smashburger

First of all, a big thank-you to Smashburger for inviting me out to their opening party on Tuesday night.  I haven't been into cooking these days, so it's especially nice when someone else buys you dinner! 

Smashburger is an up & coming chain from the good ol' USA.  They started up in 2007 and have been rapidly spreading throughout the States and have recently launched into the international market with locations in the Middle East and Canada.  Calgary has their first two locations and the new one in Sherwood Park is the third.

The Smashburger concept is simple: serve up satisfying, fresh, delicious burgers.  They've carved out their niche by offering up fresh, never-frozen burgers cooked to order.  They start off with a ball of hamburger (no fillers or binders) then smash it onto a hot, buttered grill where it develops a great crust that seals in the juices.  They use 100% Angus beef that they import from the States along with a variety of fresh toppings and sauces.  Their menu also has a selection of "Smashchicken" sandwiches, dinner-sized salads and sides.  They've got shakes, malts, pop and beer available to wash it all down with.  One of the things Smashburger is trying to do is 'regionalize' their menus with special recipes chosen to reflect local tastes.  When I was checking out their website I decided to see what that meant for the Calgary locations versus the new one in Sherwood Park.  I thought it was interesting that there were different offerings, even between the two Calgary stores (for example, one restaurant had deep-fried pickles and the other had mushroom poutine) - I guess you have to visit each location to try it all out! (here's a link to the Edmonton menu)

There were four of us in our party, and we all decided to go with beef burgers - I mean, we were there to try out the 'Smashburger' speciality.

I picked the 'Truffle Mushroom Swiss' burger with a side of 'Haystack Onions'.  The first bite of my burger was delicious, with so many wonderful flavours all playing together; the buttery rich egg bun, juicy beef, salty swiss cheese, garlicky mushrooms and a generous spread of truffle-infused mayo.  The flavour combo was great, and I could see this one being a really popular burger.  I didn't enjoy the haystack onions quite as much - I found them to be overly salty and when eaten alongside the rich truffle burger (which was a bit on the salty side too) it was too much.  I could see enjoying the onions more with a different burger, or even a few inside a burger - yum.

Trev ordered the 'BBQ, Bacon & Cheddar' burger with a fried egg on top (one of the 'premium add-ons' options).  He seemed to enjoy it and it looked pretty tasty, but I didn't actually try it.  He had the 'Smash Fries' as his side: thin-cut fries tossed with rosemary, garlic & olive oil.  I really liked them - the additional flavours on the fries were a nice addition, and not overpowering.  A much better compliment to my burger than the haystack onions.

One of our friends tried the 'Spicy Baja' and judging from the number of those we saw leaving the kitchen, that was a popular choice.  It looked really good with a pile of fresh toppings, and seriously, who can resist guacamole?  She had a side of sweet potato fries and we all agreed that they were nice and crispy, but a bit bland on their own.  They were also thin-cut and didn't seem to have too much sweet potato taste as a result, so they might have benefitted from some seasoning or a dip.  I think our other friend had the 'Edmonton' burger and he liked it too (sorry, I was too engrossed in my own burger).  One of the toppings on the Edmonton burger is 'Canadian seasoned grilled onions' - I couldn't help but wonder...how is 'Canadian seasoned' different than any other grilled onions?  A mystery for me to puzzle over....

We got to try a few samples of Smashburger's milkshakes (chocolate & Oreo) and they were tasty and creamy.  I wish we had got to try the Saskatoon Berry flavour, but none made it to our table :)  I had really been looking forward to trying a malt (I haven't had one since I was a kid) but they weren't up for offer that night - guess I'll have to head back for another visit!

Overall, we all agreed that we would return to Smashburger in the future.  The food was good - it was delicious and fresh, as promised.  The menu had a good variety and I think you would be able to meet a variety of dietary restrictions there too (like gluten-free).  My only small quibble was that all the food is imported from the U.S.  I realize this is because with only 3 stores in Canada at the present time, they don't have the buying power they do in the U.S., but it would be nice to see 100% Canadian Beef on the menu in the future.

My prediction?  It's going to be a busy summer for the folks out at Smashburger!  Thanks again for dinner :)

Smashburger on Urbanspoon

pumpkins at prairie gardens

Last weekend I celebrated my birthday a few days early out at Prairie Gardens with family and friends.  It was a chilly & snowy day, but we had a lot of fun.  Their Haunted Pumpkin Festival has been running all month (October) and the last day was on Sunday.  I reserved one of their fire pits (perfect for roasting hotdogs and marshmallows), but luckily they also gave us a space inside one of the heated greenhouses.

We checked out the little corn maze on site (the really big one is down the road a bit), the corncob cannon, the petting zoo, 'build-a-scarecrow' and alllll the pumpkins.

As an added bonus, they invited us to take as many pumpkins as we wanted because it was the very last day of the season!  We loaded up the car with all sorts of varieties - creamy white ones, variegated ones, super-big bright orange ones, lumpy-bumpy ones - you name it, they had them all out at Prairie Gardens.

Everyone had fun out at the farm, and it was a great activity to do outside of the usual stuff in Edmonton.  I'd definitely make a trip back out to Prairie Gardens next spring!

raspberry love

I looooove raspberries.  Tart, sweet, juicy, beautiful little summer gems.

Recently I headed out to

Roy's Raspberries

with a couple girlfriends to pick raspberries.  The picking was good and it didn't take us long to fill our three ice cream buckets.  We picked two buckets of regular raspberries, then headed over to the back raspberry patch and loaded up a bucket with some of the specialty varieties, including the sweet & mild golden raspberries.

