Edmonton Restaurant Review: Urbano Pizza Co. (103 Street Closed – Visit 124 Street Location)

Portable pizza ovens that fast-fire pies in under 2 minutes!

The first time I tried Urbano Pizza Co. wasn’t at one of their storefronts. It was actually at last year’s Sturgeon County Bounty Culinary Cookout. As one of the participating partners at the event, Urbano was well prepared to serve the masses. They brought with them a couple of their portable pizza ovens (fast-fired in under two minutes) and were cooking up their meat (The Italian Stallion) and vegetarian pies as fast as they they could manage.

Urbano ended up being our favourite vendor of the night. Not only did they provide reasonable portions for the tickets redeemed, but their pizzas had a lovely thin crust and a mountain of toppings. In fact, my only complaint was that the toppings were so heavy that the crust couldn’t withstand the weight, making it tough to keep my slice together.

Fast forward a year later and I was contemplating where my co-workers and I could go for a quick lunch together. The light bulb in my head went off and I suggested Urbano Pizza Co.

The day we went, we arrived at the original downtown shop (at 102 Avenue and 103 Street) a little after 1 o’clock. It was quiet. There were a few staff members lingering behind the counter and one other customer perched on a stool in the seating area.

The menu displayed on a few screens.

We all took a few minutes to review the menu, which consisted of several Signature Pizzas and Pastas as well as the choice to build your own dish ($11.95 each; $7.95 without toppings). Although it was tempting to consider the latter option because I could pick whatever I wanted (similar to LOVEPIZZA and Blaze Pizza), I wasn’t in the mood to put a lot of thought into things. I ended up taking the lead by ordering The Vegetarian pizza.

I watched the staff as they put my pizza together from start to finish. When not in use, they always pull down the cover of the case to keep the toppings fresh. As they went along, I had the opportunity to let them know if I wanted anything excluded or switched out or added on. There are no extra charges for changes made, so it’s completely customizable.

A view of the prep counter from the seating area upstairs.

By the time I’d paid at the till, my pizza was already out of the oven and had been transferred to a wooden pizza board. I guess the staff members typically bring the food to the customer’s table, so the guy who had my pizza was a tad reluctant to hand it over to me at first. Yet, after checking with another person, he passed it over to me and I made my way up the stairs to grab a table.

The rest of my party followed and their pizzas showed up a few minutes later. I didn’t sample everyone else’s lunch. However, I was told throughout our meal that they all enjoyed what they had selected: The Piri Piri, To the Greek, and Pork & Pineapple.

The Vegetarian pizza with a bottle of Root Beer.

I loved my Vegetarian pizza. It’s a bit different from others as the base doesn’t consist of the usual tomato sauce. Instead, it’s replaced with a puree of eggplant curry. Then it’s topped with roasted cauliflower, grilled zucchini, mushrooms and roasted red peppers. Flavourful and filling despite the lack of protein, I’d be inclined to get this one again.

In fact, the pizzas are quite large for the price. None of us were able to finish the whole thing. One of the employees passed by and came back carrying takeaway boxes without us even having to ask. The leftovers served as my lunch the next day.

Just this month, I went back to Urbano for dinner with a friend. We each ordered a pizza. I still didn’t opt to build my own, but I made sure to try something new. This time, I chose the Salmon. I opted to omit the red onions though. What remained of the toppings was Hollandaise sauce, white sauce, smoked salmon, capers and arugula. I will say that the salmon loses a bit of it’s appeal from an appearance standpoint since the fish turns more of a brown colour after being cooked in the oven. Nevertheless, it’s quite delicious. The smoked salmon still had a tenderness to it along with the salty flavour, and the creamy sauces worked well to balance out the slight bitterness from the greens. The one issue I did have, and maybe it’s due to the amount of sauce and the moisture from the salmon, is that over time, the crust can get a bit soggy as it sits. Still, I ate the whole thing.

My friend’s Pork & Pineapple pizza on the right.

I also had a bite of my friend’s Pork & Pineapple pizza. It’s not one that I’d usually go for, but it was decent. Made with tomato sauce, roasted pork loin, pineapple and Camembert cheese, it was certainly more traditional in flavour. Personally, I do think it was missing a little something; it needed an unexpected punch of flavour to add an element of surprise. Regardless, those who like Ham & Pineapple likely won’t be disappointed.

Urbano Pizza Co. is the sister to the upscale Sabor Restaurant. Owners Christian Mena and Chef Lino Oliveira took a sharp left turn when they decided to go the fast-casual route. Yet, it’s a concept that works. With others like it popping up all over the city, it’s obvious that they were on the right track. Perhaps it’s because I’m often going there before or after the lunch and dinner rushes, but I’ve experienced nothing but friendly faces, quick service and tasty food each time I’ve visited Urbano. Plus, it’s fairly affordable for a relatively healthy meal with fresh ingredients, many of which are made in-house.

