Edmonton Restaurant Review: The Needle Vinyl Tavern (Closed)

The open bar and stage at The Needle Vinyl Tavern.

Since The Needle Vinyl Tavern opened about a year and a half ago, I’ve frequented the place a few times. It’s located right on Jasper Avenue and 105 Street. When the business was first announced, it was a welcome addition to the city as it wasn’t simply another bar, but a small live music venue as well. On the cusp of the loss of several others like it in the span of a year or two, Edmontonians were happy to know there was something coming in to fill that void.

The wall opens up to allow for an expanded patio space.

Although I haven’t gone to any of the shows (they do have some great artists coming through), I have been for food and drinks. The first time was last summer when my friends and I decided to walk a few blocks from the office for our lunch break. It was a beautifully sunny day and we managed to snag a table out on the extended sidewalk patio, one of the few spaces like it in the downtown core. Personally, I think it’s a great spot to catch some rays and grab a bite. The only thing is I prefer sitting a little further in from where the pedestrians are constantly passing by.

The original vinyl drink menu is no longer used, but was a great touch.

On that occasion, I was really impressed with the details that went into The Needle. The overall menu had a decent mix of options and the dishes were promising. What we ate tasted good and the service was prompt. I especially loved that, to go with the theme, they had their list of drinks printed on actual vinyl discs. It was a fun feature. However, over time, those intricacies have disappeared and been replaced with what I would say are watered down versions of their previous offerings.

The last time I visited, my friend and I popped in for lunch. Instead of sitting out on the patio, we ate at a booth inside. While I enjoyed getting to view the bar and the stage, I found the service to be extremely slow even though there were a lot of staff on hand (chatting to each other) and not many people dining in.

Eventually, a server came over to take our order. I opted to make a meal of two of the appetizers: Mac N’ Cheese Bites ($9) and Cauliflower 78 ($13). My friend chose the Taco Supremo House Pizza ($17).

Taco Supremo House Pizza

I have to say that the slice of taco pizza was the best thing out of the trio. Yet, I don’t think that’s saying much. Sure, the flavours were okay, but I felt that the crust was bland and lacked in texture. I also disliked the fact that it was difficult to see past all of the lettuce and tomato that topped the pizza. It was like the kitchen was trying to hide what was underneath. The red sauce was basic and there was not enough beef.

The Mac N’ Cheese Bites with Ketchup

Still, the pizza was better than both of my starters. The Mac N’ Cheese Bites were passable. The thing is, it seemed as though they literally took a box of Kraft Dinner and made the pasta into nugget shapes before breading and frying them. The ten greasy pieces were served with a side of ketchup for dipping. They may have added some extra cheese as the interior of the bites were creamier than I expected. Regardless, the execution was poor. If you’re going to serve something like this, take a page from the many other restaurants that serve similar items. Jazz it up with a ketchup that’s made in-house or incorporate some spice or seasoning.

Cauliflower 78 with Sweet & Spicy Dip

The worst of the bunch was definitely the Cauliflower 78. These tiny florets were over-breaded (somehow not that crispy) and the portion was way too small for the price. They came in a bowl the size of a cup of soup. The side of sweet chili dip was probably store bought as well. This was absolutely nothing special and such a disappointment.

My takeaway from the whole experience is that The Needle Vinyl Tavern is mainly there for the music and maybe the drinks (my co-worker said the selection of beer is lacking). I’ve been told the brunch menu is a winner, but I have yet to try it. In the meantime, I believe that food is no longer their forte. They have the potential to make it a strong suit because I saw it in the beginning. I just think that they’ve veered off of that path for the time being. Hopefully they can get back on track eventually.

The bar is a cool feature of the venue and it’s pretty spacious to fit a standing crowd during shows.

Edmonton Restaurant Review Duo: Joey Restaurant & Earls Kitchen + Bar

My favourite from Joey: Ahi tuna sandwich!

My favourite from Joey: Ahi tuna sandwich!

