Dining Out: Top marks for design at Holy Roller while food leaves room for improvement

There was a time, not so long ago, when Edmonton was a relative bargain place to dine on the continent with a surprising variety of worthy culinary and potable options on offer for not much more than a song. Savvy travellers from other locales would often remark favourably on this Canadian anomaly, especially those who hit River City after pricier stops in Vancouver and Calgary.

The one aspect the city lacked then was the design sense common to those and other larger, if comparable, centres. Back in the day, supping at bistros such as Calgary’s long-shuttered (but gloriously set forth in all its distressed grandeur) Mescalero, I used to wonder when our local restaurateurs would get with it and devote some attention to physical space. Cash wasn’t the only problem. It was also imagination born of travel, taste, curiosity and the imperative to create a sense of excitement and even mystery in a room.

Things have changed here. Brilliant, unsung cheap eats and drinks are much harder to find in Edmonton. Then again, folks in the business deserve to make a decent living while continental foodie memes and trends rule. And yes, local bistro owners, many young, talented and making a stand, have stepped up to the plate in design and hipness high and low. This is obviously a good thing.

Near the top of the design list is Merchant Hospitality, the Edmonton partnership behind the adjoining Strathcona trio of El Cortez, Have Mercy and lately, The Holy Roller.

Each is a fabulous movie set of sorts — co-owner Michael Maxxis makes films sometimes — and deserves a visit on sheer esthetic grounds alone.

There used to be a great eatery in Toronto called Three Small Rooms. Call Holy Roller Three Strange Rooms. You enter into a Victorian parlour that serves as a breakfast room/coffee shop, step across a threshold lined by gumball machines and theatre seats and move into a central hall with banquettes, a long bar, green neon and chandeliers on the ceiling, gorgeous floor treatment and striking murals by Coachella Valley artist Armando Lerma, among other nifty details.

Describing the backroom, which I assume will open to an agreeable outdoor space in summer, is beyond my limited powers — although it has the faint vibe of New Orleans tea room to me. And a white panther. And more neon. And what of “the Holy Roller?” Haven’t a clue.

Anyway, you get the idea.

Source:: Edmonton Journal – Lifestyle

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