YEG Guide: A Day on 124 Street

Mural by Jill Stanton

Edmonton is a city filled with small pockets of community. 124 Street is definitely one of those spots. If you were driving by on a regular day, it might not strike you immediately as the place to be. It doesn’t have the same historic vibe of Whyte Avenue and it’s not situated right in the downtown core like 104 Street, but it is long-established, bridging the neighbourhoods of Oliver and Westmount as well as Glenora to the west.

I grew up around here, and it’s still one of my favourite areas to visit. With businesses lining the road all the way from Jasper Avenue down to 111 Avenue before turning primarily residential, there’s something for everyone who stops by.

Here are my recommendations for a day on 124 Street:

 

Breakfast or Brunch

The frittata with multigrain toast.

Urban Diner (12427 102 Avenue)

This is a staple of High Street. It’s a go to spot for weekend brunch with the line sometimes out the door. But, it’s hearty food that will fill you right up.

The interior of Canteen…very modern and industrial.

Canteen (10522 124 Street)

To be fair, I’ve only ever been here for dinner, so I can’t necessarily speak to brunch. However, their evening menu is fantastic and I’ve heard nothing but good things about the weekend fare.

Snickerdoodle, Strawberry Cheesecake, Birthday Cake, All the Reese, Ode to Sunshine and Triple Play

Destination Doughnuts (10548 124 Street)

If you’re more the type to get a grab and go snack for breakfast at Timmies, this might be for you. It’s just a much more indulgent version of the yeasty treat. Flavours like the Triple Play (hickory sticks, ripple chips, and caramel on chocolate glaze), Strawberry Cheesecake, or Snickerdoodle will have you coming back for more in no time.

 

Shopping

Arturo Denim (10443 124 Street)

My fiancé and I happened upon this workshop at random while walking along 124 Street one day. Turns out that they make denim jeans locally right from this small space. Upon purchasing, they will provide free tailoring to ensure a perfect fit. I mentioned the business to a friend of mine and she swears by them. They also sell some other vintage clothing as well as fun pins and patches.

Henry’s Purveyor of Fine Things (10247 124 Street)

This shop has been located around this neighbourhood for as long as I can remember. They provide interior design services alongside ample eclectic home decor to make your house a home. The styles on offer vary, allowing customers to mix and match to their own tastes.

Listen Records (10443a 124 Street)

This is a haven for LP lovers; the racks are stuffed with music from all genres. They sell both new and used items, and if you have anything you want to pass along, feel free to bring it by to see if they’ll buy it off of you.

Red Ribbon (12505 102 Avenue)

Open since 2002, founder and owner Rychelle has carefully curated her shop to include clothes, accessories, and gifts for women, men, and children. I have always loved poking around the underground store looking for a new treasure.

Salgado Fenwick (10842 124 Street)

Originally more of a market find, these small-batch silk-screened garment makers decided to open up a storefront about 4 years ago. Not only will you find limited edition printed tops and accessories, but you can also pop in for a coffee at Barking Buffalo Cafe, which shares the same space.

So Pretty Cara Cotter (10120 124 Street)

Previously, local jewelry designer Cara Cotter focused on growing her business internationally with by appointment only meetings available in her Edmonton studio. Yet, recently, she partnered with Pura Botanicals to open a joint flagship store. There, you’ll find beautifully crafted pieces made with semi-precious stones, solid 925 sterling silver, 18K gold, rose gold, and gunmetal vermeil (heavy plated over sterling silver).

The Prints and The Paper (10725 124 Street)

I love this shop! Looking for something unique for your home? This is the place to go. They showcase numbered limited edition silkscreen prints signed by the artist alongside vintage Edmonton imagery and maps. They can custom frame pieces for you, too. While you’re there, take a gander at their collection of books, travel guides, and cards. The center counter holds it all while allowing patrons to peruse at their leisure by providing stools along the perimeter for them to sit and flip through everything.

124 Grand Market

Located at 108 Avenue and 124 Street on Thursdays between 4pm and 8pm, this outdoor market runs from early-May to early-October. On Sundays from 11am to 3pm between June to September, the market moves to 102 Avenue and 124 Street. You’ll find a number of local makers setting up their tents every week. Everything from fresh floral bouquets to preserves and baked goods to clothes, there’s something to interest the whole family.

