Edmonton Restaurant Review: JOEY Restaurant Revamped Happy Hour (2019)

Tuna Poke Bowl

This weekend, Kirk and I ventured out to the JOEY Restaurant at Bell Tower. Located a couple of blocks from Rogers Place, it’s in the heart of the Ice District and it’s an ideal venue for pre-game gatherings.

While it’s incredibly dim inside, the design of the venue is beautiful. The two of us especially admired the indoor patio with it’s ball light fixtures, fireplace, rolling windows (closed during winter), and floor-to-ceiling wine cooler. Despite our love of that room, we ended up seated in the lounge alongside the brick wall, which has large hidden projector screens that are lowered when sports are on. The illumination emanating from those helpfully brightened my photos in the otherwise dark space.

Full disclosure before I continue, we were invited through my YEG Food Deals Instagram page to try JOEY’s revamped happy hour menu. It was launched right at the beginning of 2019, and it’s been heavily revised from their previous offerings in order to compete with the other two big players in the casual fine dining sphere, Earls Kitchen + Bar and Cactus Club Cafe. Both of those chains have been serving rather extensive happy hours for at least the better part of the past year, if not longer. JOEY Restaurant, on the other hand, had a very scant menu in comparison (a mere four or five drinks and maybe three food options).

Real Peach Bellini

On this occasion, JOEY Bell Tower took care of our first round of drinks. Everything else was ordered at our own discretion. As such, to start, Kirk ordered the JOEY Genuine Draft ($3.50) and I got the Real Peach Bellini ($4.50). The Bellini is a longtime staple, and a great cocktail that is cold, refreshing, sweet, and a touch tart. Kirk found the JOEY Genuine Draft to be a decent standard lager. To follow-up, Kirk tried the Parallel 49 Wobbly Pop Pale Ale ($4.50). Although the amber-coloured beer was hoppier, something that Kirk typically enjoys, it wasn’t for him as he found the flavour to be too soapy.

The majority of the items on the daily happy hour menu are discounted anywhere between $3 to $6 each from the regular prices, meaning the savings can be significant. If you’re okay to eat there during the hours of 3:00pm to 6:00pm or 9:00pm to close, then it’s well worth planning around those times. We considered this to be a fun night out for the week. Therefore, we decided to go to town with our meal.

We know no limits when it comes to happy hour.

Sharing is caring, so we split the Rosemary Garlic Fries ($4), Sliders Royal Duo ($8), Pesto Shrimp Flatbread ($10), California Chicken Club ($13) with fries substituted for a New Cobb Salad ($2), Seared Salmon Sushi ($13), and the Tuna Poke Bowl ($16). Technically, the last one was for me, but I offered some of the non-raw portion to Kirk (he declined).

This was a ton of food for a pair of people, so don’t order this much unless you genuinely want or need leftovers. In my case, I had half of a sandwich and two slices of flatbread for lunches this week. I also saved the majority of the rice, veggies, and wonton chips from the poke bowl to go with one of my at home dinners.

Rosemary Garlic Fries

I’ll begin reviewing based on our least favourite dishes to the ones we enjoyed most. Sadly, the Rosemary Garlic Fries were a miss for us. On the plus side, I found that the taste was amazing. The herb was heavily infused into the potato and the garlic wasn’t overpowering. The grainy mustard aioli provided for dipping was particularly delicious. What I didn’t like, and never really have at JOEY Restaurant, is the skinny cut fries. I’m not sure why they continue to insist on making these. They’re similar to McDonald’s fries, but, dare I say, worse. They always seem so dry, and they’re completely bland without the accompaniments.

The California Chicken Club is usually one of Kirk’s top picks at JOEY. However, it seemed as though the recipe had been changed slightly. The well-seasoned breast of chicken was still stacked with aged cheddar, smoky bacon, and spicy mayo. It contained some greens, too. We think it was spinach. Yet, the sandwich was missing the basil leaves that used to be included, which meant the pepperiness and hint of anise/mint was now gone. The aged cheddar wasn’t melted either. I would have preferred it to be heated and gooey rather than cold and speckled with condensation when it arrived at our table.

