Edmonton Business Review: Table Top Cafe 2.0

Table Top Cafe 2.0 filled will customers on a Saturday evening.

Back in 2013, Table Top Cafe opened their initial board game cafe location at 57 Avenue and 75 Street. With its popularity, the owner expanded less than two and a half years later with second spot on 102 Avenue and 124 Street. The two are differentiated by the addition of a “1.0” or “2.0” to the end of its name.

I never did take the time to check out the original. However, I’ve been to the one that sits between the Oliver and Westmount neighbourhoods twice within the past eighteen months. My fiancé and I visited in the fall of 2016 because of a Groupon I had purchased. The deal covered both of our entrance fees and included about $15 to use towards food and drinks. On that occasion, we chose to grab a couple of the wraps (all are just under $10 each). I can’t say that the food was all that impressive and I wouldn’t make a point of going there to eat. Yet, they do serve some great beverages and beer.

Another couple met us that afternoon and we stayed for a few hours playing games until we were ready for dinner. What’s so awesome is that this form of diversion is so affordable. If one isn’t inclined to order snacks or drinks, the cost to play all day comes to only $5 per person. Several shelves house hundreds of available games that are sorted based on type and difficulty.

The business has made it really easy to get started, especially for those that aren’t too familiar with all of the choices out there. I mean, board games have moved well beyond the classics that I grew up with like Scrabble, Monopoly, or Life to include more risque ones such as Cards Against Humanity, strategic ones like Quantum, or puzzles such as Sagrada. There are so many to explore and likely not everyone can afford to buy them all, so spots like Table Top Cafe provide fantastic opportunities to test them out first. Staff are also more than willing to take the time to explain rules whenever anyone gets stuck. Should patrons find something they love, there’s a good chance that there’s an unopened copy in stock to purchase before leaving. Plus, sign up for a membership and a percentage of every game bought can be accumulated and used towards a future buy.

My most recent visit was at the end of January. After supper at The Manor Bistro, we made our way over to Table Top Cafe 2.0 to continue our double date. It was a busy Saturday night, and, luckily, we managed to snag the very last table out of maybe 17 to 20 in the space. When we arrived, we had to check in at the counter to start up our tabs. While we were standing there we placed our orders for drinks (hot beverages, cold refreshments and alcoholic choices are on the menu) and snacks (Magic Maize, a big bowl of popcorn, was $4).

Coaster Park was put back when we realized it was a bit more difficult to get started than we expected.

Then, we got busy looking for some games to try out. The guys started out with a round of chess, so my friend and I kept perusing the shelves. In the end, the two of us decided to bring a few games to the table: Unlock! The Nautilus’ Traps, Pass the Pandas, and Coaster Park. Ultimately, we set aside Coaster Park. Although the box stated that the playing time is between 30 to 60 minutes, when we opened the box, we realized it was more complicated than we expected. Everything else we worked our way through that night fell into the easier category and were essentially card based. They were all quick to learn and none took more than an hour or so from start to finish.

While the men were completing their chess game, us ladies learned Pass the Pandas. It’s a simple, speedy dice game with about four rules. The first to rid of their dice wins.

Unpacking the Unlock! box to play a card escape game.

Our toughest challenge was definitely the Unlock! game. It’s basically an escape room in card format. All four of us had tackled other games in the Unlock! series before. But, we had yet to play together, so we thought we could do that here. Even though the game is rated at a difficulty level of two out of three locks, it was tough and we didn’t technically survive by making it out of the “room” in the allotted hour. I’d chalk up our failure to it being too loud in the cafe to hear some of the recordings we needed to listen to within the accompanying app.

Rhino Hero was so fun! I couldn’t stop laughing as I was attempting to balance the Rhino on that stack of cards.

Once we had muddled our way through that game, we moved on to Rhino Hero. Admittedly, we kind of mixed up the rules a bit, putting each of us at a disadvantage at some point. It’s in the vein of Jenga and the object is to stack the houses higher and higher without knocking the tower over. The downside was that all the roof cards had been folded (we’re guessing this was a mistake by a previous group), which increased the difficulty slightly. No matter though. This was still super fun with a straightforward concept. My girlfriend thought it’d be a perfect game for her kids, so she bought a copy to take home with her.

