Edmonton Restaurant Preview: Salz

One of the main dishes.

This past weekend, my boyfriend and I attended a Sunday pop-up dinner. In preparation for the anticipated fall opening, owner Nate Box decided to run an event to get Edmonton foodies excited about his latest business, Salz. It will be the youngest sibling to his current trio of eateries — Elm Cafe, District Cafe and Little Brick — and the focus will be on pickles, bratwursts and beer (or, as the logo says: Brine, Bier, Brats).

The meal was presented at District Cafe with chef Allan Suddaby at the helm. For about $20 per person, diners were treated to a starter of pretzels with honey mustard, a main dish of our choice of one sausage with house pickles and German salads, and a dessert of apple strudel. Extra sausage was just $4 for one or $7 for two. Drinks were also an additional charge.

To make the most of our night out, we opted to split all three sausage flavours (Classic, Käsekrainer and Spicy Hungarian) between us by tacking on a second bratwurst to one of our orders. My boyfriend also ordered a pint of the Blindman Saison to pair with his dinner. Box’s plan is to serve German/European-style beers made by local brewers.

While we waited for our entrees, we snacked on the pretzels. These were puffy, but also dense. They had been brushed with a bit of butter or oil on the top and were just a tad salted. The accompanying honey mustard was the perfect dip to go along with them. My only wish is that these had arrived at the table warm. Had they been fresh from the oven, it would have elevated them that much more.

My dinner and my dining companion.

Before we knew it, our sausages were placed in front of us. The plate itself consisted of my Käsekrainer, coleslaw, potato salad, tomatoes with pumpkin seeds, pickled beet and cucumber, macaroni and cheese, and a whole grain mustard. All of the salads were unique, yet each one complimented the others. The coleslaw was fresh, crunchy, and easily, the most subtle of the bunch. The potato salad had a light, creamy dressing and dill sprinkled throughout. My favourite was probably the baby tomatoes with the pumpkin seeds though. The seeds must have been roasted or toasted, giving a smokiness to the sweetly tart tomatoes. I also appreciated their version of mac and cheese. It could have been served hotter as I found that the sauce seemed to have curdled slightly at room temperature. Still, it was packed with cheese, and I couldn’t really complain. Compared to the creamy honey mustard we had with the pretzels, the whole grain mustard, with yellow, brown and black seeds intact, packed quite a punch with a lingering pepperiness. I loved it.

Sausages galore!

Granted, the sausages weren’t super strong in terms of taste, so I could make an argument that too much of the mustard would almost have masked the flavour of the bratwurst. The Käsekrainer was a pork sausage stuffed with Sylvan Star gouda. It fell in the middle in terms of juiciness. The cheese certainly helped it to retain some moisture. It reminded me of when I was younger and I got to eat Mitchell’s cheese smokies. The Spicy Hungarian was a mix of pork and beef, and it happened to be the smallest and driest of the bunch as it must have shrunk during the cooking process. Any expected heat, or hints of pine and citrus from the Szeged hot paprika spice and marjoram herb didn’t really come through. Hands down, the best of the trio was the Classic pork sausage. It was the perfect example of why one shouldn’t mess with a good thing. Succulent and plump, it was truly delicious.

The meal was completed with a dessert of apple strudel and fresh whipped cream. I have to say that I wasn’t all that impressed with it. Mainly, I was not a big fan of the layered filo pastry shell. In this instance, the sheets didn’t flake apart as I assumed it would, and the sugar on the top could have been caramelized more. The whipped cream was divine though.

For the most part, the two of us thoroughly enjoyed the Salz Pop-Up Dinner. I took my time savouring every single bite, and I’d do it all over again. The details of the actual restaurant — location, opening date, hours, menu, etc. — have not been released. I’m hoping all of that information will be presented sooner than later. When it does launch, I think they should stick with the beer hall pricing. They should even have a set menu available like the one we experienced this weekend. Not only was it affordable, but it also gave diners a chance to try a little of everything. I’m wishing Nate Box and his team the best of luck as they prepare for this new addition.

