Edmonton Restaurant Review: Elm Cafe

The patio space outside Elm Cafe.

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

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

The tiny interior of the shop.

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

The day’s menu changes regularly.

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

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

My order packaged and ready to take home.

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

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

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

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

Livin la Sou Vide a Loca

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

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

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

Raspberry White Chocolate Scone

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

Salted Caramels

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

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Edmonton Restaurant Review: Brewsters

Tuna Burger with Tater Tots and the Blue Bison Burger in the background.

I regularly find myself scrolling through Instagram. As I work my way down the feed, I like and save posts that I want to remember. One such image showcased the featured ‘Worship the Burger’ menu that Brewsters offered until the end of September. Until then, I’d never dined at one of their restaurants nor had I planned to any time soon. Alas, photos of the Tuna Burger couldn’t be ignored. I made it a point of dragging my boyfriend to the Summerside location before it was too late.

The merchandise case had some fun branded products.

Walking into the doors, we were greeted by a wall of Brewsters merchandise and signage that indicated we could seat ourselves wherever we liked. We opted to sit in the lounge. There, we perched at a bar table by the windows that overlooked the patio. It’s pretty standard looking in terms of typical pub-like chains; roomy enough to get around the tables while still maintaining a variety of seating options to accommodate different sizes of groups. The bar is a good length with a few TVs in view as well.

Once we had settled in, our server came over to let us know of any specials before going to grab us some glasses of water. When she came back, we were ready to order. My boyfriend chose to go with the Blue Bison Burger ($17.99) and I stuck with my decision to try the Tuna Burger ($17.99).

Blue Bison Burger with Fries

As expected on a quiet afternoon, the wait for our food wasn’t too long. Although, the Blue Bison Burger showed up on a scalding hot plate, which was a sign that it had likely been sitting under a heat lamp to be kept warm. Still, the side of fries had a crispy exterior that gave way to a fluffy middle. They were quite delicious. The burger, on the other hand, was disappointingly made with a prefab bison patty. The free-range meat was packed too tightly to be considered remotely fresh. Despite that, it wasn’t completely dry after the cooking process. All too often, lean bison can lose it’s juiciness easily. This was surprisingly more succulent than I expected. Topped with smoked Gorgonzola, chipotle ketchup, mayo, caramelized onions, lettuce, tomato, and dill pickle, I thought it was quite flavourful. Smoky with some funk from the cheese, it was a decent balance of what could otherwise be strong or overwhelming profiles; however, my boyfriend would have preferred more of the Gorgonzola.

Sesame seed crusted seared Ahi tuna steak!

I’ve had my share of Ahi tuna burgers over the years. Many of them have been amazing, so it would take a lot to impress me here. Admittedly, the first thing that crossed my mind when I looked at Brewsters’ Tuna Burger was that it was too high to fit in my mouth. The slab of seared tuna was thick to begin with. Stacking it with four large wonton chips and a mound of green pea shoots made it even taller. For fear of having the roof of my mouth butchered by the corners of those crisps, I elected to remove them before I proceeded to eat. To be honest, the initial bites were a bit of a let down. The tuna seemed to be overcooked. My boyfriend sampled it and said it tasted like he was eating a salad in a bun as there were so many greens. Yet, as I kept at it, the rest of the sesame seed crusted Ahi tuna steak was found to be more than adequate; the fish was nicely seared on the edges as it remained raw in the middle. The flavours also improved, especially when I made sure to take mouthfuls of the tuna alongside the wasabi tartar sauce layered wonton crisps. Minimal amounts of the pickled green pea shoots helped, too. The chips were actually quite thin, so they were easy to break and less likely to scrape the insides of my mouth than I originally thought. In hind sight, it may have been fine to leave the wontons in my burger, but better safe than sorry. Overall, this was again a good balance. It veered towards being a healthier option than the other burgers on the ‘Worship’ menu. Well, healthy insofar as the tuna, lettuce, and shoots. Not so much when it came to the side of Cajun spiced tater tots drizzled in a hot sauce and sprinkled with green onion. As full as I was, I managed to polish the skillet of tater tots clean.

I kind of want this polka dot hat.

When it came down to it, I’d say that our experience was mixed. The Blue Bison Burger left something to be desired even though my meal turned out to be great. The service we received was friendly, if a tad slow when we wanted to pay our bill at the end. Brewsters certainly isn’t at the top of my list of places to revisit soon, but I’m not completely deterred either. Now that we know that their burgers aren’t hand-pressed using fresh ground meat, we can avoid those menu items and try something else next time. Live and learn, right?

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Chartier

Start with dessert first: Banana Phone on a vintage plate.

I follow a lot of Edmonton’s local and surrounding restaurants on social media. Included in the mix is Chartier, a French-Canadian eatery out of Beaumont. Known for their elevated take on rustic dishes, it wasn’t their regular menu that pulled me into their establishment. Instead, I was enticed by their weekly Tuesday night burgers, specifically the Fall menu from September 19 that was posted on Instagram.

