Edmonton Restaurant Review: Town Square Brewing

The main floor of Town Square Brewing holds the bar and a larger group table.

Wanting to catch up, my friend and I recently made plans to meet. Both of us living on the south side of Edmonton, it isn’t always super easy to find local, independently owned restaurants to hang out at in our neck of the woods. But, I’d had my eye on Town Square Brewing for a while (located at 2919 Ellwood Drive), and that’s where we decided to go. Being a brewery, I brought Kirk along as well since I thought he’d enjoy the beer.

We showed up for lunch on a Sunday at noon. Turns out, we were the first customers for the day. It’s a bright and casual space. Very open concept with tall ceilings on the main floor and a staircase that takes guests up to a loft with several tables and a couple of cozy looking armchairs situated by a fireplace. Windows along the back wall look into the production area, so you can see the machinery at work.

A shared flight of beer with our selections from the current draughts on tap.

Told to seat ourselves wherever we liked, we chose a table that overlooked the entrance. A board on the wall indicated the current beers on tap. Kirk and I decided to share a flight ($10 for four 5 ounce glasses). I like some beers, but I’m not the connoisseur. The only one that I selected and drank was the Beets by Sinden Kettle Sour. I found it to be crisp, earthy, a little bit tart, smooth, and without any lingering bitterness. Perfect for me. It’s also the Alberta Beer Bronze Winner for 2018. At the time, they also had a Belgian-style beer on tap. That was Kirk’s favourite of the three he sampled. An additional pint was ordered to go with our food.

Town Square Brewing has a pretty compact menu with a focus on their pizzas. I should probably have listened to our server who mentioned that the pies are their most popular options. Instead, I went with the Parson’s Daughter Sandwich ($16) while Kirk chose their full-size Brewer’s Break pizza ($19).

Parson’s Daughter Sandwich with the Soup of the Day

The sandwich wasn’t the worst thing, but it also wasn’t the best. I just felt that they put very little effort into it. The house made spent grain bread was sliced to a thickness that would hold up when held, but it was really bland and pretty dry. The bread was literally cut from the loaf with absolutely no other preparation like toasting, pressing or buttering at all. Filled with chicken breast, pear, mozzarella, cranberry aioli, spinach, and basil, it sounded quite promising; however, the clearly pre-cooked chicken (it was cold) and not melted cheese was a downer. The only plus were the spotty bites with cranberry aioli, which upped the flavour quotient ever so slightly. For the side, I opted for a bowl of the daily soup. It happened to be a tomato bisque, so I was expecting something creamier. This one was mealy like the texture of a tomato that has been refrigerated. Not great. At the very least, it was somewhat warm, and I liked the touch of crumbled cheese on top.

Definitely go here for the pizza though. Town Square Brewing makes theirs with a thin crust. It has a different consistency than what you might find at Famoso, for example, as it’s less chewy in the middle. The outside is a little crispier, yet the dough is still soft enough to fold. The toppings were decent, too. With Genoa salami, Lazuli Farms pulled pork, and prosciutto, this hit the spot for us two carnivores. Arugula, onions, tomatoes, and BBQ sauce took things a step further, balancing out any saltiness from all that meat with bitterness, sweetness, and tartness. On a side note, I really like the trays that the pizzas are served on. There’s a hole in one corner that fits a single tasting glass just right. I thought that was a fun touch.

I was originally tempted to stay a little longer in order to have some dessert. In the end I refrained from it. I’ll save that for the next visit because their Soul Food pizza is calling to me. If they can work on their sandwich, I’d appreciate it. For the price, it certainly didn’t seem worth it at all. As always, every place has room for improvement, and I’m going to say that this is it for Town Square Brewing. Otherwise, everything else was fairly satisfying.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Prairie Noodle Shop

Prairie Noodle Shop’s custom interior

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

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

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

Featured dumplings by Gourmai.

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

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

Fire & Ice and Black Sesame Ice Creams

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

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

Edmonton Bakery Review: Cinnaholic

What’s inside the box?

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

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

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

Their showcase has a number of suggested buns.

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

They can get quite elaborate.

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

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

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

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

Cinnaholic’s interior is bright.