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Edmonton Restaurant Review: Grandin Fish ‘n’ Chips

The letter board menus on display at the entrance of the restaurant.

Grandin Fish ‘n’ Chips has been on my radar since they opened in early spring of this year. As the sister restaurant to The Common, located just next door, the concept couldn’t be more different from the older gastro-lounge in terms of style. Rather than elevated comfort food, the seafood laden sibling leans heavily on the idea of traditional London street fare served in a fast-casual setting.

When I went for dinner in mid-August, I noticed that the entrance of the shop places the customer right at the counter where the menu is laid out across three letter boards. My friend, who had been there before, thought we would have to order at the front. But, a sign indicated we could seat ourselves, and one of the servers came by with a couple of menus as soon as we had settled in at our table.

I quite like the space. The design incorporates an understated look with a lot of natural wood throughout, vintage lighting and nautical rope accents. Yet, the bold navy and white colour scheme does add some punch. I especially love the wallpaper, which was illustrated by local tattoo artist Heath Smith. His images really tie the ocean and prairie elements together in a unique and creative way (my personal favourites are: the half horse, half mermaid and the whale with the barn on its back).

Atmosphere aside, I have to say that narrowing down my choices on the menu was a difficult task. I really wanted to try as much as possible. While I did get to sample my dining companion’s Haddock & Chips ($14), I wasn’t able to split much more with her. Because of her shellfish allergies, the only thing I could share was my bowl of Fried Brussel Sprout Bubble & Squeak ($5). We didn’t want to chance her having a reaction to anything else. Therefore, when it came to eating my half order of the Seafood Chowder & Cheddar Biscuit ($8) and the Fried Escargots & Tartar Sauce ($9), I was on my own.

After we ordered our dishes, they arrived pretty quickly. I suppose there isn’t a whole lot of prep time required when the majority of the food served is fried in some form or another. However, I would like to note that there are three ways to enjoy the fish: classic, gluten free (still breaded), or pan-fried (the lighter of the trio).

The Haddock was cooked with a classic crisp batter. The filet itself was quite large, spanning the entirety of the plate it came on. It seems like Grandin Fish ‘n’ Chips doesn’t really offer the option to add extra pieces of fish, and I could see why. It isn’t necessary when the first portion is already so large. Accompanying the haddock was a bed of Kennebec chips, coleslaw, a small cup of tartar sauce and a lemon wedge. The meat refrained from being greasy; it was succulent, flaky and pulled apart easily with a fork. I always like the zest of citrus juice cutting through the fish, and the tartar sauce they provided gave it some savouriness. The chips (fresh cut fries) consisted of large, evenly cut strips of potato with a crunchy exterior and fluffy center. Even without any dip or seasoning applied, they were delicious. I found the coleslaw to be pretty good as well. The cabbage and carrots were lightly dressed, so the texture of the veggies weren’t hindered at all.

Half order of the Seafood Chowder & Cheddar Biscuit

With my trio of plates delivered at the same time, I had to assess what would be best to eat first. The obvious choice was the small bowl of Seafood Chowder as I didn’t want that to get too cold. A half size Cheddar Biscuit with a generous helping of butter was served on the side. The cheddar biscuit lost its warmth quickly and came across as a tad dry and salty. Because of the latter characteristic, I probably should have avoided dipping pieces in the soup and applying the butter, but both of those, at the very least, helped to moisten the baked good a bit. The chowder seemed to congeal rather quickly as well. Although, once I stirred it up, the subtle soup became thick and creamy. Also, for the size of the cup, there was a lot more seafood than I expected; about three or four mussels along with cuts of fish filled the bowl. They paired so well with the soup base.

