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 Bakery Review: GLAZE Dessert Bar

GLAZE Dessert Bar’s logo stamped on the pizza box.

Keeping with my recent theme of discoveries on social media, the business I want to talk about today is GLAZE Dessert Bar. I had observed that they were showcased as a caterer for a couple of events that happened in Edmonton lately, and I was intrigued. I linked my way to their Instagram page. After looking around, I discovered that they were running a January deal. By liking their Facebook page, I’d be able to get an extra five pastries, if I ordered a minimum of 25 pieces.

So, what does GLAZE Dessert Bar make? They lovingly craft Polish pastries called “faworki,” otherwise known as angel wings. Upon reviewing their website and the flavours available, I was sold. With my mom’s birthday coming up, I thought it’d be the perfect opportunity to support this local company. I sent an email off with all of the details: date the order was required (they ask for a minimum two week window, but they can possibly accommodate shorter time frames, if you ask), pick up or delivery, number of pastries, and the flavours.

Twisted ribbons of dough form the basis of the “faworki.”

Within a couple of days, I received a confirmation back as well as an invoice. Pre-orders of 100 angel wings is $95, 36 is $35, and 25 is $25. Anything over the 100 piece threshold would be $0.85 each. I had selected a smaller order of 25 plus the 5 bonus pastries. The total was an even $25, which I could either pay by cash upon pick up or through e-Transfer in advance. I opted for the latter.

In my case, the owner, Sabina, put everything together with just over a week’s notice. On the Sunday morning I needed them, Kirk and I drove to the Crystallina area in the far north end of the city to grab the order. It is a home business that runs out of a townhouse. I rang the bell and Sabina came to the door with a giant pizza box. The transaction was very quick and we were back on the road within minutes.

My giant pizza box full of angel wings!

When we returned to our condo, I whipped open the box to snap some photos. Kirk walked by me and he exclaimed that there were so many angel wings! I stopped for a second to take a closer look. Sure enough, there was an extra 50 per cent added to the package. At first, I thought that I may have been given the wrong order. But, upon inspection, all of the flavours were what I had selected. I quickly messaged Sabina to thank her for the generosity. She explained that, since the pastries are all handmade, they’re not always even in size, so to make up for any discrepancies, they toss more in. I certainly wasn’t going to complain about that logic.

Packed a box of these treats for my mom’s birthday.

I packed a box of about twenty for my mom’s dinner get together that evening, and I took some to the office the next day to share with my co-workers. Still, Kirk and I had over a dozen left to snack on at home.

When I initially tried one of the angel wings, I couldn’t quite put my finger on what they reminded me of. Kirk said they were like a churro, and I agreed. However, the more I ate them, the more I decided that they’re probably closer to a beaver tail or an elephant ear, typically found at street festivals. The Classic 5-inch fresh fried ribbons of dough sprinkled with icing sugar were most reminiscent of those treats. The others, all glazed with different flavours — maple, matcha, vanilla, strawberry, and chocolate — were like a mix between those fried dough goodies and a doughnut.

In all honesty though, the GLAZE Dessert Bar angel wings were a little inconsistent between pieces. Some were perfect in texture and easy to bite apart. The glazes were sweet, but not too sugary, and the toppings were fun. On the other hand, a few were a little too thin and, therefore, crispy. A batch of them were also quite chewy, giving our jaws quite the workout. I’m assuming that, with the chewier ones, they were likely fried a little too long. I’m not entirely sure though. Either way, it was a bit of a Russian roulette even though we ended up devouring each and every one in the long run. If you do choose to order any of these pastries, I highly recommend that they all be eaten within three days. They can hold up longer (we refrigerated ours), but they’re best when consumed earlier.

Despite our mixed reviews with the “faworki,” I am glad that I took a chance on GLAZE Dessert Bar. I really do want to be a cheerleader for Edmonton entrepreneurs because starting a business isn’t an easy thing. Sabina is really following her heart and her dream. GLAZE Dessert Bar is super new (introduced to markets maybe around the end of October 2018), so I think that things can only go up from here, especially if they listen to any and all feedback.

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.

YEG Local Holiday Gift Guide 2018

What’s going to end up under our tree this year?

Christmas is only a month away now. I’m guessing a lot of you are like me, and you probably didn’t plan far in advance on this year’s presents. With just 30 days left to shop, it’s getting down to the wire. If you have family and friends similar to mine, you may be having a difficult time narrowing things down. Personally, I prefer to gift them with something that’s both fun and useful. But, the older I get, I realize that there isn’t a whole lot that I need anymore, and, whatever I really want, I tend to buy. The same goes for those I know.

What I think works well, though, are products that come from businesses in our own community. Supporting and showcasing your favourite local shops and makers is a great way to spread the word and help these entrepreneurs grow economically while simultaneously sharing what you enjoy with people you love.

In no particular order, I thought I’d highlight several of my top picks here. A number of them were selected for inclusion in the 2018 Edmonton Made Gifted Catalog, and most can be found around the city at various markets, stockists, and their own storefronts or even online.

Evoolution

I recently wrote a blog post about Evoolution’s fantastic tasting events. Those are held monthly at both their downtown Edmonton and St. Albert locations. Tickets to upcoming evenings are available through Eventbrite ($35 per person + tax). With an educational component as well as a full 3-course meal, they’re an excellent value. Alternatively, you can pick up full-size or miniature bottles of their delicious olive oils and balsamic vinegars as a gift for the cooks in your life. The quality is incomparable and anyone who enjoys spending time in the kitchen will appreciate these fine products.

