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!

Eating Edmonton: Tzin Wine and Tapas

Eating Edmonton: Tzin Wine and Tapas

Any time there is an item on a menu simply called “Bacon”, I am sold.

Tzin Wine and Tapas in Edmonton (10115- 104th street, right by the Blue Plate Diner) is a tiny hole-in-the-wall wine bar that can hold about 30 people at a time in a warm setting in the downtown area. What is provided here is a nice atmosphere, a very friendly staff, a cozy setting, and some good wine selections.

tzin3
For food, Tzin doesn’t have an extensive menu, which is nice, and should be expected. It is tapas style, serving small portions so that you are able to try a few different things. And from my experience, those different things are quite tasty, and perfect for sharing.

We ate the Bacon and the Shrimp (I just love the simple names!), and both were very delicious, providing some tasty snacks in between sips of the main star of Tzin, which is the wine selection. A very good selection of both reds and whites should do the trick for wine lovers of all sorts. There isn’t much in the way of description of the wines, which would have been kind of nice, but it is more a place for someone who knows what kind of wine they like, and would like to try something that you can’t always get at the local Liquor Depot.

The prices aren’t bad, although Tzin isn’t exactly the kind of place one would go to if they were on some kind of budget. For two appetizers, and two glasses of wine each, the bill came to $100. Not insane, but not somewhere that could be frequented on a weekly basis on my income. But for the time there, it was well worth it.

tzin4The wines we tried were both delicious, and we both really liked the food that we had. The cozy atmosphere was quite nice, and despite the proximity of the tables to one another, it does feel like there is some sort of privacy. Even though they may be a couple of feet away from you, it is not like you have to hear every word that your neighbors are saying, and there is no need to up the volume on your conversation because the other people are too loud. It is quite nice.

Tzin’s decor definitely looks like a wine bar. The cramped quarters, the heavy velvet curtain upon entering the main door, the friendly server, all adds to the atmosphere of Tzin, and helps make it a pleasant evening there.

This is not a restaurant where I would recommend going for a full meal, but it is a good place for an after-work drink, or a quick bite and glass of wine with friends. It can also serve as a good date location. There is nothing but positive things to say about this place, and I would definitely recommend it, as well as frequent it again myself.

Eating Edmonton: Izakaya Tomo

Eating Edmonton: Izakaya Tomo

I’ll be the first to admit that I am extremely picky about Japanese restaurants. Having lived in Japan, I want it to be as authentic as possible, without having to absolutely break the bank in order to get some good sushi, and other delicious Japanese cuisine.

In Edmonton, there are some very solid sushi restaurants. Many of them will annihilate your wallet before leaving, and others will leave you with a reasonable sushi experience, but nothing great.

tomoPrior to going, I had heard nothing but positive things about Izakaya Tomo, located on 99th Street, near 34th Avenue. It is pretty innocuous in a small strip mall next to a hot yoga joint.

Walking in, Izakaya Tomo provides a genuine izakaya feel. It’s not hidden booths and crammed with tables like many Western restaurants, but open, and filled with picnic-style tables, similar to the styles that would be more commonly found in Japan. The decor has it down, and if anything, that is a really good start.

There is an excellent selection of alcohol, including a good variety of beer and sake, and although the menu is not massive, there is a nice selection of Japanese fare to be had. Sushi, rolls, some rices, along with some traditional hot dishes make up for a good opportunity to do some sampling.

IMG_2811The best part about izakayas in Japan (izakaya simply means “pub style”) is that there is always a variety of food, and it is cheap, so that you can order a bunch and share. It is not typical to order yourself a meal. The idea is to order a ton of things, get to sample a little bit of everything, and pay a small price for each dish. Izakaya Tomo does most of this right. Some of the prices are a bit high here, and it is definitely easy to rack up a pretty impressive bill. Such is a problem with getting “foreign” cuisine at Western prices. People are willing to pay it, so there is no reason that it needs to be cheaper (for example, an order of maki rolls will set you back about $4.50, whereas this is generally filler food in Japan, usually to be had for little more than a dollar per order).

But, the food is worth it.

tomo3Everything that we tried as a group, was good. The negitoro was beyond delicious (to the point where we went through five orders of it), and the rolls were excellent (except for the California rolls, which used imitation crab, similar to what you would find at Safeway, making it the only disappointing thing about the restaurant). The fried rice was good (especially the one with the pickles in it- seems weird, but trust me). The okonimiyaki-style dish got rave reviews. The gyoza was solid. The beef tataki was fresh and full of flavour. The fish was fresh and tasty, making it a very good meal.

The atmosphere inside is nice, to along with the good food. It is a fun, laid back place, with a good hubbub from the customers, and a nice buzz to the place.

tomo5In the end, there were five of us, and we racked up a bill of over $170, including drinks (can’t say no to the massive beers!). At about $40/person, we ate until we were full and had enough drinks to keep us happy. Not the best deal in the world, but still, it is nothing out of the ordinary for dining out in Edmonton, especially on Japanese food. And again, the food is absolutely worth it.

Izakaya Tomo is now my favorite Japanese restaurant in Edmonton. It comes the closest to recreating the pub experience in Japan, the food is good, it’s a fun place to go, and despite the perceived high prices, it is really no more expensive than any other sushi joint in town.

I would definitely recommend Izakaya Tomo for anyone in Edmonton looking for a good evening, good drinks, good food, and a relaxed atmosphere.