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: 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: Menjiro Ramen

Menjiro Ramen’s mural; I did not win the contest to fill the speech bubbles.

I’ve been running my YEG Food Deals pages on this site for over four years now and, having expanded to sharing information on social media, I’m finding that more and more businesses are starting to reach out to me on their own. In the case of Menjiro Ramen, their sister restaurant Jang (also new) is the one that direct messaged me through Instagram.

On Monday, December 17, Menjiro Ramen would be having their grand opening. To celebrate, they were running a week-long special for $10 noodle bowls. Kirk and I actually attempted to visit on that first day. However, to avoid disappointment, I phoned ahead when I got home from work to see if we should bother to drive over.

Turns out, they had literally just sold their last bowl of soup. I followed their Instagram page over the next few days and it seemed that they were consistently selling out. It wasn’t until Saturday afternoon that we managed to make it there and snag some noodles for ourselves.

Menjiro Ramen’s Menu

Unlike most other shops, Menjiro Ramen only serves soup made using chicken rather than the usual pork. For that initial visit, we were told that we only had the option of their Tori Paitan, a creamy broth. That was okay with me since I had my eyes on the Black Garlic, which uses that soup base, and Kirk ordered the Spicy Red ($10 each that day). They were short of the pork shoulder that typically comes in each bowl as well. To replace that, we would receive pork belly instead.

It didn’t take long for the kitchen to prepare our meals. Both bowls came out piping hot. I sampled Kirk’s Spicy Red. It literally had a deep orange-red colour to the soup. I sampled the broth by taking a couple of sips. Personally, I found it a tad too spicy for me. It had a very peppery finish that lingered at the back of my throat. I don’t really enjoy heat like that as it’s sort of irritating. It did taste pretty good though. I simply wouldn’t be able to have a whole bowl of that in a single sitting.

I thought my Black Garlic ramen was a lot more manageable. The broth may have been saltier and grainier than I’d prefer, and I was a hoping for more noodles. Yet, I thought the texture of the noodles was al dante with a nice bite. I also loved the pork belly and the chicken seemed to be well-seasoned. The marinated egg and pieces of bamboo shoot were delicious ingredients.

This art cracks me up.

Being so new, I wanted to see if a second visit a few weeks later would make a difference. We stopped in again for lunch on another Saturday, making sure to arrive shortly after opening to get the best selection. Menjiro Ramen was only half full, and I had noticed on their social media that they were no longer posting about being sold out, so the restaurant must not be as busy as when initially launched.

On this occasion, Kirk and I both opted for the creamy broth-based Spicy Miso Ramen ($14.50 per bowl). We also started with a plate of the Cheesy Takoyaki ($6.50).

Kirk tried the takoyaki, but he didn’t love them. He found the texture of the interior was too smooth and the exterior wasn’t crispy enough. I’m not entirely sure what Menjiro Ramen uses for the center. Traditionally, takoyaki is made with a wheat-flour batter and it’s filled with octopus, green onion, tempura crumbs, and green onions. When there was octopus lacking, these were quite mushy on the inside. Overall though, the mouthfeel didn’t bother me. They fit my memory of the takoyaki I’d eaten from markets in the past. I imagined it was an incredibly creamed potato. The octopus pieces were apparent and I liked the consistency of the shell. What really improved them was the melted cheese. Honestly, cheese makes everything better, and it did its job in this particular case.

The Spicy Miso Ramen hit the spot. I feel like maybe the portions were somewhat larger than with the discounted bowls offered during their grand opening week. Then again, the bowls they used to serve the ramen were different (specific dinnerware for specific menu items), so maybe it was a visual trick. One thing I noticed was that the bowls, sadly, didn’t have any bamboo shoots this time around. Pork shoulder was in-stock though, so we got to try that. Not my favourite. We both liked the pork belly better. Additionally, I thought the chicken was a little more bland than before. Kirk commented that his soup wasn’t hot enough, temperature-wise. And, I will say that the space loses heat every single time a customer enters, especially on chilly days. On the other hand, the temperature of mine was fine (I can’t deal with scalding food). Whenever I pulled noodles from the bowl, steam came wisping up. The intensity of the spice was much more pleasant than the Spicy Red, too.

