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: 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: The Local Omnivore

Sausage Party

Before the Christmas holiday, I was scrolling through Instagram when I came across a post from GetintheLoop. They were offering $100 in local gift certificates to those who could prove that they were following their page. I wasn’t sure if I was too late to benefit from this, but I took a chance and screenshot my information, so they could verify.

Shortly after I sent my direct message, I received a reply asking for my mailing address. Within a few days, an envelope showed up that included $50 to spend at The Local Omnivore (10933 120 Street). In my mind, it was perfect because I’d been wanting to try this deli for a while. Although owners Mark Bellows and Ryan Brodziak had run their food truck of the same name for about two years prior to launching their brick and mortar restaurant in 2015, I’d never even tried their offerings then. Therefore, this visit had been a long time coming.

We walked into the place to find a crowded entrance. Some of the patrons were clearly attempting to pay for their bill at the till. But, I couldn’t tell if another group was waiting for a table or an order to go. The painted wood pallet wall indicated that guests still waiting for companions in their party should hold back on grabbing a table. Otherwise, you should have been able to seat yourself. This being our first visit, I opted to double check before walking in. We were told to go ahead and select any of the empty chairs in the eccentric — walls marked up with graffiti, an exposed cement floor, table tops of linoleum tiles — diner space.

At first, we selected a table located at the far end of the bench that runs along the concrete wall. After a few minutes, one of the servers spotted us there and told us that, even though we were instructed to sit wherever we wanted, this was the only table we couldn’t actually have. It’s apparently the only spot that can comfortably sit a group of five, meaning it had to be left open for larger groups. Fine. That’s when I noticed an available table tucked into the corner over towards the entrance. It was cozy minus the slight breeze whenever someone opened the door. Thankfully, the cool air dissipated quickly in those cases.

While The Local Omnivore serves brunch daily until 3:00 pm, I wasn’t super keen on trying anything from that selection. Ultimately, I decided that Kirk and I would head over there on a Saturday afternoon for a late lunch/early supper to take advantage of their regular sandwich, burger, and shareable menu. The two of us ended up splitting the Roast Vegetables ($9.99), Total Recall Philly sandwich ($15.50) with a side of Pirate Poutine ($9.99), and Butcher’s Board Sausage Party ($21).

I do have to say that the service was not ideal here. After they asked us to switch tables, it took at least five minutes for one of the servers to bring us some menus. She did come back fairly quickly to take our order; however, I’d say about 15 minutes later, another server came over to ask if we had gotten any drinks and inquired as to whether or not our food was on the way yet. Because of her lack of confidence, we assumed that they’d forgotten to put our order through; I was especially worried when I noticed that a duo who came in much later received their items before us. All in, I’d say that we waited about 30 minutes until our dishes were finally brought over.

Everything looked great when presented though. As I snapped photos, the aromas made my mouth water even more. Kirk kept eyeing all of the plates, mostly upset about the melted slices of Swiss cheese sliding out of the sandwich.

Roast Vegetables

I’ll begin with the Roast Vegetables. This was a mix of carrots and Brussels sprouts topped with sweet cider beets and pickled daikon. They were lightly seasoned and still earthy in flavour. I would have preferred the carrots to be less crunchy and that the veggies be more charred. Honestly, the best part was having the preserved beets and daikon, adding both a natural sweetness and acidity that balanced well together. For the price, I’ll admit, there are many other places that do roasted vegetables better than this and in ways that are more unique.

Total Recall Philly

The Total Recall Philly is The Local Omnivore’s take on a classic Philly cheese steak sandwich. Theirs includes a foot long sesame bun filled with a zesty cheese sauce, green peppers, mushroom, onion, Swiss Cheese, and a generous amount of roast beef. I was able to discern the sauteed mushrooms along the bottom of the sandwich and I found one piece of green pepper, but I didn’t notice much in the way of onion. It could certainly have used more of the veggies to round it out better. Kirk didn’t like how soggy the bun got either. On the other hand, I enjoyed the fact that it was a straight up bun, no crazy toasting, as I hate bread that is too hard. The zesty cheese sauce, Swiss cheese, and roast beef are what makes this delicious. I found the shaved meat to be a good thickness, easy to bite apart, and quite succulent.

Pirate Poutine

When the Pirate Poutine was brought over, it came in a separate bowl rather than on the same plate as the sandwich. I thought they may have given us a full order, but upon paying, I confirmed that it was actually put through as a side. Considering that, I feel like the side portion is quite decently sized and great for sharing. The shoe string pirate fries (seasoned with a paprika based mix) were doused in vegetarian gravy, cheese curds, and green onion. Based on the description, the potato itself wasn’t as skinny cut as I expected. There was still a little width to each stick. Granted, the outside of the fries were not all that crisp, so they got soggy fairly quickly. We ate this fast though as it turned out to be one of our favourite things at the table. In fact, the gravy was so good that Kirk truly thought it was made using meat. He was surprised to learn of it’s veggie origins when I broke the news to him.

Sausage Party with Pirate Poutine

Under the Butcher’s Boards category is where you’ll find the Sausage Party platter. This includes three of The Local Omnivore’s smoked sausages: Garlic Uke, Hot Italian, and Yellow Curry. Pots of house-made preserves are served on the side. Two of them were repeats of what already came with the roasted veggies, so we had hefty portions of the pickled daikon and sweet cider beets. More traditional pickle slices came in another (Kirk said these were super garlicky). In the last was plenty of grainy honey mustard. Initially, I chose to taste test each of the sausage flavours by themselves. The meat was well-blended, allowing for an easy chew and didn’t taste too fatty. The Garlic Uke was somewhat standard in terms of flavour profile, but easily the most approachable and probably the best one to pair with the preserves. In the other cases, I didn’t believe that the preserves paired well with the sausage. I kept thinking that the honey mustard and the beets were just too sweet and the pickled daikon was too acidic to go with the Hot Italian and Yellow Curry options (both of those offered a noticeable amount of heat). In my opinion, the sausages were all best when appreciated on their own merits.

I’m a bit on the fence about The Local Omnivore. I felt like we were approached as a nuisance to the staff. They were never all that attentive or friendly to us from the second we walked in, and it was almost like they had a mentality that the service didn’t matter. That’s how it came across to me, anyway. Perhaps they were having an off day. That being said, there’s no doubt that they make some excellent smoked meats and poutine. Ultimately, if the hospitality doesn’t bring me back, the hints of greatness in the food might do the job.

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.

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.