Side of New Cobb Salad

We replaced the side of fries to our club with the New Cobb Salad (actually, we had asked for Caesar salad, but this is what we received). I appreciated the combo of romaine and shredded kale and the Grana Padano dressing. I thought that the crispy bits inside the salad were croutons, but they may have been chunks of double smoked bacon (the taste wasn’t all that salty though…). There was also no egg, so that’s why I honestly assumed we were having a Caesar salad as requested until I saw our bill at the end of the evening.

As you may have gathered above, Kirk is not really into raw fish. While he did take a chance here and ate a whole piece of the Seared Salmon Sushi, he opted not to have anymore. I finished off the rest of the dish by myself. In Kirk’s opinion, it tasted too fishy as if the salmon wasn’t fresh enough. I begged to differ. From past experience, I know that different types of salmon have very distinct flavours. To me, this did have a stronger fishy flavour, but not in a way that tasted off and inedible. It was still good. The torched umami sauce on top gave the fish a creamier consistency, and the shaved slice of serrano pepper atop each piece of sushi added a touch of spice on the palate without being overwhelming.

Sliders Royale Duo

The Sliders Royale Duo is a super basic pair of miniature burgers. Other than a thinly sliced pickle, there were no other groceries. Admittedly, I took out the pickle when I realized it was there. I’d already bitten into it, so I can say that it wasn’t as strongly flavoured as others often used on burgers. I probably could have gotten away with eating this one and refrained from disgust. More often than not, I find pickles ruin the flavour of everything else because it’s the only thing you can taste after. With that removed, just a bit of American cheese and a dollop of secret sauce was left behind. The beef patty wasn’t that thick, but the meat was juicy and wonderfully seared. Simple and satisfying.

Tuna Poke Bowl

On my part, I thought that the Tuna Poke Bowl was great. It’d definitely be a filling dish should one choose to have this as their main. It’s created with a mix of brown rice, green papaya slaw, crispy wontons, edamame, tomatoes, radishes, cucumber, avocado, and diced sashimi grade ahi tuna. Drizzled with miso dressing, it’s potentially one of the “healthiest” items you’ll find at JOEY Restaurant.

Pesto Shrimp Flatbread

Both of us agreed that the Pesto Shrimp Flatbread was the best item we sampled. At first glance, I was worried that the dough had been overcooked as it looked past golden brown. Nevertheless, upon my initial bite, I was met with a pleasantly crisp exterior and fluffy middle. Laid with whole milk mozzarella, sun dried tomatoes, plump shrimp, chipotle aioli, and ribbons of basil, it was like a flavour explosion in every mouthful. For the price during happy hour, it’s perfect for a light late lunch or early supper.

I have to say that the service at this particular JOEY Restaurant is not ideal. We had multiple staff stop by to check on us, but it was hard to attract the attention of our own server when needed and it took three asks for water before we finally got some. Still, when it comes to the updated happy hour menu, it’s much improved from their earlier iteration. With an increased number of choices available (a dozen beverages and over 20 food items), there truly is something for everyone now.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Red Star Pub

Beef Carpaccio

Over the years, I had been to Red Star Pub a handful of times. It was always to chat over drinks with friends as we extended our night just a little bit longer. Never had I ever tried the food. This fall, that would change.

Located on the lower level of a building on 105 Street and Jasper Avenue, the only sign of the space’s existence is a bright red star that lights up like a beacon in the dark. The interior has the styling of an old Irish bar with dim lighting and dark wood everything. But, it’s also extremely cozy and feels like a respite from our months of desolate winter or the perfect place to huddle up on a rainy day.

Jerk Chicken from Caribbean night, which is sadly no longer.

My first attempt at trying their menu was thwarted when I showed up on the first Wednesday of the month in September. As it turns out, until very recently, that was Caribbean night (they’ve ended after a decade), and the only three items served during that event was jerk chicken, or the chicken/veggie roti wraps. We opted to stay that time, and the jerk chicken was a pleasant surprise, but I wasn’t satisfied that I didn’t get to eat their actual food.

A week later, I was back with another friend in tow. Seeing as how we showed up between 4pm to 7pm, we took advantage of their happy hour by selecting Pork Crostinis ($3 each) and mix and match Mini Burgers ($5 each).