Check out my monsters towards the end of our game of Bears vs. Babies!

Finally, before we had to head out for the evening, we played a full game of Bears vs. Babies. I’m bad at following rules and directions, so I’m sure I can do better next time, but the gist of the game is to build super strong monsters that can fight off baby armies which periodically attack when someone at the table provokes them. This was designed by the creators of Exploding Kittens, so you can expect things to get a little weird. The whole group enjoyed this one and often chuckled when we saw the combinations we were coming up with for our monsters.

All in, we were there for about four hours and I’d say each person spent, on average, approximately $10. Not too shabby for a full night of entertainment. I have no comparison to any of the other local board game cafes (I would like to stop by all of them down the road). Yet, my experiences specifically at Table Top Cafe have been wonderful. I’d highly recommend that Edmonton residents who want to get into the board game resurgence, or who are already board game enthusiasts, support this local gem.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Nuovo Bistro

Insalata Di Barbabietoli

As is often the case, I cannot pass up a good deal. Therefore, when I came across a Groupon for the new Nuovo Bistro on 124 Street, I had to snap it up. Sure, I’d seen some mixed reviews about the restaurant after their debut in the fall. Nevertheless, others since seemed to rave about it. I figured that the savings would give me ample reason to stop in and make my own conclusions.

After a couple of hours spent perusing the shops that dot the district, my boyfriend and I decided it was time for an early supper. When we stepped through the doors into the entryway, I made note of their reservation book. There was just one group coming in at around seven o’clock. We were there less than an hour after they’d opened for the evening. It was quiet and I could see that there was no one else dining. I tentatively walked into the dining room and called out a “hello” to the server who was diligently wrapping utensils in napkins. She quickly came over to greet us; happy to have some customers.

The interior of Nuovo Bistro.

With the world as our oyster, we grabbed one of the tables by the large front windows, and I started to really observe everything. The Italian eatery had taken over the space vacated by previous tenant, Dovetail Deli, and it’s essentially unrecognizable inside. They must have removed some walls in the back because it looks much larger and elongated. The square footage is utilized a lot better with ample seating running in parallel rows. The kitchen, handled by two chefs, is clean and open. While the tables and chairs are somewhat rudimentary, the bright red booth and the cityscape/wood panelled accent walls lend the place a sense of whimsy.

Glasses of water were brought over along with the menus, and it was time for us to get down to business. We waffled between several choices before settling on our selections: Insalata Di Barbabietoli, Tagliatelle Florentine and Cannelloni.

The refreshing beet salad.

Extra side plates were brought out for us to share our Insalata Di Barbabietoli ($11.95), which translates in English to a beet salad. Nuovo Bistro’s iteration consisted of thick sliced roasted beets, whole spiced walnuts, dollops of creamy rosemary goat cheese and a white balsamic reduction. Fresh ground pepper was added on top to give it some kick. Overall, it’s an extremely refreshing starter. The beets were perfectly cooked and sweet. The root veggie’s pretty pink juice mixed harmoniously with the zestiness of the lemon balsamic reduction. The rosemary goat cheese helped to mellow out the acidity and the walnuts gave it an earthy flavour. It’s actually such a simple dish, but one that is worth trying. My only wish was that there were more of the latter two ingredients utilized.

Shortly after we polished off the salad, our two main courses arrived. My first impression was that the portion sizes were very generous for the price.

Cannelloni

Once I snapped my photos, my boyfriend dug right into his plate of Cannelloni ($15.95). The large rolls of pasta ─ dough made in-house according to the menu description ─ were stuffed with ground beef, spinach and mozzarella cheese. The three tubes were then topped with a tomato cream sauce, parmesan and chopped parsley for garnish. I had a few bites of the pasta and, surprisingly, it was lighter than I expected. I tend to find cannelloni fillings to be quite dense. Yet, this was the opposite. I also really enjoyed the tomato sauce as it sort of reminded me of one that was wine based in terms of the depth of flavour. It didn’t come across as a cream sauce as the menu listed and that’s okay. I think that’s what kept it from becoming too heavy.

