Edmonton Restaurant Review: MEAT

Our shared platter of food at MEAT.

I’ll be the first to admit that, with all of the restaurant offerings in Edmonton, it often takes me a while before I revisit places. Even if I absolutely loved it, I’m more prone to try something new (that’s how I keep this blog going) rather than returning to the same spot over and over again, especially when I have to watch my spending.

For that reason, I hadn’t been back to MEAT for a few years. Yet, when a friend of Kirk’s was in town last week and he had this on his list, I jumped at the chance to go there. I’m a big fan of barbecue and it turns out he was, too. Although, I’d go so far as to say that he’s a connoisseur and I am not.

The interior of MEAT.

When we arrived on the Wednesday night, the eatery was jam packed with people, and even with rain storms brewing, patrons were willing to take tables on the (covered) outdoor patio. The wait was probably about thirty minutes, but it went by pretty quickly.

My Beets by Sinden Sour from Town Square Brewing.

Upon being seated at one of the longer communal tables, one of the managers actually came over to inform us that our server was a bit behind with the crowd that evening, so he offered to grab our drinks himself. We appreciated that all hands were on deck with their staff to ensure that service was still smooth and as prompt as possible. The guys each ordered pints of Blindman IPA ($8) and I opted for a can of the Beets by Sinden Sour from Town Square Brewing ($9.50).

The MEAT menus.

For our food, we shared several items between us: one pound of Beef Brisket ($26), a full rack of pork BBQ Ribs ($18), their featured Beef Ribs ($20), small Garlic Fries ($6), large Brussels Sprouts ($12), small Mac & Cheese ($7), and a Pickle ($1). Sadly, we were told that the Cornbread Skillet was sold out when we put in our order; however, later in the evening, we saw that they did have them available once the kitchen was able to make more.

Brussels Sprouts

I’m really not a traditional pickle person, so I didn’t eat it myself. Nevertheless, the guys seemed to enjoy it a lot. The pickle was also quite massive considering it was just a dollar, so that was a decent value. Our other veggie dish of Brussels Sprouts was alright. Personally, I love the miniature cabbage-like greens, but I find that they’re best when pan-fried or roasted to get that crunchy outer char. Here at MEAT, they shred the Brussels sprouts to turn it into more of a slaw and it has a sort of buttery flavour. It kind of became a bit one note after a few mouthfuls.

Garlic Fries

The Mac & Cheese was good though. The spiral cavatappi noodles were well-coated in a creamy, mild cheese sauce. I only wish that we had gone with the large over the small because the latter is pretty tiny, at least when splitting between a trio. Hands down the best side we tried ended up being the Garlic Fries. These were awesomely crispy and every bite was infused with the pungent herb. I rued the fact that we only ordered a small for that as well.

When it came to the meat, there was certainly no shortage. Our server nodded feverishly when we asked if the amount of protein we’d selected would be enough for the three of us, and she was right.

Beginning with the Beef Ribs, these were my least favourite. The meat itself was cooked to a nice medium finish and was relatively tender while retaining a delicate balance with a simple seasoning of salt, but there was fat that hadn’t fully rendered and not enough meat on the bone. It also didn’t have much burn or char on the edges to give it that smoky taste that you hope for with barbecued beef.

The larger Beef Ribs on top.

The smaller pork BBQ Ribs fared much better. I still didn’t think there was enough meat on them either, but there were certainly no large pieces of fat remaining. Every bone could be polished off clean and the char was superb. I probably could have eaten two whole racks of just the BBQ ribs. Messy, but worth it.

Slices of Beef Brisket hidden beneath all the ribs.

If you want straight up meat, the Beef Brisket is the way to go. The pink smoke ring on the outer edge of the brisket wasn’t extremely deep, but it was very even all the way through and the beef was succulent. Flavourwise, the smokiness wasn’t as pronounced as we would have expected, but that’s what their sauces are for. The guys particularly liked the spicy and bourbon sauces. I went for the mustard and cherry ones, which added some heat and sweetness.

Pecan Pie

To finish off our meal, we shared the Pecan Pie ($10) for dessert. It tasted freshly baked with crunchy pecans and a smooth, buttery filling. I really would have preferred a cold scoop of maple ice cream to go with it instead the lighter whipped cream. But, overall, this was a pleasant way to complete our time at MEAT.

