Little Brick Café + General Store
10004 90 St., Riverdale
8 a.m. to 4 p.m., seven days a week

Food:  4 of 5 Suns
Ambience: 4.5 of 5 Suns
Service: 3.5 of 5 Suns
Lunch for two:  Excluding drinks and tip, basic, $20, loaded $40

High Voltage
10382-63 Ave. (corner 104 St. and 63 Ave.)
Mon. to Fri., 10:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. 
Sat., 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. 
Closed Sunday

Food: 4 of 5 Suns
Ambience: 2.5 of 5 Suns
Service: 3 of 5 Suns

There’s no character or personality on downtown Edmonton streets fronted by banks or office towers or inward-looking malls.

The average suburban commercial strip — out beyond the Henday — is dullsville incarnate.

So, please, raise a glass to new social entrepreneurs like the Little Brick’s Nate Box, who are as interested in community as they are in money.

And may crusty old guys like Taso, who has made the best donairs and gyros on the South Side at High Voltage since 1997, never pack it in.

Restaurateurs like Nate and Taso couldn’t be more different. But both provide character.

Everybody loves our river valley park system. Everybody has the same complaint. Where are the restaurants or tea-houses in the river valley to stop for lunch or a snack while hiking or biking?

Well now there is one – it’s just hard to find.

The Little Brick Café is in the historic river valley Riverdale neighbourhood, beside the school, below the downtown’s east end.

The café is a hundred metres off the river valley trails. Sadly the view is blocked by the new J.B. Little Brickyard development’s infill townhouses and low-rise apartments.

The Little Brick Café, in the rambling, original home of J.B. Little himself, is an absolute gem. There’s a wooden fence surrounding the property. You enter through the main gate, walk around the house past the hay bales, fire pit and picnic tables to a raised wooden patio area on which is located the main entrance to the café.

Inside is the order counter and coffee station, with a chalk-board menu of soups, salads, paninis and stews. The dining areas are endless – the back yard, the patio, the summer kitchen, up a short flight of stairs to the original living room, and, in the original dining room, a table for group dining. Too bad there’s no vista, but the sun-drenched back yard is charming unto itself.

The breakfast, lunch and snack fare is excellent – my ham and gruyere panini was made from pan-seared French toast, constructed with a thick slice of real ham, deliciously melted gruyere cheese, micro-greens, Dijon and a faint hint of honey sweet, then given a final grilling before serving. The soup of the day, a barley vegetable, was hearty and steaming, the barley mercifully pureed with fresh veggies added later.

On the business side, the Little Brick Café closes as a café at 4 p.m. then opens evenings for low-key special events — acoustic concerts, small weddings etc.

Owner Nate Box now has four cafés on the go, each custom-designed to its neighbourhood, being the Little Brick Cafe, District Café close to the Alberta Legislature, Burrow – the first underground LRT coffee shop at Central Station and his original Elm Café sandwich bar in Oliver.

* **

High Voltage is visually non-descript, just another plastic chair fast-food joint, in a prime location on the busy intersection of 104 Street and 63 Avenue.

You don’t go to High Voltage to hang around, you go for the take-out donairs and gyros and garlic-laden tzatziki sauce and perfectly-turned-and-roasted donair meats.

And to watch owner Taso in action. I haven’t seen Taso get mad. Our conversations have always been friendly. But he is legendary — “Like Seinfeld’s Soup Nazi,” says my High Voltage donair-addicted brother-in-law – for being abrupt and curt when he’s busy.

Which is most of the time. Over 19 years he has perfected the art of making a great donair (sweet sauce) or gyro (tzatziki sauce and feta cheese).

Like a Subway, you point to accompaniments and sauces, pick whole-wheat or white pita. At the next station, Taso slices the meat from his vertical meat pilings onto the veggie-and-sauce drenched pita, expertly folds and then grills the wrap for further cooking and grill marks.

By the time you’re home, the wrap has further cooked in its own juices, is warm, succulent, juicy, bursting with Greek flavours. Keep napkins handy.

High Voltage donair and gyros are a perfect fast food, with the added in-store entertainment of possibly seeing Taso get bossy.

Character – be it in personality or building – is a wonderful thing. More, Edmonton, more!