Edmonton Restaurant Review: River City Revival House

Taking Care of Brisket with CeeLo Green Beans

Having lived in Edmonton for my entire life, I’ve only ever been to the Starlite Room once, and that was probably already a decade ago, if not longer. Unsurprisingly, I was pretty much unaware of Brixx Bar & Grill, which used to occupy the basement space. Quite frankly, I wasn’t sure about the idea of setting foot into the building outside of the evening hours of a concert.

However, about a year ago now, it was announced that the underground venue had been transformed into a new restaurant and bar called River City Revival House. The menu, with dishes cleverly named after bands and artists, was created by Red Seal chef Felicia Winston. I was intrigued, but I didn’t make it there until this March when they participated in Downtown Dining Week (DTDW).

Sadly, my co-worked and I didn’t actually get to enjoy the DTDW menu. When we arrived at around one o’clock on a Wednesday afternoon, the place was packed and the people ahead of us were still waiting for seats. It was clear that the kitchen wasn’t prepared for the onslaught of customers and they weren’t properly staffed either.

Still determined to try it, I made plans to check it out in April. On this occasion, I phoned ahead to ask if reservations were necessary at lunch, and I was told that it’s typically not that busy, so it shouldn’t be a problem to just show up. Sure enough, my friend and I ended up being the only ones there. As we picked out a table, the server went to get us some menus.

Apparently, River City Revival House must have been busy the night before because they were out of a number of things (green bean salad, tomato soup, and yam cheesecake; the latter may have just been removed from the menu though) I had been hoping to eat.

Ultimately, my companion went with The Smokey Robinson Club ($18) and fries. I opted to try the B.bq B.urger K.ing ($16) with the Soupersuckers side — it includes a bowl of homemade soup and a half order of KoRn Bread.

The Smokey Robinson Club with Fries

I sampled a bite of the Smokey Robinson Club. This consisted of smoked chicken breast with roast garlic aioli, bacon, lettuce, and tomato on sourdough bread. The toppings were fresh, the bacon crisp, and the smokiness from the preparation of the meat had saturated well into the chicken and balanced with the roast garlic spread. The fries were also thick cut and blanched, so they were soft on the inside and perfectly browned on the outside.

B.bq B.urger K.ing

My B.bq B.urger K.ing burger was a little bit too well done on one side. Yet, overall, it was nicely cooked. The eight ounce beef patty was clearly made in-house and was pleasantly thick. With a good sear, it managed to hold most of the juices inside the meat. It was dressed with the same roast garlic aioli as the club sandwich, lettuce, tomato, caramelized onions, cheddar cheese, and ancho BBQ sauce. Everything was placed between a classic toasted bun. This turned out to be a super satisfying burger in terms of taste and texture.

My burger with the Beef Taco Soup and Jalapeno & Cheddar KoRn Bread

Since the kitchen was out of a lot of the things I had wanted to order, they were really good about making it up to me. Instead of getting the tomato soup, I ended up going ahead with their daily creation, which was a Beef Taco Soup. And, rather than a half order of their KoRn Bread, they gave me three slices of the jalapeno & cheddar version to snack on. Honestly, it was way more food than I should have had. But, I pretty much ate it all. The soup wasn’t as hot as I would have liked, yet it was incredibly hearty with plenty of flavour, cheese, and sour cream to give it a smooth and indulgent consistency. The jalapeno & cheddar KoRn Bread was just a tad crumbly while still moist enough to hold together with each bite. There was just a hint of heat to appease those who want some spice without being too overwhelming for those who aren’t fans of chili peppers.

We left River City Revival House having really enjoyed our meal. So, the next time I was making impromptu lunch plans with a different co-worker, I suggested we go there as well.

On this second visit, it was still far from busy. Yet, there were definitely more patrons than before. A few solo diners/drinkers were hanging out at the bar (there are outlets along the entire thing in case you want a place to work and relax) and a couple of other tables were occupied, too.

There was, again, just one staff member working the front of the house, so service was somewhat slow considering that there were at least five times as many people there as my previous drop-in. He was just as friendly though.

