Edmonton Restaurant Review: The Keg Steakhouse + Bar (South Common)

The interior of The Keg South Common.

After lackluster visits to The Keg when I was younger, I wasn’t too keen to go back. But, last year, spurred on by a couple of gift cards that my beau and I received, we ventured to the South Edmonton Common location for treat yo’ self dinners.

This particular venue has a massive dining room and lounge space, so there are tons of staff and tables. The noise certainly picks up when it’s busy, and, without a reservation, a wait is definitely in the cards during peak business hours. Thankfully, I come prepared by booking in advance through OpenTable (dining cheques are accepted, by the way), so it usually doesn’t take long for us to be seated.

On the past two occasions we’ve been lucky enough to be placed nearby the fireplace in the back room, which helps to add to the overall ambience. The styling of the establishment is classy with sleek wood paneled walls, a stone accented mantel, framed landscapes, dark wood tables, leather upholstered chairs, and dim lighting. The servers wear crisp white button downs and clean black aprons. Hosts are often dressed in business attire.

Rosemary Blackberry Limonata

Our most recent visit in March brought four of us together to celebrate my fiancé’s birthday. We started with drinks. All three of my companions went with beers or cider ($8.50 to $9.50 each). Oddly enough, The Keg really doesn’t have much of a beer selection in cans or on tap. Most of them are from large breweries with only a few craft options available in canned form. I, on the other hand, chose to go with a cocktail. The Rosemary Blackberry Limonata ($8) was comprised of Absolut vodka, house-made rosemary/blackberry syrup, fresh berries, and soda. It was served in a short glass with a sprig of rosemary for decoration. It’s a decent sipper as it’s not strong in terms of the alcohol. Although, I would have liked more syrup to taste.

The group was given one loaf of complimentary bread to start. This is such a treat. Their bread is warm, a bit crusty on the outside and so soft on the inside. The butter melts right into it, and it’s divine. Sometimes, when we think we have the room for it, we’ll ask for seconds.

Calamari

An appetizer of Calamari ($13) was ordered by our friends who graciously shared with us. Personally, I thought the calamari was a tad greasy. On the plus side, the batter was light. They also use a mix of rings and baby squid (those are my favourite) as well as red peppers and jalapenos to liven things up. A lemon wedge, ginger garlic sauce, and Greek feta sauce are presented on the side.

The Keg Burger

For the mains, both of our friends chose to go with the Keg Burger ($18). This is described on the menu as the “Keg’s own fresh blend of chuck, brisket and sirloin.” It was stacked high with lettuce, tomato, red onion, pickles, and applewood smoked bacon. The cheddar cheese oozed all over the meat and I can imagine the sweet-spicy flavour of the jalapeno maple aioli. Coleslaw and fries came with this item. Based on appearances, this looked like an excellent burger. I was also told that the patty definitely tasted and felt like it was freshly ground and shaped. Score one for The Keg.

Peppercorn New York

My fiancé went with his usual 12 ounce Peppercorn New York Steak ($37). Encrusted in a ton of black peppercorn with a pot of whisky sauce, it can be a bit fiery for someone who isn’t a huge fan of this spice. Regardless, it was cooked as requested, and it had a nice char that held the juices in. The plating of the veggies — roasted red peppers and green beans — and the garlic mashed potatoes was passable, too.

Sirloin Oscar

Contrary to everyone else’s dishes, mine looked like someone threw up all over it. There was also a pool of liquid underneath everything. As far as a Sirloin Oscar ($37 for 8 ounces) goes, this one just didn’t come across as visually appealing. The vegetables had slid underneath the steak, which was completely hidden by the coating of Béarnaise sauce. Scallops and shrimp were haphazardly tossed onto the plate and the blob of garlic mashed potatoes camouflaged right in. Thankfully, this isn’t the norm here. Plus, at the very least, the food still tasted good. Sure, a few bites of the steak were a tad chewy with tendons and the scallops could have been more tender and seared to a golden brown, but that sauce spritzed with lemon makes this meal sing on my palate. Maybe the kitchen should do what it does with the Peppercorn New York by providing the Béarnaise sauce in a mini pitcher to avoid the messiness.

