Food with a Purpose: The Hallway Cafe

With Emily in tow for meals, Mack and I have had to be more thoughtful with restaurant selections. Many of the places we frequented prior are inaccessible with baby – narrow aisles, small gaps between tables, and stairs make it difficult to accommodate a stroller, not to mention not all welcome children or are child friendly. While we have made it a priority to have date nights with just the two of us, the reality is much of our dining future will have to factor in how well suited they are for kids.

One of the most recent restaurants I’ve discovered that fits this bill is the newly renovated Hallway Café (formerly Kids in the Hall). Located in City Hall, it is central, but hard to stumble upon, with only window signage to rely on, and daytime hours of 7am-3:30pm on weekdays.

The Hallway Cafe

Interior

If you were familiar with the previous design, it’s safe to say the interior has been completely refreshed while still making the most of the prominent wall of windows. Most groupings of tables and chairs are enclosed by brightly coloured metal frames resembling greenhouses with built-in planters. The structures are a fun but functional way of visually breaking up the space while sacrificing none of the natural light that filters into the room. I also much appreciated the wide aisles that are very accommodating to strollers. Opposite the windows is an open kitchen, allowing diners to observe the food prep action, important because the restaurant has retained its foundation as a social enterprise that provides skills training to vulnerable youth.

The Hallway Cafe

Lots of room for Emily!

E4C operates The Hallway Café as a program that works with individuals aged 16 to 24. After screening applicants to ensure they have the stability necessary for success, the 17 week program teaches modules in hospitality and kitchen skills, with hands-on experience at the Café where they are paid minimum wage plus tips; the program ends with a job placement.

The food is not secondary at The Hallway Café, with coffee and freshly baked goods for those seeking a light snack, and full breakfast and lunch plates for those with heartier appetites. It’s worth mentioning that the prices are very reasonable – for instance, a standard breakfast with two eggs, bacon, potatoes and toast is just $9, while pizzas range from $9-10. I’ve had lunch here twice with Emily since April, and enjoyed both experiences.

Back in April, I had the chicken panini ($8), with a side of house-cut Kennebec fries ($3). This was my favourite of the two meals; the sandwich, on house made focaccia, was quite generously sized. The chicken was complemented well by the blueberry and Dijon aioli, spinach, and spicy jack cheese, and the bread was fresh and nicely toasted. The fries, however, were the star for me, tossed in their house seasoning and incredibly crispy and addictive.

The Hallway Cafe

Chicken panini and fries

My friend Su ordered the pizza con patate, and said she enjoyed the thin crust topped with potatoes, rosemary, caramelized onions and grana padano and goat cheese.

The Hallway Cafe

Pizza con patate

I was looking forward to those fries when I returned with a friend to the Hallway in June, to be consumed alongside the Philly cheese steak ($10), but they were sadly out. That said, it was a good opportunity to try their kale salad on the side ($4). Topped with beets and goat cheese, it was a heartier salad than most. The sandwich was tasty enough, with grilled red onions and roasted peppers adding interest. The beef was on the dry side though, and benefited from the melted cheese.

The Hallway Cafe

Philly cheese steak and kale salad

Service (like many establishments these days – food is ordered at the counter then bussed to the table) was friendly, and the kitchen kept up with the pace even as the lunch rushes hit.

I’m glad to have found The Hallway Café – the program is worth supporting, but it’s the food and the surroundings that are going to bring me back again and again!

Recap: Eats on 118

Last week, my Mum and I were invited to attend the first of this summer’s Eats on 118 Food Tours. The series started back in 2016 as a pilot, but has continued annually since; organized by the Alberta Avenue Business Association and Wildheart Collective, they’ve been a popular way for people to engage with some of the many independent businesses in the neighbourhood. I attended all of the tours last year, with the bowling edition being the highlight for me.

The first stop of the evening was familiar to me, as Paraiso Tropical was included on one of the tours last year. But the shop (as with the rest of the businesses) was new to my Mum; the tour was a great way for her to learn about an area of the city that she does not often frequent.

Eats on 118

Ready to eat!

