Edmonton Mini Restaurant Review: Malt & Mortar

Malt & Mortar’s logo painted on their exposed brick wall.

My friends are moving to Vancouver this week (sadness). When they invited Kirk and me to join them for a going away gathering at Malt & Mortar earlier this month, we made sure to go. I’d never been to the Whyte Ave venue before, so I was excited to check it out.

We arrived a little late that Saturday night, and we found them hovering by the large center bar. The reservation made for a dozen people still wasn’t ready. Thankfully, it didn’t take too much longer before they had things set. We were led towards the back of the restaurant where there was a long raised table that could accommodate our group.

Malt & Mortar has a cool vibe. Slightly vintage with its exposed brick walls, wood plank ceiling and painted logo, while keeping things modern with more industrial black piping, venting, beams and lighting. The space was larger than I had realized as well. A variety of leather upholstered booths were available to fit parties of any size.

It was very loud though, making it difficult to hear past the few tablemates who surrounded me. I noticed that a handful of speakers were hanging directly above us and pretty much along the whole perimeter of the place. With numerous glass windows and hard brick, sound couldn’t be absorbed, so it just echoed all over. If you plan to go there and are hoping for a quieter visit, I’d suggest a weekday or later in the evenings. That, or try to get one of the smaller round booths along the back of the eatery. They kind of have a pergola over them and there are no speakers right nearby, so I suspect that it won’t be as noisy in those spots.

My other recommendation to Malt & Mortar is that they don’t have enough screens listing their beers on tap (I believe there are about 16 in rotation at one time). There was only one on our side of the restaurant and it was right over my head. I had to turn my body around and crane my neck just to read it, so I was surprised that they didn’t have another set up on the facing wall considering that there is plenty of space to put it.

Lastly, I understand putting bathrooms (really clean, by the way) in the basement, but I don’t quite believe that establishments where a lot of alcohol is consumed are the ideal businesses for bathrooms where stairs are involved. I thought the same thing of Craft Beer Market and I think the same thing here. There were many patrons later in the night who seemed like they wouldn’t make it down the stairs without falling. Otherwise, the design of the venue is pretty good.

Kirk had a few pints of beer and the Korean Fried Chicken Sandwich.

On to the drinks and food though! Similar to Beer Revolution, they update their rotating draughts on the TV screens with soon to be tapped kegs listed at the bottom. The selection was decent with a heavy emphasis on local breweries; most pints are priced at around $8.50 each. My personal preference for beer tends to be light, crisp, and fruity. Kirk leans more towards IPAs with hoppiness. That evening, I took a liking to the current sour from Situation Brewing. I also tried the Malt & Mortar Saturday special, a two-ounce Back Porch Tea ($10) made with gin, peach sweet tea, and house-made sour. Admittedly, it was a strong cocktail, but after a big squeeze of lemon juice, it settled and was relatively refreshing.

To eat, Kirk went for the Korean Fried Chicken Sandwich ($17), which was praised by one of our friends. Stacked with coleslaw, pickles, and two pieces of battered and fried chicken breast covered in a Gochujang glaze, it was juicy, savoury, a little bit sweet, and slightly spicy. The whole thing was a huge mess though. The bun fell apart less than half way through and Kirk finished it off using his utensils. For his side, he stuck to the standard fries, lightly seasoned with salt and pepper.

I tried out the Back Porch Tea and the West Coast Power Bowl with added Tuna Poke.

I decided to go a “healthier” route by ordering the West Coast Power Bowl ($17) with added Tuna Poke ($7). Honestly, the cost once you tack on a protein is kind of high, but the bowl was huge. It felt like I was barely making a dent in the dish, and at the end, I was sort of struggling to finish it. I didn’t have enough left to pack it home, yet it wasn’t a small enough portion to toss it out. I hate to waste food, so I persisted. Still, it was tasty minus the cilantro used in the poke. It’s not an ingredient listed anywhere on the menu when describing the tuna, so I didn’t bother asking if there would be any cilantro. Had I known, I would probably have asked them to mix the poke without the herb or selected a different meat. I’m not sure why cilantro is used in everything nowadays when it’s common knowledge that there are many people who don’t have the taste buds to appreciate it, so all I ask is that they give a warning about it in advance.