 

Midday Snacks & Treats

Key Lime Tart from Duchess Bake Shop

Duchess Bake Shop (10718 124 Street)

It’s impossible to make a list about 124 Street without including this world-renowned bakery. If you’re nearby, stop in to have a croissant sandwich for a light lunch, or pick up dessert. My personal favourite is the key lime tart, but their macarons and shortbread cookies are fantastic as well. On a hot day, pop over for a pint of their newly launched line of ice cream!

Cococo Chocolatier Bernard Callebaut (10103 124 Street)

Treat yourself to some Canadian-made chocolates and then sit down in their cafe over a beverage or a cup of gelato. It’s a relaxing spot with some free parking right in front.

Remedy Cafe (10310 124 Street)

One of Edmonton’s greatest success stories is this cafe. They’ve now expanded to 6 locations citywide, including their spot on 124 Street. Known for their chai lattes (I enjoy the lassis, too) and samosas, they also cater to those with food sensitivities and dietary restrictions by offering many gluten/dairy-free and vegan friendly Indian and Pakistani meals in addition to a variety of drinks and desserts.

 

Activities

Table Top Cafe 2.0 filled will customers on a Saturday evening.

Table Top Cafe (10235 124 Street)

Well-stocked with board games, this is the ideal spot to gather with friends and family for some old-fashioned fun away from electronics. For just $7 per person, you can stay and play for as long as you want. They even serve beverages (alcoholic included), snacks, and sandwiches to keep everyone energized. Plus, if you really love a game, they may have new packages in stock to take home.

Instagrammable Walls Walk

This area is home to a number of interesting and colourful murals. There’s one by artist Jill Stanton (10803 124 Street; see photo at the top of this post), another that maps the neighbourhood on the wall of Peter Robertson Gallery (104 Avenue and 124 Street), a third showcases the city skyline (108 avenue and 124 Street), and there’s also a geometric piece with animals tucked on the side of the building that houses Meuwly’s (10706 124 Street). You’ll discover many more photo ops in the vicinity. You just need to keep your eyes peeled for walls that can make good backdrops. They’re literally everywhere!

Gallery Tour

Sometimes 124 Street is called the Gallery District because, in the span of just a two-block radius between 103 and 104 Avenues, you’ll come across nine out of the ten located in this neighbourhood. Included are Bearclaw Gallery, Bugera Matheson Gallery, The Front Gallery, Lando Gallery, Lotus Cafe & Gallery, Peter Robertson Gallery, Scott Gallery, Udell Xhibitions, Wakina Gallery (10632 124 Street; may be by appointment only), and West End Gallery. Twice a year, seven of the businesses participate in an official Gallery Walk, opening their doors for a celebration of art. The next one is scheduled for Fall 2019 from September 21 to 22, but feel free to visit any other time during regular hours.

 

Dinner & Late Night

Dipping the Croque Mon’Soubise’ in sauce.

Partake (12431 102 Avenue)

Delectable rustic French cuisine in a cozy and inviting space. That’s how I’d describe Partake. It’s fairly new to the restaurant scene in Edmonton, but it was brought to life by the same owners of Urban Diner and the recently closed (lease was up) The Manor. They’ve got years of experience up their sleeves and the thought that they’ve put into this menu shows. Walk-ins only, so if you’re close, pop your head in and see if they have space to accommodate. You’ll certainly want to linger over the food and cocktails once you’re there.

Tagliatelle Florentine

Nuovo Bistro (10721 124 Street)

Want a hearty meal of Italian pasta? This is a great local spot. The dishes are flavourful and filling, and while the venue is small, it’s friendly. The place is also quiet enough to carry on a conversation while still being somewhat lively. They also have decent daily promotions such as half off appetizers on Sundays.

Super Combination Platter for Two

Cosmos Greek Kitchen (10812 124 Street)

Just get the Super Combination Platter. If there are three or four of you, go for the platter for two. It should be enough to feed everyone. Kirk and I ordered this for the pair of us and it fed both of us for almost three days!

Butter paneer (or chicken) is perfect during the winter months.