Pre-assembled boxes of food meant that the large group was fed quickly. We were treated to a variety of tastes, including a pupusa, two flautas, and plantain topped with dulce de leche.

Eats on 118

Paraiso Tropical sampler

We walked over to Handy Bakery next. As my office is just a few blocks from the bakery, it’s my go-to for Portuguese egg tarts (in my opinion, the best in the city), and sweet bread to be used for French toast. But I hadn’t been exposed to their savoury menu before.

Eats on 118

The spread at Handy Bakery

Several different dishes were served buffet-style, including salt cod and potatoes, sausage, fish croquettes, and fried shrimp cakes. The latter was my favourite of the bunch, especially enjoyable alongside the glass of sangria that was included in the meal (the owner endeared himself to the group with his generous pours of wine and sangria).

My favourite moment of the evening came en route to our final stop. In collaboration with Arts on the Avenue, we were treated to a musical interlude by a barbershop quartet, performed in a barbershop! The four women of the Thumbs Up Quartet were fabulous, their passion and joy for song evident.

Eats on 118

Thumbs Up Quartet

We proceeded to Battista’s Calzones, one of my favourite restaurants on Alberta Avenue. Owner Battista offered a sampling of a number of their calzones. He recommended the Giovanna (artichokes, prosciutto, truffle oil), which we learned is named after a student who used to frequent the restaurant and shared her recipe for a pizza served at her family-owned pizzeria in Miami.

Eats on 118

Calzones galore

The second and last Eats on 118 takes place on August 29, 2018, which will highlight several women-led businesses. Tickets are $47 each.

Thanks to Bottom Line Productions for the tickets, and to the organizers for another great event!

Great Value: Reinette Cafe

One of the best things about the current proliferation of bakeries in Edmonton is that many areas of the city that were once without a place in the neighbourhood to pick up a sweet treat or two have now gained that asset. Reinette Cafe is one such example.

Nestled in a strip mall in Mill Woods, it’s not a place easily stumbled upon. It’s also quite small, with only a handful of tables and counter seats, so reservations are recommended if you’re hoping for a table to enjoy dessert (during our visit all but one table was spoken for). I had called ahead specifically for the afternoon tea set, which is priced at just $20 for two. The set includes your choice of seven treats from a defined menu, as well as two drinks. Although you don’t have to pre-order, we did so to guarantee the availability of our desired desserts (particularly helpful if one in your party, as was our case, is allergic to nuts, as several of the options contain nuts).

Reinette Cafe

Pastry case at Reinette Cafe

Service was efficient, as the staff began assembling our tea tray right after we walked in for our reservation last Sunday afternoon. All we had to do was select a beverage (coffee or tea), which was delivered almost immediately after we ordered. A family-run business, it was clear the owners put some thought into the small details – our teapots, for example, were kept warm on special glass tealight stands, while the takeaway boxes were almost as intricate as the pastries themselves.

Reinette Cafe

Afternoon tea set for four

We found the afternoon tea to be a great way to sample a variety of their desserts. My favourite was the lemon meringue tart – the buttery crust was topped with a beautifully balanced curd. Grandma Male enjoyed the richness and the flavour of the almond cream in the Paris Brest, and we all adored the duck-shaped madelines. That said, given that they were the mini versions of said pastries, the tea is not as filling as other afternoon tea services available in the city (such as Hotel Macdonald or the Rutherford House’s Vintage Fork). Reinette Cafe does offer other savoury options including quiche and sandwiches, but they are not included in the tea set.

Reinette Cafe

Yes, we ate Emily’s share

Still, it was a great way to spend a part of the afternoon in a neighbourhood gem. We’ll certainly be back again – I have my eye on another lemon meringue tart!

Reinette Cafe
301 Woodvale Road West NW
(780) 577-0974
Monday-Saturday 7am-9pm, Sunday 11am-5pm

Have Fun with Your Food: Rebel Food and Drink

Every neighbourhood should have a go-to spot, a place for residents to gather. Piccolino was this focal point for many in Parkview and adjacent Crestwood, but when it was announced it would be replaced by a new Century Hospitality property, I’m sure some were wondering whether it could still be that place.