Billy Miner Pie

We were so full after our steaks. Nevertheless, it’s nearly impossible to leave The Keg without something sweet, especially with regards to their no-questions-asked complimentary piece of Billy Miner Pie (regularly $6) for birthdays and other special celebrations. Chocolate crust topped with a thick slab of mocha ice cream and drizzled with hot fudge and caramel before being sprinkled with almond slivers is simplistic yet indulgent. It seems like too much for one, so it’s almost always shared among the group.

It’s sad for me to say that The Keg at South Common didn’t meet my expectations last month. For the money spent, I should have left feeling special. However, that wasn’t the case. When I reminisce about this outing, the memories of great conversations come first. Then, at the back of my mind, I recall the kitchen’s weak showing. It’s in sharp contrast to what we typically experience there, so I’ll chalk this up to an off day for the cooks. And, granted, even when the restaurant was full, the service continued to be top notch. I can praise them for that.

Meal Kit Box & Recipe Review: HelloFresh

HelloFresh’s welcome booklet.

This year, I’ve been on a meal kit subscription kick. So far, my boxes from Chefs Plate and MissFresh were discussed in previous posts. Both Canadian businesses provide delivery across the country. Today, I’ll be talking about option number three: HelloFresh.

Unlike Chefs Plate and MissFresh, launched in 2014, HelloFresh emerged out of Berlin, Germany back in 2011. Within five years, they expanded to the UK, USA, The Netherlands, Australia, Belgium, Austria, Switzerland, and then Canada. It is one of the largest scale meal kit delivery services in the world.

Their Canadian branch is based out of Toronto and, from what I’ve received, it’s apparent that the meat and most of the produce is sourced through partnerships with local farms. Smaller items such as a packet of Bonne Maman honey comes from a family-owned French company and Colavita balsamic vinegar as well as a pack of orzo seem to be from Italy.

Similar to the other services, all of the food arrived in an insulated box shipped through FedEx. Vacuum sealed meats were ice packed at the bottom and then partitioned to separate them from the remainder of the items. All of the other ingredients were sorted into heavy paper bags that were closed and labelled with stickers that indicated the meal to which they belonged. Welcome info and recipe cards were placed at the top of the package.

Surprisingly, even though only three of the week’s available recipes were selected for my order, they provided all five cards in my box. I suppose if I’m ever inclined to try out the other options, I can actually do that. My fiancé thinks HelloFresh prints the sets as a cost saver to the company because they can just toss them into every box. They don’t have to spend the time separating the cards out or printing a specific number for each recipe. He’s probably right. Either way, it’s a tiny thing, but I kind of appreciated the extras.

The individual meals and items were all packaged really well. Greens that needed to breathe were placed into resealable baggies that had perforated holes on the backside. Everything else came in sealed plastic. All components were clearly labelled. Some of the veggies had even been prepped ahead of time, shaving off several minutes of washing, cutting, chopping and dicing. Butter, oil, milk, salt, and pepper is assumed to be a staple at home already, so those are not supplied.

For my first box of three meals for two people (regularly $79.99, including free shipping), my fiancé and I picked the following recipes: Moo Shu Pork Tacos, Crispy-Skinned Chicken, and Seared Steak. Each of them took 30 minutes or less to cook and the calorie count ranged between 520 to 1,000 per portion. However, a full nutritional breakdown is not to be found unless viewing through their website.

Moo Shu Pork Tacos shifted things into gear. These were simple to make. The process pretty much required just a single pan and a couple of dishes, which is ideal when it comes to cleanup after dinner. We both loved the depth of flavour from the spice (Note: Moo Shu Spice Blend is a mix of garlic powder and ground ginger, if you want to recreate this) as well as the Sriracha mayo. With three meat and cabbage stuffed 6-inch tortillas allotted for each person, this was actually an incredibly filling meal. I can definitely see why the calorie count is much higher for this dish. My only issues with this kit were the sliced radishes (too thick) and the lack of Sriracha and mayo to make the sauce. Had there been enough mayo, it may not have been necessary for us to add extra cheese to taste. Still, after a minor change or two, this is a recipe that we’d happily make again. This selection deserves an 8 out of 10.