Nosh Cafe (10235 124 Street)

Right next to the aforementioned Table Top Cafe is this Indian restaurant. It’s my go to for a quick meal of butter chicken or palak paneer. They also have a daily wing and beer special that’s perfect for a midday snack.

The dining room of RGE RD.

RGE RD (10643 123 Street)

When you have time and money to spare, go here. Take the Road Trip, a multi-course meal that starts at $89 per person. The chef will take your palate on a journey from the east to west coasts of the country.

Arcadia Bar (10988 124 Street)

This is a very intimate bar with minimal seating. But, they stick to local brews and they’re open late Thursdays to Saturdays.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Two Sergeants Brewing (Updated)

The entrance to the dining space of Two Sergeants Brewing.

Two Sergeants Brewing (11817 105 Avenue), situated behind the Brewery District, had been on my radar for a little while. But, it wasn’t until Yelp’s “Pursuit of Hoppiness” event, right at the end of April, that I finally visited. Kirk and I decided to attend this gathering as a push to get out to this venue (as well as out of the house), and it ended up being a lot of fun.

At Yelp’s “Pursuit of Hoppiness” event they had pinatas in the dining room.

You won’t find them smashing pinatas on the regular here, but you will find a very open space with large communal tables, and plenty of colourfully painted chairs. It’s perfect for large groups to hang out over more than decent pub-style grub and a beer or two.

Daily Specials including $5 flights on Thursdays.

A flight of four quarter pints of any of Two Sergeants Brewing beers is just $8 regularly, and, if you head over there on a Thursday, you’ll get the same for just $5. The four glasses are presented in an adorable miniature picnic table server. Personally, I didn’t mind their Chinook Oatmeal Stout; however, my fave from the sampling we received was the Passion d’Ale Belgian Wit for it’s crisp, clean, smooth drinking citrus flavour without the lingering bitterness. Kirk preferred the 17 Pounder IPA, ordering a full pint to go with dinner. It has a lower IBU, but it was still too strong of a finish for my liking.

To eat, we both opted to try their Homestyle Chicken Sandwich — recently increased to $14 — with hand cut fries (or house salad). The locally sourced chicken is soaked in buttermilk and fried to order, so it comes out fresh and crispy. Either available as classic or spicy, it’s then stacked with double smoked cheddar, coleslaw, and house made pickles on a sourdough bun. Both of us chose the spicy version, enjoying the mild heat from the chicken.

Homestyle Chicken Sandwich with Hand Cut Fries

What took the sandwich over the top was the house made pickles. Now, I asked for mine to be made without them because I’m not a fan of standard pickles. Yet, they still gave them to me, just laid on the side of my plate. The server explained that they were pickled jalapenos, so they thought I might still want to try them. Honestly, I did. I love jalapeno peppers, so I went to town putting those back into my sandwich. For the most part, all was well. I handled the spice from the chicken and the peppers like a champ…at least until I found a slice of jalapeno that still held more of the pith and rib of the pepper. My face lit up like a beet, probably, and I needed a few sips of Kirk’s beer to tone it down. Let’s just say that I wouldn’t get too far on Hot Ones.

The fries were quite good. Appearing in a small frying basket, the portion size was okay. They seemed to have been blanched to get that perfectly cooked center and that crisp golden brown exterior. Overall, they were a nice finish to the meal.

Art inside their venue is perfect for photo ops.

The owners of Two Sergeants Brewing have definitely put a lot of love into this place. The thought and detail that went into this location when they decided to move from Fort Saskatchewan to Edmonton is apparent. Hopefully, it’s the right thing for them in the long run. I know that it’s a great addition to the Westmount, Oliver and Queen Mary Park areas. More and more businesses are choosing to be present there and it’s community like that that is so important in this city. We’re definitely looking forward to returning this summer for good brews and food.

 

UPDATE August 3, 2019:

Last weekend, Kirk and I met with friends at Two Sergeants Brewing for a proper dinner. Since our dining companions were able to find a babysitter for earlier in the evening, we met at around 5:30pm to catch up. I did make a reservation ahead of time using the OpenTable app, but there were still a number of spots available, giving us plenty of choices on where to sit. We snagged seats towards the far side of the restaurant next to the cordoned off private room.