Rebel Food and Drink opened in mid-December just in time for the holiday rush. Mack and I had the chance to visit the restaurant last Thursday night. Walking in, we weren’t expecting quite the packed house that greeted us. All of the tables were full, with parties ranging from young families to older couples. We took up a pair of empty seats at the bar next to several solo diners, one of whom was a regular. Chef Tony Le indicated that the reception from residents has been very positive, even at this early stage.

I can’t speak to the interior changes as I had never set foot in Piccolino, but we were told the changes were drastic, with the installation of a bar and an expansion of the dining room. A second expansion will take place later this year when the travel agency next door relocates. The interior is cozy with dark accents, lined with a combination of booths and tables. I appreciated the open sightlines, which further inspires the feeling of community in the space.

The menu, as with all Century Hospitality locations, is broad and meant to appeal to a wide range of tastes. While those looking for more traditional dinner selections will be satisfied with classics like pot roast, grilled chicken, and steak and potatoes, I liked the playfulness with other choices like their Hangry Man TV Dinner (meatloaf, tater tots, roasted corn, buttered peas), a breakfast plate dubbed the “most important meal of the day” with eggs, toast, bacon, sausage, and tater tots, and a taco version of chicken and waffles. Mack is always up for having breakfast for dinner, so ordered the breakfast pizza ($22), while I chose the Rebel chz burger ($17).

Service was great during our visit; our bartender/server was a consistent and pleasant presence. Similarly, the kitchen was on top of everything that night, and despite the full house, the food kept flowing. We didn’t have to wait long for our plates.

Mack’s pizza (made with the same Italian "double zero" flour found in Parlour’s crusts) was appealing right from the start, studded with crispy prosciutto, crumbled sausage, tater tots, and of course, a sunny side up egg. It was a winner in his books, the thin but hearty crust holding up to the combination of toppings.

Rebel Food and Drink

Breakfast pizza

My house burger, featuring two beef patties, cheddar, caramelized onions, and "all the groceries" was a solid take on a classic. The beef was well seasoned, and I enjoyed the slight sweetness imparted by the brioche bun. The side of fries was also nicely cooked, crispy and lightly salted.

Rebel Food and Drink

Rebel chz burger

Tony generously treated us to dessert, knowing we were taken with the confetti cake. A few had passed by our seats throughout the night, drawing the attention of the room with an eye-catching sparkler. Continuing with the playful theme found in the mains, the cake is all about nostalgia – the four-layer cake is not only dressed in vanilla buttercream and sprinkles, but comes with a healthy dusting of Fruit Loops. It was sweet, indulgent, and everything your five year old self would want in a dessert.

Rebel Food and Drink

Confetti cake

The brunch menu looks equally appealing (the hangover club has Mack’s name all over it), and yes, you can have that same confetti cake for breakfast, served with a glass of milk. Rebel Food and Drink is a fun addition to the restaurant scene, and hopefully one the neighbours will continue to embrace as a place to meet.

Rebel Food and Drink
9112 142 Street
(780) 752-7325
Monday-Sunday 11am-late (no minors after 9pm)

Polarizing Experiences: Vintage Fork at the Rutherford House

Back in 2013, the Arbour Restaurant in the Rutherford House shut down due to staffing and financial issues. It was a loss to the local food scene to be sure – their afternoon tea (and legendary raspberry butter) was a favourite of many, but it was also unfortunate for the provincial historic site and the home of the first Premier of Alberta to be without a culinary anchor.

In October of last year, Vintage Fork took up the Arbour Restaurant’s mantle. Open during the day, they introduced a slightly different model – instead of the usual a la carte options, Vintage Fork offers up set multi-course menus for lunch. But it was learning that they would also be serving up afternoon tea that I was most excited about.

Two friends and I made a reservation for their first afternoon tea service in mid-November (offered on weekends between 3-5pm). At $34.99 per person, it’s one of the more reasonably priced afternoon teas available in the city (Cally’s Teas would be the most comparable). When we arrived, we found one other party of three seated in the sunroom. We were told word about their afternoon tea was still trickling out; we were just the third group to be served that day.