They’ve also got a great deal on their Pizza of the Day. Ask for details when visiting!

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Edmonton Restaurant Review: Cafe Mosaics

The previous Burger menu at Cafe Mosaics. I think they've refined this as well.

The previous Burger menu at Cafe Mosaics. I think they’ve refined this as well.

I am by no means a vegetarian, let alone a vegan. Yet, when a meatless meal is made well, I could care less if there’s any steak/chicken/fish in it.

There aren’t many restaurants in Edmonton that serve strictly vegetarian or vegan menus. In fact, I only knew of Padmanadi and Noorish until this summer when my friend suggested that we go to Cafe Mosaics on Whyte Avenue for our book club meeting.

Since I’m always happy to try somewhere new, I was completely on board, especially because I’d been hearing about Cafe Mosaics in increasing frequency right around that time. Apparently the establishment has called Old Strathcona home for around 20 years. But, I had no clue that it was there; not until a renovation that took place last year doubled the size of the restaurant. That’s when I noticed it in passing.

The newly renovated interior of the restaurant.

The newly renovated interior of the restaurant.

The best thing going for the eatery is the bright and airy atmosphere and the open storefront, a result of the modifications made to the space. In the summertime, the large windows slide to the side to let in fresh air, helping to create a seamless extension to the seats on their sidewalk patio in the process. Honestly, it is much preferable to snag a table closer to the doors and windows. Tables by the kitchen can get warm and stuffy when it’s hot out.

Of course, you can beat the heat by grabbing one of their ice blends. While we waited for everyone else to arrive, my friend and I each sipped on one. I had selected the Tsunami Wave and she got the Mango Hemp. We sampled each other’s drinks and we both preferred the one we didn’t order. The Tsunami Wave wasn’t as thick and a little too citrusy for my liking. The Mango Hemp had an earthier flavor (I enjoyed that) and had a consistency closer to a smoothie. Looking at their current food and drink menus online, it looks like they’ve revamped a lot of their offerings. They kept the Tsunami Wave though, and they still serve a mix of beverages including: coffee, lattes, teas, fresh juices, cocktails, wine and beer.

Creamy Vegan Portabello Pasta

Creamy Vegan Portabello Pasta

For dinner, two of us ordered the gluten-free Creamy Vegan Portabello Pasta (my friend sans the avocado toast due to an allergy). The server was accommodating and offered her some garlic toast instead. Made with portabello mushroom, tomato, onion and organic black bean noodles tossed in a coconut vegan cream sauce, the dish was rich. At first I quite liked the flavours, but I found that the saltiness started to overwhelm me about halfway through my meal. It was also a heavier dish than I expected, so I ended up packing the leftovers home. I was really pleased with the side of avocado toast, which is something that I can also easily make at home.

Tofu Stir-Fry

Tofu Stir-Fry

One of the guys in our group tried the Secret Burrito, which he found to be lacking. The burrito itself was filled to the brim, so they didn’t necessarily skimp, but everything in it was drowned by some sort of teriyaki-like sauce that wasn’t a good fit. Our other friend opted for the tofu stir-fry, which she finished, but also quickly dismissed as being subpar, stating that she has had better at other restaurants.

On a side note, the tables felt kind of sticky and had a film on them (it might be time to sand them down and refinish the tops) and the utensils supplied weren’t the cleanest. Those are simple fixes for the restaurant to work on. I should mention, too, that they only accept debit and cash for payment. On a positive note, the service was decent.

The place was busy that evening. I suspect that Cafe Mosaics has their regular clientele. However, based on the one visit, I don’t think I’d be inclined to go back soon. Of course, that’s not to say that they won’t ever be able to change my mind.

I want there to be more vegan and vegetarian options in this city. This month’s refinement of their menu is probably a good start in the right direction. Everything that we ate is actually no longer, so that does provide me with a reason to give them another try. Perhaps what remains will win me over.

The small plants on the tables were a cute touch.

The small plants on the tables were a cute touch.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Nosh Cafe

The interior of Nosh Cafe's new 124 Street location.

The interior of Nosh Cafe’s new 124 Street location.

In its first incarnation on 156 Street and 100 Avenue, Nosh Cafe was not on my radar. In fact, I didn’t know of the restaurant’s existence until my co-worker told me that she had tried their food after purchasing a Groupon. The place quickly became a favourite of her and her fiancé’s when it came to Indian cuisine. She told me that the dishes were excellent and the portions were large.