In any case, I sucked it up, picking out the cilantro where possible and just eating it when I couldn’t. On a positive note, the flavour was somewhat masked by the rest of the ingredients in the West Coast Power Bowl. The base was an organic quinoa tossed in a citrus vinaigrette and then combined with corn, black beans, avocado, cucumber, pea shoots, and pickled carrots. There was tons of texture going on and a jolt of heat on the palate from the delicious avocado wasabi crema. Not mentioned on the menu was the use of aburaage, which are thin slices of deep-fried tofu, usually used to make inari sushi. Those were cut into smaller pieces and added to the dish for sweetness. I really enjoyed having that in the mix.

After a few hours hanging out, we called it a night. Considering the size of our group and the staff working that Saturday evening, I thought the service was alright. We all managed to get our beverages and food without much issue (we did get one wrong order of beer, but we also got an extra beer on the house), and we really liked the space, especially when it died down later so we could hear again. Overall, the food was well-made (corn dogs don’t smell better when they’re plated pretty though) and filling, just maybe a tad too pricey regarding the entrées. Other than that, we’ll definitely be back. It’s a fun spot with a casual, convivial atmosphere.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: The Writer’s Room

The drink menu and interior of The Writer’s Room.

For a restaurant that pays homage to authors, it’s a bit ironic to see that, depending on where you look, the name of the establishment is written differently: Writers, Writer’s, and Writers’. Because I’ve found the second iteration used the most on the main page of their website, it shall be known as The Writer’s Room.

Always a pub of some sort over the years, this Garneau (11113 87 Avenue) eatery is just a hop, skip, and a jump away from the University of Alberta. As such, upon my visit, I noticed that many of the patrons looked to be either students or professors. The menu, created by chef David George Husereau, takes that into account by elevating things like Kraft Dinner and Doritos into much finer fare. The prices are reasonable, too. Items range from $5 for snacks to $20 for a full main, making this place very accessible for the student crowd or those who just want an affordable night out.

The Grand Fizz Cocktail melted.

Additionally, The Writer’s Room offers daily happy hour from 3pm to 6pm and 9pm to close on a handful of beverages (they’ve also recently introduced nightly food specials). Although it wasn’t the best deal out of the bunch, I opted to try their Grand Fizz Cocktail (about $10.50). Honestly, it wasn’t what I was expecting. It came in a wine glass with icy slush that had clumped together into a larger chunk. I allowed it to melt, which meant the drink was rather watered down in the end. Perusing the drink menu further, there are definitely others that sounded better, but I selected this one on a whim.

Cup of Broccoli Cheddar Soup

To start, my friend and I both ordered the cup of Broccoli Cheddar Soup ($5). With a description of “natural ingredients” (what else would be used?) on the menu, it was decent. Not as creamy as I hoped it’d be, but relatively flavourful. It was topped with what appeared to be Melba toast and grated cheddar cheese like one might do at home.

Tater Tots

Everything else we selected, the two of us shared. First up were the Tater Tots ($7). Honestly, these were too expensive. They arrived in a cup the same size as the soup, so there weren’t a lot. These were covered in jalapeno nacho cheese sauce, chipotle sour cream, and green onions. I liked the sauce and sour cream; however, there wasn’t enough of it to coat all of the tater tots at the bottom of the dish. Without the toppings, they became rather bland.

Hoisin BBQ Chicken Tenders

Next were the Hoisin BBQ Chicken Tenders ($10). I pictured these being battered and crispy, but these were more like satay or kabobs with the chicken presented on skewers. It was uniquely plated though, I’ll give them that. The tray they came on had a reservoir for sauce in which ample spicy peanut sambal was provided for dipping along with sesame seeds and green onion. The meat was pretty tender and the sambal amped up the heat on the palate a tad.