The server came over with some food menus and pointed out that the beer selection was listed on the screen. It seemed like they had less of their own brews on tap than previously, but they had a handful of others from different local breweries, too. There was a good mix to appease any preferences. I was able to find a sour from Blindman, while everyone else stuck to the hoppier beers created by Two Sergeants ($8 to $9 per pint).

This time, we had the full menu at our disposal (previously, we were there for a special event and the options were limited). Kirk and I shared the Fries and Gravy ($7), Bison Carpaccio ($13), and Corn Fritters ($8). Our friends ordered the Wings ($12) with their choice of Beer BBQ Sauce.

Fries and Gravy

I was really surprised at how good the Fries and Gravy were. We’re pretty sure their house cut fries are blanched and then fried to give the potato fingers a nicely cooked middle and crunchy exterior. They were then doused in a beef and mushroom gravy and sprinkled with green onions. Where it excelled and set itself apart from anything like it was the gravy. I’ve never had something like that on fries before, and it was so delicious. It reminded me of a rich mushroom soup and it totally worked. Even with the soggier potatoes at the bottom of the basket and no utensils, I made sure not to leave a fry behind.

Bison Carpaccio

 

The Bison Carpaccio was described on the menu as seared with fennel, garnished with house pickled red onion, mushrooms, double smoked cheddar, malted barley, and arugula, and then dressed with strawberry white balsamic vinaigrette. Admittedly, I didn’t find that the smokiness came through with the grated cheese, and I couldn’t really taste the vinaigrette as noted. But, the arugula is always a good balance of bitter against the acidity from the pickled red onions and the earthy mushrooms. The malted barley provided added texture to the dish, while the black licorice flavour from the fennel crust was the first to hit the tongue. The thinly sliced bison was beautifully red and so tender, too. Usually, I do place the carpaccio onto the supplied pieces of crostini; however, although toasted, the bread that came with the meat was really thick, and honestly, the carpaccio stood on its own.

Corn Fritters

Having recently been somewhat disappointed by a corn fritter I had elsewhere, I took a chance on them at Two Sergeants. I think there were four or five in the basket and they were hefty in size. It would have been great if they had been slightly more moist, but at least they weren’t doughy on the inside. They definitely had the corn bread texture that I expected and there were full corn kernels to be found when pulled apart. With super crispy outer shells and two delicious dips (I asked for both) — a beer berry coulis and savoury cheese sauce — that were good separately or paired together, these were a real treat.

Wings with Beer BBQ Sauce

I didn’t personally try the wings, but they looked fantastic. Truly full wings (with the drumette and flat still attached), they looked to be perfectly fried. They had three choices for dips with theirs being the Beer BBQ Sauce. Yet, Frank’s Red Hot or a dill buttermilk ranch were available as well.

Homestyle Chicken Sandwich with Fries

Because Kirk is a creature of habit, he stuck to the same thing as our first visit, going with the Homestyle Chicken Sandwich ($15). In fact, our two friends followed suit. Everyone enjoyed their meals, although Kirk told me later that he thought it wasn’t as good as before. He found his chicken to be a little too dry, which could have just been the particular cut of meat he got. If it was thinner than in the other sandwiches, it would be easy to overcook it. The sandwiches that our friends got looked as though they had pretty thick pieces of breaded and fried chicken in them.

Pulled Pork Pappardelle

I really wanted to try something new on this occasion, so I went for the Pulled Pork Pappardelle ($18). You could tell that the house made pasta was fresh. It did sort of clump together a bit and I had some trouble pulling it apart without breaking the strands, but I liked the al dente texture, which was soft with a little bite to it. It was hearty in flavour while still sort of light as a dish. The slow roasted pork shoulder was succulent and, at times, crisp where it had charred. The sweet tangy BBQ sauce was certainly a change when it came to pasta sauce. Married with tomatoes, roasted garlic, caramelized onions, mushrooms, and baby spinach, I was a happy camper both that night and when I finished my leftovers the next day.

