Edmonton Business Review: Awake Coffee House

The cafe side of Awake Coffee House.

I’ve been on a bit of a coffeehouse kick lately. They’re just really great places to go for meetings, and, since I’ve had many a get together over the past month, it’s ideal to have multiple options. One that I visited recently is called Awake Coffee House. Located at 11029 9 Avenue, it’s easily accessible for those on the south side. If coming from the Henday, just exit on 111 Street heading north, and it’ll be the first turn on the right hand side.

When my fiancé and I drove up to the building on a Saturday afternoon, it was incredibly quiet. The parking lot only had a few cars in it. We also immediately noted that it was attached to Twin Brooks Medical Clinic. Upon walking into the actual coffee shop, I did take in the clean, modern space of the cafe, but I also thought that the pharmacy on the other side was a bit odd.

The spacious seating area separates the cafe from the pharmacy on the other side.

The medical clinic has a door that connects into Awake Coffee House, so that patients can easily come in and put through their prescriptions. While that’s convenient, I have to say I’m not super keen on hanging out in a cafe where there’s greater potential of people who have succumb to illness hanging out there. Yet, that is apparently a strategic business decision of the Song sisters who own both the cafe and the pharmacy. As registered pharmacists, they wanted a more welcoming spot for people to wait as their prescriptions were being prepared. While I see it from their side, it’s not exactly my cup of tea.

I really liked the touches of mint/teal throughout.

Luckily, it was pretty empty that day. We were able to sit almost anywhere we wanted to. Some of the tables were more communal. Others were smaller and could be grouped should that be required. They have a suitable selection of beverages. In my case, I ordered a Small Chai Latte ($5), which was presented in a larger than expected simple teal mug. I found that to be a nice touch since the colour matched the rest of the design scheme seen throughout Awake Coffee House — greys on the floor, natural woods on the tables and counter, whites on the seats and lights, and teal/mint on the stools and chair bottoms.

Small Chai Latte

I’ve read mixed reviews about the drinks served at Awake Coffee House with the majority of the negative coming from around the time they opened over a year ago. Most people cited watered down beverages. This was my first and only visit so far; however, based on my Chai Latte, I think they’ve made improvements because it was really good. Not only was the size decent for the price (most places charge a similar amount for this beverage), but it was incredibly flavourful. They certainly didn’t skimp when preparing the latte. It also had a pleasant amount of foam action on the top and they dusted it with an extra helping of spice before serving, adding to the overall taste once it was all stirred in.

There’s a wall of greeting cards near the door.

Awake Coffee House also makes bubble waffles on the weekend! I refrained from getting one this last time. Nevertheless, it’s on my list of things to try when we return. I have my eye on the dessert style Pina Colada Bubble Waffle that I saw on their Instagram page a while ago, so I hope they keep it on the menu. Although I probably won’t be back super often, when and if I do go, I’ll probably stick to weekend afternoons, especially Sundays when the clinic isn’t open. For a germaphobe like me, it’s just preferable. Otherwise, there’s no denying that Awake Coffee House is super cute, and the idea behind it is certainly commendable.

Edmonton Business Review: The Colombian Coffee Bar & Roastery

It’s hard to miss The Colombian when driving west on Stony Plain Road.

Today, I thought I’d give a shout out to The Colombian Coffee Bar & Roastery. Those who know me well may be wondering why I’d be so bold as to write about a coffee shop when I don’t actually drink the beverage. Yet, this relatively new business is located in my old neighbourhood of Glenora and I thought I’d shine a light on it. Situated on 134 Street and Stony Plain Road, it sits right next to Vi’s for Pies, an area favourite.

When Kirk and I arrived at The Colombian on a Sunday afternoon, they were just a couple of hours away from closing up for the day. The place was packed with the majority of tables already taken. It’s a very long, narrow space, and they’ve done a pretty good job with it, so it doesn’t feel tight and claustrophobic. The high, open ceilings painted white definitely help. Otherwise, it’s pretty basic with minimal colours, simple wooden tables, chairs and benches, and industrial style pendant lighting.

The narrow space of The Colombian’s interior.

Once we ordered our drinks and my snack, we, at first, sat along a bench that faces their store shelves. T-shirts, cups, and bags of their house roasted coffee were up for grabs. It was sort of an awkward spot though. With tiny built-in tables, it kind of reminded me of the pop-up desks found in auditorium classrooms throughout university. Eyeing an empty back corner with a bench and a big tree stump table, we made a beeline for that instead.

