How one Southern Kitchen Lasso’d My Cowpoke Heart
Review by Tom Kunz, student writer in the University of Alberta WRITE 297 program.
“Have Mercy” Review:
Erik, Garett, and I settled on the Have Mercy restaurant for a few simple reasons. We knew it was cheap, it was close to campus, and it was highly recommended by mutual friends. Online marketing promised a ‘recession proof’ menu served from a southern kitchen where you can “EAT GOOD FOOD, DRINK BOOZE, and TALK LOUD!”
The cold cold Wednesday evening we ate there yielded thusly: a great value meal, heavy doses of cowboyishness, and my new response to any friend’s question, “Where should I dine on Whyte ave?”
After dropping my school bag at the apartment, a half block walk brought me to the marquee sign. The biting cold winds drove me quickly through the small red door and up the stairs. Upon reaching the landing, I was struck dead in my tracks. All the neon-lit westernisms and murals transported me to my childhood summers, riding horses through the foothills and wrastling other kids on a ranch just north of Pincher Creek. Bullhorns, tassel lampshades, with reclaimed Marlboro and Wrangler neon spilling their light over a wall sized portrait of Conway Twitty behind their small band area.
I stood admiring for less than a minute, and in that time a server noticed me and made her way over. She got me seated in a booth (beneath a full wallpaper of Monument Valley), brought me water, menus, and had a pleasant conversation about the Whiskey Wednesday special. The selection of half priced whiskey was more impressive than a six second hog-tie, so it took me a minute to make my mind up.
Between getting my 4$ whiskey and my friends coming to sit, I was able to put my phone down and admire the surroundings. All the tables were very clean, and most had boxes of trivial pursuit cards to augment conversation among the patrons. There was enough other customers to keep the servers busy, but never rushed. The rest of the bar crowd looked to be less than 35, and all made up a broad mosaic of faces and fashions which spoke to the broad appeal of this seemingly niche bar. This place was clearly unpretentious and they know what they do well.
For Your Love by the Byrds played as my friends sat and we chatted.
We looked over the menus briefly. ALL the food items being priced at $7.95 made it easy for each of us to order appetizers and mains, so as to get a good sample size for review.
Before we even hit halfway empty on our drinks the food arrived.
All at once, the following (in order):
- Drive-In Burger w/ Seasoned Fatties (Fries with Burger)
- Big Bubba’s Braised Ribs and side order of Short & Curlies
- Firecracker Shrimp Po’Boy
- Fried Chicken & Churritos
- Buffalo716 Chicken Wings
At $7.95 for mains and sides both, you are looking to easily rival the Golden Arches pricing. Have Mercy, however, far surpasses them in the sheer quality of what arrived in front of us. Questions of portion size and food quality were also immediately put to rest. Though it was not absolute perfection across the board, certain shortcomings can be noted and easily avoided in subsequent visits.
The Short & Curlies that came standard with most mains seemed as though they had been sitting for a while before that arrived, and lacked any substantial crisp. They were still warm and well seasoned, but not exemplary. This is in contrast to the Churrito fries and Seasoned Fatties that one can option up to in a meal.
Garett noted of his Seasoned Fatties, “I am a sucker for steak fries. Though they are harder for most restaurants to pull off, they offer a better experience in their fluffiness. These contrast nicely with the outside bits too.”
While Erik was tucked into his fried chicken I motioned towards his Churrito fries and he gave the nod of, ‘mouth full-can’t talk-go ahead,’ so I grabbed my sample. Crispy and richly fluffy, seasoned with a spiced cinnamon and honey sauce, these micro churros were different a great compliment to the slightly spicy and very umami fried chicken. Erik, after finishing his bites, said this was a worthy and fun riff on chicken and waffles.
Our consensus when it comes to fries; go for the specialty options.
Almost all the mains were good, with one exception. The shrimp po’boy was wack. Scant coleslaw and under-seasoned shrimp on an untoasted hot dog bun. The only redeeming quality was the lemon basil clarified butter which leaked onto my plate and brought those curly fries up a notch.
After the po’boy I was ready to mosey on to bigger and better things. Garett ordered the Drive-In burger and shared a bit with me, which was fantastic. A toasted bun with simple fixins, and a smash fried patty.
Garett continues, “They have the courage to do a smash burger! In Alberta! Where people just seem to obsess over getting a giant portion of bloody beef on a pretzel bun!” He is waving his hands around, mocking the notion.
“Having done a road trip down the west coast this summer, and trying a few of the classic spots [for smash burgers]… I don’t know, it’s good.” Garett shrugged, approving.
Erik ordered the ribs, and from the time he started eating until he was giving final thoughts was less than three minutes. He said they tasted fantastic for $8, but there wasn’t a whole lot of them.
Garret and I finished our meals by crushing orders of chicken wings, both approaching full at that point. I had the Nashville wings and he the Buffalo716. The Nashville wings were solidly average, though by the time I got to the bottom of them I had a thick buildup of the dry rub on my fingers. The Buffalo716 sauce was a very rich take on buffalo sauce, incorporating a higher than usual proportion of butter sauce.
I left the table to wash my hands and find the restroom. On the way back to the table, I gandered over a few other diners who had arrived while we were eating. Two women in cutoff flannels with sleeves of tattoos, one sporting an ironic mullet and the other with hair that defied style itself. They exuded contentment, looking as if this were the only place they were meant to be that night. They fit in here, just like grizzled ranch hands scattered in the back of a saloon in a spaghetti western. The women seemed happy, and I realized I was too.
The boys and I exchanged the last of our thoughts on the meal as the waitress came with our bills. Two food and two drink for me totaled $29.69.
We said our goodbyes and parted ways. On the short walk home I felt as if I myself were a cowboy, riding off into the sunset. Whatever the lonesome trail held for me, I knew I would return; to hang my hat and kick up my boots once more, at ease.
Have Mercy is open 4pm-Midnight on weekdays, and 11am – 2am Friday, Saturday, and Wednesday. Check online and social media for special events and concerts.
- Smash fried burgers are the kind of patties you get at In-N-Out or Shake Shack—smashed onto a flat-top griddle, simmered in their fat till crisp on the outside, sheathed in a blanket of gooey American cheese. Squishy potato roll, pickles, shredded iceberg, special sauce. Often, they are a method of making more burgers with less beef.
8232 Gateway Blvd NW, Edmonton