Eating Edmonton: Juniper Cafe & Bistro

Eating Edmonton: Juniper Cafe & Bistro

Ah, the old Strathearn Pub, we hardly knew thee. You definitely won’t be missed. An eyesore on the neighborhood, filled with some fairly questionable clientele, and being shut down for running drugs through the bar? Not the type of thing that the actually pretty nice Strathearn neighborhood needed.

Sure, there were some crazed nights of poor decisions there, but really, the area deserves something better than a poorly run, sketchy, cocaine-trafficking pub.

Enter the Juniper Cafe & Bistro, who have recently opened their doors after revamping the space formerly occupied by the bar (9514 87 st).

Walking in to the Juniper, it is hardly recognizable as the old Strathearn. Which is definitely a good thing. They have gone through great pains to completely revamp the space, and now instead of a dank pub where the bigger fear is getting stabbed over quality service, the Juniper is a bright and airy cafe, lined with small tables and a walk-up counter to place your order, filled with delicious-looking treats.

juniper2At first, the Juniper had some small growing pains, such as not taking debit when they opened, or only having photocopies of the small menu, or not having their liquor license in place, but those are hiccups that small businesses have to deal with. Upon return visits, they have definitely been ironing out the kinks.

For the menu, the Juniper offers a small selection of choices for each meal. I have frequented there most often for breakfast, so at this point I am unable to speak to the dinner options. But the brekkie is…good. Upon my first visit there, I was offered a free order of their signature breakfast sandwich, a pulled pork Eggs Bennie sandwich. (The price is $10, which is a little steep, so a was more than happy to take one for free!)

I was unsure at first, since the food was a combination of things I never really cared for. Then I absolutely devoured it. It was delicious. They wanted feedback on their food, and I provide it happily here. It was one of the best breakfast sandwiches I have ever had. So, it would definitely be worth the price.

juniper4As for the other things I’ve tried, the scones are delicious. Blueberry and rosemary? Good. Raspberry and white chocolate? Good. A simple cup of coffee? Good. The Juniper has been all hits for me so far, and I look forward to the short stroll from my place to them on the weekend, to pick up something to snack on.

I truly hope that the Juniper is able to succeed in their location. It is a quiet spot, tucked away from the main traffic of the city, but it serves as a great little local cafe. Each time I have been in there, it seems to be doing good business so far, which is great to see. With an incredibly friendly staff who truly care that you like their food and their place, and increasing efficiency each time I’ve gone in. It will be a place that I will visit, whether it is for a meal, or quick coffee.

The Juniper is a breath of fresh air for the Strathearn area. It is exactly what the place needs, and does wonders for the small, decrepit, mostly abandoned strip mall that it locates. Perhaps the success of the Juniper will draw other small businesses to open up in the area, and bring the place back to life. (As long as Ralph’s Handi-Mart is still around- best fried chicken in the city- not even kidding, it is something of legend in the area.)

If you’re in the area, stop by the Juniper. It is a nice little place for those who have never been around Strathearn before, and a shock to the system for those who remember the days of the Pub, or actually dared to step inside there.

Best of luck to the Juniper, and I hope that they are around for a long time, so that I get the chance to eat more of their delicious stuff!

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Ski Report: Panorama Mountain Resort

Ski Report: Panorama Mountain Resort

Panorama Mountain Resort, just outside of Invermere, British Columbia, is a favorite ski spot for its very consistent conditions, and beautiful mountain village. With a ton of condos right on the hill, or (worse case) just a short gondola ride up a hill, everything is close and within reach in the village. There are a handful of very good restaurants and the Great Lodge always makes a good place to relax after a few hard runs down the hill.

This year, the ski conditions weren’t at their best, as Panorama needs one thing right now: a massive amount of snow.

pano2Most runs were open, and generally, there was decent snow coverage, with only the occasional rock or exposed chunk of land, but it really could use a big dump to get a little bit of powder going, to cover up the icy spots and return Panorama to its normal skiing glory.

The resort does well with what it has, having the runs nicely groomed for each day on the hill, and one of the best features of the mountain is that each run is generally big enough that you are able to find a route down that is relatively untouched, or without traces of ice. Despite our concerns for the lack of snow, it provided a couple of days of very solid, if unspectacular, skiing.