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

Edmonton Event Review: Gourmai Dumpling Pop-Up

Donair Dumplings

Placing in the top four of MasterChef Canada competitors (her season aired in the spring of 2017), chef Mai Nguyen returned to Edmonton with talent to spare. I’m going to call her the Dumpling Queen since she has parlayed her knowledge of cooking into making these delectable pocketed treats.

I’ve kept my eye on her social media, and I have drooled at photos of all the food that she has posted. I also lamented missing out on previous pop-ups that she has run. Every time one occurred, I happened to have previous plans that prevented me from attending. But, a week and a half ago, she hosted another one at Prairie Noodle Shop. You best believe that I booked a reservation as soon as I found out.

The full menu for the Gourmai Dumpling Pop-Up on Oct 28.

Kirk and I arrived at the restaurant at noon (the earlier the better as the dumplings only last until sold out), and proceeded to order almost the entire wallet-friendly menu: Donair ($9 for 6 pieces), Bacon Cheeseburger ($11 for 6 pieces), Peaches & Shrimp ($11 for 5 pieces), Satay Chicken ($10 for 6 pieces), Oyster Soup Dumpling ($4 for a single), Roasted Kabocha Squash ($7 for 4 pieces), and Marinated Quail Eggs ($4 for 4 eggs). We also received a House Salad ($5) at no charge due to a delay with one of our items. Each dish was presented as they were prepared, so everything was served fresh and hot.

Peaches & Shrimp Dumplings

The first to come out was the Peaches & Shrimp. Kirk would have preferred that the shrimp was minced and mixed with other filling. But, I was okay with the shrimp being whole. The outside of the dumpling showcased a beautiful braided edge. The wrap was slightly crisp and a little bit sweet from the mayo. It’s a classic combo of flavours, taking influence from the famous Chinese favourite.

Next up was the Donair, which seemed to be filled with minced lamb. The meat was slightly drier, probably from the leaner cut. Still, these were very tasty when combined with the donair sauce, pickled onions and tomatoes. Having additional donair sauce for dipping would have taken these just a step further.

Marinated Quail Eggs

As we dined, I snacked on the Marinated Quail Eggs. These were delicate and delicious. Extremely well-flavoured with a smooth texture and not too hard. They were paired with pickled radishes that added crunch.

Bacon Cheeseburger Dumplings

Returning to the dumplings, we continued on our lunchtime journey with the Bacon Cheeseburger. These were fabulous. I kind of questioned them at first, mostly for the regular pickles listed in the ingredients. Thankfully, the pickles were just used as a topping to the dish and could be removed easily. The meat was incredibly juicy, and the fats that oozed out with every initial bite reminded me of eating a xiao long bao (soup dumpling). These ended up being my top choice of the day!

Oyster Soup Dumpling

Because Kirk isn’t keen on eating bivalve molluscs like oysters or mussels, I couldn’t convince him to give the Oyster Soup Dumpling a try. These were perfectly folded with black wraps coloured using squid ink. Admittedly, the high salinity content of the oyster can be hard for many to swallow. But, overall, I think that these showed a lot of craft, and if tweaked slightly, they could be winners.

House Salad

Part way through our meal, we realized it was likely that our last plate of dumplings was forgotten, so we quickly mentioned it to one of the servers. While we waited, they provided a complimentary House Salad. A rainbow mix of sliced raw radishes, carrot slivers and greens were tossed in a fragrant ginger soy sesame dressing. The acidity was such a nice cleanser on the palate before lunch ended.

Satay Chicken Dumplings

It wasn’t long before we received our Satay Chicken dumplings. These were massive! The minced chicken had been combined with ginger for a simple touch of spice. The seared dumplings were served with pickled veggies (chili peppers and cucumber) and a thick peanut satay sauce. Compared to the rest of the options at the pop-up, Kirk and I both thought that these were a tad bland on their own. However, when eaten with the dip and veggies, they were superb.