Nowadays, chain restaurants like Joey and Earls – both founded by the Fuller family – get a lot of flak. People say these establishments are too corporate, that they take away from the smaller, independent eateries. But, I beg to differ. There was a time, not too long ago, when those were the go to places in Edmonton. Always bustling with people, there could be lines of up to an hour (or more) for a table and patrons would patiently wait.

While still relatively casual, these places give off an upscale air. During my lifetime, the trio has become synonymous with living up to a standard in service (for the most part) and quality of food. No matter which city across Canada that a customer happens to be, if they walk into one of the Fuller offshoots, they’d likely come away satisfied.

Yet, in recent years, we’ve had a bit of a love affair with a smattering of great entrepreneurial chefs and business owners who have gone above and beyond in growing the food offerings available in E-Town. Why go to a chain restaurant when you can support something more local? However, let’s not forget that the first Earls opened in 1982 in this very city as an independent, local eatery. Sure, the chain’s headquarters is now situated in Vancouver, but its roots are here.

It’s not to say that we’ve all abandoned Joey and Earls. Far from it. They remain popular hangouts for the typical diner. There’s just a lot more competition from the single storefront eateries with their award winning menus that dot our city. Those who frequent these, arguably, awesome establishments on the regular seem to forget that the chains were once our saviors when it came to a night out on the town. Friends (a few, not all) sometimes turn their noses up at the idea of stepping foot into a chain restaurant, and it’s fine if that’s how they feel. I’ll even concede that the menus are relative carbon copies of one another, and sometimes the selection isn’t all that exciting or adventurous, but there are still things I enjoy about these places.

Personally, I believe that there’s room for the chains and the independents in my heart and my stomach. So, this is my review of and love letter to Joey and Earls.

Joey really does have a permanent slot in my heart. I have many memories of great meetings and conversations over delicious meals with friends and family within the confines of Joey walls. At one point, my parents and I were frequenting the Jasper Avenue location so much that we became well acquainted with a server named Ryan. In my younger days, a good friend and I would often takeover a table for the entire evening as we lost track of time. It was almost like a second home (slightly exaggerating), but with better food (sorry Mom).

I don’t make it to Joey as much as I used to anymore. The locations around town aren’t the most convenient for me. However, I always think it’s worth it when I get to go.

Although the menu has changed over the years to better suit whatever food trends pop up, I’ve never been truly disappointed with a dish. From the lettuce wraps, chili chicken and flatbread to the rotisserie chicken, salmon (used to be cooked with maple) and fettucine alfredo, it was/is all so tasty.

For at least a few years, they’ve had simply one of the best sandwiches on their menu. The Ahi Tuna. Grilled so that the middle of the tuna steak remains rare, it’s a good value for the portion at under $17. The tuna is topped with bacon, crispy onion rings and a flavourful sweet pepper relish. All the layers combine to make for an extremely delicious sandwich. If you’re a fan of sushi and burgers, you can’t really go wrong with this choice.

I’m also a fan of Joey desserts. They’re known for the Molten Lava Chocolate Soufflé and Baked to Order Apple Pie, both of which have been on their menu for as long as I can remember. Those two are tried and true classics that continue to belong because Joey does them so well. Recently though, they added in a key lime pie as a third option. I was a bit skeptical when I first saw it, but I tried it and I have to say that it’s another win. There’s a good balance of sweet to tart and if you like fresh cream, they put a very generous helping of the whipped topping on the plate, too. It’s not quite on par with what one would find at Duchess Bake Shop, but it’s better than the version on offer at Cactus Club.

I often can't pass up this caesar salad from Earls. Photo from Earls site.

I often can’t pass up this caesar salad from Earls. Photo from Earls site.

Moving along to Earls, who remembers the parrot décor (while I’m at it, don’t forget about the red and white checkered table cloths and giant tomato decor of Joey in its original form)? The Earls chain has come a long way since those days. The original Tin Palace on Jasper Avenue has shifted from the beer and burger joint it was to a fancier iteration of itself. It still has a wonderful, large patio for those short summer months, and a few burgers up for grabs, but the menu has expanded.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve found myself at Earls (mainly the one by the U of A Campus) for many a book club meeting. I admit that, yes, I was getting a little tired of going to the same place so much, but I have to say that the food and the drinks are more than decent.