The furniture and arrangement of the room, as one would expect in a historically designated site, remained similar to its prior occupant. However, instead of the more traditional floral tablecloths, Vintage Fork has opted for butcher paper coverings, even offering guests pencil crayons to doodle during their meal if desired.

Vintage Fork

Sunroom interior

We were provided a selection of a dozen loose teas to choose from (jars are kept on the mantle in the adjacent room for those hoping to rely on their nose to help them narrow their pick). The servers may want to brush up on the tea options however; when asked about some of the different blends, they weren’t able to provide any information about the teas. On the positive end of the service front, when my friend had called to make the reservation, she had requested that any undercooked meats or seafood be left off our plates. Thankfully, they had this duly noted, and substituted beef for the smoked salmon normally provided.

No doubt, the presentation of the three-tier tray was a showstopper. Not only was the kitchen very generous with the serving portions, but everything we sampled was delicious. Among the items served were chicken skewers, braised beef, lemon meringue tarts, and croissants.

Vintage Fork

Vintage Fork tray, take one

My favourite of all the treats were the scones. Fans of the Arbour Room’s raspberry butter will be disappointed to know that Vintage Fork serves the more traditional cream and jam, but these were excellent companions to the flaky, buttery scones.

We all left that day with intentions of returning again because we were so impressed. For me, this meant a visit two weeks later with Mack and Grandma Male just before Christmas.

Vintage Fork

Lovely china

Understanding that they were still in the early stages of developing their tea service, I didn’t expect that everything from my first meal would be replicated, but I also didn’t anticipate an experience that took two steps back.

For starters, when I made the reservation, I had asked for a similar substitution regarding undercooked meats and seafood that my friend had requested. But this wasn’t noted anywhere, so smoked salmon ended up being among the savoury bites served. I simply gave my portion to Mack, but given their attention to detail on the previous occasion, I was disappointed they couldn’t follow through again.

It was also very obvious that the kitchen scaled back their portions, including (sadly for me) much smaller scones. The croissants, which the servers had highlighted on our first visit as scratch-made and had showcased the skill of the pastry chef, had also been dropped.

Vintage Fork

Vintage Fork tray, take two

Perhaps most frustrating was the poor service we received after being seated. We had to request cutlery after our tea tray was delivered, and even then, no forks were provided (only butter knives). Staff only intermittently checked on us, even though we were one of just two groups being served that afternoon. To pay the bill, we had to physically notify the staff in the next room that we wanted to settle the cheque, a task that seemed like a burden for our server.

Given my two experiences were so different, it’s hard to reconcile them to determine what a future visit would entail. In all honesty, I will say that based on my second trip, I am hesitant to return again. But I do hope that with time, Vintage Fork will find their footing and find a happy medium where food and service expectations can be met on a consistent basis.

Vintage Fork (in the Rutherford House)
11153 Saskatchewan Drive
(780) 427-4113
Tuesday –Friday 9am-5pm, Saturday-Sunday 9am-5pm, closed Mondays

Introducing Chinatown Dining Week: January 20-28, 2018

Back in the summer, I was a part of a group of volunteers who piloted a series of free walking tours in Edmonton’s Chinatown. The tours covered the history of why the city has two Chinatowns, and included visits inside cultural institutions and retail businesses.

Edmonton Chinatown Tour

At the Harbin Gate

We didn’t expect the overwhelming response we received, averaging about 40 participants each tour. It was interesting to see so many Edmontonians join us who shared that they frequently passed through Chinatown, but wanted to learn more so they would have a reason to stay and explore the neighbourhood.

Edmonton Chinatown Tour

Overlooking Chinatown South

For some of the attendees, the highlights were the culinary stops: we had a peek behind the scenes of Ying Fat, which specializes in soy products; a taste of sweet treats at Ruby Bakery; and an introduction to grocer Kim Fat. Food can be such a great gateway into new cultures or places, and this was definitely the case with our tours. Many people asked us for restaurant recommendations afterwards so they could make the most of their time in Chinatown.

