Edmonton Restaurant Review: The Dish Bistro (Closed)

Ricotta pasta with a side of salad and housemade chips

Ricotta pasta with a side of salad and housemade chips

In business since 1979, The Dish Bistro (@dishspoonbistro) has amassed many regular customers. However, until a few years ago, I wasn’t one of them. Growing up just blocks away in the Glenora neighbourhood, you would think that my family would have dined there at least once before. The Oliver area is really a skip, hop and jump from their home, yet that was far from the case. It took over twenty-five years before my parents set foot into the establishment and it was only because my fondness for Groupon deals brought us there.

Stepping into the restaurant, it’s unassuming. Large windows brighten up the somewhat dim space, which is broken up into three areas – a room by the bar, a smaller sliver that sits between that and another adjoining span that can likely be rearranged for large parties and is often opened up on busier evenings to expand the total number of seats. The green walls are sporadically adorned by art that kind of reminds me of a grandma’s house. The Dish is homey and has a casual air about it. They also have a patio, which they call the “Secret Garden.” A hidden nook behind the building, the outdoor space must be accessed by passing through a side gate and walking down a small path. I finally had a chance to take advantage of the patio this summer when the weather was still smiling down on us. It’s really cute with hanging flower pots, a bird house, twinkle lights, trees and bright red brick walls. Although, I should note that I overheard one server tell another table of patrons that the space is several degrees cooler than out at the front of the restaurant, so once the temperature cools down come fall, it’s probably not so lovely out there. Make sure to choose a nice, sunny day to dine outside.

Having been several times within the past thirty-six months or so, I developed a taste for certain dishes, specifically the Wild Mushroom & Feta Pasta with beef tenderloin added, so I was pretty much set to order the same thing when I went in June. What I wasn’t aware of prior to getting there were the selections on the daily features menu. Upon seeing the several items on the list, it made my decision all the more difficult. The thing is though, once I spotted the Chicken & Waffles I knew that I had to try it for the sake of comparison. Recently having sampled the dish at The Common and Sugarbowl, I needed to see if The Dish’s version could live up to what I had eaten at the other two restaurants. The friendly server working that evening said it was a good choice.

While my dining companion and I waited for our food to be made, we sipped on water through whimsical paper straws and chatted. Our plates arrived relatively quickly and were each filled with a large circular green onion and cheddar buttermilk waffle topped with two fat pieces of crispy seasoned chicken breast that were drizzled with a grainy mustard and maple syrup. The chicken was battered and fried well – not greasy with a shell that wasn’t too thick and the meat was relatively juicy. It didn’t taste like it was seasoned much, so the majority of flavour came from the fluffy waffle and the syrup, which could easily have been overly sweet. That was avoided with the addition of the mustard. On that note, I would say that The Dish’s ability to keep the Chicken & Waffles more savory than sugary makes it better than what I had at Sugarbowl, but still not quite as delicious as The Common’s offering that builds bacon into the waffle and refrains from the syrup route by going for tart and spicy profiles, using their blackberry and chili sauce instead.

To finish off the evening, we ordered the Double Chocolate Fudge Brownie for dessert. I’d eaten it previously, but I had forgotten just how good it is. You’re given an ample portion (possibly not quite enough for two people as we were fighting for bites) of brownie that has been drenched in chocolate and caramel sauce and comes with a side of vanilla ice cream. The brownie is extremely rich and very moist on the inside, so much so that it almost comes off as being a lava cake. Either way, it was a satisfying end to our meal.

About a month later, my mom joined me there for dinner (that’s when we sat in the “Secret Garden”). She chose the salmon and asparagus quiche with a side of tomato bisque, and I opted for the ricotta pasta dish with a salad of mixed greens and raspberry vinaigrette. Both meals were tasty, but I would say that the quiche would have been better had it come to the table better heated. On the other hand, my layered pasta was piping hot, so my mom kept sneaking some from my plate. We finished off our supper with a tangy lemon tart. More similar in consistency to a light fruit yogurt, the flavour was strong, but refreshing. The whole dessert was kind of airy since they also dismissed using a regular pie crust and exchanged it for a thin filo pastry cup instead. It was exactly what we were looking for after our heavier mains.

