Brunch with a View: Dogwood Cafe at Victoria Golf Course

We’ve been fortunate that the weather has been so cooperative that it seemed prudent to take advantage of it this long weekend. I’d been wanting to try Dogwood Cafe at the Victoria Golf Course for some time, so Mack and I headed down the valley on foot this morning to build up our appetite and revel in the current state of Edmonton’s winter.

This is the second year the Culina family of restaurants has operated Dogwood Cafe, serving brunch in the winter months out of the Victoria Golf Course. This year, Culina added a second brunch option at the Riverside Golf Course, in addition to dinner service at the Victoria location. It’s a great way to increase traffic to centrally-located city-owned facilities in the off-season, and because they’re situated adjacent to prime parkland, there’s the hope that diners might take the time to explore their surroundings before or after a meal (we walked over to Hawrelak Park after brunch for the Silver Skate Festival).

By the time we arrived at 12:30pm, most of the peak brunch traffic had dissipated. We were able to snag a window seat in the dining room, lit with abundant natural light. Located on the second floor of the clubhouse, Dogwood Cafe overlooks the snowy fields. The blonde wood furnishings are reminiscent of an outdated cafeteria, but small touches in the room – antique lamps, a rustic cabinet showcasing Jam Lady products – added some understated refinement.

Dogwood Cafe

Mack at Dogwood Cafe

The menu at the Victoria location, offered on weekends between 9am-3pm, is straightforward, with many brunch favourites to be found, including French toast, eggs benny, and a breakfast sandwich (there were a variety of tempting baked goods available as well). I was swayed by the mushroom-cheese omelette ($12), served with rye toast and tomatoes. Mack selected a dish that could have been served at the now-defunct Culina Highlands restaurant – fried eggs with Fuge Fine Meats kielbasa and potato-cheddar perogies ($15). We added a side of potato hash to share ($4).

We ordered at the counter, and waited less than ten minutes for our dishes to be served. My omelette, crowned with a creamy mushroom sauce, was comforting without being heavy. The tomatoes provided a pop of freshness (and colour) to the plate, and the crispy potatoes rounded out my meal nicely.

Dogwood Cafe

Mushroom-cheese omelette and side of potato hash

Mack was initially underwhelmed with the portion size, but commented after that because his dish was fairly rich, it ended up being the right amount of food. He found that the Fuge-made sausage had been cooked to snappy perfection, and really enjoyed the perogies (made at St. Basil’s Church) topped with sour cream and crispy bacon.

Dogwood Cafe

Eggs, kielbasa and perogies

While some tables were in and out of the restaurant, Mack and I chose to linger a little longer over our bottomless coffees. Staff didn’t mind at all; the relaxed atmosphere befit the natural setting just beyond the windows. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend brunch at Dogwood Cafe – the great food and efficient service is a welcome addition to Edmonton’s brunch scene.

Dogwood Cafe at Victoria Golf Course
12130 River Valley Road
Saturdays and Sundays, 9am-3pm

Culina at the Muttart Conservatory

When the Muttart Conservatory finally reopened after over a year of renovations in June 2009, there were high hopes the revamped Ela Euro Cafe, located at the front of the facility (and thus could be accessed without paying an entrance fee), would help draw residents and others to the evergreen oasis. Given its prime Cloverdale location, and really, the fact that it is the only food establishment in the immediate area, Ela Euro should have been a slam dunk.

While the space was bright and functional – a bank of windows and a large enclosed patio – the food couldn’t have been much of a draw. I can’t say we stopped by all that often, but on two instances we were at the Muttart, the cafe was empty.

Before: Ela Euro

As a result, the City’s new partnership with one of Edmonton’s most recognized and upstanding local chains was probably a most welcome one. Culina Muttart, the restaurant’s third outpost, opened on December 2, 2010 in the Ela Euro space. In addition to offering their comforting fare (that highlights some of the area’s best producers), the staff will also be utilizing the Muttart’s greenhouse space to grow herbs and greens for the restaurant.

Culina at the Muttart

After: Culina Muttart

On Monday night, Mack and I attended the launch of Culina Muttart. After the full-on tasting at ZINC’s fall menu launch, we weren’t quite sure what to expect. It turned out instead of a sit-down event, the evening was an informal one, set up reception style, which suited the casual cafe space perfectly.

Culina at the Muttart

Culina Muttart

It reminded me very much of the Meet the Locals Festival at Planet Organic – producers set up at tables along the periphery of the room, offering samples of their wares. Brad Lazarenko, Director and Executive Chef of Culina, said that the producers represented a range of relationship lengths – from Spring Creek Ranch, who they have sourced from for over five years, to EnSante, a brand new supplier.

Spring Creek Ranch

Kirstin Kotelko of Spring Creek Ranch slices up some beef

Meeting and chatting with the producers was a great way to really get a sense of the philosophy behind Culina’s food (which was probably the purpose of the evening), but it probably wasn’t the best way to find out what to expect at Culina Muttart, in terms of the menu and plating of dishes.