Edmonton Chinatown Tour

Inside Kim Fat with owner Phong Luu

While we chose to put the tours on hiatus over the fall and winter months, we did want to continue the momentum somehow, and provide people with the opportunity to satisfy their curiosity about Chinatown. And so, Chinatown Dining Week was born.

Downtown Dining Week has been a staple in Edmonton for more than a decade, offering set price deals to entice diners to try new restaurants. We thought a similar model could be replicated in another central neighbourhood with even more diverse culinary gems to discover.

Viphalay

Green curry at Viphalay – one of the featured Chinatown Dining Week dishes

We’ve partnered with 5 Chinatown restaurants who will be offering $15 two-course dinner menus from January 20-28, 2018: Asian Express Hot Pot, Cua Hua Gui Lin Noodle House, King Noodle House Pho Hoang, Taipan Cafe Restaurant, and Viphalay Laos and Thai Restaurant. Take a look at the menus and consider trying a new restaurant, or revisiting an old favourite.

King Noodle House

Pho at King Noodle House – another of the featured dishes

There’s a lot to discover in Chinatown, and we hope that this event will encourage more Edmontonians to learn more about an often underappreciated area of the city.

Culinary Highlights: 2017 Edition

At the very least, compiling a list of some of my favourite food moments over the past year reminds me of how grateful I am to live where we do! It’s also a good opportunity to reflect on our travels, and how fortunate we were to be able to explore a bit more of our country.

Here are some of my favourite food-related memories from 2017:

Our favourite new restaurant was Otto. Mack and I love their approachable menu, simple but well-made food, friendly service, and accessible location (just one bus from work or home).

Otto

I love the Otto dog and fries

Zwick’s Pretzels was another new favourite – there’s nothing better than a fresh, savoury pretzel warm out of the oven.

Zwick's Pretzels

Trio of pretzels

We also had a fabulous meal at the chef’s table at Baijiu with Amanda and Jason in the fall.

Baijiu

Braised pork bao from Baijiu

My office moved to Alberta Avenue in the spring, so it was great timing that Eats on 118 continued this year. I had a blast at each of the food tours, but I had a soft spot for the bowling edition, where I was introduced to the wonderful Plaza Bowl.

Eats on 118

Plaza Bowl

Mack and I had a great time exploring more of our backyard last year as well, with trips to Lake Louise, Lacombe, East of Edmonton, Calgary, and Smoky Lake.

Eagle Creek Farms

Selfie at the Bowden Sun Maze

Continuing with the theme of visiting farms, a highlight was a tour of the Sunworks Farm, one of the producers we purchase from regularly.

Sunworks Farm Tour

Chickens at Sunworks Farm

Similarly, it was an special experience to be able to visit Doef’s Greenhouses as a part of this year’s Grand Taste Tour.

Doef's Greenhouses

Doef’s Greenhouses

Alongside a small team of volunteers, I enjoyed introducing many Edmontonians to Chinatown (and some of its culinary gems) through a series of walking tours. I’m happy this will continue into 2018 with Chinatown Dining Week.

Edmonton Chinatown Tour

Edmonton Chinatown walking tours

We did some travelling as well, with visits to Montreal, Toronto, Seattle, and Vancouver Island.

Schwartz's

Schwartz’s smoked meat sandwich was the best thing we ate in Montreal

Maison Christian Faure

Although I wish I had gone back for a second croissant from Maison Christian Faure

Wild Mountain

We did not expect to find a restaurant like Wild Mountain in Sooke on Vancouver Island

Red Fish, Blue Fish

The tacones at Red Fish, Blue Fish in Victoria lived up to my expectations

There is a lot to look forward to in 2018, so we’ll see what makes the cut next year!