I can certainly see why The Dish Bistro is still a favourite of diners thirty-five years after opening their doors. Coming in at No. 45 on The Tomato‘s list of 100 best eats and drinks in Edmonton for 2013, they certainly have continued to excel at contemporary comfort fare.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Upper Crust Cafe

Upper Crust Cafe opened in 1986, just a year after I was born, and has lived up to their initial goal of becoming a popular yet unpretentious place to enjoy a good meal. After 28 years, they are now well-known for their desserts and catering services. However, it’s their knack for making sandwiches using freshly baked in-house molasses or oat bread (other types are available; however, they are not housemade) that made me a fan several years ago.

The interior of Upper Crust Cafe.

The interior of Upper Crust Cafe.

I was dragged there by a friend the very first time I visited. She couldn’t stop telling me about the fantastic sandwiches and potato salad. Never having been much of potato salad lover, I was skeptical. But, upon sitting down at one of their distinctive green-topped tables and biting into a deliciously thick roast beef sandwich that was layered with alfalfa sprouts, tomato, lettuce, cheese, cucumber and house mustard, I was a convert. Not only were the sandwiches filled to the brim with healthy yet tasty ingredients, the included side salad was there to ensure that your stomach would be completely satisfied. I took my friend’s advice and tried the potato salad and, to this day, I find myself getting a hankering for it at times. I think what I love about the salad is that it isn’t overly creamy or eggy, which I tend to find off-putting with other variations. It’s actually been a long while since I’ve eaten an actual meal there and I hope to do so in the near future.

Bringing this back to the present though, my most recent experience there was after a hearty brunch at the Sugarbowl (@sugarbowlcafe) about three months ago. My friends and I wanted to keep chatting and decided that we would walk over to Upper Crust for dessert. Since they had made The Tomato‘s second annual list of best eats and drinks in the city, coming in at No. 78 this year, this presented a good opportunity to hit up another top 100 location.

A slice of the carrot cake.

A slice of the carrot cake.

Walking into the establishment, you are met with the dessert display where every cake, pie and square looks rich and decadent. The three of us perused the choices for probably fifteen minutes, asking what each iced cake was before making our decisions. After we ordered, we made our way to a table by the window. It was rather quiet in there that afternoon, with maybe a handful of tables occupied.

My friends had carrot cake and chocolate cake with raspberry filling, both of which looked delicious. The carrot cake was without raisins, pineapple and nuts as my friend prefers. I didn’t try their slices, so all I am going off of is the appearance of the cakes. They seemed to be quite moist and fairly dense with the perfect amount of icing to go with each piece.

I went with the coconut cupcake. It was touted as the best cupcake in the city by Edmonton Journal (@edmontonjournal) writer Liane Faulder (@EatMyWordsBlog) a few years back when cupcakes were all the rage. Being someone who certainly appreciates the humble dessert, I was intrigued at the time. Despite that, I never did make my way to Upper Crust on a Saturday (the only day they are available) to eat one. That is until now. I have to say that I did like the flavour of the cake and that the icing was topped with shredded coconut; however, I was a little disappointed with the overall texture. I’m not sure if it was just this particular batch, so I can’t be definitive about this, but the cake seemed too solid to the point of being slightly dry and the icing wasn’t as creamy and smooth as I would have liked.

Regardless, we popped in for a quick dessert and ended up staying for around a couple hours because we had so much to discuss. The server was attentive and, though his shift was over before we were ready to go, we never felt rushed. This relaxed atmosphere makes this restaurant a wonderful place – nice and quiet – for an afternoon or evening out with with family or friends.