The Crispy-Skinned Chicken was likely our favourite of the week. This consisted of skin-on chicken breasts, smashed potatoes, roasted green beans, leeks, and a rosemary pan sauce. I did find that the chicken was a little bit greasy as we may have drizzled a bit too much oil into the pan when roasting the meat and beans. Yet, the texture of the chicken skin and flavours from the sauce and leeks helped to elevate the dish further. This was hearty without being heavy. We award this recipe an 8.5 out 10.

As experienced with Chefs Plate and MissFresh, the steak dishes were always one of the best in the bunch. Therefore, we left the Seared Steak and its accompanying roasted broccoli and warm caprese orzo salad for last. Unfortunately, HelloFresh truly disappointed. The cut of meat was sub par; even though it was cooked to medium, it was much chewier than we like our steak to be. It was also incredibly bland as they instructed the steak to be pan-seared using just a drizzle of oil and nothing else. The orzo pasta had a decent dressing made using a honey and balsamic vinegar base, but the only added pop to the entire dish came from the tart grape tomatoes and basil. Bocconcini cheese, which has an okay mouthfeel is rather flavourless without some sort of heavier dressing to go with it. Sadly, this supper only warrants a 6 out of 10.

Compared to the other meal kit subscriptions, this one is more expensive. While the others work out to $10.99 per portion for the basic plan of three meals for two people, HelloFresh is ringing in at a lofty $13.33 per person for each recipe. We found the quality of the packaging to be fantastic, but the quality of a few of the ingredients to be less than expected. On the one hand, it’s certainly convenient. On the other, the dinners were hit or miss. Should there ever be a chance for me to try a second HelloFresh box at a discounted rate, I’d be delighted to give them another go. Until then, I will have to pause deliveries as the savings aren’t quite there. If it’s feasible for you, I’d recommend testing HelloFresh yourself, so you can see if it’s a good fit for your life.

This review is in no way affiliated with HelloFresh. I purchased these meal kits on my own and have chosen to share my thoughts here. If anyone is interested in signing up for a subscription, please use my HelloFresh referral link at checkout to receive $40 off of your first delivery.

Meal Kit Box & Recipe Review: MissFresh

MissFresh’s welcome card!

As promised in my earlier post about the Chefs Plate meal kit delivery service, today, I’m going to go over my experience with MissFresh. Where Chefs Plate was based out of Toronto, MissFresh is headquartered in Montreal. Still, both are Canadian-based businesses, which is something to support.

I learned of MissFresh through Groupon. In January 2018, they offered a deal on the discount site for two weeks of delivery for the price of one ($65.94). Additionally, I was able to save an extra 25 per cent off with a promo code. All in, I spent just under $50 for six meals that provided enough food for two people.

After buying the voucher, I pulled up the MissFresh web page to see what was on their upcoming menus. Nothing peaked my interest at first, so I waited a week or two before I found a few recipes that I liked enough to place my initial order. Upon signing up to the subscription, I had to decide on the level of service I wanted (number of meals, number of portions, frequency of delivery, types of recipes, etc.). Then, I got to pick the meals that would be sent to my condo. Past that point, they take your address and payment information as well as any discounts that need to be entered. I put in my Groupon code, and, once everything was processed, it showed that I had another coupon awaiting use for a later date.

Ordering is straightforward and simple. What can get tricky is remembering to confirm or skip shipments before the cutoff date each week (every Wednesday before 11:59pm EST). I forgot to do that at the beginning of March. This resulted in me having to ask the company to cancel meals I didn’t want, and, now, I also have a full price credit applied to my account as they wouldn’t issue me a refund, only a coupon to be used towards a box at another time. Regardless, if I can keep on top of this, it’s kind of nice to know that I have the option of choosing when I want to receive a delivery. Customers are not locked into purchasing every single week. Currently, my calendar is set to skip all boxes for the next two months. I think the majority of users register to test it out and continue with the service as needed. Members can even deactivate their accounts indefinitely to ensure they aren’t inadvertently charged for anything.