I do miss their old Thai flavoured chicken wings. Nevertheless, Mojito Friday and Saturday is the best. I also love their Dynamite Prawn Rolls and the Cajun Chicken Caesar Salad (the Pecan Chicken Rocket Salad is fantastic, too; sadly, I think it was replaced within the past season). The one misstep I made recently was ordering their Forager Burger. It was just okay. I’m all for a good veggie burger, but something was missing. Maybe the roasted mushroom patty wasn’t patty-like enough for me. The flavours didn’t pack much of a punch either.

Where the Forager Burger fails, Earls has plenty of other choices to fill its place. My friend has enjoyed their take on Korean Bibimbap a few times now. The Fettucine Alfredo or the Confit Chicken and Pancetta Fettucini are good for carb fans. The Jeera Chicken Curry is a mild dish for those who like Indian flavours without the spicy heat, and the Chicken, Brie and Fig Sandwich has become a mainstay for many.

Aside from the food, the appeal of Joey and Earls comes from the fact that, because each location is part of a larger corporate entity, they’re never quick to shoo patrons out the door. Sure, high table turnover on a busy night means a larger pool of tips for staff, but the bottom line is often determined by a few factors: affordability, service, atmosphere and flexibility.

Allowing customers to linger a little (or a lot) longer because they’re having a good time is something that these chains understand. After all, my friends and I, deep in conversation, have been prone to stay the night. It’s where we’ve shared many a story with one another, and where we’ll likely continue to do so as long as we always feel welcomed by the corporate exterior with the heart of a family who decided to start their business right here.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Alberta Hotel Bar + Kitchen (Closed)

Lunchtime at the Alberta Hotel Bar + Kitchen

Lunchtime at the Alberta Hotel Bar + Kitchen

Dismay was the general consensus when Tavern 1903 folded towards the end of 2014. The restaurant was popular with patrons and, thus, there was a bit of disbelief when word spread of its closure.

I had only been to Tavern 1903 once, but I enjoyed the food and the sunny patio during the summer, and I had looked forward to going back. What I especially liked was the idea of Edmonton businesses having invested in the restoration of this historical building on 98 Street and Jasper Avenue that used to be the Alberta Hotel. My fear was that it would be shuttered and the gorgeous bar wouldn’t see the light of day for who knows how long.

Less than a year later, my bartender friend, Clayton, told me he was starting a new job at the Alberta Hotel Bar + Kitchen. I’m often clueless about new places until someone tells me about it or I read an article or blog post, so I had him confirm my assumptions about this establishment’s location. Sure enough, it was taking over that same spot vacated by Tavern 1903.

Beyond excited, I reached out to owners Spencer Thompson (Chef de Cuisine) and Brandon Baker (General Manager) to discuss another story. During that same time, they were in the midst of their soft opening. I didn’t visit over the first few weeks they were open. However, from what I was hearing through my friends, something great was in store for me.

Finally, for the official grand opening on November 19, I made my first trip to Alberta Hotel Bar + Kitchen.

The historic and gorgeous lounge and bar.

The historic and gorgeous lounge and bar.

As expected, the space has changed little since Tavern 1903. Knowing that the bar and lounge was reconstructed using the actual building blocks – tiles, chandeliers, lamps, etc. – of the original Alberta Hotel, it would have been a travesty to tamper with any of that. So, they did the right thing and kept the venue as is.

Upon arrival, we were greeted at as we stepped into the door. The restaurant had my reservation in its OpenTable system and we were promptly seated in the dining room. I was worried that the dimmer lighting would prevent me from taking some decent photos on my phone that evening, but it worked out okay in the end.