I never ended up visiting that location, but I have become a frequent patron of their new space on 124 Street and 102 Avenue, which opened towards the end of 2014. It’s a spot that’s more central for me, so it feels like less of a trek.

The eatery serves a mix of Indian and Canadian (really Lebanese) cuisines; the latter apparently remnants of the former Dahlia’s Bistro that used to be housed there. The Lebanese plates only make up approximately a handful of the choices available. I’ve yet to try those items, although I’m sure they’d be alright. Perhaps the owners hoped that leaving those selections on the menu would entice Dahlia’s old regulars to come back. Either way, I’ve stuck with what they’re originally known for.

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Since the spring, I’ve dined at Nosh Cafe about five or six times with various people. Through all of those meals, I’ve drunk, eaten or sampled the mango lassi, Kashmiri chai, veggie samosas, palak paneer (fresh spinach and cottage cheese), butter paneer (creamy tomato sauce and cottage cheese), veggie korma (cooked in creamy sauce), lamb burger and coconut shrimp pasta.

Personally, I’ve found that everything I’ve had from their kitchen has been great. The palak paneer is my favourite out of the bunch though. I ordered that dish two outings in a row and the server politely suggested that next time I should branch out and try something new. I didn’t disagree with him, but honestly, the palak paneer is so flavourful and satisfying that I had absolutely no regrets on those occasions.

The butter paneer is excellent as well, replacing the spinach with the same sauce as a butter chicken. It’s delicious and you’ll definitely use your rice to sop up all of the sauce. All of the entrées come with rice, but, for an extra $2, you can substitute in some naan bread.

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Less than a block away, you’ll find a similar menu at the ever-popular Remedy Cafe, a place that always seems to be bustling, no matter the location in the city. Unfortunately, the opposite can be said of Nosh Cafe. The competition likely isn’t helping Nosh, and almost every time I’ve dined there, it’s been next to empty. However, I’ve done my part by either telling people about Nosh or taking friends and family there whenever I can, so it makes me a little bit sad that, after almost a year, it isn’t doing better.

Nosh Cafe has offset the lack of people at their tables with a takeaway option as well as delivery service through SkipTheDishes, JUST EAT and Dial and Dine. However, my hope is that things will pick up for them as people either realize they’ve moved to this area or they give the restaurant a chance. On a positive note, during my last visit, I noticed that more seats were filled and there was a steadier stream of customers coming in and out for both dine-in and takeout. The owner confirmed with me that business was starting to improve. That’s a good sign.

I will say that, yes, they can likely work on the overall service they provide. Often times, when it’s slower, staff can’t necessarily be found out front as soon as you walk through the door. But, the staff (the two I’ve seen) are quite friendly and accommodating. They’ve always been happy to take our order at the table even though the concept of the restaurant is similar to eateries like Remedy where you’re supposed to order at the till first and then find a table.

Overall, I’ve really enjoyed Nosh Cafe. The meals are relatively affordable and filling, the service is decent and it’s the perfect place to go when you need or want a quiet place to have a conversation over tasty food.

I’m already imagining my next meal there.

Cooking at Home: Eggplant Stuffed Bell Pepper

Dinner is served!

Dinner is served!

Continuing with the cooking journey I started late last month, I had every intention of picking a new recipe to try sometime in March. But, I already had a fridge full of new groceries and I wasn’t too keen on having to pick up specific ingredients from the store, so I decided to forgo any form of instruction and I opted to do my own thing.

Really feeling the need to detox (I use this word lightly), my kitchen was stocked with eggplant, asparagus, zucchini, grape tomatoes, sweet bell peppers, tomatoes on the vine, avocados and salad mix. When it comes down to it, I’m all about keeping things simple, and when food is involved, I’ve learned that less is often better. As I wrapped my head around the items I had at my disposal, I realized that I should try making stuffed peppers. It’s something that always looks so tasty, healthy and relatively easy, so I figured it would be a piece of cake.

I decided that my basic ingredients would include one large bell pepper (I went with an orange one, so it was sweeter), eggplant, tomatoes on the vine, jalapeno cheese, Uncle Ben’s Bistro Express quinoa & brown rice with garlic flavour – I will often cut corners by going this route to save myself time – and a bit of garlic olive oil.

I’d say this took about 15 minutes to prep and about 25 to 30 minutes baking in the oven at 200 C (392 F). The cheese had melted through giving the stuffed pepper some kick, the eggplant had softened to a nice texture without becoming a squishy mess, the diced tomatoes added acidity, and the quinoa & brown rice with the garlic flavour made it a satisfyingly savoury dish.

