Edmonton Restaurant Review: Belgravia Hub

The food menu at Belgravia Hub.

The food menu at Belgravia Hub.

Every single weekday for the last few years, I’ve ridden the LRT from the south side of the city to downtown in the morning and then back again after work. Ten stops along the way, most of which have some sort of association with them. The only one that held no significance to me was McKernan/Belgravia station. From what I could see through the windows as we rolled on by was a largely residential neighbourhood with a school across the street. I would never have suspected that a fantastic restaurant lay in the area’s midst.

I started hearing raves about a place called Belgravia Hub (@BelgraviaHub) from a few of my university classmates when we met for a catch up. Naturally, I Googled the restaurant to see where it was located and, despite seeing it on the map, I still couldn’t quite place where exactly it would be should I step off the train at that stop and proceed to make my way there. I’m terrible with directions though, so it didn’t necessarily surprise me. I continued to think that if I looked hard enough down the street as we continued down the track, I’d spot it, but I never could. It turns out it’s tucked in a little too far for that. Then, the second annual list of Edmonton’s best eats was published by The Tomato in March of 2014 and the eatery debuted at No. 45. I became more determined to try this place out. Of course, other plans and life got in the way last year and it never happened.

The bar of the restaurant.

The bar of the restaurant.

I did eventually make my way there with a friend (by car) this January. Starving as we circled the block, the lights from the unassuming building were like a beacon calling us in. Located in a tiny strip at 76 Avenue and 115 Street there are a decent amount of parking spots in their lot as well as on the street to match the number of diners that they can accommodate at any one time. With less than a dozen tables and about eight bar seats, it’s quite a small establishment. Yet, it has a sleek and simultaneously homey feel that really makes you feel welcome.

Since we had made a reservation ahead of time, we were directed to a table immediately. It was fairly early, so it was rather quiet, but business did pick up later in the evening. The server was very friendly and made a few recommendations for drinks. We opted for lemonade over beer or wine this time, and we also decided to start with an order of their corn fritters.

Corn fritters to share and glasses of lemonade.

Corn fritters to share and glasses of lemonade.

The fritters arrived at our table piled high in a silver bucket. Looking plump, they were accompanied by sides of smoked ketchup and strawberry jam. Dense enough, so the fritter stayed together when cut open, they were warm and soft with a nice crisp shell. Slathered with the smoked ketchup, they were a savoury treat that seemed to have a bit of a kick to it. On the other hand, when spread with strawberry jam, we ended up with that delectable combo of salty and sweet flavours. Honestly, I couldn’t decide which I preferred. Both combinations were excellent and, if there wasn’t more food on the way, I would have been happy to eat those corn fritters all night.

Nevertheless, we continued on with our meal. My friend selected the sweet pea gnocchi while I couldn’t say no to the braised beef shortrib. Generously portioned, the giant pieces of handmade gnocchi dumplings were swimming in a creamy dill sauce, which was topped with a beet salsa. The sauce was a good consistency with the scent of the herb coming through nicely. It tasted and felt rich without being overly heavy. The beet salsa provided a needed sweet and earthy flavour as well as additional texture. The shortrib was just spectacular. The meat from the two decent sized pieces of shortrib on the bone were really enough for two meals (I took half of my food home). Succulent from marinating in its juices, the meat just fell apart. Paired with the an apple cabbage slaw that provided crunch, bitterness and tang to the dish and a warm dill potato salad that came off like more of a Dijon with the use of mustard seeds, this was, to me, home-style cooking at its finest.

As full as we were, to finish off our dinner as we discussed our upcoming vacation, we had to sample a couple of their desserts. Because my friend polished off her plate of gnocchi, she went with that day’s choice of sorbet – green apple – and I chose the chocolate beet cake. The sorbet was smoother than I expected it would be and sweeter, too. Not too sugary though, so it was a great palate cleanser. While the initial bites of the chocolate beet cake were good, it was almost like the density of the cake made it seem drier than it should have been. Covered with a layer of ganache instead of the usual frosting and just a little bit of caramel on the plate, I liked the flavour, but the texture could have been improved upon.

