Edmonton Restaurant Review: OEB Breakfast

The entrance to OEB Breakfast.

Maybe I’m a little bit sheltered. After all, I’m not in Southern Alberta all that often, and, until a location opened here around the end of October, OEB Breakfast wasn’t on my radar in the least. But, supposedly, this Calgary-born restaurant is quite celebrated in and out of it’s hometown. OEB, which stands for Over Easy Breakfast (kind of redundant with the second “Breakfast,” no?), decided to expand north.

The owners insist that the business open only until 2:45pm daily to emphasize the importance of the first meal in the day. It’s often one that I skip (I know…). Nevertheless, I’m a sucker for things like bacon and poached eggs when I do partake. Since the breakfast/brunch joint was introduced to Edmonton, my social media feeds have been littered with droolworthy images of their food on a regular basis.

From what I gathered, OEB Breakfast was apt to get busy quickly on weekends. So, I was prepared when making the trek there myself. With an 8:00am start on Saturday and Sunday, I insisted that Kirk and I arrive early. If needed, I’d join the Yelp Waitlist on the way there. The service is a tool that the eatery utilizes to mitigate a giant crowd at their doors. Ultimately, it wasn’t necessary for us, but it’s good to know that it’s available.

The interior is definitely egg themed.

We made it to OEB Breakfast just before 9:30am and, thankfully, there was no line up. A table had just cleared and after a cleaning, we were seated to the left side of the entrance towards the far end. A large mirror hanging on the opposite wall allowed me a view of the rest of the space. Bright white throughout with shots of orange and sunny colours as well as egg themed light fixtures and giant rooster/chicken sculptures. The kitchen was completely open to the elements.

As we eyed the menu, I observed how many early risers there were. Pretty much every seat was occupied and they had gotten there well before us. I don’t often drag myself out of the house before ten o’clock on a weekend for anything. It seems that OEB Breakfast was an exception.

Mimosas!

Our server came over to take our drink order. I had my heart set on a mimosa. Coming with either orange, pineapple, grapefruit, or mango juice, they were a steal when priced at $5 a glass. Sadly, I was told that they didn’t yet have their liquor license, so they weren’t able to serve their listed alcoholic beverages. I do hope that this is no longer the case, considering it has now been two months since our meal. Anyway, with that realization having sunk in, I then proceeded to ask them about their juices because sometimes a glass of fresh squeezed juice is ideal. But, at $5.50 for an order, it better truly be fresh. To that, I was told that the juice is fresh; however, it’s not prepared there. They get it delivered from another company. That was kind of weird to me. If you don’t squeeze it yourself, how do you know it’s actually fresh? Learning that, I just opted out of drinks entirely and we both sat there with cups of water.

The selection of food is fairly extensive, ranging from standards to a number of breakfast dishes with twists. Broken out into categories like Farm Fresh, Blue Plate Specials, Breakfast Poutines, Benny’s, Omelettes, Sandwiches, Sweets, and Sides, there’s something for everyone. Kirk tends to go for more traditional options. This time though, he surprisingly got something other than a classic breakfast by ordering the Pulled Chicken Frittata ($19). I’d heard that OEB Breakfast was famous for their poutines. Therefore, I chose the Gold Digga ($20) and I added the Chicken Blueberry Bangers ($4).

Pulled Chicken Frittata

Starting with the Pulled Chicken Frittata, this was not served open-faced like it should have been. It was still folded like an omelette. The smoked chicken was more plentiful than I thought, but it tasted rather bland and there was definitely not enough fresh mozzarella. Severely under-seasoned, if you ask me. The best part was the semi dried tomatoes because they provided a shot of concentrated flavour. It came with a slice of toast, hash browns, and prettily presented fruit. In my opinion, this frittata isn’t worth ordering again.

Chicken Blueberry Bangers

My Chicken Blueberry Bangers, sourced from Spondin, Alberta, were lean and subtle in taste. I guess a plus was that they weren’t salty. My main issue was that they cooled incredibly fast. I stopped to take a couple of photos of the food and the sausage had lost all heat by the time I cut them open a few minutes later.