Tagliatelle Florentine

My dish of Tagliatelle Florentine ($15.95) was piled high with long, flat ribbons of pasta. The cream sauce was similar to an alfredo with a rich, nutty flavour and a smooth consistency. Diced tomatoes and wilted spinach added an acidity and minerality. Most of all, I was impressed with the amount of chicken provided. I often find that restaurants skip out on the protein, but not here. Although I have to admit that the meat wasn’t as tender as I hoped it would be, it was plentiful and seasoned well with fresh herbs. As much as I wanted to keep eating, I knew I had to stop myself half way through and have the rest packed up.

When our bill came, I made note of the fact that our server took the time to jot down a message on our receipt. It felt personal and I appreciated that. In all honesty, it’s hard to judge a restaurant when it’s quiet. Of course the staff will be more attentive. What else is going to fill their shift? However, I do believe that regardless of whether or not its busy, Nuovo Bistro is a place where you’ll get great service and a friendly atmosphere. No, the food isn’t quite at the level of Edmonton’s finest Italian restaurants. But, what I sampled absolutely made me want to come back.

Edmonton Bakery Review: Doughnut Party

The devil’s in the details.

I’ll admit it. I’ve been overly obsessed with doughnuts ever since I tried my first Lucky’s doughnut in Vancouver a couple of years ago. I’m going to chalk it up to their fillings. They go beyond the glaze and toppings. To me, those are the epitome of the sweet treat.

Within the past year, I’ve sought the dessert out across the globe – checking out the Donut Mill in Red Deer, PinkBox in Las Vegas, several independent shops in Chicago and, most recently, Good Town in Tokyo – yet none of them quite compare. Japan’s offering is the one that came closest to satisfying my cravings. Nonetheless, there wasn’t anywhere local to fill that void.

Fast forward a few months from my autumn trip to Asia and word started getting out that there was a new sheriff in town. Narcity published a quick article about a shop that was opening in Edmonton that was supposedly killing it on social media. Perfectly filtered picture posts had spread of these gorgeous, bright pink boxes filled with doughnuts along with the bakery’s adorable kawaii inspired logo depicting a welcoming doughnut shaped character.

The shop’s logo is kawaii (Japanese for “cute”) inspired.

The store’s name is Doughnut Party and it’s located at 109 Avenue and 119 Street in an up-and-coming refurbished building that houses new brunch time favourite Café Linnea. Their hours are not ideal for those who do not work or live nearby. Open five days during the week from Tuesday to Saturday, my only option was to visit on a Saturday morning.

It’s really important to go early to ensure they don’t run out of product before arrival. Despite listing their closing time as 1:30pm on weekdays and 2:00pm on Saturday, once they’re sold out for the day (at what point do they decide it’s best to shut it down and stop producing treats?), they will close without warning. I haven’t seen any notices (or many responses to questions for that matter) on their Instagram or Facebook pages to let customers know. In fact, yesterday was the business’s most recent public share on Facebook since February 25, which happens to be the day I went to get my batch. Both messages were simply to inform followers that they had opened.

Part of the line that snaked through the shop.

My boyfriend and I arrived to Doughnut Party just after ten o’clock on the morning we visited. To avoid the chilly weather, patrons had created a line that snaked all the way through the interior of the shop. Everyone was incredibly patient and happy to direct those who had just walked in towards the proper spot in the queue. As I waited, I snapped photos of the crowd and I watched as the doughnuts at the counter dwindled down and trays were removed and replaced. I noticed that the flavours seemed to rotate and ones that I hoped would be brought back out were, sadly, missing in action.

From my observations, on a busy day, the shop could do with an extra staff member or two to help box orders a little faster and to manage the payments. It may also be beneficial to add a second till at some point, and they should ensure that there’s sufficient small change available. Because they only take cash or debit, I paid for my order with a $20 bill. All they had was quarters for change. It’s not a huge deal, but for someone like me who prefers to keep my purse light, I wasn’t expecting that. Plus, it was still rather early in the day, meaning it’s likely a lot more people would be paying with cash later on.

Their menu is posted on the wall. Cash & debit only. Friendly staff!