Epicureous in Edmonton: 2017 Year in Review

It was without a doubt a banner year for bakeries in the Edmonton area, with no less than ten shops opening up in the last twelve months. It’s been particularly great to see the range of businesses, including French-style patisseries (Macarons & Goodies, Chocorrant, Fan Fan Patisserie, Arno’s Fine French Pastry), fancy cakes and treats (Sugared and Spiced, Art of Cake expansion), and gourmet doughnuts (Doughnut Party, Destination Doughnuts, Frickin’ Delights Donuts in Devon, Ohana Donuterie). Speaking as someone who currently has quite the sweet tooth, it’s been wonderful sampling my way through different desserts and finding any excuse to pick up something new to try.

Sugared & Spiced

Here are a few other items that were notable to me in 2017:

  • It was a bit of a Jekyll-Hyde year for Ice District. After Rogers Place opened in the fall of 2016, it was assumed that it would be a boon for businesses within walking distance of the arena. While that proved to be the case for certain enterprises (Baijiu, Bundok, and Bottega 104 to name a few), it didn’t prevent some fairly high-profile closures in 2017, including Alta, Vivo’s Downtown location, and Transcend’s Mercer Warehouse branch.
  • Edmontonians seem to have a growing taste for charcuterie and well-made sausage, with Fuge Fine Meats blossoming alongside the opening of two fine meat boutiques in Meuwly’s and Porc Sale.
  • Korean cuisine (including the very popular Korean Fried Chicken) continued to stake its claim in the city, with restaurants including Miga, Yummy Chicken, Hanjan, Pelicana, Hansik, and Dookbaeki opening.
  • Similarly, when it rains, it poured for bingsu, also known as Korean shaved ice. Edmonton went from zero bingsu purveyors to at least four in Snowy Dessert, Snowy Village, Let Eat Snow, and Snow Bear, in addition to other cafes who’ve since added it to their menus.
  • On a smaller scale, the city was also introduced to the world of poke, with Splash Poke and Ono Poke opening up within two weeks of each other Downtown.
  • Those seeking vegan and vegetarian options were able to broaden their choices to include vegan pizzeria Die Pie, Vietnamese restaurant An Chay, quick-serve cafe Good Stock, and The Moth, sister restaurant to Old Strathcona mainstay Cafe Mosaics.
  • Many local restaurants were able to grow their presence with additional locations or concepts, offering diners more unique alternatives. Among them: Monument (Block 1912), Pip (Next Act, Meat), Holy Roller (El Cortez, Have Mercy), Grandin Fish & Chips (The Common), Ong Hanoi Style Fried Chicken (Jack’s Burger Shack, Cerdo Tacos), Salz (Elm Cafe, District, Little Brick), Amore Pasta and Bottega 104 (Cafe Amore, Black Pearl), Wishbone (Three Boars), Mercato Foods (Italian Bakery), Pampa, Farrow, Credo, and Remedy Cafe.
  • I’m always heartened when food truck operators or market stalls are able to transition into brick and mortar storefronts, and this trend continued over the last year. The list included some of the bakeries mentioned above, but also Casa 12 Doce’s La Patrona, Little Village’s take-out spot, and Calle Mexico’s restaurant on 107 Avenue.
  • Food tourism initiatives were another highlight this year: Edmonton Food Tours introduced tours focused on the Old Strathcona Farmers’ Market and Downtown eateries, Urban Pedal Tours offered a unique spin on social drinking, and Edmonton Brewery Tours shed light on the history of brewing in our city.
  • It was interesting that despite the splash made by Cafe Linnea’s foray into no-tipping in 2016 (and their subsequent end to that concept in 2017) there haven’t really been many more examples of gratuity-included restaurants in Edmonton (Grain of Rice and Alder Room notwithstanding).
  • The Alberta Liquor and Gaming Commission made a few welcome shifts, including their changes to licensed patios, and allowance of beer and spirits to be sampled and sold at farmers’ markets.

You can check out previous year in reviews here.

Recap: Salz Sausage and Beer Pop-up

A few years ago, Mack and I were walking home from the Queen Mary Park neighbourhood and stumbled upon what looked like Elm Café’s commissary kitchen. We happened to see Executive Chef Allan Suddaby in the window, and he waved us in for a quick tour. Besides a more expansive kitchen to meet their catering and prep needs for their family of properties, the space also included a small front room that could be set up as a cozy restaurant. Allan mentioned that might be in the cards one day – it seems that finally, that day has come.

