Edmonton Restaurant Review: Situation Brewing

The interior of Situation Brewing.

Often times, when we’re driving by Whyte Avenue, we pass Situation Brewing along Gateway Boulevard and see patrons enjoying drinks and food behind their big glass windows or on their sidewalk patio. I’d only been once before, but it was at least a couple of years ago, so it’s been on my list to revisit for a while.

 

On the weekend, Kirk and I decided to make it our stop for date night. We arrived at around 6:30pm on the Saturday and found it to be surprisingly empty. There were other customers, yet it was by no means full, although it did get busier later into the evening. Still, with the few groups near us, it was noisy. The surrounding glass, flat walls, and open ceiling created a lot of echo. If you’re loud or with people who can project their voices, it’s fine; however, for anyone else who might be hard of hearing or who prefers not to have to yell across the table, you may want to seek out an alternative.

It took a few minutes for our server to greet us, but once he did, he was quite attentive, checking on us regularly without being intrusive. Kirk was trying to be good before the wedding, so he skipped on the beer, but I ordered a pint of the Salty Señorita Kettle Sour ($9). I always find that Situation Brewing does sours really well. There is the tartness that hits the tongue, but it doesn’t linger. It subsides fairly fast to reveal the other flavours in the beer at the back of the throat. This one was no different.

For our food, we shared an order of the Brussels Sprouts & Cauliflower ($15). A mix of the veggies were sauteed in garlic butter and topped with shaved Parmesan. Personally, I thought that the level of garlic was perfect as it added the right amount of spice. The cheese brought in some extra salt and nuttiness. We would have liked for the sprouts and florets to have more char though; they weren’t exactly crispy enough, otherwise. I also found that the price was rather high considering the size of the dish. With only about five pieces of cauliflower and four whole sprouts, it didn’t feel worth the cost.

Our handheld entrees fared better with both Kirk’s The Big Stitch ($18) and my Lamb Burger ($17) satisfying our appetites. Both of us opted to stick with the house-cut fries as our accompanying side. Those were prepared to a beautiful golden yellow colour with a nice crunchy exterior giving way to a soft center. They were also lightly seasoned with spice that provided a hint of heat on the palate.

The Big Stitch is a burger that consists of a seven ounce patty of beef and boar topped with thick cut bacon, grainy dijon mustard, fig ketchup, lettuce, tomato, and cheddar between a brioche bun. The bun held together well until the last bite (it’s the worst when your bun falls apart). I had a couple mouthfuls of Kirk’s meal and it was tasty even though the patty was drier than both of us would have liked. Cooked until well done, the meat was more of a brown-grey than reddish brown in colour. The flavour from the char was good though and the fixings were appropriate. It’s also a hefty burger that fills you up.

I thought that my six ounce Lamb Burger could have used some extra feta cheese and the cucumber, mint, and pickled onion relish, but I really enjoyed the taste. It was refreshing and light, which is perfect for a summer meal. The bursts of juice from the cucumber gave the meat some succulence. The patty was also charred well and the combination of lamb and boar provided a decent ratio of lean to fat while also cutting the gaminess of the lamb that some people (excluding me) don’t like.

We were too full to grab dessert on this occasion, but we’ll certainly be back to try more at Situation Brewing, including happy hour. Next time, we’ll probably attempt to visit at a quieter time of day and also ask to be seated away from the larger tables, so it won’t be as noisy and we can converse more easily. Otherwise, Situation is an awesome pub with a satisfactory menu and a great selection of their own house brews.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Two Sergeants Brewing (Updated)

The entrance to the dining space of Two Sergeants Brewing.

Two Sergeants Brewing (11817 105 Avenue), situated behind the Brewery District, had been on my radar for a little while. But, it wasn’t until Yelp’s “Pursuit of Hoppiness” event, right at the end of April, that I finally visited. Kirk and I decided to attend this gathering as a push to get out to this venue (as well as out of the house), and it ended up being a lot of fun.

