Review by Austin Nitschke
Its building has a long history – seventy-six years of history, to be exact. Beginning as a burger joint in the forties and fifties and serving as a coffee house in the sixties and seventies, the Sugarbowl eventually settled into its current identity, as a self-described “full-service bistro and neighbourhood pub.”
Located on 88 Avenue, the Sugarbowl is just outside of the university district, a ten-minute walk from HUB Mall and a mere two-minute walk from Garneau’s Metro Cinema.
A bright-coloured mural depicting dining customers sits above the entrance of the restuarant, nearly spanning the entire length of the building’s façade. Inside, the interior of the restaurant is well-worn: walls and tables have an aged and weathered appearance that matches the rustic, brick exterior of the building.
Photos of customers, illuminated by white string lights, are affixed with clothespins to the woven wood paneling that covers the shelving unit suspended above the brass-covered bar top; glasses hang upside down on the attached rack. A blackboard, mounted to the wall, lists the daily features and drink specials.
The Sugarbowl serves dishes that have come to define American cuisine. Here, one can order burgers, pulled-pork sandwiches, mac and cheese–all American classics that serve as my go-tos. A number of adopted international dishes such as bratwurst, shepherd’s pie, and baked lasagna can be found on the menu, while chicken curry stew and red curry laksa are options for those who enjoy a bit of a kick.
Omelettes, eggs benedict (SugarBowl Benny), and Belgian waffles are a few of the traditional breakfast dishes on the menu. Diners are also given a surprising selection of gluten-free items, and vegans are not forgotten at the Sugarbowl, being offered a handful of vegan dishes and variants of regular menu items to make them vegan compliant.
Having had it before, I ordered the mac and cheese with a near-necessary addon: bacon. Topped with parsley, breadcrumbs, and parmesan cheese, the dish contained a generous amount of sharp cheddar, with a hint of smokiness. The bacon was neither undercooked nor overcooked, but met perfectly in the middle so as to appease proponents on both sides of the crispy or non-crispy bacon debate. I started to taste the béchamel sauce as I got deeper into the dish: it was rich with a creaminess that amplified the taste of the cheese and bacon.
Although I stuck with water, it felt like a shame considering the expansive drink menu at the Sugarbowl–one that includes over a hundred different kinds of beer to choose from, with fifteen beers on tap that are rotated weekly.
Upon finishing my mac and cheese, I had to order dessert. Their cheesecakes are made out of house, and they remain among the best cheesecakes I have ever had. The flavours change daily, with strawberry, blueberry, raspberry, chocolate, banana, cinnamon, and mint Oreo being a small number that are in rotation.
On this visit, I tried the chai cheesecake for my first time. While being slightly lukewarm towards the combination, past experience had me withholding my judgement – after all, I was equally as reluctant towards the mint Oreo cheesecake I had on a previous visit, and the mint and Oreo complemented each other better than I could have ever expected.
The chai cheesecake did not fail; they obviously dedicated a lot of time experimenting with this cheesecake as the amount of chai spice was perfectly balanced, and this flavour, unknown to me up until this visit, has become my new favourite.
My bill came to $17 for the mac and cheese and an additional $8 for the cheesecake. While the prices may seem high to some, given the quality of the food, I think they are reasonable: you are getting what you pay for.
The servers are always attentive and friendly. The atmosphere has a certain charm; it can get noisy in the restaurant–especially at peak times, but it is not intolerable.
If planning on going on the weekend, expect to wait (on average) twenty to forty minutes for a table if going at an off-time, and be aware that the entirety of that wait will be spent outside because of the limited space inside. Still, the wait is worth it.
My only qualm with the Sugarbowl is the scarcity of available parking: with only about a dozen dedicated stalls, the majority sit occupied for most of the day, and it is not uncommon to find the lot completely full at mealtime.