Overall, I’m quite impressed with the Two Sergeants kitchen. They’re making somewhat standard pub fare, but with more adventurous flavours, tweaks, and twists. If they keep it up, I know that this is going to be a favourite for a long time.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Tokiwa Ramen

Goma Goma with Kaedama

I’ve been on a bit of a ramen kick lately. I’ve always enjoyed ramen, but it’s not something I regularly order at restaurants. Still, after a couple of visits to the newly opened Menjiro Ramen, I decided that I finally needed to try Tokiwa Ramen.

Well aware of the existence of Tokiwa Ramen since they were introduced to Edmonton, surprisingly, I’d never managed to eat there. The owners run the shop daily; however, they’re only open until the prepared broths are sold out. As such, any time I’ve been nearby the location situated in the Brewery District, I’ve been welcomed by a “No Soup” sign.

Determined, I told Kirk we’d be making the trek from South Terwillegar to Oliver early on a Sunday morning. Many people on social media had suggested arriving before the doors are unlocked at 11:00 am. Therefore, we showed up fifteen minutes ahead. We got a parking spot right in front of the restaurant, so we decided to stay in the car until a few other patrons started lining up.

Tokiwa Ramen seats about 30 people at a time.

About seventh and eighth in the queue, we were easily within the first round of customers to be served of a long line that went eastward down the length of the strip mall. The minimalist space seats approximately 30 to 35 people. By our calculations, with most guests staying for an hour or so, and Tokiwa Ramen typically closing before dinner, we estimate that they sell up to 150 to 200 bowls a day (we are guessing though).

That number of bowls is no small feat when you account for just how big the portions are. Kirk and I ordered our food, and, as we waited, we watched other people’s orders coming from the kitchen. Our jaws dropped at the sheer size of each dish. They were at least a third larger, if not more, than what we had been served at Menjiro. Considering that the prices are the same, the value at Tokiwa is definitely a huge plus.

Kirk selected the Spicy Miso broth ($14.50) for his brunch ramen. This consists of a six hour chicken soup served with pork charshu (braised pork), noodles, half of a boiled egg, wood ear mushrooms, micro greens, bean sprouts, Shanghai bok choi, and a lotus root chip. The menu is explicit about the spice being moderate, and it’s true. I finished off Kirk’s soup, and I can attest to the fact that it’s not going to burn off your taste buds. The heat is very pleasant and manageable on the palate.

Initially, I was tempted by the curry ramen listed on their features board. Ultimately, I thought it’d be best to stick with their standards on my first visit. I opted to go with the Goma Goma ($14) found on their regular menu. While it comes with pretty much the same ingredients as the Spicy Miso, the differences are in the soup and the meat. Unlike the other, the base is a ten hour creamy sesame pork broth and the pork meat is chopped rather than braised and sliced. The soup was incredibly savoury (more so than the chicken broth) without being overly salty. I loved the variety of textures throughout the bowl, including the bite of the thick noodles, which held up well while soaking in the broth as I slowly ate. My only complaint, and it’s a minor one, is that the ground pork is harder to devour. The bits of meat fell to the bottom of the bowl and the style of spoon provided doesn’t make for easy scooping. Otherwise, this was fantastic.

Goma Goma with extra noodles!

Between the two of us, we also shared a side of Kaedama ($3.50), a noodle refill, thinking that we would require extra. In the end, we polished the bowl off, but, honestly, it probably wasn’t necessary. The regular bowls of ramen already provide plenty of food. Therefore, I recommend waiting to see if the regular portions will be enough for you before deciding to add noodles.

Those people outside waited in line for an hour.

Tokiwa Ramen is the real deal. I now completely understand why people are willing to line up for an hour to get a bowl of their soup. They don’t half ass anything. Instead, they have chosen to hone their skills on doing a few things amazingly well. The owners have stuck to their guns by refusing to compromise on the quality. Their passion for their product definitely shows. Once you try it, I guarantee that you’ll be hooked. If you could read my mind, you would find out that half of the time I’m literally thinking of when I might get my next bowl of Tokiwa Ramen.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Wilfred’s

Check-in to Wilfred’s upon arrival.