At Yelp’s “Pursuit of Hoppiness” event they had pinatas in the dining room.

You won’t find them smashing pinatas on the regular here, but you will find a very open space with large communal tables, and plenty of colourfully painted chairs. It’s perfect for large groups to hang out over more than decent pub-style grub and a beer or two.

Daily Specials including $5 flights on Thursdays.

A flight of four quarter pints of any of Two Sergeants Brewing beers is just $8 regularly, and, if you head over there on a Thursday, you’ll get the same for just $5. The four glasses are presented in an adorable miniature picnic table server. Personally, I didn’t mind their Chinook Oatmeal Stout; however, my fave from the sampling we received was the Passion d’Ale Belgian Wit for it’s crisp, clean, smooth drinking citrus flavour without the lingering bitterness. Kirk preferred the 17 Pounder IPA, ordering a full pint to go with dinner. It has a lower IBU, but it was still too strong of a finish for my liking.

To eat, we both opted to try their Homestyle Chicken Sandwich — recently increased to $14 — with hand cut fries (or house salad). The locally sourced chicken is soaked in buttermilk and fried to order, so it comes out fresh and crispy. Either available as classic or spicy, it’s then stacked with double smoked cheddar, coleslaw, and house made pickles on a sourdough bun. Both of us chose the spicy version, enjoying the mild heat from the chicken.

Homestyle Chicken Sandwich with Hand Cut Fries

What took the sandwich over the top was the house made pickles. Now, I asked for mine to be made without them because I’m not a fan of standard pickles. Yet, they still gave them to me, just laid on the side of my plate. The server explained that they were pickled jalapenos, so they thought I might still want to try them. Honestly, I did. I love jalapeno peppers, so I went to town putting those back into my sandwich. For the most part, all was well. I handled the spice from the chicken and the peppers like a champ…at least until I found a slice of jalapeno that still held more of the pith and rib of the pepper. My face lit up like a beet, probably, and I needed a few sips of Kirk’s beer to tone it down. Let’s just say that I wouldn’t get too far on Hot Ones.

The fries were quite good. Appearing in a small frying basket, the portion size was okay. They seemed to have been blanched to get that perfectly cooked center and that crisp golden brown exterior. Overall, they were a nice finish to the meal.

Art inside their venue is perfect for photo ops.

The owners of Two Sergeants Brewing have definitely put a lot of love into this place. The thought and detail that went into this location when they decided to move from Fort Saskatchewan to Edmonton is apparent. Hopefully, it’s the right thing for them in the long run. I know that it’s a great addition to the Westmount, Oliver and Queen Mary Park areas. More and more businesses are choosing to be present there and it’s community like that that is so important in this city. We’re definitely looking forward to returning this summer for good brews and food.

 

UPDATE August 3, 2019:

Last weekend, Kirk and I met with friends at Two Sergeants Brewing for a proper dinner. Since our dining companions were able to find a babysitter for earlier in the evening, we met at around 5:30pm to catch up. I did make a reservation ahead of time using the OpenTable app, but there were still a number of spots available, giving us plenty of choices on where to sit. We snagged seats towards the far side of the restaurant next to the cordoned off private room.

The server came over with some food menus and pointed out that the beer selection was listed on the screen. It seemed like they had less of their own brews on tap than previously, but they had a handful of others from different local breweries, too. There was a good mix to appease any preferences. I was able to find a sour from Blindman, while everyone else stuck to the hoppier beers created by Two Sergeants ($8 to $9 per pint).

This time, we had the full menu at our disposal (previously, we were there for a special event and the options were limited). Kirk and I shared the Fries and Gravy ($7), Bison Carpaccio ($13), and Corn Fritters ($8). Our friends ordered the Wings ($12) with their choice of Beer BBQ Sauce.

