A Taste of 118th Avenue, El Rancho and Battista's Calzone Co.: Weekly Dish originally published in Edmonton Sun, Wed. March 27, 2013
Battista’s Calzone Co.
Corner 118 Ave. and 84 St.
780 758 1808
►Food: 4 of 5
►Ambience: 3.5 of 5
►Service: 3.5 of 5
►Lunch for two: $10 to $20
11810 87 St.
780 471 4930
►Food: 4 of 5
►Ambience: 3 of 5
►Service: 3 of 5
►Dinner for two: $20 to $30
There’s something about 118 Avenue’s restaurants and bakeries. From The Barbecue House at 97 Street to Uncle Ed’s past 50 Street are dozens of restaurants of every ethnic variation. The bakery cluster, from the Popular to the Handy to the Italian, creates more fresh bread choices than anywhere else in the city.
The 118th Avenue blend of ethnic, artist and community has a small-town feel. But its low-income nature is a brake on gentrification, keeping rents affordable for family-run restaurants.
These family restaurants are usually friendly, unpretentious and economy-priced. Trendy flatbreads or sliders don’t show up in these parts.
Their village-style food, as typified by Battista Vecchio’s Calzone Co. at 118th and 84 Street and Dora Arevalo’s El Rancho Spanish Restaurant just off 118 Avenue on 87 Street is really, really good.
Battista Vecchio has this restaurant thing figured out. “I don’t want to get burned out,” says the calzone company’s owner, landlord, head cook, waiter and bottle-washer. “I like to have a home life.”
Battista works with one employee, serving a dozen variations on the same theme from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. only, Tuesdays to Saturdays.
Battista makes calzones, in essence pizzas folded into half-moons, the edges crimped so there’s no leakage. Run through a very hot oven, the calzones emerge piping-hot with a delectable toasted crust.
Battista makes nothing but half-plate sized calzones — classico, spicy sausage, meatball, chicken pesto, the special of the day, all $9.50. For variety, have the Nutella and strawberry dessert calzone. If he’s not busy, Battista has table service at his extra-long picnic tables. If he is, pick up your order back at the counter. Battista is of the old school. Always in the restaurant, on a first-name basis with all his regulars.
His calzones are ultra-fresh, dough made on-the-hour, bursting with melted cheese and meats, parmesan and herbs baked into the tops. All that’s missing is a home-made tomato sauce. El Ranch makes excellent Latin American village dishes. The Spanish” in the name is slightly misleading. Think of variations on Mexican dishes, thanks to the Arevalo family’s Salvadoran roots.
Pickled cabbage comes with the tortillas. The home-made tomato sauce is savoury, the sour cream salted. It adds up to a refreshing new take — for North Americans at least — on Latino food. Tacos, tortillas and enchiladas dominate the appetizer/snack part of the menu, but,
being light and filled with fresh-cooked ingredients, they are a thousand times better than their fast-food counterparts.
Mains are simple … and delicious. The pollo encebollado (chicken with onions) features a crispy but tender chicken leg smothered with onions, in turn saturated with a paprika-like smoky pepper.
Passing by us en route to a Latino family was a whole fried tilapia fish, the most appealing I’ve ever seen in an Edmonton restaurant.
Next time … El Rancho keeps the heat on simmer. If you want fiery, let the kitchen know when ordering. Make reservations on a weekend.
So many interesting restaurants and bakeries on 118th Avenue … only one stomach. Sigh.
*Gone, not surprisingly, is Jack’s Grill. It long ago ceased meeting original owner/chef Peter Jackson’s standards.
*Re-located from the 118th Avenue area is Café Amore. The Crudo family’s superb Italian small-plates house, unable to stomach a major rent increase, is closer to downtown. The new 10807 106 Avenue location is north of MacEwan University.
*The Godfather of Edmonton’s pub scene has retired. Irishman Patrick Devaney, of Sherlock Holmes, Rose & Crown and Devaney’s fame, has sold his pub holdings for a well-deserved retirement. Great run, Patrick!
780 707 6379