Like Chefs Plate, MissFresh is one of the more affordable meal kits out there. The two are comparable in cost. Both shipped packages for free through FedEx who always managed to deliver by noon, but on one occasion left our shipment in the communal lobby of my building when I missed their call to be buzzed in. However, what I noticed is that MissFresh doesn’t quite have the same polish as Chefs Plate. The box it ships in is fine — thick insulated cardboard lined with recyclable ice packs — and the produce is decent with meats vacuum sealed. But, the ingredients are stuffed tightly in basic plastic bags. They don’t really allow things to breath as well. Plus, the recipe cards are printed on pretty flimsy paper.

What is important, though, is that the food is fresh, the recipes are clear, and the meals are tasty. For the most part, I think MissFresh fits the bill. The meals came with everything we needed to cook the dishes, save for oil, salt, and pepper. Our six recipes included: One-Pot Pasta with Smoked Salmon and Spinach, Turkey Cordon Bleu Ballottine, Seared Sirloin Steak, Crispy Battered Sole, Maple Pork Fillet, and Cajun Chicken Pasta.

Starting with the One-Pot Pasta with Smoked Salmon and Spinach, this was just alright. Personally, I love the flavour and texture of smoked salmon after it is cured. So, I wasn’t too keen on cooking the fish over any heat. Sure, the smoky taste remained, but the fish became flaky rather than smooth. I enjoyed the combination of dill, cream cheese, and lemon juice as it popped on the palate. Yet, the sauce wasn’t creamy enough for me. My fiancé and I would give this one a 6 out of 10.

I found the Maple Pork Fillet to be a really nice cut of meat as it was succulent and lean. The buttery baby potatoes that accompanied the dish were yummy. I’m also a big fan of portobello mushrooms for their fleshiness. Nevertheless, this was far from my favourite. The maple glaze had a wonderful flavour; however, the consistency, even when we left the sauce to reduce on high heat, was rather runny. Most of all, I never succumbed to the sharpness of the Gorgonzola cheese that was stuffed into the mushroom. It overpowered much of the plate and gave everything a wine-like aftertaste. Rated out of 10, this one should be considered a 6.

The Crispy Battered Sole was a bit of a surprise. Served with the fish were pan-fried plantains. When I had selected this menu item, I had pictured the mini bananas found at the grocery store. To my amazement, we received two huge plantains that looked unripe (the peel was lime green in colour). We pulled them apart, sliced up the fruit, and tossed them into hot oil to fry them up as we made the fish separately. This transpired into a beautifully bright meal with the golden brown sole, yellow discs of plantains, slaw, guacamole (oddly prepacked instead of freshly made with avocados), and lime wedges. It was light, zesty, and refreshing. It felt like summer on a plate. What was unexpected was that the sweet scent of the plantains as they cooked wouldn’t come across on the taste buds. In fact, they were rather bland. As it turns out, this fruit is typically used as a replacement for starches like potatoes as they share a very similar texture. For that, this recipe is graded with a 7 out of 10.

When I was perusing the menus on the MissFresh website, I was excited to see their Cajun Chicken Pasta with Sun-dried Tomatoes. The photo was appealing and the ingredients all sounded great. It was a quick recipe, too, clocking in at around 25 minutes to prepare and cook. It became one of my fiancé’s top picks of the meals we tried. It’s probably because this dish utilized the Cajun mix, generating a lot of spicy heat on the tongue, which he likes (if he can put Sriracha on something, he will). Since I love them, I would have increased the amount of sun-dried tomato used. Not only would it have punched up the flavours more, but it would have balanced out the Cajun spice better. We’d slot this plate at a 7.5 out of 10.

Turkey is often thought of as dry and tasteless, but I thoroughly appreciated the Turkey Cordon Bleu Ballottine. Stuffed with smoked ham and Swiss Cheese, the tender poultry became the star. Our mashed potatoes weren’t as smooth as they could have been. We’ll chalk that up to not having the necessary tools to make them properly. Even with onion powder folded into the potatoes, they were somewhat mild. Swapping out the onion powder for a more potent garlic powder would have improved this dish further. On the plus side, the roasted Brussels sprouts were delicious. The outer layers of the sprouts were crisp from being broiled in our choice of olive oil, salt and pepper, providing another textural element. Out of 10, this deserves a 7.5.

