Edmonton Restaurant Review: The Burg (Closed)

Napkin Ratings: As their menu says, "it can't be good if you aren't wearing at least some of it".

Napkin Ratings: As their menu says, “it can’t be good if you aren’t wearing at least some of it”.

Burgers are one of the simplest meals someone can make – they can be dressed up or down and they can be made with almost any meat (or veggie) available – but they are also one of the easiest to screw up. Over the years I’ve eaten a few that literally blew my mind, many that were great and settled cravings and, some that were subpar, often because they were dry and bland. Being a fan of the build-your-own-burger (BYOB) idea, I’d tried Soda Jerks a few times and thought they did a decent job of fulfilling that niche. That is until The Burg (@TheBurg4St) opened on the 4th Street Promenade in downtown Edmonton. Situated in the old Ric’s Grill/Ric’s 104 St. Grill location inside the Historic Metals Limited Building at 102 Avenue, they’ve now been operating for about a year.

While I had intended to visit much earlier, I didn’t make a point of going until the beginning of June. Throughout the last twelve months I had heard mixed reviews about the food, so even though I was really gung-ho about visiting when the restaurant introduced itself, that feeling eventually waned. Leave it to Groupon to give me that much needed nudge. Having to use my voucher, I asked my friend to join me there for lunch.

The revamped restaurant interior - a lot more rustic than before.

The revamped restaurant interior – a lot more rustic than before.

Since I had dined at the previous establishments many times before, seeing the space’s new incarnation as The Burg was a little shocking. The structure was virtually untouched, but it had been made to look a lot more spacious by knocking down some of the partitions that previously provided added privacy for the business clientele that used to be catered to. This place is now about being inviting. Meant to be a casual and social setting, it’s all wood floors, metal, rustic beams and open bulb light fixtures. The design gives it a welcoming atmosphere, and the tables can be rearranged to meet the needs of different sized groups or parties. I’m not sure about dinner, but for lunch you can seat yourself as menus are already at the table (like at Famoso), and a server will come by to check on you and take your order.

I didn’t peruse the offerings prior to getting there, so I was surprised to see the selection of feature burgers in their seasonal menu. Those are in addition to the BYOB option and the Burger of the Month. Having read that the cost of a burger there was a bit exorbitant, especially when you take into account that the price doesn’t even include a side, I was happy to see that they at least give you the option of a Burger Combo lunch special that includes a basic burger and your choice of side for only $11. Our table neighbours went with that and it looked great.

Instead, my friend and I opted to share an order of the Mac ‘N’ Cheese Balls (or rather squares) to start. Cubes of elbow pasta covered in sharp cheddar, white cheddar and cream cheese sauce and then crusted with panko, fried and served with jalapeno queso dip, they were very good. I particularly liked the texture as the panko breading gave them a good amount of crunch that gave way to its cheesy center. These were actually quite similar to the version that I had back in May at The Phork. The Burg takes a less upscale approach by forgoing the truffle oil, and comparatively the spicy chili Ketchup at The Phork trumps the dip here because it packs a bigger punch with the taste. Still, I wouldn’t pass these up.

For her main, my friend ate the Southern Fried Chicken Burger. I didn’t sample it, but she said it was delicious. The burger consists of a corn flake crusted thyme and onion scented ground chicken patty that is deep fried and finished with white BBQ sauce, leaf lettuce and tomato sandwiched between a toasted potato scallion roll. My love of lamb won out, so I ordered the Lamb Provencal (not available on the current menu), which is a lean ground lamb patty scented with Herb de Provence and mint, topped with grilled zucchini, roast red peppers, roasted garlic aioli and arugula in a toasted ciabatta roll. All I can say is that it was a flavour explosion. The meat was really juicy and the veggies were cooked until tender. Both burgers were given a ‘4 Napkin’ rating (extremely handy, especially if you’re on a date!) on the menu, meaning they’re some of the messiest available at the restaurant, and I will attest that my friend and I had sauce dripping down our hands as we dug into our meals. Being that we had also devoured the appetizer, neither of us managed to finish our burgers, so we each packed up the last half for dinner that evening.

Unfortunately, I’m not able to argue with what others have said about The Burg in the past. Every person has their own unique experience and opinion. This was my first of two visits and, so far, from my observations of the service received – our server was really attentive and came back when she said she would (as opposed to 20 minutes later) as we weren’t able to make up our minds when we initially sat down – and the quality of the food we had the pleasure of consuming on this particular occasion, I can say that I’ve now forgotten about those dated reviews that I had come across. Based on my own knowledge of The Burg, I would definitely recommend this as a hangout to my friends if they’re looking for a centrally located and satisfying burger joint.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Leva

Happy diners on the patio saying hello to me!