The Gold Digga Breakfast Poutine was the best thing I had, and I now understand why those bowls are so popular. They’re probably the best bang for your buck at OEB Breakfast. With huge portions and quality, premium ingredients, they are delicious to a point. In particular, the Gold Digga comes with poached eggs (soft is the only way to go), herb potatoes, Quebec cheese curds, bacon lardons (the online menu now lists Berkshire roast pork…not sure if that’s a recent change), black truffle, and hollandaise. I have to say that, upon reaching the bottom of the dish, I found the flavours sort of tiresome. At the beginning of my bowl, I was impressed by the rich truffle, creamy hollandaise, and perfectly fried bacon lardons. It eventually just got to be too much of the same. Regardless, if I return to OEB Breakfast, the Hog & Scallops poutine is the next on my list to try.

When our meal was over, only an hour had passed. Yet, due to the cold weather, the doorway was jam packed full of people who took up every nook and cranny they could find. There was no allotted waiting area taken into account when building the restaurant, leading to an incredibly crowded zone that would probably be considered a fire hazard. Guests, looking to stay warm inside while waiting, encroached on the personal space of diners seated around the front. I’m so glad that we hadn’t been given a table in that section.

It was a challenge to pay the bill, too. Servers do not bring machines to your table to take payment. You have to take your bill to a counter, inconveniently set up to the right side of the eatery entrance. That day, there was no way to get to it by going past the kitchen (too busy with staff), so we squeezed past all of those people at the door. In all honesty, it crossed my mind that it’d be so easy to dash and dine there. Of course, we would never, but seeing as how we literally had to pass by the exit to get over to the counter, and there were all of those other people blocking us from view, it would have been a piece of cake.

We did it though. We made it to the other side and someone showed up right away to put our charges through. The staff member thanked us for visiting, and we then happily squeezed back through the onslaught of patrons to breath some crisp, “fresh” downtown air.

I definitely found OEB Breakfast to be a hit and miss on this occasion. Based on this single experience, I can’t say I’m as in love with the place like so many others seem to be. Nonetheless, I’m not going to completely write it off. Perhaps a weekday visit is in order. It’s only a couple of blocks from my office and they actually take reservations during the week. Should a Saturday or Sunday drop-in be required, it’ll be planned for the early morning to avoid the wait and the throng of other people.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Japonais Bistro Omakase Thursday Dinner

Seared Scallops

Around the beginning of December, I was scrolling through my Instagram feed when I came across a post from Japonais Bistro. It was advertising their new Omakase (a Japanese phrase that means “I’ll leave it up to you.”) Thursday Dinner for twenty per cent off with a code to be requested either by direct message or email.

I immediately jumped on the opportunity and, within the day, I had gotten a reply. They provided a code and a copy of the set menus for me to review. There are two options for the dinner. The first is an $80 six-course meal. The second is a $100 seven-course supper that includes an extra Amaebi (sweet shrimp) Sunomono salad and a different steak dish.

I made arrangements with my friend for a double date night in January. Between the choices, the less expensive made the most sense for us. It seemed like more than enough food and, after the discount, it would only be $64 per person, which is reasonable for the number of courses.

Japonais Bistro indicated that there would only be limited omakase spots available every Thursday, so it was recommended to book in advance. I arranged for our evening about six weeks ahead. While that kind of time frame may not be necessary, we were planning around my friend’s birthday. Still, call to reserve because even though they said Thursday is a weekday and it’s slower, the place — located at 11806 Jasper Avenue — was packed when we arrived at 7:45pm. Plus, they will need at least 48 hours notice, if you plan to dine with them for omakase.

Additionally, although the menu is preset and mentions that there are no substitutions, I was told that we could let them know of food allergies upon booking. My friend cannot eat shellfish or avocado, so I made them aware. When we had settled in, the staff already knew about the note and the kitchen arranged to have her scallop course replaced with cod. They were very thorough in ensuring that she would be okay.

