Cartago boosts the bar cul­ture in For­est Heights

Edmonton Journal - - YOU - ALAN KEL­LOGG

Surely one of the mea­sures of any city worth its salt is the abil­ity to sup­port un­pre­ten­tious lo­cal es­tab­lish­ments that dis­pense de­cent food and drink to reg­u­lars, most of whom live within walk­ing dis­tance. Call them neigh­bour­hood pubs, cock­tail bars, lo­cal bistros, what­ever — these places can un­der­pin the very no­tions of com­mu­nity, ci­vil­ity and ur­ban­ity. And fun.

Due to decades of wildly mis­guided, sex­ist, Calvin­ist drink­ing laws and lob­by­ing by po­lit­i­cally con­nected ho­tel as­so­ci­a­tions, it has taken cities in the Cana­dian prairies many years to be­gin to catch up with the rest of the world in this re­gard, and we still have a ways to go.

Which is why ev­ery new flower that blooms in this realm out­side the power drink­ing vor­texes of the city and re­gion de­serves at­ten­tion. Such a flower is Cartago, which opened in For­est Heights a year ago and con­tin­ues to win new friends from within and with­out the ’hood.

It’s a sleek, at­trac­tive, modernist space, oc­cu­py­ing part of the ground floor of a nifty cor­ner apart­ment block. In a few months, a del­i­catessen/cof­fee shop op­er­ated by the same folks will join Cartago next door. The vibe is ur­ban-sparse — slate grey, sub­dued, cool …

The taste­ful logo is of a jockey on a race­horse, and there is a gal­lop­ing race­horses mo­tif through­out the room. The menu is res­o­lutely Ger­man-in­spired.

None of which seems to have any­thing to do with the fact that the place is named for a pro­vin­cial city in Costa Rica. I’ve al­ways wanted to ask over a half-dozen vis­its, but fi­nally queried our server the other night — (BTW, the servers are gen­er­ally ter­rific) — what’s up with the Cartago creation myth? Well, it turns out that these sim­ply in­volve some of the pro­cliv­i­ties of the own­ers, and that’s it. Some­how, the mys­tery and weird­ness of it all adds to its charm. Could Cartago make horse rac­ing hip again? Let’s not go too far.

Again, the deal here es­sen­tially is to have some drinks with friends and an el­e­vated snack or two. There is an ex­ten­sive ro­tat­ing beer and cock­tail list, along with 13 fairly-priced wines. We’ve found the Hacker Lager, Drift­wood Fat Tub IPA and Pago de Araiz Roble par­tic­u­larly potable. Haven’t made it for week­end brunch yet, but the menu looks en­tic­ing — and more im­por­tantly, it seems the

man­age­ment ac­tu­ally is se­ri­ous about en­er­giz­ing a no­to­ri­ously medi­ocre cash cow.

On myr­iad vis­its, we’ve sam­pled most of the 15 items (in­clud­ing three sides) on the bill o’ fare at the mo­ment and found them gen­er­ally agree­able. Two things de­serve men­tion­ing at this point. First, a mea culpa — among global cuisines, Ger­man food doesn’t stand near the top of my favourites; sec­ond, there is def­i­nitely su­pe­rior Teu­tonic culi­nary ex­pres­sion avail­able around the city, even in hip­ster cir­cles. In sim­i­lar lo­cal wurst­landia, for ex­am­ple, Otto, Salz and Lo­cal Om­ni­vore turn out a bet­ter sausage for my deutschmark any day. The idea of spaet­zle pou­tine ($9 for a tiny, gluti­nous glob, weirdly topped with bean spouts) is prob­a­bly deeply un­wise.

Then again, you won’t go wrong with the house-made warm pret­zels ($8), the Ger­man-style tiny, per­fect beef meat­balls served on cab­bage with spaghet­tistyle spaet­zle ($16) or sch­nitzel fin­gers (a good deal at $8). The schlutzkrapfen (stan­dard-is­sue cheese and potato per­o­gies, $10), flammkuchen (flat­bread, $14 served a bit too cool) and wurst­platte (as­sorted sausage plat­ter, $16) were just fine, the lat­ter three pork sausages on dis­play led by the Hun­gar­ian va­ri­ety.

We shared a small slice of house-made pump­kin pie and com­mer­cial car­rot cake ($8 each) which were OK, notic­ing a plate of beck­on­ing lemon squares in a cooler. They must be a pas­try for break­fast, which be­gins at 7 a.m.

All things con­sid­ered, when you put the whole pack­age to­gether, Cartago is a spe­cial sort of place in a city of neigh­bour­hoods that de­serves many more like this. For­est Heights is lucky to have a lo­cal of this stature, com­bin­ing friend­li­ness and com­mit­ment to home­made qual­ity.

Cartago of­fers a Ger­man-in­spired menu, an ex­ten­sive beer and cock­tail list and a race­horse mo­tif at 106 Ave. in For­est Heights.

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