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Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Breaking the Jinx at Central Social Hall

There are so many jinxed locations in Edmonton. One can think of a certain spot on Whyte Ave's western frontier that chewed through a high-end eatery, a coffee shop and a sushi joint in a matter of months. Or spaces on Jasper Avenue that suffer the same, perpetual, interminable fate. A certain corner of Jasper Avenue was a Japanese joint with dubious "naked sushi" a few years ago. Then, it morphed into "The Ruby Dragon," proffering purportedly good Chinese food that still failed to hang onto this coveted piece of real estate. Finally, in 2012, Central Social Hall cut the ribbon and threw open its doors. Passing motorists - myself included - caught glimpses of boisterous, crowded tables, and blinking flat-screens.

Still, I did not visit, unconvinced by my unsubstantiated assumptions of predictable hamburgers and sodden fries. A recent invitation to Central Social's new menu tasting event provided good reason to visit, and ultimately to shatter preconceived notions of pub-grub proficiency.
A detailed menu flaunts a daunting nine item roster for the evening, one that is nudged into sparkling motion by a glimmering flute of Glera Sparkling that tickles and whispers like the snowflakes outside. The flipside of the menu reads, "share and be social," and this phrase is as prophetic as it is accurate. A large platter of Kettle Chips (upper left) delivers satisfying crunch, though the accompanying caramelized onion dip falls a little short in the onion department. Bacon-Deviled Eggs (lower left) are ghostly white boats toting a rich payload of smoke and sweet. Ball Park Pretzels (lower right) are show-stealers. Warm, salty and beguiling, these knotty treasures find happy companions in fiery mustard and rich cheddar sauces. Better yet - both sauces in the same bite, much like a British mustard-and-cheese sandwich. Albacore Tuna Tataki (upper right) furthers the evening's trend with a strong hand of crisp wonton, supple tuna, and a savoury-tangy dollop of wasabi mayo on top.
 A Crispy Prawn Thai Noodle Salad (upper left), aside from that extremely memorable pretzel, is the evening's winner. Cool, citrusy, and summery, this melange of cabbage, cilantro, cuke, carrot and cucumber, finds sunshine with sweet mint, tart pickled onions, and earthy peanuts. A crispy fried shrimp is the proverbial cherry on top. A Spicy Chicken Taco (right) is the evening's misstep; chicken is shredded so finely as to be undetectable, while valentina hot sauce is inconsistently applied. Texturally, the sum of the parts is not the whole. Redemption arrives in the earthly form of Seafood Linguini (lower left). Here is a creamy, tomato-y treat that would just as home on a red checkered candlelit table cloth as it is under the uber-modern light fixtures of Central Social.
All good things must end, and if all good things ended with Apple-Cranberry Crumble, the world would be a far better, far happier, place.  Here, a rustic jam jar proudly cradles ruby-red apples, cranberries and rhubarb that relaxes and reclines under a crumbly blanket of pecan struesel. One could eat a bowl of struesel alone, as it's rather addicting. A tiny scoop - how I wish there was just a bit more - of vanilla gelato melts gratefully onto the surrounding crumbles while the omnipresent flat-screens blink hypnotically, like the headlights of passing vehicles outside.

Thank you, Central Social Hall, for your generous invitation, and for proving yourselves to be a strong contender in Edmonton's burgeoning gastropub scene. If anyone deserves to dispel that location's jinx, it's you.

For another take on the evening, read about Marlow Moo's experience.
Central Social Hall on Urbanspoon


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