Here’s the recipe:

Eggplant Stuffed Bell Pepper
1 Serving
15 min. prep
25 to 30 min. cooking time

1 large bell pepper (any colour)
1/3 of an eggplant
1 small tomato on the vine
1/2 package of Uncle Ben’s Bistro Express or bowl of rice
8 small slices of jalapeno cheese
1 tbsp Garlic olive oil

1) Cover a pan with tin foil and set aside.
2) Preheat your oven to 200 C.
3) Wash your pepper. Slice the top off and scoop out the seeds.
4) Take your eggplant and cut into half inch cubes.
5) Dice your tomato.
6) Warm the package of Uncle Ben’s in the microwave.
7) In a bowl, mix the cubes of eggplant and diced tomato together. Stir in a tablespoon of olive oil until the veggies are coated.
8) Add a portion of the rice to the bowl. Mix well.
9) Put your pepper on the pan and start filling it with layers of cheese and veggie/rice mixture. Alternate between the two until the pepper is full.
10) Once the oven is ready, place the pan on the middle rack.
11) Let cook for 25 to 30 minutes.

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This is an excellent recipe when you’re cooking for just yourself. Or, easily modify the portions and you’ll find that you can serve this to your guests next time they drop by for dinner. Enjoy!

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Café Caribé

I found out about Café Caribé when I received an e-mail notification from Groupon about new food and drink deals in the city. Having never heard of the restaurant before, I decided to Google them to find out more about it and where they are located. As it turns out, they took over the old Crepe Symphony space on Rice Howard Way (right next door to Tres Carnales) in the downtown core of Edmonton. A little bit sad to hear that my crepe destination of choice was no longer in business, but also excited at the prospect of trying something new, I immediately purchased a voucher.

Prior to renovations! The couches are still there, but the wallpaper is gone. I hope the table lamps are still there though.

Prior to renovations! The couches are still there, but the wallpaper is gone. I hope the table lamps are still there though.

Specializing in Caribbean cuisine, I thought my friend might be interested in joining me, so the two of us made arrangements to meet there for lunch during a work day. We arrived shortly before one o’clock and it was almost empty save for one table. At the time, the look of the restaurant hadn’t been altered much – the same coloured walls, counter, tables and chairs were being used as with the location’s previous incarnation as Crepe Symphony. The main differences included a graffiti wall with Café Caribé scrawled across almost the entire span, a baroque style black and white wallpaper on the adjacent side against which sat an antique style couch in a lounge-type space and a large banner with an owl graphic on it hanging on the wall by the bar. These slight changes made the place feel a little more unique, not so cookie cutter. However, I just saw on their website that they have undergone even further renovations to give the space a vibe that better matches the food as well as a bar that provides extra seating.

They have taken out the dessert case and have built a full L-shaped bar on that side now.

They have taken out the dessert case and have built a full L-shaped bar on that side now.

A singer/guitarist had also set up in the corner and was providing entertainment by performing pop covers throughout the hour, which was a surprising touch that made it seem like a special outing. I almost thought I was somewhere in Europe with the relaxed atmosphere that it provided.

Although I was greeted upon walking into the restaurant by Hayley, the owner’s daughter, who will bring menus to you, it’s essentially a self-seating establishment, so we decided to sit at a table next to the lounge area. The tables were adorned with large mason jars that had small twinkle lights inside to add a bit of whimsy to the surroundings. Juni, the Chef/Owner, came by to say hello and let us know that everything was made to order. She seemed very sweet and was happy that we were there to sample her food.

An order of the crab cakes to start.

An order of the crab cakes to start.

The two of us ended up ordering the crab cake appetizer to share. The dish came to the table with two pan seared crab cake patties sitting on a bed of spinach and topped with fresh mango slices and mango chow. We both enjoyed the combination of the fruit with the spice of the cakes. For our mains, we each went with a roti dish – chicken for me, channa and aloo for my friend. Opting to go with the vegetarian dish, my friend liked the curry chick peas and potato that filled her plate. My folded piece of house-made roti was stuffed with large chunks of chicken and potato that were cooked in a Trinidadian curry. I thought the flavours were great and I almost struggled to finish everything because I was getting too full. The roti entrees came with sides of greens and more mango chow as well.

My plate of chicken roti with salad.

My plate of chicken roti with salad.

The restaurant seemed rather quiet when we were there with only a few patrons dining in, but the food is good and you’re given decently sized portions (I certainly didn’t leave hungry). What I liked most is that they are an independent business that is family owned and operated. Those I came across that day were friendly and open to chatting, so I hope that business picks up for them. I wish Café Caribé the best of luck!