Our server, Joanne, popped by to fill our water glasses. Then she asked us if we were aware of the options for the evening – a set menu or a la carte. My friend and I had come specifically for the grand opening because, for one night only, they were presenting a three-course dinner complete with an amuse bouche and a glass of bubbly (the drink was not advertised beforehand, so it was a happy surprise) for the affordable price of $55.

The menu was laid out with three choices per course, creating a few difficult decisions for us. My friend opted to start with the Bone Marrow Agnolotti. I chose the Duck Duo as my appetizer. We both ordered the Pembina Pork Cheeks as our entrée. For dessert, I chose the Pear-Almond Frangipane (Joanne said it wasn’t as sweet as the AH Banana Smores) and my friend selected the Cheesecake.

The lobster crostini

The amuse bouche: lobster crostini

While we waited for our first course to make its way from the kitchen, we sipped on our champagne. Joanne showed up again shortly after to drop off the amuse bouche (a complimentary canapé from the chef). Before she walked away, we asked her what was on top of the crostini. It turns out that it consisted of lobster, which my friend has an allergy to. Thank goodness we took the initiative to find out before she went ahead and ate it. Throughout the evening, the service was pretty impeccable. This was the only misstep.

Our first courses were brought over by Brandon (whom I recognized from a couple of photos on the restaurant’s Facebook page). On initial glance, the dishes were plated nicely and the servings were sizable. As is typical of my friend and I, we sampled each other’s food.

Bone Marrow Agnolotti

Bone Marrow Agnolotti

The Bone Marrow Agnolotti was stellar. The pasta shells didn’t really stay intact, but I liked that the pasta was thin and light, not doughy. Stuffed inside the shells were wild mushrooms and bone marrow. The acidity from the bone barrow worked well with the earthiness of the mushrooms. There was some additional marrow to be found in-bone, along with more mushrooms, brown butter sauce and pecorino cheese. To finish off the plate, there was also a cloud of celery root puree. My friend scraped every last bit of food off of her dish, saying it was like heaven.

Duck Duo

Duck Duo

I later learned that the duck duo was new on the menu, and it was neat. I hope that it’s a dish that they’ll offer again. This plate included a combo of smoked duck breast served over Saskatoon jam and duck pate sandwiched between a beet macaron. The duck breast was incredibly tender; it was cooked just enough to get a touch of smokiness without overtaking the natural flavour of the meat while the Saskatoon jam provided overall balance. The pate was smooth and paired well with a melt-in-your-mouth beet macaron. It was different and creative.

Ramos Gin Fizz and a Whiskey Sour

Ramos Gin Fizz and a Whiskey Sour

In between finishing our appetizers and receiving our entrées, we headed over to the bar to say hello to Clayton who happened to be bartending that night. My dining companion asked him for a recommendation and he inquired as to what sort of liquor she likes. She told him that she likes whiskey sours and he was glad to whip something up for her. I went for a cocktail off of the curated menu, the Ramos Gin Fizz, which was created in 1887 by Henri Charles Ramos. It’s great to know that the Alberta Hotel Bar + Kitchen has knowledgeable people like Clayton behind the bar and Brandon who has refined the drink selection.

Pembina Pork Cheeks (this is not the best photo)

Pembina Pork Cheeks (this is not the best photo)

The comfort quotient was met during the main course of Pembina Pork Cheeks topped with tomato jam and served with buttermilk polenta, wild mushrooms, arugula and local pecorino. The polenta was the creamiest I’ve ever had. It felt rich and decadent. That, along with the earthiness and bitterness from the mushrooms and arugula, leveled out any saltiness from the meat, which fell apart at the touch of our forks. The kitchen provided a hefty portion, too. Although we most likely could have had a few more bites (it was that good), what we got was enough when you consider that we still had dessert on the way.