Last, but certainly not least was the Seared Sirloin Steak. The quality of the cuts of sirloin were top notch. We were able to sear in the juices and cook the meat to a gorgeous medium rare. We even elevated the recipe by adding a smoked balsamic vinegar to the meat to amplify the flavour. When it came to the side, neither of us would ever think to use barley in place of rice. Yet, here, the broth and cooking white wine soaked into the barley nicely, giving every bite of the starch full body. Hands down, this was our preferred dish out of the six we ordered, and it’s one that we’d be inclined to make on our own again. This one merits an 8.5 out of 10.

Much like Chefs Plate, the MissFresh meals took between 20 to 35 minutes to prep, cook and plate, meaning it was relatively fast every day. The recipes were also quite healthy with the highest caloric intake listed at just over 750 to the lowest at under 400. I do believe that MissFresh can improve their packaging a little as they don’t have the same level of professionalism that I’ve seen with the other meal kit delivery services. Nonetheless, their offerings get the job done, and, in a household that might be too busy to spend ample amounts of time shopping for groceries, or who just want to make some simple home-cooked food, but don’t know where to start, this could be an excellent option.

This review is in no way affiliated with MissFresh. I purchased these meal kits on my own and have chosen to share my thoughts here. If anyone is interested in signing up for a subscription, please use my MissFresh referral link or enter my coupon code (CRYSTALLEE) at checkout to receive $35 off with your first delivery.

Meal Kit Box & Recipe Review: Chefs Plate

The Chefs Plate welcome booklet.

I’ll come clean. I’m not a much of a cook. Although I don’t hate or dislike the process, I’m just not one to plan out a dinner by picking up specific ingredients and then spending hours slaving over the stove in my kitchen. By the time I get home from work, I need something that can be whipped up quickly. My fiancé and I have our go to dinners nowadays. But, admittedly, we have fallen into a bit of a rut. At times, we’re not even having well-balanced or properly portioned meals.

Luckily, in the new year, I found myself scrolling through the Groupon app. There, I came across a voucher for two weeks of meal kit deliveries from a service called MissFresh (watch for a post later this month). For half the usual price plus an extra 25 per cent off with a promo code, it was too good of a deal to pass up. Little did I know that that decision would be the beginning of a small obsession with these types of businesses. By the end of January, I had signed up with three more: Chefs Plate, HelloFresh, and Goodfood. With all of them, I managed to get some sort of a discount or incentive through ads that I saw on social media, making them affordable enough to justify.

Canadian-based Chefs Plate is the first service where we completed what I’ll deem the “trial run” as neither my fiancé nor I have any intention of continuing to use the service. At the regular going rate of $65.70 (I paid half that), it’s kind of pricey considering the smallest box that comes with free delivery only covers three dishes in a week for two people, working out to $10.95 per serving. Sure, it’s less expensive than dining out at a restaurant and healthier than picking up fast food. However, armed with a few new recipes, we both agree that we can probably emulate similar meals for less than it costs to have Chefs Plate package and deliver everything to us.

In any case, here’s how the whole process works:

  1. Register an account on the Chefs Plate website. Aside from the typical personal information, it will ask for the number of meals and portions required each week and the preferred date of delivery, along with the user’s credit card information.
  2. Preview the menus for upcoming weeks. Click on each dish to see the level of skill required to make it (the majority are listed as “easy”), the estimated amount of time it takes to cook, all the ingredients that will be supplied, the number of calories in the recipe, and any allergen information, if available.
  3. Set your delivery schedule. The service allows for weeks to be skipped up to four months in advance, or the subscription can be paused indefinitely to ensure nothing is sent out without consent. Turn it back on when service is required again.
  4. Watch for the delivery to arrive on the requested date.