Kamo Duck Salad

Beverages were an extra cost. Kirk and I opted to stick to water, but the others grabbed some beers to pair with their meals. Dinner started off with a Kamo Duck Salad. Rather than persimmon and plum, the former was replaced with blackberries. The sweetness of the fruit perfectly balanced with the savoury slices of duck. Atop all of the meat and fruit was a large helping of shungiku greens — these are the stems/leaves of the crown daisy — with mustard and miso-dashi dressing. Sort of prickly and crunchy in texture, the slight bitter taste was reduced by the umami flavour of the accompanying sauce. A very nice and light introduction to our culinary journey.

We received the Seared Scallops next. They were, admittedly, smaller than I expected. Nevertheless, the trio of mollusks were perfectly cooked and wonderfully seared. The meat was tender and could be cut apart with just a fork. These were laid upon a painterly streak of celeriac puree decorated with basil pesto, quinoa and micro greens. Around the rest of the plate were dustings of powdered sesame (excellent when eaten with the scallops). Unique in presentation and taste, it was probably one of my favourite items all night. Thankfully, we were given spoons with this dish so we could scoop up every morsel. My friend’s cod was pretty much served in the same way, just with a cut of cod instead of the scallops. It looked just as appetizing, although I’m glad I didn’t have to carefully pick out fish bones myself.

Chef Choice Fresh Fish Sushi

Following that, we were presented with the first of two sushi plates. This was the Chef Choice Fresh Fish. It came with five pieces, including eel, snapper, yellowtail, bluefin, and amberjack. The eel was quite good in terms of taste and texture. It did have some bones though, so I pricked my lip when bringing the piece to my mouth. I managed to pull out any larger bones and then just ate the rest in a single mouthful. I can usually take or leave snapper as I find it to be too chewy. This one wasn’t bad, but it’s still not something I’d order on my own. The same can be said of this particular amberjack. The yellowtail was a bit smoother and easier to eat. The best, hands down, was the beautiful jewel toned bluefin. I could have devoured a whole plate of that. Each piece of sushi did have a dollop of wasabi placed between the fish and the rice already. It’s the traditional way of serving sushi and I found it manageable, but that may not be everyone’s cup of tea.

Bavette Steak

I suppose the Bavette Steak can be considered the entrée. This was a six ounce cut of sous vide flank steak rested on potato puree and surrounded by a pool of teriyaki demi-glace with dots of black garlic sauce. Even though we were offered utensils, we all insisted we could get away with eating everything using just our chopsticks. In the end, I managed to do it. However, I looked like a child playing with my food as I used the slices of steak to scoop up the creamy potatoes and sauce. Although there was a bit of tendon running through my meat (making it a little harder to bite off pieces at times), the steak was, overall, succulent and I loved how the exterior was crusted and seared. It held in all of the flavour despite being served to us already cut apart.

The Chef Choice Aburi Sushi was definitely where it was at. Give me all of it! Honestly, I was busier taking photos as soon they dropped my plate in front of me and I didn’t listen to what each fish was. However, a few pieces looked to be some sort of torched salmon. Two of them were the Osaka-style pressed sushi. One had a slice of jalapeno and the other had a miso dressing. The three pieces on the other half of the dish were presented more normally, yet with a twist. One was simply seared (unknown fish), the salmon sandwiched in the middle came with silvers of daikon, and the fish in the center of the plate was citrusy with the use of grated yuzu. All of them were excellent examples of the technique utilized by sushi chefs. It doesn’t take a lot to alter what is familiar, but it needs to be done the right way. At Japonais Bistro they know what they’re doing.

Roasted Rice Panna Cotta (Green Tea?)

Completing our meal was the Green Tea and Roasted Rice Panna Cotta. Not totally sure, but they may have changed the flavour of the panna cotta because it wasn’t green and it didn’t have that distinct full-bodied bittersweet taste. I found the amaretto syrup to be quite strong, but it was quickly eaten in the initial bites and after that, I didn’t have enough for the rest. The consistency was also more firm than I prefer and reminded me of a dense tofu. It was alright, but it certainly didn’t live up to their Matcha Crème Brûlée dessert as, quite frankly, nothing else there ever will.