The venue gets rather loud when it’s full, yet with a number of gluten-free options for diners and excellent service, it’s a prime spot for group gatherings. There’s such a communal spirit at MEAT. Everyone there seemed to be having a fantastic time catching up with friends and family, and there’s nothing better than convening over good food.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Sloppy Hoggs Roed Hus

My dad's Brisket & Buffalo Chili with cornbread at Sloppy Hoggs.

My dad’s Brisket & Buffalo Chili with cornbread at Sloppy Hoggs.

I have actually mentioned Sloppy Hoggs Roed Hus in a previous review about their now closed sister restaurant Absolutely Edibles (AE’s). I’m still not entirely sure why AE’s shuttered its doors after 19 years both serving and catering food – perhaps it was an expired lease – but I’ll miss it. Judging by the updated website, they still do catering. Out of which location, I can’t be certain, yet the good news is that Sloppy Hoggs is still open for business. They even carried over the AE’s brunch menu, albeit with a minor change or two.

Sloppy Hoggs itself is geared more towards Southern style cuisine, so the look of the restaurant consists of many large booths – perfect for the communal-like atmosphere reminiscent of a friendly barbecue – that can fit between six to eight people. The tables at the center of the space can be reconfigured to accommodate larger parties as well. I quite like it. It’s nice and sunny inside due to the large windows, it’s clean, and the booths are comfortable.

When it comes to the menu, the food is very much of the hearty variety. Items such as jambalaya, beans & rice, chicken & waffles, BBQ chicken, pulled pork and wild sausage pepper the list. However, it should comes as no surprise to anyone who has been following my previous posts that I love mac and cheese. No question, it’s one of my favourite dishes. It’s delicious and the concept is simple, but if not executed properly, it can really be a disappointment. Therefore, when I saw the choice of mac & brisket, I had to find out for myself if it was up to snuff. My dad joined me on this first outing to the restaurant last year, opting for the brisket & buffalo chili.

My first observation when the food arrived was that the portions were quite large. The bowl of chili that my dad ate could probably have fed two people. I sampled a bite of the slow-simmered mix of beef brisket, buffalo, beans and veggies and was glad to see that the consistency of the dish didn’t come out as a pile of glop. There were various textures evident in the chili, which I liked. The beef brisket was nice and succulent. Cheddar cheese and sour cream helped to cool the flavour down a bit, too. The only problem with this order was that the chili wasn’t served at a hot enough temperature. We asked that the server return it to the kitchen to be reheated. When it came back to the table, it was so hot that steam was rising from the bowl. The chili also came with a side of my dad’s choice. He decided on the corn bread. It was more crumbly than I would prefer, but it tasted great.

My Mac & Brisket at Sloppy Hoggs. So good!

My Mac & Brisket at Sloppy Hoggs. So good!

The mac and cheese half of my mac & brisket dish started off a little underwhelming. On the menu, it’s described as a creamy pasta infused with bacon and jalapeno, and while it was a smooth cheesy sauce (baked over with extra cheddar!), the added flavour profiles didn’t really come through at first. It turns out that I just needed to stir it up, so that everything was more properly distributed (so much for working my way across the plate in an orderly fashion). Once the spiciness and smokiness from the jalapeno and bacon started hit my taste buds, I changed my mind about this selection. The ten ounces of slow-smoked brisket was the perfect compliment to the skillet of mac and cheese; the tender beef was generously coated with barbeque sauce that played well with the rest of the ingredients.

The service we received was excellent and the amount of food for the price was justified. As a result, based on that one occasion, I was inclined to go back again. As it happens, I was pushed to do so sooner than I planned and rather unexpectedly. I still had a Groupon in my possession for the aforementioned Absolutely Edibles when they closed. Thankfully, they chose to transfer any unused vouchers over to Sloppy Hoggs instead, hence my second trip to the restaurant earlier this year.

This is when I found out that they were offering the old brunch menu from AE’s on the weekends. Maybe they always served those brunch items in the past, but I’m not able to verify that. All I know is that I can still get the waffles with the works or the pulled pork waffle (see my previous AE’s review), and that makes me happy. The one major difference I made note of between their latest iteration of these brunch dishes and the ones that were previously available at AE’s is that they no longer seem to come with those fantastic sweet potato fries. Those have now been substituted with regular hash browns. Granted, I’m okay with that. The small cubes of pan fried potato were crisp on the outside and soft on the inside, and made even more delicious when smothered with tangy ketchup.

