Friday, November 28, 2014

Gastropub Style at Central Social Hall

Sparkling Wine
Central Social Hall opened in 2012 in downtown Edmonton, by friends Jesse Kupina and Jerry Rota. The duo with other restaurant and night club experience under their belts noticed that there was a lack of pubs in Edmonton that actually encouraged people to socialize with one another, and generate discussions, thus Central Social Hall was born. Although it’s been on the corner of 109 Street and Jasper Avenue for almost two years, only one and a half blocks away from where I live, I have to admit that I’ve never stopped in. The idea of pub food was not particularly appealing to me, and at the menu launch event, Jesse Kupina even admitted that they neglected to make food a focus when they initially opened. In order to make themselves stand apart from their competition however, they’ve realized that they need to put an emphasis on their food, making Central Social Hall more like a gastropub.

Chef Reuben Major
Cue Chef Reuben Major, who they’ve brought in from Vancouver to help develop and redirect their food program to focus on fresh, locally sourced ingredients, and dishes made from scratch in house. Chef Reuben Major was previously the Directory of Culinary and Bar Development for Earls Kitchen + Bar, and is currently the Executive Chef and Partner in Belgard Kitchen, part of Vancouver Urban Winery. The items that he’s created to reinvigorate their menu range from nods to the typical pub menu like the ballpark pretzel, to lighter, more female and health conscious friendly fare like a crispy prawn Thai noodle salad.
Kettle Chips

The tasting kicked off with a glass of Glera sparkling wine, as we grazed on Chef Reuben Major’s take on sour cream and onion chips, reimagined as house made kettle chips with a sour cream and caramelized onion dip. Although sour cream and onion chips are also my all time favourites, this was my second least favourite dish of the night as I found the chips too thick and the sour cream dip lacked the sweetness I was expecting from caramelized onions. I think had the chips been a bit thinner and the caramelized onion come through more strongly, it would've been a great dish. My least favourite dish of the night was the spicy chicken taco. The chicken was unfortunately so shredded that there would be no way to know it was chicken unless you were told. Although it was most definitely spicy, there was little depth of flavour otherwise. It would have been better to leave the chicken in whole strips to give the dish some diversity of texture aside from the vegetables, and perhaps if the serrano lime marinate were more flavourful, it would have given it the complexity the dish needed.

Albacore Tuna Tataki + Wonton
Seven more courses followed, with my favourite of the evening being the albacore tuna tataki on crispy wonton chips with wasabi aioli. The wonton chip itself was very crunchy without being oily, while the avocado, pickled ginger, cucumber, ponzu and albacore tuna tataki were refreshing and light. The wonton chip itself was large enough so there was enough room to accommodate all the toppings comfortably, with a little extra length acting as a handle.

Ballpark Pretzel
My second favourite dish of the evening was the apple and cranberry crumble. It was served in a jar. The bottom layer of apple and cranberry was sweet yet slightly tart, with large chunks of fruit visible so you knew it was real fruit, not mushy canned pie filling. The maple and pecan crumble were a nice contrast to the fruit, with my only complaint being a desire for more vanilla bean gelato than was provided.

Apple + Cranberry Crumble
My next favourite dish was a tie between the ballpark pretzel and their seafood linguini. I’m not normally a fan of pretzels, soft or hard. I generally find pretzels too doughy, hard, or overly salty with little flavour. However, Central Social Hall’s ballpark pretzel was what I imagine pretzels are supposed to be like! It was warm, soft and lightly salted, making it enjoyable eaten on it’s own. It comes with a spicy mustard sauce and a stout cheddar sauce, although the spicy mustard sauce is too spicy and overwhelms the pretzel, the stout cheddar sauce is perfectly cheesy, with the perfect texture to cling to the pretzel. The seafood linguini was well balanced, despite being coated in a slightly spicy cream sauce, the acidity in the grape tomatoes cut through the richness.

Seafood Linguini
The crispy prawn Thai noodle salad was a welcome change from the usual salad selection found at bars, which Jesse Kupina confessed their previous salads were no more exciting than salad in a bag kits found at your local grocery store. The rice noodles were light and bright tasting, very lightly dressed in a chilli lime sauce, with an enticingly crispy prawn on top.

Menu on back plus pen to take notes
Despite the two dishes that failed to impress, the rest were delectable! I was also impressed with Central Social Hall's organizational skills in preparing the menu launch. In addition to the welcome cocktail, each attendee was given two drink tickets, a $25 gift certificate to encourage us to return, the full tasting menu printed with a notes section, and most importantly, a pen to actually take notes with! Service was quick and attentive as servers continually checked in with tables to see if any drinks were required. Most importantly, Chef Reuben Major and owner Jesse Kupina both helped serve, and made the rounds throughout the evening to gather feedback and answer any questions we had. I’ve been to a lot of restaurant openings and menu launches and the lack of the owner or chefs presence or availability to attend to questions or interest in gathering feedback is always the thing that irks me more than slow or disorganized service, or lack of organization in the event. So it was a welcome change to see a restaurant actually ensure this was a priority.
Central Social Hall Downtown

I will definitely be returning to try the other items on their new menu, and for those who are too far from downtown, have no fear! They will be opening up a second location in St. Albert soon. If you’ve never been, now is the time to visit Central Social Hall with their newly revamped menu, or if you’ve been before and were unimpressed with their lacklustre food, give them another whirl, as it has changed for the better!

Central Social Hall
10909 Jasper Ave
Edmonton, AB  T5J 3L9
Twitter: @CentralDTyeg

Central Social Hall on Urbanspoon

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