The folks out at Roy's Raspberries are so nice.  My friends and I had a lot of fun hanging out in the sun while picking berries (we may have sampled a few as we were picking...)  An ice cream bucket full of berries only cost $15!

After our buckets were full we headed back to Caitlin's house for dinner.  While dinner was in the oven I gave the girls a pie-making lesson (here's my

pie crust recipe

).  We made some tasty Bumbleberry pies (sorry, no finished product picture - I was enjoying and forgot!)

Berries pre-pie.  mmmmm.....

pizza club

This post is looong overdue, but I had to share anyways because I think this is the best pizza I've ever eaten...in Canada anyways...or maybe ever.  Two weeks ago we headed to Transcend Coffee on 99th St. for the Friday night edition of Pizza Club.  What is Pizza Club you ask?  Well, as far as I understand it, it's currently operating as a members-only club, so you need to be invited by a member to attend.  I was super-excited when our friend Jason invited us.  Pizza Club is all about artisan pizza created by chefs who are truly passionate about what they do - including the finished product, the ingredients and the experience had while enjoying their pizza.  Kevin Kossowan made a great video about Pizza Club -

check it out

.  

It all starts with the crust - I think that's what made the pizza so amazing.  Don't get me wrong - the toppings were fantastic too, but the crust really was my favourite part.  It was firm and crunchy on the outside, with a good amount of chew.  The inside was soft and delicate and filled with holes and big air pockets.  The flavour was spectacular too, with the slight char on the outside and the complex flavour of the moist bread when you ripped the crust open - I'm not quite sure how to describe it...a bread-lover's dream?  It was sturdy enough to pick up a slice without having all of your toppings fall onto your plate, which is important for the whole 'pizza experience'.

While we were visiting with our friends and enjoying a glass of wine before the pizza came out, I got the chance to chat with Chad (one of the guys behind New Level Pizza), who is super-nice.  He told me that it was okay to blog about pizza club, but that I wasn't allowed to think about blogging while I was eating - I was just supposed to enjoy the pizza as I was eating it.  Sounded good to me.  As a result, I only have a rough description of each pizza we enjoyed because I was busy stuffing my face instead of trying to remember exactly what was on each one.

The first pizza to arrive at our table was a classic Margherita.  So good with fresh tomato sauce, basil and mozzarella.  I could eat this pizza everyday...

Next at our table was a Moroccan-inspired pizza with ground lamb, herbs, pickled lemon slices, yogurt and crunchy fried chick peas.  This one also came out with a little dish of olive oil and a sesame-spice blend to dunk pieces of crust in.

Then there was a pizza Bianca - lots of garlic on this one.  It was salty and good with a bit of diced chili and a sprinkling of wild lettuce on top; the flavours kind-of reminded me of Thailand.  There was one more main-course pizza after this one, but I think my brain was starting to go into carbohydrate-coma, so I forgot to take a picture.  It was a very special take on the classic pepperoni mushroom pizza.  It had roasted baby mushrooms (shitake, I think?) and homemade sausage.  This one might have been my favourite...or the Margherita, hard to say.

Finally the dessert pizza came out.  It smelled soooo good, but by that point I was sooo full.  I still managed to eat one piece though (I wished I had saved more room in my belly).  It had a salted caramel sauce as the base topped with dark chocolate Grand Marnier ganache.  First off, I love salted caramel, then top that with the slightly melting cubes of ganache?  Wow, just wow.  It was a great finish to an excellent meal.   

Trev, enjoying his pizza

hoang long noodle house - west edmonton mall

Hoang Long Noodle House

has been around for quite a while - tucked into the upper-level of West Edmonton Mall near the entrance to T&T Asian Market.  It used to be a small little place, where more often than not, you were squeezed in next to strangers to enjoy your bowl of pho or vermicelli.  They expanded into a much bigger restaurant a while ago, and I had only been there once since the expansion.  Trevor and I were in the mall a little while ago, and we wanted to stop for a quick bite to eat, so we decided to go to Hoang Long, because we've enjoyed it in the past. 

Their new space is nice, with a slick Asian-cool style.  Unfortunately, I feel like they've bitten off more than they can chew with this larger restaurant.  The service was absolutely terrible and I don't think the food was as good as it used to be.  Sorry Hoang Long, I think we're going to have to break up...It's not me - it's you. 

We ordered shortly after being seated: we both wanted the four-colour vermicelli bowl.  Nothing too complicated, right?  We were seated fairly close to the kitchen, so after 10 minutes or so we noticed two vermicelli bowls waiting to be picked up.  Our server came and went to the window numerous times, but the bowls still sat there... 25-30 minutes had passed since the time we ordered and we saw the bowls that had been sitting on the counter all that time were heading our way.  Not acceptable, in my opinion, so we sent them back, and asked for fresh, hot meals.  (I very, very rarely send food back).  Our new vermicelli bowls came out within minutes, nice and hot.  Was that so hard? 

My bowl was okay - it had charcoal grilled chicken, pork & beef and a few springrolls with a generous sprinkling of roasted peanuts.  I felt like maybe the meats weren't as good as I remembered from the past, but maybe my memory was influenced by experience.  The springrolls definitely weren't as good as before.  Mine were soggy, which was disappointing. 

This was not a good experience, which is too bad because I used to really like Hoang Long.  I think for the cost and quality I would rather spend my money elsewhere for a bite to eat in the mall (or maybe on new kitchen stuff from Anthropologie). 

Hoang Long (WestEd Mall) on Urbanspoon