Putting those minor issues aside, after approximately thirty minutes, I made it to the front of the line. Basically, it’s luck of the draw as to what will be available when it’s time to order. In my case, all of the s’more and banana bread doughnuts were gone when I finally had my chance to pick. On the plus side, there were six different choices, so I decided to try one of each. The half dozen cost me $16, working out to about $2.70 per serving. Single doughnuts are $3.

We took the box home and split them throughout the day. The base of the majority of their doughnuts is a yeast ring with the exception of the fritter, which I’m assuming is the same dough recipe, merely a different shape. Overall, the structure and feel of their dessert is fantastic. According to a note the owners left on Instagram, the master recipe is vegan (although, the toppings are not guaranteed to be free from animal products). Once fried, the dough puffs up to become light, fluffy, airy and not at all greasy. Each one was fresh and soft.

A half dozen of their doughnuts.

In terms of the flavours, I walked away with: matcha sugar, cherry almond, pineapple fritter, strawberry rose, birthday cake and fruit punch sugar.

Matcha is literally one of my favourite flavours. I love it in tea, latte, chocolate, cake, custard and ice cream format just to name a few ways in which it can be enjoyed. Anything matcha, I will eat it. The matcha sugar doughnut was my initial tasting and, I’m sorry to say, it’s definitely lacking. There’s none of that distinct vegetal taste from the matcha tea or that lingering natural sweetness. The texture of the granulated sugar is a nice addition to an otherwise plain, slightly green-coloured doughnut. I’d call this one a fail.

The cherry almond, on the other hand, packed quite a fruity punch with the almond slivers that topped the glaze remaining crunchy. The glaze was thick yet translucent and a beautiful pink. It was also smooth and melt-in-your-mouth good.

We tested the pineapple fritter later in the afternoon. The dough was a bit crispier, which gave it a nice texture. This one may have had a tad too much glaze for my liking though. I’ll also argue that pieces without any pineapple in it were slightly disappointing after having gotten pineapple in the earliest bite or two. The pineapple was somehow juicy without making the dough around it soggy, so more fruit please!

A tray of the strawberry rose doughnuts.

I’m on the fence about the strawberry rose. The floral taste was strong while the strawberry was quite subtle. The fruitiness needed to come through more in order to create a better balance. Granted, maybe those who prefer something less sugary sweet would go for this.

Before the evening was over, we polished off the remaining doughnuts. By the end of the night, the dough seemed to have absorbed the taste of the paper box, which is kind of disconcerting. Next time, I think I’ll transfer the doughnuts into a different container when I get home. The doughnuts themselves were holding up well; they continued to be nice and pillowy.

The texture of the birthday cake was great. The rainbow sprinkles kept firm and the crumbled pieces of sugar cookie on top of the glaze were delicious.

Surprisingly, my favourite out of the day’s selection turned out to be the fruit punch sugar doughnut. It was covered in granulated sugar, same as the matcha, but with a pink tinge to it. The flavour popped and had a tartness that reminded me of the best type of sour candy.

Let’s enjoy!

All-in-all, I’m not sure that Doughnut Party is entirely worth the hype, especially with the relatively long waits that I’ve both experienced and heard about. Maybe when things die down a bit, it’ll be easier to get in and out, and it’ll seem okay to drive out of the way to pick these pastries up.

I will give my kudos to the owners though. Running two businesses (Moonshine Doughnuts is their original baby; watch out for another review to come soon) is a lot of work and, to see such early success and so much community support from the beginning, is amazing. While these aren’t my Lucky’s Doughnuts, they are likely some of the best on offer in Edmonton right now and, for that reason, I’m recommending them.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Tiramisu Bistro

The spacious interior of Tiramisu Bistro.

The spacious interior of Tiramisu Bistro.

The 124 Street district is one of my favourite places in Edmonton. It’s home to numerous independent shops and restaurants, including Tiramisu Bistro. I keep saying this lately, and it sounds ridiculous since I’m known for reviewing eateries, but until this year, I didn’t know this place was here.

I guess I have tended to relegate myself to certain blocks within this area and Tiramisu Bistro fell outside of that usual boundary. Granted, it’s only a few doors down from Duchess Bake Shop, and I’ve made a point of going there. In fact, it’s because of my attempt to go to Duchess that I ended up at Tiramisu Bistro at all.