All-in-all, I loved Belgravia Hub. The service slowed as the night progressed as there was only one server working and it got busier the later we were there. Thankfully, we weren’t in any sort of rush, so we didn’t necessarily mind that. Most importantly, the food surprised me. I’d heard it was good, but most everything I tried surpassed my expectations, so I’m excited to return and eat something different off the menu. The restaurant, open for about two years now, still comes across as a hidden treasure. In a way, I hope it stays like that, but I also wish the establishment the very best because this is a treasure that you want to keep for a long time to come.

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

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Edmonton Restaurant Review: Holt’s Cafe

Lunch at Holt's Cafe

Lunch at Holt’s Cafe

As a teenager, I used to bus downtown from school to see my mom at her gift shop. Sometimes I would stay and help her out at the store, and, other times, I would venture off through the pedway to walk around City Centre mall or poke through the merchandise at Holt Renfrew. I’d act all adult in this high end boutique (I call it that because, let’s face it, it’s nowhere near as good as the ones to be found across the rest of Canada), even though I was far from it.

When I graduated from university and I got my first real job as a young adult, I’d do the same thing. The only difference was I was now really more of a grown up. If I wanted to, I could save my earnings and spend it on that hot pink patent leather Louis Vuitton wallet embossed with their LV logo, or whatever was the “hot” item of the day. Of course, I was never one to splurge on big ticket purchases like that, so, alas, Holt Renfrew would need to make money off me some other way.

On my many trips to the store, I paid very little attention to the back corner on the top floor. It never really occurred to me that a restaurant existed there. But, over time, I started to notice that tables were tucked away there, and, eventually, Holt’s Cafe was added to my list of places to try. It has been several years since I started working downtown, and just before the new year is when my friend and I finally made a point of heading there for lunch.

The two of us ventured to the cafe the week after Christmas, so, even though it was significantly quieter in the area, we still made a reservation. Upon arriving, I was surprised at how cute the space is. Decked with simple light-coloured wood grain chairs, tables covered in white cloths, white walls accented with rainbow striped wallpaper and a Christmas tree, it was minimalist chic. What I loved most about the look of the restaurant was the far wall, which consists of floor to ceiling windows that overlook the street-level atrium entrance to the Manulife building, allowing plenty of natural light to bathe the room as well as an opportunity for people watching.

Much of the menu was appealing, and, considering the venue, the prices weren’t as high as I would have expected. The two of us decided we would each order a main and we would split them both. We ended up selecting the pumpkin gnocchi and the squash risotto cakes.

Pumpkin Gnocchi

Pumpkin Gnocchi

The pumpkin gnocchi was a bit of a surprise in that the number of gnocchi provided for a $16 dish was fairly miniscule. I believe there were a total of 6 or 7 pieces. They were of a decent size, but, ultimately, the dish they came in was about the size of a my hand (and my hands are small). On the plus side, they were deliciously plump. The sage butter provided an additional layer of flavour and the side of greens made it a lighter dish than we anticipated.

Squash Risotto Cakes

Squash Risotto Cakes

Squash risotto cakes sounded like a nice change of pace from a bowl of regular risotto. The round patties were relatively large, sitting atop a huge bed of the same greens that came with the gnocchi. Nicely crisp on the outside, they tasted great having been garnished with a light tomato-based sauce. The salad that accompanied both plates was a good mix of lettuce, carrot and beet (?) peel, cranberries and a lovely smokey flavour from what I believe were thin slices of purple potato that had either been baked or pan fried.

Ginger Pear Amaretto Cake at the front and Pomegranate Gingerbread Cake at the back!

Ginger Pear Amaretto Cake at the front and Pomegranate Gingerbread Cake at the back!

Since we had the time, we also indulged in a couple of desserts. My friend ordered the pomegranate gingerbread cake with salted caramel sauce. I think it was the words “salted caramel” that got to her because she can’t pass up anything that has that ingredient. It was a sweet, rich dessert that at one or two bites was perfect, but I was told was a little too much as a whole. She also noted that she couldn’t really taste the pomegranate, and the ginger flavour wasn’t as prominent as in my choice, which was a ginger pear amaretto cake. While my cake was sugary as well, I would agree with her that it was more subtly so. The amaretto and ginger paired really well together, and the slices of pear that adorned the surface of the dessert added a much needed tartness.

There were only two people on staff at the restaurant that day (not that it was busy), and they both did a good job of attending to all the tables. Food was prepared in a timely fashion – where exactly they fit their kitchen, I don’t know – and we were in and out in just over an hour.

