Edmonton Restaurant Review: Blowers & Grafton

Relaxing with a pint at Blowers & Grafton.

Driving down Whyte Avenue earlier this summer, I noticed the facade of a new establishment called Blowers & Grafton (10550 82 Avenue). Touting itself as a place for Halifax Street Food, I was immediately excited since Kirk is from New Brunswick and I had a hunch that he’d like it. Nonetheless, at the time, it was put on the back burner. Then, fast forward about a month when we decided to meet up with some friends for a bite to eat over the first weekend of the 37th Annual Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival. This ended up being our pick of the day.

Blowers & Grafton has a casual space with a distinctly East Coast feel.

We arrived just before 3 o’clock in the afternoon on a Saturday. The place was about three-quarters full and we managed to get seated right away. It’s actually quite a nice space with tables spread out well, so customers aren’t draped over each other. There’s a distinctly vintage rustic industrial design with open ceilings, original beams, brick, lots of stained woods, Edison bulbs screwed into pipes, warehouse-style pendant lighting, and upholstered metal stools. The only shots of colour in the place come from the reddish faux brick walls and a faded denim shade as seen on the seats and towards the back of the pub. To decorate, they’ve hung historic photographs of Halifax throughout. As our friends mentioned, the Edmonton location is much better than the initial hole in the wall built in Calgary. Overall, it’s comfortable and it immediately feels like a decent hang out spot.

So, for those who aren’t aware, Blowers & Grafton is a famous intersection in Halifax otherwise known as Pizza Corner. It laid claim to the name due to the number of shops that populated each quarter of the crossing streets. I’ve only been there once before and, if I recall, it’s no longer overrun with pizza. Although, other snacks like poutine may give the pies a run for their money. Both of those items are definitely on offer here, along with donairs, fish n’ chips, clams, scallops, and mussels.

The elusive B&G bottles. They’re hoping to stock these here as well. These were just a treat from the owner.

They have made a concerted effort to stock East Coast beers for half of their taps; however four of the six are standards like Alexander Keith’s and Moosehead. The rest of the options are Canadian brews with two coming from Alberta. This includes a B&G Wheat ($6.50) created specifically for Blowers & Grafton, likely by Minhas Micro Brewery out of Calgary as that company also created their standard bottled lager, which is currently only served at the Calgary location. NOTE: Happy Hour drink specials happen Monday to Friday from 3pm to 6pm and Sunday to Thursday from 9pm to close. Check my YEG Food Deals page for details.

The Bluenoser Cocktail

They also have an adequate cocktail list from which I selected The Bluenoser (our lovely server suggested it). In a mason glass was mixed a vodka base with St-Germain liqueur to give it a hint of elderflower. Additionally, flavours of lemon, lavender, blueberry and mint made up the remainder of the recipe. Honestly, considering the short cup, it didn’t seem to consist of two ounces of alcohol; this beverage was incredibly drinkable. I absolutely recommend stirring it up before sipping on it though. It’ll ensure that all of the ingredients meld together to create a full profile. Otherwise, it can be rather bland at first.

Foodwise, Kirk had his heart set on the Garlic Fingers ($13.50) with Bacon Bits ($2). I chose the Mini Lobster Rolls ($22). Our friends went for the Garlic Fingers (a group with three Maritimers cannot share a single order peacefully), too, and they added a basket of Brothers Fried Pepperoni on the side ($13).

I’ll admit, whenever Kirk raves about the almighty garlic finger from back home, I wonder what the big deal is. Hasn’t he ever heard of the cheesy bread found on the majority of menus at pizza shops galore? But, I digress. Yes, the Garlic Fingers are delicious (especially when fresh out of the oven). They take their homemade pizza dough and smother it in garlic butter and mozzarella cheese. You really can’t go wrong with a dish like that. What I think differentiates East Coast garlic fingers from anything similar is probably the sweet donair sauce provided for dipping. Blowers & Grafton does a good job and I’ve been told that they’re Kirk approved.

Mini Lobster Rolls

In my mind, the Mini Lobster Rolls could use a bit of improvement. These were comprised of decently sized pieces of real Atlantic Lobster tossed with mayo, lemon and fresh dill. I thought the mayo was a little light handed and I wasn’t a huge fan of the bed of tasteless slaw that the lobster sat on. It also didn’t need lobster butter on top. What was done right was the searing of the mini buns in butter. As for the sides, there were only two choices that didn’t require an extra cost: fries or chips. I opted for the latter. They were crispy and delicious and served with a basic ketchup. All in all, these were alright. Yet, for the quality and amount of food I received I can’t really justify the high price. If they had wowed me, maybe. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case.

Brothers Fried Pepperoni

Surprisingly, I think the Brothers Fried Pepperoni was the best thing I sampled from the Blowers & Grafton menu. The portion size was generous, the sausage was sliced thick, it wasn’t as greasy as I expected, and it came with a delicious honey mustard that was made in-house. While we went with the mild pepperoni, it’s available hot as well. Keep in mind though, the mild was still relatively spicy (nothing crazy, but there was a noticeable kick of heat).

Blueberry Grunt Donuts

Finally, it was time for a sweet finish. The only dessert they make is their Blueberry Grunt Donut ($1.50 each). A tad larger than a Timbit, it is relatively easy to fit in at least one at the end of a meal. The deep fried pastry dough was drizzled in blueberry grunt compote and maple syrup dulce de leche. It’s kind of rich because of the syrup, but with such a small dose, it’s manageable and worth it.

