The Other Downtown

Restaurants that show the variety of central St. Albert’s fare.

Cajun Cooking

Located just steps away from St. Albert’s historic downtown, the Arden Theatre and the farmers’ market, the Cajun House offers a warm atmosphere for diners to gather before or after their local adventures. It has bright picture windows facing St. Anne Street, and an airy dining room ready for large groups.

The menu is full of Louisiana cuisine staples, such as spicy sausage and seafood. But only choosing one or two things from the large menu is daunting, so the best bet is to try as much as you can by ordering combination plates.

So, after starting with the oysters Rockefeller ($15.95), served in the shell, under a tent of Parmesan cheese and spinach, order a couple of the combination entrees and ask for a few side plates for sharing.

The Cajun House combination plate ($14.95) is filled with smoky flavours, from the slightly spicy sausage to the shrimp creole, jambalaya and red beans. The seafood jambalaya ($24.95) is a feast, with two crab legs perched over a bed of saffron rice. Search the rice for shrimps and scallops.

And, don’t leave without trying the Louisiana alligator Boudin ($10.95). Soft, mellow, white sausages are served in a sea of dumaine sauce, a fruity compote laced with peppercorns that balances sweet and spicy. Don’t be intimidated by the alligator; it’s a very delicate white meat that isn’t greasy at all. (7 St. Anne St., St. Albert, 780-460-8772) – Steven Sandor

Casual Encounters

Nestled among quaint boutiques on Perron Street, St. Albert’s main strip, the Bacchus Cafe & Wine Bar, named after the Roman god of wine and intoxication, is a casual destination. Unlike most wine bars, this has seat-yourself service, a stack of board games, a bedroom-style baby-changing station and couches with comforters. It matches the suburb’s family culture.

Bacchus makes pairing easy with a coloured legend on the tapas and wine menu. For example, a $16 plate of three savoury lamb chops, cooked to order, and served with a side of white balsamic spinach salad, is cross-referenced with the light and tart Giesen pinot noir ($9 for four ounce/$13 for six oz.). I recommend ordering the chops slightly rare so the meat falls right off the bone like finger food.

The many crostini dishes or bread-and-dip tapas pair well with the relaxed atmosphere, especially the wild mushroom ragout ($12), which mixes a blend of wild mushrooms in a creamy brandy sauce with bread chunks for dipping. It’s thick and heavy, so share it with friends among lighter foods, such as the seafood, sausage and vegetables mix ($14). Served in a bath of white balsamic, this dish mixes calamari, scallops and shrimp with slices of chorizo, onions and bell peppers.

On the way out, buy one of its fresh-baked goods, such as a gourmet scone ($3.50) or an icing-slathered coconut cookie ($3). (21 Perron St., St. Albert, 780-569-5218) – Omar Mouallem

Family Recipes

Rocco and Rosa Pellettieri, originally from southern Italy, opened Luisa Ristorante in St. Albert in 2003. The archetypal family restaurant is named after their daughter and even sees their son, Joey, serving and Rocco’s brother, Raffaele, as a chef.

Luisa has become a city favourite with its homemade recipes, such as Rosa’s special ricotta ravioli ($14.95), a dish that hails from the family’s native region, Basilicata. The dish is topped with homemade tomato sauce, and the creamy cheese is a mellow counterpart to a side of fiercely spicy Italian sausage ($3.50 extra), made by Ital Canadian Meats. A perennial pasta favourite, the spaghetti Bolognese ($14.95) is served al dente with rich, savoury tomato sauce. With any of the pasta dishes, you can add a side of sausage or handmade meatballs for a few extra dollars, though the oregano-spiced meatballs are so large, they’re practically a meal by themselves.

Another dish with heat is the fettucini piccante ($15.95), that mixes prawns and spicy ros sauce, which is undisruptive at first. But after you have a few bites and sips of white wine, perhaps a Chardonnay, it perks up and does a little soft-shoe on your taste buds.

Before leaving, I recommend trying one more of Rosa’s specials, the tiramisu ($8.95). You can’t help falling for the silky mix of coffee, chocolate sauce, strawberries and mint. It tastes so light, it’s got to be deceptive. (8 Perron St., 780-458-6749)

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