On a side note, we are currently running a contest on our YEG Food Deals Facebook and Instagram pages. Head to both sites where you can enter to win a pair of tickets to the next Evoolution tasting event happening at the 104 Street shop on Tuesday, December 4. The giveaway is open until 11:59pm MT on Wednesday, November 28.

Complimentary mini bottles of olive oil and balsamic vinegar were given to each guest.

Ochre Lea

I first came across this designer at the Made Local shop on 101 Avenue and 122 Street (I believe this is now closed). I love the whimsical designs that are carefully screen printed on beautifully tanned pieces of leather and then crafted into mason jar holders. The workmanship is impeccable, and they look as though they can withstand quite a bit. Best of all, sustainability has been kept in mind. Everything can be taken apart, which means the metal and glass jar of the mason is recyclable, and the leather is also compostable once the rivets are removed. The 16 ounce size is $35 and a 24 ounce option rings in at $40. Ochre Lea also makes some fantastic letterpress stationary, too. Find these products at the Royal Bison Art & Craft Fair from November 30-December 2 and December 7-9.

Leather Travel Masons by Ochre Lea

Marc Nipp Illustration & Design

I found Marc Nipp’s (a.k.a. El Designo) table at the Edmonton Made show earlier this fall, and I had to go back to get a print of his City of Edmonton Pinball Poster ($25). It’s just a playful representation of our home. Some things are a cheeky take on what we hate about this place, but most of the highlights are pretty great. He’ll be representing at the Royal Bison Art & Craft Fair from December 7-9, or some of Marc’s artwork is also for sale at the Alberta Branded store inside the Edmonton Federal Building. You can also purchase items online through his Zazzle and Etsy shops.

My purchased City of Edmonton Pinball Poster.

Smithstine Copper

Kristine MacDonald is the artist behind the gorgeous copper jewelry and accessories (ranging from $30 to $200), which often have an Edmonton or Albertan theme. She’s recently branched out by mixing other metals in with her usual medium of copper to make distinctive and timeless pieces that will likely be passed down for generations. Additionally, Kristine has started working with enamels, bringing in vibrant shots of colour to some of her hand sawn work. While it may be too late to have something custom made by Christmas (consider that for another time though), you’ll find a variety of pre-made samples at the Royal Bison Art & Craft Fair from November 30-December 2 and December 7-9 as well as on her online shop.

These brass money clips are simple, but meaningful.

Bro Brick

Bro Brick marketed themselves as soap for men with scents to match. Don’t get me wrong though, they do smell great. Rum & Coke and Wasabi & Beer are my choices ($10.50 per bar). They also have shaving soap, moustache wax, and hair/beard balms. All of their products are handmade using plant based oils, so they’re vegan friendly. They’ve now branched out with smaller Chick Bricks for the ladies ($8.50 each). Find them at the Royal Bison Art & Craft Fair from November 30-December 2 or at the Hand2Hand Christmas Market on December 1. Items can also be purchased online directly through their website.

My Sunshine Creations

I don’t currently have any children, but I have a lot of friends with kids. My Sunshine Creations makes some of the most adorable clothing, including unisex cardigans (with matching ones for moms) and comfy looking bum pants. But, what gives me cuteness overload are the baby mocs ($22) and water mocs ($25-$29). There’s just something about tiny shoes for little feet that make me melt. They come in a bevy of colourful designs, so there’s going to be a pair to suit every little boy or girl out there. Order online through the link above.

Baby mocs galore!

Justine Ma

With sassy enameled pins, baby onesies, cake toppers, ornaments, mugs, and cards, Justine Ma won me over. There are products that are pretty and PG13 as well, but it’s the ones that get a little colourful with the language that I love the most. Shop online at the link above, or visit the stores listed here. Justine will also be at the Royal Bison Art & Craft Fair from December 7-9.

Escape City

Even after playing close to two dozen escape rooms across Edmonton, I never get tired of them. There are still a bunch that I have left to tackle, including Escape City’s newest game, Frank’s Revenge. This business does a wonderful job with all of their adventures. Every single room is challenging and immersive. It’s definitely in my top three when it comes to this type of activity. If you know of someone who would rather have a unique experience over something material, this might be perfect for them. Pick up a gift card from Escape City during their regular hours.

We excelled at Neurological!

Brickbubble

I’ve been following Brickbubble on social media for a long time. Run by Diane and Mike who are graphic artists, they’ve utilized their talents to create a number of handmade items ranging from ornaments to jewelry and cutting boards to decor. They specialize in custom work that is often laser cut and engraved, but they also have a lot of ready to go pieces that are perfect for the holidays and speak to the Canadian in us.

Hansen Distillery

I’ve been backing Hansen Distillery since I attended a tour of their facilities and a tasting session back in February. After four generations of moonshiners in their family, Shayna Hansen and Kris Sustrik went legit and opened Hansen Distillery about two years ago. They’ve quickly amassed popularity with their cream liqueurs and cherry rye, and for good reason. They’re delicious to sip on their own and just as great for use in cocktails. Treat a connoisseur of spirits to a tour and tasting ($10.50 per person), or grab a bottle or two of their best sellers to put under the tree.