Edens: Mediter­ranean food with a con­science

The Hamilton Spectator - - FOOD - ALANA HUD­SON Alana Hud­son has cooked at res­tau­rants in­clud­ing Vong, Le Bernardin, and Avalon.

I was won­der­ing ex­actly what kind of restau­rant we were head­ing into as we parked in the plaza in front of Edens Cafe, lo­cated just past McMaster’s West­dale cam­pus, head­ing West on Main (across from the Pi­o­neer gas sta­tion).

One sign out­side pro­moted their cold pressed, fresh squeezed juice — along­side an­other show­ing a mug of beer that sim­ply read “Cheers!”

We strolled in and a server promptly met us and led us to a small booth (it seated two peo­ple per side but was a lit­tle snug). My din­ing com­pan­ion and I were de­lighted by the sprawl­ing menu.

The web­site claims there is some­thing for ev­ery­one, and this is not an ex­ag­ger­a­tion: pasta, Mediter­ranean food, ve­gan food, gluten safe, and burg­ers are all on of­fer — and more.

The din­ing room is a long, clean space with a mix of booths, ta­bles and ban­quettes, all with darker wood table­tops and funky pat­terned grey-green up­hol­stery.

A frosted glass par­ti­tion sep­a­rates the ta­bles from a walk-in juice bar where you can or­der health­con­scious liq­uid re­fresh­ment, an ex­ten­sive list that in­cludes smooth­ies and fresh juice blends such as the Pop­eye Kicker (kale, dou­ble spinach, pars­ley and ba­nana) along with build-your-own.

I felt health­ier by sim­ply read­ing through this list, which in­cludes teas and cof­fees. There are also wine and beer se­lec­tions, but they lacked the ded­i­ca­tion to lo­cal sourc­ing that’s ev­i­dent on the food menu.

A small standup sign on our ta­ble de­scribed Edens’ ef­forts to work with lo­cal farms and sup­pli­ers, and listed some of the nat­u­ral/or­ganic prod­ucts used (free range eggs, and or­ganic wheat grass grown on premises). Even the wa­ter is triple­filtered.

With that con­text, I was ea­ger to taste some of the healthy drinks. My com­pan­ion or­dered a fresh juice mix called “Hy­drate” and I got the “Trans­form” from the liq­uid nutrition list, while our son pre­dictably opted for the “Funky Mon­key” (a choco­late pro­tein smoothie with ba­nana).

The Hy­drate (co­conut wa­ter and cu­cum­ber juice) was not a com­plete hit with my taste­buds, but sat­is­fy­ing nonethe­less — and hy­drat­ing, of course.

My “Trans­form,” on the other hand (hemp oil, al­mond milks, blue­ber­ries, ba­nana, peaches and or­ange juice) did shift my opin­ion of whey in drinks. The whey grounded the fruit with a sub­tle bran flake taste that I found my­self lik­ing much more than I imag­ined. The whey was also present in the choco­late smoothie, adding di­men­sion to what is of­ten a sugar bomb. Th­ese drinks all tasted truly healthy and were quite en­joy­able.

Our ap­pe­tizer ar­rived as we sipped away. A trio of dips was $10, so from the six on of­fer we chose babaganoush, tzatziki and hum­mus.

A long white dish split into three held the dips; tri­an­gles of pita were piled on ei­ther side. Christina Mouskos, one of the own­ers (along her hus­band, Sam Choukri, and her mother, Eleni Christophorou), in­formed me that the pitas are one of the few things not made in-house, but are sourced care­fully and baked fresh, never frozen. In­deed, they tasted hand­made, with a soft tex­ture and baked lightly for mild flavour.

Thick, creamy and tart, the tzatziki was a tasty treat. The hum­mus, not as thick, was light on the tahini and could have used more gar­lic and lemon. The babaganoush, also fairly light on the tahini, had a splash of vinegar and a hint of gar­lic, and made a nice pair­ing with those soft pitas.

A ran­dom plonk­ing on the wooden pi­ano near the en­trance grabbed my at­ten­tion; a tod­dler was ex­plor­ing the in­stru­ment but the din­ing room was full enough to ab­sorb some of the ex­cess sound. Edens does bill it­self as child-friendly on its web­site and I’d say that’s ac­cu­rate.

They also host spe­cial events, though none cur­rently fea­ture the pi­ano — a cou­ple of paint nights are listed on the web­site.

Our mains came out with rea­son­able time­li­ness. We’d de­cided to ex­plore the non-Mediter­ranean side: a “cow­boy” burger, Edens Salad, and chicken ten­ders for our son.

The burger had a finer grind than I pre­fer and was a touch lean, which made me wish it had been cooked less, but caramelized onions, ba­con and cheese added rich­ness. A kale salad on the side was cov­ered in sesame seeds and dressed with a slightly sweet vinai­grette.

The Edens Salad was served in a large-rimmed white bowl with a skewer of mar­i­nated, grilled chicken. The quinoa was spiked up with white wine vinegar and lots of green pep­per, along with onion and tomato. It was a lit­tle too tangy for me, but the chicken was ten­der and de­li­cious.

Sur­prise de­light of the night: the chicken ten­ders. Rather than be­ing an af­ter­thought, th­ese ten­ders demon­strated care and qual­ity. The fine bread-crumb coat­ing was clearly home­made and the meat was juicy. The plum sauce on the side was goopy and could have used an acidic kick, but ketchup did the job for me.

Through­out the meal, our server checked in on us reg­u­larly and promptly took our dessert or­der. I had wanted to try the galak­to­boureko — baklava with cus­tard, but they were out, so we opted for the baklava in­stead, along with their triple choco­late truf­fle cake, and choco­late mousse.

The cake and mousse tasted like healthy ver­sions of both clas­sic desserts. The cake was moist, and had a crumb that made me think some corn­meal had been cut into the flour. The mousse was ve­gan, with a healthy dose of or­ange flavour to make up for the lack of rich­ness that usu­ally comes from cream.

In the baklava, a lovely honey went well with the many pis­ta­chios and wal­nuts. To­tally sat­is­fy­ing.

As we left, I found my­self look­ing for­ward to stop­ping by for smooth­ies in the near fu­ture. Sip­ping my way to health, one whey or an­other.

ALANA HUD­SON, SPE­CIAL TO THE HAMIL­TON SPEC­TA­TOR

The dips com­ple­mented the hand­made pitas, which were soft and de­li­cious.

GARY YOKOYAMA, THE HAMIL­TON SPEC­TA­TOR

A small standup sign on our ta­ble de­scribed Edens’ ef­forts to work with lo­cal farms and sup­pli­ers. Even the wa­ter is triple-fil­tered.

ALANA HUD­SON, SPE­CIAL TO THE HAMIL­TON SPEC­TA­TOR

The Edens Salad was full of tangy quinoa and green pep­per, with a ten­der skewer of chicken.

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