The interior has been modernized with new lighting, carpet, paint and a water wall, and the menu too has been updated (somewhat) although the old standards are still offered: escargot, Caesar salad, steak and lobster, prime rib and the crowd-pleasing salad bar with the expected macaroni mixtures, pesky peel-and-eat shrimp and orange and blue Jell-O squares which I suspect are a tribute to the Oilers when they, like the Sawmill, reigned surpreme and untouchable…in the 80s.
We warned our server that we are curious eaters in search of good food, as in food made from scratch by passionate, knowledgeable cooks…fresh ingredients, and all that. Before we settled on appetizers I asked if she’d verify with the kitchen if the crab cakes and coconut shrimp were made in-house. She came back to announce that indeed everything was made from scratch. Perfect. I envisioned big juicy mounds heavy on the crab and light on the filler, mixed with the right amount of seasoning like the ones I’ve ingested on the crab cake trail from Maryland to Louisiana—none of which had cream cheese in them by the way, but hey, I’m always willing to explore. Unfortunately, both appetizers were a disappointment:
two smooth, perfectly shaped glistening balls of pureed crab and cream cheese sat on my plate beside a deflated handful of greens, and the coconut shrimp, deep fried beyond belief looked curiously mass manufactured beside an unappealing puddle of pineapple salsa.
As we were talking to our server a young manager came over with a “What’s the problem?” as an opener. Ouch. There was no problem we assured him but wondered if the shrimp and crab cakes were truly made in-house or if they were frozen and made somewhere else? He replied by telling us feedback is always appreciated and returned to our table saying that the chef confirmed everything was made in-house. He also acknowledged that perhaps the servers don’t have all the information about the food on the menu but that “they need to know how to serve the food first before they know about the food.”
I ordered the steak and lobster special along with a side of béarnaise sauce—if you’re going to revisit the 1980s you might as well go all the way, right?
The béarnaise sauce passed the upside-down-Dairy Queen-Blizzard-trick as I watched it inch slowly down the fork. The young manager was making his rounds. “How is the béarnaise?” he enquired. “Powdered,” I said. “No,” he replied, “It is not powdered…I watched the chef make it.”
At this point, Steve and I were laughing at pretty much everything. That is, until I cut in to my steak (which I requested medium rare).
I eventually caught the eye of the young manager who, by now, was giving our table a wide berth. Hands clasped behind his back, head bent forward, his eyes locked on my plate. “What’s the problem?”
“No problem,” I said (well, other than the problem I was having with his approach), “but this steak is way past medium rare…it’s almost well done.” His response? “That is medium rare.”
Over by the wall, our server and a man in a suit were in deep discussion. The man in the suit turned out to be the general manager who came to our table inquiring about our evening. Besides apologizing for the conduct of the young manager, he set the record straight: The appetizers are frozen and bought from a supplier. The béarnaise sauce is a powdered mix and yes, my steak was completely overdone.
He was very gracious and offered us a $60 discount on our $95 meal along with a customer loyalty card for future visits. He did all the right things I suppose, but it’s never the money that’s the issue. The issue was that the staff, from servers to managers—and evidently the chefs—don’t realize that opening packages and pouring the contents into a deep fryer or a saucepan to mix with water, doesn’t constitute “made from scratch”.
So, sad to say, The Sawmill joins the ranks of mediocre restaurants that Sherwood Park seems to attract as there will always be a niche for restaurants that cater to patrons unconcerned about–and unwilling to question–where their food comes from. Like many satellite communities, Sherwood Park, suffers from the Curse of the Burbs when it comes to food offerings.
Our Sawmill server, who did the best she could with the information she received, was left a sizeable tip, but as for the customer loyalty card, we left it behind because taking it would imply we’d return, and I don’t think there’s a chance of that ever happening again.