Chartier has a great story. Starting with the name, owners Sylvia and Darren Cheverie dug into the history books to learn of a man named Father Morin who travelled to Ottawa from Alberta in 1895 to petition for a post office to be placed in the small French colony from which he came. In order to do so, he needed to present potential names for the community. Of the three possibilities, ‘Beaumont’ is the one that stuck. ‘Chartier’ went unused until the couple launched a Kickstarter as a way to fund their dream of opening a local eatery. It ended up becoming the most successful restaurant campaign in Alberta and Canada on the crowdfunding platform, raising over $107,000 in just two months.

Approximately one year after they had raised the money, the restaurant opened in March of 2016 to rave reviews of chef Steven Brochu’s offerings. Another year and a half later, Chartier was listed as one of 30 finalists vying to become Canada’s Best New Restaurant for 2017 by Air Canada. That accolade, along with a unique, limited-edition menu, spurred my first visit.

My boyfriend and I drove from south Edmonton to downtown Beaumont within 20 minutes. There were no problems finding free on-street parking right outside the building, so we made it there for our 6:00 pm reservation (booked online through Yelp) with a few minutes to spare.

Entering through their threshold, you’re welcomed by a cozy waiting area that houses a cabinet of their own pantry items and branded products. Immediately past that space, a large bar and dining room is to be found. On this evening, the majority of their vintage, colourfully painted mismatched chairs were already filled with happy people. We were seated at a table for two near the kitchen. There, I was able to take peeks at the chefs as they worked. I also took my time appreciating the design of the venue. With cinnamon-maple stained columns and beams as well as reclaimed wood paneled walls, and a large barn door, that country charm really came into play.

The Fall Burger Menu

To get the night started, my other half ordered one of the draught beers. It seems that they only have a few on tap. Therefore, the choices were minimal. But, it’s okay because he still found a new beverage to try. As he waited for his drink to come, the two of us paged through a handful of sheets printed with their menus. To be honest, I barely even glanced at their usual dinner selection. Although, I will have to make a point of coming back to sample it down the road. My mind was completely set on those burgers. Of the four options, we decided to split the Messy Bun and Uggs ($21) and the PSL ($20).

The Messy Bun and Uggs was described as a six ounce sheep burger stuffed with bacon and cheese. It was put onto a house made messy bun (basically a cheese bun) and topped with smoky BBQ sauce and caramelized onions. Overall, it was well-made; both of us appreciated the juiciness of the meat and the barbecue flavour. Yet, it felt as though something was missing. Ultimately, it came down to the taste of the patty. The meat lacked that gameyness that is so strongly associated with sheep or lamb, and while it’s not always a palate pleaser for some, that’s what we had expected and wanted out of the meal. As it turned out, the burger simply tasted like beef.

Our side for this main was the Salade de Chartier. Tossed arugula, spinach, kale, pickled Brussels sprouts, and red onions were combined with roasted root vegetables in a peach maple mustard vinaigrette and topped with finely grated Sylvan Star Grizzly Gouda and candied walnuts. It was certainly a hearty salad, but I thought it started to become too salty. Sure, there were plenty of flavour profiles throughout the dish — tangy dressing, sweet walnuts, bitterness from the greens — but they were all overtaken by that single note in the end.

PSL with Wedge Fries

Our favourite of the pair of entrées was the PSL burger. Short for Pumpkin Spice Latte, I felt that this was where the kitchen’s creativity really excelled. The PSL consisted of a six ounce beef patty covered with whipped pumpkin chèvre, cinnamon, truffle, onion relish, sautéed mushrooms, and roasted garlic. It was literally autumn in burger form. What amazed me most was the fact that none of the flavours overwhelmed the others. I was able to pick out every ingredient with each bite that I took; I thought it was superb. In particular, I loved the use of cinnamon. I learned long ago that cinnamon is an amazing spice that can be used in all sorts of recipes to give them that je ne sais quoi quality. Here, it helped Chartier raise the pedestal of what a burger could be while simultaneously remaining down-to-earth. The side of hand-cut wedge fries were also delicious. Crisp on the outside with plenty of fluffy potato on the inside, I couldn’t stop eating them.

Banana Phone

Having reviewed the desserts earlier in the day, I knew I couldn’t leave without ordering one. We elected to go with the Banana Phone ($11). As I suspected, we chose well (our server even agreed that it was her preferred plate). Toasted banana bread served with brûlée banana, banana cream, and a scoop of tonka bean and Tahitian vanilla ice cream, this was worth the extra calories. Being easy to come by, bananas, which are often eaten as a quick snack, aren’t usually given lofty goals. But, in this instance, they were everything. I will admit that the banana bread was initially drier than I would have liked; however, the ice cream and the banana cream sauce quickly mitigated that potential misstep. What I truly appreciated was the simplicity of the banana halves torched with a thin layer of crunchy caramelized sugar. The sweetness wasn’t overwhelming; it was just right.