Salz has been announced as the forthcoming restaurant to join the ever-growing family of Elm Café properties, which also includes District Café and Little Brick (Burrow still remains temporarily shuttered). Intended to be a Bavarian sausage and beer hall, the menu will be simple, favouring brats and sides, and in some ways, won’t be too dissimilar from the formula embraced by Otto. However, because the space can only accommodate 8 seats, owner Nate Box said Salz will be a more modest establishment, open for lunch and some evenings to align with Oilers game nights at Rogers Place.

In anticipation of the opening in October, District Cafe hosted a Salz pop-up dinner in mid-September. The $15 tickets were very reasonably priced, and included a shared starter, an entree-sized plate, and dessert (drinks were extra). Tickets for the pop-up sold out within days of being released, speaking to both the value and interest in the new concept.

The menu that evening was comparable to an Austrian pop-up dinner Allan hosted several years back (he spent some time cooking in Austria). It’s fair to say that Allan is passionate about sausages; he’s led numerous sausage making classes at Eat Alberta and Metro Continuing Education, and without a doubt, his sausage enthusiasm is infectious.

That evening, we started our meal with a soft pretzel served with honey mustard. Perhaps we’ve been spoiled by the oven-warmed pretzels at Zwick’s, but our only quibble was that it would have been improved had it been served warm.

Salz Pop-up at District

Pretzel and honey mustard

For the entree, we were to select from three sausage options, which would be complemented by house pickles and German salads. Mack added another sausage to his order so between the two of us, we could try all three: a classic bratwurst, Kasekrainer (with Sylvan Star gouda), and spicy Hungarian.

Salz Pop-up at District

Sausage plate

It was nice to be able to sample the trio, but the classic bratwurst, full of punchy garlic and black pepper, won out. We also appreciated the variety of accompanying sides, including a dill-forward potato salad, and for Mack, the creamy spaetzle and cheese.

Dessert was a tasty apple strudel with a dollop of whipped cream – straightforward but satisfying.

Salz Pop-up at District

Apple strudel

It’ll be great to have an establishment serving up quality sausages and beer within walking distance of the core! We’re looking forward to checking out Salz when it opens later this month.

Salz
10556 115 Street

Pan-Canadian Cuisine with a View: The Butternut Tree

Ten years ago, before Mack and I moved downtown, I worked in Grandin in the building now known as The Ledgeview. The quaint and quiet neighbourhood was just far enough from the hustle and bustle of Jasper Avenue and the more commercial aspects of the core that it felt like its own cocoon. That said, the residential component and draw of Ezio Faraone Park always meant feet on the street, and I always felt safe heading home late in the day.

Now, our evening walks from 104 Street often take us through Grandin, on the multi-use trails or down into the valley. But while much has changed in the areas surrounding the neighbourhood, including new residential developments, additional infrastructure, and more retail outlets, Grandin itself has remained relatively untouched. With the exception of The Hendrix (a rental building), the static nature has preserved the tranquil feel of the community. This may be one of the reasons why one of its most pristine restaurant spaces has also been the most difficult to crack.

A decade back, The Copper Pot was a familiar, albeit understated fixture of the dining scene. The expansive windows overlooking the park ensured it had one of the best views a restaurant could offer, but the downside was its somewhat hidden location; it had to be sought out. They seemed to do fine accommodating the government and business lunch crowd, but evenings were tougher. I had my share of meals there, but the view always trumped the food. When they closed in 2012, I was hopeful a new tenant might bridge that gap. Successive tenants Antonio’s and The Phork came and went, and the space sat vacant for several years while the building itself was upgraded. To be successful, it seemed that the newcomer would have to become a destination – walk-up traffic is minimal, and while the actual distance to entertainment in the Ice or Arts Districts is not daunting, it’s just far enough to make the location a challenge.