Pork Crostini

Sometimes I’m apprehensive to order sliders and crostini when the individual price still seems rather steep. However, rest assured. You are getting your value at Red Star Pub. The size of the crostinis and the burgers are generous. The Pork Crostini was probably the same diameter as my palm, and it was piled high with braised Pembina pork, shaved fennel and Pecorino cheese. These were succulent and flavourful with a hefty toasted bread as the base.

The Mini Burgers

We tried both of the mini burgers listed on the menu. Their original option is made with ground tenderloin tip, bacon apple relish and Applewood cheddar. There was a ton of chopped bacon stacked under the beef patty and a beautiful smoky flavour from the cheese. The other burger was a newer addition to their lineup, consisting of jalapeno chimichurri, aged cheddar and pickled radish. This one was still tasty, but the jalapeno chimichurri took a little getting used to. I didn’t necessarily mind the heat. It was more the amount of herbs used and the earthiness of the sauce that didn’t quite mesh with my palate at first. At the very least, the meat was superb. The burgers were formed to be thick and oh so juicy.

My friend continued her meal with a their recently created Chicken Sandwich, which I did not sample myself. It looked and sounded delicious though. A combination of confit chicken thigh, arugula, and caper aioli between house-made focaccia, it was a hearty sandwich for sure.

The gorgeous Beef Carpaccio.

I finished off my meal with a dish of Red Star Pub’s Beef Carpaccio ($15). Really thinly sliced raw Spring Creek beef was carefully laid out on the plate until it covered every millimeter. It was then topped with arugula, Granny Smith apple salad, lemon, Parmigiano, pepper, and olive oil. Served on the side was a sliced loaf of dense yet soft bread. The beef was so tender as to almost melt in my mouth, and the balance of fresh meat with the tart flavours of lemon and apple was fantastic.

The dark yet cozy interior of Red Star Pub.

Considering how much food we ate, the approximately $30 cost per person after tax and tip wasn’t bad. Although, what I really like about Red Star Pub is how comfortable it is despite being in a dark basement with little natural light. The service is great, too. The staff are always friendly and helpful, and now I can say the food is worth a visit as well.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Nomiya

Nomiya’s place setting.

I’d eaten sushi and ramen at Nomiya in the past, but I’ll admit that it’d been a long time since my last visit. The Ellerslie location just celebrated their fifth anniversary though, and that prompted me to go back.

I certainly don’t like how tiny this place is as it feels very cramped (their other shop on Calgary Trail is a lot more spacious), and I also thought that much of the serving staff was rather slow with everything (except for one who was working her butt off and should have been running the show).

At the very least, once our order was placed, all of the food was quickly prepared. It was especially fast sitting at the bar since the chefs could just hand the dishes right to us and we didn’t have to wait for someone to bring everything over.

Nomiya has a pretty extensive list of options that range from appetizers to noodles to sushi. Yet, Kirk and I stuck mostly with classic sushi menu items as those are the best to gauge the quality in comparison to similar restaurants.

Salmon Sashimi

I started with Salmon Sashimi (5 pieces for about $12…honestly, I can’t really recall the exact price). These looked and tasted fresh. They were thickly cut with a slightly fatty texture, and there was little to no tendon to be found either. The sashimi totally hit the spot for me and helped to quell my sushi craving a bit.

Next up was the California Roll ($9.45). Kirk always gets these. They seemed to be decent. Yet, I noticed that they stuck with imitation crab meat rather than real crab. The avocado was also small towards the ends of the rolls, so the kitchen isn’t super consistent when making maki. Kirk’s other pick was the Dynamite Roll ($12.95). These were actually delicious. What took them up a notch was the use of made-to-order shrimp tempura, meaning these were warm. The shrimp itself was still juicy, too.

Chop Chop Rolls ($11.95) are one of my go to dishes. With a good ratio of rice to filling, these ones didn’t disappoint. The avocado was prominent and I liked that the scallops were mixed with tobiko in Japanese mayo to give added texture. To change things up, for my second choice, I went with the more modern Spicy Phili Roll ($12.95). This one came wrapped in coloured rice paper and filled with cream cheese, avocado, cucumber, spicy sauce, and salmon. While I appreciated the contrast of flavours on the palate, I wasn’t too happy with the abundance of rice as there was away more of that than any other ingredient.