Although there is a decent amount of seating in The Colombian, I don’t believe it’s necessarily meant to be comfortable. The solid benches are hard and most of the chairs are more like miniature stools without backs, offering little to no upper body support. Maybe that’s on purpose. Maybe it was just a cost saver. Regardless, I got the sense that the setting was more conducive to quick stays.

Drip Coffee and a Chai Latte ready to go, if needed.

Still, I enjoyed our time there and would be very interested to see how their coffee is made (the back of the shop is cordoned off and that is where they roast). Kirk ordered a simple Drip Coffee ($3.75 for a large). It smelled lovely, but he admitted he overdid it on the milk and sugar, so the true flavour was masked. Therefore, I can’t even give a proper second hand account of the coffee. From what I’ve read of other reviews, they have plenty of fans, so I’d recommend trying them out for yourself, if there’s an opportunity to go.

I sampled their Chai Latte ($5.50 for a large). It’s somewhat pricey; however, it was brewed and mixed with the milk well. Served at the perfect temperature for me, I thought the spices they used were super flavourful. They even garnished the light foam with extra cinnamon to give it some added oomph. I appreciated that as a serious cinnamon lover.

For those who are just hanging out with friends and would prefer something stronger, they offer a few draughts on tap and house wine. The options are few, but at least they are there.

As for the food, I’ve heard that they make a mean avocado toast. Personally, I’m a a tad weary to order it because there’s cilantro in the recipe, and I don’t want to throw $7 down the drain if I end up disliking it. Yet, anyone who doesn’t mind cilantro should give it a shot and let me know what they think.

The Pain au Chocolat was delectable.

Alternatively, I opted for a Pain au Chocolat ($3.60). It was freaking delicious and I had to ask where they came from. The answer was that they are baked in-house daily, but the pastries themselves are made in France. The company that prepares them flash freezes the dough before shipping them out to their vendors. They tasted fresh as if I bought it at a bakery in Paris. The pastry was soft and just a bit flaky, so everything still held together with each bite. The dark chocolate was divine, too. I’m not sure if the rest of their pastries are made in this manner as well. Either way, eat them all because I’m fairly certain they’ll be just as wonderful.

Part way through our time there, a server brought over a couple glasses of water for us. I thought that was a nice touch as we didn’t ask for anything. When I looked around, I noticed that they had done the same with everyone else. Talk about service! Before we left, one of the owners even popped by to do refills.

The coffee bar inside The Colombian.

The Colombian is most definitely a fantastic addition to Glenora. This is a neighbourhood that is pretty devoid of local cafes. Short of going another ten blocks to the east on 124 Street or about nine blocks in the opposite direction to 143 Street, there isn’t anything else like it in the vicinity. If our brief visit was any indication, The Colombian will be a staple here. I lost count of the number of people who came in and out in the hour we were there, and that’s a really great sign.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Station on Jasper

PB&J Firebread Sandwich

Closing amid allegations against one of the previous owners, the space once occupied by The Needle Vinyl Tavern (10524 Jasper Avenue) sat unused since November 2017. Then, on June 25, I received an email from Station on Jasper. They were a new business and they had inherited the Needle’s existing email list upon purchasing the restaurant/music venue. With the introduction came an offer for $12 off during dinner when dining in July.

I held onto the coupon and with one weekend left before it expired, I dragged my fiancé, Kirk, with me. I thought it’d be a good excuse to try it out. From what I could tell, the menu had been revamped since the Needle’s time. Back then, the food was pretty subpar. Now, the listings looked to be promising.

We arrived at around 7:00pm on a Saturday night. It was empty inside, although their patio was definitely being utilized. We seated ourselves indoors just shy of the patio to get the fresh air without the crazy heat. Our server came over with menus and started talking about happy hour before realizing that it was actually too late for us to order any specials. Still, I asked her what they usually offer during that time, so I could make note of it for my YEG Food Deals pages. She admitted that they didn’t actually have anything solid in place yet.

The interior of Station on Jasper has a kind of indoor-outdoor feel with the lights.

It turns out that when the business transferred over to the new owners, they literally hired all staff within a two week period, set a date and opened their doors. As I soaked in my surroundings, I could see that the design of the bar and restaurant was largely unchanged. The exact same tables, chairs and setup as before were being used. As I mentioned, the menu was visibly different, but the drink selection was fairly scant with them sticking only to classic cocktails.