Over the summer, it was announced that The Butternut Tree was due to open in that space in September. Helmed by Chef Scott Downey, originally from St. Albert but having gained experience in Vancouver, New York, and Denmark, would The Butternut Tree have the right formula to draw a crowd?

Mack and I were fortunate enough to be among those invited for a media preview last week. The interior has been completely overhauled; the room has been opened up, with views of Ezio Faraone Park on one side, and the open kitchen on the other. The muted grey and brown tones ensure the visual focus is external, and on the food at hand. We were seated with a few fellow food bloggers in a windowed private room with clear views of the Legislature.

The Butternut Tree

Interior

The website addresses the origin of the restaurant’s namesake, stemming from Chef Downey’s memory of a butternut tree in his grandmother’s backyard in New Brunswick. The tree symbolizes the variety of Canadian ingredients available, some of which are celebrated in Chef Downey’s pan-Canadian menu.

The Butternut Tree

Chef Scott Downey

For now, The Butternut Tree is only open for dinner, but they are considering brunch and lunch once they’ve firmed up their systems. We were permitted to order an appetizer, entree, and dessert from the regular dinner menu. Given the size of our group, our table ended up trying most of the dishes, resulting in consensus favourites.

Mack’s broccoli appetizer ($16) was easily the most unique dish on the menu. I’m a sucker for charred broccoli, so I immediately knew this was right up my alley, while Mack was tempted by the pork belly. Complemented with a perfectly prepared soft boiled duck egg spectacularly coated in a leek ash, the silky yolk brought everything together.

The Butternut Tree

Broccoli with pork belly, soft boiled duck egg, pickled garlic scapes, cereal grains

I chose the grilled bannock ($14), a vegetarian option featuring disks of flatbread with wild mushrooms, berries, winged kelp, and pumpkin seed. This was a much more shareable two-bite appetizer, with the kitchen showing a deft skill in extracting maximum flavour from the mushrooms.

The Butternut Tree

Grilled bannock with wild mushrooms, berries, winged kelp, pumpkin seed

The Haida Gwaii halibut ($38) was pretty popular around the table. The substantial portion of fish was paired with a squash ragout, parsley onion pesto, braised leek, and lobster mushroom. The halibut was very well prepared, as again were the mushrooms.

The Butternut Tree

Haida Gwaii halibut with squash ragout, parsley onion pesto, braised leek, lobster mushroom

Mack’s Bentley bison duo ($44) was the most expensive item on the menu, but the kitchen ensured the protein was showcased well. The tenderloin was cooked to medium rare, while the shortrib was fork tender. The accompanying lentil, carrot, and cauliflower were fine, albeit inconspicuous plate mates.

The Butternut Tree

Bentley bison duo with lentil, carrot, cauliflower and Saskatoon berry jus

For dessert, the overwhelming favourite was the plum ($10), served with milk ice cream, honey meringue, and oat crumble. It was full of contrasting textures and comfort, and was light enough to not weigh the diner down.

The Butternut Tree

Plum with milk ice cream, honey meringue, oat crumble

I ordered the ployes cake ($12), made from a buckwheat-based batter served up like a short stack of pancakes. It was topped with maple butter, Alberta Rose, and berries. The cake was very dense, and though I didn’t find it overly sweet, the richness meant a few bites were enough to satisfy me after the preceding dishes. 

The Butternut Tree

Ployes cake with maple butter, Alberta Rose, berries

There is no doubt The Butternut Tree makes a great first impression – the panoramic views will translate well for those celebrating a special occasion, wooing business associates, or having a fine night out. The menu also features enough familiarity to keep a wide swath of diners of happy, but with a few surprises to interest more exploratory eaters. Still, only time will tell if a chef returning to his local roots will make a splash big enough to overcome the inherent challenges of the restaurant’s location.

I wish Chef Downey and his team the best of luck – thanks again to The Butternut Tree and Bonafide Media for organizing a great evening! For alternate perspectives on the evening, read Cindy and Crystal’s recaps.

The Butternut Tree
101, 9707 110 Street (The Ledgeview)
(780) 760-2271
Tuesday – Sunday 5pm-midnight, closed Mondays