Daily Drink Specials

Nomiya managed to provide a passable sushi meal with hints of greatness on a very busy night. Nevertheless, for about $80 including tax and tip, I think that there are probably better choices out there. Granted, I’m not one to pass up happy hour deals, and they do seem to have an okay selection for that, so I’ll return to try items from that menu sooner than later.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Blowers & Grafton

Relaxing with a pint at Blowers & Grafton.

Driving down Whyte Avenue earlier this summer, I noticed the facade of a new establishment called Blowers & Grafton (10550 82 Avenue). Touting itself as a place for Halifax Street Food, I was immediately excited since Kirk is from New Brunswick and I had a hunch that he’d like it. Nonetheless, at the time, it was put on the back burner. Then, fast forward about a month when we decided to meet up with some friends for a bite to eat over the first weekend of the 37th Annual Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival. This ended up being our pick of the day.

Blowers & Grafton has a casual space with a distinctly East Coast feel.

We arrived just before 3 o’clock in the afternoon on a Saturday. The place was about three-quarters full and we managed to get seated right away. It’s actually quite a nice space with tables spread out well, so customers aren’t draped over each other. There’s a distinctly vintage rustic industrial design with open ceilings, original beams, brick, lots of stained woods, Edison bulbs screwed into pipes, warehouse-style pendant lighting, and upholstered metal stools. The only shots of colour in the place come from the reddish faux brick walls and a faded denim shade as seen on the seats and towards the back of the pub. To decorate, they’ve hung historic photographs of Halifax throughout. As our friends mentioned, the Edmonton location is much better than the initial hole in the wall built in Calgary. Overall, it’s comfortable and it immediately feels like a decent hang out spot.

So, for those who aren’t aware, Blowers & Grafton is a famous intersection in Halifax otherwise known as Pizza Corner. It laid claim to the name due to the number of shops that populated each quarter of the crossing streets. I’ve only been there once before and, if I recall, it’s no longer overrun with pizza. Although, other snacks like poutine may give the pies a run for their money. Both of those items are definitely on offer here, along with donairs, fish n’ chips, clams, scallops, and mussels.

The elusive B&G bottles. They’re hoping to stock these here as well. These were just a treat from the owner.

They have made a concerted effort to stock East Coast beers for half of their taps; however four of the six are standards like Alexander Keith’s and Moosehead. The rest of the options are Canadian brews with two coming from Alberta. This includes a B&G Wheat ($6.50) created specifically for Blowers & Grafton, likely by Minhas Micro Brewery out of Calgary as that company also created their standard bottled lager, which is currently only served at the Calgary location. NOTE: Happy Hour drink specials happen Monday to Friday from 3pm to 6pm and Sunday to Thursday from 9pm to close. Check my YEG Food Deals page for details.

The Bluenoser Cocktail

They also have an adequate cocktail list from which I selected The Bluenoser (our lovely server suggested it). In a mason glass was mixed a vodka base with St-Germain liqueur to give it a hint of elderflower. Additionally, flavours of lemon, lavender, blueberry and mint made up the remainder of the recipe. Honestly, considering the short cup, it didn’t seem to consist of two ounces of alcohol; this beverage was incredibly drinkable. I absolutely recommend stirring it up before sipping on it though. It’ll ensure that all of the ingredients meld together to create a full profile. Otherwise, it can be rather bland at first.

Foodwise, Kirk had his heart set on the Garlic Fingers ($13.50) with Bacon Bits ($2). I chose the Mini Lobster Rolls ($22). Our friends went for the Garlic Fingers (a group with three Maritimers cannot share a single order peacefully), too, and they added a basket of Brothers Fried Pepperoni on the side ($13).

I’ll admit, whenever Kirk raves about the almighty garlic finger from back home, I wonder what the big deal is. Hasn’t he ever heard of the cheesy bread found on the majority of menus at pizza shops galore? But, I digress. Yes, the Garlic Fingers are delicious (especially when fresh out of the oven). They take their homemade pizza dough and smother it in garlic butter and mozzarella cheese. You really can’t go wrong with a dish like that. What I think differentiates East Coast garlic fingers from anything similar is probably the sweet donair sauce provided for dipping. Blowers & Grafton does a good job and I’ve been told that they’re Kirk approved.