I was too full to eat any more, but I couldn’t stop until the plate was taken away from me. You’ll probably have a hard time stopping, too.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Absolutely Edibles (Closed)

Waffles with the Works

Waffles with the Works

Serving customers and offering catering since 1999, Absolutely Edibles (a.k.a. AE’s on 118th) took a chance by opening their business in what has long been considered a crumbling neighbourhood. They must have known in their gut that it was the right move though. Within the last few years, 118 Avenue has continued to improve with a number of entrepreneurs opting to set up shop along the previously notorious street.

A commitment to healthily prepared foods – creating dishes from scratch with fresh, local and Canadian products where possible – I wasn’t fully aware of the establishment until I truly began delving into the Edmonton restaurant scene this past January. Around for 15 years now, it had eluded me, but I finally decided to venture towards the unknown (as many of us are not apt to do, preferring to stick to the tried and true) because – say it with me now! – I had a Groupon to use.

When you drive up to the building, it’s unassuming and small. There is a cute patio space filled with tables and umbrellas that shade from the sun on hot summer days. The interior seats only about 30 people; the decor of slate brick walls, mosaic tiled table tops, a mix of red, green and brown leather upholstered chairs and beige tiled floors, which all look recently updated or, at the very least, well kept, giving the space both a modern and slightly ski chalet-like vibe. It was a quiet Saturday afternoon when my parents and I stopped by for lunch, so we had our pick of spots as well as excellently attentive service from Ryan, the lone front of house staff member that day.

On first impression, I was happy to see that the eatery was not only stylish, but impeccably clean. My second impression was that their menu was completely overwhelming. On weekends, I assume, you receive both their brunch and lunch menus. Plus, you also have the option to order from their sister restaurant, Sloppy Hoggs Roed Hus, which is located in the adjacent building (perhaps somehow sharing a kitchen). Each list was extensive, taking full advantage of the word “fusion” as used in the establishment’s full name. Menu options pull from various influences that run the gamut from Asian (dim sum) to Southern (jambalaya) cuisines. As I found it difficult to concentrate on all the possibilities, I decided to ask Ryan what his recommendations were. Ultimately, I went with the Pulled Pork Waffles, my mom chose the Waffles with the Works and my dad ordered the AE’s Classic Club.

What Absolutely Edibles lacks in terms of physical space, they certainly make up for when it comes to portion sizes! The plates, especially the two from the brunch menu, were brimming with food enough to feed at least two people each.

My dad raved about the Chicken Cacciatore Soup that came as a side to his sandwich. The tomato-based soup looked incredibly rich, thick and full of chicken and veggies, and the sandwich’s focaccia bread was stacked high with three meats – bacon, turkey and slow roasted ham – cheddar and mozzarella cheese, lettuce, tomato and mayo.

The Waffles with the Works was a compilation of two Belgian waffles topped with fried chicken, bacon, cheddar and mozzarella and then drizzled with a spicy maple cream. I tried a couple of bites out of the approximately four or five large pieces of chicken and was met with a crispy, juicy, but not greasy meat. I couldn’t really tell that the maple cream was spicy; however, I always enjoy a mix of savoury and sweet profiles. Pulled pork has become one of my preferred foods to eat when I see it on a menu (probably because I never make it at home), so I couldn’t pass up the Pulled Pork Waffles. The pork is smoked in-house and layered with the same spicy maple sauce, bacon and cheddar and mozzarella as my mom’s dish. It’s then finished off with a “blendmore” waffle sauce, two sunny side up eggs and a bit of maple syrup. If indulgent is what you want, that is exactly what you’ll get when you dine at AE’s. The only downfall of an otherwise fantastic dish was that the sauce smothered pull pork made the waffles soggy fairly quickly. Therefore, instead of having crisp and airy waffles, it became more like a mush with amazingly tasty shredded meat. Next time, instead of leaving everything piled directly on my waffles while I dine, I’ll probably shove everything to the side to avoid that. The two waffle plates also came with large sides of sweet potato fries (the Works was supposed to be covered in cinnamon sugar, but it didn’t taste like it), some aioli for dipping as well as a cup of fruit (this wasn’t mentioned on the menu).

A positive outcome of eating here is that for about $55 for three people (tax and tip included, no drinks), you will not only leave completely full, but you’ll also likely have leftovers to last you at least one more meal. In less than two hours, Absolutely Edibles became my father’s new favourite restaurant. He has even gone back twice more with different friends who were all equally impressed. I think this is where the establishment has found its success – word of mouth recommendations from trusted friends and family. I know I would not only tell people to go, but I’d make sure that they bring me with them whenever they do!