Before we left, we had a chat with a couple of the owners. They’re both extremely friendly and they were happy to discuss the expansion from Calgary to Edmonton. In fact, it’s going so well that they hope to make it even bigger down south. It never occurred to me before, but I suppose East Coast eats are a thing and there is a large enough customer base looking for this type of menu — a memory of home — in the Prairies. Being one of the first to bring Maritime street food here, Blowers & Grafton may just corner the market in the west.

Halifax Restaurant Review: Agricola Street Brasserie

The main dining room of Agricola Street Brasserie.

We’ve been home from The Maritimes for nearly a month, but it feels like our trip just ended yesterday. Looking back at everything we managed to fit in over nine days, I can definitely say that we made the most of our time. Part of the experience of travelling is the food though, and, to be honest, we didn’t have much of a chance to take in the culinary best that the east coast has to offer during this particular vacation.

However, for our last evening around Halifax, we decided to indulge ourselves with a date night at Agricola Street Brasserie. How did we come to pick this restaurant? I did have a copy of CURATED Food & Drink Magazine‘s 2018 Urban Halifax & Road Trips Edition of the 25 Best Places to Eat issue (here’s a similar list from them) to guide us. It gave a really good overview of where to go. Yet, ultimately, my way of choosing our final destination was to see which ones used OpenTable as their reservation system and then we narrowed it down further based on their menus.

The aptly named Agricola Street Brasserie is situated on its namesake between Charles and Willow Streets in the North End of the city. The brickwork interior has been outfitted with dream-like orb-shaped lights hanging from the exposed ceiling. Overcrowding is avoided with just 44 seats between long banquets and standalone tables. It’s also possible to perch at the bar or by the kitchen to watch their staff work. On weather friendly days, they even have a rooftop patio. Relating to the food, the word “Agricola” is translated from Latin into “Farmer.” Sticking to that theme (read their whole story here), the eatery is extremely focused on sourcing local.

As we familiarized ourselves with the offerings, we sipped on drinks. My fiancé, Kirk, decided to go with one of their nine taps, which are on constant rotation. Pours are either 12 oz. ($7) or 20 oz. ($9). I imbibed in the Placebo Effect cocktail ($13) — tequila, dry vermouth, yellow chartreuse, lime and pineapple — that was just a little bit sweet with a touch of zest. It’s almost a little too smooth as I could have downed that very quickly. For the price though, it’s a beverage you want to make last.

Complimentary bread!

Fresh slices of bread and a jar of butter were presented as a complimentary start to our meal. Still a little bit warm, the butter melted right into the loaf. A sign of things to come? So far, so good.

Seasonal Soup of Asparagus & Sweet Pea

To begin, we ordered the side of the seasonal soup ($7): a cream of asparagus and sweet pea concoction with a drizzle of oil in it. I didn’t quite know how this one would turn out, but it had a pleasant consistency and was so delicious that Kirk was surprised. Granted, he kept saying he couldn’t taste the asparagus, but I found it to be pretty prominent. I think the peas came through on the palate first and then the asparagus landed at the end.

The stages of the Egg Yolk Raviolo from Agricola Street Brasserie.

We also “shared” the Egg Yolk Raviolo ($10). I sampled this one minimally since I was going to have another appetizer all to myself. This is such a rich dish. The giant pasta shell is stuffed with cheese, spinach and a beautifully yellow yolk. Laid on wilted spinach and lemon brown butter, it’s then garnished with bacon and Parmesan. If that’s not decadence, I don’t know what is.

Classic Beef Tartare

As I mentioned, I planned to eat a full dish on my own. This is because I just had to have the Classic Beef Tartare ($15) and I know full well that Kirk typically will not eat raw meat (as much as I try to convince him). The beef was finely diced and tossed with herbs and onions. A gorgeous unbroken yolk wiggled on top. Thin slices of crostini artfully towered over the round of meat on one side of the bowl. The other side was washed with a swipe of mustard. Mixed all together, this was a standout course. Simple, but so flavourful with an excellent texture (not at all slimy like some tartares can be).

Confit Duck Leg

When we were there, the bird on the menu was a Confit Duck Leg ($28). This seems to have been swapped out with their current duck breast. Kirk absolutely loved this and devoured it so quickly. I was lucky to get a couple of bites. Prepared with the skin fried to a crisp, this was actually far from the greasy meat one might expect. The duck was incredibly succulent and kind of tasted more like chicken as it did away with any of the usual gaminess (personally, I kind of like the distinct flavour of duck). Served with roasted greens, nettle cream, and rhubarb cranberry chutney, those components provided a variety of mouthfeels and helped to elevate the plate above the norm.

Fishmonger Cut: Seared Tuna Steak

I went for their Fishmonger Cut. This is essentially their daily sustainable seafood feature, and, that evening, it was a Seared Tuna ($29). First of all, I have to say that the portion for the price was unbelievable. The amount of quality tuna received made it so worth ordering. With at least four slices of inch thick (height and width) perfectly seared tuna, this was unbeatable. For summer, they paired the fish with a balsamic dressing and strawberries. I never would have come up with that combination, but it worked well, and it made for a lighter main.

Rhubarb Frangipane Tart

Dinner was completed with their Rhubarb Frangipane Tart ($10) for dessert. Basically an almond cream inside a pastry shell, it was then covered with a lattice of rhubarb strips. Rhubarb sorbet and basil cream finished it off. I didn’t really like the pieces of rhubarb as I found them tough to bite apart and they were impossible to cut with a spoon. The sorbet was super refreshing though, and the basil cream balanced out any tartness.

For our one big night out in Halifax, Agricola Street Brasserie did not disappoint. The atmosphere and service were absolutely stellar. We left the restaurant feeling full, satisfied and happy. If you’re ever visiting the area, this is a spot that I’d highly recommend.