Mini Lobster Rolls

In my mind, the Mini Lobster Rolls could use a bit of improvement. These were comprised of decently sized pieces of real Atlantic Lobster tossed with mayo, lemon and fresh dill. I thought the mayo was a little light handed and I wasn’t a huge fan of the bed of tasteless slaw that the lobster sat on. It also didn’t need lobster butter on top. What was done right was the searing of the mini buns in butter. As for the sides, there were only two choices that didn’t require an extra cost: fries or chips. I opted for the latter. They were crispy and delicious and served with a basic ketchup. All in all, these were alright. Yet, for the quality and amount of food I received I can’t really justify the high price. If they had wowed me, maybe. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case.

Brothers Fried Pepperoni

Surprisingly, I think the Brothers Fried Pepperoni was the best thing I sampled from the Blowers & Grafton menu. The portion size was generous, the sausage was sliced thick, it wasn’t as greasy as I expected, and it came with a delicious honey mustard that was made in-house. While we went with the mild pepperoni, it’s available hot as well. Keep in mind though, the mild was still relatively spicy (nothing crazy, but there was a noticeable kick of heat).

Blueberry Grunt Donuts

Finally, it was time for a sweet finish. The only dessert they make is their Blueberry Grunt Donut ($1.50 each). A tad larger than a Timbit, it is relatively easy to fit in at least one at the end of a meal. The deep fried pastry dough was drizzled in blueberry grunt compote and maple syrup dulce de leche. It’s kind of rich because of the syrup, but with such a small dose, it’s manageable and worth it.

Before we left, we had a chat with a couple of the owners. They’re both extremely friendly and they were happy to discuss the expansion from Calgary to Edmonton. In fact, it’s going so well that they hope to make it even bigger down south. It never occurred to me before, but I suppose East Coast eats are a thing and there is a large enough customer base looking for this type of menu — a memory of home — in the Prairies. Being one of the first to bring Maritime street food here, Blowers & Grafton may just corner the market in the west.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: State & Main

State & Main Windermere

Prior to State & Main Jasper Avenue opening, this restaurant was not a regular haunt for me. The Southgate Mall location was a place I visited only when I needed a relatively accessible spot to catch up with friends, and, being right along an LRT line, it fit the bill.

When State & Main was first introduced to the city, it was, for the most part, a duplicate of it’s older sibling, Original Joe’s. In fact, much of the menu was exactly the same. Many of the sandwiches could be found on either one, and it made me wonder what the point of having two chains under different names was. I suppose it could be argued that State & Main has a slightly trendier feel to it than the casual Original Joe’s, but it needed something more than that.

For me, that used to be the brunch. It’s been a while since I’ve taken the time to go to State & Main for that, but I definitely have a fondness for their Banana Bread French Toast ($13.50). I think it was the first place I’d ever come across that served a dish like it. Add a side of bacon and I got the best of both worlds when it came to satiating my early morning salty and sweet cravings.

At one point, I was even a huge fan of their veggie burger. Although, I’m by no means a connoisseur of vegetarian patties, I thought theirs had a great consistency with a beef-like texture, juiciness and a lot of flavour. It used to be topped with some sort of guacamole and halved grape tomatoes. Served with it would have been my choice of two of their extensive sides. However, more recently, I noticed that they changed the description of The Veggie ($15.50) on their menu. A friend of mine opted to go for a “healthier” lunch one day and gave it a go. She was severely disappointed. Visually, the burger didn’t look appetizing, so I can’t imagine it was much better eating it. I just don’t understand. They had a good recipe already, so why change a good thing?

Jalapeno Mac & Cheese with Bacon

Nowadays, State & Main downtown has become our scene for workplace gatherings (usually when another co-worker has abandoned the rest of us for something better). Within the past few months, we’ve probably been at least four or five times. My typical order is the Jalapeno Mac & Cheese ($11) with added Bacon ($2) off of their Start & Share listings. It’s affordable and it’s the perfect amount of food for the lunch hour. Sometimes it can get a little greasy, but overall, it’s got a nice creamy sauce. I enjoy the cavatappi noodles (spiral tubes) and the spice from the jalapenos is just right. It’s best when they put on a lot of panko bread crumb to get that baked crust on top, too. The bacon is usually good as I prefer it crispy. Aside from the last time, when I’m certain they forgot to put the bacon in (don’t worry, I got them to bring me a side of it), I always leave satisfied with this item.