If you have a chance, I suggest that you also check out Sloppy Hoggs Roed Hus, situated around the corner, because the food is just as good and the portion sizes are equally as generous. It’s also a great place for larger groups as most of the tables can seat about 6 to 8 people, maybe even more. The service is top notch, too.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: TW’s BBQ Smoke House

Beef brisket, Montreal smoked meat, Caesar salad and mac & cheese

Beef brisket, Montreal smoked meat, Caesar salad and mac & cheese

Southern barbecue has become a favourite meal of mine over the last few years. It’s homestyle cooking at its finest, and while I’m not that hard to please – give me pulled pork doused in sauce and slapped on a bun any day – you know good BBQ when you taste it. Down south dishes are becoming more and more pervasive on restaurant menus around Edmonton. Chicken and waffles are almost a staple nowadays. But, what’s the best way to experience true southern food? I’d argue it’d be without the need to batter or deep fry the meat.

This city doesn’t really come to mind when you think of Texan food or smoked meat. Montreal maybe, Edmonton likely not. However, my love of a deal led me to Groupon where I found a voucher for a restaurant called TW’s BBQ Smoke House. This is a place that wasn’t anywhere near my radar. Located in High Park just east of the Mayfield area at 152 Street and 111 Avenue, it never really occurred to me that there would be a restaurant there for me to try. So, feeling adventurous, I clicked on the “Buy!” button and planned for a new dining excursion.

My parents joined me there at the end of June. As we drove down 111 Avenue, it was pouring rain as we kept our eyes peeled for a sign of the establishment. I spotted it a short distance away tucked between Tumbleweeds Texan & Latin Grill (same ownership) and a liquor store. An old strip mall, the outside isn’t that appealing. However, we parked the car across from the door and dashed inside to get out of the rain and I was pleasantly surprised by the interior. Decorated in neutral browns and taupes, it was simple. Clearly, it had been renovated and painted, and the upkeep looked good. Some metal cutouts in the shape of flames provided a slightly stylish flair and separation from the kitchen.

Their entree menu.

Their entree menu.

We were greeted quickly by a very friendly server who guided us to a booth by the windows. She was great with the recommendations throughout our decision making process and she was attentive during our entire stay. Being me, I opted to go with the Pulled Pork sandwich. My parents decided to share a half chicken with one additional meat and two sides.

My pulled pork sandwich was delicious. The meat had shed itself from the bone while cooking and was tender and succulent. It came on a garlic toasted kaiser bun with the pork smothered in their signature hickory mesquite smoked BBQ sauce (apparently it goes with anything). A side of coleslaw was provided as well, which I added to my sandwich for a little extra tang and texture. I chose the cornbread muffin as my side and that was slightly disappointing. It tasted quite nice, but it was a bit dry and kind of small compared to everything else included with dinner.

The half chicken my parents ordered was roasted to perfection; the meat was incredibly juicy and melt-in-your-mouth. My only qualm is that there wasn’t enough hickory apple smoked BBQ sauce to go with it. Any chicken not covered by crispy skin lacked a bit of flavour that would have been compensated with just a bit more sauce. For the additional meat, the choice was beef brisket. Again, the meat was prepared so that it fell apart easily without the use of a knife. The portion size was huge with the slabs of meat each almost an inch thick. On top of all that, they also received a side of caesar salad and five cheese baked mac and cheese. The caesar salad was kind of run-of-the-mill, but pretty tasty nonetheless, and the mac and cheese was better than I expected, especially when it’s piping hot as the sauce is creamier and the cheese melty the way it should be.

All-in-all, I would say that the meal was a home run. The food was savoury and the service was excellent. I even went back again in July and, this time, with a couple more people, we managed to try a few more things including their slow smoked St. Louis ribs and Montreal smoked meat – I’m not usually a fan of Montreal-style smoked meat, but this was fantastic. The beef brisket on this occasion was, unfortunately, a little dry, but still flavourful, and the leftovers were yummy when put into my noodles and soup at home the next day. We also tried each of their desserts including crème brûlée, apple pie and deep fried cheesecake. Between the five of us, we polished off each plate, but we all agreed that the cheesecake was the best.

Having never been to the deep southern states, I can’t truly give a good comparison of Edmonton Texan barbecue versus actual Texan barbecue, but I can say that I enjoyed both of my visits to TW’s BBQ Smoke House. If anything, you should go and form your own opinion of the restaurant. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.