Personally, I found the pricing for the dinner mains to be a bit high. Instead, I focused on the rest of the comfort food by way of the south menu created by executive chef Michael Darby. With a variety of sandwiches and pizzas at relatively affordable prices, they were the more reasonable option. Kirk got a local beer on tap ($6.19) and the Station Burger ($14). I opted for the PB&J Firebread Sandwich ($12).

Station Burger

Johnny Lee, one of their bar managers, spoke with us and he said that the Station Burger was probably the most simple thing on the menu and suggested Kirk order the Po’ Boy next time. Johnny wasn’t wrong. The burger had been changed from being topped with candied bacon, caramelized onion, smoked Gruyere and Station Sauce to cheese, mixed greens, sauce and a few grape tomato halves. There was still a decent flavour to the meat. Nevertheless, it wasn’t what we had hoped for. Having stated that the patty is made of hand-formed Alberta beef, we thought it’d be freshly pressed. While it wasn’t necessarily a mass produced frozen burger, it clearly didn’t meet our expectations and could have used more charring. On the side, the blanched fries were decent. These are supposedly hand-cut and that seemed to be the case.

PB&J Firebread Sandwich

Their PB&J Firebread Sandwich fared better overall. The long toasted bun was laid with arugula, seven spice blend pork belly, a sunny side up egg, grilled peaches and some sort of aioli. I tend to shy away from toasty bread because I often scrape my mouth with the sharper edges. This was alright though. It held the components of the sandwich together well. To avoid a huge mess with the egg, I broke the yolk first and then cut the whole thing in half, spreading it out across the length of the bread. Then, I clamped it shut. This item has a lot of potential. Sure, I felt the pork belly was a tad too fatty in spots, but it was seared nicely and the saltiness was balanced out by the bitter greens and sweet peaches. My one big criticism to the kitchen was that the grilled peaches were too chunky. They fell out when I took bites, so I suggested that they create a peach chutney instead. It’d allow for the flavour to come through in every bite rather than sporadically.

After we finished our meal, Johnny came back to chat about the dishes and their quick opening. He then took the time to show us the music stages, including the main venue tucked in a side room towards the back. It’s a neat tiered space. Between that area and the back of the main dining room, they can apparently accommodate up to 400 guests per show. Johnny also excitedly told us about their plans for a hidden speakeasy, which I’m interested to visit when it gets up and running.

When it was announced Station on Jasper would be opening at the end of June, there was speculation that the previous owners were still involved with the new business . However, that has since been refuted. Mark Chisholm, their other bar manager, also introduced himself while we were there. Both Johnny and Mark are a hundred per cent invested in seeing Station on Jasper succeed. They especially want everyone who works there and who comes through their doors to feel protected. All of their staff have to go through regular mandatory training through their partnership with the Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton (SACE), so staff are not just aware of their own actions, but are also knowledgeable enough to spot situations that may arise with patrons. It was great to hear that they’re taking the steps to ensure that their business remains a safe place for everyone.

Station on Jasper was also able to sign on a number of big name Canadian artists like Serena Ryder and Lights for their launch, and they have a roster of other performers coming through the venue later this year. If they were in any way connected to the tarred reputation of the Needle, I’m pretty certain that information would have come out by now and they wouldn’t have been able to successfully book the shows that they have.

Walking out that night, Kirk and I felt that Station on Jasper was on the right track. They’re beginning to solidify their space in the community by booking as much local talent as possible. They’re working with neighbouring businesses to help highlight musicians in any way they can. Most of all, they want to be there to nourish Edmontonians through their stomachs and their musical souls. We wish them the best of luck!

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Silk Bar Kitchen

The exterior of Silk Bar Kitchen includes an inviting patio.

Edmonton has welcomed a number of new restaurants this year. One of them is Silk Bar Kitchen on 105 Street and 103 Avenue. Owners Cory Allen and Stephan Zaiffdeen, along with chef Earl Briones, were inspired by the historical Silk Road, a trade route connecting Asia to the Mediterranean.

The elongated interior of Silk Bar Kitchen.

Stepping into the space for an early Friday night dinner with a friend, it was empty. We were the first guests that evening, and we were told we could sit anywhere we liked. It’s a tad dark inside, but once my eyes adjusted, I was able to appreciate the design. Rather elongated, they’ve put booth seating on a raised platform to the left of the door, taller tables alongside a glass partition, a few standard tables at floor-level, and the usual chairs along the bar.