The daily specials board inside the store. Also look out for the easel in front of the store doors while walking through Manulife!

The daily specials board inside the store. Also look out for the easel in front of the store doors while walking through Manulife!

I quite enjoyed our meal. Although, I’d be inclined to try something different on my next visit. Some of their daily specials sounded great, so I’ll have to keep an eye out on those whenever I walk through the building, but most of the other options on the regular menu appealed to me, too.

Overall, Holt’s Cafe feels almost like a secret little oasis away from the hustle and bustle of the work day. Sometimes that’s exactly what’s needed; it’s a place to take a much deserved break and recharge yourself for what lies ahead.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Wildflower Grill

Bread to start off our meal.

Bread to start off our meal.

Wildflower Grill (@LaziaWFEast), brought to us by the owners of Lazia and the relatively new EAST, opened as part of the Matrix Hotel several years ago. Since it landed, it has received various accolades and continues to be recognized for their Canadian cuisine. In fact, readers of The Tomato named them the No. 90 best place to eat and drink in the city in 2013 for their braised beef short ribs alone.

In all the years that it has been there, I had heard so many good things and read some excellent reviews, but had never made a point of going. I think the price point may have been one reason that I steered away from it, but as I’ve gotten a little older, I’ve decided that food is literally one of my great loves in life, and I’m okay with the idea of indulging in a sumptuous meal every once in a while.

As such, since my friend and I were spending an evening nearby at the Art Gallery of Alberta to attend the museum’s most recent Road Trip themed Late Night Refinery event, we selected Wildflower Grill as the place to start our festivities.

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The menus

Because I’m a fan of reservations, I made sure to book a table in advance using the OpenTable system, so we were seated promptly when we arrived at the restaurant. Although it was starting to get warmer outside at the end of May, it still wasn’t quite mild enough to sit on the patio, so we opted to stay indoors as did everyone else. The interior of the establishment is quite sleek and modern, using lighter brown woods and shots of yellow, orange and green in the walls and art to make it feel welcoming.

Our server gave us the daily specials soon after we sat down and he was able to answer any questions we had about the food. He was also friendly, joking with us a little, but always remaining professional. When our food was ready, two other staff members brought our plates to us, but as soon as our server walked by he noticed that one was missing and immediately went to see why it hadn’t made it with the rest of the items, so it showed me that he was very attentive, which deserves props.

Three mushroom ravioli.

Three mushroom ravioli.

The menu isn’t extensive, but it still offers plenty of choices, which made it hard for my friend and I to choose what we wanted to go with. All the mains sounded fantastic; however, in the end, we both ordered two small dishes each. Assured by our server that it would be enough, we were happy to go that route as it meant we could sample more items, and we figured that if we were still hungry, we could always get dessert afterwards. Despite that thought, we never had to worry about leaving the restaurant with a half empty stomach because they started us off with an amuse bouche of smoked salmon and grapefruit as well as fresh baked bread that readied us for what lay ahead.

My dining companion ate the Potato Gnocchi and the Sour Cherry & Maple Glazed Duck Confit. The gnocchi was served with a sweet pea puree, triple smoked bacon, serrano ham chips and egg floss. I took a bite of it and the flavours were wonderful. They really popped and the gnocchi was browned and crisped from pan frying, so it had the proper texture. The sweet pea puree and the tomatoes were there to balance out the saltiness of the bacon and ham. Aside from gnocchi, my friend can usually never pass up the opportunity to eat duck and I think that it was appropriate. The meat was tender and paired well with the roast garlic risotto, caramelized brussel sprouts and carrots that it sat upon.

My meal consisted of the Three Mushroom Ravioli and the Braised Beef Shortrib (I couldn’t go there without trying this). The ravioli had a nice, not too thick pasta shell, and was amply stuffed with mushrooms. Placed on a bed of asparagus and drizzled with truffle oil, smoked applewood cheddar fonduta and topped with some shaved piave vecchio cheese (similar to Parmigiano Reggiano), the ravioli was a great example of pasta made from scratch. The beef short ribs were nothing short of spectacular. It was pure meat with very little detectable fat, if any at all, that pretty much melted in your mouth. The port demi glace and white balsamic reduction actually tasted great with bites of the ravioli that I combined with my short ribs.

