Edmonton Restaurant Review: Blaze Pizza (Brewery District)

Worked my way through my White Top pizza.

On a whim, my boyfriend and I decided to pop over to the Brewery District last month. We were both hungry, so we opted to try Blaze Pizza for lunch. Similar to Edmonton’s own Urbano Pizza Co. or LOVEPIZZA, this Californian chain of franchises started infiltrating the city with their version of the build your own pizza process back in the spring of 2016 on the north side. Just a little over a year later, two more have risen. This location in the west end and another at South Common.

I’m going to assume that the three shops are relatively the same in terms of quality. From what I gathered on the Blaze Pizza website, franchisees are expected to sign on to develop a market area, so it’s very likely that all of the current spots in the city actually share the same ownership. Plus, with standardization across a chain, it should be expected that dining at one is equivalent to eating at another. In that case, I have to say that, going forward, my expectations will be relatively high.

When we arrived at Blaze Pizza, it wasn’t too busy (the line picked up five minutes later), so the first staff member we encountered was able to explain the whole process to us. Instead of creating our pies from scratch, we both chose to go with their signature pizzas ($11.65 each) — BBQ Chicken for him and White Top for me — supplementing our very own unlimited customizations as we saw fit.

I enjoyed watching them prep the balls of dough with a pressing machine that flattened them into a thin base. The dough was then transferred onto a wooden board that made its way down the assembly line. It begins with the sauces, then moves to the cheeses, followed by the meats, and then the final toppings. At that point, the board is handed over to the “pizzasmith” who slides the pie into the oven. The three minutes it takes to cook is when payment is processed. After that, either find a table and come back to grab the pizza, or wait by the prep area next to the oven for it to be done.

There seemed to be somewhat of a bottleneck during the baking of our pizzas because it took longer than 180 seconds for them to come out. When they’re fetched from the oven, they are placed onto a pan, sliced and then finished off with any last sauces or toppings. I had to ask for the pesto drizzle and I also had to remind the employee to put my arugula on before he handed it to me (I was informed earlier that those greens were placed on at the end to avoid wilting from the heat). My boyfriend’s pizza took another few minutes.

Initial impressions for me: 1) thin, foldable crust; 2) a tad too crispy on the bottom and edges, but still had a nice chew in the middle; 3) flavourful; and 4) plenty of different toppings. I never did sample the BBQ Chicken pizza, but the White Top was made with white cream sauce, mozzarella cheese, applewood bacon, chopped garlic, oregano, and arugula. Personally, on its own, I don’t think the toppings would have sufficed. The staff were kind of skimpy with those ingredients. Thankfully, I had garlic pesto sauce, grilled chicken, artichokes, zucchini, and goat cheese added to the mix, which helped to fill it out.

For the most part, our experience at Blaze Pizza turned out to be a good one. I’m not yet sure if it’s the best pie joint in the build your own pizza realm, but it’s certainly decent enough for the price.

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Edmonton Restaurant Review: The Stone & Wheel Pizzeria

Gooey, cheesy pizza!

The Stone & Wheel Pizzeria is easy to miss. But, I’d bought a Groupon on a whim as an excuse to try a new place, and my boyfriend and I went in search of it. We showed up at the eatery on a Sunday afternoon to find that it’s a tiny spot with just four seats.

No one greeted us. We simply waited. While we hung around the till, I pulled a menu off of the clipboard that was hanging from the kitchen’s glass partition, and the two of us reviewed the options.

Eventually, the woman working that shift came out from the back and offered to take our order. We needed a couple more minutes though. She went back to busying herself prepping some shredded cheese before returning to help us.

Our choice was the large (14 inch) Garlic Chicken house pizza ($21). Our voucher covered everything except the taxes on the bill. We were short on coins, and she wasn’t able to provide change on a larger bill, so the woman graciously told us not to worry about the difference. Feeling bad about it, we decided to pop into Square 1 Coffee, a roomy cafe, that was situated next door.