Happy diners on the patio saying hello to me!

To me, Leva (@cafeleva) was like this apparition that I would periodically spot whenever I was in Edmonton’s Garneau neighbourhood, never realizing it was an actual cafe until friends started mentioning it here and there. I’d pass by many more times before I finally made a point of trying it out at the end of May. Like a hidden gem, it’s slightly off the beaten path, tucked away among the residential enclave of the university area.

My friends and I met up for a late lunch on a Sunday afternoon. Two of us arrived together and, neither having visited previously, weren’t really aware of how their system worked. After we clarified with a staff member that we could seat ourselves and order at the counter when ready (they offer full service during dinner), we staked out a table that bridged both the interior of the cafe and the patio, so we could soak in some vitamin D without being blinded by the sunshine. The outdoor space is actually quite small, but they make good use of it and they even have outdoor heaters for those slightly chilly days or evenings. The interior is nice and bright with wood topped tables, white chairs, hints of yellow in the decor and big windows that let in lots of light.

The order counter and interior of Leva.

The order counter and interior of Leva.

Once our third party showed up, we headed over to the counter to take a look through the menu. One friend went with the Chicken Breast Panini, the other just ordered a chocolate gelato milkshake, and I got the 12″ Spicy Chicken Avocado thin crust Neapolitan Style pizza as well as a chai latte. Upon paying for our items at the till, we were given metal placards with numbers on them, which were to be placed on our table, so the servers would know who to bring the food to. In a way, it’s very similar to the set up at Famoso.

Drinks were ready within minutes. My chai latte was steaming hot. I almost mistook it for someone’s milkshake because it came in this very tall ceramic cup that looked like an old fashioned soda glass. I thought it was a cute touch. Unfortunately, I have to say that the brand of chai latte tea bags that Leva uses are only okay. I left it steeping the entire time we were there and the flavours never got that strong, remaining rather bland.

My chai latte. Cute cup, but not the most flavourful.

My chai latte. Cute cup, but not the most flavourful.

On the other hand, the food completely made up for the subpar beverage (I’ve heard the coffee is fantastic though, but I don’t drink it). My friend’s sandwich was filled with chicken breast, brie, sweet potato, rosemary, buckwheat honey and seasonal greens. She said it was really tasty, especially liking the use of sweet potato to add an extra flavour profile to an otherwise basic panini. My pizza was topped with mozzarella, spicy chicken, avocado and cherry tomatoes. I can’t say the chicken was all that spicy (I can definitely handle more), but I enjoyed the combination of the four items and the overall simplicity of the meal. Everything tasted so fresh and the crust was crispy on the outside yet soft enough to fold for easier eating. I devoured the entire thing in the one sitting.

The dessert case was awfully tempting, too. I was absolutely stuffed after eating my whole pizza, so I refrained from indulging further, but one of my friends did pick up a macaron that she said was very good.

Edmonton foodies knew much earlier than I did about Leva – voted by readers into the No. 47 spot on The Tomato‘s directory of 100 best eats and drinks in Edmonton for 2014 and No. 38 in 2013), so I have them to thank for nudging me towards the place. I also happened to catch a glimpse of who I’m sure was local celebrity, Chef Daniel Costa of Corso 32 and Bar Bricco, stopping by to pick up a drink. If that’s not enough to tell me that Leva should be on the radar after 10 years in business, I don’t know what is.

Chef Daniel Costa of Corso 31 and Bar Bricco (or his doppelganger) stopping by for a drink.

Chef Daniel Costa of Corso 31 and Bar Bricco (or his doppelganger) stopping by for a drink.

The food seems to be relatively healthy, keeping to the basics of the ingredients. That’s something that I think is important when eating out, so I’m excited to add this establishment to my ever-growing list of city restaurants to revisit. And, after having been twice in the last month, it’s now also one of my friend’s new favourite hangouts, so I’m sure I’ll be coming around more in the future.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Tres Carnales

Aspiring to bring the traditional, authentic recipes of the various regions of Mexico to life in a fresh and bold way, Tres Carnales burst onto the Edmonton food scene back in 2011 and hasn’t looked back. Number 25 on The Tomato‘s top 100 eats and drinks in the city, it certainly has left a footprint in the downtown core. The restaurant is dedicated to the close food movement, farm to table, sustainability and community, which is felt as soon as you walk in the door and sit down for a bit to eat. You also get a glimpse of their support of local artists with the mural painted by @CurlyBlackBeret (Trevor Peters) on the south wall and the paintings by Justina Smith on the opposite side of the room.

