After two months of painting and polishing, partners Alysha Couture, Dominique Moquin and Josh Meachem announced that The Almanac on Whyte, a place where “pub fare meets French food”, was ready to open.
Bring on the cassoulet!—and I mean, literally: Alberta is home to heritage breeds of duck, lamb, pork, and beef; we grow almost 1 million metric tonnes of pulse (peas, beans, lentils); we are blessed to have conscientious farmers bestowing us with a bounty of vegetables. We have everything to make cassoulet, and more. What we lack is good British pub food (yes, there is such a thing), so it made me happy to hear that these two cultures were going to meet up and feed us.
Our first visit started off a bit rough. The chef was unavailable and the remaining partners had little knowledge about product sourcing. The four dishes we tried looked good but lacked flavour and were missing any British or French connection whatsoever: kale salad, pesto chicken sandwich, a burger, and mushroom ragu with truffled gnocchi.
The food hadn’t improved by our second visit, but the product knowledge had. The meats, we are told, come from Centennial Meats. Even though our local, small producers weren’t supplying the meat, I had to concede that honesty was much better than saying I think.
That meat revelation explained why two welterweight slabs of pork belly are on offer for $19. It also (partially) explains why the pork belly is tough, bland and almost inedible. The other part of the blame lies squarely on the kitchen, and, that wasn’t its only folly: wilted, room-temperature salad greens, overcooked chicken, grease pooling in and around the onion tart. Not a good night in the kitchen.
There is minimal French inspiration here. Moules frites, boeuf bourguignon (unavailable when we visited), and a charcuterie board are listed; Gruyère is the cheese of choice, and a croquette makes a valiant appearance on the Snack Menu, but then the Lost Boys of the Food World show up: popcorn chicken, pretzel bites, vegetable chips and dip, mushroom ragu with truffled gnocchi, a pesto chicken sandwich; Kale hangs in there—warm and topped with a soft egg—and a caramelized onion tart attempts a shot at a 2016 comeback. This menu is just begging for sausage and potatoes. They could be offered French style in choucroute garnie, or British with bangers and mash. How about tartiflette, steak pie, or pasties: nothing fancy, great to make in large batches of single servings, and all perfect pub fare.
Thankfully there is Josh Meachem to bring some liquid sunshine to the darkness. He was responsible for what was stirred and shaken at Solstice, his thoughtful concoctions presented in delicate vintage glassware. Here, the fancy glass is gone, in its stead, clunky, chunky, hefty barware that no one would dare to smuggle into their purse for fear of breaking the straps. The cocktails are, thankfully, still nicely crafted and the prices are ridiculous—in a good way: $8 for a 2-ounce Old Fashioned; a 6.25 ounce pour of wine for $9.
On weekends, The Almanac features live music acts. This should fill the house while also filling the void left by the closure of the nearby Wunderbar and The Pawn Shop.
Go for affordable drinks and music but more recipe development needs to take place before this Almanac can be considered the authority on French inspired pub food in Edmonton.
More details about the food can be heard here on CBC Edmonton AM.