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.

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Eating Edmonton: Blue Plate Diner

Eating Edmonton: Blue Plate Diner

The Blue Plate Diner is one of those places in Downtown Edmonton that seems like it has been around forever. Located on 101 Ave and 104 Street, it is just off Jasper Ave, in the heart of downtown. This leads it to being a consistently busy place for the lunch crowd, and you can always expect the small restaurant to be quite busy.

And the reason for that is that it is consistently good.

blue-plate-dinerWith a small menu, they really have perfected their dishes, and whichever one you try, you can expect something tasty. In my visits there, me or my group has tried and loved a good number of the dishes there, from the veggie burger, the elk/bison burger, the meat loaf, tuna melt, or good old macaroni and cheese. Everything gets positive reviews, and there has never been a complaint about the food any of the times I have been there.

The prices are pretty good, for a sandwich or entree, you are looking at spending between $12-$18, which is pretty much the constant price for food in Edmonton.

Seating is limited, as it is a small place, so be prepared to get there a little bit before the big lunch crowds, or be ready to wait. The good thing is that they have designed their meals around the brief lunch break, so it is usually very quick service, and you won’t need to be there for hours waiting for your food. They know that their clientele is business people who need to eat and get out of there.

The restaurant itself has a good personality, with simple tables, rickety old chairs, and eclectic art adorning the brick walls. Despite the small area, the design is nice in that you aren’t crammed up against other tables, allowing you to converse with the people you are with, instead of being forced to overhear everything that the other patrons are saying. They probably could have thrown in more tables just to make more money, but the comfort of the patrons is important here, which is great.

The staff is always very friendly, and there is some vegetarian, vegan, or Gluten-free options (like asking for Gluten free bread with your burger) to keep the variety of eaters happy.

The Blue Plate Diner is definitely a worthwhile place to eat if you are spending some time downtown, or if you work in the area. And due to the quality of the food, you can pretty much try anything and walk away satisfied.

Eating Boston: Cask n’ Flagon

Eating Boston: Cask n’ Flagon

Part of the Boston experience is so uniquely intertwined with the Boston Red Sox experience. You need to try and take it all in, in one of the cities that truly is a baseball-first place. In a massive market like Boston, there are plenty of sporting options. The Patriots, Celtics, Bruins, Revolution, all take their draws from the citizens of the city.

But no draw compares to the popularity of the Red Sox.

Based on this, the Fenway area of Boston is one that must be visited when in town. A big part of this, are the sports bars that surround the legendary Fenway Park, the largest being the Cask n’ Flagon.

caskThe Cask n’ Flagon does what sports bars are supposed to do. It offers a wide selection of bar food, and a really strong list of beers to keep you entertained while the game is on the multitude of TVs placed around the bar.

First, a couple of negatives from my trip there.

  • The lines are really long on game days. Be aware of that if you plan to go when the Sox are playing at home. I was there when they were on the road, so it wasn’t an issue.
  • The TVs aren’t as big as they should have, or could have been. For a bar that thrives on sports, there should be some monster screens in there, in my opinion.
  • The staff couldn’t seem to figure out how to get the Red Sox game on. Seriously? The place was packed with people, there specifically to watch the game. And it took them nearly an inning to figure out which channel it was on, and how to get their TVs to the right place.
  • We ordered some wings. They forgot to place that order. After watching tables around us get the food they ordered, and an hour having passed, we finally asked about them. Our waiter was very apologetic, and we did get our wings. On the house. With some extra wings on there. This is excellent service, and they more than corrected their mistake.

Some of the good.

  • They fixed their mistake, and not having to pay for the wings was an added bonus.
  • The wings were actually incredibly delicious and filling.
  • Very good beer selection, especially for a sports bar. And quite reasonably priced.
  • Huge establishment, with tons of seating to help deal with their game day crowds.
  • A fairly attentive staff, definitely friendly.

The Cask n’ Flagon does not merit a special trip or anything, but if you are in the area, it is a good, sports-centric place to pop in for a beer and a snack, maybe before or after a game, or when the Sox are on the road and you want to watch the game surrounded by their fans.

Eating Edmonton: The Underground

Eating Edmonton: The Underground

The idea of The Underground is awesome. Why not use a large, downtown basement space, and turn it into a bar? Sounds like a plan to me. It seems like the entrance to an LRT station, with the escalators going below the building on Jasper Ave and 100th Street.

The entrance.
The entrance.

The space is quite nice down there, with a lot more room than I had anticipated. The washrooms are very large and spacious, which is nice after a few beers. You don’t want to be elbowing your way around in there, accidentally making some new friends for the wrong reasons.

There are a few positives and some negatives about this tap house.