Needless to say, we left completely satisfied and stuffed from those dishes (no room at all for dessert). I’m happy that The Tomato‘s list pushed me to try another establishment that I just never seemed to get to. Whether I’m back there this year or a few years from now, I am positive that it will be another good experience.

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 Wildflower Grill.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Under the High Wheel

The exterior of Under the High Wheel.

The exterior of Under the High Wheel.

I wasn’t aware of Under the High Wheel‘s (@thehighwheel) existence until I came across The Tomato‘s lists of 100 best eats and drinks in Edmonton. In 2013, readers voted the noshery into the No. 86 spot touting all of their breakfast items as worthy. Then, again, this past March it made the list once more, shooting up to the No. 48 position. So, after seeing that it has been getting high marks, I suggested to my friend that we stop there for brunch on a nice, warm, sunny day over the May long weekend.

Located inside the Roots on Whyte building at 102 Street and 81 Avenue, there is ample street parking in the vicinity in case you were at all worried. We parked directly across from the patio and headed towards the restaurant. There are two entrances, one through the DaCapo Caffe and another through the automatic sliding doors next to the Blush Lane Organic Market. Not realizing that DaCapo and Under the High Wheel actually share the same space, we got a little confused and thought we had to enter through the other door. Eventually, we made our way inside and were promptly greeted and seated outside at the last available patio table.

Most of the patio is shaded, so you won’t be blinded by the sunshine if it’s a particularly bright day. However, the table we got was at the far end of the space and wasn’t covered at all. While it was great for soaking in some vitamin D, it’s also good to know that, if you’re sensitive to the sun, you may want to avoid that location because without a pair of sunglasses you’ll be squinting throughout your entire meal.

The feature menu.

The feature menu.

The menu was actually quite thorough. It included their usual brunch dishes, encompassing soup, salads, breakfast items as well as a variety of sandwiches and burgers. In addition, a small selection of featured plates were tacked on for good measure. Seeing as how I think it’s important to try an establishment’s tried and true offerings, I opted to go with the Savoury Belgian Waffles with smoked salmon. On the other hand, my friend decided to go with one of the specials, which ended up being the Hand Rolled Gnocchi because I have almost never seen her pass up the chance to eat potato pasta.

Our server was really pleasant and friendly. She made a point of asking us if we were in a rush that day. I’m guessing if we were they would have tried to get to our order more quickly, but we stated that we had time and were there to relax. As we waited for our food, we both drank mugs of chai latte. I thought the tea was good, but it lacked the amount of spice that I typically like. At over five dollars I would have expected a little better, but it was nice to sip anyway.

My savoury Belgian waffle with smoked salmon.

My savoury Belgian waffle with smoked salmon.

The brightly coloured meals did eventually make their way to us. When they landed on our table, the server pointed out that I was lucky to have gotten my order in when I did as they had just run out of waffle batter for the day. With the breakfast gods on my side, I dug into my waffles with smoked salmon and it was delicious! Like a glorified plate of eggs benedict, the waffles, if I do say so myself, are an excellent and preferred replacement for English muffins, giving a slightly sweet taste to the otherwise savoury dish. The smoked salmon was fresh and the poached eggs were cooked perfectly, providing just the right amount of runniness when the yolk was broken. The side of greens was a great palate cleanser that brought an earthy quality, especially with the pumpkin (I’m assuming that’s what they were) seeds mixed in.

My friend’s gnocchi was generously portioned and was covered with amazing, fresh hazelnut pesto and pea and mint sauce. She shared some with me and I have to say it was one of the best I’ve had in the city. Different from pan seared gnocchi, which I usually prefer, it was the sauce that really made it a solid competitor.

Completely full after cleaning off our plates, we didn’t have room for dessert, so I can’t comment on what they have to offer there. But, if they put as much effort into them as they do their mains, I’m sure they’re equally as delectable.

I’m glad that we tried Under the High Wheel and that my eyes were opened up to a new food destination. The interior of the restaurant is really quite cute with an antique look that seems comfy and cozy for those days when all you want to do is sit and chat with those closest to you. I’ll definitely be back to sample some more food soon!

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Hardware Grill

Our view into the kitchen of the Hardware Grill

Our view into the kitchen of the Hardware Grill

Every year I look forward to the Downtown Business Association‘s Downtown Dining Week (DTDW). Why? Well, I get ten days to visit a variety of restaurants in the core of the city that may not always make it to the top of my list for one reason or another. It’s certainly not because of the food. On the contrary! More than likely it is due to the fact that I probably can’t shell out a hundred dollars for a meal on a regular basis. In jumps this event to save the day. This March was no different.