Fries and Gravy

I was really surprised at how good the Fries and Gravy were. We’re pretty sure their house cut fries are blanched and then fried to give the potato fingers a nicely cooked middle and crunchy exterior. They were then doused in a beef and mushroom gravy and sprinkled with green onions. Where it excelled and set itself apart from anything like it was the gravy. I’ve never had something like that on fries before, and it was so delicious. It reminded me of a rich mushroom soup and it totally worked. Even with the soggier potatoes at the bottom of the basket and no utensils, I made sure not to leave a fry behind.

Bison Carpaccio

 

The Bison Carpaccio was described on the menu as seared with fennel, garnished with house pickled red onion, mushrooms, double smoked cheddar, malted barley, and arugula, and then dressed with strawberry white balsamic vinaigrette. Admittedly, I didn’t find that the smokiness came through with the grated cheese, and I couldn’t really taste the vinaigrette as noted. But, the arugula is always a good balance of bitter against the acidity from the pickled red onions and the earthy mushrooms. The malted barley provided added texture to the dish, while the black licorice flavour from the fennel crust was the first to hit the tongue. The thinly sliced bison was beautifully red and so tender, too. Usually, I do place the carpaccio onto the supplied pieces of crostini; however, although toasted, the bread that came with the meat was really thick, and honestly, the carpaccio stood on its own.

Corn Fritters

Having recently been somewhat disappointed by a corn fritter I had elsewhere, I took a chance on them at Two Sergeants. I think there were four or five in the basket and they were hefty in size. It would have been great if they had been slightly more moist, but at least they weren’t doughy on the inside. They definitely had the corn bread texture that I expected and there were full corn kernels to be found when pulled apart. With super crispy outer shells and two delicious dips (I asked for both) — a beer berry coulis and savoury cheese sauce — that were good separately or paired together, these were a real treat.

Wings with Beer BBQ Sauce

I didn’t personally try the wings, but they looked fantastic. Truly full wings (with the drumette and flat still attached), they looked to be perfectly fried. They had three choices for dips with theirs being the Beer BBQ Sauce. Yet, Frank’s Red Hot or a dill buttermilk ranch were available as well.

Homestyle Chicken Sandwich with Fries

Because Kirk is a creature of habit, he stuck to the same thing as our first visit, going with the Homestyle Chicken Sandwich ($15). In fact, our two friends followed suit. Everyone enjoyed their meals, although Kirk told me later that he thought it wasn’t as good as before. He found his chicken to be a little too dry, which could have just been the particular cut of meat he got. If it was thinner than in the other sandwiches, it would be easy to overcook it. The sandwiches that our friends got looked as though they had pretty thick pieces of breaded and fried chicken in them.

Pulled Pork Pappardelle

I really wanted to try something new on this occasion, so I went for the Pulled Pork Pappardelle ($18). You could tell that the house made pasta was fresh. It did sort of clump together a bit and I had some trouble pulling it apart without breaking the strands, but I liked the al dente texture, which was soft with a little bite to it. It was hearty in flavour while still sort of light as a dish. The slow roasted pork shoulder was succulent and, at times, crisp where it had charred. The sweet tangy BBQ sauce was certainly a change when it came to pasta sauce. Married with tomatoes, roasted garlic, caramelized onions, mushrooms, and baby spinach, I was a happy camper both that night and when I finished my leftovers the next day.

Overall, I’m quite impressed with the Two Sergeants kitchen. They’re making somewhat standard pub fare, but with more adventurous flavours, tweaks, and twists. If they keep it up, I know that this is going to be a favourite for a long time.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Tokiwa Ramen

Goma Goma with Kaedama

I’ve been on a bit of a ramen kick lately. I’ve always enjoyed ramen, but it’s not something I regularly order at restaurants. Still, after a couple of visits to the newly opened Menjiro Ramen, I decided that I finally needed to try Tokiwa Ramen.

Well aware of the existence of Tokiwa Ramen since they were introduced to Edmonton, surprisingly, I’d never managed to eat there. The owners run the shop daily; however, they’re only open until the prepared broths are sold out. As such, any time I’ve been nearby the location situated in the Brewery District, I’ve been welcomed by a “No Soup” sign.