I alternated between the rest of my food, taking an escargot here and a sprout there. The escargot was pretty lightly battered in tempura and, again, didn’t seem greasy despite being fried. They were tossed over the same tartar sauce as the fish & chips, giving my taste buds a kick. My one dislike when it comes to eating snails is that sometimes they can have a gritty, sandy texture. Out of the whole batch in this dish, there was only one that ended up falling into that category. The remaining dozen or so were ever so slightly chewy (as they are), but still tender. Mostly, I think the price is more than reasonable for the quantity. Additionally, they did not get at all soggy as they sat there throughout the meal. The Fried Brussel Sprout Bubble & Squeak is actually a combination of deep fried Brussels sprouts, potatoes, turnips and onions. They’re heavily flavoured and have a little crispness. Wonderfully tasty during the initial mouthfuls, both dishes resulted in salt overload by the time I was finished.

Walterdale Pudding

That feeling was the perfect excuse to cleanse my palate with a dessert. I opted for the Walterdale pudding ($7), the latest offering on the menu. Served in a stemless wine glass, it’s supposed to be comprised of grapefruit, pistachio, marshmallow, and coconut ice cream. On this occasion, it was modified to include both orange and grapefruit slices. The two together helped to offset any potential bitterness from the latter. The rest of the ingredients were layered throughout. I’d note, too, contrary to how the ingredients may be read, the ice cream is not a combination of marshmallow and coconut flavouring. It is, in fact, fresh marshmallow pieces with dollops of coconut ice cream (an example of the importance of the oxford comma). I could have done with a few less marshmallows as they were quite sugary, and I would have preferred more ice cream instead. Regardless, each spoonful was different, and overall, it was a refreshing way to finish off a summer dinner.

Before we left, the server who put our payments through asked me about the photos I was taking. I was honest about being a blogger and planning to review the restaurant. She was very sweet and started talking about following more of the local writers on social media, and she wished us a good evening as we departed. I do believe that Grandin Fish ‘n’ Chips is filling a niche market in the city. Other than some eateries and Irish pubs that happen to serve fish & chips, there aren’t a whole lot of alternatives when it comes to seafood done casually. Admittedly, I wasn’t all that enthralled with my choices after realizing just how much of each dish I was working through. Over the duration of the meal, the flavours melded and turned one note. On the other hand, I do think that this is truly a place where sharing multiple plates with several people is the way to go. With a large variety and less of each item, every bite will pop that much more.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Soda Jerks

The entrance to the West Granville Soda Jerks.

I remember when Soda Jerks opened their first location at West Point Centre in 2011. The concept of building your own burger from top to bottom at a restaurant was pretty foreign. As such, going there became somewhat of a treat.

Eventually, that first shop closed, and I didn’t give Soda Jerks much thought afterwards. Not until this year, anyway.

A few months ago, I launched YEG Food Deals on Facebook to share my knowledge of restaurant happy hour and daily specials on another platform. It’s the sister site to the pages already found on this blog. In keeping those resources up-to-date, I’m constantly researching and I happened to see that Soda Jerks still existed, just in different areas of the city.

With my information provided to them, I started receiving their newsletters in addition to getting a promotion in the mail. Summertime yielded a feature menu and a BOGO burger offer that was to expire over the September long weekend.

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I’m not one to pass up a deal, so I was inclined to give Soda Jerks a try once more. We ended up at the West Granville location on Winterburn Road (near the River Cree Resort & Casino). It was lunch hour on a Sunday and about a third of the space was occupied by customers.

One of the servers greeted and seated us promptly before giving us several minutes to review the selection. We waffled for a while, but my mind was pretty much set on the Electric Pulled Pork sandwich ($13.50) from their seasonal “Pitch A Tent” options. I thought my boyfriend had made a solid decision. However, upon placing his order, he surprised me by going for the Bacon Jerk Jr. ($17+).