I took a small forkful of cheesecake from my friend. The cake had an almond sponge bottom and what looked like two chocolates on top (that was probably the red currant jelly that was listed on the menu). There was also some lemon curd on the plate as well. I didn’t catch all of the flavours that were included in the dish. I only tried the cheesecake, but it had a wonderful velvety texture that wasn’t overly dense. My Pear-Almond Frangipane was paired with a lovely olive oil ice cream. The poached pear slices on top were great with the pastry, but this is a heavier dessert, and the last few bites were almost more than I could handle.

While I wasn’t necessarily more restrained during lunch the following day, I specifically chose items that I hadn’t eaten the night before, and I avoided stuffing myself with fillers like fries and crostini.

Janell(e), who was serving me, seemed educated on the menu and she was ready to give me suggestions, if I wanted them. However, I kind of already had my mind made up.

A cup of Lobster Bisque

A cup of Lobster Bisque

Lunch began with a cup of lobster bisque, which was delectable. Made sans cream, the tomato base created a soup that was more distinct. The tartness from the tomato helped to elevate the flavor of the lobster without masking it. There was also a bit of heat to the bisque (if we’re talking temperature-wise, it stayed warm until I was finished); a nice pepperiness that took it up another notch. The soup was served with five pieces of crostini. I only ate one of them. They’re a slightly more upscale version of a package of Premium crackers, which I love crumbling over my soup every so often, but I needed to save space for the rest of my food.

A close-up of the Beet & Chevre Salad

A close-up of the Beet & Chevre Salad

I followed my soup with the Beet & Chevre Salad. This is a good starter because it’s satisfying, yet it’s still light enough that you’re able to continue on to a main dish. The salad contains pickled candy stripe beets, greens, fried Fairwinds Farm goat cheese, pears and dill vinaigrette. I found that the acidity coming from the beets and vinaigrette was complimented by the subtle taste of dill and offset by the thin slices of subtly sweet pear, the bitterness of the greens and the savoury fried balls of creamy goat cheese.

A medium-rare Flank Steak & Frites

A medium-rare Flank Steak & Frites

My meal continued with an order of the Flank Steak & Frites. The steak was plated with a large portion of fries, a little bowl of garlic aioli, blue cheese butter and arugula-pecorino salad. Admittedly, I was skeptical about the blue cheese butter. I love cheese, but I’ve never been a fan of the pungent blue cheese variety, so I stepped out of my comfort zone with this. Despite my usual aversion, the blue cheese worked because it was incorporated into the butter, which melted right on top of my perfectly cooked steak (a quick note: I wasn’t asked how my steak should be cooked, but it came out a wonderful medium-rare; I lucked out, but the servers should be reminded to ask patrons about this, so that the meat is prepared the way the guest wants it). The cheese wasn’t overwhelming in taste or smell. This dish was also a good test since flank steak is a tougher cut of meat, and I have to say that the kitchen did well with it. It was by no means the tenderest steak, yet it wasn’t at all chewy either.

Focusing on the sides, I always enjoy some arugula. Although, this salad had the same dill vinaigrette as my appetizer (they could have changed it up with a different flavour accompaniment). The only alteration was some added pecorino cheese on top. That helped to anchor the salad and marry it with the steak. I only had a handful of the fresh made fries, which were crisp on the outside and soft on the inside as they should be. However, I thought they were overly salted, so they could have used a lighter touch there. If you eat the fries with the supplied garlic aioli, you don’t need the added salt at all.

My visit was made complete with a tasting of the banana ice cream, usually served with the aforementioned AH Banana Smores. It’s made in-house using liquid nitrogen. The flash freezing creates an exceptionally creamy texture and locks in that unmistakable flavour. I’m definitely going to have to go back for the full dessert.

All-in-all, there are a couple of minor kinks for the restaurant to work through. But, considering that they’ve only had their doors open for about a month through a soft opening and then their grand opening just last week, everything is going swimmingly. From the food to the drinks to the service/staff, they seem to be hitting all the right marks.

Let’s hope that they continue on this path. I’d hate to see the Alberta Hotel Bar + Kitchen go.

For a more in-depth look at this establishment, visit The Local Good to read my profile of Alberta Hotel Bar + Kitchen.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Rocky Mountain Icehouse

One of the walls when you enter the restaurant.