Some of the good:

  • The beer selection is great. There is tons to choose from, and all of their beers are on levels (like the 100-level, 200-level, etc), which seems to go in order of either price or alcohol content. Or maybe neither. But they are on levels!
  • The descriptions of the beers are very accurate. Finally, they had someone who really knows beer taste them and write about them. I was surprised at how accurate the descriptions were to the taste of the drink.
  • I tried four different beers that I had never had before, and all of them were delicious. No disappointments for me.
  • The appetizers are good. Our group shared a couple of appetizers, the vegan fritters (kind of tasted like overcooked McDonald’s hash browns- meaning they were good) and the bacon-wrapped scallops (you could wrap anything in bacon and they would be good- these were particularly tasty, and it came with a pretty good slaw). The fritters cost about $12, as did the scallops (for 4 of them).
  • The main course is something a little different. I had a chicken apple sandwich. Pretty good, and fresh tasting. I got it without guacamole, because I hate it, but that would have added more flavour. The chicken itself was average, there wasn’t much done to it that would be different anywhere else, but overall, it was a tasty sandwich. Also, the fries were really good.
  • The clientele. Not as hipster as I would have thought. Usually, the newer downtown bars have become hipster central in Edmonton, but this place was pretty good. A nice place for the 25-35 crowd to go to.
  • Space between tables. I really don’t like it when they are all packed together, and you have to dodge chairs and arms to move anywhere.
  • The music. While there were a couple of times when it veered to a techno vibe that was not needed, the majority of the songs played were a nice collection of 90’s hits, which is perfect for the age group of the patrons. No force feeding of amped up pop hits here, which is nice.

undergroundroomSome of the bad:

  • Parking. Being right on Jasper, options are limited. The cheapest place is to park in the confusing, and busy, library garage. It was $5 on the weekend after 5PM. I hate paying for parking, any time, any where, so I found this inconvenient. The only other places are an impark lot nearby. There really is no street parking that is close.
  • The cost. I found The Underground to be very expensive. My evening cost me close to $100, which for a sandwich, split appetizers and a few beers, is too much for this guy. I found that there were lots of beers I would have tried out, but the cost slowed me down. I find it hard to justify paying $9 for a pint. No matter how good the beer is. The “cheaper” options will run you about $7 a pop, which is a little better, but then you are getting smaller pints. I get it, that this is the craze for these craft-style beer places. I knew the prices going in, but was still surprised at how much I ended up spending.
  • It’s hot in there. Being underground, with no windows, it definitely heated up to nearly uncomfortable levels by the end of the evening, when the bar was full. I hope they have a solid A/C system for the summer months.
  • The decor was nice, but I think with that space, it could have been a lot cooler, and they could have played up the whole “underground” thing. I am no interior decorator, and they made a nice looking bar down there, but I feel it could have been taken further.

Overall, a cool place to hang out for the evening. I would definitely go back, although the prices are prohibitive for me. It would be a place to go for a quick pint and a little bit to eat. Not the kind of place I can afford to spend an entire evening in again, however. For those who have a little better cash flow than myself, The Underground is a good place for eats and drinks.

Eating Edmonton: The Rock Wood Fired Pizza

Classic rock. And pizza.

Sold.

rockA new location on 137th Ave in Edmonton offers up a cool decor, good music, excellent pizza and some really good micro brews. The interior of the bar area is cave-like, with all exposed brick and dim lighting, highlighted by the massive neon signs promoting the various beers the place has to offer. Graffiti on the walls and a reasonable amount of seating (they probably should have gone with smaller tables to get more parties of people in, but that’s a small gripe) makes the place a cool one to hang out in. It avoids the cheesiness of something similar, like a Hard Rock Cafe.

The main draw here is the wood fired pizza. And it is worth the hype. We tried out two kinds, the perfectly seasoned and not-too-spicy Crazy Train and the sweeter and cheesier Founders Pie. Both were absolutely delicious (and tasted great as cold leftovers the next day, as well, something that is very important with pizza). At about $20 for a medium pie, the prices are reasonable, and good when considering the quality and comparable pizzas out there.

TheRock_Food_FramedThe beer was really good as well. Both of us were drinking the Suicide Blonde beer, a lightly coloured and tasty brew. I would definitely go back for more of it. The prices on drinks were reasonable as well, at just under $4 for a 16 oz beer. There is also the option to go for the 22 oz for a little more than a dollar more. Next time I go, it will be tempting to try out their beer sampler, to test out the different beers they have to offer.

At a newer place, often it seems like they would be disorganized or poorly trained, but that isn’t the case at The Rock. The waitresses were quick, attentive, friendly, and cute. Not much more to ask for, is there?

Overall, this place is one to head back to. The food is outstanding, and it is nice to be somewhere where you don’t have to listen to annoying pop songs. Give me Zeppelin, Sabbath, and Clapton any day of the week.

Eating Edmonton: MKT Beer Market

I’ve been to MKT (Gateway Blvd and Whyte Ave) several times since it has opened up, and I’ve decided to do a little review of it.