The style is a mix of vintage (lighting), modern (exposed ceilings) and extravagant (mirrors galore). They also place a spotlight on art, including a huge lacquered mural towards the washrooms and interesting wooden panels running along the upper back wall that depict the city and the North Saskatchewan River down the middle. Not everything made sense side-by-side, but I could tell that there was definitely a lot of thought put into the overall look.

Seeing as how Silk Bar Kitchen offers happy hour from 5:00pm to 8:00pm every Tuesday to Friday (also Saturday & Sunday from 12:00pm to 5:00pm), it was an excellent opportunity to take advantage of the specials. At discounted prices, we figured we’d be able to sample several items to get an idea of what they were about.

Ryojito

Available only during happy hour are their Ryojitos ($12). This is their bar’s take on the mojito. A mix of Havana Club, rosé, coconut sencha syrup, bitters, and fresh lime and mint, it was, visually, a gorgeously layered beverage. When they were dropped off, we were told to ensure we stirred them up well to get the proper flavour throughout. My friend seemed to really like it. Personally, I felt it left too much of a bitter taste in the back of my mouth. Letting the ice water it down a bit as it melted helped. Next time, I may go for one of their other cocktails (I’ve got my eye on the Two-Way Street), which are also $2 off between those hours.

Mini Masala Flatbread

When it came to the food, my friend opted to try the Mini Masala Flatbread ($7). I wasn’t sure what to expect when they put the word “mini” in the name. I mean, I’ve been to Earls and ordered their 8-inch margherita pizza from their happy hour menu before. Needless to say, it was nowhere near the size listed. We were lucky if it actually measured five inches in diameter. In the case of Silk Bar Kitchen, they fared much better. The thin-crusted flatbread was sliced into several pieces and laid on a long rectangular plate. There was no meat on it, so this is a decent option for vegetarians. While I don’t enjoy cilantro, the rest of the toppings — onions, masala spiced Spanish spread paneer, and golden turmeric glaze mango chutney — popped on the palate, especially with the strong, saturated sauces.

Bacon Croquettes Duo

The two of us also shared the Bacon Croquettes Duo ($7). These are balls of mashed buttered Kennebec potatoes combined with bacon and parmesan. They are then lightly breaded and fried before being served with onion jam. I could have done with more bacon as I don’t think that component shone through enough. Still, these were quite tasty. Yet, I do wonder how much money we saved by selecting them off of the happy hour menu. Regularly, the dish is $13, and I would hope that would come with more than a pair of croquettes. Otherwise, the value isn’t really there.

Garlic Parmesan Fries

We also split a small basket of the Garlic Parmesan Fries ($4). These were pretty standard. The fries were nice and crisp having been cooked with garlic infused oil. They were lightly dusted with herbs and then doused with grated Parmesan. For dipping, a side of lemon garlic aioli was presented. This is a great choice as a light snack.

I also decided to try both of the sliders: Char Siu and Meatball ($4 each). The same type of sesame roll sandwiched the meat in each one. The shredded pork in the Char Siu slider was almost black in colour. While it tasted fine with the sweet soy aioli and the coconut lime slaw, I would have preferred a more significant amount of meat like a slice or two of pork and an infused barbecue flavour. Between the two, I found the Meatball Slider to be better. The angus beef had a nice sear to it and it was simply stacked with arugula and crispy onions. What took it up a notch was the garlic oregano aioli and the tomato relish, giving it a touch of sweetness to balance out some of the bitterness.

Matcha Cheesecake

Dessert was already on my mind prior to dinner. I had it set on their Matcha Cheesecake ($9), which I’d seen pictures of on their Instagram feed. While it was good for a general cheesecake, I think it needs work to truly be considered a matcha dessert. My initial reaction was that it didn’t look like what they had shown me online. The white chocolate ganache was scant and it didn’t actually come with any ice cream. The cheesecake was barely green and the matcha could barely be discerned. The rest — berry coulis, sugared berries, honeycomb, and cornflake crust — was all there though. The crust was different and worked well with the cake, and the berries were delicious. However, the berries on top of the honeycomb kind of made the latter soggy pretty quickly. Honestly, this could be an amazing finish to dinner with a few minor tweaks.

After sampling these items, I think that Silk Bar Kitchen certainly has potential. The choices here are at least equal to other elevated bar fare found around downtown Edmonton. There are also inklings of inspiration when it comes to the flavour profiles of certain dishes. My interest has been piqued enough to make me want to revisit. Based on the menu descriptions, their larger plates definitely sound promising. I just hope that business picks up for dinner (before the DJ starts spinning later in the evenings), so that they’ll be around long enough for me to go back.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Panini’s Italian Cucina

Pasta comes piping hot in foil pans.

