Edmonton Things To Do: Plant Nite

Plants arranged in my sloped bowl.

Almost three years ago, I attended my very first Paint Nite with one of my best friends. What’s Paint Nite? Well, this company out of the States recruits artists/entrepreneurs in numerous cities to lead group painting sessions at local bars and restaurants. The premise is that attendees can grab a drink, order a bit of food, and then have a fun, uninhibited evening where creativity flows. After a couple of hours, everyone usually walks away, art in hand, feeling accomplished at their skills. I love(d) these events so much. I’ve probably been to at least a dozen and a half Paint Nites, eventually buying myself an easel, paints, canvases, and brushes to work at home, too.

Then, early last year, ads for something called Plant Nite started popping up on my social media feeds. Succulents and terrariums are all the rage right now, and it seemed that the creators of Paint Nite were cashing in on the trend with new workshops. At the time, there weren’t any sessions happening in Edmonton, but there are now!

Groupon started selling vouchers for Plant Nite either late 2017 or at the beginning of 2018. I was eager to buy a coupon, so I could go. Yet, when I first checked out the available listings on the website, most of the events had already sold out and additional dates were uploaded at a snail’s pace. Eventually, more workshops were opened up and I was able to register using a Groupon deal (regularly $29; watch out for promo codes to receive extra discounts of up to 25 per cent off).

It’s important to note that, when signing up with a voucher, the base cost of the session ($45) is discounted from the total price. What remains to be paid at the end of the transaction is the materials fee and tax. It typically works out to about $17 on top of what was paid for the coupon. Also, watch out for ones marked as “Special” or “Fundraiser” as vouchers cannot be redeemed towards those.

The Almanac’s back room was the perfect venue for Plant Nite.

Like Paint Nite, Plant Nite events take place all over the city and surrounding areas, so choose a location that works best. A friend and I attended one at The Almanac on Whyte Avenue. It was an ideal spot as their whole back room was set up just for us. Tables fit about four to six people with supplies laid out for easy access. While the hosts could have zipped through the process, getting us in and out within an hour from start to finish, they took it step by step.

Drainage rock and soil are the base of the planter.

We found ourselves on a two hour journey, receiving an education on how to properly layer our planters: use a base that allows for drainage, top it with about an inch to an inch and a half of soil for water and root retention, carefully break off the old soil from the plants — sourced from an Alberta grower — to nest them into the fresh soil, and then decorate.

A trays of succulents were given to each table as they worked on their terrariums.

Each person was given three succulents for their terrarium: String of Pearls, Baby Jade, and Echeveria. I love these dessert plants as they’re hearty. But, I have to say that, after about a month taking care of my bowl at home, I’m slightly concerned about my String of Pearls. As cute as the little vines are, one strand is dying. I think the low baring roots are having a hard time grasping the soil without me covering up much of the plant completely in the dirt and sand.

The last part, decorating, was enjoyable as we got to visit a separate station where we were able to paint river rocks. They also provided a variety of coloured moss, rocks, sand, and figurines, so we could craft our bowls into something uniquely ours. Every single planter looked different. I opted to top mine with bright orange sand, a modernly painted rock, bunches of moss, and a little owl.

My friend’s adorable creation.

Before we left, we were given instructions on how to keep our terrarium healthy. Night one requires two squirts of water around the base of each plant. The next evening, each plant should get a tablespoon of water at the base. A week later, take it up a notch with an ounce of water per plant (I actually found it was a little much). Then, walk away for three to four weeks, checking periodically to ensure that the soil shows a soft soak (only the top half should be wet).

Cardboard boxes that had housed our empty glass bowls were handed out at the end of the night, providing a practical and stable way of carrying our creations home. Had anyone been questioning the materials fee before, I don’t think they would have again after seeing the amount of work that goes into Plant Nite. There are tons of supplies that the host and their assistant need to cart around, unpack, and carry out. It’s a bit ridiculous at how much they have to consider, but they really did an awesome job.

My finished terrarium with all that orange sand.

If I could change anything, I would have thought twice about covering the whole top of my bowl with sand. Although it gives it a pretty sheen, it tends to shift more easily. With a sloped glass bowl, water also runs right down over the sand before it sinks below causing water to pool on one side rather than soaking in evenly. To help avoid that issue, I usually hold the bowl in one hand so that the opening is flat and I do my best to water around the base of the plants, allowing the liquid to soak before I place it back on the table.

