Hicks' Weekly Dish: Home is where the Hart is - BY GRAHAM HICKS, EDMONTON SUN FIRST POSTED: TUESDAY, APRIL 22, 2014
Hart’s Table & Bar
14229 – 23 Ave. (Riverbend)
780 488 4278
Food: 5 of 5 Suns
Ambience: 4 of 5 Suns
Service: 4 of 5 Suns
Dinner for two, just food — Basic $40, loaded $90.
What is Hart’s Table & Bar?
It’s nearly a neighbourhood restaurant, in a strip mall in Riverbend/Terwilligar’s 23rd Avenue shopping district. But it’s more sophisticated than your usual mom ‘n’ pop establishment.
It’s almost a family diner … except kids under 18 have to clear out by 8 p.m.
It’s almost a pub, but it’s more about atmosphere, liveliness and food than pints and conversation. There’s no defined lounge area — just couches in one corner and a bar stretching down the far wall.
It’s almost gourmet, but the menu avoids any such pretension.
Hart’s is about comfort food, but the quality and choices are better than comfort food elsewhere.
So much better, that Hart’s ranks a rare “five out of five Suns” for its food.
Please understand this top ranking is within the “comfort food” category. Hart’s is not to be compared to gourmet bistros like RGE RD or Corso 32. This “five” is in comparison to other restaurants in its weight class, i.e. Milestones, Joey, Earl’s, Cactus Club, Murrieta’s, Homefire Grill or its Century Hospitality sisters, The Parlour Italian Kitchen and Century Grill.
Full disclosure: I was recognized on arrival, Century executive chef and Edmonton Sun food columnist Paul Shufelt was working that night and came by. I was assured our dishes were exactly as served to any customer. We received no special treatment service-wise and there were no freebies — even the water cost $4!
Nothing disappointed. Everything was a delight. The menu is eclectically mainstream — perogies, moules frites, “kaleslaw” and an old-fashioned croque monsieur mingle with the standard sliders, short ribs and Caesar salads. Prices are high, but acceptable given generous portion sizes and overall quality.
Calarmi ($13) and mussels (listed as moule frites $17) are always good for a quick read on a restaurant, and both were on Hart’s starter menu. The calamari appeared as expected, breaded and deep fried with a subtle red-pepper aioli for dipping. The squid was tender and fresh, the batter light and fragrant, with no oily residue.
The mussels were unquestionably five-star, entrée-sized, plump, super-fresh, free of the fishy taste/odour that emanates from lower-quality or stale mussels. The gorganzola cheese sauce was a thing of beauty, hot, creamy, distinct and a perfect match with the mussels. Then there were the accompanying, delicious, hand-cut fries.
The sauteed shrimp (two-super-sized shrimp) came in a cream-and-butter packed tomato/white wine sauce, to be soaked up with cheese toast. How can common crustaceans taste so good?
As far as caesar salads go, and I do love a good caesar, this is one of the city’s best — a unique in-house dressing with a gentle garlic overlay, top-quality romaine lettuce, thin-sliced toasted baguette croutons, silky smooth radish slices, fresh-shaved parmigiano, crisp and crumbled pancetta (Italian-style bacon). Nor did this caesar drown in its dressing, a common occurrence elsewhere.
The croque monsieur — a traditional French ham sandwich drenched in cheese sauce — was a case study of Hart’s attention to detail. Not just ham, but sliced gammon; not just cheese sauce but gruyere cheese and dijon moustard stirred into a rarely seen, delicious bechamel sauce, poured over the sandwich and then broiled into the smoothest of cheese toppings.
I loved the tuna/avocado/salsa stuffing of the tuna tacos, each flavour distinct but blending into a cool, harmonious whole.
Finally, the piece de resistance, the reason for a “five” rather than a 4.5 food rating.
Hart’s 8 oz., peppercorn rubbed New York striploin was everything a great steak is supposed to be, but so rarely is. Rich, tender, perfectly medium-rare from top to bottom. The garlic/peppercorn rub permeated the meat, the surface seasoning offering just the right tang without overwhelming the oh-so-tender meat.
Hart’s is casual, fun (it’s named after a dog, whose photograph/portrait will make you laugh) but elegant. This is the Century Hospitality team’s second opening in five months, following the pre-Christmas launch of The Parlour. The choices, attention to detail and fixation on quality are improving with every outing.
As an aside, Hart’s is using the neighbouring Prairie Mill bakery for its bread, Spirit View Ranch for beef and as much else as can be sourced nearby. Other restaurants make a big deal out of buying locally. Hart’s just does it.
Reviews on Yelp and UrbanSpoon have been mixed — as can be expected when a restaurant first opens. But after seven weeks, Hart’s has found its rhythms. Our table of four was unanimous. Within the comfort food class, Hart’s had given us a five-sun experience.