Hicks Weekly Dish: Tavern 1903 offers great food at great prices. Originally published in Edmonton Sun, Wed. Oct. 23, 2013
Tavern 1903 at Alberta Hotel
9802 Jasper Ave.
780 424 0152
Food: 4 of 5 Suns
Ambience: 4 of 5 Suns
Service: 4 of 5 Suns
Dinner for two (not including drinks or tip): Basic, $50, loaded, $80.
Tavern 1903 is not a tavern.
Tavern 1903 is a restaurant with a great bar. Tavern 1903 breathes history like the Fairmont Hotel Macdonald breathes history.
Tavern 1903 is the best food & drink thing to happen at the east end of Jasper Avenue since the Hardware Grill.
Which makes sense. Tavern 1903 is a second project for Hardware Grill owner/chef Larry Stewart and his wife Melinda.
But whereas the Hardware Grill is the city’s top dog for formal (i.e. expensive) dining, Tavern 1903 is offering Hardware Grill quality in a casual setting, at Earl’s/Joey’s prices.
Tavern 1903 is so named because half — to the right as you enter — is a replica of the tavern in the original Alberta Hotel. The other half — to the left — is a more formal modern dining room with whimsical touches.
The Alberta Hotel was built in 1903 on the corner of Jasper and 97th Street, then demolished in 1984 to make way for Canada Place. It’s been lovingly re-created, using bits and pieces saved from the original hotel, by architect/developer Gene Dub.
Facing Jasper Avenue across from the Shaw Conference Centre, Tavern 1903 has already transformed the surrounding streetscape. What used to be a barren bit of ground from the Hotel Mac to the Shaw Conference Centre is now lit up and welcoming, clean and classy. When the big patio opens next summer it’ll create a sidewalk scene that Jasper Avenue East has not known since the original Alberta Hotel was in its heyday.
Gene Dub would never settle for second best in his historical architecture.
Larry and Melinda Stewart would never settle for second-best in their food.
If there’s one word to describe Stewart’s cooking, it’s smooth. Flavours, tastes and textures in his dishes just seem meant for each other.
The Hardware Grill’s kid brother has gone all out on the mix ‘n’ match department, with 14 small plates plus a specialty mozzarella section — five combos of fine mozzarella cheese heaped high on crostini toast.
There’s just five “dinner” plates — echoing the Hardware Grill classics, not as fancy, but less expensive and just as good.
With the guidance of our server, Maria and I tried three selections from the small-plate “supper” menu, one from the mozzarella bar, one from the salads and a whiskey-infused butterscotch dessert. The bill was $75, with enough left-overs to give the troops back home a quality late-night snack.
The buffalo mozzarella on three large toasted crostinis is magnificent – creamy, light, delicate and plentiful.
KFC — Korean-fried cauliflower — is not only fun but delicious, with a tempura-like coating on a veggie that loved coupling up with a ginger/lemon dipping sauce.
The pork belly — think great bacon fused to pulled pork — was doing a dance with the fennel mash. Salted pretzel on the same fork gave truth to the utter smoothness of the Stewart taste experience.
The goat cheese was lost in the middle of four fritters (again think of a coarse tempura) on greens, but the accompaniments — sweet dates, candied pecans and beets — again created that utter smoothness of taste.
The only less-than-perfect small plate was the duck tacos. The soft medallion-sized tacos sat on the bottom of the plate like pancakes. The plain-jane duck meat that didn’t justify its confit processing. Nor did the array of accompanying flavours make it past a pleasant but strong Asian hot sauce. This one needs work.
Thank you so much, Larry, Melinda and Gene, for creating another absolute gem for our renewed downtown.
•The last week of October — Tuesday to Thursday, Oct. 29-31 — is the annual on-line/phone-in ATCO/Edmonton Sun Christmas Charity Auction in support of the Christmas Bureau, Catholic Social Services’ Sign of Hope, United Way and Stollery Children’s Hospital.
Participating restaurants that have earned top ratings in this column include Bistecca, Cactus Club, Café Amore, Century Grill, Characters, Famosa, Homefire Grill, King & I, Koutouki, Massimo, Normand’s, Piccolino’s, Ruth’s Chris, Zinc, plus dozens of other dining spots. Patronize restaurants, I say, that give back to the community.