Time will tell whether or not I will be able to sustain this piece of living art. I’ll definitely do my best to keep it perky. In the meantime, my next Plant Nite workshop is scheduled for mid-June at Fargo’s.

There are actually a number of great events running through June. Surprisingly, tickets aren’t disappearing as quickly anymore, so it’s easier to partake now. I suggest grabbing a friend, family member, or a whole group. Along with beverages, snacks, trivia, prizes, and music, it’s an excellent way to bond, get a little dirty, and to flex one’s green thumbs (or lack of).

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Old Spaghetti Factory

Place settings haven’t changed for as long as I can remember.

If there are any restaurants I’d be likely to avoid, Old Spaghetti Factory would fit the bill. At the very least, the one at West Edmonton Mall checks all the boxes. There’s almost always a wait to get a table, it can be crowded, and it’s often filled with the din of noisy children. In spite of those downsides, it’s really hard to say no to a fully inclusive meal for under $20 per person or under $15 when it comes from the lunch menu.

Where else can one spend that much and get unlimited bread, a soup or salad appetizer, a main, dessert, and coffee or tea? The answer is a resounding “nowhere.” For that reason, Old Spaghetti Factory has become one of my family’s favourite meeting spots. We’ve been going there more regularly since last year when the restaurant offered holiday deals on their gift cards over Christmas (purchase $25 worth and receive a bonus $10 to be used by mid-March). This year, my fiancé and I received a couple sets and, at the beginning of February, we got together with my parents to redeem the first $35.

Sourdough bread with whipped butters!

We already had plans earlier in the afternoon on the Saturday that we dined, so we ended up arriving just in time to take advantage the lunch specials that run until 4:00pm. My mom and dad had both placed their orders already. They were snacking on a loaf of sourdough and that heavenly whipped garlic butter. Seriously, I don’t even know why they still pass out the regular butter. Do customers even bother using the latter? Between the two options, it’s not even a competition. Whenever our table is cleared by the servers, it is, without a doubt, going to be strewn with pots of unused regular butter that are probably destined for the garbage bin.

Regardless, it didn’t take long for us to get our coffees, teas and starters. Everyone else at the table chose to go with the Minestrone Soup while I decided on the Crisp Green Salad with ranch dressing. The soup has a hearty tomato base seasoned with herbs and filled with conchiglie (shell) pasta and veggies. The salad is a mix of lettuce, red cabbage and julienned carrots. It’s fresh enough, although nothing too special.

For our mains, my dad opted for the Chicken Parmigiana Sandwich with Fries ($11.50), my mom and my fiancé both selected the 6 oz. New York Steak Sandwich ($14.25 each) — hers was medium rare with a side of spaghetti in clam sauce, his was medium served with fries — and I got the Lunch-Size Fettuccine con Pollo ($11.95).

Chicken Parmigiana Sandwich with Fries

Everything looked pretty appetizing. I’m a fan of their regular Chicken Parmigiana, so I assumed that having the breaded chicken topped with marinara sauce, Parmesan and mozzarella cheese in sandwich form would be just as good. Perhaps it would be a bit starch heavy considering the ciabatta bun and the fries, but the fundamentals of the dish would still stand.

The New York Steak Sandwich comes open-faced with the meat sitting atop a slice of garlic bread. Again, it’s quite a starchy dish when the fries or pasta are accounted for. The steak looks large as it covers a decent amount of surface area. However, it’s actually cut thinly, which means the kitchen has to be careful not to overcook it. Despite the meat appearing to be prepared as requested, it was somewhat tough when I had a few bites of my mom’s steak. Honestly, it’s hit or miss at Old Spaghetti Factory whether or not the meat will be okay. I prefer it to be more succulent. Occasionally, that’s what one will get there. Other times, it’ll have more chew. Yet, it’s hard to blame them when it’s such an inexpensive outing.

I’m not entirely sure how I forgot to snap a photo of my Fettuccine con Pollo. Nevertheless, I can describe it. Sautéed chicken and mushrooms are tossed in a tangy white cream sauce with the pasta and then laid in a ceramic dish and topped with mozzarella and cheddar cheese before being baked in the oven. My lunch stayed hot the entire time we were eating. The cheese was gooey and in abundance, and the sauce coated everything evenly. There was more chicken and mushroom than I expected, too.