A couple of things that have changed in Pano over the past year:

1. There is no longer hot breakfast being served in the Great Hall until 11 AM. This came as a bit of a surprise, since it had always been busy in there for breakfast before. In fact, the Great Hall served no more made-to-order meals, instead relying on churning out burgers and fries and having them sit under heat lamps until they are grabbed by a customer. This created a lot less traffic in the cafeteria area, since it was always a very long wait for food before, but it does create a lower quality meal.

2. Employees tend to be very confused on the locations of things that probably should be a part of their job. It took me asking three different employees where the Ski Patrol station was, so that I could check on an injured student. None of them knew where it was, and I had to rely on some good wandering in order to find the place. I had just assumed that people who worked there would know where certain things were located. I was incorrect.

pano53. The condos at Panorama are always very nice. They all have nice, large balconies, and are quite spacious, and have rooms available for various sizes of groups. This year, a couple of the rooms were not as prepared as they could have been, or have been in the past. Missing bedding for pull-out couches became hard to come by, and there was more than one instance where there was a lovely stash of smelly garbage in a room. These are small things that can be easily remedied by housekeeping and guest services. We were happy to be in the perfectly located Panorama Springs building.

4. This year, Panorama has changed their ideas around for storage, insisting that no skis or boards enter the rooms. They now provide lockers on the first floor of the building where you can store your stuff. But this raises a few issues, with one locker being assigned per room. The lockers are the size of your typical high school locker, meaning there is little chance of fitting a snowboard in there, let alone six. At best, you could get two pairs of skis in there, but nothing more, and even that requires a degree in engineering to figure out. Locks are provided by the front desk, with a $20 deposit if they are not returned. Somehow, this new locker usage feels like a money grab, since it provides far more inconvenience that needed. I see no issue with leaving skis and boards on the balconies of the rooms, as it has always been done before. Another issue is that the locks have the combinations attached to them on a small, easy-to-lose card, which of course could lead to a whole other whack of issues.

Panorama is a definite favorite spot for skiing. This year, it was not perfect, but perhaps that is more to blame on mother nature and her refusal to snow much this year. The weather was absolutely perfect, hovering near the freezing mark for much of the time. It offered a perfect day outside, and warm enough to sit outside on the large patio at the Great Hall, to enjoy the spectacular views, some good times, and some good skiing.

I will always recommend Panorama to others as an optimal place to ski. Despite the little foibles that we found this year, it is still a great place to go. Maybe wait, and be sure to check those snow reports, before heading out.

Mile…Mile & a Half (Film Review)

Mile…Mile & a Half (Film Review)

This adventure documentary, which can be found on Netflix, is about a group of friends, artists, photographers, filmmakers, and sound technicians, who set out to hike the John Muir Trail (JMT) in California. The hike is over 200 miles, crosses snow and desert and mountain passes and rivers that are bigger than they might seem. It will take the group 25 days to cross the entire trail, and show us their adventures along the way. 

Mile…Mile & a Half works for two simple reasons: 1. the scenery is absolutely incredible. Having talented people on the hike means that there are beautiful panoramic views of waterfalls and mountains throughout the film. It is incredible to see the untouched nature that lies in California, a place we often imagine with only beaches, surf, and bustling cities. But there remains a massive part of the state that is open to those who want to see it, and the JMT is a great example of that. The second reason this film works so well is because of the people. They are fun, and enjoyable to watch throughout the film. These are not jacked-up adrenaline junkies, doing crazy things that normal people could never pull off doing. They are regular folks, who love the outdoors. This is not a life-testing hike, and despite a couple of dangerous spots, we know that they are going to come out alive on the other side. There is nothing terribly extreme about the JMT, just a ton of natural beauty, enjoyed by some pretty fun people, that by the end of the film, we totally wouldn’t mind meeting along the way on a hike. 

mile2Perhaps the best part of the documentary is the other people that the group encounters along the trail. They aren’t making a film selfishly, about themselves, and about overcoming the obstacles of nature. They are making a film about being in it, and loving it. And a part of that is the lives of the other people that they meet along the way. They give them screen time, and we get to know their stories as well. The teachers from Colorado who join up with their group. The young painters, who hike every day with heavy loads of canvas and paints on their backs so they can get some incredible views in the early morning light. The musicians, who they meet near the end of their journey. And the Japanese woman, who is doing the trail alone, but in the end realizes that she really wants to share in her success, and wants the camaraderie.

While the film is about nature, it is about people too. And that is what makes it such a fun watch. While they challenge themselves, they remain real people, and they like to have fun. They get goofy, give each other nicknames, make bets, and play games along the way. 