One of the walls when you enter the restaurant.

Housed in the Jasper Block, built in 1909, and located on 105 Street and Jasper Avenue, Rocky Mountain Icehouse took the place of what used to be Fantasia Noodle House before that restaurant had to move in order to accommodate building renovations. Having ventured out on a walk during our coffee break on a sunny summer day, my co-workers and I stumbled upon the new eatery, and I made note that I would have to go back another time.

In September, on a particularly gorgeous afternoon, I grabbed a friend for lunch and the two of us started wandering with no idea of where to go until the memory of Rocky Mountain Icehouse popped into my head. They have a small sidewalk patio situated just outside the doors, but we opted to sit inside by the front windows, so we’d get the sunshine as well as some air conditioning. I have to admit, I was a little skeptical of the establishment. For the longest time they didn’t even have a working website despite having been open for a couple of months (rest assured, they have one now and it’s quite nice), so it didn’t seem like the owners were all that organized. Regardless, I was willing to give it a try.

The space is quite a bit larger than I expected. There’s even a large, private room called The Ski Lodge that can be used for smaller events or functions of up to 90 people. We were there for a later lunch, so I shouldn’t have been too surprised to see that only a few other tables were occupied. There was only one server on staff who indicated that we could seat ourselves wherever we wanted. She dropped off a couple of menus at our table and let us mull over the options. It’s a fairly succinct list of appetizers, soups, salads, sandwiches, dips, mains and dessert.

The two of us opted to share an order of the Cajun Chicken Three Cheese Dip to start. My friend decided on a bowl of the Southern Gumbo as her entree and I went with the Crab Cakes.

A plate of dip and warm pita bread arrived soon after we ordered. My first thought was that it tasted delicious, my second was that it wasn’t very spicy and my third was that I was impressed with how they managed to get something that was supposed to have chicken in it to such a smooth consistency. That’s when I thought I should check the photo I took of the menu, and we realized that we were given the wrong dip. Instead of the one we chose, our server brought us the Cream Cheese Tapenade – a blend of olives and cream cheese with a hint of spinach. Honestly, I was surprised at how much I was enjoying that dip before we figured out their mistake. I usually dislike olives with a passion (olive oil doesn’t count though), but I could barely taste them in this dip. I would have eaten the whole thing, but it wasn’t what we had wanted, so as soon as our server came back, I let her know, and she took it back to the kitchen and had a batch of the Cajun Chicken dip whipped up for us. Our second go round with dip was also tasty. This time, it was much chunkier with pieces of chicken breast, peppers, onions and jalapeno coming together with the cheese to pleasantly top off our soft slices of pita. Between the two dips, I’m not sure which I’d be more likely to eat again. I might actually be leaning more towards the tapenade, which is a slightly lighter dip. The cajun chicken dip can almost pass for a meal with the meat, cheese, veggies and starch…almost.

Southern Gumbo

Southern Gumbo

Unfortunately, I did not sample the Southern Gumbo as my friend was battling a cold, but she was raving about it. The portion size looked quite large and was filled with chicken, chorizo sausage, peppers, onions, corn and rice. In particular, the sausage looked like it was housemade because, rather than the sliced cylinders of sausage often found in dishes, it was more irregular in shape, which made my friend think it wasn’t pre-prepared. If that truly is the case, I would be impressed.

My order of crab cakes with aioli.

My order of crab cakes with aioli.

My crab cakes were fairly run-of-the-mill. However, it’s not to say there was anything wrong with them. On the contrary, they were what I expected. Nicely breaded and crisp on the outside, there was a good crunch to them that gave way to a mixture of crab claw meat, boursin, feta and cream cheese. The crab cakes were then drizzled with roast tomato and garlic aioli, which helped to finish off the flavour profile of the dish. Come to think of it, I really should have squeezed some lemon juice on them to give it a better balance. I’m not sure why I didn’t do that.