Spumoni Ice Cream; I almost forgot to take a photo of this, too.

Next up, after our entrées were polished off or packed up, was the dessert. This is my favourite part of eating at Old Spaghetti Factory. Spumoni ice cream — chocolate, vanilla, and pistachio swirl — is kind of tough to come by at the grocery store (I do know that Chapman’s now has a gelato version), so I definitely consider this to be a real treat. It has the right consistency where it shows up at the table perfectly firm. And, for me, the green pistachio portion is what makes it special, so I tend to eat around it and save that flavour for last.

Our receipt decorated by our friendly server.

When I take in everything happening at the restaurant, I can see that it runs like clockwork with staff dancing between tables and chairs, dropping off meals, carrying dishes away and, all the while, they do it with a smile. I don’t think I’ve ever come across an unhappy server at Old Spaghetti Factory. In fact, on this particular day, ours joked around with us. When we got our bill, she’d drawn a giant heart around the total, written a “thank you” at the top of the receipt and stuck a smiley sticker to it as well.

I feel like that receipt is pretty representative of the eatery. Old Spaghetti Factory has been a mainstay in the city for as long as I can remember. Sure, the West Edmonton Mall location may have gotten a facelift a few years back, but it is ultimately the same friendly place with affordable food that people remember. It’s welcoming to anyone and everyone and it will continue to be (as will the Downtown spot) for years to come.

Daily drink specials at Old Spaghetti Factory.

Edmonton Things to Do: Clay & Cupcakes

One wall of available ceramics at Clay & Cupcakes.

For the past few years, my obsession became Paint Nite events. I went on numerous outings with friends and I amassed more pieces of art than I know what to do with. I also outfitted myself with canvases, paint, brushes and easels for creative nights at home.

While I still love to do a quick session here and there (it’s such a relaxing activity), the eagerness to go every few weeks has abated. Tucked away between those times have been various other outings: dinners, festivals, escape games and pottery painting.

My finished ramen bowl, which was painted at Crankpots.

I don’t do the latter often. In fact, prior to a February evening at Crankpots Ceramic Studio on Whyte Avenue, I hadn’t been since I was a child. The hours we spent painting our ceramics was a lot of fun. Yet, the experience at that venue wasn’t the best. The space was overcrowded, customers hoarded paint colours, instructions from staff were poor, and we were almost charged twice for our items. Despite my ramen bowl looking gorgeous, I do think that the glazing was subpar because it chipped off (even though my boyfriend and I had been careful to hand wash everything) in a few spots after only several uses. Plus, Crankpots doesn’t phone or email to let patrons know if their pieces are ready to be picked up. I guessed and showed up the following weekend with fingers crossed that our stuff would be available.

Therefore, when my friend suggested we check out BYOB Ladies Night Out (held every Thursday night; a waiver must be signed if consuming alcohol on the premises) at Clay & Cupcakes, I was slightly apprehensive. However, I figured that there was no harm in checking out a new place. It couldn’t be worse than Crankpots. I was right.

The night we decided to go, the two of us rode the LRT and bus from downtown to the Summerside location on Parsons Road. It was easily accessible by transit.

The door prizes for BYOB Ladies Night Out.

We had booked spots in advance through their website. Therefore, when we walked in, tables had already been reserved with each of our names. The $10 payment for the event included a free cupcake ($3.75 otherwise) as well as the chance to win some door prizes. Unlike Crankpots, they do not charge paint, studio or firing fees. The use of all supplies and the space, as well as glazing, is built into the price of the ceramic piece(s) chosen, which means dropping in on any other night shouldn’t even require an additional reservation cost like it does for Ladies Night.

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Should one visit Clay & Cupcakes, I’d suggest sitting to the left side of the door when walking in and closer to the windows for the best lighting. Once we’d settled our stuff down at our table (no cocktails or beer, just bubble teas), we got up to peruse the selection of pieces on the shelves. I noticed that many of them were repeats as I looked around, but several caught my eye. It’s certainly wasn’t difficult to find something to decorate. The only thing one might be weary of is the dollar amount. I’ve learned that these ceramics tend to be a bit expensive. I lucked out on this occasion as I had an ADmazing Savings coupon for 15 percent off. With the discount, I ended up selecting a doughnut jewelry box for under $30, which quite honestly was perfect for me in terms of price and style. The staff member who was working that shift rinsed my ceramic in water to get me started.