The mural by @CurlyBlackBeret

The mural by @CurlyBlackBeret

Chris Sills and Dani Braun, owners who watch over the place with a passion and sometimes man the tills, love to walk around the restaurant to say hi to diners and ask their opinion on the food. They create a friendly atmosphere with their personable attitudes, making it a joyous place to be. The servers are the same and seem genuinely happy to be working there. They aim to please. And, in my experience, if you Tweet them enough (@TresCarnales), they might go out of their way to make sure your cravings are satisfied (the duck tacos were to die for).

I’ve been there many a time and I can say, without a doubt, that my favourite dishes are as follows: Pato Tacos (duck), Al Pastor Tacos or Quesadillas (slow roasted, marinated pork), Pescado Tacos (lightly battered and fried fresh Pacific red snapper), and the Guacamole Y Totopos (housemade guac and chips). Unfortunately, the cost to bring in fresh duck meat has relegated the Pato Tacos to an occasional featured menu item, but, should you ever have a chance to try them, do not pass them up. My friend did, and, to this day, she still regrets it. To quench your thirst, I recommend you give one of their agua frescas (“fresh waters”) a shot. I especially like the Agua de Jamaica, which is made using hibiscus flowers. On occasion I’ll go for the Agua de Horchata, which Chris once told me was like Christmas in a glass. I think it takes a little getting used to, but I quite like it and it’s refreshing.

Al Pastor Quesadillas and a view of the restaurant's large shared table and @CurlyBlackBeret's previous mural.

Al Pastor Quesadillas and a view of the restaurant’s large shared table and @CurlyBlackBeret’s previous mural.

Ultimately, I would say the food is absolutely addictive. When I take a break and don’t go for a while, I’m okay, and I can show some restraint, but, as soon as I eat there once, it’s dangerous and I’ll probably be back several times within a short span because it’s hard to get the flavours off your mind once you’ve had a taste.

A single order is a good portion size for one person. You’ll feel full, but not overly stuffed. Want to try a few things? The plates are great for sharing with your companions. It’s also a fantastic lunch place for those who work downtown because the service is always quick and you’ll usually have no problem getting in and out within an hour-long break.

If you have yet to dine there, here are some additional things to know: it works as first come, first serve with the tables, it’s similar to restaurants like Famoso (see my previous review) where you order at the counter and then they bring your food to you, you typically order at the till before you grab a table (they will sometimes let you sit first and start a tab), sometimes you may need to share a table with strangers, the tarot card they give you once you’ve placed your order is how they know who to bring the food to, gluten-free items are available, they have two tills – one for those eating in and one for those getting take out – to help speed up the ordering process, and they are closed Sundays and holidays.

Come summertime, I hope that their patio will be open again as it increases the number of available seats and allows patrons to enjoy the few months of warmth we get in Edmonton.

Mexican souvenirs

Mexican souvenirs decorating the east wall

This is my top pick for Mexican street food in the city. I always look forward to going there with friends and co-workers and, every so often, on my own because it’s a place where I feel we are always welcome. Tres Carnales represents the young, entrepreneurial spirit that is so present in Edmonton nowadays and I expect that they will be here for the long haul.

For a more in-depth look at the establishment’s involvement in the community and its efforts towards sustainability visit The Local Good to read my profile of Tres Carnales.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Famoso Neapolitan Pizzeria (Jasper Ave)

Appetizer - Prosciutto Wrapped Mozzarella Balls

Appetizer – Prosciutto Wrapped Mozzarella Balls

Famoso Neapolitan Pizzeria, number 53 on The Tomato Food & Drink’s top 100 best things to eat or drink in Edmonton, Alberta, has been a mainstay in the city ever since it opened its first location at Jasper Avenue and 118 Street in 2005. Over the years, Famoso has expanded to 26 restaurants between three provinces with a 27th franchise opening in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan come this spring.

Pizza isn’t something that I go out for regularly, but, when I do, it should come out of the oven hot, flavourful and it shouldn’t be too heavy in the stomach. Famoso’s pies certainly fit the bill.