I have tried to change things up every once in a while by selecting different dishes. Sometimes it has worked out (Spicy Tuna Poke Bowl), other times not so much (The Grilled Cheese Burger). Still, after frequenting State & Main so many times over the years, it’s a bit surprising that I hadn’t reviewed them before. Therefore, with a generous gift card in hand, Kirk and I decided to pop into the newest Windermere location for an early happy hour supper on a recent weekend.

Available from 3pm to 6pm every day and 9pm to close from Sunday to Thursday, I love taking advantage of happy hour deals. It can be an ideal way to have date night while getting to sample several things and save money. On this particular occasion, Kirk stuck to the Amber/Red SM Draught ($4). It tasted fine to me; fairly smooth and not overly hoppy. My preference is for cocktails, so I chose to go with the Saturday special of White Sangria ($7). Made with Absolut vodka, lemon juice, stone fruit syrup, white cranberry juice, Sauvignon blanc, raspberries, peaches and topped with State slush, it certainly made for easy drinking. Nothing too out there, and it was neither bitter or overly sweet. I could actually have done without the State slush though. It’s like a poor man’s version of a Slurpee with ice that is harshly crushed and quickly clumps up into a solid ball.

To eat, we shared a handful of items, including the State Slider ($3 each), Truffle Parm Crisps ($4), Lamb Tacos ($5 each or regularly $15.75 for two and a side), Short Ribs ($7), and Korean Fried Chicken ($7 or regularly $13.50). I have a theory that the restaurant takes longer to cook things up during happy hour, so patrons don’t have a chance to order a second round of food before 6pm. What other reason could there be for such a delay? It wasn’t even all that busy. For a competent kitchen to get an order out, it should never be a 40 minute wait.

Lamb Tacos

Our patience paid off in the end. Everything was delivered to our table at once. I’ll begin with the worst item: lamb taco. I was kind of excited to try this one because I’d been eyeing it on the menu for a long time. Having been forewarned about the disastrous fish tacos at State & Main, I was hoping that the lamb tacos with no cilantro in sight would be the better option. Unfortunately, the lamb did not come across as fresh. It had a gamey flavour, but not in the way that I was used to. It was almost too prominent despite there being very little meat at all. The majority of the taco was comprised of the shredded lettuce and pickled pink turnip. A sad drizzle of tahini could be seen on top. Thankfully the side of harissa was there to amp up the taste a bit. Otherwise, this would have been awful.

State Slider

The State Slider was okay. It’s most likely a miniature version of The Main Burger, which stacks a small patty of Canadian beef with American cheese, ketchup, pickle and State sauce. They’re known for their dill dip and the State sauce is similar. Maybe a tad stronger on the palate. I had a single bite and left the rest for Kirk.

Truffle Parm Crisps

I’d definitely order the Truffle Parm Crisps again. As far as I can tell, they’re house-made potato chips garnished with grated and flaked Parmesan cheese. There were a few chips that had gotten soggy by the time we made our way down to the bottom of the bowl. Otherwise, they were thick and crunchy with plenty of cheesiness and a decent creamy dip to go with it.

Short Ribs with Tzatziki

Considering that the Short Ribs were fried, they refrained from being overly oily. The outside was crisped well and they were simply seasoned with salt and pepper. There tends to be more bone than meat with these ribs though, so that’s the one downside. Regardless, what does take them up a notch is the side of tzatziki sauce.

Korean Fried Chicken

Probably my favourite dish from our afternoon out was the Korean Fried Chicken. Turns out I’d had it before during a previous work lunch. It’s prepared with a mix of lightly battered pieces of chicken and cauliflower in a spiced gochujang glaze and sprinkled with sesame seeds and chopped green onions. These taste awesome. My only issue with the dish is that the cauliflower is definitely a way of masking how little chicken they actually give you. The majority of the plate was made up of the white florets in disguise. While I’m a fan of the veggie, I would have appreciated more meat, especially if I had paid full price.

All things taken into consideration, State & Main is alright. Mostly, it comes down to timing. It doesn’t matter the location, service has always a bit shoddy no matter which one. The food is also hit or miss. But, find something that is relatively pleasing and stick with it because, if anything, they’re at least consistent in their mediocrity.