Determined, I told Kirk we’d be making the trek from South Terwillegar to Oliver early on a Sunday morning. Many people on social media had suggested arriving before the doors are unlocked at 11:00 am. Therefore, we showed up fifteen minutes ahead. We got a parking spot right in front of the restaurant, so we decided to stay in the car until a few other patrons started lining up.

Tokiwa Ramen seats about 30 people at a time.

About seventh and eighth in the queue, we were easily within the first round of customers to be served of a long line that went eastward down the length of the strip mall. The minimalist space seats approximately 30 to 35 people. By our calculations, with most guests staying for an hour or so, and Tokiwa Ramen typically closing before dinner, we estimate that they sell up to 150 to 200 bowls a day (we are guessing though).

That number of bowls is no small feat when you account for just how big the portions are. Kirk and I ordered our food, and, as we waited, we watched other people’s orders coming from the kitchen. Our jaws dropped at the sheer size of each dish. They were at least a third larger, if not more, than what we had been served at Menjiro. Considering that the prices are the same, the value at Tokiwa is definitely a huge plus.

Kirk selected the Spicy Miso broth ($14.50) for his brunch ramen. This consists of a six hour chicken soup served with pork charshu (braised pork), noodles, half of a boiled egg, wood ear mushrooms, micro greens, bean sprouts, Shanghai bok choi, and a lotus root chip. The menu is explicit about the spice being moderate, and it’s true. I finished off Kirk’s soup, and I can attest to the fact that it’s not going to burn off your taste buds. The heat is very pleasant and manageable on the palate.

Initially, I was tempted by the curry ramen listed on their features board. Ultimately, I thought it’d be best to stick with their standards on my first visit. I opted to go with the Goma Goma ($14) found on their regular menu. While it comes with pretty much the same ingredients as the Spicy Miso, the differences are in the soup and the meat. Unlike the other, the base is a ten hour creamy sesame pork broth and the pork meat is chopped rather than braised and sliced. The soup was incredibly savoury (more so than the chicken broth) without being overly salty. I loved the variety of textures throughout the bowl, including the bite of the thick noodles, which held up well while soaking in the broth as I slowly ate. My only complaint, and it’s a minor one, is that the ground pork is harder to devour. The bits of meat fell to the bottom of the bowl and the style of spoon provided doesn’t make for easy scooping. Otherwise, this was fantastic.

Goma Goma with extra noodles!

Between the two of us, we also shared a side of Kaedama ($3.50), a noodle refill, thinking that we would require extra. In the end, we polished the bowl off, but, honestly, it probably wasn’t necessary. The regular bowls of ramen already provide plenty of food. Therefore, I recommend waiting to see if the regular portions will be enough for you before deciding to add noodles.

Those people outside waited in line for an hour.

Tokiwa Ramen is the real deal. I now completely understand why people are willing to line up for an hour to get a bowl of their soup. They don’t half ass anything. Instead, they have chosen to hone their skills on doing a few things amazingly well. The owners have stuck to their guns by refusing to compromise on the quality. Their passion for their product definitely shows. Once you try it, I guarantee that you’ll be hooked. If you could read my mind, you would find out that half of the time I’m literally thinking of when I might get my next bowl of Tokiwa Ramen.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Wilfred’s

Check-in to Wilfred’s upon arrival.

Wilfred’s is one of the newest restaurants to dot the Edmonton landscape. It’s situated within the popular Brewery District inside a fairly nondescript 100-year-old vintage brick building that used to belong to the old Molson Brewery. Completely refurbished, the heritage space is now unrecognizable. The interior is a wash of light woods, a mix of pink and white accents, dark metals, and whimsical art from Vanguard Works.

The Pink Blazer was the weekly Pink Drink sometime in October.