My friend chose the vegetarian Portis-Bello Burger ($14). Unfortunately, I can’t say much about it. All I know is that she said it was sort of difficult to bite it apart with her teeth since the portobello mushroom patty was whole, and she ended up cutting it up into bite size pieces with her utensils. Nevertheless, she said it was tasty. Based on the description, it’s quite similar to the burger I had the first time, minus the BBQ and aioli sauces. The cheddar was also switched for the mild and nutty Swiss cheese that likely played off the earthiness of the mushroom better.

Taking Care of Brisket sandwich

I stuck with the sandwich menu once more, selecting the Taking Care of Brisket ($15). This is a combo of smoked brisket finished in a Sea Change Brewing braise topped with ancho BBQ sauce, sauteed mushrooms, caramelized onions, and Swiss cheese on a brioche bun. It was decent. I felt that it could have used extra meat and more mushrooms. For added texture, a crunchy coleslaw would have been lovely as well.

CeeLo Green Bean salad

That day, they did have the CeeLo Green Bean salad available, so I upgraded my side ($2) to have that as a healthier alternative to fries. The portion size was way bigger than I expected. It seemed like a never ending bowl of fresh, crisp green beans. These were coated in a refreshing lemon mustard vinaigrette and tossed with cherry tomatoes, toasted almonds and feta cheese. A very simple recipe, but one that certainly hit the spot when it came to my craving for veggies.

When we paid our bills, the server gave both of us punch cards (disappointing that I didn’t get one when I dined the first time). For every nine sandwiches purchased at lunch, you’ll earn a tenth for free. That’s incentive to go back, for sure. Plus, they have happy hour specials Monday to Friday from 3pm to 7pm and all day Sundays.

Happy Hour at River City Revival House

I have to say, River City Revival House is much better than I ever expected it’d be. It’s also so close to work that it’s a great alternative to our usual haunts. My only wish is that they’d better staff the place for the times that it does get a bit busier. I’ve noticed that, due to the slower service, it has been difficult to make it back to the office within the hour we have for our break. Regardless, it’s clean, comfortable, and the food is good, so, no doubt, I’ll be returning.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Kanu Cafe

My dinner consisted of Coconut Chai Latte, Creamy Mushroom Soup, and Spring Gnocchi.

With a menu inspired and conceptualized by plant-based American celebrity chef Matthew Kenney, Kanu (pronounced kuh noo’) Cafe opened in Edmonton this past fall. Taking over the space previously occupied by the short-lived Monument Coffee Bar on the southwest corner of Jasper Avenue and 108 Street (at the base of The Mayfair building), the interior has had a bit of a face lift. Otherwise, it’s fairly similar with its center counter and two walls of windows that offer plenty of natural light.

My friend and I had planned a catch up over dinner last month. When I arrived at around five o’clock that weeknight, it seemed that the reservation I had made on OpenTable was unnecessary. The place was so quiet. Less than a handful of tables were occupied and I wondered if it was always that way.

The service was good though. We were given info on their new happy hour specials (available Monday to Friday from 3pm to 6pm) and recent updates that had been made to the menu before we were left to make our decisions.

Our Coconut Chai Lattes

I contemplated ordering one of their signature cocktails, but it felt like more of a day for comfort food and beverages. In the end, both of us opted to try out the Coconut Chai Latte ($5.75). It arrived piping hot in a decently sized mug. A pretty plant-themed dusting of cinnamon decorated the foam. The tea had a lovely flavour that was well-spiced, a little creamy, and the coconut was actually quite prominent. It’s a bit expensive, but, honestly, most places are charging at least five bucks for a latte nowadays.

Creamy Mushroom Soup

For my supper, I chose to go with two smaller dishes. The first was the Creamy Mushroom Soup ($6.50). This was made with coconut cream, mixed mushrooms, wild rice, local herbs, and toasted kombu (kelp) oil, so it was both gluten and nut free. I’m a sucker when it comes to mushroom soup, as long as it’s actually thick and smooth. There’s nothing worse than a watery concoction. No need to worry about that here though. Kanu Cafe did a great job with their recipe. Although it wasn’t really hot enough, the base was pleasantly creamy. There were also plenty of mushroom varietals to provide a satisfying chew and ample texture. It probably could have stood as a light meal on its own.