The two establishments actually share the same owner. Therefore, purchasing a cinnamon knot (delicious, by the way) from the cafe really ended up benefiting the same people. Regardless, we had been told that the pizza would take about 15 to 20 minutes to prepare. As such, we chose to bide our time on a comfy couch in the coffee shop.

The interior of the establishment.

When we returned to the parlour, our order was nearly done. As the woman readied everything, we let her know of our appreciation by dropping off a tip. It was the least we could do considering she let us off on the GST earlier. Honestly, I think it put a skip in her step because she was extra nice to us the rest of the time we remained there. Once our pizza was finished baking, she asked if we were staying or going. Since we opted to eat in, she sliced up the pie, put it into a to go box (in case of leftovers), got us some paper plates, napkins, and a serving utensil, so we could dig right in.

The Garlic Pizza is a combination of white cream sauce, roasted chicken breast, bacon, mushrooms, roasted garlic, feta, and mozzarella cheese on a soft, puffy crust. A bit crispy on the bottom, but fluffy on top, it was my idea of the perfect pizza dough. Best of all, The Stone & Wheel Pizzeria did not skimp on the toppings or the cheese. Sure, it was a somewhat greasy, likely due to the latter ingredient. Yet, every inch, almost to the very edge, was covered with something tasty; the practice of skipping the crust as is so often the case with other pizza joints need not be repeated here. I devoured my portions completely, and after just two slices per person, we were both full.

We tossed out our used plates, returned the cutlery, and packed up our remaining food to take home.

Overall, I’d say that our experience was alright. At first, the service almost seemed to border on disdain towards the customer; however, as we stuck around, the demeanor of the employee got better. Well, she treated us nicer.

Still, the business could work on further training of their front of house. While we ate, we witnessed a family of four or five people who tried to come in for lunch. Instead of welcoming them in, the woman simply told them that the cafe was around the corner. She didn’t even fathom asking if she could get them a pizza. As they left, we overheard the mother tell her children that she’d find them a spot to eat their pizza, so clearly that’s what they had come for. If I was the face of the business, I would have checked with Square 1 Coffee to see if a table was available there. Then I would have arranged to have the family pick up their pizza to eat over at the cafe. It would have been a quick solution to their lack of dining space, and it would have shown that they cared about their potential patrons.

Putting all that aside, the pizza itself was fantastic. For that alone, I’d return to The Stone & Wheel Pizzeria in a heartbeat. For about $20, it’s enough sustenance to provide two filling and flavourful lunches or dinners for a duo. The only thing is, it’s not a place conducive to lingering over a meal, which means I’ll likely just stick to takeout at this location from here on out.

Their logo emblazoned window.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Soda Jerks

The entrance to the West Granville Soda Jerks.

I remember when Soda Jerks opened their first location at West Point Centre in 2011. The concept of building your own burger from top to bottom at a restaurant was pretty foreign. As such, going there became somewhat of a treat.

Eventually, that first shop closed, and I didn’t give Soda Jerks much thought afterwards. Not until this year, anyway.

A few months ago, I launched YEG Food Deals on Facebook to share my knowledge of restaurant happy hour and daily specials on another platform. It’s the sister site to the pages already found on this blog. In keeping those resources up-to-date, I’m constantly researching and I happened to see that Soda Jerks still existed, just in different areas of the city.

With my information provided to them, I started receiving their newsletters in addition to getting a promotion in the mail. Summertime yielded a feature menu and a BOGO burger offer that was to expire over the September long weekend.

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I’m not one to pass up a deal, so I was inclined to give Soda Jerks a try once more. We ended up at the West Granville location on Winterburn Road (near the River Cree Resort & Casino). It was lunch hour on a Sunday and about a third of the space was occupied by customers.