The “Loco Moco” ($12) was fairly easy to split between two people as it came with two beef patties and two fried eggs atop nori and sticky rice with plenty of rich brown gravy. This is a contemporary Hawaiian dish, so it’s a bit of a surprise to find it on the menu. Aside from a poke bowl, there’s nothing else that screams Hawaiian sensibilities. Still, this simple recipe actually hit the spot. The fried eggs had beautifully runny yolks and the nori added an umami taste.

Crunchy Brussels Sprouts

Last, but not least, were the Crunchy Brussels Sprouts ($12). I get this veggie a lot when I go out. There’s just something about them that I can’t pass up. In the case of The Writer’s Room, I think they may have mastered the miniature cabbages. Cooked in brown butter and served with crisp pancetta, goat cheese, garlic, lemon, and mint, I was blown away by how good this was. A little bit of salt from the pork, slightly tart from the cheese, freshness from the mint, acidity from the lemon, and spice from the garlic married with the char from the sprouts themselves, these were to die for.

Shortbread

Dessert changes often. On this particular occasion, they had made Shortbread ($7). Layered in a jar, it felt more like a cheesecake with a shortbread crust to me. It didn’t have that buttery, melt-in-your-mouth cookie texture though. That was unexpected. Nonetheless, I enjoyed it. A pleasant finish to my meal without being overly sweet.

For the most part, The Writer’s Room is an excellent player in this area of the city. The ambiance was convivial while still allowing for easy conversation between tablemates. I found the service to be fantastic as well. The staff were friendly, checking on us regularly, but not too often as to constantly be interrupting. Sure, a few of the food items can use a bit of tweaking to really take things up a notch. Nevertheless, when you order the right dish here, you won’t be disappointed.

Edmonton Restaurant & Event Review: Beercade & Speed Puzzle Challenge

Beercade’s interror is made up of long tables for groups, a huge bar, and arcade games.

I’ve always loved doing jigsaw puzzles. There’s a joy in finding the piece that fits just right. They’re also incredibly engrossing in a way that’s so much more relaxing than staring at whatever I find on my phone. Consider them part of the slow living movement. The last time I could really remember putting one together, until recently, was at least several years ago. My co-worker would lend me puzzles that she’d already completed to feed my obsession. Sadly, my free time slowly waned to the point where I wasn’t really able to concentrate on them much.

Nowadays, as I often do, I found myself on Eventbrite scrolling through endless local happenings when I came across a listing from Beercade about their Speed Puzzle Challenge ($5 per person and the team gets to keep the puzzle). I wasn’t able to attend the next date; however, I always reminded myself to check back in the future. It was a while before I saw another. Yet, Table Top Cafe started running something similar about every two weeks earlier this year (alternating between both locations). My friends and I went to a single event there and I was hooked. I really enjoyed the competitive aspect of it, but, more than anything, I remembered just how fun puzzles can be. I’m currently working my way through nearly twenty that I’ve purchased over the past few months.

Welcome, Puzzle Players!

When the chance came up to check out Beercade’s version, I gathered a small team of four people (up to six are allowed) to attend. From what I understood, the organizers had previously gone with puzzles that had as few as 200 pieces and they had been incrementally increasing the difficulty ever since to find the sweet spot of something enjoyable yet challenging. On this occasion they decided to test out 450 piece puzzles instead. They also had someone from each group draw a number, which determined the puzzle received. Honestly, I thought that having different puzzles put certain teams at a disadvantage because some are definitely more difficult than others. Based on the groups who won the three prizes for finishing first, it was obvious that their specific Peanuts themed puzzle was a benefit.

Still, the four of us had a blast. I’d also never worked on a family-style jigsaw before. I probably wouldn’t choose to do those as an adult putting a puzzle together on my own. Nevertheless, the mix of large and small pieces for parents and children to work on as a family bonding experience is pretty great.