The very first establishment my friend and I decided to visit this time around was Hardware Grill (@HardwareGrill). A mainstay of the Edmonton food scene since 1996, the restaurant has continued to rack up accolades both locally and nationally, including making The Tomato‘s list of 100 best eats and drinks in Edmonton two years in a row now (No. 19 in 2013 and No. 30 in 2014). Considered to be the pinnacle of fine dining in this city, we walked over to the brick building with the striped awnings on 96 Street and Jasper Avenue for a relaxing dinner after a busy Monday at the office.

Upon walking into the doors, we were promptly greeted by the hostess who acknowledged our reservation, hung up our coats and showed us to our table. On a previous visit I had sat at the front of the restaurant, which provided a view of the street, but this time we were seated by large glass windows that gave us a view of the chefs working in the kitchen. We could literally watch our meals being made in front of us. That was a nice surprise and a fun touch of whimsy to be able to peer behind the scenes.

The Hardware Grill's cocktail list

The Hardware Grill’s cocktail list

Our wonderful server, Luis, came over to explain the drink (a nice list of custom cocktails that can also be found at their sister location, Tavern 1903) and wine (extensive) menus as well as the DTDW selections. Both my friend and I opted to go with the three-course dining week dinner. We really couldn’t go wrong. Between the two of us we were saving about $50 on our meals – compared to a regular evening there – and we could use some of that money towards beverages (we each had a glass of wine). It was definitely the best option for us.

To start, we were brought a bowl filled with a variety of soft bread slices and a dish of earthy extra virgin olive oil, which was paired with sea salt for dipping. I’ve been told that you can tell just what you’re in for at a restaurant based off of the bread, so this was already a great sign of things to come.

For our appetizers, we decided to each order something different, so we could sample a larger number of dishes. Since my friend loves gnocchi, as do I, we shared a plate of the venison ragu and potato pasta with shaved parmesan. The freshly made gnocchi was nicely browned and crisp on the outside (the way it should be) and the venison added some extra bite and texture to the dish. It’s sad to point this out, but this appetizer is not to be found on their regular menu, so if you’re hoping to try it, you are probably out of luck. However, I will note that we each ate only half and I have to say that if either of us had eaten the entire plate, it could have served as an entree in and of itself. Thankfully, we had room for more! The first course that I went with was a much lighter on the palate and a variation of it can be found there on a usual basis. This was the fresh burrata mozzarella with pepperonata, crostini, fennel marmalade and fig balsamic. The portion size of the mozzarella was huge and paired with the extras it was a star and a great balance to the heavier, but equally delicious gnocchi.

As I’m unlikely to buy and make myself a veal chop at home, I thought that this was an opportune time to sample their grain fed version for my main course. My friend followed suit for most of the same reasons, but also because the fennel salad that accompanied the potato crusted cedar plank salmon had crab in it, which she’s allergic to. Neither of us were disappointed in our decision though. The massive veal chop, covered with maple bacon, mushrooms and Cipollini onions, was plated on top of a creamy polenta, tomato confit and it’s own natural reduction. The dish was as good as it sounds, but not to the point where we could both polish off the entire thing. The portion size was so large that the two of us each left half of the food on our plates, making Luis worry that we didn’t enjoy it. We reassured him that wasn’t the case – we expected to take the other half home for later. Room needed to be saved for dessert!

Again, we both chose the same dessert. Really, that’s kind of the one part of the meal that’s the hardest to share. While I’m sure their marble brownie would be amazing, we went with the liquid cheese cake parfait – layered salted shortbread crumble, rhubarb-Saskatoon compote and creamy, almost like a greek yogurt consistency, cheese cake that was to die for. I would have eaten this for all three courses.

If anything, that dessert describes the Hardware Grill and the food they serve – textures and flavours that are rich, vibrant and layered to build depth. Their consistency and attention to detail in the kitchen parlays into the rest of the restaurant. The service we experienced was exceptional from the moment we walked in to when we left. Luis made it feel like we were old friends and the hostess gave us a fond farewell for the evening.

For a special occasion or just a quiet night out with a friend, this classy restaurant fits the bill.