I don’t regularly go out for ramen, so it’s hard for me to compare with the several other places in the city. Still, on their own merit, Menjiro Ramen’s chicken-based broths are quite satisfying and, between the two visits, the service has been great. The business is also a welcome addition to the far south side of Edmonton, an area that was previously lacking a more than decent ramen spot. Hopefully this location continues to fit that bill.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Prairie Noodle Shop

Prairie Noodle Shop’s custom interior

About three years ago, I had the pleasure of attending a Get Cooking event where Prairie Noodle Shop‘s upcoming business was showcased. I was really excited to get a legit ramen restaurant with an Albertan twist. Their dishes were going to incorporate freshly made noodles while utilizing local meats and produce to infuse flavours familiar to our region. From the beginning, they’ve largely stuck to that formula, and I’ve been a fan ever since.

Sadly, I don’t make it to the eatery on 103 Avenue and 124 Street as often as I used to. But, I really wanted Kirk to try it for once. So, we stopped by approximately a month ago to give the menu a once over during lunch. To start, we chose to sample the Baowich (2 for $10) and Dumplings (6 for $12). Each of us also got a bowl of the Spicy Garlic Miso Pork Ramen in Broth ($17).

The Baowich were interesting since I’m so used to other places serving their bao with a single steamed bun being topped with filling and then folded for consumption. Here, they sandwich the ingredients between two steamed buns. Thankfully, the amount of filling inside the sandwich provided a decent ratio to the bun. If there was too much bun and not enough of the selected pork belly, I would have been disappointed. The pork belly was covered with their house sauce (no idea what this is made out of), pickled and fried onions, and shredded lettuce. This made for a good combination of textures and it had that umami flavour. My only wish was that the pork belly would have been cut a tad thicker and cooked until a little bit more crisp.

Featured dumplings by Gourmai.

I’ve previously posted about a Dumpling Pop-Up by Gourmai. The chef is better known as Mai Nguyen. She supplies all of the featured dumplings on offer at Prairie Noodle Shop. The day we were there, the dumplings weren’t the most adventurous. Still, we decided to try the half dozen chicken and veggie selection. They were quite voluptuous and juicy with beautifully seared skins from being pan fried. The dipping sauce gave them an extra shot of flavour without over-salting the dumplings. If you are ever at Prairie Noodle Shop, ask about the day’s feature. Mai makes every single dumpling by hand, and they’re delicious.

Now to the best part, the ramen! Their Spicy Garlic Miso Pork Ramen is my absolute favourite bowl to get at Prairie Noodle Shop. The roasted pork belly is essentially the same as what we had in our Baowich; however, when submerged in soup, it doesn’t matter so much about how crispy the meat is. It also comes with smoked and pulled pork, sweet corn, sesame seeds and their umeboshi egg. The soup itself is pork-based and full-bodied; the flavour profile is amplified with miso, garlic, and a house made chili oil that adds a kick of heat at the back of the throat without becoming overwhelming. Their noodles have a nice bite to them (never overcooked), and that seasoned umeboshi egg is to die for.

Fire & Ice and Black Sesame Ice Creams

We finished off our lunch with their Fire & Ice and Black Sesame ice creams ($4 each). The Fire & Ice was a combo of two different flavours: one sweet and one that was sort of peppery. I was intrigued by the idea of the duo and I was the one who decided to order this, but it wasn’t our cup of tea. Partly it was to do with the texture. It reminded me of when I leave a tub of ice cream in the freezer for too long and the cream starts to separate and rise to the top. It gets thick and goopy. That’s what this felt like. I even asked the server if that was normal. It sort of seemed as though she wasn’t sure what to say. In the end, she told us it might be that any fruit puree in the ice cream that wasn’t mixed in well enough might have frozen into clumps and produced that texture. I can’t verify it, so I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt there. The Black Sesame was much better. The flavour wasn’t as saturated as other black sesame ice creams I’ve had in the past though, so it could use some improvement as well.

