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.

Eating Edmonton: Craft Beer Market

Eating Edmonton: Craft Beer Market

It’s hard not to love all of the places opening up in Edmonton that specialize in good food and good beer. Because, food and beer are some of my favorite things in the world.

It took me a lot longer to get out to Craft than I would have expected, especially with its convenient downtown location, right across the street from the Sherlock Holmes pub. Well, it is convenient if you actually manage to get parking downtown without having to pay and arm and a leg for it. But this is less of a problem in the evening, once the workday crowd has mostly dispersed. Still, don’t expect to get one of the very few spots right across from Craft. Plan to walk a few blocks.

craft2First off, the space that Craft has is incredible. It is very large, two floors, and has recently opened their rooftop patio for the summer months. The space is very open, spacious, and tastefully decorated. It has the feeling of a beer hall, but classier, not unlike other establishments of this ilk.

The staff are pretty quick, friendly, and attentive, and you are greeted warmly upon entering the building. There are various table sizes, which is a nice option depending on the size of your group, with tables and booths aplenty.

One of the most impressive things about the place is the kegs of beer everywhere. If you accidentally wander down the wrong staircase trying to find the washroom, as I did, you will get to the basement level that includes a room with hundreds upon hundreds of kegs of beer in it. Momentarily, I believed it to be heaven. You can also see the beer on the main and upper floor, as it is contained in glass rooms, similar to how it is in Beer Revolution in Oliver Square.

The food at Craft is good. As is expected now, they have a full and interesting menu of what I call Pub Grub+. Typical fare for this kind of place, but it is really tasty, and not simply sloppy chicken wings. It actually took our group a while to decide on what to eat, because there was definitely more than one enticing option. Pretty much every appetizer sounded delicious. But we had to restrain ourselves.

As for the beer selection, well, it is probably second-to-none in Edmonton. I believe there are over 100 beers on tap, and they are changed regularly. This is awesome. It can be difficult to navigate the beer menu, simply because there are just so many to choose from, and it can become quite overwhelming, if you don’t really know what you want. The servers are very knowledgeable about what they serve, so don’t hesitate to ask about a certain beer, or describe what you are looking for. They will be able to help you out with that, which is always nice.

Because of its food and drink, Craft would seem like a place that could become a home away from home for me. But for one thing: the prices.

I get it. Craft beer is all the rage. Pub Grub+ food is all the rage. And you can expect to pay for quality. I don’t mind paying for quality.

But Craft Beer Market has priced itself out for me. This cannot be a place where my friends and I hang out for an evening and sample different beers. I would go broke, especially when the majority of beers at Craft are over $9.

$9!!

While the food prices are only slightly above average in comparable pubs, it is the drinks that will absolutely destroy your bank account. This makes Craft a perfect place to come after work for a meal and a beer, but little more than that. Sadly, I am not a one beer type of person, and the price just adds up far too quickly for me. It would be great to be able to spend some time there, and sample a lot of the different beers that they have to offer, since it is such an amazing selection, but I don’t feel like selling my car just yet. I feel that the high prices are actually a detriment to the sampling of new beers, simply because I am nervous about spending $9.25 on something I have never tried before. If it isn’t very good, then that is a large waste of money, when I could have just been smarter, and gone for the $8.25 Sapporo that I know is good.

Me complaining about it won’t change the prices, and from what I’ve heard, Craft has been very successful since its opening in Edmonton, which is great. It continues to be nice to see downtown being revitalized with new places all the time, creating a place that is good for the older crowd that has mostly tired of Whyte Ave.

Craft is great, if you have the money.

Eating Edmonton: Ale Yard Tap & Grill

The Ale Yard has some good things about it, and some that make it seem as though this place is doomed to failure, as was its location predecessor, Don Cherry’s. While this pub and grub spot seems to have an ideal location, at 13310 137th Ave in Edmonton, it really isn’t. It is on a main drag, and it really isn’t that close to a large residential population, which makes it more of a place to stop on the way home for a pint and a bite, instead of a place where you will spend the whole evening. Now, this does afford it some charms, such as it really is never that busy, allowing for fast and friendly service from a great wait staff (they really are awesome, and they take the time to know their regulars. Even new waitresses will come and introduce themselves if you are recognized as a frequent visitor), but it lacks the party atmosphere of a more Whyte Ave type of pub, if that’s what you’re looking for.

ale yardThe food at Ale Yard is as typically pub grub as you can imagine. The food is standard, and tastes like you would expect. It is no different from anywhere else in the city. However, they do have some of the best french fries, and for some reason, the chicken fingers from their appetizer menu are particularly delicious. Also, they have solid chicken wings, with some inventive flavors that are actually pretty good. These include tandori chicken, and butter chicken. Doesn’t seem right, but they are pretty damn good. Aside from that, you won’t find anything new here. You get what you pay for, and you get what you expect.

The drink menu is a strong point for the bar, one that I feel needs to be built up more. They have a great selection of beers, ranging from your standards, to a decent import list, to a strong selection of local “Premium” beers. The prices are fairly normal, but it is best on a Thursday, where half-pints are only $2. Otherwise it can get a little silly paying $6.75 for a pint of Keiths.

ale-yard-tab-and-grillIt seems apparent that the Ale Yard is too big of a place for its operation. I feel it would be better served if it were cut in half, and they avoided some trappings of the neighborhood bar, like karaoke night. Dump it. It doesn’t get the crowd any bigger, and when looking for a calm pub, it kind of ruins that atmosphere. Don’t try to be a dance bar on the weekends. Just because there is loud music, it doesn’t mean that people are going to pack a dance floor. They don’t. And a dance bar is not what the area needs. Ale Yard should be focused on competing with other beer-centric places, such as Beer Revolution or Kraft. The Ale Yard really can’t decide who it is, and its identity is one of throwing many things against the wall and hoping that something sticks. For a real boost, they need to cut the size, focus on improving their food to the point where it is something different and original, and then I feel they would be a stronger draw. It is a good place to hang out, but it could be better.

I’ve checked out many of the reviews for the Ale Yard on Yelp, and notice that many of them are negative. And even though this is a place I like, I can’t disagree with them. Although I have always received great service, to the point where some waitresses know my friends and I by name and will often sit for a quick chat, there are times I could see them being too slow for some customers based on how packed the place is(n’t). Many of the reviews comment on the food, which I agree with. But this is a pub. I don’t expect anything more than standard fare. And the prices are average, not the best. You just have to know to hit the deals on certain nights of the week, and it comes out being reasonable.

When it comes down to it, the Ale Yard is a good place to hang out, have a couple of beers and a snack. If you go in expecting something amazing, you may be disappointed. For a regular pub, it pretty much ticks all of the boxes.

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/