Bacon Jerk Jr. Burger

The latter was a double patty burger with bacon and an extra layer of bun in between. Processed cheese, lettuce, red onion, pickles and thousand island dressing garnished and flavoured the meal. I had a couple of bites and we both agreed that something was missing. I think it may have come down to charring of the meat and toasting of the bun. It didn’t have that grilled or buttery taste that’s so necessary. I also don’t understand why they bother to use processed (American) cheese slices. They still looked like plastic sheets when the burger was delivered from the kitchen.

Electric Pulled Pork Sandwich

As for my sandwich, I felt that it fared much better overall. It was a lot smaller, so I suppose it made for a lighter meal, too. The pulled pork was cooked with a root beer BBQ sauce that had a slight spiciness and sweetness to it. I do believe that they could have left the potato chips out of the sandwich. I get that the chips were included to diversify the textures. Yet, it failed because the sauce made them so soggy that I almost couldn’t tell they were even there. Just the beer bun with grains would have sufficed as the sole starch. On the other hand, I enjoyed the electric kale slaw. I’m quite certain that the base of the slaw used came from those Eat Smart Sweet Kale Vegetable Salad kits found in most grocery stores. But, that’s okay. The slaw was deliciously prepared; I think it was sautéed, so it was warm, and the slightly tangy dressing partnered well with the meat. A slice of melted havarti added a luxurious creaminess to the handheld lunch.

Both of us kept our side simple: Soda Jerks hand cut fries. These were decent. Cut to the same dimensions for even cooking, they were crisp on the outside and soft on the inside. I did find them to be a bit bland though. I definitely needed the ketchup. I also tried to sprinkle some of their signature seasoning on a portion of the fries. It helped somewhat, but to really add enough flavour, I would have had to douse a lot more on and I didn’t want to do that either.

I do plan to go back to Soda Jerks to eat one of their donut burgers because I’m still trying to find something similar to what I sampled in Chicago last year. Although, once that happens, I’m not certain I’d go out of my way to revisit again. Yes, the service was good when we went on this occasion, and the prices are reasonable (especially on Wednesdays for 25 percent off burgers). But, the food was truly just alright. For the money and the calories, I know that better exists.

Edmonton Things to Do: Clay & Cupcakes

One wall of available ceramics at Clay & Cupcakes.

For the past few years, my obsession became Paint Nite events. I went on numerous outings with friends and I amassed more pieces of art than I know what to do with. I also outfitted myself with canvases, paint, brushes and easels for creative nights at home.

While I still love to do a quick session here and there (it’s such a relaxing activity), the eagerness to go every few weeks has abated. Tucked away between those times have been various other outings: dinners, festivals, escape games and pottery painting.

My finished ramen bowl, which was painted at Crankpots.

I don’t do the latter often. In fact, prior to a February evening at Crankpots Ceramic Studio on Whyte Avenue, I hadn’t been since I was a child. The hours we spent painting our ceramics was a lot of fun. Yet, the experience at that venue wasn’t the best. The space was overcrowded, customers hoarded paint colours, instructions from staff were poor, and we were almost charged twice for our items. Despite my ramen bowl looking gorgeous, I do think that the glazing was subpar because it chipped off (even though my boyfriend and I had been careful to hand wash everything) in a few spots after only several uses. Plus, Crankpots doesn’t phone or email to let patrons know if their pieces are ready to be picked up. I guessed and showed up the following weekend with fingers crossed that our stuff would be available.

Therefore, when my friend suggested we check out BYOB Ladies Night Out (held every Thursday night; a waiver must be signed if consuming alcohol on the premises) at Clay & Cupcakes, I was slightly apprehensive. However, I figured that there was no harm in checking out a new place. It couldn’t be worse than Crankpots. I was right.

The night we decided to go, the two of us rode the LRT and bus from downtown to the Summerside location on Parsons Road. It was easily accessible by transit.

The door prizes for BYOB Ladies Night Out.