One of the servers greeted and seated us promptly before giving us several minutes to review the selection. We waffled for a while, but my mind was pretty much set on the Electric Pulled Pork sandwich ($13.50) from their seasonal “Pitch A Tent” options. I thought my boyfriend had made a solid decision. However, upon placing his order, he surprised me by going for the Bacon Jerk Jr. ($17+).

Bacon Jerk Jr. Burger

The latter was a double patty burger with bacon and an extra layer of bun in between. Processed cheese, lettuce, red onion, pickles and thousand island dressing garnished and flavoured the meal. I had a couple of bites and we both agreed that something was missing. I think it may have come down to charring of the meat and toasting of the bun. It didn’t have that grilled or buttery taste that’s so necessary. I also don’t understand why they bother to use processed (American) cheese slices. They still looked like plastic sheets when the burger was delivered from the kitchen.

Electric Pulled Pork Sandwich

As for my sandwich, I felt that it fared much better overall. It was a lot smaller, so I suppose it made for a lighter meal, too. The pulled pork was cooked with a root beer BBQ sauce that had a slight spiciness and sweetness to it. I do believe that they could have left the potato chips out of the sandwich. I get that the chips were included to diversify the textures. Yet, it failed because the sauce made them so soggy that I almost couldn’t tell they were even there. Just the beer bun with grains would have sufficed as the sole starch. On the other hand, I enjoyed the electric kale slaw. I’m quite certain that the base of the slaw used came from those Eat Smart Sweet Kale Vegetable Salad kits found in most grocery stores. But, that’s okay. The slaw was deliciously prepared; I think it was sautéed, so it was warm, and the slightly tangy dressing partnered well with the meat. A slice of melted havarti added a luxurious creaminess to the handheld lunch.

Both of us kept our side simple: Soda Jerks hand cut fries. These were decent. Cut to the same dimensions for even cooking, they were crisp on the outside and soft on the inside. I did find them to be a bit bland though. I definitely needed the ketchup. I also tried to sprinkle some of their signature seasoning on a portion of the fries. It helped somewhat, but to really add enough flavour, I would have had to douse a lot more on and I didn’t want to do that either.

I do plan to go back to Soda Jerks to eat one of their donut burgers because I’m still trying to find something similar to what I sampled in Chicago last year. Although, once that happens, I’m not certain I’d go out of my way to revisit again. Yes, the service was good when we went on this occasion, and the prices are reasonable (especially on Wednesdays for 25 percent off burgers). But, the food was truly just alright. For the money and the calories, I know that better exists.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Lava Rock Grille & Sushi

The exterior of Lava Rock Grille & Sushi

Living on the far southwest side of Edmonton, I admittedly don’t make to the west end very much. Therefore, I’m often unaware of restaurants that may have opened in that area. Thankfully, Groupon has helped to keep me in the loop. The site has showcased some fantastic offers over the past few months, including one for Lava Rock Grille & Sushi.

When I first saw the deal, I checked the address and, as I suspected, this business had opened in Mayfield Common. Situated to the left of World Health, that location has been home to several other eateries in the past. Most of them were East Indian in nature and none of them lasted long despite the often excellent food. Seeing that a new restaurant was willing to take on the challenge of this doomed space intrigued me and I immediately purchased a voucher.

The Sunday that my boyfriend and I decided to go, I called about 30 minutes before to make a reservation. Although it may not be a necessity all the time, I’d recommend booking ahead. We ate early at 5:30 and there were only a few tables occupied when we arrived, but the place filled up quickly while we dined.

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I have to say that I was really impressed with the interior of Lava Rock. The whole space was gutted and updated from what I last remember it looking like. The front has a bar and the back of the venue is completely open with the kitchen shifted to the side. There are also a lot more tables than there used to be and it’s much brighter and more welcoming as well.

The set menus that we got to choose from.

Once we were seated, the server went over what our Groupon included. Basically, we had our choice of four different set menus that I believe are always available to order even without the voucher. They range in price from $24 (Striploin and Basa Filet) to $29 (Filet Mignon) with Shrimp falling in the middle. We were to pick one meal each — to be filled out on the paper we were given along with our choice of sauces — and we both opted for the 8 oz. Filet Mignon.