 

When we finished our jigsaw at Beercade, the staff dropped off ten tokens at our table, so we could play some of their arcade games. I’m terrible at those shooting ones, but I can appreciate a lit up pinball machine or the best air hockey table I’ve ever seen (Pac Man!).

Aside from the event and venue (decent atmosphere, lots of space, kind of dim), we also opted to eat dinner there. Being a Wednesday night, I had to try a burger because it’s hard to pass up a half price discount. Surprisingly, the Bacon Cheeseburger (regularly $9.75) was good. I wasn’t sure what to expect with the cost, but their kitchen makes a legit hand smashed patty topped with crispy bacon and they include all of the fixings. Sides are an extra cost though, so that’s where they can recoup some of their costs. At $4 for a basket of yam fries with dip, I thought that was a little expensive. On the other hand, they do give a big portion, so you’ll definitely leave full.

Full meal with a burger, yam fries, and a sleeve of Fruli.

To keep me hydrated, I ordered a glass of Früli, completely forgetting to tell the server (by the way, service is not prompt here) what size I wanted. I’m assuming I received a sleeve, not a pint. I also expected to pay at least $6.75 for that beverage. All in though, my bill was $15 after tax and tip. When I looked it over again at home, I realized that my beer was also on special, having only been charged a whopping $3.81. Stellar deal!

I’ve heard that Beercade is usually a chill spot to hang out until about nine o’clock. After that, it can turn into a bit of a zoo (assuming this applies more from Thursday to Saturday). If you want to avoid rambunctious crowds, I recommend visiting earlier in the evening. From this first experience of mine at Beercade, I’m absolutely feeling inclined to return, especially for another Speed Puzzle Challenge and a burger.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: The Provincial Kitchen & Bar

The lounge area of The Provincial Kitchen & Bar.

After another recent successful escape room breakout (the streak lives on), Kirk and our friends wanted a bite to eat. We decided to reconvene at The Provincial Kitchen & Bar (4211 106 Street). New to the entire group, we walked in to find a very pub-like atmosphere.

To be fair, there is a very quiet, tiny, cozy looking dining area, complete with fireplace, to the right of the door. However, it was already full, so we headed over to the lounge area instead. The setup is interesting with a few larger raised booths towards the back. In the center of the space were two rows of tables lined up parallel with a giant projector screen on the opposite side of the room. We tucked ourselves into a corner next to the big screen. Thinking back, considering the loudspeakers blaring the sound from that weekend’s NFL game, it may not have been the ideal spot to sit. Otherwise, it was cozy enough.

Our server greeted us within a few minutes of settling in and she confirmed that, despite the hours listed on their website and even around the restaurant, their happy hour is available from open until 7:00 pm daily. The guys took advantage of the deals by ordering half-litre glasses of the Provincial Lager ($5 each) and I partook in six ounces of Riesling ($6). My girlfriend chose The Banger Cocktail, a vanilla citrus concoction, off of the regular menu ($10).

To eat, both men opted to try the Smoked Brisket on Cornbread ($17). I asked Kirk to sub out his house-cut fries for a bowl of the Roasted Cauliflower Soup ($2), so I could have it. Us ladies ordered our food exclusively from the happy hour menu, including her Tavi Supreme ($9) with added Taco Beef ($5) as well as split plates of the Pork Dry Ribs ($9) and 2 Donut Grilled Cheese ($9).

Pork Dry Ribs

The Pork Dry Ribs were standard pub fare. Nicely crisped seasoned pork loin rib ends. The problem is that they lacked a ton of meat on the bones. I don’t feel like I got much out of them, but they were definitely better with fresh squeezed lemon juice as it helped to cut through some of the grease and provided extra zest.

Tavi Supreme with Taco Beef

You may be wondering, what’s a Tavi Supreme? It’s essentially their take on nacho fries with house-cut potatoes, cheddar, pico de gallo, sour cream, salsa, green onions, and the taco beef. Quite tasty when everything was combined into a single bite. Nevertheless, it was nothing super special. Good for a hearty meal on a chilly day though.