If this post has convinced you to check out Omakase Thursday Dinner at Japonais Bistro, please note that it is required to have a minimum of two orders for the kitchen to even serve this. It won’t be available to a single diner, so definitely gather up a family member, friend or co-worker to go. They’ll be running this menu until the end of February, so there are six more chances to take advantage of this promo. Don’t forget to reach out to them by email or direct message on Instagram for your discount code. For the service as well as the price, amount, and quality of the food, it’s certainly worth it.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Red Star Pub

Beef Carpaccio

Over the years, I had been to Red Star Pub a handful of times. It was always to chat over drinks with friends as we extended our night just a little bit longer. Never had I ever tried the food. This fall, that would change.

Located on the lower level of a building on 105 Street and Jasper Avenue, the only sign of the space’s existence is a bright red star that lights up like a beacon in the dark. The interior has the styling of an old Irish bar with dim lighting and dark wood everything. But, it’s also extremely cozy and feels like a respite from our months of desolate winter or the perfect place to huddle up on a rainy day.

Jerk Chicken from Caribbean night, which is sadly no longer.

My first attempt at trying their menu was thwarted when I showed up on the first Wednesday of the month in September. As it turns out, until very recently, that was Caribbean night (they’ve ended after a decade), and the only three items served during that event was jerk chicken, or the chicken/veggie roti wraps. We opted to stay that time, and the jerk chicken was a pleasant surprise, but I wasn’t satisfied that I didn’t get to eat their actual food.

A week later, I was back with another friend in tow. Seeing as how we showed up between 4pm to 7pm, we took advantage of their happy hour by selecting Pork Crostinis ($3 each) and mix and match Mini Burgers ($5 each).

Pork Crostini

Sometimes I’m apprehensive to order sliders and crostini when the individual price still seems rather steep. However, rest assured. You are getting your value at Red Star Pub. The size of the crostinis and the burgers are generous. The Pork Crostini was probably the same diameter as my palm, and it was piled high with braised Pembina pork, shaved fennel and Pecorino cheese. These were succulent and flavourful with a hefty toasted bread as the base.

The Mini Burgers

We tried both of the mini burgers listed on the menu. Their original option is made with ground tenderloin tip, bacon apple relish and Applewood cheddar. There was a ton of chopped bacon stacked under the beef patty and a beautiful smoky flavour from the cheese. The other burger was a newer addition to their lineup, consisting of jalapeno chimichurri, aged cheddar and pickled radish. This one was still tasty, but the jalapeno chimichurri took a little getting used to. I didn’t necessarily mind the heat. It was more the amount of herbs used and the earthiness of the sauce that didn’t quite mesh with my palate at first. At the very least, the meat was superb. The burgers were formed to be thick and oh so juicy.

My friend continued her meal with a their recently created Chicken Sandwich, which I did not sample myself. It looked and sounded delicious though. A combination of confit chicken thigh, arugula, and caper aioli between house-made focaccia, it was a hearty sandwich for sure.

The gorgeous Beef Carpaccio.

I finished off my meal with a dish of Red Star Pub’s Beef Carpaccio ($15). Really thinly sliced raw Spring Creek beef was carefully laid out on the plate until it covered every millimeter. It was then topped with arugula, Granny Smith apple salad, lemon, Parmigiano, pepper, and olive oil. Served on the side was a sliced loaf of dense yet soft bread. The beef was so tender as to almost melt in my mouth, and the balance of fresh meat with the tart flavours of lemon and apple was fantastic.

The dark yet cozy interior of Red Star Pub.

Considering how much food we ate, the approximately $30 cost per person after tax and tip wasn’t bad. Although, what I really like about Red Star Pub is how comfortable it is despite being in a dark basement with little natural light. The service is great, too. The staff are always friendly and helpful, and now I can say the food is worth a visit as well.

Versus: Edmonton Food Delivery Services

The four current food delivery platforms in Edmonton.

