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Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Canada's 100 Best Restaurants - Rge Rd

Rge Rd, when it first opened, reminded our fair city that food came from somewhere, be it ground, leaf, hoof or feather. It did so without being preachy, elitist, or smug and brought barn and farmhouse paraphernalia to an urbane city street without resorting to kitsch or contrived country-fried contraband. These are, by no means, easy feats.

Rge Rd cracked Air Canada's En Route magazine's "Canada's best new restaurants" list a year ago, and the buzz has continued - rightfully so - ever since. Rge Rd also earned spot in Maclean's magazine's "Canada's 100 Best" issue this spring. Fame is a paradox, however; at once a microscope and a halogen spotlight. Indeed, one's modus operandi is dissected with near-surgical precision, while the inevitable spotlight brings a relentless mix of well-wishers and coat-tail riders. How, then, does a restaurant whose very existence is rooted in rural simplicity maintain its set of governing values?

The answer is surprisingly straightforward: keep it simple and use what the land has to offer. Rge Rd's penchant for showcasing unexpected ingredients begins with a tiny shower of orange flowers across this evening's "Kitchen Board." The contents of this hearty slab of wood change often and reflect the ephemeral nature of farm fare. Tonight, a pair of salubrious sliders sport red onion-ring halos at jaunty angles. A doll-sized iron crock cradles creamy fish casserole. Crispy flatbread provides an ideal vehicle for ferrying said fish from plate to mouth. Scotch Eggs are a nod to rustic British snacks: crisp crumb crust, ground meat mantle, and creamy egg core.

A little surprise arrives midway between appetizers and entrees: a tumble of spongy morel mushrooms kissed by cream and cradled by a snake-like grilled green bean. The fungi veritably sigh with promises of spring and hint of a recent existence in damp, earthy undergrowth. This off-menu treat will be spoken of long after the meal concludes.

Supper is almost anticlimactic after the morel mushrooms' perfect simplicity. Halibut with garlic ramps and mascarpone gnocchi (left), however, pairs sensationally smooth potato dumplings with buttery, flaky flatfish. Ramps impart little zings of tantalizing bitterness. Pheasant (right) is a tangible reminder of why dark meat must not be scorned in favour of light. The bird's rich and resonant flesh finds punchy, acidic sweetness among black garlic juice and tomatoes. A triangular pheasant galette encases further pheasant with tender onions, granting the fowl status as both lead role and supporting actor.

Rge Rd's great strength lies in its alchemic ability to refract humble ingredients, be they offal or flowers, into culinary synergy. All ingredients are treated with respect; offal never defaults into shock-value and flowers never become airy-fairy nonsense.  Decor is evocative and effective. Service is honest and never effusive. This, truly, is the intersection of farm, food, and friends.

Rge Rd on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Reach out and Touch Faith at The Burger's Priest

This, the year 2015, is fixing to be the "Year of the Hamburger/Hotdog." One barely blinks and another "Coming Soon" sign proclaims the imminent arrival of a quirky-gourmet hotdog stand, or promises to reinvent (and restore faith in) the burger as we know it. It is scarcely May, and these quasi-upscale but deliberately down-home joints are spreading throughout the city.

It would seem, then, that The Burger's Priest has tall promises to fill, given that their motto is "redeeming the burger one at a time." The place, just off Jasper and 109 Street, is judiciously emblazoned with Biblical references in both English and Greek, but cleverly treads the line between being cheeky and overdone. Burgers are named after various roles in the Papist roster and can be customized with various toppings. One couldn't help but wonder, though, if T.B.P.'s chops would deliver.

The aptly-named Priest brings a beef patty topped with melted cheese, a deep-fried portobella (which, on its own, is the "Option" burger) and - at my request - lettuce, tomatoes, ketchup and mustard. The tomato immediately stands out. It is ripe! Thank the heavens. It oughtn't to be the case, but woefully underripe tomatoes plague too many Edmonton eateries. Not "The Priest." This benevolent omen ushers in a burger characterized by flavourful, juicy meat, an especially satisfying fried 'shroom, and a delightful crown of melted cheese.

The Vatican takes tongue-in-cheek indulgence to a different level entirely. Not one, but two grilled cheese sandwiches carry two beef patties that sport even more melted cheese. Though the cheese is more of the Kraft Single than the vintage cheddar variety, it quickly becomes ooey, gooey, nostalgic fun and reminds one of the grilled cheese sandwiches made by the inevitable best friend's mom in grade two. Though it is a bit difficult to finish this calorrific treat, each bite really is one step closer to hamburger heaven.

Burgers may well have their day in the sun this year, but The Burger's Priest quickly converted even the staunchest of non-believers. Reach out and touch faith.

The Burger's Priest on Urbanspoon


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