State & Main opened in the southwest corner of Southgate Shopping Centre at the beginning of September. At first glance I was intrigued by the curiously cool name, dark-chic interior and the fact that it must have some financial heft behind it based on the real estate it was occupying. It didn’t take much effort to discover that State and Main is part of the Original Joe’s family. My hope deflated like a tired birthday balloon. Another chain. Come on, Edmonton.
Still, some chains do it right. My previous review of the Cactus Club proved that. I willed myself to give State & Main a fair and fighting chance.
Two months after its opening, and on a Friday afternoon right at peak lunch hour, the place was dead. Three hair-twirling, bored young gals in the attire required of trendy chain restaurants (short skirts, high heels, false eyelashes) waited by the front podium. Our arrival sent them into an excited discussion about where to possibly seat us.
How about that row by the windows… like, the entire row. Anywhere.
The menu is extensive with categories of “start & share, salads, casual favourites, in a bowl, burgers, flatbreads, between bread, steaks & mains, and happy endings”. An appropriate menu tagline would be, “Guaranteed to appeal to somebody, somewhere out there, sometime.”
We started with the Bang Bang Shrimp (a staff favourite, according to our server), and the Butter Chicken Poutine.
Indeed, I can understand why the Bang Bang Shrimp would be a staff favourite. They satisfy that craving for something quick and caloric, and, they were, I have to admit, delectable. The plate was loaded with plump shrimp, deep-fried but not greasy, and drizzled with a spicy chili aioli and togarashi (chili pepper) seasoning. Despite their claims of spiciness, there was no bang bang in this shrimp dish, but flavour and quality wise, this dish passed the test. I was actually surprised.
The Butter Chicken Poutine will appeal to poutine lovers – at least those poutine fans who also love Indian food. The portion is generous, the fries are admirable, and though the butter chicken wouldn’t win any awards, it was still passable. What this dish was lacking was the cheese curds; the few that appeared failed to melt underneath the tepid curry sauce.
Red Thai Shrimp Curry: “pan-seared vegetables & tender shrimp; fired in a spicy coconut lime sauce, served over sticky rice & topped with fresh cilantro” reads the description. There was no fire, there was no spice, there was no coconut, no curry, and hardly any shrimp. There was an abundance, however, of broccoli.
Everything about Cobb salad appeals to me: a melange of ingredients (chicken, avocado, hardboiled egg, bacon, lettuce, blue cheese, tomato) topped with a buttermilk ranch dressing, makes this more of an entree than just another salad. Plus, all those ingredients mean you get a hit of different flavours with each bite. At State & Main, the Cobb looked wonderful, but fell short on wow-factor. The blue cheese balsamic dressing was thin and lacking anything reminiscent of blue cheese. Despite all the ingredients, there was hardly any flavour to speak of.
This is what happens with most chains: ingredients come from far away, on trucks, out of boxes, and from who-knows-where.
State & Main is like a Martha Stewart-wrapped package with a dollar store knickknack inside: looks good on the outside, but lacking substance. Go if you must. The chairs are comfortable and beer is on tap; perfect after a long day of shopping at the mall.
My CBC review with Mark Connolly can be heard here.