Writing this review, I now find myself salivating and wanting, very badly, to eat some of their potato salad and a sandwich. I’ll be back soon to quell that craving!

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Sugarbowl

The Sugarbowl (@sugarbowlcafe), serving Edmontonians in various forms since 1943, is a community favourite in an area peppered with popular independent restaurants. Known for their famous cinnamon buns (Seriously, who would have thought that a roll without cream cheese icing would be so good! Plus, one bun is essentially a meal on its own.), they have plenty of other items to please the palate.

Patrons enjoying their meals and conversations.

Patrons enjoying their meals and conversations.

My very first visit to the establishment was several years ago, likely when I was still finishing up my Bachelor’s degree. I ordered the lamb burger and was blown away by the flavour of the meat and the use of goat cheese, a combination I had not yet experienced at the time. I’ve never forgotten that burger or the restaurant. It was the place to be before it really mattered where you hung out. And, while I was a bit late to the game considering I was born and bred in the city, it has since become a top venue to chat with family over breakfast or meet up with friends for drinks.

My girlfriends and I did exactly that approximately a month and a half ago. We met up for brunch at about 11 AM on a Saturday morning knowing full well that, by arriving at that late hour on the weekend, we might possibly miss out on the coveted cinnamon buns (we were, in fact, too late to get one!). On the other hand, it was during that sweet spot between the early morning risers and the lunch crowd, so my friend managed to grab a table quickly before the rest of us got there.

The brunch menu is pretty succinct, so it wasn’t too hard to make our decisions that day. After finding out that the cinnamon bun was no longer an option, my friend chose to go with the french toast. My other friend ordered the huevos rancheros, which was one of the menu items that was mentioned on The Tomato‘s list of 100 best eats and drinks in Edmonton this year (overall, the restaurant came in at No. 5 in 2014 and No. 15 in 2013). I went with the chicken & waffle, a dish that seems to be a little more prevalent at food establishments lately.

The chicken and waffles from the breakfast menu.

The chicken and waffles from the breakfast menu.

I didn’t sample my friends’ orders, but I was told that the french toast – fried brioche pastry/bread covered in berry compote and whipped cream – was a worthy alternative to the cinnamon bun goodness that she didn’t get to eat. I’m certain that if you’re looking for a somewhat sugary breakfast, the french toast will certainly do the job. The huevos rancheros, touted by patrons as one of the top selections for breakfast, turned out to be a bit underwhelming. Consisting of 2 eggs, corn tortilla, spicy beans, three cheeses and salsa verde, my friend wanted me to say that she thought the addition of a starch would have been ideal – hash browns or toast perhaps?

Personally, I was really happy with my chicken & waffle. Plated with two perfectly cooked waffles and two pieces of lightly breaded buttermilk, spice marinated chicken breasts, I knew I was in for a filling and hearty meal. Served with a small side of greens and a little cup of maple butter, it presented the scrumptious combination of savoury and sweet flavours. The spices from the chicken were strong enough to break through the almost too sugary maple taste as well as the blueberry syrup that I had added to my waffles. All-in-all, the dish is very well-balanced and a good contender for those who can never decide between having something salty or sweet during brunch.

Sometime this summer, when the weather decides to stay steadily warm with just a light breeze, I would like to visit again for lunch or dinner on the patio. It’s been a while since I have had the opportunity to sample from those menus and I’d love to see if the lamb burger still lives up to my memory of it.

I also have to hand it to the servers here. They always have smiles on their faces, they are fun, friendly and they do a great job of checking in throughout your meal to remove empty dishes and refill drinks as needed without giving you the sense of being overbearing. There’s a real feeling of camaraderie between the staff that shines through, too.

When we were done our food, cappuccinos and orange juice, we cleared out to make room for others who were waiting patiently for tables. The only downside is that they don’t take reservations. But, I suppose that is part of the charm of the Sugarbowl. There’s something about being in line, anticipating your turn to sit down, watching everyone else have a great time, and knowing that you will soon join them.