Chefs Plate ships using FedEx. I had our box sent to our condo on a Friday. Our buzzer number and unit info was provided with our address at the time I ordered our package. It arrived by 10:30 am that morning and was brought right to our door after I let the delivery man into our building. My fiancé grabbed it and moved all of the contents from the box to the fridge immediately.

When I got home from work, I inspected the packaging. Everything had been contained within a thermal insulated, double-lidded cardboard container. A couple of small ice packs were inserted to keep the meats cold and a thick kraft-type piece of paper separated those vacuum sealed packs of meat from the three bags of ingredients that sat on the top. The strongly lined paper bags were sealed, but a clear window at the front showed the contents and a sticker on the back indicated which dish it was for. The sticker also had the nutritional breakdown of the meal printed on it.

Read about the food journey.

Inside the box there was a welcome booklet that talked about the food journey of our kit. The three recipe cards were there, too. These are actually printed on heavy card stock and have a nice finish to them. I expect that they’ll hold up well over time. They are big cards though (8.5″ x 11″), so they may not be the easiest to store. It’s also important for me to note that most of these services expect their customers’ kitchens to be stocked with basics such as salt, pepper, olive oil, butter and sometimes milk. If any of those are missing, it’s not the end of the world. There’s usually something that can serve as an alternative.

We decided to start our Chefs Plate experience with their Greek Chicken & Tzatziki Sauce recipe. One thing we did with this one was that we substituted the chicken breasts they had provided with ones we already had in our fridge. This was simply to reduce wastage of produce we had bought before receiving our box, and the chicken that came with this recipe was saved for use later. We did notice that the size of the chicken breasts were quite a bit smaller than the ones we purchased ourselves. No matter though. This dish turned out great.

Good timing is required to get each component on the plate at the same time, but every step is outlined clearly and as long as they are followed, it seems pretty hard to mess this one up. The chicken was pan seared in a bit of oil until golden brown. Cooked cracked wheat was mixed with baby spinach, cherry tomatoes and oregano. Then, all of it was tossed in a honey-based dressing to make the tabbouleh. Pita had been baked into crispy chips. Best of all, we learned how easy it was to make that addictive tzatziki sauce. It’s something we never would have gone out of our way to make from scratch. Yet, now that we know how to do it, we’ll likely do so again. We’d definitely give this a 7.5 out of 10.

A couple of nights later, we made our second recipe: Italian Sausage Cavatelli. This pack consisted of red onions, parsnip, chili flakes, rapini, cream, Parmesan cheese, ground pork and fresh cavatelli pasta. It was a surprisingly tasty dish with layers of flavour. The sauteed red onions provided a mild sweetness to the relatively light cream sauce while the rapini brought in a tinge of bitterness and the parsnips added some earthiness. Chili flakes — go easy on this ingredient, if spicy heat isn’t welcome — helped to season the pork, and the Parmesan finished it off by bringing in a shot of saltiness. The portions were very generous. If we had been a little less gluttonous, the amount of food this recipe made could have certainly fed three people or provided leftovers for someone’s lunch. Out of a 10, we’d rate this one an 8.5.

The following Monday, four days after we had received our delivery, we cooked up our third kit from the box. This was a fabulous Spiced Steak & Garlic Salsa Verde with roasted fingerling potatoes and cheesy kale chips. We felt it was okay to leave this one until later since Chefs Plate recommends eating red meats last as they can be stored longer than fish or poultry. We were very happy with the cut of meat we got. It was so supple, producing a tender steak that held in all the juices once it was seared.

The meat was supposed to be marinated with a dry Salvador spice mix, salt, and pepper. However, we decided to add some smoked balsamic vinegar we had on hand. That, combined with the garlic salsa verde (cooked garlic, chopped parsley, red wine vinegar, oil, salt, and pepper), really worked to elevate the dish further. What’s steak without potatoes? The fingerlings had a pleasant buttery texture and flavour once roasted. Plus, they’re not super dense or heavy in terms of potatoes. The fresh leaves of kale had to be broiled in the oven until crisp as well. They actually provided a lot more kale than needed, so we set some aside for another time. Personally, I loved the kale chips with Parmesan cheese sprinkled on top. My fiancé wasn’t as much a fan of those, but he did enjoy everything else. Both of us think this meal deserves an 8 out of 10.