Admittedly, I wasn’t the first to jump on the food delivery band wagon. For a while, I was aware of Just Eat or Nomme, but I never made the foray into using their services until players like SkipTheDishes, Uber Eats, DoorDash and Foodora joined the game in Edmonton. I dabbled with them just a little bit starting in 2015, and slowly increased my usage over the past few years.

Nowadays, UK-based Just Eat has actually bought out SkipTheDishes, originally a Winnipeg-born enterprise, in order to expand their territory. However, instead of shifting business over to Just Eat, they’ve kept the SkipTheDishes brand, continuing to offer delivery under that umbrella. Nomme, on the other hand, has joined forces with food ordering platform DoorDash, headquartered out of San Francisco. Users of Nomme are now redirected to the DoorDash site.

That recently left me with four apps to test. You may ask why I decided I needed to do a compare and contrast between them. The answer is that exceedingly worse service and one bad experience in particular with SkipTheDishes made me wonder if the others were also declining.

Here’s the background. At work on a Thursday (when we got our first official snowfall of the season), I convinced our manager to order our team pizza. He told us to arrange it and we could expense our lunch. Instead of getting the typical Pizza 73 or Panago, we decided to try Famoso Jasper Ave (just a 6 minute drive away). They deliver exclusively through SkipTheDishes, so I input our selections and submitted our order by 11:24am. The tracking information updated and provided a very standard expected delivery time of 30 to 40 minutes. Great.

About 30 minutes later, I received an automated message from SkipTheDishes informing me that there was high demand for delivery that day and a delay was expected. Fine. Next thing I know, another 5 to 10 minutes go by and I get a phone call from Famoso. Their culinary supervisor wanted to inform me that our food was prepared 20 minutes ago, but no courier had shown up. I let him know that we did get a notification from SkipTheDishes, so I was aware, and we were willing to wait it out. After all, how much longer could it take?

Really? Almost an hour into our wait and still another 75 minutes to go…at least?

Well, I pulled up the tracking information at 12:10pm. It showed a new delivery time of 75 minutes and it was stuck at “Famoso is preparing your order.” I knew that was a lie. I had spoken to someone at Famoso and they clearly had our food ready to go, which meant the problem didn’t lie with them. What’s most interesting is that I’d been watching the courier name change over and over again over the past 50 minutes. At least a dozen or more drivers had been assigned at this point. I was thinking, what gives?

Most emails sent to businesses typically aren’t responded to for at least 24 hours. So, I figured that my best bet was to try to reach out to SkipTheDishes for help through their app chat function. The problem with using chat is that it takes you out of the tracker and eventually, if you exit the chat function for too long, it boots you back out and the message you typed disappears. Should you attempt to begin another chat, you go to the back of the queue once more. On this particular day, there were around 160 people ahead of me all three times I tried to contact someone that way. This went on until about 12:50pm. That’s when I decided a phone call might be best. I ended up on hold for over 30 minutes. If you’re counting, we were pretty much at the 2 hour mark.

In the meantime, I had phoned Famoso’s culinary supervisor back. He let me know that there was no courier in sight and he felt terrible about sending off cold food to us by the time a driver would be available. I asked if there was any way to cancel the order with SkipTheDishes. He was a bit apprehensive at first because a cancellation placed on my end meant they’d still get charged by SkipTheDishes on their end. I didn’t want that to happen. It wasn’t Famoso’s fault and they shouldn’t have to take a hit because SkipTheDishes couldn’t meet the demand. Ultimately, Famoso phoned in the cancellation for me. I was grateful that they managed to get through to the restaurant customer service line much quicker than I could get a hold of anyone.

I was eventually phoned by a SkipTheDishes agent (at the same time someone finally picked up that 30 minute call I was on). My order was stricken and a refund would be issued to my credit card. Okay. No food yet, but I was going to get my money back. Famoso was nice enough to remake our order on the spot. We ended up sending a team member to pick up our pizzas from the restaurant and we paid them directly. The last I had seen on the SkipTheDishes tracker before everything was cancelled was that it would be at least another 40 to 50 minutes. If that was the case, we probably wouldn’t have had our food for another hour or more.