Yellowhead Brewery

Leon Hunter of Yellowhead Brewery

That said, there was one dish served, a salad featuring quinoa, Sylvan Star gouda and a Mighty Trio Organics dressing (made specifically for Culina) that is actually on the menu. The salad had great texture, and at the very least, made me feel less guilty for the meat and cheese consumption to follow.

Culina

Salad with Mighty Trio Organics dressing

Shayne and Vicky Horn of Tangled Ridge Ranch, a lamb producer, were new to us (we loved the title on Shayne’s business card that read, “Flock Master”). The slices of lamb they served us were incredibly tender and moist – I hope that same preparation ends up on the Culina menu (Tangled Ridge currently only sells whole carcasses).

Tangle Ridge Ranch

Shayne and Vicky of Tangled Ridge Ranch

Speaking of sheep, we also had our fill of sheep’s cheese (and air dried charcuterie) from Brian and Rhonda Headon, of The Cheesiry and O Sol’Meatos. Mack especially liked the cardamom salami.

The Cheesiry

Samples from The Cheesiry

The Cheesiry

Brian and Rhonda of The Cheesiry and O Sol’Meatos

Shame on us that this event was the first time we ever tried any of The Jam Lady’s products. Though we know they are a veritable City Market favourite, we always passed Donna by because we do really like the August Organics jam we always have on hand. After trying a few of her preserves and mustards however (the curried mustard is like nothing I’ve ever tasted), I know we will be loading up on a few jars very soon (her products are also available at Culina Muttart).

The Jam Lady

Bohdan and Donna Borody, aka “The Jam Man” and The Jam Lady

Guests were also invited to tour the pyramids, with interpreters pointing out the edible plants in each biome. We chose to tour the temperate pyramid, and while we learned a few things (Mack and I had no idea that seasons were induced in each biome – hence, spring in the temperate world), we were really hoping for a peek inside the greenhouse space to be used by Culina.

Feature Pyramid

The feature pyramid – all decked out for Valentine’s Day

Though the restaurant is currently only open for lunch on weekdays and brunch on weekends (during the Muttart’s operating hours), staff are working to possibly extend the restaurant’s hours into the evening, which would be particularly handy once the days are longer. Stay tuned!

Thanks again to Kiri and the rest of the Muttart staff for organizing this event – it was great opportunity to meet with some of the producers and taste some of the products that will be featured by Culina Muttart (a few other food bloggers have written about the event also: check out recaps by Liane, Twyla, Chris and Brittany).

Culina Muttart Conservatory Cafe
9626 – 96A Street
(780) 466-1181
Weekdays 10am-5pm; weekends & holidays 11am-5pm

A Black & White Affair: Culina

Ask any of my close friends and they’ll tell you that I carry “the list” with me at all times. This piece of paper contains my culinary hit list – names and addresses of city restaurants I would like to try. Subscribing to the mantra of “always prepared,” I know I’ll have an answer to the question of “Where do you want to eat?”

So on Saturday, I finally made it to the place at the top of the list. Culina (9914-89 Avenue), based on its local recognition and critical acclaim, is the middle-income equivalent of Vancouver’s Vij’s. Brad Lazerenko’s name is eternally on the lips of those in the business, and I had to find out if his Culina really deserved all of the hype.

I made sure to call ahead for reservations, having heard their weekend brunch was quite popular. When Bettina and I arrived just after noon, all but two tables were full. The restaurant was much smaller than I had anticipated – seating capacity couldn’t have been more than 35 tops – and was decidedly chic. Stark contrasts created by eggshell white walls and curtains, black floor, and dark brown furniture translated into a modern, if not slightly cold decor. I know this is a personal bias (which I’ve expressed before), but an enjoyable brunch in my mind must be supplemented with sunshine and possess that feeling of kick-back casual. Amidst the rather formal surroundings of Culina’s dining room with its shrouded windows, I couldn’t help but think it may function better as a business lunch or dinner destination.

Our waitress was on the green side, but did her best to find out the answers to our questions. Bettina ended up ordering ‘the ham and cheese’ (honeyham and edam on grilled raisin bread), served with salad, while I chose the ‘bacon and eggs’ (slow braised bacon, mushroom frittata, potato hash, rye toasts, spicy ketchup).

Our food arrived in a prompt fashion. Bettina didn’t have anything negative to say about her sandwich, except that it was really nothing special. As for my meal – it was different, and definitely showcased the creative cuisine Lazarenko is known for. In place of traditional bacon, the meat portion of the dish was fried pieces of pulled pork. It wasn’t bad, but did take some getting used to. The frittata was topped with a blue cheese mushroom cream sauce, and though I initially winced at the mention of blue cheese, it turned out to be surprisingly good.

I will admit to having unbridled expectations for Culina – both because of how long it took me to eat there and all of the glowing literature I had read. So while I wasn’t entirely disappointed, Culina’s brunch just isn’t for me. I’m willing to give their dinner a shot, but it may have to wait in lieu of their rather pricey menu.

Restaurant interior
Sugar and creamer
Water in a wine bottle
‘the ham and cheese’
‘bacon and eggs’