I’ve never once set foot into the physical space of Panini’s Italian Cucina. However, I’ve now ordered their food through SkipTheDishes enough that I feel I can justify writing this review.

My co-workers were interested in having lunch delivered one day, so we started to peruse the options on the app. I decided to search based on current restaurant ratings and fees. Panini’s Italian Cucina came right to the very top of the list. Not only do they offer free delivery with purchases of $20 or more, they also had a Skip rating of 9.9 out of 10. It was either going to be them or the Italian Centre Shop. What really pushed Panini’s over the edge was the extent of their options.

That initial order included a Prosciutto Bocconcini Panini ($12) for me, and a Deluxe Calzone ($16), Ciambella Doughnut Balls ($6), and a Build Your Own Pasta ($4.75) for my friends.

Pastas are packaged in large round foil pans. The Build Your Own pasta is simply a base of either spaghetti, fettuccine or penne with their signature tomato sauce. There were no additional toppings or upgrades, hence the low cost. Supposedly, it’s meant to feed one person, yet the portions are quite sizeable. The Deluxe Calzone was also big, but still devoured by my co-worker in one sitting. Since she didn’t have room for dessert, she shared her doughnuts with me. At first, when I picked up a ball, I thought the outside was a bit too firm. Nevertheless, it gave way to a soft, springy center, and it was delicious when dipped into the container of Nutella that came on the side.

Prosciutto Bocconcini Panini

The original version of the sandwich I chose comes stacked with prosciutto, bocconcini, artichokes, spinach, and tomatoes. What I love about Panini’s is that there’s an opportunity to customize for free, so I opted to swap out the latter two toppings for arugula and sun-dried tomatoes. I even added roasted red peppers as up to four veggies can be selected. Condiments of pesto mayo and lemon garlic mayo were bonuses. All of this was pressed between a hearty whole wheat bread. The sandwiches are actually perfect to be split into two separate light lunches. I too finished off my panini, eating the whole thing in one go. They don’t skimp on the ingredients. Everything was fresh, and the bread was buttered and toasted to perfection, giving it a good bite.

Subsequent deliveries have yielded us more pastas and sandwiches: Spaghetti & Meatballs ($13.25), Chicken Fettuccine Alfredo ($11.50), Penne Alla Boscaiola ($12.75), and Montreal Smoked Beef Panini ($12).

Penne Alla Boscaiola

As my friend noted, the Spaghetti & Meatballs — signature tomato sauce with two large beef and pork balls — was able to provide her with sustenance for three days straight, making their dishes a fantastic value. Even my Chicken Fettuccine Alfredo was hefty and split into a few meals. The sauce was creamy and all of the pasta was well-coated. The grilled chicken had ample flavour. This only thing is this option is not the healthiest by any means. It’s not as noticeable if eaten immediately after it’s made, but, rewarmed, the paper plate I had put my pasta on was just drenched in an abundance of oil that soaked through. Yikes! The latest pasta I tried was the Penne Alla Boscaiola. It consists of a rosé sauce. Basically this is the best of both worlds since it marries a traditional tomato sauce with white cream sauce, and I found this to be lighter than the alfredo. Copious thin slices of spicy Italian sausage had been placed into the pasta with mushrooms and peas dotting the pan as well. Again, there was plenty to spread this out over a few lunches.

Montreal Smoked Beef Panini

As far as Montreal Smoked Beef sandwiches go, this one hits the spot. It’s not outrageously stuffed with meat like the ones sold at true Montreal delis, but there’s just the right amount of beef. This one is supposed to be served with mozzarella, arugula, pickled eggplant, spicy pepper mayo, and mustard. I pretty much keep it as is. The only things I add are artichoke hearts and sun-dried tomatoes. The smokiness of the meat plays off the acidity and bitterness of the veggies while the sauces bring in a savoury-sweet combo and a little spice.

What I like most is that it never seems to take too long to get our food from Panini’s Italian Cucina. Despite the lunch rushes, we’ve received better service from them being fifteen blocks away on Jasper Avenue than from a restaurant that was literally a few blocks down the road. Everything I’ve had the chance to try from Panini’s has been better than expected, and I often find myself thinking about my next Panini’s lunch. When a single dish has the ability to cover multiple meals at such an affordable price, it’s a winner in my books.