On a free evening at the start of the summer, my mom and I decided we should stop somewhere for a snack, so I suggested Duchess. She’d never tried their desserts and I was more than excited to be the one to introduce their key lime pie to her. Unfortunately, as we drove by looking for a spot, I noticed that the store was closed for the night (I forgot they shutter early). That’s when I spied Tiramisu Bistro.

We figured that it was our best bet, and we easily found parking around the corner from the door. Prior to this, I’d heard about Tiramisu Bistro in passing. Yet, I failed to place its location. Now, I knew.

As we walked into the door, I found myself surprised to see how large the establishment is. The room is spacious with a coffee bar and numerous tables. A server came over to greet us and said that we could choose any seat. My mom thought we should have selected a smaller table, but the server said that it was already late and she didn’t expect to see any large parties coming through before the evening was out, so we stayed put.

I sat and looked at the menu even though we weren’t there for dinner. The selection appeared to be appetizing and I made a mental note to come back another time. On this occasion, we each had a smoothie and we shared a key lime pie.

Smoothies and key lime pie

Smoothies and key lime pie

The smoothies were packed full of pureed fruit, so I was happy with the value there. Although, my mom’s Happy Heart smoothie was rather sour due to the cranberries. I fared much better with the Brain Boost smoothie, which was a mix of strawberry, blueberry and raspberry. Having gone back to Tiramisu Bistro, it’s worth noting that they now list all of the ingredients next to the names of smoothies (they didn’t months ago) and the names no longer match what we had. The Cran-tastic is now what my mom drank, and the Passion Berry Bliss matches mine.

As for the key lime pie, it was just okay. Key lime pie is sort of the dessert du jour lately. Any and every restaurant has added it to their menu. I’ve gotten used to the lovely key lime infused custard-type filling that has become the norm. The one served here is similar in texture to a gel with a meringue topping and toasted coconut sprinkles. It was unique, but not what I was hoping for.

Evening specials

Evening specials

My second visit came a couple of months later when I met some friends for book club. It happened to be a Tuesday night, which is Tiramisu Bistro’s pizza B.O.G.O. (half off the second) evening special. My friend was game, so we shared two pizzas between us. Our selections included the Baked Brie & Duck Confit and the Salmone.

The duck pizza was a mix of duck meat, figs, roasted garlic, caramelized onions, brie and honey drizzled on top. I enjoyed this one. However, it could have used a little more duck on it and it would serve them well to spread the toppings out a little more towards the edges of the crust. The crust itself was pretty good. Although, it didn’t have the same consistency of a traditional thin-crust Italian pizza baked in a wood-fired oven, which I would have preferred. From what I remember, it lacked that slight chewiness.

Our Salmone pizza was excellent. The crust was the same, but came off better with these toppings: asiago cheese sauce, pears, capers, arugula and smoked salmon (plus a few pieces of onion). Maybe the juice from the fish and the pears changed the texture of the dough a bit. I’m not entirely sure. In any case, the toppings also made it closer to the edge and each slice could be covered by a full piece of smoked salmon, ensuring you got every flavour in each bite. If I were to go back for their pizza, this is the one I would have again.

Another friend in our party opted for a pasta dish, which may have been the special that day as his was made with short rib, and I can’t find it listed on their regular menu. The dish was nicely presented, but not particularly large. The fourth in our group chose either the Lift Me Up or Quinoa salad with added salmon skewers. Her dinner looked delectable. On sight, the veggies seemed to be fresh with a mix of greens, red bell peppers, grape tomatoes and cheese. The pieces of salmon were sizable, cooked well and seasoned nicely.

Seeing as we took their table for at least a few hours, the restaurant was accommodating. They never once rushed us even when it did get busier (there was never a line up though). I’d certainly go back for their food, especially on nights when they have specials or live music on Friday evenings. Mostly, I like the ambiance. It’s quiet enough to talk to whoever you’re with and they have a great patio during the warm season. Plus, the huge windows let in a lot of light when it’s bright out.

In essence, it’s a great community establishment that makes you feel right at home.