Spring Gnocchi

My second plate was the shareable Spring Gnocchi ($13.25), which had just been added to the menu. While the dish cooled quite quickly, the overall taste was superb. The crispy yet pillowy pieces of potato pasta were served with peas, pea tendrils, pistachio, spinach and nettle cream, and sunflower Parmesan. It was deliciously savoury and, at the same time, a little bit earthy with the fresh greens shining through on the palate.

Key Lime Pie

As I’ve come to learn with my friend, she’d much rather eat dessert than anything else when dinnertime hits. This particular night was no different. In this instance, she picked the Key Lime Pie ($13.75) and snacked on it throughout our visit. No doubt about it, this raw, gluten free Kanu Cafe treat was beautiful to look at. The presentation was spot on with it’s deep green colour contrasted with what I believe were dried red flower petals, chunks of almond ginger crumble and citrus glass. To say the least, it was an interesting dessert. I didn’t have a chance to sample the crumble or citrus myself, but I had a couple of bites of the key lime filling (made with avocado) topped by lime gel with the pecan and coconut crust. I found the filling to be way too pudding-like as if it didn’t have the time it needed to be properly set. It also didn’t have enough of a lime flavour and it was rather grassy. Lastly, for the price, it was quite a petite portion. I suggest that the kitchen consider making these into smaller two-bite desserts at a lower cost to justify the existence of this dessert.

Coconut Cream Pie

In contrast, my serving of the raw and gluten free Coconut Cream Pie ($14) was huge. It was about the same width as the Key Lime Pie, but probably three times taller. The creaminess and density of the filling was perfect, too. The only downfall was a too thick macadamia crust along the edge. That, and, after a point, the coconut flavour got a little lost behind the more distinguished taste of banana.

For the most part, I enjoyed my meal at Kanu Cafe. I definitely think that the restaurant does a good job of making people forget that they’re eating a meal devoid of meat since the dishes are still rather gratifying. However, it’s not often that I walk into an eatery and find myself paying more for a dessert than for the rest of my food. Perhaps more work goes into making the desserts than I realize, but it’s an odd thing to see, especially when more restaurants cap the cost to around $10. That’s something that I think they should address. Regardless, I felt that Kanu Cafe offered a number of options within a reasonable price range alongside educated customer service in a comfortable atmosphere, and that may just do the trick in bringing this usually carnivorous girl back.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Haweli Indian Kitchen & Bar (South Common)

Butter Chicken

When the Hudsons at South Common closed less than a year ago, I was incredibly surprised by the news. Shortly after, I was maybe even more surprised to find out that Haweli Indian Kitchen & Bar was taking it’s place. It would be an Indian restaurant with a pub twist (and Indo-Chinese fusion).

The main space of the restaurant houses the large bar.

Before a recent appointment for my bridesmaids at David’s Bridal, my mom and I popped by Haweli for dinner (reservations can be made through OpenTable). The space still retains that pub feel with a large central bar and dozens of taps. But, overall, they’ve done a great job of transforming the venue into something that is large enough to accommodate groups of all sizes while still retaining a more intimate feel. The woods are dark, the colours are warm and there are hints of South Asian design peppered throughout.

We lucked out by arriving before the end of happy hour (available daily from 3pm to 6pm). Plus, it was Wing Wednesday, so we got to take full advantage of all of their deals. NOTE: When they say it’s $0.39 per wing, that’s not actually true. Both of the orders we got only totaled eight wings each, but they charged us $3.90 per basket. It’s still a decent price, but just note that they prepare it based on weight versus actual numbers.

Speaking of the wings, we sampled the Tandoori and Lemon Pepper flavours. The former were great, but much stickier on the hands as they were a little saucy. It also meant they didn’t have much crispness to them. The taste and texture was very similar to actual Tandoori chicken, so it’s a much cheaper alternative to getting the main dish. As for the latter dry rubbed wings, I loved them. These were battered and crisp on the outside with the perfect amount of citrus to balance out the spice.

Moscow Mule

To drink, I opted to grab a Moscow Mule (regularly $9, on special for $6). This was presented in an actual copper mug, which I appreciated. It kept my beverage chilled the entire time we were there. The ginger beer used had a strong ginger flavour to it, perfect since I enjoy the spiciness in this particular type of cocktail.

