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Thursday, 10 April 2014

Happy First Birthday, Alfie's!

Alfie's on Urbanspoon

Evening greetings, foodies and food-consumers alike! Despite the handful of other restaurant experiences I know I need to write about, I feel compelled to jump ahead and share with you my experience this evening back in Granville, as this is obviously freshest on my mind. Tonight's attention is being duly paid to Alfie's Wholesome Food, which held its first birthday party today. Perhaps you may remember my blog post of Alfie's opening day last year? Regardless if you ever read it, I expressed my hope then that Alfie's would be well established in Granville. By the looks of the crowd that descended upon East Broadway and behind the Robbins Hunter Museum, this locavore restaurant certainly has. In addition to the opening of neighbouring Wisp Knitting Shop, there was certainly much for Chef/Owner Sam Dodge and his team, as well as Granvillians and visitors, to celebrate.


With over 60 folks (of the nearly 100 invited via Facebook) responding as participating in the event, I knew many more would be in attendance. To that end, I left OSU's campus right after my morning class and spent the day on Denison's campus, until 5pm-ish, when I headed down the Hill and grabbed a nearby parking spot.


I caught up briefly with Sam and started off the evening by taking photos and checking out the sampling menu as each item was being prepped in the Museum kitchen by Alfie's employee and COTC culinary student Jessica, and Sam's mom Pat, who told me she was there to specifically help out with this event.


In addition, and noting her own self-proclaimed bias, she added that Sam's food (put simply) is good. I unequivocally agree, emphasizing "good" not as a reductionist, comparative term but merely as a simple, straightforward fact, without need for further qualification or unnecessary adornment.


But hey, poetic flourishing and embellishment seem to be staples of this blog, no? With a glass of Charles Shaw Pinot Grigio (a special treat for the event) in hand (poured by Charlie, who also remembered me from last year's opening), let's start with the lemon bars. I feel like I could throw around the Oh.my.yums all over the place for this evening's tastings, but I'm going to reserve it for two dishes, these lemon bars being one of them.


Starting out with its buttery and flaky texture, the dough was clearly homemade and very well-seasoned. Biting into the lemon bar, the nuanced layer of sweet-but-not-too-sweet, coupled with its subtle lemon flavour and general lack of artificial tang, was utter perfection. Together, the dough had a gentle cookie-like texture which brought upon me a sense of childhood nostalgia for the discontinued Lemon Drop Girl Scout Cookie. I could sincerely eat the whole tray of them. Oh.my.yum.


By this point, Marilyn found me and together we tried two crostini. The first was topped with a refreshing egg salad which included classical French fines herbes (i.e., chervil, tarragon, parsley, and chives). [According to Sam, "These go especially well with the sweetness of egg dishes; try them on an omelette sometime!" (To which I'm replying with "I sure will!")] Altogether, it had a great texture to complement its creaminess. The second was topped with a savoury chicken salad made with apricot and toasted almonds, along with a sauce of Greek yogurt, paprika, and basil. The breads upon which all of this sat were well-toasted. Additionally, I found the saltiness of the bread upon first contact with my tongue to enhance the flavours of the salads themselves.


Up next was my second Oh.my.yum dish: an out-of-this-world, rich, creamy, and warm chicken pot pie. Among the highlights of the entire assembly was the puff pastry which Sam made from scratch. Seriously, who makes their own puff pastry?! (Okay, probably quite a few professionals, but still... I was nevertheless impressed.) In contrast to prepared, frozen puff pastry, the lack of uniformity is a clear giveaway, this "lack" actually being a good thing. The crust was airy and collapsed easily against the roof of the mouth, following the light crunch into the egg-washed dough. As for the filling, the individual components still had a slight bite to them and were thickened to the perfect consistency. As an individual sample size, I suppose it all could have been eaten as a chicken pot pie shot, but I instead went for trying the delicious puff pastry on its own first and then following up with the remaining contents.


It was at this time I finally got to meet Denison's current French TA, Pauline, a Parisian Master's student of philosophy who's here in the States until the end of the term. As timing would have it, she arrived at Alfie's as celebratory birthday cupcakes were being passed around. Golden brown and subtly caramelised on the outside, and light and moist on the inside, the cake itself was very well executed. This paired extremely well with the sweet, airy frosting, of which I ate in its entirety (I say this as someone who doesn't really like frosting to begin with).


The third crostini (and final hors d'œuvre) in the form of a tuna salad made its way to us, leaving behind arguably the most intriguing flavour profile on our palates (and I mean this in the best way possible). As someone who doesn't really like tuna (yes, I know I can get fairly picky, but I promise I'm getting better), I was absolutely won over with Sam's version. Concocted with a brightness from lemon and parsley, a crispness from crunchy celery, and a richness from the homemade mayonnaise (the same used in the other salads), the noticeable yet not overpowering flavour of cumin tied the entire dish together.


Following this taste, Marilyn needed to head home, at which point Pauline and I went to check out the museum that was adjacent to both Alfie's and Wisp. After our walk-through of the 1842 Greek revival building currently set to reflect the Granville residence in 1865, Pauline had her first introduction to mac 'n cheese. I suppose she should have started at an arguably lower level, but on the other hand, perhaps it's best to start out with something as great as what Alfie's offers. After having been to Alfie's a limited number of times, it seems as though I've tried most everything on the menu; one of the newer items is this aforementioned mac 'n cheese. The macaroni itself was cooked to tender, al dente perfection, and topped with a toasted crust full of flavour and crunch. Hands down the star of this $5 serving (more than enough for two semi-full individuals) was the creamy béchamel sauce made with cheddar and bleu cheese. Okay, I'm going to add a third Oh.my.yum here. It is here, too, that I'll end my food critique.


I should note, though, that rather than emphasizing seasonality, as originally desired, Sam's approach now at Alfie's is to be more so limited by seasonality, i.e., offering customer favourites until local supplies are no longer available. This said, Sam is still able to exercise his creativity by offering occassional specials throughout the year and as ingredients present themselves. I shall hope here that Sam and company have many more years ahead of them to continue to especially grow in this way.

~

There are many things I love about being a food and culture blogger, a primary one being the challenge to offer (if nothing else) a slice of whatever I previously tasted. Another reason, and arguably one of the most important ones for me, is the networking I make with those on both sides of the kitchen-- from the chefs to the servers to the diners themselves. In this blogger's opinion, my limited, on-going foodie relationship with and support of Sam and his Alfie's crew is an example of this. (I would--perhaps selfishly--hope this is evident in all of my posts.) The opportunity to dialogue about food with others (while eating a diverse array of gastronomic delectables, of course) is one I highly value. If you're actually reading this post, I want you to know that I appreciate your taking the time to sit down and at least scan the experiences I've laid out below. I originally began the cooking portions of this blog as a means of conveying that anyone (especially students) can indeed cook within limited parameters such as budget and space. From the restaurant review side of things, this blog was nothing more than a means of notetaking for my own sake. As I continue onward years later, I recognise greater meaning and purpose for this blog. I am also constantly amazed and touched that you and others such as yourself have any interest in some part of my contribution to the Blogosphere, whether it be the photos, the descriptions, the hyperlinked source materials, or the chance to simply catch up with me. Sincerely, merci.

~



Extended best wishes and thanks for this evening's event go to Sam and the folks who work at Alfie's. Special kudos go out to those whose farms Sam sources ingredients, as well as to Granville High School's Blue Steel band, Ron Emoff, and Denison's DUwop, who provided music for the party. For these and other photos from my evening in Granville, click here. Have you been to Alfie's Wholesome Food? What have you tried? And/Or conversely what would you like to try? Comment below!

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