For those who love nature, and perhaps have never seen the incredible, pristine beauty that California has to offer, Mile…Mile & a Half is a worthy film for you to watch. 

River Ridge Golf & Country Club (Golf Course Review)

River Ridge Golf & Country Club (Golf Course Review)

I had never before been to River Ridge Golf & Country Club, in the Windermere area of Edmonton, Alberta, and now that I have, I wonder why.

Tucked along the beautiful North Saskatchewan River, the course offers 18 beautiful and isolated holes, away from the city noise, without being far away from the city. I booked here because the pictures looked nice, and the price was absolutely right, at $55 for 18 holes that included a power cart (it would be advisable to have a cart on this course, as there are some long journeys between some of the holes, and a walk would actually take a while).

The course is wonderfully laid out, some of the holes being right alongside Edmonton’s main river, offering great views for your entire round. With the river, and frequent water hazards, and trees on pretty much every hole, River Ridge is a pretty challenging course for the average golfer. Many holes are heavily dog legged, and being straight off the tee is paramount in many cases. The greens, and the whole course, were in tremendous shape, and many of them offered challenging, but not ridiculous, lies. You won’t have to be putting straight all day here, you will get the chance to read the greens and try and execute some cool, bending putts.

river2The course even offers some wildlife, as there were plenty of ducks and geese along some of the water holes, although they weren’t a disruption to the game. There was even a deer on the 10th hole that decided to wander around the green for a little while.

I managed to pull of a decent first nine, despite my drivers and putter completely abandoning me. Having a solid iron game on the front saved me from what could have been a terrible score. I saved my terrible score for the back nine. It was still a nice course, and a great day to golf.

The marshall comes by often, and is quite friendly. He will give advice on holes, tell you about the course, ask you how your day is going, even chase a goose away for you. The beer cart girl is your typical beer cart girl, but she didn’t come by as often as I would have liked, especially since it was a very hot day outside, and more beverages could have been consumed. But, she was quite cool with us, given that she did bust us with some outside drinks that we brought in.

The pro shop is solid, with a quick and knowledgeable staff inside, and a good selection of clothing and items in case you need to stock up your bag before hitting the course. Upstairs, the clubhouse offered great views of the course, had some pretty good food, and some reasonable prices to go along with it. They could use some umbrellas on their outdoor tables, especially for days when it is 30 degrees and cooking outside, but besides that, there is nothing to complain about.

River Ridge is a great little escape within the city limits. Normally, you wouldn’t expect such isolation from a city course, but River Ridge is definitely the best place I have golfed this summer, and at the prices, will be well worth it to go back.

Now I just need to find my golf game in order to compete with the tougher course.

Ride the Divide (Film Review)

Ride the Divide (Film Review)

Scrolling through Netflix, I came across a documentary that labeled itself as a scenic journey for riders trying to complete a grueling bike journey from Banff, Alberta, to the US-Mexican border, through the Rocky Mountains. I liked the sounds of it, so I gave it a watch.

Ride the Divide is about an annual race that takes riders across the Great Divide in North America, through one province and five states. While they are trying to win the race, they are more trying to simply complete it, something that very few riders have managed to do. The journey is 2,700 miles, and the majority of the riding is done alone, causing the race to be more than a physical journey, but a psychological one as well.

ride2The film itself is an interesting premise, but they miss the mark on many of the things that could have made it incredible, and encompassing of the epic journey these riders undertook.

While we hear a lot of the harrowing trails they needed to ride along, the constant threat and sightings of bears, we don’t get to see any of it. The camera team is only in one truck, and we catch up to riders now and then, seeing very little of them actually riding the challenging trails. The use of a GoPro is only used for a brief moment, and it is perhaps the highlight of the film. Instead of hearing about the stories of the ride, we crave actually seeing them ride, something that the documentary filmmakers severely lacked in the production of this film.

Occasionally we will hear call-ins from the riders, and they tell us about their day. But still, we don’t see anything about it. We hear about their falls, and their emotional and physical trauma that they are suffering through just to make it to the end of another day. But we don’t see it. And this is the greatest failing of Ride the Divide. We hear the stories being told, but there are very few visuals to go along with it.

There is some incredibly beautiful scenery to be seen in the film, as the Rocky Mountains provide some of the most breathtaking sights on earth. Typically, this is with a rider stopped, on the phone, or talking to the crew. Rarely is it us watching the rider gallantly plodding onwards in their quest to complete the race.