Roasted Kabocha Squash

The Gourmai Pop-Up was completed with a helping of the Roasted Kabocha Squash, Mai’s take on dessert dumplings. These were decadent while retaining a lightness in the whipped mascarpone cheese and squash filling. Sitting in a generous pool of spiced crème anglaise (I drank all of it) and decorated with graham cracker crumb and pumpkin seed, it was the perfect fall-inspired finish to our outing.

Mai definitely outdid herself by making each and every dumpling by hand for the event. I can’t even fathom the amount of time it took for her to prepare all of them. The love certainly showed though, and I look forward to her next endeavour(s). If you want the chance to attend her next Gourmai Dumpling Pop-Up, follow her on Instagram (@maicaroon). You’ll want to be there!

Edmonton Bakery Review: Destination Doughnuts

Snickerdoodle, Strawberry Cheesecake, Birthday Cake, All the Reese, Ode to Sunshine and Triple Play

Opened by a father-daughter duo who saw the potential in the growing food trend, Destination Doughnuts‘ storefront resides in the equally fashionable pocket of 124 Street in Edmonton. Unlike most businesses in the neighbourhood, the shop on 105 Avenue has several free parking spots in the building’s front lot, making it prime real estate.

The bakery space is very open and you can see everyone working in the back.

On our first visit, we were meeting friends for a snack and we decided to walk over. Upon entering the shop, you’re immediately greeted by visuals of their open kitchen and a lineup of the day’s doughnut selection behind a long glass partition. To the far left side is also a self-serve mini doughnut machine ($5 per bag). If intending to stay, I suggest keeping it short as there are only a few tables. Let others have a chance to sit down as well. In our case, our friends arrived a little early and they managed to snag spots for the four of us. On a side note, it seemed like there was a bit of a yellow jacket issue as several were getting into the bakery. Hopefully they were able to take care of that.

Kirk left me to do the purchasing. He mistakenly assumed I was just going to buy a single doughnut each ($3.50; I question how well he knows me), but I showed up at the table with a box of a half-dozen ($18.45). Considering that we made it there later in the afternoon and Destination Doughnuts closes by 3pm every Tuesday to Sunday (or when sold out), I was happy to see that they still had a decent variety available.

My box of a half-dozen doughnuts: Crème Brûlée, S’mores, Angel Flakes, Snickerdoodle, Strawberry Cheesecake and Oreo.

We snacked on two sizeable desserts while we hung out. Kirk thought the Oreo had a bit too much chocolate with the glaze and cookie crumble topping all being the same flavour. Although I did agree that, for the sake of aesthetics, it would have made more sense to use a white glaze in order to emulate the look of an actual Oreo cookie, the doughnut itself tasted very much like the real thing, so they hit it out of the park there.

I decided to sample the White Chocolate Coconut doughnut. It was sweeter with the white chocolate glaze as a base. Yet, the coconut shavings were plentiful and a delicious combo. Both of the yeast dough foundations were really fresh, light and fluffy. Neither one of them felt overly sugary, contrary to some of the choices from the popular Doughnut Party (I’m only able to eat maybe a quarter or half of their doughnut at once, otherwise it feels like too much).

S’mores

The remaining four doughnuts were devoured through the evening and into the next day. Surprisingly, the quality didn’t degrade as I was worried they would. We simply left the covered box out on our counter overnight. Even as day-old doughnuts, they retained their soft texture. The glazes stayed in tact (little to no melting) and the fillings kept fine without making the surrounding dough soggy. I’d say the last one we ate, the S’mores, probably fared the worst of the quad. It did dry out a little by the time we got to it. The Strawberry Cheesecake, Crème Brûlée and Snickerdoodle were excellent though.

Look at that cinnamon sugar dusted Snickerdoodle doughnut!

More recently, at the office, we convinced our co-worker to upgrade our usual order of Timmies treats to those from Destination Doughnuts. While I did find that particular batch to be a tad greasier than normal (perhaps a change of oil in the fryer was soon in order), I’ll just say that everyone was a convert. It’s really difficult to go back to the Tim Hortons ones after trying pretty much anything else from the several local and independent businesses now on the scene.

Personally, when it comes to the more elaborate style of fried dough confections, I think Destination Doughnuts may do it best in this city. They refrain from the standards and stick to specialty options that are just the right amount of sweet.