Even though Wilfred’s, a contemporary diner, had opened by the official start of summer 2018, Kirk and I held off on our visit. It wasn’t until a couple of weeks ago when we decided it was time to check it out. I’m not going to lie, it was their latest weekly featured Pink Drink ($13), The Pastel Blazer, that got me in the door. It was actually more bitter than I expected it to be, and the ingredients — vodka, Aperol, unsweetened coconut milk, lime juice, and egg white — had to be stirred regularly to avoid separation, but it was, overall, a smooth and refreshing beverage that lasted me through our dinner.

Everything about Wilfred’s is curated from the wallpaper to the menu.

To eat, the two of us split a couple of plates: Wilfred’s Burger ($18) with added white cheddar ($2) and soup ($3) subbed in for the usual fries, as well as the Fried Chicken & Prosciutto Cutlet ($25). Arguably the best thing about both dishes was the size as they were generously portioned. For the price, I’m glad to see that they didn’t skimp. However, I do feel that each one could use some improvement.

Beginning with the burger, this consisted of a hefty nine ounce patty of beef topped with bacon, lettuce, tomato and onion. It’s so thick that I found it rather difficult to unhinge my jaw to take a real bite out of the burger. The bun also didn’t fare too well as it slid around and fell apart as I ate. The meat itself was cooked to about a medium well, so it wasn’t completely colourless, but it also wasn’t as juicy as I hoped it would be. Thankfully, it was fresh though. It certainly didn’t seem to be a prefab patty, and, that, I’ll commend Wilfred’s for. Had it not been for the added cheese and the crispy bacon, the burger would have had relatively no flavour. I highly recommend that the restaurant creates a signature sauce to go with this menu item.

Cauliflower & Potato Soup with bacon and chives

The upgrade to their Cauliflower & Potato Soup was the saving grace to this dish. It was thick, creamy and smooth. When served hot, it makes for the perfect hearty soup to have during the onset of winter. The tiny bits of bacon and chives added a little fattiness and herbaceousness.

Fried Chicken & Prosciutto Cutlet

Our second plate of Fried Chicken & Prosciutto Cutlets was enormous. The two breasts or legs of meat had been pounded until evenly thin throughout. Layered with prosciutto and then breaded and fried, they were super crispy without tasting or feeling greasy. I could have used some more prosciutto as it was hard to discern its presence. Yet, upon careful inspection, I did see it there. If you try this, definitely squeeze some fresh lemon juice onto the chicken. The zest kicks the dish up a notch, and the acidity breaks down some of the salt. On the side was an arugula salad with tomatoes and Parmesan. This was a great accompaniment to the chicken. The sharp taste of the greens, the tartness of the tomatoes, and the pungency of the cheese paired very well with the meat.

Postcards designed by Vanguard Works are provided with the bill.

When all was said and done, our meal at Wilfred’s was a bit of a miss. Sure, the service was quite good, the atmosphere was pleasant (admittedly a tad cramped though), and they have an excellent bar program. Nevertheless, the food isn’t meeting it’s full potential. I understand that simplicity is key at times, but, in the case of Wilfred’s, the kitchen needs to do something to set themselves apart from the rest. Right now, they’re not. They should take a chance and be as playful with the menu as they are with the decor.

The interior of Wilfred’s is light and whimsical.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Nando’s (Brewery District)

The plate I put together for myself from everything we ordered with our Variety Platter.

Never one to pass up a good deal, I found it imperative to use a direct marketing coupon received for the new Nando’s location at the Brewery District. After all, thirty percent off of a meal doesn’t come up too often.

My boyfriend and I made our way to central Edmonton for dinner on a Saturday at around five o’clock. When we arrived, there were tables occupied; however, much of the eatery remained open for walk-in guests. I overheard one of the servers say to another set of diners that their busiest time usually occurs a couple of hours later in the evening at around 7:00pm.

The interior of the Nando’s Brewery District location.

