy and tasty without being overwhelming. As far as I know, my body didn’t smell like garlic the next day.

As we were working on the skewers, Tamara came back with a Half Mezza platter ($24) that included four appetizers of Sujuk over Hummus, Falafel, Grilled Halloume Cheese, and Chicken Wings. I’m not sure if Chicken Wings are a regular Mediterranean dish. Either way, these were delicious. The zesty glaze was slightly sticky, but not heavy. The sauce kept the meat succulent and, even though there was cilantro on it, I didn’t even notice that the herb was there. I’ve seen halloume cheese more and more, but I’ve never really eaten it. It reminded me of the texture of Indian paneer, just grilled. I should have eaten it when it was warm. Although it was still good cold, I think it lost any elasticity it may have had as it sat out. Regardless, I sandwiched the cheese in between pieces of pita and smeared some hummus on it. The satisfying hummus was super smooth and creamy with a hint of spice from the beef sausage tossed on top. Falafel was not exactly Kirk’s cup of tea, but I quite liked the balls of chickpeas, fava beans, parsley, cilantro, and onion. They remind me of fritters, perfect for dipping in more hummus or garlic sauce.

Fattoush Salad

To accompany everything else, we also received a bowl of their Fattoush Salad ($10). A combination of fresh lettuce, cucumber, tomato, peppers, parsley, onion, and red cabbage tossed in a vinaigrette dressing and topped with pita bread chips, this was simple yet tasty. In particular, I was a fan of the crunch from the salt and pepper seasoned chips as they added extra texture and flavour.

Our meal was completed with a Lebanese Coffee ($3) for Kirk and two styles of Baklava ($5) for us to split. I don’t drink coffee, so I can’t say much about it. It smelled concentrated and was served in a small cup like an espresso. Kirk found it quite strong and didn’t need much of it. The desserts came as Asabeh, a finger-like pastry, and a more traditional Baklawa that’s layered. In the latter, the sheets of filo were wonderfully flaky before hitting a base of chopped nuts soaked in sugar syrup or honey. I tend to find this particular kind of baklava to be too sweet. I loved the Asabeh though. Here, the filo is stuffed with the chopped nuts and a bit of the syrup or honey and then rolled into a tube. There’s a lot less liquid and more of the pastry, so it’s well-balanced and less saccharine.

When we finished eating, Tamara sat with us and we chatted. Gregg Mediterranean has been in business for over four years. Sunday nights are slower for them, but that’s supplemented by deliveries through SkipTheDishes. Additionally, on weekends, they do a lot of catering. The whole thing is family-run with Tamara handling the front of house and her husband, Rakan, taking care of everything in the kitchen (he’s keen to keep the family recipes to himself for now). Their young daughter spends her time in the restaurant, too, giggling and having fun behind the counter.

As more and more chains come into Sherwood Park, they’re noticing an effect on the smaller local eateries, which is unfortunate to hear. Kirk and I honestly cannot wait to go back to Gregg Mediterranean. The hospitality that Tamara and Rakan showed to us is rarely matched elsewhere. For the value and quality of the food, Gregg Mediterranean far surpasses anything you’ll find at a big box business. I count myself fortunate to have learned about this restaurant and I will recommend them to anyone.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Mexico Lindo Tacos & Grill (Sherwood Park)

Our feast was enough to feed double the people!

I’d had my eyes on Mexico Lindo Tacos & Grill for a while now. The online reviews have been stellar. So, when I noticed that Groupon was, again, offering discounts on a meal for two, I decided to snap up a voucher. Kirk and I redeemed our deal in Sherwood Park on a Sunday night.

It’s a well-designed venue with a spacious, open layout. When Kirk and I walked in, I will say that I received a lot of extended stares from other patrons. I got the sense that they don’t typically see a lot of Asians dining there regularly. It felt a little awkward at first, but the staff were friendly (it’s clearly a family run business). In the vein of knowing a Chinese or South Asian restaurant is authentic when you see others of that ethnicity happily spending their hard-earned cash there, it was the same at Mexico Lindo Tacos.

Complimentary chips with dips while we perused their menu.

Once we settled in, we perused the menu. Although the beverages we saw at other tables looked wonderful, we opted to stick with water for the evening. Instead, we split a few dishes between the two of us, including the Queso Fundido ($16.50), Quesadilla de Tres Quesos ($8.50) with Al Pastor Meat ($4), and Tacos Dorados ($12.99).

I love a stretchy cheese pull, and the Queso Fundido with Mushrooms did not disappoint. I swear the layer of Oaxaca cheese was about an inch thick. The cheese combined with the sautéed mushrooms and homemade Mexican chorizo was deliciously satisfying, and plenty, if you want to make it a meal in itself. I do recommend that you eat this first and quickly. Once the hot skillet cools down, it’s not as good because the cheese will no longer be stringy enough to scoop out easily. I’d also suggest ordering extra flour tortillas because the three that come with the dish aren’t quite enough to go with the abundance of stuffing in the pan.

Quesadillas stuffed with cheese and Al Pastor pork.

You definitely get a decent value for your money at Mexico Lindo as the Quesadilla de Tres Quesos with Al Pastor Meat was huge. I was expecting smaller flour tortilla shells as I’ve had at other eateries around Edmonton, but the plate we received held two large 8 to 10 inch wide tortillas filled with a three cheese mixture and a generous amount of shaved Al Pastor meat. The vertical spit-roasted pork was super juicy and a little bit crispy on the edges. Served with in-house guacamole and crema, this was fantastic and perfect for sharing. With the two items that we’d tried so far, there was already enough food to feed about three people.

Tacos Dorados

To finish off our meal, we had the Tacos Dorados. Unlike the other dishes we had sampled, this was prepared differently. The corn tortillas were stuffed with chicken and rolled into tubes before being fried until a crunchy shell was created. The four tortillas were then covered with shredded lettuce, crema, and queso fresco (soft, smooth, mild unaged white cheese). I have to say that the chicken tasted a tad bland inside the tortillas, but was much improved as long as it was eaten with all of the toppings.

Fresh tortilla chips with salsa

Additional to the plates we chose, Mexico Lindo Tacos also provided complimentary tortilla chips with salsa and dips to start. The salsa was refreshing on the palate and the dips featured varying degrees of heat. All of them were excellent accompaniments to the rest of our items.

 

We enjoyed ourselves and the atmosphere (FYI, they also have live music on Saturday nights). Perhaps another outing is required to take advantage of happy hour on weekdays between 2pm to 4pm, or their many daily deals, which are always so tempting when they come up on my social media news feeds. This is a restaurant that I’d certainly be inclined to revisit as the food and service exceeded our expectations.