All prepped with paint and brushes!

I then went about deciding on paints, which were all laid out by hue on a shelf, essentially in rainbow order. Palettes were stacked beneath them. I grabbed a couple trays and started to fill them with the colours I planned to use. The bottles of paint are to be placed back onto the shelf for others to refill as needed. Brushes — they could use more with finer tips for detailing — and sponges were also available from that area as well. Bowls of water for rinsing brushes had already been set out for each group. Overall, it was a very organized setup and there was actually ample room for guests to work since tables are comfortably set for four people each.

Painting completed! The slip on the right is to be filled out, so they can keep track of your piece.

As is typically the case, it’s recommended to layer the paints two to three times to get an even coat. My friend and I sat there for about two and a half hours making sure we did just that on both of our ceramics. Clay & Cupcakes has a good variety of paint colours, including ones that are speckled. Just check with the staff to make sure that there’s enough in stock to cover everything you plan to do with your piece; we were warned in advance of one or two bottles nearing empty, which they did not have replacements for.

My raspberry chocolate cupcake.

When all was said and done, we filled out a small slip of paper with our email address, phone number and the description of what we had made. We brought that up to the counter with our painted ceramic, and the employee rang our bills through. After I wiped up my hands, I finally ate my raspberry chocolate cupcake. I’m not sure where they get them from, but mine was delicious. While the raspberry icing was sweet, it wasn’t overly sugary, and the cake itself was dense, moist and tasted of dark chocolate, so there was a great balance.

About six days later (shorter than the 7 to 14 days mentioned on their website), I received a phone call to let me know that my box was ready. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to make it until the weekend, and I should note here that Clay & Cupcakes is surprisingly closed on Saturdays.

My fired and glazed doughnut jewelry box.

I eventually made it there on my Monday off of work. When I showed up, all I had to do was give them my name. The staff member went to the back and I watched as she looked through the shelves at rows of paper bags. It seems that they have all of the fired pieces wrapped up and sorted in alphabetical order by moniker to keep them organized and make them easier to find.

After a few minutes, she brought a package over to me and unraveled the tissue paper to show me the contents. It was my doughnut box and it turned out beautifully! The glazing was applied evenly and thickly, so I’m expecting it to hold up well. I could not be happier with it.

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Before I left the shop, I had to take another peek around. They really weren’t kidding when they told us that new stock arrives regularly. Dozens of new ceramic designs lined the shelves on both sides of the store, and I wanted to buy half of them. I even saw on their social media pages and their website that they sometimes offer glass fusion and silk screening workshops. Both would be extra reasons for me to revisit. Not only does my boyfriend want to go back with me, but my co-workers even thought it’d be a wonderful idea for a future night out, so I suppose Clay & Cupcakes is now my new thing. Crafters and artists, make it yours, too.

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Edmonton Restaurant Review: Montana’s BBQ & Bar

Plaid for lunch at Montana’s seemed appropriate.

I’ve never put much thought towards the Montana’s BBQ & Bar restaurant chain. There are four locations that dot the south side of the city and two relatively close to my home. Yet, for some reason, they never really appealed to me.

I’m going to chalk that up to the fact that I didn’t grow up going camping or lodging, so the very rustic cabin atmosphere didn’t seem to lend itself to the idea of a great meal out. However, my boyfriend had mentioned time and again to me that Montana’s makes some pretty good wings. Plus, I just happened to get a coupon in the mail.

We ended up going to the South Edmonton Common branch for lunch on the August holiday Monday. We arrived just as they opened and one of the servers greeted us before she walked us to a booth nearby a few other customers.

The interior of the South Edmonton Common Montana’s location.

My first impression was that the joint was just as I imagined it would be. High ceilings with wooden beams (essentially wood everywhere), a stone fireplace, mounted animal heads, classic truck facades and a full-size canoe were among the decor choices I noticed.

Crayons and kraft paper provide entertainment at the table.

All of those things truly set a tone. Although, I don’t know that they scream barbecue. Either way, I didn’t actually mind it. The casual setting is great for a family outing, especially if one has children. We don’t have kids, but the kraft paper placemat that covered the entire table and the cup of crayons provided are arguably entertaining for adults as well.