We were seated at the far end of the restaurant, providing me with a full view of the interior, which was well-designed, modern, spacious, comfortable, clean, and efficiently organized. As we settled in, the staff member quickly gave us the rundown of how it worked at Nando’s. Ultimately, it’s similar to a number of fast-casual establishments that restaurant-goers are likely familiar with (i.e. Famoso or Via Cibo). First, spend a bit of time leisurely perusing the menu at the table. When ready, get up and head over to the till where someone will take the order and process payment. Before sitting back down, grab water, napkins, utensils, and extra sauces or dressings from the center station. Then, build up an appetite while waiting for a server to bring the dishes over.

I have to say that, prior to visiting, I had no clue what exactly PERi-PERi was. As it turns out, it’s a specific Portuguese marinade, baste, or sauce with origins that come out of Africa, specifically Mozambique. The base is the hot African Bird’s Eye Chilli (a.k.a. piri-piri). Mixed with lemon, garlic and salt, it becomes PERi-PERi. Nando’s has stuck by the belief that simple is best, keeping artificial colours or flavours and any preservatives out of their recipes. The company has also refused to outsource their supply of chillies, and instead, they work with small-scale farmers in Southern Africa to grow them specifically for their use. They’ve created a business that has not only gone global, but also made a wonderful impact on a more local level with initiatives such as these. That’s certainly worth a commendation on its own.

The Variety Platter: Half Chicken, 5 Wings & 2 Skewers

Our food didn’t take too long to arrive. The pair of us opted to share a Variety Platter ($32.95) intended for two to three people. It included a half chicken, five whole wings, two skewers, and two regular sides. On their menu is a scale called the PERi-ometer. It’s to be used to decide on the amount of heat appropriate for one’s taste buds. There were several choices, starting on the low end with Plain…ish to the high end of Xtra Hot. Although we’re quite comfortable with spice, I still wasn’t sure what to expect of Nando’s, so we opted for Medium on the half chicken and the wings. For the skewers, we chose Mango & Lime.

According to the Nando’s website, their chicken is marinated for at least twenty-four hours to allow the seasonings to soak in and to fully tenderize the meat before being cooked over a flame grill. While I cannot attest to that statement, I will say that my overall impression of the chicken and its preparation was that it was superb. Every single bite packed a wallop without burning the mouth. It wasn’t even necessary to utilize any of the additional sauces available (unless more heat was required). The meat was incredibly tender as well. Shreds of chicken pulled right off the bone without much effort. Yet, I think, out of all the options we tried that day, my favourite had to be the Mango & Lime skewers. They were just so flavourful with an intense natural mango taste.

For our sides, we went with the Garlic Mashed Potatoes and the Spiced Rice. The garlic mashed potatoes were warm, smooth and garlicky with skins and herbs still clearly visible. It seemed as though the mashed potatoes were freshly made. I really enjoyed the spiced rice, too. Bright yellow in colour, it had been seasoned with several herbs, spices and peppers. Both were excellent accompaniments to the chicken because they complimented the meat without overpowering it.

Their traditional Portuguese custard tart.

Before we left, I insisted on getting a Pasteis de Natas ($2.50). This is otherwise known as a traditional Portuguese custard tart. I love eating Chinese egg tarts at dim sum and these are somewhat similar. Flaky crusts provide the foundation to hold the filling, but the difference comes down to what’s in the middle. The Chinese version is made with more egg and less cream, so it finishes with a brighter, glassier and smoother consistency. The Portuguese tart is closer to a sugary crème brûlée with a caramelized top. I enjoy either iteration of this type of dessert. Regardless, I was rather disappointed with the one at Nando’s. While its aroma was intoxicating, the custard itself was slightly gummy as if it’d been sitting out too long and the top looked as though it was a tad over-burnt. Therefore, I don’t think I’d be very inclined to order that again.

I have yet to go back after this first visit. Nevertheless, I’m going to call myself a fan. I’ve often thought of their chicken since, and I find myself craving it at times. Even better, I just found out that their food is now available to be delivered through SkipTheDishes, and I will surely be taking advantage of that. Whatever Nando’s is doing, they’re doing it right!

This is one happily satisfied customer!