Speaking to the SkipTheDishes agent, they really had no explanation for why this happened. All I can chalk it up to is that they’re expanding much too quickly without the necessary structure in place. Colleagues and friends that I’ve discussed this with have also noted more frequent delays with the service at SkipTheDishes, so I don’t think it’s uncommon. Is it always as awful as this incident? I certainly hope no one else has had to deal with this.

I followed up with SkipTheDishes by email the next day, and didn’t receive an answer from them until a week later. That was only after I prompted them a second time. It was then that I realized they never issued a refund to my credit card, but they actually only provided me with a Skip Credit for the Famoso order. It took approximately another week for them to reply and rectify that. There was no way I was going to have my hard earned money tethered to SkipTheDishes when they hadn’t done anything to deserve it. The way that this was handled, I can’t say I’m likely to utilize SkipTheDishes anymore. Not soon, anyway. My confidence in them is shattered, which is unfortunate.

That’s when I decided to test run the other players in the city. Next up was DoorDash. I placed my order on another particularly wet and miserable day. It went in at 12:10pm at the peak of lunch service. I had selected Joey Restaurant Bell Tower to order food from, which is actually much closer than Famoso to our office (just 2 minutes by car), so I took that into account. Nevertheless, it didn’t matter. Everything was prepared and delivered to my door within 30 minutes. DoorDash had no problem assigning a courier to bring my food to me. It was quick and simple. Their app is designed to keep you up-to-date through the whole process using text messages.

DoorDash is probably the next largest service available in Edmonton. For quite a time, they were the only one to offer delivery from Splash Poke. Although, recently Splash Poke decided to join SkipTheDishes, too, due to overwhelming demand from customers. Thankfully, for now, they are sticking with both platforms. Had they opted to leave DoorDash, I would have been utterly heartbroken. Not just because they’re one of my favourites, but because DoorDash has a more reasonable delivery fee of $1.99 versus $3.45 between my office and their 109 Street location. The only downside to DoorDash is that they don’t have as many restaurants available in the southwest corner of the city, so my options are kind of limited when I’m home. But, downtown workers and residents have a lot to choose from.

Foodora’s app is similar to the rest. Unlike SkipTheDishes, they made it in about 30 minutes.

Foodora was test case number three. This is a business based out of Berlin. They expanded into Edmonton last year, basically taking over the social media pages of local influencers. Couriers carry bright pink delivery packs and can arrive either by car or bike. Their branding was definitely on point. But, I’ve noticed that they haven’t grown as quickly as the other delivery services. Regardless, they have some decent options for the downtown area (don’t bother if you’re far south as they don’t do delivery there; the only choice is to pre-order for pick up).

My order from Nosh Cafe on 124 Street was placed at 11:30am. This was, thus far, the furthest location from my office with an estimated 9 minute drive. Again, distance didn’t seem to matter. My lunch showed up at our office doors by noon and I was eating butter chicken at my desk five minutes later. No issues with the food or the courier.

A few days later, I put Uber Eats up to the challenge. I will state that I had fully intended to order my lunch from Let’s Grill Sushi & Izakaya (107 Street and Jasper Avenue); however, come time to order, their business sat greyed out and listed as “unavailable” in the app. I thought it was odd since it had previously listed an opening of 11:30am (so I waited), but I let it go when it didn’t work and I found an alternative. My second choice was Parlour Italian Kitchen (108 Street and 103 Avenue), which had a drive time of 4 to 5 minutes through Google Maps. Holding true to what I expected, Uber Eats followed suit with DoorDash and Foodora by delivering my Veal Parmigiana at 12:07pm. A total of 27 minutes, 10 minutes less than the initial estimate.

My only complaint was that the item the restaurant prepared was incorrect. Parlour had made a similar, but different dish off of the menu. Additionally, the veal was so tough that I found it to be entirely inedible and had to throw the whole piece away. I noted these issues with the food in the app. By the next day, I had received responses from their help desk, including an apology and a notice that the order had been refunded in full directly to my credit card. I didn’t have to fight them about it, they simply did it. The customer service from Uber Eats far exceeded my experience with SkipTheDishes the week prior.