Crispy Cauliflower

Continuing with the food, we also opted to try their Crispy Cauliflower (usually $11.50, but $7 during Happy Hour). The portion size was much larger than I expected it would be. These were also quite saucy with the battered and fried florets doused in an ample amount of a sweet and sour plum-style glaze. For the most part, these were quite good. I just recommend that you eat the dish when freshly made as the outer shell becomes too soggy when it sits for long.

Next up was the Coconut Shrimp (normally $15, available for $10). These were a little reminiscent of the kind I could buy frozen in a box from the grocery store. Still, I’m not particularly picky and they were more than decent. The prawns had a tender consistency making for a delicate chew. I also thought that there was enough coconut to bring sweetness to each bite. At the lower price during Happy Hour, it seemed worth it.

Butter Chicken with Naan Bread

No doubt though, the best item we had was the Butter Chicken with Naan (listed as $23.50 normally and $16 on special). I don’t necessarily believe that it’s the most traditional butter chicken in town; it’s probably made to appeal more to the North American masses. However, I loved the super creamy and thick tomato-based sauce with it’s light heat. Some pieces of the chicken were a bit overcooked. Otherwise, the thigh meat was relatively tender and completely soaked in the flavours. The sauce was plentiful, too, making for the perfect pairing to the delectable slices of naan bread.

Another room to the side provides additional seating in a more South Asian styled space.

The ambiance in the restaurant was pleasant as it was quiet enough to allow for conversation. I just found the service to be alright though. Everyone was friendly enough, but it did take some waves and “excuse mes” to get the attention of the staff at times. When it came to the food, our eyes were definitely bigger than our stomachs during this meal. At least a third of the food was packed to go (Kirk was the happy beneficiary). It’s not to say that anything really missed the mark because it didn’t. We were pleased with the quality of what we ate and the price was right. I’ll definitely be back to Haweli Indian Kitchen & Bar in South Common as this location is a welcome change of pace from the typical chain options in the area.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Gregg Mediterranean (Sherwood Park)

Lebanese Coffee with Baklava

While working on my YEG Food Deals project, I’ve made a number of connections with Edmonton and area businesses. One in particular caught my eye when they tagged my @yegfooddeals Instagram page in a post about their $10 lunch deals.

The share came from Gregg Mediterranean located in Sherwood Park (25 Sioux Road). I decided to reach out to them to discuss a possible collaboration. They replied, but I didn’t hear much after our initial conversation.

A week or two passed and I received a new message from the business asking us to come in and try their menu. Kirk and I welcomed the invitation, heading out one Sunday evening during that run of bitter cold weather caused by the polar vortex.

When we arrived, it was quiet; only one other table was occupied. The owner, Tamara, greeted and seated us right away. She gave us a few minutes to look over the menu and then came back to ask if we had any questions. Of course, I wanted to know what the most popular items were to help with my decision. To that, she replied, “would you like us to select the dishes for you?” Both Kirk and I are always up for an adventure, so we gave her an enthusiastic thumbs up.

Pickled Veggies

The first thing we received was a plate of pickled vegetables. These were likely complimentary because I do not recall seeing them as an option on the menu. Kirk seemed to enjoy them as he ate the majority. I sampled what I think was a radish, which I didn’t mind. It was very acidic and had an interesting texture from soaking in the brine. Definitely not crispy. The carrot was harder and didn’t take in the brine as much, so it still held some of it’s density and tasted less pickled overall. I guess, for me, they were a little too wet. I like drier pickled veggies like the carrots, daikon and cucumber on a Vietnamese sub or the diced pickled turnips we found on other dishes here.

Blue Hawaiian Cocktail

As we snacked on the veggies, we also sipped on our drinks. Tamara had suggested a Lebanese beer called Almaza ($6 to $7) for Kirk. It’s a basic pilsner that is light, ever so slightly bitter at the end, but otherwise smooth and easy to drink. I chose the Blue Hawaiian cocktail ($9). Presented in a tall glass, this blue drink was deceivingly strong. Granted, I drank it pretty fast at first, but the pineapple juice masks a lot of the alcohol, so don’t go too crazy on these.