Wilfred’s is one of the newest restaurants to dot the Edmonton landscape. It’s situated within the popular Brewery District inside a fairly nondescript 100-year-old vintage brick building that used to belong to the old Molson Brewery. Completely refurbished, the heritage space is now unrecognizable. The interior is a wash of light woods, a mix of pink and white accents, dark metals, and whimsical art from Vanguard Works.

The Pink Blazer was the weekly Pink Drink sometime in October.

Even though Wilfred’s, a contemporary diner, had opened by the official start of summer 2018, Kirk and I held off on our visit. It wasn’t until a couple of weeks ago when we decided it was time to check it out. I’m not going to lie, it was their latest weekly featured Pink Drink ($13), The Pastel Blazer, that got me in the door. It was actually more bitter than I expected it to be, and the ingredients — vodka, Aperol, unsweetened coconut milk, lime juice, and egg white — had to be stirred regularly to avoid separation, but it was, overall, a smooth and refreshing beverage that lasted me through our dinner.

Everything about Wilfred’s is curated from the wallpaper to the menu.

To eat, the two of us split a couple of plates: Wilfred’s Burger ($18) with added white cheddar ($2) and soup ($3) subbed in for the usual fries, as well as the Fried Chicken & Prosciutto Cutlet ($25). Arguably the best thing about both dishes was the size as they were generously portioned. For the price, I’m glad to see that they didn’t skimp. However, I do feel that each one could use some improvement.

Beginning with the burger, this consisted of a hefty nine ounce patty of beef topped with bacon, lettuce, tomato and onion. It’s so thick that I found it rather difficult to unhinge my jaw to take a real bite out of the burger. The bun also didn’t fare too well as it slid around and fell apart as I ate. The meat itself was cooked to about a medium well, so it wasn’t completely colourless, but it also wasn’t as juicy as I hoped it would be. Thankfully, it was fresh though. It certainly didn’t seem to be a prefab patty, and, that, I’ll commend Wilfred’s for. Had it not been for the added cheese and the crispy bacon, the burger would have had relatively no flavour. I highly recommend that the restaurant creates a signature sauce to go with this menu item.

Cauliflower & Potato Soup with bacon and chives

The upgrade to their Cauliflower & Potato Soup was the saving grace to this dish. It was thick, creamy and smooth. When served hot, it makes for the perfect hearty soup to have during the onset of winter. The tiny bits of bacon and chives added a little fattiness and herbaceousness.

Fried Chicken & Prosciutto Cutlet

Our second plate of Fried Chicken & Prosciutto Cutlets was enormous. The two breasts or legs of meat had been pounded until evenly thin throughout. Layered with prosciutto and then breaded and fried, they were super crispy without tasting or feeling greasy. I could have used some more prosciutto as it was hard to discern its presence. Yet, upon careful inspection, I did see it there. If you try this, definitely squeeze some fresh lemon juice onto the chicken. The zest kicks the dish up a notch, and the acidity breaks down some of the salt. On the side was an arugula salad with tomatoes and Parmesan. This was a great accompaniment to the chicken. The sharp taste of the greens, the tartness of the tomatoes, and the pungency of the cheese paired very well with the meat.

Postcards designed by Vanguard Works are provided with the bill.

When all was said and done, our meal at Wilfred’s was a bit of a miss. Sure, the service was quite good, the atmosphere was pleasant (admittedly a tad cramped though), and they have an excellent bar program. Nevertheless, the food isn’t meeting it’s full potential. I understand that simplicity is key at times, but, in the case of Wilfred’s, the kitchen needs to do something to set themselves apart from the rest. Right now, they’re not. They should take a chance and be as playful with the menu as they are with the decor.

The interior of Wilfred’s is light and whimsical.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Nando’s (Brewery District)

The plate I put together for myself from everything we ordered with our Variety Platter.

Never one to pass up a good deal, I found it imperative to use a direct marketing coupon received for the new Nando’s location at the Brewery District. After all, thirty percent off of a meal doesn’t come up too often.

My boyfriend and I made our way to central Edmonton for dinner on a Saturday at around five o’clock. When we arrived, there were tables occupied; however, much of the eatery remained open for walk-in guests. I overheard one of the servers say to another set of diners that their busiest time usually occurs a couple of hours later in the evening at around 7:00pm.

The interior of the Nando’s Brewery District location.

