With the construction of Edmonton’s new arena, there’s been a lot of changes in the downtown core. “The Deni” or Denizen Hall located at the historical Grand Hotel is just one of these changes. The pub opened late last year and somehow it has taken me over six months to try it out. An advertisement of 50% off their new menu earlier this month was all the incentive required for a group of us to make our way down to 103 Street to give it a whirl.The concept at Denizen Hall is to bring back what was originally in the space: the essence of the CNR Café (circa 1904), a gathering place where Edmontonians could enjoy listening to live music and have drinks. That’s not the only things that Denizen Hall offers, the menu is now home to some classic Southern-style comfort foods and a full retro arcade of pinball and games. A bar-cade is what they’re selling it as. Something about an old school arcade really draws out everybody’s inner child. Throw in a few beers and many hours can be spent at Denizen Hall! The general area has a reputation of being slightly on the sketchy side, so it was comforting see security at the door screening who enters the establishment. A large bar is the main focal point with wood tables and booths along dark walls. I was surprised that there weren’t any televisions, as most pubs will want to attract the sports-loving crowd. With so many spaces in the downtown core that already do that, I loved that Denizen Hall is different, encouraging people to relax, have a couple of drinks with great conversations and play an arcade game or two. Let’s get to the food. With Nate Box as the consulting chef (Elm Cafe, District Coffee Co., Little Brick), I was excited to see what was in store for us. Starters and snacks like the Mac n Cheese Wedges and Mini Corndogs were a table favourite. Easily shareable amongst friends and absolutely addictive! Kudos to the kitchen for the in-house ketchup and mustards as well. There’s no shame in ordering more than one plate of either dishes. I’d also reorder the Spud Fritters (unpictured) in a heartbeat — delectable balls of pulled pork, cheese curd, green onions, fried with a crisp batter and served piping hot. We also tried the Pickles ’N’ Grease (unpictured), a plate of housemade pickled vegetables, and chicken skin cracklings. I appreciated the pickled vegetables to cut through a heavier meal ahead of us (most items on the menu are fried!) but didn’t think the plate was worth ordering on a return trip.’ Diane and I shared the Taco Denizen – your choice of pork or chicken with toppings of nappa cabbage, sautéed onions, pico de gallo, and avocado cream. I actually enjoyed the tacos, the pico de gallo providing a lot of the great flavours. We also shared the Juicy Lucy, a burger with a cheese stuffed patty, lettuce, tomato, house ketchup, onion jam and mushroom relish. Two sides come with the order, so we went with the buttermilk biscuits and hand-cut fries. Portions were large, the two of us barely finishing our shared plates. Of note, I would have loved for more onion jam and was expecting the mushroom relish to pull through more flavour. I thought the buttermilk biscuits were great, although a friend thought they were a tad salty for his taste. Our fries were a hit or miss, some being perfectly crispy and others leaving us with the impression that they were triple or quadruple-fried. Perhaps a results of sitting for a bit too long before plating. Lesley ordered the Country Fried Chicken, my favourite main dish of the night that I got to sample. The chicken was well seasoned, tender, and the batter was crispy. Loved it. Smashed potato, kale, and a Denizen gravy finished off her plate.
Other dishes around the table: Glazed Pork Ribs, Steak Sandwich, and Southwest Chicken Salad. It’s great to see a selection of plates so that there’s something for everybody and loved that the menu distinguished which dishes contained meat or were vegetarian or vegan.We also took a jab at dessert: the Double Double, a sugared donut with espresso cream and vanilla whip served in a cute little pot. The triple or quadruple-fried concept seemed to repeat itself here with the donut, making me think it was already pre-fried and waiting to be plated. The toppings were on point though! Overall, I was impressed by the quality of the food at Denizen Hall, albeit my standards going into the place was quite low, a common misconception I think attributed to the area it’s located in. Dishes were a hit and miss but my favourites were the Spud Fritters, Mini Corndogs, Country Fried Chicken, and Pork Taco Denizen. As with a lot of bars and pubs, there are daily specials. Of note: Weenie Wednesdays offer 50 cent mini corn dogs and Arcade Thursdays offer two arcade tokens for every drink you order! That’s enough for two free games! A combination of a night out with friends, looking for something different, and the ease of convenience as it’s just down the block for me, I’d return to Denizen Hall for comfort food bites and old school arcade games. Check it out next time you’re in the area and let me know your thoughts! Denizen Hall
10311 – 103 Avenue