The race begins with about 15 riders, and by the end the number dwindles down to about five remaining, the ones that actually complete the race. Yet we know very little about any of them, right from the beginning of the film. So we are essentially following around strangers that we know nothing about, and only get the smallest glimpses into their actual lives. When someone else drops out of the race, the viewer will ask themselves, “Who?”, as we are unclear on who is who, which one of them was the one to drop out. This is another shortcoming of the film. There is a very human story here about perseverance and dedication to something, but the filmmakers again fall flat in telling the story.

I wanted to love Ride the Divide. The idea of the race is incredible, but since we are shown so little of it, it becomes difficult to understand how difficult the race is. Most of the footage we see is of the riders along flat areas. Seems easy enough, right?

This film suffered from a shortage of cameras, and probably a shortage of funding to get it done. There could have been so much more to be done here, to be told. These people are driven by something that the normal person doesn’t understand, yet we get nothing about these stories that would help pull us into the story. I wanted so much more.

Ride the Divide doesn’t really appeal to many groups. If you are a mountain bike enthusiast, there probably isn’t enough about the bikes or the terrain to keep you interested. If you are into the human aspect of the story, there is very little of that as well. If you want to see beautiful scenery, there is some of that, but you could find that with a quick Google image search and save yourself an hour-and-a-half.

While the idea for this kind of film is definitely there, the follow through for the film isn’t, and what we get instead is tepid story telling and not nearly enough footage of what we are told is an extremely challenging course. Overall, this film is pretty disappointing, and could have been so much more.

Eating Edmonton: The Sugarbowl Bar & Cafe

Eating Edmonton: The Sugarbowl Bar & Cafe

For a long time, The Sugarbowl has been one of the most hyped up places in Edmonton. Located in the Garneau area near the University of Alberta, it has long been a place where students congregate for food and drinks to discuss whatever class they are taking this semester, or what class they are skipping in order to have food and drinks at The Sugarbowl.

It has been a long time since I have visited this Edmonton establishment, since I was one of those University students. We used to go there frequently for class during one of my summer courses. There were only five of us in the class, plus we had the best professor ever.

sugar3Going there again, it is nice to see that it is exactly the same as it used to be on the inside. For a sort of hole-in-the-wall type of place, it is actually quite nice inside, and has a pretty good patio out front, where they really cram in the tables. There is much more space inside, and you still get the outside feel with the large garage doors almost always open during the summer.

The Sugarbowl is like the grandfather of the hipster-style craft beer pub, simply because it has seemingly been around forever, while these new places (like Craft, Beer Revolution, Three Boars, The Next Act) are new to the scene that was basically created by the Sugarbowl.

This pub is known for its good food and extensive beer menu. Always has been. And still is. You can read the reviews on other sites, like Yelp, and see the generally positive recounts of time spent there.

The menu itself is minimalist, which is nice. There are only a few items on there, and they cook all of them extremely well. This is not a place where you have to scroll though a thick menu and struggle to decide what you would like to eat. There is a list of perhaps a dozen meals, and all of them sound pretty enticing.

sugar2As for the beer menu, it is indeed pretty extensive. Prices have gone up since the last time I was there, and now they are a little more in line with the other craft beer houses in the city, although I would argue, are still a little cheaper. There is perhaps a dozen beers on tap, but the real gems come from the lists of bottled beers that they have. There are a lot, and you could get pretty indecisive when it comes to making a choice here. There are selections from local breweries, as well as small breweries from other places, such as Portland (of course). I did pretty well at selecting some good beers to try. And the prices weren’t totally crippling, like they are at Craft.

The vibe inside is unique. During the day, it remains a place that is popular with families, as it is not a total bar, like some other craft beer places have become. There are definitely the “artsy” people who frequent the place, and it is a hipster joint as well. It is a nice blending of people here.

The staff are generally quick and fairly attentive, no complaints there. I had the bison chili, which was pretty delicious. It had a good amount of heat to it, but nothing overwhelming, and it was definitely hearty. I was full all day off one bowl of it. I would definitely eat it again.

I like this place, and would definitely go there again. My bill was about $60 for two people, both with meals and several beers. Not the cheapest place you will find in Edmonton, but something different from the standard chain restaurants that we too often choose. The Sugarbowl feels like a cool place that you would find in a bigger, cooler city than Edmonton.

A great place to grab some food and drinks. I agree with the hype, and the Sugarbowl is still a cool place to go.