Juniper Café & Bistro
9514 87 St.
780-490-6799
Juniperbistro.com

Tues. + Wed. 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Fri. + Sat. 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Sun. 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Closed Mondays

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

Dinner for two:  Excluding drinks and tip, basic $25; loaded, $50.

I love independent cafes full of personality, where the owner genuinely cares about the neighbourhood he or she serves, who makes the dining area his/her living room, who serves as the barista, cook and bottle-washer.

Think of the Woodrack Café on 109 Street and 76 Avenue, McKernan-Belgravia’s Gracious Goods Café, or the Blues Java Bar tucked away in Gold Bar, where Leah from Ghana is mother to all.

Add another to this limited list of community builders. Strathearn’s Juniper Café & Bistro — turn left at the crest of Connors Road, angle down 95 Avenue about seven blocks — is a neighbourhood gathering spot complete with a children’s play area AND an excellent dining destination as this review will attest.

Strathearn itself, east of the downtown on the south side,  is a gem of a tree-lined neighbourhood with boutiques, shops and restaurants scattered along and off 95 Avenue. Beautiful homes on Strathearn Drive and Strathearn Crescent overlook the river valley.

But it has a marketing problem. Nobody seems to quite know where it is. Strathearn’s 95th Avenue has never become a shopping/dining destination unto itself.

The Juniper Café & Bar will help.  While focusing on its immediate neighbourhood, the food makes it a city-wide destination for casual, interesting and inexpensive dining.

A former scuzzy bar in a small strip mall, the Juniper space was fully renovated, with plenty of natural light, tiles, wood tables and chairs with a bakery area for pick-your-own baked goodies. 

The low ceiling, the awkward counter-ordering system and rigid seating area – the tables march up and down the space — create a slightly institutional cafeteria feel. This needs work.

Not to worry, The Juniper is about the owner/operator/chef Peggy Adams’ food, and the food is first-rate. The dinner menu is an interesting, eclectic blend of dishes – i.e. charcuterie, lox, veggie curries, Juniper style burger and steak sandwiches. It’s divided into small plates, sharing plates and “I’m not sharing” plates, but, really, two of anything and a dessert will fill you up.

The hit of our evening was the salmon baked in parchment, a forgotten style of cooking salmon that, when done right, makes for super moist meat and coaxes sweetness out of the fish. Adams is that rare chef who understands minimalism.  Her salmon – a fresh, good sized filet – was simply garnished with lemon and ginger, with just a speck of salt, and it was delicious.

The same with Adams’ green curry veggie bowl. Nothing overly aggressive here, no ferocious heat, just a light, coconut-creamy, pleasing pastiche of gentle spices with a faint dab of heat. The fresh veggies within the sauce captured the right moment on the continuum between soft and crisp. The warmed flatbread, with baked-in cumin, was a perfect accompaniment.  

The seared ahi tuna, sliced and presented sushi style with pickled onion and wasabi aioli, was fresh and light. Unlike the other two dishes, it offered no clues to the chef’s own style — except the home-made purple yam chips at the other end of the plate were unique, and went well with the tuna.

Desserts are a house specialty. The Guinness chocolate cake, all rich, fluid and elegantly sweet, was superb, as were several other desserts as reported by friends dining at a nearby table.
Peggy Adams’ cooking is something special – light, restrained, diverse – as is Juniper’s blend of community gathering spot and destination dining. 

The room needs to shed its slightly institutional atmosphere. The counter-order system is not good for dinner - while Peggy can be seen bustling around the kitchen, the bistro needs front-of-house personality.

* * *

Possibly a misunderstanding: Original owner Bjorn Cochran did not shut down Sloppy Hoggs Roed Hus this past spring, as was reported in this column last week. He actually sold the restaurant, which continues to operate under the same name, same recipes, same location at 9563A 118 Ave. 

Under Bjorn, Sloppy Hoggs had the best BBQ in Edmonton. The Weekly Dish will have to revisit to see if the quality is maintained under new ownership.