Smoked Brisket on Cornbread

We were all impressed by the Smoked Brisket on Cornbread. If I’m being honest, the open-faced sandwich could have used a larger portion of shaved beef because more of that deliciousness should be shared. It was well-seasoned and incredibly flavourful. Not the most tender, yet thinly sliced, it was fine. The layer of melted Gruyère cheese and a healthy dose of caramelized onions added a slight salty-sweet balance offset by the rich Guinness BBQ sauce and earthy, bitter arugula. The cornbread was a great base, not too dense and moist enough to avoid crumbling.

Roasted Cauliflower Soup

I drank all of the Roasted Cauliflower Soup myself, and although it tasted okay, I wasn’t too keen on the texture. When the menu lists “cream” of cauliflower, I expect that it’s actually creamy. This was sort of watered down and still somewhat grainy from the pureed pieces of cauliflower florets. The bowl was topped off with fried potato strings (think Hickory Sticks), which, in concept, sounded good. Sadly, it didn’t really work here. Again, I think it came down to the consistency of the soup. Had it been thicker and creamier, the potato strings would have stayed crisp longer as opposed to the soggy mess that I found as soon as I dug into the bowl.

2 Donut Grilled Cheese

The final plate I sampled completely made up for the disappointing soup. Literally two halved donuts turned into grilled cheese sandwiches, these were the epitome of a simple comfort dish with a twist. The sugar from the honey glazed donuts married so well with the layers of savoury cheddar and bacon jam. If that wasn’t enough starch, it also came with a side of the house-cut fries. I didn’t need to eat them all, but the longer my plate sat in front of me, the more I snacked on them. They were blanched to a golden brown crisp on the outside while remaining light and fluffy on the inside.

Overall, The Provincial Kitchen & Bar surprised all four of us. While there were some minor misses, we didn’t necessarily expect the food to be as good as it was. Even though they’re probably terrible for my health, I’d revisit just for those grilled cheese donuts. I also have a feeling that their Connor McProv burger will be a star like the Oilers favourite himself. Time will only tell for me.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Old Town Pub (Closed)

Old Town Pub

Long before Old Town Pub rolled into the building on 10314 82 Avenue, Elephant & Castle was housed there. Although I had never been to that particular location, I had friends who basically called it their second home. When it was shuttered, they were devastated.

However, when one door closes, another opens. In August 2017, the new owners introduced Old Town Pub. I didn’t visit until this this past fall when my friend and I attended a Paint Nite event, but it was better than I expected.

For that first dinner, we went straight upstairs to the second floor to grab a table, which worked out well considering our event was taking place in that area. The furniture doesn’t look like it’s been updated in decades. Otherwise, the venue was clean and retained somewhat of an Irish pub feel. The wall we were seated next to was adorned with a couple of dart boards. Additionally, a foosball table and a pool table were available for use as well.

The service was somewhat slow though. It took a while before we were checked on, but the server was friendly. As advertised on social media, the majority of the Old Town Pub menu really is priced at $10 per item. Where they get you though is on the extras. Adding meat or making any sort of upgrades to your pierogis will run you at least a few more bucks. Still, it’s fairly affordable and an interesting business practice that I’ve yet to see anywhere else.

Pretzel Braids

On that occasion, the two of us shared an order of the Pretzel Braids ($10). They were made in-house and the plate came with three decently sized twists. The bread was golden brown and lightly salted. They were also nice and soft. There’s nothing I hate more than a dry, overcooked pretzel. For dipping, the pretzels came with a small plastic cup of house beer cheese. Overall, these were delicious. I just wish that it came with more of the dip as we had to be meager with it.