Now that I’ve actually eaten there firsthand, I can say that the praise they’ve received is deserved. Not only is the food at Chartier top-notch, I’d say the service is as well. The staff is welcoming, friendly and team-oriented.

Before we even left, my boyfriend was already planning our next date night at Chartier. As such, it’s safe to say that we’ll be back. Perhaps I’ll even attempt to drop by on occasion to pick up some baked goods from their bread window. From what I understand, they open the window strictly on weekends from Friday to Sunday. Yet, lately, on Instagram, I’ve noticed photos and posts about their lineup during the week as well. Either way, they’re definitely doing a good job of drawing me in again.

Until next time, Chartier!

Edmonton Restaurant Review: The Stone & Wheel Pizzeria

Gooey, cheesy pizza!

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

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

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

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

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

The interior of the establishment.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Their logo emblazoned window.

Edmonton Restaurant Preview: Salz

One of the main dishes.

This past weekend, my boyfriend and I attended a Sunday pop-up dinner. In preparation for the anticipated fall opening, owner Nate Box decided to run an event to get Edmonton foodies excited about his latest business, Salz. It will be the youngest sibling to his current trio of eateries — Elm Cafe, District Cafe and Little Brick — and the focus will be on pickles, bratwursts and beer (or, as the logo says: Brine, Bier, Brats).

The meal was presented at District Cafe with chef Allan Suddaby at the helm. For about $20 per person, diners were treated to a starter of pretzels with honey mustard, a main dish of our choice of one sausage with house pickles and German salads, and a dessert of apple strudel. Extra sausage was just $4 for one or $7 for two. Drinks were also an additional charge.

To make the most of our night out, we opted to split all three sausage flavours (Classic, Käsekrainer and Spicy Hungarian) between us by tacking on a second bratwurst to one of our orders. My boyfriend also ordered a pint of the Blindman Saison to pair with his dinner. Box’s plan is to serve German/European-style beers made by local brewers.

While we waited for our entrees, we snacked on the pretzels. These were puffy, but also dense. They had been brushed with a bit of butter or oil on the top and were just a tad salted. The accompanying honey mustard was the perfect dip to go along with them. My only wish is that these had arrived at the table warm. Had they been fresh from the oven, it would have elevated them that much more.

My dinner and my dining companion.

Before we knew it, our sausages were placed in front of us. The plate itself consisted of my Käsekrainer, coleslaw, potato salad, tomatoes with pumpkin seeds, pickled beet and cucumber, macaroni and cheese, and a whole grain mustard. All of the salads were unique, yet each one complimented the others. The coleslaw was fresh, crunchy, and easily, the most subtle of the bunch. The potato salad had a light, creamy dressing and dill sprinkled throughout. My favourite was probably the baby tomatoes with the pumpkin seeds though. The seeds must have been roasted or toasted, giving a smokiness to the sweetly tart tomatoes. I also appreciated their version of mac and cheese. It could have been served hotter as I found that the sauce seemed to have curdled slightly at room temperature. Still, it was packed with cheese, and I couldn’t really complain. Compared to the creamy honey mustard we had with the pretzels, the whole grain mustard, with yellow, brown and black seeds intact, packed quite a punch with a lingering pepperiness. I loved it.

Sausages galore!

Granted, the sausages weren’t super strong in terms of taste, so I could make an argument that too much of the mustard would almost have masked the flavour of the bratwurst. The Käsekrainer was a pork sausage stuffed with Sylvan Star gouda. It fell in the middle in terms of juiciness. The cheese certainly helped it to retain some moisture. It reminded me of when I was younger and I got to eat Mitchell’s cheese smokies. The Spicy Hungarian was a mix of pork and beef, and it happened to be the smallest and driest of the bunch as it must have shrunk during the cooking process. Any expected heat, or hints of pine and citrus from the Szeged hot paprika spice and marjoram herb didn’t really come through. Hands down, the best of the trio was the Classic pork sausage. It was the perfect example of why one shouldn’t mess with a good thing. Succulent and plump, it was truly delicious.

The meal was completed with a dessert of apple strudel and fresh whipped cream. I have to say that I wasn’t all that impressed with it. Mainly, I was not a big fan of the layered filo pastry shell. In this instance, the sheets didn’t flake apart as I assumed it would, and the sugar on the top could have been caramelized more. The whipped cream was divine though.

For the most part, the two of us thoroughly enjoyed the Salz Pop-Up Dinner. I took my time savouring every single bite, and I’d do it all over again. The details of the actual restaurant — location, opening date, hours, menu, etc. — have not been released. I’m hoping all of that information will be presented sooner than later. When it does launch, I think they should stick with the beer hall pricing. They should even have a set menu available like the one we experienced this weekend. Not only was it affordable, but it also gave diners a chance to try a little of everything. I’m wishing Nate Box and his team the best of luck as they prepare for this new addition.