Dynamite and Spicy Salmon Rolls

Service was quite prompt. We received our pieces of Dynamite Roll and Spicy Salmon Roll shortly after our order was taken. Truthfully, these were quite basic. I disliked the rice to filling ratio and that the tempura shrimp in the Dynamite Roll wasn’t warmer. The latter is a sign that these were probably prepared in advance. Otherwise, the flavours were fine. The raw salmon tasted decent and the texture was okay.

Read these instructions before cooking the meat.

While we were still working on our maki, the slabs of hot rock were wheeled over to the table along with the meat and sauces we’d chosen. The server quickly ground some salt onto the stones and lay the meat on top to begin the cooking process. Before she walked away, she uttered a few instructions and then left us to our own devices. I do recommend taking the time to read the small card placed at every table. It goes over all the dos and don’ts of dining there. My biggest takeaway is that nothing other than salt and whatever protein ordered should touch the stone. One of the servers had to remind people as they ate. Her reasoning was that everything else burns and creates uncomfortable clouds of smoke.

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In any case, eight ounces of meat is a lot of food! I’m not complaining though. It was awesome. The cut I got was a bit gristly on one edge. However, it was easy to cut off and the rest of the filet was perfect. I like my red meats cooked to a medium rare. Yet, due to the number of items I was indulging on at the same time, the meat did cook a little past that point. It was still so tender though, so no matter. I especially loved the sesame sauce that I paired with my steak.

Beef Ramen and Green Salad

If that wasn’t enough, the meal also included a cup of green salad and a bowl of beef ramen soup. The salad was fresh, but it wasn’t my favourite. There were these teeny little red peppers that just had this odd taste and were a tad too seedy. The ramen also didn’t have much in the way of beef or noodles and it was cold. Mostly, I was disappointed with the flavour as the soup was incredibly bland.

Mixed Tempura

Our dinner was completed with a plate of mixed tempura: zucchini, shrimp, oyster and scallop. The portion wasn’t large. Nevertheless, I was pleasantly surprised that they provided so much seafood rather than the usual veggies. Everything was breaded lightly and had a crisp texture. Nothing was too greasy.

By the time we polished everything off, we were both full and satisfied. Sure, there were improvements to be made; the sushi wouldn’t be my top choice and I’d skip the salad and ramen. But, overall, the restaurant offers great value with these set menus. As long as one doesn’t mind playing a part in cooking their own meal, it’s well worth a visit to eat at Lava Rock Grille & Sushi.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Dorinku

Dorinku Appetizer Platter ($15.30)

Dorinku, an izakaya serving Tokyo street food, had been on my list of places to visit for at least the past year. So, when my friend was able to meet me for dinner a couple of weeks ago, we took the opportunity to stop by Whyte Avenue to check it out.

The block surrounding the restaurant has ample free parking, so it was easy to find a space nearby. When we arrived at around 6:30pm on the Tuesday evening, the establishment was fairly busy. A number of the tables were already occupied; however, there was no wait. We were immediately greeted and taken to our seats.

Homemade Fresh Ginger Ale ($4)

Our server was prompt to grab us our drinks (homemade fresh ginger ale at $4 each), yet he also gave us ample time to peruse the menu when we couldn’t quite make our decisions.

Ultimately, we started our meal off with the Dorinku Appetizer Platter ($15.30), which is apparently offered in limited quantities every day. Luckily, we managed to snag an order. On this particular night, our seven tasters consisted of Tuna Tataki, Tsukune Yakko, Tuna Avocado, Tako Wasabi, Chicken Karaage, Tomato Kimchi and Pickled Eggplant. Aside from the eggplant, all of the other samplers could be found within the menu. Therefore, this is a fantastic way to go about trying a number of their items.