Going in, the only thing I knew we were ordering was a basket of the Double Dusted Chicken Wings ($13.79, but half price on Mondays). Otherwise, we had some decisions to make. Between the two of us, we finally settled on the lunchtime Reuben Sandwich ($15.99) and Mac ‘N Cheese ($11.99).

Double Dusted Chicken Wings

The wings didn’t take long to make their way out from the kitchen. The reason why my boyfriend enjoys them so much is because there’s a lot of meat. I have to say that he was right. The wings themselves were larger than what might be found elsewhere. The only thing is that these orders only have eight wings each. Other restaurants often serve wings by weight and instead of eight wings, there might be ten to twelve instead. It balances out. Also, even with half price wings when we went, they still work out to be almost $7. Compare that to Tuesday night at Original Joe’s where a whole plate of wings comes to $4.50, and I’d probably be more inclined to go to the latter. In any case, I tend to prefer wings that are cooked with dry rubs, so these were quite messy. But, the texture was okay (still slightly crispy despite all the sauce) and the medium flavour was savoury, a little zesty and had a small kick of heat at the end. Reach dip also helped to tone down any spiciness, if needed. On a side note, I will commend Montana’s on their excellent sourcing of wet wipes, which are supplied to diners. They’re some of the best I’ve ever used.

Reuben Sandwich with Chippers

Moving along to our mains, my boyfriend is the one who chose the Reuben Sandwich. Smoked pastrami isn’t my favorite kind of meat. Yet, I’ll admit that it was quite good. I think it comes down to it being made in-house versus anything I’d get at the grocery deli. The meat was plentiful and succulent. Combined with mustard, thousand island dressing, sauerkraut and cheese, it proved more complex than I expected. Our main suggestion for improvement would be to grill the buttery marble rye a little longer to give the bread more texture and flavour. For his side, my boyfriend chose the chippers, which are fresh made potato chips sprinkled with dried dill seasoning and served with a dill dip. These were surprisingly good on their own. The potato slices were big, crunchy and non-greasy with a hint of the herb. Personally, I found the dip to be too strong, so I refrained from eating much of it.

Both of our entrees actually showed up about half way through our devouring of the wings. The server even apologized that everything came out at the same time. It didn’t matter so much for the sandwich, but it would have been nice to get the Mac ‘N Cheese a while later. I wanted to finish the wings before they got cold, but it meant that I was delayed getting to my pasta.

Mac ‘N Cheese with Caesar Salad & Cornbread

Thankfully, the macaroni and cheese came plated in a hot iron skillet. By the time I got to working on the dish, it could still be considered warm. I liked that Montana’s utilized cavatappi (corkscrew) pasta. The shape picked up more of the cheesy bacon and white wine cream sauce, locking in all the flavor. The whole thing was then baked with additional cheese until melted and golden brown. I do wish that there had been more crispy bacon tossed on top, but overall, this was a passable mac and cheese. If anything, this lunch-size version is a great value; included with the pasta is a side of Caesar salad (an appropriate amount of dressing for me) and in-house baked cornbread (sweet, moist, not too crumbly). The cost won’t break the bank and all three components of the meal are definitely filling enough.

Skillet Cookie

Now, we could certainly have skipped dessert that day, but the coupon I had on hand required a $40 purchase in order to receive a $10 discount, so we went for it. Montana’s provides several options in the sweets department. We ultimately decided on the classic Skillet Cookie ($6.99). First, I’ll say that it wasn’t quite what we were expecting. Our idea of a skillet dessert is that it’s made right in the pan itself. When the dish was delivered to our table, it looked like two already baked chocolate chip cookies had been sandwiched together with caramel in between and then placed into the skillet to be warmed. The dessert was then topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. I did find it to be very sweet and I tapped out before it was finished. However, it wasn’t bad by any means. The cookies were soft and chewy with lots of melted chocolate. The semi-sweet chocolate chips probably even aided in balancing things out with a touch of bitterness.

So, is Montana’s BBQ & Bar going to be a place I visit regularly? Most likely not. Nevertheless, going forward, I won’t discount it either. Timing issues aside, the service we experienced was excellent at this particular spot, and the food, while not the best I’ve had, is of decent quality for the price.

Daily Specials