We were seated at the far end of the restaurant, providing me with a full view of the interior, which was well-designed, modern, spacious, comfortable, clean, and efficiently organized. As we settled in, the staff member quickly gave us the rundown of how it worked at Nando’s. Ultimately, it’s similar to a number of fast-casual establishments that restaurant-goers are likely familiar with (i.e. Famoso or Via Cibo). First, spend a bit of time leisurely perusing the menu at the table. When ready, get up and head over to the till where someone will take the order and process payment. Before sitting back down, grab water, napkins, utensils, and extra sauces or dressings from the center station. Then, build up an appetite while waiting for a server to bring the dishes over.

I have to say that, prior to visiting, I had no clue what exactly PERi-PERi was. As it turns out, it’s a specific Portuguese marinade, baste, or sauce with origins that come out of Africa, specifically Mozambique. The base is the hot African Bird’s Eye Chilli (a.k.a. piri-piri). Mixed with lemon, garlic and salt, it becomes PERi-PERi. Nando’s has stuck by the belief that simple is best, keeping artificial colours or flavours and any preservatives out of their recipes. The company has also refused to outsource their supply of chillies, and instead, they work with small-scale farmers in Southern Africa to grow them specifically for their use. They’ve created a business that has not only gone global, but also made a wonderful impact on a more local level with initiatives such as these. That’s certainly worth a commendation on its own.

The Variety Platter: Half Chicken, 5 Wings & 2 Skewers

Our food didn’t take too long to arrive. The pair of us opted to share a Variety Platter ($32.95) intended for two to three people. It included a half chicken, five whole wings, two skewers, and two regular sides. On their menu is a scale called the PERi-ometer. It’s to be used to decide on the amount of heat appropriate for one’s taste buds. There were several choices, starting on the low end with Plain…ish to the high end of Xtra Hot. Although we’re quite comfortable with spice, I still wasn’t sure what to expect of Nando’s, so we opted for Medium on the half chicken and the wings. For the skewers, we chose Mango & Lime.

According to the Nando’s website, their chicken is marinated for at least twenty-four hours to allow the seasonings to soak in and to fully tenderize the meat before being cooked over a flame grill. While I cannot attest to that statement, I will say that my overall impression of the chicken and its preparation was that it was superb. Every single bite packed a wallop without burning the mouth. It wasn’t even necessary to utilize any of the additional sauces available (unless more heat was required). The meat was incredibly tender as well. Shreds of chicken pulled right off the bone without much effort. Yet, I think, out of all the options we tried that day, my favourite had to be the Mango & Lime skewers. They were just so flavourful with an intense natural mango taste.

For our sides, we went with the Garlic Mashed Potatoes and the Spiced Rice. The garlic mashed potatoes were warm, smooth and garlicky with skins and herbs still clearly visible. It seemed as though the mashed potatoes were freshly made. I really enjoyed the spiced rice, too. Bright yellow in colour, it had been seasoned with several herbs, spices and peppers. Both were excellent accompaniments to the chicken because they complimented the meat without overpowering it.

Their traditional Portuguese custard tart.

Before we left, I insisted on getting a Pasteis de Natas ($2.50). This is otherwise known as a traditional Portuguese custard tart. I love eating Chinese egg tarts at dim sum and these are somewhat similar. Flaky crusts provide the foundation to hold the filling, but the difference comes down to what’s in the middle. The Chinese version is made with more egg and less cream, so it finishes with a brighter, glassier and smoother consistency. The Portuguese tart is closer to a sugary crème brûlée with a caramelized top. I enjoy either iteration of this type of dessert. Regardless, I was rather disappointed with the one at Nando’s. While its aroma was intoxicating, the custard itself was slightly gummy as if it’d been sitting out too long and the top looked as though it was a tad over-burnt. Therefore, I don’t think I’d be very inclined to order that again.

I have yet to go back after this first visit. Nevertheless, I’m going to call myself a fan. I’ve often thought of their chicken since, and I find myself craving it at times. Even better, I just found out that their food is now available to be delivered through SkipTheDishes, and I will surely be taking advantage of that. Whatever Nando’s is doing, they’re doing it right!

This is one happily satisfied customer!