In any case, I did enjoy our meal there. It’s a great space with a welcoming atmosphere that, at least during a late lunch hour, is a quiet place to sit and chat. The food is sort of what you can find in any general pub, but they do an okay job with it (other reviews I’ve read have been mixed as well), and I hope that with time, as the restaurant builds on its identity, that it’ll continue to improve.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: The Parlour Italian Kitchen & Bar

The living room-like entrance to The Parlour.

The living room-like entrance to The Parlour.

Century Hospitality Group‘s (@centuryhg) latest offering, The Parlour Italian Kitchen & Bar (@TheParlourEdm), has been open for a little over 10 months now. My first visit was with a friend prior to attending the Arcade Fire concert in August. We met up at her office and walked over to the restaurant through a blistering heat wave. Situated behind the Denny’s on 104 Avenue, it’s in a distinctive brick block that may have been an old warehouse, although its facade looks newer. A large vintage looking sign with lights along the border indicated we were in the right place.

The entrance to the building is to the side through the patio, which is fenced in to save diners from a view of the street or the parking lot. It’s spacious with tables set far enough apart to give a greater sense of privacy and enough umbrellas or shade to keep it a bit cooler during sweltering weather. As lovely as it would have been to sit outdoors, it was too hot for the both of us, so we decided to venture inside. As you walk in, you’re greeted by a welcoming mantle place that makes you feel at home. Obviously, we were still at a restaurant, but it is meant to seem casual, relaxed, comfortable and retro despite the patina of sleekness over the whole atmosphere. I loved it. The server took us to a booth in the far corner, giving us a view of the bar and the pizza oven as well as the vast expanse of the layout, which includes a second floor that has many larger booths that are good for groups.

Since it was a Monday, we chose to go with their all day happy hour special ($10 on any of their specialty pizzas and $5 for all wines or beers on tap). We each selected a pizza – my friend went with the Short Rib and I ordered the Truffle – and got a couple pints of beer.

As soon as the pizza was dropped off at our table, we immediately dug in, meaning I forgot to take photos right away. But, no matter! The pizza looked and smelled wonderful and upon taking our first bites, we were sold on the place. A friend told me that she thought the crust was too soft, but I didn’t think it was. The crust is perfect for folding. The truffle pizza was absolutely decadent. Topped with truffle salami, fior di latte, Parmesan, fresh thyme and shaved truffles, I was in heaven. While I wouldn’t pay the usual $25 price of the pie, I would gladly go back on a Monday or during happy hour to get it for more than half off, and I’ll bring people with me! The short rib pizza didn’t disappoint either. Coming with braised Alberta Beef short rib, fire-roasted Serrano peppers, shaved pecorino and EVOO, it had a good amount of heat coming through, great for those who appreciate some spice without losing their ability to taste anything else.

To finish off, we capped our dinner with a couple of desserts. My companion selected the Chocolate Torta, which I expected to be more like a layered cake, but it actually seemed akin to a slab of brownie. It was rich, dense and presented with berry coulis, strawberries and salted caramel gelato. The Banana Panna Cotta called my name and it was also different than what I had pictured in my mind. Most other panna cottas I have tried have been closer to custards, but this had a slightly more gelatin-like texture to it. The banana flavour was subtle and paired excellently with the salted Nutella ganache, candied hazelnuts and fresh berries. Particularly, I was glad that it was a lighter dish.

The staff were commendable – friendly and attentive – during our entire meal. I’ve heard mixed reviews from friends about the establishment, and I think it might get a bad rap for being a Century Hospitality Group restaurant, but I really enjoyed my food and my time there on this occasion, especially at these prices. I look forward to going back with friends and family. It’s just a nice, laid-back place to catch up with people and I like that I never felt rushed. Plus, I like the way they think there. The backs of our drink coasters said, “Age, like glasses of wine, should never be counted.” As I sat there chatting with my friend of 17 years, I certainly felt younger than 28!

The back of one of the drink coasters. It's a cute touch.

The back of one of the drink coasters. It’s a cute touch.