Shish Combo with Rice and Garlic Sauce

Not long after, we were given our first main plate. This was the Shish Combo ($24) — a skewer each of the chicken, beef, and kafta — served on a pita with a parsley tomato mix and a side of rice. It’s a sizable amount of food that’s perfect for sharing, especially when you want to try a few different meats. The beef skewer wasn’t the most tender; however, it was nicely seasoned. My favourites were the chicken (charred and juicy) and the kafta. I wasn’t sure what to expect of the kafta, but the seasoned, minced beef was incredibly flavourful on its own. I tossed some of the homemade garlic sauce into the rice and I was in heaven. Some garlic sauces I’ve had in the past have been potent. Gregg Mediterranean has found a good balance with theirs. It’s creamy and tasty without being overwhelming. As far as I know, my body didn’t smell like garlic the next day.

As we were working on the skewers, Tamara came back with a Half Mezza platter ($24) that included four appetizers of Sujuk over Hummus, Falafel, Grilled Halloume Cheese, and Chicken Wings. I’m not sure if Chicken Wings are a regular Mediterranean dish. Either way, these were delicious. The zesty glaze was slightly sticky, but not heavy. The sauce kept the meat succulent and, even though there was cilantro on it, I didn’t even notice that the herb was there. I’ve seen halloume cheese more and more, but I’ve never really eaten it. It reminded me of the texture of Indian paneer, just grilled. I should have eaten it when it was warm. Although it was still good cold, I think it lost any elasticity it may have had as it sat out. Regardless, I sandwiched the cheese in between pieces of pita and smeared some hummus on it. The satisfying hummus was super smooth and creamy with a hint of spice from the beef sausage tossed on top. Falafel was not exactly Kirk’s cup of tea, but I quite liked the balls of chickpeas, fava beans, parsley, cilantro, and onion. They remind me of fritters, perfect for dipping in more hummus or garlic sauce.

Fattoush Salad

To accompany everything else, we also received a bowl of their Fattoush Salad ($10). A combination of fresh lettuce, cucumber, tomato, peppers, parsley, onion, and red cabbage tossed in a vinaigrette dressing and topped with pita bread chips, this was simple yet tasty. In particular, I was a fan of the crunch from the salt and pepper seasoned chips as they added extra texture and flavour.

Our meal was completed with a Lebanese Coffee ($3) for Kirk and two styles of Baklava ($5) for us to split. I don’t drink coffee, so I can’t say much about it. It smelled concentrated and was served in a small cup like an espresso. Kirk found it quite strong and didn’t need much of it. The desserts came as Asabeh, a finger-like pastry, and a more traditional Baklawa that’s layered. In the latter, the sheets of filo were wonderfully flaky before hitting a base of chopped nuts soaked in sugar syrup or honey. I tend to find this particular kind of baklava to be too sweet. I loved the Asabeh though. Here, the filo is stuffed with the chopped nuts and a bit of the syrup or honey and then rolled into a tube. There’s a lot less liquid and more of the pastry, so it’s well-balanced and less saccharine.

When we finished eating, Tamara sat with us and we chatted. Gregg Mediterranean has been in business for over four years. Sunday nights are slower for them, but that’s supplemented by deliveries through SkipTheDishes. Additionally, on weekends, they do a lot of catering. The whole thing is family-run with Tamara handling the front of house and her husband, Rakan, taking care of everything in the kitchen (he’s keen to keep the family recipes to himself for now). Their young daughter spends her time in the restaurant, too, giggling and having fun behind the counter.

As more and more chains come into Sherwood Park, they’re noticing an effect on the smaller local eateries, which is unfortunate to hear. Kirk and I honestly cannot wait to go back to Gregg Mediterranean. The hospitality that Tamara and Rakan showed to us is rarely matched elsewhere. For the value and quality of the food, Gregg Mediterranean far surpasses anything you’ll find at a big box business. I count myself fortunate to have learned about this restaurant and I will recommend them to anyone.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: The Provincial Kitchen & Bar

The lounge area of The Provincial Kitchen & Bar.