We had booked spots in advance through their website. Therefore, when we walked in, tables had already been reserved with each of our names. The $10 payment for the event included a free cupcake ($3.75 otherwise) as well as the chance to win some door prizes. Unlike Crankpots, they do not charge paint, studio or firing fees. The use of all supplies and the space, as well as glazing, is built into the price of the ceramic piece(s) chosen, which means dropping in on any other night shouldn’t even require an additional reservation cost like it does for Ladies Night.

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Should one visit Clay & Cupcakes, I’d suggest sitting to the left side of the door when walking in and closer to the windows for the best lighting. Once we’d settled our stuff down at our table (no cocktails or beer, just bubble teas), we got up to peruse the selection of pieces on the shelves. I noticed that many of them were repeats as I looked around, but several caught my eye. It’s certainly wasn’t difficult to find something to decorate. The only thing one might be weary of is the dollar amount. I’ve learned that these ceramics tend to be a bit expensive. I lucked out on this occasion as I had an ADmazing Savings coupon for 15 percent off. With the discount, I ended up selecting a doughnut jewelry box for under $30, which quite honestly was perfect for me in terms of price and style. The staff member who was working that shift rinsed my ceramic in water to get me started.

All prepped with paint and brushes!

I then went about deciding on paints, which were all laid out by hue on a shelf, essentially in rainbow order. Palettes were stacked beneath them. I grabbed a couple trays and started to fill them with the colours I planned to use. The bottles of paint are to be placed back onto the shelf for others to refill as needed. Brushes — they could use more with finer tips for detailing — and sponges were also available from that area as well. Bowls of water for rinsing brushes had already been set out for each group. Overall, it was a very organized setup and there was actually ample room for guests to work since tables are comfortably set for four people each.

Painting completed! The slip on the right is to be filled out, so they can keep track of your piece.

As is typically the case, it’s recommended to layer the paints two to three times to get an even coat. My friend and I sat there for about two and a half hours making sure we did just that on both of our ceramics. Clay & Cupcakes has a good variety of paint colours, including ones that are speckled. Just check with the staff to make sure that there’s enough in stock to cover everything you plan to do with your piece; we were warned in advance of one or two bottles nearing empty, which they did not have replacements for.

My raspberry chocolate cupcake.

When all was said and done, we filled out a small slip of paper with our email address, phone number and the description of what we had made. We brought that up to the counter with our painted ceramic, and the employee rang our bills through. After I wiped up my hands, I finally ate my raspberry chocolate cupcake. I’m not sure where they get them from, but mine was delicious. While the raspberry icing was sweet, it wasn’t overly sugary, and the cake itself was dense, moist and tasted of dark chocolate, so there was a great balance.

About six days later (shorter than the 7 to 14 days mentioned on their website), I received a phone call to let me know that my box was ready. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to make it until the weekend, and I should note here that Clay & Cupcakes is surprisingly closed on Saturdays.

My fired and glazed doughnut jewelry box.

I eventually made it there on my Monday off of work. When I showed up, all I had to do was give them my name. The staff member went to the back and I watched as she looked through the shelves at rows of paper bags. It seems that they have all of the fired pieces wrapped up and sorted in alphabetical order by moniker to keep them organized and make them easier to find.

After a few minutes, she brought a package over to me and unraveled the tissue paper to show me the contents. It was my doughnut box and it turned out beautifully! The glazing was applied evenly and thickly, so I’m expecting it to hold up well. I could not be happier with it.

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Before I left the shop, I had to take another peek around. They really weren’t kidding when they told us that new stock arrives regularly. Dozens of new ceramic designs lined the shelves on both sides of the store, and I wanted to buy half of them. I even saw on their social media pages and their website that they sometimes offer glass fusion and silk screening workshops. Both would be extra reasons for me to revisit. Not only does my boyfriend want to go back with me, but my co-workers even thought it’d be a wonderful idea for a future night out, so I suppose Clay & Cupcakes is now my new thing. Crafters and artists, make it yours, too.

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Edmonton Restaurant Review: Urbano Pizza Co.

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!