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Thursday, 31 October 2013

Burger Quest Part 2: Jack's Burger Shack

Jack's Burger Shack lends much-needed burger punch to Edmonton's well-heeled northwestern neighbour, St. Albert. Although locating the spot is a bit challenging for those not well-acquainted with this mini-city's downtown, gustatory rewards await the necessary sleuthing and pavement-pounding.

An Orange Creamsicle Shake starts off the evening with a creamy, frothy glass of citrus-vanilla nostalgia. This icy brew tastes uncannily like the frozen childhood treats of long summers past, and a straw much wider than the one provided would be most welcome.

Fries are clearly sliced from whole spuds and bear the crisp, brown skins of their progenitors. A good dusting of salt treads a fine line between "just right" and "too much" salinity, and is offset by the provided cup of smooth, garlicky aioli.

The Cobb Burger promises an appealing roster of ingredients; the sum of the parts, however, does not equal the whole. Like its namesake salad, the Cobb wears a heavy coat of bleu cheese and bacon. The patty is charred to just this side of being burnt, but maintains a remarkably juicy interior. Tomato relish is pleasant, but resembles diced tomatoes, rather than true relish. Bleu cheese, which ought to be one of the highly-billed artists in this production, is somehow lost in the melee.

The BBQ Crunch Burger fares much better. Topping a hamburger with potato crisps is borderline sacrilege to some, but evokes a heady, savoury, "all dressed" suite of flavours that just belong together. Prerequisite cheese and bacon are anything but contrite. Only the bun seems mismatched; as with the Cobb Burger, the bun is far too large for the patty plus toppings and one is left with an ungainly crescent moon of bread at the end.

Jack's and Sky High, in summation, present a significant departure from fast food burgers in St. Albert and Sherwood Park, respectively. The "Cole's Notes" take-away points include:

- Better fries at Jack's. They are crisper and come with a pleasing alternative to ketchup.

- Better patty at Sky High. Juicy and irascibly beefy all the way through.

- Shakes are a toss-up. The flavours are more creative at Jack's.

Jack's Burger Shack on Urbanspoon

Monday, 28 October 2013

Burger Quest Part 1: Sky High Burger

Hamburger joints, if one were to shake them up in a jar, would sort themselves out into a number of strata. Fast-food establishments comprise one stratum - the likes of golden arches, fictitious monarchs, and pig-tailed redheads. The subsequent tier, the "craftier" spots, contains the likes of Smashburger, Five Guys, Fat Burger, Rodeo Burger, and others. An elusive creme de la creme in this admixture surely exists; I have yet to find it.

Breaking into the first tier is next to impossible, for the fast food fixtures are untouchable giants. Hence, a number of burger spots are edging their way into the middle tier and, as a point of interest, many are popping up in Edmonton's surrounding communities.

Sky High Burgers occupies a just-finished spot on Sherwood Park's northern frontier. Construction is rampant in adjacent bays, and it seems as though few have yet clued in that Sky High is open.

Beverage options include the usual roster of pop, as well as hand-blended milkshakes. A chocolate shake is properly thick and sports a snowcap of whipped cream. A cherry on top is conspicuously absent but isn't missed in the thick of this chocolate indulgence.

Diners may choose from a single or double angus patty, and then customize it from a range of free toppings, not the least of which include sauteed mushrooms and caramelized onions. These two intuitive partners do well to rest upon a blanket of melted cheddar and a swirl of "sky high sauce" (which is a ketchup-mustard-relish-secret ingredient blend with a rather pleasing tang). The beef patty underneath is not lost to its mantle of accoutrements, and shines with a crisp exterior sear and juicy interior beefiness.

A chicken burger - which is a whole breast and not a ground patty - is somehow bland despite generous lashings of barbecue sauce and cheese. Chicken, though a popular fowl, frequently befalls this fate in the absence of proper seasoning. The buns on both burgers are average sesame seed rolls that fall in the fast-food category.

And so, Sky High succeeds with beef but falls short with chicken. Tomorrow: Jack's Burger Shack in St. Albert. Stay tuned.

Skyhigh Burgers on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Tavern 1903 - Shaken, Not Stirred

Tavern 1903 occupies much of the accurately rebuilt Alberta Hotel on Jasper Avenue and, like the ingredients of a well-crafted cocktail, seamlessly combines history with suavity. Indeed, rich rooms dressed in dark woods evoke the "cuff links and cigars" masculinity of the establishment's namesake year, and yet are equally at ease with hip tunes and a chic crowd.

The evening air is a bit brisk at this point for an outdoor patio sort of supper, but auburn leaves and frost-tinged air have done little to diminish the din of diners within. An encyclopedic cocktail menu is the evening's launching point. Servers make wise recommendations for those unsure of what to order.

Goat Cheese Fritters are resplendent in richness, yet taste not of the deep fryer.  Beets, pecans. and dates flank a small nest of greens that undercut the fritters' muted muskiness.

Burrata resembles an otherworldly egg: here, a bocconcini exterior protects a disarmingly smooth, buttery-cheesy center. Balsamic zig-zags and a tomato jam that tastes mysteriously of rosehips are assertive, yet floral, accouterments. A stoplight-hued jumble of tomatoes rides shotgun, and a quartet of oblong toasts seal the deal. Cheese-wrapped cheese cannot be anything but magical.

Cornbread with bacon butter diverge from heretofore Italian-esque cuisine into Soul Food territory, and beguiles with flecks of sunny peppers and whole, golden corn kernels. Bacon butter is unctuous - a dab will do - and is a most welcome change from regular butter. With cornbread, one must either go "whole hog" or not at all. Tavern 1903 did well to choose the former.

Butterscotch Pudding with Pretzel Struesel reimagins childhood flavours through adult eyes. A wee mason jar cradles velvety, slightly boozy pudding, but the pretzel crumbs are the real treat. Nutty, sugary, crunchy, and utterly addicting.

Though it remains highly unlikely that the original Alberta Hotel's well-heeled patrons dined upon such fare, Tavern 1903 does supreme justice to this grand edifice. 'Tis indeed a well-concocted cocktail of historical ambiance intermixed with thoroughly invented cuisine - shaken, not stirred.

Tavern 1903 on Urbanspoon


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