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12 Acres’ beef/tomato tartare with Saskatoon jelly and wedge potatoes.
12 Acres’ beef/tomato tartare with Saskatoon jelly and wedge potatoes.

12 Acres Restaurant

8 Mission Avenue, St. Alberta

780-569-1779

12acres.ca

No reservations other than large parties

Tues.-Wed., 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.

Thurs.-Sat. 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Sunday, 10 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.

Closed Mondays

Food: 4 of 5 Suns

Ambience: 4 of 5 Suns

Service: 4 of 5 Suns

Dinner for two excluding drinks and tip: Basic, $50; loaded, $75

Graham Hicks

780 707 6379

graham.hicks@hicksbiz.com

www.hicksbiz.com

@hicksonsix

Holy baked potato, there really is a difference!

It’s not just the power of suggestion, it’s reality.

At St. Albert’s 12 Acres Restaurant, the veggies really are fresher, the lettuce tastes as if picked in the last half-hour.

There’s something about those tasty meats, a subtle freshness and tenderness that maybe, just maybe, has to do with 12 Acres’ farm-to-fork mentality. Maybe there’s truth — not just self-fulfilling romance — to the notion that outdoor-raised, hormone-free, little piggies running free makes for meatier texture and taste.

Twelve Acres is an interesting dining concept, not revolutionary but leading-edge evolutionary.

It’s a partnership between restaurateurs Nathan and Courtney Henry and the Mendieta family’s nearby City Life (12 Acre) all-natural farm.

As much of the meat, veggies and grains as possible is grown/raised at the farm. If Brian Mendieta hasn’t got what 12 Acres needs, he’ll turn to his own network of like-minded local producers.

If ingredients aren’t in season or not available locally, i.e. fish, the Henrys make every effort possible to buy within their wholesome, fresh food philosophy. Breads, pastas, salad dressings, desserts, etc. — are made from scratch in the restaurant’s kitchen.

And here’s the common-sense twist to 12 Acres. It’s not fancy food!

The menu is closer to what gramma pulled out of the oven for Sunday dinners than Range Rd’s back-to-the-land gourmet, or the Three Boars’ roaming into far-off corners of the 100-mile food map where most restaurateurs fear to tread.

Chef Henry’s signature is almost anti-fancy. The dishes are designed to let the foodstuffs themselves – not the seasonings, not the recipes – do the bragging.

There’s even a deep-fryer to make delicious, over-sized French-fry wedges – from only the best of Kennebec potatoes, and I’m sure, fried in the healthiest of cold-pressed cooking oils from locally grown oilseeds.

It’s a winning combination – familiarity with a touch of adventure and the freshest, purest ingredients to be found.

On a Thursday evening, the 12 Acre‘s beautiful patio balcony overlooking St. Albert’s Sturgeon River (in the charming, neo-Victorian “red mansion” beside St. Albert Trail) was full, the dining room and the lounge quite busy. Several multi-generational family parties looked right at home. It’s kid-friendly. (For some reason - an appeal to the masses? - 12 Acres doesn’t take reservations, except for large parties. This is a mistake.)

An interesting technological adaptation: Chef/owner Henry has replaced printed menus with iPads. The menu on both the iPads and the website can be updated at the stroke of a keyboard, according to what’s come through the door that day from City Life Farm and other suppliers.

There’s a core menu – the burger, the pork t-bone, the desserts, salads. The rest changes on a near-daily basis.

With the guidance of Kelli our waitress – knowledgeable and passionate about the restaurant’s vision and philosophy, while professional in service - our party went with two salads and the steak tartare with chips for starters, the farm-fresh burger, pork t-bone, pasta Bolognese and cockles as mains, the vanilla cheesecake and chocolate tart for dessert.

The meats were a true highlight: The tartare was a fusion of tender mini-cubed beef and chopped tomato, just lightly seasoned and accompanied by a smeared Saskatoon-berry jam/jelly garnish. The pork t-bone was among the best I’ve ever tasted – it’s huge (a good 12 ounces), cooked to perfection, and yes, had that sweetness and tenderness that must come from letting the pig get extra-fat whilst basking in the sun.

The burger was amazing. It’s all about a super-fresh minced-beef patty with a beautiful, fresh brioche bun for character, plenty of internal greens and a delicious in-house sauce that I suspect Chef Henry must keep secret.

The salads, as mentioned, were so fresh the lettuce could have come from my garden. The pork arrived with a carrot-coloured and flavoured risotto – different, but not memorable.

Ever the seafood devotee, my wife went for the cockles – a clam-like shellfish with a slightly different taste. She pronounced them superb.

My pasta Bolognese was good, especially the fresh ground beef in the tomato sauce, but slightly plain and with no attention to presentation. This was the one dish that needed more seasoning — a splash of this or that would have livened it up.

The cheesecake was a winner — it’s the real thing, with a lovely fluffy, slightly crumbly moist texture, definitely home-made.

This “vertical integration” of farm and fork, of two philosophically-aligned families combining talents, deserves to be a winner.

Even more impressive is the Henrys’ understanding that excellent dining need not be gourmet, not when so much care and attention is paid to the basics that the ingredients themselves are the centre of attraction.