After another recent successful escape room breakout (the streak lives on), Kirk and our friends wanted a bite to eat. We decided to reconvene at The Provincial Kitchen & Bar (4211 106 Street). New to the entire group, we walked in to find a very pub-like atmosphere.

To be fair, there is a very quiet, tiny, cozy looking dining area, complete with fireplace, to the right of the door. However, it was already full, so we headed over to the lounge area instead. The setup is interesting with a few larger raised booths towards the back. In the center of the space were two rows of tables lined up parallel with a giant projector screen on the opposite side of the room. We tucked ourselves into a corner next to the big screen. Thinking back, considering the loudspeakers blaring the sound from that weekend’s NFL game, it may not have been the ideal spot to sit. Otherwise, it was cozy enough.

Our server greeted us within a few minutes of settling in and she confirmed that, despite the hours listed on their website and even around the restaurant, their happy hour is available from open until 7:00 pm daily. The guys took advantage of the deals by ordering half-litre glasses of the Provincial Lager ($5 each) and I partook in six ounces of Riesling ($6). My girlfriend chose The Banger Cocktail, a vanilla citrus concoction, off of the regular menu ($10).

To eat, both men opted to try the Smoked Brisket on Cornbread ($17). I asked Kirk to sub out his house-cut fries for a bowl of the Roasted Cauliflower Soup ($2), so I could have it. Us ladies ordered our food exclusively from the happy hour menu, including her Tavi Supreme ($9) with added Taco Beef ($5) as well as split plates of the Pork Dry Ribs ($9) and 2 Donut Grilled Cheese ($9).

Pork Dry Ribs

The Pork Dry Ribs were standard pub fare. Nicely crisped seasoned pork loin rib ends. The problem is that they lacked a ton of meat on the bones. I don’t feel like I got much out of them, but they were definitely better with fresh squeezed lemon juice as it helped to cut through some of the grease and provided extra zest.

Tavi Supreme with Taco Beef

You may be wondering, what’s a Tavi Supreme? It’s essentially their take on nacho fries with house-cut potatoes, cheddar, pico de gallo, sour cream, salsa, green onions, and the taco beef. Quite tasty when everything was combined into a single bite. Nevertheless, it was nothing super special. Good for a hearty meal on a chilly day though.

Smoked Brisket on Cornbread

We were all impressed by the Smoked Brisket on Cornbread. If I’m being honest, the open-faced sandwich could have used a larger portion of shaved beef because more of that deliciousness should be shared. It was well-seasoned and incredibly flavourful. Not the most tender, yet thinly sliced, it was fine. The layer of melted Gruyère cheese and a healthy dose of caramelized onions added a slight salty-sweet balance offset by the rich Guinness BBQ sauce and earthy, bitter arugula. The cornbread was a great base, not too dense and moist enough to avoid crumbling.

Roasted Cauliflower Soup

I drank all of the Roasted Cauliflower Soup myself, and although it tasted okay, I wasn’t too keen on the texture. When the menu lists “cream” of cauliflower, I expect that it’s actually creamy. This was sort of watered down and still somewhat grainy from the pureed pieces of cauliflower florets. The bowl was topped off with fried potato strings (think Hickory Sticks), which, in concept, sounded good. Sadly, it didn’t really work here. Again, I think it came down to the consistency of the soup. Had it been thicker and creamier, the potato strings would have stayed crisp longer as opposed to the soggy mess that I found as soon as I dug into the bowl.

2 Donut Grilled Cheese

The final plate I sampled completely made up for the disappointing soup. Literally two halved donuts turned into grilled cheese sandwiches, these were the epitome of a simple comfort dish with a twist. The sugar from the honey glazed donuts married so well with the layers of savoury cheddar and bacon jam. If that wasn’t enough starch, it also came with a side of the house-cut fries. I didn’t need to eat them all, but the longer my plate sat in front of me, the more I snacked on them. They were blanched to a golden brown crisp on the outside while remaining light and fluffy on the inside.

Overall, The Provincial Kitchen & Bar surprised all four of us. While there were some minor misses, we didn’t necessarily expect the food to be as good as it was. Even though they’re probably terrible for my health, I’d revisit just for those grilled cheese donuts. I also have a feeling that their Connor McProv burger will be a star like the Oilers favourite himself. Time will only tell for me.