Small Caesar Salad

Both of us ordered side salads. The large is $10, but a small is $5. My friend went with the Tossed Green Salad: romaine and iceberg lettuce, red onions, tomatoes, cucumbers, and her choice of dressing. I opted for the Caesar Salad: romaine lettuce, croutons, bacon bits, Parmesan cheese, and dressing. Between the two, the Caesar looked to be more generous in size. I found it to be quite satisfying with a decent amount of dressing, bacon, and cheese, and I was pleasantly surprised at the portion.

Pierogi Plate

We each had a Pierogi Plate ($10) for dinner, too. Pan frying was $1, sour cream was $0.50, bacon bits were $2, and a small sausage was $1. All in, it came to $14.50 for six wonderful potato and cottage cheese dumplings (they also have a Montreal smoked meat option). I was recently told by one of the staff that two Ukrainian babas come in every week to hand make every single pierogi and it showed. They definitely seemed to be made from scratch.

The lounge area on the main floor.

In the new year, I took Kirk to Old Town Pub to use up a Groupon before it expired. This time, we decided to hang out near the bar. It’s definitely not as spacious as the second storey with several tables crammed onto a raised platform. It was cozy though. I was facing towards the kitchen, allowing me a good view of a TV and a large projector screen where that night’s Oilers game was being shown. We even stayed until the end of the third period to see if we might be able to win the draw for tickets to the following week’s home game. Our odds were high most of the night as the place was next to empty. However, we were thwarted by someone who literally came in at the last minute.

Loss aside, we had a great time. Turns out that Old Town Pub has happy hour every day from noon until 7:00pm. It includes specials on wings, pints, highballs, and wine. Kirk was able to get a couple of Yellowhead pints for $5 per glass as well.

Sweet Thai Chilli Chicken Wings

Since they were half price, we split an order of the Sweet Thai Chilli Chicken Wings ($5). These looked to be cooked all the way through as the meat was white. Yet, we both thought they could maybe have used an extra minute or two in the kitchen. Maybe it was the texture of the meat that wasn’t the greatest, and there were a couple that were quite bloody inside (super veiny?). Nevertheless, the flavour was tasty, and we were fine in the end.

Beer Cheese Fries

I selected the Smoked Chicken Panini ($10) as my main. It typically comes with fries or a tossed green salad. I chose to get the Beer Cheese Fries ($3) instead. The fries were blanched and then covered with the same beer cheese dip that came with the pretzels I’d eaten previously. They were then topped with diced tomatoes and green onions. Not bad, but the dip cooled off quickly and, again, they were scant with the cheese. Ultimately, I ate half of my fries with regular ketchup and a bit of the mustard that Kirk got on the side for his burger.

Smoked Chicken Panini

The sandwich was decent as the grilled ciabatta bread had a crisp exterior, but remained soft on the inside. When it came to the chicken, I didn’t feel like the meat was smoky enough. The mozzarella, garlic aioli, roasted red peppers, and caramelized onions is what saved this. Without those, it would have been pretty bland.

OTP Burger

Kirk’s OTP Burger ($10) was amazing! I had minor regrets and wished I had gotten a whole one to myself. Rather, I managed to snag just a couple of bites. He had bacon added for $2. It was definitely a dirty diner-style burger. The obviously hand smashed ground beef patty was super juicy; the meat was perfectly seared with that charred grill flavour infused into it. The fixings were the standard mayo, tomato, and lettuce on a white burger bun. Very simple, but incredibly well-made. Our only issue with the burger was that it fell apart quite easily, so hold on tight to it.

Guinness Cake

To complete our meal, we had the featured Guinness Cake ($8) for dessert. It took a while for it to come out. Apparently, they were out of whipped cream, so they made a whole new batch just for us. The cake was dense, but far from sweet. It just had that dark chocolate flavour without all the sugar. Quite good, actually.

Honestly, I’m fairly impressed with Old Town Pub. I’m not entirely sure how they can profit with the model they’re using. When other businesses are constantly increasing costs to their patrons, Old Town Pub is really trying to be accessible to their customers while providing handcrafted food, and that’s something I can get behind.