I should also mention that Uber Eats doesn’t ask for a courier tip on top of the standard delivery fees prior to arrival. It’s optional to add one after your food has arrived, but it’s not mandatory. I suspect they get paid pretty well from their cut of the delivery fees alone since the driver said he was happy to have so many orders coming through that day and I hadn’t even tipped him yet. Also, on occasion, Uber Eats offers some great promos. You just have to keep an eye out for them. The following week, I happened to be looking on the app in the morning when I noticed that they were advertising free burgers from McDonald’s. I managed to snag one of the limited codes and I got to try the Creamy Black Pepper Angus burger for just $2.09 after fees. It made for a decent, inexpensive lunch that day, so it can certainly pay off to keep the Uber Eats platform as well.

I know that this was a very lengthy post, but I felt like it had to be written. I’m no newspaper, and I’m well aware that I didn’t test all of the platforms multiple times in a short span to see if service with each is consistent to what I mentioned above (sorry, I’m not rich enough to order delivery every day). But, I’ve used all of them long enough to realize that service through SkipTheDishes has been steadily diminishing. I’ve heard horror stories of orders having to be made and remade by restaurants because it sits too long while they’re waiting for a courier to come. So, what are your thoughts? Have any of you experienced the same thing as me? Or, do I have bad luck? So many people seem to be on the SkipTheDishes bandwagon (as seen in a poll published on Splash Poke’s Instagram stories last week), but they put me through the ringer and I just can’t support them like I used to.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: State & Main

State & Main Windermere

Prior to State & Main Jasper Avenue opening, this restaurant was not a regular haunt for me. The Southgate Mall location was a place I visited only when I needed a relatively accessible spot to catch up with friends, and, being right along an LRT line, it fit the bill.

When State & Main was first introduced to the city, it was, for the most part, a duplicate of it’s older sibling, Original Joe’s. In fact, much of the menu was exactly the same. Many of the sandwiches could be found on either one, and it made me wonder what the point of having two chains under different names was. I suppose it could be argued that State & Main has a slightly trendier feel to it than the casual Original Joe’s, but it needed something more than that.

For me, that used to be the brunch. It’s been a while since I’ve taken the time to go to State & Main for that, but I definitely have a fondness for their Banana Bread French Toast ($13.50). I think it was the first place I’d ever come across that served a dish like it. Add a side of bacon and I got the best of both worlds when it came to satiating my early morning salty and sweet cravings.

At one point, I was even a huge fan of their veggie burger. Although, I’m by no means a connoisseur of vegetarian patties, I thought theirs had a great consistency with a beef-like texture, juiciness and a lot of flavour. It used to be topped with some sort of guacamole and halved grape tomatoes. Served with it would have been my choice of two of their extensive sides. However, more recently, I noticed that they changed the description of The Veggie ($15.50) on their menu. A friend of mine opted to go for a “healthier” lunch one day and gave it a go. She was severely disappointed. Visually, the burger didn’t look appetizing, so I can’t imagine it was much better eating it. I just don’t understand. They had a good recipe already, so why change a good thing?

Jalapeno Mac & Cheese with Bacon

Nowadays, State & Main downtown has become our scene for workplace gatherings (usually when another co-worker has abandoned the rest of us for something better). Within the past few months, we’ve probably been at least four or five times. My typical order is the Jalapeno Mac & Cheese ($11) with added Bacon ($2) off of their Start & Share listings. It’s affordable and it’s the perfect amount of food for the lunch hour. Sometimes it can get a little greasy, but overall, it’s got a nice creamy sauce. I enjoy the cavatappi noodles (spiral tubes) and the spice from the jalapenos is just right. It’s best when they put on a lot of panko bread crumb to get that baked crust on top, too. The bacon is usually good as I prefer it crispy. Aside from the last time, when I’m certain they forgot to put the bacon in (don’t worry, I got them to bring me a side of it), I always leave satisfied with this item.