Out of all the times I have been, I have not once tried the margherita pizza, which was mentioned in the Tomato’s list. However, I have tried a number of the others, including the Sweet BBQ Chicken and Spicy Thai, and very much enjoyed them.

My latest visit to the original downtown location was a chance for me to use my soon-to-expire Groupon. The voucher included an appetizer, a regular pizza and a seasonal pizza, allowing for a nice variety during our meal.

Immediately upon entering the establishment, I noticed that it looked refreshed. I’m not sure when it happened, but I think the space had a new coat of paint and the booths had been reupholstered fairly recently. We grabbed a table and immediately started perusing the menu. One improvement I noted was that they now include a note pad at the table, so you can jot down everything you want without having to work from memory when you head over to the till to place your order (maybe they always had them, but I had never seen that before and I thought it was great addition). The only thing they should also provide is a pen or pencil as well.

The front counter

The front counter

As a further comment, I always found it strange that a sit-down restaurant with servers that bring your food over to you and will take subsequent requests for drinks and desserts at the table later requires you to take your initial order to the counter. But, after thinking further about it while dining this time, I can see a couple of benefits. The first is that you can take your time going through the menu and picking out the items you want without the server stopping by every few minutes to ask if you’re ready. The second is that when you are ready, you can make sure you’re not waiting for someone to come by before you can get your order in, meaning you can delight in your meal at your own pace. Service is usually attentive as they make sure they are well staffed to handle and attend to the tables.

Regarding the food, I feel that it has always been tasty, but the menu has diversified and incorporated many more elements that bring in new flavours from different cultures and I love it. This particular dinner, my mother and I shared a small order of the Prosciutto Wrapped Mozzarella Balls as well as the Cavoletti and Moo Shu BBQ Duck pizzas.

As an appetizer, the Prosciutto Wrapped Mozzarella Balls are a great starter. The small size comes with three of the mozzarella balls smothered in a light tomato sauce with a side of fresh flatbread. I have never really been a fan of the tomato paste type sauces put on most pizzas, so it’s nice to know that this dish incorporates a simple, quick-cook sauce that isn’t overpowering and still lets the flavours of the prosciutto and gooey mozzarella shine through.

The Cavoletti pizza bianca

The Cavoletti pizza bianca – one of my favourites!

The Cavoletti falls under the white pizza category (no sauce) and is topped with Brussels sprouts, prosciutto crisps, gorgonzola cheese, dates, walnuts and a bit of honey. I will say that the first time I ate this pizza, I was a little skeptical, but it has become a favourite and is now ordered almost every time I go to Famoso. I’m a sucker for the combination of nutty, salty and sweet flavours that come out in recipes like this. The textures of this pizza are fantastic as there is a nice crunch from the oven-roasted Brussels sprouts, prosciutto crisps and walnuts. On another occasion I added duck as a topping and it paired well, reminding me a little bit of the BBQ Duck Clubhouse sandwich made at Cactus Club Café with its Peking duck, roasted chicken, San Daniele prosciutto and pecan fruit bread.

Our second pizza, the Moo Shu BBQ Duck is seasonal for fall/winter 2014 and falls under the new world pizzas list on the menu. This one has toppings that include house-made hoisin sauce, fior-di-latte (mozzarella), pulled duck, green onions and chopped cilantro (not a flavour that suits my palate, so I typically ask to have it omitted if I can). This was reminiscent of the many Peking duck dinners that I have eaten at New Dragon Palace where you build wraps filled with crispy duck skin, duck meat, hoisin sauce and julienned carrots and green onions. The barbecue taste provided extra bite and heat, which I appreciated as someone who likes spice.

The Moo Shu BBQ Duck new world pizza

The Moo Shu BBQ Duck new world pizza

Best of all, the food showed up at our table piping hot – not always the case in the past – and I was glad as my mom needs her food to be almost scalding, otherwise, to her, the meal becomes “just okay” or subpar, so big props to the kitchen this time around.

It was also extremely busy at the Jasper Avenue location this particular Saturday. I’m not sure if some people were coming in to use up their Groupon as I was, but having arrived for an early supper at four o’clock that afternoon, we saw the place fill up promptly afterwards, and the stream of people coming into the place did not let up at all.

As a whole, if you love authentic Italian cuisine (all owners and managers of each new franchise go through an intensive training program in Naples, Italy), Famoso will not disappoint.

For a more in-depth look at the establishment’s involvement in the Edmonton community and its efforts towards sustainability visit The Local Good to read my profile of Famoso Neapolitan Pizzeria.