Consistency, thy name is Earls - Weekly Dish review of Earls Tin Palace, originally appearing in the Edmonton Sun on Wed. March 21, 2012Arl
There’s a certain mantra that happens in this town every day.
“Let’s meet for lunch.”
“I dunno, something different?”
“Can’t think of anything ... let’s go to Earls.”
The city’s default restaurant. Top of mind, top of choice.
And with good reason.
Earls — seven locations in town now — has been a name in this town since 1982.
The now 63-strong restaurant chain started in Edmonton, circa 1982, as a playful beer, burgers and toy parrots joint on Jasper Avenue around 122 Street.
Earls, 30 years later, continues to make good food.
It was good when it was burgers, it’s still good with its pastas and steaks, trendy wok stuff, interesting sandwiches and nods to ethnicity.
To review Earls, our party visited Edmonton’s Earls classic.
Earls Tin Palace opened in 1986 at Jasper and 119 Avenue and is now among the most enduring restaurants in town.
The Tin Palace has much going for it, mostly the location: just off downtown in resident-rich Oliver, plus oodles of indoor and outdoor space, plus free parking.
The summer patio is one of the biggest and most inviting in town.
We went for dinner with friends early Saturday. The Earls experience was exactly as expected. Consistency, thy name is Earls.
The young hostesses in tight black dresses take you to your table. (They know nothing about food, but they’re pretty, friendly and part of the Earls brand. Men love them and the ladies don’t really care.)
The magic of the Earls menu is its soft eclecticism. Earls was the first Western Canadian restaurant group to understand the new menu possibilities coming at us thanks to wide-spread travel and multiculturalism … as long as tastes stayed within comfort zones.
Hence a popular appetizer like an albacore tuna “poke” on nachos.
Enough Edmontonians have been to Hawaii to know about poke as diced and marinated fish fillets, which Earls has “Canadianized” with cucumber, avocado and pureed mango mix on top of “togarashi” (Japanese) flat wontons ($11.50) with a nice (mild) peppery crunch.
Or how about a “Jeera” chicken curry, ($17) jeera suggesting an East Indian dish with an emphasis on cumin. It was very tasty, a clean, delicate spice permeating fresh chicken chunks in a nice thick curry sauce ... but as mild as mild can be.
Or a “hunan kung pao” ($13) Chinese noodles and seared veggies in a spicy ginger soy sauce, a quick stirfry topped with peanuts. Again, slightly sanitized for Canadian palates and offered with a choice of hunan pepper heat from zero to atomic. One of our guests, heartbroken by a new hot-pepper allergy, had to order the no-heat noodles. Sad, but still tasty.
As this column has oft noted, you will not get a chef’s unique touch at a chain restaurant. All of Earl’s recipes are developed at corporate headquarters, with the lads and ladies on the line following recipes to the letter, using fresh ingredients that won’t vary from restaurant to restaurant.
When freshness isn’t there, it shows up fast. My Dungeness crab and prawn salad ($18) was a disappointment. The shredded crab may have been fresh, but didn’t taste so. The texture was watery and had as much flavour as the bland canned stuff.
The seafood salad was the only disappointment.
The grilled chicken and baked brie sandwich was quite delicious, thanks to a fresh-baked ciabetta bun and roasted apple slices playing off the discreet brie.
A cream of corn soup with a touch of serrano pepper heat was decent.
Earls will never be a sweet-tooth paradise. Its desserts are OK, but not fabulous.
Earls Tin Palace, as management openly acknowledges, is long over-due for a major facelift. Founder Bus Fuller mentioned to me (see my blog at www.hicksbiz.com) that the Tin Palace would be renovated top-to-bottom later this year.
So if you can’t think of anywhere else to go, Earls usually does the trick!