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Monday, 26 September 2011

Engrained - Cutting Across the Grain

I cannot overemphasize the importance of consuming local food. The reasons span the noble (e.g., supporting local farmers) to the slightly selfish (e.g., locally grown food usually tastes better than something that has traveled thousands of kilometers to grace your place). Local food is how we used to do things and, despite society's recent and prolonged departure from this way of being, a return to such a mindset is gaining momentum.

"University campuses" and "local food" are phrases rarely found in the same sentence, let alone the same tangible location, but Engrained is the first (of many, hopefully) of local food's migration into college life. Indeed, Engrained makes a significant effort to use local and sustainably produced meats and produce.

The menu features stir-frys, sandwiches of various varieties, steak, salad and pizza. The cafeteria-style system means that one approaches a "station" - steak, pizza or otherwise - to order and await the desired meal.

I'm having lunch with Marlow Moo; he orders striploin steak with smashed potatoes (but there was no cannibalism!) and I select a calzone (for reasons that will remain intentionally nebulous...though I did honestly want to see the flaming pizza oven in action). The steak is juicy, tender and cooked to order, though heavy-handed salt application obscures the meat's natural sweetness. The smashed spuds, while buttery, are liberally sprinkled with what initially appears to be paprika. A small forkful reveals otherwise. Lamentably, the bright orange powder is seasoning salt. Seasoning salt has its place - don't get me wrong - but locally grown potatoes deserve far better. Dill, perhaps?

My calzone is larger than expected and looks like it could feed a family of four. The dough tends to the heavy end of the spectrum and, while it is stuffed with pepperoni, green peppers, onions, mushrooms and cheese, it manages to taste...well...bland. All of these ingredients should, by all reasonable logic, translate to a zesty meal and yet I a reminded of a pizza pop.

I love Engrained's philosophy and will always support and enjoy local food. That being said, the execution of the dishes we sampled left us wondering why the execution did not match the quality of the ingredients. I want to love the food as much as I love the idea behind it; perhaps Engrained is still growing into the rather large shoes it is trying to fill.

Engrained (University of Alberta Campus) on Urbanspoon


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