Chianti & Sugarbowl

I have to admit it: when I went back to Edmonton for Christmas, I had a food list.

I’m not saying that Culina’s dark chocolate and blue cheese steak, or the Hardware Grill’s lobster mac & cheese, or Da-De-O’s sweet potato fries, or the Manor’s spinach salad, or Duchess’ macarons are the best in the city (though you won’t steer wrong if you order them at all), but I missed them, just as I missed walking around the River Valley or trying to figure out (as I do yearly) whether I shoot left or right in my family’s yearly road hockey games.

(For the record, I shoot left.)

Having my sister gift me with a “Sister Lunch” was a bonus! However, something we’re known for, and should have expected going in, is what we tend to call “adventure” and what a more honest person might call “getting lost/distracted/detoured and ending up somewhere else altogether”. We were headed to Hudson’s on Whyte for bison burgers (bison being on my list) and to watch one of the World Junior hockey games (hockey games being, always, on my sister’s list)… only to discover that said pub was closed for renovations!

So it was with hungry eyes that we turned our eyes westbound down Whyte, succumbing to the warmth and nostalgia (and $7.99 all-day pasta specials!) featured at Chianti.

Chianti is a Whyte institution, hosted in an old Post Office and easy to spot as it’s capped by a green-roofed clocktower. It’s one of the first restaurants that I remember visiting, so it was, in part, nostalgia that steered our steps. I’ve had family dinners and birthday dinners and first dates and breakups and hey-we’re-just-friends lunches hosted under its tall ceilings, looking out onto the Ave or taking in the classical prints and neon printouts of upcoming concerts. I don’t know if I’ve ever wandered off the pasta menu(there are a lot of options!) but while it’s by no means haute cuisine, I’ve always left very happy and full!

After sharing a couple of laughs with our server (who was an old soccer teammate and friend of my brother’s) I ordered the Fettuccine Fulminante: thick homemade noodles with baby shrimp, smoked salmon, onions, and black olives in a curry-cream sauce, and my sister, craving pesto, ordered the Penne alla Pollo with chicken, tomatoes, and peas.

Her dish was tasty – although peas strike me as unconventional, they added a sweet note to the savoury flavours of the tomatoes and basil pesto – but the Fulminante is an old favorite and I dug into it with gusto. There’s something awesome about the rich, smoky combination of the olives and salmon combined with the yellow curry sauce (something that I probably should have figured out how to cook by now, but there’s also something to be said about going out!) Defeated after eating about two-thirds of the generous serving, I declared myself too full for a shared order of Da-De-O’s cajun sweet potato fries (we’d toyed with the idea pre-lunch), and trekked across the river so I could introduce my sister to Duchess Bake Shop.

Strike two – the bakery was closed between the 1st and 10th of January – but I did get an interesting photo of their gingerbread Notre Dame!

Not to be fazed by this setback, we rallied and turned even further west to Vi’s for Pies, whose tasty soups and knockout desserts I discovered far too late in my days in Edmonton. Unfortunately, they were also closed for the holidays!

Five years later, I still aspire to match this bread pudding. Yum.

Fortunately, the Sugarbowl welcomed us warmly, and a square of banana cream pie and a massive serving of bread pudding were soon in front of us. The banana pie was smooth and tasty, and was probably the wiser choice given that we’d just eaten pasta – but I hadn’t had bread pudding in ages and couldn’t resist. I’ll return and defeat it, one day, or share it with a friend: delicious and formidable, topped with soft, real whipped cream and peppered with raisins, banana, and caramel, it’s a great decadence for a cold day, and effectively added itself to my Food List for future trips.

While the Sugarbowl’s hard seats don’t look like you could spend hours in them over coffee, portabella burgers, or exotic lagers without losing feeling, they are oddly comfortable, and service is quirky, quick, and personable. With its proximity to the University, most diners were either students or professors, but it shouldn’t be dismissed, with its awe-inspiring beer list (it’s even longer in real life), exposed brick and wood walls, and casually stylish staff as for-hipsters-only. The Sugarbowl has been around since the ’40s and has been a “Belgian-style cafe” since the late 80s, serving up microbrews and unique ales far prior to the current fascination for beers beyond Bud. It’s definitely worth a visit.

This day, complete with detours, was a perfect gift – a chance to literally gastronavigate for a few hours and take someone awesome along with me.

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