After serving the city for the past few years, I can safely say that the petite Prairie Noodle Shop continues to hold their own where it matters. The ramen is just as tasty as I remember it to be when they first opened and the service is commendable, too. I hope that they will always strive for that same consistency with their broth, noodles, and personability for many more years to come.

Edmonton Bakery Review: Cinnaholic

What’s inside the box?

Cinnaholic is an American-based franchise that introduced their first Alberta location in Edmonton this past spring. Opening to much fanfare in the downtown core (the Mayfair on Jasper building at 10075 109 Street), the promo of $1 cinnamon buns for the first half of their launch day had patrons lined up all the way down and around the block. Even though my co-worker and I had plans to take advantage of the deal, there was no way we would get away with staying in line for what would likely be a few hours. We turned right back around, leaving empty-handed.

Cinnaholic’s menu is quite extensive when building your own bun.

Fast forward to early fall, and a few of us decided we’d treat ourselves to a lunchtime dessert. We walked over to Cinnaholic once more. This time, it was a normal business day for them and it was a lot quieter. The most difficult part of the process when ordering your cinnamon bun is choosing from the 18 icing options and 24 topping selections. However, the cost is no joke either. The Classic Old Skool Roll with Vanilla Frosting is $5.50. Modification to the icing is going to be an additional 50 cents per flavour. Additionally, every single topping chosen is another 75 cents each.

Their showcase has a number of suggested buns.

My friends went all out with theirs. I kept mine fairly simple by swapping out the vanilla frosting for what I think should always be the regular accompaniment to a cinnamon bun, cream cheese frosting. To top it off, I picked a cookie dough topping. All in all, I expected that this would total about $6.75 plus tax. However, it was a little less, ringing in at only $6.25 as though the switch to the icing was free.

They can get quite elaborate.

As a bonus, I do recommend signing up for Cinnaholic’s rewards card. For every dollar spent, you’ll earn points, and those points can be redeemed for discounts. You’ll also get periodic offers for free toppings, etc. Best of all, with my first purchase, I was able to save $3 off of my bill, making this treat significantly more affordable that day.

Once our orders were placed, it didn’t take the staff long to prepare our buns. They carefully packed them up in paper bags, so we could take them to go. As soon as we returned to the office, I opened up my box to take a look. Honestly, the dessert looked a little worse for wear. I guess the heat from the cinnamon bun had melted the cream cheese icing and caused the cookie dough to slide off. It certainly wasn’t as pretty as what I’d seen of other purchases on social media. Still, the biggest test came with a tasting.

I was the last to try my Cinnaholic bun out of my friends since I decided to eat my real meal first. From their desks I heard them say that theirs were good, but super sweet, so I got a little bit apprehensive. When I finally began to take bites of mine, it was no longer as warm (I was too lazy to walk to the microwave to heat it quickly). And, although the bun itself felt fresh, because Cinnaholic uses all vegan recipes that are dairy, lactose, egg and cholesterol-free, the dough was somewhat dense. It, unfortunately, doesn’t become as airy and fluffy once baked as one might be used to.

In terms of the frosting, it was sugary to the point of the granules being evident, and, while I do believe that cream cheese icing is better than vanilla, I’m not sure it was immediately discernible that what I was tasting was supposed to be cream cheese flavoured. The cookie dough topping may have been the best part of the cinnamon bun. It was malleable and I scooped up dough to spread onto each piece of bun as I ate.

Cinnaholic’s interior is bright.

Personally, Cinnaholic wasn’t my favourite. I’d much rather get my usual cinnamon bun from Cinnzeo. Those are tried and true and they never disappoint. Still, I do feel that Cinnaholic serves a niche market for those who may have food intolerances. That’s the clientele that they were created for, and it’s nice that customers have this option. It’s just not going to be my top pick, and I likely won’t continue to go out of my way to visit Cinnaholic often.