Firstly, being in the old train station that once housed the Iron Horse (there’s a good throwback bar from the late 90’s and early 2000s!), you know that this is going to be a big, and cool, space. They have appointed it really nicely inside, and it looks great as soon as you walk in. Big picnic tables, some regular high table, booths, and comfy seats along the massive bar make MKT one of the more attractive pub/restaurants in Edmonton.

mktSecondly, this place is one of the best on Whyte in the summer, specifically because of their massive outdoor patio. We crave our outdoor time in this city, and MKT must have one of the biggest patios in the area. This can cause some serious wait times in the summer, mainly because nobody wants to be stuck inside when it is nice and sunny out there. I feel like with their enormous lot (I have no idea if they own it all the way to the sidewalk or not), they should expand their patio even further towards Whyte. And perhaps make use of some of the ample space along the side of the building, leading up to the main entrance.

Next, it is nice for a place along Whyte Avenue to actually have its own parking lot. This is the rarest of the rare in the popular part of Edmonton nightlife, and this is a benefit of the location. If the lot is full, there is also some street parking nearby that is free.

As for the food and drink. It is a mixed bag. The beer menu is very impressive, with long lists of beers from all over the planet. The best idea is to come on a Thursday, when it is $4 for any of their pints. I feel better about trying a new beer when I don’t have to pay $8 or more for it. Gives a chance to see what you might like, and not have to pay through the nose for it. In my visits, I have found the beer good, not flat, and the staff is generally fairly knowledgeable about their alcohol products. Meaning, they at least know what type of beer each one is, which can’t be said for every staff in the city. There are some weird things with the sizes of the beers, as sometimes you are ordering something smaller than you expected. I don’t usually pay attention to the size of the pint when I order a pint. I thought a pint was a size. But that confusion can be avoided by being a customer who actually reads the menu fully, unlike myself on many occasions.

For food, there is good and there is mediocre. It really is just pub grub, but with fancier names and higher price tags. I’m not really picky about the food I eat, but it is just okay here. The nachos are really tasty, especially when covered in pulled pork, and they are of a significant portion size. The burgers are decent, but nothing really makes them stand out. The burger you will have at MKT is essentially the same burger you will have at any other bar in the city. I really didn’t like the soft pretzels, and found the dipping sauces to be quite contrary to what my palate would ever like to try again (my opinion, of course). When I go to MKT, I will typically go after eating, maybe only getting a small snack or appetizer item to tide me over through a few beers.

I’ve read quite a few negative reviews about the service online, but I haven’t found it to be that bad. Of course, like most places, it could always be faster, but for a large and generally busy place, I have found it to be pretty good. I am not typically going there during the most peak times, and have never had to wait too long for a server to show up. When it gets busy and there is a wait for tables, they will take your phone number and call you when a table is ready, which is a little different, but they follow through, and if the wait seems long (like for a patio spot during the summer), it gives you a chance to check around to see if there is somewhere else you would like to go.

Overall, MKT isn’t a major dining experience by any stretch of the imagination. But if you are just going for drinks (especially on a Thursday!), it is a nice place to enjoy a few beers with friends. Just be careful going up the spiral staircase to the washrooms!

Eating Edmonton: The Next Act

Trying a new place for food and drinks last night, a friend and I went to The Next Act, a local pub/eatery on 104th street and 83rd ave, just off Whyte.

And what a delicious surprise.

pub-horiz-left

Like most new food establishments (even though the pub has apparently been there for quite some time, it has gained more fame over the past while due to its food truck, and this seems to have increased business big time), it seems to be hipster central in Edmonton, which kind of automatically gives it an aura of cool. There were a lot of beards and plaid in the busy place.

What makes it really cool, though, is the food and drink menu. A great selection of beers from across the country, and imports as well, at prices that are comparable to other pubs and restaurants. And the food menu, while looking like your standard pub fare at first glance, is very delicious.

I tore apart a PB&J Burger, which is exactly as it sounds. A layer of chunky peanut butter underneath the burger, and a delicious bacon jelly on top made for a really great and original tasting burger. The flavors were not overpowering, and I still knew that I was eating a burger and not a peanut butter sandwich. I quite enjoyed it.

My friend ate a Class Act burger, and raved about it as well. The fries that went along with it were plentiful and delicious, some of the best I’ve had in the city. They would be more similar to the fries at New York Fries or Original Joe’s than those of a fast food restaurant.

Despite being really busy and too hot for a restaurant on an unseasonably warm day in Edmonton, I really liked this place and will definitely frequent it again. Not too many places in town can you get a solid assortment of local beer (more than one type of Alley Kat on tap) along with other good ones like Steam Whistle, and a really solid menu where the food will impress you. There was also a good amount of nearby parking, but with anything in and around Whyte Avenue, this depends on the time of day you are going. Street parking is of course free after 6PM. The service was also quick and friendly, even with the place packed.

The Next Act is so much better than the chains we have been duped into thinking are original, and food tastes that much better; a little more authentic and not as standard.

http://www.nextactpub.com/