Three Boars Eatery

 8424 109 St.


Food: 4 of 5 stars

Ambience: 4 of 5 stars

Service: 4 of 5 stars

Dinner for two (without beverages): Basic, $30; Multi-course, $60

If you’re looking for a full-blown European dining experience, it’s here at the Three Boars … in a truly Canadian kind of way.

It might take imagination, shrinking 109th Street down to an alley for starters, but the Three Boars Eatery could be a hole-in-the-wall in London’s Soho district or the Montparnasse in Paris.

It’s tiny — 26 seats upstairs, a 13 stool bar on the main floor — full of quirky personality in an old townhouse a few blocks north of 82nd Avenue in the Bridge District. The décor is wood-plank rustic, contemporary in fixtures and chairs, European in its sense of space (i.e. not much).

Where the Canadian comes crashing through is in Chef Brayden Kozak’s prime ingredients.

Kozak is lord of his domain, answering to no one but his partners and customers.

With roaring approval from his clientele, he’s exploring a remarkable Canadian winter culinary experience.

The Three Boars’ food and drink philosophy would appear thus: Buy local whenever possible. Do not be constrained by a set menu. Cook from the imagination, using whatever is A) local and B) fresh. Let the sauces wander in from around the world. Don’t stuff the customer — offer numerous “small plates.” Present a wide range of Canadian/Alberta/Edmonton craft beers, quality spirits, and original cocktails. Keep it healthy, but don’t be obsessive. This is as close as any eatery in this town comes to a “new world” diet where portions are light, where starches and meats are contributory but do not dominate.

By offering this top-notch tapas-style menu, a place for conversation (no TVs, no muzak), good beers and good spirits, the Three Boars works as a spot for post-work drinks, pre-dinner snacks, a light pre-show dinner, a full evening of “grazing” off the menu, dessert and coffee later in the evening, or simply a night at the bar. It’s open from 4 p.m. to “late”.

The menu is a work in progress, changing with what has arrived that morning at the kitchen door.

I am reminded of stories of early Edmonton, when only the wealthy had flower gardens. Working people used every inch of the yard to grow vegetables for the winter root cellar. Kozak uses beet, cabbage, onion, brussels sprouts, pickle, sauerkraut, beer mustard, hemp oil … and then he plays with what were once “poor folks’ “ meats, the now-trendy smoked pork jowl, lamb liver pate, pork belly, ground lamb meatballs. Thirty years ago, Queen City Meats would give such organ meats away. Now they command premium prices.

Chef Kozak combines such northern Alberta heritage foods with flavours from around the world.

Where else could you get an excellent brussels sprouts hot salad, with the bitterness of the veggie softened by heat, honey, lemon and subtle hint of nutmeg?

A big bowl of panzanella salad, defined by its hefty specially prepared croutons, is filled with arugula greens, hard-boiled egg, cucumber, soft-pickled beets and carrots. The dressing is exquisite, made of cold-pressed canola oil, apple cider and smoked paprika dressing.

The “mains” are equally interesting. Who’d think biscuits fresh from the oven would work with crab-meat white gravy, spiced with an oriental sauce based on dried fish? It was magnificent!

Our final dish, Alberta lamb kofta, sent Baba to India for its inspiration. Lamb meatballs were cooked in a red lentil sauce with tender grated cabbage, cilantro, light curry and goat yogurt. The yogurt and curry transformed what’s normally hearty cuisine into something more subtle.

For anybody who seeks the unusual, the fresh or the simply delicious when they dine out, Three Boars cannot be more highly recommended. The servers know their stuff and will guide you through the menu. Reservations (phone only) are recommended.

Graham Hicks