We were really happy with the quality of the meat and ingredients.

All three recipes took around 30 minutes to prep, cook and plate, so we were sitting down to eat soon after we started. We both appreciated the convenience of having everything we needed delivered to our door with the ingredients for each recipe carefully packaged and labelled. Honestly, it was fool proof, and I truly think it made my fiancé feel as if he was a real chef. Unfortunately, as I mentioned earlier, the service is too expensive to become a regular indulgence at our house. Nevertheless, if one’s income allows it, we’d highly recommend testing Chefs Plate at home.

This review is in no way affiliated with Chefs Plate. I purchased the meal kit on my own and have chosen to share my thoughts here. If anyone is interested in signing up for a subscription, please use my Chefs Plate referral link to receive three FREE plates with your first delivery.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Black Bull Kitchen & Bar

The interior of Black Bull Kitchen & Bar.

In mid-December, I took my boyfriend to Black Bull Kitchen & Bar (16642 109 Avenue) for dinner. It was our first visit and, again, it was all due to a Groupon I had on hand. We made our way there immediately after work, so we arrived pretty early at around 5:00 pm.

When we walked into the establishment, it was empty, save for someone hanging out at the bar. The single server greeted us right away though and let us choose our own table while she grabbed us some menus.

As soon as we were settled, I mentioned that I had the voucher that covered dinner for two people, and she took the time to explain how it worked. In our case, we were each able to order a virgin cocktail and an entrée valued at up to $32. The thing is, the majority of their dishes only cost about $13 to $25. Only one option would have maxed out the deal on its own: the 14 oz. T-Bone Steak. However, our server let us know that we could add upgrades to the plates until they totaled the full value, which was fantastic.

Virgin Pina Colada and Virgin Caesar

While my boyfriend sipped on his Caesar and I on my Pina Colada, we studied the menu. Ultimately, we both opted for the 10 oz. New York Striploin ($25). It comes with a side of veggies as well as a choice between garlic mash (the winner on that evening), home cut fries, or rice. He decided to order extra shrimp ($5) and I selected the lobster tail ($7).

The food was prepared in a decent amount of time. They weren’t plated super fancy, but the dishes had pretty pops of colour from the carrots, broccoli, shrimp and lobster. Atop the seafood was a big dollop of butter. Surprisingly, there was also a slice of garlic bread accompanying everything as well.

I’ll get the bad out of the way first. Although the lobster tasted fine, it was severely overcooked. It made it incredibly difficult to pull the meat from the shell and, when I did get any on my fork, it was relatively dry and rubbery. That was unfortunate. I probably should have mentioned it to the restaurant while we were there, but I didn’t do that.

On the other hand, my boyfriend told me that his shrimp were great (he ate them all so quickly that I didn’t have a chance to sample any). Our plates came out piping hot, too. The steaks were both prepared as requested — medium rare for me and medium well for him. They were succulent with very little gristle, meaning almost nothing was wasted. I especially liked the charring on the top and bottom of the steak that helped to sear in the juices, keeping the meat tender and flavourful.

I have to say that the vegetables were kind of pedestrian. They seemed to have been steamed and had little flavour. I doused them in the butter from my lobster to make them a bit tastier. I thought the bread was alright as it was a bit toasted and had enough garlic butter without being overpowering. The garlic mashed potatoes were excellent. They were creamy, the seasoning came through well and the herbs that had been mixed in just elevated them a little more.

In the end, I’d say that Black Bull Kitchen & Bar is a serviceable location. Nothing we had was out of this world good, and the chefs can certainly show some improvement when it comes to lobster. Otherwise, everything else was passable and the portions were generous. It’s comfortable, clean, bright, well-decorated and totally seems like the classic neighbourhood hang out. If anyone has a voucher, I’d definitely recommend giving this place a shot. If that’s not a possibility, still stop by and grab something more affordable than steak off of the menu. I’ve heard that their burgers and pizza are worth a visit.