I have tried to change things up every once in a while by selecting different dishes. Sometimes it has worked out (Spicy Tuna Poke Bowl), other times not so much (The Grilled Cheese Burger). Still, after frequenting State & Main so many times over the years, it’s a bit surprising that I hadn’t reviewed them before. Therefore, with a generous gift card in hand, Kirk and I decided to pop into the newest Windermere location for an early happy hour supper on a recent weekend.

Available from 3pm to 6pm every day and 9pm to close from Sunday to Thursday, I love taking advantage of happy hour deals. It can be an ideal way to have date night while getting to sample several things and save money. On this particular occasion, Kirk stuck to the Amber/Red SM Draught ($4). It tasted fine to me; fairly smooth and not overly hoppy. My preference is for cocktails, so I chose to go with the Saturday special of White Sangria ($7). Made with Absolut vodka, lemon juice, stone fruit syrup, white cranberry juice, Sauvignon blanc, raspberries, peaches and topped with State slush, it certainly made for easy drinking. Nothing too out there, and it was neither bitter or overly sweet. I could actually have done without the State slush though. It’s like a poor man’s version of a Slurpee with ice that is harshly crushed and quickly clumps up into a solid ball.

To eat, we shared a handful of items, including the State Slider ($3 each), Truffle Parm Crisps ($4), Lamb Tacos ($5 each or regularly $15.75 for two and a side), Short Ribs ($7), and Korean Fried Chicken ($7 or regularly $13.50). I have a theory that the restaurant takes longer to cook things up during happy hour, so patrons don’t have a chance to order a second round of food before 6pm. What other reason could there be for such a delay? It wasn’t even all that busy. For a competent kitchen to get an order out, it should never be a 40 minute wait.

Lamb Tacos

Our patience paid off in the end. Everything was delivered to our table at once. I’ll begin with the worst item: lamb taco. I was kind of excited to try this one because I’d been eyeing it on the menu for a long time. Having been forewarned about the disastrous fish tacos at State & Main, I was hoping that the lamb tacos with no cilantro in sight would be the better option. Unfortunately, the lamb did not come across as fresh. It had a gamey flavour, but not in the way that I was used to. It was almost too prominent despite there being very little meat at all. The majority of the taco was comprised of the shredded lettuce and pickled pink turnip. A sad drizzle of tahini could be seen on top. Thankfully the side of harissa was there to amp up the taste a bit. Otherwise, this would have been awful.

State Slider

The State Slider was okay. It’s most likely a miniature version of The Main Burger, which stacks a small patty of Canadian beef with American cheese, ketchup, pickle and State sauce. They’re known for their dill dip and the State sauce is similar. Maybe a tad stronger on the palate. I had a single bite and left the rest for Kirk.

Truffle Parm Crisps

I’d definitely order the Truffle Parm Crisps again. As far as I can tell, they’re house-made potato chips garnished with grated and flaked Parmesan cheese. There were a few chips that had gotten soggy by the time we made our way down to the bottom of the bowl. Otherwise, they were thick and crunchy with plenty of cheesiness and a decent creamy dip to go with it.

Short Ribs with Tzatziki

Considering that the Short Ribs were fried, they refrained from being overly oily. The outside was crisped well and they were simply seasoned with salt and pepper. There tends to be more bone than meat with these ribs though, so that’s the one downside. Regardless, what does take them up a notch is the side of tzatziki sauce.

Korean Fried Chicken

Probably my favourite dish from our afternoon out was the Korean Fried Chicken. Turns out I’d had it before during a previous work lunch. It’s prepared with a mix of lightly battered pieces of chicken and cauliflower in a spiced gochujang glaze and sprinkled with sesame seeds and chopped green onions. These taste awesome. My only issue with the dish is that the cauliflower is definitely a way of masking how little chicken they actually give you. The majority of the plate was made up of the white florets in disguise. While I’m a fan of the veggie, I would have appreciated more meat, especially if I had paid full price.

All things taken into consideration, State & Main is alright. Mostly, it comes down to timing. It doesn’t matter the location, service has always a bit shoddy no matter which one. The food is also hit or miss. But, find something that is relatively pleasing and stick with it because, if anything, they’re at least consistent in their mediocrity.