Tomato Kimchi

We opted to work our way clockwise around the dish from opposite sides of the plate, so the first thing I sampled was the Tomato Kimchi. Surprisingly, the heat wasn’t as strong as I expected. I’ll chalk it up to the juiciness of the fruit as I believe it watered down the spice. Granted, I don’t necessarily mean that to be a criticism. I actually quite liked it and wished I could have had another piece.

Tako Wasabi

Next up was the Tako Wasabi and I wasn’t quite ready for it. The chopped octopus mixed with a wasabi dressing was, initially, overwhelming to my taste buds. It didn’t burn, but the wasabi was incredibly strong. As such, it takes away from the flavours of the tamago that topped the octopus and the sheets of nori wrap.

Tuna Tataki

One of my preferred was the Tuna Tataki with fresh fish that was nicely seared at the edges. A mix of sesame soy citrus sauce and homemade chili oil was drizzled over the tuna and then topped with green onion. Super tasty and just a tad spicy. There was also a little bit of crunch that possibly came from panko or tempura crumbs.

Chicken Karaage

If I’m correct, the Chicken Karaage was a bite size version of the available full order. The pieces of deep fried chicken were crisp and likely sprinkled with the green tea salt and covered in the chili mayonnaise mentioned on the menu. Everything worked well together and the batter refrained from being oily.

Tsukune Yakko

Tsukune Yakko is deep fried minced chicken patty and sliced white scallions served with fresh tofu, teriyaki sauce and chili oil. Truthfully, I wasn’t sure about this appetizer. It was decent though. It came across kind of lighter than I thought it would and it utilized a variety of textures.

Pickled Eggplant

Personally, I think Dorinku is doing a disservice to their customers by not putting the Pickled Eggplant on the menu as a regular item. Maybe it’s always made as part of this platter; nevertheless, I’d go for a bigger dish if it was an option. The eggplant was slightly acidic with a wonderful spongy consistency that soaked up all of the marinade.

Tuna Avocado

The last bite I had was the Tuna Avocado. Made with albacore tuna sashimi, avocado and a pureed Japanese citrus seaweed sauce, it was a refreshing mouthful. It was easily the simplest in terms of preparation, but the tuna melted in my mouth. Combined with the avocado, it created a buttery quality.

Mozzarella Minced Katsu ($9.80)

We continued our dinner with a plate of the Mozzarella Minced Katsu ($9.80). These were balls of minced beef and pork cutlet wrapped around mozzarella cheese filling, which were then breaded and deep fried. I squeezed some fresh lemon juice onto them before dipping them into the accompanying sesame soy sauce. These were pretty delicious. Although, I would suggest adding even more cheese into the center as the first one I ate lacked in that department and that’s what makes them worth eating.

Corn and Kale Kakiage ($7.80)

As we ate our food, we’d take into account what people around us were ordering and those seated next to us convinced us to try the Corn and Kale Kakiage ($7.80). If I had my way, kale would only ever be prepared in fried form.  The patties of tempura coated corn and kale were lightly breaded, allowing for just the right amount of crunch. Any bitterness from the kale was masked by the sweetness of the large, fresh corn kernels and the butter soy sauce.  Honestly, these tasted good, but they felt a tad too greasy.

Carbonara Udon ($13.80)

Not completely satiated, we finished off our meal with one more item. The whole time we were at Dorinku, the Carbonara Udon ($13.80) on the Days’ Special Menu called to us. This did not disappoint! The thick Japanese wheat flour noodle had the perfect chew and the carbonara sauce ─ creamy with bacon and a poached egg ─ was to die for. It also came to the table in a hot stone bowl, so the sauce stayed bubbling hot. As long as it’s still being offered, it would be my top pick next time I’m there. Our server agreed that it’s his favourite, too.

Overall, Dorinku has a laid back, casual atmosphere, making it a great place for a get together. Their diverse menu should satisfy most diners and the friendly service we experienced was top notch.

Frozen grapes, in place of candies, came with the bill.